Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Friday, June 23, 2017

On the Proper Naming of Churches

This is something that I feel rather strongly about, but I've never blogged about it before. I fully recognize that there are some excellent, healthy churches that do not follow this model for their church name. However, I am in contact with some people who are involved in church planting, and so I hope to help persuade them of [what I believe should be] the preferred method for naming churches.

Creativity is NOT desirable in a church name. Look at how the churches are addressed in the New Testament. They are simply "the church in __________." Because we now have different denominations, I believe that it is useful (and a matter of honesty) to indicate the denominational/theological position in the name. Therefore, I would argue that "Location" "Denomination" Church is the most appropriate name.

As someone who is Reformed Baptist by conviction, and who finds that my fellow Reformed Baptists usually value precision in church belief and practice, I have been surprised at how many Reformed Baptist churches depart from the model I'm advocating (usually by placing a doctrine/commitment, rather than the location, at the beginning of the church name). It seems to me that other names (for example: "Grace Church" [NOTE: this generic example is NOT meant to pick on any specific Baptist church of anyone I know]) is, at best, a matter of human will and that highlighting a specific doctrine/commitment in the church name relatively minimizes other important beliefs. Having the church location in the church name: 1) honors the fact that God, in His providence, has established a body of believers at a specific location; 2) shows love for the surrounding community, which the congregation should be reaching with the gospel.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Israel

The following post is adapted from comments I made in a Facebook discussion a few years ago, wherein I was interacting with a number of Dispensationalists.

If God has a people during the Old Testament dispensation that He calls the Church (Acts 7:38), and if He calls the Church the Israel of God (Gal 6:16), then–though proper covenantal distinctions need to be made–there is a biblical basis for calling the church "Israel" in a meaningful sense (showing the unity of God's elect people, all partaking in salvation bought by the blood of Christ, as His chosen bride). This is not eisegesis.

The saints are the body of Christ. He does not have two bodies. The saints are the bride of Christ. He is not a bigamist.

The Reformed view is that God fulfills His covenant promises to Israel in Jesus–the One who is both physically and spiritually qualified to receive His promises–and that ongoing fulfillment of the New Covenant promises takes place within the Church. Dispensationalists will sometimes object that if we do not believe that God’s promises will be fulfilled in ethnic Israel en masse (on the basis of their ethnicity), then we are presenting God as a liar. God did not lie to Israel. This is what Romans 9 is explaining: "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." The Arminian who objects to Reformed Theology saying that it presents God as unjust toward the non-elect has his objection anticipated by Romans 9:14ff. The Dispensationalist who objects to Reformed Theology saying that it presents God's promise as broken has his objection anticipated by Romans 9:6ff. God is not unjust nor is He a liar. It is NOT by ethnicity that one lives and receives the promises of God, but in relation to faith we are united to Christ, in whom ALL of God's promises are "yes" and "Amen" (2 Cor 1:20).

In fulfilling His promises to Israel in Christ and in the body of Christ (united to Him by faith), God broke no covenant with Israel. "[I]t is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants" (Rom 9:8). The Pharisees thought that they had Abraham as their father: they thought to benefit from God's blessings due to their ethnicity. Christ corrected them, saying that they were of their father the devil (John 8). Those who are called the offspring of the devil can in no way presume upon the promises of God, whatever their biological pedigree.

From God’s dealings with Abraham onward, we see a focusing of His covenantal activity. It is not all of Abraham’s children who receive the promises concerning Abraham’s descendants; it is only Isaac’s line who are the chosen inheritors. Israel, as narrowed down from other descendants of Isaac (through Esau), are inheritors of the promise. But even within Israel there is a narrowing (through the line of Judah, to David and his descendants), which–under the New Covenant administration–finds tremendous expansion.

The New Covenant (a covenant made directly "with the house of Israel and the house of Judah") is applied directly to the Church, as seen in our use of the New Covenant [=New Testament, 1 Cor 11:25 KJV] Scriptures and in our partaking of the Lord's Supper, the wine of which represents the New Covenant in Christ's blood (Luke 22:20). All believers–not only ethnic Jews, nor any ethnic Jews apart from faith–benefit from the work of Christ on the basis of the divinely-established New Covenant. God ONLY grants the New Covenant blessings to those ethnic Israelites who trust in Christ, and He extends all of these blessings to believing Gentiles.

The New Covenant, secured in Christ, applies directly to both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. Some Dispensationalists claim that to see the New Covenant as fulfilled within the Church is to cancel out the original intent of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the New Covenant, which (they say) would have only been understood by the original readers as applying to ethnic Israelites. But non-dispensationalists are NOT canceling out the original intent. The original intent is to focus attention on the seed of the woman, who is further revealed to be the seed of Abraham, who is further revealed to be the descendant of David. The original intent is to show how all the nations in Him will be blessed. The original intent is to show that those who break God's covenant will receive the curses of the covenant, and that those who keep God's covenant will receive the blessings of the covenant. The original intent is to show how we have all violated God's Law, written on the conscience, and then on tablets of stone. The original intent is to show that we all–Jews and Gentiles–are in need of a Savior: that we all need a sacrifice, that we all need a high priest. The original intent is to show that the people of God are made His people in connection with FAITH.

The Old Testament is characterized by mystery, types, and shadows, which are more fully and more clearly understood after the redemptive work of Christ is accomplished in history. As Nehemiah Coxe noted, "the best interpreter of the Old Testament is the Holy Spirit speaking to us in the new." If the New Testament tells us that the rock was Christ (1 Cor 10:4), then it was Christ. If the New Testament tells us that the seed was Christ (Gal 3:16), then it was Christ. If the New Testament us that all those who belong to Christ are Abraham's offspring (Gal 3:29), then we do not get to define Abraham's offspring merely in reference to biology. (The New Testament also records Jesus telling some of Abraham's biological offspring, who had rejected Him, that they were NOT Abraham's children, but children of the devil, John 8:39-44.) If the New Testament applies the New Covenant blessings to all believers, then we do not get to define the recipients of the New Covenant merely in terms of biology. All those who trust in Christ are beneficiaries of the New Covenant blessings in Him. Those who do not trust in Christ–whatever their biological heritage–do not benefit from these New Covenant blessings. Those who reject the good news of the kingdom cannot presume upon their biological heritage, imagining that–on that basis–God is obligated to grant them His blessings (Matt 3:9). Both Jews who reject Christ and unbelieving Gentiles are condemned. Both believing Gentiles and Jews who accept Christ receive the blessings of the New Covenant. Neither of these realities makes God a liar. Neither of these realities–clearly proclaimed in Scripture–undermines the right exegesis of Scripture.

Scripture provides the context for a Christ-centered interpretation of Scripture, where the types, shadows, patterns, and prophecies made to Israel terminate in Him and are then expanded to all of those who have been united to Him by faith. This is why there is now "neither Jew nor Greek... if you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise." We cannot, in light of that and similar passages, continue to think that inheritance of the promises is a matter of biology. The Bible says that every believer, whether Semite or non-Semite, is a descendant of Abraham.

Obviously, even under the New Covenant administration, some national distinctions remain (Paul can write intelligibly of "my kinsmen according to the flesh"), but these distinctions are superceded by the spiritual unity that we have in Christ, so that Paul writes of current spiritual privileges: "there is neither Jew nor Greek... if you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise." On the other hand, John calls unbelievers in general "Gentiles" in a passage that does not have cultural distinctions in view (3 Jn 1:7).

There was one who was the true seed of Abraham, the true Branch from David. One who was fully qualified: physically and spiritually qualified–in ways that certainly should have been understandable to anyone receiving the Scriptures–to be the Messiah. Rightfully, His were the blessings of the covenant. He shed His blood–the blood of the covenant–for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28). United to Him, commemorating His sacrifice when we take the cup, which is the New Covenant in His blood (1 Cor 11:25), believers become recipients of the New Covenant made with Israel and Judah.

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Friday, June 09, 2017

One God: A Study of Isaiah 44:6-20

READ: Isaiah 44:6-20

Introduction to the book of Isaiah

The book of Isaiah is an account of great judgment and great hope. Isaiah acts as God' prosecutor bringing charges against His chosen nation because of their unfaithfulness to Him, but Isaiah also acts as God's evangelist, bringing the good news that God will make all things right, establishing a new heavens and a new earth: expanding His kingdom beyond ethnic Israel to all the nations.

Isaiah's status as prophet confirmed

Isaiah's call as a prophet is confirmed in several ways:

First, his call is confirmed by his vision of the LORD sitting on an exalted throne in His temple.

Later, Isaiah acted as God's messenger to King Hezekiah (who was on his death-bed) to tell the King that he had fifteen more years to live: a message confirmed by the sun briefly changing its course in the sky.

Perhaps the most remarkable way that God confirmed Isaiah as a prophet is at the end of our chapter [Isaiah 44], where Isaiah prophesies about King Cyrus by name over 100 years in advance.

Introduction to this text

Throughout the book of Isaiah, the prophet has been delivering a message of judgment against Israel for their hypocrisy in pretending to be concerned with God's law (through keeping His feasts, sacrificing, fasting) while rejecting justice and love for the poor. In this regard, Isaiah's ministry was much like that of the Lord Jesus, who came over 600 years later.

Like Jesus, Isaiah confronted a people who used religion as an excuse to continue a self-centered lifestyle at the expense of others. As Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, Isaiah foretold Judah's captivity in Babylon just a few chapters before our text. Leading up to (then especially during) their time in Babylon, the remnant of Israel would have been severely tempted to worship the idols of the Babylonians and the other nations around them. And that is why the text under consideration would have been so relevant to the people of Israel when it was first given.

This text begins with a proclamation from God concerning His (for lack of a better term) utter uniqueness.

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last;” (Isaiah 44:6a ESV)

Think of the arrogance of this statement if made by anyone other than the true God. Even today, outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins, who fail to see the difference between God and Man, point to such statements and say that if God does exist, then He is certainly a megalomaniac. But we know from this and other Scripture that God is before all things and that all things end in His glory.

besides me there is no god.” (Isaiah 44:6b ESV)

This would have been an incredible statement in the ears of Israel’s neighbors, who would have worshiped many gods. This statement is incredible in the ears of our neighbors as well, because though most people in our culture would not claim to worship multiple gods, many people will try to say that all beliefs are equally valid: and that we are wrong to say otherwise. For instance, when my wife (Abby) and I were expecting our first child, we went to a natural childbirth seminar, and the speaker at the seminar was counseling mothers on how to cope with the pain of childbirth. One suggestion that the speaker had was prayer. She said something to the effect of, ‘When laboring, I’ve found that many women take comfort in calling out to a higher power, so you may consider prayer–whether it be to Mother God, Jesus, Krishna, or whoever you may believe in–gives you comfort.’ Now, the forum did not permit this, but what if I had raised my hand and said, ‘Excuse me, but the God of the Bible declares, “Besides me there is no god”?’ What do you think the reaction to that statement would have been? Other participants would have called me narrow-minded at best. So in our culture it is easy for us to shrink away from such absolute statements made by God, but we must resist this temptation if we are to present His message of life to the dying.

Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people.” (Isaiah 44:7a ESV)

Think of how different our God is from the supposed gods of other religions. In pagan systems no one particular god cares for all the people. People may choose to follow a certain god, but then they must perform the right ceremonies to keep that god’s favor. If a stronger nation conquers a pagan nation, then the weaker nation would begin to follow the pagan nation’s gods. But the LORD creates one people to show His love. He calls to them again and again. Even when they reject Him, He sends prophets to urge them to faithfulness. Even when their rejection becomes so great that He allows them to be exiled, He still preserves a faithful remnant and uses that remnant to bless all nations.

Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.” (Isaiah 44:7b ESV)

In Isaiah, God declares that King Hezekiah will live fifteen more years, and he does. He declares Cyrus will subdue nations about one hundred years before Cyrus is even born. Later, Jesus declares that Jerusalem will fall about forty years before the Romans raze it to the ground. You can search the texts of other religions– the Koran of the Muslims, the Ramayana of the Hindus– and you will find no book with such verifiable, fulfilled prophecy.

"Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from the beginning and declared it? And you are my witnesses!" (Isaiah 44:8a ESV)

We can all say "amen" in regards to fulfilled prophecy, but there should be another response as well: that of fearless trust in God. We can all say "amen" when we hear that God added fifteen years to Hezekiah's life, but do we have peace and confidence that God has our lives and deaths in His hands? We say "amen" when we read that God spoke of Cyrus a hundred years before he was born, but do we trust that God knows and controls the events of tomorrow? We who are God's witnesses, saying we believe God's prophecies to be true: do we live with assurance in God's continued faithfulness, or do we live racked with anxiety, as if God does not know or is not in control of the future?

"Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock, I know not any." (Isaiah 44:8b ESV)

This is a passage I have mentioned when teaching on Mormon evangelism. Remember, when a Mormon missionary tries to convince you that there is more than one God, you can take him to this verse and point out, "That's interesting- if there are other Gods, then apparently God Himself doesn't know about them!" This gets back to the beginning of the passage, where God says, "besides me there is no god." We must be unashamed to proclaim the message of the one true God. Whether our neighbors believe in the Mormon god (who they think of as an exalted man) or whether they are like a co-worker I once had who said, "Work is my church," meaning, "Money is my god," we must, as followers of Christ, be willing to lovingly confront the false gods of others, realizing that Christ is the one true Rock and without Him everyone is headed for destruction.

The sheer foolishness of idolatry illustrated:

9 All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire! 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, Deliver me, for you are my god!
(Isaiah 44:9-17 ESV)


Here we see a picture of a society of idolaters. They begin by shaping iron into cutting tools (v. 12). Next, someone cuts down a tree (v. 14). Half of this tree is used for a fire: for necessary warmth, for food. But look what is done with the other half (v. 15-17)!

Instead of trusting in the Creator, the idolater trusts in the lifeless thing that he worked so hard to create. Verse 13 further illustrates the effort the idolater puts into making the idol. This is no accidental sin. It is not as if the idol-maker threw a bunch of gold into a fire and out came an idol. No, the idolater works hard at his idolatry. He makes it into a thing of physical beauty. He has a sense of accomplishment when the idol is finally made, so that he can worship it.

Now, it is easy for us to laugh at this poor, deceived idolater. But, dear reader, this may very well be a picture of your life. Because no one reading this post has likely set out to carve an idol in order to worship it, but everyone reading this has taken gifts that God has given and has begun trusting in those gifts rather than in God Himself. If we are not constantly checking our hearts, this is what we all do. We pray for a job so that we can support ourselves and our families, we search high and low for just the right job, exercising wisdom God has given us. Then, once we have a job, we begin trusting in that job for provision rather than in Jehovah Jireh (the LORD who provides). We trust in money so much that we are slow to give to the Church; we are so concerned about keeping our position that we neglect to bear witness to the gospel in our workplace.

Perhaps it's not a job that tempts you to idolatry, but your family, your health, your ability in some other area. Any good gift God gives you that you are tempted to trust more that your Creator can become an idol. What might be an idol in your life? Isaiah 44:17 tells us that the idolater prays to his idol, "Deliver me, for you are my god!" When you are in trouble, anxious, or depressed, what is the first thing that your mind turns to? If it is something other than God, then that something is certainly an idol to you.

God's judgment against idolatry:

18 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood? 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? (Isaiah 44:18-20 ESV)

Indulging idolatry dulls discernment, it hardens the heart, and leads to greater errors. But how do we overcome idolatry? Do we simply resolve to do better?

We see this throughout the Old Testament: Israel falls into idolatry despite warnings by the prophets, they are punished, and then they repent, making vows to keep all of God's laws. But just a few chapters later, they are right back into some form of idolatry.

This shows that will-power will not save you from idolatry. Resolutions will not save you from idolatry. The way to salvation is shown in the first verses we read from this passage, as we are called to remember who God is, what He has done, and to trust in Him. This way to salvation is made perfectly clear in the New Testament as we see God in Christ. We must remember who Christ is: God who became Man to save us from our sins, including the sin of idolatry. We must remember what He has done: dying on the Cross, becoming as an idolater for all the idol-worshipers who would ever believe in Him; He was raised from the dead victorious over idolatry, over all sin, and over death itself- and we must trust in Him, crying out to Jesus in our distress, "Deliver me, for You are my God!" Christ deserves this plea and has promised to hear and answer this plea from all who place their trust in Him. So I urge you, dear reader, cry out to Christ today and receive salvation.

[The above blogpost is lightly edited from posts that originally appeared on this blog from October through December, 2007.]

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Thursday, June 08, 2017

How NOT to Read Your Bible

Introduction

Consider the following from John Dominic Crossan. [This is best appreciated if you can read it with Crossan's supremely pleasant Irish accent in mind.]

"When Jesus wants to speak about the kingdom of God, he goes into fiction... In order to make a theological point, he makes up a story. Obviously, that's not a lie, of course, or a mistake, or anything else. He makes up a story. I also think- and it comes from reading the gospels in parallel texts...that they also make up parables about Jesus... Let me give you an example, then, of how I read something...

"The parable of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes- read the whole story- the entire story- first, you know the disciples and Jesus have been all day in a desert place, comes the evening, nobody's starving to death, but the question is going to be, 'what to do about this?' The disciples have their solution- 'send them away!' Its not unreasonable- 'send them away so they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.' That's their solution. Jesus answers them, 'You give them something to eat: well, now we have two possibilities- two solutions.' And they almost laugh at him, 'Here's two hundred denarii- you couldn't do it!' Now as I read this story, I watch Jesus pulling the disciples almost kicking and screaming into the middle of everything he does. And usually when Jesus performs a miracle, they are standing there rather like the Greek chorus in admiration. This time, they're in the middle. He says to them, 'How many loaves have you- go and see.' (I'm using Mark.) When they found out, (they had to go and see- he makes them find out- this worries John a little bit as he tells the story, 'cause Jesus should have known all that sort of stuff- Mark has them go and see) then- once again they're pulled into the next thing- he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups. They have to find out how much food is there, they have to set the people down. Then taking the loaves, looked up to heaven, blest, broke the loaves, gave them to the disciples to set before the people. Once again, finally, as you all know, of course, they are told, 'Take up what's left over.'

"Now, when I read that, when I read that, it screams at me, 'Parable!' It screams at me, 'I'm a parable, dummy!' I take it for granted that when Mark writes this story he thinks Jesus could do anything he wants. He could take the stones and turn them into bread, he could bring manna down from heaven, but he doesn't do it. What he does in the story is take the food that's there already and when it passes through the hands of Jesus, as divine justice incarnate, there's more than enough food for anyone. I think its a parable. But I think something else is even more important. If you want to take this story historically- 'it actually happened, if you were there in the desert, you would have seen it'- or you want to take it parabolically- that is, similar to the good Samaritan story, something that Mark, let us say, made up to express Jesus' mission identity- either way you take it, be it as history or parable, you're going to come out with the same conclusion, namely, that Jesus says, 'it is up to the leadership of the church (if you think of the Twelve as the leadership of the church) to take care of poverty in this world- to make certain that everyone has enough food. And they don't want that job. They love this teaching all day business- that was just fine, comes the evening, send them away. And Jesus insists, 'Its your job to feed them,' and he forces them step by step to participate. It is more important for me not to get into a debate on whether that really happened, or it is a parable, that to make certain that we do it. And I do not want to get into a debate (like the one after the good Samaritan) that gets us off the hook too easy. I don't use any other language than parable for it and I do that deliberately because parable, as we know, is one of the major teaching forms of Jesus and I suspect his disciples and the evangelists picked up the 'bad habit' of fiction from their Master.

"One other example- one other example: You all know the story of the road to Emmaus. Jesus, after the resurrection appears, but totally (how shall I put it?) in the guise of a stranger. There's no flashing lights, no- nothing like Paul on the Damascus road. Jesus is simply a stranger. As the story goes on, he gives them an almost graduate course in how to read the Scriptures. And they concede later that their heart was warmed as he was doing that. Let me hesitate for a second. I wonder if I'd asked you all before I began talking to imagine in your mind, if you could, run through real fast, the story of the Emmaus road incident in Luke 24. Just to kind of close your eyes and- yeah. Would you all have remembered that what I think is the most important line in there is that when they come, the two people (possibly a man and his wife- we don't know- the man is identified- male- the female is not identified, presumably his wife- in Mediterranean courtesy or chauvinism)- Jesus is going to pass by when they get to (presumably) their home. They have to invite him in. I think that's almost the most important line in there. They have to invite him in. And when they invite him in, of course, he takes the bread, and the classic lines, 'takes, bless, broke, give,' and they immediately recognize Jesus, and he is gone. They don't go looking under the table, behind the chairs, it's as if they know immediately that Jesus has come in the guise of a stranger and you have invited the stranger in to eat in your home and that is Jesus. Now, if I take that literally, if I were to take that literally, I think I would be well on my way to concluding that Jesus really- the resurrected body of Jesus can take off/on any form it wants. That he is rather like one of those gods in ancient Greek or Roman mythology who come down from heaven and could put on any guise or body that they want. Can Jesus really appear literally as a stranger? Do we have to go round watching just in case? If I were to invoke divine consistency, maybe Jesus is still doing it as a stranger. No, I think it is clear, once again, at least to me, that this screams out to me, 'Parable, dummy! I'm a parable!' And I don't mean to say, 'Well they really wanted it literally, but I'm going to take it metaphorically.' I think that's the way it was written. I think this was written to tell us that Jesus is present, Jesus is still present, among us, when we study the Scriptures about him and when we invite the stranger in to eat with us. And of course it is important that all you get, all you get, when you study the Scriptures alone is your heart warmed. Its not nothing. But you don't recognize Jesus until you bring the stranger in to eat. Now, I have no doubt whatsoever that I've all sorts of presuppositions and we could talk about presuppositions tonight, but what I have done in my opening statements is to focus on the gospel texts themselves...

"There's four differing versions of the gospel. And it is not true, I think it is simply not true, that it is, as it were, four people each trying to tell exactly what happened. That is not gospel. That might be history- it's not gospel. The gospel is good news. And, yes, it has to be updated- I'd use the term, it might be sound a little bit crude- Mark is talking to one community, and John is talking to another, and so is Luke, and so is Matthew... What I get from this is that it is never enough simply to tell the historical story. I am convinced that if Mark had in front of him everything Jesus ever said, everything Jesus ever did- DVDs and all the rest of it, of what he had done- Mark would still have said things like, 'Well, that might have been all right Jesus, to say to those fishers in Galilee, but that doesn't speak to my people now, and I will rephrase you, Jesus, or if you prefer, your spirit is with me, and I will trust that when I do rephrase you, or even when I invent a story about you, I have still got it right- still got it authentic- still got it authentic, even when it might not be historical. Thank you." (John Dominic Crossan, "Is the Bible True?" debate with James White, 08/27/2005.)

The above lengthy quote from John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar is given to demonstrate how an extremely intelligent Bible scholar can come to entirely bogus conclusions about God's Word by the application of the following errors to his reading of Scripture.

How NOT to Read your Bible:

1. Bring in philosophies from outside of God's Word that are not based on Scripture and change the meaning of whatever you read in the Bible to fit these philosophies. It is only by God's grace that we avoid any of the errors that I am mentioning now. This first one is especially hard to fight because it is so subtle. Naturally, due to sin, we are all hostile in mind toward God (cf. Col 1:21). Even after our minds have been changed by God through spiritual re-birth, we must be diligent in keeping the command to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (cf. Rom 12:2) and to test all things, holding on to what is good and abstaining from every form of evil (cf. 1 Thess 5:21-22). When we get lazy in exploring our beliefs and fail to pray for God's wisdom while weighing our thoughts by the whole counsel of God's Word, we quickly stray into the error of judging Scripture by our own sin-tainted philosophies rather than submitting to the doctrines clearly taught in the Bible. John Dominic Crossan, whose words nowhere reflect a belief-system that has been transformed by biblical faith, imposes the philosophy of "divine consistency" on the teaching of Scripture. “Divine consistency” (mentioned in the quote above) refers to Crossan’s belief that “what God does now is what God always did: God intervened no more and no less in the world of the early first century than that of the late twentieth century.” Crossan uses this philosophy to justify his rejection of the miracles recorded in the Bible. But it is obvious that Crossan did not come to his version of “divine consistency” through a straightforward reading of the Bible. Reading through the New Testament, though it is clear that God’s essential character never changes (cf. Jas 1:17), it is also clear that He worked in a unique way in the life of Christ and in the lives of the apostles and that His special work in the apostolic age was accompanied by miracles.

2. Be Man-centered rather than Christ-centered in your understanding of and explanation of Scripture. The Bible teaches that people are all sinners (Rom 3:23) in desperate need of salvation by Jesus. And in an earlier post, I have explored the concept that the subject of all of Scripture is the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt 5:17, Luke 24:27, John 5:39). Based on these truths, it becomes obvious that any system of Bible-reading that takes the focus off of Christ and places it on people is an erroneous system, leading to a bogus understanding of Scripture. In our example above, notice how Crossan consistently shifts the focus from Christ to people. In this case, Crossan takes our focus off of Jesus as the Son of God and the resurrected Savior by focusing on the activity of the disciples, repeating phrases like, "They have to find out how much food is there, they have to set the people down...They have to invite him in. I think that's almost the most important line in there." Crossan even goes so far as to give a hypothetical conversation between a disciple and Jesus in which the disciple asserts, "Well, that might have been all right Jesus, to say to those fishers in Galilee, but that doesn't speak to my people now, and I will rephrase you, Jesus." If we fall into the trap of becoming Man-centered rather than Christ-centered in our reading of Scripture, we exalt sinful people, belittle Christ, and utterly obscure the gospel message.

3. Ignore the type of literature to which a particular book of the Bible or passage from the Bible belongs. Discerning the type of literature or literary genre to which a particular Bible passage belongs is a vital part of rightly understanding God's Word. As the following quote from Thomas A. Howe illustrates:

Literary genre simply means different kinds of literature. Poetry, for example, is a different kind of literature than historical narrative, and there are different principles for understanding it. Since the Bible contains different kinds of literature, we must take into consideration how meaning is expressed differently in each kind.

In the quote from John Dominic Crossan that is currently under scrutiny, it is clear that Crossan is treating all passages in the Gospel accounts as if they are parables, interpreting all Gospel passages figuratively and failing to see where the writers transition from parable into historical narrative. Crossan takes this view despite the fact that the Gospel narratives themselves are clear about when parables are being given and when history is being recorded. In places, the Gospel writers transition into the use of parables so clearly as to write, "Then [Jesus] told them many things in parables" (Matt 13:3a), "Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables" (Matt 22:1, emphasis added), "Jesus summoned them and spoke to them in parables" (Mark 3:23), and, "Then [Jesus] began to speak to them in parables" (Mark 12:1, emphasis added). In other places, the transition into and out of the use of parables is understood from the context. Taking Crossan's position- that everything, from the Virgin birth to the Cross to the Resurrection, is all given in parable- makes the Gospel narratives to be nonsensical- for then even Jesus' recorded explanations of His parables must themselves somehow be understood as being parables. And this position makes the proclamation of Truth impossible, for anyone can apparently, like Crossan, give their personal interpretation as to what the gospel "parable" really means.

4. Ignore passages of Scripture that do not fit in with your already-held beliefs. This is an error that is frequently practiced in traditional churches that do not want to deal with topics that they consider difficult, such as predestination, and so many Bible passages such as Ephesians chapter 1, Romans chapter 9, and the last section of John chapter 6 are either entirely ignored or only touched very lightly. (For a specific example of this error, see the responsive reading selection # 603 of the 1975 edition of the Baptist Hymnal published by Convention Press in which Romans 8:29-30 is systematically skipped over.) In the quote currently under examination, Crossan speaks about a historical passage in Luke and then asserts, "This screams out to me, 'Parable, dummy! I'm a parable!' And I don't mean to say, 'Well they really wanted it literally, but I'm going to take it metaphorically.' I think that's the way it was written." By this statement and others like it, Crossan ignores passages in which the Gospel records claim to be based upon eyewitness historical accounts; passages such as the preamble to Luke's Gospel account:

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us, it also seemed good to me, having carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in orderly sequence, most honorable Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4 HCSB)

And John's Gospel account contains the following assertions:

He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. (John 19:35 ESV)

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24 ESV)

And so Crossan's position is simply not a viable option. Either he should come out and assert that he does not believe in the Bible or he should take all of the verses into account. When people pick and choose certain verses to read while willfully passing over other verses, when they ignore literary genres in the Bible, when they are Man-centered rather than Christ-centered in their understanding of the Bible, or when they impose their own philosophies on the text of the Bible, they proudly place themselves as judges over God's Word rather than humbly submitting to the Word of God. And this is a very dangerous position in which to find oneself for,

"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6b NIV 1984) 

[The above blogpost was originally published on 10/08/05.]

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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

How to Read the Bible Like the Apostles Did

Introduction

Traditionally, the Protestant Reformation has been seen as formally beginning on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses Against Indulgences to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. Though this date is certainly important (Luther was surely beginning to question some basic principles of the Roman Catholic system in 1517) the most vital aspect of the Protestant Reformation– the recovery of widespread preaching of the true, biblical Gospel– did not begin until 1519.


In 1519, Luther was studying through the book of Romans and contemplating the justice of God. Up until this time, he had been utterly frustrated because he had been taught, basically, that if we do our best in our service to God, then God’s grace would make up the deficit between our works, which always fall short of His glory (Rom 3:23), and God’s perfect standard of justice. One fatal flaw with this system is, as Luther realized, that one can never be sure that the absolute best has been done. At the end of a day spent diligently trying to please God through Bible study, prayer, and good works, one may still think back to times when there could have been a little more positive effort involved. In his studies of Romans, Luther came to understand that salvation is not based upon our own works at all, but on the works of Christ done on behalf of sinners. The only way sinners can be justified– made right in God’s sight– is by faith, that is, by trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When Luther came to understand this, he wrote, “I felt myself reborn and to have gone into open doors through paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning…This passage of Paul [Romans 1:17] became to me a gate to heaven…

As long as Martin Luther had continued to interpret Scripture based on a system of tradition handed down by Rome, Luther had never truly understood the gospel of grace. Once Luther studied the Scripture alone– allowing Scripture to speak for itself– God changed Luther’s heart and he was born again. “Scripture alone” thus became a rallying cry for the Protestant Reformation. “Scripture alone” was the formal principle, or blue-print, for Reformation. The entire idea of biblical Reformation is that we are to prayerfully, humbly and diligently study the Scriptures, come to a firm understanding of what God is teaching us by His Scriptures, and then faithfully put His teachings into practice.

One vital question in regards to this principle of “Scripture alone” involves the process of understanding, or interpreting, Scripture. Without Rome or some other religious hierarchy to instruct us as to the meaning of particular passages, how are we to be sure that we are understanding and applying them correctly? In response to this question, Luther and the Reformers who followed him asserted that Scripture is able to interpret itself. They said, “Scripture interprets Scripture.” This phrase was intended to indicate, among other things, that Scripture itself reveals principles of interpretation that allow Christians today to come to a sure knowledge of what God is communicating in His Word. Like the earliest church in Jerusalem, Christians today are to be devoted to the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42). And so we may ask, ‘Does Scripture record how the apostles interpreted Scripture?’ It is my firm conviction, following the principle of “Scripture alone,” that the answer to this question is a definite “yes.”

As I attempt to elucidate the example set by the apostles of how to interpret Scripture a word of clarification must be mentioned at the outset: the principles of interpretation revealed by Scripture through the apostles are not given to us in some textbook-fashion, but are rather demonstrated by example. Now, many of us have been taught to draw our beliefs not from examples found in Scripture, but from places where the Bible is explicitly teaching a doctrine or giving a command. And it is a good idea to take caution before framing a belief based on an example, as some examples may only apply to specific people at specific given times. On the other hand, the Apostle Paul consistently encouraged and commanded believers to follow his example (Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess 3:9; 2 Tim 1:13, etc.). Specifically, Paul expected others to follow his example of godly living and his example of teaching biblical truths. So I believe that Christians have warrant, based on a clear command of Scripture, to follow the apostles’ example of biblical interpretation. Also, if we reject the example of interpretation given by the apostles, saying that the apostles interpreted the Bible in a different way than we are able to interpret it today, as some would have us believe, then where are we to turn in finding principles to understand the Bible? If we cannot follow the example of the apostles, then we are left at the mercy of constantly changing opinions of modern men– men who are certainly not the foundation of the Church (Eph 2:20).

As we study the example of the apostles, we find that they demonstrated AT LEAST the following purposes in reading the Bible: application, allusion, allegory, argument, and adoration.

Reading for the Purpose of Application

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV 1984).As we begin to examine the apostles' example for reading Scripture it is important to note that though we may distinguish between biblical interpretation and biblical application– and this may be a helpful distinction to make on a regular basis– we must never separate the two. Scripture is useful so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Understanding this, we realize that when the apostles read the Scripture, they did so for the specific purpose of applying it to their lives and the lives of others in the Church. This is why the Apostle Paul may read a particular civil law from Moses: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain" (Deut 25:4 NIV 1984), and derive a principle for specific application within the New Covenant community (see 1 Cor 9:8-12). We too are to read the Bible with this purpose, as instructed by the Apostle, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom,” (Col 3:16a NIV 1984). So we cannot imagine that we may properly interpret what is being communicated in the biblical text unless we come to the Scripture with a fervent desire to put what God has revealed into practice.

Reading for the Purpose of Allusion

Allusion “is an implied or indirect reference [through specific words or short phrases] to something or someone assumed to be in the common body of knowledge.” If you own a chain-reference Bible, you may have been surprised at the number of very specific words and phrases repeated throughout the Scriptures. You may also have noticed that when you look up the references down the center column, the subject matter for the overall passages surrounding some of the verses linked by particular words or phrases seem to have almost nothing to do with each other. This is because when using an allusion, an author is only trying to recall one specific aspect of a previous work to his readers’ minds. (So, for example, if you make an allusion to “David and Goliath” while speaking, you may not be indicating the overall spiritual teaching of the passage– that David defeated the giant based on faith in God and trust in His Word rather than is own strength, etc.– you may just mean that a little guy was able to, in some way, defeat a big guy.) When the human authors of the Bible used allusions, they did so for the same reason authors today use them. That is, they used allusions to communicate with their audience, drawing upon a “common body of knowledge” shared by both author and reader. For this reason, the Apostle Paul not only drew allusions from the Bible, but also from a pagan poets (Acts 17:28) and a pagan prophet (Titus 1:12). Thus, we have warrant for referencing popular ideas known from the culture at large when we are trying to communicate truths from God’s Word. On the other hand, the vast majority of allusions contained in the New Testament, whether the human authors were writing to Jews or Greeks, are from the Scriptures– what we now know as the Old Testament. This is true when James, writing to a mostly Jewish audience alludes to Job in James 5:11 and to Elijah in James 5:17-18; this is also true when Paul, writing to a mostly Gentile audience, makes several allusions to the Exodus story in 1 Corinthians 10:6-11. Converts to Christianity were taught the Scriptures early and taught the Scriptures well, and so it could be assumed that allusions to the Scripture would facilitate communication of other spiritual truths.

We should follow this example by encouraging others in our congregations to read through their Bibles systematically, so that we all have, at least, a general awareness of what God has said, no matter how new we may be to the Faith. We should also follow the apostles' example of reading the Bible for allusion, supporting understanding of spiritual truths through references to other portions of Scripture.

Reading for the Purpose of Allegory

Allegory is basically a form of literature in which objects and persons represent ideas or qualities. In allegory, the ideas or qualities are the focus RATHER THAN the objects and persons. In speaking of allegory, a word of caution must be given. At different times in church history, certain groups have utilized allegory as an interpretive framework for Scripture. So, for example, during the Patristic Era (c. A.D. 100-590), the group of theologians now known as the Alexandrian school would attempt to find underlying spiritual meanings in historical narratives; thus, the account of Jesus' changing the water to wine at the wedding in Cana would be taken to symbolize the need for those weak like water to be changed and become steadfast like wine, etc. [S.J. Wellum, 22100: Hermeneutics Handouts, 2006. 4] As an interpretive framework, allegory is unacceptable because it downplays the historicity of the the text, and either leads to a purely arbitrary system of interpretation where anyone can read anything into the text or else leads to the need for an elite group of interpreters to explain the deeper meaning of the Scriptural text [Wellum, 5].

Given this caution, we still must observe that there is at least one instance where the Apostle Paul read the Old Testament allegorically, namely Galatians 4:21-31:

21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. 27 For it is written, "REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND." 28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30 But what does the Scripture say? "CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN." 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. (NASB)

The word in verse 24 that the NASB translates "allegorically" is ἀλληγορέω, the word from which the English "allegory" directly derives. In the section above, the Apostle uses a combination of allusion and allegory to illustrate the spiritual truth that he has been establishing throughout the epistle: that salvation and sanctification are perfected not by the works of the old testament Law, but by hearing with faith. Notice two things about the Apostle's use of allegory in this section:
  1. He specifically indicates his use of allegory: This is not his typical style of biblical instruction, i.e. he is not giving us a framework by which to read our entire Bible, rather he is making a point through using a figure of speech, and he alerts readers to this fact.
  2. The way that the Apostle uses allegory is specifically dependent upon the historical reality of the primary events. Though the Apostle makes allegorical connections ("Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia," etc.) this allegory would be meaningless if there was never a slave-woman named Hagar and powerless if there was never a child of promise named Isaac.
The Apostle uses allegory, NOT as an interpretive framework for all Scripture, and NOT obscuring the historical realities involved, but as an illustration of teaching he is giving, as also directly taught in other passages of Scripture. And this is how we should use allegory as well. Pastor John MacArthur has noted that when he gives illustrations of Bible truth, he will sometime use personal stories, but much more often he will first turn to Scripture to find examples from God's Word. In this he is following the example of Paul, the example we should follow as well.

Reading for the Purpose of Argument

The word "argument," as it is commonly used, has almost entirely negative connotations in contemporary culture. When one hears that two parties have engaged in an argument, the immediate assumption is that there has been a highly emotional confrontation in which each party was trying to impose his or her selfish will upon the other. This kind of situation is obviously undesirable, and so most people today try to avoid arguments altogether.

But arguments, in the purest sense of the the word, are absolutely necessary for meaningful communication to take place. Patrick J. Hurley's Concise Introduction to Logic defines an argument as follows:
Argument: A group of statements, one or more of which (the premises) are claimed to provide support for, or reason to believe, one of the others (the conclusion).
Consider the following scenario: I may say to my wife, "Dear, we're out of milk and so we need add it to the grocery list." She may reply, "I don't think so, honey- when I looked in the fridge an hour ago we had plenty of milk." Then I may say, "But after you looked, you put some milk in the recipe to bake the cake you're taking to church on Sunday, and I used the rest of the milk to fix us French toast for breakfast, so we need to buy some more." (This is a fairly realistic depiction of what may happen at our house.) Now, we may have been sweet toward each other during that conversation (an outside observer might say 'sickeningly sweet'), and we probably wouldn't say that we'd had an 'argument' that morning- using the popular understanding of the term. But, according to the definition of an argument listed above, we had both offered conclusions, 'we need to buy more milk,' or, 'we don't need to buy more milk,' and gave reasons (premises) for those conclusions.

When we examine the way that the apostles read the Scriptures, we discover that they were consistently arguing for specific conclusions about the person and work of Jesus Christ using premises drawn from what we know as the Old Testament. In this they were following the example set by Jesus Himself who, to mention just one instance among many, cited Psalm 110:1 as a premise in order to lead His hearers to the conclusion that He is greater than King David (see Matt 22:41-46).

Similarly, the Apostle Paul regularly turned to the Scriptures to argue for the truth of the Gospel, as demonstrated in passages such as Acts 17:2-3:
And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining to them and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ." (NASB, Emphases added.)
Since all Christians are Christ's ambassadors (see 2 Cor 5:20), we must follow the Apostle's example, as the Apostle Peter also instructs us in 1 Peter 3:15:
... sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to give a defense [a word that can be translated "argument," as the NASB notes] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (NASB)
From this passage, we see that we are actually commanded to be ready to give an argument, and we also are commanded as to what attitude we are to have when arguing. While not shrinking away from giving an argument- or "reasoned defense"- for the Faith, we are not to be "argumentative" in the worldly sense. We are to, as much as possible from our end, live at peace with all people (see Rom 12:18). When arguing to defend our faith or proclaim the gospel, our goal is not to belittle others to make ourselves look good so that others think, "What smart people those Christians are!" Rather, our goal is to glorify God alone by persuading others to trust in Christ and submit to Him. The content of our argument must be from the Scriptures, as the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (NASB, Emphasis added.)
Reading for the Purpose of Adoration

The apostle Paul was very clear that every aspect of life should be conducted for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31), and this would certainly begin with our reading of Scripture. The apostles modeled reading the Bible for the glory of God- using the Scriptures as a pattern to shape their adoration of Him- throughout their writings. Specifically, the apostles read the Scriptures with a focus on the adoration of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ. So we read the Apostle Paul drawing upon 2 Samuel 22:50, Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:10 to praise God for His work of mercy among the nations through "the root of Jesse," our Lord Jesus Christ, as recorded in Romans 15:8-12,

8 Now I say that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God, to confirm the promises to the fathers, 9 and so that Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy. As it is written: Therefore I will praise You among the Gentiles, and I will sing psalms to Your name. 10 Again it says: Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people! 11 And again: Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; all the peoples should praise Him! 12 And again, Isaiah says: The root of Jesse will appear, the One who rises to rule the Gentiles; in Him the Gentiles will hope. (HCSB)

Likewise, Peter draws upon Isaiah 53 in adoration of Christ for suffering on our behalf, as we read in 1 Peter 2:22-25,

22 He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth; 23 when reviled, He did not revile in return; when suffering, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to the One who judges justly. 24 He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; by His wounding you have been healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. (HCSB)

Conclusion

We should learn to read the Bibles from the first teachers that Christ appointed for His Church: the apostles. We should read the Bible with the intention of putting God's Word into practice in our lives. We should read the Bible in order to understand other aspects of what God has revealed. We should read the Bible to discover how we can illustrate and argue for Truth. Finally, we should follow the example of the apostles, reading our Bibles so that we may learn to adore God as He deserves.

[The above material is lightly edited from a series of blogposts that originally appeared here from December 2006 to July 2007.]

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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Facebook: Just Hang Up the Phone

Payphones barely exist anymore. It is rare to find one, and even more rare to find one that still works. Long-gone are the days when Superman could find a phone-booth to change in or when Mulder and Scully had to stop the car at a convenience store to make a call. Now, everyone has cell-phones.

But when I was growing up, payphones were definitely still a thing in my hometown. I can recall when I was in high school, walking by someone on a payphone outside a Waffle House or a gas station. Usually, of course, I had no knowledge or interest about the conversations taking place by strangers on payphones. Sometimes, however, the conversations became heated, so that you could not help but hear the caller yelling into the phone.  More than once (yes, I grew up in a kind of redneck environment), I heard a person hollering curse-words into the payphone. At those times, I thought to myself, "How is this conversation continuing? Why would someone allow herself to be cussed out over the phone? Why doesn't one party on the line simply hang up?"

Whereas payphones have mostly gone the way of the dodo, Facebook is alive and well. Now many of us have an extended network of friends and acquaintances with whom we are in a constant "party line" conversation. On my own friends list, I try to only include (for the most part) people whom I actually know: people whom I would at least recognize and say "hi" to if/when I were to see them in person. I do NOT exclude people from my friends list based on religious/philosophical/political differences. For example: I have friends who voted for Clinton in this last election and friends who voted for Trump (even though I voted for neither, as I believe they are both grossly unfit for office). I like to have a diverse group of friends because: 1) I like to read posts from different viewpoints; 2) on matters that I believe are most crucial (including, primarily, the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done for sinners), I hope to help influence my friends' thinking.

In the past year or so, I have unfriended two people due to what they have posted on Facebook. The first had posted a few lewd and abusive things, which I tried to overlook; then, since he is a die-hard union supporter, he capped off his other sentiments with a wish that anyone who voted for Matt Bevin to be Kentucky's governor would "go to Hell." The second was a friend who used to be an evangelist, but who basically walked away from anything like the biblical faith; I remained friends with him for a long time, but then he posted a profanity-filled message directed at anyone going to church.

I believe that "unfriending" in both cases mentioned above was basically equivalent to hanging up the [pay]phone on someone who is cussing you out. I'll still pray for the guys I unfriended, but I will not remain friends with someone who is going to wish me to go to Hell or fill my Facebook feed with abusive language. I'm writing this here because some of my closer Facebook friends basically NEVER unfriend anyone, and some of the material that regularly comes across their feed seems to cause them angst, sometimes leading to long arguments in which more abusive communication occurs. I urge everyone to consider the type of communication that you allow into your life. If need be, just "hang up the payphone."

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Monday, June 05, 2017

Samuel Renihan on Government's Responsibility According to the Noahic Covenant vs. Legal Abortion and the Erosion of Marriage

On Sunday, 11/29/15, at Trinity Reformed Baptist Church, Samuel Renihan preached a sermon on the Noahic Covenant from Genesis 9. The entire sermon may be heard HERE. In the section transcribed below, Renihan applies the commands/principles of the Noahic Covenant to human government, and he explains how current laws/practices concerning abortion and the erosion of marriage in our society violate the proper purpose of government. (The understanding of government positively represented below is consistent with the biblical understanding of government articulated by David Noebel in Understanding the Times, which each upper grades student must study at Sayers Classical Academy, where I work.)

"According to God's Word in the Noahic Covenant, which applies to all mankind, government's (or the collective social) responsibility is to promote life and the family. Mankind is to 'be fruitful and multiply' (that's the family); society (man looking out for man) should promote this fruitfulness and multiplication, and as a result, any government that corrupts the family or murders the innocent is a government in direct treason and disobedience to the God of the universe. They are abusing the sword entrusted to them by turning it on the innocent rather than the unrighteous.

"Now, you know what I'm going to say. There is not a more poignant, convicting, and blatantly convicting example of this rebellion in our society than the active, government-funded, government supported legal status and pursuit and protection of abortion. Is there anything more contrary to mankind's basic commission to 'be fruitful and multiply' than to murder our own children and to protect murder by law? Is there anything more insane than to murder children?

"[Our society has effectively said,] 'Okay, we are to be fruitful and multiply and to kill those who murder, so let's kill our children and protect the ones who do it.' That is high treason against God.

"The American promotion of abortion (well really, it's a global promotion of abortion) and the recent erosion and destruction of marriage (first through 'no-fault divorce,' and second through 'homosexual marriage') are high treachery and bold-faced rejection of one of the most basic duties of all mankind. Don't let abortion and marriage become political party issues. It's a mankind issue. It's a social issue. It's a 'love your neighbor' issue. It's an issue common to all societies and all peoples.

"In America, we have a common Constitution by which we are all to live (in case you didn't know), but there is a more fundamental constitution by which we are all to live, and that's the Noahic Covenant governing the common kingdom of mankind. Don't say, 'Oh, I'm pro-this or pro-that, because I'm Republican or Democrat or some other thing.' It's a mankind issue; it's not a party issue. As a society, as human beings, we must promote, preserve, and protect the life of individuals and the family. Those are our most basic commitments, and (as a result) we (society) must punish the wicked, we must put to death murderers, and we must seek (with God's help, brothers and sisters) to manifest real, loving, thriving families in our own homes.... 

"We need to show God's love in our families and in our lives."

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Friday, June 02, 2017

B.H. Carroll on the Verbal Inspiration of Scripture

Throughout Church history, controversy over specific doctrines central to the Christian faith have provoked Christians to study the Bible with more diligence and to exercise greater precision in articulating points of doctrine. So in the second century, the Marcionite heresy caused the Church to be more precise in recognizing the canon of Scripture; in the fourth century, the Arian heresy caused the Church to be more precise in recognizing the doctrine of the Trinity; in the early fifth century the Pelagian heresy caused the Church to be more precise in recognizing the doctrine of Grace; and in the mid fifth century the Eutychian and Nestorian heresies caused the Church to be more precise in recognizing the doctrine of the person of Christ.

Beginning in the post-Reformation era [late sixteenth to early seventeenth century], the Church had to exercise greater precision in speaking of the doctrines concerning the nature of Scripture in order to refute Roman Catholic errors and the growing skepticism of certain philosophers. The English Baptist movement, beginning in the seventeenth century, was embroiled in controversy over the nature of Scripture from very early on, in disputes against the errors of the Quaker sect. The doctrines concerning the nature of Scripture began to take center-stage for Baptists [and for all of the Church] in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the growing popularity of "higher criticism." In response to such criticism, Baptists and others began to speak of doctrines such as the "plenary-verbal" inspiration of Scripture and the "inerrancy" of Scripture- words and phrases that were new, but that expressed truths historically affirmed by the Church [both Reformer Martin Luther and Baptist John Smyth wrote of the Bible being "without error"].

Those holding to higher criticism were [and still are] especially allergic to the doctrine of verbal inspiration: that every single word of Scripture [in its original writing] is "God-breathed." Some critics who still claim Christianity attempt to assert that every thought of Scripture is inspired, but that the words of Scripture are the product of Man alone. Taking this critical view, some assert that whereas the Scripture is inspired and therefore true as a whole [which is the doctrine of plenary inspiration], any certain word or phrase might be faulty.

Yet Baptists who have embraced higher criticism's questioning of verbal inspiration have stepped outside the bounds of historic Baptist belief, historic Christian belief, and, indeed, outside the bounds of a reasonable view of Scripture altogether. As B.H. Carroll (1843-1914), founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary pointed out:


It has always been a matter of profound surprise to me that anybody should ever question the verbal inspiration of the Bible. The whole thing had to be written in words. Words are signs of ideas, and if the words are not inspired, then there is no way of getting at anything in connection with inspiration... What is the object of inspirations? It is to put accurately, in human words, ideas from God... When you hear the silly talk that the Bible "contains" the word of God and is not the word of God, you hear a fool's talk. I don't care if he is a Doctor of Divinity, a President of a University covered with medals from the universities of Europe and the United States, it is fool talk. There can be no inspiration of the book without the words of the book. [Quoted in Baptists and the Bible, 281.]
Studying Baptist history has helped me to appreciate the legacy of biblical fidelity that we have as Baptists and has better equipped me to give a reasonable [and, following Texan B.H. Carroll, forceful!] defense of my trust in God's Word. I commend similar study to readers of this blog as well.

[The above blogpost is lightly adapted from one originally posted on 5/24/07.]

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Albert Mohler on a Young Earth: Why not just join the consensus?

Earlier this year, Dr. Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, took part in a friendly debate with Dr. Jack Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary regarding the age of the earth. In the following quotes (from about 30 minutes into the debate), Dr. Mohler gives his reasons for speaking against an 'old earth' understanding of the universe. I post these here because I think that these reasons are well-stated, and they represent my own view of the matter as well.

"Why not just join [the current consensus of 'settled science'] and affirm a universe that is billions of years old? Well, the answer is this:

"[1] I believe I am bound by Scripture as read by the Church for 1800 years and a view that is symphonically affirmed by Old Testament texts [even] outside of Genesis.

"[2] I believe that the embrace of an 'old earth' comes with theological and hermeneutical consequences that can have far-reaching effects (and potentially damaging, doctrinally harmful effects).

"In summary, I believe that an affirmation of an 'old earth' universe is:

"First, NOT most faithful as an act of biblical interpretation;

"Second, NOT most in keeping with the consensus fidelium;

"Third, NOT without potentially disastrous theological consequences;

"[Fourth], NOT required by the evidence (particularly, the biblical evidence)."

You can watch the entire video of the debate HERE.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Animal Death, the Fall, and the Age of the Earth

Introduction
Does the Bible speak definitively on the age of the earth? Some argue that the word for "days" in Genesis 1 can refer to long ages of time.  Whereas I'm convinced that the language used in Genesis 1 clearly depicts creation occurring in 6 days as we would normally understand "days" (with each day delimited by a 'evening and morning,' in the same way that the Jewish people came to recognize their calendar days), I believe that the term for "day" is not the ONLY reason to consider the Bible as depicting the world as (relatively) young. Another key reason to believe in the "young earth" position is based on the biblical account of how death–not just for humans, but also for animals–was brought into the world through sin.
Examples of evangelical proponents of the "old earth" position: Dr. Ted Cabal of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Jack Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary are two examples of "old earth" proponents who are truly evangelical. They are "evangelical" in the good, old sense of the word, meaning that they hold to the "first-order doctrines" of the Christian faith. Touching this debate, it is important to note that "old earth evangelicals" like Drs. Cabal and Collins explicitly hold to a special creation of a historical Adam and Eve: an original, historical man and woman, who fell into sin as the result of succumbing to a specific temptation, thus bringing humanity into sin, for which we all need redemption through the second Adam, the God-Man Jesus Christ.
The Issue Raised 
I believe that the "old earth" position (even when held by those who are otherwise sound) is problematic for a number of reasons. This blogpost focuses on one. Though the affirmations that Drs. Cabal and Collins make concerning the impact of a historical fall upon humanity are most crucial, there are other results of Adam's sin impacting creation as a whole. One aspect of the way that sin disrupts the original created order may be seen in the death of animals after the Fall. Whereas the "old earth" view necessarily holds to animal death occurring to the appearance of man (the [seemingly] ancient fossil record being a key piece of evidence cited for an "old earth"), the Bible depicts animal death as being the result of Man's violation of the Creation Covenant.
Following the worldwide Flood recorded in Genesis 6-9, there was a difference in how Man related to animals. This difference demonstrated in both the ongoing effects of sin and God’s gracious provision even in light of the curse. As originally created, the relationship between Man and animals was characterized by peace. Both Man and animals were originally vegetarian (Gen 1:29-30). Nothing that had “the breath of life” in it–Man or animal (Gen 1:30; 2:7; 6:17; 7:15, 22)–would need to give its life as food. When God brought the birds and beasts to Adam in order to name them (Gen 2:19)–and again when Noah brought birds and beasts onto the ark (Gen 6:19-20; 7:2-4)–there was no hint that the animals were afraid of Man (or vice versa). There was also no hint that the animals were afraid of each another.
         The first death recorded in Scripture came as a result of sin, when (instead of immediately striking Adam and Eve dead) God provided animal skins to cover over the sinners' shame (Gen 3:21). Even before God provided the animal skins, the peaceful relationship between humans and animals (and between animals with each other) began to be eroded in the curses following the fall of Man into sin, when God pronounced enmity between the woman and the serpent–her seed and the serpent’s seed–as recorded in Genesis 3:15. Though the typical, natural enmity between people and snakes pointed toward the enmity between Christ and Satan, it was also indicative of the cursed state into which the world had fallen. As marriage, childbearing, and work in general became accompanied by frustration and suffering due to the Fall (Gen 3:16-19), Man’s original dominion over the animals (Gen 1:28) also became accompanied by frustration and suffering. Following the great flood, enmity between Man and animals increased, so that now animals usually fear Man (Gen 9:2), and now animals–rather than being properly subject to Man–sometimes go so far as killing people (Gen 9:5).
         God’s words allowing Man to eat animals (Gen 9:3) are a gracious permission. Man had been expelled from the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:23-24) and the ground had been cursed, so that growing food was no easy matter (Gen 3:17-19). The great flood would have drowned all growing plants, and it would have taken time for harvests to return. Furthermore, the climate conditions on Earth post-flood were likely quite different than prior to the flood (for example: the rains bringing the flood seem to have established the current water-cycle as we know it; previously, plants were watered by a mist going up daily from the ground, Gen 2:5-6), and post-flood climate changes probably made growing crops even more difficult. Therefore, it would have been important for people to have another food-source other than fruits and vegetables.
         Though mankind was vegetarian according to the original created order, there is no sin involved in making use of God’s permission to kill and eat animals. From a biblical worldview, killing an animal is in no way equivalent to killing a human being. Following the Fall, God clothed Adam and Eve in animal skin (Gen 3:21), and the LORD found Abel’s animal sacrifices pleasing (Gen 4:4); in these cases–and in later sacrifices, in which the priests are commanded to eat the meat of the sacrifices (Lev 6:26; Deut 18:1)–the death of animals involved is in no way presented as morally problematic. Furthermore, passages such as Romans 14:2, 6, 1 Corinthians 10:25-26 and 1 Timothy 4:3 make it clear that a vegetarian diet does not make a person more spiritual.
         However, in eating beasts, Man is not to become beastly. God’s prohibition against eating blood–beginning in Noah’s time (Gen 9:4), before the Mosaic Covenant, and carried over into the New Covenant era (Acts 15:20)–is intended to promote moral sensitivity. We are not to tear into animals as if we were predators or scavengers in the animal world. We are to be dignified, thoughtful, and even worshipful in our food preparation (1 Cor 10:31).
         A state of perfectly peaceful co-existence between Man and animals–and even between animals and other animals–will be restored in the new heavens and new earth, as described by the Prophet Isaiah:
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.
7The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
9They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isa 11:6-9 ESV)

         And again:
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind… The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD. (Isa 65:17, 25 ESV)

Conclusion
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, famously described Nature as “red in tooth and claw.” And that is how nature DOES often appear to us today. But that is NOT how it was originally created. When God pronounced each aspect of nature “good” upon its creation, as recorded in Genesis 1, He did NOT do so with a view that animals would immediately start doing violence against each other and that there will be hundreds of millions of years of animal deaths prior to the arrival of humanity. Sin placed Man under a curse, and it fundamentally disordered creation. But there will come a day when all things are set right, when all of creation is rightly ordered (“on Earth as it is in Heaven”), and when universal peace is restored.

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