Thursday, September 23, 2004

Two Things are Needful

Who is my Christian Brother?

There are two criteria for what makes a person a Christian.

One is belief that Jesus is the Messiah.
The other is belief that Jesus is the Son of God.

What this all means is where the rub comes in.

Going from Specific to General

It can be problematic going from a specific Bible passage to a generality. One obvious example is:
Exo 4:20 And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.

Taking this passage as a generality, everyone would be setting their wife and sons on a donkey and going to Egypt.

Clearly this passage is descriptive and a narrative passage. It was not intended to be taken as instruction for the church or individuals in the church. It describes what Moses did one day. We should not send our wives and sons on an ass and then go to Egypt.

A Less Clear Example

Other passages are less clear. One example is:
1 John 2:18-19 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
This passage describes some individuals who were a part of the church for some time and then left the church. The reason that they left was that they were not one of the church. This could be seen a question begging without understanding the historical context. Anyone who leaves the church might be said to have never been a part of the church. This is how many use this passage.

But is this passage really a general case or is it more specific to the historical situation of the early church? Certainly there were converts who came to faith and then returned back into the Jewish religion for various reasons. At the very least it is likely that they simply ceased believing that Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Unity at What Cost?

I am thinking today a bit more about Acts 2:42 and the order of the passage.

In the passage, Luke lists the four basic things that the early church was doing. This is an important passage since it is the first glance of what the earliest church was doing.

These four things were devoting themselves continually to;

- The Apostle's Teaching
- Fellowship
- Breaking of Bread
- Prayer

Preeminence, in order, is given to the Apostle's Teaching. Next comes fellowship.

Why did Luke chose this particular order for his text? Why is teaching above fellowship?

What is the basis for our fellowship as Christians? Our fellowship is based on the person of Christ. This is a question of truth. "Who is Jesus?" was the fundamental question that the early church was struggling with. It is the fundamental question that we struggle with today although from a much different vantage point.

Consider the historical context. The early church was initially formed from the Jews. Persecution started very early. By only five years later Saul had papers to arrest Christians. But at this very early moment the church was still free to meet even in the Jewish temple. The word was spreading very quickly. God was forming a new people inside Israel. Not just another Jewish sect, but a new people. This gives us a clue as to why Teaching was above Unity. Unity was no longer to be found around the teachings of Moses. The new focal point of unity was the teachings of Christ. This was contrary to the previous focus which was centered around the Law. This new focus would be on Christ.

What would have happened if the early Jewish Christians had chosen to remain unified with the rest of the Jews? Would there be a faith today? Or would they have had to compromise on the essentials of who Jesus is?

Monday, September 06, 2004

Are we doing the right things?

Ever wonder if we are doing the right things as a church?

Acts 2:42 gives us a snapshot of the first moments of the new church. It is shortly after the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came on the disciples. Three thousand people were saved that day.

Acts 2:42 tells us that "they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."

These are still the basic functions of the church. That hasn't changed.

Doctrine
The teachings of the Apostle's are listed first. Even before fellowship. These teachings formed a new basis for fellowship. No longer would the teachings of Moses be at the center, rather the teachings of Jesus would be front and center.

Fellowship
Next was fellowship. They quickly fell into opposition as their own family members rejected them. Jesus had warned the church it would be this way. They were formed into a new family, the church.

Break of Bread
Jesus had modeled this to them. They way that He had spread the word was often through eating a meal at someone's house. And it didn't matter if that person was a sinner or Gentile. They all needed what He had to bring into the house. And the Apostles carried on this tradition. They went house to house breaking bread.

Prayer
Who would be bold enough to say that they pray enough? This text tells us that they devoted themselves to constant prayer. And they saw changes as a result. Is the reason we don't see our communites turning to Christ a lack of prayer on our part?

Conclusions
If our church is formed around these same four things then it seems like we are probably basically on the right track.

The quality of these four things is another matter altogether. For us, it can be a reminder to return to our first love. We should be devoting ourselves to each of these things. Perhaps then we will begin to see our world turned upside down like the early Christians.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Cyberspace Christians

Great article about how one Covenant Church pastor is using cyberspace to get the Good New out.


Saturday, July 10, 2004

N. T. Wright on the Resurrection

Resurrection:(1) Current Questions and the Contemporary Setting

Resurrection:(2) The Evidence of the Early Church

Resurrection:(3) Paul and the Gospels

Another Great Author

While I'm on the subject of great Christian authors, let me include another favorite of mine, Dr. William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig is currently Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California. Dr. Craig is also well published and has an impressive academic background.

Dr. Craig is an excellent debater and has had a number of debates with atheists. At one of these that I attended (against R. Gregory Cavin, debate title Dead or Alive?: A Debate on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ), even the atheists that I sat near freely admitted that Dr. Craig won the debate hands down. Moreland has also taken on the Jesus Seminar. Tapes of the debates are for sale on his website. They make excellent study materials for small groups interested in Christian apologetics.

Some of Dr. Craig's books were co-authored with Dr. J. P. Moreland. Dr. Craig's books include:
- Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide
- Time and Eternity: Exploring God's Relationship to Time * great book
- Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan
- Hard Questions, Real Answers
- Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Gerd Ludemann * great book
- The Son Rises
- Knowing the Truth About the Resurrection: Our Response to the Empty Tomb
- Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus
- The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus During the Deist Controversy
- Five Views on Apologetics
- The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge & Human
- Divine Foreknowledge: 4 Views
- Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom: The Coherence of Theism : Omniscience
- Naturalism : A Critical Analysis (Routledge Studies in Twentieth Century Philosophy)
- To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview
- Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
- Does God Exist: The Craig-Flew Debate
- God: A Debate Between a Christian and an Atheist (Point/Counterpoint Series (Oxford, England).)
- Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology
- The Kalam Cosmological Argument
- Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz
- No Easy Answers
- The Tenseless Theory of Time: A Critical Examination
- God, Time, and Eternity: The Coherence of Theism II : Eternity
- Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity
- Apologetics: An introduction
- Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics
- The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge and Future Contingents from Aristotle to Suarez
- Creation out of Nothing: Its Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration
- The Logic of Rational Theism: Exploratory Essays
- God Are You There
- Will the Real Jesus Please Stand-Up!
Dr. Craig defends a view of libertarian free will known as Molinism or Middle Knowledge.
His writings in the area of God and Time are excellent.

Christian Food for the Mind

This is a great book on loving God with our mind by one of my favorite authors, Dr. J. P. Moreland. Dr. Moreland is a professor of Christian Philosophy at Talbot Seminary in Southern California.

Dr. Moreland is an excellent speaker on subjects related to the Christian faith and Christian apologetics. He also served as interim pastor at Calvary Church in Santa Ana where we were blessed to hear him preach many times.

Dr. Moreland has written an impressive number of other books in the areas of Christian apologetics (the resurrection, atheism, worldviews and answering the Jesus Seminar), Philosophy of Science, Medical Ethics and General Christian Philosophy; including
- Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity
- Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
- To Everyone an Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview
- Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality
- Immortality: The Other Side of Death
- Does God Exist?: The Debate Between Theists & Atheists
- Jesus Under Fire
- Three Views on Creation and Evolution
- The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer
- Naturalism : A Critical Analysis
- Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide
- Christian Perspectives on Being Human: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Integration
- Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics
- The Life and Death Debate
- Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation
- Universals, Qualities, and Quality-Instances: A Defense of Realism
- Universals (Central Problems of Philosophy (Montreal, Quebec).)
One of the great things about Dr. Moreland (and there are many of them) is that he has a science background. He has a BS in Chemistry. When Dr. Moreland writes about the philosophy of science he knows what he is talking about nnd it is relatively rare to have a writer that is scientifically, philosophically and theologically trained. Add to that, Dr. Moreland was a pastor for a number of years. This sort of multi-disciplinarian approach yields some thoughtful writing.

Dr. Moreland challenges us to think more Christianly. And even when it is painful to do so, that is a good thing.

Friday, July 09, 2004

What is Church?

It has become common language to talk about the the building where Christians gather as the church. In response, it is sometimes said that the church is not the building, the church is the people. There is some value in this distinction but for several reasons it should not be overplayed.

It is an ordinary usage to refer to a place where something is done by that name. A school is a place where people are schooled. A church is a place where the church gathers (more about this later). In this sense it is proper to speak of a church building as a church.

Dictionary Definition

The dictionary lists many definitions for church. One of them includes the building. Another is the gathering together of the people who attend there.

Etymology

The Greek word for church, ekklesia, is made out of two words. ek-, out and kalein, to call. Literally, church is the called out ones.

But, taking words apart like this can be a bit misleading. It is a mistake to always conclude that a word, in English or Greek, is always only the sum of its parts. An obvious example of a fallacy of this sort in English is the word butterfly. A "butterfly" is not made of butter nor is it a fly. D. A. Carson has a book, titled, Exegetical Fallacies which deals with misuse of etymology and morphology of words.

In this instance, it is important to guard from importing Reformational ideas of election (calling) in with church. While it is theologically true that the church is the ones who are called out of the world, that was probably not the meaning of the word to the early church reading in Greek.

So, What is Church?

The main characteristic of church is the gathering together of individuals into a group, particularly as a meeting. The word does not always speak of Christian gathering in the New Testament:

Acts 7:38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:
In this passage the children of Israel are described as the church. The word simply means gathered together people.

Other equivalent words include congregation (people congregate together) and assembly (people assemble together). In all of these cases, it takes more than one to be church.

We can safely use the phrase "gathering" to replace the word "church" in the places it is used which shows the equivalence. Here are some examples:
Mat 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.

Acts 2:47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

Why Does the Definition Matter?

A proper definition of church matters a great deal. There are people with the mistaken impression that they are part of the church who do not think that they need to gather together with the saints. The writer of Hebrews addresses this mistaken practice:
Heb 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
There were people who stopped assembling together. In other words, by not gathering together they stopped being church.

The other thing that this definition guards against is quite similar to the last definition. Just as it would be wrong to say that "I am the gathering", it is wrong to say "I am the church." One can be part of a gathering, but only with other people is it really a gathering. Individually, we are part of the church, but we are not the church. This is a distinction worth making since it makes a real difference.

The Atonement and Atonement Models

This blog is in response to a question about my views on the atonement. I have to confess at the offset that I am not terribly sophisticated in my theology on this subject but as a good theologian I will not let that keep from commenting. Just do not expect my comments to be all that profound on the subject.

This is the second time in my life (outside of a class on Systematic Theology) where I have been asked what my theory on the atonement is. The other time I was asked by a pastor who was doing his due diligence before I was allowed to teach a Sunday School class. The question was hard to answer then. I know what I don't believe more than what I do believe on the atonement. The lack of clear Biblical texts does not make this any easier.

Atonement in the Old Testament

The idea of atonement spans the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, the word is used in connection with the sacrificial system:
Exo 30:10 And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD.
The sacrifice was one of an animal and the sacrifice resulted in the death of the animal. The atonement could also be in terms of a price paid:
Exo 30:15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.
Both of these concepts are carried over to the New Testament concept of atonement. In the Old Testament The price was paid by the individual for the animal to be sacrificed but the acts are all performed by the priest.

Atonement in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the system of sacrifices is replaced with the death of Jesus.
Rom 5:11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
This word is translated as reconciliation in other passages (Rom 11:15 and 2 Cor 5:18-19). This is the subject of much of the book of Hebrews.

Models That Do Not Work

There are models that do not work. Jesus was a good moral example, but it seems that the moral example theory of the atonement falls too far short. A good moral example does not die for our sins. Buddha, was probably a good moral teacher. But his death did not atone for my sins. This model downplays the deity of Jesus.

Why Is It Tough to Come Up With a Model?

The reason that it is difficult to settle in on one theory of the atonement is that the theories are all weak. Each take into account only one part of the Biblical witness at the price of other parts.

The Bible uses a lot of terms to describe what Jesus did for us. There are also a lot of related terms. The core point is that Christ died for our sins:
1 Cor 15:3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
The Wrath of God

The wrath of God is not just an Old Testament concept. Of the ten places that the phrase "wrath of God" appears in the Bible, nine of these are in the New Testament. A primary verse in John is:
John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
It is clear that there remains a wrath of God and that the wrath is not for Christians. Other verses support this same point (Rom 5:9, Eph 5:6, Col 3:6, Rev 14:10). Does that mean that the atonement was to appease the wrath of God? Does God actually have wrath or is this anthropomorphic language?

Purchased by Christ

Another way to look at this is to see how Christ paid the price for us. This is found in passages like:
1 Cor 6:20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
The metaphor here is that of being a slave who was purchased from the slave market. The price paid was the life of God's Son. Other passages speak of the price paid (Mat 27:6, 1 Cor 7:23). The main thrust of these are the value of what was paid.

Ransom to Whom?

The word used in Mark is "ransom":
Mark 10:45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Who was the ransom paid to? This has led some to see the ransom being paid to Satan although the passage does not state that.

Different Models

There are a lot of models. Each provide some shading to the question. Clearly this question is a forced one that the text does not directly get at.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Sin of Man and the Justice of God

The Augsburg Confession rightly says that God is not the cause of man's sin:
Of the Cause of Sin they teach that, although God does create and preserve nature, yet the cause of sin is the will of the wicked, that is, of the devil and ungodly men; which will, unaided of God, turns itself from God, as Christ says John 8:44: When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own. (Article XIX)
The Augsburg Confession also say that man can do no other than sin.
Of Free Will they teach that man's will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work 2] things subject to reason. But it has no power, without the Holy Ghost, to work the righteousness of God, that is, spiritual righteousness; since the natural man 3] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, 1 Cor. 2:14; but this righteousness is wrought in the heart when the Holy Ghost is received 4] through the Word. (Article XVIII)
The Augsburg Confession shows that God makes man only able to sin, and then holds man accountable for the way God made him. This is a view of God that makes God unjust. Yet, we know that God is just. Those who hold this view often defend it by saying that this contradiction is a mystery and is in the hidden will of God.

Our Covenant Church ancestors rejected the Augsburg Confession because of the Anselmian view of the atonement (satisfaction theory) found in the Confession. They believed that the Confession put too tight a box on God.

Planning a Genealogy Trip

I have taken a few genealogy trips in the past year and thought I'd write down what I learned in order to aid those who are considering similar trips.

Before Leaving on the Roadtrip

Start with what you know. Collect names and dates of births, marriages and deaths. Interview all living relatives. It is probably cheaper to make a long distance call to a relative than it is to drive a distance to see them. Interview older relatives sooner rather than later. They won't be around forever and they are usually eager to share their personal stories. Probe for names and dates. Ask if there is a family Bible around.

Even if your primary interest is family history and not genealogy, these are the basic facts you need to unlock other stories. Pay special attention to finding out maiden names since these are particularly hard to trace. Ask if there are living relatives who are doing this work already. No need to re-invent the wheel and they will be happy to share what they have learned with you - at least about their part of the family.

Create four or five generation pedigree trees for all known ancestors. Put these into a 3 ring binder notebook. These charts can be generated from most software or from a pedigree tree blank. Even if you have them as a database and you take along a laptop, having these in an easy to access binder is worth the time and paper. You never have to look for a wall plug for your 3-ring binder. Print extra blank pedigree pages where you can fill in additional information that you learn on your trip. You can write notes on the backs of these pages while you are on the road. Evenings in the hotel are a good time to transcribe data into your laptop.

Upload your tree to the worldconnect database. Not only is this a great place to search for ancestors it is a great place to share what you have learned. Uploading has an additional advantage that is not obvious. When you are on the road, any library you visit will have internet connected computers. If you need to check some detail of someone in your own tree, you can find out about your own tree from the internet no matter where you are.

Using On-Line Resources

Some free resources exist for research before leaving home. I have already mentioned the worldconnect database. The LDS church has free search engines on-line at familysearch.org.

They have a Social Security Death Index which covers deaths from the 1960 through as recent as a year or so ago.

The 1880 census can help you find a great many relatives. This was a time when there were no retirement villages so you may find an unexpected maiden name because the mother-in-law may be in the same house after her husband passed away. Make sure you view households on both sides of the family of interest since there may be in-laws next door.

Ancestry.com has a 14-day free trial. If you don't want to pay, be sure to cancel before the end of the 14 days. The free trial is limited but can be a good place to start. If you cancel, make sure you write down the confirmation number since you may have trouble getting a refund if they don't cancel you (from my own experience here).

Your local genealogical libraries may have free access to Internet databases like Heritage Quest and ancestry.com.

Genealogy Software

There are a lot of programs out there. A popular one is Family Tree Maker (FTM). It is about $30.

A free program is the Personal Ancestry File (PAF) from the LDS. PAF is reliable and quick. It can import and export GEDCOM files (the standard interchange format for genealogy records).

The Trip Itself

First, determine what questions that you want answered. A way to focus a trip is to concentrate on a Family Group. Bring along blank family groups sheets. A family group focuses on a marriage. It list the husband and wife. There is room to list their parents and details about their children. If you find someone's maiden name you may end up being able to dig back a whole new branch of the family tree and having these forms along helps. Make sure you keep a blank since you can always make a copy of the blank at the library you are visiting.

Second, determine where the questions might be answered. If someone lived in a particular place for a while it may be possible to find information in that location about them. If they lived in a small county there is a good chance that the county has a genealogical library that may be quite helpful. The longer a family lived in an area, the more likely it is to find information in that county. Counties often have histories. If the person had prominence in the county they may be easy to find in these histories. I have some ancestors who were Lutheran ministers in Ohio in the mid to late 1800's. They are listed in numerous county histories from Ohio.

Local Genealogical Societies

Smaller counties usually have a genealogical library located inside of the largest public library in the county or main city in that county. This is the best place to start. A web search for the county name and either "Genealogical Society" or "Historical Society" may yield the days and hours of that facility. Since there are often multiple states with the same county name include the state as well in the search. For instance, a google search for "Fayette County Illinois Genealogical Society" shows the Fayette County Genealogical & Historical Society.

Often times local genealogical societies have hours where they are manned by volunteers. These are the best times to visit since the volunteers can quickly guide you to their materials.

Each library is organized just a bit differently than the others. Some are very well organized. Others are just a section of books in the main library.

Start by looking for indexes. Some have a master index organized by surname. This index can be used to index into the various sources in that library. Others have separate indexes for each particular file such as an index for obituaries.

Things You Might Find on the Roadtrip

The sorts of things you might find include at a local genealogical or historical society:
Obituaries - these are gold. They will often list parents, siblings, children, grandchildren. This is a great way of tracing maiden names and married names of females. They may add local color to the character and may include details such as religious affiliations. The library may not have your ancestor in their files and you may have to search microfilm rolls of local newspapers for the day, week or month after the death.

Location of graves - from indexed books in the library. Take a roadtrip before it gets too dark. Inscriptions on the stones can be helpful. Bring along paper and crayons for rubbing. Don't forget the camera. Flash may be necessary if it is late in the day. A toothbrush to scrape away fungus on the lettering may help. Look around. Is the grave in a plot? Are there other relatives nearby? Is the person buried between others with unfamiliar surnames? Could these be family of the wife?

Wills - These reveal names of surviving offspring. These also reveal the assets. They may have property location information to find where the family farm was. Ask for help reading plat maps if they are not familiar.

Birth Certificates - These are available often starting in the last quarter of the 1800s. Don't expect them sooner. Expect to pay money for these if they are recent. Otherwise, ask if there are microfilm rolls that can be read for older records. These often just cost the price of a copy - $0.10 to $0.25 usually.

Death Certificates - These may list cause of death, next of kin and other useful information. Did the person die during a year of an influenza outbreak (like the Spanish flu of 1918?).

Marriage Certificates - These reveal maiden names of wives. They also may list parent's names, etc. They can even list maiden names of the wife's mother. This can give two generations in one document.

Family Trees - The local genealogical society probably has a file cabinet full of family trees. Check all the surnames of your relatives that lived in that county. Don't forget to give back by leaving a copy of your pedigree charts for family from that county. Make sure your address is on the chart. Someone may contact you with additional information somewhere down the line.

Local Phonebooks - Copy pages with the surnames you are interested in. You can call them when you get home.

Other Researchers - This is a great way to find others who are working on the same family tree. Make sure you sign the book and list the local surnames you are researching. This book is not to put you on a mailing list for junk mail, but to put into a publication of people researching that family surname for that county.

Local Census data - You can do the federal census data before leaving home. Some states have odd year census data. The federal census are done on the years ending in 0, such as 1880, 1900, 1910, etc. Local census may have been done for years like 1855.

Distant cousins - Yes, you will probably find distant conjoins on your trip. Ask them if they have pictures, etc.
What to do with Your Results

Everyone has a story of a relative who kept all the family history but when she died nobody knew what happened to her collection. Don't be that person. One thing that genealogy teaches us is that we all will die. Make it clear on your notebooks who you want you materials to go to in case of your unexpected death.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Problem of Evil

Dallas Willard is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. Dallas is a Christian philosopher and thinker. He has written a lot of articles and books including The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God and The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives.

Here is an article Dallas wrote on the God and the Problem of Evil. One quote at the end of the article stands out:
Because I make my living as a university professor and philosopher I am frequently asked, in so many words, "Why do you follow Jesus Christ?" My answer is always the same: "Who else did you have in mind?"
Indeed. Without Christ, what else do we have?

Christian Source Documents

If you have an interest in Christian historical documents, the Internet has some wonderful web sites. If you have not been to these sites, they are impressive in the amount of source materials that they contain.

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is a vast depository of Medieval source materials.

The Christian Classics Ethereal Library has a large selection of source materials from the history of the Christian Church. The Early Church Fathers is a 38-volume collection of writings from the first 800 years of the Church. This collection is divided into three series, Ante-Nicene (ANF), Nicene and Post-Nicene Series I (NPNF1), and Nicene and Post-Nicene Series II (NPNF2). The Works of Josephus are also found there. You can purchase a hard copy of the Works of Josephus on amazon.com. You can even listen to the entire Greek New Testament in mp3 audio.

The Project Gutenberg is another huge site that contains a vast amount of public domain writings.

The Catholic Encyclopedia is what the name implies an Encyclopedia from a Catholic persepective. Although from a Catholic perspective, this Encyclopedia is generally fairly objective in presentation of historical facts. The text original of this project was completed in 1914 and is generally conservative.

C. S. Lewis: God, Gender and Priestesses

This is an interesting article by C. S. Lewis on God, Gender and Priestesses. Lewis wrote the article in 1948. In particular, Lewis talks about feminine language to describe God as mother, etc. This article by Lewis predates by 40-50 years the current controversies in the Episcopal church and other denominations.

Here is an article by Michael Novak published in First Things on the same subject. Novak has the advantage of being more recent so he interacts with what has happened. Novak writes:
The pressure of today's culture is immense, since many persons do not wish to sit still for theological argument. Nonetheless, the only serious question concerns fundamental theology, not the pressures of contemporary culture.

Science and Sexual Orientation

It has been stated by some that science has shown a genetic basis for sexual orientation. In other words, the claim is that abnormal behaviors are wired into people by their genetic makeup. This is now an accepted fact in some quarters which has been used to advance the agenda of certain persons. Here is the account of one theologian who decided to compile the evidence and found it lacking.

Interestingly most of the more "compelling" cases have not been reproduced by other researchers, hence they fail the basic scientific criteria of repeatability. In other cases, the bias of the researchers are evident. In the end there is really no solid evidence that sexual orientation is genetic or predetermined.

If anything, these studies do point to the effect of environmental factors rather than genetic factors on sexual orientation. Traumatic experiences can affect a person's ability to trust. That trust can be associated with gender. If a woman is abused by men she can become less trusting of men. As Christian parents we are to protect our children from potentially abusive situations.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Matthew as Anti-Gentile

The Gospel of Matthew contains some blanket condemnations of Gentiles. This article considers those condemnations. This is interesting in light of the charges that The Passion of the Christ is Anti-Semitic.

Food for thought.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Dr. Paul Carlson, Missionary Martyr

Evangelical Covenant Church missionary Dr. Paul Carlson was arrested and killed in the Congo in 1964. Read about it here.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

A Letter to Our Church

Can you imagine getting a letter from Jesus to your church?

That's the situation that seven churches in Asia Minor found themselves in when the Apostle John penned the book of Revelation. The book starts out with the statement:
Revelation 1:1-2 - The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.
Each of the seven letters contains a revelation of who Jesus is:
Ephesus - holds the seven stars in His right hand/walks among the seven golden lampstands
Smyrna - first and the last/who was dead, and has come to life
Pergamos - hath the sharp sword with two edges
Thyatira - eyes like unto a flame of fire/feet are like fine brass
Sardis - hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars
Philadelphia - holy, he that is true/he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth
Laodicea - the Amen, the faithful and true witness/the beginning of the creation of God/

Friday, July 02, 2004

Abuses

Study details school sexual misconduct.


Thursday, July 01, 2004

Happy Fourth of July


It's no longer fashionable in some sectors of the Christian community to be patriotic, but I say, "God Bless American". Let's keep praying for our country and thanking God that we live in a place with the sorts of freedoms we enjoy here. There are certainly enough people who would give up everything to come here. A refugee boat friend from Vietnam comes to my mind....

This flag is for you, Charles.

God Bless America.

The Heavens Declare....

The Psalmist wrote, "The Heavens declare the glory of God."

Sometimes we forget that. Today we got another reminder. Check out the pictures of Saturn from the lastest JPL mission to the ringed planet.

It is certainly spectacular. And yes, the Heavens do declare God's glory.

Amen.

Siege of Lachish (701 BC)


The British Museum has a series of wall panels describing the siege of Lachish by Sennacherib. This is described in the Old Testament in 2 Chr 32:9.

The period of the Old Testament Kings is well attested from archaeology.

This is documented in a book titled, The Bible in the British Museum: Interpreting the evidence, by T. C. Mitchell. Mitchell was a curator of Middle Eastern antiquities for the British Museum.

Freedom or Bondage of the Will?

I am thinking today about libertarianism (Free Will) and determinism (Bondage of the Will). In particular, I am thinking about compatibalism. Under compatibalism there is an assertion that man is both free to choose and determined.

The example of Saddam comes to mind. In some very limited sense of the word free, he is free. He gets himself up on the morning. He brushes his own teeth. He chooses how much of the food that is given to him that he will eat. He opens and closes his own eyes and talks freely.

In the way that most people use the word free, he is not free. He can't go where he wishes. He is bound to be where others want him to be. He is led around. He gets up when he is told and he goes into his cell when he is told.

This is essentially the issue with compatibalism. Under this idea, man is free within certain, very limited bounds. Unredeemed man can do nothing but sin. While the claim is made that man is free, in fact man is not free to do anything other than sin.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Clay Prism of Sennacherib


This is a neat piece of physical evidence for the historicity of the Old Testament. This clay prism describes the siege of Jerusalem by King Sennacherib. The text says "I shut up Hezekiah like a bird in a cage." This matches the Biblical account of the siege where Sennacherib surrounded the city, but did not defeat Jerusalem.

2 Chr 32:1-23, 2 Kings 18:13-19:37 and Isaiah 36-37 describes this scene.

This object can be viewed at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. The British Museum has an object that is nearly identical on display.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Heritage of Machen

Machen fought the forces of liberalism in his day. His spiritual children ended up fighting each other. This article details the areas of battle.

Punting to Mystery

Biblically, what is a true mystery? When are we justified in calling something a mystery? If there is a contradiction in our theology can we say that it is all rectified by recourse to mystery?

There are things in Scripture that are called mysteries. The calling of the Gentiles was only hinted at in the Old Testament. The New Testament calls it a mystery - that God would justify the Gentiles by faith:
Rom 16:25-26 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
This was formerly a mystery but is no longer. This is the way that the New Testament uses the word mystery.

Mysteries are things which have been revealed in Jesus.

Solving Alleged Bible Contradictions

There are a number of passages in Scripture which are cited by critics of the Bible as showing the the Bible has contradictions. As an example, the infidels.org website has a long list of alleged contradictions in the Bible.

They do this in an attempt to deny the Divine authorship of God's Word. If there are contradictions, then the author can't be Divine since God makes not mistakes.

Books with Solutions

There are a number of approaches to dealing with these sorts of contradictions. One older book that is excellent at dealing with most of these is Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible (about $8) by Haley. Most of the contradictions in this book turn out to be merely allegedly contradictory.

There are newer treatments of the subject, such as Norm Geisler's books, When Critics Ask, When Skeptics Ask and Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Editor).

In the touchy area Old Testament studies, there is Gleason Archer's A Survey of Old Testament Introduction.

All of these books are quite helpful when sorting out Bible difficulties. They have excellent Scripture indexes in the back.

Some General Principles

There are some general principles that help when approaching Bible difficulties.

1 - Sometimes the words of men contain errors in reporting. Just as there are contradictory battle reports or details of automobile accident scenes, so there are on occasion disagreements about details of a particular incident.

None of these sorts of contradictions shows that the event did not happen. The strength for Christians is that they show there is no collusion between the witnesses. The story was not cooked. The church transmitted down the Scriptures to us without any attempt to change or edit the story to remove these apparent contradictions.

Some of these alleged contradictions depend upon perspective of the person doing the reporting. Not all people see the same events. This does not affect the claim of Divine authorship for the Scriptures.

2- Two contains at least one. One accounts may state that there was an angel, such as at the tomb of Jesus. Another account may state that there were two angels. The list of women that went to the tomb may include three women in one account and four in another. In each of these, the same principle applies - two contains at least one.

3 - Often the contradiction is only apparent and looking at the greater context helps resolve the contradiction. The rules of exegesis all help in this area.

4 - The particular contradiction may be a problem for one understanding of the Bible but not for another.

Some Helpful Sites

Here is a helpful site to resolve Bible contradictions.

Suprisingly google.com is one great place to start in this task. Type in the scripture reference in quotes. Beware that you will get back both sides of an issue when you do this. Try both the shortened and longer version of Bible book names. For instance entering "Rom. 5:12 into google search engine will yield over 6000 pages which address the passage. Entering the longer "Romans 5:12" will produce over 8000 pages. The range of solutions will be Reformed, Universalist, Arminian and every other possible solutions including non-Christians who see this verse as contradictory.

Scholastic Bifurcation

The Scholastics loved their philosophy. In their philosophies, they loved to split things into categories. Then they subdivided these categories into sub categories with nearly infinite regression.

Bangs points out that this was greatly aided by the invention of the printing press. With the press, they could create large fold out charts containing their categories. Their eager students could then memorize the charts and be able to split hairs (bifurcate) to their heart's content. We are the inheritors of this tradition, whether or not we even realize it.

The Will of God

One scholastic holdover is the area of understanding God's will. One writer talks about God's will in the following way:
The difference seems to lie in the distinction between God's revealed (preceptive) will and His secret (decretal) will.
The distinction here is raised to solve a Bible difficulty for those who hold to a particular view of the scope of Christ's Atonement.

What is the Problem Addressed by the Bifurcation?

The Bible has passages which show that it is the will of God to save everyone.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
The Bible also tells us that there are people who will not be saved.
Revelation 20:15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
This second passage eliminates the option of universalism, ie, that everyone gets saved, so we are left with a couple of possible solutions to this apparent contradiction.

Two Possible Solutions

One possibility is that God does not always get what He wants. In this paradigm, God wills free will above His desire that all be saved. He wants everyone to be saved, and that is why God has created free will. Free will is the mechanism for their responding in faith to Him. People can resist God's will because God created them able to resist or not resist. The seat of decision making is the will, which itself is uncaused. This solution is primarily anthropological but is theological in the sense that this is how God is said to have made man.

The second possibility is suggested by the above quote. This solution says that God has two wills. In one of God's wills, God wants everyone to be saved. In His other will, he only wants particular individuals to be saved. The ones that God secretly elects to be saved will be saved. There is a desire to have God be sovereign which for those who assert this category means that no-one can resist God's will. In fact, any passage which describes a person resisting his will has to be describing the will that can be resisted.

This second possibility is a holdover of scholasticism. The idea that God has two wills is not something that can be directly found on the pages of Scripture. Advocates of the view often feel that their view is based entirely on Scripture and don't realize their dependence on scholastic categories.

For some that hold to this second possibility, if there is a contradiction shown in their exegesis of passages, they can always say that the solution is not apparent, but that it can be found in the secret will of God. They say that they do not know what is in the hidden will, but they know that if they can't resolve the contradiction it must be one of the hidden things. Thus, they make the claim to at least know which things are in the hidden will of God.

Are there any Mysteries Left?

But what sense could it make to speak of the hidden will of God? If it is truely hidden no one can know anything of it. And a big part of the New Testament message is that the things which were formerly hidden are now revealed. When the New Testament uses the word mystery it is to refer to things that were once hidden, not things which are currently hidden. Jesus told His disciples:
Mark 4:11 And He was saying to them, "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables
Which is Simpler?

Both solutions take into account the Scriptural evidence.

The second solution posits that God has two contradictory wills. The first solution states that God has only one consistent will. The first does not require the radical bifurcation (splitting into two parts) of the will of God. The first solution is much simpler than the second.

The first solution appears weaker to an advocate of strong sovereignty, but it really is not weaker. Which kind of God is stronger? One that can tolerate no dissent against His plan so he makes persons not free or a God that can tolerate dissent and makes persons free and still gets what He wants?

Arminius wrote in his response to Perkins book on Predestination:
For the hidden will of God is said to be efficacious; but if, in its exercise, God willed that the fall should occur, it is certainly a necessary conclusion, also, that He effected the fall, that is, He must be the cause of the fall; for whatever God wills, even by His hidden will, the same, also, He does both in heaven and on the earth; and no one can resist His will, namely, that which is hidden. But I may remark concerning that distinction in the will, that I think that it may be said, that neither of these can be so contrary, or opposed to the other, that God, by one, wills that to be done, which, by the other, He wills not to be done, and vice versa.

Monday, June 28, 2004

It's Getting Tougher Every Day

It's getting tougher every day to deny that life is present in the womb at a very early stage. See this article for pictures of why this is true. There are more pictures on the site, too.

Open Theism

Open theists assert that God does not know the future until it happens. One verse that is difficult for their position is:
Isaiah 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure';
God is shown as knowing the end from the beginning. The idea of foreknowledge is also problematic for this view:
Acts 2:23 this Man delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
We can be sure that God does know the future and that our futures are in His hands. He is worthy.

The Wolfpack (Fiction)

Any resemblance to reality in the following story is purely intentional.

The herd moved along slowly across the wide open plains. There wasn't much cover in this stretch of the plains. There were no trees for the herd to hide in if enemies attacked. They were oblivious to any attack that might happen. Sure there had been attacks before, but they we not prepared for the attack that was to come.

The pack of wolves was on the prowl. They had not eaten in a while when they spotted the herd at a distance. As usual, the weak animals were straggling behind at the rear of the herd.

The wolf pack advanced slowly and silently in a half-circle remaining downwind of the herd. It would soon be time to attack. At the first sign of weakness they would circle in for the kill.

The opportunity to attack came quickly. The wolves were well prepared and situated to take advantage of the moment of weakness. The weakest animal in the herd never knew what hit him. It was all over in seconds.
2 Kings 25:10 So all the army of the Chaldeans who were with the captain of the guard broke down the walls around Jerusalem.

Internal Consistency and Truth

It is possible for a system to be internally consistent and yet false. For instance a system might assert five truths, call them A, B, C, D and E.

Suppose that someone who holds this ABCDE system is asked to prove the A. Suppose then that person says, B proves A. Suppose the proof is asked for B. Suppose the person says C proves B. Suppose that this goes on like:
A is proved b B,
B is proved by C,
C is proved by D,
D is proved by E,
E is proved by A.
What is the problem With ABCDE?

ABCDE is a tautology. The argument is circular. But the argument is not proven since it remains circular. External facts are not required since the system is internally coherent. External facts may be introduced but in essence they reduce to restatements of A, B, C, D or E.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Free Will Defense

Here is a good article on free will and determinism which deals with some of the common objections to the Free Will Defense; Overcoming Objections to Self-determinism (Free-will).

Friday, June 25, 2004

Walking on Water

Why Walk on Water?

The Gospels tell us that Jesus walked on water (Mat 14:23-32). At first glance this might seem like something that is too showy for Jesus. Why walk on water? Does this miracle story play a crucial part in the Gospel? Would it still be the Gospel without the story?

The story is like another one where Jesus is in a boat asleep (Mat 8:24-27). A big storm comes up and Jesus is sleeping. The disciples wake Him up and accuse Jesus of not caring about them (Mark 4:38). He calms the storm. They marvel. In the first story, Jesus is with the disciples. In the second story, they are alone when the waves come up. Is Jesus teaching them something about their future? Even when He isn't there in person He is close by.

The Gospel writers talk a lot about taking ships. The Sea of Galileee was between them and the cities of the Decapolis. They could walk around the lake or take ships. No doubt, the fishermen among them preferred taking ships over walking. Besides, ships make for quicker getaways should the crowd press too closely (Mark 3:9). The agenda of the crowd would not be allowed to overwhelm the message of Jesus.

The problem with taking ships is that the winds pick up in the late afternoon. I saw this for myself in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. The sea was calm as glass at noon when we ate lunch on the lake. A couple of hours later the winds picked up and the waves come with the winds. The lake is not all that big - something like seven miles across by fourteen miles long. But when you are several miles from the shore and it gets roungh. There's something about that size of lake that is big enough to have decent waves and small enough that the waves get amplified as they wash back from the shores off each side. Like it is resonant.

The story has a practical side. Jesus told the disciples to go to the other side of the lake. Jesus needed to get to the side where they would be. It seems like He almost accidentially just happens to run into them in the middle of the lake. Finding them in the middle of the lake would be a miracle let alone the miracle of walking on the water.

There is a personal part to the story. Jesus tells Peter that he can walk out on the water. Predictably, Peter sinks. Jesus shows Peter than he must trust Jesus to hold him up.

The story has impact to a ship full of fishermen. They are very familiar with water. They are not stupid, they know that men can't walk on the water. Seeing a man walk on water was pretty good proof that the man was not an ordinary man. The Laws of physics just didn't seem to apply to Him like an ordinary man. He looked as dense as any other person, but he had walked on water. What was that about? Certainly the questions must have gone through their heads.

The story shows God's providential protection for the disciples. They are not left alone in the storm, but Jesus comes out into the storm to be with them and rescue them. This would have future meaning to them as they faced the storms of persecution that their fellow Jews would unleash on them. Jesus would walk through those storms with them as well. He could calm those storms or they could go through the storms with Him. Either way, as long as they were with Him, they would be safe.

At the end of the story they do what we are compelled to do as well. They worshipped Him.

Twenty Centuries Later - Locating the Nexus

How Do We Understand the Bible?

N. T. Wright, in his book, "The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is" addresses the question of how we are to understand the Bible in our modern world.

Wright starts with an carefully developed historical view of first century Palestine. He puts his scholarly focus on the meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Symbols, the crucified Messiah, the Deity of Jesus and the meaning of resurrection - all as they would have been understood in the first century. In the process, Wright reminds us just how far our thinking is from that world.

The challenge is how to map that world into our world today. Some of the things which challenged them in that day are not issues today. They may be analogous, but the issues have substantially changed. And our preaching needs to take this into account.

Wright is pretty critical of modern preaching since it brings aid to people who no longer see themselves as needing aid. Giving Luther to a Pelagian makes sense. But Wright reminds us that we are no longer dealing with Pelagians. It's not that people think that they are good enough to merit Heaven. It's that the question no longer matters to them. You have your truth and they have theirs, you are told.

Where do we find the nexus, the connection between 20 centuries ago and today?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Broken Syllogisms and the Equivocation Fallacy

A syllogism is sometimes posed in order to prove that regeneration precedes justification:
1 - It is pleasing to God for someone to repent
2 - Those who are in the flesh cannot please God
3 - Therefore those who are in the flesh cannot repent
The desired conclusion of this syllogism is that a person has to be regenerated before they are saved. Now there's nothing in the argument that actually makes that case, but the presumption is that regeneration is what takes a person from "being in the flesh" to not being in the flesh.

Bottom line - the case is being made that God justifies the wicked.

What's the problem with this line of reasoning?

Onw way to illustrate the problem with this can be shown from the following verse:
Exo 23:7 Keep thee far from a false matter; and the innocent and righteous slay thou not: for I will not justify the wicked.
That passage tells us that God does not justify the wicked. Yet, that is exactly what is happening if the first syllogism is true. If the syllogism is true, then God justifies the wicked.

So how does this get put back together?

Words have a meaning and that meaning is often conditioned by the context. The problem with all of these verses and concepts is that they are not talking about conversion at all.

The weak link in this syllogism is 2 from above. It is not about conversion. So the conclusion does not follow from 1 and 2 since 2 is faulty, in that while it is generally true, it is not describing people who are being converted.

God is always pleased to see someone convert. That is how a person goes from being in the flesh to being in the spirit. The angels in Heaven rejoice when a sinner repents. In the end this argument does not prove that regeneration precedes repentance.
Luke 15:10 - "In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Postscript

A friend wrote:
The claim is that libertarianism commits one to the idea that uncaused events occur. This claim is false since they conflate determinism and causation. There are perfectly plausible accounts of indeterministic causation showing that the two concepts can be pried apart.
Ya, what he said.

New Testament Uses of the Old Testament

Some Preliminary Thoughts on How the New Testament Writers Quote the Old Testament
1 - The NT writers frequently quote OT passages.
2 - The audiences of the NT writers have varying familiarity with the OT texts.
3 - The audiences may have people that know the OT text quite well since there are probable Jewish converts in many of them.
4 - The NT writers are writing to critical audiences picking apart their words with discernment.
5 - If the NT writer quoted the OT in a way inconsistent with the OT, they could be called on it.
6 - The NT writers are trying to make a case for their own position.
7 - They were establishing their credibility - it was not a given like it is for us.
8 - The NT writers did not quote the OT in a way inconsistent with the text.
Jesus Quoting the Old Testament

Here is an example of Jesus quoting the OT.
Matthew 22:32-33 - [Jesus said] "'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.
They were astonished because Jesus had so easily refuted the Saducees.

Even more striking was the choice of passage. This passage was the party slogan for the Pharisees.

How does this match the 8 principles listed above? Jews were convinced by the argument given. It was pursuasive because it was coherent to the Old Testament passage.

A Tougher One

A much tougher passage is found in Romans 9.
Rom 9:13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.
The immediate assumption is that this is referring to the historical persons Jacob and Esau. This page shows the context of the passage from the Old Testament. As the page shows, it is not talking about the individuals but about two groups. Jacob is representative of his descendents. Esau represents Edom. This is the context of the Old Testament passage.

How much of the Old Testament context matters? Doesn't the New Testament determine the meaning? Point 4 above, makes this not as likely. After all, the apostles were quoting the Old Testament to support their position. If the Old Testament passage supported some other position then they were giving a bad argument. This is one case where the Old Testament does inform our understanding of the New Testament. In the case of the Romans 9 passage it is the imported presupposition that this passage is about individual election that causes the problem. The passage is about group or class election in the Old Testament usage.

Who Pray?

Does God answer prayer? Sometimes in their life everyone has an experience which makes them wonder if prayer is futile.

Some Good and Bad Reasons for Prayer
1 - No need to pray because whatever will be, will be. Que sera sera...
2 - We pray because it is commanded but we don't expect what we pray for to happen.
3 - Prayer gets my will in line with God's. I should not expect God to do anything other than straighten out my desires to match His.
4 - God may actually answer yes to what I pray.
5 - I pray with fervor because it is my chance to communicate with God.
Do you find yourself on this list? Comments in this thread would be greatly appreciated. Why do we pray? Does God still answer prayers?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Dead Men Can't Respond

It is often said that "dead men can't respond" or "dead means unable to respond". This is used in relation to the passages which speak of our condition before we came to Christ. It is said that since we were dead, and dead men can't respond, then we were unable to respond to God. The argument is made that a man who is physically dead is unable to do anything, being dead. Certainly this is true, but is this what Paul means when he refers to "dead" men?

Often Used Test Passages

Ephesians tells us:
Eph 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins:
Therefore, God had to make us alive before we were able to respond:
Ephesians 2:5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)
Testing the Definition

But is this what is meant by dead in the way that the Scriptures use the word? One way to tell if a phrase has equivalent meaning is to substitute it into a passage and see if the passage still makes sense. Doing this with the two Ephesians passages from above yields:
Eph 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were unable to respond to God in trespasses and sins:

Ephesians 2:5 even when we were unable to respond to God in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)
It seems like this word substitution is a possible equivalent phrase. But the way to tell if it makes sense is to find other passages which use dead in a similar way and see if the equivalent phrase fits them as well.

Testing in the Hard Passages

If "dead" equals "can't respond", then what do we make of this passages?
Romans 6:2 May it never be! How shall we who are dead to sin still live in it?
Doing the word substitution yields:
Romans 6:2 May it never be! How shall we who are unable to respond to sin still live in it?
The obvious problem is that this removes the meaning of what Paul is trying to say. Paul is telling them not to sin, not that they are unable to sin. The word "dead", at least in this context, can't mean "unable to respond". It has to mean something different. This would seem to break the first equivalence since it makes no sense in other places. This provisional definition of "dead" just doesn't fit.

But should do understand Paul's usage of the word "dead"? What does it mean? Since it doesn't mean "unable to" what does it mean?

A Different Definition of Dead

Let's try this definition on for size, "out of relationship with". Dead men are men who are out of relationship with the world of the living. They can't speak or have other social interactions with the living. This fits the natural definition, but does it fit with both of these verses? Doing the word substitution again:
Eph 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were out of relationship with God in trespasses and sins:

Ephesians 2:5 even when we were out of relationship with God in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)
It fits well for that one, but does it fit with the other passage? Let's see:
Romans 6:2 May it never be! How shall we who out of relationship with sin still live in it?
This seems to fit. It leaves open the possibility that the person can come to know God as well as the possibility that the Christian can sin.

Our Approach to Evangelism

The idea that the unregenerated are unable to respond to the Gospel has led to a downplaying of evangelism both in some churches and in personal evangelism with some people. It also leads to judgment against others about who is being called and who isn't.

A more fruitful method is to assume that the person is able to respond and can make a choice to accept God for themselves. They can't save themselves by their good works, but they can reach out and receive the free gift of salvation that Christ offers. They are able to come as He calls them, they are just out of relationship with Christ. They need to come into a saving relationship with Jesus.

Conclusion

The idea that dead means "can't respond" does not fit well in all the places that Paul uses it. It brings along a presuppositional baggage which is too big for the New Testament examples. Replacing the definition in favor of one that fits solves this problem.

Whence Cometh Faith?

Where Does Faith Come From?

The New Testament has a lot of verses on faith but not too many passages clearly identify where faith comes from. There are several Scriptural possibilities for where our faith comes from. One is that faith is from God, and the other is that faith comes from somewhere inside a person. A third possibility is some combination of the two.

Faith Comes From God

In many senses faith can be said to come from God. God, in the person of Jesus, is the object of our faith. Without God, there would be no object present for us to have faith in. Thus, faith at least comes from God in this important sense. This is the sense of Hebrews which says that:
Hebrews 12:2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Ephesians tells us that the entire package of salvation by grace through faith comes from God as a gift:
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Faith Comes from Hearing God's Word

Another passage tells us that we get faith by hearing God's Word as spoken through preaching.
Romans 10:15-17 How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!" However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, "LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?" So faith [comes] from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
But none of these passages completely addresses where faith comes from.

Faith Resides Inside Us

There are a couple of ways of approaching the question of whether faith resides in us. If faith does not reside inside us, then why would Jesus expect that we should have faith?
Mark 11:22 And Jesus answered saying to them, "Have faith in God.
There are a number of other verses which do not make sense if there is not a component of faith that comes from within a person.
Luke 18:8 "I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"

Hab 2:4 Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.
The next verse is particularly interesting. There are a lot of verses like it in the New Testament where Jesus marvels at the faith of someone.
Mat 8:10 When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
Faith Contrasted With Works

Is the idea that faith comes from within us contrary to the idea that we are not saved by works? Is faith a work? If faith is a work, then why does Paul draw contrasts between faith and works?
Romans 3:28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Galatians 2:16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
There are a lot of verses to take into account when thinking about where faith comes from.

Luke 17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"

Acts 20:21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 26:18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'


Romans 3:31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

Romans 12:3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

Romans 16:26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, [leading] to obedience of faith;
Calvin on the Source of Faith

John Calvin's Institute of the Christian Religion, on faith. Calvin sees faith as being from God. For Calvinists, faith is a gift that is given by God to the elect. The reprobate are not given this same gift and are not saved (double predestination).

Monday, June 21, 2004

Christian Apologetics

What isn't Christian Apologetics?

Christian Apologetics is not giving an apology for the faith as if there is something deficient in the faith. The Christian faith is God's self-revelation to mankind. There is nothing deficient in that revelation.

What is Christian Apologetics?

Apologetics comes from the Greek word;
apologia, ap-ol-og-ee'-ah; a plea ("apology"):--answer (for self), clearing of self, defence.
The word is used frequently in the New Testament to describe Paul's defense of his calling. For instance:
Acts 22:1 Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.

1 Cor 9:3 Mine answer to them that do examine me is this,
In other passages, the word is used in the context of defending the Christian faith in general:
Phil 1:17 But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel.

1 Peter 3:15 - but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

Real or Imaginary Hypotheticals in Scripture

Real or Imaginary Hypotheticals

A hypothetical can be either a real or an imaginary hypothetical. It is important to classify the sort of hypothetical that is intended when reading an author who is using hypotheticals.
For instance, "if pigs can fly" is an imaginary (not possible) hypothetical. Pigs do not normally have wings. There could be a genetic abnormality that might grant an individual pig wings, but this would be the exception that proves the rule. The bottom line is that pigs don't fly.

Saying "if the duck has wings" is a real possibility. Ducks do have wings ordinarily. It would be an abnormal duck that has no wings.

Imaginary hypotheticals are frequently expressed as absurdities. They are meant to be seen as impossible hypotheticals and are clearly expressed as such. They are relatively rare in Scripture.

Hypotheticals in Scripture

A Bible passage with a hypothetical is a passage which contains an "if". The Bible presents us with a number of passages containing hypotheticals that are challenging to classify as real or imaginary.

Some interpreters say that these passages contain real possiblities. These interpreters say that the things warned against in these passages could happen if they are not guarded against.

Other interpreters say that these passages only contain imaginary possibilities. These intepreters say that these theoretical possiblities are not really possible. They are, in effect, empty warnings.

Differences in Motivation

It is true that positive motivators are typically more productive than negative ones. But is is also true that sometimes it is necessary to yell in order to warn someone that their behavior may lead them to destruction if they don't turn around.

Jesus gave us warnings of Hell. These warnings are real possiblities, not just theoretical ones. if the people being addressed do not repent, then they will go to Hell.
Mat 23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Some might ask if this is the best way to motivate? Instead, why not motivate with love? Since Jesus in Scripture does it, it is sometimes appropriate to give a negative warnings. So one rejection of negative warnings that it is not the best method does not hold up.

A Scriptural Example

The difficulty comes with passages like:
1 Cor. 15:2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
The hypothetical here is the "if" of "if you hold fast". The question is whether or not it is possible not hold fast the word. If it is possible to not hold it than this is a really possible hypothetical. If it is not possible then this is not an imaginary hypothetical.

There is a desire with many exegetes to see this passage as an imaginary hypothetical. For a number of them this comes along with their Calvinistic presuppositions. The idea is that since election is from God, and man did not do anything to earn salvation, nor can man do anything to maintain salvation. Thus, the warnings against falling away have to only be imaginary.

There are many passages in Scripture which speak of not receiving God's grace in vain:
2 Cor. 6:1 And working together [with Him], we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain.
These passages indicate that is possible to receive the grace of God in vain and warn against that.

While it is tempting to want to view these passages as imaginary hypotheticals, this does not seem to be a sound approach to these passages. They lack the markers of absurdity of other passages. A better assumption is that when the Bible warns of something, it means what it says.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

N. T. Wright on the Gospel and Justification

Anglican Bishop, N. T. Wright, writes:
By "the gospel" Paul does not mean "justification by faith." He means the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord. To believe this message is to give believing allegiance to Jesus as Messiah and Lord" is to be justified in the present by faith (whether or not one has even heard of justification by faith).
Wright goes on to write:
But one is not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith, but by believing in Jesus.
Wright makes a key distinction here that can easily be missed. It's not our faith in our faith that saves us. It is our faith in Jesus. The question is one of object. Faith is the means.

This page is critical of Wright's position on justification.

Here is a page
which presents a number of Wright's papers on various issues.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Law-Gospel Distinction

The founder of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Dr. C. F. W. Walther, gave a series of lectures starting in 1884 on the distinctions between Law and Gospel. These are published as a set of thesis in a book entitled, "The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel". The book provides a set of six rules/guidelines for determining whether a particular passage is Law or Gospel.

Walther presents his distinction as an absolute one and states that an interpreter of the Bible must always start any exegesis with making this distinction. Walther is not alone in this, many other Reformed exegetes follow the same distinction. Walther freely credits Luther as the source of his understanding of Law and Gospel. Lutheran Seminaries today still use his book as a textbook in hermeneutical methods courses.

This distinction remains a guiding principle in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod today:
We believe that the two chief doctrines of Holy Scripture, Law and Gospel, must be constantly and diligently proclaimed in the church of God until the end of the world, but with due distinction.

The Law, as the expression of God's immutable will, is to be used by the church to bring men to a knowledge of their sins as well as to provide Christians with instruction about good works.

The Gospel receives the primary emphasis in the ministry of the New Testament, for it is the message that 'God forgives them all their sins through Christ, accepts them for His sake as God's children, and out of pure grace, without any merit of their own, justifies and saves them.
Six Guidelines to Distinguish Law From Gospel

Walther provides six guidelines to rightly divide any passage of Scripture. These guidelines are:
The Law and the Gospel differ in:
1 - These two doctrines differ as regard the manner of their being revealed to man;
2 - As regards their contents;
3 - As regards the promises held out by either doctrine;
4 - As regards their threatenings;
5 - As regards the function and the effect of either doctrine;
6 - As regards the persons to whom either the one of the other doctrine must be preached.(p. 7)
Generally, these distinctions are helpful, but there are some serious issues that can be raised with them.

Explanations/Analysis of the Six Guidelines

The explanation of each of these according to Walther is:

Point 1
1a - Man was created with the Law written in his heart and the Law may be preached to every man since it is already revealed as true in his heart (p7).
1b - The Gospel is not revealed in the heart of every man (p8).

One verse that challenges 1a and 1b is Colossians 1:23 since the passage says that the "gospel was preached to every creature which is under heaven". Here the exegete has to distinguish the preaching of the Gospel to each man in Colossians from the revealed in 1b. Yet, this passage cannot be referring to actual preaching of the Gospel since it had not been preached to every person. It must refer to the revelation of God to every person, much like John 1:9 "That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world."
Point 2
2a - The Law tells us what to do (p9).
2b - The Gospel reveals to us only what God is doing (p9).

There are verses which show what God is doing and tell us what to do. One such verse is Revelation 14:6-7 - And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters."

This passage produces a challenge to the rules of distinction that Walter presents since it states that the message of the angel, which is called the eternal gospel, is to fear God. This forces the understanding that the passage is about Law, not Gospel. Yet what is preached by the angel is clearly Gospel.
Point 3
3a - The Law promises everlasting life and salvation (p 10). But the promises of the Law are conditional on perfect obedience.
3b - The Gospel is a free gift and has no conditions (p 10).
Galatians says something quite different about the Law when it says that the Law was not able to give eternal life. Galatians 3:21 - Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.
Point 4
4a - The Law contains threats (p 11).
4b - The Gospel contains no threats, only words of consolation (p 11).
The criticism of this point from Revelation 14:6-7 applies here as well.

In Matthew 14:27 Jesus comes to the disciples and says "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." This is a command using the imperative "Take" courage. It is also not a threat but a word of consolation. Which is it, Law or Gospel?
Point 5
5a - The effect of the Law is that the Law tells us what to do but does not enable us to comply with its commands. The Law uncovers a man's sins. The Law does produce contrition. But it has no comfort.
5b - The Gospel demands faith but it provides that faith. The Gospel takes away all terror and fills man with the Holy Spirit.
The Law says in Deuteronomy 30:11-14 - "For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. "It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' "Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' "But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

Acts 13:39 - and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.
Point 6
6a - The Law is preached to secure sinners.
6b - The Gospel is preached to alarmed sinners.
This is often said as afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. It is basically sound pastoral advise but it is not often found in this way in Scriptures.

The final point is not one of determination but of method. Jesus went and preached the Gospel to everyone. When Jesus came He preached - Mark 1:15 - saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." This seems to be both Law and Gospel.
Conclusion

This method has some value. It is useful to understand that this is the paradigm used by Lutherans and other Reformed. Dialog with many Reformed and Lutherans can be greatly helped by understanding that they see the Bible in such black and white categories. It also helps to understand how they can be dismissive of commands as "that's just law". For many, since it is impossible to follow the Law completely, to put something in the category of Law gives them a free pass. The reason that they do this is admirable, they want to give all the glory to God. But the result can be that while something is commanded by God, accomplishing the command is impossible. If something is impossible, why even try? Rather than grace being present when we fail, there is a pre-admission that this exercise is bound to fail. Few would put it in such a crass manner, but often this is the result of the system.

There are many verses which mix Law and Gospel such as:
Romans 8:2 - For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

Galations 6:2 - Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Perhaps the reason that many exegetes confuse the two categories is that it is not quite as straightforward as they would like to say. The Law of Christ is the Gospel in this case.

Another problematic passage is:
1 Corinthians 15:2 - by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.
Clearly this passage is right in the middle of the great text which defines the Gospel for Paul, but the passage has a threat in it so this part of the passage is Law. If the danger against the Gospel is to add works to the Gospel, then why is the threat here against no longer believing? Is no longer believing secret code for substituting works in place of belief?

Confused?

An ordinary distinction is to ask whether something is Old Covenant or New Covenant. The radical Law-Gospel distinction as presented by Walther blurs this distinction for there is much in the New Covenant which is Law. In the end, it is questionable just how helpful this distinction might be in practical pastoral ministry.