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.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Models of Pastoral Caregiving

The dominant method of pastoral caregiving today is based on Rogerian therapy. In this method, the therapist repeats back the words of the person being cared for. The therapist may ask probing questions, but those questions are always to be based upon something that was given from the patient in the conversation.

In this method, the pastoral caregiver does not lead the conversation. The person receiving therapy will usually tell what is up with them in the first 30 seconds of any coversation. This method of therapy can produce change but it can alse leave some patients in many years of therapy with not all that many results. This method is like the Socratic method.

Leading questions are not usually allowed. When dealing with a seriously ill patient the therapist may receive a dump of all of the problems of the patient at once. To get down to the core, the therapist may as "what do you want, and how are you going to get it?" This is a very effective means of getting to the one thing that is the core issue as well as letting the patient come up with their own approach to solving their problem.

Provocative Therapy by Frank Farrelly and Jeff Brandsma uses an entirely different method. This method uses humor to show the ridiculousness of the patient's position. The patient is encouraged to take their fears to the extreme and then laugh at them. This method produces very rapid changes in people. Farrelly would sometimes use obscentities to provoke a response from his patients. His method was a bit like a shock treatment but with provocation instead of electricity.

There are times and places for each type of interchange. Not every pastoral care interchange has to be directive. The patient may never feel that they know the caregiver. Sometimes there is just a place in being quiet and being with someone in their pain. Other times draining off the pain is helpful.

In all pastoral caregiving, it must be remembered that the object of the care is the parishioner. It's not about the pastor, but about the parishioner.

What is the Gospel?

I have been thinking a lot lately about a question that is deceptively simple. The question is "What is the Gospel?" The answer is surprisingly evasive for a number of reasons. One of these is that there are few clear definitions of "the gospel" in Scripture. Another reason is that the word "gospel" seems to be used differently in the Gospels than it is in the writings of Paul.

Why is this complicated? I Thought the Gospel is Simple!

The gospel, literally, means the "good news". In the four Gospels (the New Testament books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) Jesus comes preaching the good news. They show Jesus preaching the Gospel in passage after passage. But few passages tell what that good news is. Is it the arrival of the Kingdom of God? Is it the sacrificial death of Jesus? Exactly what good news is it in the context of the Gospel books?

The Gospel of the Kingdom

The inbreaking of the kingdom was good news to the down and out of society:
Matthew 4:23 - Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.
The good news was that the God's kingdom was coming and the preaching of Jesus to the poor and downtrodden was a signal of that kingdom.

Paul on the Gospel

Paul declares the Gospel in 1 Cor 15:1-8:
Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
This is a concise statement of the Gospel. The elements here are:
- necessity of belief
- necessity of holding fast
- Jesus died for our sins
- Old Testament predictions of the death
- Jesus was buried
- Jesus was raised on the third day
- Jesus appeared to Peter
- Jesus appeared to five hundred
- Jesus appeared to James
- Jesus appeared to the eleven
- Jesus appeared to Paul
Putting this into categories:
Necessity of holding to belief
- Death of Jesus for our sins
- Burial of Jesus
- Resurrection of Jesus
- Post resurrection appearances
Gospel of Paul in the Gospels

This may seem to be a radical claim, but it seems like the Gospel books describe the Gospel as something different in emphasis than Paul. The first part of each of the Gospel books focuses on the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God. The second half of the Gospels focuses on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

In the Gospel books it isn't until Jesus is well into His ministry that He announces that He is going to die. There are hints of it quite a bit earlier. For instance Mary is told at the dedication of Jesus that her heart would be pierced - pointing to the death of Jesus on the cross. John the Baptist refers to Jesus as the "Lamb who takes away the sins of the world". Each of these refer to His death. Jesus plainly tells the disciples that He will rise again.

Not a Dichotomy

It impossible to draw a clear line between the Gospel books understanding of the Gospel and Paul's understanding. Clearly they are the same with the same focus on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. But the emphasis is different in the preaching. Before the cross, the message was that the promised one was in their midst. After the resurrection, the message was radically clarified. Not only had the Messiah been in their midst, but they had killed Him. God turned it around and resurrected the Messiah. The Gospel message was good news. Man no longer needed to be bound by His sins. The Messiah was alive and had taken the sins of mankind. The message of the Apostles in the Book of Acts was quite different than that before Pentecost.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Methodist Group in Trouble

A recent story has the warned from Lyle Schaller warning his Northern Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church that they are headed to extinction.

Schaller's words ought to be listened to because he is a well-known expert on church growth. But more importantly Schaller is knowledgeable on church decline. Schaller sees all of the signs of decline in his own denomination. He is reported to have given the denomination less than 12 years until it goes out of business.

The key issue, per Schaller, is one of leadership. The leadership of the Synod is "ideologically liberal and institutionally ultra conservative." This is a double edged sword for any institution. Slow to adapt to change and yet ideologically liberal is a losing combination.

The second issue is one of increased competition. No longer can we rely on historical connections. As we have opened our doors to others so have others opened their doors.

Another issue that Schaller identifies is that the denomination has not kept up with technical innovation. The church has tended to curse the darkness rather than light a candle in the dark.

Schaller talks about how a newly graduated pastor who wanted to do a church plant and was told that he would have to take a circuit of small churches before he would be allowed to plant. He went to the Evangelical Covenant Church and was allowed to plant there. The church has over 8000 members in six years.

This newspaper article is about an Episcopalian church which has left the Episcopal church and is now seeking affiliation with the Evangelical Covenant Church.

The moral of the story isn't "look how good we are doing compared to the Methodists". Far from it. The moral of this story is: Take heed lest we too fall.

Scriptural Synthesis

The Grammatical-Historical-Contextual (GHC) method is the method used by many people to understand Scripture. Using the GHC method a person is said to be able to come away with the original meaning of the Scripture as the author intended. There is much in the GHC method to commend itself. There are also weaknesses in the GHC method that need to be understood when it is applied.

Grammatical Analysis

1 - Grammatical analysis includes both syntax and grammar of the original languages, in this case Greek in the New Testament and Hebrew (primarily) in the Old Testament. The semantic range of a particular word along with the context where the word is employed is used to help translate the word from the original language into the receptor's language. This is primarily the act of translation but extends itself into analysis.

Along with this analysis the perspective of the helps materials factors into the analysis. Even when reading a word in English we bring a meaning along with us to the word. This perspective may alter the semantic range of a particular word by expanding or contracting the possible translation choices.

It may also cause us to choose a meaning within the semantic range of the word which best fits with what we think the original intent. The problem is that we may not know that with certainty. We may be picking the wrong meaning.

Historical Analysis

2 - Historical analysis involves understanding the historical background. This is clearly helpful in a lot of cases. For instance, one helpful place is in expanding idiomatic expressions where the range of the word is understood from within the historical context.

There are a lot of idiomatic expressions that are not taken literally. To tell someone that their "goose is cooked" rarely means that their water fowl has completed baking. Sorting these out can involve finding places outside the Scripture were these terms are used.

It is helpful to know more historical data about the persons or people involved in the text. Study of historical data, for instance, can tell us a great deal more about the Assyrian people than we learn from Scripture. Some of this information helps us to better understand their place on the pages of Scripture.

Historical data can often be skewed and misused. For instance, knowledge of the Old Testament temple practices is useful information in understanding the Old Testament and such New Testament books as Hebrews. The problem comes in esoteric applications. For instance, one author uses the existence of the court of the Gentiles, the outer court and the inner court as evidence that man has separate body, soul and spirit. This is a long stretch from the text.

Another example of misapplication is the exegesis of some portions of Scripture by some in the Messianic Christian movement. In this movement it can be difficult to distinguish the interpretations from the assumptions brought to the text. Much that masquerades itself as historical data is in reality theological presuppositions. The historical data is then examined in order to justify pre-conceptions. This movement is based on a hyper-Dispensational paradigm. The place of Israel, as a people of God separate from the church, forms the whole foundation of the movement. It's adherent don't want to be called churches, they prefer synagogues. They don't call their leaders pastor, they call them rabbi. They are seeking to reclaim their own Jewishness but much of this is from the time after Jesus.

Contextual Analysis

3 - Contextual analysis helps us see a particular passage or phrase in the context of the chapter, book or the entire canon. This allows larger themes to be developed.

Synthesis happens when the underlying GHC work has been done. The great doctrines of the Bible, like the Trinity, do not come from one single passage but from a synthesis of the relevant data.

The Missing Fourth Category

A fourth category is also helpful. That is understanding the genre of the text. Some texts are narrative since they describe events as they took place. These are intended by the author to be historical recollections for the purpose of communicating some truth. The journey of Abram from his father's home country to the land of Canaan is a narrative. A metaphoric use is that his journey is like the journey of faith.

Apocalyptic text also have their own distinct rules of interpretation. One is the idea that there may be some consistency in the use of imagery. The phrase in the Olivet Discourse about the son being darkened and the moon turned to blood are not describing a literal decrease in solar output and hemoglobin cells on the moon. The same phrases are used in Isaiah 13:
Isa 13:10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.
In Isaiah these phrases refer to the historical judgment against the King of Babylon. Our contemporary idiomatic expression is that "he had is lights punched out."

This is a good way to avoid much of the speculation on eschatological themes that have resulted in so many spectacular failures in the past.

Over specification of types can result in error as well. This error is apparent in the fig tree. Some have identified the fig tree with Israel. This leads them to face a difficult issue in the narrative where Jesus curses the fig tree. Certainly there was a literal fig tree and Jesus really did curse it and it really did wither. But the problem comes in with the question of what does that mean about Israel? When Jesus says may fruit never grow on you again, if Israel is the fig tree does this mean that Israel will not come to God? This puts Jesus at odds with Paul in Rom 11.

This is Hard Work

In the end Bible interpretation is much more difficult than application of a scientific method. The Bible is a book about faith and the Holy Spirit plays a big part in enlightening the understanding of the reader. But the reader has to read and the listener has to listen.

Rom 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Parachurch Ministries

What is the place of parachurch ministries?

Should Christians participate in parachurch ministries? Does support of parachurch organizations take away from the church or does it add to it? Is the mission of the church diluted or built up by parachurch organizations?

Definitions

A few definitions are in order. A parachurch ministry is one that is not part of any church or denomination. A denomination is a collection of churches. A church is a collection of individual believers who gather together as the church.

Depending on the definition, a parachurch ministry is one that is either outside the church or beside the church. The distinction is an important one.

Types of Parachurch Ministries

There are a lot of types of parachurch ministries. They cover an entire spectrum of activities. There is some degree of overlap between the parachurch organizations and the church. There can be very little Christian witness in some of these expressions. In other examples there is a lot of Christian witness.

Good Works Parachurch Organizations

Some focus on "good works" such as food pantries and soup kitchens. Churches which are too small sometimes choose to participate in a community food pantry and share their efforts with others, Christians and perhaps even non-Christians.

How much of these good works should come with a string attached? Should someone be asked to listen to a sermon along with their free meal? Or should the meal be given without any strings?

Apologetics Parachurch Organizations

Other parachurch organizations focus on Apologetics as their ministry. Apologetics is giving a reason for the faith. While some of these apologetics ministries are not making a defense of their particular denomination it should be remembered there is no such thing as generic Christianity. Nor are there any generic Christians. Their defense of the faith is still formed by the denominational affiliation and doctrinal views of their participants.

With other parachurch organizations they may be making a defense of the denomination but it is not easy to discern that at first glance. One example of these is Alpha Omega Ministries which essentially functions as an apologetics parachurch organization for Reformed Baptists. Formally, they deny that they are a Reformed Baptist apologetics ministry, but practically that is what they are. This demonstrates the stealth nature of some parachurch organizations. They are not always what they claim to be. Anyone is good enough to send money into a parachurch - not anyone is good enough to be a part of the ministry.

But who watches these watchers? They have boards of directors that they hand select. Often, there is no effective oversight of these ministries.

Ministries targeted at Specific Groups

Some parachurches focus on a particular group, like Campus Crusade for Christ focuses on college students. These groups state that they are do not want to replace the local church but in some cases they end up doing just that for some of their participants.

Integration of these groups into the local churches in the area of the college is important. Local pastors can to reach out to these groups in order to bring students into a relationship with the local church. The local groups also need to reach out to local churches and make an effort to promote them inside the parachurch.

Lay-led Parachurch Organizations

Gideons International is a lay led organization that provides Bibles free of charge to hotels and hospital rooms. Gideon's does not allow clergy to be a member preferring to stay lay led. They have a high degree of financial accountability and are known particularly as a group where 90 cents out of every dollar given goes directly to Bibles. They reach into most nations in the world, possibly into more nations than a single denomination could ever reach.

TV Evangelists

Another example of a parachurch group might be a television evangelist who has no local church of his own but uses the TV as his media. The televangelist may have some good work where poor children are fed and clothed. In some cases, these are legitimate works but the cost of TV time runs over a hundred million dollars per year. Most of the money that goes into these ministries is used to pay for air time to raise more money to pay for air time...

The strength is that these TV evangelists often reach into the homes of people who are shut-ins. This is often the criticism as well since they convince poor widows to send in their Social Security checks to their ministries. Financial oversight is frequently lacking in these ministries.

Ecumenical Movement as Parachurch?

An ecumenical meeting, formed for the purpose of working towards Christian unity might be said to be parachurch but since the delegates are under their respective church denominations it would not be an accurate description to call them parachurch in the way it is being identified here.

Needs Based

The common thread in all of these parachurch structures is that they are needs based. They are filling a need that the church does not seem to be meeting at the time. Does that mean that they should be permanent or only temporary institutions? By their own charters, they are doing these things because the church is not doing them.

Focus of Parachurch Organizations

Parachurch organizations are focused inside or outside the church. Some are focused on bringing people from outside the church into the church. The question here is what church? In the case of Billy Graham meetings the answer is that the people who make decisions are steered to the local churches which choose to participate in the meetings in a proportional number based on the number of volunteers from that local church.

Gift Based Ministry

It has been saved that there are people who are gifted and that these gifts are not always recognized in their local church. These people may feel a call to a particular ministry or another but not be encouraged in their local churches to pursue that ministry. Sometimes they look for a church where they can use their gifts, other times they don't exercise the gift and yet other times they start parachurch ministries.

There have been times when the church has been at fault in not recognizing the gifts of its members.

But there have also been times when the church has discerned that the ministry is best not pursued for various reasons. Someone may have been rejected as a leader in the local church due to their immoral behavior, as an example.

Are the gifts of God given for the building up of the church or for the building up of parachurches?

Why are Parachurches not Churches?

Parachurches are not churches because they lack the marks of a church. They do not administer the sacraments such as communion and baptism. That does not mean that their CEOs are not ordained. In fact, for them to receive minister's tax deductions they are often ordained either in a friendly denomination that they are loosely affiliated with or by some parachurch ordination mill.

Judging Parachurch Ministries

It is tempting to judge parachurch ministries on their results. Some of them do very good things. But is this the right way to judge parachurch ministries? Clearly they are meeting a need both of those that feel a need to minister outside the church as well as for the objects of these ministries.

To say that people can only minister within the church seems to be saying that all ministry is inward not outward. But the focus ministry from inside the church can be either inside or outside the church.

There are good and bad examples of each of these types of ministry. It seems like there is another corrupt televangelist exposed in the public media every few months. The question always gets raised of how did these men and women get so corrupt? Wasn't there any sort of oversight?

Asking the Right Questions

There are a number of questions that need to be asked about parachurch ministries:

- How long does the ministry foresee being be in existence?
- Will this ministry go away if a local church takes up the responsiblity?
- What are the financial oversights of the ministry?
- Can the 1099 be reviewed?
- What percentage of donations goes to the designated objects of the ministry?
- What is the intended relationship of the parachurch to the local churches in the community?
- Is there a contact person for local churches?
- What is the doctrinal bias of the parachurch?
- What are requirements for participation in the parachurch?
- What are the requirements for leadership in the parachurch?
- Who is on the board of the parachurch?
- Is there a statement of beliefs for the parachurch?

Greek Text of Eph 2:8

Ephesians 2:8 is often quoted as evidence that faith is a gift. The Greek text makes this interpretation a difficult one, however. It may be the case that faith is a gift from God but this verse is inconclusive as proof.

Greek has a concept known as gender agreement. Nouns, pronouns and adjectives share the same gender if they are focused on the same object. Spanish has something similar with "La Bamba" and "Los Lobos".

There are verses, like Eph 2:8 where a pronoun or adjective are ambiguous as to which noun it is referring. One way to eliminate possibilities is to examine the gender of the noun object and the gender of the pronoun or adjective. If the gender does not agree, the pronoun or adjective is not describing the noun.

Eph 2:8 is one such example of this. The English text shows this:
Ephesians 2:8 - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God
At first glance this passage seems to show faith as the gift of God. But for this to be the case, the gender of the "it is" must agree with the gender of faith and it does not agree in gender. Hence, the "it" which "is" is not faith. But neither is grace in the passage. It has the wrong gender as well.

What is the gift, then? There are a number of possibilities. All that can be said with certainty is that it is not faith nor is it grace. One likely possibility is that it may be the entire package of "salvation by grace through faith" that is the gift. If this is the case, then God has given men the great gift of salvation and uses the means of grace through faith in order to accomplish this.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Calvinist or Arminian?

For some, this question is like asking "Reformed or Pelagian?" They view things in particular categories that were historically formed hundreds of years ago or more than fifteen hundred years ago in the battle between Augustine and Pelagius. Today, for many, calling someone "Arminian" is a curse.

Who was Arminius?

Jacob Arminius was a Dutch Theologian who lived after Calvin. He was a doctor of Protestant theology and came to reject the more extreme predestinarian views of Calvin and the early Luther. After he died his followers put together the Five Points of the Remonstrants.

Arminians Before Arminius?

From Bangs:
In 1555, before Arminius was born, Valanus rejected the predestination theory that was already blowing off the Alps. Specifically, he denied any distinction between God's secret will and God's revealed will. When God says he wants all men to be saved, he means it, both secretly and openly.
The Five Points of Calvinism, with the clever acronym TULIP, were drawn up as a response to the points of the Remonstrants. The Synod of Dort settled these issues at the moment.

Moving Beyond Name Calling

Recent scholarship by Richard Muller and Carl Bangs has placed Arminus soundly within the range of theological opinion of his day. In particular, it has Muller demonstrates that Arminius was pretty typical of the Protestant Scholasticism of his day. He relied heavily on Aquinas and the Summa Theologica for basic understanding. Far from being a heretic that was out of step with the Reformation, Arminius is being reclaimed as a father of the Reformation by church historians today.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Creeds of the Non-Creedalists

Relecting a bit this morning about creeds and the the purposes they serve.

Function of Creeds

Historically, creeds served a purpose. They were the road markers for the faith. Issues were clearly delineated by the creeds. If a person strayed from the creed they went too far from the faith.

Creeds provided a confessional unity. Either one could say the creed or one could not. The saying of the creed implies conformance to the creed. This was true when a man's word was their bond.

A person could be said to be a heretic if they strayed from the path marked by the creed. Councils produced anathemas against people who rejected the contents of the creeds. Civil authorities were able to prosecute and in some cases put to death, people who publicly rejected the teachings of the creeds. Calvin's Geneva was one such place where a theonomy with the death penalty for violating theological standards existed.

How do Creeds Work Today in Other Churches?

How creeds work in other churches depends upon the church. Some have not dismantled the Creeds as common confession but have added an unwritten clause allowing individual conscience in matters of disagreement. In that case, the creeds don't so much provide road markers as historical markers near the road. That way someone can take the side street off their own highway and view the historical marker. Sometimes the marker is close to the highway and sometimes the marker is a long way off the highway. Either way the confession of the creed by the confessor no longer is a sign that the confessor agrees with the content of the creed but rather admits that the creed is a historical statement of what the faith once was.

Some churches retain the original purpose of creeds although death sentences are not pronounced today for disagreement with the creed. A person, in some churches, could be excommunicated for public disagreement with some part of their church creed. This happens in all sorts of denominations.

Modern Example From the Assemblies of God

The Assembly of God denominination provides s surprising example of this given that the AoG is commonly thought of as theologically progressive. If an ordained pastor gets convinced that Christ is returning after the tribulation, rather than before the tribulation, he will be tossed out. This leads some Assembly pastors to deliberatly not look at the subject. Others hold contrary opinions but keep them private. Change is difficult because even the implication that someone does not hold to the pre-trib rapture leads to the assumption that they are out of the faith.

Certainly the Assembly of God, or any other group for that matter, has the right to define what makes them distinctive. It's just hard to grant that one's view of a particular aspect of Eschatology should be such a strong determiner of who is in and who is out.

Role of the Augsburg Confession in the Church of Sweden

The Augsburg Confession was the Lutheran symbol of faith in the state church of Sweden. In the state church of Sweden, the fences could not be transgressed. The state church forced out those who did not hold the confession and this led to the formation of the free church in Sweden.

Why Did the Covenant Reject Creeds?

The Covenant Church in America, under the influence of Waldenstrom, rejected creeds when it formed in 1885. The reason for this was due to the treatment of Waldenstrom by the state church of Sweden. Waldenstrom had rejected the prevailing theory of the atonement of his day, namely the Anselmian view. For Waldenstrom, this had to do with the wrath of God. Waldenstrom taught:
The fall of man did not change God's heart.
Wrath was not in God's mind afer the fall.
The change after the fall was in man.
The atonement takes away man's sin.
The atonement is in Jesus Christ.
Waldenstrom's view of the atonement led Waldenstrom to reject the Augsburg Confession (1530). Waldenstrom, interestingly, remained a member of the state church all of his life.

Have Waldenstrom's Views Stood The Test of Time?

For the most part, Waldenstrom's view of the atonement has not endured in the Covenant Church but the idea of not having creeds has remained. The fence posts were too constraining for unity of the church.

Certainly unity of the church should not be based on sharing a Midieval view of the atonement otherwise there would have been no church before Anselm formed his view of the atonement.

What Part Remains?

The ideal of automomous local congregations proved durable. And the ideals of individual conscience in those local congregations proved yet even stronger.

So Where Do We Stand?

An even better question than where do we stand might be to ask how do we stand? Without the fenceposts of creeds, what is the basis of the faith? How keeps up the roadmarkers? If nobody keeps the roadmarkers the road will wander all over the place.

To some degree that is allowed to happen. Fence posts can move. It would probably have been unthinkable to the founders of the Covenant that less than 100 years later there would be ordained women in ministry in their church. Other social changes threaten to upset the applecart even now.

There are still control points, however. Since the church is relational there is some control in the mutual accountability of Godly relations. For a pastor to get approved for ministry they must go through the seminary or the external orientation program. There are psychological examinations and personal interviews. There is a monitoring of character and interaction with others. There are seen and unseen control points in this process.

Analogy to the Growth of the US Federal Government

With time, the United States saw the growth of the power of the Federal government. States and individuals were the ones to lose power with this growth.

Simiarly the Covenant Church has seen the growth in strength of the ministerium. The ministerium controls who gets to be a pastor. The ministerium functions as an Episcopal form. Every pastor is a member of two congregations. One of the congregations is the local church. The other congregation is the ministerium.

Although the Conference Superintendent lacks the formal power of a bishop, he still has significant control as the representative of the ministerium.

In the Covenant Church, the Executive Board of Ministry bears significant power in discipline of pastors. This is the point of control.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Esau Have I Hated

Romans 9:13 is frequently by double predestinarian advocates as Biblical evidence of individual election. The passage has:
Romans 9:13 - Just as it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."
At first glance it appears that this passage is referring to the historical individuals, Jacob and Esau. The story is so familiar that we may even automatically assume that this is the case here. But is this passage talking about the individuals, Jacob and Esau or to something or someone else?

Exegetical Question Raised

The exegetical question is raised when the referring passage is examined. The first part of Romans 9:13 says "at it is written..." But, where is this written? Again, the common assumption is that the answer is to be found in Genesis. After all this passage is talking about Jacob and Esau, so it must be the place where their narrative is contained, which is Genesis. The problem is that a check of Genesis finds no such passage.

Finding Where "As It Is Written" Is Written

At the risk of being overly obvious, the phrase, "as it is written", refers to the quotation of a particular Old Testament passage by a New Testament writer. In some cases, it may be written as a paraphrase or as a combination of passages, but it most typically refers to an actual Old Testament passage. Exceptions are rare and well-known.

Interesting Notes From Genesis

In this case, when reading through Genesis a number of passages jump out of the pages:
Genesis 27:41 - And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.
According to Joshua, both Jacob and Esau received an inheritance.
Joshua 24:4 - 'To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau, and to Esau I gave Mount Seir to possess it; but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.
Where Is the Quote From?

The actual quote is from Malachi 1:2
Malachi 1:2 - "I have loved you," says the Lord. But you say, "How have You loved us?" "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the Lord. "Yet I have loved Jacob;
This is where the exegetical question becomes most serious. Looking at the context of the passage in Malachi reveals that Esau is representative of Edom. Jacob is the son of the promise.

The rejoiner is that Paul is reinterpreting Malachi in some other way than what the text shows. If that were the case, then why would Paul be quoting this passage as proof of his position? If he is taking the text in a manner other than a faithful and contextual one, then the audience he is trying to convince would be able to easily show that his argument is not supported by the text he claims.

Conclusions

This passage is not about individual election at all. Jacob and Esau stand for those with faith and those without.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Pair o' Dimes

Paradigms. That's the fancy word for systems of belief. Definition #3 at dictionary.reference.com gives the definition of paradigm as:
A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.
Everyone has a paradigm. In fact, everyone has a paradigm whether or not they know they have a paradigm. The paradigm is the set of glasses that we put in when we look at things. Our paradigm colors everything we see. Another word for paradigm is worldview.

Christians have paradigms. There are many Christian paradigms. In fact, those who assert that there is only one Christian paradigm is someone with a particular paradigm.

This is not relativistic thinking. Some paradigms explain reality better than others. Relativism is but one paradigm. Under a relativistic paradigm all paradigms are relative. There is nothing about the idea of paradigms that implies relativism. It is merely the recognition that people view the world in different ways. These ways are often seen in clumps of people.

There is a value in talking about paradigms. The purpose of talking about paradigms is to help us recognize where we are thinking outside of Christ. Sometimes we buy into paradigms based on things other than the Gospel. It is easy to recognize this in others, but most difficult to recognize this in ourselves.

Many of the Jews in the New Testament trusted in Moses and the Law. They thought that was the basis of their salvation. To be more precise they trusted in their own ability to follow the Law. That was their paradigm.

Jesus came to shake up their paradigm. He showed them that even in their paradigm those who found God did it though faith and not through their works. It really was never about works. Jesus wanted to move them into his paradigm. He showed them that others understand this paradigm already.

Salespeople have a term called "mindshare." Apple Computer understands mindshare. That's why they put their computers into Public Schools. They understand the value of mindshare. Get the kids used to using Mac's and when they are older they will not depart (borrowing Biblical language). In the case of Apple Computer, they have a very hard task given the widespread usage of the IBM PC clones. They have to work harder and be smarter.

In some sense, the church is like Apple Computer and that is why we have long targetted young kids with Sunday School. The thought is that if we teach them young, they won't switch from the faith when they are older. And we have been pretty successul with this strategy in the past. In many places, this is still quite successful. In others, this method is not working any longer.

For preachers, it's not so much the existence of paradigms that is interesting as the question of how to get someone to switch between paradigms. Paul talks about this a lot in his letters to the churches. In Romans 12, Paul wrote:
Rom 12:2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Some paradigm shifts are quite serious and some easier. The bigger the shift the harder it can be to make.

To switch from a non-Christian paradigm to a Christian paradigm involves something called conversion. Christians call it "getting saved." The word repentance in the Greek literally means to change one's mind. What does this consist of for a non-Christian? It means that the non-Christian has to change their mind on who Christ is.

What makes this paradigm shift happen? It requires something cracking the old paradigm in a crucial point. This can happen in a lot of ways.

For many, they meet a person who holds the other paradigm and it makes them question their own paradigm. The person with the other paradigm has a better grip on something in life than they do and it makes them question their own paradigm. Reflection on one's paradigm is the start of it all.

The intentional act of helping others shift paradigms is known as evangelism. The church uses outreach events in order to facilitate this paradigm shift. Individuals use personal friendships and relationships to facilitate this shift. Confronting other paradigms in others is challenging something near and dear to them. We risk losing them as friends when we care enough to challenge them to change. We risk our own paradigms being challenged. This can be hard if we are insecure about who we are.

We are not left alone in this task. Not only do we have the church to help us (and others) in our paradigm shift, we also have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is sent to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment. From John 1 we know that Jesus lights every man which comes into the world.

The convert from one paradigm to another often becomes a strong opponent to the paradigm that they previously supported. It is a truism that there is no one more zealous than a former smoker. That is part of what made Paul so pursuasive with the Jews. This is why Acts finds Paul every Sabbath in the synagogue trying to pursuade the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.

Eternally Secure

I've been thinking quite a bit about eternal security and thought I'd lay out my own thoughts. Take them for what they are worth. There are a lot of different ways of approaching this subject and mine is not unique by any means.

I need to start with a confession of humility of what I don't know before I proceed to state what I claim to know. In spite of thinking about this subject for many years, I don't claim to have it all figured out. I have been on both sides of this issue at various times during my Christian life - sometimes even at the same time. Since God is the one who does the saving, it is folly for me to claim to understand all of this. But I will attempt the folly nevertheless.

The first point is to admit that this is an issue that divides some people and some churches. As such, it is an issue inside the church. This issue is not something that I believe should divide Christians from each other. There are people who are Biblically savvy that hold either position and do it with equal conviction that their view is Biblical (and with an equal number of prooftexts as well). Most of the disagreement is terminological and semantic. Some of the disagreement is based on real differences.

For many who hold Eternal Security, their position arises out of Calvinism and the P in the TULIP; where the P stands for Perseverance of the Saints. Stated simply it means that those who are elect will perseverance in their faith. At the worst, this is tautological since the elect will be the ones who are the elect. At it's best this provides great comfort for those who are in moments of doubt.

For a particular person to know that they will persevere presumes that the elect are known, at least to the person who claims to be one of the elect. Historically, there have been Calvinists who say that one cannot and should not claim to be one of the elect (from memory, the Church of Scotland in the 1800s is one such example). Although they would formally admit that the elect will persevere, they would not claim to be one of the elect in their own individual case. In fact, it was considered a heresy to state that one was one of the elect.

For some today that say it is OK to say one is elect, in the end it may turn out to be a claim based on their good works. Because they have the works of a Christian, they know that they are saved.

One possible danger here is that of trusting in works. What happens when they sin? Do they feel that they may not really be a Christian since they have non-Christian works? This is the charge most often made against those who deny eternal security, but the point can be said against either side of the issue. Any system based on our good works is doomed to fail.

Faith has to be the keystone to either view, not our good works. We were not saved by works, nor should we trust in our works. The only one we should trust in is Christ.

Others make a claim based on some subjective experience or another with the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to answer such claims since they are personal. Certainly, the Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are children of God but much of this is about how others view us.

A second big point is that Eternal Security depends upon the perspective from which the question is asked. Through foreknowledge, God knows who will persevere, but that is not what the Calvinists mean by the P. For them, this is based not on foreknowledge, but on election. The P gets tied into the other four letters TULI. Each are logically connected and each tie together.

As an example, if grace is Irresistable (the I in TULIP), and the Atonement Limited to the Elect (the L in TULIP), then it could be said to follow that those who are elect will persevere. This follows logically. This system may be internally coherent but that does not prove that it is true.

Others point to specific examples of people that they know who left the faith. Calvinists quoting 1 John and other passages, claim that they "never really were", hence they are not leaving. Non-Calvinists, such as Arminians, claim that the person actually apostacized and left the faith. In the end, what is the difference if the person is condemned to Hell?

There are some basic questions for those that assert Perseverence of the Saints.
- What parts do works play in Assurance of Salvation? Certainly works are not salvific but they are part of sanctification under most understandings of Salvation.

- What part does the Holy Spirit play in Assurance of Salvation?

- Given the pernicious nature of sin and the deceptive nature of the human heart, how does a person know that they are not fooling themselves?

- Is the will no longer free to reject God once a person has been saved?
Both sides have their issues. Those who reject Eternal Security have a set of questions that apply to them as well:
- Does a person lose/regain their salvation?

- On what basis does a person lose their salvation? Is it sin? What conditions could happen to someone to lead them away from God?

- Does the Holy Spirit come and go from a person when they are saved and leave?
In the end, either position should be tested on the basis of Scripture. Anecdotes of people who left are not Scripture. We never knew the hearts of such a person. All we had was their confession. That they left was not a surprise to God, since God knows all things.

We all need to be cautious when we put on our glasses. By that I mean that we all view texts through lenses. We bring along a paradigm when we come to Scripture. Sometimes our paradigms cause us to form Scripture to suit our paradigm. Scripture should form us, not us form Scripture. Easier said than done, right?

This is a good discussion topic even if we disagree about the answers. Along the way we learn about some fundamental questions like:
- What is the Gospel?

- What is election?

- What does God know vs What do I know?

- What things are essential in the faith?

- How does the Holy Spirit interact with the world and with the believer?
In the end, no matter which system we adopt we need to realize that faith in Christ is what matters. We need to trust Christ to save us whether or not we are Eternally Secure. If we do not trust Christ, there can be no security.

Please note that I have deliberatly avoided prooftexting here.