Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ambition, Arrogance and Theologies of Glory

Here is an interesting post arguing for a distinction between arrogance and ambition.
http://www.churchleaders.com/worship/worship-articles/152879-steven_furtick_ambition_vs_arrogance.html

Here's how it starts:

There’s a word many Christians are afraid of. It’s almost a bad word. If you have it, many people assume it means you’re self-serving. Power hungry. But most of all, arrogant
I’m talking about ambition
It’s almost like if you want to excel at something or do big things with your life or organization, then you must have a God-complex. An all too elevated sense of self-importance. 
There’s no denying that that’s definitely true in the case of some people. But I also fear that our fear of ambition is severely limiting other people who have been called to do great things for God. Why should we put a cap on their potential because some people can’t put a cap on their pride? [bold's original]


On one level, I agree that ambition and arrogance are not necessarily synonymous. I confess that I have yet to buy and read "Rescuing Ambition" by Dave Harvey (I'd love to get it but book budget is a little tight--I'll accept gifts...). I'm sure he probably makes similar points that ambition is not all bad. I assume that you could argue that Adam had ambition before the fall and that Jesus had the ambition to do his Father's will.

I am saying this because I want to prove that I too think that not all ambition is bad. But I think you can distinguish ambition from arrogance and still say there may be non-arrogant ambition that is still bad. This is particularly true if ambition becomes synonymous with accomplishing big things for God. 

Let me further distinguish. I am taking about ambition to do good things. So you may have non-arrogant ambition to do something bad--and obviously that is bad ambition. I want to ask/argue that there can be a non-arrogant ambition to do good that can still be bad or arise from the darkness of my heart.

I'm not arguing that we should not have ambition though either. 

Here's a little more excerpted:

I wonder if people accused them of being arrogant? Maybe. But then again, if you’re never accused of being arrogant, it’s probably a sign that you’re not being ambitious enough. You’re dreaming too small. Your goals are too easily attainable. 
Let me free you: it’s ok to want to be the best at what you do. It’s ok to want to achieve as much as you can with your life for the sake of the God who gave it to you. I sincerely doubt God is going to look at you at the end of your life and say, “You did too much for me.” But I do sincerely believe that God is going to look at many people and say, “You were too 'humble' for your own good and the good of countless people you could have impacted if you'd had a little more ambition.” 
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that ambition is synonymous with arrogance. Godly ambition is what God uses to do incredible things in our world.

(1) This isn't the main point I want to make it seems to be a little self-serving to say, if you are never accused of being arrogant its because your not ambitious. So a mark of good ambition will be that people misdiagnose it as arrogance? Maybe the writer has taken truly sinful accusations and slander like this, however using as absolute like "never" is dangerous. The implication is: if people don't accuse you of being arrogant then "you're doing it wrong." Follow that thought a little, then the mark of your sincere ambition is it might look like arrogance, but hey, you know better. 

Don't forget, Scripture says wounds from a friend can be trusted--and just because people say your ambition looks like arrogance doesn't mean they are wrong and you are right to know its just healthy ambition. The idea gives cover to a whole manner of human sins that arise from the heart--not the least the inability to be corrected. We are even told:
If that makes you look arrogant, don’t back down from what God has called you to do. Instead, mourn for the people who are living so far beneath their potential that anything greater must be arrogance.
I agree, we should follow God's call. Yet God's call may not always be: bigger is better. That's the wisdom of the world that operates on sight not faith. Even if you can step into a position where you can do more good for more people, God may not be calling you to that. The need is not the call. [Let's not forget the parable of the talents: we should use what God has given us and not bury our gifts though].

Lets honestly assume the best--that the author is talking about people who hate all ambition and slander all of it as arrogance. I think we can agree that is wrong too. 

(2) The bigger issue is that even non-arrogant ambition for good can be a cover for a 'theology of glory' rather than a theology of the cross.

It is assumed that results of good are good and ambitions for results of good are be default good ambition. In fact, if your ambition isn't big enough maybe you are holding God back. [that really uncovers some bad theology that we won't address here]

What if God wants to crucify you and grind you down into being little, who humanly speaking accomplishes very little for God in terms of visible justifiable results.

The greatest in the kingdom of God is not necessarily the one who does the biggest good things for God but the one who makes himself the least and dies as servant. So you can say "Hey I don't want to be arrogant, I just want God to us me" and assume that this ambition must necessarily bigger and better results. Thats what I mean by non-arrogant ambition for good and that can still be a 'theology of glory' that is looking for results and establishment rather than crucifixion and self-giving sacrifice. 

So according to 1 Corinthians 3, there will be ministers who built a very larger kingdom ostensibly for God in service of the church. They had big dreams and big ambition and all of that was to do good. I would even argue they weren't arrogant, they wanted to do things for God. Perhaps their boast was even "God is doing great things through me." But in the end they find out they built not on the foundation of Christ. 

So the article writes:
"But ambition for the sake of God’s glory is not only condoned, it’s commended. It’s a required asset for anyone wanting to rise above the mass of men and do something extraordinary."
The first sentence is true so far as it goes. Whatever we do we are to do all for the glory of God. The problem is the second sentence. What does "for the sake of God's glory" in the first sentence look life? Well: "rise above the mass of men" and "extraordinary." We assume that godly ambition will necessarily rise above the mass of men. It will do something extraordinary.

Bonhoeffer famously said: "when Christ calls a man he bid him come and die." Maybe many Type-A ministers feel like they are doing that with the pressures and burdens of ministry--but the reality is I can by "dying" for a theology of glory not a theology of the cross. I should not assume my "ambition for the sake of God's glory" must mean rising up above others. In most times and places in church history, except for a rare few for whom God has marked a different path, ambition for the sake of glory really is never marked by any distinction, success or extraordinary results. Why should we think we are any better? Any better than Paul or Jesus or countless unnamed sacrificial servants?

It really isn't all that extraordinary to die and to crucify oneself for others. The way that Paul's ministry was extraordinary was not that he did big things for God or that he accomplished much. His ministry was extraordinary that it constantly made him a nobody before everybody and it was that humiliation of being ground down that enabled others to be raised up. It is much like the pattern of Christ.

"2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10   always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12  So death works in us, but life in you."
But the article has little to say about this kind of ambition--an ambition to be the least among people so that God might raise up--not in this life but the life to come.

I was trying to get at some these things in this previous post. Self-exaltation can mask itself. It does not have to appear pretentious or arrogant. It can be for a great good--or at least great good as we perceive it.

Ambition that is driven by a theology of glory, even if is non-arrogant in seeking to do good for others, is still a theology of glory. Our ambition needs to eschew not only arrogance but glory as man perceives it. The glory of God is accomplished in a theology of the cross and thus my ministry must model a theology of the cross.

In a day and age where we "brand" ourselves and must publicize our effectiveness in order to get a hearing, the minister of the gospel can have all sorts of ambitions and may even decry being arrogant--but bigness of ambitions that are not ambitions for lowliness and self-crucify may just be a theology of glory. Hear me very clearly: big ministries and successful ministries may be a sign of God's hand upon them and we should never be jealous or assume guilty motives. But a non-arrogant desire to do the most good and a hope that our actions of good will be extraordinary and rise about the mass of men so that there good is distinguishably good may just be ambitions for self-exaltation rather than ambitions of the cross and humiliation like our Lord. We need to do more than juxtapose arrogance with ambition and assume the former is bad and the latter is good. The sin of pride can ensnare my ambition in ways far deeper than arrogance. 

In the Heidelberg Disputation, Martin Luther wrote: "22. That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened." While someone doesn't have to proclaim themselves arrogantly, when our ambition "sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man" we have a theology of glory not of the cross. God's divine power is revealed in the weakness of the cross--and so his divine power may be revealed in the weakness of our ambitions not necessarily their strength. Or maybe we should have strong ambitions, like our Lord, strong ambitions to die and be nobodies so that God's kingdom may be exalted.

(For an introduction to Luther's Theology of the Cross see this essay by Carl Trueman)

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Church Reformed

One of the hallmark phrases of the Reformation is: 'ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei.'


I pointed out that the phrase is often slaughtered down to "always reforming" which can be a church just following the current trend. 

Along these lines, Michael Horton writes:

"As Barth pointed out, ecclesia semper reformanda (the church always being reformed), divorced from the rest of the slogan, "according to the word of God," identified the church with modern progress--keeping up with the spirit of the age. I would add that the drive in Protestant bodies to conform the gospel to the spirit of the age has often invokes the Spirit apart from and even sometimes against the Word in its activity of "always reforming." However, as Barth observes, "singing a new song" and "always being reformed" are only commendable goals if they are invitations to courageous and obedient faith rather than simply following the spirit of the age. It means that the church is always being reformed, not reforming itself, submitting itself to the judgement of the God's Word and asking anew whether its confession and practice are in accord with Scripture. Only in this way is any church truly apostolic."

People and Place: A Covenant Ecclessiology. p.223.

On the use of the Spirit over and against the Word, I am reminded of Martin Luther's wisdom: "The devil has no better way to conquer us than by leading us away from the Word and to the Spirit." (Table Talk 54:97)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Just a Contrarian Thought on Language

I was reading a blog the other week, and I can't remember exactly where it was, but it was arguing against using the phrase "Biblical Christian." It was briefly stated that this was a sort of redundant phrase like "true truth." You aren't really saying anything or adding anything. The argument was drop it and just say "Christian" or say "truth." 

If I recall, the blog was by some sort of theologically liberal/progressive or even emergent/post-emergent, or what ever the buzz words now are.

Here's the problem, in most cases saying "Biblical Christian" would be redundant and indeed it should be. Saying that "the truth is true" should be redundant or the even arguing for that the Bible is true and inerrant is equally repetitive.

Sometimes I wish this repetition was unnecessary. However, I would argue that there are times that this repetition is needed and helpful because other people have come along and moved the goal posts. Someone starts defining a Christian along cultural terms or other terms besides commitment to the Bible. Now I agree that going to far and they have used the word "Christian" in a wrong way. However, most times they keep the label and argue for their place in the big tent. So the term "Biblical Christian" is then added by those who have not moved to clarify their position over against those who have added something to the term Christian. 

It's a helpful move and its actually an attempt to keep things simple--even if prior to the rise of a new movement/idea the clarification is unnecessary. 

The rise of the term "inerrancy" can be charted along similar lines. It was fine to say "infallible" and "true" but then people started using those terms in a way that added meaning to the idea. So "infallible" for some became "true on spiritual matters, but potentially false/misleading on historical issues." People claimed that "the Bible is true" but then caveated it was "true in a certain way." Thus "inerrant truth" was a clarification that indeed it really is true in all things since truth has no error.

Even "true truth" functions similarly. When the notion of "truth" became associated with subjectivism and certain postmodern theories, the phrase "true truth" can be used as a layman's term for a correspondence theory of truth that say "truth corresponds to the way thing actually are in reality (not some spiritual or reader response notion that might not comport to 'the way things actually are.'" It was an attempt to say the truth is not less than objective (although it may entail more than that).

So my contrarian thought is that its nice to quip that we shouldn't add phrases like "Biblical" to "Christian" or even say "Biblical isn't a word in the Bible." Or we should stick to "Christian" and "truth" without additives. That would be a nice sentiment if we weren't forced by false teachers and opponents to Biblical doctrine to modify language in defense of the truth in order to defend concepts and Biblical doctrines that have been handed down to the saints once for all in the Bible.

Church history, to some degree, has always responded this way. It would be nice if everybody at Nicea could have just said "Jesus is God" but because people were adding an * and saying *but not God in the way the Father was God, the term homoousia became a good and necessary clarification to remain faithful to Biblical doctrine found in Scripture.

Monday, July 25, 2011

King David vs. Nietzsche: Thoughts on True Sonship and Exaltation

Consider David's rise to power on the throne of Israel. It is essentially an exaltation by the hand of the Lord because David was humble and lowly before Him. In 2 Samuel it is the Lord's hand that grants David his military victories. David inquires of the Lord whether he should go out to attack the Philistines (2 Sam. 6). The Lord grants the victory. In 2 Samuel 8, the Lord gives David victory from all the enemies that surround Israel. The geography of 2 Samuel 8 draws attention to the West, North, East and South. David subdues the enemies. He is God's warrior being granted God's victory. The Lord establishes.

We are then told:
2 Samuel 8:15 So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people. 
Then we are taken to chapter 9 where we see David showing this justice and righteousness. David shows 'hesed' to Mephibosheth. This was not only the grandson of his greatest enemy, but a cripple. The strong king does not crush the weak but in showing justice and righteousness he keeps his covenant with Jonathan and raises up the lowly Mephibosheth who considers himself a dog.

Interestingly Goliath had lauded his glory "am I a dog." Why should such military might kneel before a shepherd boy. The Lord's hand is with David and he crushes God's enemies as the servant of the Lord. The Lord raises up his annointed. But when Mephibosheth says before the king in lowliness: "who I am a dead dog?!" he is raised up. 

David shows pity and mercy on the meek and lowly. It is actions of justice and righteousness. It is covenant faithfulness of the part of David. It is image bearing--as David exercises the attributes of God himself.  David show mercy of a lowly cripple man and make him a son, much like God showed mercy of a lowly shepherd and made him son/king in an adoption and installment.

This is what the Davidic King does:
Psalm 72:12 For he delivers the needy when he calls,the poor and him who has no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,and saves the lives of the needy.

But now contrast this with the ethic of Nietzsche. Nietzsche believed the strong seize power in a grand movement of self-exaltation. They are not to have pity of the weak because it undermines there power and the establishment of their power. It is the road of self-exaltation. Weakness is evil and showing kindness and pity (even hesed) on the weak is a great moral evil.

Consider:
“What is good?--Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself, in man. What is evil?--Whatever springs from weakness. What is happiness?--The feeling that power increases--that resistance is overcome. Not contentment, but more power; not peace at any price, but war; not virtue, but efficiency (virtue in the Renaissance sense, virtu, virtue free of moral acid). The weak and the botched shall perish: first principle of our charity. And one should help them to it. What is more harmful than any vice?--Practical sympathy for the botched and the weak-- Christianity...” -- ‘The Anti-Christ’ #2
Or:
“Christianity is called the religion of pity.-- Pity stands in opposition to all the tonic passions that augment the energy of the feeling of aliveness: it is a depressant. A man loses power when he pities. Through pity that drain upon strength which suffering works is multiplied a thousandfold. Suffering is made contagious by pity; under certain circumstances it may lead to a total sacrifice of life and living energy--a loss out of all proportion to the magnitude of the cause (--the case of the death of the Nazarene).” “This is the first view of it; there is, however, a still more important one. If one measures the effects of pity by the gravity of the reactions it sets up, its character as a menace to life appears in a much clearer light. Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life in so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life itself a gloomy and dubious aspect.”” --The Anti-Christ#7

And yet where did Nietzsche end up? N.D. Wilson writes:
"One year later [after the Anti-Christ was published in 1888] Nietzsche entered into madness. True or false, the story is that he was overcome by the sight of a horse being whipped. Unhinged by pity. He wouldn't die until 1900. For a decade he was kept alive and maintained through his insanity, strokes, and incapacitating illness... "The weak and the botched shall perish: the first principle of our charity. And one should help them to it." Spake the paralytic. The man fed with a spoon by those who loved him." Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, pp.124-25.
Nietzsche became dependent upon the very pity and compassion that he loathed. The very humanity of the Christianity ethic which Nietzsche ridiculed the maker for, is the very thing that brought him low and became the source of his survival. Brought low in arrogance, he was now dependent upon pity. There is a sense that Nietzsche was like a Nebuchadnezzar brought to madness by his rejection of God.

David vs. Nietzsche. It is a good reminder of Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:

2 “There is none holy like the Lord;
there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low and he exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
and on them he has set the world.

9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
for not by might shall a man prevail.
10 The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces;
against them he will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the power of his anointed.”


The ultimate King the Lord exalts is not David but Jesus. Jesus is the true second Adam and image bearer of God.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What Summer Heat Teaches Us

In Christianity, the guilt of sin is more than the psychological feeling of guilt that many today have made it. Guilt is a legal concept in Biblical language. It comes before God the judge and it is an objective position not a subjective feeling. That is not to deny the weight of sin emotionally and physically upon a person. Consider:


Psalm 31:9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also. 10 For my life is spent with sorrow And my years with sighing; My strength has failed because of my iniquity, And my body has wasted away.  
Psalm 32:3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.
The last line of Psalm 32:4 is a good reminder to us as we go through the heat of the summer right now. the heat can feel oppressive. It drains us. It weighs heavily on us. We can easily identify the heat as the cause. Unfortunately, people often go through life with unconfessed sin or unrepentant of sin as a whole. This can weigh on a person and even, according to the Psalmist, bring physically consequences. (Obvious as a caveat, not all physical issues are the result of sin [direct or indirect] on our part). 

Even the person who suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness may still feel the weight of sin either as a psychological burden or a physical burden. Whoa to the counselor who convinces the sinner they shouldn't feel guilty when they are in fact feeling the effects of the guilt they secretly know they have. You can suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness, but how much more painful to attempt suppressing the effects of suppressing the truth of God in unrighteous.

The way to beat the summer heat is to find the love and foregivness of God through repenting and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Christian caught in sin, should appeal to their Advocate in heaven who stands ready to aid and comfort them.

Frank Schaeffer on Evangelical Violence UPDATED

It strikes me as more than a bit odd that the Left is fine with civil disobedience when it suits there cause but as an inability to recognize non-violent civil disobedience can equally be practiced by those with conservative values or more specifically evangelical Christians. 

Witness Frank Schaeffer's diatribe against the conservative Evangelical and his confusion of passive resistant and lawful protest with taking up the sword in violence. Frank Schaeffer seems determined to let no good tragedy go to waste as he comments on recent events in Norway. He pulls together a perfect storm of Christians, Nazis, Jihadists and racists so that he can pin the behaviors of the latter three squarely on the feet of the evangelical Christians. Frank Schaeffer's point is hardly more than a little self serving "I predicted it." And much like the blogger who parades his 'evidence' to champion for the latest conspiracy theory, Schaeffer's post really won't convince any one other than those already convinced. Every prophet has his choir.

But we are told that because the Mahattan declares declares that Christians will not submit to unjust laws then we will take vengeance into our own hands--a leap of logic with little justification demonstrating no ability to understand the true nature of Christian ethics. One would thing regardless of who can claim Martin Luther King Jr., we would at least be familiar with non-violent resistance as refusal to obey unjust laws and refusal for unjust violence in the face of such unjust laws. Schaeffer quotes quotes the Manhattan declaration:
"We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act . . . nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s."
So this is akin to raising up violence and terror? In fact, peaceful resistance that says "we must obey God not man" will lead to unlawful violence, according to Frank Schaeffer. We are told that Christian Jihadist is the next step:
"Terror is on the way on the way from our very own Christian and/or Libertarian “Tea Party” type activists inspired by right wing “Christian” intellectuals and political leaders like Bachmann who – after the killing starts -- will then disown them and express horror at their actions, actions that are in fact the logical extension of the anti-government rhetoric spewing from Congress and the religious right."
Anyone vaguely familiar with Christian ethics or the Bible recognizes that Christian find Romans 13 as binding--that the government bares authority from God. So that while we must obey God and not man when they are in conflict, we still have the responsibility to submit to the state and not become insurrectionists. The overwhelming majority of conservative Christians recognize that even bad government is instituted by God and are not crying for a revolt of human means with weapons and violence.

This reminds me of the words of D.G. Hart on the Religious Right (of which he is no fan):

[T]he Religious Right is simply in continuity with a swath of American Protestantism that many religious historians regard not as extremist but as mainstream, tolerant, and respectable. Granted, the Religious Right had the bad timing to show up after many Protestants had capitulated to some sort of secular America, and they did not always show an awareness of how America had changed not just religiously but demographically after the 1960s. (This was actually the point of the Religious Right’s complaints – they didn’t like what the nation was becoming. Since when is complaining so scary or unAmerican?) But to portray people who differ little from previous generations of Americans as those who nurture terrorist ideas and actions is to show a real ignorance of the field in which you are supposed to be an expert. 
This may be an odd point coming from a writer who regularly chastises the Religious Right. I have not changed my assessment of evangelical politics. I think it is flawed theologically and politically. But I sleep relatively well each night, despite my criticisms, because I know born-again Protestants, however mad they may be at me, believe in an important piece of Moses’ law – namely, the sixth (as Protestants count them) commandment. (Emphasis mine)
As to the whole of Frank Schaeffer's essay, Denny Burk is right: "Wrong tone, wrong time, wrong analysis. Wrong everything." The more Frank Schaeffer writes and the more he comes across with an axe to grind and a genuine hatred of people different from himself (and those with little more than traditional moral values) the more Carl Trueman's analysis at Reformation 21 is vindicated (see here and here for examples). "does Frank Schaeffer demonstrate any ability within the book to understand this `Other' on any terms other than his own?  Not at all." (here)

UPDATE: It may be too soon to tell much about the details of the alleged shooter, but over at GetReligion.org Mollie has a pretty good breakdown of how The Atlantic jumped the gun in declaring the shooter as a Christian. We apparently have a whole lot more about his background including interest in growing organic vegetable (a sure sign that he was up to know good) than an nominal Christian beliefs. According to a Norwegian blog that tracks conservative extremists cited at GetReligion.org, he wasn't really Christian and was more of a neo-fascist and Masonic.


In other words, one policeman unverifiable said he was a Christian extremist, there is little evidence of it, we know somethings about other influences, but the media ran with "Christian Extremists" because it (a) grabs headlines and (b) fits the meme.


Check out http://www.getreligion.org/2011/07/the-atlantic-has-the-terrorist-all-figured-out/ 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jesus, True Servanthood and Alternative forms of Self-Exaltation

This morning I was translating Matthew 12:15-21. Two things struck me. (1) Jesus' ordering people to not to make him known; (2) the fulfillment of Isaiah as "he will not quarrel or cry aloud." 

This ordering of Jesus not to make him know is a theme in Mark, sometimes called the Messianic Secret. (Of course, William Wrede who proposed the concept did so because he believed that Jesus' own ministry was non-Messianic, and later gospel writers & the early church wanted to make it Messianic so they explained away Jesus' alleged silence of the matter with a 'keep it secret motif'.)

However, the silence itself seems to be a Messianic fulfillment, or at least as Matthew portrays it. The Servant of God is largely silent and does not come merely to stir up trouble--although trouble will follow. As the Messianic Servant, Jesus is humble and therefore not self-exalting. If people were to find out who he is, they would want to raise him up as the wrong kind of Messiah, as opposed to the Messiah who gives his life as a ransom for many. 

Thus, Jesus' tact in turning from the Pharisees in the synagogue to the crowds and healing them, is not an abandonment of the powerful and a turning towards the proletariat--as if when you can't seize power structures take yourself directly to the masses. This is precisely how most power structures work and how many would be Messiahs seize their power.

Consider one contemporary example: the MSM and the rise of new media. The MSM largely locked up a monolithic viewpoint and appointed itself as gate keepers to news and information. However, the rise of the internet, blogs and alternative media, has given rise to a wealth of so-called "citizen journalists" who police themselves and send their appeals right to the people for the people to weigh in and judge the effectiveness of their methods, content and analysis. When a large group of people saw their conservative perspective largely locked out of the halls of power in the media, they took themselves to the masses and have had some success.  I'm not judging this as good or bad--although it certainly has elements of both. It just is what it is.

Jesus' withdrawal is not a convert attempt to seize power or appeal to masses and win crowd support when he couldn't win the power brokers. It is Jesus serving. It is about the utter demonstration of humility under God and before the people by the servant of the Lord. (Thus it is fulfillment of the Davidic office and true humanity).

Jesus' refusal to quarrel and cry out is not a passive aggressive tactic. Rather it is the exemplification of servanthood. This servanthood will be fulfilled in the ultimate event of the cross where he fulfills Isaiah 53:7 "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth." (see Matthew 26:63 and Acts 8:32).

Jesus refused to use his healing as anything other than as the Servant of the Lord who comforts and heals the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. While his acts were inditements upon the Pharisees who rejected the Kingdom of God because the activity of the Spirit in healing and especially casting out demons is itself a proclamation that the Kingdom of God is at hand, Jesus does not engage in healing for self-exaltation. Therefore, he is not crying out, quarreling, or allowing people to 'hear his voice in the streets.'

While his activity, particularly as Lord of the Sabbath, leads to a natural confrontation, Jesus engages in such as a servant and therefore finds it appropriate to withdraw and humbly serve and heal forbidding others to draw attention to who he is and thereby cause mistakes about the nature of his Messiahship. Thus, when confronted by the power brokers of the Pharisees, his act of retreat is not to play the victim card to the masses but to humbly, and ever more quietly serve and be about his Father's business. It is not a dodge, because he will go the cross. The conflict is inevitable but unlike those who seek conflict for self-exaltation and play the victim to the crowds, Jesus remains resolute to the true nature of the task and his true servanthood.

Victimization, silence and doing good for the larger people in confrontation to power can be just as much an act of self-exalation. It can be a bold pride: if I can't become "the man" then I'll "stick it to the man." If I can grasp the power, I'll subvert the power and get what I wanted anyways. It is a cruelest form of sour-grapes. But a careful observer will see if for what it is: when confronted with an inability to exalt oneself one merely changes the tact. Serving and mass appeal in bypassing the halls of power becomes a new road to fame and glory. There is a kind of serving that secretly reveals in the the attention it attracts to itself. This is just a new form of self-exaltation.

There is a vast differences between true humility, resigning ourselves to God and in due time trusting that he will exalt us (since God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble) and using humility with a sort of lowly "I'm everyman" as a backhand form of rising above everyman in self-exalting triumph and glory. True humility is unconcerned if and when the exaltation will come because one has resolved simply to the servant. True humility finds no threat from being silent, it can toil away and draw no attention to itself. Proclaiming and reveling in the humility that you have or the service you offer and being sure that it is recognized because "it serves a greater good" can be just another backwoods path to the same mountaintop of glory we once sought by other means. In this respect how different is the Lord's servanthood different from the shadowy images we often find today.

Christians could learn a thing or two from the Lord is this respect. In our culture "victimization" can be a form of seeking masse appeal and exaltation when we are ground down by those we oppose. It is the antithesis of Jesus, especially in passages like Matthew 12:15-21 Consider the words of Os Guinness from his The Case for Civility:
As one who believes that the call of Jesus is to a path of suffering that shuts the door to every form of victim-playing, I am angered by organizers of the Religious Right who play the victim card and appeal openly to Christian resentment. . . . 
Do they not know that those who portray themselves as victims come to perceive themselves as victims and then to paralyze themselves as victims? . . . 
But whether "victimization" then or a "war on Christians" now, such tactics of the Religious Right are foolish, ineffective, and downright anti-Christian. The problem is not that these people are theocrats, but that they are sub-Christian. They do not violate the separation of church and state so much as they violate Christian integrity. Factually, it is dead wrong for Christians to portray themselves as a minority, let alone as persecuted. Christians are as close to a majority community as any group in America; what their fellow Christians are facing today in China, North Korea, Burma, and Sudan is real persecution. 
Psychologically, victim-playing is dangerous because it represents what Nietzsche called "the politics of the tarantula," a base appeal to resentment. But worst of all, it is spiritually hypocritical, for nothing so contradicts their claim to represent "Christian values" as their refusal to follow the teaching and example of Jesus of Nazareth by playing the victim card and finding an excuse not to love their enemies. Shame, shame, shame on such people; and woe, woe, woe to such tactics. (qtd here)


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Things Left Unsaid

J. Anderson Thomson is a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia. He serves as a trustee of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Clare Aukofer is a medical writer. They are the authors of "Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith."
The basic thesis is that God is not revealed to man as if he was real, rather man makes God. Religion is a man-made construct. God is made in our image according to what we want or psychological need or construct not man made in the image of God. An argument like this is at least as old as Ludwig Feuerbach. This one is spruced up a bit with evolutionary and psychological data--"empirical evidence" or at least that is what the authors point to since very little direct evidence is discussed in a short op-ed.

The first part of the essay seeks to argue that there are natural explanations for religious beliefs and a general religious consciousness:
In recent years scientists specializing in the mind have begun to unravel religion's "DNA." They have produced robust theories, backed by empirical evidence (including "imaging" studies of the brain at work), that support the conclusion that it was humans who created God, not the other way around. And the better we understand the science, the closer we can come to "no heaven … no hell … and no religion too."
Like our physiological DNA, the psychological mechanisms behind faith evolved over the eons through natural selection. They helped our ancestors work effectively in small groups and survive and reproduce, traits developed long before recorded history, from foundations deep in our mammalian, primate and African hunter-gatherer past.

So the basic argument is that religion can be explained through evolutionary process. Faith has evolved and it served a purpose to help our ancestors. But of course, religion is bad or at least unnecessary. While the author do not say it, they assume that religion is "untrue." After all man makes God, not the other way around.

Religion is a sort of coping mechanism for those with parent issues--the weak who need to envision someone strong just to handle life:
Individual survival was enhanced by protectors, beginning with our mothers. Attachment is reinforced physiologically through brain chemistry, and we evolved and retain neural networks completely dedicated to it. We easily expand that inborn need for protectors to authority figures of any sort, including religious leaders and, more saliently, gods. God becomes a super parent, able to protect us and care for us even when our more corporeal support systems disappear, through death or distance.
So religion handed down by natural selection is bad. We do not need religion, especially not for morality. We've explained it away. And let's grant for the sake of argument that this is right.

However, then the authors continue:
Morality, which some see as imposed by gods or religion on savage humans, science sees as yet another adaptive strategy handed down to us by natural selection.
Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom notes that "it is often beneficial for humans to work together … which means it would have been adaptive to evaluate the niceness and nastiness of other individuals." In groundbreaking research, he and his team found that infants in their first year of life demonstrate aspects of an innate sense of right and wrong, good and bad, even fair and unfair. When shown a puppet climbing a mountain, either helped or hindered by a second puppet, the babies oriented toward the helpful puppet. They were able to make an evaluative social judgment, in a sense a moral response.

But what is the criterion for judging this "adaptive strategy" good when we've been told that the other adaptive strategy is bad? If evolutionary processes were bad to produce religious beliefs how do we know that such co-dependancy and mutual help is "good." In fact, why could they not be equally bad?

If you argue: well the benefits of helping one another are obviously good. Are they? Nietzsche argued in his book The AntiChrist, that pity and aid was despicable and agains the law of natural selection. If evolutionary process gave us religion, and according to this essay, we now know that it is bad--maybe we just aren't enlightened enough to realize that evolution duped us with another coping mechanism: helping people for an alleged mutual benefit.

Even more, we are told when religion leads to war it is bad:
"Among the psychological adaptations related to religion are our need for reciprocity, our tendency to attribute unknown events to human agency, our capacity for romantic love, our fierce "out-group" hatreds and just as fierce loyalties to the in groups of kin and allies. Religion hijacks these traits. The rivalry between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, for example, or the doctrinal battles between Protestant and Catholic reflect our "groupish" tendencies."
Of course, religious wars are wrong. But given the authors arguments, how do we not know that they psychological feelings produced are not just an outworking of our need to survive in an animal world. Perhaps evolution has given us a psychological coping mechanism and justification for what is plainly seen through the animal kingdom: survival of the fittest. If one religious party destroys another maybe it is good not for religious reasons but for pragmatic reasons: the fittest have dominated.

The main point of the essay is to show neurological explanations on naturalistic and materialistic ground for the presences of religious beliefs.
Beyond psychological adaptations and mechanisms, scientists have discovered neurological explanations for what many interpret as evidence of divine existence. Canadian psychologist Michael Persinger, who developed what he calls a "god helmet" that blocks sight and sound but stimulates the brain's temporal lobe, notes that many of his helmeted research subjects reported feeling the presence of "another." Depending on their personal and cultural history, they then interpreted the sensed presence as either a supernatural or religious figure. It is conceivable that St. Paul's dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus was, in reality, a seizure caused by temporal lobe epilepsy.
The better we understand human psychology and neurology, the more we will uncover the underpinnings of religion. Some of them, like the attachment system, push us toward a belief in gods and make departing from it extraordinarily difficult. But it is possible.

First there is a logical fallacy here. Explaining the psychological and neurological underpinnings of religion does necessarily verify or falsify said beliefs. In an evolutionary view my eye has evolved to interpret red as red, unless of am color blind. But whether or not I can see color does not falsify or verify that red is red and there is a unique color to it. "Redness" is determined from outside the interpreter.

Strictly speaking determining psychological and neurological underpinnings does not verify or falsify religions or the existence of God. It seems that this is an all to common fallacy that the new atheists continually repeat. Scientists made be good in their field but they show little understanding of philosophical and the kind of arguments necessary for philosophical justification. There is more in reason required than just empirical evidence--a fact that seems to blind the new atheist for all their lauding of reason and pronouncements that they are the 'brights.' This is the thing left unsaid: determining "the psychological and neurological underpinnings" does not prove a thing true or untrue.

If for the sake of argument, belief in God is untrue--there could still be reasonable psychological benefits to encourage people to hold on to man made beliefs. Finding psychological explanations does not necessarily argue that such things are not beneficial even if the mislead. Of course the authors think they are mislead--but they are appealing to abandoning them on the grounds that they are untrue. We are not told why we should abandon something. For example, love is a construct that has psychological underpinnings. Maybe love is untrue because it is based on a chemical process (something you'd have to argue). Assume for a minute love is untrue. There would still be good reasons to use love and enjoy it: it makes a person feel good. 

The best evidence is from their own essay: we are given underpinnings for religion and it is bad. We are given underpinnings for love, altruism and mutual aid and we are told it is good. According to the essay religion is a man made construct--but then so is every other human emotion that drives us to do good. What are we left to use? The authors tell us: "We owe it to ourselves to at least consider the real roots of religious belief, so we can deal with life as it is, taking advantage of perhaps our mind's greatest adaptation: our ability to use reason." 

Ah yes, reason. They are honest that it too is an adaptation. How do we know it is a good one? More things left unsaid.

If you are going to argue for something you cannot assume it to be true in order to prove it true through "empirical evidence." Maybe we are expecting too much of a short essay but in order to convince thinking people is it too much to ask that it not leave so many loose ends?

Only for the extreme Gnostic, who casts off the physical, or for the materialist, who denies the supernatural and unseen spiritual, does discovering "psychological and neurological underpinnings" constitute "proof" of the nonexistence of God or the falsity of religious belief.

Christian believe however that God uses secondary causes and means. While there are issues with the essay and the reliance on strictly "empirical evidence," nothing in this essay even comes close to confronting or attacking religious beliefs of the Christian kind--despite what the authors may think.

In the end, the authors have puffed up their own worldview showing that they are largely trapped in their own sort of fundamentalism with little ability to hear or counter the arguments of those who might disagree with them. For its lauding of reason, there is some basic lacking of justification, logic and substance in the essay. Maybe that is better left unsaid lest we discover the emperor has no clothes. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Get out and Play with Your Kids

There is a lot of talk out there about Father's taking their kids on 'Daddy dates.' That is all well and good. While some it does not really acknowledge the difficulties of the added expenses this can add to families who are barely making ends meet, most of it is full of good practical suggestions and even tips to keep the cost down. All of it is good if you are spending time with your kids.

Maybe I'm missing something, but why isn't there an equal or even more important emphasis on playing with your kids? I don't want to pit "Daddy dates" against "playtime" or something like that because both are about loving your kids and spending quality and quantity time with your kids.

But my exhortation to dad's is: play with your kids. Just play with them. A lot of emphasis is put on these dates, and setting them aside, picking the restaurant, and what you say, do and teach on them. Yes, that's good and fine. But just play with them! Lighten up and have a little fun. Again this isn't either/or unless you make it that way. My fear is some might get so legalistic and structured about "Daddy-dates" that you just miss out on playing with your kids.

1. Play with them in all seasons. Seasons of weather: do you go out in the snow, in the rain, in the sun? Seasons of life: toddlers, kids, pre-teen, teen, etc. The games will change over the years and through the seasons.

2. Play different types of games. Formal, informal. Wrestling, tickle, make a game, rough house outside, sit down for a quite game. Built a fort inside. Throw ball, ride bikes, swing. Etc. Etc.

3. Use your imagination and indulge your children's imaginations. Playing with your kids is one of the few chances you have to act like a kid again without your wife yelling at you ("Hey, I'm just playing with the kids dear.") You can cut lose and unwind. It can be refreshing. My kids sometimes come up with the most bizarre games, but for 30-40 minutes I get a chance to enter their world where the rules sometimes work a little different. (Although we don't get as crazy Calvin & Hobbes' Calvinball--but you get the idea).

I'm not going to go into all the studies about imagination and what it can do for your kids, but they are out there. Should we get involved and participate in such fun?

4. Play the games they want to play. Nothing means more to your kid than knowing they have your undivided attention and you are doing something for them. That means if you have girls and they like dolls, guess what Dad, you now like dolls and dress up. Believe me, I've dressed more Barbies than I care to count. 

5. Playing can invoke strong bonds. Nothing is more fun to me that walking into a room, catching the eye of my 17 month old and suddenly begin to stomp my feet and in a deep voice moan "FEE-FI-FOO-FUMB"... my daughter will turn with glee and run screaming because she knows I'm going to chase her. That's our game. It's time I get to show my daughter love and we both end up laughing in our play. A "date" means nothing right now to a 17month old--but uninterrupted play for just a few minutes will light up her face.

So those are my thoughts, just play with your kids. Some of my best memories as a kid are my Dad playing with me. Some of my best memories with my kids come from unscripted playing. And the best part, I get to be a kid again too.

So don't just take your kids on "dates"-- play with them. That's all I'm going to say, because I need to go outside and play.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

David & Jonathan in Redemptive Historical Preaching

Yesterday, I commented on Redemptive Historical preaching. The challenges of redemptive historical preaching is to use Scripture as God intended and be sure that our applications take into account the fulness of God's revelation that comes in Christ. Thus, we read the Old Testament as eschatological precisely because that is the way the God wrote it: it points ultimately to Jesus. The second challenge is not to deny the myriad of applications that flow from the text to our daily lives. Thus the text still instructs us, corrects us, rebukes us, trains us. It is still an example to our lives--for those of us who live in the "already/not yet" kingdom tension.

One illustration of how this might work comes from a sermon I preached several years ago on 1 Samuel 20 and David & Jonathan's Covenant. 

The ultimate focus of the narrative is that David is the true king and Jonathan covenants himself to the King. 1 and 2 Samuel is replete with examples of hesed or lack thereof both between God and men and between human persons. In fact, we could argue that one is in right covenant with God, then one will act rightly towards men.

David's ascent to the throne comes through his humility and obedience (a Christ-motif). While for example, Saul who exalts himself, takes God's Word into his own hands and breaks it, finds himself humbled. Along the way in 1 and 2 Samuel various characters support or detract from this larger movement. In many ways Hannah's prayer has set this tone for the book. Ultimately the Lord will exalt his annointed and his does this through his servant David with whom he makes an unconditional covenant.

In 1 Samuel 20, we can make some of the following applications to Kingship (ultimately Christ) and true friendship with is always most faithful when Christ is the Lord of the friendship:

A. The central application of the passage is to teach us how to respond to the true king.
1. The LORD raises up an ally for David from the most unlikely family line.  Jonathan submits to David not simply as a friend, or an equal, but to the one who is the anointed king of Israel. Notice the time when Jonathan submits to David—Jonathan submits when David appears to be “losing”. Imagine the lasting consequence if Jonathan would have used this event to break the covenant he made in chapter 18 and thereby ‘stab David in the back’. Thus, we are to be encouraged and marvel at God’s providence in using a faithful servant to the king, a loyal friend!

2. We are to submit to God’s true King. Jonathan’s submission to God leads him to submit to God’s anointed. In submitting to God’s anointed, he abandons his own desires. Jonathan’s loyalty to God brings a natural loyalty to God’s king. Contrast this with Saul: He failed to obey God and thus was unwilling to submit to God’s king.

3. We are to put the interests of the King before our own interests. Jonathan puts the interests of the king before his personal interests. 

4. In Jonathan, we learn to put the eternal interests of the kingdom before any personal desires for the kingdom. What does submission to the true King look like today? How often do people pretend to worship and obey God but stand unwilling to submit to Christ as our sovereign LORD?

5. By the grace of the gospel, our submission to Christ, the true anointed one, privileges us (1) to a covenant relationship with Him and (2) a real abiding friendship with Him.

John 15:14 “You are My friends if you do what I command you.  
John 15:15 “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. 

6. We are to be encouraged by seeing that loyalty to the king is not in vain.  If we look at Jonathan from a human perspective, he does the “dumb thing”. If we look at Jonathan from a human perspective, he loses everything. Yet, the LORD has exalted Jonathan by giving him the special privilege of serving David and David’s seed, Christ.

B. The secondary applications teach us about true friendship.
1. The LORD raises up the true friend. Be encouraged when a friend comes to your aid. Be encouraged by your friend, but most of all by the fact that God has raised up that friend in your life. The LORD can minister to us through a friend. The LORD can protect us through a friend. Do we look for God’s providence at work in the lives of our friends and their relationships to us?

2. True friendship arises out of a mutual relationship to the LORD and is characterized by unselfishness. This chapter is not simply good morals for friendship but it does teach us something about strong relationships. Only in our relationship to the LORD, as those redeemed, can we ever hope to have a growing, thriving relationship to those around us. In our relationship to God, through repentance and submission to Him in Christ, human sin, vanity and pride are rooted out. Only as these are rooted out, can we hope to establish real fruitful relationships.

3. True friendship involves personal loyalty. Jonathan assumes personal risk in defending David and David’s innocence. Jonathan’s friendship was not self-serving but served David and the Kingdom of God. Jonathan’s loyalty to David is a covenant loyalty. What kind of loyalty do we cultivate in our friendships? True loyalty to each other can only be cultivated out of loyalty to God. As people united to God in Christ, we are also to be united to each other in real true loyal unselfish relationships.

4. What do our friendships look like? What are they based on? How do we relate to our friends? What do we talk with them about? Do we spur each other on in our relationships before God? Do we talk about the Bible with our friends? Do we talk about Christian issues? Do we pray with our friends? Does our friendship cultivate our relationship to God? Sometimes even our friendships with other Christians never really spur us on in our Christian walk.  In our friendships, whose best interests do we have in view? Our own? Our friend’s? Our LORD’s?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Trueman, Judges & Redemptive Historical Preaching

I believe that redemptive historical preaching from the Old Testament is important and central to how we should use the New Testament in the church. Yet, there is a right way and a wrong way, I believe, to apply  redemptive historical preaching.

Redemptive historical preaching is not:

1. A hermeneutical "Where's Waldo" where you magically find Jesus. The redemptive historical nature of the sermon should arise from the text of Scripture itself. Scripture in it ultimate context of the whole Bible points to Jesus as the fulfillment of the revelation of various types, genres and places given through the Old Testament.

2. It is not an add-on to the sermon. It is not something that you just through in as if "oh, by the way: Jesus." Rather it takes the nature of the text seriously.

3. It is not opposed to giving prescriptions and underlying morals sometimes called "Law." By 'Law' I do not mean more narrowly the Torah or the genre but more theologically when the Reformers, for example talked about any and all moral prescriptions as "law, not gospel." Gospel centered preaching (e.g. redemptive historical preaching) is not opposed to the so-called 'third use of the law' in the life of the believer.

Redemptive Historical preaching is:
1. An effort to ground all moral exhortation that may arise from the text, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This means that when the text (for example a narrative) gives the people clear imperatives (they should/not live like this) the preacher will preach the imperatives but ground them in the ultimate context of the indicative: those things that Jesus Christ has accomplished.

2. An effort to see all of Scripture as God's Word and for all of God's people. Thus the Old Testament can serve as an "as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). See my thoughts here. Redemptive historical preaching recognizes the value the Old Testament because the whole Bible is God's covenant revelation to his one people comprised of Old Testament and New Testament saints. Thus to say that Christ is the center of Biblical revelation and this revelation culminates in Christ as the fulfillment of Scriptures, is not to say that there are secondary and tertiary applications that we make to the people of God.

3. Redemptive historical preaching finds Christ as the culmination of the Biblical text. This means we recognize the eschatology of the Bible that for the believer in the New Covenant we are those "on whom the end of the ages has come." This changes our location in God's economy from that of the Old Testament saint. Namely, we live in an inaugurated eschaton of the 'already/not yet.' As we let Scripture interpret Scripture, we must allow for the fullness of God's revelation in Christ to have bearing on the text. In other words, our applications of the text will not always take the same form as those of the Old Covenant saints, in the same way that for example the importance of the ceremonial law does not take the same form in the Old Covenant as it does in the New Covenant.

I am not saying the Word of God is different or that it changes. Rather, we must recognize how redemptive history unfolds and moves to a climax. 

This can be difficult to describe and difficult to practice. Every sermon should center on Jesus, the gospel and the Kingdom that has come--yet this is not to say that we make getting to Christ as something we treat as mundane or repetitive. For example, preaching through an Old Testament book does not mean every sermon points to Jesus in the same repetitive way. If this is the case the preacher becomes no better than the caricature we make of preacher who just "tack an altar call on" at the end of the message whether it fits or not.

This are challenges that, I think, once the basic framework of hermeneutics and exposition is laid out to the preacher in his training, he just has to get his hands "dirty" in the text. 


He writes,
Preaching on Judges 19, one could moralise and make the application `Do not dismember people,' but that would seem rather pointless in most congregations; alternatively, one could apply redemptive historical categories and point from the failure of the judges to Christ.  But then how does one avoid preaching basically the same sermon each week?  `Well, ladies and gentlemen, this judge failed; so lets spend the last 34 of our 35 sermon minutes talking about Jesus.....'  No doubt that would be a true sermon, but after thirty weeks it would be unutterably boring and raise serious questions in the mind of the congregation about why they were paying their minister, when he only seemed to have the one sermon.

He then illustrates how he handled the text:
The general keys I have tried to use in order to overcome these two temptations are, first, a constant reflection on the fact that the book is about the decline and fall of the people of God.  It is not a paradigm of how the world goes to the dogs; it is a sorry tale of how God's people go to the dogs.  Second, (and for this insight I am indebted to my colleague, Greg Beale), a careful examination of the different kinds of failure exhibited by the people of God, in order to enrich our contemporary understanding of the different ways God's people can fall.

He provides more detail on some of his specific points.

Two things should be said:
1. Redemptive historical preaching is Biblical. I would encourage pastors to consult some of the better works that give instruction on it for using the Old Testament.

2. Yet, I would encourage pastors who are committed to Redemptive historical preaching: do the hard work of studying the text. We are not to be like parents microwaving macaroni and cheese every night, in a sort of vain repetition to 'feed our kids.' We are feeding people the Word of God--and that means soaking in the riches of the text and wrestling with our studies so that it is evident that all Scripture is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," (2 Tim 3:16). In other words, don't be lazy and just tack Jesus on at the end because its "obligatory." And don't be prideful thinking you can dazzle God's people with your intelligence. You don't want your people to walk away thinking your smart because "wow, Jesus wasn't there but our pastor found him." Use the text, and the text will point to Christ and the myriad of applications that flow God's Word that will correct, rebuke, exhort and train God's people. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Real Joy of a Theology Debate

So apparently my kids were in a theology debate today, according to my wife. My daughter "E" is 5 and my daughter "L" will be 8 next month.

E: "On earth Jesus is here." 
L: "Jesus is in heaven so when you die you'll see him." 
E: "Jesus is here, he's in our hearts." 
L: "yeah, but you are still a sinner."

So apparently they are debating union with Christ (and Christ formed in us) vs. his ascension bodily into heaven. Of course, it's not an either/or. Christ present in heaven, bodily, enables him to minister the Spirit which unites us to Christ.

Appropriately, right now I am working my way through Michael Horton's People and Place. He works through the importance of the ascension for Christ's administration of his church and the significance of Calvin's doctrine of the sacraments for solving the relationship between the ascension and Christ's present in the sacrament ("This is my body...").

I'm thinking that might be a little over their head... but the real joy is that my kids are wrestling over two equally clear issues in Scripture seeking to resolve what the Bible presents. This is why I love being both a pastor and a dad.

Don't Speak too Soon

I didn't follow the Casey Anthony trial other than catching a few reports about it from time to time on the news. It strikes me as a bit odd at the amount of times in the last few weeks I have heard the issues of the trial come up not just as discussion but adding commentary. Sometimes people are certain of guilt or certain   that the jury allowed a miscarriage of justice to go on.

Most of this commentary and speculating strikes me as, quite frankly, unbiblical.

Proverbs 18:17 The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

1. Consider this, other than the mediate reports about the alleged evidence the prosecution would present and perhaps a scant recounting of the argument the defense would/did make--most of us followed the trial from the outside looking in. 

2. Most of us paid attention to one side of the story, particularly the lies to the police of which Casey Anthony was convicted. We then put our moral reasoning together and say "who would do something like that?"

The reality is, just because it is morally wrong to do one thing, namely lie. And people who lie often cover for more heinous actions or may lie because of deeper moral deficiencies in their character, it is still a long way from proving guilt to the satisfactory requirement of a court of law--beyond reasonable doubt.

3. A Christian reflecting on the case, should just apply Biblical wisdom and say "I wasn't on the jury, I didn't hear all the evidence, counter-evidence, and potential reasonable doubt." The person, like you or I, standing on the outside wasn't in the courtroom and so we were not presented with the best side of both cases. For the most part, people weighing in have decided what is right without having the case examined by the opposing party-the defense. (The rare exception to these might be the serious legal analyst who followed the case closely.

4. What is trouble is the need of so many to weigh in on this. In fact, according to one pole, two-thirds of America think that Casey Anthony is guilty. The problem: justice is not about democracy. The courtroom process and trial by jury is essential--and the jury must come up with a unanimous verdict.

5. It may be that a guilty person got off. But that is far more favorable than an innocent person being condemned. Christians shouldn't be opposed to a state that establishes justice. In fact, Romans 13 and 1 Peter tells us that state has that right.

“For thousands of years, Western society has insisted that it is better for 10 guilty defendants to go free than for one innocent defendant to be wrongly convicted. This daunting standard finds its roots in the biblical story of Abraham’s argument with God about the sinners of Sodom.
Abraham admonishes God for planning to sweep away the innocent along with the guilty and asks Him whether it would be right to condemn the sinners of Sodom if there were 10 or more righteous people among them. God agrees and reassures Abraham that he would spare the city if there were 10 righteous. From this compelling account, the legal standard has emerged.
That is why a criminal trial is not a search for truth. Scientists search for truth. Philosophers search for morality. A criminal trial searches for only one result: proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” (HT: Mere Orthodoxy)
6. All this clamoring for justice in the face of a perceived injustice can be a good thing. People are still made in the image of God and so they have the works of the law of God written on their heart. Yes, sinners suppress that law--and yet a time like this reveals conscience is not eradicated in humanity despite our being dead in sin without regeneration.  Whether or not Casey Anthony is guilty isn't so much the issue as the fact that someone did something horrible and, at least for now, seems to have gotten away with it. 

A crime unpunished is injustice. There is a shout from the general public that this whole thing is unfair and a travesty. Someone has gotten away.

The Bible describes are sins against God--our failures to love him, our corruptions and things that are a travesty against justice. Sin is rebellion against the Creator of the universe. It is looking at our Maker and Creator who loves us and slapping Him in the face. To get away with it, is to get way with murder. 

Many people treat God's forgiveness of sins as if God just "forgets about sin" in a sort of "sweep it under the rug." Ironically, many people are worked up and can't just 'sweep away' the remembrance of little Caylee Anthony, nor should they. If we who are made in God's image understand that justice requires judgment upon sin, why is it that we do not apply that to our view of God? We expect God is a jolly giver who just says "Pu-shaw twasn't anything" to our horrible sin against him. 

Injustice in our world should remind us of the final judgment that awaits. The only way to be vindicated at this judgment is to be united by faith to the one who already underwent the judgment and passed it for His people. While the wages of sin is death--God sent His Son Jesus to be “the propitiation for our sins.” This means Jesus, an innocent man, stand in our place before God’s justice. Very simply, Jesus is willing because of God’s love, to stand and be punished for crimes he did not commit, all so that we could go free. This makes God both just and the justified of those who have faith in Jesus.

Friday, July 8, 2011

2 Samuel 7 & the Davidic Covenant

Promises made to David in God’s Covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7:

Within David’s lifetime:
1. YHWH will give David a great name. (v. 9b)
2. YHWH will secure Israel from wicked oppressors. (v.10)
3. YHWH will give David rest from his enemies. (v.11a)

Promises to David for the near future:
1. YHWH will raise up offspring from David’s “own body” (v.12) [refers to Solomon]
2. YHWH will establish Solomon’s kingdom. (v.12b)
3. YHWH will establish the throne of Solomon’s kingdom. (v13)
4. YHWH will be a father to Solomon and Solomon will be like a son to YHWH. (vv.14-15). There will be covenant fidelity between YHWH and David’s son.

Promises made to David for the remote future:
1. David’s house/dynasty will endure forever. (v.16)
2. David’s kingdom will endure forever. (v.16)
3. David’s throne will be established forever. (v.16)

Adapted from Bruce Waltke’s Old Testament Theology, pp.660-661.

The ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic dynasty is Jesus. In Jesus David's house/kingdom/throne endures forever. Even more, in his humanity Jesus has the perfect filial relationship with the Father in heaven. He is obedient as a son (cf. Hebrews 5). He obeys/fulfills the Law of His Father (Matthew 5; Galatians 4:4-5; et al). So that Hebrews 1:5 can read 2 Samuel 7:14 in conjunction with Psalm 2.
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