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.

Romans 5:20, the Law and Jesus' Substitution

Yesterday, we started a sort of mini-series with this post of the penal substutionary atonement. Some of these thoughts go back to a post where I argued the subtitutionary atonement is absolutely necessary and  central to the gospel.

Taking issue with the idea of a substitutionary atonement, a recent comment on that previous post, remarked on Romans 5:20 stating that "The law was added so that the trespass (of Jesus' crucifixion) might increase." as a sin. Rom. 5:20."

But Romans 5:20 is not arguing that the trespass is Jesus' crucifixion. A law is not added with Jesus' crucifixion to make it worse, rather after Adam's sin the Law is added so that sin is shown to be worth because it now incurs a new legal guilt. Sin becomes transgression when it is spelled out clearly by the OT Law added at the time of Moses.

Adam's one trespass becomes the paradigm for Christ's great work on the cross. Adam's was one act in disobedience, Christ's act was one act in obedience. Adam's act brought sin, death and condemnation. Christ's one act secured righteousness.

I think if one really reads Romans 5:20 in context one will see that same point that Jesus’ one act on the cross actually results in the free gift of righteousness. Bear with me because I want to walk through the text.

The understanding of Romans 5:20 is flawed when you read the words “Jesus’ crucifixion” into your explanation of the words trespass. Notice the context of 5:12-20 we are talking about Adam’s one act vs. Jesus’ one act. So verse 19 we have “one man’s disobedience”; verse 18 you have through “one transgression”; verse 17 “the transgression of the one”, verse 16, “judgement arose from one transgression”; verse 15 “for if by the transgression of the one”; and verse 12: “just as through one man sin entered the world.”

Sin entered the world through Adam. His one act resulted in the inherited sin and guilt on all who belong to Adam. Notice verse 13: “for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when when there is no law.” verse 14 “nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses,”

Even though people in this time did not sin in the same sense as Adam by breaking a clear command (because there was no written Law yet) the curse of sin still reigned because of Adam’s one act. The reason the Law was added was to transgression of Adam’s sin would increase. Those in sin having the Law are considered more guilty because they break specific commands of God that man has had since Moses and beyond.

It is clear that the “transgression” is not Jesus’ crucifixion. The transgression is Adam sin a sin of which we all partake since death is curse in which we all share. Even more if you notice in this passage it is clear what Jesus’ one act does for those who belong to Jesus:

v.15 “But the free gift is not like the transgression. For by the transgression of the one [Adam’s sin, see verse 12] the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many.”

Grace comes not though my obedience but through Jesus. Of course, those who trust in Jesus will in turn obey Him but that is only after we have the gift from His one act--His death for us.

V.16 the free gift [i.e. Jesus’ work see verse 15] from many transgressions resulting in justification. --the free gift brings our righteousness before God.

V.17 reigning in life comes in the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness.

v.18 “even so through one act of righteousness there resulted in justification of life to all men.”
v.19 “through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”

Therefore grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (v.20).

A clear reading in the passage shows that the one act of Jesus brings righteousness to people. It is a free gift that abounds to all who would receive it.

Thus Paul can say as he did in Romans 4:25--
Romans 4:23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. 

Christ's one act stands on behalf of His people--and when we understand this as an act of obedience not merely passively handing His life over, we begin to see His standing for us entails His being substituted for us. It is Jesus' act of obedience to the Father for our sins and for our justification. So that they Law of the Old Testament increases sin rather than removing it but in Jesus grace abounds all the more.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

America's Four Gods

I recently read through the book America's Four Gods: What We Say About God--& What That Says About Us by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader. It was a helpful book and very informative in a number of areas. Like any book there were something things that were not so helpful. 

The data these sociologists collected breaks down into four general views of God held my Americans.

The four views are with the rough percentages are:

1. Authoritative God. 31%
2. Benevolent God. 24%
3. Critical God. 16%
4. Distant God. 24%

Roughly 5% of the population is an atheist.

The 'Authoritative God' views God as active in the world and actively engaged in judging the world. They hold that God is loving in his being but that he is willing to judge and punished and that "the bad and good things that happen to us are likely of his making" (p.29). 

The 'Benevolent God' view holds that God is less likely to punish and judge human behavior (p.29). He is "mainly a force for good in the world and less willing to condemn individuals" (p.29). The main message is "everything comes up roses if we only care to look and believe" (p.31). This view has trouble or cannot conceive of anger as coming from God.

The 'Critical God' view sees that God critical of us when we do wrong but he is not active in judging the world. So while He views certain things unfavorably he is largely inactive in the world. 

Finally, the 'Distant God' view thinks of God as largely unjudgmental and uninvolved in the world. They consider Benjamin Franklin as a good summation of this view when he says, "I cannot conceive otherwise than that he the infinite Father expects and requires no Worship or Praise from us, but that he is even infinitely above it" (p.33). So essentially God leaves us alone and we leave Him alone.

The book does not critic these four views but like a news reporter they simply recount what the views are. They organize them in this chart:
So the horizontal axis is a spectrum from less judgmental to more judgmental. The vertical axis is more to less engaged. The four quadrants illustrate the differing views in relation to each other. The authors are clear that the precise distinctions about what God is like are infinite and there four part typology is somewhat artificial in an attempt to organize the spectrum (p.149).

Overall the data and the presentation is helpful and the book leads to fruitful discussion.

However, as with everything, there are problems.

1. One potential problem is that the labels "Benevolent" and "Authoritative" can potentially bias the reader. The authors are clear "Such labels are not meant to imply that a person who views God as Authoritative imagines him as having no Benevolent qualities. Indeed, as noted before, almost everyone imagines God to be a loving being and in our interviews, people with an Authoritative image of God provided many stories of demonstrating his benevolence" (p.166).

Yet the survey questions make no attempt to ascertain if there are difference in the way people view God's benevolence. Why label one side as "Benevolent" when each of the other categories a quadrant  is distinguished largely by the absence of its category? So a critical God does not see God as engaged. A distant God does not see God as engaged and does not see God as judgmental. 

So on the x-axis everyone is loving but the distinction is over God's judgment. The survey assigns no calculative weight to the question of whether or not God is loving (p.162). Yet again labeling one side "benevolent" when authoritative view sees God as loving is simply not helpful in marking the distinction.

One wonders how the results would have differed had the survey probed the nature of God's love. Perhaps they would have found some number of people who emphasize the loving nature of God and His grace without minimizing God's judgment. Perhaps they would have found some without hardly any notion of God's love with a strong conception of God's judgment. Would the results have differed?

The survey does not probe the nature of God's judgement for those who believe God judges and is active and so the survey is not much help in this area.

2. Although not a large portion of the book, one thing that raises questions for me: why do the authors go and conduct interviews at the infamous Westboro Baptist Church [WBC] (p.77-80) as part of their profile on the "Authoritative God" view? They are clear that there are "moral extremists" and "in these atypical cases, God can often play a dominant role" (p.77). This church is infamous for having strong views of God's hate and God's wrath. They are so strong that they protest at the funerals of soldiers and are notorious for brandishing inflammatory signs in protests of all types.

Why not find a case where a church or group of church holds strongly to moral standards without being extremist or atypical? Certainly there are moral relativists and certainly their are those who have strong moral values and then there are indeed atypical extremists. Part of the argument is to show that people who are hateful have a hateful view of God (77). Is that really novel? I believe the case would have been better served by avoiding an atypical example and focusing on a common example of someone hold to moral values against relativism. What about a person or church who see God as judging sin but it makes them more gracious and loving because they know they are accountable to God for their behavior? While the authors never make value judgments, we might note that this would be a more Biblical portrait that one would find refreshing when illustrated.

WBC is a powerful but skewing illustration of people who see God as hateful. One wonders how extensive is the view of  this group summarizes their message is "God loves us and hates you" (p.79). It seems highly suspect to me that this is anything near representative of the "Authoritarian God" view. If for example "the phrase 'hate the sin, love the sinner' perfectly reflects most Americans' view of homosexuality" (p.73) but WBC clear shows hate, including hating homosexuals--why then are they even interviewed for the book?

I would guess that most serious Christians who hold that according to the Bible God hates sin, would not embrace the radical views of WBC. In fact, Froese and Bader's own data on the "Authoritative View" says that they widely accept a conception of America where God's favor rests on America. "Christian who believe in an Authoritative God firmly believe that the United States is favored by God" (p.137). This is clearly not something embraced by WBC. One cannot help but again question why WBC is surveyed since we are told "they are atypical." 

Even more, why in a book that mentions no serious theology other than recounting general difference do the authors spend a full footnote outline that WBC is "Calvinistic" (p.206 n.12). We are told they are a "very strict version of five-point Calvinism" this citation marks the words "There God is a nastier version of the Authoritarian God" (p.78).

We are not told that WBC does not represent main stream Calvinism, including the majority of five point Calvinist who are clear on the greatness of God's mercy and benevolence. Countless five point Calvinists today would reject the methods and statements made by WBC. We are not told if the authors see a difference between "five-point Calvinism" and what they call "strict five-point Calvinism." There is no background to this statement. We are not even given a picture of churches that are hateful and reject Calvinism. With a book that makes no real theological distinctions why even mention WBC's so-called Calvinism?

The inclusion of WBC seems odd and out of place if we are trying to gain an accurate picture of an authoritative God. We are told WBC is an extreme version of the spectrum but we get no perspective on their rarity. We get a hint that they are extreme and fringe but there is no qualitative or quantitative evaluation. One cannot help but wonder if Calvinism is maligned or labeled as the cause of this extreme view but even more one cannot help but wonder why this church is discussed under "Authoritative God" when it runs the risk of creating a pejorative evaluation of the category. In the end it is good to know from the authors that  "few Americans imagine a God with such hateful qualities" (80).

3. One last set of statistics that is both troubling and sobering is the close association between a large portion of the "Authoritative God" and Civil Religion. Civil Religion is often the designation of the idea that God blesses America and America is God's chosen nation to be used in a spiritual war. Thus American national policy, particularly her extension of military power, is seen as part of God's cosmic battle in this world. 

While I do believe that "just war" theory is historic to Christian theology, this is never to be applied today to say that all America's wars are just because of some special divine favor we have. They tend to associate a religious aspect to the Iraq War.

If we are to think Bibilically, this is dangerous and deadly. We should be clear that Froese and Bader only report what they find. But I believe sober minded Christian need to evaluate their views of God and America. Clearly in the Bible God judges sin. But America is never God's chosen nation. It is unbiblical. It may be true that our heritage has a strong Christian background. It is true in the early days of America, Christian churches have been prominent and our citizen have been in majority either in true profession or at least moral values. 

One should however think that there is anything inherent in believing God is authoritative that should cause one to hold America as unique in God's plan for history. The Bible warns against such arrogance. The only truly chosen nation was Old Testament Israel, and now God's electing grace extends to the church down through the ages.

America's Four Gods is a helpful book. The statistics are useful at point even if the organization is at points somewhat artificial. There is much to learn from this book about where Americans stand in their views of God. The critical reader will in turn be more reflective on where his views align in relationship to other America but hopefully the wise reader will go beyond the purpose of the book and ask: am I deriving my views from the Word of God?

Law Breaking, the Old Covenant, and Penal Substitution

The Word of God gives us the commands of God that we should obey. While the Old Testament Law was given graciously to God's people after He brought them out of Egypt through the Red Sea, an act of redemption, the OT Law laid out a path of obedience so that God's people could be holy as God is holy. Obedience to the Law offered holiness.

It is unbiblical to think that salvation from hell is found only through conforming to Jesus’ word or law. God’s demand is that we should be perfect confirming to His every command. Can you and I meet that standard? No person is perfect before God. James 2:10 tells us that if we break the law of God at one point, we have broken the law. Therefore one sin is all I need to be eternally condemned because with one sin I break the holy Law. With one sin I am no longer holy as God is holy. And without holiness no one shall see God (Hebrews 12:14; Rev. 21:27).

The Bible tells us all have sinned, no one is righteous or holy (Romans 3:9-12, 23). No one actually conforms to God’s demand. Words like “none” and “all” in Romans 3:9-12, 23 mean everyone without exception fail to give to God what He demands.

If I do not keep all of God’s law and perform them then I am under the curse of God’s Law. Gal. 3:10 “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” The Old Testament confirms this in Deut. 27:26.

It is good if you recognize we must give an account for our sin. It is good if you recognize God’s demand. The problem is, if you think that you and I can obey God generally good enough to have holiness or pass the judgment of God, then you have missed how strong and clear the Law of God is against our sin. If you have any guilt in you whatsoever you will not be cleared. This is why it is vital that one stand in our place.

This is why the Old Covenant Law set up sin offerings by which guilt can be removed. There was a day of atonement where the priest would symbolically lay his hands on the sacrifice signifying the guilt be borne by another. The problem is that these sacrifices were yearly since they never really cleansed sin with any finality or completeness. These sacrifices were symbolic and these sacrifices never really cleared the guilt of Israel. She, though having God’s perfect Law, never obeyed or walked in it. The sacrifices were like a signpost point to a greater sacrifice. Can there be one that is final? Can there be one that can remove sin and establish God’s people in the righteousness and sanctification they need?

The final, complete and perfect sacrifice is Christ’s sacrifice which is on our behalf just like guilt offerings in the Old Testament. We need Jesus to stand not only as our high priest but as our sacrifice. In fact, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. This blood must cleanse us. Jesus offered himself without blemish as a sacrifice in order to accomplish eternal redemption (Heb. 9:11-14). The word redemption means buying someone back through the payment of a price, in this case their penalty of sin against God.

In the Old Testament, priests would make a sacrifice and go into the temple or tabernacle to present the blood before God. Jesus could only go into heaven’s temple after He gave His blood as a sacrifice for redemption. This blood cleanses people from their sin.
Hebrews 9:12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
Hebrews 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

The sacrifices of the Old Testament show us that blood is what is need to cleanse from sin--but not the blood of goats and bulls. It must be a human sacrifice. But one has to be clean from sin in order to be a substitute for someone else. My blood can only ever pay for my sin because I am guilty. My blood shed for my sin is the just penalty as I give an account before God and in this accounting I cannot see God because sin separates from God. So Jesus willingly becomes a substitute. Jesus’ blood can cleanse your conscience, if you receive Him by faith. Faith is not merely being sorry that Jesus life was lost by bloodshed. Faith is believing Jesus died on behalf of sin and receiving that death as a cleansing from sin.

The only way we can be holy is to be sanctified by Jesus as our offering. While goats and bulls could not take away sin, only Jesus doing the will of the Father could do that. The sin offering of Jesus makes holy those who believe in Him:

Hebrews 10:4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me;
6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure.
7 “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’ ”
8 After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law),
9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second.
10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;
12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God,
13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.
14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, And on their mind I will write them,” He then says,
17“And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Let's be blunt holiness (sanctification) comes only through Jesus who is our sin offering. We need to understand that we will all give an account before God. In that account we are all guilty and condemned. No one is holy, no one is righteous before God. Left to ourselves and to our own account we cannot see God. It is the sacrificial offering of Christ that brings our redemption and secures our holiness.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Video Preaching is Not Incarnational

So a couple of weeks ago there was a dust up about multi-site churches and more narrowly video feed preaching. You can find a video discussion here. You can find links here. There was another blog here that I appreciated. I certainly have not read everything that everybody has said about it. Hopefully this also doesn't come across as a small town pastor in a smaller church with a bad case of sour grapes. Multi-site may in certain cases be a good first step in a church plant provided there is a clear birth process. My point is not to rail against everything. I do want to make a comment about video preaching. I don't want to accuse the motives of those who do: some are good some are bad. Some are more theological sound in other areas of theology, others I'm sure are not.

I want to make the suggestion that I am not sure I have seen argued anywhere: Video preaching under cuts Jesus' example of ministry that we find in the incarnation.

Let me be clear, I think it is possible to go to far with making "incarnation" and "incarnational" as an adjective. But it can function as an analogy at times and even a basis for ethical exhortation (Phil. 2:5) and in a limited sense missional practice (1 Cor. 9:23ff). So when it comes to preaching consider how the incarnation should cause us to rethink video preaching. 1 John says this about the Word of Life:
1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 
Consider this: the Word of Life came to earth so that he could be seen and touched. He was present with His people as He preached the Word. It was vital to His testimony and the continuing testimony of the witnesses that He was actually there.

I find it ironic that those who are doctrinally more conservative, sticking to God's Word, and who have made much out of "missional" and "incarnational" (and some, maybe even much of it is good), haven't contemplated incarnation as a model for the necessity of physical presence for preaching. 

This isn't to say that God can't use podcasts, mp3s, and videos to help people, for extra study, to train the saints, etc. But there is something different from all this when the church gathers. The minister should be just as present to testify to Word of God as we expect the people to be present to receive Word and Sacrament with the communion of the saints.

Let me suggest the minister should be just as present in his preaching as Jesus was as we look at His earthly ministry. If he came from heaven to be the Word of Life to us, surely we can come into the room to present God's Word to His people.

I would suggest that if you are passionate about the incarnation and the earthly presence of Jesus as vital for all subsequent ministry, then we should desire to be equally as present with our people when we exercise oversight and the proclamation of the Word.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Essay on Early Christianity

Here is an essay by Larry Hurtado that is worth reading. It is entitled "Early Christian Particularity and Engagement with Society." It looks specifically at how Christian confronted and engaged their world that was largely hostile to them. Hurtado looks at two main ancient Christian works: The Epistle of Diognetus and Justin Martyr's First Apology.

Here are two excerpts:
But I want to focus here on second-century Christian efforts to address the wider culture and political authorities. These efforts had two main aims: (1) to defend Christians against various rumors and allegations which attracted social harassment and sometimes governmental prosecutions, and (2) to commend Christian faith to the wider culture as valid, indeed as superior to pagan religion and philosophy. I concentrate here particularly on the first of these aims. But the second should be noted as well, for it was integral to their endeavor. These Christian apologists were not simply asking for passive tolerance and a cessation of persecution, a quiet social space in which Christians could eek out their existence undisturbed and not disturbing others. They asked not to be persecuted, but they also wanted to engage their cultural and intellectual environment in serious discussion and debate about fundamental principles of truth, theology, ethics, and philosophy. That is, they believed that Christian faith had some important things to contribute to human life universally. Their faith was not a religious hobby or merely a quest for personal fulfilment, and they saw their way of life not simply as one option among others of equal value. Instead, they insisted that Christian faith offered distinctive and important teachings that held out unique benefits to individuals and the wider culture, and that rejecting Christian faith meant various serious deficits now as well as ultimate consequences in the future divine judgement of the world that they believed in and in the light of which they lived. (page 4)
From page 17 in conclusion:

I would argue that Christianity can make its best contribution to the wider society and culture if Christians are simply allowed to proclaim and live out their faith in all areas of their lives. This will allow them to philosophize, conduct scholarly work, create music and art, operate businesses and farms, teach, practice medicine, and participate in good government, all on the basis of their Christian faith. The society will benefit, and Christians will know that the continued viability of their faith rests on their faithfulness to what they profess. Undoubtedly, Christianity had a profound impact on European culture in many areas, including laws, art, music, a sense of the worth of the individual, and morality. But I propose that Christians can bestow these benefits on any society wise enough to appreciate them, wise enough to allow people the freedom to make their own religious choices and allow religions to live or die by their ability to commend themselves to the human conscience.
Given that in America, we (a) have freedom of religion and (b) we face active forces of secularization which seeks to reduce religion to a sphere of private influence that has no public value, I believe we can learn from the second century apologists.

One wonders if to often our apologetic efforts in evangelicalism are not so much to commend the faith and the value of the faith for society but an attempt to reintroduce Christendom where 'we' are the dominant power as a political force. Perhaps there is a better way.

Either way, this is a good essay from Dr. Hurtado that is worth the read. Read the whole thing here.

God's Love and Compassion in the Old Testament

I just read through a new book America’s Four Gods: What We Say about God--& What That Says About Us by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader. At some points it was a very helpful book with interesting, if not troubling, statistics about Americans and their views on God. At some point, I would like to interact with some of the book in some blog posts. For now, I will content myself to make a comment on an extended quote that Froese and Bader reference.

From America’s Four Gods:
In God: A Biography, Jack Miles examines how God is depicted in the Hebrew Bible. He makes a surprising discovery. Miles finds no evidence that God feels love for humanity in the early books of the Old Testament. It is not until God declares his “everlasting love” for Israel in Isaiah (54:4-8) that God’s capacity for such emotion is revealed in the text:
“Until this point in history, the Lord God has never loved. Love has never been predicated of him either as an action or as a motive. It is not that he had no emotional life of any sort. He has been wrathful, vengeful, and remorseful. But he has not been loving. It was not for love that he made man. It was not for love that he made his covenant with Abraham. It was not for love that he brought the Israelites out of Egypt or drove out the Canaanites before them. (Miles, 237)”
If we were to extend Miles’s analysis to the New Testament, we would quickly discover a God consumed by love for humankind. (Froese and Bader, 14-15).

It is unclear to what degree Froese and Bader agree with this analysis. In the most charitable reading they may simply be illustrating that concepts of God are different over time and space. In fact, they go on to tell us for Americans a God without love is “almost entirely foreign” to our religious mind.

I want to interact with the Jack Miles quote as it stands (unfortunately, I do not have access to the book itself at this point). It is also entirely possible that Miles is dependent upon a historical critical dating of the text that puts much of the early history of Israel written at a late exilic or post exilic date. That will not concern us here, rather we will consider the time frame as the portion of redemptive history that text reveals regardless of when finalized compositions might have been finally circulated. Regardless of when texts were finalized, Israel understood one of YHWH’s attributes to be love and compassion particularly in the redemptive historical dealings of her God with His people. The Jack Miles quote itself as it stands is utterly false to say that God has or shows no love in the Hebrew Bible until Isaiah 54:4-8.

Let’s read Isaiah 54:4-8.
Isaiah 54:
4“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
5 For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
6 For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
7 For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
8 In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.

It would be another argument, albeit still slightly flawed, to say that until this point in the Bible we do not see the intensity of love, or the depth of raw emotion. Perhaps we could even say we see new depth to the mercy and grace of love as He promises to bring Israel back from exile and restore them to a relationship with Him even after all their sins. But this is a covenant relationship He already had with them by which He brought them out of Egypt and gave them the land of Canaan. To say that God never loved until this point is patently false.

To make this case in brevity, I want to simply look at the two key words from Isaiah 54: “compassion” (riham) and “love” (hesed, often translated ‘steadfast love’).

Exile and Restoration in Deut. 30.
First, and I think most important: Isaiah is not saying anything new about God. Israel already knew that if she broke the Law she would go into exile. Moses prophesied that she would indeed do that because he knew she could even be faithful to God at the very moment when God was making the covenant with her. At their marriage ceremony of sorts, Israel was prostituting with a godlen calf god.

Yet look at what Scripture promises:
Deuteronomy 30:1 “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2 and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.
While to covenant lays out clear blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience, it was not Israel’s obedience that would establish her and bring her back. Rather, it was the compassion that the LORD would show upon His people. In fact, Deuteronomy 30 is the textual background behind Isaiah 54. It is simply false to say that Isaiah is the first place we see YHWH’s compassion when Isaiah’s words are reflective of God’s earlier promise.

Some Uses of Rehem
When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he makes specific mention of the compassion of God. This text also shows echoes of Deuteronomy 30. The Book of Kings itself was probably finally compiled during Israel’s exile. As such the prayer while representing the voice of Solomon (ipissima vox) is probably couched in such a way to remind those in exile of the need to repent with specific reference to the exile now upon them. Nevertheless, Solomon understood before the time of Isaia that the Lord was a God would showed compassion:
1 Kings 8:46 “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, 47 yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ 48 if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, 49 then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause 50 and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them 51 (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace). 52 Let your eyes be open to the plea of your servant and to the plea of your people Israel, giving ear to them whenever they call to you. 53 For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage, as you declared through Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord God.”
During the days of Jehohaz and around the time of the death of Elisha we read:
2 Kings 13:22 Now Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. 23 But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now.
This is important because Miles claims that it is not out of love that God made his covenant with Abraham but what we do see is that it is out of compassion and love (hesed) that God remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and in turn shows love and compassion to Israel.

Some Uses of Hesed
While it is true that on a surface reading of the text, God does not come to Abraham and say “I am calling you because I love you.” Certainly, it is for God’s purposes that God calls Abraham. In our day we do tend to believe that God’s only or at least His ultimate motive for doing all that He does is love. In other words, rather than a God-centered view of all creation-fall-redemption, we have man centered view where God becomes needy of us. This is not true. The primary calling of Abraham is to (1) establish the vice-regency that Adam was given in the garden; and (2) fulfille His redemptive promises inititiated in Genesis 3:15.

But God’s chief end in all that He does is His own glory. This will invariably also lead to a demonstration of His love. So while we are true in saying it is not only for love or even primarily for love that God redeems Abraham and Israel, it is also not in an absence of love that God does these things.

Nevertheless, the notion of hesed or covenant steadfast love is found in the making of the covenant with Abraham. It is this love that Isaiah reflects in Isaiah 54.

Here are a few passages:

God’s rescue of Lot is an act of favor and lovingkindess.
Genesis 19:19 Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness(hesed) in saving my life. But I cannot escape to the hills, lest the disaster overtake me and I die.
Abraham’s servant say God’s hesed (lovingkindess) upon Abraham:
Genesis 24:12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”
Genesis 24:27 and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.”
Given the subsequent events, we see that God does indeed have and show love to Abraham.

Jacob had experienced God’s lovingkindness:
Genesis 32:10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.
Joseph experiences this love from God:
Genesis 39:21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

God’s redemption of Israel in the Exodus was because of his hesed.
Exodus 15:13 “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
There are a few more incidences that we could look at but suffice it to say God shows Himself to have hesed, covenant love.

We really have not probed the range of meaning that the word hesed has. It is usually best translated ‘steadfast love.’ It is not merely emotional love or erotic love but it does describe a kind of love that has overtones of loyalty, faithfulness and covenant bonds. It is indeed love. It is the kind of love in Isaiah 54 and we see is well established prior to Isaiah.

God and Israel’s Affliction
One passage that we wish to just briefly mention here is Exodus 2:23-25 and 4:6-9. While the Hebrews words ‘compassion’ and ‘steadfast love’ are not used in these passages, it is clear that the Lord is a loving God who hears the afflications of His people. He hears their cry and remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is a demonstration of love, specifically what is elsewhere called hesed. God is not merely wrathful, vengeful and remorseful as Miles states, He is indeed loving and compassionate.

Exodus 32-34
Finally, one of the most important revelations of who God is comes on Mount Sinai, particularly as God reveals Himself to Moses. In this passage we do not just see a wrathful God but a loving, merciful and compassionate God.

The highpoint, where Moses sees the ‘back’ of God is the description of God:
Exodus 34:6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful(rahum: compassionate) and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.
This incident is right after God spares the Israelites because of the intercession of Moses. The LORD would have been well justified to judge Israel’s harlotry to an idol and yet He shows His compassion and hesed. Now in Exodus 34, He clarifies it as fundamental to His character.

It is a common fallacy to argue that in the Old Testament God is hateful and in the New Testament God is only loving. One claim is that God’s love as an idea does not develop until late in the unfolding revelation of God. It is certainly true that the climax of God revelation shows the depth of God’s love by how He sends His own Son. Love’s revelation reaches new depth in the cross of Christ. However, it is simply false to say that God’s love is not demonstrated in the early books of the Old Testament. In fact, part of God’s own self-revelation is that He is compassionate and has steadfast love. These attributes are then on display repeatedly in the unfolding drama of redemption that is the Old Testament.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...