Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sermon Applications 9/28/08

Text: Ephesians 2:11-18

Application: Steps to making peace in the church.

i) STEP 1: Peace begins when we realize that God has brought us near to Himself. God Himself has taken those who are far from himself and made them near. They were without God and God revealed Himself to them. If you and I truly understand God’s grace we cannot hold grudges and anger. We cannot without peace and keep people far away because God did not keep the sinner far away.

ii) The temptation when a sinner gets saved is for the Christian church to hold them at a distance until they are sanctified. The way this works out is we tend to wait until people look like us, act like us, and dress like us until we accept their conversion as legitimate. This denies work of God in salvation. When a person is saved by grace through faith they immediately have a status that is “near to God”. We must treat people this way regardless of how they look, dress or talk.


Step 2: We must remove barriers. Seeking peace means we must build gospel unity with those who are culturally and sociologically different from us.

(1) 1 Cor. 12 and Ephesians 4, tell us that different people have different gifts and roles in the body of Christ. But in terms of our citizenship, we are all equal before the foot of the cross. The cross destroys barriers both real and imaginary.

(2) Sadly, the church has not always displayed Christ as its peace. Sometimes in fact we know the implications and refuse to follow them. This was no more true than in America’s history with slavery. Slaves would be denied the right of baptism because southern slave owners new that if these men and women were baptized they would be equals. They left barriers so people would not be their equals. The wrongly Lord’s Table was as a barrier in a body that should be one. The Lord’s Table should be a barrier between believers and non-believer but not a barrier within the body of Christ. In South Africa, the Dutch church gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1824. At first the churches were interracial. Then some began to object to sharing the communion cup with black Christians. In 1857, a church Synod (the annual General meeting) decided “as a concession to the prejudice and weakness of a few, it is recommended that the church serve one or more tables to European members after the non-white members have been served.” [source] This soon developed into separate churches, and then a whole philosophy known as apartheid or separatedness. THIS IS REPREHENSIBLE. THIS IS UNGODLY, MOST OF ALL IN A CHURCH!

(3) But how does the American church today respond to the issue of immigration? Would someone who is Hispanic, or maybe Arabic, or maybe with poor English skills really be welcome here? Would you approach them and befriend them or keep them at arm’s length?

(4) In America today, Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour of the entire week. We divide by ethnic, we divide by class barriers. We divide by culture. Now, there is nothing wrong with planting an indigenous church—and so you go into a community and you expect people to come from that community; it reflects area. The problem that is ungodly is when you say: I am going to attract this type of person. Church growth experts now instruct churches to target a particular sociological group and adapt to appeal to them. David Wells writes:

What is truly remarkable about this development is that it is taking place at the very time when, as we have seen, America is becoming a genuinely multi-ethnic society. Churches that market themselves knowing that they will be attracting overwhelmingly white, well-to-do, middle class, the suburban Boomers are churches which, to say the least, are quite out of step with their own world… What Christian faith becomes in these contexts is often a way to satisfy the needs of affluent suburbanites who, in other ways, have everything. Christian faith becomes virtually indistinguishable from the sounds, sights, and habits of white, consuming, affluent, suburbanites who want the best, the most advanced technology, and the most up-to-date nursery facilities, what amuses and entertains…”[1]

[W]hen we set out with a methodology which we know will create churches that will be culturally, generationally, economically, and racially monolithic and monochromatic, something is amiss.[2]

The new doctrine of separatedness is not Jew and Gentile and not even always ethnic—it is politics, class and economics—sometimes it is even youth culture. The church has become a gated community. Are people who walk in who do not look like us or talk like us welcome? For us the question is this: Monroe County as a fast growing Hispanic population. We also have poor and middle class moving out of the city. Are we going to reach these people with the gospel and peaceable worship with them in our church? Are we willing to be multi-ethnic and diverse for the gospel? What will our evangelistic efforts look like in the future?



i) Step 3: We need to go and seek reconciliation with people. Seeking peace and preserving unity is hard work. Will you pursue peace? Sometimes we have to go to people who are angry with us. Sometimes we have to go to people who we are angry at. Sometimes, we have to pray that the stereotypes that we hold in our heart are removed. Only the power of the cross removes them. We have a choice to make, either we pursue peace or we let hatred, anger and bitterness consume us:

Hebrews 12:14-15 14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;

ii) Step 4: We need to approach God together in prayer. Prayer is the great equalizer. Any reconciliation process without mutual prayer together before God is doomed to fail.

[1] Above All Earthly Pow’rs. P.290-292.
[2] Ibid. 295.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Quotes on Ephesians 2:10

"To say that God has prepared the good works in advance in his sovereign purpose is also to stress in the strongest possible way that believers' good deeds cannot be chalked up to their own resolve, but are due solely to divine grace." Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians p.116.

"The distinctive thing about Christian or theological ethics is that we do not have to do any carrying without remembering that we are carried." Karl Barth Ethics. p.516

Personal thought: The deeper I grasp that I am created in Christ Jesus to do good works which he has prepared in advance for me to walk in, the more I cut down all kinds of boast about my post-conversion abilities to serve God in and of myself.

**Note, the word "prepared beforehand" is the same word used in Romans 9:23.

Grasping Ephesians 2:10 reshapes one's whole theology of post-conversion obedience unto good works. It reshapes the how and why questions about good works. It keeps me from feeling like I must earn my Father's favor in order to 'live up to his expectations'. Yet, His ordaining of these things keeps me sufficiently motivated and focussed so that I never 'kick back and relax' in the Christian life but I do indeed take up my cross and follow Christ.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sermon Applications 9/21/08

TEXT: Ephesians 2:8-10

We live in a day and age where sports stars, before the game will boast like the game is over. They boast in their talent and abilities. Men and women boast in their good looks, their fancy cars, their financial portfolios. This week has been a powerful reminder that we cannot boast. To boast in something other than God is to but our trust, security, hopes, and self worth in something other than God. A boast trumpets those things either by word or by action. Our culture rewards boasting. Our culture teaches us that without boasting you are nothing. To make yourself something you must boast or you never get anywhere. The Christian will say “God saved me” but then we separate that off from all areas of life so that we are ready, willing, and eager to boast about everything under the sun with regard to our daily lives. If Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart,” I would add, “Where your boast is, there is your heart.


The lie we believe is that to be somebody you have to boast. To be a good preacher, I have to boast about how many people are in my pews. To be a successful church, we need to boast in what we can achieve. To be a good person in life, we must boast in our abilities. In our day, football hall of famer Art Monk stands against the grain. When inducted into the hall of fame this year he did not boast in himself. Art Monk said,

And even now as a Hall of Famer, the one thing I want to make very clear is that my identity and my security is found in the Lord. And what defines me and my validation comes in having accepted his son Jesus Christ as my personal savior. And what defines me is the Word of God, and it’s the Word of God that will continue to shape and mold me into the person that I know he’s called me to be. So I’ve learned a long time ago never to put my faith or trust in man, for man will always fail you. Man will always disappoint you. But the Word of God says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. And He will never fail you.And that is what I live by and what I stand on. Being included into this fraternity is a pretty humbling experience for me…

But I understand and I know that I’m here not by, in, and of my own strength—but it’s by the grace and the power of God upon my life, who I know gave me favor along the way, and who provided opportunity and room for me to use my gifts.So I am very grateful to receive this honor, and I can stand here before you and say, “Hey, look at me, look at what I did.” But if I’m going to boast, I’m going to boast today in the Lord, for it’s because of him that I’m here and I give him thanks and glory and honor for all that he has done for me. [HT: C.J. Mahaney]

THAT IS A BOAST OF THE RIGHT KIND. His whole speech is worth. Both are online at the Football Hall of Fame. Here is a Christian hero who did not boast in the boasts of men… He typifies what we need to hear today: AS A PRODUCT OF GOD’S WORKMANSHIP YOU CANNOT BOAST IN YOURSELF.


i) You must abandon yourself to Christ. You must die so that Christ can live. We’ve got to stop thinking that we are something special in a prideful sort of way and look wholly at Jesus. In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade there is a scene at the end where Indy falls into a pit and His Father grabs him. Indy with one hand is reaching for the ‘cup of Christ’—his fingers yearning to grab that treasure. His Father is grasping him but Indy is distracted. In the same way, the believer is often distracted from the prize of grace received only through faith. What we need to do is trust fully in Christ, with both hands, and receive the grace of God. In this kind of trust we do nothing except relinquish ourselves to our Savior.

ii) In order to abandon yourself to Christ, you must give up your false boasts and phony confidence. What is it in your life that you are most confident about? If you look at your life what is your ‘reason for living’? Where do you consider yourself to be most important? Some people measure their worth by what they do for the church or by how well they attend church and what they give. It is easy in a small church for members to look at themselves, others , or even the pastor—and place a confidence in that person to achieve all that needs to happen. This takes our eyes off of grace. This becomes a boast.

iii) Boasting becomes self-justification and validation rather than salvation by grace through faith. When you boast in something other than God, you take your eyes off of Him. You are reaching for that treasure that you believe will complete you and satisfy you. Most Christians are willing to hold with one hand “God saves me” but then with their other hand they are reaching for something else. We live in a culture that is happy to live as this sort of schizophrenic Christian. Jesus warns about this kind of faith:

Mark 4:7 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.
Mark 4:19 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

iv) FALSE BOASTS CAN KILL YOUR FAITH. What is it that you are prone in life to boast about? What are the things that outside of Christ you find confidence in? Confess your sins to Christ. Flee boasting. Teach your children to flee boasting.



i) Flee modern views of salvation that try to sneak good works in the back door.

(1) In the Roman Catholic Church, you must go regularly to mass and confession. You must diligently pray the ‘Hail Mary’. The Roman Catholic will say “salvation by grace” but tell you ‘you must work hard to appropriate that grace’. They have an elaborate scheme of how one cooperates with God so that over time righteousness is imparted as the life is change. The Roman Church states:
  • If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his will, let him be anathema.
  • If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.
  • Council of Trent. Canons on Justification 9 and 11, respectively.

(2) Evangelicals sneak good works in the back door when we treat salvation as if God has done his part and now I must do mine. There was an old tract that looked like a voting ballot and would say “God cast his vote, Satan has cast his, you cast the deciding vote.” We treat God’s grace as if God has done all he could he just wasn’t powerful enough and now you can tip the scale with just at little bit of action. This view says “believe” but it means “do your work and it’s yours.”

ii) Be careful of those who boast in the power of faith and not the power of God. Some who boast in the power of faith are so man-centered that they are basically telling you to boast in yourselves. They are inspiring to be confident by looking inward at who you are. Do not boast in your life this way.

iii) Watch out for the lies of the new forms self-help ‘spirituality’. There is not such thing as the ‘power of positive thinking’. In America, we are results driven. We will buy into any program for weight loss, making money, self-esteem, confidence, and ‘spirituality’ if it promises results. We like to hear: do 10 things to achieve X result. You’ll be skinny, you’ll be confident, you’ll be emotionally healthy, you’ll be popular. The problem is that these things offer false salvations—the new ‘heaven’ is what ever result you get. These salvations are propped up by false faiths: a trust in your ability and effort. At the end of the day they are false gods.

iv) We need to return to the kind of grace that says I can do nothing, I must only trust Christ. This is the gospel. This gospel must become central to how I live my life. When I struggle with a false hope, I confess it and I say: “Dear Jesus only you can save me, enable me to put my hope and trust in you alone.”


i) I cannot boast in my good works because God has ordained them as the fruit of my salvation. If at Christmas you are given a gift and parent says, “Go enjoy it, use this gift, I have planned for you to play with this.” Now matter how hard you play with your gift, your ability to play with it is not a condition of receiving it. Many times we treat even our Christian walk as if we have to earn favor with God and merit what He has give us. Certainly, Jesus warns us about wasting our gifts. But he has ordained for us to walk in good works—we cannot take credit for it. What thing in your life are you most proud of? Who gets the credit for it? Where is your boast?

ii) When I see salvation by grace alone and that God has ordained good works for my life—I do not have to fear that I will never measure up in God’s eyes.
iii) It is wrong to think that my good works are nothing other than the fruit of salvation
. The Roman Catholic Church denies this:

  • If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema. Council of Trent Canons on Justification 24.

iv) Knowing the grace of God is motivation for humbly serving God in good works.

Titus 3:4-8 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.

The more deeply we believe God’s grace the more excited we will be to engage in good deeds.

4) Conclusion: We must recover grace. We must recover grace in a way that makes us diligent in serving and yet the most humble people before God. We cannot truly look at the grace of God in the Cross of Christ and be truly smug at the same time. How many of us will say daily as Art Monk said:

[W]hat defines me and my validation comes in having accepted his son Jesus Christ as my personal savior…But I understand and I know that I’m here not by, in, and of my own strength—but it’s by the grace and the power of God upon my life, who I know gave me favor along the way, and who provided opportunity and room for me to use my gifts.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ephesians 2:8-10

a) The Christian is saved by grace.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

This verse comes as a conclusion to what Paul has previously written. He has described our deadness in sin. He has described that God how God is rich in mercy and has an abundant love for the believer. Out of this love, God takes the work of grace and makes us alive. V5b Paul says “by grace you have been saved.” As we said last week grace is unmerited or undeserved favor. The favor that God shows us is salvation.

God takes us, who are by nature children of wrath, and removes that penalty from us. He gives us the forgiveness of sin. During the Reformation, one of the slogans that became important was the slogan “Grace alone”. That my salvation has nothing to do with who I am and what I do for God but only what God has done for me. The only way I am saved is that God gives to me what I do not deserve. Grace alone has always been central to evangelical Christians—but today for many it has lost its flavor. It is no longer our boast—it is not what we take the most pleasure in trumpeting to the world.

b) Grace is received through faith.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Faith is the means through which we come to experience grace. The act of believing in God is not something we put forth based on our own effort. Faith in the Bible is giving up all our best efforts and self struggling and abandoning ourselves to God. Receiving grace through faith is saying, “I cannot do anything, you have done it—I trust you.” Faith clings to Christ. Just like a person who sits in a chair has faith the chair will hold them and they put all their weight on the chair—they abandon themselves to that chair. So the believer must only abandon Himself to Christ.

c) Salvation by grace through faith does not come from ourselves.
NAU Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

The ESV translates this “and this is not of your doing”. There is a little debate over what the phrase ‘and that’ refers to. Is Paul talking about the word grace, the word salvation, or the word faith. Some have suggested the grammar points that faith itself is a gift. The most natural way to read this is that the phrase ‘grace through faith’ is the gift.

What Paul is saying is that we do not accomplish anything when it comes to salvation. It is not as if God does His part and then I do might part. Or “I still have something to contribute.” When you are given a gift at Christmas you do not get credit. You do not say to yourself—“I am so glad I reached out and grabbed this gift” or “I am so glad I took this gift.” NO. You delight in the gift, you delight in the one who handed it to you. You cannot take any credit for receiving it—you give credit to the giver. So to with salvation.

d) Salvation by grace does not come through works.
NAU Ephesians 2:9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Many places in Paul’s writing, Paul will contrast faith with works. Either you receive something by faith—meaning you wholly trust Christ to give it; or you receive it through works of the law—meaning you trust yourself, your ability, and your effort to get you what you want. You rely on the strength of your arms to grab ‘the gift’. Paul completely destroys the idea that we have any strength and ability to “grab” the gift.
Romans 3:27-28 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Boasting is completely ruled out. We contribute nothing so we get no credit. A person is justified—declared righteous, the declaration of salvation by faith alone. To say “apart from the works of the Law” is to say “without any contribution of obedience to the Law of God”.
Romans 4:2-5 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,

For salvation we do not work. IF IT WAS OUR WORK, WE COULD BOAST. It would be like a wage God has to pay us. Salvation is a gift not a wage. We do not work we trust God. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone and this alone saves!

You are not saved by what you can do but by the mercy of God:
Titus 3:4-7 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

e) We are made by God.
NAU Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

This whole process of being brought from death to life; from being dead in our sins to being alive to God is God’s work in creating us in the person of Christ Jesus. In the original creation, in Genesis 1, we were made in God’s image. Adam and Eve were placed in a garden. The garden was a like a beautiful temple where Adam and Eve would walk we God and in that garden they would serve God.

Now in Jesus Christ we are recreated. We bear the image of the Son. God recreates us so that we might serve Him. God recreates us so that we might fellowship with Him and obey Him. God recreates me in His image. By His power He raises me from the dead and unites me to Christ. I am not free to respond in love by obeying in good works.

f) God has ordained us to do good works.
NAU Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

God has ordained you to do good works. He desires and delights when His children walk in obedience to Him but we walk in good works (1) because He has created us—His ‘creation’ was the act of making us alive in grace. We cannot walk in good works to get grace instead—we’ve got grace so we walk in good works. (2) God has ordained for each Christian what good works and deeds He will fulfill in His life.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Two Idolatry Quotes

"When people substitute what they imagine God to be for what he has revealed himself to be, they are guilty of idolatry" Knowing The God Who is; p.15. Copyright: Great Commission Publications.

I once heard Greek Grammarian Dan Wallace lecture at my college. He said, "Without the Bible the God we worship is the God of our imagination."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Samson & Manhood

These were some thoughts of mine that I gave at our "Men's Breakfast."

What is true manhood? Reflections on the life of Samson.

1) From the beginning God's grace is evident in Samsons life.
  • His unique birth to a barren mother (Judges 13:2-3)
  • The angel of the Lord appears to his parents (13:3-23)
  • The LORD blesses Samon (13:24)
  • Samson set apart to God (13:5)
2) Samson, of course, had incredible strength.
  • Men, particularly in our culture, often see physical strength as a sign of manhood.
  • Samson was choosen by God to deliver Israel. His strength was supernatural not merely natural.
3) Samson, however, show disrespect for God and God's laws.
  • 14:1-3-- Samson is willing to marry a Philistine. This was a violation of the Old Testament Law--cf. Deut 7:1-4. This issue of intermarriage was not specifically 'ethnic' but religious. Israel was not to be led astray from God, much like in the New Testament a believer is not to enter into a marriage with an unbeliever.
  • 14:8-9-- Samson ate honey from the lion. This is a direct violation of his Nazirite vow where he could not go near a dead body and eat unclean food.--cf. Num. 6:6-8. (I assume that killing the lion was not a sin (a) because it was self-defense and (b) there were provisions in the vow if someone dies suddenly in your presence (Num. 6:11ff).
  • Samson is easily seduced by women with his first wife and with Delilah.
  • 16:1ff--Delilah was a prostitute.
Samson had what men find desirable:
  1. Strength
  2. milatary prowless--victories. He was assertive and took action. Leadership (Judges 15:20).
  3. attractive to women (surmizing from his relationships with the Philistine women)
  4. Cunning--evidenced by the riddle.
  5. (*humorous) 'Mr. Fix-it' --takes down the city gates.
  6. (*humorous) Good with tools--killed men with a donkey's jaw bone
Samson displays an inability to trust and obey the Lord.

Samson's greatest victory, ultimately his own death, comes not through what humans desire but through a humbling on oneself before God. Judges 16:28, "O Sovereign Lord, remember me..." is repentent and humbling oneself before God.

Like Christ, Samson sacrifices himself to deliver his people.

Unlike Christ, Samson is a poor picture of manhood. He continually displays an inability to walk with the Lord.

We need to be careful that we don't let the temptations of manhood lead us away from the prize of manhood (walking with God). Where are our priorities?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sermon Applications 9/14/08

Text: Ephesians 2:1-7



This is teaching is called ‘Total Depravity’. Total depravity means that the total person is fully corrupted by the effects of sin.

(1) Total depravity does not mean that every sinner commits the same amount of heinous sins. Certainly some are murders while others are greedy idolaters. Equally heinous in God’s eyes but not equally punishable by government.

(2) Total depravity does not mean that sinners do not do ‘good things’ for other people. Jesus tells us:
Luke 11:13 13 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"

A person dead in sins might ‘help an old lady cross the street’—they might give money to the poor. They might even sacrifice their own life to save another. The person dead in sins might do things outwardly good towards others—but they do it out of rebellion against God.

In other words, the two greatest commandments are: “love God with all your heart” and “love your neighbor as yourself”. The most ardent of atheists—might be the kindest person towards others. But their heart does not love others because they love God—their heart loves others because it works. They love for selfish reasons—not to please God but to show hatred towards God. In fact, many atheists assume that if they love others they don’t need God and Christianity because they can do just fine without him. They use their loving others to strike out at God. They live and walk in disobedience to God.

(3) Total depravity means that whatever the sinner does he does out of rebellion against God.

(4) Total depravity means that every area of my person: my heart, my mind, my will, my desires—all of it rebels against God.

(5) Total depravity means I am dead in sins and in my relationship with God I do nothing but live in rebellion to Him. God says “Believe in me; Choose life” and I shake my fist and say “Forget you”!

(6) Total depravity means I live to satisfy the lust of my flesh. Lusts of the flesh are those sinful desires, those sins secret and not secret that I take pleasure in. Like food, I crave them. They make me feel good. The flesh refers not to our physical bodies but wrath to the inherent sinfulness of our being.

(7) Sin makes us children of wrath. It means that we deserve nothing but the fair and just judgment of God. Wrath is not simply anger—as if God ‘blows his top’. Wrath is God’s fair and just hatred of evil. This wrath deserve punishment—not cruelty but fair justice.

(i) God did not create us to be children of wrath. He created us and blessed us. He made us in His image. We still retain elements of that image. James tells us that with our tongues as sinners we curse men who:
James 3:9 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;
(ii) Even with total depravity we retain the image of God.

i) Some of us think we are naturally from birth on ‘ok’. Americans think this way: ‘people are generally good’—they just sometimes do bad things. This is wrong. The former Christian singer Ray Boltz recently came out and publically announced he is a homosexual. He said “This is what it really comes down to…If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live. It’s not like God made me this way and he’ll send me to hell if I am who he created me to be…I really feel closer to God because I no longer hate myself.”
(1) Sadly, Boltz thinks his sin is not sin. ‘God made me this way’. This denies that we are by nature children of wrath—not because God created us but because we sinned. God didn’t make us this way; we tried to remake ourselves.
(2) Second, Boltz is willing to live in a manner that satisfies his desires and lusts. I cannot judge His eternal salvation but I can say: his bold embracing of sin is consistent with the unbeliever not the believer.

ii) Some of us think there is no freedom from the power of sin. But look at what Paul says:
Ephesians 2:3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh
The gospel pronounces and enables freedom from sin. God makes us alive where we were once dead.


i) Seeing the depth of sin helps me see the depth of love and mercy.

ii) People have been surprised in politics lately. First, John McCain announces that Sarah Palin will be her running mate. She publically takes a stance that is pro-family and pro-life. Then just when opponents of her do not know what to do: she announces her daughter is pregnant without a husband. I believe that the world honestly expected the evangelicals to publically denounce her and slander her. By and large that did not happen. Why? Well not every person who claims to be “evangelical” in politics is “evangelical” Biblically. But a Biblical evangelical knows what it is to be a sinner. He or she knows the depth of love and mercy of God’s grace. We know that God’s law says such things are wrong—but we know God’s gospel of Jesus Christ forgives sin.

iii) Those who have been shown great love know how to love others. We learn to love those who sin. We learn to love those who sin against us. We learn to love our enemies because God loved me while I was his enemy. We love those who are physically poor because we were spiritual destitute.

iv) Americans have their sins that it deems unlovable. Granted the culture looks at some things the Bible says is sin and it says “That’s no sin”. But there are others sins that Americans today deem as unlovable and even unredeemable. Consider for example: the rapist or the child molester. These are heinous sins, wretched. But some treat people who have committed these sins as unrestorable and unforgivable. While Christians do not excuse these sins—we know these sins our forgivable. We know God forgives all sinners and so we are to forgive sinners. We know that the power of the gospel can truly restore and heal even the most wicked. We know that we were once the most wicked. God’s mercy was rich!


Application: Do you see God’s mercy?
i) Some of you need to see God’s mercy and believe on Jesus. Perhaps you are hearing for the first time that you are a sinner. For the first time, it makes sense. Maybe you are gripped by the awfulness of your sin. Maybe you find yourself longing to know this kind of love, mercy and forgiveness. You need to place your faith and truth in Jesus Christ.

ii) Some of you need to see God’s mercy and the life giving power he gives to conquer sins. You need to know that God gives power to conquer sin. You need to see that God has not left you in death. He has given life. The life He gives and continues to give is the only power we have to conquer lusts of the flesh. He has raised you up—but you have been unable to focus and set your minds on things above. You need to return again to your first love. Acknowledge those sins and seek Jesus. Pray; read your Bibles; get help a church from others. God’s grace brings life to fight indwelling sin. You need to read and pray Psalm 51.

iii) Some of you have spiritual depression. You really do not see you as God sees you. You are stuck on “by nature children of wrath”. You know your sin and it weighs on you. You need to daily meditate on God’s grace. You need to go to the cross and trust God’s word. He pronounces you forgiven. Yes, we know in ourselves we cannot get any better—but we fail to see that God has loved us with a perfect love.

iv) Some of you have forgotten your first love. We have lost a sense of wonder over the newness and the freshness of God’s grace. You hear the word grace and your heart is ho-hum. It doesn’t sing like it once did. You need to recapture this vision. God treats you as if you were seated with Christ. Certainly there is a “not yet” to our salvation—but the Bible shows you that the “not yet” is so certain it is like we are “already” there. We need to be like the little child and return with a sense of wonder and amazement. You need to see today—that this salvation is so rich and so wondrous it is far beyond what we could dream, hope and even imagine…and yet in Christ it belongs to me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Historical Theology: Is 'Unlimited Atonement' a 'Reformed Doctrine'?

Thoughts of Francis Turretin: Unlimited Atonement is not a Reformed Doctrine

This is a helpful post surveying the issues in response to those who haul out quotes from Calvin and others where he indeed uses the world "world" in reference to the atonement.

Turretinfan also has a follow up post here.

Of course, the issues of historical theology are pretty complex. We should not make earlier writers make declarations on debated points that were not debated at the time. Such argumentation is like asking Einstein to weigh in on global warming or marshaling him to make your case one way or the other. This is a caution for both sides of the historical argument over the extent of the atonement. In the end: context is king.

I favor the arguments that have debunked the "Calvin vs. the Calvinists" approach to Reformation orthodoxy. Certainly the articulation of certain doctrines is Protestant theology developed as new opponents stepped forward, however there seems to me to be clear continuity of this as the system is developed and articulation is honed.

We should just add for clarity: the arguments in historical theology are not the same as the Biblical arguments for positions on a doctrine. Nevertheless, the issues of church history and historical theology are important if not fun.

9/17/08 UPDATE: Ponter offers a response and Turritanfan responds here.

Thought on Acts 17:28

Acts 17:28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we also are His children.'

There are two quotes from Greek authors in this verse (which I mentioned here).
  1. We have the quote from Epimenedies the Cretan: "They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one--The Creatans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies! But thou art not dead; thou livest and abidest for ever, For in thee we live and move and have our being."
  2. From Phainomena: "Let us begin with Zeus, Never O men, let us leave him unmentioned. All the ways are full of Zeus, and all the market-place of human beings. The sea is full of him; so are the harbors. In every way we have all to do with Zeus, for we are truly his offspring."
Paul certainly takes the pagan poets and 'borrows' what they've said. In a limited sense, he sees an element of what they've said is true but as a whole it is wrong in so far as they've said it about the wrong God. Cornelius Van Til calls this 'borrowed capital'. The non-Christian belief system has to borrow points of the truth to construct their lie. After all, the best lies are believable when element of the truth are woven throughout. Yet the whole thing remains a lie.

Pointing out a dead clock face is right twice a day is not an argument that the clock works or that the clock is right. In the same way, Paul in Acts 17:28 quoting Greek writers is not an argument that they are true. Paul doesn't just 'affirm truth where ever he sees it'. The bare words might be right--just like a dead clock face is 'right' twice a day. But Paul applies them to Biblical truth wholly reappropriating them. If authorial intent means anything, Paul is not saying the Greek authors were right rather there 'rightness' is only a bare semblance. He quotes them where he might find a point of commonality precisely to make the point that they are wrong.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jesus' legitimacy

Was the ressurection broadcast as evidence of Jesus' legitimacy:

Brian McLaren says:

"Somehow, for him [Jesus], the defeat on that Roman cross--the moment when God appears weak and foolish, outsmarted as it were by human evil--provided the means by which God exposed and judged the evil empire and religion, and in them, the evil of every individual human being, so that humanity could be forgiven and reconciled...this understanding of the secret message of Jesus makes sense of a number of odd details of the gospel story, such as why the resurrection of Jesus wouldn't be miraculously broadcast to millions as irrefutable evidence of Jesus' legitimacy. Can you see it? As soon as the evidence becomes irrefutable, it takes on a kind of domineering power..." The Secret Message of Jesus p.71

Scripture says:

Acts 17:30-31 30 "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."

McLaren does like a kingdom of exaltation. But the humiliation of Christ is not the endgame of the kingdom it is the path through which comes exaltation. Christ is set up over all things and he does come to crush his enemies in judgment. This is not caving to the pricipalities and powers--indeed it is conquering them. Certainly, it is judo move of using their power--the power of death--against them. But the resurrection is proof positive that this has been conquored. Christ's power in the end dominates. He must reign until all his enemies are under his feet (1 Cor 15:26). There is no way to read this in McLaren's flowery hippy 'make love not war' chic without violating authorial intent.

Given that McLaren said "soon as the evidence becomes irrefutable, it takes on a kind of domineering power..." what do we make of Paul's "having furnished proof to all men"? Hmm...maybe the kingdom really does have domineering power over all creation?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Is the Appeal: 'Eastern vs. Western Thought' Really Sexy?

A sexy idea? It isn't all that uncommon for us to see arguments today that Christianity is held captive to "Western" thought not "Eastern" thought. There is a large allure and appeal to such arguments and it is particularly gaining ground in popular literature and the blogosphere. While this line of argument may be sexy it usually stems from muddled thinking and pseudo-intellectualism. Folks love to play this card when they are discussing the very notion of truth. This "Eastern" vs. "Western" thinking also comes out in the "Greek" vs. "Hebraic" thought. The basic arguments are that there is a radical dichotomy about how different cultures speak and think about concepts such as "truth". We are often told that "Western" thought has a 'static' view of truth that is "objective" and "out there" or that is corresponds to reality. It is logical and rational. In the opinion of some is propped up by Platonism (as if he was the only ancient philosopher in Western thought). In the "Eastern" or "Hebraic" model truth is more dynamic, more personal, relational, more embodied we are told. It is not objective but embraces mystery and paradox. It is high time this argument stop.

We have no problem where people point out where worldviews have wrongly been influenced by philosophical conceptions of all stripes (Col 2:2-4). Certainly, at times people can be influenced by philosophy (Greek, Roman, Enlightenment, and/or mystic) and not the Biblical text. Clearly there are a spectrum of worldviews out there and some are categorically similar to others. Yet too often 'Hebrew vs. Greek' and 'Eastern vs. Western' are used to prop of false dichotomies and draw artificial lines of distinction that have no basis in fact. (Opponents will now say I am rooted in Greek thought).

But sadly some advocates use "Hebraic" thought as a means for overruling worldviews rooted in the Biblical text. We are told we are merely reading the Bible like a Greek and we must abandon it for a more Hebraic pattern. Exegesis can be dismissed in one swoop of a brush the size of a Wooly Mammoth using arguments with holes large enough to hide a planet. This is particularly true when we are invited to embrace paradox and mystery over and against a correspondence theory of truth that holds certain views are patently and obviously false. It is considered enslavement to Greek rationalism and logic (Western thought) to still consider that a proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time. Another way this argument typically manifests itself if when we are told we must move away from 'word' based conceptions. We are told we must abandon logos-centered theology and beliefs (that are Western or Greek) in favor of mystic, experiential or embodiment theologies (i.e. more Hebraic and Eastern). This ignores that in the Old and New Testament, God's people have always been people of God's Word. God speaking in the Bible in no way minimizes the incarnation. Indeed, once the incarnation was witnessed and Christ returned to heaven the means of relating to the event was through proclamation and testimony which is nothing less than words (1 John 1:1-4).

These dichotomies are sometimes pushed by people who want to move theology or Christianity is a new direction so the old is labeled as "Greek/Western" and the new is labeled at "Hebraic/Eastern". You can find this argument by some in the emerging church like Doug Pagitt, Rob Bell and Peter Rollins. You can also find some of these arguments by some who advocate "open theism." We are told silly things like Greek thinking is ontological; Hebraic thinking is actualized, concrete or participatory. Greeks/Westerns focus on 'belief' statements (orthodoxy) but Eastern Hebraic thought focuses on deeds and orthopraxy. Western thought is static while Eastern thought is fluid. Greek is compartmental (or dualistic) but Hebrew is holistic.

Finding examples is not hard at all: Here, here, here, here, here, here and here; here is a great PDF that breaks it typically down--although wrongly; evidently there was a whole online forum on it here. These arguments should be relegated to the trash heap.

The Problems Unpacked and Debunked... or Sifting out the Garbage.

First, we need to say men like James Barr and Moises Silva have completed debunked the notion of Greek vs. Hebraic thought as it was applied in linguistics (see also this from Stanley Porter pp20-40). Old arguments assumed that at the word level you could find definition rooted in "Hebraic thought" or "Greek thought." While we should rightly acknowledge different worldviews at times these distinctions cannot be maintained at the word level or the semantic level. One of the early books to really dive into this "Greek vs. Hebrew" mindset is Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek by Thorleif Boman [google books]. His approach centers on linguistics. Barr of course has thoroughly refuted this in his Semantics of Biblical Language. In others words to say, for example, that Greeks had a judicial model and Hebrews had a participatory model based upon certain words, idiom and language features is just plain wrong. Hebrews had a law-court model and the concept of covenant was both participatory and legal--hence the prophets prosecute covenant lawsuits.

More examples abound: Here is a great example of the fallacy of using linguistics to prop up these thought division; Here is another example of the word sheol where we are told 'Hebrews did not speculate into the unknown (has this person read Second Temple Literature?) and Greeks did.

Second, Greek worldviews were not monolithic. For Plato there was Aristotle; for Parmenides, who thought the world was only static and changeless, there was Heraclitus who thought the world was nothing but flux and change. Most people who refer to "Greek thought" only think: "Plato" and "Parmenides". Epicureanism, for example, was materialistic and challenged the ontology of Platonism. As another example "Cicero...held that action is superior to theoretical knowledge and thus ethics is the primary subject of philosophy" (Dictionary of New Testament Background, p.242)--but this is exactly what is too often labeled wrongly as "Hebraic" orthopraxy against the "Greek" orthodoxy. Pyrrho, the founder of skepticism "challenged not just the value of things but even their knowability" (Dictionary of New Testament Background, p.242)--again 'unknowability' is wrongly labeled as 'Hebraic' as if it is never found in Greek thought. Some aspects of the Cynics do not fall within what is considered 'Western/Greek' thought. While we may find patterns within Greek worldviews, and we might trace for example the influence of Platonism and Neo-Platonism in later centuries, good recounting of the evidence in no way warrants or supports the categorical distinction of "Western vs. Eastern" "Greek vs. Hebraic". The issues are far too complex.

Third, "Hebraic" thought is hardly as monolithic as we are lead to believe. Judaism certainly had its notion of orthodoxy and maintained rigorous beliefs--otherwise the Maccabean revolt would have gone no where but to the monastery to meditate. Consider the use of the Shema as a confession of belief [granted the Shema was not a statement of metaphysics, cf N.T. Wright The New Testament and the People of God p.242; my discussion here p.8). However, "[s]ome Jewish writers in the later Second Temple period consciously adopted some of the Greek metaphysical language" (Richard Bauckham, God Crucified, 8). This would be impossible if there was truly such a thing as 'Hebraic thought'.

There are all stripes of Jewish thought and varying worldviews from Qumran and late medieval mystic Judaism, to Apocalyptic Judaism, Pharisaic Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism. One can trace pagan influences in some of the mythical Judaisms despite the fact that we are told that this is a 'Hebraic way of thinking.' Some forms of Judaism were very dualistic, others were not. N.T. Wright notes 10 types of dualities--4 that were common in a Jewish worldview, 3 that were marginal (which I take based on his evidence to mean rare but not necessary non-existent in all Hebraic thought) and 3 that were possible [N.T. Wright The New Testament and the People of God, pp. 252-56; see my comments here]. A minority of Jews did for a time 'Hellenize' and conform to Greeks culture in their worldview--although after the Maccabean revolt that was largely not the case. However it is disingenuous to appeal to "Hebraic thought" and then import mysticism as if all Jewish worldviews were mystical and denied correspondence theories of truth in order to embrace nothing but paradoxes. For example, Kabbalah and medieval Jewish mystics, influenced by patterns of thought in their own day, are hardly normative for Judaism through the ages. To take Rabbinic thought from the 3rd to 9th century and to apply it to first century texts [a critique Scot McKnight makes (new link)] and then label it 'Hebraic thought' is simple wrong. Let's also not forget about Philo, who has aspects of his thought that the dualistic patterns one would have to say are both Greek and Hebrew at various points.

To summarize our points two and three, worldviews hardly fall into monolithic categories or divided across such simplistic dichotomies. Various characteristics championed as unique to one or the other can often be found on both sides of the divide depending at whose worldviews you examine. Furthermore, in good history one can show the influence of ideas across cultures; one can even characterize patterns and schools of thought. But ideas and patterns of thinking are not easily divided into sociological or ethnic categories. (Ironically no one plays the racist card when we are told Greek thought is bad). One can trace differing worldviews. However, first linguistics and language structures do not support a uniquely original way of 'Hebraic thinking' that can be particularly represented at the word level. Second, worldviews cannot not be reduced to Hebraic vs. Greek and Western vs. Eastern. The categories of thought used to identify each as unique often overlap depending on which Greek, Hebraic, Eastern or Western worldview you look at and which other worldviews you with which you compare it. There is cross fertilization. Two "Greek" worldviews might be radically different and one "Eastern" and one "Greek" worldview might share commonalities. History is far too messy and complex for such reductions.

Fourth, one area that this distinction has been wrongly applied is the notion that Israelites have a distinction concept of 'corporate personality' while Greek thought is individualistic. Certainly certain passages in Scripture denote corporate representation where a leader represents his people, and even his actions or inactions have consequences to the people. However, this is not inherently "Hebraic". For example Ezekiel 18:4, 20,21, 24 teaches individuals being held responsible. Porter has shown (Nature of Religious Language, p.36) that for example in Oedipus the King, there is a sense of corporate representation that was not alien to the Greek world. So he concludes this is an unfair contrast between Greek culture and Israelite culture.

Fifth, some Eastern thought has a correspondence theory of truth. There are pattern of 'Eastern thought' that hold firmly to a concept of truth that correlates to reality with an 'objective' right and wrong. This brings me to an excellent point made by Harold Netland, and my initial motivation for posting. His essay "One Lord and Savior for All? Jesus Christ and Religious Diversity."

He summarizes the contention that people make:

It is sometimes said that this way of thinking about religious beliefs—that religious beliefs, like other propositions, are true or false, and that two contradictory beliefs cannot both be true—is merely a “Western” way of understanding religion and that “Eastern” religions do not approach religion in this manner. Rational approaches to religion that emphasize logical consistency depend upon “Western logic,” and other religions are not necessarily limited by such logical constraints. Therefore, it is said, the problem of conflicting truth claims is really a pseudo-problem, since it relies upon logical assumptions that not all religions share. (p.14)
He responds:

Although this perspective is fairly common, it is inadequate and very misleading. First, there is the empirical or factual question whether “Western thought” emphasizes rationality and logical consistency and whether “Eastern thought” rejects rational approaches to religion. What exactly is “Western” or “Eastern” thought?These are not monolithic entities but rather are broad abstractions that refer to large collections of people who display enormous diversity in thought. It is true that many people in Europe and North America do emphasize the importance of reason and logical consistency, but many others do not. Particularly in religious practice and the academic study of religion, many in the West today reject rational and logical principles, maintaining that religious “truth” somehow transcends rational categories. Similarly, there are religious traditions in Asia, such as certain forms of Hinduism, Buddhism (especially Zen), and Daoism, which do reject dependence on rational principles in the pursuit of religious “truth.” But many other religious traditions, especially in India and to some extent in China, are highly rational and emphasize the importance of logical consistency in belief.

Consider, for example, the comments of the Sri Lankan Buddhist scholar K. N. Jayatilleke. After arguing that the Buddha actually embraced the correspondence theory of truth, he asserts that for Buddhists inconsistency is a criterion of falsehood:
Although correspondence with fact is considered to be the essential characteristic of truth, consistency or coherence is also held to be a criterion. In contrast, inconsistency is a criterion of falsehood. In arguing with his opponents, the Buddha often shows that their theories lead to inconsistencies or contradictions, thereby demonstrating that they are false, using what is known as the Socratic method. . . . This means that truth must be consistent. Therefore, when a number of theories with regard to the nature of man and his destiny in the universe contradict each other, they cannot all be true, though they could all be false if none of them correspond with fact.

Similarly, the Japanese Buddhist scholar Hajime Nakamura claims,

"Gotama was described as one who reasoned according to the truth rather than on the basis of the authority of the Vedas or tradition. Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism have accepted two standards for the truth of a statement: it must be in accord with the [Buddhist] scriptures and must be proved true by reasoning. No Buddhist is expected to believe anything which does not meet these two tests."

Thus, it simply is not the case that “Eastern thought” in general rejects rational principles such as the principle of non-contradiction. (Emphasis mine; pp.15-16)

Of course, when it comes to writing of the New Testament, its worldview is clearly not Gnostic or Platonic [often wrongly labeled 'Western'/'Greek'] but neither does it buy into a worldview that is based on Iranian "Zoroastrianism" [which is from the Ancient Near East]. Certainly Paul has a background as a Jewish Pharisee. The NT at points uses the OT similarly to Second Temple Judaism. One can argue that Hebrews and Philo share certain similarities. Yet, adoption is a metaphor that has more parallels to Greek practice and especially Roman law than to Jewish thought (although this is debated particularly in J.M. Scott's excellent work Adoption as Sons of God). Of course, Paul's background and worldview is based first of the Old Testament and second on Second Temple Judaism not Greek philosophy. Paul's spirit/flesh is a dualism--particularly an eschatological dualism but not a metaphysical one. Thus it is clearly not Platonic or Gnostic in its worldview. But Paul also resisted thinking about asceticism and festival days in the "Hebraic" patterns too (Col. 2:16-23). Certainly Paul tells us that when confronted with the cross Jews demanded signs and Greek demand wisdom--yet his purpose is to contrast unbelief (both Jew and Gentile) with belief. Both Jewish worldviews and Gentile worldview reject the message of Christ crucified. One thought pattern is not inherently better than another. Indeed Hebrews tells us that we are not to think of Christ as an exalted angelic figure, figures which were pretty common in first century Jewish literature.

One more example, the phrase "in him we live and move and have our being" in Acts 17:28. This could be taken as what some like Doug Pagitt might consider the 'story of the embedded God' (cf. Listening to the Beliefs of the Emerging Church pp.119-143, esp. 135). In fact, Doug Pagitt advocates moving from "Greek thought" of the gap between God and creation and rethinking the Creator-creature distinction. This would be to move from Greek thought (dichotomy) to Hebraic thought (integration). However the problems are multiple. (1) Acts 17:28 is a quote from Greek thought! (2) Paul applies it but clearly in non-pantheistic ways (cf. Bruce, Acts, 338-40). Indeed, the Stoics held that 'god' was the "immanent ordering principle" that is "very different from a transcendent Creator, outside and distinct from the world" (Dictionary of New Testament Background 1140). Epicureans believed all creation was falling particles (which sounds very similar to Pagitt's discussion of Einstein's theory of relativity for a reason to dismiss God as wholly other, Listening, p.140-42). But Pagitt argues that this Creator-creature distinction is Greek and embodiment is Hebraic--integrated and holistic. We simple point out that pantheism is native in Greek worldviews and Eastern worldviews (not however is most Judaic worldviews--cf. N.T. Wright New Testament and the People of God, p.252-54 on the its belief in theological/ontological dualism and theological/cosmological dualism [i.e. Creator-creature distinction]). In short, in Acts 17, Paul borrows Greek poets as a point of identity but shoots an arrow that strikes right at the heart of the Greek worldviews. Our point is that when we recognize the Greek quote from Epimenides 'in him we live and move and have our being' often typifies what people now label a 'Hebraic worldview,' we begin to see the distinctions and dichotomies are unhinged. Continual reliance on them is both shoddy argumentation and an effort to turn things topsy turvy.

We are not denying that there are differing worldviews simply that they do not define themselves into nice categories of Greek vs. Hebrew or Western vs. Eastern. We are not denying that to varying degrees Augustine, Origen and others were at times influenced by the world around them. That being said Enlightenment philosophy as a whole project (including the hyper-enlightenment of postmodernism) has no place for metaphysics. To Plato and the Greeks they say "We're not in Kansas anymore." To my point, we are simply denying false dichotomies and whole scale rejections based on labels falsely applied [to some this would make me 'Hebraic' =)]. There are characteristics common both and there are ways that are typically labeled "Eastern/Hebraic" that can be found on the Greek/Western side of the divided and vice versa.

Conclusion: Arguments that rely upon dichotomies between "Greek and Hebrew" or "Eastern and Western" may look sexy but there is more of dame folly to them than lady wisdom. They are often nothing more than power plays. And at the end of the day, the appeal that we embrace more "Eastern" or "Hebraic" thinking often is a ploy to lead us further from the Biblical text. Indeed, such arguments are elitist in that one worldview is categorically superior than the other. So "Eastern" and "Hebraic" always trumps "Western" and "Greek". This is not to deny that certain Greek worldviews certainly lead us away from the Biblical text but to point out that certain "Eastern" and "Hebraic" views so championed as mystical, non-rational, apophatic, and exclusively experiential lead us from the same text into another direction. The road to destruction is broad with many byways--it is not exclusively 'Greek' and 'Western'.

It high time we reject such shoddy argumentation and see it for what it is--the use of smoke and mirrors to mislead. It may look sexy, it often appears sophisticated and intellectual, when in fact it is nothing more than pseudo-intellectualism based on debunked Enlightenment theories of the 19th century. Such pseudo-intellectualism, naive dichotomies, simplistic abstractions and reductionist if not pompass appeals to "Greek vs. Hebrew" does nothing to further serious argumentation nor do they reflect carefully weighed conclusions. They mask ignorance of the complexities of Greek and Hebrew, Western and Eastern worldviews. They ignore obvious similiarities, patterns and cross fertilization. It is nothing more than a ring in a pigs snout. Sadly, particularly on the internet but also in some popular literature such arguments are still used as if they are the gold standard. Like the Sirens, it may sing sweetly to us and allure us but it is time we lash ourselves to the deck and plug our ears. This island paradise of naive dichotomies is covered with nothing but rocky shores of disaster for our boat.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

John Calvin on the Word of God

One thing for John Calvin was the importance of God's Word. he recognized that if the Word of God was going to be the highest authority in the life of the Christian, it has to carry the weight of its authority with it. Other things may testify to that authority however strickly speaking they are not 'proofs' of the authority of God in the sense that they along hold up and validate the Bible's authority.

If this were try you would be using a higher authority, namely reason, to prove the Bible is the Word of God. Thus, the Bible is not the final authority but your reasoning capacity is the final authority.

“Let this point therefore stand: that those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture, and that Scripture indeed is self-authenticated; hence it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning. And the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else’s judgment that Scripture is from God; but above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that it flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men. We seek no proofs, no marks of genuineness upon which our judgment may lean; but we subject our judgment and wit to is as to a thing far beyond guesswork! This we do, not as persons accustomed to seize upon some unknown thing, which under closer scrutiny, displeases them, but fully conscious what we hold the unassailable truth! Nor do we do this as those miserable men who habitually bind over their minds to the thralldom of superstition; but we feel that the undoubted power of his divine majesty lives and breathes there. By this power we are drawn and inflamed, knowningly and willingly, to obey him, yet also more vitally and more effectively than by mere human willing and knowing” –Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.vii.5

“Unless this certainty, higher and stronger than any human judgment, be present, it will be vain to fortify the authority of Scripture by arguments to establish it by common agreement of the church or to confirm it with other helps. For unless this foundation is laid, its authority will always remain in doubt.” Institutes, I.viii.1

Calvin, of course, goes on and says once we recognize the Bible is the highest authority we see things that bear witness to that authority--and it in this sense we have 'evidence' that the Bible is the Word of God. However, we must never place the witness of the Bible's authority above the authority of the Bible.

Consider this, if you recieve a letter from a king (or a president), it will come with witnesses to his authority. Perhaps on the paper, or on the seal, and particularly in what it says. However that letter bears authority. It's authority comes not from your ability to validate the letter--although the letter can be validated--the letter comes with authority because it is the living voice of the king. In a similary way, the Bible is the Word of God because of whom it comes from and the message contained within.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Incarnation--a dueling duo

The first quote:

"Many people today assume that all they’ll find in church are abstract, cerebral ideas, theological definitions, and moral correction. But Jesus is God coming down to earth to serve real human needs. The message of the Incarnation is that God comes to everyday people. Like me. Like the church I serve. Like the people in my community who need an experience of God."

The second quote:
"For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human."

  • Is it possible that one view operates on a truncated view of the incarnation?
  • Is it possible that one view accomadates the incarnation for sentimentality?
  • What ever happened to the historical significance that Jesus came 'in the fulness of time'?

Friday, September 5, 2008


Horatius Bonar has a great essay entitled "Ministerial Confessions". It is a great set of confessions that I think are worth reviewing from time to time as a pastor. Even those who are not pastors will benefit greatly from them. What is scary is how godly these men of old where and then I read how deep their confessions were and I find myself being the chief of sinners having much more to confess.

Since this week has been primarily on prayer, here is what Bonar confesses:
We have not been men of prayer. The spirit of prayer has slumbered among us. The closet has been too little frequented and delighted in. We have allowed business, study or active labor to interfere with our closet hours. A feverish atmosphere has found its way into our closet, disturbing the sweet calm of its blessed solitude. Sleep, company, idle visiting, foolish talking and jesting, idle reading, unprofitable occupations, engross time that might have been redeemed for prayer. Why is there so little concern to get time to pray? Why is there so much speaking, yet so little prayer? Why is there so much running to and fro, yet so little prayer? Why so much bustle and business, yet so little prayer? Why so many meetings with our fellow men, yet so few meetings with God? Why so little being alone, so little thirsting of the soul for the calm, sweet hours of unbroken solitude, when God and His child hold fellowship together as if they could never part? It is the lack of these solitary hours that not only injures our own growth in grace, but makes us such unprofitable members of the church of Christ, and that renders our lives useless. In order to grow in grace, we must be much alone with God. It is not in society, even Christian society that the soul grows most rapidly and vigorously. In one single quiet hour of prayer it will often make more progress than in whole days of company with others. It is in the 'desert' that the dew falls freshest and the air is purest. So with the soul. It is when none but God is near; when His presence alone, like the desert air in which there is mingled no noxious breath of man, surrounds and pervades the soul; it is then that the eye gets the clearest, simplest view of eternal certainties; it is then that the soul gathers in wondrous refreshment and power and energy. Nearness to God, fellowship with God, waiting upon God, resting in God, have been too little the characteristic either of our private or our ministerial walk. Hence our example has been so powerless, our labors so unsuccessful, our sermons so meager, our whole ministry so fruitless and feeble.

Let me just encourage you to read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sermon Applications 8/31/08

Text: Ephesians 1:15-23



Application: If you are what you pray, how often to you thank God for the salvation and spiritual growth of other Christians? It is an act of selflessness to give thanks to God for what he has done for others. You humbly acknowledge your dependence upon Him.

i)You should make this a regular habit. Most of us fail to pray because we fail to plan to pray. We do not make it a habit. Two ways to help is: (1) have a prayer list or a prayer journal to keep track of who you pray for; (2) consistently set aside the same time each day to prayer.

ii)Devote quality time to your prayers. Some of us cheat. When Paul says “I do not cease to give thanks…” he means nothing more than “I make it a habit”. This is also what Paul means in 1 Thes. 5:17 when he says “pray without ceasing”—make it a habit. So today turn this into a mystic notion of ‘practicing God’s presence’—we say a little blurb prayers throughout the day and we try to remember that God is with us and then we say “I’ve prayed without ceasing because God is always with me and I am always with him.”

Imagine how this might work with my wife. Let’s say I buy a blackberry and my wife buys one too. All day I send her little text messages, “thinking of you” or “I’m going to the store and I know you think about me” or “I’m in the bathroom now just updating you.” Nothing wrong with that but if that is the extent of my conversations with her how empty and hollow will our relationship be? You see we have never talked but created the allusion of talking. In Nehemiah 2, the king asks Nehemiah “What’s wrong” and then “Give me your request” and we read that Nehemiah prayed to God. I am sure that was a short blurb—a ‘text message’ if you will—nothing wrong with that. But if you look a chapter 1, you see the depth of Nehemiah’s prayer. Most of us pray like chapter 2, when we are supposed to pray like chapter 1 first.

Just another caution, sometimes this bad view of ‘praying without ceasing’ gets its idea from Eastern pagan thought about meditation not from God’s Word. Devote quality time to prayer.

iii)Make sure your prayer life focuses on bringing other people before God. We will talk about how to do that.


Application: What do I say when I pray for other believers?

i)No doubt we should pray for our own spiritual growth using this language, but the focus is on praying for others. Most of us pray for the safety of our kids, their health,--when your teenagers take the car, you pray for protection. You probably pray they get into a good school or a get a good job. We often pray these things for needs in our own church body. Your first priority is to pray for people’s spiritual growth.

ii) Pray that people understand the gospel and know God deeper. Pray that God takes the Word of God—that which is clear and objective and writes it into our hearts. Pray that God continues to take a Christian’s heart and opens it more and more so that they delight in God. So that they know God in intimate fellowship just like one knows your spouse. D.A Carson, probably one of the best and brightest New Testament scholars of the day—a man who loves God’s Word and has devoted his life to it says a person can…

“devote thousands of hours to the diligent study of Scripture and yet still somehow display an extraordinary shallow knowledge of God. Biblical knowledge can be merely academic and rigorous, but somehow not edifying, not life-giving, not devout, not guileless.” (A Call to Spiritual Reformation, p.15)

We need both the light of the Word and the heat of prayer for Christian fire.

iii) Pray for true Christian enlightenment. In the second century, there was heresy called Gnosticism—they twisted Scripture and taught a spiritual enlightenment. Today, Buddhism and New Age thought teaches about an enlightenment. This enlightenment is nothing more than feelings sensing some ‘bigger’. It is dangerous because it is enrapturing—it brings delight but it is phony delight…delight in nothing. The Christian God is personal, we find delight in a person. The Christian faith is historical—things happened in history that are facts, we delight in these objective truths and come to know that through faith what was done at a particular concrete point in time was done for me. This is the Christian enlightenment.

iv) If this church body is going to grow—we must devote our public and private times to pray for the spiritual growth of those around us. Requests for spiritual growth should not just be “give so-and-so spiritual growth”---consider the specificity of Paul’s requests. Do you give such specific attention to specific requests for spiritual growth? Specifically ask God specifically where you want people to grow. “Help them to know they are saved.” “Help them to have a confidence in you”, “Help them to know their salvation is secure”, “Help them to submit to your sovereignty”.


i) Prayer exalts Christ. In this description of prayer, Paul slips into theology—He ruminates on the greatness of what God has done in Christ. The heat of passion for God comes with this light of thinking deeply about what God has done and being specific about specific events God has accomplished in Christ. How lacking are our prayers? Do we reflect in our prayers this deeply on the Trinity? Or this deeply on the actual things God has done to save us—the events of the gospel?

ii) It is idolatrous to focus prayer on experience and not on Christ. Many religions have notions of prayer where we touch the ‘divine’—they drive us to focus on the feeling we get from prayer. Biblical pray takes us to Christ and what Christ has done in history—only then do we find real delight.

iii)In your personal prayers—dwell on the objective events of the gospel. Christ died as a historical event. He rose again as a historical event. He had a physical body that at a real point in space and time went up into heaven. In a physical body he sits in heaven ruling over all things. For these reasons we are part of His spiritual body! Deep prayer focuses deeply on Christ. It asks God that others would see this. Only when we focus on what God has done at the center of all human history can we spend time focusing on what God is doing in our personal histories. In your prayer life: keep the main thing, the main thing. In our prayers, in our day we are selfish and narcissistic—we do not pray for other to this depth nor do we reflect in prayer on events of the gospel to this complexity. It is no wonder that Christians in America are in shambles—we do not know God!

iv) The vision of our church is that we would be a body that “glorifies God and enjoys Him”—we need to devote ourselves in prayer for others. We need to pray that they would enjoy God and delight in Him—this is what is means to know God. We need to pray for each other that way Paul pray for the Ephesians.

v) Challenge: this week, take out our church phone book. Right down all the names divided them up so that you pray for a few each day for some period of time. Open your Bible to one of the prayers of Paul and prayer for those people the way that the Word of God teaches us.

4) Final Thought: If M’Cheyne has said: “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more” may I suggest again without excluding the role of the Word of God: “What a church is on its knees before God—that is what it is—no more”

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tony Jones' Bizarro World--Or Having your cake and eating it too

I read a recent blog post from Tony Jones where he is upset and levels the challenge once more to readers to cite chapter and verse of his writings where he is "unorthodox." He writes this:

Again, I defy Marcia — or anyone for that matter — to find for me a place in which I have written something that interprets scripture in an unorthodox fashion. Listen, I’ve written many books, all of which contain scores of references to scripture, and I have yet to be accused of being unorthodox in any specific case — it’s always in these vague, general ways.... For that matter, I invite Erwin McManus or Len Sweet or any other notable figure of contemporary Christianity to 1) Define “an orthodox interpretation of scripture” and 2) Show where I have breached said orthodoxy....But, while you may have differences of opinion with me, I think it’s truly impossible to say that I have landed on a place that it outside of historic, Christian orthodoxy.

This strikes me as sort of a bizarro world where on the one hand Jones has argued that there is no 'is' to orthodoxy--but then calls people to the carpet defending that he is orthodox in what he has written calling readers to prove otherwise. Before tackling this, let me make a couple of comments first.
  1. He is right when he says "The young Calvinists will say that I misunderstand the atonement..." And I for one would take issue with Jones on atonement, but would simply add that historic Calvinists would take issue with Jones...not to mention some people in church history before the Reformation. The issue of why he singles out 'young Calvinists' is a side-issue.
  2. I am not an expert on all the writings of Tony Jones--and I don't plan to critique them all here. If he were to send me free books I'd read them, but I just can't afford to buy all things emergent and stay up on NT, theology, and my other loves--not to mention keeping peace at home by not going into debt ;) . I subscribe to his blog and try to read it regularly. I have read some of Jones' stuff and other emerging/ent stuff in general and so I hope I don't misrepresent him.
  3. I'm not going discuss the article he responds to or the issue of women in the emerging church. My main thought is about his response and the reasons for it.
  4. I fully understand Jones' feelings that he has been misrepresented. Great, now we are getting somewhere beyond just dialogue aren't we? Of course, it takes 'dialogue' (i.e. responses) to say "no I believe this, you misunderstood me".

Now on to my main thought:

Why does this matter to Jones? I mean yes I can understand getting upset with someone saying emergent is a term "referring to an unorthodox interpretation of scripture." But Jones' challenge to "show me where I have breached said orthodoxy" and his statement "I think it’s truly impossible to say that I have landed on a place that it outside of historic, Christian orthodoxy" actually demands that there be such a thing that can be labelled "historic, Christian orthodoxy." In short, that you can point to something someone says and writes and says "there is Christian orthodoxy."

Unless, I am misreading Jones' paper "Whence Hermeneutical Authority," this is the very thing that Jones denies. Now I want to read him as favorably as possible. He sees orthodoxy as a product of a particular time and place. He sees it as manifest in particular people but acknowledges the messiness of history in which orthodoxy is embodied. I totally agree that statements like Chalcedon arise within the messiness of history, all good historians and theologians acknowledge this.

I also agree that orthodoxy has to be things that people confess. Orthodoxy cannot be on dusty paper but it has to be rooted in hearts so that the dust is cleared out.

But for Jones' orthodoxy is an event. He says explicitly:
"But if orthodoxy can not [sic] be summarized in a statement, if what it means to be an orthodox Christian is not state-able, then what is orthodoxy? It is in answer to this question that I would propose my thesis." (page 19).
You see Jones accepts that orthodoxy is not a statement but now he is calling people to the carpet:
  • "show me where I have breached said orthodoxy"
  • "I think it’s truly impossible to say that I have landed on a place that it outside of historic, Christian orthodoxy"
In fact, earlier, he has noted the problems of Christianity doctrinally conceived:
"This is the inherent aporia of orthodoxy, as it is traditionally conceived. Christian orthodoxy, when defined doctrinally, when seen as a set of beliefs, be it bounded or centered, is too easily deconstructible. We are left to rely upon logical positivism and empiricism to take us as far as it can, then we invoke the Holy Spirit to take us the rest of the way." (p.17)

But now rather than eschewing doctrinal statements, Jones calls people to examine what he has said. If doctrinal and creedal statements are unimportant (or at least of low value), why is Jones so concerned about being misrepresented? Why the focus on historic and orthodox Christianity? You see, if orthodoxy really evolves, one would not be concerned whether or not you have moved beyond the past. In fact, you might say "I've learned from the past" or "I've been spurred on further by the past" but you do not say "hold me accountable to the past"--just like a mammal does not say "am I still a fish? Judge me by my 'fishiness'." Why such pressing need to be held to a statement if the very act of making a statement about said orthodoxy is limiting, repressive and downright wrong headed? I suppose Jones could appeal and say, "I am playing their game for their sake" but you don't play in the Coliseum for the sake of others when you are mounting an argument that bloodsport is wrong to begin with.

Jones has been clear that we need to move beyond orthodoxy as a statement and see it as an event:
"In his forthcoming book, What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, Caputo returns to the idea of event, stating unequivocally that "Events are not names or things but something going on in names or things...a simmering potency in a name, possibility that inhabits the name, what that name is trying to express while never quite succeeding, something that the name recalls but never quite remembers, promises but never quite delivers."...To say that Christian orthodoxy is an event is to say that orthodoxy happens. (And here, I could easily say, "Truth Happens," "Gospel Happens," or "Christianity Happens.") Orthodoxy is a happening, an occurrence not a state of being or a state of mind or a state-ment. It's move from the ontological--orthodoxy is--to the eschatological --orthodoxy will be." (p.20, emphasis original).

I'd really just like to see Jones be consistent to what he has previously written. His recent complaints presuppose that some element of orthodoxy is a statement (yes of course written at a time or in an event). He is not asking us to judge the event though but judge the statement. In short, Jones wants a grade. But Jones has said there can be no grade:
"To look at it from the side of our weakness, orthodoxy is an event and not a statement because, to put it colloquially, not one of us will score a perfect 100 on the Big Theology Exam in the Sky. We've all got a little heterodoxy mixed in with all the orthodoxy--and most of us will admit that. I'm wrong about some things; the problem, of course, is knowing what parts I'm wrong about. "O my fellow orthodox theologians, there are not orthodox theologian."
Maybe I am straining his hyperbole too far...but if there are not orthodox theologians--why is Jones so worried when people say he is unorthodox? Indeed, Jones defends that he is not wrong and has not offered unorthodox interpretations of Scripture, (of course, not without challenging us to define an 'unorthodox interpretation'). I commend Jones for acknowledging he might be wrong and now inviting people to show he is wrong (although it is tough to read the manner of his tone here, we will assume it is at best sincere and charitable). I agree with Jones that nobody on earth is ever 100% right. However, the purpose of Creeds is not to spell out exhaustively every interpretation of every Scripture but rather to say what system of interpretations or general conclusions are out of bounds. It gives you the big beliefs of Scripture.

The writers of creeds were quite familiar with a plurality of interpretations. Athanasius, and men like him, worked with the 'nuts and bolts' of Scripture to show that the Scriptures properly interpreted lead to 'this' conclusion (i.e. orthodoxy) and not 'that' one (i.e. heterodoxy). It doesn't mean that everybody agreed on every issue or every interpretation but they agreed on certain nonnegotiable. AND the creed distinguished amongst the pluralities of interpretations of the whole canon which ones were 'out of bounds'. To be orthodox, I don't have to articulate my understanding of a passage the same way but only in line with the overall conclusion on the whole of Scripture (as an example the history of interpretation of Romans 1:3-4 comes to mind). The issues are not graded on point by point interpretation but rather the issues are graded on the overall conclusion precisely because there was a plurality of interpretations that were out there. In other words, the Arians handled Scripture too and they had to be confronted and their statements were rejected by the Creed as unfaithful to Scripture. The issues was not whether people got 100% on the "Big Theology Exam in the Sky" but whether they got a passing grade. The same passing grade that Jones still wants.

To say we all have a bit of wrong in our belief systems that we submit under the authority of God and His Word is very different from saying we are all a bit 'unorthoodox.' This kind of statement fails to distinguish that there are certain wrong beliefs that condemn one to hell (John 8:24; e.g. 1 John; et al) and there are other beliefs that can be wrong but do not have eternal consequences. In the historic use of the terms not all forms of wrong beliefs are necessarily unorthodox beliefs (one might think of the chiliasm debates in the early centuries of the church).

The creed is not the sum total of Christianity, as if all we have is a statement. Of course, the gospel is redemptive historical--i.e. it concerns events. The Apostle's creed makes this clear. BUT the ability to say "this event happened" or "this is who Jesus is" presupposes creeds, words, and statements. As surely as one can lie about an event (e.g. Tony Jones did not deliver the paper at Wheaton college), lie about an interpretation of the event (e.g. Tony Jones' paper was not considered controversial by the listeners) and you can lie about a person (e.g. Tony Jones is a demon who wants to be the Antichrist) you can lie about the gospel events, their meaning and the person of Jesus--hence heterodoxy. Words have meaning that reside outside the reader (this is not to deny that readers bring presuppositions but only to argue for moral accountability in interpretation; cf. Vanhoozer's Is there Meaning in This Text?) and we need to make right statements about the events because with the gospel God has designed the event to have meaning. The question is which meaning. In this regard we might find Machen helpful:
"The primitive Church was concerned not merely with what Jesus had said, but also, and primarily, with what Jesus had done. The world was to be redeemed through the proclamation of an event. And with the event went the meaning of the event; and the setting forth of the event with the meaning of the event was doctrine. These two elements are always combined in the Christian message. The narration of the facts of history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried"--that is history. "He loved me and gave Himself for me"--that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church." (Christian and Liberalism, p.29)
The history of the early church to the time of Chalcedon (and beyond) displays that one could get the events right but attach the wrong meaning to the events--such is the nature of heterodoxy. Jones himself wants to be evaluated by the meaning of events--this much is clear when he points to potential areas of critique where others essentially have a different 'meaning'.
The young Calvinists will say that I misunderstand the atonement, and the young liberals will say that I read the Bible more literally than is correct.
Of course, crucial to orthodoxy is not simply writing a statement on paper but what we actually say about the event. Is it true? As he responds to what people have written about him, this is what Jones is asking people to evaluate about the orthodoxy of his statements. What I am saying is that given the presuppositions of his Wheaton paper--he cannot (nor should he want to) make such clarion cries. He actions presuppose that orthodoxy is and that it is more than mere events. In short, there must be an orthodoxy 'out there somewhere' (cf. page 23)to be judged by. There must be an 'is' in orthodoxy to make such cries.

Part of the problem is not so much that Jones may have this or that "unorthodox interpretation" of Scripture but rather his whole interpretation of "orthodox" seems to be to be outside the bounds of historic conceptions of orthodoxy. One can play the epistemology card here and say 'there is no orthodox view of epistemology'--fair enough. But the very fact that Jesus embodied the truth means we should speak truly about Him which means our epistemology must be subordinate to revelation. If we know ectypally, there must be an archetype--the image bearer must bear the image of an actual. If we follow that line of thinking we cast off epistemologies of the modern and the postmodern variety--which means there is a manner of epistemology that is orthodox and some that are--well--unorthodox.

Jones has every right to be upset if he has been misrepresented. There is an anger that is just and righteous. This presupposes though there are standards of 'just' and 'righteous' that reside in the character of God and that human beings can reasonably know them. I don't understand Jones as denying orthodoxy [or truth] all together but rather finding its locus in the event which opens it up to changes, shifting, differences, and perspectivalism. However, if one says there is no 'is' in orthdoxy one is at best inconsistent to ask whether one has "landed on a place that it outside of historic, Christian orthodoxy". If one cannot land period then one cannot defend that he or she has indeed landed. No matter how charitable we read Jones, he cannot have his cake and eat it too.

For a more humorous response to Jones' article see my: Emerging Baseball.

Read Jones' Wheaton paper.

Please note that in the comments section of Tony Jones' blog, Marcia Ford stops by to point out that she meant "unconventional" not "unorthodox." However, my critique is not with what she said but with Jones' response--I find it somewhat inconsistent to respond to the charge the way he does and maintain what he does in his paper. I would point out that most people will read 'unconventional interpretations of Scripture' as value neutral--which probably should not be the case. It is beyond that scope of my interaction in this post to defend that some interpretation can be qualitatively bad and morally wrong.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...