Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Washing of Water with the Word

I have always encouraged Christians (because, let's face it, it wouldn't be remotely reasonable to expect if of unbelievers) to allow the truth of God's Word to shape their understanding of reality rather than the reverse--allowing their sense of what's real to shape biblical truth. Now, sure, the left-leaning types (Eccl 10:2) will complain "That stuff is just your opinion!", but I'm not talking to them. I'm talking to you Bible-believing Christians. Even you--we--tend to apply our experience and (misguided) thinking onto Scripture rather than vice versa. Brothers, these things ought not be.

Let's look at some examples. In John 6 Jesus said things that actually caused some of His followers to leave. He recognized it. "Some of you don't believe," He said. And then He explained why people don't believe. "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father." (John 6:65) So, Bible-believing Christian, what do you do with that? Do you explain that everyone is granted from the Father ... which nullifies what Jesus was saying but agrees with the general view that anyone can believe? Or do you question that general view because Jesus said this?

Here's a tough one. "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes." (Prov 21:1) Many Christians are dedicated to Man's Free Will. (Don't misunderstand. We all agree that Man makes uncoerced choices. The question is about just how free that will is.) So this text cannot mean ... what it says. But factor in other texts. "The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps." (Prov 16:9) Well, now, that looks like a problem for the Free Will (capitalized version) folks, doesn't it? Or will a prior adherence to a non-biblical definition of "Free Will" decide how you will interpret Scripture?

There are lots of these. If you are affirming that love is a good thing even when expressed as a sexual relationship between two people of the same gender and every Scripture on that subject disagrees with you, will you question your affirmation or will you re-imagine Scripture? When Paul says, "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet" (1 Tim 2:12), will you interpret it based on Paul's call to the order of creation (1 Tim 2:13-14) or will you interpret it in line with modern perceptions shaped by feminism? When the Word says, "There is none who does good; no, not one" (Rom 3:12), will you understand it light of your experience or will you take it as it is written? When John writes, "Love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God" (1 John 4:7), will you conclude, "Everyone loves, so everyone must be born of God" or will it make you question your understanding of "love"? There are lots of these.

It stands to reason. The world is naturally opposed to God (Rom 8:6-8). Therefore, it must be that the Scriptures will say things we don't think of as true because we, suffering from deceitful hearts (Jer 17:9), have been blinded (2 Cor 4:4) and are desperately in need of a renewed mind (Rom 12:2). I'd be skeptical of the person who didn't find his or her views challenged in the pages of Scripture. It isn't a surprise that Scripture will certainly contradict at times what we think we know. My question, though, is this. Will you allow God's Word to reshape your mind, or will you dedicate yourself to your preconceptions and reshape God's Word?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

That's Your Opinion

There is an ongoing debate about the value of the Bible. A major sector would like to eliminate it as a viable option. "It's written by men 2000 years ago; who cares?" There are many (like the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormon Church) that argue that what we have isn't reliable; it was changed from the original. (They often go on to argue, "But what we have is not", as if that solves the problem.) There are those who argue that the Bible has some good stuff in it, but it's certainly not "God's Word". "It may contain God's Word, but it is not, actually God's Word." There are those who argue that the Bible is God's Word, but the only way to figure out what it says is pure opinion and "your opinion is as good as mine", effectively eliminating any solid ground. The Roman Catholic Church (among others) argues that the Church has the keys to understand the Bible and ... so sorry ... you don't. So your understanding will be flawed, but they can give you the Word of God from the texts without error. (This is problematic since the Roman Catholic Church hasn't agreed on the meaning of texts.) Then there are those who claim that the Bible, as God's Word, is perspicuous. Okay, so I've never actually heard anyone use that word, but the idea is that God has made His Word capable of being understood. This doesn't mean that it is easy or even always understandable, but that ordinary people who approach it in faith and humility and the Holy Spirit will be able to understand what the Bible is getting at, even if they meet with particular points of difficulty here and there. This position is predicated on the illumination of the Holy Spirit and the claim of biblical infallibility. That latter claim is that God's Word, as God-breathed, is incapable of making an error. (If the text is erroneous, concluding what is true or meaningful is purely subjective.)

The position, referred to as "the doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture", can be misunderstood. It is a simple misstep, for instance, to go from "understandable" to "I am the supreme authority on the meaning of Scripture." That's an abuse. Or perhaps you've heard, "I got it from the Holy Spirit that this is what that means" with the assumed "and you'd better not question the Spirit if you know what's good for you." Wrong place to go. And there is a question of this position given the differences of understanding of Scripture. (How many Protestant denominations are there?) So the doctrine might lead you to think that all understanding is valid. It's not.

What, then, is the idea? Well, given the Holy Spirit and given those who are in the faith, it seems given that believers under the guidance of the Holy Spirit should be able to properly understand what God has said in His Word. This doesn't mean that human understanding is infallible. It means that God is capable of explaining it. It doesn't mean that we don't make mistakes. It means that God is capable of explaining it. This does not mean that it's a simple thing, like reading a Dr. Seuss book. It means that God is capable of explaining it to those who are willing to listen and learn. As such, understanding the Bible, despite popular opinion, is not simply a matter of opinion. It is a matter of communication with the Spirit.

So, look, I gave three "warnings" in that previous paragraph. We are not infallible. We do make mistakes. It requires diligence. Have I just managed to move us away from any real confidence that what we have is reliable communication from God? Or is it, in the final analysis, just your opinion? I don't think it needs to be. I think there are means of discovering the truth.

First, What does it say? I am stunned at the number of Christians (genuine and not) who claim "The Bible teaches _____" only to discover that it's not in there. "Cleanliness is next to godliness" is not in there. "Money is the root of all evil" is not in there. "God helps those who help themselves" is not in there. "God will not give you more than you can bear" is not in there. And yet I've heard multiple Christians espouse these as biblical. On the other hand, "The Bible has nothing to say about homosexual relationships" ignores what is in there. First rule, then: Read the Bible. Seems like it shouldn't have to be said, but I can't tell you how many people tell me what's in the Bible without themselves having actually looked.

So read what it says. Read the text. Read the context. Read it as it is written. (For instance, poetry is poetic and may not necessarily be completely literal. Consider literary types as you read.) Compare Scripture with Scripture.

Truth be told, in the vast majority of cases this is sufficient to figure out with some measure of confidence what most passages say and mean. It's not that hard.

Second, what do others say about it? Scripture says that God has given us "apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers" (Eph 4:11). That is, we need those people. Christianity is, at its heart, relational--Christians to Christians. The "Lone Ranger Christian" is not in view in Scripture. So find out what others say. Compare other teachers, other commentaries, other writers. You can even ask your pastor. Or someone else who knows. Since a good portion of the difficulties with Scripture are solved by comparison with Scripture, it is helpful to have someone who has some experience with this process of comparison, so find out what they have to say. If the Bible is God's Word, Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. Don't toss the difficult parts. Figure out how to align them.

Third, how has the Church historically understood it? I know, that sounds questionable, especially to the Protestant mind. But if Jesus was accurate when He said that the Holy Spirit would lead His people into all truth, it would stand to reason that you should be able to trace a line throughout Church history that gives the constant and proper understanding of a text. This should be helpful. (Note: If you are going to go to teachers who tell you, "Well, biblical interpretation is purely a matter of opinion and your opinion is as good as any" or "First, you must understand that the Bible is not the infallible Word of God and then work from there" or even "Just listen to the Spirit within and you'll get it fine", perhaps you are going to untrustworthy teachers. Avoid the ones Scripture refers to as "false prophets" ... or "antichrists".)

These are just a few hints. There are rules of hermeneutics, the process of textual interpretation that you should likely know and follow. While I'd like to think that things like "Interpret the implicit by the explicit" would be obvious, it isn't always the case. And always allow Scripture to shape your reality rather than vice versa. I am convinced that one of our primary problems that cause erroneous interpretation is our predispositions that are not formed by God's Word, but by other sources. I would suggest, though, that using these tips will allow you to come to a much more reliable, biblical, and true understanding of what Scripture is saying. Skeptics may say it's merely a matter of opinion, but if Jesus was right about the function of the Holy Spirit, it just isn't so. It's only a matter of opinion if you're not reading, listening, paying attention, learning in faith and humility. Oh, and one little hint. If you come up with something completely new, trust me--it's wrong. That might save you a lot of mistaken effort right there.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Biblical Standards on the Block

The Washington Post reports that Erskine College in South Carolina is not free in heart or mind when it comes to homosexual behavior. Apparently the Student Services and Athletic Committee issued a document on human sexuality that reads in part, "We believe the Bible teaches that monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is God’s intended design for humanity and that sexual intimacy has its proper place only within the context of marriage." Stunning. Simply stunning. In this day and age! And from a college "which is aligned with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian tradition." Well I never! Indeed, they had the audacity to give Scripture references! Has it come to this!!??

Apparently it's a new policy caused by a couple of volleyball players announcing their sinful disposition to sexual relations with the same gender. It's outrageous! Oh, not because it bans those guys from playing on the volleyball team. No. It doesn't do that. It simply makes it "a bit awkward for two of the school's volleyball players who came out as gay last year." Because by no means should those who hold to positions contrary to a Christian perspective be subjected to possibly feeling awkward. That's reserved for Christians who stand by the Bible.

So Erskine is compared to the Westboro Baptist Church and a negative view on Galileo. They're accused of cherry picking the Bible to "keep gay people out" because, as everyone knows, any opinion that does not fully embrace homosexuality is bad ... even if it's in the Bible. Even if it doesn't do anything. (The policy simply declares what they recognize is the right conditions for sexual intimacy--biblical marriage--and doesn't appear to prevent anyone from doing anything.) Erskine College has stated clearly, "Rooted in the historic Evangelical and Reformed Christian tradition, Erskine has always sought to show hospitality and respect to all members of its community, regardless of their religious or philosophical commitments." Doesn't matter. This will never fly.

Don't worry, folks. It won't last. College accreditation boards will not give accreditation to colleges that stand on the standards of the Bible, even if they are Christian colleges. Maybe you've already heard about Gordon College threatened to lose accreditation for such a position. Perhaps you've heard about the movement known as Safety Net in opposition to such schools as Bob Jones University, George Fox University, Biola, Wheaton College, and Fuller Theological Seminary protesting "a set of biblical teachings" with their focus on The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), the accreditation body for such universities and colleges. Oh, no, it won't last. It will require either coerced discarding of biblical standards or the end of the school as an accredited entity (and, likely, the end of the school).

Fortunately, the inclusive, loving, LGBTQ community is spreading its arms wide in order to shoot down every possible opposition to their personal sexual satisfaction. They'll get rid of those lousy Christians with Bibles one way or another ... because that community is so tolerant.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

What then shall we say to these things?

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified. 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:28-39)
This is a glorious passage. It is a wonderful passage. We write songs about it, we memorize it, we just love it. It is the pinnacle of Romans 8 which is the pinnacle of Romans. Really, really good stuff.

Well, mostly good stuff. You see, that stuff in verses 29 and 30 gets in the way. You know, "foreknew" and "predestined" ... that kind of stuff. Look, let's start with "God works all things together for good" and end with "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" and be done with it. That's okay, right?

Well, perhaps. Except if we do we're missing something--something radically important. In verse 31 there is a pivotal phrase: "What then shall we say to these things?" You see, the glorious wonders of the rest of the passage are in response to a truth claim before. That truth claim includes the part we like--"God works all things together for good"--and the part we prefer not to deal with. But it is critical to the conclusion. What conclusion? "If God is for us, who can be against us?" "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?" "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Oh, yes, we really love those things, but we can only appropriate them if we have the premise.

So what is the premise on which we base our confidence of those wonderful conclusions? First, we know that God works all things together for good to those who love God. But that's not the end of the premise. There is a second part. Indeed, this second part is referenced in the conclusion. "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?" You see, these promises of love and safety in Christ are only for "those who love God" and only secured by being "God's elect". We see this right in the text. "Those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son." Predestined. And then there is this glorious chain. "Those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified." Now, let's see ... which part of that is yours? Where do you factor in? What effort do you need to put forward to achieve or maintain it? Nothing. Nothing at all. From "foreknew" to "glorified", it is an act of God and unbroken. It is this wonderful statement on which Paul hinges the conclusions we love.

How can we be sure that God is for us? Because He is foreknowing and predestining and calling and justifying and glorifying us. On what can we pin our confidence that no one can bring an accusation against us? Because God is foreknowing and predestining and calling and justifying and glorifying us. How can we be sure that nothing at all can separate us from the love of God? Because He is foreknowing and predestining and calling and justifying and glorifying us. He works all things together for good to those who love Him.

I know. That whole "predestination" and "election" thing is a minefield, a point of contention. Deal with it however you will, except by setting it aside as unimportant. Because you really don't want to lose the glorious certainty we have of His care for us and our security in it. That is just too good to ignore. And it is all predicated on Him.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Who Said?

Let's play a game. Who said:
Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith.
The quote is from Dwight D. Eisenhower after his second inauguration. Eisenhower was the only president to ever be baptized while in office. He classified himself as a Christian. He held a deeply felt religious faith. And he followed the statement above with "and I don’t care what it is." It is indeed true that our form of government cannot be maintained without a deeply felt religious faith, but not just any religious faith will do. The secret to a functional democracy is an intrinsically moral society, only possible in a Christian society.

Okay, next one. Who said:
Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.
The quote comes from President Barack Obama at the prayer breakfast so irksome to so many where he compared Christianity and the Crusades to Islamic fundamentalists (although, of course, he never used that term). The president spent 20 years at the Trinity United Church of Christ under, for many years, Jeremiah Wright, who preached, among other things, strong forms of racism against whites and Jews and that 9/11 was retribution to white America. In that quote above the president was absolutely correct. Unfortunately, he makes a practice, as does a large portion of America, of asking God to respond to our notions of truth rather than simply accepting truth from His Word.

Both statements were accurate, but outcomes were mistaken. What a pity. In both cases.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Biblical Absence

We live in tough times. Many Christians are deeply concerned about our political conditions. Finding good people to run for office is hard. Dealing with the bad ones already in office is hard. The political trends toward less morality and less religious freedom are hard. Times are tough. We are concerned about the economy. We are concerned about an ignorant and even anti-Christian education system. We are concerned about the legal system. We are concerned about police brutality. We are concerned about a rising national immorality. Times are tough, and we're concerned about our world.

Have you ever noticed the glaring absence of something in the Bible? There is precious little about politics. Jesus and the Apostles after Him lived in some of the worst possible times. While we bemoan "unfriendliness" against Christianity, they were looking at prison and execution. Followers of Christ were classified as "atheists" because they didn't believe that Caesar was God. The Jews, the Romans, their families and neighbors were all their enemies. And nothing in the texts appear to address what we consider today some of the biggest problems facing us.

Could it be that we might be concerning ourselves with the wrong things? When Jesus was asked about the oppressive taxes paid to Rome, He answered, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and render to God what is God's." (Mark 12:17) Now, wait, Jesus. Nothing about "No taxation without representation!"? No "These are unfair taxes and we must write our governor about this!"? Where is the stand for human rights? Where's the push for fair treatment of women? Why is there not one, single political commentary in the New Testament? Oh, except for that nasty "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God." (Rom 13:1) We really don't like that one.

God told Israel, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways." (Isa 55:8) Is it possible that we might be spending too much time complaining about our president or our Congress, our laws or rights? The Bible seems to be most concerned about you and your relationship with God. Could it be that we should be more concerned about that than our complaints about how others are treating us unfairly? Could it be our concern should be more for God's purposes and others' welfare?

Questions, you know, just in the absence of biblical content on the subject.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Limited Atonement

The so-called doctrine of Limited Atonement is perhaps the most contested doctrine in Reformed Theology. So hotly contested is it that you can find people who classify themselves as "Reformed" but deny that particular point. There are "5-point Calvinists" and "4-point Calvinists" because that one point is just unacceptable. My intent here is not to defend the point. My intent is, rather, to find common ground. Look, I didn't even put "Reformed Theology" as a label here because I don't think I am going to talk about Reformed Theology. I think I'm going to find agreement.

So, where do we agree? First, we agree that "Limited Atonement" is wrong. It is, from your perspective, a falsehood and from my perspective a poor way to put together an acrostic. Let's start, then, by just throwing that one right out, okay?

So, on the concept of the Atonement, what do we believe? Well, we believe in the sufficiency of the Atonement. We believe, that is, that Christ's death on the cross was sufficient for all the sin of all mankind. We are all in agreement on that point. It was funny to me. I once heard a preacher defending the doctrine of Limited Atonement where he asserted "Christ's atonement was sufficient for all, but efficient for some." Not a week later I heard another preacher preach against Limited Atonement. His claim? "Christ's atonement was sufficient for all, but efficient for some." Indeed, word for word. So we're all in agreement here on the sufficiency of Christ's atonement.

What else? There are a small number who call themselves both "Christian" and "Universalists". This is problematic since Christ spoke more of the threat of Hell than anyone and the warnings that "few there are who find it" (referring to the way to God) are throughout Scripture. So I think I'm fairly safe in suggesting that we largely agree that the Atonement does not apply to everyone equally. It's a reference to that shared quote above: "Christ's atonement was sufficient for all, but efficient for some." That is, "efficient for some" means "not for others". The Atonement only applies to some. We all agree that the Atonement is offered to all, but is only appropriated by those who repent of their sin and believe. I'm pretty sure, even though the phrase will catch in your throat at this point, that in this sense the Atonement is limited. We're pretty comfortable with that fact as biblical and clear. Not everyone has their sins atoned.

Well, now, look at that. We're all in agreement so far. On the sufficiency of the Atonement, we agree that it was sufficient for all. On the efficiency (how effective it is), it was efficient for some. To disagree with the first is to diminish Christ's work. To disagree with the second is to subscribe to Universalism. I think we're all on the same page so far.

So where is the controversy? The question isn't about the sufficiency or efficiency. The question is about the intent. When Christ went to the cross, what did He intend to accomplish? When God gave His Son to die, what did He intend to achieve? The question was of the Divine Plan. What did they expect to do?

The Open Theist will argue that God didn't know what would happen. He had possibilities in mind, of course, but couldn't actually know what they would accomplish with this sacrifice of His Son. So this view is of the opinion that God was just playing a big gamble, so to speak. Oh, no, they wouldn't actually say that. I don't mean to suggest that's their stated position. But, in essence, God, not actually knowing the outcome, played the odds and sacrificed His Son with the theoretical possibility that no one would be saved but reasonably sure that someone would believe.

On the other hand, the orthodox Christian--the one who subscribes to the historic Omniscience of God--has to say that God knew what would happen as a result of His Son's death on the cross. To us, then, what was God's intent? We would have to conclude that God's plan was to save some. Not all. If His plan was to save all, God failed. And we don't believe that God fails. So His plan must have been to save some, and those "some" (however that number is determined) will be saved because, as everyone knows, God does not fail. It is, in fact, what Jesus said. "I lay down My life for the sheep." (John 10:15) (In case there is any question, "the sheep" are specified as "My sheep" in the same chapter. Christ says "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice." (John 10:16) In case you might be confused and think "sheep" refers to "all people".) So it seems obvious that we--all Bible-believing Christians--agree that the intent of the cross was the salvation of some, not all, and that this intent will be fully realized.

You see, then, that I arrive at a point of confusion. I'm confused about the confusion. What I've laid out here on which I think we're all agreed is, in the final analysis, the doctrine badly named "Limited Atonement". It is not about limited sufficiency. It is not even about limited efficiency, even though we're all in agreement there. It's not about limited opportunity. This atonement is offered to all, contingent on "repent and believe". It is about intent. And I think we're all in agreement that God did not intend to save every man, woman, and child and fail in that intent. I think we're all in agreement that He intended to save those who repent and believe and is succeeding in that plan. So my confusion is why this doctrine is so hotly contested when I think it is actually agreeable to all Bible believers. With the exception, perhaps, of the Universalists and the Open Theists, with whom we have more difficulties, are we not agreement here?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Higher Criticism

The term "higher criticism" refers on the surface to a critical way of viewing the Bible. It is distinct from "lower criticism". Higher criticism is defined as "the study of the Bible having as its object the establishment of such facts as authorship and date of composition, as well as determination of a basis for exegesis." This idea was started in the 19th century. Lower criticism is a form of biblical criticism having as its purpose the reconstruction of the original texts of the books of the Bible. The usual name for this criticism is "textual criticism". All this sounds all well and good. The "higher" side looks at origins and authorship and the "lower" side looks for meanings of texts. But, if you were paying attention, you might have seen a sinister component in the definition of the "higher" side. They look for "determination of a basis for exegesis." Through whatever means they might use, they tell you, "Yes, it is possible to do useful exegesis on this text" or "No, there is no basis for exegesis on that text."

You see, despite the harmless, even beneficial-sounding concept, the "higher critics" became Bible critics. They began disassembling the Bible. "Well, this part is probably not written by Moses" (as Jesus indicated it was) "and that was certainly not written by Paul" (even though the early Church fathers and the text itself indicates that it was) "and ..." And so it went. Eventually we ended up with things like the Jesus Seminar in which "enlightened scholars" are voting on "Did Jesus say or do this?" and "the truth" is determined by a vote. (By the way, they generally voted, simply as a matter of principle, that Jesus did no miracles. Everything else was suspect.) The Higher Criticism movement spawned the Fundamentalist movement, a call back to biblical fundamentals rather than "higher critics" falderal. What the Higher Criticism movement did was start with Enlightenment principles (like "There can be no miracles") and work from there. Superimposing predetermined beliefs on top of the Bible, they ended up with a highly questionable, sharply reduced version of "Scripture" that, frankly, left little solid ground on which to stand. Unless the higher critic had a devotion to Scripture as well as scholarship (rather than scholarship over Scripture), it was inevitable that Scripture would suffer when pressed against the standard of humanism. So, based for instance on style and an author's qualifications, they would determine who wrote what. The higher critics (at least most of them) ended up with a "superior" position based almost exclusively on subjective analysis. With a prior commitment to rationalism and subjectivism, they, in essence, removed the Bible.

I would suggest that Higher Criticism would be a good thing. I would simply suggest that the version where God's Word is measured by human predispositions is not Higher Criticism. It would be like allowing a Dr. Seuss book to be your mode of evaluation of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Not "higher". I would suggest that "Higher Criticism" would work much better if we allowed that which is higher--the inspired Word of God--to bear on that which is lower--our deceitful and desperately wicked hearts. Now that would be a Higher Criticism worth pursuing.

Here, try a couple of examples. When you read, "There is none who does good; no, not one" (Rom 3:12), do you understand that to mean "There is none who does good" or do you do what so many others do? "Well," they tell me, "I know lots of people who do good, so that can't be what it means." (You see, their experience trumps the text.) So "It's hyperbole," they tell me. And this hyperbole which says no one does good actually means almost everyone does good ... a hyperbole failure. Could it be that it means what it says and our understanding of "good" needs to change? That's the kind of higher criticism I'm talking about. When John writes, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God" (1 John 4:7), do you say, "Well, just about everyone loves"? Because if you do this text says "Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God", so you would be affirming universalism--everyone is born of God and knows God. Or could it be that this love is far more rare than we might think and we need to figure out how our understanding of love is not aligned with God's version? That is the higher criticism I'm recommending.

Much of Christendom handed the reins over to "scholars" who decided their prior beliefs were a suitable method of evaluating Scripture rather than subjecting their prior beliefs to Scripture. And the whole cart has been careening across the field of history ever since. Don't question it, mind you. They're scholars; you're not. But if it is true (again, my version of "higher criticism") that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9), it would seem to me that we would welcome a reliable source like God's Word to provide corrections to our deceived hearts and offer renewal to our debased minds. I'm in favor of that version of higher criticism.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Salty Language

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Col 4:5-6)
The Bible teaches that Christians should use salty language. Okay, that would be an example of a cultural language problem. You see, "salty language" today means more like "swears like a sailor", but when Paul wrote that your language should be "seasoned, as it were, with salt", he didn't have that version in mind. So what did he mean to say?

Well, we can conjecture because we don't have a "Paul-to-21st-century English" dictionary. First, whatever it is, there is a clear parallel. "Let your speech always be with grace." Whatever the "seasoning" of "salt" is, it is grace. And we can find other parallels from Paul that might help further. Whatever that "salt" is, it is not "unwholesome words" (Eph 4:29) or "filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting" (Eph 5:4). I think that all pretty much rules out foul language. And this gracious speech is both truthful and loving (Eph 4:15) and "good for edification according to the need of the moment" (Eph 4:29).

After that, we have to figure it out on our own. Salt, for instance, is a preservative. Use language that preserves rather than tears down. Salt obviously adds flavor. Use language that means something rather than dull words. Proverbs 27:6 says "Faithful are the wounds of a friend", and salt, rubbed into wounds, can sting.

You will note that the verse on salty speech follows a prior thought and, as such, is likely part of the same thought. "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders." These "outsiders" are most likely those outside the faith. The New Testament is full of places where believers have a special bond with believers. Jesus said they (those who are not His) would know we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). So these outsiders would be unbelievers. How do we conduct ourselves with wisdom toward them? Well, the way that Paul highlights is to make the most of every opportunity. In what sense? In your speech. Thus, the primary focus of this gracious, salty speech is the way you talk to outsiders.

You can see this in Jesus. He was gracious to the lost and sinful and sick around Him. To the "insiders", the Pharisees who should have known better, He was not so gracious. (Describing them as "white-washed tombs" and "hypocrites" is not "gracious".) To those who at least believed they were on the "inside" He was relentless. But to those outside, He was gracious in His speech.

In the end I don't think we can definitively say what it is. We can clearly eliminate some possibilities. It is not foul language. It is not misleading or dishonest language. It is not coarse or filthy language. It is not aimed at tearing down, but at building up. It is not gossip or backbiting (Prov 25:23). I think, on the other hand, that it's safe to say that it is aimed at "flavoring" the conversation to get their attention. (Again, without foul language.) It makes for a lively dialog. It gives grace to those who hear.

Let me give a couple of examples of how this does not work. It does not work by using intentionally inflammatory language to describe those with whom you disagree. I know of some who inflexibly use the term "sodomite" to describe those who commit homosexual behavior. It doesn't matter that the term from the King James English no longer means what it did then. It doesn't matter that this intentionally and unnecessarily creates tension between the speaker and the listener. This is not "wisdom toward outsiders", speech with grace, or the salty language Paul commanded. Likewise, people who use foul language to express their views when they know such language is an offense cannot be classified as speaking with grace. The Scriptures specifically rule out this version of speech "seasoned with salt".

Christians, I know that the heresies and confusion and the assaults on the faith and the lies and the outright sin classified as "good" and "loving" is a problem. I know that such things can create tension, even anger. And we ought to be diligent for the truth and for the glory of God. But it isn't necessary to use intentionally inflammatory language to do that. We are commanded to make the most of every opportunity by speaking with grace. The anonymity and lack of accountability afforded by the Internet is not an reason to ignore the clear command, and, frankly, complaining about people who defy Scripture by defying Scripture makes no sense. We can do better than that, can't we?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lines Are Our Friends

If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Gal 5:18)
I have been assured by fellow Christians that this clearly teaches that the law is no longer in effect for Christians. That was "Old Testament". We're new. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes," the tell me (Rom 10:4).

Unlike those who think we are still fully under every aspect of the Old Testament law (admittedly a very small number, but in existence nonetheless), there are many who avoid the whole accusation of "pick and choose" by rejecting the law wholesale. These are actually antinomians, those opposed to the law. In this view right and wrong becomes irrelevant. "It's between me and God," they will argue and then sort of make it up as they go (because they'll still argue that you're immoral for suggesting the law is of any value anymore).

Is the law dead? I, for one, hope not. As it turns out, lines are our friends. God didn't give us rules to strip away our fun or simply to condemn us. He gave us law to offer the best, as love always does.

There are, today, multiple uses for God's law. For one, Paul wrote, "If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin." (Rom 7:7) That is, the law teaches us what God views as right and wrong and tells us where we transgress it. (Thus, "transgressions".) The word "sin" in the Greek language means literally "to miss the mark" and if you don't know what the mark is, you can't know if you missed it. That's the function of the law. Along that line of thinking, anyone who wishes to please God would want to know what He wants. So God's law serves that purpose. It offers to those who want it (even to those who don't), "This is the way, walk in it." (Isa 30:21) A third purpose, and one we can see clearly today, is to use the law to restrain sin in society. There are cultures, for instance, that value murder. (Do I need to offer current examples (hint: ISIS)?) But the Bible forbids it and laws against it aim to help restrain it. While adultery is just about everywhere, God's law condemns it and we all know it's wrong which helps decrease the occurrences. Indeed, Paul claimed "the work of the law is written on their hearts" (Rom 2:15). Everyone has it. If it were not so, there wouldn't be nearly the outrage against people who claim "God says this is wrong." No, the outrage is caused by the conscience warring against desires. A function of the law.

As a whole, God's law may look like a restraint to our freedom, but it serves good purposes. Imagine, for a moment, a child that would like to learn to draw. Setting that child down in a room and telling him or her, "Go to it!" without guidance is not helpful. You haven't assisted that child in learning to draw. You need to make rules. "Here are some implements to use. Here is the medium you can use. Here is a book to give you some instruction." That sort of thing. Teaching them sociology (for instance) is all well and good, but it is not within the "lines" of learning to draw. So, as it turns out, limiting their choices serves to direct them toward improving their skills, while eliminating all limitations will simply allow random activity without achieving the ends they had intended. Now, step up from drawing and it gets clearer. The child that wants to learn to design buildings will need to learn foundational truths (yes, that was a pun) in order to do the job. Limitations? Yes, but limitations that make everything work.

In a nation whose god has become "liberty" that means "do whatever I feel like", laws--especially God's laws--are an affront. To the antinomian Christian, even God's law is an affront. But Jesus assured us "Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Matt 5:18) And, as it turns out, lines are our friends.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

God is Love

We love that verse. Well, at least that phrase in that verse. "God is love." (1 John 4:8) We (rightly) sing songs about God's love and enjoy the thought of God's love. Paul says that the love of Christ surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:19). God is love.

And then, right in the middle of a fine set from the praise band, we slip a cog. We get really confused about love. We think it's about God's warm feelings toward us and our warm feelings toward Him. And it's not. How do I know? Because it's in the text.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:7-11)
Now, right there in the middle of that passage is the phrase I already quoted: "God is love." It is not, however, all by itself. What else does it say? We are told at the beginning and the end that we should "love one another", but we aren't told that in a vacuum. We're told how and why. How? "Love is from God." Why? "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

I don't know why we routinely read this stuff without batting an eye. John says something critical here. Love, this love of which John is writing (as opposed to our sexualized, emotionalized version today) is sourced by God and is not common. "Love is from God." This love is only possible to one who is born of God. If you are not born of God, you cannot, in John's terms, love. This love as it comes out of us is a result of and response to Christ's work on the cross. This love is rare, but it is the love we are commanded to have for one another.

One of the confusions over God and love is that "God is love" as if love is God. People see it as an equivalence, like "A = B". It's not. People see it as if love is God's biggest attribute, overshadowing all others (like His justice and His wrath). It's not. Love is not who God is. Love is defined by God. You see, God is the standard of standards, the standard without standards. God, by His nature, defines what is good. There is not a higher standard of good to which He must submit. Instead, His nature is the standard of good to which we must all submit. The same is true of God's love. God, by His nature, defines love. There is not some objective "love" out there to which God aligns Himself. He is the source.

Think of a dictionary. Dictionaries do not define words; they report the definition. If you use a word--say, "marriage"--to mean something different, the dictionary has nothing to say about it. It just reports that new definition. That's why you can find the description "archaic" in some definitions. It used to mean this, but no one uses it that way anymore. Because dictionaries aren't the ones that define words; we are. The same is not true about God. God defines good. God defines love. When it says, "God is love", it is not a limitation--"This is what God is"--but an explanation of the source of love. That is what the text says. We don't love because of ourselves or because there is a "higher love" out there that we tap into. We love because He loved us. He is the definition. He is the source.

God's love truly is amazing. We truly are blessed. God's love exceeds our comprehension. We can taste it, but we can never fully grasp it. Because of that love, we are to love one another. Because God is love.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Objective vs Subjective

Any Bible-believing Christian knows that we face constant challenges to basic subjects these days. Two big ones are truth and morality.

On our side, Jesus told us, "I am ... the Truth ..." (John 14:6) and that the Holy Spirit would "guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). Truth matters. But Pilate epitomized the other view with his sarcastic, "What is truth?" (John 18:38) Does truth exist? Or is it, as so many want to claim, simply a matter of opinion?

On our side, we argue that there is actual morality, not mere opinion. We base it in God as Creator and Lawgiver. As such, He has the authority (and responsibility) to tell us what is good and bad, right and wrong, moral and immoral, and these are applied to all people. The other side argues that ... well, now, wait ... they argue in two directions. On one hand they argue that morality is simply the norms of the society in which you live. If marrying 5 women is moral in your society, it's moral. If not, then it's not. Morality is relative. On the other hand they argue that the God of the Bible has failed to satisfy their moral demands of eliminating evil, so He does not exist. They do this without a basis for the demands or for the definition of "evil". That is, they hold both that moral is what you make it and moral is real. It may or may not be moral today to marry a fence, but it is certainly immoral to torture and kill an innocent child ... unless, of course, a woman chooses to do so. Well, you get the idea. All very confusing.

The differences in both "truth" and "morality" here are the differences between "objective" and "subjective". "Objective" refers to things that are real apart from your feelings, opinions, or preferences. It refers, essentially, to an object. "Subjective" speaks of feelings, tasts, or opinions. It is predicated on the subject doing the examination rather than the object being examined. There are, for instance, some outlandish folks who argue that nothing is real and everything is in your mind. As such, there are no objective truths--no objects. Everything is based on your perceptions, feelings, or thoughts--subjective.

The question, then, is not whether or not there is truth or morality. Of course these things exist. The question is whether there is objective truth and objective morality. Are there things that are true regardless of how you feel about them? Are there things that are right or wrong regardless of your opinions? Do these things actually exist?

Christians, of course, must argue for the positive. If God, then, yes, there is reality and morality outside of my own perceptions. God made objects and they exist. God made natural laws and they exist regardless of my opinions. Reality is actual, not simply my opinions. The trick in this case, then, is to align your perceptions with the truth rather than the reverse ... like so many do today.

When the argument sides with the subjective, you must keep in mind that the outcome is there is no truth or morality. Well, not that is applicable to everyone. If truth is subjective and morality relative, then no one has the right to claim that you're wrong in your truth claims or evil in your moral code. Indeed, the atheist argument that God is a perpetrator of evil falls apart since evil no longer has an objective definition. And questions like "Can an atheist be moral?" become pointless because "moral" has no basis.

Why it is that those who hold to subjective truth and moral relativity continue to argue about truth and morality is beyond me. They do so without foundation. As for you, just make sure you're not one doing that argument. It really is the perfect example of a slippery slope.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Inspired by God

Perhaps one of the most hotly contested Scriptures today is in Paul's second letter to Timothy.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
It is a claim to divine inspiration ("No, it's not," the skeptic--Christian or not--will tell you) of Scripture ("No, it's not," said skeptic will repeat), placing the Bible in the category of "God's Word" ("No, it doesn't," our friendly skeptic will strongly affirm ... without proof or evidence, of course). That is, the text is a clear statement that the Bible is God's Word.

Already my skeptical readers are shaking their heads or even pounding their keyboards to assure me this is not the case. But let's look at the text.

First, it refers to "all Scripture". As I demonstrated earlier, Peter refers to Paul's writings as Scripture and Paul refers to Luke's Gospel as Scripture, so this cannot be simply construed as "Old Testament" as many would try to suggest. The only reason the canon of Scripture was not determined until the 4th century was not that they didn't see it as Scripture, but because of a guy named Marcion who offered his own version that they had to refute. The Muratorian Canon, for instance, was compiled by 170 AD and contained none of the books we don't have and all but 3 of the books we do. Scripture was clear from the beginning.

The really difficult term there is "inspired". "Yeah," the skeptic will say, "we get 'inspired'. Lots of writers are inspired." And the whole sense of the term is deflated to mean little more than "really cool". Is that the sense of the wording? Well, the ESV uses the phrase "breathed out by God" and Young's Literal Translation uses "God-breathed". Why the difference? How is "breathed out by God" different from "inspired by God"? Well, "inspired" means most literally "inhaled". The opposite, "expired", would mean "exhaled". But, as in "expired", we understand "inspired" to mean something different now. Now it means "aroused, animated, or imbued with the spirit to do something" ... or "really cool". But the word (and it is one word) used in the text of the verse is θεόπνευστος--theopneustos. Interesting, isn't it? It is not "inspired by God" (as we would understand it today). It is one word. That's θεός--theos--and πνέω--pneō--from which we get our words "theology" from the first and "pneumatic" or "pneumonia" or the like from the second. It is a single word that means "God-exhaled". In light of our modern "inspired writing", there is a sharp contrast between "inspired by God" and "God-breathed". If I had a warm view of God, it might inspire me to write warm things about God, warm things that may or may not be true. But "breathed out by God" or "God-breathed" eliminates that notion. Nor is such an idea a mere wordplay. It's what's in the text.

Now, you may wish to disagree that the Bible is God's Word. You would do so against the plain meaning of the text as well as the historic view of the Church. You may wish to deny that words exhaled by God will be infallible or inerrant. I find it interesting that scholars almost unanimously agree that Jesus viewed the Scriptures as God's infallible Word, but so many today who claim to approach Scripture from Jesus's perspective do so while denying the infallibility of the Word. So you may wish to set aside the Bible (while, beyond my comprehension, you try to affirm a "high respect for the Bible"), but you do so against the plain text and the clear understanding of Christ. At that point, you're on your own. For those of you who wonder, it's clear. Wonder no longer.[1]
[1] For the skeptic who assures us that "Sure, it's 'God-breathed', but your opinion isn't," let's keep in mind that Jesus promised an answer, a solution (John 16:13). We do not evaluate the Word in a vacuum, dependent solely on our fallible, sinful understanding. We do so under divine guidance by the One who breathed it. Sure, we will still come to disagreements, but they are far and away the exception rather than the rule, and Christians taught by the Spirit of Truth, God's Spirit, are in much more agreement than disagreement. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

By Him For Him

Jean Lloyd, PhD, is a teacher and a happily married mother of two young children. She wrote an article for The Witherspoon Institute about gender identity. No, not quite what you think. Dr. Lloyd wrote of her own struggles as a 15-year-old girl in 1985 and compared what would have happened if it had been 2015. Back then, the option would have been for every friend, parent, and therapist to argue, cajol, even force her out of her confusion. Today it is illegal in some states to do that. In todays' world, she argues, the one option she would not have had was to not be gay. Very interesting article, especially coming from someone who has been there.

She concludes with a little about how she ended up following God instead of embracing the lesbian life.
I began to trust the One who knew the truth of my identity more than I did, who wrote His image into my being and body as female, and who designed sexuality and set boundaries upon it for my good.
Wow! She gets it. She understands. She understands better than a lot of the rest of us do.

The issue is not "me", my desires, my preferences, my leanings. It isn't, as has become the case for so many these days, my orgasm. It is God. God knows your identity. He knows it better than you do. He wrote His image on you. The gender assigned by God at birth was no accident of birth or some sort of child abuse[1]. It's about God.

And it's about what's best for you. She fully recognized the truth that God designed her sexuality and "set boundaries upon it for my good." The "I feel this way so I should be allowed to indulge my feelings" line of argumentation makes no sense. We tell angry people who feel like killing to control their feelings and we tell sad people who feel like suicide to control their feelings, but when it comes to sexual desires, we tell them to go with their feelings? God limits sexual freedom for your good. That applies, by the way, to whatever sexual proclivity you might have.

I wish more people would understand what Dr. Lloyd figured out. It's about God and what He thinks is best for you. He is God; you are not. Work from there. But, I'm pretty sure that's the case beyond simple sexuality. I'm sure it's the case in all facets of our lives. And I'm pretty sure that we all have work to do on that line of thinking.
[1] There is actually a website (to which I won't link) dedicated to "stop gendering children." As if you're doing them a favor. "Saying a child or adult with a penis’ sex is male is inherently transphobic and unnecessary," they say. "There is no reason to refer to genitals or sex as 'male' or 'female'." You understand, I hope, dear reader, that the clinical definition of "sex" as distinct from "gender" is specifically the reproductive anatomy. That is, a human with a penis is defined as the male sex, regardless of whether or not you want to do a "gender dance" where gender is fluid. This, in fact, is why transsexual operations attempt to change the reproductive anatomy to align with the "felt gender". If it wasn't the definition, it wouldn't matter, would it?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Red-Letter Christians

You've heard of these, right? It's a reference to those handy Bibles where they put Jesus's words in red. It's not as if the red letters are inspired, you know. For instance, some Bible scholars are unclear in John 3 where Jesus's words leave off and the words of John (the writer) begin. You see, Greek didn't employ the helpful quotation marks we have today, so did Jesus say the world-famous "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) or did Jesus end with verse 15 and John expanded from verses 16 on? Which illustrates the difficulty with red-letter thinking. You see, the red letters are not more inspired than any other, but the feel of it is "These are the actual words of Jesus so they're much more important than the rest." So if Jesus did not say John 3:16-21 as the red-letter Bibles indicate but John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, added them as explanation, then they are just as true as if Jesus had said them. Red letters, then, can become a problem.

Truthfully, then, there is no real problem with the red-letter Bibles ... as long as you believe that the Bible is the God-breathed word of God. In this case, all of Scripture is, in a sense, the words of Jesus. And the red just highlights what He physically said at the time. Fine. No problem. So I'm okay with all that.

The problem occurs when you find those (and there are not just a few) who say, "I try to follow the words of Jesus." These would be the "red-letter Christians" to which I allude. No, it's not about red ink. It's the notion that "What Jesus said was right but everything else is, well, questionable." Okay, they'll fill in "questionable" with some other adjective. Maybe they're "figurative" or maybe they "contain the truth". Certainly the Bible is not inerrant. In no way can we take the Old Testament historical narratives, for instance, as historical narratives. That just won't work. Because, you see, they aren't "the words of Jesus". So what these folk do is 1) superimpose their notion of what Jesus was like over the Bible and then 2) reinterpret the Bible to match their notion of what Jesus was like. If they see Jesus as, essentially, a modern day '60's hippy--"Love and peace, man"--then any biblical reference to violence or the like are right out. And, oh, by the way, the God of the Old Testament brings about a lot of violence. So does the God of Revelations. Jesus wasn't an angry man, so biblical references to the wrath of God don't quite work for them. To many of these types Jesus never condemned sin, so biblical condemnation of sin is in question and certainly anyone else's attempt to do so is in error. No, the rule of this Jesus is "Neither do I condemn you" and be very, very careful to end your sentence right there.

You see, when they call into question the bulk of the Bible because it may or may not align with their version of Jesus, they have a real problem. If the Bible as a whole cannot be fully trustworthy, why would the red letters be trustworthy? Trying to sound wise and holy, they undercut their own basis for belief. "Sure, the red letters can be trusted; you just have to be careful about the black ones." No, of course, no one ever says that. But that's the sense of it. "The Bible is all about Jesus" sounds so Christian and it is, in fact, true, but when they take that to mean "My understanding of who Jesus was determines what is or is not true in the Bible" becomes a real problem.

Bottom line, of course, there is a fundamental problem with this brand of red-letter Christians. If they are interpreting the Bible through the lens of Christ, and that Christ is primarily derived from the Bible, then the Bible must be first a reliable book. On the other hand, if the Bible as written is not a fully reliable book, then their lens through which they interpret the Bible is a Christ of their own making. And the real question then is if that Christ can save. Or is it not the Christ of the Bible who has the power to save? Paul warns of "another gospel". I am concerned for some of "another Christ". I'm concerned that it could be "an angel of light" (2 Cor 11:14) who, in truth, is blinding their eyes (2 Cor 4:4).

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Going All Bibley on You

There is, I believe, a current, ongoing assault on the Bible in our world today. It comes from all sides. Atheists and skeptics love to wrangle over it, popping up in Christian places complaining that we just have a man-made book with no real value and telling us what it teaches and how it's wrong (which, of course, makes no sense if it's a man-made book with no real value). (I mean, if it's man-made and pointless, don't try to tell me what it means.) You have to expect that out of the skeptic. But it also comes from those "within", folks identifying themselves as "believers". It comes from the Pentecostal types who claim the Bible is fully true, but perhaps not entirely sufficient, so they're getting helpful insights outside of the Bible straight from God and you had better not question the Lord's anointed. It comes from the extreme liberal wing that holds to "Christian" like a vegetarian crab sandwich. I mean, they say they're Christian and then deny everything Christian. No, Christ isn't the only way. No, we are not saved by grace. No, Jesus was not God. And on and on until whatever it is they end up with--and specifically it is not biblical--is nothing really related to "Christian".

There is another source of this assault. It's somewhat slippery, too. These types claim a great respect for the Bible. They assure you it is the Word of God. Well, mostly. Some will shift off to "contains the Word of God" instead because clearly some of the Bible isn't ... well ... true. But generally. However, most of this particular breed will verbalize that the Bible is true and is the Word of God. That is, until you actually try to refer to the Bible as the Word of God. Or, at least, in a place that disagrees with their view. Then you're in trouble. Oh, and never suggest the Bible is inerrant. That's just crazy. But what they like to tell you is, "You're conflating your opinion into God's Word!" How? "Well, you said that Jesus is the only way and that's just one view of what it means." Or, "You're homophobic and claim the Bible clearly teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin but we know better today." In other words, when you offer a clear presentation of biblical texts interpreted as it is and in the longstanding, historical orthodox way, if it disagrees with them it is "conflating opinion".

Now, this sounds very ... holy. Certainly people have and do conflate their own opinions as the Word of God and they're wrong. But in every case I can find you simply have to use Scripture to demonstrate that this opinion isn't biblical. But what they're pointing to is anything that disagrees with ... their opinion. Clear texts cannot mean what they say if they violate these folks' opinions.

What most people don't see is that this isn't an attempt to uphold the sanctity of the Bible. It is simply an end of anything usable in Scripture. If plain readings of explicit texts and historic orthodoxy are unreliable, then what do we have? If you want to call it "the Word of God", it doesn't help if your "Word of God" is unknowable and uncertain. If all understanding of Scripture must be viewed as opinion, there is no authority in Scripture. But if all understanding of Scripture is opinion, why do they argue about my understanding so much? Hmmm, methinks they doth protest too much ... or something like that.

It sounds intelligent and holy. "Don't conflate your opinion into God's Word." But when it is used to say, "All understanding of Scripture is opinion"--and, make no mistake, when you boil it down that is the intent--then it is nothing less than an assault on the integrity and authority of Scripture. Just like the skeptics or the liberals. Perhaps worse because it almost sounds like a call for a greater respect for the Bible. Which it isn't. Deflating God's Word to mere opinion is not a defense of the Bible. Don't make me go all Bibley on you.

You have to know that this whole thing strikes a nasty chord in the "Don't conflate your opinion" group. Why? Because, obviously all Bible interpretation is opinion. "So," they will object loudly, "we do hold the Bible in high regard as the Word of God. It's Man's interpretation that we question." And, again, it sounds holy. At least, "holier than thou." Because, you see, while affirming on one hand a high regard for the Word of God, they have completely undercut any ability to have the Word of God. Do you see that? If all interpretation is opinion and all opinion is fallible, it is impossible to have a reliable Word of God. Oh, sure, not because of the Word of God, but because of the interpreter of the Word. The result is the same. The final product you have in your hands is unknowable and uncertain. It's the same position the agnostic often takes. "Sure, there may be a God, but if there is He is unknowable, at least to any certainty." Even so the Bible. It may be the Word of God, but since all interpretation is human opinion and all human interpretation is fallible, all interpretation is fallible and the Word of God is useless, in the final analysis, in the correcting of human opinion. Like the Gnostic heresy, the argument has the appearance of wisdom but is of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh (Col 2:23).

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Cosmic Housekeeper

So, I'm sitting in the adult Bible class at church on Sunday and we're going through John 9. It's the story of the man born blind. You remember the story.
And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:2-3)
There were, of course, discussions about this that or the other in the story. But the teacher, at some point, came to this question. "Why was this man born blind?" Of course, the class gave the ... you know ... biblical answer--"so that the works of God might be displayed in him." "But," the teacher parried, "do you actually believe that, without any reason of sin in either him or his parents, God just chose to pick on this guy so He could do a miracle?" I was baffled by the question. Was he serious? "No," he went on to assure us. "This was just a product of biology, a product of a sin-tainted world where a gene went wrong or a chromosome was off and the man was born blind. God decided to use that to demonstrate His glory, but He didn't cause it or plan it."

I know, I know, this is certainly a popular view among Christians today. Some of you are likely nodding your heads. "He's right." Me? I'm baffled. No, I'm stunned. Who is this God? He appears to be stuck with a rotten apple of a creation and is forced to constantly bob and weave and parry to fix problems caused by sin and, well, if possible, make use out of one or the other of these bad things that happen. Mostly, "stuff happens", you see. So God, like a big housekeeper, goes around picking up after our mess and, when He can work it in, puts it to good use. I have to repeat ... who is this God?

The God I know claims, "I am the LORD, and there is no other, The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these." (Isa 45:6-7) So while we bustle about trying to absolve God for this poor man's blindness from birth, God says, "I cause calamity." The disciples understood, if imperfectly, that God could justly have this man born blind as a consequence of sin. Further, Jesus clearly indicated that the man was born blind "so that the works of God might be displayed in him." Now, did God use natural means to have him born blind? Maybe. Sure. No problem. But without a doubt it was God's plan in advance intended to display His works for His glory. Why do I say that? Because Jesus said it.

I know, I know. "Seems so mean of God to make this poor man blind." And, "Very petty for a big God to make a poor child blind just to show off." I get it. But these are all responses of the creature against the Creator: "The thing molded will not say to the molder, 'Why did you make me like this,' will it?" (Rom 9:20). Paul thought not. But Paul was wrong because it is extremely common today in Christian circles. God is obligated to be nice to His creation because His creation is of ultimate value. It's a lie. It's a result of idolatry, of worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. And I find myself guilty of it, too, every time I hear myself say, "I deserve better!"

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Judge of All the Earth

"Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Gen 18:25)
It was Abraham talking with God when God informed him He planned to punish Sodom and Gomorrah for their sin. Abraham was dickering with God. He was concerned that God would kill the righteous with the wicked. And he essentially obtained an agreement from God that if a 10 righteous were found in those cities, He would spare them. Spoiler alert. They weren't. He didn't.

The question of God's justice is, I think, more important than we realize. Sure, we get that God is just. Fine. But, to be honest, we're not real fond of His justice. His grace, yes. His mercy, yes. His justice? Not so much. I mean, "If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" (Psa 130:3) Oh, no, it's not His justice we really like. Because, let's face it, if justice were all there was, we'd all be in deep trouble.

So, sure, we like His justice, just not toward us. On the other hand, we do like the aspect of His justice that demands that those who do well are rewarded for it. And we are thoroughly blessed that His justice was fully met in Christ's sacrifice on our behalf (Rom 3:24-27). Blessed indeed.

But there is another aspect of God's justice that is essential. We recognize this aspect even in human terms when we say to an offending party, "You'll get yours!" You see, without divine justice, morality would have no weight.

Have you ever seen where laws were passed that were not enforced? It is a travesty. It has no real purpose. Rules without consequences--either positive or negative--are useless. In order for objective morality to have any basis, it is absolutely necessary that there is justice. And if we don't see it in this life (and we don't), we must believe that there will really be justice at some point. It is Immanuel Kant's Moral Argument for God.

(1) Morality behavior is only rational if justice will be done.
(2) Justice will only be done if God exists.
(3) God exists.

Now, to be sure, an argument that something is true because the alternative is horrendous is not a real argument, and this is, in fact, Kant's argument. The fact remains that if God is not just, moral behavior is not rational. Thus, God's justice is not only a positive affirmation when it rewards those who do good and a negative warning against doing bad, but it is also an essential basis for all moral behavior.

God's justice is important. Perhaps more important than you realized. Oh, and Abraham's question was the ultimate rhetorical question. Of course He will do what is right which, by the way, is the definition of justice.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Be My Valentine

It's Valentine's Day, a day for love. That's the tradition, at least. I wonder if we have a clue what that means. Sorry ... idle meanderings.

Everyone knows the sequence. You meet someone. You grow to like someone. Someday you like them so much you love them. We have that sort of hierarchy in our heads: "Acquainted" -> "Like" -> "Love". Each one is progressively higher. If you like someone, you are already acquainted with them. If you love someone, you already like them. We might hear the exchange between people, "Sure, you like me, but do you love me?" You have the mechanism of "meet", but then chemistry comes into play and you find you connect with that person until more chemistry comes into play and you are now in love. Oh, sure, "love at first sight" may jump right over "like", but you get the idea.

I would like to suggest this isn't entirely accurate even though it is fully accepted.

The Bible lists "love" not as an emotion, but as a command. Don't misunderstand. Every choice you make carries emotional response. You are, for instance, commanded to forgive those who ask. Clearly letting go of an offense will offer an internal emotional response. You feel differently. But the command to forgive is not a command to feel differently; it is a command to forgive. By the same token, we are commanded to love. Love God. Love your neighbor. Husbands, love your wives. God commanded Israel to love "the stranger who sojourns with you." (Lev 19:34) Now, it is not remotely reasonable to think that God was commanding His people to feel a particular way. No one commands their feelings. Your emotions are a response, not a choice. So it is true that the feelings we currently associate with the word "love" are the likely response to the choice God commands to love one another, but the actual love is not an emotion. It is a way of viewing the one loved. It is a seeking for the best for the other, a trust placed in the other, a self-denial in favor of the other. These things can occur without chemistry. They happen by choice.

Today's "love", if it's not sex in the mind of so many, is at least chemistry. We don't know how it happens. We can't really even quantify what it is. It's just a warm feeling, a flood of affection, something not entirely clear. Today's more skeptical scientists have even speculated that it is just that, a biochemical response in the brain. Nothing real. Nothing concrete. Brain chemistry and nothing more. That's not the biblical version.

Two considerations then.

First, when a Christian commits to a spouse, it is "till death do us part". This makes no sense in the modern version of love since everyone knows this emotion ebbs and flows. Some have even altered the vow to say, "till love do us part", as if that makes more sense. But we Christians are operating on a different basis. Biblical love--you know, the one we are commanded to have toward others--is a choice. As such, you can choose to love your wife or your husband till death. Feelings are irrelevant to the question. Conversely, if you do choose to love your spouse regardless of feelings, it is inevitable that the feelings associated with "love" in society today will follow. Christians, honor your vows.

Second, I know of no command in Scripture where we are told to "like". Now, think about "like" for a moment. Why do you like the foods you like? Why do you like the people you like? Why do you like the hobbies or pasttimes you like? Oh, I'm sure you can give some answers, but when you boil it down, I think you'll find that it's little more than ... chemistry. You have a little different structure than the one next to you, so you will have different likes than the one next to you. Simple as that. So, if "love" is a command, a choice you make, and "like" is chemistry, which is more remarkable? To me, I love my wife. I do it regardless of the feelings of the moment. Warm or not, full of affection or not, I love my wife. The warmth and affection are never far away because I love my wife, but my love for my wife is not predicated on those emotions. Thus, to me it is amazing how much I like my wife. I can't tell you why. Oh, I can list things I like, but I can't tell you why I like them. Nor can I offer a suitable explanation of why I like her so much. I just ... do.

It's Valentine's Day. They tell me it is a day started by the Church to celebrate Saint Valentine (turns out there were three of them), some claim in an effort to counter a pagan erotic festival, Lupercalia. How it became a celebration of love and marriage is unclear. But we know it's not limited to lovers. Every school-age child brings valentines to school to give to classmates without regard to love. All that is needed is affection. All that is expected is that you like each other. Love is commanded. It is excellent, a reflection of part of God's nature. Today, while you celebrate that command, why not revel in those you like as well? That is much more of a mystery. By all means love. But why not tell someone you like them today, too?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Mac and Tosh

In my younger years we had (unedited) Warner Brothers cartoons with characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig ... you know, classics. Two of the lesser known were actually two of my favorites. They were originally in a 1947 cartoon short entitled The Goofy Gophers. People confuse them with Disney's Chip and Dale, but these are not those two. They tell me their names were Mac and Tosh. Fine. The thing that marked these two was their extreme politeness with each other. They laughed at each other's jokes, complimented and complemented each other, worked together perfectly, and deferred to each other to the point of danger. (As the enemy is charging and they seek shelter, "You go first." "No, you first." "Oh, no, I insist." "I simply couldn't." That sort of thing.) You don't actually find that sort of thing in most cartoons ... or other entertainment for that matter. Or even life.

Odd thing. This notion of considering the other person to the extreme is actually something that seems to show up in Scripture. We find it in Paul's description of the attitude required in marital sexual relations. "The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." (1 Cor 7:3-4) We are commanded "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves." (Phil 2:3) These in stark opposition to the standard "looking out for number one" attitude of most of our world.

Romans 14 concerns what we call "Christian Liberty". With an opening command "not to quarrel over opinions" (Rom 14:1), the discussion regards things not commanded and, therefore, basically a matter of opinion or personal conviction. For our world, the response is, "Yeah, live and let live. You should let me do what I want!" That is not the idea in Romans 14. The approach there is "decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." (Rom 14:13) The approach there is "let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding." (Rom 14:19) That is, in matters of opinion, not only should we not be hastening to condemn others, but we should be limiting ourselves.

This is something of a reverse war. Instead of "I think the KJV is the only way to go and you are all pagans for denying it!" followed by "Only a fool would argue 'If it's good enough for Paul and Silas, it's good enough for me'!", you might see, "I think that the KJV is the best, but I couldn't imagine imposing that on you." with the response, "Oh, no, I prefer more modern translations, but if it is more edifying to you to read the KJV, I'll read that with you."

It works in lots of places. "I believe that the best church music is the old church music, but if you are best able to glorify God with newer instruments and tunes, who am I to say no?" "Oh, my, if my drums and musical style offend your more traditional worship style, I can't imagine using them to hinder your worship." A host of things. When I was growing up there were some who were offended by playing cards, dice, or even going to movies and others who were not. Today we would include vegetarianism and the like. I even know those today who believe it's a great sin to swim in "mixed company"--men and women together. Matters of opinion over which we could compete to favor others over ourselves.

Mac and Tosh had an interesting approach. On matters of opinion and preference, "you first" is the first response. A genuine preferring of the other over self was the rule. It does not work in matters of clarity. "Well, the Bible clearly says that homosexual behavior is a sin, but I wouldn't want to offend you over that." No, that won't work. "I know that Jesus said He was the only way, but if that kind of exclusiveness is a problem for you, we can just assume that all roads lead to God." That isn't going to fly. But I think it would be amazing if, in matters of preference or opinion not clearly described in Scripture, we could wage reverse war, so to speak, seeking to "outdo one another in showing honor" (Rom 12:10). Seems somewhat "Bibley" to me. Of course, the trick is finding out what Scripture really says. Maybe being biblical is just too much work? That can't be good.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind

The president asked Congress for authorization to go to war with ISIS. Or ISIL. Depends on who is saying it. "Boots on the ground" is the term you'll hear. Apparently he's asking for a three-year war. And he intends to cross national boundaries to do it.

What, I wonder, is the target? I mean, you're going to hand weapons to soldiers and tell them to shoot ... what? The experts are saying that ISIS is everywhere. We even have them in the United States. So, who are they shooting? It's interesting that it's a war with a schedule. "Yeah, three years ought to do it." The target must be pretty clearly defined for that kind of timetable accuracy.

I'm being somewhat flippant, I know, but I'm not sure what we're doing. I haven't been for some time. Sending troops to fight ISIS is like putting a ring around the BP oil spill. Sure, you may contain the oil, but you haven't touched the source. And if you don't shut off the source of the spill, containment is pointless and will fail. Like a band aid on a flesh-eating virus.

The problem is not armament and ammunition. The problem is ideology. But the president hasn't seemed to notice. It is "terrorists" without apparent ideology. Like incoherent criminals, killing people without purpose. So if they're not "Islamic terrorists"--just "terrorists"--then there is no ideology behind it and guns ought to solve that problem. Anyone can tell you this isn't the case ... except maybe the president.

Do I think we need troops in the Middle East to combat the ISIS threat? Can't really say. Maybe we have an ideology spill that needs to be contained. But how do we stop the ideology leak? It appears to be pouring out of the Middle East (despite the president's claim that only 0.1% buy that kind of thinking). And if it's everywhere, exactly how does sending troops to the Middle East contain everywhere?

We've waged a "war on drugs" that aimed to catch drug dealers. It hasn't particularly worked because the dealers are supplying customers. As long as there are customers, there will be dealers. We've waged a "war on terror", as if that makes any sense at all. I mean, I have trouble identifying just what a "terrorist" is when I hear the terrifying things they tell me on the evening news. Aren't they terrorists, too? And the goal is to ... what ... shoot the terrorists? So we've contained drugs to some small degree and we've contained terrorists to some small degree, but these are wars without termination because they aren't fighting the problem. So is the solution to the ISIS problem to send troops to shoot people who think like that? Seems like an odd and useless (at best) approach. But, hey, I'm not in the government making these calls. Maybe they know something about thought control and "boots on the ground" that I don't. So if you don't mind, I think I'll put my trust Somewhere Else.

The president has announced that he does not intend to put "boots on the ground". This doesn't change my point. It does bring into question exactly how the president plans to contain the ideology spill without any real containment methods, but apparently he is not planning to do it with troops.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Did God Know?

In the whole discussion of God and the existence of evil, there is this constant intent to rescue God from the skeptic who seems to be bent on assigning evil to God. We can't have that. We'll argue it out of existence. I've come across a question, though, that might give you something to think about.

We read in Genesis "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen 1:1) and, ultimately, "behold, it was very good." (Gen 1:31) In the third chapter of Genesis, then, we are introduced to the serpent who "was more crafty than any other beast." (Gen 3:1) Well, you know the story. He tempts Eve. Eve succumbs and gives of the fruit to Adam. God is not pleased. Oh, wait. What fruit? Well, it was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:9), the tree that God put in the garden and the fruit that God forbade Adam to eat (Gen 2:17).

Okay, so Adam and Eve are now sinners because they choose to violate God's direct command not to eat of the fruit of the tree that He put in the garden. So far, so good. Here's the question. Did God know they would do that before they did?

You see, if God knew, then God planned for it. No, He didn't make them choose to eat the fruit. Nothing would suggest that in the slightest. But if He knew they would and there was no demand that He put that tree in the garden (and there was no such demand because He is the ultimate authority), it would seem to be inescapable that, regardless of your conclusions as to why or how, God planned the sequence that occurred. "Here's the tree; don't eat of it." They did. There are consequences. That is, evil occurred at the hands of the creation, but with the prior knowledge and, therefore, allowance (for whatever purposes He might have) of the evil that occurred. He didn't cause it, but it was part of His design.

We all agree that God is not the cause of sin. No question (James 1:13-14). But then we use terms like "author of sin" and I'm not sure what is meant. If you believe in the Omniscience of God, you're going to have to think through how it is that God would know what Adam would do with the fruit if God put it there and why, knowing that, He would do it. Of course, if you don't believe in the Omniscience of God, but prefer the "guess" of God like some today ("God knows every possibility but can only guess as to what will actually happen.), then you're home free. Oh, a different God than what the Bible portrays, but yours is home free. ("I didn't know that would happen. I couldn't do anything to stop it. I'll have to figure out how to clean up this mess somehow.") For the rest, however, is it possible that God knew, allowed it anyway, and did so with His good purposes in mind? If so, that is an answer to the objection of "capricious evil". Doesn't exist. Evil has a purpose (and is, therefore, not capricious). Don't know for sure what it is, but God does and, as such, it must be a good one. Or maybe you have another answer?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


We can debate the origins of the universe till the cows come home (and where did they come from before they came home?). I have a suspicion that we have a bigger problem. Sure, we can't agree on the origins of the universe, but I am convinced that an inordinate number of people today can't figure out where lots of ordinary things come from, and that can be seriously detrimental.

I'm dismayed at the failure of too many people today to grasp the origins of simple things like food. When an Internet personage showed a photo of herself standing next to a buck she shot, the Internet was outraged. "Why don't you go buy your meat in a store where no animals are killed?" was actually among the comments. The dispute over "processed foods" (as if there are foods that aren't actually processed in some sense) versus "GMOs" (genetically modified organisms, as if something we are eating has never had any modifications at all) versus "organic foods" (without any really clear definition) and "health foods" (with even less definition) indicates that we don't know where that stuff is coming from and all we really want is for you to label it so we will feel better about it.

I'm quite sure that the vast majority of people today do not grasp basic economics. That paper that you use to pay for your Starbucks has almost no value. Even less the bits of data you use to transfer funds from your bank to the website to buy the book you want. Even less the air you use to purchase on credit the things you can't afford. That's worth only potential. No, paper is only valued insofar as it represents shared value of something else. Work you did, goods you sold, valuable metals (like gold), something of genuine value. The paper in your wallet is only valuable as far as it represents something real. Oh, and that "real" keeps changing. A dollar in 1950 would buy what $9.95 would in 2015 money. Inflation, you know. Yet, the government keeps printing money (or just transfers "it"--is if "it" was something real--electronically) and the national debt keeps rising and demands for increased minimum wages never cease. A popular bookstore in San Francisco is closing its doors in March because San Franciscans voted to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour as if the money is just sitting in a pile somewhere and any business that needs it can go draw from it to pay their employees ... and any that doesn't is a dirty, rotten, miserly company. Over and over on the topic of economics people seem to fail to grasp that economics is the management of limited resources. It is a balance of income and outflow and takes all sorts of variations and vagaries into account. Separated from those limited resources by paper money, electronic transfers, and credit cards, they think it just exists and anyone who wants it should be able to have it.

The question of origins isn't limited to a confused society. I also find it in Christian circles. Where does doctrine come from? (I hear people calling themselves Christians arguing that "We need to change our beliefs" as if truth is something on which we can vote.) Where do traditions come from? (Protestants like to dismiss tradition as if it's a Catholic evil, but Paul encouraged it (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15; 2 Thess 3:6).) We all know that Christianity is a religion of morals, right? I mean, aren't all religions about morality? I actually find Christians holding to this idea. In nearly violent response, I'll also find other Christians who say, "No! There is nothing about morality in Christianity! We are free from the law!" Both sides are missing it. Christianity begins with the Gospel. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9). That means we need saving, first, and, second, that we can't do it ourselves (the bad news). But Christ died on our behalf and rose again and faith in Him can save because of His grace. Let's see ... so far ... nope, nothing about "be good". But, Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) Cause and effect. "You love Me" produces "you will keep My commandments." Necessarily. John wrote that he who is born of God cannot sin continually "because the seed of God abides in him" (1 John 3:9). "Cannot". So the ethic of salvation is grace through faith and the ethic of Christian living is a grateful heart necessarily producing obedience. But too many Christians don't get that. So they're either working to be a good Christian or refusing to work at all in order to be a good Christian. Both fail to see origins.

It's everywhere. We don't know where it came from and, thus, what it means or how it works. Ignorance or apathy, it isn't good. The problems this failure causes are manifold. And going down these trails without origins only leads to more ignorance and apathy. It can't be a good thing.

Monday, February 09, 2015


The President started a conflagration over his comparison of Christianity with Islam or, to be more precise, comparing the Crusades with ISIS. (Is that finally an admission that ISIS is Islamic? Naw.) But he still defends Islam. In an interview with CNN, President Obama suggested that less than 1% of Muslims agree with Islamic terrorists.
"You know, I think that the way to understand this is there is an element growing out of Muslim communities in certain parts of the world that have perverted the religion, have embraced a nihilistic, violent, almost medieval interpretation of Islam, and they’re doing damage in a lot of countries around the world,” said Obama.
It's a difficult argument to make if you ask me. I would suggest that studies say something quite different. It would seem that those who live under an Islamic government are much more likely to agree with Islamic rule, and genuine Islamic rule calls for violence against infidels. That's why CNN could film people cheering for the 9/11 attack. It wasn't a minority. It was a crowd.

That, in fact, is the real difficulty in the argument. Here, let's see if I can reword the president to help you see the problem.
"You know, I think that the way to understand this is there is an element growing out of Christian communities in certain parts of the world that have perverted the religion, have embraced an interpretation of Christianity that goes back to its origins, and they’re doing damage in a lot of countries around the world.”
Do you see it now?

The truth is that when you compare the "instruction manual" for each religion--the Bible for Christianity or the Quran for Islam--you find two different religions going on. In the case of Christianity, the fundamental commands are "repent" and "love God" and "love your neighbor" (Of these last two Jesus said, "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." (Matt 22:40).) On the notion of using any sort of violence to promote the religion, everything in Scripture screams against it. We arrive by faith, not by coercion. We are called to turn the other cheek, to love sacrificially, to love our enemies. Nothing in fundamental Christianity allows for terrorism or violence in the furtherance of the Gospel. Contrast that with Islam. The commands are repeated to kill, to shun, to defeat infidels. Pleasantries like "Strike off their heads" and "strike off the very tips of their fingers" are included. They are commanded to "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them" and to "make war on unbelievers."

So, we have two religions and two sets of adherents of these religions. In Christendom, you have those who offer violence in the name of Christ, but they do so against the biblical teachings. In Islam, you have those who offer violence in the name of Allah, and they do so in accordance with the Quran. In Christendom, you have those who seek first to love in the name of Christ, and they do so in accordance with biblical teachings. In Islam you have those who seek peace with others, but they do so in violation of the teachings of the Quran. In summary, then, both religions have their violent followers. In Christianity they violate Christ's teachings and in Islam they agree with Mohammed.

If "Muslim extremist" means "those who carefully follow the Quran and kill infidels", then "Christian extremist" refers to "those who follow the Bible and love God and their neighbors." Somehow these two do not seem to be the same thing.


I need to clarify this. Here are two other angles from which to see my point.

In Christendom, there are the "liberals", people who have taken the Bible and altered orthodoxy in order to align it with modern views. Thus, clear texts like "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10) or "Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey" (1 Sam 15:3) do not mean what they clearly say ... as they have always been understood. These have "helpfully" redefined Scripture to mean something new.

In Islam there are those (and I've known some) who have taken the Quran and altered its meaning. Clear texts have become mystical, allegorical, myth, but certainly not literal. "Yes," they tell me, "it says to cut off the head of the infidel, but that doesn't mean we're supposed to do that." These are the "liberals" of the Islamic world.

Both religions have them. Both have "fundamentalists" who say, "Oh, no, we're sticking with the original texts and their original meanings and we're not going to allow anyone to redefine the faith for us."

For Islam, those fundamentalists will kill infidels. For Christianity those fundamentalists will turn the other cheek. Really not the same thing.

By "reformation" I mean returning to the original. For Islam that would be the 7th century. For Christianity that would be the first couple of centuries of the modern era. The president said that some 0.1% of Muslims (and I seriously question that number) want to return Islam to a "medieval interpretation of Islam"--it's origins. In the Reformation (and in many current circles of Christianity), the aim was to return Christianity to its origins--the first couple of centuries.

What was original Christianity like? They shared all things in common. They were marked by their detractors as people who loved one another. They were pacifists, almost to the extreme. When Roman emperors declared that those who didn't bow to the emperor as God would be executed, they volunteered for execution.

What was original Islam like? Mohammed was a warrior (among other things). His followers carried on his legacy, expanding Islam by force of arms. The Crusades were not an incursion, but an effort to stop Islamic incursion.

The president pointed to the Crusades and the Inquisition and Christians today point with him at an evil, not a good. Islamic jihadists point to the death and destruction of their past and to that of today's warriors and applaud it. Not the same thing. A number of Christians today long to turn Christianity back to its original form. Millions (and the number is growing) of Muslims today want to return Islam back to its original form. Those two forms are diametrically opposed. The only comparison that can be made is not in their similarity, but in their vast differences.