Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Faith and Irresponsibility

Has anyone ever told you about something he plans to do that doesn't make a lot of sense, and when you press for details or question the wisdom of the decision, he responds by saying "we're stepping out in faith"? Most likely you have, and if you haven't experienced it personally, you know of a public ministry that's done this.

Is this faith?

Let's look at a case study: Abraham. Of course, he is the poster child for 'stepping out in faith', making an enormous change without any kind of plan or even knowing the destination. We read this about him in Hebrews 11, colloquially known as the Faith Chapter:

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb 11:8-10)

Well, there it is. Look at how utterly irrational Abraham was! He left the comforts of home, abandoning most of his family, leaving an established city. He had no idea where he would be going, and had no friends, family, or other support there. He would be a stranger in a foreign land with no friends, living in tents instead of a house. He left Ur, possibly the largest and most powerful city in the Fertile Crescent at the time, to live... ??? Well, he didn't know. He could have spent the rest of his life alone in the desert for all he knew.

Not a single part of that makes any sense, it's completely irrational, and it's a model of faith for all of us to emulate. We don't need a plan, and it doesn't need to make sense. Just do it - have faith!

Yeah, not so fast. The big problem with this view is that it completely fails to account for God.

Make a pro/con list for Abraham's decision. We've already listed a bunch of cons - based on them, leaving Ur would be downright insane. But that doesn't account for the one huge pro - God commanded it! It wasn't a suggestion or invitation; the sovereign creator of the universe commanded (note that scripture says he "obeyed"). That by itself is absolutely enough to completely tip the scales. Just the fact that God commanded Abraham to go means that Abraham going was totally rational - in fact, it was the only rational thing he could have done. And that's before we even consider the unimaginable magnitude of the promised blessing.

What made Abraham's move a step of faith is not that it appeared to be irrational. It was faith because he believed God. When God has given specific revelation of his will through commands, promises, and precepts, acting accordingly is faith. Sometimes it will look completely silly to the world, and other times it will make total sense even to atheists. What matters is not the apparent craziness of the action, but the fidelity to God's word.

It is faith to engage in appropriate church discipline although the worldly think it's absurd. And it's faith to conduct business honestly, even though the world may acknowledge the benefits of doing so. Both are obedient to scripture, and both are faith. Loving enemies, submitting to even an unbelieving husband, enduring persecution, financial generosity, honoring parents, fervent prayer, silencing heretics - all of this and more can be faith.

And on the counter side, something does not become a 'step of faith' just because it appears to be incredibly stupid. It may just be that you're doing something incredibly stupid, and trying to sanctify it by attaching God's name to it. If it's not obedience to God's will as revealed in scripture, it's not faith.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Churches and Debt

Should a church carry debt?


Oh, you were hoping for more? Fine. Here are a few reasons it's a bad idea. I mean, besides the fact that debt is a bad idea for everyone. Here are some that apply especially to a church.

Possible damage to witness. Want to make sure someone won't hear a word you say about Jesus? Borrow a bunch of money from him and fail to pay it back. The gospel is offensive as it is; the last thing we need to do is offend someone by sinning against them before preaching it to them!

1 Peter 3:15 is the apologist/evangelist's favorite verse, and the context is applicable here: proclaiming Christ while suffering. Peter makes it plain: if you want to preach Christ through suffering, it should be suffering for doing good and not for evil (see also 4:12-19, Heb 12:12-17). If you want to minister, don't let your unrighteous behavior stand in the way (and don't dare claim the just consequences of your actions as 'persecution'). And don't ever let Romans 2:24 be accurate for you.

Want to give unbelievers an opportunity to blaspheme? Want to make sure they don't trust you? Borrow and fail to repay. They are downright giddy whenever a church files bankruptcy; why even take that chance?

Compromising the message to keep crowds large and the money flowing. So you're preaching through one of Paul's epistles and come to a passage that contains a really unpopular position. If you preach it faithfully, people might leave. A lot of people. Maybe even some rich people who give a lot of money. Enough people and money that, if they leave, you won't have enough money to pay the mortgage, or maybe even some salaries.

You can preach the Word faithfully, and take your chances. Or you can take the edge off a little, and make it more likely they'll stay (and keep giving). What do you do?

Oh, we all know how we hope we would answer this. But it doesn't take much of a look at the evangelical landscape to see how often the wrong answer prevails. Praise God when pastors stay faithful to the Word when under this pressure. It can't be easy, and far too many cave week after week. Wouldn't it be best to avoid being in this situation to begin with?

What will you do when you lose tax-exempt status? Note: not 'if'. It should be obvious by now that tax-exempt status will eventually be revoked. It may be a pure money grab (churches own a lot of property and receive a lot of gifts they don't pay taxes on), but more likely it will come as punishment for refusing to bow to Caesar on one of several issues.

Would it surprise anyone if, by the time you finish reading this paragraph, the government announces the revocation of  tax exemption for any church which refuses to (1) pay for the murder of unborn children per the HHS mandate, (2) bless serial sodomy as if it's the sacred, God-ordained institution of marriage, and/or (3) appoint female elders/pastors? It may not be as immediate as I think, but it's certain to happen eventually. Either bow on these issues (or whatever the next issue will be) and functionally cease to be a church of Christ, or pay up.

When it happens, it will affect your church's finances dramatically. Property taxes and other taxes must now be paid. Offerings are no longer tax-exempt, and will likely decrease. Expenses go up, income goes down. That's not a good dynamic when you're already in debt. It's really, really, really bad.

Your finances will change. Make no mistake, if this isn't what causes it, something else will. Maybe the big plant in town will close and half your congregation will be out of work. Your biggest donors will die or move away. A hundred people leave to plant another church. Whatever it is, things change, and you could go through a financial dry season. If your budget absolutely needs everything to continue at current levels or better indefinitely, you're setting yourself up for disaster.

Paying interest from tithes/offerings. You know, it just feels different when it's money given to a church for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel to the ends of the earth. Someone stealing from an employer is bad, but if his employer's a church, it's outrageous. Want to waste your money on pointless junk? Whatever. Squander money given for ministry on pointless junk, and don't be surprised if there's a wee bit of outrage, and it's tough to say it's not justified. And make no mistake - interest payments are a waste.

Consider a church with $1million in debt at 4% interest. If it receives $500k in offerings annually, an entire month of giving goes to nothing except paying interest. No ministry function, just interest payments. With that $40k, you could pay much of the cost of an additional full-time staff member, or several part-timers or interns, or support a missionary family pretty well, or provide benevolence ministry to hurting families in the congregation, or... Or, you could give it to the bank, for the past favor of lending you money for a new building/media system/parking lot/whatever before you could pay for it (or you didn't really need it, but decided to get it because you could).

Yes, there are benefits to getting those things now rather than waiting for them. But there's also a cost. And I suspect the ongoing cost will always outweigh the short-term benefits.

If you build it, they won't necessarily come. Pardon my rant within a rant here, but the "Field of Dreams" attitude pervasive in evangelicalism is just absurd. It goes like this. We have an old church building with room for 500. We've grown from 200 to about 450 recently, and some weeks we're at capacity. So we should build a bigger church, with room for 5,000, and 'trust God' to keep bringing growth to fill it (and increased offerings to pay of the mortgage which we can't currently afford).

Let's say it works, and that church experiences explosive growth - it triples in size in a short time! Guess what? It's still at less than 30% capacity, and the incredibly larger church still won't be able to afford the mortgage! And that's even assuming the new attenders give at the same rate as the old faithfuls, which is far from a given.

An extreme example? Maybe. But you probably can think of a church that did something very similar, building so big and borrowing so much that they needed to quadruple or more in size (and giving) to have any chance of keeping up with the mortgage (not to mention the greatly increased operating costs). And this is always done under the banner of "faith".

You know what faith isn't? Doing something irresponsible and hoping God will bail you out. Or, trusting God to do something He hasn't specifically promised to do. You know what requires faith? Living obediently to God's commands and according to His revealed wisdom (check what Proverbs says about debt), and trusting God to provide your needs when you live according to His revealed will. And if God doesn't provide for you to have a church with a 12,000-seat sanctuary, faith is being content with what He has provided.

The upside - what a great opportunity! So what do you do if you've accumulated too much debt and want to repent and pay it off (or if you inherited it from a previous generation of church leadership)? There are all sorts of materials available for churches looking to get out of debt, and some of them are actually useful (and not the church-growth and giving-manipulation crap that got you in the predicament in the first place). I'd probably check with Crown Financial or other similar organization for help with the how-to.

But the how-to details are almost beside the point. If you're in that position, one way to work some good from it is to use it to define what your church is about, and get rid of the chaff. It's time to prioritize, to emphasize what is necessary and scale back (or eliminate outright) what is not.

When faced with a budget crisis, any serious person will do exactly that. You look at your income and expenses, and prioritize. Home? Gotta have a place to live. Food? Gotta have some - but you can scale back the cost of groceries, and eliminate restaurants entirely if needed. Cable TV? You can live without it. And so on. You wind up with a prioritized list - if we can only do one thing with our money this month, what will it be? What do we pay second? If some unexpected money comes in, what will we pay next? Providing food, shelter, and clothing for your children is more important than tickets to sporting events. Pay for necessities first, and only then can you put money on luxuries.

As a church, is there any reason you shouldn't do the same thing? (And while this is about church debt, it would be a pretty good thing for non-indebted churches to do as well.) What are the things that every church absolutely must do? Having someone devoted to studying and teaching God's Word is absolutely necessary; having a full-time ventriloquist for puppet shows in the children's ministry is just a luxury. A really creepy luxury.

So if you're in debt, don't resist the opportunity it's trying to force on you. Search the scriptures to find what the church is to be about. Teach that to your people. Then cut out the unnecessary fluff, and go and do what is best.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Romans Inclusio and Gutless Gracers

Here's the introduction to Romans, emphasis added:

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ... (Rom 1:1-6)

And here's the closing:

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Rom 16:25-27)

Paul brackets his magnum opus with this phrase summarizing the purpose of the letter, and in fact his entire ministry: "to bring about the obedience of faith". He starts by saying that's what it will be about, concludes by saying that's what it was about, and in between, well, that's what it's about: the glory of saving faith and the corresponding transformation to Christlikeness.

What this phrase (and the entire rest of the letter!) makes clear is that, to Paul, if there is no obedience, there is no faith.

Yet Romans is the perpetual favorite of those who insist that obedience is merely optional, a nice little extra for the Christian. All that really matters is just saying 'Christ is Lord' once - after that, you can be sanctified and that's great, but you don't need to. You don't even have to keep claiming to be a Christian - just say it once, and you're good. This idea mostly comes from a really, really lazy interpretation of Romans 10:9-10 (hints: what does "Lord" mean, and what would such a confession mean for a 1st-century subject of Caesar?). This interpretation flies in the face of the rest of the letter, where nonchalance towards sin is condemned, sanctification is a necessary result of being a son of God, being conformed to the image of Christ is what we are predestined to, etc.

Romans simply cannot support the Gutless Grace position - it denounces it many times and in various ways - which Paul lets us know with a few little words at the beginning and end. The gospel brings about the obedience of faith; no obedience, no faith.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Honor and Disagreement

Election night, about three seconds after my Facebook news feed lit up with the bad news, this article showed up in my Google Reader feed. (Yes, I still use an RSS reader. So what?) There were countless others like it, but that's the one I bothered to read, so it's the one I'll interact with.

First off, I don't totally disagree with anything in the article itself. We can debate whether that should have been the very first thing to write about - this election was a total disaster and will have horrible consequences, and it wouldn't have hurt to spend a little time lamenting that. But as far as the truth - yeah, it's all correct. We are unequivocally called to honor the President, just as Peter exhorted his readers to honor the emperor even as he was lighting them on fire. Let's face it - as bad as I believe this is, and as bad as it's going to get, it's tough to say we have it as bad as Nero's victims.

Let's not pretend we're exempt from the numerous commands to honor those in earthly authority over us. Someone else's sin never excuses my own. So this brings a dilemma - how do we honor someone in authority over us with whom we vehemently disagree? And this applies not just to government officials - how do you honor your parents, your employer, your church, when they do something you disagree with, especially if it's outright sinful?

The answer, as it usually isn't, is not "balance". As in, "we need to balance speaking the truth with honoring them". The big problem with balance is that it requires two things to be in opposition. Here's a hint - if God unequivocally commands two things, they are not in opposition. They are to be obeyed always, fully, simultaneously. We don't have to decide when to be full of grace and when to be full of truth. Grace always, and truth always. Same thing here - always honor whom honor is due, and always stand for what is right. The question is not how to balance them, but how to do both simultaneously.

This is where I throw it to you, dear readers. Here's your assignment (for the next four years): how do we object to sin without sinning ourselves? What does it practically look like to stand against the sinful (or unwise) actions of those in authority over us, while giving them the honor God says they are due?

There are numerous Biblical examples we can consider. The apostles before the Sanhedrin or Roman authorities repeatedly throughout Acts, Daniel and friends serving pagan kings (and pronouncing judgment on them!), John the Baptist confronting Herod, Nathan confronting David, and many other prophets standing against kings of Israel and Judah come to mind. So pick an example, and tell us how he stood for righteousness without tarnishing his witness through sinful action or attitude.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What This Result Means

We've had almost a week for the election to sink in. Here are some thoughts.

First, read this and this. And you should probably read something like this, too. Today we'll interact with and expand the first two, God willing we'll look at the third in the next few days.

Now, a lot of the post-election analysis has focused on changing demographics and messaging and blah blah blah. This won't be any of that. I just want to look big-picture. The way we voted sends a message about us - what did it say? The following are numbered for convenience, not necessarily priority:

1. The noetic effect of sin is real and powerful.

2. We looked at disasters like Greece and Spain and Argentina, and said "We want us some of that!"

3. When teetering over the cliff of economic ruin, we want nothing to do with someone who specializes in bringing businesses back from the brink of ruin, and trust everything to someone who has never made a serious attempt to pass a budget and admits to struggling with his personal finances.

4. When Vladmir, Hugo, Los Bros Castros, Mahmoud, and others who want to see our nation severely weakened openly beg us to vote for one candidate, we oblige.

5. Being caught on a live mic arranging with a hostile foreign nation to do something which will almost certainly greatly weaken your own country? Meh.

6. We are just fine with injustice such as racism, sexism, and class warfare, so long as we perceive that our particular group may be favored. We never bother to consider that if injustice currently favors us, it can just as easily be turned around to oppress us.

7. The cries for statism/oppression emanating from the filth-ridden rape camps and riots of the Occupy Useful Idiot malcontents are much better received than the peaceful requests for constitutionally-guaranteed freedom from the peaceful, civil Tea Party rallies.

8. Whether or not to kill unborn children is not a moral issue. It's merely a preference, similar to what toppings to put on your burger.

9. If a rebellion is beginning in a radical Islamist state that is one of the greatest threats to us and the world, sit back and do nothing, and watch the people get slaughtered. If a rebellion led by radical Islamists begins in an allied or fairly neutralized Middle Eastern state, aid the rebels any way possible, including arming them. Do this, and you will be re-elected (unlike 1980).

10. Be shocked when the radical Islamists attack us with the weapons we gave them. Abandon Americans including an ambassador and Navy Seals to horrible deaths at the hands of the Islamists. Make the Seals believe they have air support, but order the air support not to fire, so they expose themselves and die. Lie about the attack for several weeks, pretending it was a spontaneous protest over a video nobody ever saw (as if that makes it OK for some reason). Send the SS on a midnight raid to arrest an American because of the lie. Mock the father of the dead Seal at his funeral. Go ahead, we don't care.

11. We like our leaders to go around the world talking about how awful we are.

12. We really don't mind if you give a bunch of weapons to Mexican drug cartels with the intent of having them commit crimes with them. We don't even care when they murder people, including border agents, in America.

13. We think that "you have the right to use a product" and "someone else must pay for it" are equivalent.

14. We're not even the least bit ashamed of wanton covetousness.

15. We don't care if our situations are terrible, just so long as you promise to make someone else miserable, too.

16. Government dependence is a stronger addiction than any chemical addiction. There's no methodone clinic that can blast it out of us. The antidote is a combination of "good theology of vocation" coupled with "work ethic" and "valuable skills". But why bother, when we can just vote for someone to take stuff from someone who worked for it and give it to us?

17. We are immune to concepts like "history" and "math" and "long-term thinking". We think there's no limit to how much money is out there to be taken from rich people and eeeeevil corporations, and therefore the gravy train will never ever ever ever end.

18. We see no correlation between producing value and being paid.

19. We believe that companies exist to employ people. Whether they make a profit is completely irrelevant. No, wait - profits are not irrelevant, they're positively evil.

20. We frequently complain about even the simplest transactions involving the government. We have no problem giving the government complete control over the most important aspects of our lives.

21. We believe it is the government's job to legislate morality, so long as that morality is immoral.

22. We cannot wait for systematic persecution of Christians to begin full-force.

23. We believe that when the government fails spectacularly and creates problems, the solution is more power for the government.

24. All those people who risked their lives to flee this garbage? Ha! Joke's on you!

25. We are perfectly happy if we lose our jobs, as long as our employers take a big financial hit.

26. We could run a grand experiment. Let's divide much of the world into two roughly equal camps (in terms of population and resources). Each camp will implement a governing philosophy diametrically opposed to the other. We can run this experiment for a good long time - say, about eight decades - and see Group 1 overwhelmingly triumph economically, socially, in terms of freedom and opportunity and all manner of human accomplishment. We'll watch in awe as Group 2 completely crumbles. We'll gaze in amazement as Group 2 nations begin to embrace Group 1 principles, even to the smallest degree imaginable, and watch their economies flourish. We'll watch as Group 1 nations dabble more and more with Group 2 principles, inevitably begin to falter, and see those that are serious rush headlong back to Group 1 to save themselves. In the end, we'll have a full century of worldwide data of the total superiority of Group 1 over Group 2. And then we'll vote to be part of Group 2.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Blind Guys and an Elephant

Several blind men took a bet that they could not correctly identify an object by touch. They were led to an elephant, and they began to feel around to try to figure out what it was. As they were doing this, the elephant spoke to them (because this is a special elephant, and anyway it's my story and I want him to, so there) and said "Hey guys, let me help you out - I'm an elephant."

Ignoring the elephant's words, the blind men began to touch its body. One of them touched the elephant's leg and proclaimed, "I know! It's a concrete pillar!" The elephant tried to correct the man, saying, "No, I'm an elephant. Like I already told you. Not a pillar, an elephant. That's my leg." But the blind man continued to ignore him, insisted that it was a pillar, and wondered what manner of capital adorned the structure.

Another touched his trunk, and announced that he had found a large snake. The elephant yelled "No! That's my trunk, not a snake. Listen guys: I am an elephant. E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T. Elephant!" The blind man continued to disregard him, debating whether he had found a python or a boa constrictor, and whether such a distinction really mattered for the bet anyway. "Of course it doesn't matter" said the elephant, "because both answers are completely wrong. It doesn't matter which you pick, you lose." The blind man decided to go with 'python'.

Others took their best guesses, suggesting that the elephant's tusks were spears and that the ears were old canvas tarpaulins. All along the elephant kept trying to correct them, and the blind men kept completely ignoring him. Finally the elephant let out an exasperated bellow, which the blind men thought might be the brass section of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. "Oh for crying out loud! LONDON?!? Yes, blind men, the streets of London are just overflowing with elephants. Are you even trying? No, you're not, or else you would have listened when I told you the answer. Forget this, I'm out of here." And the elephant stormed off.

The blind men submitted their answers to the bet. Since they couldn't arrive at a consensus answer, they decided that each would just answer whatever he wanted, because they all were right in some way. That way, they would all win the bet!

But no, they all lost. You know, because they were all completely wrong.

When the verdict was announced, the blind men indignantly protested, "Why didn't anyone try to tell us?"

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Repetitive Repetition: Sin Altars

Hosea 8:11 has a repetitive bit of repetition in the 11th verse of Hosea 8. It's actually kind of funny when you first read it:

"Because Ephraim has multiplied altars for sinning,
       they have become to him altars for sinning."

Well, yeah, duh. They built altars, they got altars. Nothing to see here, just kind of obvious, right?

Slow down a minute, and look a little deeper. How much work went into building an altar? The surface for the sacrifice took some work, like precisely cutting a large stone or doing some high-quality metalworking. But there was even more to it than that. Take a look at this picture from Beth Shan, where the Philistines hung the bodies of Saul and Jonathan.

The remains of the city are in the foreground. Notice that big hill in the background, the one that looks a little unusually tall and more than a little unnatural? That's because it is unnatural - it's an artificial, manmade hill. Tons of dirt and rock were hauled to this site by generations of people building it a few feet higher every year, until they had an artificial hill towering over their city - what you may know as a "high place".

Yes, that hill is where the people of Beth Shan would have had their altars, Asherah poles, and any other instruments of pagan worship. Similar high places were found in cities all throughout Israel. When they wanted to put an altar on a high place, they didn't just find the highest natural hill nearby. They continually built bigger hills to hold their new, fancy, forbidden altars.

So when Hosea says that Ephraim "multiplied altars for sinning", this is what he means. In pretty much every town of appreciable size, Israel spent years hauling in multitudes of tons of material (without modern earth-moving equipment!) to build these high places, grew grass and trees on them, made large, ornate altars of metal or stone, and hauled them to the top. And all of that was just the preparation for sinning!

Some sins were committed on a whim, of course. But these sins - these altars of sinning - required years of toil to lay the groundwork for sin. Many of these required years of scheming, transgenerational effort, incredible cooperation, and enormous expense - all to prepare a place where they could properly rebel against their Creator. These sins didn't just happen. They were planned and prepared for.

After all those preparations, all that time and effort and expense, what are the chances they would not indulge in the sin? They went through all that trouble to set the stage for sin, so of course they followed through, and the sin became for them an essential part of life.

Now track with me here. How are we doing the same thing? There are some sins that you just do - they're the instant reaction, the momentary lapse in judgment, the failure to do what's right, etc. And while those are plenty bad, there are sins that are so much more dangerous - the scheming sins. The ones you plot how you're going to do them, and how you'll hide it, and how far you're willing to push, and how you'll get away with it.

Addictions come to mind - hiding booze around the house, plotting how to get alone to watch porn, moving money around to hide it for gambling. Adultery is often like that as well - it's often said that nobody wakes up one morning and just decides to cheat; it's the culmination of a long process of increasingly bad decisions, dangerous thoughts, and nursing smaller sins to help them grow. Or think of plotting revenge, or scheming to defraud a client, or cheat on your taxes, or a host of others.

All sin is horrible. But these types of sin that require deliberate planning and focused effort - they're a whole 'nother level of deadly. If you have a pet sin like that, now is the time to put it to death. Get some friends to be like Hezekiah or Josiah for you. Don't just stop sacrificing there (for a while) - tear those high places down entirely.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Humble Disobedience?

Tonight I'd like to take a shot at turning some sacred cow into hamburger. Maybe this interpretation of these narratives isn't as popular as I think, but given the frequency with which I've heard it from a wide variety of sources, I'ma guess it's spread far and wide. Let's both introduce it and illustrate the problem with a little game called "One of these things is not like the others", featuring three pretty well-known vignettes.

1) God tells Moses to go back to Egypt and lead Israel out. Moses makes all kind of excuses, flat-out telling God to "send someone else". This is because Moses is extremely humble.

2) Saul is told by God's prophet Samuel that God has chosen him to be king, and he is given multiple signs to confirm this. When the time comes to be named king, Saul is hiding in the baggage. This is because he is really, really humble and doesn't think he's worthy of such honor.

3) Jonah is told by God to go preach in Ninevah. He refuses, and heads the opposite direction, until his path is rather dramatically reoriented. This of course is because Jonah is a colossal jerk.

Three men given direct orders from God. Three men do everything possible to disobey. For some reason two of them are thought of as humble, and the other a rebellious disobedient lout. I suggest that the popular interpretation is wrong on the first two - both of them were being every bit as defiantly disobedient as Jonah.

Here's the thing I just can't get my head around - how is it that someone can argue with and/or outright disobey the creator and sovereign of the universe, and be considered "humble"? A person can say "my way is better" to the only wise God, and this is supposed to be something other than arrogant sin? Elsewhere the humble man is he who recognizes that God is Lord of heaven and earth and who trembles at the word of God; in these two cases we are told that the humble man is the one who makes every effort to disobey and disregard the word of God. Does. Not. Compute.

Let me make a suggestion - there is never, ever, ever any justification for disobedience to God's word. Never. It is never excusable, and it is most certainly not a sign of something admirable like humility. These guys weren't humble or justified in their disobedience - and neither are we. When we read God's word and come to a command we don't like, it's not admirable or cute to hem and haw about how we're not qualified to obey it. It's rank disobedience.

If God says to do it, do it. Anything else is sin.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Option C Doesn't Exist

And now, a parable-ish-type thing.

A woman lives in a culture which features arranged marriages, and in January of next year she will be getting married. Two men have been selected as possible husbands; one of them would be the default winner, but if she appeals to the elders, the alternate will be chosen.

Now the alternate - well, he's nothing special. Kind of bland, not particularly exciting, he has some weird things about him, and some stuff in his past that's actually pretty bad. He'd be an OK husband, I guess, but nothing special. Just kinda meh.

The favorite, on the other hand, is a real standout - and not in a good way. He has promised that if he is chosen, he'll do all manner of horrible things to her. He's threatened the most horrific abuses imaginable (and some you can't imagine), and when he gets bored with that, he'll kill her.

What should this woman do? If she says nothing, she will be forced to marry the utterly horrible one. If she requests, she would be allowed to marry the not-great-but-might-be-OK one. If those are the only two choices, the smart thing to do is obviously to go with the tolerable one.

Well, how about other options? How about if she says she really wants to marry some other guy who is, she thinks, absolutely perfect in every way and can do no wrong? Sorry - Mr Dreamboat didn't get past the first round of nominations. The village elders have made it clear he won't be it. Begging for him will be inseparable from a vote for the utterly horrible one.

How about just leaving? Maybe, but a quick look at the other villages around and she decides against it. She can't find any place that's significantly better, and most are almost unspeakably worse.

So there are the four options. To wit:
1) Refuse to participate, maybe make noise about leaving - and wind up married to the horrible one.
2) Insist on marrying the fantasy man - and wind up marrying the horrible one.
3) Agree to marry the horrible one, and get it.
4) Ask for the tolerable one, and get him.

There's only one choice a thinking adult could make. It would make no sense to insist on some high-minded principles if it leaves her married to the sleazeball who will abuse and kill her. It's childish and foolish to so completely pine for what-can-never-be that you surrender any say over what will actually be.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Can't Someone Else Do It?

And now for something completely different. Consider the following two statements:

A) I am free to use a product
B) Someone else must provide that product for me

Does B necessarily follow from A? No, of course not, that's ridiculous. But the idea that it does forms the foundation of numerous Democrat talking points. Whether the product is birth control, post-secondary education, medical care, housing, food, or whatever the cause du jour will be tomorrow, the product is claimed as a right - and anyone who doesn't want to provide it for you can be accused of denying you that right.

Now a half-second's thought would be enough to reveal the super-secret solution to this problem: just pay for it yourself. But a half-second's thought would be more than enough to dissuade anyone from even considering voting for Obama, and we saw how that worked out. What they're banking on is the unthinking response to Homer Simpson's impassioned campaign rhetoric of "Can't someone else do it?" They expect that we've sunk to Springfieldian levels, so that we'll expect to receive every good thing we want, while someone else has to do all the work. Sadly, based on the population of Occupy Useful Idiotville, they may very well be right.

But that's all introduction. As I was thinking about this idea, I came to another realization. Consider the following two parallel statements:

A) I am free to progress in sanctification
B) Someone else must do all the work for me

That's right. Keswick Theology is the Obama-voter of the Christian world.

Monday, July 23, 2012

So What's Your Answer?

In part one, we looked at the numerous blessings that Jesus secured for his people through his death and resurrection.

Part two looked at the tremendous chain of rhetorical questions Paul asked at the apex of his greatest gospel presentation.

Now in part three, I want to issue a simple request. Romans 8:32 asks: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? In immediate context, "all things" refers to the blessings from 8:28 (that God orders the entire universe so that all things work for the ultimate benefit of his people) to 8:39 (that nothing can ever separate Christ's people from his love). In the broader Biblical context, "all things" includes all the blessings of part one - all the myriad graces Jesus promises for his people. If Jesus died for you, "all things" are surely yours.

But there are numerous Christians, notably Arminians and Amyraldians, who completely disagree with this interpretation. They assert that there are many - the vast majority - for whom Christ died, yet who will not receive "all things", or any of these blessings. I believe Paul is asking this rhetorically, stating that the notion of Christ dying for someone who will not be redeemed/glorified is utterly inconceivable. These brothers, on the other hand, would assert that the question is not rhetorical, and that there must be an answer. They assert that the notion is not inconceivable, but the normal course of things for the vast majority of humanity.

So my request is to Arminians, Amyraldians, TU?IPs, and the like. I have a few questions for you, if you wouldn't mind explaining your position.

1) How do you answer Paul's question?
2) Do you think the other questions in this chain also have answers, or is this the only non-rhetorical in the chain?
3) If it's the only non-rhetorical, how did you come to that determination? If it's not - if the others also have non-zero answers, how would you answer them - who can be against us, who can charge God's elect, who is to condemn, and what can separate us from the love of Christ?

There ya go. Have at it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rhetorical, eh?

Part two begins with one of my favorite scenes from The Simpsons. We join as Homer overhears Lisa and Grandma singing a hippie classic:

Grandma: How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?
Homer: Seven!
Lisa: No, Dad, it's a rhetorical question.
Homer: Rhetorical, eh?  Eight!
Lisa: Dad, do you even know what "rhetorical" means?
Homer: Do I know what "rhetorical" means?!

Ahem. Rhetorical questions are a powerful, um, rhetorical device. A particularly strong use implies that the answer is so obvious, only the most ignorant or foolish could possibly disagree. The apostle Paul was a huge fan of this technique, perhaps never more prominently than at the end of Romans 8. You may have heard of the Golden Chain of Salvation from 8:28-30 - that those who are foreknown are predestined, the predestined are called, the called are justified, and the justified are glorified.

What immediately follows that is something I like to call the Golden Chain of Rhetoricals. At the apex of Paul's magnum opus on the glory of salvation, he hammers home the point with a series of five rhetorical questions. For each one, an answer is assumed (and sometimes stated outright, because people as a rule are dense and spare no expense to avoid the undeniable conclusion), and Paul finds it inconceivable that anyone could think otherwise.

1) If God is for us, who can be against us? If God has forknown/predestined you to be called, justified, and glorified, what enemy can possibly stop it? Those whom God has chosen will be born again, come to faith, persevere, and be glorified.

It's worth pausing to reflect on the amazing idea that God could be for you! Consider how this letter starts off back in 1:18ff, where God's wrath is completely and justly fixed on us because of our unrighteousness. Our only hope is to have righteousness - the very righteousness of God - credited to us, which, incredibly enough, God does (1:17). Now that is gospel worth proclaiming without shame (1:16)!

2) He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? I was going to link to Piper's chapter on this verse in Future Grace, but apparently that's not available free online. Bummer. Oh well, go buy the book and read it, it's great.

This question amplifies the previous - there is no way God could be more "for you" than by giving Christ. Paul's point here is that for the Father to send the Son to the cross was the most difficult thing imaginable. Compared to that, giving you all things - which in this immediate context, includes ordering the entire universe so that all things (including persecution and death itself!) work to your ultimate benefit - is trivially easy. If the Father gave Jesus up for you, it is utterly inconceivable that He would withhold anything which is for your good.

3) Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.

When God declares someone righteous, which He ultimately does for all He has chosen, who can dispute that? What higher authority exists that can overrule God's declaration?

4) Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Suppose we skipped the last question, and someone was bold enough to bring a charge against God's elect. What would he find? Jesus, who was delivered up for our tresspasses and raised for our justification (4:25), at the Father's side interceding on our behalf. In order for this accusation to be successful, the Father would have to ignore Christ's death and resurrection on their behalf, and value the accuser's argument over his Son's. This case could never be brought, and even if it could, it could never win.

5) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

What Did Jesus Do?

Part one of three.

Today I want to look at the question, what did Jesus do on the cross? The simple Sunday School answer is, "He died for our sins". But what does that mean, exactly? I want to examine what Jesus actually accomplished on the cross. Not what he made potentially available to us, but what he fully brought about for us. What did he set out to do, and what effect does the cross (and resurrection) have for us?

First, what was his intent in going to the cross? He came to save sinners, pay our ransom, purify us, deliver us from the world, make us holy, redeem us from lawlessness, prepare us for good works, bring us into grace, and bring us to God.

Luke 19:10: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

1 Tim 1:15: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Mat 20:28: even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many

Gal 1:4: who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father

Eph 5:25-27: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Titus 2:14: who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Rom 5:2: Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

1 Peter 3:18: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit

So that's what Jesus intended to do. Did he do it? Let's look at what Jesus actually accomplished. Not just what he made possible, but what his death and resurrection guarantees by itself.

By his death, Jesus reconciled us to God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Rom 5:10). All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-19). For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Eph. 2:14-16).

By his death, Jesus justified us, redeemed us, provided full payment for our sins. He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb 9:12). Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal 3:13). He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet 2:24). [F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Rom 3:23-25). [I]n whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:14).

By his death, Jesus obtained for us every blessing, including sanctification/purification/ cleansing of sin, and faith. How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb 9:14). But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7). He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb 1:3). So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. (Heb 13:12). For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Phil 1:29). Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Eph 1:3). He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:32). See also Eph 5:25-27.

By his death, Jesus brought about our adoption as sons by God. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

By his death, Jesus eternally guarantees all these blessings for us. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. (Heb 9:15). [W]ho is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:14).

By his death, Jesus has made us perfect forever. Hebrews 10:14 - For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

By his death, Jesus guarantees his intercession on our behalf. See John 14:2-3; Heb. 9:11-12, 24-25; 1 John 2:1-2; John 11:42; John 17:9, 24; and especially Romans 8:33-34 - Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

By his death, Jesus bought us. Acts 20:28 - Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. Rev 5:9-10 - And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."

By his death Jesus sanctifies, purges sin, redeems from wrath and curse and guilt, brings peace and reconciliation with God, gives life and immortality, bears iniquities and heals diseases. See Heb 9:12-14, Heb 1:3, Heb 9:26, 1 Pet 2:24 (and Isa 53:5-12), Gal 3:13, Col 1:21-22, Eph 2:13-16, Rom 5:6-11, Rom 8:32-34, Rev 5:9-10, Daniel 9:24, John 6:33, John 10:28, 2 Tim 1:10.

Jesus died as an exchange for us. He took our sin and bore our wrath (Eph 2:3, Jn 3:36), and we receive his righteousness. See 2 Cor 5:21.

His death cleanses and sanctifies. Hebrews 9:13-14, Romans 6:5-6, 1 Cor 1:30.

His death brought redemption. 1 Peter 1:18-19, Eph 1:7, 1 Tim 2:6.

His death destroyed the powers of our enemies. Heb. 2:14, Col. 2:15, 1 Jn. 3:8.

His death and resurrection is the ultimate guarantee of all God's promises. 2 Cor 1:20 - For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.

So that's a brief summary of all that Jesus accomplished through his death and resurrection. Ponder that and worship.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Jesus Don't Care About Your Feelings

If you've been a Christian for long, you've probably heard something like this before. Someone points out that X is a sin, and an objection is raised that saying so makes people who engage in X feel really bad. A Christian responds with any of a number of correct analogies - a doctor hurting your feelings by saying you have cancer or are on the verge of a heart attack, drill sergeants breaking down recruits to make them good soldiers, a personal trainer insulting you to get you to lose weight, warning people to get off the trains to concentration camps, etc. All of these share a common theme - the goal is so important, obstacles must be smashed, even if that involves hurting your feelings in the process. It would hardly be 'loving' for a doctor to spare your feelings and never tell you that you're a fatty fat fatty and need to lose a bunch of weight, so you die of a massive heart attack at 27. Similarly, it's not loving to let someone coast to hell - even with self-esteem intact - because you didn't want to hurt their feelings by confronting their sins and idols that separate them from Christ.

Like I said, you've probably heard something like that before. But something I've heard a lot more recently is the idea that Jesus would never hurt someone's feelings. So if you're willing to call X a sin even though it makes X-lovers feel bad, you're being un-Christlike. This is supposed to trump the argument without needing to address it - since, you know, the argument is fairly obvious and universally acknowledged in any other sphere of life, and to try to counter it would be plainly silly. So instead we get the ultimate trump card - Jesus wouldn't do that, so why do you?

The big problem with this objection is that it's demonstrably untrue. When someone is in danger of hell, Jesus is all too willing to hurt their feelings, to expose the sins they're the most ashamed of, and to crush the idols that keep them from faith and repentance.

Consider the twin evangelistic encounters of John 3 and John 4. In the first, Jesus confronts Nicodemus, a teacher/scholar and one of the most educated and powerful men in Israel, and essentially calls him a worldly-minded ignoramus. In the second, he cuts through the Samaritan woman's political/social/theological banter by going straight to confronting her promiscuity. Nicodemus was no doubt crushed to have his ignorance exposed, and the Samaritan woman was obviously ashamed that he knew the truth about her. In both cases, it was necessary to destroy their idols and walls, because they were keeping them from seeing Jesus and being saved. So he did what was necessary to get their attention, despite how it would make them feel, because the stakes were way too high to do otherwise.

Even more directly, consider the astonishing encounter in Luke 11. First, Jesus unleashes a series of condemnations against the Pharisees. A lawyer heard what Jesus said, and thought it maybe hit a little too close to him and his kind. He pointed this out to Jesus: "Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” Now surely, if our objector is correct, Jesus would stop to explain that he didn't want to offend anyone, maybe even apologize for any offense taken. But what did Jesus actually say? “Woe to you lawyers also!" And then he launched into a series of condemnations of them as well. Far from backing off to make sure nobody's feelings were hurt, he went out of his way to make sure they didn't miss the insult!

Were there times that Jesus cared about how people felt? Sure. When someone was hurting, such as Mary when her brother Lazarus died, he wept with her and comforted her. And that's when we should care about feelings as well. People who are hurting are to be comforted and helped. But defiant rebellion against God is not to be pampered - it is to be confronted and repented of, lest it last until it is ultimately crushed. That is what Jesus did, and so must we, if we want to love as Jesus loved.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Edwina the Uber-Apologist

In the past twenty years I've read several hundred books on theology and apologetics. I've read numerous classics and many of the best recent works. And recently I read what may be the most powerful smackdown of the atheist mindset that I've ever seen:

Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct

What? I'm serious! Just check out the plot summary: "Everyone in town knows Edwina. She is the dinosaur who plays with the kids. She is the dinosaur who helps little old ladies cross the street. And best of all, she bakes yummy chocolate-chip cookies. Everyone loves Edwina - except for Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie. Reginald knows dinosaurs are extinct and is ready to prove it. But will anyone listen? And if they do, what will happen to Edwina?"

Now tell me that isn't the finest caricature of atheism that you've ever seen! Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie is obsessed with proving that Edwina can't possibly exist, and actually thinks that if he can convince enough people, she'll cease to be. Even as she's baking cookies for his class, he's spewing venom against her that could be summarized as "Edwina doesn't exist, and I hate her". Reginald could switch places with Richard Dawkins and you'd never notice. A finer caricature of the atheist has never been concocted.

How does Edwina defeat all his finest arguments? Simply by existing.

And all the atheist's bluster of "there is no God" falls impotent before "I AM".

God is, and Jesus is risen from the dead. The cleverest arguments of the enemy are defeated by those truths. Know it, proclaim it, and live like it. It's the only hope for us, and a world full of Hoobie-Doobies.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

When Your Worst Nightmare is Wishful Thinking

Once again it's time for the annual celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And with that, it's time for a corresponding increase in mockery and scoffing from the unrepentant.

The last few years I've seen much more jokes about "Zombie Jesus" than I can ever remember - maybe people have been making them for years and I was just unaware, but to me it seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon. What I find fascinating about this particular line of mockery is that it's actually clearly a case of wishful thinking. This bold blasphemy is nothing but a pathetic cry for help - but defiantly not a genuine cry to the one who can and will actually save.

They understand that they would be significantly better off if Jesus actually had been a zombie. The truth is infinitely glorious for his people, but infinitely more terrifying for the scoffers - by his resurrection, Jesus was confirmed as the Son of God, ready to judge the living and the dead when he returns to save his people from the appointed judgment.

Compared to the impending judgment, a zombie apocalypse would be a cakewalk. Every zombie horror story combined and multiplied by a billion still doesn't come close to matching the sheer terror of what the King of Kings will actually do to his enemies.

The good news - the greatest news you can possibly hear - is that you don't have to be his enemy anymore. The reality of Christ's imminent return is beyond horrifying for the wicked, but a sweet, comforting, promise of life to those who through Jesus have been reconciled to God. I implore you - stop presuming on God's patience, and today - right now! - be reconciled to God!

Jesus Christ, God incarnate, who lived, was crucified, died, was buried, rose triumphantly from the grave, ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of God, who will return to judge the living and the dead of the sons of man - he is the one you fear. He is also the one who can save you. Repent and turn to Jesus in faith for forgiveness of your sin. Today. While you still can.

Friday, March 30, 2012

He's Just A Writer!

I should start this with a disclaimer. I haven't read Blue Like Jazz or any other Donald Miller book, I don't read his blog, I have no idea what he teaches or what he's all about, and I have no desire to see the movie. This isn't about him, his books, his theology, his practices, or whatever - when it comes to Donald Miller, I don't know, and I don't particularly care. This post isn't about him, but about a silly argument that's making another go-round, which happens to be used around his book/movie now. It could be about anyone, he just happens to be the one in the news recently. Clear? OK then.

So at the Gospel Coalition site, they recently posted a review of the Blue Like Jazz movie. Since the book had a fair amount of controversy around it, and the movie is likely to do the same, the writer addresses that a bit. But then he dismisses the idea with lines familiar lines such as: "In the book and in his subsequent works, Miller has never claimed to be a theologian. He doesn't labor at making precise theological statements; he labors at telling compelling stories, at being truthful about life" and "Miller is just a guy with a writing gift, telling his story and the stories around him".

He's not a theologian, he's just a writer. He's not writing a theological dissertation, he's just telling stories.

Now, if you've been around the internets for a few years, you probably remember the same lines being thrown around with The Shack. To refresh your memory, here is a rough transcript of every conversation between a fan of The Shack and an eeeeevil discerning Christian:

Shack Fan: I looooooovvvvvveeeee The Shack!!1! I'm learning so much about God from it!
Reprehensible Discernment Person: Um... you should be really careful with that book. A lot of what it says about God is completely opposed to what the Bible reveals about Him. It's wrong, and it could be really harmful.
Shack Fan: Come on, it's just a story, not a theological dissertation! He's just telling a story, not writing a systematic theology! Hater!

......aaaaaand, scene!

So this isn't the first time this argument has appeared, and it certainly won't be the last. The major problem with it should be completely obvious. You cannot simultaneously claim "it's teaching me about God" and "it's not theology". It's utter nonsense. Theology is the knowledge of God. If something is teaching about God, it is necessarily theology.

Whether it comes in a scholarly dissertation, a sermon, a story, or a song, if it is making claims about God, those claims must be compared to what God reveals about Himself in scripture. Truth can be taught through proclamation, poem, proverb, and parable. The truths revealed in Psalms are no less true than those in the pastoral epistles. Scripture uses numerous genres to teach - can Jesus' parables be dismissed as 'just a story'?

Truth is communicated in various ways and genres. Same with error. If it's wrong, it's wrong whether it comes in a scholarly journal, popular book, teeny-bopper song, or trite saying. When it comes to promulgating error about God, there's no such thing as "it's just a story". Let's please put that one to rest, once and for all. I know it won't happen, but I can hope, right?

Monday, February 13, 2012

An Apology

A few of my recent entries have disappeared. Upon further reflection, I believe I should not have posted them, so I took them down. It was a matter that should have remained in-house on my part. I was wrong to take it public. I apologize.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, move along. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rage Against God

Proverbs 19:3 - When a man's folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.

First, what is the situation? A man makes a foolish choice - or more likely, a long series of foolish decisions, a foolish lifestyle. Is he mad at himself for doing this? Of course not. He's mad at God!

It's easy for some of us to picture this. We have the friend or relative or coworker who constantly does ridiculous things, pays the consequences, and says something like "God must really hate me, huh?" Whether it's the drug addict, the person whose investment plan is the lottery, the serial fornicator whose entire paycheck goes to child support, or whatever example you prefer, a long streak of foolish living brings the expected consequences, and somehow it's God's "fault".

So we all probably know that kind of person. Well, what can we learn from the proverb? I've got a few things.

1. What is folly or foolishness, anyway? Is it not living without fear of God? The fear of YHWH is the beginning of wisdom - the fool lacks both. So living in folly is not making a bad decision or two. It's persistent rebellion against God's word. This person lives as though God doesn't exist, until the payment comes due for his sin. Then, suddenly, God exists, and He's to blame for the mess the fool is in.

We have a saying around church - choose to sin, choose to suffer. This man chooses persistent, unrelenting sin, so we cannot be the least bit surprised when consequences come. Acting opposed to God's revealed will brings the consequences God promised. So the fool is apparently mad at God for determining the right way to live, and being faithful to his word about those who rebel against it. Nothing angers a fool quite like God's holiness and honesty.

2. What about the wise? What would it look like to flip the proverb around? I think we would get something like this: When a man's wisdom brings blessing, his heart praises the LORD. Praise Him for what? For making an orderly world where the path of wisdom (obedience) is blessed. For making us wise in spite of ourselves. For being true to His word. Etc etc.

As the fool never blames himself for his ruin, the wise man never boasts of himself for blessing. Whether the blessing is physical, material, or spiritual, the wise man does not boast, but credits God. "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?"

How are you doing on this, by the way? On a scale of "God is gracious" to "Look at what my hands have built!", where do you rank?

3. I thought I had a point 3, but...

Oh, I remember! Take this proverb and apply it to modern psychobabble ideas of things we know to be sin. If you want the clearest example, go with the sin cause celebre du jour, homosexuality. There is hardly a stronger expression of rage over sin than "God made me this way!" More and more sins are using that as an excuse. "It's not my fault I do this wicked deed, God made me that way. Blame him!" Rather than repenting, he shifts blame onto God, and continues along in his sinful folly, blissfully unaware of the oncoming ruin.

I don't believe such things are an attempt to excuse the behavior so much as an expression of rage against God for declaring it wrong in the first place. It's not, "Oh, I would change this if only I could, but God made it so I can't." It's, "I want to do this sin, and I hate God for what He says about it and how He will punish me for it."

[Something way too snarky was here. It's gone now.]