Thursday, December 2, 2010

Star Trek News

Just thought I'd quickly highlight two Star Trek stories. is reporting that their are some pitches being made to CBS for new Trek TV shows. Tim Russ ('Mr. Tuvok') is quoted as saying:
Star Trek’s been around 40 years, spun off 6 series and 11 movies. Is it time to give the Trek franchise a rest?
“In a sense it is in hiatus right now, because there’s nothing on. "(Star Trek) Enterprise" was the last series, and that’s been off several years. They’re discussing other Star Trek projects, other series. I think there’s still a loyal audience out there that would love to have something to watch that’s Star Trek-related.”
1. It is possible to overdue things so that people suffer brand-fatigue. However, given the success of the rebooting of Battlestar Galactica and the rumored Star Wars TV series, I think it is possible for a Star Trek series to again become relevant for a new generation, if it is done right.

2. I don't think the issues of which timeline you could do a series in is important, I think they way to have success is to do something relevant to a broader audience that is true to the spirit of Star Trek. If you catch and reintroduce the notion of a 'wagon train to the stars' and focus on real character development in a science fiction storyline, you will have a recipe for success. (a) People appreciate the optimism of Star Trek if their is a struggle to realize the ideals of human exploration with a potential for creating a better world. (b) If Star Trek is not too sterilized by over dependance of technology. As much as I like Star Trek (and believe me, I enjoy it). When I watch some of the later Voyager episodes and even the Enterprise episodes, I don't always get the sense that the technology always works and can always bale them out. Sometimes the universe seems a little too perfect.

Second, this is why I think the writers of the lastest Star Trek movie, who are now working on a sequel, 'get it' as it were. Robert Orci has said:

One of the big challenges is all of the characters are together now. A prequel is a pain in the butt, but one of the nice little advantages was that you get to meet the characters as you go through the story and they get to meet each other. That’s fun. We don’t [have] that luxury of not having the entire family there together at the start of the story. So now you want the character stories to be good for everybody but also not just be there to be stories but also fit into the plot and be organic. We’re looking at a lot of the old episodes for inspiration, still. Whereas the last movie was all about breaking free from “Star Trek” and its canon, now that we can do whatever we want, we still want it to feel like good ol’ “Star Trek” even though it’s a new story. 

You cannot just make a science fiction movie with spaceships and slap the Star Trek label and lingo to it. You can't just slap the characters names of people. You have to "get the feel." I think they did the smart thing to reboot the canon in a way that feels natural in a science fiction world. They did it without just 'dumping' all that Star Trek was as if to say 'that 1960s TV didn't happen.' But now they are free as a sort. Yet not only do they want to make a good movie, they want to be faithful, as it were, to the spirit of what has gone before. 

I think this is an exciting time to be a Trekkie.

Dueling Duo: Rhetoric and Arminianism

Are Calvinists the only one who have bad rhetoric in the Calvinism vs. Arminian debate? Are Arminians the only ones calling for fair play? Even with the rise of so-called 'New Calvinism,' which is really a discovery of all that is great about the doctrines of grace in Old Calvinism, it seems neither side has cornered the market on civility or unbridled passion lacking in charity.

I used to do these things I called dueling duos. Most times I'd put two quotes side by side, whereas the first one was newer, the second one was usually something I agreed with that was older than the first quote and had long since refuted the idea of the first quote. Other times, I'd just put two quotes side-by-side. This is going to be one of the latter. They are by the same Arminian author.

This is a reason why I increasingly view evangelicalism as two movements rather than one.  We are like ships passing in the night even though we both call ourselves evangelicals and stand in that movement’s historical trajectory.  Wesley and Whitefield have been pitted against each other.  Indeed.  Thank God they could both serve as catalysts for the Great Awakening, but their profoundly different views of God largely kept them apart.  Wesley’s hermeneutic was captivated by God’s love revealed above all else in Jesus Christ.  Whitefield’s hermeneutic was captivated by God’s glory revealed above all else in God’s sovereign election of individuals to heaven or hell.
How can these two evangelicalisms work together for the greater glory of God?  Well, they probably cannot–especially so long as either side casts aspersions of “idolatry” at the other one.  It always starts as a vigorous disagreement about God’s sovereignty and human free will.  Next comes the caricaturing of views.  Then follows the angry epithets of philosophical reasoning over biblical faithfulness followed by charges of heresy and idolatry.
While I acknowledge that some Arminians have been guilty of such, overall and in general it is representatives of the “new Calvinism” (or sometimes just plain old decretal theology Calvinism) that engage in the most vitriolic rhetoric against other people who are allegedly (so one might have thought) their fellow evangelical Christians.   (Many people in the world wide Reformed fellowship are not guilty of this at all.)

There is much that is helpful in this excerpt. [For Calvinists saying similar things see here]

All that is to say that Arminianism’s critics are the proverbial people casting stones while living in glass houses.  They talk endlessly about God’s glory and about God-centeredness while sucking the goodness out of God and thus divesting him of real glory.  Their theology may be God-centered but the God at its center is unworthy of being the center.  Better a man-centered theology than one that revolves around a being hardly distinguishable from the devil... 
One finds no hint anywhere in Arminius of any concern for human autonomy for its own sake.  Arminius’s only reason for affirming libertarian free will is to disconnect sin from God and make the sinner solely responsible for it.  His one overriding concern is for God’s glory in all things.  There can be no doubt that he would agree whole heartedly with the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism “What is the chief end of man?”  “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Time prohibits me from rehearsing a litany of Arminian affirmations of the glory of God after Arminius.  Suffice it to say that all classical Arminians have always agreed with Arminius about this matter.  I challenge critics of Armininism to display one example of a classical Arminian theologian who has elevated humanity to an end in itself or in any way made God’s chief end the glory of man.  It doesn’t exist.
I conclude with this observation.  The difference between Arminian and Calvinist theologies does not lie in man-centeredness versus God-centeredness.  True Arminianism is as thoroughly God-centered as Calvinism.  A fair reading of classical Arminian theologians from Arminius to Thomas Oden cannot avoid finding in them a ringing endorsement of the God-centeredness of all creation and redemption.  The difference, rather, lies in the nature and character of the God who stands at the centers of these two systems.  The God who stands at the center of classical, high Calvinism of the TULIP variety is a morally ambiguous being of power and control who is hardly distinguishable from the devil.  The devil wants all people to go to hell whereas the God of Calvinism wants some, perhaps most, people to go to hell.  The devil is God’s instrument in wreaking havoc and horror in the world—for God’s glory.  The God who stands at the center of classical Arminianism is the God of Jesus Christ, full of love and compassion as well as justice and wrath who voluntarily limits his power to allow creaturely rebellion but is nevertheless the source of all good for whose glory and honor everything except sin exists.

1. It is a shame that these quotes are by a professional theologian who is worthy of respect.

2. There is a double standard here, to say the least, within the second quote itself. 

One the one hand, he would have people represent Arminianism fairly in that their is an aspect of their theology that is concerned with God's glory. One the other hand, we could challenge him to find in Calvinism such a grotesque portrayal of God so that he does not even treat Calvinism as he wants Arminians to be treated. 

So he will not allow the Calvinist to offer an external critique of Arminianism when we say "they aren't God-centered." Of course a Calvinist does not deny that an Arminian cares about God and God is somehow central to his thinking, rather the critique is that their theology does not place enough emphasis on God and His glory in the same manner and to the same extent that the Biblical text does. Yet it is an external critique of the Arminian evaluating Calvinism from the outside Calvinism that makes such a gross caricature possible. No Calvinist would say this of their own system (just as no Arminian would say they aren't 'God-centered').

3. It strike me as odd that "vitriolic rhetoric" and "the caricaturing of views" can be so deplored on the one hand in the first quote. And then on the very next post one can say Calvinism "hardly distinguishable from the devil." To this we might reply respectfully: Physician, heal thyself! 

4. I am unconvinced that this issue is somehow not about 'who is God-centered vs. who is man-centered.' If, as we are told, Calvinism makes God like the devil, then that is indeed idolatry. And if it is idolatry, then it is man-centered and not God-centered. If the God of Calvinism is, as we are told, "is a morally ambiguous being of power and control who is hardly distinguishable from the devil," then he has been remade in an idolatrous man-centered approach. I fail to be convinced that a debate about the attributes and character of God is not a part of the 'man-centered vs. God-centered' debate. Any person who is adding or taking away from the attributes of God as Scripture portrays them is then doing something that is man-centered instead of something that is God-centered. 

At the end of the day the debate is not about which side thinks they are more God-centered and not man-centered. Of course both sides argue that they are God-centered. The debate is about who is actually more faithful to the Biblical attributes and character of God. Claiming "we are God-centered because we think we are" is not the point of the debate. We cannot say 'I think therefore I am.' The grounds for legitimate debate is not what each side thinks about itself. 

The author knows full well no Calvinist thinks God is like the devil but he brings his criticism to bear. I do not think the criticism stands but the author brings it to bear because from his system and perspective he has interpreted his opponent. A response should deflect the criticism and show this is untrue of Calvinism both theologically and Biblically. At the same time, a Calvinist can and should know that Arminians claim to be God-centered. If someone disagrees they should show why this is not actually true. Readers and listeners of such debates are then able to decide who is right and who is wrong as they compare it to Scripture.

In the end, it is right to call for fair representation and honest debate. Straw men should be put to rest and ended by all involved. Digging in with epithets and charges of damnable heresy serves no purpose. It is unfortunate that the same author who applauds such fairness and honest debate in the end considers his opponent's view of God as "hardly distinguishable from the devil."

Let's not pretend it is only the Calvinists, New Calvinist, 'conservative evangelicals' or *gasp* fundamentalists who have a zeal that can at times get the better of them. We used to respect people who stood by their convictions and critiqued other based upon those convictions, even while we disagreed with the principles.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bad Theology: On American Exceptionalism

Over at the Washington Post, there is an essay on American Exceptionalism and the Republican capitalization of it:
"The nation's ideology can be described in five words: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez faire," wrote the late political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset, one of the leading scholars of the subject.
Indeed, exceptionalism has often been employed to explain "why the United States is the only industrialized country which does not have a significant socialist movement or Labor party," Lipset wrote.
The proposition of American exceptionalism, which goes at least as far back as the writing of French aristocrat and historian Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s, asserts that this country has a unique character.
It is also rooted in religious belief. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that 58 percent of Americans agreed with the statement: "God has granted America a special role in human history."
Gingrich says Obama fails to understand that "American exceptionalism refers directly to the grant of rights asserted in the Declaration of Independence," and that it is a term "which relates directly to our unique assertion of an unprecedented set of rights granted by God."
I believe there is something to be said for a form of 'limited' American exceptionalism. I am willing to grant that America is not just subjectively one of the best nations but objectively has granted the most amounts of freedoms to its people. It has led the way in many fields, not least the promotion of democracy but also science and innovation because of its free market ideals among other things. This is not to say we can "go it alone" or that we should not engage a globalized world. This is to say America has a uniqueness amongst nations of the last two centuries. While we have commonalities with other democratic nations, there is something that has been embedded since our founding. It is something that I think should be in its own form embedded in other nations. I think other nations can and should aspire to this ideal of granting the liberty of a democratic republic to their people.

That said: I deplore the notion that we are "unique to God's history." Quite frankly, if as American we rejected the divine right of kings, then we should reject the divine right of nations, particularly as it pertains to us.

(1) Americans can't even agree on who God is--nor should we pretend that we have some common creed. 'God' is cannot be a generic noun with which we fill whatever we want into it.

(2) Nationalism should not and must not be routed in civil religion.

(3) When we start thinking we have a 'special role in God's history' --we make America take on a sort of Messianic quality. Theologically only Israel and the church as the 'people of God' fulfill this character and only then because of their union with the Messiah.

(4) I agree that our rights are granted by God. Human beings are made in God's image--but let's not replace that with a notion that we are special because we've found it. I think most of us are going to be shocked at the judgement that God will have for us because of our American sins.

(5) While there are something that we can look at in history and say that America was uniquely suited and raised up to do something and that something was infallibly part of God's plan--God has done that with nations since the dawn of time, and he is doing it throughout the world. We are no more important in God's sovereign plan than anybody else. There is nothing exceptional about us before God.

(6) This notion of God's blessing in our 'American Exceptionalism' becomes theological Pelagianism applied to the national politic and human history. God blessed us because of who we made ourselves. We acknowledged Him and therefore He granted us pride of place. It is offense to anyone with a Biblical doctrine of sin and the gospel.

(7) America's pride in her exceptionalism will be her undoing. Mounting this pride and excusing because we see ourselves as uniquely 'under God' puts us at odds with the character of God who cherishes humility.

All that said: I am proud to be an American. I am grateful to God for privileges he has afforded me as an American and even through being an American. But let's not mix the kingdom of man with the kingdom of God. The right doesn't like it when the left does it in their economic and socialistic policies, but shame of the right for doing the same thing with American Exceptionalism.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Value of Church History for the Pastor

Quoting someone to extensively in a sermon can be a distraction. But quoting and learning from the heroes of the faith can be reaping the fruit of that which God has cultivated in His Church through the ministry of His Word.

As a pastor, your people do not want you to plagiarize--indeed we ourselves do not want to lie, cheat and steal. We must not plagiarize. Give credit where credit is due. A laborer is worthy of his hire. If we learn from the exegesis, preaching and ministry of another, we must give credit. If we quote we must cite.

However, if we too frequently quote someone else you are considered a cheat or a hack who has somehow not walked with God. If you cite the influence of Luther’s theology of the cross, Calvin’s doctrine of God’s Word, or you account being moved to zeal and worship through Athanasius treatise on the Incarnation, suddenly you can be treated as if you had not actually handled God’s Word for yourself.

It is a most peculiar frustration, a Catch-22. Do no plagiarize but do not acknowledge too much that we all stand on the shoulders of the greats. If a hero of church history influenced you too much somehow God has not caused the growth--you have not walked with God but with men, so we are told.

The reality is that godly men handling God’s Word can stir you to godly thoughts. Anyone who has been moved be preaching knows this. They can drive you to the Word. They can show you things in the Word that have their authority and basis for belief arising from the Word and not man. Nevertheless the Spirit used a man to open you to the treasures of His Word.

Yet most want pastors to have original thought. Some do not want a pastor too dependent upon the past. It is considered that if the pastor has learned from the greats, he is not all that great nor very godly having walked with men instead of God--so the thinking goes. To have a pastor and preacher find something new and unique that he quotes from no man--now that is godliness. It is considered that “God has spoken directly to Him.” This is personal but history is impersonal.

To the contrary: originality is a wrench in the toolbox of heretics. It is a noose for the most horrendous of wranglers. Originality can be a sign of pride, of a puffed up heart. It can be the sign of a weak mind that is crafty and scheming rather than a resolute mind who walks with God and amongst the heroes of the faith. Am I so bold as to think that I will have insight, knowledge and a “voice” that God has given to no man before me? Am I so arrogant to think I can craft a theology that is independent of the great men of God and so equally independent of the very Word of Life that enlivened them?

As pastor must never be dead, feeding of the scraps of history that have fallen to the floor. But a good and godly pastor should know his place at the table. He is dining on the meat of God’s Word all the while knowing the delight of table fellowship with men who have done the same. Sometimes our best thoughts into the Word of God are stirred by the Spirit when we are standing on the shoulders of giants.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mercy for the Doubting

Over at Storied Theology this week, J.R. Daniel Kirk commented on (black) and quoted an excerpt from Christianity Today (in red):
"Drew Dyck’s “The Leavers” strives to give a balanced assessment of both the reality of young people leaving the church and the prognosis for their return. There are several sociological factors that make a return with the advent of marriage and children less likely than it was in earlier generations.
But the point that interested me most was when he probed the reasons given for folks leaving.
Almost to a person, the leavers with whom I spoke recalled that, before leaving the faith, they were regularly shut down when they expressed doubts. Some were ridiculed in front of peers for asking “insolent questions.” Others reported receiving trite answers to vexing questions and being scolded for not accepting them."

Today, as I prep for Sunday School, I ran into these verses:

17 But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, 18 that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” 19 These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on some, who are doubting; 23 save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. 24 Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. 
Jude is all about watching out for false teachers and contending for the faith that God has given to the saints. So there will be mockers and ungodly who creep into the church and they are to be resisted and corrected with correct teaching.

But then there are others who are doubting and you have to help them and be merciful to them. You have to build them up and show them Christ's love.

For the contentious unbeliever in the church you don't cast your pearls before swine. But for the ailing lamb that wrestles with doubt: you must be gracious and merciful and nurse them to health. You must be like a nurse aiding in childbirth rather than the CDC irradiating a contaminant.

The problem is too many Christian never use Biblical wisdom to discern between a wolf and a baby lamb. We end up shooting the sheep thinking that we are contending for the faith rather than seeing that contending for the faith entails being merciful with those who doubt. This means we address the issue but with gentleness, compassion, and empathy, sympathizing with their weakness in faith just as Christ sympathizes with ours. We do not put on a stiff upper lip of authoritarianism that spouts route answers. By the same token when the Bible and the faith provides assurance, answers and hope we must give the reasons for our hope.

The bottom line: yes there are mockers but all doubters are not mockers. We do a disservice to Christ when we treat a doubter like a mocker (and vice versa). Far too many Christians have driven others away from the faith because they could not be merciful to one wrestling with doubts. They rebuked when the should have nursed mercy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Should I ask: 'What Does it Mean To Me?'

Here's a good post from a guy I went to college with. He writes:
Recently I’ve been asking this question more and more. It has been impacting my preaching so that when I read a text or think through a sermon, I keep asking, “How does the gospel fit into this?” “How does the gospel change the application?” I think too often we look at a sermon or a text and ask the question, “What does this mean to me?” and in the end it doesn’t matter what it means to me, it matters what it means. Or, another way, when preaching instead of giving a bunch of steps:  3 ways to fix your marriage, 5 steps to getting out of debt, 7 P’s of purpose (all of these aren’t bad), but I want to ask, “How does the gospel change the way you think about money, debt, about your marriage, sex, emotions, needs, your goals, etc.
The Bible is applicable in all that is teaches. It is profitable for correction, teaching, rebuke and training in righteousness. But one thing we should be asking do we have a "me-centered" approach to Scripture? Do I come to God's Word expecting it to teach me something by virtue of what it is? Or do we come with an expectation that the Bible must bend itself around me and what I think I need? 

Following up in FB I wrote:
Too often people want X number of steps or a 'what does it mean to me' and the temptation then is a pastor never filters the application through the gospel. I've often asked are we as pastors creating the 'moralistic therapeutic deists' that we say the is not the gospel-centered Christian the Bible lays out for us.

To which Josh responded:
I had a prof in seminary who said the dumbest question we ask is "What does this mean to me?" as if God is sitting in heaven on the edge of his seat to see what we'll come up with. He said we should ask, "Of all the things God could have put into scripture, why this? Why did God inspire this to be written? Why have these words lasted for thousands of years for me to read them now?" It changes how we read Scripture and what we look for in it.

I once heard David Dunbar say "Instead of saying 'Apply the Bible to your life', we should 'apply our lives to the Bible.'" The idea is that it makes you think which one is immovable and which one should be formed to fit around the other.

Most people who say "What does it mean to me" no doubt have good intentions. They are asking about how they should obey or apply Scripture. What is Scripture asking them to do. However more and more the emphasis is becoming "What does it mean to me?" The problem is when I become the emphasis as if I figure out where the Bible fits into what I already hold to be true or what to go and do.

What I am arguing is that the Bible as to form and fashion me into something else rather letting myself become the standard.

In that, rules and lists of 'go and do' are much too simplistic. Rather the emphasis in Scripture is "God has done, no you can 'go and be'." We need to get the indicative and the imperative right.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Education and Ethics

Here is an interesting article on a person who writes for a living by completing papers, projects, assignments and thesis as contracted out by student. The essay is quite scary in the sense that for so many education has become about image and not learning.

This part was most disgusting:
I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

IF you are a seminary student: how dare you hire someone else to do your work and your labor and take credit. Similarly, if you are a pastor: how dare you hire someone to write your sermons. 

One of the problems is that education today is assumed to be an entitlement. A child MUST go to college and subsequently colleges overtime lower their standards to the lowest common denominator. Very few question: is college for everyone? What ever happened to the respectability of trade schools? With the proliferation of degrees, now Masters degrees a considered common stock, and indeed doctorate degrees too. Yet we would not go to a medical doctor who had not done their own work, yet if this essay in any indication we have countless individuals in all fields of the humanities, liberal arts, and other 'soft sciences' that are paying others to do the work.

This is just terrible.

The temptation is to turn this into something that is adventurous: 
"You've never heard of me, but there's a good chance that you've read some of my work. I'm a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can't detect, that you can't defend against, that you may not even know exists."

As you read the account, the author details about people who love to boss others around but have little ability to actual communicate using proper English. Sadly for most success is measured by the results and pragmatics so that as long as I get ahead, who cares how I got there.
"I, who have no name, no opinions, and no style, have written so many papers at this point, including legal briefs, military-strategy assessments, poems, lab reports, and, yes, even papers on academic integrity, that it's hard to determine which course of study is most infested with cheating. But I'd say education is the worst. I've written papers for students in elementary-education programs, special-education majors, and ESL-training courses. I've written lesson plans for aspiring high-school teachers, and I've synthesized reports from notes that customers have taken during classroom observations. I've written essays for those studying to become school administrators, and I've completed theses for those on course to become principals. In the enormous conspiracy that is student cheating, the frontline intelligence community is infiltrated by double agents. (Future educators of America, I know who you are.)"
What is amazing though, is this research writer is excellent at selling a product. He/she certainly works but he does need to do the work of real research and evaluation. He doesn't have to weigh arguments and sort data--he can just skim, scan, collate and produce:
"I haven't been to a library once since I started doing this job. Amazon is quite generous about free samples. If I can find a single page from a particular text, I can cobble that into a report, deducing what I don't know from customer reviews and publisher blurbs. Google Scholar is a great source for material, providing the abstract of nearly any journal article. And of course, there's Wikipedia, which is often my first stop when dealing with unfamiliar subjects. Naturally one must verify such material elsewhere, but I've taken hundreds of crash courses this way. 
After I've gathered my sources, I pull out usable quotes, cite them, and distribute them among the sections of the assignment. Over the years, I've refined ways of stretching papers. I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I'll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph. "
It almost gets Orwellian about the use of language. It extremely easy to use language to sound profound and intelligent rather than actually using it to concretely communicate things. At times succinctness is a greater sign of profundity than verboseness. I am not knocking true intelligence, vocabulary and an ability to craft clear penetrating scholarship. But notice:
"I've also got a mental library of stock academic phrases: "A close consideration of the events which occurred in ____ during the ____ demonstrate that ____ had entered into a phase of widespread cultural, social, and economic change that would define ____ for decades to come." Fill in the blanks using words provided by the professor in the assignment's instructions." 
Unfortunately, towards the end of this article the write passes on the ethical blame. Don't blame me, I'm just providing a service. Ask why people would want me. It is, to put it mildly, unfortunate that the author would excuse themselves in such a fashion. Of course, their is enough ethical culpability to go around. 

Read the whole thing.

over at CATO they make this comment:
Again, we can’t know from a single ghost-writer’s experience if ed school students systematically cheat more in college than their peers in other fields, but we certainly shouldn’t be surprised if they do. We’ve organized education in this country in a way that decouples skill and performance from compensation, and instead couples compensation to the mere trappings of higher learning (e.g., masters degrees). We’ve created a powerful financial incentive for existing and future teachers to cheat. 

I am not against paying people fairly (including teachers), but this again goes to my point that competence and ability is not measure merely by the accumulation of degrees. I once heard from a pastor  a friend in his community complained to him about his pastor who was getting another degree just to rack up a higher salary. We would be silly to think that it is only in the educational fields where people see compensation coupled to the trappings of higher learning. Higher learning is worth more if it is real learning with real work, effort and energy expended.

The true test of learning is not the degree but what one does in their life with said degree. Degrees should be the beginning of education and life-long learning not the end. To this end, I once had a professor in college who refused to hang his doctoral degree in his office. When asked about it, he said, I don't need to prove that I have a degree by hanging it on the wall rather the evidence of my degree and learning should be displayed in the classroom. I consider this man both humble and realistic: his life beyond the degree was a demonstration of the degree he had earned and the seriousness with which he studied and taught. (He was, I might add, the hardest professors I had in college, but I wouldn't trade my experience in his classes for the world).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why Star Trek?

Over at Mere-O they are offering a giveaway of David VanDrunen latest book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms. One of the ways to enter was to give an apology for your favorite TV show to which I obliged them:

Why is Star Trek my favorite TV show?
(1) Because as a young boy is inspired me with adventures in a universe that was much bigger than earth. It was a source of enjoyment, wonder and adventure.
(2) It introduced me to epic themes and often used drama to engage in life events.
(3) It provided provided a vision of the future that was optimistic and hopeful. Unfortunately, it is a bit too rooted in modernism and it clashed with my Augustinian theological sensibilities. But this clash of worldviews is still stimulating and fun as it plays out in sci-fi.
(4) It has influenced pop culture for more than 40 years and has probably impacted said culture more than other television franchise in history.
(5) It’s impact on science and future scientists is almost incalculable as it has inspired real people to go out and do real things for the benefit of us all.
(6) It’s way more intelligent and far less mystical than Star Wars will ever be. ;)
(7) Five TV series, and 11 movies, probably secures it as the most productive science fiction drama ever. (not to mention books, comic books, an animated series, countless fan productions, conventions, and memorabilia)
(8) It’s enculturated and adapted itself to every generation since the 1960s at the same time it offers continual subtle critiques of current themes and current events.
(9) I’ve learned some Shakespeare and classical literature from watching it.
(10) It gives me something to theme my blog around and retain my geek creds in an area beyond just theology and Biblical studies.
(11) It has created its own subculture in the world of fandom.

Not sure how serious they were for that way to enter the contest, but hey, they said it, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

Next time, maybe I'll offer a two kingdom theory on Star Trek-- Christians can enjoy culture after all ;).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Genesis 1-3 and the Kingdom of God

Here is a paper that I have been working on for a denominational study committee. At this point I am just uploading the draft but I hope you can enjoy it. I welcome comments and feedback by email or in the comments below.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Gospel and the Poor

Galatians 2:10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

In his Galatians commentary on this verse Martin Luther writes,

"Next to the preaching of the Gospel, a true and faithful pastor will take care of the poor. Where the Church is, there must be the poor, for the world and the devil persecute the Church and the impoverish many faithful Christians.
Speaking of money, nobody wants to contribute nowadays to the maintenance of the ministry, and the erection of schools. When it comes to establishing false worship and idolatry, no cost is spared. True religion is ever in need of money, while false religions are backed by wealth."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Warfield's Apologetics & Presuppositionalism

I was listening to this interview with Fred Zaspel the author of a new book on B.B. Warfield. It is a good interview covering some basics on Warfield. He is probably second only to Jonathan Edwards in ranking America's best and brightest theologians. Unfortunately, he has garnered little respect, and as Zaspel points out where he is occasionally cited he is often used as an easy foil. So for example, we often hear that he invented the term 'inerrancy' and that was a unique product of Old Princeton. Warfield's chief theological opponent at the time argued that and was soundly defeated by Warfield's account of the history. 

Warfield was considered a master in New Testament, Systematic Theology and Old Testament studies. He wrote profoundly in a number of areas, including apologetics and defending the faith against radical Biblical criticism and liberal theology in its hay day at that time.

One criticism that is often leveled against Warfield is that his apologetics methods were basically evidentialist and he did not let his Reformed theology influence his apologetic method. This critique is basically leveled by the heirs of Van Til and the presuppositional method. So Van Til took the influence of Kuyper's reformed theology who was careful to argue for the division between the unregenerate mind and the regenerate mind. From Warfield, Van Til took a passion for apologetics and confronting the unbeliever. Van Til expresses indebtedness to both Warfield and Kuyper while voicing serious criticism against both.

However, the critique remains that Warfield's Reformed theology did not sufficiently influence his apologetic method.

To this Fred Zaspel's basically suggests that Van Til got this aspect of Warfield wrong when it is argued that Warfield basically had a natural view of human reason. Zaspel notes that Warfield said that not amount of evidence could make a Christian. Right reason was not a capacity of the unregenerate. Although one could appeal to evidence the believers mind was altered and note capable of right reason. To the extent that Van Til (and his followers) represent Warfield as bare evidential who appealed to reason apart from the need for regeneration of the mind, according to Zaspel, Warfield is misrepresented.

So on the audio interview (here) at about 16:55 in the interview, Zaspel says, "Warfield was basically presuppositional in that he recognized that only the Spirit of God could change the man in giving him the ability to recognize the divinity of Scripture and so on."

To me, this is important and I hope that it will be explored further in scholarly articles. Of course, Van Til 'invented' the presuppositional method--and I think the notion of appealing to the transcendence of God's truth and showing the unbeliever's unbelief to be self-destructive on its own terms are important to apologetics.

Too often however Van Til's apologetics are scene as being opposed to evidence. This has been shown to be false as Van Til himself said 'Christianity provides the roof for evidence.' Or to say it another way, Van Til was not opposed to facts but "brute facts". To say "the facts speak for themselves" is to naively assume that my reason is unfaltering in its ability to understand facts.

If Zaspel is right however, Warfield was closer to Van Til than he is given credit. He was consistent in his Reformed Theology as it related to apologetics. He believed in evidence and reason but equally saw the need for the mind to be regenerated. I hope to read Zaspel's book and see if he deals with it more in his chapter on Warfield and apologetics. For now, listen to Zaspel's interview. Hopefully more research will be published on the relationship between Warfield's and Van Til's apologetic methods.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Economics and Statism

Ever since I read Money, Greed and God, one of my passing interests lately has been economics. I think there is a lot theology can say about economics--in fact there needs to be a moral and theological component in all human interactions and that includes, I think, economics. I have personally critical of the greed that drive much of capitalism and even worse turns true capitalism in mercantilism. However, I am not convinced that statists solutions to capitalism are the way to go, despite being all the rage in some circles. Greed for money is equally bad as greed for power. If the kingdom of God is concerned with the poor and the oppressed, I am not convinced we cannot link the kingdom of God to the kingdom of man. We can shift oppression through statism solutions but I think we end up creating an equally frightening monster.

That said, my reading list is long and I am not progressing on that front. I do however work through the occasional thought and ponder the issues from an amateur perspective. 

Anyways two things caught my eye in this post. It is an interview with Craig Carter who blogs here. He describes his shift in political views.

First: on statism.
Another thing that happened was that I became aware of the fact that a significant chunk of Evangelicalism was in the process of caving in on homosexuality and that the pansexualists were actually winning not just in the world, but in the Church too. The Parliament of Canada created a fiction called “same-sex marriage” in 2005 and this is surely the beginning of the end of something. I looked around and couldn’t see too many socialists standing up for traditional sexual morality and the family. Only conservatives were doing that. So I thought it was time to throw in my lot with those who were willing to put principle above expediency.
Around this time I also became convinced by the arguments of people like Robert George that economic freedom and the freedom of individuals and the family are inter-related and that a conservative position on both economic and family/morality issues holds together coherently. I think that statism is a far greater threat to human dignity, freedom and prosperity – and to human life itself – than all the so-called dangers of capitalism put together.
I also became aware of the way that appointed bodies called “Human Rights Commissions” were going about earnestly stripping people of their right to free speech in the name of human rights. It is Orwellian in the extreme; for example, a Christian pastor in Calgary was ordered not to speak about homosexuality ever again. Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant stood up to these bureaucratic bullies and shone the searchlight on their madness. And to see the mainstream media and academia just sitting there blinking as liberal democracy was trampled on was a searing experience.
Something else happened that year that I am not at liberty to discuss in order to protect the privacy of innocent people. But I witnessed first-hand the absolutely frightening power and reach of the administrative state and how far the state’s power has grown relative to the shrinking power and freedom of families and individuals. All I can say is that it shocked me into realizing that it was wrong and dangerous to go on promoting statist solutions to social problems. (underline mine)
This is one thing that has struck me as of late. I am not a big fan of the "solutions" on the left, but I am not wholly adoring of every "solution" on the right. My goal would to be equally suspicious of the capitalist as I am of the statist. Yet, the consistent capitalist is willing to create and environment where the  innovative can break into the game (in this case some corporations who consolidate power are not consistent capitalist but favor merchantilism). However I see the chances of balancing greed and distributing power under a system of lawful capitalism. "Who watches the watchers" is my concern when it comes to statism. A top down structure that seeks to channel resources and growth becomes a channel for greed and power. Capitalism does not eliminate greed, but it sufficiently and lawfully practiced it does distribute evil--statism leads to consolidation of power, and we can guess where that has the greater potential to lead.

[as an aside I don't think that Democrat liberals should be labeled as defacto Marxists or socialist, Carl Trueman @Ref21 has rallied as of late against that kind of slander].

The second thing that caught my eye was equally a passing thought I have had but not articulated:
One was the rise of the Evangelical Left and the total support that people like Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren gave to the Democratic Party in the run-up to the election of Barack Obama. The degree to which they were in the tank for the Democratic Party meant that they were enablers for the whole liberal agenda including abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, the institutionalization of the sexual revolution, welfare statism and so on. Also disturbing was their attempt to portray themselves as moderates in contrast to the Religious Right, which they demonized. McLaren’s slide into a reprise of early 20th century liberal Protestantism in the name of “Newness” and “Balance” was repulsive. For me the single most alarming thing about the Evangelical Left was that they liked John Howard Yoder! Brian McLaren was selling The Politics of Jesus on his “Everything Must Change” tour. I cringed when I heard that.
(The Yoder remark comes because Craig Carter is an expert on Yoder where he "sought to bring the typologies of Reinhold Niebuhr into focus and through a reapplication of John Howard Yoder")

I also find it a sham to lambast the "Religious Right" about being in bed with Republican politics when you do the same thing for the opposite set of politics. Personally while I want my ultimate allegiance to be to the kingdom of God, I find it disconcerting to assume that will invariably make one a liberal Democrat in our contemporary setting.

And ditto on the McLaren's theology being nothing more than reemergent old-school 20th-century Protestant liberal theology.

Anyways, read the interview with Craig Carter here; I'm adding his blog to my RSS feed for now.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Second Century Christianity

I find Second Century Christianity fascinating. For some the theories abound on how 'late' Christianity arose in the second century. For others it was filled with diversity beyond what we know to today as "Christianity" so that there was orthodoxy and heterodoxy bubbling to the surface in one big cauldron until late in the second century Irenaeus crushed heterodoxy and established orthodoxy. All of this is rather silly. Christianity developed and encountered challenges in the Roman World. But by and large Christianity developed in the second century in a vein consistent with the foundation that had been laid by the early church. The first church fathers made concerted efforts to hold fast to the teachings of the apostles and while the canon was not formalized until later, there was consistently large scale agreement on the main elements of what later became "canon," particularly the four-fold gospels and Paul's works.

For those interested in the second century, British scholar Larry Hurtado provides invaluable work. Not only he is a world renowned published scholar, he blogs here.

For those thinking about Canon and unity and diversity in the New Testament, recently in a blog Hurtado notes:
To its credit, the emerging “Great Church” of the time instead affirmed all four Gospels (and let them stand as independent witnesses, unharmonized), and affirmed multiple apostolic voices (so Pauline epistles as well as others ascribed to John, James, Peter, Jude were included too).
So, my second point is that the NT canon reflects an affirmation of a certain Christian diversity, and right in the core documents, the religious DNA if you will, of the Christian tradition. Put another way, the “architecture” of the NT incorporates a diversity of Christian voices, emphases, “renditions” (to use a musical metaphor) of the Christian faith and testimony to Jesus.
People today sometimes refer to writings “left out” of the NT or refused entry, as if there were many texts vying to be included with the writings that came to be the NT. There were a few that seem to have been considered for a while (e.g., Shepherd of Hermas, a certain “Gospel of Peter”, maybe 1 Clement). But it is unlikely that the authors of Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Gospel of Philip, or the several apocryphal acts ever wanted their texts to be part of a NT collection. The Gospel of Thomas, for example, reflects an intense disdain for ordinary Christians, and claims to deliver a unique and secret body of teaching of which only certain believers are worthy. It’s elitist to the core, so it’s unlikely that those responsible for it ever wanted to have it treated as one text/voice among others.

The point is that the New Testament is far more coherent (and so was second century Christianity) that is often given credit. "Diversity" is all the rage and scholars almost compete with each other to see who can find more diversity and more radical views of second century Christianity--at some point they cross over into letting the theory drive the evidence rather than vice versa.

In an essay Hurtado has posted online here, he writes about second century Christianity and the canon. He is quite clear that Christianity was a textual phenomena very early. He is especially clear they wide acceptance of the 4 gospel and Pauline material. He writes:
"All this early interest in the public reading of certain writings as part of the liturgical life of Christian groups suggests that we might need to re-think the view that it was only in the later decades of the second century that a "text consciousness" came to be influential. We have, perhaps, somewhat romantically regarded the earliest Christianity as so give to oral tradition that their writings took a distance second place in their values. I submit that from the earliest observable years Christianity was profoundly a textual movement." (p.23, emphasis original).

This thesis is not without controversy. Hurtado's paper is very helpful in exploring some of the lines of evidence and its significance for canon formation and textual criticism. Read the whole thing here. Download it and save it in your files.

Perhaps we'll talk more about the second century around here on the blog at a later point. But for now, there is some recommended reading. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

You Must Receive Christ's Atonement

If you have stayed with us this week, you've noticed we've had a sort of mini-series on the atonement, let me close with this. 

All of us should be sorrowful that Jesus died on the cross. He was innocent and we are not. But we know from Scripture that what He did, He did for His people. In fact, we are so wicked in our sins that if He had not done taken our place there would be no way to heaven. 

Our hearts are prone to wander. No matter how often I see and hear what I need to do, I do not do it. I needed a heart transplant from the heart of sin to a heart that has the Holy Spirit in it. But this could not come about without something paying the penalty for my sins. Jesus did this. Jesus was obedient in my place and that lead Him to the cross for Me. He did the will of the Father when I did not but for Him that will of the Father lead Him to willingly and lovingly take my place.

It was a grave evil that He was put to death. But while man meant it for evil, God meant it for good, for good on our behalf. He uses it to save people. I should see my sin as murdering Jesus--but God intends that sin against Jesus would be used by Him to defeat sin and death. Therefore God sees the payment and is satisfied. In that satisfaction accomplished many others can in turn be justified (Isaiah 53:11). My guilt puts Jesus their, but God exhausts His wrath against me because Jesus willingly, as part of His plan with the Father, stands in my place. God judges sin in Jesus so he can in turn justify me without ever being an unjust God.

If with the Old Testament sacrifice a lesser innocent lamb or bull without a will could stand in the place of the greater body of people in Israel and this was not unjust, how much more can a greater King willingly represent His lesser people by standing under God’s curse in their behalf? And if that greater life is laid down willingly will it not be just both for both God and us to receive it in our place? And while my sin is the reason Christ died, and that means I put an innocent man their for me, if that sacrifice is perfect it will exhaust God’s wrath and so defeat the curse of death which comes from His wrath. If that curse is defeated by Him in what He does, then I can stand before God having Him give an account for me so that I can pass the judgment of God. Salvation is all by His representation or it is not at all.

It does not seem fair that Christ should stand for me and that I should get off scott free. Should I not be punished? Your right it is not fair. If God was fair I’d be dead not Jesus. But the cross is not fair, it is grace. It is a gift. Salvation that is not a gift is not salvation. The riches of God’s mercy come at Christ’s expense.

Look, You and I will one day stand before the judgment seat of God. Even though I deserve it, I will not be condemned, I will not be punished. I will give an account but that account will have been wiped clean of sin and guilt and filled with positive obedience because Jesus stands in my place taking sin for me and obeying the Father, doing His will, for me. In Christ, I will be given all the things of a future inheritance, things that I do not deserve in the least. But I will have them because of Jesus’ gift. This comes because of what Jesus has done as free gift and I have received this only through faith.

Romans 8:32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies;
34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

In that day, I will come before God with the filthy rages of my sin and the Lord will show that He has removed my filthy rages, He will clothe me in clean garments all because the one who is the Son of God and the Son of David, Jesus, has removed my iniquity.

I hope that you will come to believe this. I hope that you will lay claim to clean and spotless robes purchased by the shed blood of the spotless Lamb of God. I hope you will turn over your garments of filth to the Son by asking the Lord to remove your iniquity because you believe in what Jesus has done. Without this, no one, neither you nor I, will be saved at the judgment.

Recommended Reading:
R.C. Sproul. The Truth of the Cross. Lake Mary, Fl.: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007.

Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears Death by Love. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2008.

The Glory of the Atonement. Edited by Charles E. Hill and Frank A. James III. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2004.

Steve Jeffrey, Michael Ovey, Andrew Sach. Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2007.

John Stott. The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2006.

The Atonement, Justification and Passing God's Judgment

When we give an account at the judgment our hope to pass the judgment at the accounting cannot be our own actions. No one keeps God's law sufficient to pass God's judgment without being condemned. This passing through an account as in a lawcourt is called justification. It is a word that relates to judgment. When one stands before a law court for judgment, justification is when the judge announces a verdict of “righteous.” This verdict “righteous” is positive standing the opposite of being guilty and condemned. The person who thinks our obedience to God's command will bring us from hell to heaven  rightly acknowledges God’s judgment and giving an account. Sadly they wrongly understand how one gets a positive verdict.

The “justification” comes through faith in Jesus because God has made the Son our propitiation. Propitiation means the wrath of God the Father is poured out on the Son so that the Son taking our place exhausts God’s wrath. I can thereby stand before the judgment seat of God because my Savior has saved me taking what I desire. Let me just take a moment and walk through some of Romans.

Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
25a whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.

A person is justified before God (e.g. they pass the judgment of God and receive a judicial sentence of “righteous” before God) NOT by obeying God’s works laid out in the Law but through faith.

Romans 3:28 "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." (This does not nullify God’s Law but establishes it, Romans 3:31). Even Abraham was not justified by works of obedience but by faith (Romans 4:2). In fact, God justifies the ungodly (Romans 4:5). We have peace with God through Jesus Christ not through our human attempts to obey Him (Romans 5:1).

We are justified by His blood (Romans 5:9). We are reconciled to a relationship with God through the death of the Son not through obedience (Romans 5:10).

When I become saved I am baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. What he has done on the cross brings saving benefits to me (Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 2:20). This should bring a change in our conduct which results in obedience. But my obedience does not bring my standing before God. NO! Only Jesus’ blood and righteousness changes my standing. Sin must first be removed.

Jesus’ death condemns my sin. It pays for it and puts it do death. The result is that in Christ then I meet the requirements of the Law. Only those in Christ Jesus have no condemnation.

Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Once again, we find that the Law cannot do what we need done. Obeying the Law does not remove my guilt. In fact, by the Law my guilt is heightened and spelled out as clear lawbreaking against God. So I need Jesus to be a sacrifice so that in His flesh my sin can be condemned but I can and will stand uncondemned. This meets the requirements of the Law.

How do we have redemption? Through Jesus blood:
Ephesians 1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace

As people who do not keep God’s Law, we have a record that stands against us. So long as this record stand against us any accounting on our part with justly and invariably lead to the pronouncement of guilt and condemnation. If we believe in Jesus, we become united to Him so that His death stands for us and in our place. We can move from being dead in sin, to being alive in Jesus. But He does this by canceling the debt we have by the fact that while He was one the cross that debt was symbolically nailed to the cross because He was acting as our guilt offering. On the cross that debt was canceled for all those who are united to Jesus through faith in Him:

Col. 2:13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,
14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Isaiah 53 and the Atonement

Nowhere is the substitutionary nature of the atonement made more clear that in Isaiah 53. Clearly in the Bible the benefits of salvation come through Jesus’ blood:

Isaiah 53:5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
6All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

When it says he was pierced “for our transgressions” it does not mean as you might suppose ‘the reason he died is because sinful men did it’ (although it is true sinful men did do it). It means ‘in the place of’. Notice the specificity of Scripture. We sinned. He is pierced and crushed for our iniquities. We know this because it is a chastening for our well being that falls on Him. He does something for us in dying for our transgression. We are spiritual healed because He is scoured for us. The passage clearly tells us we are actually healed by what He does. He bears the sin on our behalf, in our place.

The guilt was supposed to be against us, God people. But according to the last half of Isaiah 53:8 “That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due”

His death bears our iniquities--our guilt and sin. This comes as part of the good pleasure of the Father:

Isaiah 53:10 But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
11As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.

Please read God’s Word carefully here and do not take my word for it. The language of Scripture is clear: Jesus is a guilt offering. Guilt offerings were sacrifices that bore the iniquity of a guilty party. As a result of Jesus’ death, the LORD is satisfied. So he justifies many people, why? Because he bears their iniquity. He has their sin placed like a burden on His back. When Jesus does this for us, the LORD actually in turn declares many other people to be righteous. This is the great exchange:
2 Corinthians 5:21 “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Penal Substitution, the Curse and the New Covenant

The whole of Scripture shows us that Christ died in our place paying the penalty for our sins.

It is not a sin to give to Jesus the account that is demanded to us if Jesus with the purpose of the Father puts Himself forward on our behalf to be the representative of the people of God. So, yes it was sinful that men condemned Jesus who has innocent but it was also part of God’s predestined plan (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28). God can use sin for His good. In the acts of these sinful men God was also pleased to use the cross to lay his curse against Jesus on our behalf (Isaiah 53:10; Galatians 3:13).

Furthermore if it was truly sinful for someone to stand and represent others by their actions (as Jesus does) then it would have been a sin by God when by God’s own hand all Israel suffered the consequences of Achan’s sin (Joshua 7). Again, if this were true then it would have been a sin for God to punish Israel because of David’s sin in taking the census (2 Sam. 24). In the Bible, especially here with David, we see that the King can stand as a representative of the people. So Jesus, our king, can and does stand as our representative.

At this point there is a beautiful picture in Zechariah 3. Satan comes and accuses Joshua the high priest. And Joshua comes before the Lord filled with the filthy garments that symbolize his sin. The Lord removes them and places festal robes on Him. He says, “See I have taken your iniquity away from you.” Zechariah tells us this is symbol for what God is going to do through “My servant the Branch” (which is how Old Testament prophecy refers to Jesus). What will God do? He says: “and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.” (The land is a metonymy for the people of the land.) It is a promise about the future death of Jesus. In one day Jesus does something that enables the Father to take Joshua’s iniquitous garments and cleanse them--and He will do this for His people.

We need the Son of David to do something to remove iniquity and I am arguing this is why He must represent us substitutionally. Human beings in our sin cannot meet the standard that God has set because God’s holiness and perfection is absolute and beyond our ability to meet because of our wickedness. We make a mockery of sin and wickedness when we think that you can give an account and pass through judgment without Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

You see God would not be holy if He cleared the name of the guilty therefore all guilt should bring condemnation to everyone. However, Jesus becomes a sacrifice of atonement whereby He bears the wrath that God has for sin and actually accomplishes the redemption of His people. So Jesus bears the curse of sin that comes through breaking the Law. Even though Jesus was perfect and in all ways without sin, He bears the curse. He removes our curse by coming under the curse. You cannot escape the Biblical testimony that to be on the cross is to come under God’s curse.

God’s own Law pronounces a curse for anyone who dies on a tree/cross. Not only was it a sin that wicked men condemned an innocent man, but when someone is put on a cross they are immediately under God’s own curse (Deut. 21:22-23; Gal. 3:13). If dying on a cross is a curse from God, and Scripture says it is, you have to answer the question: why would Jesus come under not just bloodshed from men but under a curse from God? Yes Jesus died from bloodshed. But just to make the point more forcefully: regardless of how they got there anybody who has their bloodshed by dying on the cross is actually under God’s curse. Being on the tree/cross automatically equals being under God’s curse and wrath. God’s Word tells us that and you cannot change God’s Word. The very fact that He ends up there means once He is there He is instantly under a curse from God.

I suppose you could argue He should not have been there because He was personally innocent--but once He is on a cross God’s curse is on Him. So that makes God unjust for cursing an innocent man, that is unless of course He comes under God’s curse for another reason. Either way: He is under a curse from God from the moment He is on the cross because God’s Word say being on the cross is a curse from God, I am sounding like a broken record. So either God has a reason and plan or God is an unjust judge for letting that happen to Jesus. Since you cannot be on a cross and not be under God’s curse, why would God let that happen?

As I've argued before: the question is not whether or not Jesus' death is penal (or not penal) but how the penal death is (or comes to be). The death on the cross is penal. To be on a cross is to be under God's curse. So either God curses Jesus because He deserved it (which we know from Scripture is untrue). So either God unjustly condemns an innocent man, or there is another reason why there might be an innocent sufferer.

Jesus becomes the curse for us--in our place.
Gal. 3: 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—
14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

In this way we can receive the promise of the Holy Spirit which is part of the New Covenant. We receive this not through obedience to works of the Law (God’s commands) but through faith. In fact, Paul tells us we do not get the Holy Spirit by doing the works of the Law but receiving and believing the message that Jesus was crucified for us (Gal. 3:5). The gift of the Holy Spirit shows us there has indeed been a change from the first covenant (the Old Covenant) to the New Covenant just as God has changed the priesthood from Levites to Jesus (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Heb. 7:12, 18-19; 8:6,7,13 10:9b).

Following this post, a commentator remarked ""For when there is a change of the priesthood, there MUST also be a change of the law." Heb. 7:12 "

In the quotation of Hebrews 7:12 the commentator seems that accepting Jesus as the atonement in our place changes the Law since in the Law we are only accountable for our own sin.

I would simply note that God’s Word in Hebrews argues that since there is a clear change in the priesthood from Levites to Jesus of Melchizedek’s order (for it makes clear Jesus is the New High Priest), then the Law is also changed. It is not we who somehow change the Law if we accept Jesus’ atonement, adding to it and therefore sinning. Nor is it that God adds to His Law by telling us it is a sin to accept Jesus' death for ourselves. Rather it is God who puts an end to the curse that the Old Covenant brings. The Law brings the curse because you and I don’t obey it. The gift of the Holy Spirit does not come nor is it promised through the Law. Because of my sin and without the Spirit I am powerless to obey God’s Law to the perfect extent that it requires so then it can only and ever bring the curse. God’s plan send His Son to pay for the penalties of the first covenant, the Law, and bring this covenant to fulfillment by establishing the second, or New Covenant. There is a change in covenants that God brings through His Son. This does not nullify the Law (Old Covenant) but establishes it, even as the Old Covenant had a system of guilt offerings predictive of what was needed to remove sin. This establishment of the law is not done without the perfect sin offering that Jesus is since no Covenant between God and His people can be established without a sacrifice for the removal of sins (Hebrews 9:11-28). Christ’s first coming was to bear the sins of many and because of His work He will come back a second time for those who await Him knowing and trusting in what He has done (Hebrews 9:28).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Economic Status and Your View of God

One of the cardinal rules of logic is that correlation does not equal causation. It is important for evaluating statistics and data.

In their book America’s Four Gods, Paul Froese and Christopher Bader present evidence that those with more judgmental views of God tend, on average, to be those who make less money.

“Indeed, one’s personal economic situation is closely connected to ideas about God and how he perceives the world. For instance, believers in all four types of God [see here for overview] differ significantly in their household incomes. Believers in a Critical God, on average, make less than any other believer. Believers in an Authoritative God are in the next lowest income group. Interestingly, American’s with the lowest incomes have the angriest and most judgmental Gods. Americans with a Distant God [i.e. the least judgmental view] tend to make the most money.” (p.114)

Froese and Bader have clearly shown a statistical correlation. They find that 60% of those making less that $35,000 a year believe “God is angered by sin” as opposed to 42% of those making $100,000 a year. There data further shows that 28% of those making less than $35,000 per year agree that “God punishes sinners with terrible woes” but only 15% of those making $100,000 a year would agree. (p.115, Figure 5.3).

But Froese and Bader go from evidencing a correlation to arguing for a causation.

“It is not immediately clear why income should be related to a God type. What is it about having more or less money that makes one imagine God in different ways? Do people believe that they have less money because God is punishing them in some way? Or do they assume that God is angry with the world because of their suffering and the suffering of others?” (italic original, p.114) The author do not tell us why we should suspect that low income causes or even contributes to a judgmental view of God.

They go on further:
“An angry and wrathful God appears to be a logical choice disadvantaged among us, when we consider the injustices, insults and injuries they have experienced. Why wouldn’t a loving God be angered by what he sees? For individuals who most directly face the cruelties and deficiencies of life in poverty and isolation, the thought that God approves of what happens to them, their families, and their friends is absurd. God must be upset. But what angers God becomes an important point of their theology. Interestingly, while they believe that God is troubled by the state of the world in general, individuals in poverty also tend to think God is very angry with them personally. But this image of an angry God reflects less a sense of self-loathing than a rational attempt to reconcile the idea of a caring and all-powerful God with the plight of those in need. If God isn’t helping them, it is not because he can’t, but because they don’t deserve it.” (p.115)

What is lacking to this summation is data. Correlation does not equal causation. The fact that those in poverty tend to see God has judging and even one who judges their sin does not mean that their poverty caused this worldview. There is no data asking question about whether or not they think their poverty is caused by God. There is no data about whether or not they believe God is blessing or cursing their daily life.

The authors do visit two churches in Colorado for a case study of sort to try to determine the link between our economic situation. They visit Christ Episcopal Church in upscale Aspen Colorado and Open Door Church in Rifle Colorado which is described as a working-class down with growing employment opportunities. CEC is pastored by Rev. Bruce McNab and ODC is pastored by Rev. Del Whittington.

The authors summarize a sermon by Rev. Whittington on suffering. According to the account, he focuses on the afterlife. He rejects a prosperity gospel. He exhorts his people to invest in eternity. He denounces the decadence of American greed. They recount:

“By concentrating on pleasing an angry God, many of these believers exhibit a kind of passive resignation to their love in life, a stance that harks back to Marx’s idea that religion acts as a type of opiate to numb the pain of poverty and encourage believers to accept their fate without bitterness of indignation. To that end, Reverend Whittington remind his congregants that “suffering is a part of life, but you will reign in the next life” and cautioned that they should not respond to their circumstances with hatred, violence, rebellion or sullenness. Instead, godly behavior requires deference and respect for God, one’s neighbors and secular authorities.” (p.119).

From this Froese and Bader conclude that “Surrounded by riches, the poor are sensible to ask, ‘What have we done to deserve our lot?’ The answer that a godless society bent on material gratification has angered God seems like a plausible response--especially if those who are celebrating now will be crying later.” (p.119)

It is plausible in the sense that it is certainly possible and it is not a feat of logic to get there. But again we are left with having shown a correlation the author argue for a causation. In fact, when they recount stories of God’s grace shared to them the authors are quite dismissive, “These few instances of God’s grace seemed to contradict the overarching message that God’s mercy awaits us in the afterlife, but these earthly mercies were still meager in comparison with what could be found in heaven” (p.119-20). So the authors encounter stories of God’s mercy now and discover a stronger hope in the glories of a heavenly treasure and suddenly the former contradicts the latter. Again we are not given data why.

It may be true that in the weeks where the churches were visited “both churches ultimately ask their congregation to accept things as they are” (italic original, p.120). We are however told later those who believe in an Authoritative and a Critical God are more likely to give priority to religious solutions to social ills while those believe in a Benevolent God are more likely to believe that government should make attempts to redistribute wealth (p.122).

The problem with the argumentation is that there are a whole host of possible causes to explain the relationship between income and one’s view of God and none of them demand that one’s economic status demand we answer “what is it about having more or less money that makes one imagine God in different ways?” (p.114, emphasis mine).

So for example, we might consider other social factors. Could there be related community factors that just naturally correlate such as:

Could people in low income areas tend to have a stronger faith and rely on a certain Biblical portrait while people who establish themselves in upscale jobs and are more self-sufficient see a less of a need for God thereby tending to find him distant?

Without using the theological terms pejoratively, could upscale communities tend to attract liberal theological views while rural or poorer communities tend to have conservative views? While related to economics couldn’t the issue have other causes instead such as epistemology, educational opportunities, etc.

Could it be that those with distant views of God are driven to work themselves for money while those with a more engaged God see Him as sufficient regardless of their income?

How static are income levels? For all but the most impoverished, in American society we have rather fluid income brackets. How do we know one’s view of God is not doing more to drive the socio-economic bracket we strive for?

The questions could abound and I do not claim these questions answer the correlation. I simply am making the point that America’s Four God proves a correlation and argues for a causation. In my estimation, the supposed causation seems both condescending and reductionistic. Since when does “God is angry with my sin” entail “God has cursed me with poverty”? Since when does “God punishes sinner with terrible woes” entail “my poverty is because God is punishing me”?

This leap makes it clear that further questions are never addressed: Are most people who have a judgmental view of God basically espousing a view similar to Job’s notorious three friends or akin to Pelagianism? Do many or most with a judgmental view of God simplistically hold that suffering is always God’s punishment and God’s blessing is always because we’ve curried favor with God? In an almost one-dimensional and clearly reductionistic response that is without data Froese and Bader seem to imply this is the case. “[I]ndividuals in poverty tend to think that God is very angry with them personally...[they think:] If God isn’t helping them, it is not because they can’t, but because they don’t deserve it” (p.115).

Perhaps the authors do by instinct reach the conclusions that reflect the population, however at this point the authors seem to overstep the bounds of the evidence they have collected. There is clear correlation between economic levels and one’s view of God but arguing that the poverty stricken are driven by poverty to see God as judging them is an unwarranted and fallacious conclusion. It in no way accounts for other concerns and issues that may drive the correlation.
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