Friday, February 27, 2009

Where Mission Begins

For part of my childhood I was a missionary kid. Even before I was an MK ,I was in church from before I was in diapers. I can't tell you how many sermons I've heard on missions. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that we should take Acts 1:8 and essentially draw a map of concentric circles around our church in order to identify our Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the 'remotest parts of the earth.' This brings up an interesting question: where does missions begin?

In their book Total Church, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis hit the nail on the head:
"The term mission is from a Latin word meaning "sent." Jesus sends is followers out into the world with his gospel word to make other followers who will go out into the world with his gospel word to make other followers in perpetuity. Missions begins in our own hearts as the gospel word of Christ crucified is effectively applied by the Spirit. And it does not stop until the far corners of the world. It is a constant continuum because mission is what we might call the steady state of God's people." (Total Church, p. 101, emphasis mine)

The bolded statement resonated with me when I first read it, almost getting my attention like fingernails on a chalk board. Do we really believe that our hearts need to be evangelized? Do we know our hearts need the gospel? Our need of the gospel is not a once and done sort of thing as we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is essentially growth in the gospel.

This statement reminds me very much about Richard Baxter's words in The Reformed Pastor that a preacher must first preach to his own heart. Well a missionary must first evangelize their own heart. We must make sure that we are delving into the riches of God's mercy given to us in the gospel. We must know through personal experience and confidence that having seen the condition of our heart and seeing where it is now that the gospel really is the power of God. Paul really didn't have any great missionary secret other than a deep seated personal conviction that the gospel really is the power of God. That knowledge and conviction brings boldness beyond what we could ever ask or imagine.

There is of course a danger is being too individualist and introverted when we say "missions begins in our hearts." The simple solution there is to grasp the reality of Christ crucified: it is for God's glory. It is to bring worshippers to God. As John Piper has said: "Missions exists because worship does not."

I think there is a better way to apply Acts 1:8 than drawing circles around our church and moving outward. But by the same token, I'm not advocating we 'draw circles' outward in terms of our spheres of influence, although it might helpt to identify people in your life with whom you have contact, the level of contact and relationship you have with them and how to best share the gospel. What I am suggesting, is that I need to recognize the evangelism that the Spirit did in my heart. He used and uses the preaching of the gospel to save me and conform me to the image of Jesus, from one degree of glory to another. While my feet must be fitted with a readiness of gospel my job is proclamation--it is the job of the Spirit who Christ sends to actually apply 'Christ crucified' to the hearts of sinners. It's not about you and how suave you are, it's about Him and His power. And that too is good news.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

10th Commandment Catechism

Question 85: What is the tenth commandment?

Answer: The tenth commandment is, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man servant, nor his maid servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.”

Scripture: Exodus 20:17.

Question 86: What is required in the tenth commandment?

Answer: The tenth commandment requires contentment with our own condition, with a right and charitable frame of spirit towards our neighbor, and all that is his.

Scripture: Hebrews 13:5; 1 Timothy 6:6; Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Leviticus 19:18.

Question 87: What is forbidden in the tenth commandment?

Answer: The tenth commandment forbids all murmuring over our own condition and all envying or grieving at the good of our neighbor, and all inordinate affections for anything that is his.

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:10; James 5:9; Galatians 5:26; Colossians 3:5.

From the Baptist Catechism.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Coveting and the Kingdom of God

Ephesians 5:3-5 3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

John Calvin says the following:
As much is to be said of the word 'covetousness'. What shall be said of the covetousness? It carries a bad sound, and no man will acknowledge that he is tainted with covetousness. A man will rather make such excuses as these: I have responsibility for a wife and children, and why is it not lawful for me to seek bread for them? Again, should I not have a care for the future, that I may make good provision for them? Covetousness has such a store of excuses that it is as if it were varnished with them, and the term has such a gloss put on it that it is taken almost for a virtue. St. Paul did not mean that men should only forbear the use of the bare names, which might make the vices themselves abhorred and hated, but he would rather that whoredom should be named as an evil thing, and that men should understand that a whoremonger cuts himself off from the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, banishes himself from the kingdom of heaven, and is cursed before God and before his angels. Those are things that must be known. And again, a covetous person is an idolater and forsakes God; he is as a damned soul and a perverter of all right and equity. (Sermons on Ephesians, Eph. 5:3-5, pp.494-95).

Nothing is more prevalent in our American culture than sexuality and coveting. So often we think that because there is not a Baal temple down the street our culture is not idolatrous. Somehow we envision ourselves has having evolved beyond such naivety. Calvin writes, "But it is not without cause that covetousness is called idolatry, because it is certain that when a man once gives himself to it, he fixes his whole happiness in it" (p.503). We should be taking a long hard look into our hearts and asking: what idols still dwell there?

For some reason, the tenth commandment is probably one of the most relevant commandments to the second tablet and yet is also probably most neglected in terms of abuses, applications and ignorance. We may not have oxes, donkeys and servants but some how we excusing coveting technology, the Lexus and the fancy house... I mean those are things we need to make life better.

The excuses for idolatry in our day our similar to what Calvin notes. We live in a survival of the fittest economy, so why not pursue the good things in life. We even offer trade-offs to God: if I get more, I can give more and help others. Now certainly the Bible does not condemn money but the love of money. A person offered a promotion should seek God's call in their life. However we must ask ourselves: why am I pursuing these objects? Has my pursuit of things so captured my desires that I can no longer be content without them? If that is the case, your desire for 'stuff' has replaced your desire for God. We are to trust God for our daily bread not necessarily being promised a padded pension and 401(k) that we can pursue at all costs.

The reality is that unrestrained coveting and pursuits of worldly goods and pleasures is a mark of the unregenerate--the non-Christian. I fear that in our day we have people who claim to know God crying "Lord, Lord" but their earthly pursuits wrapped up in the gravest of coveting money and goods marks their life otherwise.

Jesus is quite clear that you cannot love both God and money. You cannot covet money and worldly goods at the same time you should be covenanting God. God will not tolerate his bride seeking such mistresses. Our pursuit must be of the kingdom of God. If our pursuit is for coveting, then we have forfeited our true inheritance--we give evidence that these true and noblest pursuits do not belong to us.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Roddenberry's Contradictions

In a recent interview at, LeVar Burton made the following comment about Star Trek founder Gene Roddenberry:
TM: In a recent blog post you talked about about Gene Roddenberry and how as a big Trek fan, you were confused and disappointed to find out that he was human, can you go into that a little more?

Burton: I will go a bit into detail but no too much because, obviously, a lot of that I consider private. However, I will share this…Gene was a human being and full of contradictions. He was this great visionary, and yet he was a womanizer. All of the women all wore short skirts you know? He had somewh
at sexist views. Star Trek was full of spiritual meaning and yet he was an agnostic. Those kinds of things.
This is something that struck me a while back while I was reading Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. It is written by Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman. Gene Roddenberry had this lofty ideal based largely on humanism and an evolutionary view of man. He painted a picture where man had evolved beyond human conflict. They had united and lead a peaceful Federation. This isn't to say they're were never internal conflicts in the Star Trek universe--yet good always triumphed. 

Roddenberry's future was one of radical equality for races and sexes. For example, the very first pilot had a woman as the first officer 'Number One.' Even more, Star Trek had the first inter-racial kiss portrayed on Television. According to what I once read, the scene was actually shot two ways: one with the kiss, and one without an angle where it looked like they kissed but they did not. The censors saw the later and made sure there was no kissing. Nevertheless it was controversial and revolutionary. Dare we say it was even visionary. 

The sad irony of Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future is how he failed to live it. The idea was we work to better ourselves. Yet Roddenberry was known as selfish and a womanizer. He may have such a vision of human society but on the most basic level that builds society--the personal life--Roddenberry fell far short. The reality is that secular humanism cannot change the human heart, and like all of us Roddenberry had a heart problem. 

Justman and Solow, in my estimation, are not disgruntled colleagues spilling the beans to get even. They seemed content to bring a realistic picture of Roddenberry. We shouldn't minimize Roddenberry's impact in science fiction and the vision of Star Trek--yet we should not idolize the man. 

Solow and Justman point out that remarkably Roddenberry was sexist. "[F]or Gene, a woman's role was primarily as a decorative tool in a man's workshop" (p.226). He was known for sneaking woman into his office and then subtly parading his escaped and affairs. He consistently saw woman as sex objects.

In another respect, Roddenberry was consistent with the personal ethics of humanism. Yet this puts oneself in conflict with the worldview of Star Trek. On Star Trek 'we work to better ourselves' to quote Captain Picard from First Contact. Yet listen to Roddenberry in his own words:
I practice what I preach. There may be times when I feel like "dipping my wick" and I do so. When it's right. When it feels good. People may say "Oh, that Gene Roddenberry. He's no good. He's an unfaithful husband." I say unfaithful to what?...They may condemn me for breaking a vow they think I made. Whereas in fact, I didn't make it. I could never adhere to an agreement that deprived me of myself. Majel and I  have our own agreement. [p.375]

Bob Justman goes on to account the effects that this had on Majel Barrett. Sadly, while she later married Gene Roddenberry, she was Roddenberry's mistress during his first marriage--along with the other women he had relations with. This is one of the grave inconsistencies of humanism it has such noble goals and visions for societies morals but such unrestrained personal morals... as if the two are not in conflict. Yet I would submit that without personal virtue one can never obtain to the ideals for society that humanism holds out to us.

Among other things, it seems over the years Roddenberry developed an inflated sense of self. It should go without saying such self-glorification never allows for attaining the betterment of society. To attain a betterment of society one has to serve for other's benefits which takes self-denials. The best way to look after number one is to cut out number two when it doesn't serve your purpose. Herb Solow recounts a conversation that he had with Herb Schlosser of NBC Universal when Schlosser wanted Roddenberry to produce another series:
"Please don't ask that of me [Herb working with Roddenberry]...Gene has changed since the early days of Star Trek. It's almost as if he's become one of those gods he used to write about..." [p.419]
Solow may not be entirely objective here as they were once close but after about nine years the close friendship did not last.  He writes, "Gene had lots of good qualities, but his need for self-glorification stood in the way of continuing our personal and professional association" (p.430). Solow does feel that Roddenberry kept all the glory of Star Trek for himself rather than sharing it with some of the major contributors, including Gene Coon, Bob Justman, Matt Jeffries, and Solow himself (p.430). Justman notes some of the same qualities in Roddenberry but they were able to remain friends even working together on The Next Generation.

My intent here is not to bash Gene Roddenberry. We are all human and we all have glaring faults. My goal is point to the fatal flaw in the ethos of Star Trek: you cannot truly attain to the ideal. You end up falling fatally short. It is too easy to buy into the evolutionary idea of moral advancement and the basic goodness of humanity--until you stare boldly into the human condition. Ironically, the best Star Trek plots in the various episodes are the ones that have pushed the boundaries of internal human conflicts. Why? Because we resonate with the realities of life and the reality is that we can strive for the ideal but we always fall horribly short.

It is this falling horribly short that will always plague us and leaves the hope of Star Trek truly vain and void. I am sure the new movie will do a great job of capitalizing on character conflict and holding out the ideal hope of the Star Trek universe. But as long as I live in the real world, I will continue to see Christianity as the only way of achieving the peaceful humanity (in the 'age to come') that ST looks for while redeeming us from the problem of 'this age' that ST never overcomes.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Original Sin and Scripture

Recently Tony Jones has been posting on his blog a series on original sin. For example, here he posts on Romans 5. Jones writes:
"Immediately we can see why Augustine, Calvin, and so many others propose that Paul is authoritatively writing about inherited guilt. Paul states clearly that Adam's sin resulted in every one of his descendants being sinful, too. So it seems that part of our interpretation of this passage in Romans hinges on exactly how we interpret and understand Genesis 2-3. Were Adam and Eve real, historic persons? Are they, indeed, the father and mother of the entire human race? (Did they really live into their 900s? Who was Cain's wife? Etc.)" [Emphasis mine]
It is beyond sad that Jones is clearly willing to acknowledge what Paul says, but unwilling to hold to it. Jones puts this very question before his readers in a later post:
If you, through and honest and thoroughgoing process of study and discernment, come to decide that the Apostle Paul was wrong about something in his writings, have you forsaken your claim to be an orthodox Christian?
Historically the Christian church has no problem answering affirmative to this question. Whether we like it or not orthodox Christianity has always been held captive to the word of God. It is about submission to the text and its authority rather than lording ourselves over things. We cannot choose piecemeal what we can like and dislike.

Sadly, this goes beyond acknowledging interpretive biases and differing interpretations. Jones' question is if we come come to the opinion that this is actually what the text says, do we then still have to believe that it is true?

Jones further claims that 'original sin' is a doctrine that is only unique to the Western church. Giving his personal journey in abandoning original sin, Jones writes:
I discovered that whole branches of the Christian family tree -- most notably, the Orthodox Church -- has never embraced Original Sin.
MichaelWittmer has taken the opportunity to respond to Jones' statement (link). He writes this against Jones' claim that the orthodoxy church does not hold to original sin:

1. Historically: it is true that Pelagius was not condemned in the East, but that was because the slippery Pelagius denied his views before the Jerusalem Council and the Synod of Diospolis. There he anathematized some of the statements of his student, Coelestius, who had learned those ideas from Pelagius himself. Other reasons for Pelagius’ acquittal were the inability of his accuser to speak Greek and the desire of the assembled bishops to be reassured of his orthodoxy. When Augustine learned that Pelagius had been let off the hook, he replied that “it was not the heresy that was acquitted, but the man who denied the heresy.”

2. Theologically: Timothy Ware, an important bishop in the Greek Orthodox Church (he is a titular metropolitan bishop of the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate), wrote in his book, The Orthodox Church (Penguin, 1963; reprinted 1985), 228-29, that the Orthodox believe that “the consequences of Adam’s disobedience extended to all his descendants. …Man’s will is weakened and enfeebled by what the Greeks call ‘desire’ and the Latins ‘concupiscence.’ We are all subject to these, the spiritual effects of original sin.”...

Here is the point: those who deny original sin cannot sustain their claim that their view was or is acceptable to the Eastern church. Their antecedents include Pelagius, the rationalistic Socinians of the 17th century, and modern liberals such as Albrecht Ritschl. None of these adhere to the historic, orthodox faith. What are the implications for Jones and Pagitt?

Michael Wittmer also makes the following helpful remarks in the comments a little later:
[F]rom what I saw it seems that Tony thinks that Paul is wrong in Romans 5. At which point I throw up my hands and say it’s over. If we can dismiss the Bible because it doesn’t fit our intuition, then I don’t know what else to say. If, as Tony says, the community is the new magisterium, then apparently he and whoever is sitting beside him on the couch at Solomon’s Porch has more authority than the clear teaching of the Word of God.

It is tempting to suggest that Jones is just being interpretively 'cautious'. For Jones the issue hinges around how we understand Genesis 2-3. He writes:
If one believes that there is some kind of spiritual nature that is passed from mother (or father) to child by a biological process, as Paul likely believed, then this passage will be taken one way. If, however, one does not believe that the taint of Adam's sin is genetic but is instead an archetypal account of the human condition, then it will be taken another way.
The problem is that the doctrine of original sin does not hinge on genetics. There are certainly those who have articulated it only biological lines or examined how biology has assisted and aided in this process. Of course, then if one rejects a literal Adam in favor of theories related to macro-evolution, then one seemingly has an argument.

The issue for Paul however and numerous articulators of the doctrine (Murray and the Reformed tradition come to mind) is not genetics but representational headship. This concept is closely connect to the Hebraic worldview of the covenant and representation. In this worldview, there was indeed 'corporate representation'. This worldview is not unique to the Hebrews (Stanley Porter has pointed out some Greek writings which contain the notion, The Nature of Religious Language, p.36). This of course sidesteps one element of Jones' dismissal.

This is not a place to fully defend the historicity of Adam, but we must say this: what one thinks of Adam must correlate to what one thinks of Christ. If Adam cannot truly represent us, then neither can Christ. If Adam is merely an archetypal example, then if one is internal consistent the Christ cannot (or does not need to) represent us. The whole issue at the end of the day is eschatological: there is an old humanity that is 'in Adam' and there is a new humanity which is 'in Christ'. Just as David in the Old Testament in his actions represented his people, and consequences of his actions came also upon his people--so it is for Adam and for Christ.

The doctrine of original sin is no mere meandering in the theological wilderness. It is not something that we can dismiss as one small piece of a puzzle. It is not as if we can remove it and still consistently hold to sin and redemption. A consistently Biblical and orthodox Christian representations of the issues will recognize such things. Sadly, Jones offers neither.

UPDATE: Mike Wittmer has offered a follow up post entitled "Tony's Unoriginal Sins". He makes the claim that Jones' posts suffer both from ignorance and arrogance and seeks to substantiate that claim. Wittmer points out that Tony asks the question: "If you, through and honest and thoroughgoing process of study and discernment, come to decide that the Apostle Paul was wrong about something in his writings, have you forsaken your claim to be an orthodox Christian?". Of course, to ask the question presupposes there is at least some element of orthodoxy that is unchanging and must be adhered to. He has stated quite ‘clearly’ that orthodoxy is a product of the community and that there is nothing you can actually point to and say “there is orthodoxy”, which we've noted before here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

'For the Record'

Here's a video that Scott Ott of Scrappleface fame told me about.

It is somewhat humorous. Obviously, not a serious apologetic or even by an organization that would do such stuff, but it does point to some inconsistencies in worldviews. Enjoy.

I'm not saying anything good or bad about the organization that made the video either--I don't really know much about it. I'm just saying there was a bit of humor to the video.

On Scripture

Charles Hodge:
"Our views of inspiration must be determined by the phenomena of the Bible as well as from its didactic statements."

Systematic Theology 1.169

HT: Michael Bird

Hodge continues:
"If in fact the sacred writers retain each his own style and mode of thought, then we must renounce any theory which assumes that inspiration obliterates or suppresses all individual peculiarities. If the Scriptures abound in contradictions and errors, then it is vain to contend that they were written under an influence which precludes all error. The question, therefore, is a question of fact. Do the sacred writers contradict each other? Do the Scriptures teach what from any source can be proved not to be true? The question is not whether the views of the sacred writers were incorrect, but whether they taught error? For example, it is not the question Whether they thought the earth is the centre of our system? but, Did they teach it is?"

Monday, February 16, 2009

Free Will and Responsibility

In a blog article, Al Mohler linked to this article entitled "Free Will vs. The Programmed Brain". After an two paragraph quote Mohler perceptively asks this question:

If we are not responsible for our actions, they why would people do the right thing? The most immediate result of such thinking is the subversion of moral accountability.

As Christians this is precisely the question we should be asking. There is not way to rejoice in and even commend the good if it is all a product of genetic or biological determinism. You can commend the good but why bother? Christianity believes even wicked people do commend good--Christians call this common grace.

Read Al Mohler's blog article and he rightly argues rightly that Christians have always held to moral responsibility and this 'value' in the West is a product of Christianity. Even with all the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, both believe (along with Roman Catholics as Mohler points out) man is made in the image of God and is therefore morally responsible for his/her actions.

It is a ironic that the study cited points that those who read an article denying free will cheated in the testing more often then those who read an article that upheld free will. Of course, the study was designed to determine who would cheat more. "[T]he researchers found that the amount a participant cheated correlated with the extent to which they rejected free will in their survey responses."

"On the other hand, the results fit with what some philosophers had predicted. The Western conception idea of free will seems bound up with our sense of moral responsibility, guilt for misdeeds and pride in accomplishment. We hold ourselves responsible precisely when we think that our actions come from free will. In this light, it’s not surprising that people behave less morally as they become skeptical of free will."

Just a couple of thoughts:

(1) The type of determinism in philosophy that rejects free will and ergo human responsibility is miles apart from Calvinism which rejects the freedom of the will because of its bondage to sin and upholds human responsibility.

(2) As science expands into genetics and neurology we will see more of these articulations that we cannot really hold people responsible for our actions. The argument will be since we are just a mass of chemical reactions we cannot be held accountable for how are chemical reactions process things. Of course, scientifically the argument will be more complex.

(3) These arguments will lead to an overturning of somethings previously consider immoral (such as homosexuality) or a lessening of historic principles of justice that involve actual punishment and accountability for crimes. Since has already found that child molesters do have genetic and chemical factors that contribute to their actions and while we should discount these, these are in no way an argument for excusing such action. There is no "My genes made me do it" defense--at least not yet. Here we might consider Brian S. Mustanski and J. Michael Bailey words:
No clear conclusions about the morality of a behavior can be made from the mere fact of biological causation, because all behavior is biologically caused. (Sexual and Relationship Therapy 18:4 [2003]: 432; qtd.

(4) If such thinking runs too far, this could actually lead to a lessening of human rights. Human rights can only truly exist when there is a guaranteeing of human rights beyond just the state. Indeed, we will face the same ethical questions strict materialism faces: if something like survival of the fittest is true, then why should I care whether or not I have true compassion for the weak and needed. Of course, very few deny that such compassion is a good thing.

(5) If this thinking continues to increase there could be a decrease of historic work ethics based on the notion of personal responsibility and an increase in entitlement conception (such narcissism is already far to prevalent among my generation.

We should be more wary of scientific views that will step outside the bounds of true science and into the bounds of theology, philosophy and ethics. Certainly, these categories are not self-contained quartered off from each other. However, there are two big concerns: (1) What worldview undergirds the science and is thereby neither neutral or objective and (2) unfortunately those who lack critical thinking skills can be prejudiced by the god of science. In such context science becomes unassailable. These leaves one liable to all kinds of unscientific agendas.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

'Silencing Christians'

Frank Turk, over at his blog, asked people to comment and discuss this video entitled 'Silencing Christians'. The 'documentary' is an hour long. Here's what I say: 
I thought it was decent in terms of production and facts. The case studies of current events was nothing new but nevertheless things we need to be aware of. I did wonder the about 1989 book and whether or not its discussion of the HS agenda and tactics was mainstream or not.

Sadly, the movie was called silencing Christians and in effect the Christians silenced themselves from anything that was a uniquely Christian message. It called Christians to action but that action abandoned the Christian's biggest weapon. They wanted to motivate the Christians to action but the actions weren't even 'Christian things'. I could be wrong, but I didn't catch even one Bible verse or Biblical defense of sexuality and marriage. You could have labelled the movie "silencing Orthodox Jews" or "silencing the moral majority". 

The ending especially fell flat. The main pleas were (1) fight for your constitutional rights {along with a reminder of how 'biblical' they are--which was a sort of cultural religion} and (2) Barack Obama is bad because he'll ruin the country with his *gasp* secular agenda.

So how do we fight? Well, fill out our survey and then we will show the world that we are still here and we'll hit them in their pocketbook so they won't give us propaganda we don't want to hear. 

This last item as to the purpose and reasons for the survey struck me as highly self-contradicting. They labored so hard at the beginning to tell me how much the HS agenda wanted to change public thinking through propaganda, redefinition and re-education, so if you send a survey you are basically saying "here's how many people you still need to reach".

If the pro-HS agenda knew when they started that they were a minority and they need to change the whole paradigm, I fail to see how a survey showing they are still underdogs will really make them say "well I guess we will stop our tactics". In fact, now that the agenda is rooted in MSM and many buy into the silence detractors and as discriminatory, a survey will do next to nothing. The fact may be their opponents are still a slightly larger majority, but this didn't stop their tactics in the past, it is the height of foolishness to assume it can stop them now. On a human plan, they have turned a corner that they didn't have 25 years ago.

The sad thing is yes Christians are silenced, but there wasn't anything Christian gospel-bleeding about this message. Christians all over the world are persecuted, why do we think we should be any difference. We shouldn't want to win the culture war but the war for the heart. The weapons to fight that battle are not the weapons of the world. In this, the movie was decidedly un-Christian.

So that's all I'll say about that.

Friday, February 13, 2009

An Observation on our Culture and Compassion

I find it more than ironic all the hate that is directed at the mother of octuplets, Nadya Suleman. It really isn't ironic as in funny but sadly points to a deep seated hypocrisy and idolatry of selfishness.

The AP network news comments on the death threats that she has received.

Police Lt. John Romero said officers were meeting with Suleman's publicist Mike Furtney about the flood of angry phone calls and e-mail messages against Suleman, her children and Furtney.

"We are aware of the media accounts of the threats, and that they are being sent to the West Los Angeles detectives for appropriate action," Romero said.

Other voices have expressed extreme anger (AP story):

On the Internet, bloggers rained insults on Suleman, calling her an "idiot," criticizing her decision to have more children when she couldn't afford the ones she had, and suggesting she be sterilized.

"It's my opinion that a woman's right to reproduce should be limited to a number which the parents can pay for," Charles Murray wrote in a letter to the Los Angeles Daily News. "Why should my wife and I, as taxpayers, pay child support for 14 Suleman kids?"

She was also berated on talk radio, where listeners accused her of manipulating the system and being an irresponsible mother.

"From the outside you can tell that this woman was playing the system," host Bryan Suits said on the "Kennedy and Suits" show on KFI-AM. "You're damn right the state should step in and seize the kids and adopt them out."

Before I get to my main point let me offer a few provisos. First I do not think that a single person should be getting IVF no matter how much they want a child but I will not defend that thesis here. Second, I do not think having six kids and going back for IVF is, to put it nicely, wise--especially when said person is a single mother. Third, politically, I am in favor of smaller government rather than having too much that is state controlled.

Now that I've laid my cards on the table let me make a few points. The hate directed at Nadya Suleman is both unwarranted and morally reprehensible. I will articulate this statement following 'two kingdoms' approach--following such theological traditions as say Augustine and Abraham Kuyper. I wish to think through the immoral responses to Ms. Suleman along such lines: 'the kingdom of man' and 'the kingdom of God'. Under the spheres of both 'secular' and 'spiritual' (to use things anachronistically) such responses to Ms. Suleman illustrated above are wrong.

"The Kingdom of Man"
What really needs to be evaluated is people's own reactions. First, just because you disagree with someone's actions does not mean that the state has the automatic right to interject itself. Part of living in a free country means that people can do stupid things. As long as it is not morally wrong or impinging on the rights of others the government should stay out of it. And so should all the angry vitriolic internet bloggers. Raise concerns, express your opinion, even mount Biblical and religious reasons as to why she should not have had children (as I would tend to stick to)--but at the end of the day she is responsible for her actions not you. You cannot police ever aspect of life through government action. Goverment is about checks and balances both internally (the three branches in America) and externally (government is established by the consent of the people). That means government cannot infringe upon certain rights. The role of government is not to supress people you disagree with--the response some want it to take--but to enforce law and illuminate injustice. The response of some amounts to nothing more than imposing injustices upon Ms. Suleman and her rights.

Second, taking care of the poor, orphans and widows is an important role of civil government I wonder how many people who express this hatred for Ms. Suleman favor larger welfare and social programs? How many want to see more healthy care, job sercurity and poverty relief from the government. To be blunt: how many voted for Barack Obama or other democrats? Now I tend to favor smaller government, and government should not create people who are dependent. However, we have a responsibility to take care of orphans, widows and the poor.

Now I am not in favor of people mooching off the government. I am also do not want to enable people to make bad decisions because they know they can get a free ride. Actions should have consequences, those who sow should be those who reap what they sow. However, if we are going to be a nation that takes care of the poor and seeks to get them thriving if we are going to be a nation that takes care of people to give them healthy opportunities for growth and establishment of themselves in independance--then we have to be a nation that takes care of the Nadya Sulemans no matter how much we think their actions were inappropriate. What does this say about our moral calibre and fiber when their is such hate?

I dare say there is more than a bit of hypocrisy going on here--even if one votes for more Republican principles in the political spectrum.
It should be appaling at how quickly lofty American ideals and 'rights' go out the window when we encounter such a situation as Nadya Suleman. Yes, Nadya should not get a free ride, all expense paid trip through life. Yes she should have to work for her future, but regardless of who she is, the American ideal is that she is equally afforded that right and privelege.

"The Kingdom of God"
Third, there is a Biblical mandate to take care of the orphans and widows. This, according to James, is true religion. This Biblical mandate applies to both the church and (at least in the Old Testament) to civil authorities. Taking care of orphans and widows extends into the unique circumstances of our day such as single mothers. There is a responsibility to the poor and downtrodden.

Tim Keller has a recent Themelios article entitled "The Gospel and the Poor". It should serve as more than a fair bit of warning to how a Christian should consider this event and the thousands of others like it across the country. He writes:
God gave Israel many laws of social responsibility that were to be carried out corporately. The covenant community was obligated to give to the poor member until his need was gone (Deut 15:8–10). Tithes went to the poor (Deut 14:28–29). The poor were not to be given simply a "handout," but tools, grain (Deut 15:12–15), and land (Lev 25) so that they could become productive and self-sufficient. Later, the prophets condemned Israel's insensitivity to the poor as covenant-breaking. They taught that materialism and ignoring the poor are sins as repugnant as idolatry and adultery (Amos 2:6–7). Mercy to the poor is an evidence of true heart-commitment to God (Isa l:10–17; 58:6–7; Amos 4:1–6; 5:21–24). The great accumulation of wealth, "adding of house to house and field to field till no space is left" (Isa 5:8–9), even though it is by legal means, may be sinful if the rich are proud and callous toward the poor (Isa 3:16–26; Amos 6:4–7). The seventy-year exile itself was a punishment for the unobserved Sabbath and jubilee years (2 Chron 36:20–21). In these years the well-to-do were to cancel debts, but the wealthy refused to do this.
He continues:
The church reflects the social righteousness of the old covenant community, but with the greater vigor and power of the new age. Christians too are called are to open their hand to the needy as far as there is need (1 John 3:16–17; cf. Deut 15:7–8). Within the church, wealth is to be shared very generously between rich and poor (2 Cor 8:13–15; cf. Lev 25). Following the prophets, the apostles teach that true faith will inevitably show itself through deeds of mercy (Jas 2:1–23). Materialism is still a grievous sin (Jas 5:1–6; 1 Tim 6:17–19).
What about when the need arises from personal failure? Arguably, Nadya Suleman's own decisions and actions have placed here in this mess. Is the Christian free then to let her flail and flounder in the stew of her own making? In his sermon "Christian Charity" Jonathan Edwards handles this objection:
If they come to want by a vicious idleness and prodigality; yet we are not thereby excused from all obligation to relieve them, unless they continue in those vices. If they continue not in those vices, the rules of the gospel direct us to forgive them; and if their fault be forgiven, then it will not remain to be a bar in teh way of our charitably relieving them. If we do otherwise, we shall act in a manner very contrary to the rule of loving one another as Christ hath loved us. Now Christ hath loved us, pitied us, and greatly laid out himself to relieve us from that want and misery which we brought on ourselves by our own folly and wickedness. (II.172)
Edwards continues to say that even if they continue in folly sometimes for the sake of the family we must extend ourselves. Having such a multitude of children may have been a folly of Nadya Suleman, (although once the eggs were fertilized it may have been equally wrong to let them be terminated), regardless of her actions there is a responsiblity to support and care for the poor and the needy.

It is our contention that such hate directed against Nadya Suleman is reprehensible and immoral. It is wrong from a civil standpoint as members of a society comprissed of people of all religions and all walks of life ('the city of man'). Whatismore, it is totally unbecoming of those portions of society which claim to be Christians ('the city of God'). There is a responsibility to Ms. Suleman whether we like it or not.

This responsibility should weigh first upon the church and the Christian individual transformed by the gospel. Such care is a mark of the redeemed.
The principle: a sensitive social conscience and a life poured out in deeds of service to the needy is the inevitable outcome of true faith. By deeds of service, God can judge true love of himself from lip-service (cf. Isa 1:10–17). Matt 25, in which Jesus identifies himself with the poor ("as you did it to the least of them, you did it to me") can be compared to Prov 14:31 and 19:17, in which we are told that to be gracious to the poor is to lend to God himself and to trample on the poor is to trample on God himself. This means that God on judgment day can tell what a person's heart attitude is to him by what the person's heart attitude is to the poor. If there is a hardness, indifference, or superiority, it betrays the self-righteousness of a heart that has not truly embraced the truth that he or she is a lost sinner saved only by free yet costly grace. (Tim Keller)
I am sure there is a fair share of "Christians" who are willing to cast Ms. Suleman to the throws of life and face them at her own expense to her own peril and the peril of those she is responsible for. It will not do to either (a) cast off help from her or (b) remove the responsibility from her (e.g. taking the kids).

The responsiblity of civil society is to assist and aid the poor, orphan and widow. The cause of poverty and need may be multi-faceted (personal inaction/action, systemic structures of oppression and injustice, circumstances, etc.) however the responsibility for action is not lessened or removed. Regardless of the cause such poverty is to be reduced and eliviated in a manner that causes people to take personal responsibility and move into independance. To truly respect Ms. Suleman is to offer her a hand up and not merely a handout.

All those who pour hate and contempt on Ms. Suleman and wish to deny her help and assistance not only break God's Law ('the kingdom of God') but the violate principles that are essential to a civil and function society ('the kingdom of man').

A Pastoral Postscript
As a church, we need to take seriously the Biblical mandates for the care of the poor, orphans and widows. In the twenty-first century, we need to consider what elements of our society this mandates extend to. The fruit of the gospel in the believer is to care for the poor and as a pastor I need to be deeple concerned about whether the church cultivates and bears such fruit. Furthermore, part of my call to preach the Word of God is to proclaim the gospel and expose, rebuke and root out the idolatry rampant in our hearts and the heart of our culture. We are building the culture of heaven, being transformed by the renewing of our minds. The events and response to Ms. Suleman indicate one such area of profound selfishness and idolatry.

Tim Keller's "The Gospel and the Poor". Themelios 33-3.
Jonathan Edwards, ""Christian Charity or The Duty of Charity of the Poor, Explained and Enforced" The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth) 2:163-73.

The Value of Serving the Poor

Serving the poor has value for opening opportunities to proclaim the gospel, even the unbelivers recognize this:
Roman Emperor Julian (332-363):
"Atheism [since Christians didn’t follow the gods] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal there is not a single Jew who is a beggar and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them."

Monday, February 9, 2009

Polycarp: To Elders and Members

Chapter VI.—The duties of presbyters and others.

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always “providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man;” abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin. If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; or we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and “we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself.” Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offence, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error.

Letter to the Philippians, chapter 6.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


My thought: "With the fall of man our hard-wiring is now permanently short-circuited for idolatry. Anything good or made for good that now goes through the circuit of our lives is automatically and without fail perverted to idolatry. At least... that is until the circuit is replaced with the new creation.

This is of course what theologians refer to as total depravity."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Jesus the Progressive?

So-- let me get this straight: One can reject a whole mess of Jesus' teaching: like on hell, the authority of God's Word, the necessity of believing certain things about Jesus' person and work, the exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone, etc. etc. One can reject historic tennants of the church and throw out the Apostle's Creed. But... as long as one embodies Jesus' revolutionary spirit one is being faithful to the kingdom and 'rooting it in the heart of the Christian tradition'?

This strikes me a bit like saying "We a better follower of Christ's kingdom than you". Despite claims of being anti-religious, it is rather Pharisaical. Seriously, what doe these people think Christian conservatives, right or wrong, are trying to do? Suppress Jesus' message? Right or wrong isn't the Religious Right trying to transform things? At best the term does not really define or distinguish itself in any recognizable fashion. At worst, it is a great way to trump one's superiority over others--and I thought postmoderns were critical of power plays. And at what point is the 60s radicalism and romantic notions of revolution actual skewing the way we view the 'kingdom message'?

The call of the kingdom is not to be revolutionary. It's revolutionary message is the call to be a servant. The greatest in the kingdom is not the one who is the most revolutionary but the greatest servant. One must first serve God: repent and believe those things Jesus actually calls us to hold to. Second, one must love and serve thy neighbor as himself... this is after all the second greatest commandment.

It may look all trendy and exciting to shake things up, progress, evolve or emerge... but that really isn't the call of the kingdom. The call of the kingdom is to take up our cross, die to ourselves, and serve sacrificially. But I guess that isn't all that trendy.

Quotable Quotes

"We understand nothing of the works of God, if we do not take as a principle that he has willed to blind some and enlighten others."
--Pascal, Pensees, 5.566

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Theological Pot calls the Kettle

Jenell Paris is a professor at Messiah College is going through a series of posts entitled "Things Evangelicals Like." I'll leave aside the difficulty of defining said "Evangelicalism"--is it theological, cultural, political, etc. etc. However there is one glaring irony in here series.

First she notes that evangelicals like to 'proof-text' there theology. That's my summation of her argument where she says:
"1. Evangelicalism Likes Lots of Scripture in Small Doses
I wrote an essay that used Scripture as a framing theme, but didn’t discuss specific Bible verses as proof of my point. According to expert feedback, my approach was Christian, but not evangelical. An evangelical approach would have listed the six verses that discuss my topic, and articulate pre-existing points of view on each... It is important to remain ‘close to the text’, maybe literally holding the Bible so close that one’s eye can only see one or two verses at a time. This strikes me as Bible-ism, turning the Living Word into a set of doctrines and ideas that support a religious movement."
As a whole evangelical theologizing is pretty week, point granted. Evangelicalism furthers even further to define itself. Now just about any doctrine can be found under the umbrella of 'evangelicalism'. There are a whole bunch of pastors, theologians and lay people who do not engage in serious exegesis of the whole text in order to derive their theology. I too dislike cherry picking as a theological enterprise.

Now the irony: How does Ms. Paris form her own theology? Well she rejects the notion that "God is in control". What overpowering serious exegetical grounds does she consider? How does she frame her them under the whole of Scripture? Here's the reasoning:

5. Evangelicalism Likes Claiming that the Phrase “God is in Control” is in the Bible
A theologian recently told me that the entirety of evangelical theology is built on the cornerstone of God being in control. His book, in fact, devotes a chapter of biblical exegesis to the phrase which, strangely, is not actually in the Bible. We read words like “powerful”, “I AM,” and “King” and take them to mean “control.” Seems like the control issue might be our deal, not God’s...but still, the Bible doesn’t say that God is in control. [italic mine]
It is tempting to think that I am being a little harsh. Yet she is quite clear what her objective is and her basis for rejecting that God is in control. Latter in the comments, responding to some verses posted, she writes:
Thanks for taking so much time to write. I'll consider your words carefully. I'm not advocating openness or any other systematic position - I'm just saying that the phrase "God is in control" is not in the Bible. That God gives life, or that there is no one beside Him, or that God is Creator - those are all biblical attributes of God that relate to control, but are not its synonymn [sic]. [italic mine]
First, let state clearly that I can recognize the horror of losing triplets, and she notes in fairness that this may influence her theological decision. Yet, as a pastor I can also say I have witnessed people go through the same sorts of death and despair. Such evil in the world exists because of sin. Yet I also have seen the unimaginable comfort that the God of all peace can comfort us--both because in Christ who can identify in our weakness and because of God's sovereign Lordship exercised in Christ. To have all things placed under one's feet is, if nothing else a statement of control of bringing this wretched sin-cursed world under, well, control.

More to the point: Ms. Paris rejects the notion that theology should be done merely by posting a few verses tacked on to the position we believe. However, when she can't find a few verses to take onto the notion that God is in control, she rejects it. It is as if simple by typing "control" in a Bible word search and finding nothing related to God--we can then reject the concept. It appears that she has essentially written her theology the way she rejects evangelicals writing their theology. Is not the them of God's control "a framing theme"?

The Bible portrays God controlling all elements of creation (the sky, sea, storms, etc.) not just in the act of creation but post-creation. He controls the rise and fall of nations. He controls human history. His plans never fail. Nothing happens apart from his ordaining, decreeing and plan. This sounds a little like--dare we say it?--control. The Bible proclaims that His dominion is over all. God sends both good and calamity. Nothing happens apart from God's plan and no plan of God's can be thwarted. Man may plan in his heart but God determines his steps.

Let me just suggest two verses as a jumping off point of sorts:
Daniel 4:34-35--
"[God's] dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?"

Lamentations 3:37-38
Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?"

For those wishing to read more of a Biblical treatment of the concept of God's Lordship, I suggest beginning with John Frame's The Doctrine of God chapter 4 is entitled: "God's Control: Its Efficacy and Universality".

Until then, balking about those who base there theology on the minutia, and then rejecting a overwhelming theological theme based on the absence of said minutia is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Justification and Union with Christ

I think if there is one area that is misunderstood today in theology it is the relationship between justification and union with Christ. There are a number of misunderstanding but let me highlight a few.

(1) There is a common misunderstand amongst NT scholars of the relationship between union with Christ and justification in Reformed Orthodoxy. Some of the NT scholars seem to imply at times if they are the first to see the connection.

(2) This misunderstand is then compounded by a failure to see how the imputation of Christ's righteousness is essential. It is of course distinct but inseparable from the imparted righteousness that comes through sanctification.

(3) This can lead to readings of the text that collapse Romans 6 into Romans 3-5 or vice versa. There is a minimization then of the legal verdict that is reckoned to us in justification as Christ's resurrection is His justification and that verdict is declared upon us. This verdict flows from the believer's union with Christ. Yet this verdict rendered is wholly distinct from the transformation of righteousness in our life that develops as a Christian--e.g. our sanctification. This sanctification flows to us by virtue of our union with Christ.

(4) Collapsing Romans 6 into Romans 3-5 or vice versa leads to a minimization or elimination of the verdict rendering power of the reckoning. This follows suit with a confusing of sociology and theology in Paul's doctrine. No doubt sociological issues drive the historical situation for Paul's response--yet we cannot fail to see the profoundly theological articulation that drives Paul's language and undergirds his world view. This failure leads to an over extension of the categories of ecclesiology and soteriology so that in some readings the former overtakes and overshadows the latter. While we cannot deny the ecclesiological implication of justification by faith, these ecclesiological implications flow out of our union with Christ. They precede from our justification. In a sense then ecclesiology and soteriology are also distinct but inseparable. Of course, both items are integrally connected to union with Christ. Those united to Christ are part of the one body--the new eschatological man being restored. Those united to Christ also receive his resurrection verdict imputed/reckoned onto them although they have in no way acted righteous as the Second Adam did. All this most properly flows from a robust covenant theology.
The Reformed Orthodox were not naive when it came to the relationship between union with Christ and justification. Over at ThomasGoodwin there is a great blog post highlighting this. It notes:

Union with Christ is the first saving grace in dignity. Owen calls it the “greatest, most honourable, and glorious of all graces” (148). Moreover, and I believe this is significant, union with Christ is first in respect of causality and efficacy, that is, “it is the cause of all other graces that we are made partakers of” (150). Those graces are adoption, justification, sanctififcation, perseverance, resurrection, and glory!
Regarding justification, Owen argues that “our union with him is the ground of the actual imputation of his righteousness unto us” (150). So, imputation does not bring about union, but union is the context in which God imputes righteousness.
Goodwin carries the same emphases in his own writings. He refers to union with Christ as the “fundamental constitution of a Christian” (5:350). In fact, union with Christ is the “first fundamental thing of justification, and sanctification, and all. The goal of the covenant, including its blessings, is to bring sinners into union with Christ. In specific relation to justification, Goodwin maintains that “all acts of God’s justifying us depend upon union with Christ, we having him, and being in him first, and then thereby having right to his righteousness” (8:406).
Of course, for Goodwin, union with Christ is threefold; first, according to the terms of the eternal covenant (pactum salutis); second, by representation when he was on the cross; and, third, “an actual implanting and engrafting us into Christ” (8:406).

I for one think much discussion on justification needs to recover the elements of union with Christ. There needs to be clear thinking about the relationships that go on here. Yet it will do know good if we do not see the Biblically faithful articulations that have come before us. Sadly too many NT scholars may be good at historical exegesis--and we certainly have more first century historical sources than we did even a century ago to enhance this endeavor--but too often NT scholars have little time for a robust historical theology. Sadly, at times (though admittedly not always), this comes across as more than a slight dose of chronological snobbery.

Monday, February 2, 2009

On Sanctification

To often the Christian life is portrayed as war between the old man and the new man. It is a sort of gospel schizophrenic. We do not deny that the Christian struggles with sin. But the reality of the gospel is that the old man has been put to death. What you are fighting against is the ghost of what remains. You war against the last echoes. Sometimes the power of sin seems so real that these echoes seem tangible—I have succumbed, we think. The reality is that the Christian has been crucified with Christ. The old man has been put to death. The new man has arisen having been created by God through Christ’s work and the life given Spirit whom Christ sends from on high.

We should not fret the ghosts of the old man. We must drive him out of the graveyard because in that graveyard is a resurrected man. There is new life.

Romans 6:6
6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

Colossians 3:9-10
9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Ephesians 4:21-24
21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

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