Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sermon Applications 4/27/08

Text: Hosea 2.

Applications:

A.Prosperity and the Gospel.
We need to think about how we think about prosperity and the gospel. Some people might take a passage like this and say: if we do not have earthly riches it is because we don’t worship God. They would say: if you just worship God you will have lots of health, wealth and money. When Israel worshipped God in the land she was blessed. This passage—along with the whole Bible—is not designed to teach a prosperity gospel. The gospel is not: “obey God and good will happen”. This message is about the curse that sin brings and the mercy of God. In the Old Testament, the land and prosperity in the land was a picture of inheritance. God’s inheritance was a gift. The land was a shadow or type—and illustration—pointing us to a greater inheritance that we have. It is an eternal rest. The point is that God’s people never earned or merited, or even maintained their right to the inheritance. It was always because God gave grace where grace was not deserved. How much more true!

Some of us have become quite comfortable with you we are as Christians. We have measured our spiritual health by what we have. We have tied America’s economic prosperity directly to our Christian health. If this is true: we have become just like Israel. We measure our worship by what we have. We pursue worship for what we can get. We are more impoverished than Third world Christians.

If this is true: we have made a Baal. Just like in Hosea’s day, Jesus is calling us to repent. He says to the church at Laodicea (which was a prosperous city with banks, medical care, and a huge clothing industry—much like a New York City)
Revelation 3:17-20 17 'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
Examine yourself: do you see yourself described here? Israel thought economic prosperity matter—‘the land is fruitful’ so she followed the culture which said “Baal brought this”. God took this away; real prosperity was righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, and compassion. For now that Christ has come this is revealed to be the “fruit of the Spirit”—what God has sown. Our inheritance is not economics—it is the KINGDOM.

B. Suffering and the gospel. Sometimes in Scripture suffering comes because of disobedience. This is not always the case—for example Job, or Jeremiah or Jesus. All three suffered but not because of a particular sin on their part. However, suffering as a whole is the part and parcel of the curse for sin. Suffering would not exist if it was not for human sin. MANY TIMES, IN OUR UNBELIEF, WE BLAME GOD FOR SUFFERING.

Bart Ehrman has written a book “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer.” In an online article he writes:
Suffering increasingly became a problem for me and my faith. How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn't he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn't he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world? [1]

Many of us have had these doubts. If you are new to Christianity, you can look at Hosea and say: “How could God be so cruel? Weren’t God’s people trying to worship? Why would God be so mean to those who get it wrong?”

But in worship, particularly false worship: it’s not that “we give it our best shot.” It is not as if God’s people just got the wrong name for god but still worshipped a higher power. Rather we know who we should worship. We know Him—the God of the Bible, because we’ve been made in His image. WE SUPRESS THAT. WE WILLINGLY AND KNOWINGLY REJECT GOD. We need to realize our hearts our idol factories. We produce alternate ways to worship God all the time.

In our day and age: we decry selfishness. When a politician gets in office and does things only for himself: we say that is not his job or his vocation. His calling is for our sake. We recognize great selfishness. SO TOO FALSE WORSHIP IS GREAT SELFISHNESS. God has made us to delight in Him but we try to delight in ourselves. Hosea shows us all the gifts God had given to his people so they’d delight in the gifts as gifts and so delight in God. INSTEAD THEY DELIGHTED IN OTHER THINGS. For them it is as if God did not give this. We can recognize the great offense of selfishness in others—why do we not see it in ourselves? To despise great selfishness is not wrong; so God despises our selfishness. God has called us to delight in greatness--who is greater than God.

Second, with respect to suffering. Not all suffering is caused by our sin. For example:
John 9:2-3 2 And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
But all reflection on suffering is designed to turn us to God. God led his people into the wilderness so they’d look to Him and Him alone—so they’d give up their self-reliance and their greed—idolatry. Many people who have suffered say “I can’t believe in God.” Many who see suffering from a distance say “I could not trust God or believe in Him if this happened” or even “because this happened…” This reason may have emotional appeal: but in our church and in church history as a whole equally as many face suffering and are turn to God precisely because of it! Suffering and evil in the world—as Israel experienced—was not a excuse to keep from worship but a reason for worship.

It’s easy to look as Hosea and say: if God does this to his people I can’t worship that God. But what God does in cursing his people, removing all their blessings and then giving them grace precisely because they did not deserve it GOD SHOWS THAT HE MUST BE WORSHIPPED. Not because God is selfish. He shows He is infinitely worthy: He loves the unlovable; He forgives the unforgivable.

God was right to judge them. They divorced Him first. God was “the victim”. YET God who restores His people and gives grace. He shows He is worthy of worship… what did Baal do?

If you say suffering shows there is no God you have to reverse the question. If there is no God how do I explain something truly ‘good’? If there is a “problem of evil” then there is a greater “problem of good”. Without God we can say things are ‘better’ but not good in a moral sense of good/right. What brings a sense of ‘rightness’ to the restoration promised to Israel?

C. WHAT IS THE CHURCH’S BAAL TODAY? Let me suggest two:

1.Prosperity. The church has looked for worldly success. We have looked for prosperity. We assumed that we find God’s blessing in our worship: how are our “Sabbath’s” do we have exciting “festivals” and “new moons”. How much gold, silver and new wine do we have in the offering plates. These are the idols we worship. WE PLACE THE FORMS OF WORSHIP, THE STYLES, THE EVENTS THAT TAKE PLACE IN SERVICES OR PROGRAMS… THESE BECOME MORE IMPORTANT THAN GOD!

We look for creativity and excitement. We look for entertainment. Sometimes we look for ‘tradition.’ We say “What must I do to attract people… how can I appeal to them.” Or we ask “What can I get out of this?” –When we do this we erect a Baal. If we are looking to enjoy our ceremonies rather than enjoying God—we have like Israel created a Baal. She loved her events…but she had replaced the object of her worship.

2. Greed. We look in the church for economic prosperity. “How big is your budget?” We assume that if we grow to 500 and have a million dollar budget we must be a success because God blesses success! Like Israel we focus on the incident and they become our idols! Church’s look for physical growth, we even “whore ourselves to culture…” –we say “how much can I change to show I am appealing… it is like Israel the marks of adultery between our breasts—dressing to allure; showing off a little so we paint our faces, changing who God has called us to be so we can allure. It is our shame. We want to entice—we have become clowns pursuing the trivial—a farce. BUT WE HAVE MADE THE OBJECT OF OUR PURSUIT SOMETHING OTHER THAN GOD! (cf. David Wells’ The Courage to Be Protestant or Above All Earthly Pow’rs). Israel’s idolatry serves an example and warning ‘for those of us on whom the ends of the ages has (already) come’ [1 Cor. 10:11].

D. What is the solution to our idolatry?

1. Jesus Christ crucified and risen. In Christ, in our union with Him, we become God’s forever.

2. We need to realize it is not we who pursue God rather it is God who pursues us.

3. We want a god whom we can pursue. Who is our leisure and fulfills our purse and purpose.

4. The church is declining in America—and maybe it is like in Hosea: God is walling us up, hedging us in. Perhaps He is showing us: will you do what matters? Will you return to the Biblical functioning of a church?

5. God’s call: Pursue me and the means that I have ordained for worship. Don’t pursue all the fancy trappings so that you can change. Look for my grace. Minister my word and my grace. Call to me ‘my husband’—have we removed the ‘Baal’ from our mouths?

6. God alone plants His people. He alone “in that day” makes a marriage with us.

7. The New Testament teaches us that the “that day” has “already” begun in Jesus—we are married to Christ. There is a “not yet”. The beauty of the Lord’s return is that we become a bride clothed in righteousness, justice, compassion, and faithfulnesss.

8. The prosperity and growth have in the New Covenant comes from the Spirit. The Spirit brings new fruit. He is the down payment of our inheritance; a greater inheritance than the shadow/type of the land. The seal of our marriage. We who were not God’s people have become God’s people.

9. While we wait: are we like an engaged women: longing for her husband to come? Or are we like Israel—out playing the harlot? Are we dolling ourselves up, painting our faces, and showing a little leg or cleavage? Trying to allure the world and the Baals? The church is called to do those things God has ordained for worship until He returns. We are called to pursue God’s righteousness, justice, compassion, and faithfulness, knowing that God is transforming us. Are we chaste or are we the harlot?


[1] http://blog.beliefnet.com/blogalogue/2008/04/why-suffering-is-gods-problem.html

Monday, April 28, 2008

I think like this...

I know that I think like this, and I think I've even had these same thoughts about the problems with a transporter. Be afraid, be very afraid.

(HT: TrekMovie.com)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hosea 1 Points to Jesus


It is important to faithful preach the Old Testament as point to Jesus Christ. I believe this is what the Old Testament does and since we live on the fulfillment side of things, we should look back and see how this passage points to Jesus. Thus, we need to preach Christ from the Old Testament--as in Luke 24 or Acts 2, or as in Hebrews. We find redemptive historical patterns and hidden antitypes pointing us to the type of Christ.

You can find some great resources on this--including the books of Ed Clowney, Graeme Goldsworthy and Sidney Greidanus. If I preach from the Old Testament and say the same things that could be said in the synagogue on Saturday than I have not done my duty as a Christian preacher. I have not ministered the gospel.

Sidney Greidanus' book Preaching Christ from the Old Testament points to a number of ways the New Testament uses the Old Testament and argues that this Christological Hermeneutic will not always look the same in each Old Testament passage. In the same way, at Westminster Seminary we were often told "it's not a hermeneutical 'where's Waldo'"--we don't force Christ onto the text. We don't read Him into the text, we read the text faithful to the original context but they we also realize that there is an eschatology in the text: it points to Jesus--Christotelic. We look back through the lense of the Cross understanding that the 'already/not yet' of the Kingdom of God.

Ligon Duncan had a message on this Christological aproach at the recent "Together for the Gospel" (audio).

This week in Hosea 1, I contemplated several ways the passage might point to Christ:

(1) First, the obvious one is that Jesus Christ is our husband and we are the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22). Thus, we could easily see the YHWH/Israel relationship pointing us to the Jesus/Church relationship. This could be very fruitful and there is a lot of connection then to the Hosea/Gomer relationship. We could point to Savior who loved us and died for us while we were get sinners. Christ gets married to us while we are unfaithful whores. The implications for the gospel are staggaring!

(2) There is a clear NT fulfillment of Hosea 1:10/2:23 in Romans 9:25 and 1 Peter 2:10


Romans 9:25 As He says also in Hosea, "I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, 'MY PEOPLE,' AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, 'BELOVED.'"

1 Peter 2:10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

Hosea 1:10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God."

Hosea 2:23 and I will sow her for myself in the land. And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, 'You are my people'; and he shall say, 'You are my God.'"

(3) Christ is obviously the promised Davidic Messiah who is the head of his people. He reunites the people of God and inaugurates the restoration.

Hosea 1:11 And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together, And they will appoint for themselves one leader, And they will go up from the land, For great will be the day of Jezreel.

(4) We become 'sons of the Living God' in Christ. Here you can read this through Romans 8 and Galatians 4.

I used elements of 2,3, and 4 just a little bit--but my larger focus was on the plan of redemptive history. We have in the OT the Old Covenant pointing to the New. The sanctions of the Old Covenant are prosecuted but the sins of the people are remembered no more under the New Covenant.

(5) The death and resurrection of Christ in Hosea 1. (a) Christ's bears the curse of the covenant. This is the curse of Hosea 1, where God's people are no longer his people ('My God my God why have you forsaken me') where the people of God are cut-off and recieve the prosecution of the covenant lawsuit. (b) the promised fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant in the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ puts Christ at the head of his people (1:11), fulfills the Abrahamic Covenant (1:10 a la Gal. 3:14 et al), the 'going up, sprouting up' is the new creation of the covenant fulfillment (1:11, 2:23 with Ezekiel 36:9-11; 37). Thus, the hope of restoration is fulfilled at least initially in the resurrection of Christ and culminates in the future resurrection.

Thus, Christ is not just the husband--but Christ becomes the wife. Innocent though he is--He is the true Israel. He becomes the Gomer in the relationship. He bears the curse that Israel & Judah have indited to them-- the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:10). Christ takes upon Himself the sanctions of the covenant. YET Christ is the faithful partner. He fulfills the Law--He is the new leader who will not fail like we (the Gomers) have failed.

Indirectly, Michael Horton's Lord and Servant: A Covenant Christology influenced my thinking. Christ (as a member of the Trinity) as the Covenant Lord establishes term of the Covenant but then as the Covenant servant both embraces the sanctions of the Covenant, vicariously for His people and fulfills the stipulations of the covenant.
Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sermon Applications 4/20/08

This Sunday's text:


Hosea 1:1 The word of the LORD that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. 2 When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, "Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD." 3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son. 4 And the LORD said to him, "Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel." 6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, "Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen." 8 When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. 9 And the LORD said, "Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God." 10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God." 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

Applications:

A. This passage point us to Jesus Christ. It is often said, that if a sermon from the Old Testament heard on Sunday could have been preached at a synagogue—we have not heard a Christian sermon. We have not heard the gospel. The Old Testament points us to Jesus and so it will make a difference.

B. The Curse Bearing Savior.

1. God may have had every right to divorce his people—but God takes that lawsuit against His people and absorbs the costliness of it. The curse of “not my people” gets poured out on His own son: ‘My God My God, why have you forsaken me.

2. Israel, Judah, you and I deserve what is coming to us. There is no reason God should have loved us or had mercy on us. He instructed Adam how to obey—and Adam failed. He instructs Israel how to obey—Israel fails. He instructs us how to obey and we disobey. That disobedience brings death. Whether you are grew up knowing the commands of God, or whether all you have is the witness of creation—we all know there is God and we “suppress this truth in unrighteousness…” God has every right to prosecute a covenant lawsuit. We call it judgment! And God will bring it.

3. Yet God brings that judgment upon His own Son. This enables God to take every one, whether Jew or Gentile who “are not His people” and based upon the shed blood of Christ He makes and establish a people unto Himself. He puts a ruler over them—a king. He unites them as one in Jesus Christ.

Hosea 14:3-4 3 "Assyria will not save us, We will not ride on horses; Nor will we say again, 'Our god,' To the work of our hands; For in You the orphan finds mercy." 4 I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from them.


The prophets promise a new covenant and in it God say “I will be their God and they shall be my people.” God will “blot out our transgressions” and “remember our sins no more”. We don’t have to wonder—will God forsake us like He did his people in the OT? NO! The reality that God in Christ has bore the curse of Hosea!

C. God keeps His promise to Abraham and as a result more ‘not his people’ come to be his people. Romans 9:25 and 1 Peter 2:10 uses these passages to speak of Gentiles coming. God both punishes and pours out the curses of the Law-Covenant he gives to Moses and keeps the covenant of grace which is promised to Abraham.

D. In Christ we find resurrection of the people of God. The new creation that God has “sown” begins in Christ. In His resurrection He becomes our one living head. If we wonder where the fulfillment of this hope is: where will this restoration begins we need only look to Jesus. The glories of Israel begin and end in the glory of Christ. He ‘sprouts up from the land with imperishable life. Ezekiel 36:9-11 describes this same flourishing. It is the flourishing of the New Covenant—where the Spirit is put in God’s people so they will not forsake Him any longer (36:27)—and then chapter 37 is about the resurrection of the people of God! There is no restoration without the person of Jesus Christ. In him we become sons of the Living God!

Galatians 4:4-7 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

E. Hosea points us to Christ—it points us to our great need. We need redemption—we cannot keep the terms of God’s covenant. We cannot obey. We need a mediator who as our representative can obey in our place and keep our side of the marriage vows.

F. Knowing the relationship we have with God—having pondered the gospel: we need to in turn always keep before us a picture of our great sinfulness. God has united Himself to people who he knows from the start will disobey Him.

1. We do a great disservice to God when we think of him as a ‘God of second chances’—this implies that he anticipates we will get it right the first time—when we don’t we get a big mulligan (for the golf lovers)—a ‘do-over’. Our relationship with Christ now is not a do-over! We aren’t going to get it right—but Christ does!

2. Contemplating our own sin—and God’s marriage to us despite our sin and ultimately to remove our sin should

a. (a) humble us—see how wicked and unfaithful I am and

b. (b) cause me to exalt God!

Calvin’s Institutes I.i.2 “On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity.”


G. God has not loved you and I because of who we are but in spite of who we are. That is mercy—that is great Grace. Great is our unfaithfulness—great is His faithfulness.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

"The Emperor Has No Clothes"

Once more David Wells hits the nail on the head, like the little boy in the street amidst the fawning crowd he shouts "The Emperor has no clothes":


"Plain language and clear communication are not in vogue in postmodern circles. They reveal the speaker as too much of a realist, too obviously rational, too modern, too unchic. No, we can't have that! The required alternative speech is subtle parody, contradiction, being interderminate,being ironic, being playful. But this is not as easy to do as it seems, and many postmoderns, lacking the skills, settle simply for being obscure.

There are new tricks to this. A plain speaker might write of someone else's "view." A "view"? How flat-footed and prosaic! How about that person's "voice" or, better yet, different "vocality"? And prefixes are a treasure trove for those in search of depths beyond the grasp of the reader, prefixes such as "pre-," "hyper-," "post-," "de-," "ex-," and "counter-,"--as in words like "de-confusing" and "reconstructing." These all open up new posibilities, as does a new constellation of suffixes to go with them. We today, you see, are living in a moment when the multi-vocalities of postcolonial others are entering our intra/post/spatialities and are exposing the antisociality concealed in the hegemony of our discourse and sensibilities."

"This kind of empty obfusication is what we hear all too often from the emergent church, though usually without the veneer of intellectual sophistication. In its place (and usually on the Internet) we hear the confidence of those who have a sense of being on the edge of what-is-happening-now but who, for that very reason, are difficult, unsure, tentative, and more often than not simply confused..."

"Language is sometimes opaque because of the intellectual complexities behind it. Language is sometimes opaque because of the intellectual confusion behind it. And sometimes people pass off the latter as if it were the former."

--David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant, p.78-79

One thing he forgot: the use of parenthesis to make (un)clear what one does (not) mean!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Timeless Quotes

This is just one of those quotes that seems so precious and virtually timeless:

Some well-meaning theological literateurs, or rather amateur theologians, who patronize religion in their own way, are fain to warn us of the danger of not "keeping abreast of the age," as if we were imperilling Christianity by not being quite so learned in modern speculations as they are. We should like, certainly, to "keep abreast" of all that is true and good, either in this age or any other; but as to doing more than that, or singling out this age as being pre-eminently worthy of being kept abreast of, we hesitate.

To be "up to" all the errors, fallacies, speculations, fancies, mis-criticisms of the age, would be an achievement of no mean kind; and to require us to be "up to" all this under threat of endangering Christianity, or betraying the Bible, is an exaction which could only be made by men who think that religion is much beholden to them for their condescending patronage; and will be accepted by men who are timid about the stability of the cross of Christ if left unpropped by human wisdom; and who, besides, happen to have three or four lifetimes to spare. We may be in a condition for believing, and even defending the Bible, without have mastered the whole deistical literature of the last century or the present...

In attempting to "keep abreast of the age," there is some danger of falling short of other ages; and we are not sure but that the object of those who shake this phrase so complacently in our faces, both as a taunt and a threat, is to draw us off from the past altogether, as if the greater bulk of its literature were rude lumber, a mere drag upon progress...Old theological terms and Scripture phraseology are set aside, or spoken in an undertone, or used in a loose sense. Sharp adhesion to old doctrines is imbecility; and yet defined expression of the new is avoided, the mind of the age being in a transition state, unable to bear the whole of what the exact and honest exhibition of "advanced" Christianity would require to utter.

Many of our young men are more afraid of being reckoned Calvinistic than Platonic; they shrink from bold and definite statements of Reformation doctrine, lest they should be pronounced "not abreast of the age"--stereotyped, if not imbecile. Indefinite language, mystical utterances, negative or defective statements, which will save the speaker's or writer's orthodoxy without compromising his reputation for "intellect" and "liberality"--these are becoming common. Many are doing their best to serve two masters, to preach two gospels, to subscribe two confessions of faith, to worship two Gods, to combine two religions, to grasp two worlds; they would fain be neither very evangelical nor very heretical.


This sound like this could have been directed to liberals in the early 20th century, evangelical seeker sensitives in the late 20th century or some emerging/ent folks in the 21st century not to mention a whole host of groups of people. BUT Horatius Bonar said it first in a day and age that most of us would see as a perhaps part of a 'golden era' of Christianity and Reformation Thought (ok, Bonar was probably just past that age, but you get the point).

Just one more thing proving C.S. Lewis right, we should read old books to avoid the blindness of the our modern age.
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.
One of the things about this quote that is so helpful to me is that at 28 it is easy to be enraptured by the newness of ideas. Yet we tend to find the best ideas in the past. It is a reminder to me to avoid to youthful arrogance that says "we have arived, are ideas and age surpasses all the previous generations" this social evolutionist optimism is quite unbecoming of a Christian (by the same token pessimism and pining for a 'golden age' is a bit naive too).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hosea 1:1,4

Date of Hosea and the Kings during his time:
1:4--"the bloodshed of Jezreel..."

Jezreel the town was like a second home to the Omri dynasty (cf. 1 Kings 18:45-46; 21:1,23; 2 Kings 8:24) [Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 28].

ESV 2 Kings 9:10 And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her." Then he opened the door and fled...

ESV 2 Kings 10:11 So Jehu struck down all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his great men and his close friends and his priests, until he left him none remaining...


The divided kingdom:

Hosea: We start today!!!


Saturday, April 19, 2008

When reading history might help...

When reading history might help...
A little knowledge of history might be a good thing. (HT: Lee Shelton IV)

Christology and the Christian Walk

As Christians we are adopted into God's family. We become children of God. It is this great truth brought about by our union with Christ that enables us to progressively grow closer to God and put off our habits of sinning.

While holiness brings mandates upon our character, holiness is not achieved through moralism and religion. It has been won in the gospel and it is that same gospel which applies itself to change the habits of our hearts. Thus, it is the power of the eternal Son of God, with his victory won, who now makes intercession for us and works to guard and protect us from evil.

A. Christ has come—put away your sin… you belong to Him. It is this Lord Jesus Himself who protects who and keeps you from sin.

NAU 1 John 5:18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

1. To be ‘born from God’ is to be a child of God, to have the Holy Spirit in us. It means to be “born again”. To have the Holy Spirit at the core of our heart so that we are fundamental a new person who now can live for and love God. This type of person is so captured by the love of God that they do not have the habit of sinning. “Does not sin” is not perfectionism—that we never sin. Rather is speaking about our habits. When we stumble in sin it bothers us. It ruptures us to the core and convicts us because we are a child of God. A child knows when they disobey their parents and if they love their parents it bothers them—they cannot in unhindered conscience hide from what they’ve done.

2. Christ is the one who keeps us and protects us. Christ keeps sin from constantly triumphing in our life. There is a sense that since Jesus Christ is the eternal of God he “has been born of God”. He is the begotten one an eternal Son. He keeps his brothers who have been adopted into the family who “have been born of God.”

a. There is a difference here: Christ was an eternal Son. We cannot find any point in eternity past where he was not a Son or he was not ‘born of God’. Yet the believer ‘has been born of God’ there was a point in past time where we became born of God. We who were once not a son are now children.

b. There is a similarity here: we are called “born of God”. While we cannot for one second minimize the difference between Christ’s person and our person, we do see that relationally Christ has made us a part of the family of God. We share in a small part in the relationships of the Trinity—Father and Son is now shared Father, Son and adopted children. WE ARE NOT GOD FOR A SECOND, BUT WE HAVE SO BEEN ADOPTED AND GRAFTED INTO THIS FAMILY RELATIONSHIP. Our big brother who has defeated sin and death protects us.

c. Example: It is like a brother who defends his younger sibling from the bullies.

3. Christ keeping us is exactly what he promised to do:
Jesus prays:

NAU John 17:15 "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.

NAU Revelation 3:10 'Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.

Friday, April 18, 2008

More nails, more heads


"What we hear from many of the emergent church leaders who are most aware of the (post)modern ethos, therefore, is a studied uncertainty: "We do not know." "We cannot know for sure." "No one can know certainly." "We should notmake judgments." "Knowing beyond a doubt is not what Christianity is about." "We need to be more modest." "We need to be more honest." "Christianity is about the search, not about the discovery." "Christianity is about the spiritual journey, not about arriving." They forget Scripture is divine revelation. It is not a collection of different opinions of how different people see things that tells us more about the people than the things. No. It gives us God's perfect knowledge of himself and of all reality. It is given to us in a form we can understand. The reason God gave it to us is that he wants us to know. Not to guess. Not to have vague impressions. And certainly no to be misled. He wants us to know. It is not immodest, nor arrogant, to claim that we know, when what we know is what God has given us to know through his Word..."

--David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant, p.77-78

I wish that Wells would deal with the hermeneutical issue (I'm still working through the book but I don't see it in the table of contents). I could see people responding and saying 'We don't doubt the text, we just doubt our ability to interpret the text.' Then they will sight all the different interpretations of one passage and say we can't be certain.

I do think that some elements of hermeneutics are enlightenment driven and the postmodern critique is daunting at times. Two good books are Is There Meaning in this Text? by Kevin Vanhoozer and Gospel Centered Hermeneutics by Graeme Goldsworthy. If 'enlightenment' hermeneutics that arise at 'certainty' are a problem then so are postmodern hermeneutics of suspicion that deconstruct the text.

Here it seems to me that some authors can't have there cake and eat it to. They can't decry all kinds of relative certainty in hermeneutics and complain that their critics 'don't understand them' and are 'unfair' in their criticisms. If there is no invalid reading, then don't complain when your books are misunderstood or you are misrespresented or 'I didn't say/mean that'.

Authors who write texts do so with an understanding that they are communicating something and they can be reasonable clear in what they are saying. So too God has communicated to us in the written word and we should hide behind 'vague impressions' where God has revealed Himself.

Sermon Applications 4/13/08

Text:

1 John 5:16-21 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life- to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. 18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

POINTS:

I. FIRST, WE KNOW THE SON OF GOD HAS COME SO WE ARE TO PRAY FOR CHRISTIANS SINNING.

II. SECOND, WE KNOW THE SON OF GOD HAS COME SO WE ARE TO FLEE FROM SIN.

III. THIRD, WE KNOW THE SON OF GOD HAS COME SO WE ARE ABLE TO KNOW GOD.

APPLICATIONS:
A. Coming to a knowledge of the Son brings the responsibility of faithful Christian living. God’s children are called and commissioned to act a certain way. We have a wonderful inheritance that is ours, we are adopted into the family but with such great privilege comes great responsibility.

B. The equipping for Christian living and faithfulness does not come from ourselves but from Christ who keeps us. Many people often think that we begin the Christian life through trusting Christ and we continue in it by walking in our own new found strength. We think that is essentially “we who do the work.” You do not save yourself, why do you think you are the reason you do not stumble. This brings most to a moralism when it comes to the Christian walk.

C. Why is it that most ‘Christians’ struggle with habitual sin? There are two main reasons: (1) Some fail to recognize the great calling we have to live differently from the world. We still live in the world (we do not separate from it physically or huddle in compounds where sin can’t get it)—but we neglect the heavenly calling of the life of holiness. (2) We neglect the source of power and strength that comes from Christ. We have a “saved by grace, kept by our own effort” mentality.

D. Christians are not to make a habit of sinning. Why? BECAUSE WE KNOW CHRIST. The “strategy” from winning the fight with sin is not primarily about techniques, rules or lists. It is not about keeping good morals—although that is a by-product. The strategy is about knowing Christ better and better. The deeper we know the truth, the better we guard from idolatry. Give attention to Jesus! Focus on Him! Learn to love Him!

E. Pray for those in sin. Pray because (1) you know the promises of God; (2) you know that Christ keeps us from sin and (3) you know the deception of power of sin. It is only God who ultimately can free us. BUT pray not with arrogance but humility. Pray out of personal knowledge: you and I both know what it is like to struggle with sin, so we pray for others and there is a level with which we can identify with them.

I fear that most Christians pray out of an attitude of arrogance: “Thank God I am not like that sinner—help them Lord.” Rather we should pray with an attitude of compassion and humility.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hitting the Nail on the Head

"This new direction is, needless to say, carried on side by side with an attack on the traditional church. This attack has become incessant from the church marketers, as indeed it has from emergents, and it is on the face of it quite curious.

It is true that some traditional churches are desultory, dispirited, boring, dull, liefless, inept, small, disheartened, or otherwise dying. One does wonder, though, why such a dead dog keeps getting kicked, sometimes quite viciously, by the church marketers. "If you have found church to be as painful as a trip to the dentist and twice as boring..." begins a typical attack that is also a solicitation of interest in this new breed of church-doing. Another advertisement for a megachurch, with the traditional church in mind, says church "is about avoiding hell...not sitting through it every week."

But if the traditional church is so inept, so out-of-it, so not-with-it, so passe', so completely washed up, so painful, and so boring, why not let it die peacefully? Why keep kicking it?

Because the real target is not the traditional church but the traditional theology it lives by. "

David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant. p.39. Emphasis Added.

Church of Oprah part 3

I've pointed to some video clips from Oprah here and here. To much more of this and I'll have to start a tag for 'church of Oprah'. However, Oprah's beliefs, quite common place in the marketplace of ideas, despite the amazing fanfare they get, do evidence this new wave of spirituality. Somebody really should tell these guys it is not all that new either...oh well.


Well, Oprah and Tolle now have the purpose for our life. So we move to a higher consciousness. So we evolve and get enlightened. Well if this is Buddhist/eastern thought and a sort of neo-Gnosticism. So we need to get rid of the 'ego' the 'I' the self and remove individuality. We bring the one monistic 'presence' into the world. This "awareness" is very much akin to the 'gnostic' view which looked for 'secret knowledge' and those who came to this secret knowledge reached higher stages of enlightenment bring them closer to the divine original.

This destroys individuals and mutual realtionships. I would argue that a proper concept of personhood and relationship needs to be modeled analogically off of the Trinity. So destroy a personal and Triune God--you have monism of single consciousness.

I think I'll stick with: "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever"

Here Baptists once again take a beating, the sinfulness of humanity is denied and we see more of this 'universal consciousness' theology of 'emergence/evolution'. This 'nothing dies it is a transformation of consciousness and form' is sheer eastern thought. Thank goodness for this awakening (sarcasm). Oprah/Tolle's gospel: 'we are going to make it'




"Anyone familiar with the history of the church and the Gnostic threat to Christian orthodoxy must be aware of the old Gnostic drumbeat of me, me, me resonating across the land." Qtd. Protestant Gnosticism Reconsidered, Philip J. Lee.

UPDATE: Fox News has an article "Is Oprah Starting Her Own Cult?" The article goes into the questionable background of Eckart Tolle, talks about how everybody is cashing in on this teaching, points out that the stuff is basically a rehash of New Age stuff (well Duh!!!), and how the participants are starry eyed and fawning over this stuff like is the next best thing to sliced bread. As a number of theologians today point out, the problem is that in world were people don't believe in God they will now believe in everything.

Excerpts:

His books, "The Power of Now" and "A New Earth," are the same gobbledygook as most New Age stuff. They’re all about self-empowering and how to find out who we are. "Awakening" is Tolle’s key word. Tolle is very busy enforcing moments of silence and showing his readers how to find their "pain-body."...

What makes Oprah’s seminars ever so more creepy are the "study groups" she has lined up for Tolle at bookstores and other locations around the world. They’re all hooked up to the seminars through Skype, and the members can ask questions. They all have that same glazed-over look as people giving testimonials on late-night infomercials.

"I consider this to be a sacred moment when we can all come together … and share in this work," Winfrey says at the start of seminar 6. And why not? You’ll notice that she, not Tolle, has the sole copyright on the broadcasts. Ka ching!

But don’t worry about Eckhart Tolle. His "power of now" is all about his store. All roads lead to his merchandise, which is prominently featured on his Web site and accessed from Oprah’s.

His is a costly philosophy. Books, tapes, DVDs — all of it becomes quite expensive when added up, making Tolle no different than Scientology, Kabbalah or any other shiny new religion. Tolle even sells teaching tools "for professionals" — "A Guide for the Spiritual Teacher and Health Practitioner" — even though it’s unclear what is the basis of his own educational background.Are we supposed to take this seriously? As Tolle, himself, says to Oprah, "It’s better to laugh at madness."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Neo-Gnosticism & The Church of Oprah part 2

Here is another clip from Oprah. At some points it overlaps the previous clip I pointed out.





(HT: Boar's Head Tavern)

This to me is the perfect illustration of what I pointed to here about the popularity of Gnostic type spirituality.

Let me just make a couple points about what Oprah said:

(1) She speaks of opening her mind and that enabled her to reconcile what she believed now with Christianity. This sort of thing is really syncreticism. She uses power words like "open" to describe her view and "ideology" to describe another belief. This tactic is quite pejorative. Oprah may have "opened her mind" but certainly anything that resembles historic orthodox (i.e. true) Christianity is absent.

(2) She speaks of doctrien as something that puts God in a box. That it is containing the 'inexpressible' in words. This a common tactic by mystics and neo-Gnostics. Indeed here Eckert quote could have been just as easily said by an older more famous Eckert. It is nice to say "man made God in his own image" and this is a "mental idol" [This was a common move of early liberalism (one early example) and can be found in some books today like this one].

It sounds good to say that we can't be possesive of God and have "my God". BUT when God unites himself with us it is through a concept called a covenant. A covenant is a relational bond that brings a solemn oath. A marriage is a type of covenant. So the great hope of the covenant is "I will be their God and they will be my people." (Rev. 21:3; Jer 30:22; 31:33; 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20; 36:28; 37:27; Hos. 2:23; Zech. 13:9) --That kind union is the type of union worth presevering, worth fighting for the way one protects a marriage. In fact, this very concept of union is lost in Gnostic spirituality and the sheer narcissm of discovering "ourselves". This is no god. Most seek the 'union' of pantheism or panentheism (like 'God is love' & 'God is in all things').

We are not making God in our image if God has chosen to reveal Himself. If God gives Himself a name and reveals this (Ex. 3) or reveals Himself in person of the Son--then this is God's own perogative. It is idolatry to be more "open."

(3) The sort of "higher consciousness" that Jesus reveals and shows us how to live is sheer liberalism that was rampant in the early 20th century. Jesus was not a mere higher consciousness, he was God incarnate and if someone is teaching contrary to this they are an antichrist and this is not spiritual at all (1 John 4:1-3).

(4) Eckart Tolle's 'truth that is much deeper than truth' and 'dig deeper' into religion strikes me as a real clear Gnostic move. He is looking for deeper more spiritual truth beyond the plain meaning of the text (and church's that teach the Bible). IF we just peer deeper we find some sort of universal common ground. But such deeper move puts us "beyond" doctrines. Christianity is a religion defined by doctrine. It professes "Jesus is Lord" and that Jesus died and on the third day rose again. Such professions of actual historical events are doctrines.

Only in Tolle's view does going deeper bring no conflict because in his view, going deeper removes the actually issues. For any religion or person who holds a set of beliefs this is deeply disrespectful. This is sheer arrogance. It looks humble to 'look deeper' but it ignores the person and their beliefs. Belief of religion are very different and we do deep disrespect to ignore them for a deeper core. Nevertheless, this is what eastern religion (like Buddhism) tend to do and then the individuals uniqueness is swallowed up.

(5) Oprah's new religion is sheer pride and self-centered narcisism. Look inside your self, you define things. Listen within for your own definition. 'Deeper longings'

Religion/spirituality is the new buffet. You make your own necklace within all the gems from which to choose. Whatever is within that strikes your own fancy. This kind of self-absorbtion seems at contrast with Oprah's efforts (like the Big Give) to be sacrificial and giving. I would argue that Oprah loves giving to others because God has made us in His image--an image that desires to show others love and true love requires giving and sacrifice. BUT Oprah's belief system--and despite all her rhetoric it is that: a belief system--is at odds with what she is trying to do as an image bearer.

"Traditional Christian spirituality is self-abnegating. It values self-sacrifice and self-discipline, a sacrifice and a discipline which is required in the moral world itinhabity. Because of the felt obligation to curtail and discipline the self, the traditional spirituality lives within doctrine that is true and wants to live with corporately practiced faith, at least if that faith has some authenticity, even when there are the expected jolts that come with human relations. Contemporary spirituality which opposes itself to religion is spirituality which, by contrast, is about the business of self-realization, or self-discovery, and is assuming as Bloom puts it, that real knowledge is found in "an inward knowledge rather than an outward belief." More than that, it is also refusing to live within the parameters and boundaries which are drawn by others, within doctrine which it has not constructed, within a corporately practiced belief since that would do violence to the delicacy and authenticity of its own private sensibilities." --Above All Earthly Pow'rs, p154-155.

Oprah can't really consistently live out her beliefs of 'self discovery' and 'self-lessness'.

Calvin reminds us that the summary of the Christian devotion is a denial of self. This brings us to serve God and his Glory and then love our neighbor as ourself.

Conclusion:

"Philosophically, the new spirituality is not replicating some of the old gnostic theories about reality, but at a psychological level the parallels are unmistakable." (David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow'rs, p.149).

Oprah says, "I am a Christian who believes that there are many more paths to god than Christianity." By this we presume she means other than believing in Jesus--that he is the only way and that he is God in the flesh. Unfortunately, Oprah's view of 'Christianity' is hardly 'Christ-like' at all! It is quite that of an anti-Christ.

Recommended reading: David Wells' Above All Earthly Pow'rs and J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Gnostic Spirituality Listening & Reading

The White Horse Inn has put out its second installment "The Gospel according to Barnes and Noble". This issue is not so much on historic Gnosticism but the sort of "Gnostic Lite" of the spirituality that is all too common in today's religious climate. (You can also find it in the archives for April 13, 2008).

In the program Horton says "Gnosticism is faith in faith." It focusses on the experience apart from the doctrine. They debunk the notion of emptiness so that inspiration is not that of words but an inner 'inspiration' that gets rid of the need for words.

They take on the sort of 'inner voice' spirituality that is far too common today. They mention the popular book 'The Secret'. There is a focus on the experience of the self not of the true God.

They make some good points about finding Christ "outside ourself" particularly in the Word of God and the ordinances. We cannot syncretize with religious practices as if 'doctrine is over hear' and 'spiritual practices are over here'.

The program cites two recommended articles:
"Your Own Personal Jesus" by Michael Horton.
"Pelagianism leads to Christless Christianity because we do not need a Savior, but a good example. Gnosticism's route to Christless Christianity is by driving us deeper inside ourselves rather than outside to the incarnate God who rescued us from the guilt, tyranny, and penalty of our sins. Pelagianism and Gnosticism combine to keep us looking to ourselves and within ourselves. We're a self-help people and we like our gods inside of us where we can manage them. Together, these heresies have created the perfect storm: the American Religion..."

"The "Gnosticism" aisle in the average bookstore chain (next to religion and spirituality) is evidence of renewed interest in pagan spiritualities. Matthew Fox, repeating the warning of self-described Gnostic psychologist Carl Jung, expresses this sentiment well: "One way to kill the soul is to worship a God outside you." Other writers in this issue focus on this revival of explicit, full-strength Gnosticism, so I will focus on the "Gnosticism Lite" that pervades the American spirituality today.

This watered-down Gnosticism does not require any explicit awareness of, much less attachment to, the esoteric myth of creation and redemption-by-enlightenment. The opposition, however, between inner divinity and enlightenment and redemption, an external God, the external Word, an external redemption in Christ, and an institutional church offers a striking parallel to America's search for the sacred.

In the American Religion, as in ancient Gnosticism, there is almost no sense of God's difference from us-in other words, his majesty, sovereignty, self-existence, and holiness. God is my buddy or my inmost experience, or the power-source for living my best life now. God is not strange (i.e., holy)-and is certainly not a judge. He does not evoke fear, awe, or a sense of terrifying and disorienting beauty. Furthermore, all the focus on making atonement through a bloody sacrifice seems crude and unspiritual to Gnostics when, after all, the point of salvation is to escape the physical realm. All of this is too "Jewish," according to Gnostics from Marcion to Schleiermacher to the "Re-Imagining Conference" of mainline Protestant leaders (especially radical feminists) who explicitly appealed to Gnosticism in their screeds against "men hanging on crosses with blood dripping and all that gory stuff." The god of Gnosticism is not the one before whom Isaiah said, "Woe to me, for I am undone!" or Peter said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." To borrow a nice phrase from William Placher, it represents "the domestication of transcendence." God is no longer a problem for us.
Qtd. from Michel Horton "Your Own Personal Jesus".
Two books that highlight the sort of 'Gnostic Spirituality' in America today:
Harold Bloom's The American Religion and Philip J. Lee's Against the Protestant Gnostics.

Gnostic Spirituality

The Gnostic Empire Strikes Back.

No wait, that really is a title of a book. Its author Peter Jones is an expert on paganism and its modern manifestations (see a recent book review here and some online articles here).

He and many other authors continue to point to a disturbing trend in American spirituality and even within Christian concepts of 'sprituality'--there is a lot of Gnosticism that goes on. Ironically, it is not in the areas that some assume (and I've responded to here and here). Rather it is precisely in the areas that the emerging church often refers to as 'body & soul' integrating and looking for an 'embedded god' eschewing as transcendent God who becomes immanent in the incarnation without losing His transcendence. It is precisely where the form of Christianity moves from being less Word based to more 'spirit' driven. Where is embraces Eastern forms of thought and prayer and meditation move from their Biblical morrings onto more mystic practices.
Michael Horton puts it this way:

A trip to the local bookstore confirms that there is a revival of explicit Gnostic spirituality in American culture, with the New Age movement claiming direct descent. Often passing for psychology, philosophy and religion, Gnosticism is now back with a vengeance and forms the broad parameters (if there are any) for the smorgasbord of American spirituality. After two world wars, Westerners have become disillusioned with the grand scheme of turning this world into Paradise Restored. Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Andre Malraux poured their energies into lamenting the sense of despair and alienation, and the theme of humanity being "thrown" into the world, imprisoned in evil material structures is prominent in their work. The popularity of existentialism blended with an older Transcendentalism that was always seething just beneath the surface of the American consciousness to produce a post-war generation of "seekers" who were ripe for Gnostic spirituality. It is that older Transcendentalism that must be explained before we can understand the ways in which modern evangelicalism and liberalism represent sister "denominations" in what Harold Bloom calls "The American Religion: Gnosticism."

Mysticism has a long tradition within Christianity, and although it developed out of the same influences and centers as Gnosticism itself, it was deemed acceptable even by some who had opposed the heresy. The "ladder of spiritual ascent" and the dualism between spirit and matter, the inwardness and related themes, remind us that the difference is a matter of degree. In a sympathetic treatment, titled, Mysticism in the Wesleyan Tradition (Zondervan, 1989), United Methodist theologian Robert G. Tuttle, Jr. traces the influences of Greek and Roman Catholic mysticism on John Wesley. Through the various Holiness groups in America, evangelicalism was heavily influenced by a form of spirituality that was considered by many, especially at Princeton Seminary, to be a rival to the historic Christianity recovered in the Reformation. But there were other influences in the culture that contributed to the Gnostic awakening in America. Just as the medieval church was unwittingly shaped by Greek Platonic influences, modern American Christianity, both liberal and evangelical, is shaped by Romanticism-itself a revival of Greek and Gnostic influences.

David Wells makes the thesis that "first, that both gnosticism and the new spirituality have arisen in contexts which were experienced as inhospitable; second, that the two share a comparable understanding of the self; third, that the gnostics anticipated today's postmodern expressive individualism" (Above all Earthly Pow'rs, p. 145).

David Wells puts it this way:
For some, the aim has been that of finding peace of mind or inner transformation; in its Eastern configuration, the goal has been achieving a different kind of consciousness; in its shallowest and most banal form, it is about self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-actualization, achievements which may come in a purely secular form or as part of spiritual self-discovery; and for contemporary gnostics, the hope is empowerment--not in the ways we encounter in gender politics, which are frequently fueld by resentment, but in the sense of connecting with a power deep within the self. --p.127
Both then and now, access to what is unfallen and unperverted is to be had through the self. Gnostics believed, as do many of those in this contemporary spiritual quest, that the moment spiritual perceptions are codified into dogma or doctrine, the moment these insights become part and parcel of corporartely practiced religious life, with its rules and authorities, its expectations and sanctions, the insight has already become corrupted. --Above all Earthly Pow'rs, p.150.
It is important to note that Wells does point out that the attitude towards creation is quite different today but "the search for spiritual life is often undertaken in the presence of a foreboding about life which is comparible." p.147.


Here is a thesis that needs more defense, but I'll state in nonetheless:

It is not in the claims to know the truth and right doctrine that we find Gnositicism (I rejected that criticism here and here). It is precisely when subjectivism where man is the measure of truth that we find forms of Gnosticism. It is in the fleeing of objective truth grounded in God's self-revelation for 'time bound truth' that we find a sort of neo-Gnosticism. It may feign to love redemptive history in some of its new forms but when the truth claims of redemptive history are nothing but open ended and ongoing we have swung the pendalum back into a Gnosticism of a different sort. The new inner spirituality of the embodied god who seeks to integrate with all things becomes the god of gnosticism minus the radical hatred of the created realm. But make no mistake it is a new gnosticism nonetheless--and it is far mor dangerous than those who claim in Jesus Christ to have come to 'know the truth'.

Os Guinness said over 30 years ago:
The swing to the East has come at a time when Christianity is weak at just those points where it would need to be strong to withstand the East. Without this strength, the Eastern religions will be to Christianity a new, dangerous gnosticism, but this time much of the fight will be lost before many see the nature of the danger. Modern Christianity is crucially weak at three vital poins. The first is its compromised, deficient understanding of revelation. Without biblical historicity and veracity behind the Word of God, theology can only grow closer to Hinduism. Second, the modern Christian is drastically week in an unmediated, personal, experiential knowledge of God...Third, the modern church is often pathetically feeble in the expression of its focal principle of community...Why, then does the East so strongly apeal to the West?...The East stresses experience not theory and thus is a welcome relief from the sterile memory of preachers and pulpits, six feet above contradiction and life. For the East, verification is participation. The Tat Tvam Asi ("Thou art that") is not a metaphysical proposition but a psychological experience. As a guru said to me with a fair measure of accuracy, "To the Christian, talk of God is rather like the great bulk of an iceberg, whereas his experience of God is only the tiny time of the iceberg; but for the Easterner the experience of God is the bulk of the iceberg, whereas his talk is only the time."
Furthermore, the East stresses integration and not isolated individuality. This insight into a oneness with nature brings a sense of flooding release, relief, peace and joy. This is all the more real by force of contrast with the individualism and alienation which are so often the experiences of the sensitive person in a materialistic, industrial society or an inadequate church situation. " The Dust of Death, p.209-10.
This shift to the East is quite common in various forms of Christianity where talk of intergration is common. Just as one example cf. Doug Pagitt's chapter in Listening to the Beliefs of the Emergent Church, it is ironic how plays the gnostic card on pp.134-135--if I am write however, he may have swatted on one alleged gnostic fly and brushed it out the window while opening the door to a whole other neo-Gnostic swarm (--ironically seeing Galatians and Romans against Gnostic-Greco-pagan background is highly suspect, see here esp. note ix).

Either way, Gnostic spirituality is the common concept that we find prevelent in our day and age. It is they stuff typified in the popular approaches of Oprah and the books she adovcates.The anti-doctrine vs. 'emptying mystical spirituality' is the stuff of gnostic legends--and we eat it up.
"Angels and ministers of grace defend us..." or better yet: Maranatha!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Star Trek Quotes

Here is a Star Trek Quote I really like:

"Savor the fruit of life my young friends, it has a sweat taste when it is fresh from the vine but don't live too long the taste turns bitter after a time."

--Kor, D'Har Master; ST:DS9 "Once More Into the Breach"

I think I just like the imagery of the fruit and 'fresh from the vine' vs. old fruit.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Obama and Listening

An odd thought struck me the other day, for all of Obama's rhetoric about being a different candidate he seems to be quite the normal candidate. Sure, maybe he doesn't have lobbyist paying for his campaign, but he has done what every other politician does: says something he regrets and then comes back and respins what he said and why he said it.

As one who also makes my living watching my words very carefully, I can understand and empathize with a mistep and an inability to find the right words in a split second. Yet Obama gets a lot of his political capital from trying to transcend the so-called divided America. Yet his most recent remarks really show a reinforcement of certain stereotypes. Sure maybe he didn't mean it quite the way he said it but his characterization of any other racial or class group-no matter how ill-choosen the words--would in other arenas have gotten a serious red flag if not expulsion from the game.

I personally don't find a lot of small town Pennsylvanians bitter. And if Obama means that we are frustrated because no one listens to us then going to the big city and talking about us behind our back really isn't listening to us. Doesn't that reinforce the divide? Doesn't that communicate the same none-listening none-emphathetic no-results attitude of which he accussed the Clinton and Bush administration?

As for Pa., the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre section of Pa. has had some economic improvement as of late. Not to mention, Pa. got a lot of noteriety from the Hazelton laws about illegal immigration--but I would venture a guess that most Pa. people aren't against immigration, they know too well that their ancestors were immigrants and a number of them had to work long hard laborious hours in coal mines just to put food on the table--but they played by the rules. They are proud of that heritage as well they should be. BUT what worries them is not immigrants but illegal immigrants--those who disregard the laws of this county, the laws which their immigrant forefathers loved and in some cases sacrificed life and limb to secure for the next generation. Great freedoms are not without responsibility: that is the concern. Anti-immigration and anti-illegal immigration are two different things: the former is driven by biogotry and bitterness but the latter by deep love.

One can say Obama was only speaking to an evident reality that 'everybody knows is true' but whose evident reality? I don't find a lot of small towns in Pa. characterizing the same 'evident reality' of bitterness, which once again suggests who is really listening to whom?

If there is one area that I think many Americans are frustrated in, it is politicians courting them with chocolates and flowers before the "big date" and then dumping them once they got what they wanted. This is particularly true I think of small town America. But with such a gross mischaracterization, even if a bad choice of words, one wonders if Obama can really be different as he seems to propose. He seems to do the political two step of words and rhetoric as well as the best of them. You certainly don't get a second date when you talk smack about the first one in the locker room.

Oh, well, Obama is human just like everybody else. I think he will find that those of us who cling to religion are quite forgiving of persons regardless of how we vote. I certainly forgive--one more sign that we are not really bitter as we cling to what is so dear to our hearts.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Gnostic Gospels Reading

As God's providence would have it, shortly after I posted on the listening about the Gnostic Gospels on the White Horse Inn, yesterday, I found this Article in the Sun (HT: Michael Bird).

The article is entitled "The Gospel According to Pagels".

Pagels wrote a well known book on the Gnostic Gospels. It is written for a lay audience of non-specialists. It is probably the first major attempt to disseminate information about the Gnostic Gospels into pop culture. I've read Pagels and her thesis is largely flawed, to put it mildly. One of her arguments is that women were highly reverred in Gnostic life--this is been refuted thoroughly particularly Daniel Hoffman's The Status of Women and Gnosticism in Irenaeus and Tertullian, esp. ch. 2 "The Status of Women in Gnosticism".

Here is some exerts from Bruce Chilton's article:
Ms. Pagels attempts to meet the challenge of sorting out a complex series of disagreements with a picture of Gnostics as existentialists and of Catholics as organizers. That simple model permits her to argue that Jesus and Paul represented a bit of both tendencies, and that the Church in the modern world should accommodate these two approaches. That is a nicely inclusive argument, and makes for a user-friendly version of Gnosticism, but it comes at the price of historical integrity.

Dealing with each topic in her book, Ms. Pagels does not mention crucial evidence concerning Gnostics and Catholics, and distorts what she does mention. She falsely maintains that Catholics insisted upon a physical view of resurrection (as compared to the Gnostics), when a spiritual view is clearly represented from Paul in the first century until Origen in the third century. She asserts that Gnostics did not concern themselves with authority, when in fact they often branded those who disagreed with them as corrupt materialists who were constitutionally incapable of understanding the world of spirit. Attempting to say that the Gnostics were feminists, she ignores texts from Nag Hammadi, as well as Gnostic sources that had been known for centuries before the library's discovery, that portray "Wisdom" (Sophia), the feminine counterpart of the true, masculine God, as literally hysterical — jealous of divine power, but unable to create life on her own, and therefore vindictive. Martyrdom was a common threat to Gnostics and Catholics, and not at all a fate that the Fathers of the Church wanted Christians generally to seek; Gnostics could be as ferocious as Catholics in claiming unique insight, and the knowledge that transcends this world was every bit as much a Catholic as a Gnostic quest.

Appearing in a book as well written as Ms. Pagels's, her anachronisms have undermined public understanding of early Christianity. Gnosticism proved to be the most powerful philosophical and religious movement of its time because it insisted without compromise that the only truth that matters transcends this corrupt world. Gnostics often denigrated women as creatures of corruption, condemned any disagreement with their teaching as materialist fantasy, and denied that sexuality had any place in the realm of spirit. Trying to turn this orientation into existentialism, or feminism, or an embrace of the world's physicality, will only work with an extremely selective handling of the evidence, and deploys a laundered view of its subject.
I would point out that NT Wright has demonstrated that Paul and Origen did not hold to a spiritual or quasi-Gnostic view of resurrection. I would stridently disagree with Chilton's statement: "a spiritual view is clearly represented from Paul in the first century until Origen in the third century." Nevertheless, he is quite accurate in his reading of the Gnostic texts and particularly their view of women.

Ever wonder why the Gnostic Gospels are so well liked? I think Chilton hits the nail on the head:
Ms. Pagels is too wise to pretend that the Gnosticism of the historical sources supports the Neo-Gnostic fashions of our time that have thrived in New Age circles. Yet in "The Gnostic Gospels," she does compare the texts to what existentialists, feminists, and environmentalists have to say. Her habit might be seen as part of the historian's function, to use today's language to help explain yesterday's events and movements. But by impact if not by intent, her book has promoted the view that Gnosticism is a liberal version of Christianity, when in fact liberalism and Gnosticism are radically different phenomena.


In other words, while liberals love to mock evangelicals as 'fundamentalists' who take a 'literal' reading of the text which they find so abhorrant; they are equally zealous in looking for new texts to justify their view. A little historical tweaking here and there and the 'gnostics' don't look so bad. We even feel a little empathy for the "misunderstood" group who were the victim's of their own contemporary "fundamentalists". It is bad history to say the least. Irenaues, Terullian and a few others get villianized--but since they are dead anyways what's a little slander? One has to marvel at the irony of those who vilify "literal" readings but are so eager to find their own 'literal' readings to vidicate their own feelings of marginalization by wicked fundamentalists. As if I can justify my own heterodoxy more peaceful, loving, open and inclusive by turning to historical readings while making the case the orthodox is by nature repressive. Since I "know" that I am misunderstood and marginalized, I must therefore posit that the only reason orthodoxy could have ever triumphed is due to the power abuses of those who claim to have truth--and don't forget to sprinkle in a dash of postmodern ethos including an inherent suspicion of heirarchy and order along with notion that all truth claims must inherently be based upon power plays and are therefore suspect and even morally reprehensible. There is a word for this: anachronism. And it should the bane of historians, Christians and lovers of truth every where. So much for being inclusive since I hate those who actually stand firm on something known as orthodoxy.

Here Chilton's comments are quite troublesome:

Rather, these 13 volumes [i.e. the Gnostic Gospels] show that beliefs prevalent in mainstream Christianity to this day derive from Gnosticism: the full divinity of Jesus, the conception that his death paid the price of blood to Satan for the sins of the world, and the conviction that true believers should be celibate, for example. None of these is a small idea; each has had a powerful influence on the history of religious thought, and not only among Christians.

(1) The NT itself shows that Jesus is fully divine. YET the NT vs. the Gnostic Gospels (GG) practically define "divinity" along different lines. The NT rooted out the OT so that many YHWH texts are quoted or applied directly to Jesus (for a brief intro see Bauckham, God Crucified). In the Gnostic Gospels, divinity is anti-OT and the god of the OT is ridiculed. Indeed, in the GG 'god' cannot come into contact with humanity in its fleshy 'earthiness'. Which is a problem, to put it midely, for NT document and historic orthodoxy.

(2) I'd be interested to know what text of the GG refers to the blood of Christ paying a debt to Satan. Certainly this creeps into some notions of the atonement. But in the NT Satan is never described of as getting paid a debt. We certainly should not confuse Paul's, John's or Hebrew's theology of atonement, propitiation, and blood sacrifice with some notion of paying off inferior beings with the pantheon of spiritual beings.

Chilton ends by saying "Fundamentalism is fiercely attached to the ultimately Gnostic doctrine that God paid Satan by permitting his son to die." While the so-called "fundamentalism" is not named, one can hardly seriously consider (a) the Biblical texts and (b) Reformed/evangelical concept of the blood and atonement as a "God paid Satan by permitting his son to die..." Valuing the death of Christ and seeing its worth hardly entails "God paid Satan." Indeed, one of the earliest Christian Creeds puts Christ's death for our sins (clear substitutionary language) at the very center of Christian belief without so much as an inkling that the payment is to Satan...
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 1 Corinthians 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
One could argue that this presupposes the neccessity of incarnation--something abhorrent to Gnosticism. Another equally early Christian creed states:

Philippians 2:6-8 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
(3) While some of the early church Fathers highly praised asceticism and particularly celibacy and these traits are highly valued in some Gnostic circles (although the ability to really practice this is called into question--some Gnostics were considered over indulgient in sexuality because deeds of the body didn't really matter [this despite the claims that this is Irenaues and others' attempt to launch a smear campaign]). Paul for example holds that sexuality in marriage is really good (1 Cor 7:1ff) and is only abstained from by mutual agreement for prayer. Ironically, the asceticism is view has having no real power to control the 'flesh' (Col 2:20-23).

The whole notion of any of these things in Christianity as being 'derived from Gnosticism' is highly suspect. Edwin Yamauchi has shown in Pre-Christian Gnosticism that pre-Christian Gnosticism cannot be posited when all the documentary evidence we have arises in a post-Christian era. While this is not the case to mount a full scale argumentation it is much more reasonable and historically justifiable to posit Gnosticism arising out of a hybridization of Christianity (with serious depatures from nascent orthodoxy) than the reverse.

Conclusion: While Chilton's brief review is not without its problems and own unjustifiable assertions, he does point to some serious flaws in Ms. Pagels' work.

It behooves every Christian to familiarize themselves with the Gnostic Gospels particularly in a day and age of rampant scepticism of the the historical reliability of the fourfold witness of the New Testament Gospels. A simple reading of the Gnostic Gospels proves about 95% of the pop-culture speculation to be false and at least half of the serious scholarship to be at best overreaching and anachronistic in its claims and deluded in its questing for a more authentic Jesus outside the four Gospels..


Here are some other resources:
You can also find a review of the book by NT scholar Raymond Brown here. Brown points out that not all the material in the discovered collection is Gnostic and only 10% is even called a 'gospel' (by name only, leaving aside the obvious genre differences with NT 'gospels').

A great quote:
"The gnostics could share the highest clearical functions among themselves because they regarded themselves as the elite and all other Christians as ignorant and (for some gnostics) as the massa damnata. It would be a rare orthodox clergy man whose contempt for the laity would be comparable to the gnostic contempt for the non-gnostic."

Here is a two part series by Douglas Groothuis on the Gnostic Gospels and Jesus (part 1 and part 2).

Check out Horton's Article: The New Gnosticism.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...