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.