Friday, September 30, 2011

Rob Bell on TV?

So the news is here and here that Rob Bell is going to be working on a Television Drama that is based loosely on his life. I thought we could dedicate the event with a little poster.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Power and the Abhorrence of It

Check out this interview of Milton Friedman by Peter Robinson.

The interesting and relevant part begins at about 3:28. Friedman and Robinson are discussing what areas to shrink the government. Robinson, having reviewed a list of items to cut, begins a thought experiment with the suggestion that if Friedman were made dictator for one day, he could then begin cutting these programs. It is a mere thought experiment but note this: Friedman jumps on it and argues from his principles. 

The whole principle is that one should not be dictator for a day even if it is to do what one considers good and beneficial. Robinson is making a 'for the sake of argument' assumption and Friedman resists it precisely because the 'for the sake of argument' begins of a premise that would concede the whole argument itself.

Friedman notes: "if we can't persuade the public that it is desirable to do them [the cuts/shrinkage of government] we have no right to oppose them even if we had the power to do so." Friedman takes the moral position (and it has to do with how he has defined libertarianism from the beginning [see the first video]). For Friedman change comes through the agreement of the citizens--something that is not often cherished, even in our day.

But note how well and serious Friedman takes freedom and opposes the use of power--even to force people to do things that he considers in their ultimate best interests.

This is contrary to so much of the political thinking that extends from both the right and the left today. The common assumption is that power is evil--unless of course I am doing something that is ultimately for your good. Furthermore the assumption soon becomes, my exercise of power over you is good if I am doing what is best for you even if you don't necessarily agree with it.

So our own President will joke that he'd like to do more if Congress would just get out of his way (see here or Google it). Or the Governor of South Caroline can use (as supporters claim) hyperbole to suggest we just suspend Congressional elections to get some work done and then we can all go back to normal (see here for example). Let's assume that the defenders are right and this is all just some light jesting in order to express the frustration about the wheels of democracy being stalled (despite the fact that James Madison designed it that way so that even the democratic majority could not have ultimate tyranny). 

Isn't this precisely the point: some will joke about abandoning ones principles in order to establish them. Friedman, on the other hand, isn't even willing to entertain a thought experiment even to accomplish 'the greater good'. In other words, what good is the greater good if you abandoned the principle of liberty to gain it.

This says something about the character of the respective persons in each of these examples. Would it be to far to suggest such jokes may indeed be a Freudian slip? Perhaps. But then we should at least be cautionary from history and current events--that despite claims history demonstrates that the curtailing of liberty in the short term has never been used to 'establish the greater good of further liberty' in the long run.

In his book, The New Road to Serfdom Daniel Hannan documents the disturbing trend of the European Union to impose itself on people when it could not get what it wanted (the adoption of the EU Constitution) by referendum vote by the people of a particular nation. Rule of Law quite literally subverted when it didn't accomplish what was deemed best. When Liberty and what is deemed the 'Greatest Good' come seemingly at odds with each other, you can tell a lot about a person when they are willing to through it under the bus in order to--ya' know--"establish it."

For some theology to it...
The theological argument roots freedom and the corruption of power in the dual concepts of mankind in the image of God and now post-fall the universality and total pervasiveness of sin in mankind. Therefore, human systems of interaction function best when power is diversified, distributed and dispersed rather than combined, collected and channeled. 

For all the recent talk about "Christian dominionism" Christians hardly want to establish a theocracy today. Part of the reason has to do with largely Protestant concepts of liberty of conscience and the pervasiveness of sin. Furthermore, it is the power of the gospel that changes people not the power of the sword of the state. The Kingdom of God is not the same as the Kingdom of Man. Christians have long recognized that the Christian has a dual citizenship. 

What I find ironic is that those who champion the Kingdom of God and how it challenges 'all the Caesars'--will then often champion patterns of social justice that want to channel power to 'the Caesar' with the assumption that if we just keep shouting like prophets suddenly Caesar will use his power for the best possible common good--aside from the historical arguments that empowerment rarely if ever leads to benevolence.

This is why when it comes to the church, government, the family, and the Kingdom of God--I think Kuyper's "sphere sovereignty" is more internally consistent. Citizens of the kingdom will go out and and live as salt and light in the world. Yet even Christians, who should be united in doctrinal creeds, are given by God's Word permissible freedom to disagree how to best govern the country. Our doctrines are governed by the Word of God but where Scripture is silent we shouldn't bind the conscience. That to me seems to be a right use of gospel power and an abhorrence of other types of power. 

Pastoral Shepherding

Pastor's are called to be shepherds.

Too much pastoral writings out there talks about "vision" and then "vision" becomes something akin to divine revelation that is often pushed through at all cost. Yesterday, I watched some of The Nines online conference. Several contributors talked about "vision" as if it was divine revelation from God. If I recall correctly, on person even substituted "revelation" as an appropriate word for the concept he was describing.

Sheep are often mowed down as troublemaking dissenters when they may in fact lost the church & need to be loved through the change. Brian Croft offers way better advice that runs counter to some of the more prominent streams of thinking.
"The most common tactic of a zealous pastor, which is the worst thing he could do, is to enter a revitalization work with an impatient conviction to change what needs to be changed within the first year or two.  Of course, there is a need for change.  Otherwise, the church would not be characterized as in need of “revitalization.”  Yet, change must come slowly.  Trust must be built.  Sheep need first to feel cared for by the shepherd before they will move forward in such a way that is “different than they have ever done it.”  It is not just about a slow change, but a change that must be well-timed."

Read his whole post a see how he shepherded his sheep and slowly cultivated change by loving the people. His approach strikes me as far more Biblical, loving and pastoral faithful.

This brings me to one other thought: I realize that pastors often encounter resistance and critics but pastors much persevere with sacrificial love. The shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The pastor who can't humbly and gently respond the sheep that attack is in danger of being more of a hireling over the sheep, a consultant or business leader, than a sacrificial shepherd. 

I realize that some critics may have real ungodly motives. As an aside, I once had someone visit the church and ask me a number of doctrinal questions that I thought was developing into real good discussion and interaction only to have the many call be an unbeliever telling me to repent (almost threatening fire and brimestone on me) all because I did not agree with him--despite that I could defend my position from Scripture. So I've been there with critics.

But some of the best advice that I've received from one of my mentors was that when you face criticism assume that somewhere at the core of it the person has the best intentions. No matter how they address it, or all the wrong they pile on, or how deeply they may pervert your motives, you can usually find at the core some area of agreement that serves as a common ground. Often it is a love for the church and other people, no matter how wrong they act on it.

It seems that some (many?) pastors operate in a default mode of assuming if the critic acts wrongly in the expression of the criticism their motives must be wrong. The problem is we cannot judge the heart. Our default mode is not to assume we are right because God has raised us as the leader. If I am the leader of God's flock, my default mode should be deeper humility because of my position, consider Christ's example in Philippians 2:5-10. 

The pastor's job is to love the sheep, and if Christ loved the sheep enough to die for them--the pastor must handle critics with love and tenderness. Granted some pastors in large ministries have bloggers who know nothing and love to critique everything--but I am talking about how the average pastor handles criticism from his own flock. I hear far less pastor talking about absorbing the criticism and sacrificially loving the flock than I hear about "sticking to the vision" or "letting people go" if they aren't on board. It seems, and this may be antidotal at best, that far to many would rather crucify someone who doesn't agree with the vision that they are willing to let themselves be crucified for the sheep. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pharisees vs. Weaker Brothers

I have often thought that the invoking of the concept of "Pharisee" or "religious people" has become a sort of boogey man to justify all sorts of rash behavior. Instead of seeing a Christian who an overly sensitive conscience as a weaker brother who deserves my love and according to Paul I should work hard not to offend them, it is much easier to see them as a "Pharisee" or "religious" then I can smugly self-justify my arrogance and harshness against them. The idea is: 'Hey I'm being just like Jesus'.

This is of course far easier than actually being like Jesus and loving the sinner. In fact, if I just rail on everything with the charge of legalism, then I can actually become a Pharisees in a sort of backwards way. I never have to be self critical. I never have to ask: is it possible that I am in the wrong? Maybe my conscience is "weak" here because this doesn't bother me. No, it is far easier to label the other person's conscience as overly sensitive and therefore legalistic.

"Legalism lurks in every heart, actually, mine and yours. But this constant invoking of the judgmental "religious people" is very often a boogeyman. It's an imagined threat, a scare tactic employed to both justify dumb exercises in license and arouse the self-satisfied mockery of self-identified "grace people."" (emphasis mine)

This attitude is of course sinful but it is far easier that actually following Scripture if the other person is a true weaker brother (and they may not be if I am in the wrong because my conscience doesn't bother me).
Romans 14:13-23 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

The reality is the sometimes our zeal to tear down "religious people" might indeed become a stumbling block to a real brother. It might destroy the work of God.

Real legalism is a danger and to be confronted. But brothers and sisters in Christ with more sensitive consciences are not necessarily legalists and they should not be treated as such for the sake of our own self-justification.

Jared Wilson ends his post:

"Pharisee," "legalist," "religious person" is the church version of racist or Nazi. It is the rhetorical nuclear option specifically designed to shut up anyone with questions and paint them among their brothers and sisters as graceless jerks. But I think it actually works the other way around: 
Employing the "religious people" boogeyman ironically indulges in what it professes to decry. It is a great way to pray along with the self-justified pharisee, "I thank you God that I'm not like those religious people." 
If you've got real legalists in your church -- and you do -- the only way to intentionally offend them is by preaching the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. Everything else is just vain posturing and prideful provocation.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Resurrection and Evidence of Heaven

On Sunday, I preached on Matthew 12:38-45. Jesus offers the resurrection as the only sign the Pharisees will get after they wickedly ask for a sign. They of course asked for a sign not because they didn't have enough evidence but because they continued to refuse to believe.

I used this quote from Tim Challies regarding the books 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven is for Real:

“The second ground refers to the reason each of these authors offers—that through their experience we now find confidence that what God says is true. This kind of proof is exactly the kind of proof we should not need and should not want. Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe. Don Piper insisted that he was called to be the Minister of Hope. If hope is to be found in any person, it will be found in the person of Christ. It is the Spirit working through the Word who will give us confidence in our faith. And what is faith? It is simply believing that what God says in his Word is true. We do not need tales of heaven or stories of those who claim to be there. 
If you struggle believing what the Bible says, but learn to find security in the testimony of a toddler, well, I feel sorry for you. And I do not mean this in a condescending way. If God’s Word is not sufficient for you, if the testimony of his Spirit, given to believers, is not enough for you, you will not find any true hope in the unproven tales of a child. This hope may last for a moment, but it will not sustain you, it will not bless you, in those times when hope is waning and times are hard. 
So reject this book. Do not read it. Do not believe it. And do not feel guilty doing so.”

You can read Challies review here.

If you want a sign look to the resurrection of Jesus. In light of the coming judgment do not neglect the proof positive given in Jesus’ resurrection. This act forms part of the bedrock in our trust in Jesus. Do not neglect it.

Stories of people coming back from heaven are hardly the "signs" that the Word of God calls us to expect, to look for, or to find encouragement in. Rather we should consider the resurrection as the testimony we need since the resurrection vindicates Jesus' message, ministry and person. Furthermore, our ultimate hope is not merely life after death (although Christians believe in an intermediate state). Our ultimate hope is the conquering of death and the resurrection state. We have the sign and promise of the New Creation given to us in the resurrection of Jesus.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Heaven: Spatial and Dualistic

One the quick quips that is out there today against traditional Christians beliefs in heaven as a place distinct from earth usually is: "oh that's dualistic/platonic/gnostic." I've handled this critique before in a 6 part series (starting here). Certain there is a gnostic and plantonic views of heaven. But first-century Christianity (and beyond) and Second Temple Judaism did belief that heaven was a place distinct from the earth (at least for the time being until the final New Heavens and New Earth).

I recently finished Jonathan Pennington's Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew. He states it this way:
The addition of τῶν οὐρανῶν to βασιλεία in Matthew makes it inevitable that some sense of a spatial understanding of the kingdom is communicated: understanding ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν as meaning only the reign or rule of God in a non-spatial sense fails to account for the importance of Matthew's ascription of the kingdom as τῶν οὐρανῶν
To flesh out this statement, we may observe that heaven does indeed regularly have a spatial sense in Matthew and therefore it is logical to see the same in his phrase ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν. The ancient notion of heaven as a place is to modern, "enlightened" scholars either a source of embarrassment or derision. In response, many prefer to construe the notion of heaven theologically as a symbol. Regardless, it is undeniable that for most ancient people there was some real sense in which heaven was a place distinct from earth. Hints of this can be seen in the strong semantic overlap between the invisible heavens (God's dwelling) and he visible heavens above. Additionally, the OT and Second Temple literature testify that heaven was understood as the place of God's throne (a symbol of his kingdom), the place of God's angels, and the place from which God spoke and issued help and judgment. The NT evidently shares this worldview. Matthew is no exception. It is clear when Matthew refers to the Father as ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, this must have some sense of a dwelling place distinct from earth. [Pennington, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, p.296-97]
Pennington is quite clear that "the Christian hope is not for an ethereal heaven-situated existence, but the consummation of the heavenly realities coming into effect on the earth; not for the destruction of the earth and a kingdom that only exists in heaven, but for the παλιγγενεσία, a new genesis (19:28). [p.326-27]

Pennington is quite clear that heaven and earth are distinct--or as it is often slandered 'dualistic'.

Pennington's overall point is to come to a better understanding of what the phrase 'kingdom of heaven' means Matthew's gospel. He shows it part of an overall theological construct Matthew articulates. So it becomes clear Matthew does not use 'kingdom of heaven' where heaven is just a circumlocution for 'God' out of divine reverence--an older thesis now debunked by Pennington. Most notably, I think, is Pennington's argument that Daniel 2-7 with its contrast of the kingdoms of the earth vs. the kingdom of God that comes from heaven--the location of God's throne--serves as a background for Matthew's construct. He then argues that this notion of the kingdom of heaven would undermine common Jewish notions of the kingdom that looked largely for an earthly defeat of the Romans, but also serve latter Christians by assuring that their main focus was not rebellion against Rome by the earthly sword.

Pennington's carefully treatment and whole book is worth reading. 

But we sight it here as one more debunking of the fanciful post-enlightenment neo-Christian reworking/rejections of a traditional view of heaven.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Piper on the Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

One of the issues that I think comes up with the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is why is this so unforgivable? Particularly I think from a Reformed perspective where we have a strong view of God's monergistic work and the deadness of our own heart--why would one sin be so strongly damning when all sin is damning. 

I believe part of the issue is that you are not just rejecting God, you are rejecting God's power and the person who operates to change your heart. You are doing it in full witness of his power and with a knowing rejection. Thus the change agent is cursed and made your enemy. The Father and the Son may be blasphemed and they still send the Spirit who changes and brings forgiveness. But if the mediator of this grace to the human heart is rejected with the willful knowledge in face of his activity then there is condemnation in this life and the next with no hope in either. 

This is to say that the rejection/blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is more than the normal 'knowing/seeing the truth but suppressing it in unrighteousness' that we find all sinners doing in Romans 1. The Holy Spirit can break through and shine the light of the gospel into the dead heart. But if the Holy Spirit is blasphemed and his activity is willfully mocked and he is cursed--there is nothing left for the person.

After formulating some of my thoughts, I found John Piper says it better than me:

But why does this one particular sin, this one blasphemy, make it impossible to repent and be forgiven? What about blasphemy against the Son of God, or God the Father, or angels, or Scripture, or the church? Why do these not put us beyond repentance and forgiveness? Why only blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? I think it's because of the unique and decisive role the Holy Spirit plays in our salvation. If we look to God the Father and then turn from his glory to embrace sin, that is bad. If we look to his Son Jesus Christ whom he sent into the world and then turn away from his glory to embrace sin, that is doubly bad. But in either case there is hope. The Father has planned redemption, the Son has accomplished redemption. This wonderful redemption is outside ourselves and available to us if we repent of our sin and turn back to Christ in faith. But it is the unique and special role of the Holy Spirit to apply the Father's plan and the Son's accomplishment of it to our hearts. It is the Spirit's work to open our eyes, to grant repentance, and to make us beneficiaries of all that the Father has planned and all that Christ has done for us. If we blaspheme and reject the Father and the Son, there is still hope, for the Spirit may yet work within us to humble us and bring us to repentance. But if behind the Father and the Son we see and taste the power of the Holy Spirit and reject his work as no more precious than the work of Satan, we shut ourselves off from the only one who could ever bring us to repentance. And so we shut ourselves off from forgiveness.
John Piper even gives this clear definition of the unpardonable sin: "What then is it? The unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an act of resistance which belittles the Holy Spirit so grievously that he withdraws for ever with his convicting power so that we are never able to repent and be forgiven."

We should not think that this makes the Holy Spirit somehow less merciful, forgiving or loving than the Father or the Son. We might be tempted to think: well all my sin is a blasphemy against the Father and/or the Son... and they forgive the sinner. Why doesn't the Holy Spirit has the same compassion?

The Holy Spirit does have compassion and forgiveness. He causes the light of the gospel to shine in the blackened heart of the sinner.

We are to remember though the situation of the Pharisees with the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. They were witnessing the power of God and they were boldly and forthrightly rejecting that it was the Spirit. They emasculated the power of God which was clearly seen right before their own eyes. The Holy Spirit is not someone less merciful that the other persons of the Trinity--rather he has handed them over to their own great sin and rebellion. There just punishment for cursing him is the impossibility of forgiveness because there can be no repentance if there is no Spirit at work and they have boldly told the Holy Spirit "you are not at work here" despite what they were witnessing.

The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a difficult topic. We are to treat the issue with careful reflection. But the teaching of Scripture is not ultimately designed here to enable us to peer behind the curtain on the nature of damnation--when is someone irrevocably damned and when do they still have hope. Rather, the warnings are fashioned to cause the person to run to God in repentance. It is much like in Hebrews 3 where we are told not to hardened our hearts like the wilderness generation did. There acts made the Holy Spirit their enemy--they saw the work of his hand but turned away (Isaiah 63:10).

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