Category Archives: theology

Education is not the solution to sin…

I have been musing recently about the way political conservatives and political liberals (those on the “right” and the “left”) view the past and future of America.  In the middle of one of these moments of reflection I stumbled on a blog post by Doug Wilson.  Wilson’s reflections on Glen Beck and the Bible provided motivation for me to jot down a few thoughts.

1.  The problem with humanity is sin.  The only way for humans to “fix” their sin problem is to “repent and believe.”  To say it another way, the only way to fix the problem of humanity is to trust Jesus.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5).

2.  Wilson makes clear in his post that one of the main problems in America is humanism.  Both liberals and conservatives have a basic belief that mankind is “good” and “the explanation for evil is ignorance.”  I see this sort of logic applied on both sides of the political system.  The result is a belief that good logic and argument will be enough to convince people to agree with you.  With the right information and the right decisions our society, the humanists argue, will be “fixed.”  Both sides (the right and left) are unable to agree on which direction to take our country, but the underlying assumption is that American can be “fixed” by proper information.

I came across a really good illustration recently that speaks to this very point.

Imagine encountering a man’s body lying by the side of the road.  You decide to pull over to check the man’s condition.  As your car comes to a stop, you jump out and run toward him.  Reaching down to check his pulse, you realize he has none.  He’s dead and gone, perhaps due to a heart attack.  What can you do?  Based on his appearance, you deduce that the man may have suffered heart failure due to a lifetime of poor eating habits.  Instantly, you leap to your feet, rush to the car, pull out a diet book, and begin screaming important information from its pages as you head back toward him:  “Chapter 1:  Eating for Health and Heart!”

Stop to examine the absurdity of this situation.  No amount of information on eating habits is going to resurrect this man.  He’s already dead.  The only real solution would be for him to somehow obtain a new lease on life.  In the same way, no amount of education will change the heart of a spiritually dead person.  Life is the only solution to death.

Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel

The Idolatry of Patriotism

I just read an article by Gregory Boyd in the most recent issue of Relevant Magazine.  I think this is one of the most well-written and concise treatments of the issues of nationalism and Christianity.  Of course, Boyd would be no stranger to this topic as the author of Myth of a Christian Nation. I recommend everyone read what he has to say in preparation for this July 4 holiday.

Below are some cogent excerpts from the article:

The danger of idolatrous patriotism is not just about how we compromise our love for enemies.  If we become too invested in our nation, we can forget our real citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 1:27) and our job is to live as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)…

I appreciate that America recognizes my rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” but there is nothing distinctly Kingdom about these rights.  They’re nowhere to be found in the Bible.  To the contrary, as a follower of Jesus I’m called to surrender my rights to life, liberty and happiness, and instead submit to the will of God.  These rights are noble on a political level, but they can get in the way of my call to seek first the Kingdom.  I’m grateful America extends these rights to people, for most countries throughout history have not.  But my sole allegiance is to the heavenly Kingdom that calls me to surrender my rights.  If I get too concerned with an earthly country that frees me to pursue my rights, my healthy patriotism becomes idolatrous.  I’ve put my country’s ideals before God.

Despite the fact that He lived in an age when plenty of political and nationalist issues were being hotly debated, Jesus never displayed the slightest interest in such matters.  He didn’t come to bring us a “new and improved” version of the Kingdom of the world.  He came to inaugurate a Kingdom that is “not of this world.”  It’s a Kingdom that is no more Israeli than it is Palestinian; no more American than it is Iraqi; and no more socialist than it is democratic.  Instead, it’s a Kingdom that encompasses people from every nation and political persuasion, for it puts on display the “one new humanity” Jesus died to create (Eph. 2:15).  In this Kingdom, Paul declares, there is no longer any Jew or Greek (Gal. 3:27-29).  In our Kingdom, all national, tribal, ethnic, gender, social and economic distinctions are insignificant.

So over the Fourth of July weekend – and all year – be appreciative of your country.  Be patriotic.  But make sure your patriotism pales in comparison to your sacrifice, commitment and allegiance to the Kingdom of God.

Thoughts on Christian Hypocrisy

Recently I was musing over the common maxim regarding hypocrites in the church.  You know what I’m talking about; this idea that someone loves Jesus but not the church.

Jesus made a big deal about hypocrisy.  For him hypocrisy was so bad because it involved a lack of acknowledgment of one’s own sin and type of self-righteousness.  Self-salvation is impossible.

On the other hand, I think hypocrisy is so dangerous because it calls into question the efficacy of “new life” in Christ.

Sin is often a continual problem for the Christian, but acknowledging one’s sin does not justify it (Romans 6) and one of the results of salvation is obedience (John 14).

I am continually wrestling with the idea that what I do matters (though it does not save).  I wonder at what point honesty about my sin becomes merely a way to justify my disobedience.

If I do think that my life should reflect the character of Christ (my savior) and that my actions should demonstrate the legitimacy of my new life in Jesus, how do I avoid letting outward behavior become a substitute for the inward working of God?

Highs and Lows – You Don’t Have to Learn the Hard Way

I have recently heard the idea that “you can’t appreciate the highs without the lows.”  Most of the time it comes from well-meaning people trying to encourage someone who is going through a tough time or who has made some mistakes.  Other people invoke this expression justify why they have to “learn things the hard way.”

I think we should file the phrase “you can’t appreciate the highs without the lows” under “statements that have no meaning at all.”

Can I appreciate a good marriage without experiencing a bad marriage?  Can I be thankful for a good job if I haven’t had a bad job?  Can I enjoy sobriety unless I have battled addiction?  Must I experience bankruptcy to appreciate wealth?

Obviously it is illogical and unbiblical to think that bad is necessary to appreciate good.  Granted, the bad times can provide perspective to the good, but I am of the opinion that information can be as good as experience.  I, for one, prefer to learn from the mistakes of others.

The Bible teaches us to learn from tough experiences and mistakes, but it never indicates that we must experience these things to appreciate the blessings of God.  I imagine that the Bible would never warn us about sin if we could only “learn the hard way.”  Warning someone to avoid sin would be of no use because the only way they could learn that something is bad or has negative consequences is from experience.  Do you see where I’m going with this?

If sin was necessary to appreciate God’s goodness and grace, then God is deficient.  God either created sin or is in need of sin to accomplish his task.  Since this is not a Biblical or logical option, we can deduce that we don’t always have to learn the hard way (though we often choose to learn things the hard way).  I think that faithful obedience and simple trust in God is a more fulfilling avenue to joy than the highs and lows of experiential learning.

Kevin Vanhoozer on Pauline Perspectives

I recently watched Kevin Vanhoozer’s presentation, “Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation?  The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and in Protestant Soteriology,” given at the 19th Annual Wheaton Theology Conference last month (audio or video can be found at Wheaton’s website).  Vanhoozer offers a humorous and helpful overview of the differences between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ perspectives on Paul.  In the process he clarifies where both camps have misunderstood each other and offers ways forward in the discussion of justification, salvation, and the mission of God.

Below is embedded the audio and video of his talk.

Vanhoozer Video

Do You Know How to Read?

There is a profound difference between reading information and reading texts.  The former permits a disinterest in the question of how the matter is composed; its interest is only in the content…

When people do read today (and they don’t read often), they read almost exclusively for information or content; they almost never read for the pleasure obtained by reading an author whose command of language is exception.  Many ministers, for instance, will read the occasional book about history.  But with few exceptions, the interest in historical writing resides in the events narrated, not in the skillfulness of the narration…

[Modern readers ask what a] passage is about?… but they don’t raise questions about how the passage is constructed.

— T. David Gordon

I have, both anecdotally and formally, observed this to be the case in reference to the Bible.  Most teachers of the Bible are concerned only with the words and principals of the sacred text.  There is little concern for the syntax and grammar.  Word studies abound with no interest in paragraph structure or the flow of discourse.  This sort of textual myopia is further encumbered by a faulty view of much of Scripture regarding the importance of events recorded in the text.  John Sailhamer has been influential in cogently explaining the necessity of viewing the intentionally constructed text of Scripture in its final form as the only element worth interpreting.  Whatever so-called “event” might “lie behind” the inspired text is of no importance to the Christian interpreter.  Rather, one must spend their time understanding how the text of Scripture is intentionally constructed to communicate a message.

“Cheap” Atheism

I came across this article from David B. Hart regarding the “New Atheists.”  The article is a true example of deep thinking and thoughtful critique.  Hart writes with genuine rhetorical flourish.  I will reproduce a lengthy portion of his critique below.

The principal source of my melancholy, however, is my firm conviction that today’s most obstreperous infidels lack the courage, moral intelligence, and thoughtfulness of their forefathers in faithlessness. What I find chiefly offensive about them is not that they are skeptics or atheists; rather, it is that they are not skeptics at all and have purchased their atheism cheaply, with the sort of boorish arrogance that might make a man believe himself a great strategist because his tanks overwhelmed a town of unarmed peasants, or a great lover because he can afford the price of admission to a brothel. So long as one can choose one’s conquests in advance, taking always the paths of least resistance, one can always imagine oneself a Napoleon or a Casanova (and even better: the one without a Waterloo, the other without the clap).

But how long can any soul delight in victories of that sort? And how long should we waste our time with the sheer banality of the New Atheists—with, that is, their childishly Manichean view of history, their lack of any tragic sense, their indifference to the cultural contingency of moral “truths,” their wanton incuriosity, their vague babblings about “religion” in the abstract, and their absurd optimism regarding the future they long for?

I am not—honestly, I am not—simply being dismissive here. The utter inconsequentiality of contemporary atheism is a social and spiritual catastrophe. Something splendid and irreplaceable has taken leave of our culture—some great moral and intellectual capacity that once inspired the more heroic expressions of belief and unbelief alike. Skepticism and atheism are, at least in their highest manifestations, noble, precious, and even necessary traditions, and even the most fervent of believers should acknowledge that both are often inspired by a profound moral alarm at evil and suffering, at the corruption of religious institutions, at psychological terrorism, at injustices either prompted or abetted by religious doctrines, at arid dogmatisms and inane fideisms, and at worldly power wielded in the name of otherworldly goods. In the best kinds
of unbelief, there is something of the moral grandeur of the prophets—a deep and admirable abhorrence of those vicious idolatries that enslave minds and justify our worst cruelties.

But a true skeptic is also someone who understands that an attitude of critical suspicion is quite different from the glib abandonment of one vision of absolute truth for another—say, fundamentalist Christianity for fundamentalist materialism or something vaguely and inaccurately called “humanism.” Hume, for instance, never traded one dogmatism for another, or one facile certitude for another. He understood how radical were the implications of the skepticism he recommended, and how they struck at the foundations not only of unthinking faith, but of proud rationality as well.

A truly profound atheist is someone who has taken the trouble to understand, in its most sophisticated forms, the belief he or she rejects, and to understand the consequences of that rejection. Among the New Atheists, there is no one of whom this can be said, and the movement as a whole has yet to produce a single book or essay that is anything more than an insipidly doctrinaire and appallingly ignorant diatribe.

To be fair there are Christians who display the same sort of thoughtless group-think and buy into a “cheap” faith.  It is important to have a faith or faithlessness in which one has considered as many presuppositions, consequences, and implications as possible.

O Me of Little Faith (review)

I must commend Jason Boyett for catching that most illusive of literary prey — readability.  His book (O Me of Little Faith:  True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling) is both interesting and enjoyable.  It is pleasant to read.  He combines vulnerability, humility, and self-disclosure with brief (possibly too brief) discussions of Christian apologetics.  All the while he tells interesting stories and provides funny illustrations.

This book provides a personal, ongoing journey through valleys of doubt and peaks of faith.  Along the way it provides wonderful gems of Biblical, cultural, and spiritual insight while also running into a few logical and Biblical potholes.

Boyett has a knack for observing the inconsistencies of modern American “churchianity.”  He rightfully notes that many of the intellectual and pragmatic objections to Christianity are answered unsatisfactorily by Christians (so-called).  For example, he notes the false god of “American evangelical Christian religion” who is “totally cool with the money we spend on concert lighting in the worship center while the widow down the block has a hole in her roof” (p. 129).

One of Boyett’s greatest strengths is also one his greatest weakness.  The reader is deeply empathetic with his doubt struggles and particularly interested in the answers he has found to deal with his rollercoaster of faith and doubt.  Unfortunately he either refuses to give answers by hiding behind the “I’m no theologian/scholar” excuse or giving examples of unsatisfactory responses he has found (e.g., Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell are not at the top of my list of credentialed, well-researched, exegetically qualified, and philosophically sound apologists).

Boyett takes issue with a hard deterministic view of God’s sovereignty, the philosophical “problem of evil,” and purely rational (as opposed to presuppositional) apologetics.  While this book cannot answer every philosophical issue of Christianity, I would have hoped Boyett could have offered a few alternative Christian views on these subjects.  The only intense objection I have with this book is the conflation of the Biblical perspective of doubt with Boyett’s personal doubts.  In the Bible various characters doubt the trustworthiness of the promises of God, but Boyett is doubting (it appears) the very existence of God.  I cannot find a Biblical character doubting the existence of God.

All-in-all reading this book is like sitting down for a drink with a close friend.  You are never exactly sure where the conversation will take you (e.g., church history, liturgy, sin, existentialism, apologetics, etc.) but you will be glad you had a chat.  Along the way you will be challenged and maybe even frustrated.  You will learn some good spiritual lessons and you will be encouraged to give voice to the questions and doubts with which you wrestle.

Jennifer Knapp and Homosexuality… Again

I’m sure you all know how I feel about the whole Jennifer Knapp situation.  If not, read my previous post on the subject.  Unfortunately, Jennifer has let the fame monster influence her handling of this very delicate situation.  Rather than listening and learning, she is promoting her agenda on national television.  She is debating other believers about a very nuanced and sensitive subject.

I saw this clip of Jennifer Knapp on “Larry King Live.”  Everyone involved demonstrated such Biblical illiteracy that it was painful.  The pastor who represents the orthodox Christian position on homosexuality did his best to stay close to the gospel but was woefully ill-equipped to confidently and intelligently explain the text of Scripture.

We have all heard it said that “it is better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”  Unfortunately, Jennifer Knapp decided to speak.  She tried to use a poorly constructed linguistic smokescreen to argue that homosexuality (as we know it) is not in the Bible.

It is one thing to say that “homosexuality is no worse than others sins.”  With that I agree.  It is another thing altogether to get on national television and vehemently defend my sin.  Homosexuality is no worse than adultery, but it would be ridiculous for an adulterer to get on national television and defend their actions (as with a murderer, liar, etc…)

As far as the logic involved, it is ridiculous to argue if a person is born with inclinations, tendencies, or orientations then they are allowed to act on them.  There are a number of people with homicidal tendencies, but society has said they are not allowed to act on those activities.  As Christians we can affirm that people struggle with homosexuality while agreeing that can choose not to engage in homosexual activity.

Also, why would anyone listen to Ted Haggard?  He is the worst kind of hypocrite and fraud?  Seriously?  The best person that Larry King could find was Ted Haggard?  This must be a joke.  Are there any intelligent, well-educated, articulate Bible scholars who can actually talk about this issue?  Please!!!!

As far as the theological and philological idiocy displayed during this interview.  The original text of the Bible is clear about homosexuality (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9 and see BDAG’s discussion of μαλακοι and αρσενοκοιται).  The question is really not linguistic (per se) but, rather, hermeneutical.  Is the original text of the Bible understandable and applicable to Christians today?  Or, on the other hand, do we have more knowledge, intelligence, and understanding than the original writers (inspired by God) who decided to condemn homosexuality?

In regard to homosexuality, this is nothing new.  Same sex activity would not be in the Bible if it was not a legitimate sin struggle for many people.  While we have much more scientific information on homosexuality, the more things change the more they stay the same.  Sin is sin and God does not change.  I can either justify my sins (of which I have many) or humbly repent and cling desperately to the grace of Jesus.

Jennifer Knapp, Sexual Ethics, and Christian Celebrity

Despite the salacious title I am not really going to talk much about the recent news story regarding “Christian Music” star, Jennifer Knapp.  Suffice it to say that a number of people have asked my opinion of the Dove Award winning singer announcing she is in a homosexual relationship on the eve of her new album release.

There is much to be said about the relationship of contemporary American culture’s view of homosexuality and a Biblically orthodox view of the same behavior.  I have heard no hermeneutical gymnastics clever enough to convince me that God has revealed in the Bible any other plan for families than one man loving one woman for life as a clear picture of the love of Christ for the church.

On the other hand, many conservative churches have exploited homosexuality as a sin that is particularly heinous and gross.  Homosexuality is much harder to hide, but it is no worse than the sins I commit.  Even if it is worse (which Biblically it is not), the grace of Christ is sufficient for every sin.  During his earthly ministry, Christ demonstrated healing and love consistently and clearly to the people that society deemed as gross and dirty.

However, Biblical interpretation regarding the issue of homosexuality is not my greatest concern.  What I find interesting is the way “Christian celebrities” are deemed as more important or as experts.  When a Hollywood celebrity speaks on a political issue, many people get upset because being a celebrity does not make you an expert.  The same is true in Christian subculture.  Jennifer Knapp is not particularly qualified to speak on the issue of Biblical interpretation.  She is no more qualified than any other believer.  Celebrity is not a mark of authority.  In the debate regarding homosexuality, our decisions must be made on ideas, not on personalities.  No matter what side you are on, there is a desire to stack experts and celebrities on your philosophical side.  This is a mistake.  Let us discuss issues and ideas rather than people.

I know that Jennifer Knapp is not the first Christian to “come out of the closet.”  She is not even the first Christian musician to come out of the closet.  There are a number of people in our churches and communities who are dealing with these same issues.  I would rather not make decisions regarding sexual ethics on the choices of “Christian celebrities” (be they pastors, musicians, actors, etc.) but on the authority of the Bible faithfully interpreted.

Let us relate with truth and love to any with whom we disagree.  In a debate you are not trying to win an argument but a person.  My prayer is that Christians would search the Scriptures more than the local news.