Friday, December 28, 2007

Blueberry and Pineapple Smoothies ... They Do A Body Good

Grandpa had the new smoothie maker out last night mixing up a concoction.

The little buddy was happy about that.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas and Isaiah 7:14

It's that time of year again ... the time when Isaiah 7:14 gets beat up like a rented mule. I read discussions of it every year, as I did again this morning, and am still not convinced that anything in the eighth century BC (when Isaiah was writing) can fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah in 7:14.

Isaiah 7:14 talks about a young woman who is a virgin and pregnant at the same time. The word "pregnant" is an adjective describing the virgin. She is not a virgin now who will become pregnant later. In the prophetic mind of Isaiah, she is both a the same time.

Many appeal to Isaiah 8:1-4 as a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, either partially or fully. The problem is that the prophetess of 8:1-4 is not both a virgin and pregnant. She is first one, then the other.

The question is usually brought up, How is the birth of Christ, seven hundred and thirty years later, a sign to Ahaz? The answer: It's not. It was not intended to be. Ahaz had already rejected a sign through a false show of piety, because he had already secured his hope through a foreign alliance. He was not interested in listening to God, and so God was not speaking to him.

The prophecy is given to a group of people, as indicated by the plural forms of the prophecy. It was intended to assure the house of David, and more broadly the nation of Israel, that Tabeel would not succeed in removing Ahaz from the throne, thus breaking the Davidic covenant.

The Davidic covenant would stand, and it would still exist seven hundred and thirty years later when the Son of David, Immanuel, would be born to a pregnant virgin.

So what of the reference in vv. 15-25 to the deliverance of the nation in the eighth century BC? If the prophetic mind of Isaiah sees the virgin as currently pregnant (which it does), his prophecy is made on the basis of that pregnancy. Isaiah does not know the time or the person (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12). But he did know what he was saying.

There is only "God with us" which is what Immanuel means. And it certainly was not Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. It was none other than Jesus Christ who is our only hope, and who is the only hope for the nation of Israel.

It is further interesting that those who see a fulfillment in Isaiah 8:1-4 do not seem to want to see that fulfillmen in chapters 9-11 which are the conclusion of the Immanuel section of Isaiah. The reason they do not press that fulfilllment is because chapters 9-12 tell us that Immanuel will reign, and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz did not do that. I would suggest you can't have it both ways. If 8:1-4 fulfills 7:14, then it must also fulfill chapters 9-12. Of course, only Jesus fulfills 9-12, which again gives us increased basis for our hope in Christ.

As a side note, it is always interesting to me that people who see no need to see a literal fulfillment of OT promises to the nation fulfilled to the nation suddenly see Isaiah 7:14 as having to have some fulfillment to the person to whom it they believe it was made. These scholars, many of whom are good men, see no need for promises made to Israel to be fulfilled to Israel, but they insist that a promise made to Ahaz must be fulfilled to Ahaz. That seems inconsistent to me. It seems better to see Isaiah as making a promise about the Davidic covenant, ensuring the nation of Israel that God has not abandoned them because of Ahaz's foolish distrust and foreign alliances.

God will be faithful, and he will come to be with us, and to reign over his chosen people. You can count it.

At the Diner

This morning the subject was the lottery. Apparently two people won the lottery yesterday (neither of whom appear to be in my church), splitting some rather large amount of money. (I haven't read the news so I don't know the amount.)

The conversation revealed the great love of money that exists in people, and the lengths to which they would go to get it. Someone jokingly (I assume) asked another if they were one of the ones who had won. He said, "No, if I had won, I wouldn't be sitting here. I would be in Hawai-ya" (phonetic representation of his vocalization). He followed that up with "I'd take me five grass skirts and fill them over there." I wasn't entirely surely what he meant, but the mental picture was pretty clear to me.

Later the conversation turned to the identity of the winners, and whether or not someone had to reveal their identity to collect their winnings. One person said she would tell no one if they won. Another said he would climb up on a dome if that was what it took to collect the check.

Now, I continue to believe that the lottery is simply a tax on people who are bad at math. The odds of winning are so small, it amounts to giving away money. I told someone once they should just give the money to me, and I would immediately give them half of it back. That way they would be sure to get at least some money.

It is played by people for whom money is the sole aim of life. They think that they will be satisfied only when they have a lot of it.

Unfortunately this love of money is not a problem simply in the world. It is a problem in the church just as much as anywhere else. It is a problem that comes from human nature and our desire for self-worship.

The Bible warns us about the love of money many places, but notably in my mind, in 1 Timothy 6:9-10:

But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Do you want grief to pierce your life? Do you want to wander away from the faith? Do you want ruin and destruction? Then love money.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Learning From Esau

Young Esau could not see beyond what was in front of him. He possessed no vision, no spiritual imagination. He had no eyes or mind for God, or for Heaven, or for Hell. Spiritual realities were to him dull and opaque. He was a single-dimensional soul. Pleasure now was his guiding star. For him all that mattered was the excitement of the hunt, a hearty meal, a woman’s company—all good things in proper perspective and place. But pleasure is all that Esau could see. Thus he despised his birthright, selling it for a single meal, and likewise he despised his heritage for the pleasure of Canaanite women. Esau’s blithe arrogance brutalized everything precious to life and fixed him on his tragic course.

For every generation, the challenge is the same—to see that there is more to life than a meal, or a video game, or baseball, or a party, or a movie, or an indulgence of some kind—to see, as Paul put it, that "the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18)

From R. Kent Hughes, Genesis, p. 433.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Mitchell Report

The long awaited Mitchell report on the use of performance enhancing drugs was delivered yesterday. It was commissioned several years ago by MLB in an attempt to get some answers on the prevalence of drug use in baseball.

In this report, former Senator and peace maker George Mitchell names almost eighty current and formers players. Notably absent are Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the two credited for bringing baseball back from its almost suicidal strike in 1994. In fact, the home run chase in 98 is why some people think MLB led by Bud Selig overlooked the steroid issue for so long. They desperately needed the excitement of that chase and desperately needed to avoid any questioning of its legitimacy in the years afterward.

The biggest "new" name mentioned in this report is Roger Clemens, eleven-time All-Star and seven-time Cy Young Award winner. Clemens came out with a vehement denial of the accusations, but according to ESPN last night, the rumors of Clemens use of performance enhancing drugs have been around for a long time. As John Kruk pointed out, people in professional sports do not get more dominant with age, but Clemens did ... and Bonds did. There is virtually no question that Bonds used drugs, nor there is there any question that Selig did a great disservice to MLB by not taking action against Bonds.

Now Clemens?

Who's to blame? While Selig bears a large part for his mismanagement, the players have no one to blame but themselves. The MLBPA (players association) has long stood in the way of any meaningful drug testing. They refused to make players available for the Mitchell report investigation, allowing players to testify only if they wished.

Why would not the PA come out strongly in favor of protecting the game that has made them multi-millionaires? Why put the baseball public through this charade of indignant self-righteousness when they knew, just as well as everyone else, that there were significant drug problems in baseball. Why not make your players testify before the Mitchell investigation?

All the secrecy just screams out that they have something to hide.

Except it's not hidden very well.

Here's my solution.

1. Institute weekly drug tests that actually test for HGH as well. (Spend the money and figure out how to test for it.) These tests should take place year round, rather than simply during the season. Give each player a yearly four week hiatus in the off season, to account for vacations and travel away from a testing facility.
2. Give every player until May 1 to get clean.
3. Institute a one strike and you're out policy. If a player gets caught with performance enhancing drugs in his system, his is done for life. No appeals, no second chances.

Why so harsh? Because baseball needs its game back. These players need to know up front what the penalty is. And if enhanced performance makes it worth running the risk of never putting on a uniform again, then take the risk. But don't whine when you get caught. And don't plan on sitting out for fifty games, or a hundred games, and then getting back in the game.

One, and your done.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Knowledge of Sin in Evangelism

What does a sinner need to know about sin in order to be saved?

Often, in explaining sin in evangelism, people tend to take one of two avenues. On the one hand, people can be so reductionistic about sin that all they desire to do is get the person they are witnessing to to say that at least one time, at some point in their lives, they may have committed a little tiny sin.

On the other hand, some people are so desirous not to sell the gospel short that they insist on using sin as a billy club to beat someone over the head with, almost insisting on long and specific lists of sin before they will move on to talk about the life that is in Christ.

I wonder if we might not appropriately sum up the issue of the knowledge of sin in evangelism in the word "helpless." When I am talking to someone about the gospel, what I want them to do is not just say that one time a long time ago they did something they should not have (though they most certainly did). Nor am I interested in a annotated enumeration of their manifest depravity (though it would surely be long and gruesome).

What I want them to see is that no matter how bad they think they are, their sin has made them helpless to have a relationship with God. I want them to see that Christ is their only hope.

A person who thinks they can help themselves might only have one acknowledged sin, or they might have a long list. But they are still holding out hope that they can somehow fix their relationship with God. They are not yet ripe for the gospel. It is perhaps best to leave them alone for now and come back to them later.

A person who recognizes that they are helpless apart from Christ alone will recognize that because they see the true nature of their sin, whether it is one sin or more than they can remember.

So in evangelism, while we need not dodge specific sins, it seems to me that we need to focus on the helplessness that sin has created in our lives.

What do you think?

On Prayer

From A. B. Bruce, in The Training of the Twelve:
In the spring of the divine life, the beautiful blossom-time of piety, Christians may be able to pray with fluency and fervor, unembarrassed by want of words, thoughts, and feelings of a certain kind. But that happy stage soon passes, and is succeeded by one in which prayer often becomes a helpless struggle, an inarticulate groan, a silent, distressed, despondent waiting on God, on the part of men who are tempted to doubt whether God be indeed the hearer of prayer, whether prayer be not altogether idle and useless. The three wants contemplated and provided for in this lesson—the want of ideas, of words, and of faith—are as common as they are grievous.
From Daniel March in Night Scenes of the Bible, from the chapter entitled "Jacob's Night of Wrestling":
Sometimes it is the last and greatest act of God's mercy to a prayerless and worldly man to lay so many pains and afflictions and losses upon him, that he feels compelled to cry out in agony of soul, "Lord, help me!" And there is no good thing in the world which a man cannot afford to lose, if the sacrifice and the suffering will only teach him to call upon God in humble and fervent prayer.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Didn't Know You Could Do This

Dalai Lama offers his flock a vote on whether he should be reincarnated.

Faced with Chinese plans to seize control of his reincarnation, the Dalai Lama has come up with two revolutionary proposals — either to forgo rebirth, or to be reborn while still alive.

The exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader proposed yesterday to hold a referendum among his 13-14 million followers around the world — before his death — on whether he should be reincarnated or not.
I am afraid if I put my reincarnation up for a vote, it would come back as "Die now and never come back."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rob Bell and the Anger of God

Today, I read the second review I have seen on Rob Bell's current speaking tour entitled "the gods aren't angry." This reviewer notes Mark Driscoll's recent labeling of Bell as a heretic when he (Driscoll) spoke at Southeastern Seminary at their Convergent Conference. This review is decidely more sympathetic than the previous one was, but I can't remember where I saw the other one.

What grabbed my attention was this comment the reviewer makes in closing:
The sense I got from Bell is that the whole problem to be solved is a mental one: people are not aware of the already-true fact that God is not angry with them. I’m wrangling with the notion that what Jesus changed is not God’s opinion of me, but my opinion of God. For some reason, this makes me think of Jesus as a Post-It note from God telling us what has been true rather than making it true. I’m ready to dismiss this as too insignificant, except that Bell convinced me that the alternatives leave us with a small god who needs sacrifice to be appeased.
There are several issues worthy of comment.

1. The idea that "the alternatives leave us with small god who needs sacrifice to be appeased" is a curious remark, particularly given the biblical teaching on propitiation. This concern is straight out of the playbook of those who deny penal substitution. They see God as a cosmic child abuser who beats up and kills his own Son to satisfy his bloodlust. They believe that forgiveness by definition is incompatible with penal substitution, arguing that if Christ paid the penalty then sin wasn't really forgiven; it was paid for.

Such is hardly a biblical picture. The truth is that God's holiness must be satisfied. He is not able to say "Forget about, no big deal." If he were to do that, his only holiness would be compromised. But because of his love for us, he took the step of satisfying his own holiness while not charging our sins against us. Romans 3:24-26 is clear that God is both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus through the death of Christ. The death of Christ was necessary for God to justly forgive sin, and it was necessary for God to justify (declare righteous) those who believe. This isn't a "small god." This is an unimaginably great God whose holiness and love met at the cross.

2. The idea that God is not angry with sinners is simply a denial of the plain teaching of Scripture. Psalm 7:11-12 talk about a God who is daily angry with those who do not repent. Psalm 5:12 talks of a God who hates the sinner (not just the sin). So the idea that God really isn't angry undermines both the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin. If God isn't angry, then there is no reason for us to fear him. Yet he continually uses warnings of terror and wrath to come as a motivation for following him, and submitting to his lordship.

While it is not politically correct to talk about an angry God, it is impossible to preach the whole counsel of God without talking about an angry God. Michael Finley, in his commentary on Joel, says this:
“It is interesting to reflect on Joel’s power as a preacher to motivate people to repent on the basis of the judgment to come … In light of Joel and the rest of Scripture, one might wonder whether contemporary pastors who tend to avoid ‘fire and brimstone’ preaching in favor of a steady diet of mercy and forgiveness provide an incomplete presentation of God’s word.”
Let's face it: God does use fear and terror to motivate us to follow him. That's not a bad thing.

3. Finally, the idea that what we really have is a mental problem in grasping the fact that God really isn't angry with us undermines the biblical teaching on the nature of sin and its affects in our lives. It undermines the biblical definition of saving faith, which is not just mental acceptance of God's lack of anger, but is mental, volitional, and emotional acceptance of who Christ is and what he did for us at the cross.

Salvation is not just a mental issue of accepting that God isn't angry. He is. But he has been propitiated through the death of Christ. Our biggest problem is not that we need to change our opinion about God's lack of anger. It is that we need to recognize that our sin has separated us from God and only unconditional trust in the sacrifice of Christ alone can remedy that.

This brings me to conclude with what I think one of the real dangers of someone like Bell is: He makes sense to people. You might wonder why that is a danger. I think it's a danger because he uses religious ideas and even biblical imagery to construct a theology that ultimately undermines the Scripture itself. I have heard Bell preach. He is a decent communicator, particularly in an age where "stream of consciousness" communication is "in." I have heard that is Nooma videos are very interesting, though I have never seen them. But making sense to people while distorting the biblical teaching is hardly admirable, at least in my book.

It is bad that in some churches, the messages don't make a lot of sense. They are great theological treatises, but they never touch the lives of the hearers. People who sit under that kind of teaching find people like Bell very captivating. At long last, they have found someone who uses the Bible and makes sense to them. But they don't see that Bell doesn't use the Bible as God intended it to be used. Bell tends to use the Bible as a prop to support some "cool ideas," rather than as a hammer to break rocks, a fire to burn chaff, authoritative word to be submitted to.

What Bell has done is gotten away from the simplicity of Christ crucified. And when we get away from that, we begin to compromise on doctrines such as the value and necessity of the death of Christ, such as the nature and accomplishment of the death of Christ, and the awfulness of sin in light of the holiness of God.

So to conclude (the second time), as a preacher I am constantly trying to make sense to people. Having grown up in Christianity, it is far too easy and comfortable for me to fall back into church words and Christian-ese language, to the patterns of traditionalism, and the ways of a by-gone era.

If we are to reach a new generation, suckled on post-modernism, we must examine the way in which we communicate. We dare not change the message, not even by compromising it through form, but to use Christianese (in language and in practice) to a people who do not speak it is ecclesiastic suicide.

So let's try to become better communicators of the word God has given us, rather than trying to use God's word to help us communicate our own message. And let us learn from the danger of Rob Bell.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Follow-up on Baptism, Obedience, and Separation

This post is in response to a comment on my previous post. It posed the issue this way: Based on your logic (i.e., "If Christ said 'Do X' and someone does not do X, then we must call them disobedient."), we are all disobedient!

Here's my extended response:

If we were not disobedient in at least some areas, wouldn't we be perfect?

I think we are all disobedient, at least sometimes. So at the root, a disobedient Christian is someone who does not obey God in whatever area that might be.

We then move on to levels of sin as in degrees. Wasting time reading blogs is not the same as a adultery, though both are to some degree poor stewardship of God's gift to us. That is not to excuse wasting time reading blogs (hey, what are you doing right now?). It is simply to say that not all sins are equal, but all sins are sins.

I do not see certain areas reserved for "disobedience" and others for "matters of conscience." I think a matter of conscience is something that is legitimately okay (i.e., God permits it), but the untrained conscience cannot do it in faith (cf. Rom 14). I do not think a "matter of conscience" can be invoked in an area of something God commands us to do that we do not do, or God forbids to do that we do do.

So the question is, Does God command that believers be baptized as a profession of their faith in Christ? I think he does. And if I am right, those who do not get baptized upon belief are disobedient to that command. They may not be disobedient to any other, but they are certainly disobedient to that one.

So the question arises, how do we treat them?

Well, I don't think that failing to be baptized as a believer is the same as failing to preach the exclusivity of Jesus. And in a conference on the exclusivity of Jesus, I may well be able to preach with someone who has not been scripturally baptized. But in a conference on Baptist distinctives, that would be immeasurably harder.

Obviously, the more a sin strikes at the heart of the gospel, the more central it is in terms of fellowship and separation. Having a man in my pulpit to preach who may be lazy a few mornings a month is not the same as having a man in to preach who believes that there are other ways to God apart from Jesus.

I think the more something undermines the "whole counsel of God," the more central it is. A man who is a public adulterer brings more shame on the whole counsel of God than a man who knowingly kept an extra penny he received in change from the cashier, though both have taken something they were not entitled to.

I think the more public a sin is, the more of a difference it makes, at least to some degree. That seems to be the point of 1 Tim 3:7 and "having a good report." It doesn't mean perfect, but it means that public sins are not what a man is known for in the community.

I think the relationship of obedience to core distinctives of our denominational beliefs matter. How much? I am not entirely sure. After all, we are Baptists because we think believer's baptism is an important matter of obedience. At the same time, to me at least, believer's baptism seems more important than two ordinances.

So I guess the short answer to that question is, I am not entirely sure how all this breaks down. It is something I think about because I am concerned that we do things biblically. I want to grant as much latitude as the Bible does, but no more.

In the end, we must all answer to God for our obedience and stewardship of our lives and ministries.

On Presbyterians, Baptism, and "Disobedient Brothers"

I recently had a great conversation with a friend that migrated to a number of different topics, including Presbyterians, baptism, and the designation of "disobedient brother." (I sincerely hope my friend will agree that I have rightly represented him, and invite him to contact me privately [or publicly] if I haven't.)

My friend asked me if I would call a Presbyterian who did not hold to believer's immersion a "disobedient brother."

I said, "Yes."

He was somewhat astounded by that, mentioning by name a Presbyterian for whom we both have a great amount of respect. He said he agreed with me that the Scriptures taught the immersion of believers. He believes, however, that infant baptism can be considered a matter of conscience since it is within the stream of orthodox Christianity.

My response to him was simple, and along two basic lines of thought:

First, if we believe that the Scriptures truly teach the immersion of believers, then we at some level have to call someone who is not immersed as a believer disobedient to the command of Christ, as well as out of step with the pattern of the early church in the NT. If Christ said "Do X" and someone does not do X, then we must call them disobedient. (And if you believe that infants should be baptized, then you must call credobaptists disobedient.)

That does not necessitate placing them in the same category as adulterers, or heretics. So long as a person does not hold to baptismal regeneration, or "washing away the stain of original sin," they have not compromised the gospel by sprinkling an infant, and baptism is not a prerequisite for salvation. So an unbaptized Presbyterian (or Baptist, or anyone else) can still have genuine salvation, and be a faithful witness to the gospel of Christ while still being disobedient. However, failure to make a public confession of Christ as Lord through baptism is a matter of obedience, it seems to me.

I think we need not be afraid to recognize that there are various levels of obedience. While on the one hand, all sin is sin, on the other hand not all sin is equal. The Law of Moses, given by God, has varying penalties for various sins. This shows that, at least in the community life of Israel (relationships with one another), not every sin had equal societal or personal affects. While we must be careful of pressing this too far, we must also stop short of treating all sin as if it has the same affect in the community of the church.

Second, making something a "matter of conscience" can very easily lead to an existential theology, where conscience becomes the ultimate arbiter of truth rather than Scripture, where truth is only truth when it means a particular thing to the individual. Now, let me be clear—my friend does not believe in existential theology of any sort. He is fully committed to the authority of Scripture. Let me also be clear that I do believe that there are matters on which believers may differ because of conscience. But let me be clear (yet again): These differences do not mean that both are right, or that both are obedient. One can, in good conscience, be disobedient to Scripture. That is because the conscience can be poorly trained. The Baptist distinctive of conscience was never intended (so far as I understand it) to be a rationale for living in disobedience.

Let me sum it up this way:

1. As for separation and Presbyterians, at some level we (Baptists) have to separate. That does not mean that we are antagonistic, that we cannot have Christian fellowship, or that we cannot even share a pulpit. We can still appreciate their contributions in other areas. It simply means that we have differences about a core matter of scriptural distinctives. I believe that separation takes place on a continuum. It is not an all or nothing proposition. And we, as separatists, need to be very careful in making it such. But if the Bible teaches the immersion of believers, and someone does not get immersed as a believer, what else do we call them except disobedient in that area?

2. We need to be very careful about our consciences, and the leeway that is sometimes granted. We need to be careful that we rightly understand the Scripture, but the conscience is not the authority; Scripture is. And while that may be too fine a distinction for some, it must nevertheless be a distinction, it seems to me. The fact that someone may, in good conscience, do something does not mean that they are correct in doing it.

3. When we disagree about a matter of biblical distinctives, we need not be graceless or tactless about it. Let's just disagree. I have been called disobedient by Presbyterians for not baptizing infants. I am okay with that. It's not personal, to me anyway. We all must decide at what level and over what issues we will separate. We must work to preserve the unity of the body only after honoring the commands of Scripture.

Common Love for God?

In the New York Times on Sunday, November 18, there appeared a "A Christian Response to A Common Word Between Us and You." This Christian Response was written by scholars at Yale Divinity School's Center for Faith and Culture (which may, in and of itself, call into question the Christianness of this response).

This open response can be read in its entirety here. Let me quote a couple of highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be).

First, the article uses a Muslim designation for God (the All-Merciful One) as the one from whom these Christians are asking forgiveness for the Crusades as well as the excesses of the "war on terror" (quotes in the original). It reminds me of just how flawed our view of sin is when we think we can meaningfully ask forgiveness for the sins of someone else. Of course, I am assuming that none of these people who signed this letter were involved in the Crusades or the "war on terror." It also makes me wonder why they are using a Muslim designation for God rather than a biblical one. God is full of mercy towards those who repent. But he has none for those who do not. But why not just use biblical terms?

Second, they say "It is therefore no exaggeration to say, as you have in A Common Word Between Us and You, that 'the future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.'" Later they say, "The future of the world depends on our ability as Christians and Muslims to live together in peace. If we fail to make every effort to make peace and come together in harmony you correctly remind us that “our eternal souls” are at stake as well."

This is a troubling view of world peace. It is true that so long as Muslims (or any people) wage war against non-Muslims (or any people) that there will not be peace. And it is true that at times in the past, nominal Christians have waged war against others in the name of religion. That was a misguided venture then, just as it would be now.

But to say that the future of the world depends on our ability to live with Muslims in peace is a fairly direct denial of the sovereignty of God and the prophecies that a King will come to bring peace by destroying his enemies. The future of the world depends on God, not on our ability to forge peace with someone else. Now, that does not mean that we should not pursue peace. But neither does it mean that we should think that if we could somehow strike peace with Muslims that the world would suddenly be set for the future.

To be sure, the greatest problem in this world is not external and physical warfare, whether carried on by nations or terrorists. The greatest problem is the sin of the human heart, and only Christianity has an answer for that.

Third, these scholars and signatories note "our common love for God." This is perhaps the most disturbing of all. Since Muslims have denied the person of Jesus Christ, the God that they love has nothing in common with the God of Christianity and the Bible. Jesus himself said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). Lest we should underestimate the intent of his words, we should note that those who lived with him clearly understood what he was saying. That's why they tried to kill him, as John 5:19 tells us: "For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God."

The idea being espoused by many that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is unbiblical. It provides no hope for eternal salvation. It is blasphemous to God because it denies his incarnation, it denies his atoning work and resurrection, and denies his promise to return in judgment and salvation.

It is also troubling to see the signatories noted on this document. We should expect names like Robert Schuller and Brian McLaren. But also appearing are names like David Yonggi Cho (Yoido Full Gospel Church), Timothy George (Beeson Divinity School), Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church), Duane Litfin (President of Wheaton College), Richard Mouw (President of Fuller Theological Seminary), John Stott (All Souls Church, London), and Rick Warren (Saddleback Community Church).

How can these men profess any knowledge of or allegiance to the biblical gospel while signing on to something that speaks of Muslims and Christians having a "common love for God"? Is that not, at some level, a denial of the person of Jesus Christ? I can see no other option.

They conclude this document with this: We are persuaded that our next step should be for our leaders at every level to meet together and begin the earnest work of determining how God would have us fulfill the requirement that we love God and one another.

The fulfillment of the requirement for loving God and loving others is to preach the gospel of salvation in Christ alone. We do not need for leaders (or followers) at every level (or any level) to meet together to determine that. We need only to open the pages of Scripture and take seriously the command of Christ to preach the gospel to all nations and to make disciples.

That these signatories would propose something else is most certainly a step of compromise. How can this be acceptable to these men? Why can we not say, "We love you in the name of Christ and do not intend to bring physical or national warfare against you. But in the name of Christ, we call you to salvation through Christ alone"? That was the message of Christ, the apostles, and the early church. Throughout church history, countless Christians have given their lives to the point of death for the sake of the gospel and the call to preach it to all.

It is a false dichotomy to suggest that living in peace with Muslims requires us to profess that we love the same God. We do not. We love and worship the God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, who is God. And to love and worship him is to preach him as the only way of salvation.

We should live in peace with others, as much as is possible (Romans 12:17). But we must also never compromise on the truth that the one true and living God is the God who revealed himself in his son, Christ Jesus. And it is he alone that we trust in for salvation, and we must preach the exclusivity of Jesus to all nations. We must do it with love and grace, but we must do it with courage and boldness. We dare not compromise, not even for the sake of peace.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Piper on the NPP

Piper's new book on the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) is now available, online for free, if you like reading books on your computer. You can also order it if you like.

If you are not familiar with the NPP, this book will likely be of little interest to you. In fact, it might be more confusing than helpful. (I haven't read it, but am surmising this from what I do know (not very much) and from what the Desiring God blog says.)

Surprisingly (to me), Doug Moo has at least some sympathy for Wright and Dunn (two major proponents of NPP). He says that NPP has some legitimate insights by reading Romans in light of the first century rather than the sixteenth century. It is, in Moo's view, similar to Webber's Ancient Future Faith, which has been fairly influential particularly in some emerging circles. The idea of Webber was that we can better understand the church through a better understanding of the early centuries of the church, particularly through understanding the church fathers. Therefore, by understanding Paul's context (first century Judaism) rather than Luther's context (16th century Romanism), we can have a better understanding of what Paul was actually addressing.

Moo does stop short of endorsing their full conclusion (whatever exactly it is since it varies from person to person), though he holds that there is some sense of future justification and rejects the neat "in the box" explanations of the warning passages. He nuances it fairly carefully, and humbly, IMO. Moo notes that many of the opponents of NPP been more polemic than accurate in their evaluations and refutations. My understanding of NPP is that there are some serious problems, particularly in the area of justification.

Anyway, all that to say that Piper's book is now available.

Interesting List

Here is a list of Twenty Books to Read on Christians and Culture by Tullian Tchividjian.
  1. No Place for Truth by David Wells
  2. God in the Wasteland by David Wells
  3. Losing our Virtue by David Wells
  4. Above all Earthly Powers by David Wells
  5. Engaging God’s World by Cornelius Plantinga
  6. Not the Way it’s Supposed to be by Cornelius Plantinga
  7. Heaven is a Place on Earth by Michael Wittmer
  8. Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper
  9. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin
  10. Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon
  11. Where Resident Aliens Live by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon
  12. American Evangelicalism by James Davison Hunter
  13. The Transforming Vision by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton
  14. He Shines in all That’s Fair by Richard Mouw
  15. The Gravedigger File by Os Guinness
  16. Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
  17. Rumor of Angels by Peter Berger
  18. A Peculiar People by Rodney Clapp
  19. Being the Body by Charles Colson
  20. Chameleon Christianity by Dick Keyes
Anything you would add? Or omit?

On Keller, Proverbs, and Preaching from the OT

Someone recently commented on my blogpost where I noted that Tim Keller had preached a message on social justice almost entirely from Proverbs. This comment questioned, at least to some degree, my view of and commitment to the OT as God's word for people today, and commented on the "jaw dropping" response that "many" have to fundamentalists dispensationalists.

It leads me to make a couple of comments.

1. I like Tim Keller for the most part. I have listened to him preach a number of times and I enjoyed it, was challenged by it, and learned from it. He has a great way of putting things in memorable fashion. The best part is that these are things that should be remembered.

2. I like the OT and think we should preach more from it without moralizing or spiritualizing. Too much preaching from the OT becomes "Hans Christian Anderson of old," rather than an authoritative message about who God is, what he is like, and what he was doing in the lives of ancient people to bring about his eternal plan.

3. My point in that particular comment (which was merely illustrative rather than foundational) is that I don't think that Proverbs was intended to teach a theology of social justice for the church. I have preached from Proverbs, and some still tell me that was the best preaching I have ever done. My point was that authorial intent is important, and the nature of Proverbs also plays a role (general, pithy truths rather than pronouncements of inviolable truths).

In sum, I think the text should be preached for what it was intended to communicate. There may be a primary intention as well as secondary intentions, but only the intent of the passage should be preached.

In other words, we should say only from a text what God would say from a text.

And I am not convinced that God would comment on social justice in the church from the book of Proverbs.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Faulty View of the Kingdom?

I recently posted on the Gospel Coalition, a group for which I am sure that I have a great deal of affinity particularly in terms of clearly defining the gospel and taking a stand for it in a pluralistic society and what is increasingly a pluralistic church (if "church" can even be used for some of what is going on out there). That post centered particularly what I would call "the social justice" plank of the foundational documents, which I argued stemmed to a great measure from Tim Keller's influence in the GC.

Well, I received a bit of feedback (the source of which shall remain nameless) that was essentially (or perhaps completely) this: "a faulty view of the kingdom."

As I noted in my post, the view of the kingdom is one of the main driving forces in the social justice beliefs of many people, and has been for ages. The Social Gospel movement of the previous centuries stemmed from a view of the kingdom. So, I don't think my analysis was off target in that respect.

But the "faulty view of the kingdom" deserves a response, at least for my satisfaction. So I will attempt briefly to outline why I believe what I do about the kingdom. This will admittedly be blog-like ... longer than most people will read, and shorter than is necessary to actually argue the points. But it will at least lay out a broad framework for what I believe.

So here we go:

1. The Bible's teaching about the kingdom is rooted in the OT. In my judgment, many people start their theology of the kingdom with the NT, and then proceed backwards to the OT and justify it through what I believe are questionable hermeneutical practices. I find that unconvincing methodologically and exegetically. In order to establish a biblical theology of the kingdom, we have to start with the prior revelation on the kingdom, not the later revelation. Whatever the NT teaches about the kingdom, it does not change what the OT teaches. So we start with the OT.

2. Accordingly, the kingdom promised in the OT must come to be just as the OT says. It is obvious that throughout the OT, progressive revelation increased the amount of knowledge about the kingdom. But at no time that I can find did the later revelation ever change or contradict the earlier revelation. It simply built on it. So the kingdom, whenever it comes, will be just what the OT says it will be.

3. When we see the OT prophecies of the kingdom, any notion of "the church" is strikingly absent. Paul even said so, noting that the church was a mystery not previously revealed. So whatever the kingdom is, it was not intended to be solely the church. Some would argue (as I think my critic would) that there is some kind of future for the "new Israel," a phrase which of itself needs some more stout exegetical and theological consideration by many. I think the "new Israel" is end-time Israel, repentant before her Messiah as prophesied in Zechariah 12.

4. The kingdom spoken of in the NT is a continuation of the kingdom already known in the OT. It is called in the NT a "restoration" (Acts 3:19-21), meaning that it was something that previously existed. To see the kingdom as "present now" is to see something that never existed prior to Acts 3. The OT kingdom was not a mystical spiritual rule in the hearts of true believers. In fact, in the demise of the kingdom in 722 B.C. and 586 B. C., there were true believers who were affected even though they were obediently submissive to YHWH. This is simply because the kingdom was a national thing, not an individual thing. To now make the kingdom some sort of "rule in the heart" does not fit the nature of the kingdom as described in the OT. This is not to say that Christ does not rule in the believer's heart. It is simply to say that that is not what the OT prophecies of the kingdom were about. The king of the kingdom will sit on the throne of David, a place where Christ is not presently sitting.

5. I have yet to be convinced that any NT use of the OT requires a present form of the kingdom. Now, admittedly I have not studied all uses in depth. And admittedly, I come to these passages with a bias towards the ability of the OT to stand on its own. So far as I have studied, every single NT use of an OT kingdom passage is able to be legitimately explained by a future kingdom, rather than a present one (even an "already/not yet" one). It is true that some of the explanations offered by the "kingdom now" proponents are legitimate. The question is, Are they necessary? In my estimation, the answer is no. In sum, I am inclined to say that if one did not start with the presupposition that there was a "kingdom now," he would never get it from the OT followed by the NT. He may get it from the NT followed by the OT. But that in and of itself creates a whole bag of hermeneutical issues that this post will not allow time to develop.

6. If there is a "kingdom now," why did the disciples ask "Is this the time of the restoration of the kingdom?" and why did Jesus say, "It is not for you to know the time"? If there is a "kingdom now," it seems that Jesus should have said, "You are in it," or will be tomorrow (or whatever the precise timing was between Acts 1:5-8 and Acts 2. The very fact that the disciples asked about a "restoration of the kingdom to Israel" means that 1) their understanding of the kingdom was drawn from the OT, and that three and one-half years of walking with Jesus had not disabused them of that notion. Furthermore, in the face of an explicit question, Jesus did nothing to disabuse them of the notion of a restored OT kingdom, rather than a present kingdom, or a "already" kingdom. Admittedly, I have not read everyone's attempt to answer this, but I have yet to read one that is convincing to me.

7. If there is a kingdom now, why do we not see kingdom acts? In my opinion, the "kingdom now" proponents are very loose when it comes to arguing for the characteristics of the kingdom prophesied in the OT. There is no worldwide peace while the nations gather in submission to the King. There are not great miracles (actual miracles, not healing someone's back out in TVLand). Most recognize this. The question is, Why doesn't it carry more weight than it does? Why do we so easily dismiss these prophecies for the sake of finding a kingdom now? When Christ was on earth, he was doing kingdom acts. And when he left, those kingdom acts went with him, with the exception of a short stint in the apostolic era for the purpose of confirming the message (cf. Heb 2:4).

8. When Jesus told the Pharisees that the kingdom would be taken from them and given to a nation (ethnos) producing the fruit of it, who is that? I think the ethnos to whom it is given is the people prophesied of in Zechariah 12, who look on the one whom they pierce and mourn. This prophecy is seen fulfilled in John 19:37 when Jesus was pierced, and Revelation 1:7 where the nations mourn over him when they see him coming on the clouds. This is a kingdom prophecy that is future, not past or present. The piercing has already taken place. The looking has not. Yet that is the precursor to the kingdom, it seems to me, since the Son of Man coming in the clouds is the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.

The upshot of all this is that I think it is undeniable that there is a future millennial kingdom on earth in which ethnic Israel will be restored to a position of honor after having repented and accepted Christ as their Messiah. And I see no reason to try to shoehorn that kingdom into the present age. I don't think the apostles said it was "now." I think the OT descriptions specifically preclude it from being "now," given that what they said would accompany the kingdom is nowhere to be found.

This is not a matter of orthodoxy, but is a matter of accuracy. Until I find answers to the reasons I have listed, I will have a hard time switching my position.

Lastly, on the issue of pursuit of social justice issues, I tend to believe that the church and Christians do not do enough in that arena. We should do more, but let's not do it because of the kingdom (as Keller, et al would do). That creates far too many theological problems. Let's do it because the NT tells us to, and because we believe the Bible does have transforming effects in people's lives. (I will write later to defend that more since this is already quite long enough.)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Does Bonds Have This Much Integrity?

From an AP article:
Barry Bonds would boycott Cooperstown if the Hall of Fame displays his record-breaking home run ball with an asterisk.

That includes skipping his potential induction ceremony.

"I won't go. I won't be part of it," Bonds said in an interview with MSNBC that aired Thursday night. "You can call me, but I won't be there."
Would baseball fans be so lucky as to have Bonds do for us what the baseball writers and Hall of Fame voters might not do? Keep his tainted self out of the Hall dedicated to those who have achieved great accomplishments in baseball?

National Debt and Abortion

Republican senator Tom Coburn says that the “The greatest moral issue of our time isn’t abortion, it’s robbing our next generation of opportunity ... You’re going to save a child from being aborted so they can be born into a debtor’s prison?”

That is, in a word, stupid. There is no doubt that the spending of the federal government is obscene. But worse than killing people? Hardly.

Furthermore, it could be argued that Coburn's argument is misguided since if there are more babies born into this country, the greater the tax base of the future will be. So by encouraging abortion, we may be actually decreasing the possibility of paying down the national debt.

This kind of argument about money vs. life reveals not the financial bankruptcy of our country, but the moral bankruptcy of it. When murder is excused by saving people from the national debt, we have a serious lack of a moral compass.

Coburn continues, "If we have only 11 percent support, are we a legitimate government?” He then added, “The 11 percent who have confidence in us, what hole are they in?”

It is a question worth asking, particularly for the state of Oklahoma. How can you have confidence in this guy?

On Idols

I was doing some work last night in Genesis 31 on the flight of Jacob from Laban, where Rachel steals the family gods.

Victor Hamilton, in his comments on the passage had a couple of what I consider to be poignant and somewhat humorous comments.
“From a Hebrew perspective, of course, one might ask: ‘Can one steal gods?’ ‘Is the destiny of a god at the beck and whim of a mortal?’ The ancient reader would not miss the sarcasm of this story, for here is a new crime—‘godnapping’!” (Hamilton, p. 292).

“One can steal gods, hide gods, and sit on gods, ideas at which orthodox Yahwism would shudder” (Hamilton, p. 303).
To top it off, remember Rachel's excuse was that it was her menstrual cycle and therefore she could not arise to greet her father, thereby opening up the camel saddle to inspection. And that in and of itself brings a whole host of images of a god who cannot defend himself but must hide in a camel saddle under a woman who is experiencing what some women have called "nature's curse on motherhood."

All of which reminds me of a couple of OT passages:
Psalm 115:1-8
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, But to Your name give glory Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.

Why should the nations say, "Where, now, is their God?"

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.

Their idols are silver and gold, The work of man's hands.

They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see;

They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell;

They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat.

Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them.

Isaiah 46:5-7
To whom would you liken Me And make Me equal and compare Me, That we would be alike?

"Those who lavish gold from the purse And weigh silver on the scale Hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; They bow down, indeed they worship it.

"They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it; They set it in its place and it stands there. It does not move from its place. Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer; It cannot deliver him from his distress.
In a day and culture where most of us are have no teraphim on the mantle, we have plenty of our own gods, some of whom are too big to fit on our shoulders to carry, and others of whom are so small they fit neatly in the far, dark recesses of our human hearts.

All are equally helpless to answer us in our distress. All are equally unable to do anything for themselves.

Yet we too often make a tragic exchange of the glory of the incorruptible, immutable, living, loving God for the machinations of the human mind.

We have a domesticated God who fits in our pockets, in our minds, or wherever it is we like to put him. And we have a functional god who runs our lives.

We enjoy the life that God has given us by creating us in his image, and then think we can turn around a create a God in our own image. But God will have none of it.

May God challenge the idolatry of our hearts and lives. Not only because it is funny to see what we are actually trusting in that cannot actually help itself, but because it is deadly to trust in something that cannot help.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I Have an Idea

The United States' second-richest man has delivered a blunt message to the Bush administration: he wants to pay more tax.

Here's my idea: Mr. Buffet, pay my taxes.

Two things would be accomplished: My tax burden would be lifted and I could help grow the economy through spending and investment; and his conscience could be salved.

After all, he probably makes more in fifteen minutes than I make in a year.

Maybe he could pay your taxes as well. (Just get in line behind me.)

Seriously, (or practically, since I am totally serious about him paying my taxes but I don't think he will), if you want to pay more to the government, then write a check and send it in. Don't ask for more laws to do what you think you should do anyway. Just do it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Christians In the Voting Booth

The election season is upon us way too early this time around. The candidates have generated no little discussion in the blogosphere, particularly of late it seems. Bob Jones's endorsement of Republican candidate Mitt Romney brought many of Jones' critics back out of their shell.

For my dollar, I see no reason for Jones to have endorsed anyone given the recent history of the school in the political scene. The events of 2000, which were really no different than the events of 96, 92, 88, 84, or 80 (when I shook Nancy Reagan's glove-covered hand), brought too much attention of the wrong kind to the school, and Jones, in my opinion, would have better served the school by not publicly getting involved.

However, there are some who seem to have a strange view of elections, particularly in this regard: They lambast those who would encourage voting for "the lesser of two evils." To me, this is either extremely naive, or rooted in a gross misconception of our fallen world. The truth is that all candidates are evil to some degree. We are always voting for the lesser of two evils (or three, or ten).

When a Christian goes into the voting booth, he does not do so with a word from God about whose name to check off. While the Bible does inform our view of moral issues, it does not do so unequivocally on political issues.

On top of that, we do not live in a simple world, where one issue is all that matters. Elections are complex because candidates hold a variety of positions. They are not a buffet from which can take a little from one and a little from another.

In the end, we have to check off the name of a sinner (or stand defiantly ... or apathetically) with our hands in our pockets. Let's face it: there are not, as of now, any great candidates this time around.

(And no, "If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.")

The GOP is not God's Own Party. It has done a great disservice to Christians. But what should we expect? We live in a fallen world where power is important. Lest our horses get too high, let us not forget that power seeking in the church is as wrong as power seeking in politics is, and power seeking in the church usually has greater consequences.

Here's the bottom line for me: Will I, by my vote, be causing greater damage to our country? I am not convinced there is anyone running in this election that can actually help restore some of the things that have gone wrong. I say that on the one hand because one man (or woman) in the White House can only do so much; they still have to work with Congress and the courts. I say that on the other hand because there is no one running who I have seen who actually has clear Christian values in every area.

Ron Paul seems to be the darling of part of the conservative movement, but he thinks that individual states should get to decide whether murdering babies in the womb is okay. I think murdering the unborn is wrong no matter what state you are in, and I think the nation should say so. He is also for the legalization of drugs, something I oppose. On top of that, I think is he both naive about being president and unelectable anyway.

Mike Huckabee is a Southern Baptist preacher, whose record in Arkansas does not seem to be all that impressive, unless weight loss is a national priority. He says some great stuff, and has some fairly significant problems fiscally speaking, it seems.

Mitt Romney has held different positions on some issues causing some to call him a flip-flopper, but it could well be that his changes are principled rather than pragmatic. Who knows? Romney himself. Besides, he is "too pretty," and he is a Mormon (two common comments, neither of which seems to me to be particularly useful).

Guiliani is a liberal who happened to be mayor of NYC on 9/11. His cleanup of NYC was pretty impressive, but how does that help him overcome his liberal social positions? McCain and the rest all have similar problems. And that's just the good side of the spectrum. It is hard to imagine anyway that a serious Bible-believer could vote in good conscience for anyone currently running on the Democratic side of the spectrum.

For a president, their greatest power is the power of judicial appointments. The next president will probably have at least two, and perhaps four Supreme Court appointments. To whom do we want to give those?

I say you better think twice before casting a vote for someone that is unelectable, and giving four SCOTUS appointees to a Democrat. While Romney, or McCain, or some other Republican may nominate someone who will not overturn Roe, the Democrat most certainly will nominate someone who will not overturn it.

It seems to me our choices, at least in this election, are about a vote for a possibility or a vote for a sure thing.

But in this, I believe we should grant believers the liberty to vote for someone else. I understand the urge to "send a message" to the GOP that our vote is not secure. But I also understand the reality that a lifetime appointment of a liberal justice such as Breyer, Stevens, or Ginsberg has potential that lasts long beyond sending a message to the GOP this year.

And, by the way, we should also remember that we are not voting for a national pastor or a theologian-in-resident. To confuse political endorsements with religious affiliations is misguided to a very great degree. I believe it shows a great misunderstanding of ecclesiastical separation as taught in the Bible. To condemn Jones as compromising ecclesiastical separation by endorsing Romney does not help the cause of fundamentalism. I think it weakens it by confusing what ecclesiastical separation is really all about.

So let's be smart. And let's be principled. And let's not sell the future of the country down the river in hopes of salving a misguided political ideal.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Few Things to Read

Boundless has a good article on homosexuality and how to deal with it using a personal account by a lesbian who has been saved.

I began meeting regularly with this man's girlfriend, who was quick to tell me that homosexuality was a sin that would condemn me to hell. She would pray with me every day. And every night I would cry myself to sleep praying, "God, change me! Why did you make me gay if that means I have to go to hell?" In my heart I wondered, "Is it true that God wants me to be forever separated from Him?"

The church I was attending did not share the hope for change that the gospel offers. Their stance was change first ... then God will accept you. I eventually got away from this woman and this church. I had asked God to change me, and He didn't. And so I embraced my lesbian identity.

Rick McKinley, at Imago Dei in Portland, has an interesting article on the emerging church.

It seems everywhere I go and speak these days people ask me the same question. It is, in some form or another, a version of this: Are you part of the emerging church? If they ask it another way it may be are you Emerging or Emergent? The letter “T” has become very important to them.

My common reply is; We seem to get put in the camp of Emerging, so I suppose we are.

Then the questions move to what the Emerging church believes about this or that. To which I reply the same things Baptists believe about it.

They scratch their head, think about what I have said and then ask, Which Baptist?

To which I reply, “exactly”.


The danger that I see is that people, particularly Americans love to quickly categorize people so they can either turn them into a celebrity or a demon. We really don’t want to read what they have written or take the time to get to know them. We simply want to know what category they fit in so we can pronounce our judgment if we disagree with them or subscribe to their podcast if we like what they said.

As always, I am not endorsing everything in either article, but they provide some food for thought about pressing ministry issues.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Gospel Coalition

The Gospel Coalition is a new coalition of some forty evangelical leaders trying to establish a confessional basis for gospel ministry opposed to many of the new trends. They call themselves "a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures." These men met together for two years prior to their inaugural meeting at TEDS this past May. I decided not to go to the meeting, though I was tempted. I have downloaded some of the sessions from their website and have found them interesting.

There is an interesting article about them in CT by Colin Hansen which sparked my thinking on this again.

The GC has a substantial set of foundational documents which are pretty good and which, Hansen says, "bears the unmistakable fingerprints of [Tim] Keller." These footprints relate to the ministries of mercy and justice which is a core part of Keller's theology (and the subject of one of his most well known books, entitled oddly enough, Ministries of Mercy).

Keller's view stems from his view of the kingdom of God, which he sees as present now ("already but not yet"). Thus, he appeals almost exclusively to the OT and the Gospels to substantiate this view of social ministry to those outside the church. (He once preached a message on this topic based almost completely on the book of Proverbs.) This emphasis on the OT and the Gospels is necessary since there is virtually no support for his view of social ministry in the apostles' instructions to the churches. This view of the kingdom has some serious exegetical and theological issues that have been well-addressed by others, so I won't address that here.

One of the other main theological foundations for this social justice ministry is the incarnation of Christ. They argue frequently that since Jesus took human flesh to come to earth, therefore we should "incarnate the gospel" in our dealings with the poor and oppressed. Then they look at the passages that describe life in the kingdom from the OT and the Gospels and apply them to the church, in the mistaken view that the church is the kingdom, or that the kingdom is present now.

There are significant problems with these arguments, all of which I will not get into here. I will simply touch on it briefly.

First, Jesus' incarnation was not cross-cultural ministry. Jesus was not moving from one culture to another. There is no way that we can follow the pattern of Jesus incarnation. We are already flesh, and us ministering to the poor of sick is in no way analogous to Jesus leaving heaven to die for sin. While we might legitimately debate how the church or individual Christians should deal with social justice issues, we cannot base that debate on the incarnation of Jesus. The Bible does not teach that Jesus came primarily, or even equally, to do social justice as compared to dying for sin. When the epistle says "Be like Christ" or "be conformed to the image of his Son," it is not talking about social justice. It is talking about personal holiness. Along the road of personal holiness, it is doubtless that our relationships with others will be affected. But it is a dangerous road to say that Jesus' incarnation was a model for our ministry among the poor, sick, or "socially oppressed."

Second, Jesus' life on earth was largely in a kingdom context, not a church context. The Gospels were written to the church, but we need to think very critically about how they relate to life in the church, particularly with respect to the works of Jesus (which included miracles, something absent from the incarnational ministry proponents). The OT Kingdom prophesied is a time of great change on earth, including changes in the physical/material world, government, health, etc. Those things happened during the life of Jesus to some degree because "the kingdom was hand." Yet the rejection of the Messiah by the Jewish people meant that the kingdom was "taken away" and would be "given to a people producing the fruit of it." There is no necessary rationale to see the "people producing the fruit of it" as the church. It is better to see it as end time Israel, in accord with the prophets, Paul, and John who all clearly prophesied of a revival of end-time Israel who will accept the Messiah.

These social justice issues seen during Jesus' time are not being seen now because the King prophesied to bring about these changes is at the right hand of his Father's throne, rather than on his own throne. This does not mean that the Gospels have no relevance for the church. It simply means that we must think critically about the discontinuity (as it is commonly called).

Third, this approach can undermine the authority of the Epistles which were written to direct life in the church. The absence of these social justice issues in the Epistles and Acts gives us a strong indication of the view that the church should take. Our mandate is to make disciples, not to solve poverty, or AIDS, or these other issues. The Bible does teach love for others, both in and outside the church. Yet it does not teach that the mandate of the church is social justice in society at large.

In the end, the danger of this statement by the GC is that those who do not share Keller's view of social justice ministry may be virtually excised from evangelicalism. The GC foundational documents talk about the "older evangelicalism" in this way:
On the other hand, the older evangelicalism (though not all of it) tended to read across the Bible. As a result it was more individualistic, centering almost completely on personal conversion and safe passage to heaven. Also, its preaching, though expository, was sometimes moralistic and did not emphasize how all biblical themes climax in Christ and his work. In this imbalance there is little or no emphasis on the importance of the work of justice and mercy for the poor and the oppressed, and on cultural production that glorifies God in the arts, business, etc.
The "other hand" is those who denied the personal nature of sin and instead focused on the corporate nature of sin. Again, from the GC about this group (essentially the social gospel movement):
The cross is seen mainly as an example of sacrificial service and a defeat of worldly powers rather than substitution and propitiation for our sins. Ironically, this approach can be very legalistic. Instead of calling people to individual conversion through a message of grace, people are called to join the Christian community and kingdom program of what God is doing to liberate the world. The emphasis is on Christianity as a way of life to the loss of a blood-bought status in Christ received through personal faith.
Contrasting these positions is not a fair comparison. These are not two extremes where both must be avoided. The focus of the gospel is not on corporate sin in any sense. Jesus did not die to save society from itself. He died to save sinners from sin. The social gospel (represented in the previous quote) was not in any way biblical. The "older evangelicals" may have had their issues in some areas, but their emphasis on the individual nature of sin, personal conversion, and "safe passage to heaven" is clear in the NT.

While we can appreciate the emphasis of the GC and clarifying and maintaining the gospel, we need to think critically about what some of their foundational documents are actually saying.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kids and Sports

Here's a good article about kids, sports, and parents. It wasn't all that long ago a parent was killed at a hockey game ... by another parent in the stands.

But I know this: Incidents like these are becoming increasingly common in a child-obsessed society where kids are taught little respect for authority figures. Where children can do no wrong in mom and dad's eyes. Where kids are never taught that decisions and actions have consequences. Where parents too often expect everyone to worship at the altar of little Johnny and little Janie.

Sadly, the era of ``helicopter parents'' -- so named because they hover over their child's every action and activity -- is apparently here to stay.

I remember complaining about the officiating to my dad. He had a simple response: You want to play next game? Then stop complaining.

Ironically, I find it much harder to shut up as a coach then as a player. And I care less as a coach then I did as a player. (I still care a lot; just not as much as I used to.)

Wierd, isn't it? When will parents start to teach their children some common decency? And model it for them?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

This and That

1. I am not making this up. Photoshop had nothing to do with this.

2. Someone recently said: "The church has no greater task than world evangelism." I wonder what the response will be. When I said that, I got some fairly negative response. I wonder what the response to this will be.

3. Mark Driscoll has a profile article in Christianity Today. It is interesting. I am no expert on Driscoll, but I think this article gives a pretty accurate picture, from what I know from reading, listening, and talking to those who know him. And while some will blast me, I don't think he's all bad. I think he hits it where it hurts some people, and they yelp. And he gets them on both sides, the left and the right. (I don't think he's all good either.) I just think the article is interesting.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I Like (Most of) These

Doug Groothuis has a blog called The Constructive Curdmudgeon. He is a philosophy professor at Denver Seminary. He posts fairly regularly, and has some interesting things to say. He will occasionally make some of his outlines available if you will email him. He has an apologetics class online that you can download and listen to. He is not a presuppositionalist, but still has some good stuff. He is an egalitarian and a supporter of intelligent design.

Having said all that, here is one post that I found particularly intriguing and thought-provoking. It is a list of forty-nine propositions or imperatives. Most deal with matters of spiritual life and leadership.

You will also learn that John Coltrane is the greatest saxophonist of all time and that Kenny G is a crock whose success is evidence of a fallen world (nos. 38 and 39).

Apart from that, you will also see some things that are actually challenging and thought-provoking. Take the time to read and consider all forty-nine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Has Poker Lost Its Appeal?

I was downstairs eating lunch, leaving my comfortable spot stretched out on the couch here, and turned on ESPN to see what was up. I usually eat lunch while surfing between ESPN, CSpan, and reruns of Jeopardy. (I have won millions on jeopardy; they just won't send me the money even though I tell them I had the answer first. Between the Mrs. and I, we may having winnings into the tens of millions.)

However, today, at 1:00 p.m. was one of the most gripping ESPN programs ever: 2007 National School Scrabble Championship. (I am not making this up. You can check me out here.)

And they actually have commentators for it. How do you get that gig? Is there a dictionary test? A random-letters-into-words exam? Do you have to do research on historical scrabble matches? Do you have to read up on the participants and the dictionaries they studied? And how much do you get paid to do color commentary on a scrabble match.

Here's the worst part: I actually watched it for a while. Now that's embarrassing. (If you are interested, Taylor Community was beating Ridgefield if I remember correctly).

I Love You ... Oops, No I Don't

This article reports that a couple began an online relationship, found so much in common with each other, "fell in love," and decided to meet, only to find out that they were already married ... to each other.
"I was suddenly in love. It was amazing. We seemed to be stuck in the same kind of miserable marriage. How right that turned out to be," Sana, 27, said.

Adnan, 32, said: "I still find it hard to believe that Sweetie, who wrote such wonderful things, is actually the same woman I married and who has not said a nice word to me for years".
So they decided to divorce for untruthfulness. Wierd eh??

Here are some lessons:

1. A large part of marriage is communication. If you communicate about your issues, your chance of solving them increases by a huge percentage. If all you are is a whiner, then put a sock in it (your mouth). Talk about problems with solutions in mind ... solutions that seek the best for both parties, not just yourself.

2. If you can communicate online, you can do it in person. It just takes more work ... usually. So bite the bullet, open your mouth, and get started. Write down your thoughts ahead of time if you need to (probably a good idea), and keep your voice tone and your spirit under control. Do not yell, make accusations, or cast blame. Seek to build the relationship, not win fights. Someone once told me that they knew that if they had talked and communicated with their spouse like they did with their online partner, it would have helped the marriage tremendously. Unfortunately, they chose not to.

Corollary to #2: If you find yourself getting along with your spouse online, there is no reason you cannot do it offline ... unless you are selfish and ungodly (isn't that redundant). In fact, you and your spouse can get along in any situation if you are both willing. If one of you is not willing, there is little if any hope. Do not let the unwilling one be you.

3. If you start getting involved online, you are entering a very dangerous world. If you chat, be careful. Chat only with people you know, like relatives, or occasionally for specific help (like computer problems). Stay out of social chat rooms, no matter how innocent your intention. Do not chat with members of the opposite sex under any condition (unless they are family members ... immediate ... not your brother's wife or sister's husband).

4. It is better to put down your computer and read a book and talk to your spouse ... or read a book with your spouse and talk to about with them.

5. Learn what it means to be "in love." It is inseparable from obedience to Christ. It is not about feelings, and does not depend on your spouse's kindness, good humor, or sexuality. It depends on your willingness to obey our Savior.

As for me, I will follow #4 right now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More on Baptism

On the Desiring God Blog today, Abraham argues that "Rejection Actually Hurts" (which we all knew anyway didn't we?), and offers a bit of anecdotal evidence in support of the theory that baptism is optional so long as our personal feelings and beliefs are validated by our personal feelings and beliefs.

As proof, he offers Jeremy Archer's experience of being rejected from BBC's membership because he was poured in the Winter instead of waiting until summer. Apparently, in this particular Minnesota town, there were no indoor swimming pools that could be rented for a half hour or so for a baptismal, and no way to spring for the funds to buy one of the portable baptistries that are now readily available. So rather than wait till summer to be scripturally baptized, he decided to be poured. As a result, he could not join BBC. (You can read the whole story at his blog).

First, to me it seems strange that a member and employee of BBC (Abraham) is going public with his dissent over the church's position. However, since his father has done it in trying to lead change, perhaps it is not troubling there. It would be to me, since once an issue has been settled by the church leadership, it should be over. There should be no more behind the scenes lobbying, or public blogging by employees expressing dissatisfaction. if you don't like it, leave. This, to me, it almost tantamount to trying to undermine church leadership (and biblical doctrine) by appealing to an emotional story.

Second, there is a pretty easy solution for Jeremy. Get baptized scripturally. Then you can join BBC and graduate from Moody.

The discussion over baptism that has recently taken place is troubling to me, not least because it seems to be a discussion about what Scripture is clear about. Scripture is clear that baptism is immersion for believers as a public confession of Christ. In Jeremy's case it is particularly interesting because he was a believer who was poured. You can't argue the "whole house" argument for pouring as a "mode" of baptism. In fact, there is no scriptural argument for pouring.

So Jeremy, I don't know you, but I see a simple solution here. Your personal feelings that your pouring was valid is irrelevant. And should you read this, I do not say that harshly. I say that with love and grace. Biblical obedience cannot be judged by personal feelings in areas where God has spoken. There are a great many people who feel validated in sinfulness for various reasons ... they enjoy it and rationalize it; they are angry and bitter and feel a right to their sin; etc. These do not equal biblical obedience.

Jeremy says,
I finally came to the conclusion that my initial pouring baptism was indeed defective and yet valid. As in all of our obedience, I see a degree of sin and error in it. And at the same time I am counting on God’s grace to “sanctify” my defective baptism that was done in faith and with a desire to obey his word.
Defective yet valid? If it was defective, then fix it. Doing something in faith with a desire to obey his word is not the measure of obedience. Conformity to God's revealed commands is the measure. Pouring is not valid baptism. It does not conform to what Scripture reveals.

Missing the Point?

Somehow, I got on The Trinity Foundation's mailing list so every month or so I their newsletter. This most recent one dedicated eight pages to a White Horse Inn (WHI) program (led by Michael Horton) in which Anne Rice was interviewed.

First, let me say that my only time listening to the WHI was when Horton interviewed Mark Driscoll. There may have been one other program I listened to but it was apparently not very memorable. So do not read this as a defense of Horton (who I have met and had lunch with) or the WHI which I do not listen to.

John W. Robbins, who appears to be God's called man to polemicize against whatever it is that does not fit into his particular framework of apologetics (in the mold of Clark). [N.B. - I don't know enough about the differences of Clark and Van Til to know how that might fit into the conversation here, if at all. If you do understand the differences, and think those differences are relevant here, please comment. I would love to see them.]

The program in question was apparently an interview with Anne Rice, a Roman Catholic author. Robbins believed that WHI did not make enough of the differences between Catholicism and the Bible. He may well be right on that; I have no idea having not listened to it. I personally see no need to interview Anne Rice, but it's not my program and for some reason they failed to call me that day to check with me about their choices.

Anyway out of this eight page compilation of email exchanges (apparently), one particular part caught my attention, which is all I will focus on here.
Robbins: Finally Rosenthal [of WHI] makes his denial of the axiom of Christianity explicit. The Word of God, he says, is not a a first principle.

WHI: It [the Bible] has to be read with the eyes/listened to with the ears. Thus, it seems that belief in the bible [sic] rests on a prior first principle, namely that of the general reliability of sense perception, etc.

Robbins: Here he finally makes his empiricism explicit. He trusts the Bible only because he trusts his eyes first. Sensation is his first principle, not revelation. In fact, Rosenthal's theory of knowledge has no room for revelation at all - special or general. All alleged revelation must not only be judged by the "craft of history," but also mediated by the senses. There is no place in his theory of knowledge for a Word from God - no place for Christ's statement to Peter, "Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, buy my Father who is in Heaven. According to the White Horse Inn, it is only the sense that give us knowledge, either by looking at the heavens, or by reading a book. Nature has eaten up grace completely, and God cannot reveal his truth directly to men's minds. According to the White Horse Inn, flesh and blood has revealed everything to us.
Now, it is my perception (pun intended) that Robbins' perception (pun doubly intended) has completely missed the point. I have not read everything Horton has written, nor anyone else who hosts the WHI. But I think I have read enough to know that Robbins has missed the point.

As I read the statement about the general reliability of sense perception, Rosenthal is talking about the fact that God communicates to us through his word, which must be read with the eyes or heard with the ears, and we must trust what we read or hear. If you don't read the Word with your eyes, or hear it with your ears, you will not know what God has revealed.

Think of Robbins' own statement that for WHI there is no room for Christ's statement to Peter. How did Robbins know that Christ made that statement to Peter? Because he trusts the general reliability of his own sense perception of seeing the words on the page and interpreting them to mean something. God did not directly reveal that to Robbins. Robbins found it the same place everyone else does ... in Matthew 16.

So I think Robbins has undermined his own position by citing that.

It seems that Robbins' also reveals something about his own bibliology when he complains against WHI's belief that "God cannot reveal his truth directly to men's minds." Unless I miss my guess, Robbins believes in a closed canon and that revelation has ceased. Therefore, even for Robbins, God does not "reveal his truth directly to men's minds." He does it through Scripture. The Holy Spirit's regenerating and illuminating work (if you think those are different) are both required to understand the spiritual significance. But you still have to read with your eyes and hear with your ears.

Even Christ, during his earthly ministry and particularly in his letters to the churches in Revelation appealed to the general reliability of sense perception when he said, "Him who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Now, the truth is that there may be some real issues with how the Anne Rice interview was carried out, or that it is was carried out at all. But to me, it seems that Robbins has missed the point. He is simply jumping on the wrong thing.

Those at the WHI may indeed by empiricists (I doubt it), but it is certainly not because they believe you have to trust your eyes when read the Bible or trust your ears when you hear the Bible. I don't think that is really what empiricism is all about.

Or perhaps I have missed the point ... But this just strikes me as Robbins trying to find fault with something that may have been worded better perhaps but was not fundamentally misguided to begin with.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Scholarship, Faith, and the BAR

A man in my church recently gave me some back issues of the Biblical Archaeology Review, which can be found online here. The March/April 2007 issue contains an article entitled "Losing Faith: How Scholarship Affects Scholars" (pp. 50-57).

This interview was participated in by the well-known Bart Erhman, James F. Strange ("a leading archaeologist and Baptist minister"), Lawrence H. Schiffman ("a prominent Dead Sea Scroll scholar and Orthodox Jew"),, and William G. Dever ("one of America's best-known and most widely quoted archaeologists, who had been an evangelical preacher, then lost his faith, then became a Reform Jew, and now says he's a non-believer").

The interview was interesting at parts, and boring at others. But there were some notable exchanges (and an unsurprising unanimous rejection of inerrancy (p. 52)).

Ehrman blames his turning on the problem of theodicy, where he concluded "Finally, because I became dissatisfied with all the conventional answers [though there is no hint of what these answers were nor why he rejected them], I decided that I couldn't believe in a God who was in any way intervening in this world, given the state of things. So that's why I ended up losing my faith."

Ehrman later comments that the implausibility of the resurrection had a "damaging impact on my faith."

Strange says "My faith is based on my own experience--a good old Protestant principle [one with which I am not familiar] ... I love the existentialist philosophers. I love to read them, not because they're giving me any testable facts. It's because it's like reading a really good poet. It does something to you that propositional truth never does."

Strange comments on the suffering of people saying that "Suffering tends to disconfirm the hypothesis [of a loving God that intervenes upon the earth]." (To him I would recommend the recent four message series presented by John Piper at Wheaton College.)

Dever, whose father was a "fire-breathing fundamentalist" was himself an ordained minister at age 17 who went to divinity school at Harvard. There he read George Ernest Wright's God Who Acts, who says "In Biblical faith, everything depends upon whether the original events actually happened." [Editorial note: There is something admirable in an unbeliever who at least recognizes that very fact, as opposed to these professing believers who think they can be a Christian with a "Christ" who didn't actually do what the biblical record says he did.] Dever freely admits that his scholarship destroyed his faith while working as an archaeologist in Israel (p. 54). He says, "That's when I converted to Judaism. [Laughs] I did it precisely because you don't have to be religious to be a Jew. And I'm perfectly comfortable where I am."

Now, I say all this, not to comment individually and refute their statements, which could be ably addressed. I say this rather to make a few short comments.

First, all these men allowed their experience to dictate their approach to God. They all, in essence, assert that "Because God did not act like I thought or think he should, I chose not to believe what God said about himself." However, we must realize that experience follows our exegesis and understanding of Scripture. It must not determine it. We must never allow our experience to dictate our understanding of God through his word. We must instead allow our understanding of God through his word to dictate our experience in God's created world.

Second, these men believe that true scholarship lead them away from the God who is the fountain of knowledge. Such an assertion is absurd on its face. It would be as if understanding that 2+2=4 convinces us that mathematics is a faulty and untrustworthy discipline.

The truth is that true scholarship always leads us to God, not away from him. And true scholarship recognizes the weaknesses of the fallen mind. These men seem not to recognize the truth of Ephesians 4:17-19 which asserts that the unbelievers mind is darkened, ignorant, and hardened against the truth. That is a darkness that only the Holy Spirit can overcome. God reminds us that he "who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Faith is the the supernatural gift of God that comes from the light that reveals the true glory of Christ. These men have simply never seen it. Perhaps having tasted of the power of God and of the age to come, they have fallen away, as a dog returning to his vomit.

Third, these men, perhaps because of their rejection of inerrancy, fail to recognize the reason because the current state of affairs. The ultimate issue in evil in the world is the sinfulness of humanity. If you reject human sinfulness, then you do wonder why the world is broken, seemingly beyond repair. If you accept human sinfulness, but reject the crucified and risen Messiah, then you find the hopelessness of despair which comes when you realize there is no true remedy. The best you can hope for is to "try harder to do better." Atonement is found in things that bring no true hope.

Fourth, the hope of these men, as with all men whether the most educated and studied, or the least educated and knowledgeable is that the hope of life lies with God alone. One reason I am a Calvinist in my soteriology is because of situations like this. We cannot argue these men "into the kingdom." We are but vessels of weakness, used by God to proclaim forth his glory in the gospel. But ultimately God must open the eyes and bring regeneration and saving faith. And when that happens, true scholarship can take place.

I say again as I have often said, if I believed that I had to convince people to come to Christ for salvation I would put down my Bible, and never preach again. I have not the power of mind or eloquence of speech to convince even the most gullible to come to faith in Christ. Were not the sovereign power of God at work in preaching, my voice would be but a clanging cacophony of noise. Only the Spirit of God, working unilaterally and sovereignly in the hearts of sinful man, can take the preached word and bring spiritual life to the hearer.