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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Think, Love, Live

You remember this story from Matthew. A Pharisee--a lawyer--asked Jesus a question.
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matt 22:36-40)
Now, of course, there is a lot to say about this simple response from Christ. In it we have "the whole Law and the Prophets". We have the two greatest commandments. We have actually the single commandment over all--love. We have this singular command to love God "with all your mind" (rather than the currently more popular "without thinking much"). There is lots of good stuff in there.

I noted something, however, that I never caught before and never heard anyone mention before. It's right there in "the great and foremost commandment". We all know that we are commanded to love God. Mission One. Top of the list. Got it. We're supposed to do this with all that is within us--heart, soul, mind ... everything. Got it. But look at the interesting connection there. In Jesus's statement of the Great Commandment in the Law, He links "love" with heart, soul, and mind. Now, we're all pretty comfortable with thinking of love connected with the heart and even love connected with the soul. How often do you connect love with the mind?

This is the same connection Paul made in 1 Corinthans 8. "Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies." (1 Cor 8:1). Now, we've established that the Bible favors knowledge, so Paul is not saying, "Be ignorant." He's saying that knowledge without love makes you arrogant. Conversely, then, knowledge with love is good. That's the connection--right thinking that loves. Using our minds to love God. That's the idea in the Great Commandment. Think to the glory of God.

We have this trite "Live, laugh, love" motto floating around these days popularized by, of all things, a chef. Perhaps we need to use a different model. Perhaps we ought to consider "Think, love, live" as a Christian version. Certainly the notion of connecting thinking with love might be a new idea for some. But Jesus seemed to make that connection. Shouldn't we?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Repudiating Scripture

Recently we had a discussion about the claim that Jesus repudiated Scripture. I didn't see it at the time, but days later an article by no one less than Greg Boyd took on the same topic. Now I, of course, held that Jesus did not repudiate Scripture while people like Peter Enns and commenter Naum disagreed ... disagreed with me, not Boyd. Boyd (et al.), you see, is quite sure that Jesus overturned God's Word in the Old Testament.

It's a devastating concept. Embraced by some, it leaves me no place to stand. Interestingly, Boyd sees it, too, but doesn't seem to notice. "Jesus," he writes, "is not merely repudiating three verses of the OT. He is, at least indirectly, undermining the inherent violence of all retributive laws in the OT." Boyd is arguing (as if it's a good thing) that all of God's laws that included "inherent violence" (like death for adultery or hell for sinners) were repudiated by the Son. Boyd goes on to agree with another author, C. S. Cowles, who argues further down this logical rabbit hole that Jesus repudiates at the same time all of God's genocidal commands. Jesus "stands in tension with every OT narrative in which Yahweh is depicted as acting or sanctioning violence." Get that? When God ordered Israel to take Canaan, He was wrong. When He ordered them to kill the Amalekites, He was wrong. Boyd talks about the time when the disciples asked Jesus to call down fire on a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54-55) and He rebuked them. Boyd makes this astounding statement: "As shocking as it is, this episode clearly suggests that Jesus regarded Elijah's enemy-destroying supernatural feat to be ungodly, if not demonic." Think about that. The Spirit in Elijah and Elisha and John the Baptist was "ungodly, if not demonic."

Perhaps now you see how the notion leaves me nowhere to stand. God the Son has either declared that God the Father is "ungodly, if not demonic" or that the Word of God cannot be trusted--you know, the Word that Jesus said would never pass away (Matt 5:18-19). That's it. We're done. We can know nothing. Nothing of God, nothing of Christ, nothing of Christianity. There is no ground on which to stand. Especially since Jesus said, "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:19). Because Boyd et al. are arguing that Jesus annulled commandments, sealing His own fate as "least in the kingdom of heaven."

Of course, I cannot go there, as happy as others seem to be with it. Perhaps you can see why.

Friday, November 28, 2014


You've heard of that which is "inimitable". That is, it can't be imitated. It is typically intended as a compliment, a recognition of that which is truly unique. "There's no one like her." That's the idea. Now, in the history of humans, if there was ever anyone that fell in the "truly unique" category--the "inimitable"--I would think it would be Jesus Christ. I mean, who could possibly be like Him? He is the God-Man, God Incarnate, the perfect Son of God. We even write His personal pronouns with capital letters because He is not like us. Jesus is the inimitable. And yet ... we are supposed to be "conformed to the image of His Son." We are commanded to be "imitators of God, as beloved children." (Eph 5:1). How is that for a tall order?

Paul saw it as such, so he broke it down for us. He wrote, "I urge you, then, be imitators of me." (1 Cor 4:16). Oh, now, see? That's not as difficult. Paul was not Christ. But you have to admit it sounds a little ... arrogant. "Imitate me and you'll be like Christ." And it might be arrogant, except Paul clarifies. "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Cor 11:1). And that's something different. Paul commends the Thessalonians when he says "you became imitators of us and of the Lord" (1 Thess 1:6). "Us and." Because Paul is imitating Christ and they were imitating Paul, they were imitators of Paul and of the Lord. And that's good.

I've always had this flight response to Paul's encouragement to "imitate me". I mean, it's all well and good for a super-saint like him to say it. But whatever you do, don't imitate me. I am not a prime example. Now, to be fair, Paul was not saying, "Do everything I do." He said, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." That is, "When what I do and say and think and feel is an accurate imitation of Christ, imitate that." Because Paul was not shy in admitting his own faults. So it wasn't "imitate everything about me." And so, in the final analysis, the aim from Paul for his readers and from God for His readers is that we imitate Christ. You know, the Christ we've just determined was inimitable.

A few thoughts, then. First, the Christian walk is all about doing the impossible. We are to be holy, something we cannot accomplish on our own. We are to be perfect, something we cannot achieve. We are to work out our salvation as if we have that capability in ourselves. We don't. And that's okay. Because everything we are commanded to do and cannot actually do is properly satisfied by God's work in us. "It is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure." (Phil 2:13). That is the means for us to do the impossible. God, working in us, provides both motivation ("will") and empowerment ("do"). Nothing more is needed. Get your legs moving and walk as Jesus walked. Cooperate with God and do the impossible ... daily.

Second, Scripture calls us to imitate Christ, but it does so by means of surrogates. Paul was a surrogate. "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." We are to be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Heb 6:12). The author of Hebrews says, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Heb 13:7). Christ is difficult to imitate, perhaps, but we have examples of Christ in people who are imitating Christ. Imitate them.

Finally, in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul reminded them that while he was with them, he didn't rely on them for food; he worked. "It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate." (2 Thess 3:9). I told you that I'm always a bit disturbed by Paul's "imitate me". That's because I think, "Don't imitate me!" And I would like to encourage you as I am encouraging me to become imitable. One definition of the word "imitable" is "worthy of imitation." Are you imitable? Are you someone in whom others can see Christ? Are your attitudes, your actions, your thoughts, your behaviors an imitation of the Savior? Could you say to someone, "Imitate me." I'm pretty sure we cannot, but what we all can and should say is "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." And then, of course, we set about being imitators of Christ. You who are disciples of Christ have Christ in you (Col 1:27). Make your life a reflection of that truth.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving, 2014

On one hand:
Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom 1:21)

For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy ... (2 Tim 3:2)
A failure to give thanks to God results in futile thinking, foolish hearts, and sin.

On the other hand:
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. (Psa 95:2)

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. (1 Tim 4:4)

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever. (1 Chron 16:34)

I will give thanks to the LORD because of His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. (Psa 7:17)

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. (Psa 100:4)

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Col 3:17)

In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil 4:6)

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:20)

Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. (Heb 13:15)

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Col 3:15)

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever ... (Psa 136:1-3) (No, seriously, you're going to need to go to Psalm 136 to get the entire chapter because it is the longest run-on sentence on why to thank God that I've ever seen.)

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High. (Psa 92:1)

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (Col 4:2)
I'm sensing a trend here. "Ungrateful" ... bad. "Grateful" ... good. And it's a good day to think about it, isn't it? Well, every day is a good day to think about that. So, let's.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Imperatives and Indicatives

In Paul's letter to the church at Colossae he starts the third chapter with "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above ..." (Col 3:1). "Seek the things that are above" is what is known as an imperative. "Do this." Interestingly, prior to Paul's telling the Colossian Christians to do, he gives them an "if". Indeed, he gives them half the letter full of "ifs"--two whole chapters.

Paul gives us an all-sufficient Savior in Christ. Faith in Christ provides faith, hope, and love because Christ is preeminent--preeminent in creation, in redemption, in the Church. Christ gives us redemption and forgiveness (Col 1:14). He is the method and purpose of creation (Col 1:16). Get this ... all things hold together in Him (Col 1:17). He is the ruler (Col 1:16), the reconciler (Col 1:20-22), the restorer (Col 1:21). He is our hope of glory because He is in us (Col 1:27). Christ offers right thinking and right living (Col 2:6,8) being fully God (Col 2:9). We have been buried with Him and raised with Him (Col 2:11-12). God makes us alive together with Him and cancels our debt (Col 2:13-15).

Perhaps ... just maybe ... you begin to see how big this really is. Perhaps you start to grasp how huge Christ is and how massive are His gifts toward us. Perhaps you start to see His amazing grace and astounding power, the King of all and reason for everything who died for you so you could live with Him. Indeed, an outline doesn't do it justice. It is really, really big, full of grandiose and lofty language about the wonders of Christ and the grace of God.

Now ... if all of that is true--if Christ is all that Paul says He is and has done all that he says He has and gives all that he says He gives--"seek the things that are above." You see, it changes the face of the imperative. It changes it from "Go do" to "How could you not?" It shifts from "work" to "respond". It moves from law to gratitude. "Well, if that is who Christ is and what He has done, how could I not seek the things that are above? Where else would I look?"

There is a lot of debate between "too much law" and "no law at all". We want to avoid legalism and license. One side will tell you, "You need to knuckle under and do all these things!" and the other will tell you, "You can't use Scripture as a rule book; we've been set free!" Paul, in Colossians, says, "Look who Christ is. Look at what He has done. Look at all these benefits. Now ... what is the proper response?" It is neither "knuckle under" nor "nothing at all". It is freedom from the law and joyful obedience. The indicatives of who Christ is, what Christ has done, and all that means to you drives the imperatives of what we should do, because all that He is and does deserves it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

All that Glitters...

...may not be a duck...

World Magazine has an article on the BioLogos Foundation. BioLogos "invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation." BioLogos president Deb Haarsma says that "churches that support evolution will be more effective witnesses in a culture that reveres science, and will help college students avoid a crisis of faith when biology professors argue for evolution." Because, you see, biology professors cannot be wrong or even challenged and Creation as explained in Scripture cannot be right.

First among their Core Commitments is, "We embrace the historical Christian faith, upholding the authority and inspiration of the Bible." By "the historical Christian faith" they do not mean "the historical Christian faith" as in "the view that the Church has historically held" because they're necessarily needing to rewrite the Bible when it runs up against evolution. They offer, for instance, three possible views for Adam and Eve. Perhaps they were an actual historical couple living 10,000 years ago among many living then that were chosen to represent the rest of humanity. Or maybe the text is not literal, but merely allegorical. Maybe not even allegorical, but simply a parable. Because, you see, the goal is to push "churches and believers to embrace evolution, and in the process change how they read the Bible." So Adam and Eve in the Bible aren't nearly as cut and dried as you might think. The rest of Scripture that refers to these two apparently in ignorance as if they were the genuine progenitors of the race is, well, mistaken. Luke's link of Christ to Adam (Luke 3:38) and Paul's suggestion that Adam was real (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22) or that the whole Adam and Eve story was real (1 Tim 2:13-14) and Jude's suggestion that Enoch was seven generations from Adam (Jude 1:14) are all ... cough ... errors. In no version did Sin actually descend from Adam because evolution tells us so. But that's okay. "We embrace the historical Christian faith, upholding the authority and inspiration of the Bible."

This isn't really surprising, is it? Didn't John say, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us." (1 John 2:19)? Didn't Paul warn the Ephesians, "I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them." (Acts 20:29-30)? So I would urge you as Paul urged them: "Therefore be alert." All that quacks "We embrace the historical Christian faith" is not necessarily a Christian duck. Anyone willing to discard historic orthodoxy to "be more effective witnesses" and "avoid a crisis of faith" when challenged by unbelievers may well not be among the defenders of historic orthodoxy. Thus I find it necessary "to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Epistemological Crisis

Try saying that without spitting: "epistemological". Not easy. What is epistemology? It is, in essence, thinking about thinking. It is the Pilate of philosophy: "What is truth?" It asks what knowledge is and how it can be acquired. Not "What is true?" as much as "How do you know that what is true is true?" It is a question of Truth.

The Bible says that we humans have a genuine crisis here--an epistemological crisis. What is truth? Modernism argued that truth was determined by means of reason. Post-modernism isn't so sure. Once the Age of Reason ruled, but we're now in the Age of Empathy where reason isn't the king, but feelings rule. "Truth is defined by how I feel." This concept begins with "Don't bother me with facts; I know I'm right." But the Bible says it isn't a matter of the current historical age; it is a human problem. Consider:
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers. (2 Cor 4:4)

Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb 3:13)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer 17:9)

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)
Humans are described by God as "blinded", "hardened", "deceitful", and "not able to understand." And that's just a sampling. Paul gives a more comprehensive description in his epistle to the church in Rome:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Rom 1:18)
The problem here is not lack of information. It is active "Truth suppression." He says, in fact, "What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them." (Rom 1:19). It is willful. It is self-imposed. Ironically, it started in the Garden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That knowledge started the suppression of Truth.

So, here we are, muddling about, trying to solve the world's problems. Take, for instance, ISIS (or ISIL or Al-qaeda or whatever other Islamic threat you'd like to name). We're thinking, "You know, a military strike here and a purple-finger vote there ought to solve this" and what we're seeing is it's not working. That's because there is a fundamental breakdown of Truth in the ISIS mind. They believe that killing innocents and abusing women and children and imposing sharia law will solve the problems of the world. They're wrong. But those trying to solve that problem suffer from the same problem--a Truth decay. The problem solvers suffer from the same problem. They're blinded, hardened, suppressing the truth. Solutions from those with a deceitful heart don't solve problems of deceitful hearts.

So, philosophy argues about Truth and calls it "epistemology", not realizing that human philosophy is predicated on a denial of truth. And we raise our hands and say, "Um, excuse me. We have a genuine solution." "No thanks," they tell us, because "the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor 1:18). The solution is being "transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2), but they don't want to hear it. Because they're suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. All sorts of solutions abound, from science to politics to military options to humanitarian efforts, but what's needed is "the word of the cross", the change of heart (Ezek 36:26). We have that solution. So we shouldn't hold back on it, even though it is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others (1 Cor 1:23) because, as we've seen, Natural Man has an epistemological crisis and we have the only answer[1].
[1] I know, that sounds arrogant. "They're all sick in the head but we have figured it out." That's not the claim. Here's the claim. The Maker has stated "You guys have this heart problem" and The Maker has declared "Here's the answer." We wouldn't have known that they have that heart problem because we have the same one, but we have it on Good Authority from One who does not have the problem and knows us intimately that we do have this problem and what the solution is. To say back to The Maker, "You don't know what you're talking about. That's arrogant!" would be the ultimate arrogance.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Knowledge Puffs Up

There is an element of Christendom that despises knowing. "It is wrong," they say, "to know for sure. You should always question." And they can even trot out a verse for us to follow.
Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. (1 Cor 8:1)
Well, that ought to clear things up pretty well. Knowing anything will make you proud. If you want to avoid pride, the best thing to do is to remain ignorant. So, good! Now we can move on.

This, of course, is nonsense. The psalmist writes, "Teach me good discernment and knowledge, For I believe in Your commandments." (Psa 119:66). That is, knowledge is good. Solomon writes, "Fools hate knowledge" (Prov 1:22). Indeed, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge." (Prov 1:7). If you want to discern righteousness and justice and equity and every good course, it is necessary that you have wisdom and knowledge (Prov 2:8-9). He advises us to "Apply your heart to discipline And your ears to words of knowledge." (Prov 23:12). Oh, no, knowledge is not a problem. Knowing is good.

So what is the problem Paul is writing about? It might be good to look at the context ... starting with the verse itself.
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. (1 Cor 8:1)
Okay, now, see? We've already found an indication of the knowledge in question--knowledge about "things sacrificed to idols". By simply looking at the whole verse we've suddenly changed from "all knowledge" to "one particular piece of knowledge". Much better. So what is the issue with this knowledge?

Paul explains in the following passage that we all know that "there is no such thing as an idol in the world" since "there is no God but one." (1 Cor 8:4). So, things sacrificed to idols? Nothing to worry about. Ignore it. They were sacrificed to nothing. Feel free to eat. But wait! That's the knowledge. You know, the knowledge that makes you arrogant. So what is the problem Paul is writing about?

Here's what Paul warns against. "But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." (1 Cor 8:9). Ah, now we're getting somewhere. You see, Paul tells us that it's abundantly clear--"we know"--that there is no such thing as an actual idol. I mean, sure, we make fake gods, but there is only one real God. So there is no reason to avoid eating food sacrificed to idols ... but--and here we run into the problem. That knowledge has the capacity to make you proud and, knowing better than a weaker brother, you may cause him to violate his conscience. Problem.

The solution is there for us, too. Right up front. "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies." Knowledge is good. Right thinking is very good. But love is better. That's why we read just a few chapters later, "If I ... know all mysteries and all knowledge ... but do not have love, I am nothing." (1 Cor 13:2). Love, you see, is the key. That quality that seeks the best for others. That attitude that is not arrogant and does not seek its own (1 Cor 13:4-5). That love.

I remember one time I ran into this kind of knowledge that puffs up. It was in Romans 14. There we read, "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions." (Rom 14:1). Think about that. The text speaks of those who are weak and only eat vegetables (Rom 14:2). So we read that vegetarian Christians are weak Christians ... and we are not supposed to pass judgment on it. Is that even possible? Isn't calling it "weak" judgment? If you're a meat-eating Christian, don't you naturally read this text and snicker? "See that? The Bible says those vegans are weak." That's a knowledge that puffs up. How do you accept the one who is weak in faith without passing judgment? Same answer as before: love.

As it turns out, knowledge, as good as it may be, makes you arrogant when it is acquired and exercised without love. Knowing without loving will cause arrogance and will often harm a brother. But back in Paul's epistle to Corinth he concludes, "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble." (1 Cor 8:13). Ah, now, see? There it is. Paul knew that meat sacrificed to idols was just fine, but that was secondary to loving others. That is the point. Knowing is good and wise and important. Knowing without love is pointless. Because while knowledge is good, love is always better.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Reformation

Meet the Reformation Project. This is a "Bible-based, gospel-centered approach to inclusion" for LGBTLMNOP's. (I know that acronym seems disrespectful, but they keep adding letters and I don't want to leave anyone out.) Founded and presided over by Matthew Vines, self-proclaimed "gay Christian" who argues that the Bible does not say what it says about homosexual activity, the organization is aimed at going beyond "God did not say ..." and on into "The Holy Spirit failed." I know, they say no such thing. But here's why I say it. While touting "The inspiration of the Bible, the Word of God", they deny that the Word says what the whole Church has always believed it says and deny that the Holy Spirit ever led His disciples into all truth ... until Vines showed up.

Vines (the Reformation Project) is comparing it to the Reformation of Martin Luther's day (and beyond). He's suggesting that the Church needs to be reformed. He understands that this is a big job--a really big job--because the Church has never gotten this right. What Vines (and the rest) misunderstand is that the Reformation was not about "making changes in order to improve something", but about the most literal sense of the word--to form again. The Reformers weren't aiming at improving the Church; they were aiming at returning it to its original configuration. And this highlights the fundamental difference between the Reformation and the Reformation Project. The Reformers believed God got it right and the Holy Spirit did His job and the starting point was right--"Now, let's get back to that."--and the Reformation Project believes it was never right, the texts never meant what the texts have always been understood to mean, and they are out now to improve the original. Not the same thing.

The mission of the Project is "to train Christians to support and affirm lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people." Ah, now, see? Something we can agree on. We need to support these people with issues of sexual sin. We need to embrace them and call them to Christ. We need to understand that they are dealing with temptations and desires that are hard to manage and stand alongside to help them fight the good fight. We need to care enough about them to help them see the deceit (James 1:16) they've been handed, as if "how I feel" defines "what is good" and indulging one's lust is morally upright (James 1:14-15). We need to bear one another's burdens (Gal 6:2) as fellow sinners in need of Christ. We need to protect them against misguided folk who seem to think that the sin of the same-sex-tempted individual is somehow worse than the sin of those misguided people. But, of course, I don't suppose those would be classified as "support and affirm", would they? So they'll seek a "reformation" by which they mean "an improvement on the Church that God has never managed before", and it's hard to figure out how that is a good reflection on God or His Church. You know, the one that Jesus said He would build (Matt 16:18).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Not Good

We all love Romans 8:28. It is a great verse.
We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.
Great, great verse. But ... just what does it mean?

Lots of people like to pull this one out of the pocket whenever something bad happens. "Oh," they'll tell you warmly, "all things work together for good", as if that's going to make the mother whose child was just hit by a car feel better. As if "it's all good" is a helpful thing to say at a moment like that. But that's not what it says.

Lots of us think the text is saying that everything is good. It isn't saying that. It's saying that God works everything for good. Indeed, the "good" for which God works everything is specific. It is specifically good "to them that love God" and it is specifically the good of being "conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom 8:29).

How do I know that this is not saying that everything is good? It's because of the unavoidable "all things" in that verse. Pick a translation, any translation, and you'll find that while word orders and word selections vary slightly from one to another, the term "all things" is a constant. That's because that's exactly what the Greek word behind it means: ALL THINGS. So, how does that tell me that it is not saying that everything is good? Because "all things" has a meaning. It means "all things". It means "black things" and "white things" and all shades in between. It means "happy things" and "sad things", "pleasant things" and "unpleasant things", "good things" and "bad things". That is, if the intent was "good things" and only that, then "all things" makes no sense. For it to make sense, "all things" must mean "all kinds of things, whether good or bad."

Thus, the text is not telling the husband whose wife just died of cancer, "Don't worry, fella, consider that event a good thing." No. It's not good. The text is saying that it's bad, but God will work it for good. It's like Joseph says to his brothers, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good." (Gen 50:20). Not "It was good", but "It was meant as evil, but God planned to use it for good."

Every day we hear or read about bad things happening. Even to Christians. The health-and-wealth gospel is a lie. Bad things happen ... to everyone. And we must "weep with those who weep" (Rom 12:15). This favorite verse, then, is not telling believers that bad things are good. This verse gives those who love God the reassurance that despite the worst that can come your way, God can use it. He can and He will. And it will all be used for your good. In the short run, it's bad. In the long run, He'll weave a tapestry of beauty out of it. Just you wait and see.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Normalizing Evil

Anyone paying attention would likely have to admit that we are moving on the morality scale. What was classified yesterday as "evil" is today considered "acceptable" and tomorrow "laudable". And sometimes that's laudable. Take, for instance, the miscegenation laws. These enforced racial segregation at one time. At one time in this country it was illegal for different races to intermarry. In 1883 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of miscegenation laws despite the passage of the 14th amendment. In 1913 the Democratic Representative Seaborn Roddenbery of Georgia tried to introduce a constitutional amendment that would prohibit all intermarriage between "persons of color" and whites. That didn't happen, but the repeal of these laws didn't really roll out until 1948-1967, finally removing "interracial marriage" from the list of "immorality".

In other cases, it's not so laudable. Prior to 1960, a girl getting pregnant out of wedlock was a disgrace. (Note that the disgrace of it was generally enough to prevent it from happening.) By 1970, numbers of these births started to skyrocket. In 1965 3.1% of white infants were born to single mothers; now it's closer to 40%. In the 90's I was taking my teenage daughter to school along with a friend of hers and they were talking about a girl coming back to school and how no one would like her. "Where had she been?" I asked. "Oh, she was out having a baby." "Is that why no one would like her?" "Oh, no," both girls scoffed, "everyone does that." Quite a change in a short time.

No one can rationally deny the radical shift in public perception about homosexual behavior or the redefinition of marriage. Within this century--not yet two decades--the public has gone from overwhelmingly affirming marriage as the union of a man and a woman to little definition at all. Inundated with homosexual characters in the media, porn on their computers, and a general decline all sexual morality, they've allowed these to be ... normalized in society's view. And the distance from society's norm of "no sex outside marriage" prior to 1960 to "If two guys want to do it, why should I care?" is no small leap.

The question is what do we normalize next? What of today's "oh, that's bad" items will become "Yeah, so?" things tomorrow? And at what speed? "Homosexual" was a disorder practically yesterday (okay, 1973) but not today. The drug culture took nearly half a century to get their recreational habit legalized, but they've come a long way now. All the same, we seem to be rolling along at a pretty quick pace.

So, now that marriage no longer means marriage and sexual morality is probing new boundaries, where do we go next? What other evils do we normalize? Reports are already out the pedophiles are born that way. How long until they're regarded as normal with all the rights and privileges of any other race (like Caucasian, black, or homosexual)? Since "man and woman" are out as a defining component of marriage, when do we cease limiting it to two? Seems arbitrary at this point. And why just humans? Who's to say that defines "normal" ... or "moral"?

And then what? Why is "democracy" moral and "totalitarianism" not? Why should we recognize rights endowed by a Creator who we don't wish to recognize? Why would "Freedom of Speech" be moral when we're moving away from "Freedom of Religion"? We've already eliminated the rights of the unborn; why not the born? Why not "post-partum abortion"? We're more and more accepting of voluntary euthanasia; why not involuntary? The concept of theft may be mostly bad, but not entirely, so how so wouldn't we legalize it? We really don't like those darn Christians telling us what's right and wrong, so maintaining any morality based on Judeo-Christian ethics ought to be suspect. And that ought to make this an interesting place. (Can you say "anarchy"?)

There really is no doubt that we've been, for a very long time in this country, normalizing evil. What was unbearable half a century ago is normal and applauded today. What parents condone in moderation children indulge in excess. It is really difficult, then, to imagine what next "evil" today will be wonderful tomorrow. I think we've demonstrated that we're willing to go a long way down that path, and not necessarily good directions.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where You Ought To Be

"Some men are born in the wrong century. I think I was born on the wrong continent." So says Elliot Marston in the movie Quigley Down Under. The idea isn't unique. Many people feel like they're in the wrong place or wrong time. They would be more comfortable, they think in an earlier date in history or another geographic location (or both) or maybe in a future time. Somewhere, somewhen, someone else.

If you believe in a Sovereign God, the question isn't merely moot, it's counterproductive. You see, if God is Sovereign, you are where and when you are supposed to be. Imagine that!

Most of us believe, to some extent (and maybe not without good cause), that we are wrong somehow. The "midlife crisis" is a product of this feeling. "I could be more. I could accomplish more. I could be more important, more significant. I could be a better ______," where the blank is filled in with "dad" or "husband" or "earner" or whatever is of significance to you. But God ...

We've bought a lie. We think that a CEO is better than a janitor or a pastor is better than an usher or a leader is better than a follower. We accept that "more is better." We allow position and possessions to define importance and value. It's a lie. We can just look to Jesus to see this. Jesus was subservient to His Father and died. That didn't make Him less important or valuable. And Jesus assured us this was true when He said, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." (Mark 9:35).

Here's what Paul said.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor 12:7)

God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. (1 Cor 12:18)

The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it. (1 Cor 12:22-24)
Our tendency, biblically, is to think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Rom 12:3). We might do that by thinking that we are better or more important than others, or we might just as easily do that by thinking we're less when God has arranged us as He deemed best. In either case it is thinking too highly of ourselves. These suggest either that "God loves me better" or "God has failed on my behalf."

The truth is that you are just when you ought to be. You are just where you ought to be. You are just who you ought to be. Oh, sure, there is more to come. You will obviously proceed in time, you may need to move, and you certainly need to improve, but don't let the lie come in that tells you that you're not as valuable as someone else or not as important as someone else, much less that God loves you less or has failed in some way. For the common good, God has placed you where you ought to be doing what you ought to do, and He will continue to do that. Thus, "in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess 5:18). And you? Sure, it's a cliché to say, "Bloom where you're planted", so how about, "Serve where God has put you"? That'll work, too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


The Bible actually uses the word or the concept quite often: blameless.

Noah was blameless (Gen 6:9). Job was blameless (Job 1:8; 2:3). David was blameless (Psa 18:23). (God made him that way (Psa 18:32).) Paul maintained a blameless conscience (Acts 24:16). We read, "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him." (Eph 1:4). We are commanded to be blameless (2 Peter 3:14). Jude wrote that God will "make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy." (Jude 1:24). Luke recorded that John the Baptist's mother and father, Elizabeth and Zechariah, "were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord." (Luke 1:5-6). And Paul wrote, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Now, what's that all about? How is it possible for anyone to be blameless and still satisfy Paul's claim about sin being universal?

Hebrew speaks of תּמים--tâmı̂ym--meaning more at "entire". It refers to being complete, having integrity. It is used in reference to sacrificial lambs without blemish. It is translated "complete, perfect, upright, whole"--that kind of thing. The Greek word is ἄμεμπτος--amemptos--a merge of a--not--and memphomai--to blame or reproach. Another word is ἀνέγκλητος--anegklētos-- "not" and "brought to account" or "accused". A third is ἀνεπίληπτος--anepilēptos--"not" and "arrested, seized". An overseer or elder must be anepilēptos (1 Tim 3:2)--blameless.

So Greek and Hebrew are all good, but what do we mean by it? The dictionary defines "blameless" as "free from blame; innocent." Okay. So blame means "to hold responsible; find fault with." If we are to try to correlate Paul's "all have sinned" with all these references to people being "blameless", we will have to avoid the "innocent" definition. You can't be "innocent" and "have sinned". What then? We need to see if they can fit. (Showing how they don't won't help.)

If we go with "blameless" as in "free from blame" and by "blame" we mean "held responsible", we suddenly have no problem. Because anyone can be blameless--free from blame--without requiring sinless. How? Well, sinless requires "free from sin", but blameless only requires free from culpability. "Oh, great, Stan, that solves everything." No, think about it. From the fall of Man God has provided a means of redemption. It has always been found in repentance and faith. Repentance and faith provides forgiveness. Or we could use the theological term--atonement. So with at-one-ment (the meaning of the term), our culpability is dealt with at the Cross. (Note: It has ever been thus. It's just that from Adam to Jesus the Atonement was anticipatory.) Thus, while we are not sinless, we can be blameless.

There is, in this, a key element that I haven't yet offered. Notice the sequence in the account of Noah.
But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. (Gen 6:8-9)
Now, I already mentioned that Noah was blameless, but notice what happened first. "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." See that? Now, if Noah found grace because he was sinless, it wouldn't be grace, would it? Grace that is earned isn't grace. If Noah was sinless, not only can we discount Paul's "all have sinned" claim, but we can also remove grace as unmerited favor. No, that's not how it works. First, God grants unmerited favor. Then the culpability is absolved in the Cross. And now we have a blameless person. Not sinless, but blameless.

Blamelessness is a great thing. He chose us to be blameless before Him. We are commanded to be blameless. The good thing is that this does not require sinlessness; it is God who makes us stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy. Embrace blamelessness.

Monday, November 17, 2014

One of These Things is Just Like the Other

Seriously, have you heard of this one? It's called "BIID"--Body Integrity Identity Disorder. It's real. What is it? In rare cases people believe that they are missing a limb that they are not and feel the need to remove the existing limb. It's not that there's anything wrong with the limb. They just have ... get this ... an "identity disorder". That's right. When someone has a faulty psychological belief that their body is wrong and their mind tells them they need to change their body to agree with their psychological belief, it's called a "disorder" ... unless, of course, it's a gender identity disorder. In that case we'll ignore the healthy body and go with the brain and not call it a "disorder" because ... well, I don't know.

In this study, "Fifty-four BIID subjects completed the survey and indicated that they main rationale for their desire for body modification is to feel complete or feel satisfied inside." Half the subjects experienced sexual arousal on the subject. Oh, and this little bit: "Next to surgery there is no effective management strategy at present." So, tell me, how is this different than gender identity issues? Why is it that the psychological and medical communities talk these poor people with their identity crisis out of altering their bodies to match their perceptions, but in the case of gender identity crisis they're certainly right and the body is wrong? Why is it that no one there sees this correlation?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Opening Hearts

In Acts 16 Paul visits Philippi. There he visits "the riverside" where people gathered to pray (Acts 16:13) to share with them the Gospel. And there we read this wonderful verse:
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14)
Isn't that beautiful? "The Lord opened her heart." That is truly a wonderful thing. We like it. We even pray that way for our unsaved loved ones. "Lord, please open their hearts to Your Gospel." And rightly so. It is, after all, biblical. And it's good.

The idea that God would reach down into the heart of someone warms the cockles of our hearts. (Seriously, "cockles"? I mean, my heart doesn't contain any bivalve saltwater clams; does yours? Sorry, I digress. Move on.) Without analysis, we just like it. God at work. Saving people. Good stuff. Really good stuff. But ...

Why are we not miffed that God would open her heart? Isn't that an intrusion? Isn't that a violation of her free will? Can God do that?

There is no doubt that this expresses an invasion. If it was an expression meant to convey that Lydia inclined herself to hear God, the phrase would be meaningless. God didn't open her heart; she did. If it was a reaction on God's part to her already paying attention to Paul, again, God didn't open her heart; she did. There is no way, in fact, to rationally read this to mean anything but "The Lord opened her heart." And we rightly respond positively to the news that He did. We cheer God on for doing so. "Thank you, Lord, for opening her heart that she would pay attention to what was said by Paul." We beg for Him to do it again. "And, Lord, while You're at it, open the hearts of my loved ones as well that they may hear Your Word." We pound the throne of God entreating Him to invade and intrude, and we are right to do so.

I know that there is a segment of Christians who argue that God either cannot (by self-prevention) or will not (isn't that the same thing?) do this. God values too highly Human Free Will. What is it we hear all the time? "God doesn't want robots." But "The Lord opened her heart." And I pray that He does for many people I know and love. If that constitutes a divine violation of Human Free Will, I'm okay with that. "Has the potter no right over the clay?" (Rom 9:21). I think He does.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Anti" Honesty?

So, the headline on the teaser was "Anti-LGBT Legislation". The story is that Texas State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, introduced a resolution to bolster religious freedom in the state by allowing businesses to refuse to serve LGBT customers on the basis of religious belief. I've already pointed out that laws allowing for the First Amendment cannot be classified as "anti-LGBT", but, okay, fine. If we're going to go this way, let's go all the way. The rest of the story should read, "Anti-religion and anti-religious-freedom people are against it." Will they admit that?

Friday, November 14, 2014

I Can Do Without the Hate

A couple of years ago I wrote about Unconditional Forgiveness in which I took the position that such a thing is a falsehood. Basically, we are commanded to forgive "as your Father in heaven", and He doesn't forgive until we repent. Of course, this leaves you with a dilemma. "Well, then," one might ask, "does that mean I get to continue to hate the person who doesn't repent?" And the clear answer there is "No!". Indeed, "continue to hate" shouldn't have been a starting point. You never should have started to hate. So the idea there is that we can withhold forgiveness in the absence of repentance, but that doesn't include permission for hatred or bitterness or any such thing. And this isn't a problem since forgiveness says, "I will pay the price in your place", not "I will feel nice toward you now." Thus, it is possible to consider the price still owed without having to be hateful or bitter over it.

I thought that made sense. I still do. But I got to thinking that this same concept may carry over elsewhere. Is it possible to disagree with someone without requiring conflict? Is it possible to, say, think that a person who claims to be a Christian and living with his girlfriend is in sin (and potentially in spiritual peril) without hating the person? I think the prevalent view is that it can't happen. As for me, I don't see why not.

The sense I get these days is that I can either agree with someone's choice(s) or I can hate them. So, if a son or a daughter, for instance, decides to announce he or she is homosexual, I can either embrace that choice or I can hate them for it. If I have, up until now, considered that a sin, it is time to either change that belief or stop loving my child. It is not possible, as far as I can see from today's perspective, to love someone while considering their life choices to be sin.

To me this is nonsense. Jesus ate with sinners. That meant that He loved them; that did not mean that He embraced their sin. Jesus did not excuse the woman "caught in adultery"--He told her "Go and sin no more." But He didn't need to condemn her. The call was always to "love your neighbor as yourself" and "repent". Paul turned the man who had his father's wife over to Satan ... "so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord." (1 Cor 5:5). I don't see why opposition to sin requires opposition to people. I do see how embracing sin is opposition to the best interests of people.

I think it is possible to not consider a debt owed as paid in full and not hate the person not paid. I don't think that not forgiving someone requires hate and bitterness. By the same token, I think it is not only possible, but commanded that we love our neighbors but that we oppose sin. I think I can be opposed to sin without the hate. Is that so hard to figure out?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Was Jesus a Socialist?

Ever hear that one? If you ever talk to anyone from the self-identified "Christian Left" you will. Or maybe "The Bible favors Communism"? I wrote about that one some time back. But, to hear the "Christian Left" tell it, Jesus was a Socialist. Hmmm, really? Let's examine that.

First, we need to come to terms with the term. What is a Socialist? I find the word abused and misunderstood so often that I feel the need to protect it.

So, the first thing we need to recognize is that Communism and Socialism are not the same thing. The key philosophy of Communism is "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." The key philosophy in Socialism is "From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution." Ah, yes, not the same thing. In religion, Socialism technically allows for freedom of religion but always tends towards secularism while Communism bans religion and takes atheism as its religious position. Communism puts ownership of just about everything in the hands of the government to distribute (ostensibly) equally while Socialism puts ownership of most means of production in the hands of "the public". At its core, Communism places all property in common ... oh, wait, so does Socialism ... but in Communism the actual owner is the State while in Socialism it is "the people" (technically "the workers").

Okay, so at this point it should be pretty easy. Communism is atheist and Christianity is not--no connection. Socialism tends toward secularism and Jesus does not. Again, no connection.

If it was that easy, there would be no discussion, but, like so many other places, these words are slippery. So what is Socialism today? That's hard to say and, likely, by the time you read this it has changed, but let's see if we can find something on it.

Their manifesto changes, but this is what they said in 2011. They are very strong in their support for "the welfare state, universal access to education and to health care." They support free education from childhood through college. They hold that, in order to be a just society, "we must ensure that the wealth generated by all is shared fairly." They argue that "All members of society are entitled to protection from social risks in life." Very high on their agenda is environmental sustainability. To them, "market forces" are the enemy. These are driven by greed and supported by finances. Market forces, then, must be controlled--replaced by government.

Comparing this structure to Christ, we find Jesus offering nothing. Nothing on the welfare state except that His followers should give (as opposed to laws and government control--not the same thing). Nothing on education (except "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." (Matt 28:19-20). I cannot imagine an argument that the government ought to be doing this.). Nothing on redistributing wealth except ... well, nothing. Nothing at all. Protect society from social risk? Sorry. What we see is, when Jesus was asked about the injustice Pilate perpetrated on Galileans, He answered, "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3). No, nothing about protecting from risk.

There are plenty of reasons, as it turns out, to conclude that Jesus embraced Capitalist ideas, not Socialism. He commanded generosity, not a legal system that would demand it. In fact, giving was only noteworthy if it was voluntary and private. Jesus showed a preference for a meritocracy rather than economic equality when He explained that the master in the parable of the talents gave varying amounts to his servants "each according to his own ability" (Matt 25:15). Indeed, the master entrusted "his possessions" (Matt 25:14), something not quite in sync with modern Socialism. Perhaps you didn't know this, but it was actually Jesus who said, "The laborer is worthy of his hire" (Luke 10:7). And for those of you intent on offering His "Sell your possessions and give to charity" (Luke 12:33) statement as proof, I will withhold comment until you 1) demonstrate that Jesus did that (because, as it turns out, Jesus did own things) and 2) actually sell all your possessions and give to charity. (For more on this, I wrote about it here and it continues to be one of my most revisited posts.)

For these reasons and more, I have to conclude that Jesus was not a Socialist in either the technical, historical sense or the modern, practical sense. He believed instead in personal property, working for a living, and giving as a matter of choice rather than coercion. And since Paul concurred (see 2 Thess 3:10), I'd suggest it is a biblical position. I believe Christians are to give because Christians want to please God and not because the government has opted to remove your choice on the matter. And I don't believe that following Jesus's example will lead you to Socialism ... by any definition. At least, not the Jesus of the Bible.


In order to do due diligence, I've scoured the web to find arguments for "Jesus was a Socialist." From a variety of sources, then:

1. "Go sell everything you have and give to the poor, and ... then come follow Me" (Mark 10:17-25). There you have it. The only means of being right with God (which was the rich young ruler's question) is to sell everything and give it to the poor. Now, go thou and do likewise. No, better yet, let's just have the government do it for you. That's what Jesus would have favored.

2. "He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people." (Matt 4:23). There, see? Free healthcare. That's His standard, His call, His requirement. That's how it ought to be. And here you are, you lousy conservatives, standing against Obamacare. How dare you?!

3. Jesus gave us the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46. What was He looking for? "For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me." (Matt 25:35-36). Thus ... socialism.

4. When Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world," He was speaking of eliminating the current government and establishing a new, Socialist government for God in which the rich would give up their possessions and the poor would be taken care of. Everyone would be healed ... for free. No charges for healthcare or food or any other well-being issues. That was Jesus's view and Jesus's mandate.

No, seriously? This is what constitutes good reading, good exegesis, and rational thought? Well, I suppose it constitutes normal reading, exegesis, and rational thought. I've seen how people fail to properly understand what I write, and I'm not divinely inspired. But let's look at each of these.

1. Look, the rich young ruler expressed a position. Asking "What must I do to inherit eternal life?", Jesus told him he had to keep all the commandments. He answered, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." Now, that's quite a claim! So, let's see ... how about "No other gods"? You know, Commandment #1? And, as it turned out, Jesus pointed out to him that his god was money. This constitutes a socialist position?

2. Jesus healed people. Therefore, Jesus favored always healing everyone at all times for free? John says these were "signs" and Jesus said "If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe Me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father." (John 10:37-38). These were not done as a healthcare plan; they were done as proofs. Whittling them down to healthcare (and then throwing them out as "myth" because "Jesus never really healed anyone") is not rational.

3. The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is not about what was done, but about what sheep and goats do. Those who belong to Christ give to the needs of others. Those who do not belong to Christ don't. And giving to the needs of others is not Socialism. Making this a policy statement on the part of Christ as to how a government or society ought to operate misses the point entirely.

4. When Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world," He was arguing that His kingdom was not of this world. The plan is "a new heaven and a new earth", not a replacement kingdom. As evidence of this, at no point in the Gospels did Jesus push to remove the existing government and at no point in the New Testament did any of His followers push to remove the existing government. That's because Jesus's kingdom is not of this world. Not an argument for socialism.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Bible on Abortion

With a title like that, you'd think I was about to give you the Scriptures that tell you that abortion is a sin, right? Well, look for yourself what is being said on the topic and you'll find ... quite the opposite. Skeptics and "Christians" alike offer a variety of "biblical" reasons that abortion is ... get this ... biblical. So, in order to prepare those of you who haven't seen it, I'm going to offer you some of the (nonsensical) arguments that the Bible supports killing the unborn.

First up is probably the most popular.
"If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life." (Exo 21:22-23)
There is it, clear as day. Oh, you don't see it? Sorry, wrong translation. They will not use the NASB. Oh, no, it will have to be the King James, where it does not refer to a premature birth, but says "her fruit depart from her." There, now, much clearer, right? And I hope you see now the problem. We don't have a translation difference; we have a difference in English. The transliterated Hebrew is yâlad yâtsâ', where yâlad means "to bear young; to beget" and yâtsâ' means "to go or bring forth". However you would like to think that should be translated, the phrase is to "bring forth young" which is not "to lose your baby." And "her fruit depart from her" does not require "lose your baby" either, so perhaps I would recommend setting aside this "proof positive" verse.

Note, by the way, that if a self-professed Christian is going to use this text as proof that the Bible supports abortion, it is required to use the whole sentence. I stopped in my quote before the sentence actually ended. Perhaps "life for life" gives you a hint of what it says next? Yes, "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." (Exo 21:24-25). So if anyone is opting to use verses 22-23 as prooftexts ought to be ready also to embrace an "eye for an eye" justice system. If they're going to hold that the Bible here defends abortion, they will also need to argue that the Bible supports the death penalty. If they are going to reject that justice system, they will also need to reject this abortion argument. (Rejecting this argument may mean, "You're right; that's not what it says" or "I reject the death penalty and whatever else the Bible says on this subject" which is a rejection of the Bible in general and simply means that telling me that the Bible supports something when they don't believe the Bible anyway is duplicitous at best.)

Okay, let's see ... what else do they offer? Well, there is Leviticus 27:2-6 that lists prices for men and women and children for what they pay if they promise something to God that is hard for them to pay, but under one month they pay nothing. "They have no value, see?" No, they pay nothing. One-month-olds don't pay vows. And the valuations were in terms of what they might have, not on their worth as a human being. (See Lev 27:8.) Similarly, Moses was commanded to number the sons of Levi, but not to count them if they were under a month old. "They're not persons, see?" Well, I suppose, if you decide (arbitrarily) that the counting was of persons. Since females weren't counted either, shall we conclude that females aren't persons either? Or is it possible that under the age of one month was not signficant for this count? I suppose the answer you give will be determined by your personal preference. But if God says that Man (human beings) are made in the image of God (Gen 9:6), then "It's not old enough to count" doesn't work.

This next one was new to me. Perhaps you remember the "cheating wife" test in Numbers 5:11-31. You remember. A husband suspects his wife of cheating on him but doesn't have proof. So he is supposed to take her to the priest with his accusation. She is supposed to, among other things, take this concoction of holy water and tabernacle dust (Num 5:17) called "water of bitterness" along with some of the ink used to write the curse (Num 5:23) with the express warning that if she drinks it and she cheated on him, God would "make your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell." (Num 5:22). If she hadn't, she would be immune and "she will then be free and conceive children." (Num 5:28). "This," they argue, "is a reference to herbal abortifacients" (as if "water and dust and ink" is some sort of herbal abortifacient ... that only works on adulterous women) and they point to "she will then be free and conceive children" as proof that she can keep the child while "your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell" is a reference to losing the baby. That, dear readers, constitutes biblical proof. How anyone gets "Her child was not aborted" from "She will be free and conceive children" (Doesn't "will conceive" require "not yet conceived"?), or how a swelling of the abdomen after taking this concoction suggests an abortion is beyond my comprehension. And it is not a good argument.

Popular among these "biblical arguments" are the various occasional references to God judging people by killing their children. I won't give references. There is no point. "God judging people" is not "abortion". End of story.

The other new one to me was the story of Tamar (Gen 38). Tamar married one of Judah's sons, but he died. Onan, her brother-in-law, was required to give his dead brother offspring, so he went in to her but "spilled his seed on the ground" and God struck him dead. So Judah postponed marrying off his youngest son to her. Later, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and tricked Judah into getting her pregnant. When her pregnancy was discovered, Judah ordered her burned to death. That's it. That's the argument. The author of this one says, "I see the Bible saying that killing an unborn child is necessary when it’s not a child conceived in a way the mother’s society wants." Never mind that God never made such a rule. Forget the fact that lots of biblical characters did lots of things contrary to God's commands. (Think David and Bathsheba. By this reasoning we would conclude, "I see the Bible saying that sleeping with your neighbor's wife and killing him to hide it is biblical." Come on, people!) This makes no sense.

I'm sorry. None of this works for me as anything approaching a biblical justification for abortion. Stacking up obscure references to strange things that can't really be construed as "abortion" doesn't make sense to me. "All you have," they tell me, "is that 'Thou shalt not kill' command" and then they tell me it refers to murder, not merely killing. Sorry, that's not my starting point. My pro-life position stems from the passage in Genesis that says, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man." (Gen 9:6). Further, as early as the Didache (written in the 1st century) we find, "Do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant." As early as that the Church had a position on the topic. And more than one biblical reference suggests life starts from the womb. Isaiah said that God called him and named him from the womb (Isa 49:1). Paul was set apart from the womb (Gal 1:15). Jacob was chosen over Esau before either was born (Rom 9:11). Luke 1:36 says that Elizabeth "conceived a son." When we can determine that humans in the womb are not humans and are not "in the image of God", then I might reconsider. Until then, I have to stand on the claim that the Bible opposes killing innocent humans, and the earliest stage of human life is conception, so from that point on, terminating that life is contrary to Scripture.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans' Day, 2014

A veteran is anyone who has served. We tend to think of them as war heroes, people who were in harm's way. The guy that served meals for the trainees at Camp Pendleton for four years? No, not really. But a veteran is anyone who has served in the military. Including the cook.

The estimates range from 1:12 to 1:17 for the ratio of combat personnel to support personnel in the military. That is, for every man (or woman these days) in combat, 12 to 17 others are providing support, mostly without facing gunfire. Without these support personnel, those combat troops would not be able to do their jobs. Sure, we give special honor to those who serve under fire, and rightly so. And we give additional honor to those who have given their lives for our country, and rightly so. But if you are among the 90+% who served without being shot at, you're likely ignored. "You're not a veteran." That's the message.

To those who have served, I say "Thank you." For those who have pushed pencils and toted bullets and folded uniforms and cooked meals, I am grateful. Thanks to the medical personnel and the bookkeepers and the accountants and the maintenance folks. To the computer technicians and the recruiters and the trainers and the planners, I salute you. On this Veterans' Day, I wish to thank all veterans who have put in the time and effort to serve this country. Your work is appreciated and the military's job of defending our freedom couldn't be done without you. And, of course, a special thanks to those who served in combat. I hope you already know that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The State of Theology--Sin

In the LifeWay Research study on how America understands Christian theology, sin is a key issue.

When asked whether the smallest sin deserves damnation, only 18% of those polled thought so and only 51% of self-professed Evangelicals agreed with the statement. Two out of three Americans contended that everyone sins, but basically people are good; so did 44% of Evangelicals.

Perhaps part of this is due to the fact that only 27% strongly agree that God shows wrath toward sin and 41% agree strongly that Hell is a real place. No consequences? No worries. Perhaps part of it is due to the failure to see that God has authority over humans because He is the Creator (only 61% agree) and that He expresses His commands through the Bible (only 49% agree). Moral relativism. In this environment it's easy to see that only 31% agree that sex outside of marriage is a sin because the fact that the Bible says it is irrelevant. Moral relativism lived out.

There has always been this problem with Christianity. Many, inside and outside of Christendom, have understood it to be just like every other religion--a moral structure for living. Be good and go to heaven. But biblical Christianity has always stood against that principle. We are not saved by being "good enough". There is no such thing. We are saved apart from works. Because the Bible contends that every sin incurs God's wrath and every sin rightly deserves eternal punishment. Today's Americans--even Christian Americans--don't seem to realize this anymore.

Perhaps it's because we've redefined "sin" like we've redefined so many other key words. It isn't "a violation of God", a "falling short of the glory of God", Cosmic Treason. No, sin is transgression of modern sensibilities. Sin is now "being boring" or "having a view that differs with the majority" or perhaps even "being a white male American Christian" (oh, perish the thought!). Sin is agreeing with God that homosexual behavior is sin rather than embracing it. Sin is "not being cool". Sin is whatever we make it ... and that without eternal consequence.

Perhaps it's that churches have tried to become "safe". You know, a place where anyone can go and not be offended and only hear "positive things". Lots of "God loves you" but none of that "Test yourself" stuff. A lot of that "blessed are you" kind of thing (without actually seeing what is blessed--"poor in spirit", "mourn", "hunger and thirst for righteousness", that kind of thing) and none of that nasty "repent" language. So churches fail to make disciples and teach them to obey all that is commanded because, after all, not everyone is comfortable with that.

It's as simple as this. The Bible says "All have sinned" (Rom 3:23), that "all are under sin" (Rom 3:9), that we all deserve death (Rom 6:23), that humans are "dead in sin" and "by nature children of wrath" (Eph 2:1-3). When we undertake to ease or eliminate that proclamation, we do so against God and, in the end, against humans as well since we mask the death penalty under which all humans find themselves. In trying to alleviate the sin problem--"Don't worry; people are basically good and sin isn't really that bad"--we minimize Christ's work on the Cross, the overarching glory of God, and the conflict we face with God. In the words of some well-informed lepers from Elisha's day (2 Kings 7:9), "We do not well."

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16)
Now, they tell me this is not intended to be the marching orders for the Worship Leader at your church, but I beg to differ ... sort of. It is a command, to be sure. It is a command to the readers to whom Paul sent the letter and, consequently, to "the saints and faithful brothers in Christ" (Col 1:2), whether in Colossae or anywhere or anywhen else. Okay, so ... not the Worship Leader. On the other hand, you have to ask, "Are you saying your Worship Leader is not among the saints in Christ?" And, of course, you had better answer "No." So it is to all saints ... including those who happen to be Worship Leaders.

So, what are we looking at here? Well, there are "psalms", ψαλμός--psalmos--possibly any sacred piece of music, but because of its root in "stringed instruments", it suggests songs accompanied by voice, harp, or other instruments, and may specifically refer to songs from the Psalms themselves. There are "hymns", ὕμνος--humnos--which appears to reference celebratory songs (perhaps without accompaniment). And let's not forget "spiritual songs", where ᾠδή--ōdē--is for the word "song" and suggests a metrical composition and πνευματικός--pneumatikos--specifies songs which are "non-carnal"--spiritual.

Now, I have been a worship leader. And I have sung both "contemporary" and "traditional" music in church. And I far prefer hymns. But I would like to point out that an argument from the text that "The Bible commands hymns, not your lousy contemporary music" doesn't quite work. So we can't really go there. Where can we go? Where should we go?

Remember the point: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom." A command for Worship Leaders ... and every other saint on the planet. Include a variety of musical styles in your teaching and admonishing, but, above all, teach and admonish in order to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Yes, do that.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Election Results

As many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)
Oh, wait ... different kind of election. Sorry. Go on about your business.

And for those of you who think that maybe the world will be a better place because your party got into office, may I suggest you think again?

Friday, November 07, 2014

The State of Theology--God

I've already pointed out the LifeWay Research study commissioned by Ligonier Ministries on the state of theology in the U.S. In that first examination, I looked at the question of whether or not the church has any right to determine the condition of your soul. An overwhelming 81% said it did not. Jesus and the Scriptures suggested otherwise.

More disturbing (disturbing, but not surprising) to me is the findings that show how we've tamed God in America. Two out of three see the Holy Spirit as a force, not a person. Twenty percent believe that Jesus is a creature created by God. Less than 50% believe God breathed Scripture. Forty-four percent disagree with the claim that God the Father is more divine than Jesus.

We live, then, in an interesting society. Commanded by the Bill of Rights to allow equal rights to all religions, we conclude equal validity for all religions. Twisting "tolerance" into meaning "embrace all beliefs (except, of course, disagreement about what I believe)", we've removed grounds for anything approaching truth. And being willfully ignorant of who God is, we end up with a personalized deity of our own choosing. "God to me" is the god of this age. Like issues of "gender" and "marriage" and so many other things, we yank out the word, twist it to our own use, then reinsert it. "Do I believe in God? Sure!", never admitting that the "God" I am claiming to believe in is not the same God of the Bible. "I put my faith in Christ!" we hear asserted all around, from the Mormons to the Jehovah's Witnesses to the Progressives around the corner, never recognizing that the "Christ" in whom they place their faith is not the Christ of the Bible.

Having shaped God into our own image, we will now stand against biblical Christianity. That whole "Trinity" thing? Yeah, we're not buying it. It has been settled in the Church since the question was first addressed, but fortunately we've figured out that it is no longer the case. We have personal fashions and personal electronics and personal tastes in entertainment, and now we have our own personal god and if you suggest anything about the veracity of that god, we will have you taken out of the city and stoned, at least virtually. Because, in the end, we are god. We get to say who god is. We get to set aside what God said about Himself and give Him our own spin. We sound like a religious society, but don't look under the hood. It's running on fumes ... fumes and no engine. And no amount of good political representation will solve that.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Problem of Evil Problem

I'm sure you've heard of the "Problem of Evil". It's that whole thing about, "If there's a God, why is there evil?" The atheist's hero in this cause is Epicurus, a Greek philosopher from the 4th century BC. He said,
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
You remember Epicurus, right? He was a materialist who assaulted anything divine and claimed instead that pleasure was the greatest good. But I don't see any reason why that would define his views on God, do you?

Still, questioning the motives of the messenger doesn't answer the message. So we're faced with the "Problem of Evil" syllogism. Dan Phillips over at Pyromaniacs takes on this assault on theism that goes something like this:
1. If God is all-powerful, He can prevent evil.
2. If God is good, He would want to prevent evil.
3. Evil exists.
4. Therefore, there is no God. Or: God is either not all-powerful, or He is not good, or not either. In any case, not God.
Well, folks, there you have it--the end of the question. Put another way, "If evil, then no God." Next?

The problem, of course, is that the question is asked in the wrong direction. That is, the premises are problematic. From the perspective of the human, declaring what "all-powerful" can do and what "good" wants, we declare God's non-existence. The problem is that the values offered by the creature are informed by self-interest, hostility (Rom 8:7), ignorance (1 Cor 2:14), and a deceived heart (Jer 17:9). Not a good approach.

There are answers to the problem, of course. The Open Theist could tell you God is not all-powerful. He has abdicated that position in favor of Human Free Will and limits Himself. On the "God is good" problem, the Bible is not silent. Solomon wrote, "The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble." (Prov 16:4). Paul speaks of God "willing to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known" (Rom 9:22). Thus, the Bible suggests that God does not want to prevent evil until the end of the present age. So from the Open Theist or from the Scriptures, there are problems with the first two premises. Phillips points out that the whole thing is problematic. Consider. If "no God", then there is no means by which to determine "evil". Therefore, "Evil exists" from the basis of "no God" is meaningless. The argument is self-refuting.

I'd like to offer a more honest syllogism. First, from the human perspective:
1. If God is all-powerful, He can meet my expectations of what "all-powerful" means including eliminating "evil", whatever that may be.
2. If God is good, He would satisfy my demands for what I consider to be "good" including eliminating "evil", whatever that may be.
3. "Evil" exists, at least in my own mind.
4. Therefore, a God that satisfies my personal definitions and demands does not exist.
And I would contend that this is true.

Perhaps a thought experiment in the other direction would be interesting.
Evil exists.
Evil can only be defined by a Lawgiver who can define it.
Therefore, God exists.
If evil exists and God exists, what can we tell about God?
See, now this is going a different direction. Not "How can I evaluate God from my value system?" but "How can I learn about God?" For instance, if we believe that God is Omnipotent (and can find that clearly in His self-revelation we call "the Bible") and we believe that there is evil in the world (as we can clearly see in His Word), what can we conclude from that? We know that God is good (from His self-revelation--Psa 25:8; Psa 86:5). So we can safely conclude that if there is evil in the world that an Omnipotent God does not end, it is there for a Good God's good reasons. Of course, this approach (in the problem of the syllogism) negates Premise 2, denying that a Good God would want to prevent evil.

So if you are struggling over this "Problem of Evil" problem, you have to ask yourself, "Do I define God by my own desires and values, or do I define God as He does Himself in His Word?" The other question is equally valuable. "Do I define myself as good and worthy of judging God's intentions, or do I recognize that is not in my realm?" Because in every case when a hostile, deceived person approaches God, it is very unlikely they're going to do so with truth.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014


A hypothetical is something that is assumed, but not necessarily proven. It is a "what if?" It often assumes something to be fact and then follows that fact to its logical conclusion.

There is a really big hypothetical in Paul's letter to the church at Rome. In the 9th chapter Paul expresses sorrow that Jews are going to hell. He bolsters his spirits, however, by reminding himself and his readers that "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." (Rom 9:6). You see, "Israel" to Paul is defined not by blood but by "the promise" (Rom 9:8). He goes on to give the example of Rebekah, mother of twins, Jacob and Esau. Paul states that God chose Jacob, not Esau, on the basis of His own purposes, not on the basis of the choices or actions (or birth order or ...) of the two (Rom 9:10-13). God chose, then, who would be "Israel" and who would not, and it is on the basis of God's promise (Rom 9:7,9,12), not by birth or choices or actions on which our selection is based.

This, of course, raises two standard objections which Paul addresses next. First, "That's not fair!" (Rom 9:14). Paul assures them that God does what He wants. "It does not depend on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Rom 9:16). He uses Pharaoh as an example of raising someone up for the purpose of demonstrating His own power (Rom 9:17). God does whatever He wills. "He has mercy on whomever He wills and He hardens whomever He wills." (Rom 9:18). Next, then, is the "If God does whatever He wants, how can He hold us responsible?" (Rom 9:19) objection. To be honest, Paul doesn't really answer that question. It's like the kid who challenges a parent's authority with, "What makes you think you can tell me what to do?" and the parent "replies" as if this is an answer to the question, "Go to your room." Paul says, "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" (Rom 9:20). Paul explains that God does what He wants. He makes "one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use" (Rom 9:21). Now, this is an odd claim, but I'll just leave that hanging. The point is the next passage, the hypothetical.
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Rom 9:22-24)
That's the hypothetical ... "What if?"

It's important, first, to note the conditions. What do we know surrounding the hypothetical? Well, we know God does what He wants. We know He chooses according to His purpose (Rom 9:11). We know He saves whom He wills (Rom 9:18). We know He retains the ultimate right over the clay (Rom 9:21). We know He makes different "vessels" (Rom 9:21). These are not hypothetical. I would also like to point out that some of this "hypothetical" itself is not hypothetical. Paul references two "vessels"--"vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" and "vessels of mercy". He just explained that God makes these vessels. Not hypothetically. There is another non-hypothetical in this hypothetical that might be missed. Let me rephrase the sentence in order to get it across. "Although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, what if God ..." That parenthetical statement beginning with "although" is not hypothetical. It is a statement of fact. God is willing to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known.

Now, we miss that too often. We think "God is a nice guy desperate to be nice to us and we just force Him to be harsh sometimes." Not what it says here. Not the biblical image. God wills to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known. Further, there are two types of vessels available--vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy. For God to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction is not wrong. It's not surprising. It's not odd. It is right. It is just. It is as it should be. This is not hypothetical.

Paul's hypothetical, then, is something else. "You're objecting to God doing what He wills. What if God wills to show mercy?" That's Paul's hypothetical. You see, we ask all the time, "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" "Why aren't more people saved?" It's our own hypothetical. "What if God allowed bad things to happen to good people?" Paul's hypothetical is the reverse. "We're all vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. God is good and right and perfectly justified in exercising what we already know to be His will in demonstrating on us His wrath and power. What if He doesn't?" Not "Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?" but "Why does God show mercy ... to anyone?"

In our self-centered thinking we're asking the wrong questions. Why does God allow evil in the world? Why does He not end sin? Why doesn't He make my life more comfortable? Why aren't more people saved? It's because we miss that God's known, just, righteous, good will is to demonstrate His wrath and make His power known. The fact that any are saved is the astounding thing. The answers, however, are given. He wishes also to make known "the riches of His glory". He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills. He makes vessels for honorable use and for dishonorable use (Prov 16:4). He works in order that His purposes might continue. Stunned by His wrath? Maybe we ought to be more surprised by His grace and mercy. But in either case, we need to recognize that He makes the vessels.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The State of Theology--the Church

Lifeway in conjunction with Ligonier Ministries did a survey of 3,000 Americans to find out The State of Theology in America. As you might guess, it doesn't look good. (If you're surprised, I'd be surprised.)

There were many questions and it is worth your review, but one of note was this one.
My local church has the authority to declare that I am not a Christian.
In this question an entire 9% agreed strongly or somewhat. Another 10% were not sure. That left 81% who disagreed somewhat (13%) to strongly (68%) with the statement. By far across all demographics Americans are convinced that churches have no authority in drawing conclusions about your status as a believer.

This, of course, is largely a backlash against Roman Catholicism which retains the right to excommunicate you if you violate their standards and whose excommunication includes a sentence of eternal damnation. Oddly, there didn't seem to be a strong response from Roman Catholics that affirmed this Roman Catholic doctrine, so there is more going on here. Another aspect is surely the fact of American independence. We are individuals. We are free. We get to decide, not you. Religion is a personal thing and no one gets to tell me if I'm right or not on this issue.

Ultimately, of course, the problem is a question of worldviews. When Paul turned the young man living in sin with his father's wife over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor 5:1-5), was that correct or not? If you take a biblical perspective, it was. If you take a cultural perspective, it wasn't. When Jesus commanded, "If he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector" (Matt 18:15-19), was He correct or not? A biblical perspective would assure us He was, but modern sensibilities would deny it. When Paul urged the church at Thessalonica "If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him" (2 Thess 3:14), was he right in saying so or not? A biblical worldview would require he was, and a secular worldview would deny it. Today, the culture stands in opposition (at least in word) to judging, while the Bible affirms the necessity of doing so as well as the role of the Church in it. Which worldview will you assume?

In Roman Catholicism, the Church gets to say whether or not you are going to Hell. If they say you are, you are. I think that the Bible would deny such a position. But, having denied that the Church gets to declare your eternal destiny, I don't think we can take the opposite side and argue that it can say nothing about it. Too many commands from Scripture say that it is the job of the Body of Christ to take care of one another and, when necessary, declare when a "so-called brother" (1 Cor 5:11) has left off living a Christian life. This is an important function of the church (Matt 18:17). And the fact that the church is so often unwilling to do so is leaving its own path of destruction in its wake.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Jesus's Hermeneutics

I read this somewhere and it has been echoed repeatedly from folks that comment sometimes on this blog: "One of the key rules of good biblical exegesis for Christians is to interpret all the words of the Bible through the teachings of Jesus." Technically, the "key rules of good biblical exegesis" refers to hermeneutics. Exegesis is interpreting Scripture and hermeneutics are the rules that should be followed when doing exegesis. So the argument is that we need to use Jesus's hermeneutics when we study the Bible.

Now, as it happens, the usual place I find this kind of rule for good biblical exegesis is among the liberal Christians. And the only application I've ever seen of this approach is "He seemed to take it however He saw fit, so we should, too." Because, you see, if you take it as it stands, it is problematic to most of those who take this approach.

How did Jesus understand the Scriptures He had? (You know He was using just the Old Testament, right?)

Jesus denied that any of God's Word would pass away. All that was remained. The principles were right when God gave them to Moses and remain right today. We know this because Jesus said, "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Matt 5:18). And ... hmmm, let's see ... nope! All is not yet accomplished. So, not one iota will pass from the Law.

To be sure, Jesus was about the business of correcting misconceptions. Jesus strongly corrected the mistaken ideas the Pharisees and Sadducees introduced. He didn't deny the Sabbath, for instance, but denied their confusion about for whom it was designed. "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath," He told them. "So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27-28). They felt they were being true to Scripture when they declared things "Corban"--given to God--but Jesus assured them they were missing the point when it violated God's command to honor your father and mother (Mark 7:10-13). That is, the commandments were good; their interpretation was faulty. And Jesus, teaching with authority (which, of course, God Incarnate can do as no other), explained that adultery wasn't merely the act, but the desire (Matt 5:27-28) and murder wasn't merely the act, but the desire (Matt 5:21-22). When Jesus explained to His disciples who He was, He did so "beginning with Moses and all the prophets." (Luke 24:27) So Jesus corrected and expanded understanding of the texts, but He held them as both ongoing and correct.

And Jesus never took a "It's myth" approach. Jesus always referred to Old Testament events as genuine history. He corrected the Sadducees' false notion against resurrection by explaining that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were real people (Mark 12:24-27). He understood (in the face of modern "textual criticism") that the Pentateuch was written by Moses (Matt 19:8; Mark 7:10; Mark 12:26; Luke 24:44). Jesus understood the story of Adam and Eve to be genuine and even understood that marriage was defined as the union of a man and a woman (Matt 19:4-6). Jesus understood the Scriptures as literal. That is, He took them as written.

Considering the alternative, you run into all sorts of problems. Arguing that Jesus did not understand the Scriptures to be "God's Word", infallible, inerrant, and certainly not literal in any sense, you step into a hermeneutical nightmare. If Jesus's view was, in essence, "Make of it what you will" and "Don't worry; it will change anyway", then we run into some serious difficulties. First, all Scripture becomes a matter of purely personal interpretation over against Peter's certainty that it wasn't (2 Peter 1:20). Paul was clearly wrong when he argued that the Scriptures were God-breathed, unless, of course, you're willing to admit that God's "breathing" was irregular, uneven, and unreliable. You have, in essence, no solid ground on which to stand. Second, you have a self-refuting argument on your hands. The argument goes something like this. "You need to interpret the Scriptures like Jesus did. The Scriptures are not changeless, literal, or inerrant. Thus, you can't know in a reliable way how Jesus interpreted the Scriptures, since all we know about Him we learn from variable, figurative, erroneous Scriptures." Nice! Now we have a God who can't be trusted giving us His Word which is unsettled and unreliable viewed through the lens of Christ about whom we can know very little with certainty. And that is the hermeneutic we're supposed to use.

I would suggest, then, that we do use Jesus's hermeneutic principle. The Bible is God's Word. As such, it is intended as written. History is history, doctrine doctrine, poetry poetry, and so forth. The principles set forth by God in His Word don't change because God doesn't change. So we need to interpret Scripture by what it says and by other Scripture (as Jesus did) and conclude--if necessary, against modern sensibilities--that God's Word is right and human perceptions are often a product of a deceptive heart (Jer 17:9) and we need to align ourselves with His Word. Which, I think, is the principle of exegesis I've always tried to hold to.