Thursday, December 31, 2009

Self Authentication of God's Word

One of my favorite John Calvin quotes is where he says the Word of God's was self-authenticating. It carries its authority with it. No doubt, atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens, point to the horribleness of the OT. Scholars point to the ancient parallels of ANE literature. All together such cries rise up "it is not the Word of God... it looks human." This is not argument against the Word of God, for Scripture tells us that human men were carried along by the Holy Spirit. We worship a God who can condescend and in this condescention he makes himself known by way of covenant. Yet, God is sovereign and transcendant so that he sees to it that the very words of Scripture are 'God-breathed.'

So if God breathes out his what would be expect it to look like?

(1) Human beings are the ones who put pen to paper. Scripture did not drop from the sky. We are told:
2 Peter 1:21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Indeed God uses men in such a way that they write exactly what He has breathed out. Yet this is no theory of mere dictation. "Men spoke" but also "men spoke from God" and were "carried along by the Holy Spirit."

I do not, with good reasons we cannot elaborate here, subscribe to the theory that because men were involved in the process that the Bible contains errors. This is not to minimize difficulties but to affirm that at the end of the day God does not lie or mislead. If he is the ultimate authority behind the text, we should expect it, based on his character, to be error free.

(2) But if one means, as in the case of Dawkins, Hitchens, et al, that the Bible is immoral. But by this question you are forced to ask: who defines immorality? I believe in that this is one area where Doug Wilson sought to nail Hitchens, the reader may judge if he was successful or not.

If one wants to use an outside authority to seek to validate or invalidate Scripture, one is making no less a perilous move than that one accuses of his opponent. No matter how much reason or philosophy one uses at the end of the day you rely on it to be 'self-authenticating'.

At the end of the day it comes to issues of trust and submission. Do I submit to God and His Word or do I submit to myself. This is not to bypass evidence, persuasion and a right use of Christian reason to defend God's Word and convince others. We just have to acknowledge where the impasse always ends and that is at a fork in the road: I either go left on the narrow road where I bend my knee, or I go right onto the wide road of the stubborn heart.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Truth Claims and the Bible

When we say the Bible is the Word of God, we are making a truth claim. When we say the Bible is self-authenticating we are making a statement about the nature of its truth: it is the ultimate authority.

First, we need to point out that every aurgument for an ultimate authority has to be circular. Even the strictest evidentialist has to either use evidentialism to argue for the priority of evidence or he has to point to a higher syllogism that than evidence to support his evidentialism, at which point his epistemology breaks down.

Surprisingly Dawkins seems to make this sort of error in his letter to his 10 year old daughter. (Granted his is writing to a 10 year old). He ends:
Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: "Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority, or revelation?" And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: "What kind of evidence is there for that?" And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.

One simply has to ask: what kind of evidence do you have that for that? Can this statement actually be made according to the evidence. Without getting too deep one simple example: the statement: "murder is wrong" what evidence is there for that? You can show evidence that it is undesirable but you cannot actually prove that it is wrong.

Now not everyone follows Dawkins in their epistemology. It is very common in our day to read of 'postmoderns' who are skeptical of all truth claims. Indeed such truth claims are claims of authority and power. But then again, the claim that all truth claims are power grabs, is itself a power grab. You seek the right to grasp power by mandating what all truth claims must be. Who are you to say that all claims to true knowledge must be power plays? While we should develop this more, we might for now simple point out that Jesus who claimed to be the truth also claimed to come to serve. It was only through this humbling himself that he was exalted.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gorn Canon Busted

So apparently, you can't actually make a canon from bamboo, and handmixed gunpowder made on the fly. (1) It is nearly impossible to get the gun powder mix right. (2) Even if you do the bamboo needs to be reinforced by metal to keep from blowing up in your face.

So here's what happens if you get "lucky" in getting the gunpowder together right. Good thing Buster was wearing a red shirt.

*Gasp* Science fiction is fiction?!
Trek Movie has a summary here.

Humility in Knowing God

When it comes to knowing God, there is a difference between epistemological humility and 'apophatic humility'.

This is an old quote I had lying around.
Tony Jones says this:

"Looking at it from the side of God in the God-human relationship is far more profound. "Naked Truth," is the phrase of Pseudo-Dionysius--this is GOd who is ultimately "unutterable," "unknowable," "invisible," "incomprehensible." How does one speak with any confidence of this God, much less pray with any confidence.

Orthodoxy as event acknowledges apophatic humility in the face of this God; it acknowledges that all of our theology--our logos about this theos--inevitably falls far short of what Dionysius call the "ONE who is beyond all." It prays with Anselm, "Lord, you are not merely that than which a greater cannot be thought; you are something greater than can be thought." " qtd from "Whence Hermeneutical Authority" p.21.

Apophatic humility says I cannot know and it is a mystery. It is at best a subset of epistemological humility. At worse, it is wholly other and not humble at all. I would favor the latter just slightly.

I agree that the finite cannot contain the infinite. That is true in how we think of the incarnation and how we think about how humans "know God". That would be epistemological humility. Furthermore, always calling our knowledge into check and avoiding being puffed up are other forms of epistemological humility.

But, and this is key, if God has revealed Himself and if God has spoken (and of course it is always God who condescends when he does this--he lisps baby talk, to borrow from Calvin), then it is decidedly not humble to plug your ears and say "God is so incomprehensible I can't know him". That may be the apophatic way but it is certainly not humble. Indeed it is an act of pure hubris to deny the right of the speaker and say "there is no voice" while we stair into his face.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Resurrection, epistomology and faith

You could write a whole essay on this but I want to just flesh this out rather briefly.

Arguments for or against the resurrection of Jesus are always composed of three elements:
(1) historical
(2) philosophical (aka theological, epistemological, etc.)
(3) personal (belief vs. unbelief).

Anyone who argues otherwise is either lying or strangely naïve.
Take as an example Bart Ehrman… he looks at “just the evidence” and says “history cannot say there are miracles”. However this is based on an atheistic view of history so that issues (2) and (3) determine how you think “history” must work.

A real apologetic for the resurrection is more than just some of the evangelical arguments for the evidence. There are facts but they are never "brute facts." All three elements are intertwined.
For 1: just because it is shown to be “reasonable” that Jesus rose from the dead does mean you have to believe it was life changing or demands faith. Historical arguments while strong and necessary for the resurrection are not the sum total to the resurrection and the demand that we believe in Jesus. Even if someone believes in a historical resurrection of Jesus you still have to wrestle with "so what?"

For 2: You cannot have ‘historical evidence’ (#1) for the resurrection (so-called ‘brute facts’) and a personal faith in the resurrection (#2) without it being determinative for your theology and epistemology. The resurrection is not just a historical plausibility indeed it has to be the certain event from which we view history itself. Thus the resurrection is not merely established by bare proof, it is the proof itself of the Christian world which God has furnished. Part of the larger question needs to be: how do we come to 'know' things. You have to defend the the notion of a God who can reveal Himself. All knowledge is predicated on God's self-knowledge and ability to reveal Himself in and to His creation.

For 3: You cannot have the “personal” belief without the historical. This is never how Christians have believed in the resurrection. You cannot say that the events of the resurrection did not happen in history and it was not bodily—‘but I believe that Jesus is Lord’.

Acts 17:31 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."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Meditation

JESUS IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.

John 1:9-13

1) Jesus is the true light.
ESV John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

a) In the context John is not the light. John is the last and greatest of the prophets sent to Israel, but even then—He is not the light.
b) Jesus is the light because He is God and displays God’s glory.
c) Jesus is the light because of how he brings forgiveness of sins. Light and darkness are metaphors for righteousness/holiness and sin/wickedness.

1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

d) Coming light is often a picture of God’s glory and God’s salvation coming.

Isaiah 42:16
And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.

Isaiah 51:4 "Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.

Isaiah 60:1-5 ESV Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. 3 And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. 4 Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. 5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

2) Jesus brings light to every man.
ESV John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

3) Jesus came into the world.
ESV John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

4) Jesus offers light to whoever will believe in Him.
a) Jesus frees us from our darkness.
John 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

John 12:46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

b) Only those who believe in Jesus are God’s children.
ESV John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

John 1:12-13 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

At our church we have a Christmas Eve tradition of lighting candles before we close our service with a few Christmas carols. Why do we light candles on Christmas Eve?

The lighting of the candles should be a simple physical reminder that Jesus is the light of the world.

In Jesus, we can see what our sin looks like. In Jesus, we can repent of our sins and grasp Him by faith.

You have moved out of the darkness of your sin and into the marvelous light only because Jesus came into this world as a little baby to be the light. He came so that you might have light and eternal life.

His birth ultimately points us to cross where He accomplishes our redemption.


MERRY CHRISTMAS.

RE: Isaiah 7:14

Let me make a couple of preliminary observations:

(1) This is a debated passage. (aren’t they all).

(2) The NT in Matthew clearly sees Isa. 7:14 as a prophecy of Christ.

a. In fact, the Greek translation of the OT clearly translated the term “virgin” in Isaiah.

b. I believe there was some Jewish expectation that this was messianic (although, if I remember correctly, Jews after the first century changed their view in a polemic against Christianity).

c. Either way, Isaiah is clear with Isaiah 7:14 and Jesus’ birth. The latter is a fulfillment of the former.

d. Isaiah also makes some clear connections to the significance of “God with us.” But in Numbers 14:9 the phrase “The Lord is with us” does not speak of the incarnation but God’s protection of His people. So Isaiah could just mean “protection”)—while Matthew clearly means it in a unique significance similar to John 1:14 “and the Word became flesh”.

(3) The context of Isaiah is a little rough to sort through. Here are probably the major issues.

a. The sign is supposed to be for the day of Isaiah. Before the child knows to reject right and wrong the land of the two kings will be laid to waste. This attack is something that happens in Isaiah’s day. This makes it hard to see how they would recognize the sign if it wasn’t until apprx. 4 BC that Christ was born.

b. There is a little debate about the Hebrew term for virgin. Does it mean a woman who was a young woman? Does it mean a virgin?

i. And does Isaiah actually mean that the women will be a virgin when the baby is born. (i.e. she could refer to a girl who is a virgin at the time of speaking without presupposing she will be a virgin when she gives birth—like Mary was).

ii. The problem is compounded by the fact that in Ugaritic the phrase “a virgin will give birth” was a way of describing a young maiden who would be engaged, be married and have a child.

c. The role of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. Who is he (in ch. 8)? What is his role in relationship to 7:13-17? Some scholars think that he might be a fulfillment of Isaiah 7. Interestingly Isa. 8:4 might be hinting at this.

d. Some suggest that the child might be Ahaz’s son—Hezekiah, another Davidic King (of which Christ is also from the line of).


Here would be some of my conclusions:

(1) The focus of the early chapters in Isaiah at parts does focus on the Messiah.

a. Isaiah 9:1-6 clearly prophesies about the Messiah.

b. Isaiah 11 looks for the triumph of son from David’s line.

(2) The Hebrew word translated “virgin” does mean virgin. So whoever Isaiah was talking about she was a virgin at the point of his statement (or yet to be born).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Living and Dying

This probably isn't an idea unique to me but I can't remember if our where I've seen in before but:

'To live for Christ you have to be willing to die for Christ and to die for Christ you have to be willing to live for Christ."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ethics and Economics

In certain circles, there is a tendency to relate the Kingdom of God so closely with economic theories that a particular theory is championed as closest to the kingdom of God. If the certain conservatives unduly try to find free market applications to Jesus' parables, then other circles try to extrapolate a macro-economic theory from the principle of the kingdom of God.

Given the recent abuses of capitalism and the proclivity of capitalists to associate the free market with greed, Christians often denigrate the former because of the Bible's clear rebuke of the latter. But is the a proper view of economics? What's more, does the kingdom of God mandate a certain economic theory.

Here is an excerpt of lecture at the Cato Institute by Jay Richards, author of Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem.



In this excerpt, Richards covers two of his points:
(a) evaluating consequences (unintended and otherwise) not just intent--which he calls the piety myth "that you can only focus on intent". Good intentions can lead to bad policy and vice verse;
(b) The greed myth: that capitalism is based on greed. he shows that while certain authors defending the free market have equated self-interest in the market with greed, this is indeed not what Adam Smith meant by 'self-interest'. He argues that capitalism itself is not immoral--indeed it is the best option for spreading part around rather than consolidating power. Given fallen humanity, history has demonstrated that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As long as the 'rules of capitalism' is set up right, it can channel the evil elements of greed, which Richards argues is not the same as saying capitalism is based on greed.

You can watch the whole forum here, it's worth your time:


It includes a response by Doug Bandow. The Q&A at the end is interesting as well.

At one point in the Q&A, Jay Richards even mentions the already/not yet aspect of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament. He notes that when humans try to create the kingdom (particularly through political means), instead of bringing heaven down, they bring hell up. His point: you have to compare live alternatives captialism vs. Stalinism; not to the kingdom of God, which only God can bring.

Pot Meet Kettle II

Well this article just grows in irony as you read it.

It starts:
In the wake of the worst financial crisis in generations, the Obama administration today announced a new campaign to promote financial education for high school students nationwide...The first step in this effort, the administration said, will be the National Financial Capability Challenge, a national award program designed to encourage financial education in schools nationwide.
Is that an 'incentive'?
But wait:
"The reality is that all children don't know the basics of saving and investing," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "It's a skill they need to be successful in our economy."
Oh and the government is the prime example of who should be lecturing us... to say balance our budgets...

Oh but it doesn't end...
""We must also do a better job making sure our students graduate from high school with a better understanding of basic economics, basic finance, and the benefits and risks associated with debt," Geithner stated.

Geithner also pointed to a lack of financial education as one of the many causes of the economic crisis."

Did anybody tell him when you point one finger you have three more aiming back at you? Will politician be forced to take this class as a sort of remedial work? So we will teach the risks associated with debt? Err... no comment.

Finally:
"The failures that led to this financial crisis were many. Banks and investors took on large risks, risks they did not understand. Washington allowed those risks to build up unchecked. And in communities across the country, Americans borrowed too much in part because they did not understand how to save prudently, how to borrow responsibly, and they did not understand fully that pension values and house prices, equity prices will not always rise," he told reporters today."
What about government medaling in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before the crises started? I'm guessing the 'economic' picture will have a certain 'slant'.

Free Books

Trevin Wax over at Kingdom People, is giving away free books for Christmas. My wife, the CFO of the family, would love it if I won.

The list looks good!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Roman 'Tolerance'

Given the comments I made here, I find this to be interesting:

"Because they accepted the existence of many gods, Romans usually were tolerant of other religions, even when they considered them distasteful but they became intolerant, even repressive, when they feared a religion threatened their way of life. Jews and Christians, as we shall see, generally benefited from this tolerance although they also suffered Roman repression." James Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament. p89-90.
Jeffers goes on to speak of the personal distaste, especially from the emperors, that certain religions would find. He cites Claudius' (41-54AD) distaste for Eastern mystery religions (Greco-Roman World, 105). Of course, there was a distaste for Judaism at times, along with Christianity which was first considered a Jewish sect. He then moves on to Roman repression:

"Roman repression of religions was selective, sporadic, and short-lived. Emperors typically moved against a cult when they believed it threatened law and order. Religions considered morally repugnant by the Romans, such as that of the Celtic Druids in western Europe, were systematically eliminated. Tiberius treated Egyptian cults harshly, but his successors saw no reason to continue the repression. No cult was as actively persecuted as were astrology and magic. Nevertheless, they became very popular at all levels of society, so much so that Roman emperors became concerned that astrological forecasts might lead to political revolt." (p.107).

Of course, Christianity was feared since Christians refused to worship Caesar. Christians were also considered atheists because they did not worship the gods. The early apologists dealt with such charges, even seeking to argue that as Christians, they deserved fair treatment rather than cruel dismissal.

The point is that the Greco-Roman world was not as "tolerant" as ahistorical arguments would make it. The fact that they were polytheists did not make them more accepting of unknown forms of beliefs and religions. They may have been open to adding gods here and there to the pantheon, but when they encounter something different, particularly religions unwilling or unable to assimilate themselves: they were hard, and intolerant.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pot Meet Kettle

President Obama said this on 60 minutes which sounds all well and good:

"I did not run for office to be helping out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street," Mr. Obama said in an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes" program on Sunday.
"They're still puzzled why is it that people are mad at the banks. Well, let's see," he said. "You guys are drawing down $10, $20 million bonuses after America went through the worst economic year that it's gone through in -- in decades, and you guys caused the problem. And we've got 10% unemployment."

I mean who doesn't like a good pile on to those 'fat cats' on Wall Street. But then you read this:

The number of federal workers earning six-figure salaries has exploded during the recession, according to a USA TODAY analysis of federal salary data.
Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months — and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted.

Federal workers are enjoying an extraordinary boom time — in pay and hiring — during a recession that has cost 7.3 million jobs in the private sector...
The growth in six-figure salaries has pushed the average federal worker's pay to $71,206, compared with $40,331 in the private sector.
In fact, according to some of the graphs in the article: "The average federal salary has grown nearly twice as fast as private pay during the recession."

Now it would indeed be unfair to lay all the blame for this at Obama's feet. Indeed some of these changes come from the Bush years along with a change the pay scale by Congress. And yet you loose all credibility of identifying with the common man and the struggles of the average joe. In fact, one could just as easily say to the government:

"[You're] still puzzled why is it that people are mad at the [government]. Well, let's see. You guys are drawing down [insert figures] after America went through the worst economic year that it's gone through in -- in decades, and you guys caused the problem. And we've got 10% unemployment."

There has hardly been a private sector business that has not had to trim expenses, withhold raises or bonuses. These days Washington is about as far from 'Main Street' as Wall Street is.

Friday, December 11, 2009

December 25 and Christmas

It is a common myth today that the reason Christmas is celebrated on December 25 is because of a pagan feast for Sol Invictus that was celebrated Rome during the 3rd century. Actually, this is a quite a popular theory which is ironically rejected by a large consensus of current scholarship on Christian origins and Sol Invictus.

I've been doing a little reading on these issues and hope to make some more comments around here and reference sources. But for now, this is the best concise but clear essay I have found arguing against Dec 25th originating from Sol Invictus. The only thing that one could add is that if Christians had adopted the date for polemical reasons against the pagans, there were other feast days that were more important to Sol Invictus. The ever popular theory just doesn't stand up to scholarly scrutiny.

Some evidence:
  1. Our first reference suggesting Dec. 25th was pagan in origin is from the 12th century.
  2. It is attested in the 3rd and 4th century that Christians connected Dec. 25 being 9 months after the death of Jesus (March 25) and connected the date of Jesus' conception to the date of his death.
  3. Even the Dontatists, who were zealous for maintain the purity of the church, held to this theory.
  4. The feast was celebrated on December 25 was held before Constantine made it official.
  5. While we do not have evidence as to the beliefs of the church fathers in the second and third century, we have clear evidence of how they ascertained the date in the 4th and 5th centuries.

Most of these details, and others, are affirmed by scholars of early Christianity and scholars of Roman religion. So for example, Hijmans in Sol: the Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome, argues that a later feast, relatively minor feast for Sol Invictus is more likely to been adopted by pagans as a polemic against a Christian feast rather than the other way around.

While there is more that can be said, I encourage to read the whole article. The author does not deny that Christians at times were unduly influenced by pagans and that influence encroached on the celebration of Christmas. But suffice it to say as to the status quaestionis most scholars now basically agree that December 25 was chosen as the celebration of the Lord's birth because it was nine month after the date we can ascertain for his death. The origins of a December 25th celebration are decidedly Christian and not pagan despite the popular mythology that abounds, largely in pop culture and anti-Christian mythos.

Asking the Almighty for ID

This is something going through my mind when I was working through Exodus.
ESV Exodus 5:2 But Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go."

In the word's of Leonard McCoy "You don't ask the Almighty for His ID."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3b-Y7B_5Z1g
There is of course a difference between Kirk challenging this false god who needs a starship--after all a real God would be transcendent and a sei--and Pharaoh assuming his superiority to YHWH.

I suppose one could draw rather trite comparisons between the malicious Star Trek V 'god' striking Kirk and YHWH striking down Pharaoh. These comparisons would be superficial laying only a gut sort of emotional reaction against God actual acting and judging. If, however, God was supremely sovereign, all-knowning, and all-wise--and indeed gracious--it would not be beyond his power to raise up a Pharaoh for the purpose of displaying His glory at the very moment Pharaoh thinks he is resisting God by rebelling.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A-Team Trek

I was fan of the A-team when I was a kid. I had the van and a BA action figure. Now I can have the best of both worlds:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCwnIPb1CcI

(HT: My sister)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Tyrannical Liberty

These days, Christians ought to be careful who they throw there hat in the ring with. Paul warns of the dangers of the Christian being unequally yoked. This is especially true in the area of politics. It is unfortunate when "evangelical" becomes known as a voting block. It is equally unfortunate when the "kingdom of God" becomes equally associated with a particular wing of American politics.

Consider this quote from H.L. Mencken's Notes on Democracy:
The fact is that liberty, in any true sense, is a concept that lies quite beyond the reach of the inferior man’s mind. He can imagine and even esteem, in his way, certain false forms of liberty–for example, the right to choose between two political mountebanks, and to yell for the more obviously dishonest–but the reality is incomprehensible to him. And no wonder, for genuine liberty demands of its votaries a quality he lacks completely, and that is courage. The man who loves it must be willing to fight for it; blood, said Jefferson, is its natural manure. More, he must be able to endureit–an even more arduous business. Liberty means self-reliance, it means resolution, it means enterprise, it means the capacity for doing without. The free man is one who has won a small and precarious territory from the great mob of his inferiors, and is prepared and ready to defend it and make it support him. All around him are enemies, and where he stands there is no friend. He can hope for little help from other men of his own kind, for they have battles of their own to fight. He has made of himself a sort of god in his little world, and he must face the responsibilities of a god, and the dreadful loneliness. Has Homo boobiensany talent for this magnificent self-reliance? He has the same talent for it that he has for writing symphonies in the manner of Ludwig van Beethoven, no less and no more. That is to say, he has no talent whatsoever, nor even any understanding that such a talent exists. Liberty is unfathomable to him. He can no more comprehend it than he can comprehend honour. What he mistakes for it, nine times out of ten, is simply the banal right to empty hallelujahs upon his oppressors. He is an ox whose last proud, defiant gesture is to lick the butcher behind the ear.

This is a dreadful account of the nature of freedom.
One the one hand, I believe that a Christian worldview favors conclusions regarding democracy and liberty. It is no secret that capitalism as a system arose not only because of the efforts of the Enlightenment but the Reformation as well. In history it is difficult to parse out such events to a single cause. And while Enlightenment ideas contributed to the American Revolution, there is no denying that there were numerous Christians who championed the cause of liberty and their Christian ethic influenced America's birth. A true Christian ethic is going to be against oppression and in favor of liberty.

However, on the other hand, there is a notion of liberty that goes beyond a Christian ethic. Some of the founding father's championed an Enlightenment rational that rejection Christian religion. It is a notion of freethinking where man is his own master. Of course, writing much later H.L. Mencken was also no friend of religion--and Christianity.

Mencken may be right about the value of liberty but is misses the mark wide on the purpose of liberty. The purpose of liberty should not be to "claim your piece of the prize." The goal of liberty is not that I should have a "piece of the action" and be the sort of god of that world.

There is a vast difference between sacrificing yourself for the sake of others to win their liberty--and dying to assert yourself and claim your prize of liberty for you. There is a vast difference between freeing the helpless and the weak--lifting the bonds of their oppression--then rising to claim yours for you and you alone. Indeed, if I cherish liberty the goal of liberty should not be to scoff at those who we deem to stupid to grasp it but to share it as if we have a boundless treasure. The hungry man may not realize the depth of his hunger--but as he slowly smells the food, he stomach will churn with hungry. On a cold wet day, the smell of a warm soup will appeal to him as release from his oppression. It is no prize of liberty to stare down our nose at those we find to hold inferior views of liberty while we cling white knuckled to the prize that is ours.

For the Christian, particular the politically conservative Christian, our cherishing of liberty should not be rooted in a deep selfishness. It cannot be rooted in a "pull oneself up by the boots straps" notion of life. We cannot be devoid of compassion for those who lack in life. It may be each persons responsibility to provide for themselves but it is equally each persons privilege to love their neighbor liberally.

While the ethics of the kingdom of God favor, I believe, systems that cherish humans as made in the image of God and therefore should be set free from or never tyrannized under oppression. The ethics of the kingdom of God create a community that loves and sacrifices beyond one's own "piece of the action." Of course, while some political realities or ideals on this earth may reflect God's character and nature better than others political realities or ideals at the end of the day these things, no matter what their stripe, belong to the kingdoms of this age. It is the city of man not the city of God. Thus, even as Mencken posits a notion of liberty, it is a crude liberty that has lost its way stumbling aimlessly in the dark. At the end of the day to be "a sort of god in his little world, and...face the responsibilities of a god, and the dreadful loneliness" is no liberty, it is a tyranny to one's own idolatries.

One who so cherishes liberty that it turns them into a cold hard merciless self-imposed god of their own little world is no ally to a Christian position. While Christians, particularly in America, may cherish liberty and use their vote for policy that they see upholding such liberty, we have a deeper allegiance. One who would use liberty as an altar to sacrifice to himself as self proclaimed god is indeed no alley to which we should yoke ourselves. The Christian ought to be deeply aware of the tyranny that liberty can create.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tweet Trek

Well now, here's a good use for twitter.

It is a good day to tweet comes out: "tweet-lu'meH QaQ jajvam"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On the Gospels' Reliability

"Since the origin of biblical criticism in the early nineteenth century, critical scholars have attempted to understand the Gospels in the light of Enlightenment assumptions. Taking for granted that the events described in the New Testament could not have occurred in the way they were described ("If miraculous, then unhistorical"), they have sought alternative explanations. In spite of nearly two centuries of the most painstaking effort to sort out the genuine words of Jesus from those allegedly created by the early church, there remains little substantive agreement among critical scholars. Every new generation finds it necessary to reopen the search for the historical Jesus in the light of changing assumptions--hence the novel, if often tendentious, reconstructions of his life that appear in every publisher's new list. As a historian trained in reading classical texts, I find the Gospels, as I do in the work of the classical Greek and Roman historians, promising material for the reconstruction of the events they describe.

I find unconvincing, moreover, the view that the words of Jesus and the events of his brief career were radically modified by his followers after his lifetime, resulting in a discontinuity between his teachings and those of early gentile Christianity. The assumption is widespread that the early church played a significant creative role in reshaping the earliest traditions regarding Jesus, with the result that his teachings came very quickly--within a generation--to be distorted, a process by which the "Jesus of history" was transformed into the "Christ of faith." Those who hold this view have little confidence in the ability of the early Christian community to transmit accurately by oral or written tradition authentic memories of Jesus. They see in the Gospels little more than a mass of fragmentary and contradictory traditions. Hence what the New Testament preserves is the faith of the primitive church that has been imposed on the historical Jesus, from which we can recapture by close textual analysis but with considerable difficulty, only fragments of his life and teaching. But why should we doubt the ability of the early church (a small and closely knit community) to preserve over one generation an accurate recollection of the events of Jesus's [sic] life and teachings? The personality of Jesus clearly made a strong impression on his followers, and it is a personality that is everywhere apparent in the Gospels, which are so easily distinguishable from the legendary accounts that grew up later. In fact, it was not until the second century that the mythmaking began, and we see its manifestation in the apocryphal and pseudopigraphical works of that period. Here, as elsewhere in dealing with historical sources, the brevity of time works in the opposite direction: the credibility of the Gospel writers is strengthened by the face that they were under the scrutiny of eyewitnesses." Gary N. Ferngren Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity p.6-7

I would just add (1) recent studies in orality and oral transmission in diverse a group as Kenneth Bailey, James Dunn, Eddy and Boyd, and Gerhardsson, despite their diversity in approach and some differing conclusions, overall concur and strengthen the point of Ferngren.

(2) Recent studies in how memory works (Eddy and Boyd; and Bauckham) and the eyewitness accounts in the Gospels (esp. Bauckham) would further support Ferngren.

(3) The early collection and acceptance of the four gospels (Hengel, et al) speaks in favor of the accuracy of their accounts. For too long scholars have propped up their suppositions by appealing to the diversity of the earliest schools that created Q, M, L, etc. without considering (a) the level of connectivity between early Christian churches/communities; (b) the overall unity in accounts themselves and (c) the near ubiquitous unity in acceptance of the four gospels in their earliest years of the church.

One of the sad effects of the Bultmanian and post-Bultmanian impact to NT studies is the fragmentary approach taken in Gospels studies that treated the text with a far greater skepticism than the average critical scholar in almost every other field of ancient history. Historical criticism of the NT became an isolated sub-discipline for elite practitioners much in the same way OT studies fragmented itself away from the Ancient Near East. Thus, Biblical scholars of the New Testament and Old Testament were far more radical, skeptical and derogatory towards their sources then comparative disciplines of other fields working in the same timeframes. Even today the tendency of some scholarship has been to move away from rigorous historical disciplines and make Biblical studies the safe haven for every bizarre theory of post-colonial, post-structure, gender-bending hermeneutical hoop-la. Will a more rigorous historical approach, as taken in say classical studies, offer a helpful corrective to whatever moderate insights have been gained in NT studies by advances in literary theory?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Star Trek Friday 'Resistance'


Here's a humorous song I found the other day entitled "Resistance", its a parody of Cake's The Distance.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6fHHzrOHSg No video, just audio.

It pretty much sums up the movie, although it focuses a bit too much on the sexual tension between Data and the Borg Queen.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Aerosol Jesus

When Paul said "put on the Lord Jesus Christ.." (Romans 13:14), I don't think he had this in mind:But given that this is a body spray that attracts... maybe they had this in mind:
NAU 2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?
Somehow I doubt this fragrance smells like death. Now you don't have to take up your cross and suffer for the kingdom, you can just spray it on.

Stephen Nichols rightly critiques this kind of commodification of Jesus in his Jesus Made In America. He writes:
"Escaping consumer culture indeed is tricky business. Materialism, since the time the golden calf hopped out of the fire for the Israelites in the wilderness, seduces and draws us in. The seduction becomes all the more entangling when these commodities and products, their makers tell us, aid in the task of evangelizing. Why wouldn't you buy the T-shirt, bumper sticker or wall plaque if, as an added bonus, someone might come to Christ because of your bold and unashamed witness? In a culture with such pressures, commodifying Christ becomes all too easy. Equally, such selling of Jesus becomes all too problematic, if not lethal, for the church and the gospel. The truth is, to many in the watching world, consumer Christianity is sacrilegious, not to mention it just looks plain silly..." (p.176)

Polytheism & Christianity

One of the elders in my church went to India not to long ago and visited a region populated with Hindus. One of the popular local deities is an Elephant god Ginesh. One of the celebrations involves tricking him with a wild party while the dump in into the sea. After all, you don't want your god to get too crafty.

I'm just glad my elder didn't do this:

Archbishop Nichols was greeted by the Mandir’s spiritual leader, Yogvivek Swami, (Head Sadhu, BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha – UK & Europe) and the Trustees of the Mandir. He was welcomed in traditional Hindu style – with a red vermillion mark applied to the forehead and the tying of a sacred thread on the wrist, symbolising friendship and goodwill.

Yogvivek Swami guided the Archbishop around the Mandir complex, including the sanctum sanctorum where the Archbishop offered flowers at the altar to the deities. He then moved to the deity of Shri Nilkanth Varni (Bhagwan Swaminarayan) where he joined Yogvivek Swami in praying for world peace and harmony.

As the article points out:
This visit sounds ill-conceived from start to finish. The offer of the candle and the words accompanying it imply that Hindus worship the same God as Christians, which I would have thought even a primary-school textbook would make clear is not the case. And there’s the clue, right in Westminster diocese’s own press release – offering flowers at the altar of “the deities”. Yes, there’s a distinction between offering flowers at an altar and offering them to the gods themselves, but I think the general public and the average Catholic can be forgiven if they fail to appreciate it at once.

Of course Archbishop Vincent Nichols doesn’t believe in these pagan gods (which is what they are, from a Christian perspective).
While Christians are to love their neighbors, this is hardly the way to welcome a Hindu temple in Europe. One can hardly imagine Paul laying a wreath in Athens and then saying, let me tell you about the God who has subjected all things under His feet in the person of Jesus.

Of course, we live in a day and age when people naming the name of Jesus are willing to accept all manner of alternative methods and ways to God. If we grasp the reality of the dawning of the kingdom such idolatries are shown to be just what they are: false delusions. If we understand the filial relationship between the Father and the Son, then we know that only the Son can grant salvation and He chooses to do so only for those who believe in Him (Matthew 11:25-27; John 10:35-37). When Jesus witnessed to the Samaritan women, he was hardly satisfied with her current religious state (John 4). Jesus promises a time where worshipers will worship in spirit and truth--this naturally entailed an rejection of the current forms of Samaritan worship.

Early Christianity was monotheistic and they incorporated their understanding of Jesus into that monotheism. This included the fidelity to Jesus and worship of Him along with the Father. Indeed, to confess Jesus as "Lord" was to address Him using the OT YHWH, as the OT's use of the NT shows. It was also to say that a whole lot of other rivals, including Caesar, were indeed not Lord. Paul of course tells us in 1 Corinthians 8 that while idols are nothing, we worship one God, the Father, and one Lord, Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, laying flowers down before a Hindu deity may be in some respect the equivalent of eating ancient meat sacrificed to idols. Flowers are just flowers. That idol is nothing really. What does it matter? Yet the question is the symbolism--it validates things that don't really exist and set themselves up as contrary to God. This approach says in effect: your god is just a real as my god. This kind of compromise fits the spirit of the age but causes Christian faith to cease to be what God has designed it to be--an act of covenant fidelity.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Tolerance of Polytheism

Over at Evangel, Hunter Baker puts up the following quote in order to put out the author's interesting association between secularism and polytheism:
Fortunately, in some parts of this troubled planet, the polytheistic tendency, with its signal notion encouraging inclusion, seems to be gaining ground and legitimacy — after its long nightmare — in the guise of secularism.

What I find equally troubling is the notion that polytheism has a tendency toward inclusion. I commented:
What is equally silly is the notion that polytheism is some how more tolerant. Polytheism in the ancient near east led to just as many wars. In Greek and Roman times “polytheists” were hardly bastions of tolerance. The minute somebody denied the gods, or argued for monotheism, the were generally introduced to a lambasting that could culminate with the edge of a sword or a playful jaunt with some lions.

Over hear on my blog, I thought I elaborate just a little bit. One does not have to read very far in ancient history to discover that tolerance was hardly an attribute of the ancient world. To argue that more gods makes you more tolerant of more people is just imposing silly postmodern categories back onto the ancient world. Let's consider a few examples:

In the ANE, going to war was often motivated by theological reasons. In fact, if one one in battle one had conquered the enemies and defeated the god of the kingdom. So for example, consider when Sennacherib's armies surround Jerusalem. There minster of toleration read an edict something like this:
"Dear people of Jerusalem, we have come to usher you into the wonderful loving expanse of the Assyrian empire. You worship a mean repressive god and since you believe he is the only one you have been rather war like. We have come to enlighten you, freeing you from your oppressed state and show the glories of a loving society that accepts everyone's beliefs. Please open the gates so that we can shower you wreaths, warm food and fine wines. Your god is just one of many and we accept them all."
Oh wait, it was actually something like this.
Isaiah 36:18 Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”
Yes they were tolerant of the other gods. The reality is that making peace with the Assyrians, as they demanded, entailed submitting to the supremacy of the Assyrian gods.

In the ANE, just because one had a pantheon did not make one less susceptible to violence and somehow more tolerant. In fact, often time creation myths involved the slaughter of a particular god or gods. The gods often established cosmic order and it became a justification for warfare and divine worship of the local regents. Even in later Graeco-Roman religion, the conduct of the gods often became justification for harsh treatment of people. For example, the Greek and Roman gods were hardly examples of egalitarianism towards women, and women in society of the ancient cultures often reaped such abuse at the hands of their own men.

The Greeks and the Roman were hardly more tolerant either of particular people groups or of particular religions. While the philosopher and those who worshipped the gods had their far share of disputes, the general population was hardly tolerant of alternate beliefs, particularly if they contradicted popular opinion. Socrates was put to death for his impiety and making the gods look foolish.

During the Maccabean period, Jews were persecuted because of their religious beliefs. Erecting a gymnasium in Jerusalem and sacrificing a pig to Zeus in the temple, were hardly marks of toleration. They were carefully designed to humiliate and attack another religion.

So while it may seem tolerant that more varying views about which god was supreme or it allowed different temples to serve different places of prominence, they were hardly accepting and tolerant of all. It is true that in Acts 17, in Athens their was an altar to the unknown god--but they sneered at an idea of a god who could raise the dead. In the early years of Christianity, Judaism was considered a legal religion, a number of religion were not legal. Furthermore, an Acts a riot is started in Ephesus when Artemis, and the livelihood of idol makers, is threatened.

In the early centuries of Christianity, Christians were punished and martyred. But is was not just Christians. Diocletian declared of Manichaeism that "We order that their organizers and leaders be subject to the final penalties and condemned to the fire with their abominable scriptures." For a while the cult of Dionysus cult was suppressed because of the wild partying associated with it.

It is certainly true that polytheism leads to an easier assimilation of beliefs. If one is a polytheist, it is much easier to go whichever way the wind is blowing. However, if there is one thing that polytheists consistently showed little toleration of in the ancient world it was the monotheism of Judaism and Christianity. Ironically, in this fashion (much like the modern world) this is its own form of in-toleration: anyone not willing to assimilate to the cultural norms established is persecuted. Suppression is not too tough a label. Even more, polytheism did not make culture's less repressive or somehow more open to rights and compassion for the repressed, sick and innocent--often it was quite the opposite. While the history of Christianity is not without its own failures, it was the rise of Christianity in the empire that lead to a greater compassion, tolerance, and care for the downcast in society, indeed recent sociological studies of the early church have demonstrated this.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Dear Amazon.com

Dear Amazon.com,

I'm a loyal customer who orders books pretty regularly from your site, much to the chagrin of my wife and our family budget. This Monday I placed a small order with you. Since I have Amazon Prime, the order came with two day shipping and arrived on Wednesday. Upon opening the order, the discovered an oddity: the book I had order came with the right cover but the wrong text printed inside. Obviously, a simple mistake when packing the order: one assumes the cover outside matches the book inside.

So I promptly went online and filled out the return information. I want to thank you and commend to others your customer service. Not only was it easy to fill out the return labels your options were convenient: I could choose to send it UPS or USPS. This added little interruption to my schedule.

I am also amazed at the speed with which you processed my claim. The new book was out for delivery by the end of the day and since you sent it on 1-day delivery, I had the new book in my hands by the next day. I was amazed at the speed and ease. Sometimes big organizations become over burdened and sluggish in processing customer concerns, complaints and return. Larger companies can at times take a sort of 'at their own leisure' approach to customer service rationalizing that they have some many that making one customer wait a few days (even a few weeks) will not harm their overall sales.

Anyways, thank you for the excellent customer service. I am now able to use the book for this weekend, a deadline that I assumed would not be met once I realized the wrong book was sent to me.


Appreciative,
Tim B

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Two Little Words

There are two little words that every preacher should know, remember and reflect on in preparation for his message: indicative and imperative. They should, to riff off the creed of Chalcedon, hang together "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of [the two] being in no way annulled by the union."

On his blog, Micheal Bird points to a helpful article in Christianity Today "Christ-Centered Cautions" by Collin Hansen. Both give nods to an essay in the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology entitled "Christ-Centered Interpreation Only? Moral Instruction from Scripture's Self-Interpretation as Caveat and Guide" by Jason Hood (summary here). It looks like it is going to be a must read. I am generally favorable to a Christological method in preaching but I too have noted the dangers of failing to see that the NT uses the OT as an example for us.

Hood's own summary statement is right on, in my estimation:
If Scripture is to be the guide for Christian interpretation, its explicit statements of intent and patterns of interpretation modeled therein reveal that Christian preaching not only may but must feature moral exhortation. Therefore, Christ-centered interpretation that overlooks, explicitly excludes, or denigrates the use of moral examples and moral instruction in preaching requires considerable modification.
I cannot help but wonder if some of the abuse arises not from so seasoned preachers--indeed even those seasoned in a Christocentric model--but from those new in the method or new in preaching is general. I raise this question not to deflect valid criticism but because while I recently heard Phil Ryken speak on preaching from the Old Testament, he was clear that the OT gives us examples. In fact, session two was on preaching Christ from the Old Testament and session four was on preaching the Christian life from the Old Testament. I don't doubt that some abuse Christocentric preaching and indeed such abuse should be countered lest the pendulum swing to far the other way.

The Reformed concept of Law and Gospel cannot neglect the third use of the Law in preaching. By way of example, in a recent sermon on the ten commandments I noted:
The law is like chemo therapy. It pronounces death. It is not the cure. The pronounces a curse on sin. In Leukemia patients chemo is used to kill the patients bone marrow. But the patient has no bone marrow. They cannot live. They need a bone marrow transplant. The law kills and pronounces death on our sin. But in the Gospel Christ pays for that penalty. From Him we get a bone marrow transplant. He gives us a new heart. That heart is not dead—it is not condemned by the Law. Instead it has the law written on the heart. It is a heart that sings the tune of God. When the heart is set alive, it truly is ‘reviving to the soul’. We can look and say ‘I love your law’. It is the heart of Psalm 119.
As Michael Bird notes: "There is undoubtedly two epochs of Law and Christ (Gal. 3.10-14 and Rom. 3.21), but they are part of a single story in which there are continuities and discontinuities and focusing on the discontinuities seems like an odd thing to trump out twice on Sunday."

Which brings us back to my original point: there are indicatives and imperatives in Scripture. I can remember a discussion with a leader in a particular church once where the person wanted to hear more about what he should go and do at the end of my sermons. His contention was that we unless we are given something specific and concrete to go and do that week, I have not applied the passage. This strike me as rather reductionistic and sort of--an apple a day keeps the minister (or the devil?) away. But preaching should shape us more deeply. You can circumvent the inward power of the Spirit by propping up the listener with a simple: "do this and you'll be fine". That leads to the moralism the Christocentric crowd is worried about.

In walks indicatives and imperatives. Indicative is a mood in grammar that represents a state or object as an object fact. "Johnny ran/is running the race" are indicatives. Imperatives are commands: "Run the race, Johnny". In theology, the gospel is indicative: Jesus died on the cross. It brings an indicative upon the individual: we are justified in Christ and have no condemnation. The gospel message itself, being the power of God, forms into something: this is who we are by virtue of our union with Christ. The transformation of the gospel, that we have died and risen with Christ (indicative) brings imperatives: put to death the flesh, walk in holiness, be a slave to righteousness.

At this point, we should give a shout out to Herman Ridderbos speaking of Paul, particularly the moral content of Paul's preaching:
"Again it is primarily a matter of the inner relationship and structures of his preaching and doctrine. We face here specifically [in an attempt to deal with the moral content of Paul's preaching] the phenomenon that in the more recent literature is customarily designated as the relationship of the indicative and imperative. What is meant is that the new life in its moral manifestation is at one time proclaimed and posited as the fruit of the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit--the indicative; elsewhere, however, it is put with no less force as a categorical demand--the imperative. And the one as well as the other occurs with such force and consistency that some have spoken of a dialectical paradox" and of an "antimony". (Paul: Outline of His Theology, 253)

Isn't that the balance a preacher wants? Moral forcefulness and exhortation: yes. Exalting in God's glory and the triumph of the gospel? Yes. Even more, the gospel rightly understood cuts down boasting and says I bring nothing morally to the table. But if the gospel is the power of God that effectively accomplishes my salvation and leaves me with no works or righteousness to contribute to salvation, doesn't that undermine ethics and behavior? Men from the ranks of Pelagius through to Charles Finney thought so.

If grace is free and unmerited, shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound? Or more colloquially is the little rhyme:
"Free from the law O' Blessed condition, we can sin as we want and still have remission".
Of course, this isn't the gospel either. But how does a preacher bring moral force without undermining the gospel? Enter: indicatives and imperatives. Use them '"without confusion, without change, without division, without separation;"

Imperatives alone without the indicative are nothing other than moralistic--the best we can hope for is condemnation of the law. Indicatives are the gospel--but they also empower good and necessary imperatives. The more I grasp the indicatives of the gospel the more I am able to make good and proper imperatives. A tree is known by it's fruits. We can have all the indicatives we want ('who we are in Christ') but their reality in our lives are displayed by our walk. Hence the preacher should and must bring imperatives.

Some guidelines for indicatives and imperatives:
  1. Indicatives must flow from imperatives in the grand scope of things (by nature of a text some sermon might be weighted more to one side--but do not neglect say indicatives just because a passage is in its context a command).
  2. The goal of transformation has to flow from a changed heart. You want the gospel to do the cleaning so that the outside reflects the inside. Don't let your sermons create a bunch of whitewashed tombs.
  3. Teach people why they should behave a certain way (flowing from God's love and gospel indicatives). What is most effective with your children: simply commanding them to obey or teaching them the beauty of obedience and the rationale for your commands?
  4. While it is appropriate to give specific suggestions on something a person can specifically do--e.g. serve in children's church--do not guilt trip people who cannot do that or create Christian who treat your application as a sort of ex opere operato for sanctification.
Two little words: indicative and imperative. They should go together in the scope of your preaching ""without confusion, without change, without division, without separation." If we as preachers meditate on this for a few moments I think we will find that this actually a faithful application of the New Testament, particularly the Apostle Paul, to our own method of preaching.

Church History Video

Well, this video has been making its way around the blogsphere. Here is church history in 4 minutes:


And to think, I'm spending 13 weeks on just the early church.

(HT: Dan Phillips)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dawkins, Religion and Materialism

Here is a funny video from John Cleese reminding us about the silliness about a strict material explanation for everything, especially the 'god meme':

This week, Camille Paglia has this to say about Dawkins:
On other matters, I was recently flicking my car radio dial and heard an affected British voice tinkling out on NPR. I assumed it was some fussy, gossipy opera expert fresh from London. To my astonishment, it was Richard Dawkins, the thrice-married emperor of contemporary atheists. I had never heard him speak, so it was a revelation. On science, Dawkins was spot on -- lively and nimble. But on religion, his voice went "Psycho" weird (yes, Alfred Hitchcock) -- as if he was channeling some old woman with whom he was in love-hate combat. I have no idea what ancient private dramas bubble beneath the surface there. As an atheist who respects and studies religion, I believe it is fair to ask what drives obsessive denigrators of religion. Neither extreme rationalism nor elite cynicism are adequate substitutes for faith, which fulfills a basic human need -- which is why religion will continue to thrive in our war-torn world.

A couple of thoughts:
(1) Why most cannot see that some of these detractors exchange one type of fundamentalism for another is beyond me. Everywhere worldview can be driven by zeal without knowledge. Every side in these important debate can have its wingnuts and radicals who exude not confidence by sheer arrogance.

(2) Romans 1 of course explains why even the materialist can hold to his/her views with such tenacity that we can dare say it is a religiosity. No matter how anti-religious one claims to be all one ever does at best is exchange one form of devotion for another and such devotion is at the end of the day a form of worship or false worship.

(3) John Cleese reminds us that quantum physics complicates things, even more so advances in philosophy beyond standard modernism. Now I am no fan of postmodernism but some of its critics of enlightenment rationalism and its quests to explain everything and master the universe was, at best, overrated.

(4) In his book, Simply Christian, N.T. Wright tells a very helpful parable about a dictator who attempts to cover a land with thousands of springs of water by simply paving over them. All the water would now be piped and treated to avoid the threat of dirty water. Everything was smoothed and controlled. He writes:
"We in the Western world are the citizens of that country. The dictator is the philosophy that has shaped our world for the past two or more centuries, making most people materialists by default. And the water is what we today call "spirituality," the hidden spring that bubbles up within human hearts and societies." (Simply Christian, 18).
Of course, the so called 'new atheists' like Dawkins and Hitchens cry "foul" at this new spirituality. At least, though, for the Christian, we can explain such things through Romans 1 without accusing people of mental deficiencies and bold irrationalities labling them 'crazy' while boldly pronouncing ourselves to the the 'brights' who have by the sheer force of intellect cast off such dark ages superstition. Ah, the wonders of tolerance.

(5) True Christianity is not opposed to reason and science but it fully admits that reason and science cannot explain all of life. C.S. Lewis reminds us: "Science works by experiments...it is really a matter of common sense. Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that questions, 'Why is there a universe?' 'Why does it go on as it does?' 'Has it any meaning?' would remain just as they were?" (Mere Christianity, 22-23)

Indeed, science alone cannot quench the inner thirsts that rage inside of us. and answer these kinds of ultimate questions. True Christianity is not an abandonment of rationality for the irrational. It is not opposed to science. In fact, despite what popular authors may screed today--it was indeed Christian convictions that contributed to the rise of the scientific age. But Christianity does believe in the fallibility of human reasoning. Hence, Christianity is unashamedly dependent upon revelation that is supra-rational but can be discussed and believed rationally, when the mind submits to itself Christ.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

True Righteousness


Q: What's the difference between the righteousness by faith and the righteousness by works?

A: One works and the other doesn't (pun intended).


Romans 9:30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
Romans 10:2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Can't Touch This

We will forgive the fact that this video involves people from that other fandom that we don't like to mention:

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Religious Right is the Taliban?

Listen to what Chris Matthews says at about 1:03 in this video:
So much for civil discourse. If this isn't bearing false witness, I don't know what is.

If there is one thing that I find frustrating it is when critics fail to understand their opponents. Sadly in our day smear rhetoric wins more points than actual thoughtful engagement--and that is shameful no matter what side of the aisle you are on. (N.B.: Christians on the right are guilty of such slander too.) The temptation to demonize the other side while holding yourself up as the paragon of morality and nobility leads to nothing more false representation and dishonest rhetoric. In the end, you demonstrate of yourself precisely that which you execrate in your opponents.

You don't have to be a fan of the Religious Right to realize they are nothing like the Taliban. D.G. Hart, a credentialed historian who is no fan of the religious right and is in fact quite a vocal critic of it, actually has a much more accurate portrayal of it here, after he quotes Susan Jacoby comparing the religious right to domestic terrorists:

There you have it, a neat bow on a frightening package – Old Testament law, presidential politics, opposition to abortion, and terrorism, all signifying the conservative movement. And liberals think Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck simplify the Obama administration. Granted, these radio personalities have a larger audience than Harper’s, the Nation, and the History News Network. But Limbaugh and Beck don’t claim to be scholars, and their listeners don’t claim to be experts about politics, religion, or history. If Susan Jacoby really wants to claim that conservatism has dumbed-down American culture, she may want to hold up a mirror to her reasonable and smart friends who can’t tell the difference between picketing an abortion clinic and flying a 737 into a skyscraper.



But the point of this kvetch is not to weigh the brain mass of conservatives and liberals but to bring up a subject that religious historians should be teaching to the rest of the American population from their lecterns, articles, books, and blogs – it is that the Religious Right is nothing new in U.S. history and that scaring citizens with the apparently bizarre proposals of Christian conservatives is bad scholarship. Prior to the Religious Right, Protestants, whether liberal or fundamentalist, concocted various schemes to preserve the United States as a Christian (read: Protestant) nation, from the Civil War, to Prohibition, to the civil religion of the Cold War. During that time, Protestants had access to all sorts of presidents, even the ones who had their finger poised on the button to drop “the bomb.” John Foster Dulles may have mingled with a tonier set than Carl McIntire (though Dulles certainly did not wear a better suit), but his anti-communism and God-and-country outlook were not substantially different from fundamentalist anti-Communists like McIntire.


What this historical perspective means is that the Religious Right is simply in continuity with a swath of American Protestantism that many religious historians regard not as extremist but as mainstream, tolerant, and respectable. Granted, the Religious Right had the bad timing to show up after many Protestants had capitulated to some sort of secular America, and they did not always show an awareness of how America had changed not just religiously but demographically after the 1960s. (This was actually the point of the Religious Right’s complaints – they didn’t like what the nation was becoming. Since when is complaining so scary or unAmerican?) But to portray people who differ little from previous generations of Americans as those who nurture terrorist ideas and actions is to show a real ignorance of the field in which you are supposed to be an expert.


This may be an odd point coming from a writer who regularly chastises the Religious Right. I have not changed my assessment of evangelical politics. I think it is flawed theologically and politically. But I sleep relatively well each night, despite my criticisms, because I know born-again Protestants, however mad they may be at me, believe in an important piece of Moses’ law – namely, the sixth (as Protestants count them) commandment. (Emphasis mine)

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...