Saturday, July 31, 2010

Blame Game

We live in a fallen world. Paul says that "the creation was subjected to futility". There is decay, corruption, something wrong. Larry Crabb said, "There's a worm in everything." Somehow, though, it seems like we expect something outside of what a corrupt universe can offer. We expect perfection.

This, of course, is unrealistic. Still, when something goes wrong, it seems like our first option is to figure out who to blame. And someone is always to blame. Nothing "just happened". No, no, it was always some form of negligence at best. More likely it was malicious negligence, a conspiracy of negligence. And, of course, it could have been purely intentional. So we thrash about, aided and abetted by eager litigators, finding out who to blame and what they did wrong and how they will pay for this. A ridiculous example of this would be the conspiracy theorists who were quite sure that Hurricane Katrina was the fault of George Bush. Yes, some actually said that he was to blame for the hurricane. (Some have said that he was to blame for the BP oil spill, too. That dirty, rotten ex-president!) So we sit around and point fingers and complain.

The problem, of course, is two-fold. First, laying blame never results in a solution. It simply results in finger pointing. Second, finding someone to blame doesn't correct the original problem of thinking. Instead, it tends to perpetuate the myth that "If we do it all right, nothing will go wrong." Of course, beyond that, laying blame creates a new set of problems. It seems that blaming is contagious, but shouldering responsibility is admirable. Take, for instance, parents who blame their children's teachers when their kids misbehave. This does no good and they need to take responsibility. Or, to be honest, of what value is it to blame the president for the economy? Saying that it's his fault does not fix the economy. I'm personally tired of hearing about the problems and am interested in hearing the solutions. Conversely anyone who has worked for a boss who actually assumes responsibility, good or bad (credit or blame), has likely enjoyed a uniquely pleasant work environment.

Abraham Lincoln said, "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." Playing the blame game is just a way of escaping responsibility. And, let's be honest, how often can you actually find a single source to blame? Life is far more complicated than that. I think you'll find that seeking solutions rather than someone to blame is a far more productive way to live. At least, that's what I'd recommend.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Modest Proposal

I have an idea. We don't want racism ruling Arizona (or anywhere else). Any thinking person agrees on that. I sure do. And "reasonable suspicion" is hard to define when it comes to illegal immigration. That may also be true. We don't want the police to consider the race of the people with whom they're interacting and then attempting to determine their immigration status. Fine. I think I have an idea that should solve all this.

First, keep in mind that the way that the police will determine immigration status would be via standard identification. That would mean a visa or green card or such for immigrants and driver's license or state-issued ID for others. Not too hard, really. So, here's my suggestion. Let's just make the law that whenever a police officer engages the public for suspected criminal activity, they have the right to ask for identification. Legal immigrants are already required by federal law to carry that identification. Most of the rest of us already carry some sort of state-issued identification. We already have to present ID in a host of situations, so it's shouldn't be a big thing at all. And if it was everyone, then it wouldn't be racist in the least. So ... why not? Personally I wouldn't mind. Of course, I can't remember the last time I had to interact with a police officer over any suspected criminal activity on my part. You know, not breaking the law has its advantages. Being a law-abiding citizen may be a good thing?

This was interesting. Apparently Rhode Island has already been doing what the Arizona law intends. Why isn't Rhode Island being sued? Along the same lines, I have another question. California is trying to legalize recreational marijuana. Currently the medical marijuana that is legal in California violates federal law. So ... they're trying to push it further. Why isn't the federal government taking an actual, intentional violation of federal law into court? Apparently, enforcing the federal laws -- bad; breaking them -- not so much.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

We've been told collectively (and I've been told personally) that until you've "walked a mile in someone else's shoes", you don't have the right to comment on the situation. The topic here is illegal immigration. The notion is this: Until you've endured the hardships of living in poverty in Mexico (or Guatemala or ...), it is wrong for you to condemn anyone for illegally crossing the border into America. The idea is that you cannot know what you would do if you were in the same situation.

The notion sounds reasonable ... but like so many other such notions, whatever you do, don't think it through. This would require, for instance, that federal lawmakers would not be allowed to pass laws on immigration until they first lived in poverty in the places that people live who want to enter this country. It would require that no nation which does not suffer from such conditions would be allowed to regulate their own borders. It would mean, further, that law enforcement and the citizens of such a nation would be wrong for coming to any conclusions about such laws. Do you think that people who enter this country illegally (this is not a question of legal immigration), take up resources, or cheat the system for their own benefit are wrong? Do you consider it immoral for people to cross into this country to traffic in drugs or in human smuggling or a host of other illegal activities? Well, you mustn't. You haven't walked in their shoes.

You see, when you begin to think it through, it becomes bizarre. If you've never been responsible for a family short on funds and in dire straits, you cannot consider it "wrong" for stealing bread or whatever other goods they might need. No laws could be passed that were not, first, considered from the first-person experiential perspective. A single man couldn't have an opinion about married life. An American couldn't have an opinion about life in other countries. And if you were quite precise, you'd discover that no one can actually walk in another man's shoes, which would preclude all options entirely. All opinions and all laws would be ... wrong.

Now, consider this from another perspective. Is it really the desperate family that you want to determine the laws of this country? A person living in real poverty, for instance, might (has) conclude that the best thing (based on their experience) would be to take from the rich and give to the poor. There! Pass that law! (Of course, since the person living in real poverty has never walked in the shoes of those with more, that would be problematic, wouldn't it?) In fact, isn't it likely that people in desperate situations are likely to do desperate acts? Is it required, then, that all laws be addressed to desperate acts -- making them legal?

The laws that we have are in place because thinking people believe them to be the best option for all concerned. It doesn't require a different set of shoes to conclude what would be best for people. There are a variety of good sources to consider. There are sources like history and experience and statistics. There is a common perception of right and wrong (much smaller than it used to be, unfortunately). For Christians, there is the Bible. The Bible doesn't wait for "walk in my shoes". Not knowing what I would do in a given situation doesn't preclude knowing what I should do in that situation. In fact, wise people know that it's best to put the "should" into place before the situation occurs to prevent us from making stupid decisions in those events.

I understand that I've never been in the conditions that so many who illegally enter our country have endured. And I feel for them; I really do. And I have to admit that, despite all my hopes and confidence, I don't really know what I would do in the same circumstances. Still, I disagree that it is wrong to conclude what is the right thing to do until I've experienced those conditions. Frankly, that makes no sense. I don't think it's unreasonable to hold that people should be held responsible for breaking the law without first having walked a mile in their shoes. Unless, of course, you're going to let me break whatever laws I might choose to break since you haven't walked in my shoes. No, not even then.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


It's coming, folks. It's looming on the horizon ... if "the horizon" is defined as "this week". On July 29th, Arizona's now famous SB 1070 law will go into effect. That, of course, assumes a lot. It assumes that the world doesn't come to an end before that day. (Okay, long shot, but who knows?) It assumes that a judge (or two) doesn't intervene and put it off or shoot it down. (Not too much of a long shot.) And even if it goes into effect, its effect is still up in the air. Homeland Security already has said they don't feel any need to enforce the law. At least one sheriff says he doesn't expect to require his officers to enforce the law. Of course, the native Indian tribes have no intention of enforcing the law. I guess Sheriff Joe will certainly be in there, but who knows how many others? And, of course, Judge Susan Bolton who heard the the case last Thursday said that she retains the right to strike down all, none, or even parts of SB 1070, so who knows what we'll get? With loud protesters "scoring points" by stopping traffic and objectors in law enforcement who won't even obey the law if it passes and the courts who are perfectly willing to strike down laws if they feel like it, it's really hard to predict what the future of this law and its effects looks like.

Still, let's get a couple of things straight. First, despite every single media reference to the contrary, SB 1070 is not designed to be an "immigration law". I can hardly find a single source that says otherwise, but the law is not about immigration. Within the text of the law it says, "This act may be cited as the 'Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act'." That, you see, is because it's not an immigration law; it's an enforcement law. The technical title is "ARTICLE 8. ENFORCEMENT OF IMMIGRATION LAWS". That is, "Immigration laws already exist; this article is how we plan to enforce those existing laws." Since I have no pull with any media outlet anywhere, I don't anticipate that any will say, "Gee whiz, thanks, Stan! We missed that entirely! We'll cease and desist right away calling it an 'immigration law'." Still, when you think about it, regardless of what you think of it, please be reasonable and refer to it as it is intended -- law enforcement, not immigration policy.

But here's the thing that I really want to address. I'll pull it out of this story about a Phoenix police officer who posted a video rant about the law on YouTube and Facebook. In a later interview he said, "The law clearly reflected hatred, out and out hatred for a group of people that don't deserve hatred." That's it. That's the opposition side. That's the single argument offered. This is why the law is evil. It is evil to try to enforce immigration laws (at least, apparently, here in Arizona) because to do so is racism.

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC exposed the "racist roots of Arizona's immigration law" back in April ... by linking it to State Senator Russell Pearce (who hugged a Nazi of all things!) who was linked to Kris Kobach (a "a birther who's running for secretary of state in Kansas" and who wrote the racist line, "To govern is to populate.") who was linked to John Tanton, an obvious racist who "told the Detroit Free Press that America will soon be overrun by illegal immigrants." There you have it, folks. In the words of one of Rachel's fans, "It's well established that SB1070 is racist."

Now, I'm baffled. I've read the law. I don't find anything in it that says, "It's a crime to be brown skinned" (as has been suggested by at least one protester). I don't see anything that says, "Arrest anyone who looks Latino." Not in there. I don't find anything that suggests "racial profiling" ... except, of course, for the existing laws that already allows racial profiling if its relevant. So why is it "racist"? Well, it all seems to revolve around this whole "reasonable suspicion" thing. Reasonable suspicion on many crimes is evident. You're carrying a coat hanger in one hand and three car stereos under your arm, and your looking in the window of a parked car in the wee hours of the morning. Maybe it could be called "reasonable suspicion" that you're stealing car stereos. Got it. What constitutes "reasonable suspicion" for illegal immigration? Well, apparently the only possible thing would be brown skin. Diana Nguyen and Jen Wang of the Huffington Post write, "... there's no way to really establish reasonable suspicion except by race or ethnicity ..." Now, Sheriff Joe was quoted as saying (in answer to the question about what constitutes reasonable suspicion of illegal status), "Ten guys in a trunk. I would think that's reasonable suspicion." I guess the opponents of the law disagree. What about the van filled with 32 people that takes evasive maneuvers when being pulled over? I've personally met people of Latino descent that do not strike me in the least as illegal and others who do. In fact, I've encountered people of a variety of races who both did and didn't make me wonder about their immigration status. It's not their skin color that makes the difference.

Do you know what strikes me in all of this? It seems to me that the racism is on the other side of the protest. Now, I don't mean to suggest that no racists favor SB 1070. Of course they do. But isn't it just as racist to claim that a law-enforcement law passed by white people is, without question, racist without having a single component of the law that requires it? Isn't it an assumption that "white people are racist" that makes the assumption that this law is racist? Maybe not ... but it's certainly some kind of prejudicial conclusion that presumes facts not in evidence. Let's go further. The law makes no reference to skin color or the like. The protesters believe it to be racist against Latinos. I ask you. Isn't it racist to assume that all illegal immigrants are Latino? The law doesn't. Why do the protesters? Something strikes me as twisted here.

Well, we'll see what comes of it all. I'm amused that Denver voted to boycott Arizona, but advertises heavily for Arizona tourists to visit Denver. I'm disappointed that police officials have already refused before the fact to enforce the law. I'm concerned about the unsupported accusation that "It's well established that SB1070 is racist." (Wouldn't that mandate that the 70% of Arizonans, many of which are Latino, and the 60% of Americans are all racists, too?) I'm tired of the shouting. (Hint to protesters: It won't make people support your cause if you create a traffic tie-up in your protest.) I'm sick and tired of being told that states should not enforce federal law or that anyone who believes that the country should not control its borders is a racist. Unfortunately, every time this "racist" card is played, the actual issues at hand will be swept off the table and the argument will switch to "It is too racist" "It is not" "Yes it is" ...

UPDATE: In case you don't already know, the judge blocked "parts" of the law. Those parts would "reasonable suspicion" (requiring, I suppose, that the only time an officer can determine someone's immigration status is if they already have proof of their immigration status ... wait ... that's not right) and the requirement for carrying federal immigration documents ... you know ... the part that is already law. "But, look. You Arizonans go ahead with the rest. You're certainly free to enforce the federal law ... as long as you don't inquire about immigration status ... or actually require any proof of status. We're good with that."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Words Mean Something

A federal judge in Connecticut has ruled that cheerleading is not a sport. The question came up because of an item called "Title IX", a part of the regulations which requires universities to offer equal athletic opportunities to both genders. According to Title IX, a sport must have coaches, practice, and competitions in a defined season.

The cheerleaders, of course, are outraged. "We're athletes," they complained. They earned letters in high school. They are just as fit as any other athlete. What's up with that?!

The problem, again, is words. If you say, for instance, that "athlete" means "A person possessing the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility, and endurance, that are necessary for physical exercise," well, then, of course cheerleaders are athletes. No doubt! But is that the definition? It is a definition. On the other hand, the top definition is "a person trained to compete in sports." So now we're back at the original question. What is a sport?

The dictionary indicates that "sport" carries a couple of essential characteristics. First, there must be a set of rules. Second, there must be competition. You know, kind of like the Title IX definition. Well, of course we've all heard about cheerleading competitions, so that's fine, right? Not if Title IX has its way, because no one has a clue what "cheerleading season" is. But, what about the other component? Turns out that cheerleading does have rules ... but only safety rules. There are no "rules of the game". There are rules that say that cheerleaders need to be properly trained and there are rules that say that they can't use "height increasing apparatus" and there are rules that they must have their stunts approved by coaches ... but there are no "rules of the game". It would appear, just in terms of definitions, that cheerleading is not a sport ... and while cheeleaders are certainly physically fit and highly skilled, they are not athletes.

It turns out that terms like "sport" and "athlete" have specific definitions in context and that the problem that has arisen over this whole cheerleading thing is due to a breakdown in those definitions. The problem has occurred because we've used terms like "sport" and "athlete" to mean much less precise things, and now it's coming back to bite us.

Kind of like terms like "marriage", "fidelity", "morality", and, yes, even "Christian".

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pauline Dispensationalism

Welcome to the new Dispensationalism. Okay, it's not technically new, but it's pretty young. Original Dispensationalism was contrasted with Reformed Covenant Theology. In Covenant Theology, biblical history is viewed in terms of covenants between God and Man. These covenants were not abdicated. One simply modified the other. Dispensationalism preferred to view biblical history in terms of "dispensations" -- periods of stewardships given by God to Man. Typical dispensations would be Innocence (Adam at the start), Conscience (Mankind after the Fall), Civil Government (Mankind after the Flood), the Law (from Moses on), the Church (or Grace), the Millenial Kingdom ... you get the idea. This mild form of Dispensationalism was used by folks like Irenaeus in the 2nd century and Augustine to describe biblical time periods. Building on Dispensationalism, we got what I'll call hyper-Dispensationalism. In this view (which essentially takes the standard Dispensationalist views to the next logical step), these dispensations are all distinct. They supersede each other. This concept started in the first half of the 19th century and encouraged a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church. Constructed by the likes of John Darby, D.L. Moody, and C.I. Scofield, this view started to take precedence in the Church in America. Taking this to the next logical step, we find "ultra-Dispensationalism" coming into vogue. This one is actually around today. This is the "new Dispensationalism" that I'm talking about.

Often referred to as "Pauline Dispensationalism", this view argues that there are two gospels. The gospel that Jesus taught was the first. The gospel that Paul taught was the second. And these are not the same. The first gospel was aimed at Jews and was a "salvation by works" gospel. (That's why Jesus preached so much about "repent" and doing good works, you see.) Paul, on the other hand, refers to his gospel as "my gospel" (Rom 2:16; 16:25; 2 Tim 2:8). You see? It's different. The "evil" of the earlier gospel occurs when we try to apply what Jesus taught to the Church today. You see, that wasn't for the Church today. That was for Israel. In fact, the Gospels, Peter's works, John's works, Hebrews, Jude ... these were all for Israel. That's why, for instance, Paul writes about "we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Rom 3:28) and James writes about "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). Different gospels to different people, you see? Clears it all up, right? I mean, didn't Paul say, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15)? You need to make the proper division between the gospel to the Jews and the gospel to the Gentiles, you see.

The first thing tossed out on its ear as an evil residual from the judaizers is the Law. Everyone knows that the Law is no longer applicable. Get rid of that. I mean, it's this stupid "Law" thing that is causing all this confusion about "a man lying with a man" being sinful and all, right? No, no, that's Israel. We no longer need to consider the Law. Look, didn't Paul say, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal 5:18)? Or, look here, how about when Paul wrote, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom 10:4). If Christ ends the Law, why even consider it anymore? Come on! Get with it, you ... you judaizers. (One item I read referred to the problem of Judaism's "galatianizing influence".)

There is a problem here, folks. It's not what the Bible says. For instance, when Paul says "we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law", he goes on to say, "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law" (Rom 3:31). Problem! And what about that "end of the law" claim from Romans 10? Well, let's look at that. It turns out that this is a problem of prooftexting -- proving a point by yanking a verse out of context. In the first few verses of Romans 10, Paul commends the Jews for their zeal for righteousness, but points out that they didn't understand the righteousness of God. You see, the way God's righteousness is achieved is through Christ. As it turns out, that was the goal of the Law. (Note that in the verse where the term "end" is used, the word is intended like when we say that "there are means and there are ends". It is a reference to a goal, not a termination.) What Romans 10:4 is saying is not that Christ terminated the Law, but that the purpose of the Law was to point out that human righteousness was impossible and Christ was necessary to obtain God's righteousness. So this whole division here is denied by Paul.

The Law still has an important purpose today. Sure, I'll agree that there are ceremonial laws in the Old Testament that may not be applicable and there are certainly sacrificial laws in the Old Testament that are still fully in force ... in that they are fully fulfilled by Christ. But the Law itself tells what God wants, from separation to morality to worship. It points us to Christ and tells people who have been given a new nature how they are to please God. It strips us of any self-confidence and drives us to our knees ... the proper place for believers. Beware of this new theology. It sounds cool. No rules. Once you're in, you're in, so don't worry about a thing. Live it up! And if those evil "judaizers" come a'knockin', just kick their heretical tails out the door. It sounds like fun ... except for the simple fact that it runs directly opposite to biblical theology including Pauline theology (like, for instance, where he says that the Gentiles were grafted into the same tree that was Israel, not replacing or separated). Don't go there, folks. It's not a safe place to be. (Remember, it was Paul who wrote "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12), not exactly a "Live it up!" command.) Like modern-day "scholars" who have only recently discovered that, well, none of the Bible is real, modern-day "theologians" who only recently discover that the Church has been wrong for 2000 years are a dangerous bunch.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Psalm for the Sabbath

The Psalms have been a part of worship for true believers for centuries. There was a time in the Church when the only allowable songs were the Psalms. Isaac Watts changed all that. As a youth he told his father, "These psalms we sing in church every Sunday are boring." His father told him, "If you think you can do better, write some songs." And he did. He rewrote Psalms and introduced non-biblical hymns to the Church. During his lifetime he wrote over 600 hymns and poems. I'm not suggesting it was a bad thing. After all, the Scriptures say to teach one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. But in our haste to move to new stuff, it's dangerous, I think, to forget about the original worship songs. After all, these are God breathed.

With that in mind, then, today's entry will be a psalm. Maybe you can keep it with you today and savor it while you worship the Lord. Without further comment, then, here is Psalm 92.
1 It is good to give thanks to the LORD And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
2 To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning And Your faithfulness by night,
3 With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp, With resounding music upon the lyre.
4 For You, O LORD, have made me glad by what You have done, I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands.
5 How great are Your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep.
6 A senseless man has no knowledge, Nor does a stupid man understand this:
7 That when the wicked sprouted up like grass And all who did iniquity flourished, It was only that they might be destroyed forevermore.
8 But You, O LORD, are on high forever.
9 For, behold, Your enemies, O LORD, For, behold, Your enemies will perish; All who do iniquity will be scattered.
10 But You have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; I have been anointed with fresh oil.
11 And my eye has looked exultantly upon my foes, My ears hear of the evildoers who rise up against me.
12 The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green,
15 To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Who is the Antichrist?

Joel Osteen is a popular preacher these days. With his winning smile and his massive congregation and his wonderful, friendly gospel that tells us that God wants all His children to be financially blessed, why wouldn't he be? And he's not alone in it. The likes of T.D. Jakes and Creflo Dollar and so many other names are simply doing a "booming business" with this "Yes!" answer to the question, "Does God want you to be rich?" After all, to those without such riches, that's truly good news. So prevalent is this movement, claiming millions of followers, that The Atlantic did a piece last year titled "Did Christianity Cause the Crash?" Started by the likes of Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts, this whole movement is still going strong. And in tough financial times, it is very popular with struggling people.

One has to wonder why. I mean, if they're struggling, what does that say? If God indeed wants His people to be wealthy (and, let's be careful here -- "wealthy" is a relative term, as Osteen is known to point out), why are they not wealthy? If God intends them to drive a Mercedes ... where is it? Further, trying to figure out how to fit together the opposing perspectives of "God wants you to be rich" and "the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" can be very difficult. Making sense out of "God wants you to be rich" and "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" is a monumental task.

There is a pile of Scripture warning against money, the love of it, the accumulation of it, and the problems it causes. None of this phases the "true believer". You can't even shake them with the host of passages that promise and praise the suffering that believers will experience. It's not for them. My mother once told me, "If it doesn't play in Bangladesh, it isn't true." By that she meant that if God intended all believers to be wealthy, then they would be wealthy wherever they could be found ... and they're not. This, I think, must be one of the hardest things for them to overcome. You see, not only are African and Asian and -- well, just about any type -- Christians enduring less than "wealthy" and closer to "suffering", but we have a prime example of just this concept. Jesus told a would-be follower, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Matt 8:20). Instead of being a beneficiary of the "promise of wealth" offered to true believers, Christ Himself failed to have such success. He had no home. He had no wealth. Instead, He suffered miserably, died alone, was buried in a borrowed tomb.

Now, the "prosperity gospel" folk call themselves "Christians" and try to use the Bible to prove their position. However, if being a "Christian" means following Christ and Christ was not wealthy, how is that going to fly? If the Bible is abundantly clear that the idol of wealth is a problem, how is that going to fly? Jesus said of false teachers, "You will recognize them by their fruits." If someone calling himself a Christian is teaching concepts directly opposed to Christ, I think you can find a better name for them than "Christian". I don't know, but perhaps John had a more appropriate name. He called them "antichrists". Doesn't that name make more sense?

Friday, July 23, 2010


Do you know what prooftexting is? It's when you take a verse or a short passage in Scripture to prove a particular doctrinal point you're trying to make. It's popular because Christians want to be biblical, right? But it can be dangerous because so often you can get a nice sounding piece that, in context, doesn't say what you hoped it would say at all.

Have you ever wondered how it is that authors of biblical passages could get this so wrong? Take, for instance, Paul's use of Malachi 1:2-3. He quotes it in Romans 9:13 -- "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." Now, he quotes it right, but he applies it wrong. You see, the entire context of the passage is about individuals. There is Abraham, Isaac, Sarah, Rebekah, Jacob, Esau, Moses, Pharaoh ... all individuals. He says "It depends not on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God", referencing individuals. Paul, here, gets it all wrong. He's wrong, of course, because the text he quotes in Malachi is clearly about Israel as a nation versus the nation from Esau. The text he quotes is about groups, but he uses it here in reference to individuals. Clearly wrong. So, obviously, despite all the clear language about individuals in the Romans 9 passage, Paul must be talking about groups because the context of his quote was about groups. There! Cleared that up.

A clearer example of this flagrant abuse of biblical, mistaken prooftexting would be in Matthew. In chapter 2 we read that God warned Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt. The family lived in Egypt until Herod died. Then they returned to Israel which was, according to Matthew, "to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, 'Out of Egypt I called my son'" (Matt 2:15). And that all seems okay ... until you examine what the prophet actually said. "The prophet" here is Hosea. In Hosea 11:1 we find "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." There, see? Matthew quotes it correctly like Paul did, but, like Paul, he quotes it out of context ... and misses the original meaning. There is no question that Hosea was talking about Israel, not Jesus. It isn't a prophecy, but a statement by God that He called His people, Israel, out of Egypt ... you know ... way back when. And so we have Matthew trying to score prophecy points and quoting stuff out of context to make them. Bad! Bad Matthew!

But ... hold on there. If you believe that the Bible is the God-breathed Word of God and if, as an unavoidable logical conclusion based on that belief you further conclude that the Bible must be correct, then you must reconsider. And what you would conclude, then, is that Matthew, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, interpreted that Hosea passage in a different light than the original context gave it and understood it to have a double meaning. It certainly meant that God called Israel out of Egypt, but it also meant that He literally would call His Son (Jesus) out of Egypt. That is, while Matthew did not adhere to context, he still accurately represented the truth.

Now, in our time, this would be a mistake. We must retain context to properly understand Scripture. We don't get to ignore it. The only reason Matthew got away with it was that he was under divine oversight; he had genuine, divine inspiration. We don't get that today, so we don't get that option. He did. So, while we don't get to do that, he did and it was fine.

So, if we must retain context to properly understand Scripture and it is perfectly acceptable for a biblical writer under Holy Spirit Inspiration to not account for context, what does that say about the first passage I mentioned? We have, you see, a conflict there. The quoted Malachi passage is about groups, but the context of the Romans passage makes it about individuals. What do we do? Well, we can either say that Paul was exceedingly unclear -- you know, using a whole context of individuals when he really meant groups -- or we can keep Paul in context and, assuming inspiration, conclude that he rightly uses that quote in this instance as a reference to individuals like the rest of his passage here. In other words, since the entire context of Romans 9 points to individual election, are you going to ignore that context and apply the context of a quote used in the passage, or are you going to accept the context and assume that God told Paul to use it that way?

It's your call, of course. I wouldn't want to limit you to using the context of a passage to interpret it. And we should let Scripture interpret Scripture, by all means. Of course, if you're going to be consistent with that, then you're going to have to rebuke Matthew for his misuse of Hosea, right? Tell ya what ... I'll leave that to you.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Embraceable You

The standard objection to Reformed theology, worded a variety of ways, seems to boil down to a single thought: "Free will!" We have decided that Human Free Will is the real issue, and anything short of autonomy is ... well, evil. It certainly isn't "of God". Anyone can see that.

And then I read the Scriptures:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Rom 8:28-30).
Now, this is problematic to the Arminian on multiple levels. For instance, we are assured that the believer can have no assurance. "You can lose your salvation, so work hard." In terms of what God does with the believer, however, we see something different here. We see a string of events orchestrated by God and uninterrupted by my works. Starting with "predestined" (an evil word, I know, to some, but ... it's in there), He calls. From called to justified and from justified to glorified. There is no "What about me?" in there. This is a listing of God's work in those whom He foreknows. End of story. If we add "But some, of course, deviate", then we are adding a sequence that is not there and calls into question God's ability to do exactly what He says here in this passage -- a dangerous proposition. Still, I understand that there aren't as many true Arminians as there are those who simply object to this whole "God does the choosing" premise. And that's the point I wanted to get at here.

We all (or mostly all) know and love that 28th verse. "God causes all things to work together for good." Oh, yeah! Good stuff! It is good to those who love God and it is good to those who are called according to His purpose. Fine. We like that. But the next verse begins with a "for" statement. God causes all things to work together for good for a reason. What is that reason? God has a plan, "His purpose". And what is that purpose? To conform people into the image of His Son. That should be abundantly clear -- beyond dispute.

The string of events that brings about this conformation is a sequence caused by God. It starts with "foreknew". Okay, I see those hands. I hear the objections. "See? He foreknew who would choose Him!" Well, actually, that's not what it says, is it? The language, in fact, is one of intimacy. You know, like "'to know' in the biblical sense". That is, those with whom He was intimate before they knew it He predestined. But you've likely heard that and rejected it. "No, no! It's 'foreknew'! He knows in advance who will choose Him." So, let me see if I have this right. The idea is that God plans/hopes/desires to predestine everyone to be conformed to the image of His Son ... but we just don't give Him permission. He's standing on the edge of time looking down and hoping, hoping, hoping, YES! Another one will give Him permission and so that one is chosen. Now God can begin the string of predestine, call, justify, glorify. Now He can begin His work. Before that, well, sorry, but His hands were tied.

The language here is problematic for that kind of thinking. (And, no, I can't imagine a hardcore or softcore Arminian using language like "His hands were tied." It's the only possible conclusion I can find.) The problem is that the entire language used here is outside of Human Free Will. In fact, up until this point, the language was about "futility" (Rom 8:20), not ability. Hey, we don't even know how to pray (Rom 8:26)! Fortunately for God, we do have the ability to give Him permission to choose us. No, the language in this passage completely avoids any human intervention. It is all about what God does. He doesn't seem to wait for anything, to require permission, to expect from those whom He foreknows something they need to contribute. It's all on Him.

The "doctrines of grace" as they are sometimes called have a way of removing "me" from the equation. Like this passage in Romans 8, the idea is that it is all God. We don't choose. We don't provide the faith. We don't contribute. God does the work. So when we do choose (and we do), it is because God enabled it and it is because God is at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure. No part of my salvation, new nature, or eternal life can be attributed to something I brought in. That is the image painted in this passage. That's the glory I embrace.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Expect More

It's the political period. You know. Voting time is around the corner. So we are flooded with signs for pet candidates and pet projects. One that caught my eye was baffling. It read, "Are they 4 education?" Now, I thought it sad that the people who made the sign didn't know that the word was "for" rather than "4", but, looking beyond that educational blunder, what were they asking? Are there candidates out there that stand on "I am opposed to education! I would oppose any education whatsoever. I believe in 'no child left behind' ... in that I don't think children should be left behind in school!" I mean, of course, that's nonsense. I've never heard a candidate who was opposed to education.

So what did they mean? I tried to figure it out for myself -- always a mistake in the political arena, I suppose. Perhaps they were concerned that the candidates wouldn't spend what they deemed "enough" on education. Of course, that doesn't boil down to "opposed to education". That's simply a difference of opinion about whether or not money makes for good education. Maybe they wanted more teachers or more books or ... you know, that kind of "4 education". But that, again, would be a difference of opinion about what makes for good education, not an opposition to education. No one is that narrow, right?

I was, of course, mistaken. I finally found their website. Expect More Arizona is a group dedicated to ... here, let them say it ... "creating a movement of passionate and engaged Arizonan's who value education as our state's top priority." Really! Really? We have immigration and crime and recession and housing and employment and water and power and personal rights and ... we have issues galore, and they want to make eduction "our state's top priority." If that means that police and fire lose manpower, so be it. Education is our top priority. If that means that crime goes through the roof, who cares? Education is our top priority. What if we run out of water here in the desert? Quit your whining! Education is the highest issue. Not families. Not health. Not safety. Education!

Conservatives often get accused of being "single-issue voters". You know, "Why don't you consider other things besides that whole, tired abortion issue?" The fact that more than a million babies are murdered every year should not be an issue. Nor should the sanctity of marriage or the moral character of a candidate or ... well, just about anything that conservatives are concerned about. No, no, the only acceptable "single-issue" allowed, apparently, is education. Mind you, I think that education is important. That's why I likely wouldn't put my children into the system today. And it's not for lack of money, manpower, or interest. I agree that it's important, but I think that ship has already sailed. Is that really what needs to be our state's top priority? At what cost to everything else (given our dwindling resources)?

But ... don't mind me. I'm just spouting off here. I mean, somehow I expect more ...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lest Any Man Should Boast

Paul says in a couple of places that salvation is "not of works" and specifies the objection he is overcoming: "Lest any man should boast." If we can find room for boasting, then salvation is not of grace. It is owed us. If there is a small part that is ours, then it can be said, "I accomplished something here; God gave me what I earned." So the Bible argues against salvation by works and salvation by Law and any other human means because it is not acceptable that any man should boast -- should have something within himself of which to be proud when it comes to salvation.

This idea, of course, will cause a problem if you think it through. The standard view is that "God has done 99.9% of what is required for my salvation and all I have to do is that last 0.1% and then I'm saved! What's there to boast about?" They tell me, "Just because you come in faith is no reason to boast." And I'm not sure at all I can agree. Here are a couple of illustrations that show my problem here.

In an imaginary town there is a giant boulder on a hill overlooking the town. Thus the town is named Boulder. The boulder is ominous, but it is very secure in its place, held there by a small, key stone at its base. It never moves. It never even shudders. It's very secure. And it has been for as long as anyone knows. A local teen is playing on the hill one day and comes up to the boulder. He sees that tiny little stone and wonders why it's there. He pulls it out to look at it. Nothing special. So he tosses it and goes on about his fun. Later that evening, however, the wind and gravity work their magic, and the boulder comes rolling down into the streets, crushing houses and cars and precious pets. In the aftermath, the police investigate and finally determine that it was that teen that pulled that stone out. Who gets the blame? Is it nature for putting the boulder on the hill, or the wind for moving it, or gravity for giving it velocity? No, it's that teen who will be charged because he pulled that "inconsequential" little rock out of the way.

Of course, in that example, the teen has nothing to boast about. He's facing charges. So let's see if I can offer an example where credit is due. I live in a nice little house on the edge of town. I didn't build the house. I didn't build the power plant several miles away that powers everything around. I didn't string the miles and miles of power lines that transport that power. I didn't create the infrastructure to distribute that power in my neighborhood. I didn't put up the poles (or, in my neighborhood, dig the trenches) that carry the electricity from house to house. I didn't design or install the transformers that make that power usable at my house. I didn't wire the house, put up the light fixture, or connect the switches. But when my wife says, "I can't see; it's too dark", I flip the switch (that's all) and I get the credit for lighting up the room.

It is argued that simply choosing Christ -- simply coming in faith -- is nothing to boast about. What's the big deal? But if that "simple" act of choosing Christ in faith is the "switch" that lights my life, it's not trivial. If that is the sole thing that is keeping the boulder of salvation from rolling through, it's not small. If God cannot save me unless I do that one "simple" thing, it's not a little thing. And, if I'm able to choose Christ in faith despite my being spiritually dead, hostile to God, doing nothing good, unable to understand, and all the rest of the things attributed to Natural Man, it is not just not a little thing; it's huge. It would be like Lazarus raising himself from the dead. Nice trick if you can do it. Jesus did, and we don't consider that a small thing.

If I can get to heaven and tell the angels, "The difference between me and the next door neighbor who rejected Christ was that I chose Christ in faith", I don't see that as trivial. That, after all, is the final, deciding factor, isn't it? That would indeed be something about which to boast. And, oh, yeah, that was the problem Paul was trying to prevent, wasn't it?

Monday, July 19, 2010

American v Christian

Can Americans be Christian? Well, of course we can. I mean, what is there about being a citizen of the United States that would contradict being a Christian? Nothing! No, that's not what I'm asking. Can a person embrace the values that make America what it is today and still be Christian? I think that's a tougher question.

The president boldly stated a while back that America was not a Christian nation. I don't think he was far wrong. The Christian values that formed this country aren't the values honored today. Most people would say that's a good thing. No, today, the highest values seem to be independence and individualism. The notion today is that we should be free to do whatever it is we want to do and not have to depend on others. The real valuable person today, for instance, is the "self-made man". That's something to aspire to. And we have made ourselves in the image of individualism. That old Marlboro man image is ingrained in us. He's out there, alone, taking care of business, all by himself. He doesn't need anyone. And he's his own man. You know, like Frank Sinatra praised in song, "I did it my way." Yeah ... that's good stuff.

Not too long ago Americans were a slightly different breed. The most obvious example would be the World War II culture. Ration gas for the war effort? No problem. Can't get milk, coffee, rubber, and so on because they need it "over there"? Not an issue. Lose a child to defeating tyranny? Very, very sad, but also an item deserving honor and pride ... not outrage. Not today. We want to live, we want to live without limitations, and we don't want any discomfort in doing so. We don't first ask, for instance, "How do we fix this problem?" We ask, "Who's to blame?" Stuff doesn't just happen; we're going to blame someone and they're gonna pay! Our national pastime may have once been baseball, but now it's litigation.

Of course, it would be an error to suggest that people don't do good deeds anymore. They do. But the approach is slightly different. Today we believe, "Do good unto others so they will do good unto you." But ... what if they don't? Husbands will be good to wives because they're told "treat her better and she'll treat you better." Many people have decided to limit family size because "It's just too much work to raise kids." We look at things in terms of return rather than investment, in terms of "What can I get out of it?" rather than for simply doing good.

Of course, one of the key components of America is capitalism. It always has been. Some say that capitalism is built on greed. I disagree. Capitalism built on enlightened self-interest. Not to say that there aren't greedy people out there. But if our recent economic woes are any example, it is greedy people that cause the system to collapse, not prosper. No, capitalism is based on the idea that if I provide people what they want, they'll give me what I want. It doesn't work too well if we're simply trying to get rich. That could be a simple matter of various nefarious activities. No, we just want to be comfortable, and to do it, we need to take into account other people. If we treat them well, they'll treat us well. If we don't, they won't, and that's bad for business.

But how do these values stack up against Christian values? Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow Me." How does that fit with modern American values? The biblical picture of the Church is one of community, not individualism. It is one of self-sacrifice, not personal gain. It is an image of utter dependence, not advanced independence. The Body of Christ is the image used for the Church. In it there are individual parts, sure, but they don't work independently. Independence is a problem for that. Paul specifically argues against that in 1 Corinthians 12 when he illustrates with "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you'." And Paul's "suggestion" (read "command") to "in humility count others more important than yourselves" (Phil 2:3) is just, well, downright unAmerican!

Of course, I'm overstating the problem. It is possible to be an American and be a Christian. Still, when we absorb modern American values and try to incorporate them into Christian values, we run into problems -- serious, fundamental problems. The basic Christian concept of "die to self" is in stark contrast to the basic American concept of "I'm the important one." The Christian family that forms the Christian community is a vanishing breed in America. How do selfless kindness, unconditional love, self-sacrificing generosity, and other values basic to Christianity stack up against American values? We hardly know what it looks like anymore. This is why I want, first, to be a Christian before I am an American.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Thanks Be To God!

Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:17-18).
Sometimes we become complacent about the grace given us. Sometimes we think that Christianity is an "add on", something we can tack onto our lives and it will be ... better. This kind of thinking, I suspect, is one of the reasons that so many people can claim, "Yeah, I'm a Christian, but it doesn't really have an impact on how I live." Paul, here, disagrees.

Paul describes a transaction that has taken place in those who belong to Christ. It takes place, at the beginning of the chapter, when "We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4). This "newness of life" is not trivial. He already described us as "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Rom 3:10-12). He already claimed "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). He will go on to say in Romans 8 that the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. And in this 6th chapter he describes the condition of Natural Man as "slaves to sin". There is a lot that has to be overcome.

Yet, here he describes the Regenerate Man in starkly different terms. He uses phrases like "obedient from the heart" and "slaves of righteousness". This is not the same person described elsewhere as Natural Man. And this, indeed, is something for which to thank God.

We are more blessed than we normally realize. We aren't becoming merely obedient. He changed our hearts and we become obedient from the heart, a radical change from attempts at mere mechanical obedience. We aren't merely declared righteous. We become slaves of righteousness. Doing what pleases God is a driving factor. We really want that. It is a fundamental change in the human heart and it is wrought by God and we are the beneficiaries.

Thanks be to God!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Perilous Patriarchy?

In an article from Sojourners Magazine by Anne Eggebroten entitled The Persistence of Patriarchy, we see the argument against complementarianism taken to its logical conclusion. "What is complementarianism?" you may ask. Theopedia describes it as "the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles in life and in the church." They go on to say, "It is rooted in more literal interpretations of the Creation account and the roles of men and women presented in Scripture." The Sojourners article is raising the flag. "How can this kind of nonsense still exist in the church of the 21st century??!!"

The word, complementarianism, is rooted in the concept of the complement. Not to be confused with the compliment (saying something nice about someone), a complement is achieved when two (or more) parts, put together, make up a complete whole. Like a key and a lock, these parts together fill what was lacking separately. And the complementarian view of male and female is that men are different than women and that each is made to complement the other so that together they make a whole.

It's opposite would be egalitarianism, a movement "based on the theological view that not only are all people equal before God in their personhood, but there are no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles each can fulfill in the home, the church, and the society." While complementarianism is the historical position of the Church, egalitarianism is fairly new, not really hitting the market of ideas until the late 19th century. They derive their views from a variety of passages, but the "home run" verse is from Galatians:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).
Well, there it is, clear as day! How could you not conclude that there are no gender-based limitations on roles in the home or the church? Silly complementarians!

This interpretation, unfortunately, is catastrophic. Starting simply from the premise that the Bible cannot contradict itself ... it does. Paul clearly says, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man" (1 Tim 2:12). He is making a distinction between men and women. If Paul was arguing in Galatians 3 that there is no distinction, then we can either conclude that he was schizophrenic, or that something else is amiss here. Now if that was the only place that such distinctions occurred, perhaps we could say, "Well, it's one verse." It's not. He says in 1 Corinthians "Women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission" (1 Cor 14:34). Again, an unavoidable distinction between men and women here. And he does it twice. Here women should "keep silent" and "be in submission". "Okay," we say, "two verses. But still ..." Wait. It keeps coming up. He says that overseers must be "the husband of one wife", precluding the possibility of female elders. He tells wives to submit to their husbands. In fact, so often does Paul draw these kinds of distinctions between men and women that many regard Paul as a misogynist. "Paul hates women!"

Okay, so there is a pile of Scripture that draws distinctions between the roles (not value) of men and women. What are we to do with that? I mean, there's that whole Galatians 3 thing going on. What do we do now? Well, there are a couple of approaches out there. The egalitarian approach is to start with that reading of the verse in Galatians 3 and work from there. "Given," they would say, "that there is no distinction between male and female in Christ ..." and then they work through the "pile of Scripture" I mentioned. "Maybe Paul didn't write it." As Anne Eggebroten put it, "You must ignore evidence that the 'pastoral epistles' (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) were written in honor of Paul long after he died and reflect a second-century debate over women’s roles in the church—whether to conform to social customs for the sake of winning converts, or to advocate radical social equality (and often celibacy) in the last days before the Second Coming." So, you see, you can't really trust those. Or, maybe, Paul wrote those things ... but he was wrong. Or maybe it's your understanding of the Bible that is in question. You see, our translations use terms like "submit" and "headship", but it doesn't really mean that. It's simply a failure of modern interpretation. All of these take a low view of Scripture. More common is this one: "That was then; this is now." You see, back then women didn't have the independence, the status, or the education they have now. That was necessary back then. It's not now. Unfortunately (for that view), Paul sources his reasons for making such statements, and he doesn't do it in the culture of his day. Both in 1 Cor 11 and in 1 Tim 2, Paul says that the reason for this whole complementarianism idea and the differences in roles of men and women was due to his literal interpretation of Genesis ... that Adam was created first and then Eve, and that God created them equal in value and importance, but different in roles and responsibilities. (Note: The argument of culture has a serious flaw. "Women weren't allowed in those roles in those days" doesn't hold water. In those days there was a glut of priestesses in a whole variety of religions. While that culture may have had a different view of women than we do today, it is not true that the culture would not allow a woman to be in authority, especially in matters of religion.)

Feminism has made its inroads into Christendom. Feminism differs slightly from egalitarianism because feminism couldn't care less about Scripture while egalitarians are basing their argument on Scripture. Still, errors from worldviews that are not biblical can creep into a Christian worldview unawares and we can get very confused. So, please note, the topic of Galatians 3 is not the roles of men and women. It isn't about church polity. It isn't about marriage or society. It's about salvation. Paul is arguing that we're saved by faith (3:6). He's arguing that faith makes us partakers of the promise to Abraham (3:16). He's arguing that all in Christ are sons of God (3:26). Verse 28, then, is simply saying that salvation is not about Jew or Greek. It isn't about slave or free, or male or female. It's about faith. Salvation is the same to all -- through faith -- and we are all of value in Christ. On the other hand, if you're going to reject that simple, contextual explanation, you put at peril any reasonable respect for the Bible. And that would only be the start of the problems you'll encounter.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Christ at the Center

Christianity includes this very basic premise: Christ is the center. That is, after all, the central concept of the word, "Christianity", is it not? Now, when stated this way, I believe that most who call themselves Christians will nod and say, "Of course." I mean, it's patently obvious, isn't it? Well, it ought to be.

But how does that work itself out in practice? Well, too often, not very well. You see, we are humans, and humans suffer from a natural tendency ... to make "me" the center. That, of course, is the contradiction. While Christianity talks of things like "die to self" and "take up your cross" and the like, we have high expectations for ourselves.

How does that show itself? It pops up in a large variety of ways. It shows up when we hold God to standards to which He doesn't hold Himself. Some won't allow for a God who, as an example, shows wrath. "That's not right. God loves us too much to show wrath." It shows up when the idea that God may actually have planned to not save some is suggested. You see, we're way too valuable for God to do that. It shows up when we are quick to point our fingers at others' faults but even quicker at dismissing our own. "God loves me too much to care about that little thing." It shows up when we object to biblical doctrine because "that's not fair" ... speaking solely about how it's "not fair" to humans. On a related note, it shows up when we are more concerned about God doing what's "right" for us with little concern about doing what's right for Him. And in a myriad of other places.

In Romans 1, Paul says, "They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom 1:25). The actual translation is slightly different. The New King James says, instead that they "exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator." It isn't just "a lie"; it is a specific lie. What is it? "The creature is worthy of worship." It is the lie that we all struggle with to varying degrees. We do it when we say, "I can see clearly that the Bible says x, but I won't accept that." We do it when we say, "If that's what God is like, I want nothing to do with Him." We do it when we know what's right to do and don't do it. We do it when we refuse to accept what God says because it's unpleasant or uncomfortable to us. We do it when we object to God's self-revelation because we don't like it. Most obviously, of course, we do it when we fail to believe, when we fail to obey, when we fail to confess, when we fail to love.

We all start so well, it seems. "Of course the center of Christianity is Christ!" So good! But our old nature -- the flesh -- is so quick to insert self as the true center of worship in everyday living and thinking. We need a constant reminder to return to the center -- Christ. Anywhere else is simply confused.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Joy Behar says that the difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals are open-minded and conservatives ... are not. Obviously, this is not intended to be a compliment. You see, everyone knows that "open-minded" is good and "closed-minded" (the alternative) is bad. No ... evil.

I think it's important to examine terms to find out what we mean. Unfortunately, it's difficult to find definitive sources because most of us assign meanings to terms and we don't necessarily do so by the dictionary. So, what does "open-minded" mean? Well, the dictionary says, "having a mind receptive to new ideas, arguments, etc.; unprejudiced". There is included in this idea the notion of "ready and willing to receive favorably". At, this what they list for synonyms: "Broad-minded, liberal, progressive, tolerant." While obviously "narrow-minded" would be an antonym, so are "opinionated" and "prejudiced". It would seem, then, that Ms Behar is correct. Conservatives would be, according to the definition of the term, not "open-minded".

Of course, it does beg the question. Is there really such a thing as "unprejudiced" or even "tolerant"? Sounds like a stupid question, I know, but think about it. "Unprejudiced" means to be free from prejudice (duh!), to be free from bias. It means to be impartial. That is, it is a lack of ... influence. To be actually unprejudiced -- unbiased -- requires no inclinations at all. And that would require that you are not inclined to silly things like justice, truth, morality, the value of human life, and so on. Prejudice is the predisposition or preconception one has toward something ... and every human has it. Considering "open-minded", then, it would seem possible to be, as singer Steve Taylor wrote, "so open-minded that your brains leaked out". It seems to be a real problem because many who consider themselves "open-minded", "willing to consider new ideas", and "tolerant" are woefully unwilling to consider the possibility that ideas like conservatism, Christianity, and the like are of any value and will not tolerate these types things. That is, while claiming to be "open-minded", their arguments reject the concepts behind "open-minded".

The answer to next question, then, is not found in any dictionary or thesaurus. The question is about the value placed on "open-minded". Is it possible to be too open-minded? If, for instance, you arrive at facts, is it time to stop considering other ideas? The post-moderns thought not. To them, truth has no genuine meaning. Just because you believe that 2 + 2 = 4 is no reason for them to limit themselves to such conventions. Post-moderns have been an interesting lot in philosophy, but you really don't want one of them designing your new building, handling your banking needs, or flying your airplane. You see, in certain areas of life you do not want an open-minded person doing the work. You want hard facts, certain considerations, tried and true methods. Or how about all those emails from Africa that promise you riches if you'll just help out. Should you say, "Well, I know that all those ones in the past were hoaxes, but this time might be real"? Or should you learn from experience and stop listening to it? The latter would be ... narrow-minded. But preferable? When someone shows up and says, "We need to annihilate all infidels", do you really want world leaders who say, "Now, there's a thought with merit. Let's consider it"?

William Hare writes, "Properly understood, open-mindedness is a fundamental intellectual virtue that involves a willingness to take relevant evidence and argument into account in forming or revising our beliefs and values, especially when there is some reason why such evidence and argument might be resisted by the individual in question." He goes on to say, "Open-mindedness would not be the virtue that it is if it required us to waste time on ideas that have already been carefully scrutinized and found wanting." These ideas of open-mindedness, then, would not preclude conservatives from being open-minded. There is value to considering other viewpoints. There is value to considering other ideas than your own. It is the only way you'll be able to correct your own thinking. The Bible, in fact, is full of ideas that run directly contrary to normal human thinking, and there is no better way to transform your thinking than to allow the Bible to shape your mind. That kind of open-mindedness is of great value. I'd just caution you against an overvaluing of the concept. There is a time that narrow-mindedness is of equal value. Don't buy that notion that it is never a good idea to be intolerant or judgmental that comes from so many voices who will not tolerate certainty, confidence, or ideas that differ from theirs ... because they're so "open-minded". Oh, wait ... there's something wrong there, isn't there?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No New Taxes

I received a letter from my employer with this grave warning.
Recently, President Obama signed into law sweeping federal legislation that will impact health care insurance for all Americans. Health care insurance reform requires significant changes to the benefits offered by the Benefits Plan. The required changes to benefits include coverage for dependent children up to age 26 and limitations on maximum dollars the plan pays for essential medical services. These federally mandated changes will result in greater expenses and higher premiums for members.
They went on to tell me some steps they were taking and how we ought to be prepared for this and ... all well and good. But ... what's up with this?

According to my calculations, I am currently paying nearly 20% of my income for insurance. That's nothing compared to what my employer pays. They pay in one pay period nearly half of what my gross pay is for that period for "employer paid benefits". Mind you, I'm grateful. While I consider my own cost of insurance already too high, they pay ten times what I pay for my insurance. So I'm thinking of writing a letter ... something like this:
Dear Mr. President,

Thanks so much for your sweeping federal legislation on health care insurance. I appreciate the fact that you will be digging deeper into my pockets taking money from me that isn't called "taxes". It makes me feel so much better that you'll be taking more of my income under a different name now. And to think! I'll be paying more with new limitations on the maximum! More for less! How nice ...
No, maybe not.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Is Calvinism Biblical?

Oh, oh! I know this one! The answer is YES!

I'm not writing this to prove the answer. I've just seen this debate from time to time and cannot, for the life of me, figure it out. Well, okay, yes I can. But are we being reasonable?

Here's the thing. Calvinism is demonstrably biblical. I can show you all the verses that support all the points. I can weave together the necessary logic that makes it all reasonable. It isn't a stretch and it isn't a violation. So ... it is biblical. Does that mean that everyone must accept it and if you don't you're violating Scripture? Not necessarily. You see, I'm pretty sure that many (certainly not all) who disagree do so on biblical grounds. Therefore, if I was being reasonable, I'd have to say that their disagreement was ... biblical.

The point here isn't Calvinism. The point here is that so often in our debates and discussions we get so wrapped up in the argument that we forget to acknowledge the fact that sincere, genuine Christians can disagree on points of doctrine. Too often I hear, "That's not biblical!" It's a lie. Far too often I hear, "I'm not following man's doctrine" as if this is simply something that someone thought up on a whim. It's a lie. If you want to be accurate, try this: "That's now what I see in Scripture."

I've seen it on too many topics. I've seen the baptism debate, for instance, be far too dismissive. The concept of infant baptism isn't pulled out of the air. It's pulled out of Scripture. I don't conclude that it's true because of a variety of reasons, but I cannot say, "Your argument isn't biblical." That's not a fair statement. I think it's incorrect, but if it comes from the Bible, it's biblical.

Now, I don't want to be too generous here. Some things that some people see in some Scripture ... simply ain't there. I use "ain't" there because it's beyond reasonable and well into stupid. Not everything that everyone sees in Scripture is in there. The claim doesn't prove the claim. Nor does everything that is claimed to be biblical actually come from the Bible. A completely erroneous reading of a passage is not "biblical".

Still, can't we be more friendly, more gracious when we argue nuances? I'm not talking about the guy who says, "The Bible doesn't claim that Jesus was God" because that's too far out there. But when the differences are over details or quibbles, I think we should be willing to admit that it's in there even if we don't agree with it.

P.S. If anyone actually wants the biblical arguments for Calvinism, there are plenty available on request.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Saving Faith

Everyone knows what faith is. Faith is when you believe in something even though there is no reason to. No, wait, that is a popular one -- perhaps the most popular -- but it isn't accurate. The dictionary says it is "Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing." Of course, it also says it is "strong or unshakable belief in something, especially without proof or evidence". So even the dictionary today likes that popular one. The biblical version, however, is somewhat different. The New Testament uses the word pistis (or some variation thereof). The word means "to be persuaded; to be convinced (by argument)." Now that puts a kink in things, doesn't it? Biblical faith is not devoid of reason. In fact, it banks on it.

Some people will ask, "How can that person be a Christian if they deny basic Christian doctrine?" and others will respond, "Well, they believe in Jesus, so they are." End of discussion. Your argument has no validity because they claim "faith". But is that the way it works?

Biblical faith has a variety of components. (I say "biblical" over against "contemporary use" -- "a belief without reason".) First, there is the content of faith. You have to believe in something. The phrase above was "They believe in Jesus." That would be the "something" in that case. Of course, for faith to be valid, that "something" would have to be real for it to be significant. A belief in unicorns is something like "faith", but it is not significant since there are no unicorns. By the same token, the "Jesus" in which the person believes would have to be the real Jesus. A belief in a Jesus that was not the genuine one fails this first test.

The second component is the obvious one. It is basically mental assent. That is, "I am recognizing the truth claim and I agree with it." The "truth claim" in the previous example would be the genuine Jesus. The assent, then, would be "I agree with the reality of the genuine Jesus." This aspect of faith is the one that nearly everyone recognizes. In fact, some see this as the simple definition of faith entirely -- mental assent. The problem with this limited definition is shown in an example. "I believe in George Washington" would include the recognition of the truth claim about George Washington and the mental assent that the person existed as it is claimed ... but provides no other benefit.

Genuine faith requires one more component. There are a variety of terms for it. Theologians call it "fiducia". I like John's gospel for this one. When he references belief in Christ, he uses an unusual phrase. He calls it "believing into". But in plain language, most of us have heard the chair analogy. "Do you have faith in that chair?" "What do you mean?" "Do you believe the chair exists?" "Yes, of course." "Do you believe the chair can hold you up?" "Sure!" "Is it holding you up right now?" You see, in this example, it's not genuine faith until it is "supporting your weight", so to speak. It's not genuine faith until you're leaning on it. Thus the "believe into" concept. "Believe in" carries a sense of detachment, the idea of a mental assent without actually placing any reliance on it. Genuine faith requires that extra concept of reliance.

So essential is this to genuine faith that the Bible demands that living faith necessarily produces change. Lots of people claim to be "believers", but they go on to say that it makes little or no difference in how they live their lives. That would be what James calls "dead faith" ... and it's useless. It's as valuable as the demon's faith. He recognizes the truth claim and mentally assents to it, but puts no reliance on it. That is not a faith that produces salvation.

Faith is vital to Christianity. It is not an unreasoning belief. It requires, instead, a substance of truth. A vague "I believe in Jesus" isn't sufficient. The "Jesus" in question must be the true Jesus. It requires mental assent to that truth. Recognizing the truth claims of who the true Jesus was and is, you have to agree with those claims. Even that is not sufficient. Jesus claimed, for instance, to be the only way to the Father. If you are going to have faith in Jesus, you will need to rely on Him as the sole source of access to the Father ... or it isn't saving faith. And that, dear reader, can be a real problem for us humans because we have a real tendency to put our reliance on a whole lot of other things. Sometimes we are putting our reliance on faith itself ...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

It's Sunday Again ...

Recently a new book by T. David Gordon hit the streets. The title, Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns: How Pop Culture Rewrote the Hymnal, says it all. Hymns are out. "Praise songs" are in. Now, don't misunderstand. I don't dislike "praise songs". It's just that eliminating hymns with such rich content, songs that often obey the direct command of Scripture (Col 3:16), is a bad choice in my book. So ... it's Sunday and here's another reprint of a post I wrote some time ago on another of my favorite hymns.
Nearer, My God, To Thee
Sarah F. Adams

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee,
E'en tho' it be a cross that raiseth me;
Still all my song shall be,
"Nearer my God to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!"

Tho' like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone,
Yet in my dreams I'll be
Nearer my God to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

There let the way appear, steps unto heav'n;
All that Thou sendest me, in mercy giv'n -
Angels to beckon me
Nearer my God to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Then with my waking thoughts, bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs, Bethel I raise;
So by my woes to be
Nearer my God to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon and stars forgot, upward I fly,
Still all my song shall be,
"Nearer my God to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!"
Sarah Adams was a lover of music. She and her sister put together a hymnal for their church. While they were working on the project, their pastor asked them if there was a song to accompany his upcoming sermon on the story of Jacob's ladder from Genesis 28:10-22. Sarah launched herself into the idea of writing a song for it, and "Nearer, My God, To Thee" was the result.

The hymn has had a larger impact than Sarah would have thought. Many stories are told about the hymn and its use. Some noted theologians on a trip through the Middle East reported being deeply moved by a band of Syrians standing together and singing it. In 1936, a woman was on her way to the mission field when her train was caught in the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood. Hopelessly lost, she stood atop the sinking car and sang, "Nearer, my God, to Thee . . ." In 1912, aboard the ill fated Titanic, survivors said the band played this hymn as the ship sank.

Most of the song can be understood by reading through the Genesis account of Jacob's ladder, but there is an interesting thread through the song that I'd like to illustrate. Jacob was on the run when he had this vision. Times were not good. It is this vision of God in tough times that makes this hymn unusual.

The first line says it quite succinctly. I want to be nearer to God at all costs, even if that cost is a cross. At what cost would you draw nearer to God? Your immediate comfort? Your job? Your family? Your life? The real question is, how important is your relationship with God? The subplot in this hymn is simple. All that occurs in my life is God's attempt to drive me nearer to Him. The sooner I recognize that and cooperate with Him, the better off I'll be.

Look at some of the circumstances mentioned in this hymn. The first verse speaks of a cross. The second refers to being a wanderer, to being in darkness with only a stone for a pillow. The third verse says that all that God gives is given in mercy. The fourth verse cries, in praise, that it is my woes that bring me nearer to God. Verse five says that death itself is merely that which brings me closest to God.

We have forgotten that suffering is God’s chosen method to purify His own. James says that trials bring us to perfection (James 1:2-3). Noah learned that by building an ark and surviving a flood that killed every human being alive. Abraham learned that by leaving all that he new to go to a land that God promised, and by offering his own son as a sacrifice to God. Joseph learned that through being enslaved, wrongfully accused, and falsely imprisoned. Moses learned that in his desert experience before God put him to use freeing Israel from Egypt. Joshua learned it through 40 years in the desert and the rest of his life in battle in Canaan. Paul indicates that perseverance in persecution is evidence of our worthiness to be a part of the kingdom of God (2 Thess. 1:4 5). Peter says suffering proves faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Suffering is promised to the believer. Suffering is for our benefit. And we know that God causes all things to work together for our good. May our prayer be the same. "Nearer, my God, to Thee, even though it be a cross that raiseth me."

Saturday, July 10, 2010


The year was 1980. I was a young married man who had completed my Air Force Basic Training and was starting technical school. It had been six weeks since I had seen my wife and I was hoping that soon she'd be able to join me.

The Air Force required certain training sessions above and beyond technical stuff. This one was with a chaplain who wanted to address more personal concepts specific to military personnel. We gathered in a room that doubled as a theater and he started asking questions.

"You know, the military is well known for various types of deployments. Some of you will be sent for extended duty overseas. In those cases, your spouses can join you. However, the military also uses TDY -- temporary duty. These may be anything from a week or two up to 6 months or more -- up to a year -- and they do not allow spouses on those deployments. So here's my question. How many of you would think that it would be okay to cheat on your spouse if you were deployed for a month? Come up here."

A few people moved to the front and sat down.

"Okay, how many of you would think it was okay to cheat on your spouse if you were deployed for 6 months?"

More people joined the group at the front.

"How many would think it was okay to cheat on your spouse if you were deployed for 10 months?"

At this point the majority was up front, and when he asked about a year, it was an amazing thing to me. I sat alone in the auditorium while all the rest were up front. In this particular group, I was alone in the belief that fidelity in marriage included extended separation.

That was at the beginning of the '80's. Since then, of course, the concept of marital fidelity, like so many other moral values, has eroded. I understand that this was a limited number of people, perhaps an unfair sampling, but I would suspect that today I would be among a very few who actually believed that "forsaking all others", "for better or for worse", and "'til death do us part" were important and valid promises, part of a vanishing covenant. Is it any wonder that people today are confused when we call for "saving marriage"?

Friday, July 09, 2010


Things are heating up. Last month two men called 911 reporting that they were being shot at near the border. They were found dead. Last March a Douglas, AZ, resident and his dog were killed by a suspected illegal alien. Ironically, the victim was known to aid illegal border crossers. Reports are coming out that snipers for drug cartels are sitting on the border targeting Border Patrol officers.

In late June, Mexico filed suit against Arizona to prevent us from carrying out the immigration enforcement law signed in April (ignoring the fact that they have the very same law on their books). On Tuesday, the Obama administration filed suit against Arizona to prevent us from carrying out the immigration enforcement law signed in April. The suit from the Justice Department says that it's unconstitutional for states to enforce federal law ... at least in terms of immigration. It's a "foreign affairs" issue, you see.

Every weekday I walk by a protest sign against Arizona and her stand against illegal immigration. "It's anti-family," they assure me. When the suggestion is made that illegal immigrants have violated the law, they respond, "It's not a crime!" The logic here is hard to follow. It would seem that any violation of the law that results in separation of families is "anti-family". A bank robber with kids at home shouldn't be arrested, I suppose, because "It's anti-family." Wouldn't CPS be anti-family because they separate families? Seems like nonsense to me. In this atmosphere (as in so many others), emotions run high, so when I sought to come up with an analogy to illustrate the problem, I had to be careful. This one will not be in reference to a crime ...

Meet Mr. Jones. He has a young son that he adores. Little Bobby desperately wants to see the latest animated feature, and Mr. Jones really wants to give his son all he can. But money is tight. So he comes up with a plan. He uses what little money he has to buy a child's ticket for Bobby. His son is instructed to go inside and open the side door for Mr. Jones. They go and take the last two seats to the movie.

An observant assistant manager saw Bobby come in and thought it odd that he was alone. He saw Bobby later with an adult and thought that was odd as well. But when an irate customer complains, "I bought a ticket and there are no seats," he goes to investigate. He calls Mr. Jones out of the theater and asks to see his ticket.

Mr. Jones is outraged. "My ticket? What's the matter with you? Are you a fashist?"


"Yeah, you're opposed to anyone who is not fashionably dressed. Just because I'm wearing clothes that aren't up to your standards, you want to get rid of me!"

"No, sir. I just asked to see your ticket."

"What's the matter with you? Why don't you want people in your theater to see your movies?"

"Sir, we thrive on people in our theater. I'm just asking to see your ticket."

"Why are you picking on me??!! When did it become a crime to be poorly dressed?"

"Sir, this has nothing to do with how you're dressed. I'm just asking to see your ticket."

The assistant manager persists and finally Mr. Jones admits he has no ticket.

"I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to leave."

"But my son has a ticket. He's here legally."

"Yes, sir. He can stay if you wish, but you have to leave. You're taking the seat of a paying customer."

"What kind of anti-family operation is this?! You're splitting up my family!!!"

"Sir, you're splitting up your family if you choose to leave him behind. We're not. If you'll just buy a ticket ..."

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Calling Sin Sin

There is no end of voices standing out front pointing to homosexual behavior as a sin. Some are cruel and unkind about it. Some are not. But it is unavoidable to realize that many in the Church are speaking loudly against that particular sin. Then there's abortion. There are actual organizations formed by Christians to try to turn back the clock and rescind the law that legalized the murder of vast numbers of unborn children in this country. Murder is wrong. They are shouting it loudly. No one is unclear on that, either. Other conservative groups are complaining about condoms in schools and calling for abstinence teaching rather than "safe sex" teaching in schools because sex outside of marriage, you see, is a sin. That is, whether or not you agree with any of these claims, it is quite clear that voices in the Christian community are calling against these things as sin and asking for change.

Funny thing. There is one very big problem our society faces about which Christians are almost completely silent. There don't seem to be any voices crying in the wilderness, let alone on Main Street. No one is calling for changes to the laws or beating their chests protesting the sin and its damage to our people. Also, oddly enough, it is a sin about which most of us are in agreement. I use the word "most" there to be generous, because I don't know of and have never heard of anyone who actually disagrees. I just wanted to allow for the possibility.

This particular sin about which people are almost entirely silent has devastating effects on people and society. No one doubts it for a moment. It causes the loss of friends, produces guilt (both in those who do the sin and those who surround it), causes loss of identity, loneliness, loss of security, anxiety, fear, sleeplessness, dislocation, worry, withdrawal, financial damage ... oh, the list keeps going and going. Adults are injured, to be sure, but the common wisdom is that the most damaged by this sin are the children. Author Pat Conroy said of this particular sin that each time is "the death of a small civilization."

According to WABC, "New York is the only state in the union that doesn't allow a 'no fault' divorce, but that may soon change." It seems that on Tuesday, June 15, "the New York State Senate vote[d] 32 to 27 giving New York no-fault divorce." If this goes into law, then, the United States will be entirely under a "no-fault" divorce system.

What does the Bible have to say about it? "Wait!" you stop me. "The Bible doesn't have anything to say about 'no-fault' divorce. What nonsense!" Now, now, let's see.
And Pharisees came up to Him and tested Him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" (Matt 19:3).
Now, be careful. You may try to reword that question. "Is there any cause for which it is lawful to divorce one's?" That wasn't the question. The debate was between two schools of thought on the subject. One said that divorce for any reason whatsoever was perfectly acceptable and the other was that it could only be for reasons of "uncleanness". (Remember, divorce in biblical times was never for adultery. That was a capital offense. If your spouse cheated on you, you didn't get a divorce; you got widowed.) So what was the question? "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" The question, essentially, is about no-fault divorce. Do you really need a reason to get a divorce, or can you get divorced for any reason at all?

Jesus's reply was, in fact, shocking. So shocking was His reply that His disciples responded, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry." What answer did He give that caused such a reaction?
Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (Matt 19:4-6).
His answer? No! There is no reason for divorce. Not "no-fault" -- no reason. His answer to their straightforward question was a straightforward reply: "What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."

"Ah!" you quickly say, "What about His famous 'exception clause'? What about the next line? Don't leave that out." No, we don't want to leave that out. I just wish to point out that the question was asked and answered. I'll actually leave the next line for another time or even for others to examine, because this was the point that I want to get at. Jesus's opinion of divorce is "never".

I said that we all agree about this sin. Of course, that will also receive an objection. But no one (no one in their right minds, no one that I've ever heard of) starts a marriage with the aim of divorce. No one enters into a "lifelong commitment" with the expectation of terminating it. One of the reasons marriage is on the decline is that young people bemoan the fact that so many marriages end up in divorce. They see that as "bad". We all agree that divorce is bad. So here's my question: Why are we so silent on it? Why are we pounding our fists against homosexual behavior and abortion and sexual immorality but giving this very clear sin of divorce the silent treatment? Why, when someone does put their hand up and say, "Ahem ... is it possible that divorce is a sin?", they get shouted down by the secular and by Christians? These things, brethren, ought not be.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Only Thing We Have To Fear ...

We know that fear is a bad thing. We're all pretty clear on that. As a school-aged child, if you were afraid of something -- anything -- you were a "scaredy cat". Bad. After that, any time fear stopped you from doing something, you were a coward. Society tells us over and over that fear is a bad thing. The media warns about "fear mongering" (while they thrive on it). Anti-politicians shout against a "culture of fear". Bad ... all bad. And even in church you'll hear "perfect love casts out fear", another call to run from fear and not be afraid anymore. I mean, how many times did Jesus say "Fear not"? And remember that famous story of Jesus walking on the water? Well, what was it that prevented Peter from doing the same thing? He looked around and became afraid. Fear, you see, is a bad thing.

Frankly, I'm not convinced. Fear actually gives us some really good things. My favorite "obvious" example is a highway worker. There he is, every day, working alongside high-speed traffic. If he had no fear, he would be ... dead. You see, it takes a healthy fear of automobiles screaming by at 70 MPH to keep you out of their way and safe. In fact, without fear, we have no bravery. You see, courage is not a lack of fear. It is a recognition of the very real dangers in a given situation and the strength to work through them. It isn't an absence of fear. Courage is the "mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty". Bravery, then, is fear withstood.

So what's the difference between this healthy type of fear and the bad kind? A healthy fear recognizes real danger and equips us with the ability to either avoid it or work through it. Like flags on mines in a mine field, it tells us where we should and shouldn't go. You want those flags on those mines if you're walking there. You do not want some moralist coming through, pulling out those flags, and telling you, "The only thing you have to fear is those flags! Now go on through!"

The Bible is full of fear. There is, in fact, a fear that the Bible highly recommends. That fear is "the fear of God". "No, no," they'll tell you. "That's not fear fear. That's reverential awe. No, the Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear." This, again, is a failure to read their Bibles. Proverbs tells us that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." In other words, you don't get truly wise without it. Mark tells the story of the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee during a storm. Jesus was asleep and the disciples were understandably scared. They woke Jesus who stood up and said, "Peace! be still!" ... and it was. Of course, the disciples were overjoyed and ... no, wait, that's not what happened. According to Mark's Gospel, "And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, 'Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?'" (Mark 4:41). Danger scared them. The presence of God terrified them.

In the New Testament, one of the accusations against humans in Romans 3 is "There is no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom 3:18). Conversely, Paul urges, "Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God" (2 Cor 7:1). What is this "fear of God"? Reverential awe, or genuine fear? The Greek words are "phobos theou". In today's vernacular, we might write it as "theophobia". Does that ring any bells? This is genuine fear. Now, I don't mean to suggest that it is not "reverential awe" as long as you remember that the actual definition of "awe" means "an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like". You see, the term includes a profound sense of genuine fear.

Now, what about that pesky verse I'm skipping over? You know -- "Perfect love casts out all fear". Clear enough, isn't it? And God's love is perfect, obviously, so ... no fear, right? Let's look.
By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:17-19).
Remember ... context, context, context. The context is not God's love, but our love. The context is about when love is perfected with us. The fear being voided is for "the day of judgment" and "has to do with punishment". This isn't a general casting out of all fear, and certainly not the fear of God. This simply says that when your love for God is perfect, you will obey perfectly and when that happens, you don't need to worry about punishment ... because there won't be any. In fact, it was Jesus who said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt 10:28). Don't panic; be very, very afraid.

Paul tells us to "work out your salvation in fear and trembling" (again, that "phobos" word). There is a biblical reason to be afraid. A healthy fear recognizes genuine threats and aids us in avoiding them. The one thing above all else that we must fear is God. Reverential awe? Sure. But since the universal biblical response of everyone who encountered God was terror, I think it goes beyond that. The one thing we really have to fear is God Himself. A healthy fear keeps us from going the wrong direction, and the fear of God is a very healthy fear. So, what about you? Do you have theophobia? Or is God just your best buddy -- nothing to fear here -- move along? The Bible doesn't like that version.