Thursday, March 31, 2011

Blog Confusion

You may have noticed that there has been some confusion regarding the Godentranced blog. Right now, there are two Godentranced blogs - one on blogger and one on wordpress. The web address has been pointed you to the wordpress site and facebook posts are from the wordpress site too. I'm not sure it will stay that way, but hope to have it all figured out soon. There were some blogger bugs that got incredibly frustrating, so I put together a wordpress blog. I like it, but several things are much more difficult in the wordpress platform, so I don't love it. If the bugs get worked out in blogger (and it's not just me, lots of people are reporting the same issues), then I'll probably keep that one and let the wordpress blog fall dormant. Don't worry, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Supper, part 2

Enter Calvin. As I said in part 1, Calvin attempted to strike a mediating position between Luther and Zwingli, but in the end his views are much closer to Luther’s than to Zwingli’s. To understand Calvin’s view of the Supper one needs to consider the meal as a sacrament, a sign and a seal, a means of grace, as the real spiritual presence of Christ, and as being miraculous.

1. Sacrament. In many parts of the evangelical world, the word ‘sacrament’ is replace with ‘ordinance’, but Reformed churches understand the sacraments to be a special subset of ordinances, as the Westminster Confession makes clear: “”Chapter VII, Article VI. Under the gospel, when Christ the substance was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed, are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.” Calvin followed Augustine in describing a sacrament as “a visible sign of a sacred thing,” and again, “a visible form of an invisible grace.” A few Questions/Answers from the Heidelberg Catechism flesh this out more:

§ Question #65: It is by faith alone that we share in Christ and all his blessings: where then does that faith come from?

§ Answer: The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it through our use of the holy sacraments (John 3:5; 1 Cor. 2:10-14; Eph. 2:8, Rom. 10:17; 1 Pet. 1:23-25, Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 10:16).

§ Question #66: What are sacraments?

§ Answer: Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put his seal on that promise. And this is God’s gospel promise: to forgive our sins and give us eternal life by grace alone because of Christ’s one sacrifice finished on the cross

§ Question #67: Are both the word and the sacraments then intended to focus our faith on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?

§ Answer: Right! In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us and through the holy sacraments he assures us that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross

2. Sign and Seal. Calvin argues that the main purpose of the Supper is to serve as a sign and a seal of the covenant of grace (secondarily, to remind us of God’s great goodness expressed in the giving of Christ for us, and finally to exhort us to holiness and promote brotherly love). As a sign, the Supper represents a reality – Christ’s body broken for us, his blood spilled for us, as well as our participation in Christ. But it does more than just represent, for there is a union between the sign and the thing signified. In other words, the Supper doesn’t just represent or symbolize our participation in Christ in a bare way, but it also conveys what it signifies – we truly do participate in Christ by partaking of the Supper in faith. While the things, the sign and the thing signified, can be distinguished, they cannot be separated. The outward signs (the bread, the cup, the eating and drinking, all coupled with the words of institution) are, Calvin insists “conjoined with their reality and effect.” As the partaking of the bread and cup signify our union with Christ, we are united with Christ just as surely as we eat and drink. What is promised in the sacrament, namely communion with Christ and participation in his body and blood (1 Cor. 10:14ff), is really and truly given. As we partake in faith our souls truly feast on Christ and are nourished.

All of this is grounded in a deep understanding of the mystical union we share with Christ – Christ in us and us in Christ. This has not been a large part of evangelical or even Reformed theology for some time, having been eclipsed by more forensic language. It is not, however, necessary to choose between the forensic and mystical. In fact, I think we do a great injustice to the beauty of Reformed teaching and the Bible when we divorce those two truth – Christ is a federal head and we are united to him not just legally, but organically as well.

Calvin understood that this was deeply mysterious and could think of no natural analogy. The only analogy possible is the incarnation. Since the Council of Chalcedon Christians have affirmed that Christ be “recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ”. This is analogous to the distinction between the sign and the thing signified, which, though inseparably united in a sacramental unity, are still distinct.

Adding to the mystery is the fact that believers are united with Christ, not just the disembodied soul of Christ and not just Christ’s divine nature. We commune with Christ the person, both in his divine nature and in his human nature – his flesh and blood. This isn’t done by Christ descending bodily to be present in the sacraments, but by the believers ascension to heaven through the Spirit to partake of Christ. This is incredibly important to Calvin (and to me!). I’ll come back to this in the next posts. Let me tease you with a quote from Keith Matthison, “Since Christ has thus worked out our salvation in and through his human body and human nature, it follows that the benefits of his work are not available to us unless we ourselves are brought into some kind of communion with the human nature and indeed with the body, in which all the work of our salvation was performed” (from Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper)

Catechism #86-87

Question #86: We have been delivered from our misery by God's grace alone through Christ and not because we have earned it: why then must we still do good?

Answer: To be sure, Christ has redeemed us by his blood. But we do good because Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself, so that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all he has done for us, and so that he may be praised through us. And we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ (Rom. 6:13; 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:5-10; Matt. 5:16; 1 Cor. 6:19-20; Matt. 7:17-18; Gal. 5:22-24; 2 Pet. 1:10-11; Matt. 5:14-16; Rom. 14:17-19; 1 Pet. 2:12; 3:1-2).

Question #87: Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and impenitent ways?

Answer: By no means. Scripture tells us that no unchaste person, no idolater, adulterer, thief, no covetous person, no drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like is going to inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:1-20; 1 John 3:14).

Monday, March 28, 2011

On the Supper 1

On Sunday, I had the privilege of teaching the Berean ACG. The group is older and probably knew more about the topic of the Lords Supper than I did, but they were gracious and teaching topics always helps solidify my understanding. I'm dedicating a few posts to the Lord's Supper because I'm more and more convinced that a proper understanding of the Supper (and Baptism) is crucial to a proper understanding of the church and the Christian life as a whole.

First, we need some broad historical context. I'll keep this brief, maybe. The Roman Catholic view, at the time of the Reformation, can be summed up in three words: literal, sacrifice, and automatic. Literal in the sense that the elements of the Eucharist literally become the body and the blood of Christ. This has been termed the doctrine of transubstantiation - trans because there is a miraculous transformation; substantiation because its the actually substance of the bread and the wine that are changed into the substance of Christ's flesh and his blood.
The second word, sacrifice, is important because the Roman Catholic understanding was that in the sacrifice of the Mass, Christ was offered again as a propitiatory sacrifice. Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott writes, “According to the Thomistic view, in every Mass Christ also performs an actual immediate sacrificial activity which, however, must not be conceived as a totality of many successive acts but as one single uninterrupted sacrificial act of the Transfigured Christ.” Further, “The purpose of the Sacrifice is the same in the Sacrifice of the Mass as in the Sacrifice of the Cross; primarily the glorification of God, secondarily atonement, thanksgiving and appeal.” I want to stress again that I don't believe this accurately represents the Roman view today, but did at the time of the Reformation. So one version of the Heidelberg Catechism states, "But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have their sins forgiven through the suffering of Christ unless Christ is still offered for them daily by the priests...Thus the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a condemnable idolatry." In the version of the Catechism used today in the Christian Reformed Church, this section has been bracketed off with a footnote explaining that this does not accurately represent the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church today.

The third word that is descriptive of the Roman Catholic view is 'automatic' - Automatic in that the elements work ex opere operato (literally, 'by the very fact of the act being performed'). Thus, grace is conferred to the participant just by virtue of partaking with no reference to the faith of the participate in taking.

Before moving on to the other views, I want to affirm a few things regarding the Catholic understanding. First, if I was left to choose between a Catholic view and the low view of the sacrament taken by man (most) evangelical churches in our day, I'd choose the Catholic view. Luckily, I don't have too, but just so you know. Second, I affirm the Catholic churches insistance that something miraculous happens as we partake of the elements. Third, I admire their willingness to take Scripture seriously. I think the push the limits of the language too far, but at least they are taking it seriously. Lastly, I agree with my Catholic brothers that something objective actually happens in the Supper. More on that later.

Luther took aim at what he deemed superstitious and overly literal readings of Scripture related to the Supper. Luther rejected the teaching that the Eucharist was a sacrifice, considering the work of Christ on the cross a complete and unique sacrifice that was 'once for all'. Moreover, he rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, but still affirmed the local and corporeal presence of Christ "with, in, and under" the elements. The bread remains bread and the wine wine. But, Chris is still present bodily with the elements, having descended from heaven to be present. This came to be known as consubstantiation.

Further removed still from the Roman Catholic understanding was the view of Zwingli. Zwingli rejected the idea of Christ's bodily presence, teaching instead that Christ was only spiritually present. The Eucharist is a commemoration of Christ's sacrifice. For Zwingli then, there was no objective grace being conferred, it was solely subjective. Christ was present in our hearts and minds subjectively. Most Anabaptist groups took this even further. The Anabaptists insisted that the Spirit works independently of external means of grace in the church. Not can - we would all affirm that as we affirm the sovereignty of the Spirit - but does, as in 'it's normal he works without means'. The Supper then is merely a memorial and the social dimension takes precedent - it builds the church up in brotherly love. Representative of the Anabaptist view is the following quote from a Baptist pastor, "[We are] hesitant to use term sacraments: First, they [the Supper and the Baptism] are to be called ordinances and not sacraments. Roman Catholicism and Protestantism [where does he think he belongs if he's not Protestant?] call them sacraments, but they do so in error. There is no saving efficacy in either Baptism or the Lord's Supper, and neither do the participants of them indicate grace has been bestowed. They are ordinances and not sacraments."

Luther and Zwingli met in Marburg to hammer out some theological differences. At the Marburg Colloquy (1529), Zwingli and Luther came to agreement on fourteen out of fifteen points of doctrine. The fifteenth was the Supper. The Protestant movement would be divided henceforth. While that seems tragic, I do believe it would have been more tragic for the Zwinglian view to have won the day. Enter Calvin. Calvin attempts to strike a mediating position between Luther and Zwingli - though it would be a mistake to think it's a 50/50 blending of the two. Calvin stands much closer to Luther (and the historic and biblical understanding of the Supper). We'll wait till next time to unpack Calvin's views...

Songs of the Week

I'm not sure how embeding this NoiseTrade widget is gonna work, but I'll give it a shot. You can click in the middle of the album cover to listen here, or enter the info in the appropriate boxes for a full, free download of the music.

I'm listening to this album right now, and have listened to it a lot over the past week. Honestly, it leaves me emotionally raw.

New York Hymns, Songs for Lent

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New Template (update)

Well, I got bored. Still working through some bugs, but I think I like it. Suggestions?

Update: Woke up this morning and hated what I did yesterday. This one's better.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Catechism #83-85

Sometimes I drop the ball in posting from the catechism. Sometimes I drop the ball in actually working through it with the boys. This time, unfortunately, it has been the later. With Spring Break, we lost all rhythm and structure, including our devotional life together. Here is the last few questions we discussed early this week:

Question #83:
What are the keys of the kingdom?

Answer: The preaching of the holy gospel and Christian discipline toward repentance. Both preaching and discipline open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers (Matt. 16:19; John 20:22-23).

Question #84: How does preaching the gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven?

Answer: According to the command of Christ: The kingdom of heaven is opened by proclaiming and publicly declaring to all believers, each and every one, that, as often as they accept the gospel promise in true faith, God, because of what Christ has done, truly forgives all their sins. The kingdom of heaven is closed, however, by proclaiming and publicly declaring to unbelievers and hypocrites that, as long as they do not repent, the anger of God and eternal condemnation rest on them. God's judgment, both in this life and in the life to come, is based on this gospel testimony (Matt. 16:19; John 3:31-36; 20:21-23).

Question #85: How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by Christian discipline?

Answer: According to the command of Christ: Those who, though called Christians, profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives, and after repeated and loving counsel refuse to abandon their errors and wickedness, and after being reported to the church, that is, to its officers, fail to respond also to their admonition—such persons the officers exclude from the Christian fellowship by withholding the sacraments from them, and God himself excludes them from the kingdom of Christ. Such persons, when promising and demonstrating genuine reform, are received again as members of Christ and of his church (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:3-5, 11-13; 2 Thess. 3:14-15, Luke 15:20-24; 2 Cor. 2:6-11).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If My Kids Asked Rob Bell's Questions, part 2

Again, what if my boys asked me the questions Rob Bell posed in his video?

Dad, will only a few select people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell?

Son, first let me caution you about the way this question is coming out. The way you're asking this will skew your perception of the outcome. For example, let me ask you, is it right to deprive millions of people of their right to freedom and keep them caged up like animals? On the surface, it's a no brainer,right? But, now let me ask you, is it right that a judge should let a thief go free? Or a murderer. Of course not. A judge should execute justice. What if there are a thousand murderers? Should he let them go because there are a lot of them? Or should he still execute justice?

Do you see where I'm going with this - if God is just in punishing one rebel in hell, what makes him suddenly unjust if there are indeed billions who deserve such punishment?

I could easily pose an equally loaded question - will God really let people like Hitler and Stalin and Nero (a Roman emperor who murdered hundreds of Christians) to enjoy the same eternal rewards as the righteous? If not, then what about the next level of evil persons, like Capone or Dahmer?

Loaded questions like that don't really help us. Let's stick with what the Bible tells us to be true, then go from there. Ok?

Remember from our last conversation when we talked about sin and its consequences? The apostle Paul reminds us that everyone is a sinner and that sin deserves death - not just physical, but spiritual and eternal. Sin is rebellion against our King, an offense against the holiness of our Pure God. If God is justified of punishing one rebel in hell, then what makes him unjust in punishing two, or fifty, or a thousand or a billion. Have they rebelled? Is there rebellion deserving of punishment?

Guys, I know your question was sincere and honest, but I want you to know how uncomfortable I am even talking this way. Does God need to me to justify his actions, or does he need to provide a defense of his justice? We should never put God in the dock, as though he were on trial (read the end of Job boys)!

I know it's hard to imagine God sending billions to hell. What is, or at least should be, even harder to imaging, is that God saves millions or billions from hell. Aren't we all deserving of it? How many will God save? We dont' know. Some passages lead me to believe it will be few in comparison to those he punishes. For example, Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV).

On the other hand, there are passages that seem to indicate a great multitude will be saved. John says, "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands" (Rev. 7:9; see also Rev. 19:1 and Rev. 19:6). Bottom line, we don't know how many God will chose to save. We do know no one deserves it - not one.

Ok, but dad, if that's the case, how do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe or what you say or what you do or who you know or something that happens in your heart? Or do you need to be initiated or baptized or take a class or converted or being born again? How does one become one of these few?

Guys, the way your asking the question makes it sound a lot more confusing than it is. You're piling up a whole lot of words that are synonyms or at least different ways of speaking of the same thing and treating them like they are different options. Sorry if we haven't been clear on this.

For example, being converted and being born again are basically different ways of talking about the same thing, or at least different parts of the same process, and they do happen in the heart. Some of things you through out there are necessary but not sufficient. Do you know what I mean by that? No. Ok, being able to catch the ball is a necessary trait to being a really good ball player, but it's not sufficient. To be a really good ball player you need more - you need to catch the ball, throw the ball, hit the ball, run the bases, be 'baseball smart', etc. Do you get it? The same is true of belief. You must believe (as in agree some things to be true) - it is necessary and denying certain core truths is disastrous (Luke 12:9; 2 Tim. 2:12; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:22-23). But the Bible says even the demons believe ('mentally agree') that Jesus is God (James 2:19) - so it's not sufficient. You just need to pay attention to how a writer or speaker is using the word 'believe' because it can be used in slightly different ways, depending on the context. Sometimes believe is used simply to mean mentally agreeing something is true. That is necessary, as I said, but just mentally agreeing Jesus is God and died on a cross isn't sufficient. At other times we use the word to mean more than just 'mentally agree' - we mean 'trust in' also. So we sometimes use belief and faith as synonyms (Acts 16:30-31).

Ok, but how do you become one of the few? Guys, it is all by grace! You don't deserve it, you can't earn it. It's a gift. Do you need to do something? Well yes, you need to respond to God's invitation, his offer to forgive and be reconciled, by putting your trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord. Faith, in the fullest sense of trust and not just 'mentally agreeing', is all that is required of us to be saved. But let me also say, our faith isn't some good work that saves us. Paul says we are saved by GRACE and through FAITH, but even our faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8-9)! Even the ability to respond in faith is a gift. We are so dead in our sins that turning to God just isn't an option for us apart from God working in our hearts to enable faith (Eph. 2:1-9; Col. 2:13; Titus 3:1-8; Rom. 8:5-8). Does that make sense? How Christians explain this can be a little different, but Christians who understand the Bible, understand God gets all the glory, even for our faith, because even our faith is a gift. The way I understand it is that we are dead in our sins, but God comes and performs spiritual CPR on us. He gives us new life (here's where the language of being born again comes in). This new spiritual life is what enables us to respond properly in faith, which also includes repentance. (You know what that means right? We talked about it the other day when we were doing the catechism. A turning to God involves a turning away from sin.) This whole process can be referred to as conversion. There are things you do...but even these things are God's gift, so it is still wholly by God's grace you are saved.

So do you see that how you asked the question is a little confused. As for things like obeying and doing good deeds and being baptized, those things flow out of a heart that has been changed by God. When God changes our hearts and gives us new life, enabling faith and repentance, we do these things because our hearts are now inclined to God. We don't do them to earn our salvation or any thing like that, but because we desire to please our heavenly father. Baptism is incredibly important. Jesus commanded his followers to be baptized, so if you are his follower (you have trusted him as Lord and Savior) you will want to obey his command - if you haven't already been baptized, you should!

Oh, and I don't know where you got the idea that you had to be initiated or take a class to be 'saved'? What idiot is passing that misinformation on? Are they just trying to confuse you?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thoughts from the Creation Museum

Last Thursday Lynn and I took the boys down the creation museum with one of our good friends. We had a great time - well worth the two hour drive (we had a couple of free tickets, but even if we had had to pay full price, it would have been worth it). I didn't quite know how I'd feel going into it - I come at Genesis 1 from a different angle than the creators of the museum. With the boys there, I was actually a little nervous that I'd be painted as a compromiser (spell check is telling me that's not a word, but I'm trumping spell check), someone who's set aside biblical fidelity to accommodate modernism. I don't think that is what I have done, though I may be self deceived. Here is how I understand things (a very short overview with no defense), followed by some thought on the creation museum.

Regarding evolution, I can't square any macro-evolutionary views with my understanding of God's direct creation of all that exists. I believe the Bible affirms a literal Adam and Eve, not only in the Genesis accounts, but throughout the Old and New Testaments. I do not believe, however, that the days of Genesis were meant to be taken as literal 24hr. days. Instead, I believe Genesis 1 is a highly stylized form of narrative ('exalted prose narrative' to steal Jack Collins phrase). I believe the author intended the days of Genesis 1 to form a literary framework. Day one through three God creates spaces/homes; Day four through six he fills those spaces/homes. A form-and-fill pattern is evident, so:

Day 1: God separates Day and Night -- Day 4: God fills night and day with sun & moon
Day 2: God separates sky and sea -- Day 5: God fills sky and sea with birds and fish
Day 3: God separates sea and dry land -- Day 6: God fills land with animals and man

Also important in this is the observation that Day 7 is an open day - it doesn't end with the refrain "and there was evening and morning, the __ day". The implication, I believe, is that Day 7 is ongoing. God rested from his creative activity (though not from his providential care of his creation).

Moreover, I don't think it is possible from the Biblical data to come up with a date for the beginning of the earth. I believe the Bible is silent on this.

So, now some thoughts on the museum;

1. I loved the way they told the Bible story. I mean, I really loved it. The 'Seven C's' are a great device for teaching the Grand Narrative of Scripture - Creation, Corruption (the fall), Catastrophe (flood), Confusion (Babel), Christ, Cross, and Consummation (new heavens/earth). I don't know if I'd use this all by itself - it leaves off too much (Abraham, Moses, Church) - but using this in addition to a more detailed account that uses the covenants, I'd buy. For their purposes, it was important to get flood and Babel, and they are indeed very important to the storyline of the Bible. The Garden section and the Ark section were, in my opinion, the best.

2. After the tour, I'm still not convinced that Bible binds us to a young earth or a literal six days. I'll keep my 'literary framework' understanding, and not because I'm trying to accommodate the non-creationist scientist, but because I think there is good indicators from the text that this is how it should be understood. That leads to my biggest criticism - pastors who don't hold to a literal six days and to a young earth (~6000yrs old) were held up as being 'unfaithful' and the cause of decline of the church in America. There have been many who have questioned a literal six days or a young earth and have, at the same time, stood against the tide of liberalism - just check out Machen! Warfield is another stalwart who didn't believe in a literal six days or young earth. There are legitimate alternative interpretations offered by people who are incredibly faithful.

3. Coming out of the experience, I am more convinced the scientific evidence that is offered as proof that the earth must be billions of years old isn't the slam dunk it's often made out to be. In addition, I'm convinced there is something to the evidence presented for a young earth. I realized that in my conversations with Caleb I have sometimes reverted to 'scientists say, but the Bible says'. I really need to check that - not all scientists agree that the earth is billions of years old or that man and monkeys sprang from a common ancestor. The museum did a great job of presenting 'alternative' evidence and raising questions about the 'billions and billions of years' line of argumentation.

4. The bookstore was weird. There was a ton of good books - science, creationism, theology, etc. There was also a ton of kitsch - tshirts, mugs, posters, etc. Even odder were the books in the vein of 'taking back America' and 'the global warming conspiracy' or 'social issues'. Not sure why creationism would get hitched to these wagons. Another friend suggested the knew there audience and were just catering to their buying habits. Probably so, but odd nonetheless.

In the end, I am still unconvinced the Bible demands six thousand years and six literal days. I am more convinced that the 'billions and billions of years' is postulated more out of necessity than strong, incontrovertible evidence. It was a great time with the family and a great educational experience. The truth that it is God who did it - who created everything and us in his image - was loud and clear. That's what is important for me and what I want my kids to believe. It led to some good conversations with Caleb and Jake - and I'm still loving that they ask me, "what did you think dad?" I still have clout with them!

Song of the Week

Lynn and I had a great date night Friday night, including the movie "Just Go with It". Since Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, Adam Sandler has been one of my favorites. Dave Matthews also had a part in the movie, which inspired this song of the week. I saw Dave Matthews in concert back in '95 - it's the best concert I've been to (granted, I don't do many).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Song of the Week

I love this album from the Dropkick Murphys, and this song features Springsteen!

Dropkick Murphys, "Peg O' My Heart"

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

If my kids asked Rob Bell's questions

Bell's video hit the internet a little more than a week ago, and the book is due out next week - yes, the PR whore is seductive - I ordered my copy. It's sparked a lot of heat, and rightly so. Christians are to be charitable...but, not when wolves enter the sheep pen. Yes, that's how I view Bell - a false teacher in the church who must be to taken to task for his false teaching. The Bible doesn't use nice words for false teachers - they are accursed (Gal. 1:8-9), corrupted in mind (2 Tim. 3:8), dogs (Phi. 3:2), and more. Challies offers a good review of his advanced copy here.

I'm thankful for the many people who are calling Rob Bell to task on this, but I wanted to do something a little different. The video is filled with questions. It's probably a good idea to think about how we'll respond to them when confused Christians ask or genuinely curious nonbelievers. So, I'll ask myself, "How would I respond to them if my sons asked, without the snide tone?" (They already have after they saw the video on my blog). Here's how.

So, dad, is Gandhi in hell? Really. Do we know that for sure?

Well, I don't know for sure because I wasn't there next to Gandhi's deathbed. He may have repented of his sins, including the sin of worshiping false god's. He may have placed his hope and trust in Christ instead of his good deeds or some other god. I don't know, but I doubt it. Here's what I do know. If he continued in his Hinduism, rejecting Jesus or treating him as one-of-many gods to be worshiped, then yes, Gandhi is in hell.

Guys, listen to what the apostle Paul wrote in a letter to the Romans. He said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, for it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith." (Romans 1:16-17). You need to see here what Paul is saying. In the gospel - the good news that Jesus came, died and rose again - there is salvation. Salvation from what? Alienation from God? Yes. Slavery to sin? Yes. Guilt and shame? Yes. Hopelessness? Yes. But what are the ultimate results of alienation from God and slavery to sin and guilt? Punishment! What does Paul say in Romans 6:23? "The wages of sin is death." Death isn't just a natural part of God's creation, it's punishment for sin. And apart from the good news it is an eternal death an eternal punishment in hell (Heb. 6:2; Rev. 20:14-15; 2 Thess. 1:9).

Guys, does Paul say, "the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone?" What does he say? He say's it's the "power of God for salvation to everyone who believes"! Look too at what Peter said when he was preaching in Acts 4, "This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12). Who was Peter talking too? He was talking to Jews - and not just that, he was talking to the religious leaders. These people knew religion, knew Moses and the commandments and observed them. You could say they knew the true God more truly than any other people. But, even to these people, their religion and commandment keeping and doing good wasn't enough. What did they really need? Jesus. Right. "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

Jesus taught this too. Did Jesus say you can get to God any way you please? Did he say you can get there through the popular religion of your country? Did he say you could get there by your hard work, or by being a nice person? How then? Though him, right! Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

I know Gandhi looks great. His good deeds are humbling to me - and a call to live out my faith better than I do now. But, Gandhi was a sinner. There's no way around that unless you reject clearly what God has told us (Rom. 3:23). Gandhi was not perfect. We aren't perfect (And boys, you aren't - don't ever forget that. Your good kids and we're proud of you, but you aren't perfect. You're well accomplished little sinners!). But God is perfect, and he commands us to be also (Matt. 5:48). Do you see the problem?

How can a good and holy God just ignore sin? Would your mom and me be good parents if we just ignored your rebellion and disobedience? Would a judge be good if he let the criminals go free just because he forgave them? God is forgiving, but he's also holy and just. So what's the solution? How can God save anyone without giving up his justice and his holiness?

Yep, the answer is Jesus again. On the cross, "Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other" (Psalm 85:10). On the cross, Jesus lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11), dying in their place (Rom. 5:8), suffering the punishment they deserve so they don't have to (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). And Jesus' death wasn't a stand alone event - it was the end of a whole life lived in perfect obedience to God. And that's important, because not only are we forgiven, but we're made righteous.

And this takes us back to that first passage in Romans. What did Paul say? "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, for it is written, 'The righteous shall live by faith." (Romans 1:16-17). The righteousness of God is the righteousness of Christ for us. He was righteous and that becomes our righteousness. What's another way of saying "believe"? Right, have faith. Those who have faith are connected to Christ in an awesome way. Some people refer to it as the 'mystical union'. Sounds cool, doesn't it. It means there is some powerful but unexplainable way in which we're connected to Christ - he's in us and we're in him. Because we're connected to Christ through faith, his righteousness becomes ours! So we don't have to work to be saved, Christ worked for us!

Now because we're saved and Christ is in us, we will work. It just natural - Christ's image will work itself out in real ways in our life, but we can't get that backwards. We don't work to get Christ or get saved. Because we're saved and have Christ, we do good things. If you don't have Christ, if you aren't connected to him and his forgiveness and righteousness through faith, then all the good deeds you do, or Gandhi did, don't count for anything. Actually, the prophet Isaiah says their filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Filthy rags don't save. Only Jesus can.

Go think about it and come back if you have more questions...

Ok, that was a little more in depth than my answer to the boys earlier this week (but only a little).

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Catechism #80-82

As we've been working through this study, I actually decided to skip Q80 with the boys. It definitely reflects the time it was written.

Question #80: How does the Lord's Supper differ from the Roman Catholic Mass?

Answer: The Lord's Supper declares to us that our sins have been completely forgiven through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ which he himself finished on the cross once for all. It also declares to us that the Holy Spirit grafts us into Christ, who with his very body is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father where he wants us to worship him.

[But the Mass teaches that the living and the dead do not have their sins forgiven through the suffering of Christ unless Christ is still offered for them daily by the priests. It also teaches that Christ is bodily present in the form of bread and wine where Christ is therefore to be worshiped. Thus the Mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ and a condemnable idolatry.]

(John 19:30; Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 25-26; 10:10-18, 1 Cor. 6:17; 10:16-17, Acts 7:55-56; Heb. 1:3; 8:1, Matt. 6:20-21; John 4:21-24; Phil. 3:20; Col. 3:1-3)

Q. and A. 80 was altogether absent from the first German edition of the Heidelberg Catechism (January 1563) but appeared in a shorter form in the second German edition (March 1563). The translation above is of the expanded text of the third German edition (ca. April 1563). Its strong tone reflects the setting in which the Catechism was written.

In response to a mandate from Synod 1998, the Christian Reformed Church’s Interchurch Relations Committee conducted a study of Q. and A. 80 and the Roman Catholic Mass. Based on this study, Synod 2004 declared that “Q. and A. 80 can no longer be held in its current form as part of our confession.” Synod 2006 directed that Q. and A. 80 remain in the CRC’s text of the Heidelberg Catechism but that the last three paragraphs be placed in brackets to indicate that they do not accurately reflect the official teaching and practice of today’s Roman Catholic Church and are no longer confessionally binding on members of the CRC.

Question #81: Who are to come to the Lord's table?

Answer: Those who are displeased with themselves because of their sins, but who nevertheless trust that their sins are pardoned and that their continuing weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and to lead a better life. Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however, eat and drink judgment on themselves (1 Cor. 10:19-22; 11:26-32).

Question #82: Are those to be admitted to the Lord's Supper who show by what they say and do that they are unbelieving and ungodly?

Answer: No, that would dishonor God's covenant and bring down God's anger upon the entire congregation. Therefore, according to the instruction of Christ and his apostles, the Christian church is duty-bound to exclude such people, by the official use of the keys of the kingdom, until they reform their lives (1 Cor. 11:17-32; Ps. 50:14-16; Isa. 1:11-17).

Monday, March 07, 2011

New Heavens and New Earth

We concluded our eight week series on "Heaven, Hell and Everything In Between" this past week. I tried to answer a few lingering questions, but more importantly, pick up some the pieces (details) and put together the big picture. I used Prezi for the first time. Not sure I'll use it again, but it was fun. I'm embedding the presentation here. I would recommend going full screen (under MORE). Just use the right arrow key to advance, left arrow key to go back.

Song of the Week

I was listening to this song with the boys in the truck today and told them I think this old hymn is one of my favorites because it best captures the debt we owe to God and his grace. Interestingly, the words of this hymn, written by Augustus Toplady as a polemic against Wesleyan/Arminian views of grace and salvation, were altered (neutered) before being put in the Wesleyan hymnal we have at home (stolen, I mean borrowed from Houghton College Chapel some 15 yrs ago).

PS. This is off the new split EP from Sojourn Music, featuring Jamie Barnes and Brooks Ritter. Check it out here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

What's Up With Hell

Several weeks ago in the Poiema ACG we discussed four views of hell. Actually, we only discussed three because time ran out. Unfortunately, the one we didn't get to is, in my opinion, the most satisfying. In light of all the buzz surrounding Rob Bell's forthcoming book, Love Wins, I thought I'd post my notes from the discussion, tie it in to Bell's views (as expressed in the video promo's) and outline my understanding.

First, lets start with Bell's [apparent] position - universalism. I say 'apparent' because the video isn't a lot to go on, but it is striking and horribly wrong in what it implies. It seems Bell is advocating an understanding of hell that goes back to Origen (185-254AD), though condemned by the church as heresy. Here's the video:

From this, it could be that Bell is advocating everyone experiences the blessings of God immediately after death, or, more likely, that the while some suffer in hell for a time, God's love overcomes and wins them to himself, at which time they are translated to heaven. Thus, in the end, hell is empty. As I said, this goes all the way back to Origen. For Origen, all souls, including the devil himself, will eventually achieve salvation, even if it takes innumerable ages to do so. Origen believed that God’s love is so powerful it will soften even the hardest heart, and that the human intellect – being the image of God – will never freely choose oblivion over nearness to God." Origen was unable to conceive of a God who would create souls that were capable of dissolving into the "oblivion of evil" (non-being) for all eternity or of being created to suffer the ravages of hell for all eternity. For Origen, hell was a purifying reality - much like purgatory (see also John Hick and the idea of suffering as "soul building"). For support, Origen turned to 1 Cor. 15: 24-28 and argued that for "God to be all in all" meant that all souls would eventually be reunited with God. (Origen also had some bizarre ideas about reincarnation until souls received enough education or healing to accept God.) To say there are major problems with this view is a gross understatement (and I plan on posting more on Bell's video later).

To begin, there is virtually no biblical support for such an idea. On the contrary, there are way too many passages that speak of eternal punishment (see below on the third and fourth view). They simply cannot be ignored or explained away. Also, philosophically, it creates a huge problem for those who believe in a certain type of free will. Calvinists won't have too much of a problem on this point, but Wesleyan Arminians will choke on it. How can God assure that people will ever respond positively to his overtures?

Second, there are some who believe that those who die apart from Christ will be punished in hell for a time, but will pass into nonexistence when the demands of justice have been met. This position is sometimes referred to as annihilationism or a conditional view of hell. The chief (evangelical) advocates have been John Stott and Clark Pinnock. In Four Views on Hell, Pinnock point out that while the Apostles Creed ­­affirms Christ will return to judge the living and the dead, it does not detail what that judgment will look like. Pinnock notes that alongside the many texts that speak of the eternality of punishment are those that speak of the death and destruction of the wicked. For example, Psalm 37 declares the wicked will fade like the grass, be cut off, be no more, perish, and vanish (see also Malachi 4:1-2). Jesus told his listeners to fear the one who could destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28). Other NT authors used similar language (see 1 Cor. 3:17; Phil. 3:19; 2 Thess. 1:9; 2 Peter 3:7; Jude 6-7). On this view, judgment is eternal in that it will never ever be reversed – it is eternally irrevocable (unlike the universalist). The main arguments offered by Pinnock are not, however, exegetical, but instead theological and philosophical. Chiefly, Pinnock finds the idea of eternal torment/punishment irreconcilable with a loving, just, good God. Some have pointed to God’s response to man’s first sin as an indication that God does not want man to live forever suffering the consequences of sin (Gen. 3:22-24). Moreover, he finds hell hard to reconcile with a totally renewed creation. So for Pinnock and those who follow this line, hell is real, punishment is real. It is eternal in that it is irrevocable. In the end, however, hell is also empty because eventually every person once consigned to it will pass into nonexistence.

In the end, Pinnock's position should be deemed sub-biblical for several reasons. For instance, Pinnock's treatment requires us to treat the word eternal (aionios) differently even when it appears in the same context. Jesus says in Matthew 25:46, "and these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” It seems improbable at best that eternal means 'irrevocable' in one instance but 'everlasting' in the other. Moreover, there is a total lack of support for Pinnock's view from the history of the church. In fact, the Council at Constantinople (543AD) condemned exactly this view, declaring "if anyone says hell is temporary and that punishment ceases, he is anathema." Ultimately, the annihilationist view is a bending of revelation to fallen man's reason.

These first two views should be rejected as unorthodox and unbiblical. The next two views are orthodox, biblical, evangelical, though the last I'll present is, in my opinion, the best.

The third view to consider is that of a literal fire and brimstone hell. On this view, those who have suffered in the intermediate state in Hades will after the final judgment be cast into the lake of fire (Gehenna) and suffer consciously in all eternity (Rev 20:13-14). The word eternal is taken literally to mean forever and ever without end. Proponents of this position point out that the word used in reference to eternal judgment is the same word used in reference to eternal blessing (John 3:36, 2 Cor. 4:17)and to God's eternality (Romans 16:26). In Four Views on Hell, Walvoord quotes Buis, "“Aionios is used in the New Testament sixty-five times: fifty-one times of the happiness of righteous, two times of the duration of God’s glory, six other times where there is no doubt as to its meaning being endless, and seven times of the punishment of the wicked” (24). The conclusion, "aionios in every instance refers to sound Greek scholar can pretend that aionios means anything less than eternal" (24). So, eternal is literally eternal as in unending. And, on this view, fire is literally fire. Walvoord comments, "the frequent mention of fire in connection with eternal punishment supports the conclusion that this is what the Scriptures mean (cf. Matt. 5:22; Matt. 18:8-9; Matt. 25:41; Mark 9:43; Luke 16:24; James 3:6; Jude 7; Rev. 20:14-15)" (28). Additionally, he points to the story of Lazarus in Luke 16 for support. The rich man complained "I am in agony in this fire.". The strongest argument in favor of this literal rendering of hell, honestly, is from church history. This was the understanding of hell in the early church, the church throughout the middle ages, and into today. Though, it must be admitted, that the 'literal view' often degenerated in the church to wild and fanciful imaginative stuff too.

While I agree more substantially with the literal view than any of the others so far, I think Walvoord and others push the literalness of fire too far - though not of eternal, and that is important. Critique of this position will actually come as I outline my understanding, which is often referred to as a metaphorical view of hell.

The fourth position, which I claim as my own, hold that the language used to describe hell is metaphorical, as is the language to describe heaven. Don't misunderstand - I'm not saying hell is a metaphor. Hell is real. Hell is horrible. So horrible it surpassed the limits of human language to adequately describe; therefore, we are given metaphors - word pictures to describe the horrors of hell (and the blessedness of heaven). A few considerations lead me to accept that when the Bible describes hell it is using metaphorical language and not literal language. To begin, we should recognized the frequent use of rabbinic hyperbole throughout Scripture - "picturesque speech to bring home the urgency of the situation" (30). So we're told to gouge out our eye if it causes us to sin, to lop of a hand, to hate our parents, let the dead bury themselves, etc. I think the language of fire and worms never dying are meant to point to the direness of the situation, not the "furniture of hell". In addition, we're told that the lake of fire was created for Satan and the fallen angels (Matt. 25:41) - spiritual beings without physical bodies. How is literal fire to affect being without nerve endings? Walvoord counters that it is a spiritual fire as well as a physical fire, but how is that not metaphorical? Also, when you try to put a composite picture of hell together using all the data given in Scripture, you end up with some quite incompatible details - like utter darkness (Jude 13) and a lake of fire (Rev. 19:20). Matthew uses both fire and darkness to describe hell (Matt. 3:10-12; Matt. 25:41; Matt. 8:12; Matt. 22:13; Matt. 25:30).

What these images are meant to portray is life under the wrath of God, apart from his goodness, apart from his grace or mercy. I don't think it necessary to think of God's wrath in an active way - God pouring out punishment. Instead, I think it best to think of God's wrath in hell in a more passive manner - the withdraw of all good, especially the withdraw of himself and the handing over to wickedness and evil (parallel to Romans 1:18,24,26,28).

The one point I don't think can be taken metaphorically is the eternality, as in everlasting nature of hell. Unless you are prepared to give up on the eternal nature of divine blessing, and there's no good theological or exegetical reasons to do that, you can't neglect what the Bible says regarding the eternal duration of hell for the wicked.