Thursday, May 31, 2012

How Physical Is Eternity?

Scripture says that the lion will lie down with the lamb. Is this to be understood literally or symbolically? Does it refer to the present time, the millennium, or all eternity? Does this make a difference? Now the emphasis of Scripture is not on going to heaven, but on the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Philippians 3:20,21; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The Scripture does say that, for those who die in Christ, their souls go to be with Him (Philippians 1:21-26; Luke 16:19-31; Ecclesiastes 12:7). But this seems to be more of a waiting time in preparation for the real event.  If we see the main emphasis as being on our departing, it produces a more other-worldly outlook on life. We tend, following the Greek philosopher, to see physical things as an encumbrance we need to escape. But Scripture says that God created the physical world (Genesis 1:1; John 1:3; Psalms 104:24-30) and created us to be a union of spirit and body (Genesis 2:7; 1 Kings 17:21,22; Matthew 10:28). This is what we are meant to be. Now there is a delicate balance here, as we live in a fallen world and cannot simply accept things as they are (Romans 8:19-23; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). But we are not allowed to reject physical things as simply evil (Colossians 2:20-23; 1 Timothy 4:4,5; Titus 1:15). Our goal is a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-4; 2 Peter 3:10-13; Isaiah 65:17), not a bodiless spiritual existence.

The exact relationship of this realm to our present reality is hard to understand. It is likened to the relationship of seed to plant (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). (By a spiritual body I do not understand an immaterial body, but a body free from the effects of sin.) The Lord Jesus' body after the resurrection had interesting characteristics. He could appear and disappear suddenly and enter locked rooms, but He was touched and ate food (Luke 24:13-43; John 20:19-29; 21:4-13). We do not really know what it will be like, but it does not seem an immaterial existence. Will there, then, be lions and lambs in eternity? I am not dogmatic one way or the other, but I do not reject it out of hand. I do not see any basis for interpreting such passages as referring to the present time, and it seems stretching any possible symbolism in the passage to do so. Nor do I see that such things can be simply shunted aside to the millennium. The idea of an end to war that is connected with these types of passages does not fit with a millennium that will end in a war (Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:1-9; Micah 4:1-5 compare Revelation 20:7-10). (It is not my purpose here to deal with the question of whether there is or is not a millennium, merely to remove it as a red herring.) The exact nature of the eternal state is difficult to discern, but we should be careful of rejecting automatically it having any physical aspect to it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Who Is in Control?

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

Does the world sometimes seem out of control? Does your life sometimes seem out of control? But more importantly, who should really be in control? Too often the answer we would prefer, if we really examine ourselves, is that we want to be in control ourselves. But as we look at the world around us, especially from the Christian point of view, it seems to be careening out of control. But God says that He is in control (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Isaiah 46:10). Further, He says He is at work building His church (Matthew 16:18; 1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Colossians 2:19). He is also at work in our lives to accomplish His purposes (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Colossians 1:28,29). The problem is that this does not always involve what we want and what makes us comfortable. Sometimes it means going through times of hardship (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Corinthians 4:17,18). But we need to trust Christ to bring us through the difficulties, both in ourselves and in the world around us. Even if what happens is not what we want.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What Is Faith?

There are perhaps few more variously understood words in the language than faith. What does the Bible mean by faith, and how does that differ from the various other ideas that exist about it?. Scripturally, faith is believing the promises of God (Romans 4:16-22; Hebrews 11:13-16; 6:13-20). Because of this, faith is contrasted with sight, which is the possession of the thing promised (2 Corinthians 5:7; 4:17,18; Hebrews 11:1). This is not opposed to reason, but to our initial reaction to circumstances (Hebrews 11:24-27; John 20:26-29). One of the fallacious assumptions involved here is that we are basically rational creatures, who will always follow the most reasonable and logical course of action. The truth is, we are all too often driven by our feelings and desires. And this is why, from a Christian perspective, faith is a virtue. I am convinced there are good reasons for believing Christianity is true, nor do I see it as a virtue to believe something you think untrue in the teeth of reason. As for the genuine intellectual challenges, these must be met and dealt with. But when I am facing trials. Or I am looked down on for my faith, or even just feel out of place among those who do not share my beliefs. Or when I would find it convenient not to be encumbered with these Christian moral scruples in a particular situation. That is when faith comes in. It continues to trust and follow God in these types of circumstances (Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 1:6; Psalms 46:10).

This faith may involve two different, though not necessarily incompatible, ideas. It may involve trusting God for deliverance (Matthew 8:5-13; 9:27-31; 17:14-21). Or it may involve trusting God even if there is not immediate deliverance (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Hebrews 11:35-40; Daniel 3:16-18). It is not simply faith in our faith, but faith in a Person who works everything according to His will (Ephesians 1:11; Romans 8:28; Isaiah 43:13). But it is trusting in Him, whether or not He immediately delivers us from the situation. It builds our character in the long run, as we trust in Him (James 1:2-4; Matthew 6:33; Isaiah 40:31). Now basic to this is our faith in Him for salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). We do not now see eternal life or the resurrection or the kingdom of God fully realized on earth (John 14:1-3; Romans 8:24,25; 2 Peter 3:8-13), but we put our faith in God for it. Therefore, our faith is not a mere knowledge of the facts (even demons have that: James 2:19), but a trust in God that He will fulfill His promises. Therefore, faith is not some sort of a leap against reason. It is not positive thinking or a way to manipulate God. Nor is it mere adherence to a set of facts (though this may be a necessary preliminary). It is reliance on God, that He is truthful and will do what He has said (Titus 1:2; John 17:17; Romans 3:4).

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Instruction

What is the best approach to instructing people? Does it depend on the subject and the people?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Defending God

Our job is not to defend God; He is able to take care of Himself.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Martin Luther

When the Law accuses and sin terrifies you, and you do not feel anything except the wrath and judgment of God, do not despair on that account. But "take the armor of God, the shield of faith, the helmet of hope, and the sword of the Spirit" (Eph. 6:13, 16, 17); and find out by experience what a good and brave warrior you are. By faith take hold of Christ, the Lord of the Law and of sin and of everything that accompanies them. When you believe in Him, you are justified -- something that your reason and the consciousness of your heart do not tell you amid your temptation, but only the Word of God.

Martin Luther, 1483-1546, Commentary on Galatians 1535, 5:5 (Luther's Works, Vol. 27, edited and translated by Jaroslav Pelikan, 1964, Concordia Press, p.26)

What does this say about dealing with doubt?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is Christianity Against Learning?

Is Christianity against learning? This is a claim that is often made, with the Middle Ages being pointed to as proof of this thesis. The claim is that all learning perished and that this was the result of Christian dominance. Now this is an exaggeration. There continued to be scientific and technological advances through the Middle Ages. But to the extent it was true, the obvious culprit was the collapse of the Roman Empire. When the central government collapses and invaders overrun the existing culture, looting and pillaging, it is not surprising if a large degree of learning is lost. And it was the Christian church that worked to preserve literacy and learning. If anything, they had perhaps too high a view of learning and too high a view of antiquity. As a result, they preserved many books that did not fit the Christian view of the world and tried to reconcile them together into one system. Later, when order was restored, the Middle Ages produced many scholars who were interested, not only in studying theology, but in the various aspects of the natural world. The university was also created to promote higher education.

However, the classical Greek learning preserved in the Middle Ages had a problem. Its emphasis was on attempting to understand nature by abstract reasoning. In contrast, modern science has taken the more empirical approach of observation and experimentation. This is the distinction between a person who contemplates the universe in his study and one who is actively involved in the world.  I am convinced that the transition took place as a result of Christianity. Christianity approaches proof on a more empirical basis, appealing to eyewitnesses, rather than logical deductions. It also worships a God who directly created the world. Further, when God became a man, He became a carpenter, a man who works with his hands. But this new idea took time to be accepted against the predominant respect for entrenched Greek learning. It did not help that Aristotelian philosophy had become entwined with Roman Catholic theology and had been cemented there by the Protestant Reformation. It is therefore not surprising that, when Galileo challenged the established beliefs, he met strong resistance.

As for other martyrs for science, they were not. The issue with Columbus was not whether the world was round (he wrote that he had always read the world was a sphere) but whether it was smaller than generally thought. He was wrong. Bruno and Servetus were martyrs to their theological opinions, not to science. Now it does need to be noted that Christianity is a specific belief system and opposes contrary systems. Therefore, a person who holds to, for instance, atheistic  materialism may claim that Christianity is against learning because it is opposed to their belief. As an argument, this is merely circular reasoning. Therefore, there is no objective basis for saying Christianity is in principle opposed to learning.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What Is on the Agenda?

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

 Christian leaders often say they do not want people in their congregation who have an agenda. What is an agenda, and is it a good or a bad thing? Now it needs to be noted from the outset that it is unreasonable for leaders to expect their followers to be totally plasticine and to conform to everything they hold. Also, the closest approach to this is to have only immature believers who remain immature. Once an individual becomes rooted in the Word of God and tests things by it, they are bound to develop some of their own opinions (Acts 17:11; Hebrews 5:13,14; 2 Timothy 3:16,17). The issue is, how do we make this work? The Biblical picture is that of unity in diversity (1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Ephesians 4:11-16; Philippians 2:1-11). This does not include the acceptance of genuine Biblical error in teaching and practice (Romans 16:17; Jude 3; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). But there does need to be an incorporation of different approaches. The problem comes when someone takes a minor issue and blows it so out of proportion that it becomes their whole focus. This can happen to leaders as well as followers, and for the leaders with this type of narrow point of view, everyone not in agreement with them has an agenda. But there are followers with their pet idea that they emphasize to the degree it becomes the cause of disruption. So one thing we need to do is ask ourselves, what are the things we are going to hold and promote, even if it means alienating others? And it is useful for both leaders and followers to try to synchronize their agendas, and if they cannot, someone may need to seek another place of fellowship. But we must be careful of promoting our pet ideas beyond the degree they really deserve to be defended.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In Search of the Ultimate Experience

The Holy Grail we are searching for in our modern society is the ultimate experience. We have laid aside the encumbrances of reason and logic. We believe they lead only to materialism and despair. Rather, we seek some powerful experience that will give life meaning. We can seek this in drugs, alcohol, sex, and the occult. We can seek it in more benign forms in career, family, entertainment, and hobbies. Nor are Christians immune to this tendency; we can import this into our spiritual life. We can make the search for the ultimate experience the goal of our Christian life. This can be found, not only in the extreme charismatic or pentecostal tradition, but in a more subdued form in the more conventional churches. Now I am far from being opposed to all experience in Christian worship. I have, in fact, definite charismatic tendencies. But I am opposed to making our experience the foundation of our faith.

If we make experience the goal, we will find feelings tend to come and go. It is only from the container of objective commitment that the beverage of experience should be drunk. It is like marriage, where it is impossible to maintain the original starry-eyed feeling of being in love, but the commitment forms the basis for  continued positive experiences. The other problem with the search for the ultimate experience is the problem of diminishing returns. It requires stronger and stronger experiences just to have the same effect. Alcohol is not strong enough, so the individual moves to marijuana; marijuana is not strong enough, so they move to crack cocaine. More and more is required to reach an adequate level of intoxication. The same principle is at work in more innocuous-appearing experiences; if you make an experience the center of your life, you need more and more to sustain the feeling. 

But the ultimate focus of Christianity is not a feeling, but a historical event. God Himself invaded history (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18) to pay the price for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). This is an objective fact. The idea that this could not happen because it is contrary to the laws of science does not hold up. The laws of science tell us how nature normally behaves. Whether there is something beyond nature that can intervene in the natural processes is not something science deals with or can deal with. Now our proper response to this historic fact is to put our faith in what Christ has done for our salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4;4,5; Philippians 3:9). This results in the Holy Spirit working in our lives to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). This should result in effects on our personal experience (Galatians 5:22,23; 1 John 4:19; Romans 14:17). But it is the objective basis that sustains and protects the experience. To only look for an experience without it is futile.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Discussion

When does a reasonable discussion of differences become an argument? How do we avoid getting there?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Gift

Salvation is a free gift, but it changes everything.

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Chesterton

But this notion of something smooth and slow, like the ascent of a slope, is a great part of the illusion. It is an illogicality as well as an illusion; for slowness has really nothing to do with the question. An event is not any more intrinsically intelligible or unintelligible because of the pace at which it moves. For a man who does not believe in a miracle, a slow miracle would be just as incredible as a swift one. The Greek witch may have turned sailors to swine at the stroke of a wand. But to see a naval gentleman of our acquaintance looking a little more like a pig every day, till he ended up with four trotters and a curly tail, would not be any more soothing. It might be rather more creepy and uncanny.

G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1934 The Everlasting Man, Chapter 1: The Man in the Cave, (Dover Publications, Inc., 2007, p. 19)

Is there a tendency to rely on the mere concept of slowness to support a theory? Does this work?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In the Midst of Battle

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

As Christians, we live in the midst of a battle (Ephesians 6:10-12; 2 Timothy 2:3,4). Our weapons are not physical ones but spiritual ones (2 Corinthians 10:3-6; 1 Thessalonians 5:8). Also, we live in a world that is under the power of the enemy (Ephesians 2:2; Hebrews 2:14,15). But there is a temptation to ignore this truth and to want to be comfort and at home in this present world. But this is something Scripture forbids (1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). This is important, because how we face life depends on how we understand it. If we see life as a nice, safe place, where all our desires will be met, it will deeply disappoint us. We may even be tempted to give up fighting. But if we see that we are warriors in a raging cosmic battle, it puts the set-backs of life in perspective. Now we have been promised by God that despite our struggles now (John 16:33; Acts 14:22), we will be ultimately victorious (Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14). For our Lord Jesus has already conquered and will give us the victory (Colossians 2:15; Philippians 3:20,21). Let us, therefore, live this life based on a clear understanding of these truths.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Did Jesus Become God?

Was Jesus a great moral teacher who was later deified? Such things have been known to happen historically. There were Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Buddha, who were all in some sense deified. But this was long after the fact, and it is still possible to see their original  character from their preserved writings. Jesus, however, was proclaimed to be God from the very beginning, and it was an integral part of what was claimed about Him. The New Testament, the earliest record of what Christians believed, consistently makes these kinds of claims (Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:1-18). Also, the message about Him was not that He was a good teacher, but that He died to pay the price for sin and rose again from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-19; Romans 4:24,25; John 3:16-18). One can try to get around this by referring only to the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but that will not solve the problem. There are repeated statements in these gospels that only fit with a claim to deity (Matthew 23:34; 11:27; 7:22-23; Mark: 2:5,6). Also, His mission and person are clearly seen as supernatural (Mark 10:45; 14:61,62; 8:38; Matthew 25:31-46).

Further, all the Christian writers who follow the New Testament, for instance the Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Ireneaus, and Tertullian, upheld this same idea. Even the pagan observers, Pliny the Younger and Lucian of Samosata, stated that Christians worshiped Jesus as God. Also, while there were a number of early break-off sects from Christianity, the most prominent ones did not deny Christ's deity, but His humanity. There were groups that considered Jesus a mere man with a divine message, but these were obscure and soon vanished.

It should also be noted that about 30 years after the founding of Christianity, Nero was putting people to death for being Christians. This means that by this time they had  a definite belief and they were willing to die for it. Now there were in the first century large numbers of moral philosophers and Jewish rabbinical teachers. If Jesus had been simply one of these, it is difficult to see why He would not have vanished into history as simply one more of the list. Certainly He would not have inspired people to die for Him or deify Him. We have an interesting example in Apollonius of Tyana. He was what most people today want to believe Jesus was, a moral philosopher with a few miracles tacked on. He immediately vanished into obscurity and has no current followers and probably had only a few at the time. That Jesus was such a person is not an adequate explanation.

Now this does not in itself prove that Jesus is God. One can still claim He was a swindler, a madman, or someone for some reason deified by His immediate followers. And we must weigh in our own minds the plausibility of these options. But a moral philosopher who was later deified over time does not fit the evidence.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Spiritual Exercise

What things produce genuine spirituality? What counterfeits should we avoid?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Hoops

God is not a tame God, and He will not jump through our hoops. (with thanks to C. S. Lewis)

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Clement of Rome

So now, my friends, let us get on resolutely with our warfare under His unerring directions. Think of the men who serve our own commanders in the field, and the prompt and orderly obedience with which they go about their duties. Not all of them are marshals, generals, colonels, captains, or the like; nevertheless, each at his own level executes the orders of the emperor and the military chiefs. For the great cannot exist without the small, nor the small without the great, Every organism is composed of various different elements; and this ensures its own good. Take the body as an instance; the head is nothing without the feet, nor are the feet anything without the head. Even the smallest of our physical members are necessary and valuable to the whole body; yet all of them work together and observe a common subordination, so that the body itself is maintained intact. In Christ Jesus, then, let this corporate body of ours be likewise maintained intact, with each of us giving way to his neighbor in proportion to our spiritual gifts.

Clement of Rome, d. 99 AD, First Epistle, 37, 38 (Early Christian Writings, translated by Maxwell Staniforth, Penguin Books, 1968, pp. 42, 43) 

How can we as Christians come to reflect this kind of unity? What are the obstacles to it?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who Has the Authority?

Who can administer the ordinances of the church? And in what context can they be administered? Is this reserved for clergy? And where do these clergy get the authority to validate these sacraments? What does the Scripture say? Nowhere in Scripture are we given any statement as to who is qualified to administer the ordinances. The validity of the sacraments is everywhere based on the response of the person receiving them (Acts 2:38; 22:16; John 6:47,48; Romans 4:11). Now we are told to be in subjection to our leaders in the church (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13; 1 Timothy 5:17), so such things should be done under their instruction and guidance. Also, it does not make sense to be engaged in an act of worship with one who is an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Romans 16:17; 2 John 10). But beyond this we are not given definitive instruction as to who should administer them or in what context, though the gathering of the church is obviously an appropriate place (1 Corinthians 11:20).

Now salvation is not a purely individualistic thing, but involves making us part of a body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Romans 12:3-5; Ephesians 2:11-22). Therefore, the sacraments that are the signs and seals of this salvation also involve being a part of that body (1 Corinthians 10:16,17; 5:6-8; Ephesians 4:4,5). The organizational church should reflect this universal church, which is Christ's body. But there is a tendency to bind the ordinances to a specific church organization (often through emphasizing certain convictions regarding the sacraments, many of which are not specifically addressed in Scripture). In reaction to this others have minimized the ordinances or neglected them altogether. But Scripture does unhesitatingly command that these sacraments be participated in by all true followers of Christ (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Acts 10:44-48). These are those who have put their faith in Christ for salvation (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). But this is broader than any particular church organization. And I am convinced that tying them to a particular organization, office, or context has no basis in Scripture. But neither they nor the Christian life should be seen as simply individualistic, but as connected with the body of Christ universal, of which the organized church is an expression. The danger here is that we can end up feeling cut off from the larger church, which is Christ's body, and see ourselves only in terms of our particular group or even of just ourselves as individuals or us and our immediate friends. This can make our focus and our allegiance narrower than what it should be. And we can fail to grasp the breadth of what God is doing in the world.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Army

 Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"



The King's army went forward, marching in line, shields locked together ready to face the foe. But there were problems. Ofttimes the leaders marched out far ahead of the column and bore the brunt of the attack. Some claimed that some leaders preferred it that way so they would get the greatest honor. Some claimed that they were not given an adequate station, given the nature of their abilities. (Others might question whether their abilities existed or were as valuable as they claimed.) And there was the continual complaint against the members of the army who refused to bear their fair share of the burden. While there might be debate in any particular case, that there were such problems seemed unquestionable. Also, the army had long been divided into different platoons, each objecting to the methods and discipline of the others. But in spite of this, the army moved forward, accomplishing the purposes of the King.

Then one day there came consultants among the troops who pointed out the problems of the current system. They said if the army would listen to them, they would fix the problems. So they suggested new marching patterns that lacked the old interlocking row of shields and took much more practice to make work. And they put the leaders behind the army, where it was harder for the ranks to see where they were directing them. They issued softer and gentler weapons and shields in the hopes of doing less harm to the enemy and making it more likely that the enemy would join their side. Many started making forays on their own or with a few trusted companions, rather than staying with the army. Some even stayed at home to watch the action through a telescope. And there grew more divisions in the army, as groups fought over which of the new methods to adopt. These new methods did cause some inconveniences and the occasional unnecessary wound due to lack of a firm shield wall. But in spite of this the army moved forward, accomplishing the purposes of the King.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Imposing Our Faith on Others

One of the great hot potatoes in the history of the Christian church has been the relationship of the church to the civil government. Yet it is interesting how little space is to it devoted in the New Testament. We are told to be in subjection to the government authorities and to render to them what is due them (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13,14; Matthew 22:15-22). We are also told there is a point where we must serve God rather than men (Acts 4:19; 5:29-32; Revelation 6:9-11). But we are told little else. Now I am convinced that the silences of Scripture are intentional. I would conclude from this that the chief way to promote Christianity and Christian principles is not political action. This does not mean that Christians should never engage in such action, but we should not put our trust in it as the way to produce a Christian society. The chief thing we are told to do is to proclaim God's truth (2 Timothy 4:1-5; 1 Peter 3:15; Romans 10:14). This includes speaking against wrong and injustice (James 5:1-6; Mark 12:38-40; Matthew 14:3,4). But nowhere are we directed to political action as the best way to deal with these.

Now one question we have to deal with is, what about the Old Testament? The Old Testament Law provided for severe penalties, even over issues of faith (Deuteronomy 13; Numbers 15:32-36; Leviticus 24:10-16). But the purpose of the Old Testament law was not to show us how civil government should work, but to show us God's perfect standard, which no one can keep (Romans 3:19,20; Galatians 3:10-12; Hebrews 8:7-10). Nonetheless, the Old Testament Law does show the general principles of God's justice. Therefore, it is a mistake either to try to institute it in its full vigor or to ignore it entirely in the present age. Even in the Old Testament God did not always enforce it with full vigor (2 Samuel 12:13). But asking today what kind of laws we should advocate in nations which generally consist largely of unbelievers can be a difficult question. We cannot simply lapse into total pragmatism, as God says a legal system should reflect true justice (Romans 13:3,4; Proverbs 14:34; Amos 1). But we also cannot expect unbelievers to bear the burden no one is able to bear (Acts 15:10; Galatians 2:14,15; Matthew 23:4). This is a hard balance to reach, and those who object to anything we advocate based on God's principles will claim we are imposing our beliefs on them. But we must not back down on this. Still we must ask whether at some point, if we expect an unbeliever to act like or even pretend to be a believer, we are not simply producing hypocrites. There are Christians whose calling is to be involved in civil government. In a democracy it is to some extent everyone's calling. We should carefully consider how to best carry out this calling. But we should be careful of expecting too much from it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Seeking a Scorecard

How should we feel about the current divisions in the Christian church? Is there something that should be done about this?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Scripture

Those who read between the lines of Scripture often miss the lines.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Leo the Great

For to thee who wast a castaway, banished from the realms of paradise, dying of thy weary exile, reduced to dust and ashes, without further hope of living, by the Incarnation of the Word was given the power to return from afar to thy Maker, to recognize thy parentage, to become free after slavery, to be promoted from being an outcast to sonship: so that, thou who wast born of corruptible flesh, mayest be reborn by the Spirit of God, and obtain though grace what thou hadst not by nature, and, if thou acknowledge thyself the son of God by the spirit of adoption, dare to call God Father.

Leo the Great, 400- 460 AD, The Letters and Sermons of Leo the Great, Sermon XXII, On the Feast of the Nativity II, V (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. XII, translated by Charles Lett Feltoe, Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, p. 131)

How might we lose the wonder of what Christ has done for us? How could we regain it?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dating the Old Testament

It is difficult to come up with a completely unbiased basis for evaluating the dates for the composition of the books of the Old Testament. Those of us who hold that the Bible is the Word of God will, of course, give credence to who these books or the rest of Scripture claim they were written by.  But while it is normal to give the author the benefit of the doubt, we really cannot expect this of sceptics on an issue as controversial as the Old Testament. Now the sceptic will claim that fulfilled prophecy was written after the fact and that there must have been time for the stories of miracles to grow up. But this is simply circular reasoning. Further, we should dismiss, from any perspective, the concept of evolution of religion. New faiths can grow up quickly, often in the lives of the founders or their immediate successors. Also, even if Biblical theology grew up slowly, we would have no idea of when it began growing and at what pace.

Is there then an objective basis for evaluating the dating of the Old Testament books? The actual manuscript evidence does not take us back more then about a couple of hundred years B.C., though even this is a problem for some late dating theories. In later Biblical history the basic historical events have been confirmed by archeology. This suggests a date of writing, or at least a source, close to the date of the events. Though not surprisingly, the earlier you go the more controversial things become and the more arguments there are both ways. Another possible argument is from philology. This would be a good argument if we had a significant body of datable extra-Biblical material in the Hebrew language from the time. We do not. Philological arguments are made by finding words claimed to be of foreign origin and speculating on when these words might have made their way into the Hebrew language. This is at best an argument from silence (which is of virtually no value in ancient history), and there are cases where later discoveries have called conclusions on this basis into question. There is also the question of historical errors and anachronisms, but these are few and generally explicable. I am forced to conclude that it is difficult to dogmatically establish the dates of the Old Testament books from external historical evidence, and I would not expect someone to accept a conservative dating for these books unless they had accepted the Bible was the Word of God. But I also do not see anything like adequate proof for rejecting the traditional dating on purely historical grounds. We must look for other avenues to establish the truth of the Old Testament. But it should not be rejected out of hand because of the claim it was written long after the fact.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On or Off

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

Sometimes God's power is pictured like a light switch; it is either all there or totally absent. But Scripture pictures God giving new supplies to meet new situations. At the time of Pentecost the disciples were filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4). But later Peter was filled to stand firm against opposition (Acts 4:8). After this the disciples prayed for boldness and were filled with the Spirit in answer (Acts 4:31). Paul (then called Saul) was filled with the Spirit soon after his conversion (Acts 9:17). But later he was filled again to deal with a magician (Acts 13:9). There is no indication that any of these individuals became carnal and had to be restored to a condition where they were spiritual again. Rather, God filled them in a new and fresh way to meet new circumstances. God gives us what we need to accomplish His purpose (2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:28,29). Therefore, we should trust in Him to provide us with the power we need when we need it (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms 127:1,2; 1 Corinthians 3:6-9).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Does It Matter What God You Serve?

"God is love." This is one of the most popular Biblical statements (1 John 4:7-12), among believers and even among unbelievers. But what does it say about who God is? Now the old pagan gods were merely men and women writ large. They were considered neither perfectly loving nor perfectly upright. Their loves and judgments were seen as very like ours, only less restrained. Now another option is a kind of impersonal God. This type of God does not love or judge, but is simply there. Then we come to the lone, personal God. And this God generally goes one of two ways. He is either very indulgent or very harsh. Either He is an extreme stickler or he lets you get away with anything. This is not surprising, because a Biblical, committed love requires someone to love. But for the lone, personal God, there is no one intrinsically there to love. Therefore, He must be dependent on His creation, or love must not be a fundamental part of His character.

But there is another option. Scripture speaks of a God who is love, but also of a God who is three in one. This is the concept of the Trinity, that there is one God (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6-8; 1 Timothy 2:5), who exists at the same time (Matthew 3:16,17; 27:46; John 12:27-30) as three persons: Father (John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 4:6), Son (Hebrews 1:8; John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11), and Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17; Acts 5:3,4; 1 Corinthians 3:16). This is not just some abstract theological concept, but is integral to how we view God.  If God is three in one, it explains how God can be love, because it makes love a permanent part of God's nature (John 3:35; 10:17; 17:23-26). This love is pictured as a definite, committed love and not mere indulgence (Romans 5:6-8; Matthew 5:45; Jeremiah 31:3). But this is a principled love that does not conflict with holiness and justice (1 Peter 1:15-17; Romans 1:18; Isaiah 6:3). Nor are these contraries, for genuine, committed love must be concerned with the welfare of those it loves and must respond to those who try to do damage to those who are loved. It cannot just sit back and ignore evil and injustice. Therefore, it is a God who is three in one who is genuinely love and who, because of this, is properly just. Now that God is three in one at the same time is beyond human understanding, but we would expect God to be beyond human understanding (Romans 11:33,34; Isaiah 55:8,9; 1 Corinthians 3:18). But what we believe about God is important to how we live. And while it is possible to graft a foreign ethic onto our idea of God, the two will not really work together. Which it is why it is important to not just put our understanding of God on the shelf somewhere and ignore it. Rather, we should understand and apply it to how we live our lives.