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. 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



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.

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