Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pics from our Ellettsville Tournament

It was a long hot weekend at the Ellettsville ballfields. We won our first game, then lost the next two (we ended up playing the same team twice due to how pool play worked out). Jake was rock solid in the field - turning a couple sweet double plays.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Did Adam And Eve Really Exist? (Email Exchange)

Back on July 5th I posted a recommendation for Jack Collins' book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care. I really enjoyed the book and it help me see how positions other than my own (which is pretty conservative) can still be reconciled to the Biblical narrative.

Kevin DeYoung posted a review also which was slightly more critical (and certainly more read). Anyway, that started an email conversation between Kevin and Jack in which Kevin clarifies his criticisms and Jack clearly articulates the purpose of his book and his own position (which only comes out in a footnote which refers you to another one of his books). Good read.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Christopher Wright on Slavery in Ancient Israel

This past Sunday I mentioned Christopher Wright and his helpful comments on slavery in the Old Testament. I thought I could summarize one section of his book Old Testament Ethics for the People of God. Chapter 10 of Wright's book wrestles with how God's people are to relate to the cultures in which they live. Wright classifies the responses in three categories: total rejection, qualified toleration, critical affirmation. The worship of foreign gods and things like child sacrifice fall into the first category - total rejection. So God says things like, "Do not follow their practices" (Lev. 18:3). On the other side of the continuum, God's people affirmed, critically, the family structure and it's foundational nature in ways very similar to other Ancient Near Eastern cultures.

In the middle, between rejection and affirmation, is qualified toleration. Wright explains, "Some customs and practices common in the ancient world were tolerated within Israel, without explicit divine command or sanction, but with a developing theological critique that regarded them as falling short of God's highest standards. The customs in question were then regulated by legal safeguards in such a way as to soften or eliminate their worst effects" (330). It is into this category that Wright puts things like polygamy, slavery, and divorce.

Focusing here on slavery, Wright reminds his reader that 1) "slavery in relatively small societies like Israel was qualitatively vastly different from slavery in large imperial civilizations" (333), and 2) "slavery in the Old Testament was not simply tolerated with a 'rubber stamp' of uncritical approval" (333). The harshness of slavery in Israel was mitigated first by Israel's own history as slaves in Egypt, second by Israel's slave legislation that "accorded to slaves in Israel a degree of status, rights, and protection unheard of elsewhere" (334), and third by the theological affirmation that both slave and master were created equal (Job 31:15, Prov. 14:31, Prov. 17:5).

Wright considers at some length how these Old Testament patterns of relating to culture carried over into the New Testament. Certainly the authors of the Old Testament reject some cultural customs outright. In addition, it's clear that some aspects of Greek culture were affirmed critically, such as Greek philosophy. Paul could find connecting points, saying "on this we agree, here's where we diverge".

Likewise, there are aspects of culture which are tolerated on qualified terms. Wright continues, "the experience of Old Testament Israel prepares us to allow for the fact that society is fallen. Even God accepts this fact! That is the point of Jesus' saying that while, from the beginning, God's creation purpose was lifelong marriage, nevertheless he 'allowed' divorce 'for your hardness of heart'" (349). Slavery continues to fall into this category - it was tolerated on qualified terms, not in the unregulated and harsh manner of the Roman empire. Wright makes the connection between early Christian's toleration of slavery and our toleration of unjust economic situations today. I'll quote at length:
Similarly, though we may have technically abolished slavery (though even that is a dubious claim in view of pockets of continuing slavery around the world), there remain structures of economic and industrial life that fall far short of God's standards for human dignity. Christians have to tolerate these to the extent of being able work within them and address them. At the same time, however, they must seek to challenge and reform them in light of the Old Testament's own clear principles of justice, fair trade and compassion for the weakest.

We might even be led to ponder the fact of Israel's toleration of slavery, as to whether it might even have been preferable to other alternatives. Immediately, one has to say this is not in any sense at all an attempt to justify the enslavement of any human being in the normal meaning of that term. No human being has the unqualified right to own another human being as a piece of property or to treat him or her as such. But when we look at the main problem in society for which bonded service was Israel's solution, namely debt, we wonder if Israel's solution does not have at least some defensible aspects. The debtor undertook a bond. he was bound to the creditor and worked off his debt through his labour. One could argue that this is at least worthy of sympathetic consideration in comparison with the alternatives in modern society. Modern responses to unrepayable debt range from bankruptcy, where the creditor may get nothing, which seems unjust, to imprisonment, which benefits nobody and costs society dearly. Indeed, as we saw in the last chapter, considered simply as a legal penalty, it is arguable that time limited slavery for debt on Israelite terms was more humane than imprisonment on ours. The slave stille lived at home. He worked with human company in the 'normal' world. He walked on God's earth under God's sky. Imprisonment denies all these things, and it is interesting (to say the least) that imprisonment is never prescribed as a penalty anywhere in the Torah (though it was practised in the later monarchy). The point of this comparison is not, of course, to advocate the reintroduction of slavery, or to image that these are easy alternatives to imprisonment in modern society. It is rather to suggest, given our instinctive recoil from slavery but our easy tolerance of imprisonment, that the Old Testament challenges us to think rather more carefully through the ethical (and not so ethical) aspects of both. We may find we have more to learn from the Old Testament's paradigm than we thought" (351-352).
Certainly my point isn't to advocate for slavery, but to remind us that we still live in a fallen world. While we might wonder how saints in the Old Testament or believers in the early church could have tolerated slavery, they might equally wonder how we could tolerate many of the economic injustices we pass by without a thought. This side of Christ's return we offer incomplete and imperfect solutions to our world's problems.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Indianapolis Indians Game

We had a good time at the Indians game last night. Early inning were a little rough with the sun directly in your eyes, and that seem to make some little ones a little grumpy. But, a little food and the sun setting turned it all around and we had fun. Caleb got a few autographs - though you can't make them out and I don't knew who signed the yearbook. We left after the 9th with the game tied 5-5. Eventually the Indians won 7-6 in the 12th. Jury is still out on whether the boys like good seats at a Indianapolis game or the cheap seats at a Major League game.

From Baseball game in Indy

From Baseball game in Indy

Monday, July 25, 2011

Catechism #128-129

Oops. I neglected to post the last two questions from the Catechism. We finished it up last week. It took us just under a year to finish, which is ahead of pace (we did more questions per week on some weeks). I'd like to reflect and report on the catechism experience soon, but for now, here's the conclusion to the Heidelberg Catechism.

Question #128: What does your conclusion to this prayer mean?

Answer: "For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever" means, We have made all these requests of you because, as our all-powerful king, you not only want to, but are able to give us all that is good; and because your holy name, and not we ourselves, should receive all the praise, forever (Rom. 10:11-13; 2 Pet. 2:9; Ps. 115:1; John 14:13).

Question #129: What does that little word "Amen" express?

Answer: "Amen" means, This is sure to be! It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer, than that I really desire what I pray for (Isa. 65:24; 2 Cor. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:13).

Song of the Week

Found this new Mumford and Sons song. Sounds good - I'm excited to see a new album from them soon.

Mumford and Sons, "Home"

Mumford & Sons - "Home/Untitled" (Live on KBCO)

Oh, and here's another unreleased song (I like watching them too, so here's the video):

Mumford and Sons, "Lover's Eyes"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Song of the Week

I discovered Redlight King through Amazon last week. Lovin the album so far. Here's one song:

Redlight King, "City Life"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Catechism #127

Question #127: What does the fifth request mean?

Answer: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" means, Because of Christ's blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us. Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors (Ps. 51:1-7; 143:2; Rom. 8:1; 1 John 2:1-2; Matt. 6:14-15; 18:21-35).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Catechism #125-126

Question #125: What does the fourth request mean?

Answer: "Give us today our daily bread" means, Do take care of all our physical needs so that we come to know that you are the only source of everything good, and that neither our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing. And so help us to give up our trust in creatures and to put trust in you alone (Ps. 104:27-30; 145:15-16; Matt. 6:25-34; Acts 14:17; 17:25; James 1:17; Deut. 8:3; Ps. 37:16; 127:1-2; 1 Cor. 15:58; Ps. 55:22; 62; 146; Jer. 17:5-8; Heb. 13:5-6).

Question #126: What does the fifth request mean?

Answer: "Forgive us our debts,as we also have forgiven our debtors" means, Because of Christ's blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us. Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors (Ps. 51:1-7; 143:2; Rom. 8:1; 1 John 2:1-2; Matt. 6:14-15; 18:21-35)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Song of the Week

I hope this song is no indication of what the week ahead will look like! This is good headbanging, hitting the heavy bag, angry music. My favorite kind.

Escape the Fate, 'This War is Ours (the Guillotine II)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Catechism #124

Question #124: What does the third request mean?

Answer: "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" means,Help us and all people to reject our own wills and to obey your will without any back talk. Your will alone is good. Help us one and all to carry out the work we are called to, as willingly and faithfully as the angels in heaven (Matt. 7:21; 16:24-26; Luke 22:42; Rom. 12:1-2; Tit. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 7:17-24; Eph. 6:5-9; Ps. 103:20-21).

I Believe Homosexuality is a Sin, but...

I have no qualms saying it - homosexuality is a violation of God's law, and offense to his holiness, a deviation from the sexual norm created by God. I say it, I've preached it too. I've also preached against pride, which Scripture refers to as an abomination, and hatred and greed and sexual immorality of a heterosexual kind, etc.

Yet, without waffling in the slightest on the above declaration, I don't believe the state should legislate against homosexuality. In other words, I am against sodomy laws and if I had been on the Supreme Court in 2003 when Lawrence vs. Texas was argued, I would have voted to repeal the sodomy laws too. Is that an inconsistency? To some, maybe; especially to those who believe we should Christianize the nation, or return it to its (questionable) Christian roots.

I affirm, with Calvin and the Reformed confessions, that the Law has three uses (or offices): 1) to convict of sin, 2) to restrain wickedness, even in the unconverted, 3) to be our guide to holiness. Some might pick up on the second office and ask, 'shouldn't we implement anti-sodomy laws to restrain the wickedness of homosexuality?' The answer, I think, is 'No'.

Is homosexual activity a violation of God's law. Unequivocally, yes. One could point to many such precepts in the Old Testament, along with similar condemnations in the New. I think it is enough to say it is a violation of the seventh commandment, 'Do Not Commit Adultery'.

Still, we do not legislate obedience to all the ten commandments, nor could we. How will we legislate against covetousness? Some, I'm sure, would argue that homosexuality activity does not fall into the same category of covetousness, but more in the category of murder, theft, and the like since it isn't just an attitude, but an action. I see that distinction, but we don't legislate against premarital sex, which is an action also in violation of the seventh commandment. Nor do we legislate against idolatry, or making images of God, or dishonoring your parents, etc.

Going beyond that, some could truly argue that marriage isn't just prescribed in the written law and special revelation, but in creation itself. It is a statute written in natural law and codified more explicitly in the written code. Agreed. That is why, while I oppose sodomy laws, I am equally opposed to legalizing gay marriage (though I wouldn't want to see the church spearheading Prop 8's in every state - but that is a totally different conversation). I will take up that issue in a later post.

The sin of homosexuality is a serious one (what sin isn't; but, biblically speaking, not all sins are equally serious as shown by varying degrees of temporal punishment doled out), and one that churches should deal with appropriately. The grace filled mechanism of church discipline should be brought to bear on those actively living a homosexual lifestyle, just like it should be brought to bear on a heterosexual couple living together outside of wedlock.

Seems like a weird blending of tolerance and intolerance doesn't it. It is, but I think that is exactly what is needed. J. Gresham Machen, a hero of mine, argued for a widely open and tolerant society, provided that voluntary institutions like the church were permitted to be closed and intolerant. Quoting from DG Hart's summary of Machen's thought, "The reason why confessionalists like himself, he argued, were not flagrantly guilty of intolerance [towards the liberals of the day] was because involuntary organizations 'ought to be tolerant;, but voluntary ones 'so far as the fundamental purpose of their existence is concerned, must be intolerant or else they cease to exist.'" This led Machen, the arch-fundamentalist, to oppose prayer in public schools! That's right, he opposed it. He saw public schools as involuntary institutions, which they are (hence the term 'compulsory education') and therefore argued they should be open and tolerant of those who didn't believe in God or worshipped another god (in addition, he argued he wouldn't want his children, though he had none, to be taught prayer by someone of a different confessional stripe). The church, however, was completely different. The state was to support the right of the church to be intolerant - both of what it deemed wrong belief [the liberals] and, I think he would argue today, wrong action [like homosexuality].

Again, it's a delicate blending of tolerance and intolerance. In other words, what's good for the goose, and by goose I mean the church, isn't always good for the gander, referring to the culture at large. While it is our obligation to strive for a pure church, recognizing of course that absolute purity will only be achieved when Christ returns, it is not our biblical mandate, in the pluralistic state in which we live, to Christianize it or even Judeo-Christianize it (which seems to be the most we could hope for this side of Christ's return).

Here's a lecture by Dr. David Jones, Ethics professor at Covenant Theological Seminary I found helpful: pdf of transcript, mp3 of lecture.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Did Adam And Eve Really Exist?

C. John ('Jack') Collins, Old Testament professor at Covenant Theological, has put out another fantastic book on the early chapters of Genesis. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care (2011) is in many ways a companion to Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (2006), though the most recent publication is more focused and less technical.

While the historicity of Adam and Eve has been the historical consensus of the church through the ages, that consensus has come into question in recent decades. The challenges to the traditional beliefs regarding Adam and Eve have come from the scientific community, represented by men like Francis Collins, renowned geneticist and influential member of the BioLogos forums, and also from the community of exegetes including scholars like W. Sibly Towner, and James Barr.

The dual-pronged-challenge leads Jack Collins to a dual-pronged-response. First, from the text of Genesis (and beyond) he argues Adam and Eve are 1) portrayed as real individuals and 2) that it is incredibly important to the storyline of Scripture, and consequently to the Christian worldview. In the opening pages of introduction, Collins writes, "I agree with those who aregue that we don not change the basic content of Christianity if we revise our these views [regarding the age of the earth, the literalness of the days of Genesis]...May we not study the Bible more closely and revise the traditional understanding of Adam and Eve as well, without threat to the faith?" The short answer is, "No." Through a rigorous study first of the 'Story Line of the Bible' and secondly of specific Biblical texts (both Old Testament and New as well as non-canonical), Collins shows that these authors assumed Adam and Eve to be actual people and that there is much to lose ideologically and theologically in denying this.

That argument is the bulk of the first two-thirds of Collins' book. The last third is an exploration of possible scenario's that relate the Biblical assertions to the findings of modern scientists. Throughout the work, Collins is contending for what he calls "mere Adam-and-Eve-ism" - in other words, he is arguing for Adam and Eve as actual persons without much concern for questions like 'what is the image of God?', 'when and where did Adam and Eve live?', etc. For that reasons, many cut from a conservative cloth will find this section to their disliking. Collins is simply arguing for the essential core - that there was an actual Adam and Eve who were the fountainhead of humanity, that they were in a special way endowed by God with his image (and this not of strictly natural processes), and that this first human pair 'fell'. Collins then attempts to fit suggested scenarios around this core, evaluating how well these suggestions account for the truths as presented in Scripture as well as our 'common human experience'.

For example, Jack Collins tests the thesis that there must have been more than a single human pair from which all humanity 'sprung'. Francis Collins, from the genetic data, argues that the population of humans must have been at least 1000 strong to account for all of the genetic diversity we know see. Jack Collins, while he does not accept this scenario (and questions the science behind it), contends that it could be fitted to the Biblical data if Adam is viewed as a 'chieftain' of the early human tribe. This could account for the 'in Adam' language and the Biblical notion of Adam as humanities 'federal head'. In addition, Collins considers the possibility of Adam being created in the image of God by a supernatural act of God 'refurbishing' existing animal (prexisting hominid) into Adam.

Jack Collins' approach in this book is unique and will prove unsatisfying to those who want quick and neat answers. While he does contend strongly for an actual Adam and Eve, as opposed to simply mythical/fictive persons, he doesn't do so from a strictly 'creationist' standpoint, and certainly not a young earth position. So young-earthers won't be thrilled. At the same time, he argues , quite successfully I think, that you cannot set aside the historicity of Adam and Eve without seriously altering the Biblical storyline and undermining the authority of Scripture (whose writers assume Adam and Eve were real persons). Thus, many from the BioLogos perspective will not be excited by Collins' conclusions.

If you have wrestled with these questions, I highly recommend Collins' book. It is compelling and at the same time even handed. It is accessible yet scholarly, especially if you pay attention to the footnotes. He does refer to his other works often, probably too often, and three appendices could have been left out entirely (at least the second and third). On the whole, I agree with Collins and am glad I can recommend his presentation to others.

Catechism #122-123

Question #122: What does the first request mean?

Answer: "Hallowed be your name" means, Help us to really know you, to bless, worship, and praise you for all your works and for all that shines forth from them: your almighty power, wisdom, kindness, justice, mercy, and truth. And it means, Help us to direct all our living— what we think, say, and do—so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised (Jer. 9:23-24; 31:33-34; Matt. 16:17; John 17:3; Ex. 34:5-8; Ps. 145; Jer. 32:16-20; Luke 1:46-55, 68-75; Rom. 11:33-36; Ps. 115:1; Matt. 5:16).

Question #123: What does the second request mean?

Answer: "Your kingdom come" means, Rule us by your Word and Spirit in such a way that more and more we submit to you. Keep your church strong, and add to it. Destroy the devil's work; destroy every force which revolts against you and every conspiracy against your Word. Do this until your kingdom is so complete and perfect that in it you are all in all (Ps. 119:5, 105; 143:10; Matt. 6:33; Ps. 122:6-9; Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:42-47; Rom. 16:20; 1 John 3:8; Rom. 8:22-23; 1 Cor. 15:28; Rev. 22:17, 20).

Monday, July 04, 2011

Song of Week

Love this song, love this version by Muse

Muse (with the Edge), "Where the Streets Have No Name"

Friday, July 01, 2011

Catechism #120-121

Question #120: Why did Christ command us to call God "our Father"?

Answer: At the very beginning of our prayer Christ wants to kindle in us what is basic to our prayer— the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father. Our fathers do not refuse us the things of this life; God our Father will even less refuse to give us what we ask in faith (Matt. 7:9-11; Luke 11:11-13).

Question #121: Why the words "in heaven"?

These words teach us not to think of God's heavenly majesty as something earthly, and to expect everything for body and soul from his almighty power (Jer. 23:23-24; Acts 17:24-25; Matt. 6:25-34; Rom. 8:31-32).