Thursday, January 21, 2010

Either/Or

One of the common logical fallacies one often encounters is what is known as a false dilemma. It's when you make an issue an either/or when is reality it is both/and. So for example sometimes in theology people argue in God's grace either righteousness is imputed or it is imparted.

Now in justification by faith righteousness is legally imputed to us--it is credited to us apart from being formed in us. As to our understanding of justification by faith it is either imparted or imputed--for justification by faith cannot be both. But Protestant reformers--indeed all good evangelicals--acknowledge that God's grace also brings transformation. So that while justification is a legal verdict, God grace also forms habits of progressive holiness in us: sanctification. When it comes to God's grace we see a both/and--that flows from our union with Christ not either/or. While justification and sanctification are separate aspects and distinct from each other, they are also indivisible in that both flow from the grace of God. The believer never has one without the other.

This morning, my wife had a more humorous experience of a logical fallacy, which she posted on her facebook status:
Elizabeth [who is almost 4] was learning about frogs today and how they are a type of amphibian. Anyone who knows our Elizabeth and how she thinks of things differently. She now is telling me they are not frogs, they are just amphibians. They can't be both just one.(emphasis on every word) So now there are no such thing as frogs.
Just a bit of confusion of categories. There is a danger to being adamant about either/or when it is both/and.

It is so easy to see with the childlike illustration that amphibian is a larger category and frog is a subset. So too, God's grace is a larger category and justification is one aspect--the legal, forensic aspect.

Communion with the Father in Love

"First, then, this is a duty wherein it is most evident that Christians are but little exercised--namely, in holding immediate communion with the Father in love. Unaquaintedness with our mercies, our privileges, is our sin as well as our trouble. We hearken not to the voice of the Spirit, which is given unto us, "that we may know the things that are freely bestowed on us of God." This makes us go heavily, when we might rejoice; and to be weak, where we might be strong in the Lord. How few of the saints are experimentally acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love! With what anxious, doubtful thoughts do they look upon him! What fears, what questionings are there, of his good-will and kindess! At the best, many think there is no sweetness at all in him towards us, but what is purchased at the high price of the blood of Jesus. It is true, that alone is the way of communication; but the free fountain and spring of all is in the bosom of the Father....
Let us, then,--Eye the Father as love; look not on him as an always lowering father, but as one most kind and tender. Let us look on him by faith, as one that hath had thoughts of kindness towards us from everlasting. It is a misappropriation of God that makes any run from him, who have the least breathing wrought in them after him. "They that know thee will put their trust in thee." Men cannot abide with God in spiritual meditations. He loseth soul's company by their want of this insight into his love. They fix their thoughts only on his terrible majesty, severity, and greatness; and so their spirits are not endeared. Would a soul continually eye his everlasting tenderness and compassion, his thoughts of kindness that have been from of old, his present gracious acceptance, it could not bear an hour's absence from him...
Let, then, this be the saints' first notion of the Father--as one of full eternal, free love towards them: let their hearts and thoughts be filled with breaking through all discouragements that lie in the way. "
--John Owen, Communion with God, Works of John Owen vol 2, p.31-32.

(1) While the atonement is a consequent necessity upon God's determination to redeem a people, we should never forget that the motivation of God sending His own Son is His deep love for His people.

(2) The eye of the Father towards His children is indeed love. This should lift us when we are downtrodden. It should encourage us when we seen because we can flee in repentance not to a cruel judge but to a loving and merciful Father.

(3) What a sad day it is when we have know knowledge of the Father's love for us. There are indeed Christians who wrestle with the idea of a loving Father. But the Father's love is an essential part of the gospel.

Romans 5:8: "But God demonstrates His love for us in this: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Who Would Jesus Snipe!?

To even ask such a question borders on mocking our Lord. We do not wish to do so but we should point out the folly of using Jesus and God to sanction the cause of war, even a just war. This essay comes as on Monday, I first read about sniper scopes with Bible verses engraved on them over here, then I saw it actually made Nightline last night. You can read the article at ABC NEWS. Here's the basic gist in a nutshell:
Coded references to New Testament Bible passages about Jesus Christ are inscribed on high-powered rifle sights provided to the United States military by a Michigan company, an ABC News investigation has found.

The sights are used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the training of Iraqi and Afghan soldiers. The maker of the sights, Trijicon, has a $660 million multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marine Corps, and additional contracts to provide sights to the U.S. Army.

U.S. military rules specifically prohibit the proselytizing of any religion in Iraq or Afghanistan and were drawn up in order to prevent criticism that the U.S. was embarked on a religious "Crusade" in its war against al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents.

One of the citations on the gun sights, 2COR4:6, is an apparent reference to Second Corinthians 4:6 of the New Testament, which reads: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

Other references include citations from the books of Revelation, Matthew and John dealing with Jesus as "the light of the world." John 8:12, referred to on the gun sights as JN8:12, reads, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

What concerns me is this remark from the companies founder:
Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon, which is based in Wixom, Michigan, said the inscriptions "have always been there" and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is "not Christian."
Let me just be blunt: as a Christian I think it is inappropriate. Let me add as a theologically conservative Christian who also leans to the politically conservative side of things (the two are not the same) I am saddened and troubled by this misuse of God's Word.

Unfortunately far too many politically conservatives have so equated God and country that they cannot imagine anyone who is theologically conservative being offended as such remarks. Even more shocking, I'm sure, is someone who is theologically and politically conservative finding such use of God's Word unbecoming.

I do think this is a misappropriation of God's Word, and I am going to argue why Christians should think so.

Introductory Theological Positions
Let me lay a couple of my cards on the table:
(1) I believe strongly in a distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. Within the powers given to men here on earth I believe in sphere sovereignty. That God delegates certain roles to the family, to the church and to government. I believe that God has instituted governments--even corrupt and unjust governments.

(2) I firmly believe that God has granted governments the sword (Rom. 13). I believe that this gives them the right to enforce the rule of law within their sovereignty and under the right situations fight in just wars.

(3) I believe in a just war tradition within Christian theology--not that the church fight wars but that the church recognizes that countries may fight wars for the sake of justice and to resist evil. Although a just war is a "right" it is never something to be hastily entered. Even using war to "restrain" evil must be exercised with caution--indeed American can and does engage in military action that is not always just. Might does not make right--neither do national interests.

(4) I believe God has set the standard for justice. While all OT laws should not be applied to American government and in fact many of the OT laws were established specifically for the dispensation of Israel's national manifestation of the kingdom of God and as shadows and types for the Kingdom reality of the eschaton, nevertheless the moral law should be based on God's Word.

(5) While I respect the Christian heritage of many but not all of our American forefathers, I believe in a strong distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. America at best is the product of men with Christian conviction although not necessarily pure Christian convictions.

(6) There are aspects of the moral law of God which bind Christians which should not necessarily bind citizens of the kingdom of man. By this I mean that winning the so-called "culture wars" does nothing to advance the kingdom of God where the Holy Spirit writes God's law on our hearts. This is not to say that we should adopt radical libertarianism on ethics or that we can adopt radical socialism to manifest kingdom ethics in care for the poor.

(7) With all due respect to Hauerwas, Yoder and the Anabaptist tradition, sometimes Christians must stand against evil by the use of force. While personal nonviolence is the ideal, Biblically we must also take stands for the stake of the weak, afflicted and destitute. Sometimes we must physically defend people precisely because we value life. So for example, I do not think that Yoder is right to argue when someone breaks into our house we cannot defend life with force--that being said far too many are zealous to defend property by being trigger happy. There is of course a difference between exercising a right by reason of necessity--something I would be justified in doing if it is my last and only option-- and using a right by reason of license: because I can do it, it is therefore my first and best option.

(8) Finally, and maybe I should have began with this, I believe the kingdom of God comes in an already/not yet fashion. I believe Jesus has inaugurated it. I also believe that when He returns He will save His children and judge the world. This includes a triumphal return and, I believe, a millennial reign. This reality should make me more humble, repentant, and desirous to preach the gospel. While I believe in a apocalyptic vision of the future, I believe that right now the kingdom of God advances 'in secret' in the midst of an evil world. Therefore, we do not and never can advance the kingdom of God by force, particular the force of human arms. In fact quite the opposite, the character of the citizens of the kingdom should imitate the King. The way we "fight" for the kingdom is by suffering for its sake (1 Peter 2:21-25). While America can be a beacon for freedom and liberty as human rights, we are not untainted or uncorrupted. Even more, if we promote peace and liberty we are not de facto advancing the kingdom of God and if we promote social obligations for human beings via government means we are also not advancing the kingdom of God--it is not politics and political solutions or even just wars that advance the kingdom of God.

While these eight points ground my argument, I am not going to argue for them or defend them Biblically beyond stating them. Rest assured I think that careful reflection of Scripture bears these point out.

Let me just add, the issue is not about supporting or not supporting our troops. The issue is not about praying for our troops and even the protection of our troops and our loved ones. The issue isn't even about running a company by Biblical standards. While it is not without dangerous peril to avoid, a company can make weapons and scopes and abide by Biblical standards. In fact, we might agree with the companies own website statement as quoted by the BBC:
"We believe that America is great when its people are good. This goodness has been based on biblical standards throughout our history and we will strive to follow those morals."
The problem is about turning war into a spiritual cause--even if we believe some wars are just. Not only do we tritely use the Word of God, we use it to justify our cause a priori. In essence I agree with Rev. Paul McCain's remark:
Now, before we get the pacifist clap-trap going on this, the point is not the lawful and legitimate use of weapons to discharge one’s duty as a soldier, but the tomfoolery of putting cryptic references to Bible passages on weapon parts sold to the government by one its vendors.

My real concern.
While there are political ramifications that are involved by going to war with Bible verses on your weapons in that in no doubt enhances the stereotypes that the conflict between the West and the Middle East is coterminous between the religious difference between Christianity and Islam, my main concern is theological.

If we believe in the gospel and the kingdom of God we should abhor using Bible verses on our weapons. We should not even remotely imply that the light of Jesus and His gospel has anything akin to the light a sniper scope brings. While wars may be just we do not use the gospel and the kingdom of God to justify war.

(1) Paul teaches us Christians citizens should love their enemies:
Romans 12:17-21 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. 20 "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The Christian is both a citizen of this world and citizen in the kingdom of God. While Christians are not prevent from military service: Christians have a responsibility not to take vengeance. Of course, this comes contextually right before Paul tells us governments have been instituted by God to enforce justice. At this point our dual citizenship weighs upon us. A governor may be a Christian who must enforce a law of the state--but equally as a Christian he understands he is not a righteous warrior prosecuting the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God offers mercy and grace for eternal salvation which does not mean that man should always be excused for breaking a just law of man. It also mean that enforce a just law of man is not prosecuting the kingdom of God but only maintain earthly justice which God has granted to right of government.

(2) Christians do not fight to advance a kingdom by the weapons of the world.
2 Corinthians 10:3-6 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, 6 and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.
Treating earthly weapons as if they are part of a divine fight and sanctioned by God is simple wrong. While God can use an earthly weapon for ultimate good (cf. Abram defending his family in Gen. 14), the kingdom of God does advance by waging war with human weapons. There is "spiritual warfare" but we are not waging war as Christians the way armies have since the dawn of time. It is proclamation--proclaiming the gospel--that seeks to win hearts. This involves clearly setting force God's Word and even vigorous debate and reasons (cf. Acts 17) not coercion.

(3) The hope of the kingdom of God is the end of violence and weapons.

(a) Glimpse of the future:
Isaiah 2:3-5 3 And many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths." For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war. 5 Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
The reality of the kingdom of God, a reality that while inaugurated awaits a consummation, is that the Lord's justice and righteousness will put an end to human violence, weapons and war. Of course, the Bible does not portray the Lord's return as peaceable for those who oppose Him but it is quite clear that the citizen in the kingdom in the here and now do not pick up weapons in order to fight for the kingdom of God. This is precisely because we understand the realities of the kingdom that await. The reign of God causes peace--peace with God and peace with men.

(b) The kingdom cannot be brought in by force:
Jesus understood that the kingdom of God would be brought in by his sacrificial death. He resisted any notion that it could be defended and/or advanced by violence.

Matthew 26:50-56 50 And Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you have come for." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. 51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. 53 "Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 "How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?" 55 At that time Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me. 56 "But all this has taken place to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets." Then all the disciples left Him and fled.
This becomes, of course, the paradigm for Christians (1 Peter 2:21-25). The evil that opposes the kingdom of God is not conquered by the sword--but by love and Christ-likeness. We confront our enemies with love, Romans 12:17-21.

(4) Jesus teaches that affect of the eschaton should force us to respond without retribution:
Matthew 5:38-46 38 "You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' 39 "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 "Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 "Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. 43 "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' 44 "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
(1) The ethic of the kingdom is not lex talionis. Rather it is sacrificial love.
(2) The citizens of the kingdom have a duty to respond with the gracious character of God.

While this, along with Romans 12, is not a mandate for the state, where just wars are a necessary response--even the ethics of the kingdom should temper a states response. Without going into an entire just war theory, there is a difference between enforcing justice and self-defense over retribution and revenge killing.
Again, it is notable that the Christian response of Romans 12 is followed by a defense of the right of government to bear the sword in Romans 13.

(5) The kingdom of God must advance peacefully and by proclamation in this age:
To this end we could cite 2 Corinthians again. But the kingdom comes through the proclamation of peace that is to be had between God and men through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is good news, a very concept which comes out of Isaiah 40-66. As one example of the importance of proclamation for the spread of the kingdom:
2 Corinthians 6:1-7 And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain-- 2 for He says, "AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU." Behold, now is "THE ACCEPTABLE TIME," behold, now is "THE DAY OF SALVATION "-- 3 giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, 4 but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, 5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, 6 in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, 7 in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left,
Notice that it is proclamation, the appeal of words that Paul sees as advancing the kingdom in the very context where as minister--dare we say warrior--of the kingdom he embrace this ministry and the necessary entailment of coming under affliction, hardship and distress. This strikes at the heart of a prosperity gospel and a triumphalist gospel both which announce health, wealth and human triumph in ease apart from the true marks of the kingdom in these age: suffering, affliction and hardship.

While we can debate the meaning of the genitive phrase 'weapons of righteousness' it probably serves a close parallel to Paul's phrase as 'instruments of righteousness' in Romans 6:13. Righteousness here probably then denotes the moral character of transformed believers which while coming from the Word of truth and the transforming power of the gospel is part of what commends Paul's ministry to the Corinthians.

The kingdom of God advances through proclamation and the equipping of the believer is the transformation of them manifest in righteousness. Paul is clear that the believers battle--but it is unlike any earthly battle and war--as we noted above. In fact, the kingdom of God advances now by proclamation and that proclamation brings the transformation of people as the Word of God is powerful and effective.

(6) America is not God's elect and therefore is not a 'Christian nation'. We are not a city of a hill and a light to the nations. We are not a 'kingdom of priests'. To think otherwise is just a gross misinterpretation of Scripture.

(7) The light of the Gospel cannot be spread through the sword, or a gun. The saddest thing about the quotations of verses on weapons of war that the verse used make trite the light of the gospel. The verses include:
2 Corinthians 4:6 6 For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
John 8:12 12 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life."
The first passage is about God's effectual grace that causes the heart to be opened. It returns us to our point that the kingdom advances through proclamation. Contextually, Paul is showing us that when he is active in proclaiming the gospel, God is active in effectual calling people to Himself by opening their eyes. He lets the 'light' of the gospel emblazon their hearts.

It might seem like a quirky humorous analogy to say "light" and associate it with the light a sniper scope brings--but the reality is that such association trashes what we understand the gospel to be. It is the power of God. Indeed Jesus says:
John 12:46 46 "I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.
(8) That latter day will judge all our actions.
In the culmination of the Kingdom of God, God holds all our actions accountable. In fact, he exposes them in the final judgment. One of the last dangers of putting a Bible verse on a weapon of war is that we assume that our cause is righteous and just. We are noble fighters for truth and light but that is just not true. While we might be fighting in a just war we are indeed not advance God's kingdom or bringing the light of the Kingdom. The latter day God will judge our actions, motives, and thoughts--some of them entirely evil, others mixed.

While we would not follow all Shakespeare may insinuate about men who were just "following orders" as those bearing no guilt--he is right to remind us that judgment awaits and God will weigh the action of kings and governments, including the wars they fight:
"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for asurgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard [sic] there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it;" --Henry V, Act IV, Scene 1
Even a defensive war or a just war, by a Biblical Christian definition of just, is not a war of the kingdom of God. Even when an enemy has religious motives for fighting and that religion is unBiblical and opposed to the Kingdom of God--there is a difference between the way the Kingdom of God advances: with weapons and fighting not of this world--and the way a soldier or citizen of this country may have to protect life or fight evil. Fighting in this realm for the cause of a just war may fit into the sovereign plan of God--but it is not the means by which God advances His true kingdom. The last day will be a reckoning over the wars, crimes and evil perpetrated in this age.

Conclusions
In short, if I haven't lost anyone yet, or made you a schizophrenic God does call some to be soldiers, police officers or governors in the governments. They may bear a sword of this age and enforce justice or resist evil by force as their duty and vocation in this age. And while 'justice' and 'evil' are defined by adherence to God's moral Law, we must be clear the kingdom of God is not of this age it is wholly other and it advances in an entirely different means. The kingdom currently advances in secret and through proclamation which shapes a new people. The culmination of the kingdom will bring all things to light judging our actions in the interim. Placing verses on a weapon of war, especially verses about the light of the Gospel, makes a mockery of that which the Christian holds dear. It sullies the water of Life in the toilet water of death.

Undoubtedly their are Christians who are politically liberal (not necessarily theologically liberal which is another animal) who will think I have not gone far enough. There are Christians who are politically conservative who think that I have somehow betrayed both God and country--as if the two were coterminous. The reality is that they are not. Treating deadly weapons of this world as if they are spiritually sanctioned is not Biblical.

By all means a company can respect, honor and obey God and make sniper scopes to be used in war. Without sanctioning all war, it is an unfortunate effect of the fall that we must take up weapons to defend the weak and helpless. Yet this is not the kingdom of God. While it is commendable that this company runs on Christian convictions and Biblical standards, and it is noble to make them known, when fashioning such a dangerous weapon it is dangerous and irresponsible to put such Bible verses on them precisely because such weapons can be used in the name of great evil even under sometimes noble intentions.

We make trite and infective the Word of God confusing God's means which is not a weapon of this world, nor a war of this world, with the weapons of this world and the combat that is never ideal but sometimes a necessary effect of the fall. Even a just war, by Biblical Christian definitions, is not a holy war. While Christian believe in just wars, we do not believe in holy wars fought by divinely sanctified guns and swords. With all due respect to our soldiers, do not confuse your duties as a citizen and solider of this country with your higher calling as a citizen and soldier in God's Kingdom. I understand that this puts you in difficult positions at times where we must choose to obey God rather than man but most often there is often ample occasion to faithfully discharge your duties to both.

There is no such thing as "
spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ"--even if the company never intended to insinuate that, some on both sides of the war will. When one thinks it is acceptable in God's eyes to fashion weapons bearing His name, one stands contrary God's Word and has not allowed their Christian convictions to reshape their politics. Indeed, your Christian convictions are being driven by your American conviction and not the other way around. Our higher loyalty must always be to Christ first. Whether you are politically liberal or politically conservative confusing the kingdom of God with the kingdom of man in this high degree of equation is deadly both spiritually and physically.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Grace and Forgiveness

Yes, but commitment to Christianity couldn’t prevent Bill Clinton from dallying with an intern, Senator David Vitter from contracting with prostitutes, and Senator Larry Craig from being arrested for solicitation in a men’s room, amid thousands of other examples.

Christianity and other major religions provide solid ethical frameworks, but that’s not enough. Whether one is Christian, Muslim, or Zoroastrian, staying faithful to one’s spouse is a test of character, not faith.
So on the one hand: when these men sin they are charged by the culture as hypocrites to the faith--which implies when the person is not faithful his act has indeed tested his faith as if to tear his confession asunder. On the other hand, now they are held up as serious practitioners who failed. Clearly, there is little serious reflection on the teachings of Christianity about sin, handling sin, grace, forgiveness and redemption.

The whole point of the Tiger Woods scandal is that his character failed: now what? Enter grace, forgiveness and redemption. Sadly for most, redemption means winning back the affection and love of family, friends and public to restore one's image. That is not the Christian notion of redemption. Jesus died to pay for sin so that sin is cleansed. To this the Christian returns even in his failures.

Well of course Christians can be adulterers. But the point of Christianity is that you can be forgiven and true forgiveness brings transformation. Even with all that we are still sinners and we still have lusts that wage war inside us--yet there is constant forgiveness (1 Peter 2:11; 1 John 1:7-2:2) . It is God's mercy not our moral effort--even in our post-conversion state.

Brit Hume clearly gets this, see this CT interview:
Some have questioned whether Christianity can help you be more faithful to your spouse.
I don't think you draw a straight line that way. My sense is that if you turn to Christ and seek his forgiveness and mean it, you'll get it. You will be impelled and inspired to live the Christian life. Christianity is a religion for sinners. It doesn't encourage you to sin, it encourages you not to, but it provides a way of forgiveness and redemption. That's what Tiger Woods, like many sinners, needs. That's something we all need. He, in his particularly desperate moment here where he appears to be losing his family, is in special need of it. And I hope he finds it.
And:
Some people might say, "What about Christians like Ted Haggard or Mark Sanford"
I don't think I would blame Christianity for the failings of people like that. Christianity is the right religion for people like that. Christianity is a religion for sinners. Christianity is not about the salvation of perfect people. Christianity is a way for people who are not perfect to be saved. What Mark Sanford needs is not less Christianity. He needs more of it.

Secularism & the Heart

Of course, Brit Hume's remarks on Fox News have stirred up a big bruhaha... the buggabo from the conservatives is *gasp* secularism (and here)... a word that sends shivers down our spines, as if to place our ears over the ears of children, while the towns people light their torches...

No doubt there is a secularism that has arisen, no doubt we should not assume that secularism is a neutral position or creates a neutral public square. Yet, lest we think it is only "out there" consider this:
"The two most easily recognizable hallmarks of secularization in America are the exaltation of numbers and of technique." Os Guinness, qtd in Mark Dever Nine Marks of a Healthy Church p24.
--We have met the enemy, dear church, and it is us.

We oppose secularization that is "out there" and "other" to us. We circle the wagons and wave our fingers. Yet what of the secularization of our own hearts? Maybe if we believed that the gospel is the solution to the problem, and if we really believed in our hearts that the gospel is the power of God--we'd look and find that we all let attitudes creep into our hearts at the very moments we resist them "out there".

It is often said, particularly in politics, that individuals rally against certain evils with a particular inventiveness because the more they rail the more they distract people from those same evils in their own heart. So think of the "family man" who champions "family values" and "defends the sanctity of marriage" but whose life and career crashes and burns when impropriety is uncovered by a few diligent reporters. Perhaps we should be asking the church: "Do we rant against secularism because we secretly know that it dwells deep in us?"

Say what?!

File this under "stupid things I've read this week"

Commenting on Brit Hume's remarks on Fox about Buddhism, Christianity and Tiger Woods we read:
"It sounded a little like one of those Verizon vs. AT&T commercials -- our brand is better than your brand -- except that Hume was comparing two of the world's great religions, not a couple of greedy communications conglomerates. Further, is it really his job to run around trying to drum up new business? He doesn't really have the authority, does he, unless one believes that every Christian by mandate must proselytize? "

I'm guessing Tom Shales has never read Matthew 28:18-20.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Beatitudes: What are they?

As I get ready to preach the beatitudes, I ran across this helpful summation:

"The Beatitude, as a literary genre, belongs to both the wisdom and apocalyptic traditions. It may therefore be used as a vehicle of ethical instruction, inculcating certain norms of behaviour, or as a vehicle conveying to the distressed hope and assurance that God will intervene to right all wrongs. In his sermons Calvin gives great weight to the ethical demands implicit in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-23. Expressions of obligation ('we should', 'one must', 'it is necessary to') and of moral exhortation ('let us') abound. He does not, however treat the Beatitudes as entrance requirements to the kingdom announced by Jesus, but rather as marks whereby those who are already in the kingdom may be discerned, and God's grace to them made visible in a fallen world. In actual fact the Beatitudes contain only one explicit command, which speaks not of moral effort but of inner, mental disposition: 'Rejoice and be glad' (Matt. 5:12), 'Rejoice and leap for jot' (Luke 6:23). Eschatological hope lies at the core of Jesus' teaching here: the grieving will be comforted, the hungry will be satisfied, the pure will see God. As a preacher, Calvin is fully alert to the tension which exists between the now and the not yet, between the believers' present experience of suffering and their future exaltation in heaven. As Jacques Dupont has remarked, 'The Beatitudes are simply another way of saying that "the kingdom of God is here", that God's promises are on the point of being fulfilled, that the appointed beneficiaries of the messianic blessing at the end of time may now rejoice, for the time is accomplished.' Jesus is both the herald and the agent of the messianic blessing. All the Beatitudes are summed up in him. Meek, pure in heart, merciful, peaceable, persecuted without cause, he enacts his own message and thus becomes the very embodiment of all righteousness. His vindication will be the vindication of all who believe in him. The Beatitudes thus send us back, not to an abstract list of moral perfections, but to the person of Jesus Christ, to whose image Christians are even now being conformed by his indwelling Spirit. Calvin's sermons of the Beatitudes are an appeal and an encouragement to Jesus' followers to be what they are already reckoned to be in him." --Robert White John Calvin Sermons on the Beatitudes, ix-x


(1) I think Robert White hits is right on the head. There is a tendency to think that historical theology and Biblical exegesis are mutually exclusive disciplines. Certainly they have their unique focuses but this downplays the fact that we are both reading the same text. Sometimes contemporary Biblical scholarship is extremely historically naive--as if nothing good has been said of the text outside of the last two hundred years (or less in some cases). Yet Robert White writes almost as if he is a NT scholar here.

(2) It doesn't take long to discover that the contemporary accusations against the Reformation and historic Evangelicalism are typical way off base. It is certainly true that in our day some evangelicals neglect the ethics of the kingdom and we focus--I am ashamed to say it for I love the Apostle Paul--almost entirely on Paul's preaching of the gospel. Yet this charge which may be right in some contemporary cases hardly sticks against the Reformers and their heritage--including the Puritans. Of course they had a rigorous systematic theology but it is not as if they formed it around Paul alone and in their teaching and preaching neglected Jesus.

(3) Those so-called 'Red letter' Christians, emergents and others of similar stripes, while often quick to level the above charges are sometimes equally uninformed about proper use of Jesus' own words. It has be common far too common stock to see the ethics of Jesus, e.g. the Beatitudes, turned into entrance requirements. They are certainly requirements in the sense of good and necessary consequential fruit of the kingdom. They are not however entrance requirements in the sense of necessary activities that self-assertively build the kingdom in your life; they do not effect the kingdom through rigorous performance for the kingdom of God is received and entered by humble repentance and trusting faith.

(4) Finally, this mode of thinking tends to put too much distance between Jesus and Paul. Certainly the 21st century has its share of wrongly understood 'easy believe-ism' nevertheless both Jesus and Paul teach that God's grace is received through faith which entails belief and trust not action and procurement. Those who have received the kingdom are marked by a certain character.
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