Friday, September 30, 2011

A Voice from the Past - John Owen

Sin does not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still laboring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh. When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.

John Owen, 1616-1683, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Chapter 2 (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, Edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, 2006, Crossway Books, p. 51)

Is this true? How should it affect our lives?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Presence of Evil

One of the oldest philosophical questions on record is the problem of evil.The reason it persists is it has not just an intellectual but an emotional impact. We experience or observe suffering, and our reaction is, How can a good God allow this? The basic Christian answer to this is that we live in a world in rebellion against God and this results in evil consequences.

Now the Christian position is that we are we are responsible for our actions, though it is difficult to understand how this fits in with God's being in control (Ephesians 1:11; Isaiah 43:13; Romans 8:28). Now trying to avoid this responsibility through psychological determinism leaves us not able to know anything, because whatever we think we know is the result of our conditioning. Also, if we are not responsible to do what is right, how can we condemn God for not doing what is right? And without God, where do we get the moral basis to complain of the evil in the world? We could also claim we are not really bad enough to deserve this suffering. But the Bible's claim is that by God's standard we are indeed that bad (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9).

Now the Bible affirms that suffering in this world is not always fair (John 9:1-3; Psalms 73; Job). But there is no such thing as a fair evil, and once evil is let into the world, it will not always affect people fairly. Also, God uses suffering or its absence to work in people's lives to bring them to Himself or to help them grow in Him (James 1:2-4; Romans 2:4; 8:28; John 11:4). Though this ultimately depends on the response of the individuals involved. Now taken by itself, this would lead to an ends-justifies-the-means morality. But given there is evil in the world, it is important to understand that God uses it to accomplish His ends. Also, every viewpoint has to deal somehow with the presence of evil in the world. We can say evil is normal, but then why are we so opposed to it? And if we see evil as normal, we are excluding the one Person in the universe who would be able to eliminate it

There is another fact which helps to put the problem of evil in perspective. It is the Christian contention that God became a Man (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-15) and paid the price for our evil behavior (1 Peter 2:24,25; Romans 8:6-8; Colossians 2:13-15). Further, He has promised to come back again (Titus 2:13; Philippians 3:20,21; 1 John 3:2) and do away with the evil and suffering of this present life (Revelation 21:4; Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18). We may not be able to fully explain, let alone understand, why God allowed evil in the world. But it makes a huge different whether He is an ivory-tower observer or the Man of Sorrows who identified with our pain and took the worst blow on himself that we might be delivered.     

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Has the Old Testament Been Corrupted

It is easier to establish the preservation and historical reliability of the New Testament then the Old. That is because the Old  is set in an earlier period of history. But we do need to evaluate the evidence. Now there is good evidence of preservation from before the time of Christ. There are the Dead Sea Scrolls. Also the Hebrew Old Testament was preserved by the Jews, while the Christians preserved the Greek translation. It is difficult to see how they would have agreed together to alter it. There are also numerous quotes in early Jewish and Christian sources. Now there is the question of the Apocrypha. But the idea that the later Christian church could add to the original Jewish Bible does not accord with Scripture or reason (Romans 3:2). 

If we go back before that, there is more room for doubt, and many have come up with fanciful theories of how the books were composed. (My basic answer to this is, people do not write books that way. It would be one thing if they could produce physical evidence, but there is none. The argument is  based on the plausibility of the theories and they are implausible.) But we are faced with a large amount of archeological evidence confirming the history behind the Old Testament. Now there have been archeologists in recent times who have tried to cast doubt on this, but this has not been based on any new discovery, but is an attempt get around the evidence that is there. There is a considerable amount of evidence for the times of the kings of Israel and Judah. There has been a tendency to minimize or deny the kingdoms of David and Solomon, but there is new evidence to support them as well. Now we do still lack clear-cut evidence for the earliest Old Testament events, the Exodus and the patriarchs; and there is argument on both sides as to whether various pieces of evidence support one view or the other. (This is not surprising, considering the earliness of the events, nor would we expect any Egyptian chronicler writing in the manner of the time to record an event like the Exodus.) But it is amazing how accurate the later parts are if they were written long after the facts. In comparison, while Mycenae and Troy have been shown be real places, there is no record of the details and individuals involved in early Greek history. The early history of Rome is generally considered legendary and lacks detailed proof. The Greek records of Egypt and Mesopotamia are extremely garbled. But the kings of Israel and Judah, along with the other rulers they dealt with, appear repeatedly in inscriptions and records of the period. It is difficult to see how legends created long after the time could have this accuracy. Now this does not prove that the message of the Old Testament is true. But it does mean it needs to be dealt with based on the evidence.      

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Rules

What rules should there be for worship? Do they at some point become silly?

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Chesterton

But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert - himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason.

G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, Orthodoxy,  III. The Suicide of Thought (Dover Publications, 2004, p. 23)

Is this helpful in explaining our world today? How should we respond to it?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Search of Revival

Evangelical Christians have long prayed and worked for revival, but while there have been some claims of likely prospects, it has not come. Why? I do not believe it is because we have not prayed (James 4:2). I am under the impression many of us have prayed. Could it be we have prayed (at least in many cases) with the wrong motives (James 4:3)?

Why do we want revival? Is it possible one motive for wanting it so that we can be comfortable in the world? We have been through a shift as a nation where Christianity as gone from being respected and nominally adhered to, to being looked down upon and rejected. This is true not only of Christian beliefs but also of Christian moral principles. This, not surprisingly, can make Christians very uncomfortable. Could it be one of our chief reasons for praying for revival is so we can go back to being comfortable? Now it is really not surprising if the world is hostile to us; in fact Jesus promised it would be (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; Matthew 10:16-25). Also, when the world is fully on our side there is a question of whether this means we have become conformed to it (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). It might even be suggested that our comfortableness in the world contributed to the world slowly turning away from us.

Now do not get me wrong; I am not suggesting we should all become hermits and hide ourselves out in a cave somewhere or even hem ourselves in with multitudes of legalistic rules to avoid any contact with the world. Being in the world but not of the world is a difficult balance (John 17:14-19). And we are to reach out to those who need a Savior (Matthew 9:10-13; 1 Corinthians 9:19-22; Colossians 4:5,6). But we must expect opposition from the world if we are serving God. Does that mean we should not pray or work for revival? No, we should pray and work that souls will be saved. We should pray and work for better laws to be passed in our nation. But we must do so with the knowledge that we live in a fallen world and we cannot expect it to be totally on our side (and should be suspicious of it when it seems to be). And we should want it for the glory of God and the salvation of others, not so that we can be comfortable. And most of all, whatever happens we must trust in God and His power to bring us through (Proverbs 3:5,6; Romans 8:28; Matthew 16:18).     

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Can't We Get It Right?

If the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, why are we not able to agree on what it has to say? This has been used to try to prove the Bible is not really authoritative and we need something else to interpret it. How should we look at this problem?

If we have trouble interpreting the Bible, is the problem with the Bible or with us? We are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), and being sinners, our understanding of truth is imperfect (1 Corinthians 3:18; 8:1-3; 2:14). We allow our traditions and preconceived notions to determine our interpretation (Matthew 15:7-9, 12:1-14, Romans 12:2). I know from personal experience how hard it is to get past what I have been taught and to see what the Scripture really says. We can also be influenced by our culture and what it sees as acceptable (1 John 2:15-17; Colossians 2:8; James 4:4). Along with this, we must consider how far it is legitimate to interpret Scripture to fit in with the current scientific or philosophical opinions and how reliable those opinions really are.

There is also the desire to be different. The desire to see in Scripture some mysterious truth that no one else sees. The root of this is, of course, personal pride (Proverb 16:18; Romans 12:16; 1 Corinthians 13:4). This is why it is important to consult great Christian teachers of the past. It is not that they are more authoritative then Scripture, but that they put our own teachings in perspective. To keep from going off on a tangent, we should check our ideas against respected Christian teachers. To avoid being merely conformed to our own time, we need to consider the teachers of past ages.

Also, there is a danger of trying to make the Bible speak on subjects the Bible never claimed to speak on. The Bible is the authority for faith and practice to prepare us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16,17). But it is not intended to give us answers to all our questions on other subjects. Even on faith and practice it tells us what God wants us to know, not what we want to think is important. I am convinced that the emphasis, as well as the words of Scripture, is inspired and that what God does not command, He leaves free (Deuteronomy 4:2). Therefore, when the Bible does not teach something clearly, we should not be dogmatic on it.

It is not surprising that in certain incidental matters there should be questions of cultural context, linguistics, or textual criticism. This is a result of being in a fallen world. But that does not mean the basic message does not come through. Nor is it surprising that in explaining the things of God, there would be things hard for us to understand. We need to avoid changing them into something that makes more sense to us. But even if there are difficulties, we should not throw out the standard and replace it with something else.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Candidate

What is the proper Christian attitude toward politics? How cynical should we be?

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Irenaeus

Error in fact, does not show its true self, lest on being stripped naked it should be detected. Instead, it craftily decks itself out in an attractive dress, and thus, by an outward false appearance, presents itself to the more ignorant, truer than Truth itself, ridiculous as it is even to say this.

Irenaeus, 125-202 AD, Against the Heresies, Book 1, Preface, 2 (trans. Dominic J. Unger, Capuchin Province of Mid-America, 1992, p.21)

Is this true? How might it be applied?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Making Christ Lord of Our Lives

What does it mean to make Christ Lord of our lives? Is this something that happens at salvation or later? Now I do not want to quibble, but there is a problem with the wording of the question. Nowhere in Scripture does it talk of making Jesus Lord; Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Revelation 19:16). We can no more make Jesus Lord then we can make the sun come up tomorrow.  Jesus is even Lord of every unbeliever's life, and one day they will confess it (Philippians 2:11). Now believers are called to live in light of the Lordship of Christ. But He is Lord of our lives regardless.

The gospel message presupposes the idea that we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). This implies that there is a moral standard, the Law of God that we have disobeyed (Galatians 3:10-12; Romans 3:19,20; James 2:10). This then clearly indicates that God is Lord. Given that Jesus is God (Hebrews 1:8; John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11), the logical conclusion is that Jesus is Lord. However, the only person who fully lives based on a full understanding that Jesus is Lord is the one who totally obeys Him. None of us reaches that point in this life (Philippians 3:12-16; 1 John 1:8-10; Galatians 5:17). Growth in Christ is a process that happens throughout life (1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrews 5:11-14; 12:1,2), and it involves obeying Christ's lordship in every aspect of our lives. Now there may be junctures in our life when we recognize God's lordship in a deeper way. But these are steps in the process.

Is it a condition of our salvation that we should decide to do good works? The resolutions of a natural man are meaningless. The only thing that can change us is God's working in our lives (2 Corinthians 3:18;  Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29), and apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5; Romans 7:18; 8:8). But if an individual comes to Christ with the intention of refusing to let God change their behavior, this is not saving faith. Also, Scripture teaches that we who have been redeemed by Christ we should live for Him (Romans 12:1,2; Titus 2:11-14; 1 Corinthians 6:20), motivated by our love for Him (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; Luke 7:36-50). There should be a change in a person's life when they put their faith in Christ (James 2:14-26; Matthew 7:15-23; 1 John 2:19), and if there is not, we must at some point question whether they have real faith. But we must be careful of too quickly passing judgment on another (Romans 2:1; 14:4; Matthew 7:1-5). We are all people in process, and while there clearly is a point when people must be confronted with their sin (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-17; 2 Timothy 2:24-26), we are called to deal with one another in kindness, not in harsh judgment (1 Peter 4:8; Ephesians 4:32; Hebrews 12:12,13).

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Evangelist

What is the right approach to sharing Christ? How do we avoid the pitfalls?

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Anselm

How he is omnipotent, although there are many things of which he is not capable. -- To be capable of being corrupted, or of lying, is not power, but impotence. God can do nothing by virtue of impotence, and nothing has power against him.

Anselm, 1033-1109, Proslogium, Chapter VII, (Proslogium; Monologium; An Appendix in Behalf of the Fool by Gaunilon; and Cur Deus Homo, trans. Sidney Norton Deane, The Open Court Publishing Co., 1926, p.25)

What does this teach us about God? What are its implications?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Gift of Evangelism?

People frequently speak of the spiritual gift of evangelism. But while it is mentioned as a ministry or office (Ephesians 4:11), it seems singularly absent from the lists of gifts. I would propose that the reason for this is that there is not a specific gift of evangelism, but that evangelism is applying the gifts we have to those outside the church. If we have a gift of teaching we should use it to instruct unbelievers in the truth of God. If we have a gift of service we should serve them. If we have a gift of mercy we should sympathize with their problems. If we have a gift of healing we should pray for their healing. (It is not my point here to argue whether some gifts have passed away, but the main point stands no matter what you believe on this.) What then is this thing we normally call the gift of evangelism? May I suggest it is the gift of exhortation, which exhorts the unbeliever to put their faith in Christ. I would submit that the reason we tend to see this as the gift of evangelism is because exhorters are frequently the closers. The people who, after others may have sown the seed, come in to reap the harvest. But this does not mean that other Christians with other gifts should not be involved in evangelism (and may not even in some cases serve as reapers).

The implication of this is we need to avoid making sharing Christ a mold which everyone is forced to fit into . An individual should not become discouraged because they do not fit the mold. They should not feel they have no obligation to be involved in sharing Christ either. Everyone should ask how they should be involved in evangelism with their gifts. I am not intending to go into details here on methods, but I am convinced that some methods will fit better with different gifts. We should not try to force everyone into one method, and we should be careful of rejecting methods just because they make us uncomfortable. I am not saying there are no wrong methods, but often the method that fits one gift may not work well at all for another. Also, while I do think every Christian should be able to communicate the basics of the gospel (1 Peter 3:15; Acts 1:8; Colossians 4:5,6), I would suggest that evangelism may often be a body endeavor and not just an individual endeavor. If a person has intellectual objections to the gospel, it may be a good thing for the exhorter to call in a teacher to help. If someone with the gift of service has laid the groundwork for someone to come to Christ, they may on occasion find it helpful to bring in an exhorter to help the person come to Christ. But each person should use their own gift to be involved in showing others the way to Christ.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bridging Grace and Law

A right understanding of the centrality of grace is necessary for living the Christian life. But what does this mean? Sometimes this is pictured as meditating on grace to produce a vague mystical feeling that causes you to live as you should. Not being into vague mystical feelings of any type, I have to ask myself, what is the connection between a right understanding of grace and the life of obedience that should result?

Grace is the right motivation for obedience (1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; 1 Corinthians 6:20). This is important if we are to avoid believing that the purpose of doing good is to exalt ourselves or earn something from God. There is the story of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus' feet. She was motivated by the fact she was a sinner and needed forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50), but the Pharisee who thought he was righteous by his own efforts was indifferent to Him. Could the reason we sometimes lack motivation in serving God be that we have forgotten what He has done for us (2 Peter 1:9)? But God's grace not only provides the motivation for a life of obedience, but it also provides the power ( John 7:37-39; 2 Peter 1:3; Galatians 2:20), and only His power can transform our lives (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). The bottom line here is, what am I trusting in? Am I trusting in my own ability or God and His power (Psalms 127:1,2; Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 12:2). The result is the confidence of knowing that God is at work in our lives to accomplish His purpose (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7) and that we will ultimately be victorious because of what Christ has done (Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14; Colossians 2:15). It also means that when we fail we can be confident of God's grace and forgiveness (Romans 8:33,34; 2 Corinthians 7:10; Philippians 3:13). But we are also driven to humility, realizing that we are sinners saved by the grace of God (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:4; Jeremiah 17:9) and that nothing good comes from us, but from His work in our lives (John 15:5; Romans 7:18; 8:8). By this we can  avoid self-righteousness and with it watering down God's  Law in order to convince ourselves and others that we have succeeded in keeping it (Romans 2:1; Matthew 23:25-28; 6:1-21). There will always be the dangers of despair and presumption in the Christian life, and it is only the gospel that puts this in perspective.
Now I am not saying there is not a place for effort in living the Christian life (1 Timothy 4:7.8; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 5:14). Certainly there it a place for stating what God commands; after all the New Testament does so. But it is only as this is put in the context of the gospel and the grace of God that we can escape moralism and vague mysticism and put our obedience in its proper place.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Touch of Humor - The Grapevine

What kinds of problems can gossip produce in a church? Are there ways we can avoid it?

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Voice from the Past - Martin Luther

To make the way smoother for the unlearned -- for only them do I serve -- I shall set down the following two propositions concerning the freedom and the bondage of the spirit:

A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.

Martin Luther, 1520, The Freedom of a Christian (Three Treatises, Fortress Press, 1970, p. 277)

Is this correct? What does it mean? How do the two statements fit together?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How Do We Find Truth?

Is science the only way to find truth? This is something that is often assumed. But can it be proven? It is one thing to say something is a legitimate source of truth and another to say it is the only source of truth. A clock is a source for truth regarding what time it is. But it does not tell you who is the president of the United States. That scientific methodology is an accurate approach to finding truth is something on which nearly everyone agrees, though they may take exception to specific theories. To claim that science is the only way of arriving at truth is unproved and unprovable. This is relevant because it should be recognized that there are areas of knowledge that cannot be dealt with scientifically. Science deals with repeatable events, which can be  studied through experimentation and observation. Not everything lends itself to be studied in this way. This includes not only the things of God but even the facts of history. We cannot determine who is president of the United States scientifically. We ultimately cannot do science if science is the only source of truth, because one of the standards of the reliability of scientific findings is whether they are reproducible by others. But we cannot prove by science whether others have reproduced them.

But this is particularly true regarding the truth of God. If God exists we should not expect Him to be amenable to laboratory testing. Certainly the Christian God has rejected such a concept (Matthew 12:38-40; 16:1-4; John 4:48). God is not a performing animal that we can make jump through our hoops. Rather, we need to look for God where He claims He can be found. That does not mean there is no evidence, but we need to get past the idea that the only acceptable evidence is scientific evidence. To hold to this idea is simply to engage in circular reasoning. We cannot expect God to show Himself to us based on our preconceived notions. We must meet Him where He chooses to reveal Himself to us. When we do, we must of course weigh the evidence to decide if we should believe it. But we cannot stipulate beforehand what the evidence must be.