A Resting Place

"It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me."

Monday, January 31, 2005

AIDS in infants almost eliminated

Sunday, January 30, 2005

proctor & politics

Attention: Be sure to read the post before this one, before reading this one.


I think one of my difficulties in wrapping my head around this issue is that it is, indeed, a vast issue. It is hard to stay on one particular point without bringing in so many others. Your email to me, posted below, is helpful, and I am going to interact with it a bit here. At times I will take the opposing position, not because I'm sure I believe it, but to demonstrate the difficulties I'm having with this issue. Stuff you wrote will be in italics. So here goes.

The separation of church and state is not for the protection of the state, although secularists would have you believe that. It is to keep the state out of the church, so that the church would be free from the clutches of political power (political power is inherently corrupt).

This is a significant point! I do believe we have turned things around in our modern way of thinking, keeping the church out of the state rather than the state out of the church. I'm not, however, certain that political power is inherently corrupt. David was a good king. Jesus is called King. There are political positions. Rather, it seems that political positions are filled up by inherently corrupt people.

America was not founded on Christian principles....It was, however, founded to protect Christian principles as maintained by the church. The Christian leaders entering politics these days are turning to the state to do what the church has failed.

I would agree that deism won the day when it comes to the writing of the Constitution. I think you're saying here that the principles of American freedom and religious liberty were put in place to allow the church to continue to be what it is without any state telling it what it must and must not do. I also agree that Dobson and the like are trying to accomplish the work of the church through the state. But must we wait for everyone in America to be converted (a highly unlikely thing) before we can overturn Roe v. Wade? What is the best plan of action?

Furthermore, since we are agreed that America was not founded as a Christian nation (at least in the late 18th century), what is the standard for governmental laws? Enlightenment principles? Good and sound reason? "The tyranny of the 51%?" By what standard does a government say, "You can only drive so fast," or "You cannot put this type of plant into a pipe and smoke it," or other such laws?

You are concerned about the battle between the Christian right and left. I think it is one in the same with the battle between liberal and conservative political philosophies.

I agree that it's the same battle, but when divided evangelicalism enters the public, political realm on this issue, and Campolo and the left begin acting the same way as Dobson and Falwell, it's a recipe for destruction. My hope (at least at this point) is not that Campolo and company will rise up like the Christian right, but that the Christian right will take a deep breath, relax, and start coming at these issues with love rather than pharisaical rage.

Your points are all very well taken and worth much consideration. I look forward to more discussion with you and others. I intend to post soon on how the principle of Jesus' Lordship as well as the question of eschatology relates to this issue. Thanks for your thoughtful input.

Jesus Not Political

Ben Proctor has written a response to my last post that sums up very well the position that Jesus (and therefore the church) are not primarily to be political, and there are some excellent observations of the current state of Christians and politics in America. He's agreed to let me share that response with you in full. I'll interact with it later today. Here's what he wrote:


This is a subject I have spend a lot of time studying and thinking about. I don't have the answers, but I've gone through this struggle and come out with some interresting ideas. I hope you find them helpful.

Why did the angry mob seek to kill Jesus? Didn't the working Jewish people like Jesus, so that they put palms on the street and greeted him as king a week before? I think it's because of Jesus' refusal to be a political saviour, and the Jews wanted a king who would liberate them from Rome.

The separation of church and state is not for the protection of the state, although secularists would have you believe that. It is to keep the state out of the church, so that the church would be free from the clutches of political power (political power is inherently corrupt). The founding fathers understood that there is no way by law you can force a man to moral. By giving the maximum freedom to the church, you maximimize a positive influence on society. That is why the supreme court protected the right of high-school kids to hold prayer meetings in school, for example.

America was not founded on Christian principles. Many people say that it was, and that's because they don't understand the political philosophy behind the declaration and the constitution. Jefferson was much more of a humanist than a Christian. It was, however, founded to protect Christian principles as maintained by the church. The Christian leaders entering politics these days are turning to the state to do what the church has failed. If you want an example, look at the prohibition. Conservative politicians asked a panel of Christain leaders to come up with biblical justification for a ban on drinking. That's where the ridiculous wine/grape juice argument comes from. When the church tries to fix its failures politically, they often make the problem worse. The violence and huge increase in organized crime is the legacy of that law. Plus all those blind farmers!

However, I am pro-life and pro-marraige. I think that the laws a country holds do effect the poeple's view of morality. Abortion is a good example. Before Roe v. Wade, society held a basically negative view of abortion. One of the arguements given by the pro-choice lawyers was that because abortion was not favored in the public eye, if it were legalized it would be a rare procedure given only to women that truly needed it. That's not what happened--the legalization of abortion actually altered the way society viewed it from a moral perspective. This is the real crime--the lie protected by law of society that abortion is OK. The number of abortions skyrocketed since Roe v. Wade, as did the number of women pushed into therapy by the emotional trauma of abortion. Here's where I think the church still makes a mistake on the issue--we hammer on the political wrongness of abortion, and place secondary importance on the spiritual damage. Shouldn't the church be a place where a woman suffering from abortion trauma can find love, acceptance, and the healing truth of Christ? If we overturn Roe v. Wade--and I think we should--we have to do it for the right reasons or it will become another prohibition.

You are concerned about the battle between the Christian right and left. I think it is one in the same with the battle between liberal and conservative political philosophies. Essentailly, I think the American church has become infused with politics, to the point where we are at odds with each other based on political ideals instead of one body in Jesus Christ. For example, take one of Bush's speaches, when he said:
"This idea of America is the hope of all mankind. That hope drew millions to this harbor. That hope still lights our way. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it."

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" is from the Gospel of John, however, President Bush means light of America while the bible means the light of Jesus Christ. Liberal Christians criticized it, such as Jim Wallis and Desmond Tutu, saying that Bush changed the meaning of scripture to fit his political agenda. Conservative Christians supported it, such as Falwell and the Southern Baptist Convention, saying that Bush is on a mission. Isn't that backwards? Aren't conservatives supposed to be against changing the meaning of scripture, and aren't liberals supposed to tolerate that kind of thing? Our Christian leaders are becoming more partisan every year and it scares me.

The only hope we have of becoming a truly Christian nation is if people turn to God. Right now, we are more a nation of Pharisees, IMHO. We should look to the examples of South Korea and the Philipines, that to change a country for God, you have to start with the apprehension of individuals by Jesus, not politics. We forget about America's oldest prejudice, distain for Catholics, while we start to creep towards the poisonous mix of religion and politics that brought down the Catholic empire. I think of Matthew 22:21, give to Caesar what is Caesar's. The coin bears the image of Caecar, but we are made in God's image, we bear the image of God. We shouldn't give what belongs to God to the USA, or any other political entity or philosophy. Patriotism is enough of an idol as it is.

I'm sure you can find more biblical examples. I have lots more thoughts, but i have to do some work now...let me know what you think.



Saturday, January 29, 2005

Of Jesus, Caesar, Elephants, and Donkeys

I usually prefer to write about things I already have figured out, so my readers know I'm smart and keep coming to read my stuff and learn. This morning, I'm going to write about something I'm very confused about. If you're another Christian struggling with this issue, or you've got it down, please help me

It's the issue of how the kingdom of God and the church relate to politics and government. This used to be really simple for me, back in the day. It went something like this: America is a Christian nation, but all the evil secular humanists were trying to change it into a secular state, and so we had to fight against that by trying to convince people of things like the strange idea that Thomas Jefferson was a good, evangelical Christian. While America is a "Christian nation," it's also one that contains religious liberty, which means that, while all our laws should be entirely Christian, and this nation should remain "one nation under God," (and by God we mean Jesus), all the other religions have equal rights in our nation. But they don't really count. But isn't it a grand thing that they're free to follow their pagan lifestyle in this great ol' Christian America?

As you can see, this point of view gets really confusing and results in a befuddled view of what it really means to be a Christian. It results in a strange view of Christian political action. Let's take the homosexual controversy for example. Christians argue that we should not give legal status to "married" homosexuals. When asked why, our reason is that God would not approve of such a thing. When our opponents point out that we have religious liberty in America, and a religious belief is not a good enough reason to pass a law, we give them the same answer every time: "Well, America was founded on Christian principles."

But this gets us nowhere fast. It's not even really a logical progression. "Yes, we have religious liberty, and that's really important, but it doesn't mean that we're not Christian, too." As if everyone can freely practice their own religion, as long as the government makes laws based on one - Christianity. Sounds a lot like the first century Roman Empire to me. "You can practice whatever religion you like, as long as you say 'Caesar is lord' and come out to play with the gods at our festivals."

With this past election, all sorts of confusion about America and Christianity has ensued. Is America Christian? Is it Christian to fight for our moral values? A deeply divided evangelical Christianity is showing the depth of its division on this issue. Dobson, Falwell, and the Religious Right are louder than ever. Now, the "Christian left" is organizing and preparing to mount a counterattack. Bush's inauguration speech is getting the theonomists riled up, and Doug Wilson is calling the President a false teacher. Other Christians are nervous about the extremes of the Religious Right (see Michael Spencer's recent stuff on Dobson and the homosexuality issue). I am nervous about a battle between the Christian right and left.

But in the midst of all this, I cannot yet get my head around an answer. There are so many questions involved that need answering. I compiled a short and incomplete list of them a few weeks ago while my head was spinning on this issue, and I'm going to add a few now. Here they are:

What should the Christian's position be toward government?
What is the meaning of Romans 13, especially in light of Nero?
How does eschatology relate to politics?
Is the Old Covenant civil law restricted to OT Israel and Judah, or does it have application to the modern times?
If so, how? Do we kill adulterers and Sabbath-breakers?
Does the church and church discipline replace the OT civil government for Israel?
OT - Israel, a physical nation, God's covenant people, with accompanying laws
NT - Church, God's covenant people, but "exiles" throughout the world, with its accompany "law of Christ" - Church discipline would then be punishment for breaking of laws
Does the NT specifically address what to do when nations are disobedient to God?
Should a nation become Christian?
Is there any hope of a nation becoming truly Christian?
Is there any hope of winning a nation over by conversion rather than by political action?
If this happened, would the nation then inact Christian laws?
If a nation inacts Christian laws, which ones? with what punishments for breaking those laws?
Will we ever establish an ideal government before the return of Jesus? (an eschatology question)

(Stay tuned for an upcoming confused post on how I try to deal with the eschatology questions.)

So what should we do? Is the Republican Party really the best representative of Christianity? Can a Christian be a Democrat? Does the statement, "Jesus is Lord," pertain to government as well? Should we call on them to bow to Christ? Or is Jesus only supposed to be Lord of the church? If a nation is supposed to be Christian, how do we avoid the corruption of power that has always accompanied the combination of church and state?

Feel free to join me in my quest for an answer.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Recovering Pharisee Confession #3

Why Churches Should Have Super Bowl Parties Instead of Evening Services on Feb. 6

I'm bound to get into a lot of trouble with just about everyone for this post. My really spiritual friends will lie about how they'd rather be "with their church family in a worship service" than watching the Super Bowl. Some of my Reformed friends will be mad that I'm suggesting we approve of football on "the Sabbath." But I think it would be a really good thing to replace evening service, just one time a year, with a Super Bowl party. My Reformed friends can even have beer, and my Baptists friends can have pop (soda, coke, whatever). Of course, given my schizophrenia on the whole Reformed/Baptist issue, I think that leaves me with a digusting can of O'Douls or something.

It used to be my sincere belief that, if we were really (and I mean really, really) good Christians, things like the Super Bowl wouldn't matter so much. To not have a regular evening service would be to say that God wasn't as important as football that night. (Because, clearly, God commands two worship services on Sunday...it's in there somewhere). Besides, we might be tempted to get drunk by watching beer commercials, so we should avoid the televised event altogether. So good, moral Christians forget about the Super Bowl and go to church that night. It's a sacrifice we must make, but if we really are Christians, we'll be willing to make it. And as a Pharisee, since attendance at evening service was an important rule for true believers, I would be absolutely certain to tell you (or at least talk about you behind your back) that your desire to stay at home with your dad whom you rarely get to spend quality time with and watch the Super Bowl was misplaced, and you should invite your dad to evening service instead. After all, you can only honor God by doing religious things.

By no means do I intend to downplay the absolute significance of corporate worship. But the thing that Pharisees like me never realized is that it is, in fact, possible - and even right and good - to spend God-honoring quality time with family and with church family outside of the actual worship service. God can be honored (I believe) by Christians getting together and enjoying the Super Bowl. God is not missing something He needs by our changing one evening service a year into a fun time of fellowship. Have we become so gnostic that only "spiritual" things can honor God? I'm afraid many of us have.

If you do, indeed, prefer to go to evening service over the Super Bowl, that's fine. But let's not look down on others who miss evening service that night. They're just as Christian, just as accepted in Christ, and believe it or not, they're probably not home sinning. They probably just want some good time with family and friends, and events like the Super Bowl (once a year) provide excellent opportunities for such time. Would that more churches realized this and took the time to get together with other church members, family, friends, gather 'round the TV for a sports match, and had some fun together.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


One of the troubling things about the recent silly controversy over SpongeBob/ We Are Family Foundation vs. Dobson is what they are objecting to in the first place. The so-called controversial statement reads as follows:

I pledge to have respect for people whose abilities, beliefs, culture, race, sexual identity or other characteristics are different from my own.
Now, I get it - there's that subtle attempt to equate sexual orientation with civil rights issues such as racism. But at what point did Christians decide it was ok to not respect people who are gay? Disagree with them? Absolutely. Fail to respect them? Absolutely not. I just don't think there is anything worth getting worked up about in this statement. The day we stop respecting certain sinners because they happened to choose a sin that we think is worse than the ones we commit is the day we've missed the entire point. For many of us, it's today, and it has been so for far too long.

I know there's a ton of politics involved in that "controversial" statement. We can discuss that calmly. But since Christians have done such an incredible job of acting really dumb when it comes to this issue, it might be a good idea for us to settle down, stop attacking statements like this and making ourselves look ridiculous by finding demons in cartoons, and start respecting all people, created in the image of God, once again. We can discuss the dangers of the cultural acceptance of homosexuality once we remember to respect all persons involved in the discussion.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

JFK and Freedom

Boar's Head Tavern once again provides some eye-opening reading in light of current events. Many Democrats, and even some Republicans, are terribly misunderstanding President Bush's inaugural speech and tearing it to pieces. The following are excerpts, posted at the aforementioned Boar's Head Tavern, from John F. Kennedy's inauguration speech. This is longer than my normal posts, but it's worth a read.

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom—symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning—signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago.
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God....
Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty...
Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.
We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed...Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"—a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself...
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it.
Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

-Excerpts from the Inauguration Speech of President John F. Kennedy

Sunday, January 23, 2005

worship and singing

The Boar's Head Tavern is in the middle of an interesting discussion on worship and singing. This post by Michael Spencer is very informative on the issue and contains many links to other excellent pieces.

Here's one interesting quote from the post:

Music has become a sacrament on a level higher than preaching, Baptism or the Supper. It now has its own bizarre theology, which we have all heard hauled out by contemporary worship leaders. This must be reversed. Reforming worship in most churches today means taking music down several notches in priority.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Depravity and Free Will

The question of free will frequently comes up whenever depravity is discussed, as it has in the last post (see comments for the last post). It is a vast and complicated topic and can by no means be handled by one post. I will share some brief thoughts and then leave some links to helpful resources.

It is certainly true that if the entirety of our understanding (heart and mind) is plagued by sin, then the will is also plagued by sin. We have to carefully define what we mean by "free will." If by "free will," we mean that humans are sort of morally neutral, with a blank slate, equally able to make choices of good and evil, the Bible does not describe our sinful state this way (not to mention that it is philosophically impossible). If by free will, however, we mean that we are able to choose whatever we want, then we do indeed have free will.

The problem, of course, is obvious. If we are able to choose what we desire, and our natures are fallen in such a way that we desire sin, then we will incessantly choose sin. Simply put, there is no fallen person who will, without a previous work of grace on the heart and mind, choose Christ. The person will not choose Christ because the person does not want Christ, because Christ is all holiness, and we are all sin.

Of course, the common grace of God in the world does indeed restrain the extent of our sinfulness, and as God "gives us up" (Rom. 1) to our debased mind, our sinful desires take stronger hold, and greater and more frequent sin does occur. But this, of course, is no fault of God's since He is merely giving us over to what we already want and, indeed, already are.

The following is a few links that might be helpful in trying to work on the issue of free will:

Monergism'section on Depravity
Mongerism's section on Free Will

Those are just a few off the top of my head. I'll post more when I have more time. Monergism, by the way, is an excellent resource with tons of articles on almost any topic imaginable.

Friday, January 21, 2005

IVCF, 1/21/05

To Geneseo IVCF: Thanks so much for the opportunity to speak tonight and for listening to my feeble attempts at laying out the doctrine of sin. My hope and prayer is that, hard as it may be, you will meditate deeply on the difficult doctrine of sin and learn to love Christ all the more. I realized that I plowed through the 7 points of application quite quickly, so here they are again:

Having a deep and penetrating understanding of the doctrine of sin and eternal punishment accomplishes the following:

1. It causes us to be totally dependent on God
2. It causes God’s grace to be magnified
3. It magnifies the joys of heaven
4. It motivates us towards obedience by freeing us from God's wrath
5. It causes us to remain humble, especially around unbelievers
6. It causes us to have mercy towards unbelievers
7. It brings glory to Christ – the work is all His! Many still trust from time to time in their own works to gain approval with God. Meditation and understanding of our terrible sinful state reminds us that Christ is our only hope.

Please feel free to ask questions or make comments in the "comments" section, and I am looking forward to seeing you next week!

(By the way, my regular readers are of course welcome to join this discussion as well).

Doubting Dobson

Though I've been really nervous about Dobson for a long time, I've been holding a kind of idealistic hope that maybe, just maybe, a Christian who has such a prominent voice in American cultural discussions could be sane and reasonable. Well, I'm pulling my head out of the sand on Dobson now.

He thinks Spongebob is going to make kids gay.

Now, granted, the CNN report is biased against Christians in general, but this is silly. Spongebob, Dr. Dobson? This is the great threat to children? Or even a threat worth mentioning?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Free iPod

Well, folks, I normally don't do stuff like this, but this one is quite harmless. In fact, the only thing that's happened to me is that I got 5 DVDs for really cheap (49 cents each). The deal is this: if 5 people sign up for a special offer (like the DVD offer I mentioned) by following the link below, I get a free iPod (which is an amazing, several hundred dollar little pocket sized thing that carries thousands of mp3s and has great sound quality). Then, if five people sign up under you, you get one too!

So help a poor guy get free electronic stuff; follow the link below!

Help me get a Free iPod!

IVCF, SUNY Geneseo

I get to do one of my favorite things for the next three weeks: preach to college students. SUNY Geneseo's Inter Varsity chapter has invited me to speak three Friday nights in a row to kick off their semester. Here's the plan:

1/21, 7pm: On Being "in Adam" (Sin)

1/28, 7pm: On Being "in Christ" (Salvation)

2/5, 7pm: On Being in Community (God's covenant people - the Church)

Any questions, or if you'd like directions, just drop me a note in the "comments" section.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A Meditation on Competing Desires

Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. ~ Psalm 90:14.

Starting last week, my wife and I have decided to memorize a verse per week for the year, taking the week to meditate on it. Here's some brief thoughts on last week's meditations.

It would be hard to argue with the following statement: Every morning we wake up with competing desires. We want to keep sleeping. We want to make it to work on time. We want a day off. We want to call in sick. We don't want to waste sick time. We are angry at our work schedule. We love that the weekend is coming.

And if we are Christians, we want to spend some time in prayer and Bible reading before starting the day. Some days this desire wins, and some days it loses. If for you, it always wins, you are more spiritual than I am.

It seems that there is, indeed, significance to the phrase "in the morning." If our day does start with a deep sense of satisfaction in the love of Christ; if our conflicted morning desires can be drawn to an appreciation of all God is for us in Jesus; if our cranky attitudes can early be repented of and early turn to joy in our Redeemer, my guess is that our days would be better.

Now, some Christians talk as though morning devotions were magical. Do your devotions, and you'll have better days. This is ultimately not true, in the way most Christians seem to mean (whether through poor wording or poor theology). Bad stuff will still happen in your day. Your boss will still yell at you. You'll still be stuck in traffic. Your child or spouse will still get sick. Someone will still get cancer. These things keep happening, regardless of your morning "quiet time."

So let me clarify. I'm not talking about a simple reading of the Daily Bread so you have a better day. I'm not talking about an "if...then" deal we make with God. I'm talking about finding a deep and peaceful contentment in our hearts and minds in the steadfast love of Jesus. Not only is it our only hope for joy, but it is also the only hope for those enslaved, whether knowingly or not, to sinful desires. When the world around us sees us satisfied with Christ's steadfast love, even in the face of ridicule at their hands, they are then confronted with the only remedy for their sinful state: the steadfast love of Jesus. It will introduce to them their only hope, which will, by the grace of God, compete with their present desires, overcome them, and draw them joyfully to Jesus.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

as i was saying...

Leave it to me to forget an important part of the whole discussion about whether or not the doctrine of Christ being "fully God and fully man" was an early Christian belief, or something invented by Chalcedon in 451. That is, of course, the Chalcedon Confession itself. Allow me to quote just the first little bit:

Following, then, the holy fathers, we unite in teaching all men to confess the one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This selfsame one is perfect both in deity and in humanness; this selfsame one is also actually God and actually man, with a rational soul and a body.

The italicized part was added for emphasis. Notice it says what I've been saying all along: the believers at Chalcedon were clarifying what the holy fathers had taught before them. It wasn't invented in 451 AD. It was given that specific wording in 451, because teaching had arisen contrary to what Christians had believed since the beginning.

Ok, I think I'll put this one to rest now. I should really start taking up church history issues on my other blog, where I'll be writing (hopefully) more about the Christological controversies of the first few hundred years, as well as some stuff on the Pelagian controversy in the coming weeks.

Cutting off the Roots

I've been doing some thinking about early Christianity, having recently faced a good deal of criticism from the camp that tries to pass Christianity off as a religion that stole a bunch of ideas from earlier pagan religions and placed them on Jesus of Nazareth. Having run into people who are convinced that The Da Vinci Code is finally telling us the real story, I wanted to spend some time reviewing and learning more about first century Christianity. I am by no means an expert, but I think there is an interesting problem with the foundation of this whole concept of Jesus becoming a pagan dying and rising Godman.

That problem is this: The founders of Christianity were not primarily Greeks; they were Jews. More than that, they were Jews who saw in Jesus of Nazareth the fulfillment of God's plan in the world through Israel. Jesus became the fulfillment of God's covenant promises to Israel.

This means that the first century theology of Jesus is rooted in Old Testament Messianic expectation, not Greek mystery religion. Jesus isn't Savior of the World to early Christians because Mythra was also "savior of the world," and that seemed like a good idea to apply to Jesus, but because YHWH had declared that He was Israel's "only Savior."

This, of course, is why early Christians concluded that Jesus had to be God. If only God could save, and Jesus was Savior, Jesus was God. But Jesus was also clearly a man, so much so that John put forth belief in Jesus' incarnation as a test of true Christian doctrine (1 John 4:1). While the exact words "fully God and fully man" were not used until a later council, the concept is manifestly present in early Christian literature, and it is rooted not in the idea of some god coming down, getting a woman pregnant, and birthing a "godman," but in the theology and Messianic expectation of God's covenant promises to Israel.

If you cut off the roots of Christianity (i.e., God's covenant promises to Israel in the Old Testament), then you can have all sorts of fun recasting Christianity as another pagan religion, borrowing all its ideas from Mythraism and other such belief systems. But this is to miss the point entirely, and it's irresponsible historical work.

Friday, January 14, 2005

things i love about being a baptist

Before I begin a tirade of things I hate about being a Baptist, there are still some things I very much love about it. Here is an incomplete list which I will add to over time.

1. It was Calvinistic Baptists who pushed the hyper-Calvinist world out of its comfort zone and gave us the passion for world missions that exists in modern Christianity. William Carey in particular played a huge role in his persevering service in India, earning him the title, "The Father of Modern Missions." I've always loved the epitaph he chose for his tombstone:

A wretched, poor, and helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall

2. We've got Charles Spurgeon. Need I say more?

3. Regardless of my questions about church/state separation, Baptists stood up against some pretty harsh persecution from other Christians (whom, I must add, had fled England for that very reason). One can hardly blame Isaac Backus, John Leland, and the many Baptists of the 1700s for wanting freedom of religion across the board.

4. John Bunyan was a Baptist. I read The Pilgrim's Progress when I was just a lad, and it always stuck with me. I'm reading it to my wife now on our days off. We're at the beginning of Part 2, "Christiana's Journey."

These things about being a Baptist still remain, but I reckon they will remain dear to me whether or not I remain a Baptist in the future.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

at the same time...

(Read the post directly below before reading this)

I must admit that I agree with Michael Spencer that it is better to be an honest atheist than a fake Christian. So while I might think that the evidence some atheists are presenting is terribly biased against Christianity (and, if compared to other historical research on less controversial issues, would be shown to be quite poor), it is better to be real about who you are at this point in time than to pretend to be something that you're not. You'll only end up growing quite bitter against Christianity. Even I took a "sabbatical," if you will, from Christianity, and became a Unitarian Universalist (in theory - I never actually joined a congregation) for a year. And now here I am defending the faith I was once quite skeptical about.

why do you argue...

A phrase keeps echoing around in my head. I cannot remember who said it, but it goes something like this: "Why do you argue against that which no one believes?" The question is meant to challenge people who set up "straw man" arguments, who refuse to take up their discussion with a serious position, but instead must caricature that position in order to defeat it.

I think one of the things that frustrates me most in dialogue with unbelievers these days is that many refuse to argue against what Christianity really is. The newest form of argument (which is really a recycling of an old one) is that, in fact, there were lots of different types of Christianity at first, but the big, mean, oppressive Roman Catholic Church which was in bed with the Emperor stifled all these "pagan" Christianities and persecuted them.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the later RCC did some unChristian things in its history. But this form of argument is terribly oversimplistic. Look: A good historical observation of the facts demonstrates that there was a basic Christian teaching, a "rule of faith," a creed, that passed on from Jesus, to His apostles, to teachers in the second century and on down to Nicea 325 A.D., when the 318 bishops, who were finally allowed to meet in public without being slaughtered, were able to put it down on paper. Depending on which source you use, the vote on the Nicene Creed was either 316 to 2, or 300 to 3. Not exactly a nail-biter. Apostolic Christianity vs. "Gnostic" or "Pagan" Christianity was not a close call. Genuine, apostolic Christianity had held onto the teachings of Jesus in the catacombs and house churches, had defended it against heresy and persecution, and were finally able to freely discuss it. This "rule of faith" is the same core Christian doctrine that has been held to for 2,000 years. It is what an apostolic Christian is.

The premise of this whole attack on Christianity is that if there were a bunch of different "types" of Christianities in the early centuries, then Christianity is invalidated. All sorts of attempts are made to make Christians look like they were deliberately taking pagan beliefs and baptizing them into the language of Jesus, and then turning around and oppressing the pagans. So people like Augustine and Justin Martyr are taken way out of context by websites like The Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth to say things they never intended to say.

The problems with this are manifold, but the biggest of all is that the theory of a Christianity that was terribly divided on the essential issues of the faith is not true. Those espousing it do not realize that their thinking is so heavily influenced by modernist and postmodernist assumptions that they cannot take at face value the wisdom and apologetic of early Christian writers, nor can they read them in context. Gee, could it actually be possible that Tertullian, writing about Christianity in the second century, had a better handle on early Christian history than John Dominic Crossan?

Now, of course, any attempt to defend our faith by pointing out historical evidence is met with scoffing and out of hand dismissal. It's very convenient to be able to argue "academically" against Christians, but when we present facts to back up what we say, we are accused of simply being stubborn and "relying on creeds and dogma." This is a huge, insulting overgeneralization, but then, Jesus said we'd have to deal with that, and I gladly will for His sake.

reformed and barely baptist

I find myself presently in a theological identity crisis. For some time now, I've been slowly coming to the conclusion that there is barely any Baptist left in me. In my own theological study, most of the Baptist distinctives are either gone or in question.

For example:

I believe there must be more to the Lord's Supper and Baptism than just "remembering." Most Baptists act as though "Do this in remembrance of Me" were the only text on the issue. And it is nothing short of ironic that a group named "Baptists" so downplay baptism that all most of us can say about it is, "well, it doesn't save, and it should only be done to adults...when they feel ready." Well, that's really bad baptism theology.

The entire separation of church and state is in question in my mind. If Christ is truly Lord of all, and if N.T. Wright is correct in his article, The New Testament and the "State", that the principle of Christ's Lordship necessarily applies to government, and that religion and politics do indeed meet at the cross (see my post below, Politics at the Cross), then I have a lot of thinking to do on the traditional Baptist view of church and state.

Congregational style church government is very much in question. I'm leaning more and more toward elder rule for various reasons. John Piper manages to remain a Baptist while embracing elder rule. In fact, Piper manages to remain a Baptist while being an uncompromising Calvinist as well. This breed has become rare, but is currently seeing a turnaround in growth. The problem is, since we're Baptists, we're going to have 714 different kinds of "Reformed Baptists," and no two groups will talk to each other. I still have to spend some time reading and reviewing this "New Covenant Theology" that many Reformed Baptists are embracing. There's so much to read, and so little time.

There are many things I absolutely hate about being a Baptist (stay tuned for an upcoming series of posts on "why i hate being a baptist"). I hate that most Baptists embrace dispensationalism. I hate that most Baptists consider the Christian religion and the Republican party to be almost synonymous. There are more.

I still can't get past credobaptism (believers' baptism), however. I've tried. I think I almost want to believe in paedobaptism (infant baptism). It would unite me with longstanding Reformed Christian traditions with whom I feel much more affinity than Baptists. But I'm just not seeing it. I've debated the issue with myself and others. I've tried to listen to the paedobaptist side with an open ear. I'll try to post some theological thoughts on the issue in the near future. But if you're in the same place I am, or if you're solidly in either the paedobaptist or credobaptist camp, do me a favor and drop me some titles of some resources that have helped you. Once my Master's thesis is over, I plan to dig into this issue.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

books a-plenty

So, I'm working on saving more money and not spending an exhorbitant amount on books. This is hard for me. So suddenly, in the mail, come these intriguing book offers - "Join our club, buy 4 books for $1," and on some, it was added, "and you're not required to buy any more." Hmmm...can this be true? I've done the same thing with cds before...I must find out. If I can still get a few new books and barely spend anything on them, well, that'd be great!

So I investigated, and indeed, it is true. After looking through two clubs, I have the following coming in the mail:

The Entire First Eleven Books of A Series of Unfortunate Events
The First Five Books of the same series (for my sister in law)
The Chronicles of Narnia (all seven books, for my brother)
Lost Scriptures (translations of the Gnostic texts)
Lost Christianities (only because it came with the previous book and still counted as one selection)
The Rise of Evangelicalism, Volume 1: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys
How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)
John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father

Total number of books: 28. Total price: less than $20 (plus shipping, which is always overcharged on these things), and my brother and sister in law will be helping with that (since they're getting books too). Total obligation: 3 more books over the next two years (two of which will be the final two in the Lemony Snicket series). And the best part is, no stupid monthly cards to send back; it can all be done online. (Of course, I'm going to stop right there. No more book clubs after these, 'cause it'd be defeating the point about not spending money)

An excellent deal, overall.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

wright, spurgeon, and auburn avenue

Since I heard about this year's Auburn Avenue Pastor's Conference, which involved a discussion on Pauline theology between N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, and Richard Gaffin of Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), I knew that it would be great, and that I wouldn't be able to go.

So since it ended recently, I've been trying to find reviews from blogdom by people who went there (see Team Redd, where Gaines and Allison have left posts of their own as well as links to others). I'm not anywhere near as familiar as I'd like to be with the issues at stake here. My study in the New Perspective two years ago was limited to Dunn and Sanders, and I did not get much into N.T. Wright. My work in the realm of historical theology over the past two years has sort of kept me from delving into more recent theological issues.

I know that much of the Reformed community is in a bit of an uproar over Wright, and though my limited reading of him has not produced any shocked reactions in my own mind, I have not read anywhere near enough to know why people like Dr. Gaffin are opposed. I also know that many see Wright as the savior of theology, the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that maybe, just maybe, he could turn water into wine if he really tried. So, being a Reformed Baptist at the very beginning of studying these issues, I was delighted to come across this statement from Douglas Wilson in his Auburn 2005 review:

Related to this is Wright's acceptance of women's ordination. How someone who knows Paul the way Wright knows Paul can process this is simply beyond me. But because Wright generally is so masterful in things Pauline, I think something like this is a good reminder for us. We should be extremely grateful for Wright, but not so dazzled that we allow him to slip something in that is manifestly not true (and in this case, something that is at odds with Wright's larger project). The whole thing reminds me of the old joke told about Charles Spurgeon (by a Presbyterian). God gave so many gifts to Spurgeon that He knew we would be tempted to idolize him . . . so He made him a Baptist.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

welcome back, mr. newdow

Everyone knew that when Michael Newdow had his case against the "under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance thrown out last year that he would return. Now he's back, and rather than tackling just one issue, he's getting geared up for two: the Pledge, and inauguration prayers.

Check out my column, "One Nation...," at College Conservative for response to issue number one, which specifically addresses the pledge issue and lays some groundwork for the prayer issue. Let me make just a note or two on the inaugural day prayer issue.

Several people took issue with the last inauguration of President Bush when prayers were offered in Jesus' name. "A breach of the separation of church and state!" they cried. Some called for "general religious prayers," while Mr. Newdow calls for an end to public prayers altogether. He says that hearing a prayer at a presidential inauguration makes him feel like a "second class citizen," being an atheist.

The problem I see here is that if he wins this argument, his belief trumps mine. To tell you the truth, I might be rather upset if my God, who claims that a "nation whose God is Yahweh" is "blessed," and that "righteousness exalts a nation," were entirely left out of the inauguration of our leader. If the God of the universe and Lord of all nations were not called upon to bless the next four years of leadership under whomever became president (even Bill Clinton's inauguration included prayers in Jesus' Name), I'd be a bit worried. It could very well be just as much an insult to a Christian when the Most Important Person in the Universe is left out of the most important ceremony in our nation.

The truth is, a prayer offered in Jesus' Name at the ceremony in a few weeks is not going to threaten anyone's freedoms, nor will it result in Congress passing a law that establishes any specific religion.

Let's make a deal, Mr. Newdow. If there's a prayer offered, how 'bout you just relax and quit wasting time in the courts trying to make atheism our national belief system? And if prayer gets overlooked this time around, I'll relax, and I'll pray hard for my nation and president right here at home. Sound good to you?


the God we hide

I've been thinking about evangelism quite a bit lately. Now that I've recovered from the trappings of the "Wretched Urgency" of modern evangelicalism, an appropriate theology of evangelism is in order. What is terribly missing from most evangelism today is confidence in God. It seems to me that letting God be God and letting God do what He will do is not enough for us. We need to persuade and convince. We need on the spot "decisions for Christ," a term I've come to loathe. And in order to get on the spot decisions, we need a clear, concise way of presenting the gospel. This has contributed to our hiding the aspects of God that will get in the way of a quick decision.

For example, who ever warned anyone they were "witnessing" to that Jesus is more important than family, and that one's love for Christ should be so much higher than one's love for family, that love for family looks more like "hating" them (Luke 14:25-27)? This very text is indeed an "evangelistic" passage. People have "come to Christ," and He issues that very statement.

The heart of this, of course, is the question about the value (if you will) of Christ. Those coming to Christ must see Him as the "pearl of great price," for which they are willing to sell all. One who comes to Christ has changed her or his affections (or rather, had them changed) to value Christ above all.

Now, piling up "evidence that demands a verdict" may have its place. Christianity has such a vast amount of evidence in its favor, and it must be defended intelligently against the likes of the Jesus Seminar. But evidence is not enough. That's made clear by the fact that those opposed to Christianity keep recycling old, debunked arguments like, "Christianity borrowed all its beliefs from pagan and mystery religions." That's rubbish, and it has been proved to be so over and over, but it still surfaces again and again, especially ever since the Nag Hammadi library was discovered.

Nevertheless, it is God and God alone who can transform a person's perception and desire. One must desire Christ to come to Him, and no one desires Christ without the intervention of God John 6:44. Therefore, what people most need is not evidence in favor of the Word of God, but the Word of God itself. Learn it, live it, and teach it. See the world from its radical perspective. Only the God of the Bible is worth our love and adoration, and no one will be drawn to God if we hide the aspects of His character that most offend us. We must tell them entirely about the God we love and adore. We either draw people to God as He is, or we tell them about an idol. An idol will bring no salvation. Jesus Christ, as He is portrayed in the gospels, will save to the uttermost.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Eavesdropping Can be Fun

Here's an interesting conversation I just overhead in my workplace:

Worker #1: "I don't know what I'm going to do now that football is over [for the Bills]. There's no hockey, and I don't do basketball."

Worker #2: "No hockey?"

Worker #1: Because of the salary cap issue."

Worker #2: "I think these players, especially some of these guys in baseball, should have salary caps. It makes me sick that they make so much. They should go talk to someone on the street in the city who has nowhere to live. I have absolutely no sympathy for these players, none at all."

Worker #3, who has been at the computer: "Hey guys, come on over, I'm on the Kaufmann's website!"

Worker #2: "Oh good, I want some new furniture."

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Recovering Pharisee Confession #2

A Bad Interpretation

I remember at a very early age being told (by other Pharisees, of course) that the Bible commands us to abstain from even the appearance of evil. If it is even possible that someone watching me might mistakenly interpret something I'm doing as evil, I should not do it. This is why we weren't allowed to go to movie theaters. The church we belonged to used this reasoning:

If you're going into a Movie 6 cinema, even to see a G rated movie, but on the other screens were playing a couple of R rated movies, and someone from church or a co-worker happened to see you walking into the theater, they wouldn't know if you were going to see the G movie or the R movie, and so you wouldn't be abstaining from the appearance of evil.

I'm not joking.

Now, my family knew the absurdity of this particular example well enough, but the principle stuck with me until just recently. This argument got applied to anything and everything. Let's apply the principle to Jesus Himself, shall we?

Jesus' first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding celebration. Jesus ate and drank with His disciples, and it would have included wine. Apparently, this was not "abstaining from even the appearance of evil," since Jesus noted in Matthew 11:19 that people accused Him of being a drunkard. Looks like Jesus himself didn't do a very good job of avoiding what others might interpret as sin.

The root of this problem is a bad interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22, which says in a more modern translation (ESV):

16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Abstain from every form of evil.

Of course, the old KJV said "appearance," which led to this whole misguided concept. There was nothing particularly wrong with that word being used; it was the way it was being read that caused the mistake. The verse, properly understood, would mean something to the effect of "every time evil appears (shows up), abstain from it." Furthermore, the context is the judging of prophecies. The idea applied to our current church situation would be this:

"Don't hate preaching, but always test the preaching. If it's good, hold onto it. If it's bad, avoid it."

You see then how much different that is from "avoiding doing anything that someone oddball from your workplace or Pharisee from our church might wrongly interpret as sin."