Monday, November 30, 2015

Giving Tuesday is almost here!

With Black Friday past and CyberMonday waning, it's time to get ready for "Giving Tuesday."

What better way to show our thanks to God for all the blessings he has given us but to give to his ministries? You can give to emergency relief, church planting, global leadership development, urban ministry, or the one I've highlighted, ministry scholarships.

Here's the site: Giving Tuesday.

Monday Book: Nijay Gupta's Worship that Makes Sense to Paul

Skimmed through Nijay's dissertation this weekend, far overdue. I was interested in what he thought the significance of Paul's temple imagery was with regard the cessation of the temple. It wasn't his primary focus but he set me on to a good footnote trail. Trying to finish up a long overdue manuscript on Hebrews by January 1.

If you don't know Gupta, he is a force to be reckoned with, teaching at George Fox. His conclusion on the temple fit with my thesis. Both Paul and Acts were "works in progress," and we would not expect them yet to have a wholesale replacement theology of the physical temple by the body of Christ at this point in history.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

ET5. God calls us to respect our governments.

This is the fifth post on Christian ethics in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. The third set was on sacraments. This final section is on Christian ethics.
God calls us to respect our governments.

1. So Christians respect authority over them in honor of God the Father. We mentioned Romans 13 in the previous article: "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment" (13:1-2).

Since we know that Paul would not have approved of everything the Roman government did (e.g., put Jesus to death), this is not a rubber stamp on everything a government does. Indeed, the emperor at the time Paul wrote this letter would eventually put him to death (Nero). Paul is not saying that God has predestined every decision a government authority makes.

Similarly, Acts tells us that the earliest Christians did at times disobey those in authority because of a higher command from God. When Peter and John are before the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, they are told to stop telling the good news about Jesus. Since God has given them a contrary command, their response is, "Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge" (Acts 4:19). [1]

2. So the principle to obey governmental authorities is a general principle, not an absolute or a divine right of kings. But it is not to be discarded lightly. Most Western governments are far more just and fair than the Roman empire was. Yet 1 Peter can say to "Honor the emperor" (1 Pet. 2:17). Indeed, 1 Peter says much the same as Paul: "For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors" (1 Pet. 2:13-14). Again, it is ironic that Nero would put Peter himself to death, just as Paul. [2]

Has your government put you to death? The level of injustice and persecution that the Roman Empire visited on Peter and Paul suggests that we are whiners when we complain about our governments today. Indeed, it makes the protests of the colonists at the time of the Revolutionary War in the United States seem rather paltry.

We must think critically about our governments and those in authority over us, especially in a democracy. But we do so for the common good. We do so out of love of our neighbor. However, it is biblical to show respect to those in authority over us, even when they are unjust or seem incompetent. We keep our thoughts to ourselves and express them with discretion to others.

Or we express them when we are working for change, for the greater good, out of love for our neighbor. It is the great privilege of a democracy to be free to speak our minds in public. But we should do so with respect for authority, for the positions of authority are deserving of our respect even when the people who sit in them are not. We may be free as Westerners to speak, but we are slaves to righteousness as Christians (Rom. 6:18-19). Our identity as slaves to Christ is the higher calling.

3. There are Christians who complain about the level of taxes in the United States. Yet our taxes are nothing in comparison to the taxes of the Roman Empire. Paul says, "Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due." (Rom. 13:7). So Jesus says about taxes, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (Mark 12:17).

So it would be hard to find a biblical basis in general for not paying taxes. It is not the tenor of Scripture to think, "This is my money that the government is taking from me." Rather, Jesus treated coinage itself as a matter of Caesar. Give back to Caesar what is his, as if money itself was somewhat foreign to the kingdom of God. [3]

4. Both Romans and 1 Peter give the restraint of wrong-doers as the primary function of government in their day. Paul says, "Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval" (Rom. 13:3) and "Authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer" (13:4). [4] 1 Peter similarly says that governors and emperors are "sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right" (1 Pet. 2:14).

So early Christians saw the primary purpose of government as that of restraining evil and punishing the wicked. This function need not be the only function, since Paul says that the government is "God's servant for your good" (13:4). We cannot limit "good" to what was "good" or what was possible in "that time."

Indeed, we can broaden the ethical principle of love from the individual to the societal level and say that we can evaluate governmental structures by whether they facilitate the principle to love your neighbor as yourself. The ideal government would treat all humans as valuable because all individuals are created in the image of God. Therefore, rules that benefit the many would not overrun the value of any one individual.

Yet true benefit to the many is desirable out of love for our neighbors too. This fact suggests that a structure for society that maximizes benefit for the many is a good structure, as long as it does not overrun the value of the individual.

5. Modern, constitutional democracies are arguably one good expression of these principles. We do not insist that all truly Christian governments will be monarchies just because most of the governments in the Bible were monarchies of a sort. Israel had a tribal structure when the broader culture was tribal. Israel had a monarchy when the broader culture had monarchies. And the early church lived out its beliefs and practices within an empire.

So there is no one, Christian form of government, nor can the Bible be used to endorse tribal or monarchical forms of government. Ultimately, the assumption of the New Testament is that we can be Christians in any land because no land in this world is our true home. We are "strangers and foreigners on the earth" (Heb. 11:13). We desire a better country, a heavenly one (11:16). As Paul says, "Our citizenship is in heaven" (3:20).

6. While we are to imitate Christ as individual Christians, you might argue that the ideal government would imitate God. When it comes to the discipline of wrongdoers, this suggests that the three reasons for God's justice would apply equally to the restraint of evil in society.

First, a loving government would discipline wrongdoers in the sense of rehabilitation. If the wrongdoer can be changed into a good citizen, that would be ideal. Second, a loving government separates wrongdoers from society so that they cannot do harm to others. In the case of a reprobate, someone whose heart is so hardened that they pose a permanent harm, the separation can be permanent.

Finally, there is the question of a structure that promotes the good of society as a whole. For example, the punishment of wrongdoing can be a deterrent from others committing such crimes. The punishment of wrongdoing is not just an individual matter, but the law must consider the effects on society as a whole.

Good laws move beyond the situations of individuals and consider the effects on future lawbreakers. Societal order is a factor beyond individual cases. For this reason, governments sometimes have to emphasize justice over mercy.

7. There is a time to disobey government. This is when a higher value is in play. If God has commanded me to affirm Jesus as my Lord, then I must disobey any worldly authority that commands me to reject or curse Christ. Indeed, we must disobey the government when the government commands us to do something that God has definitively forbidden us to do.

But there are also opportunities in our world to disobey authorities in non-violent ways to work for a greater good, for love of our neighbors. At the time of the New Testament, there was little possibility for societal change. The approach God gave the earliest church was to acquiesce to and accommodate Roman rule. The approach of 1 Peter to its world was one of conformity, not conquest.

There is a time simply to submit to injustice, and 1 Peter models how to live under such a world. There is also a time to fight against injustice, especially when that injustice harms others. [5] While we will consider the question of war in a subsequent article, it is possible in our world to work for societal change through dispassionate disobedience of unjust laws.

Our world has opened up the possibility of non-violent protest. This can be done in love for those for whom we are protesting. Many disobeyed the government in the days of slavery, when the laws of the land were oppressive toward a minority that had been created in the image of God. In the days of the Civil Rights movement, many Christians non-violently protested the government's unjust laws toward the African-American. Many Christians have non-violently protested abortion as the killing of the unborn.

Such disobedience can be done without hate and out of love of one's neighbor. In many cases, such disobedience has led to positive change for the good.

8. God has called us to respect our governments out of respect for him and as we look for a world that values all individuals and demonstrates love to all its people. There are exceptions, but they should be done because a higher command from God is in order or as we are lovingly working for the greater good.

Next Sunday: ET6. God calls us to respect our parents and spouses.

[1] Luke may have worded this statement so that it intentionally echoed the statement of Socrates to the Athenians when he was on trial in 399BC: "I will obey the god rather than you" and "this is to disobey the god and that because of this it is impossible to keep quiet" (Apology 29D, 37E). The fact that there are exceptions to this rule shows that not all Christian principles are absolute. Most have exceptions.

[2] Imagine the power these words had for Christians reading it who knew that Nero eventually put Peter to death!

[3] We have to remember that the ancient world was not, by and large, a monetary economy. It was an agrarian world more comfortable with bartering and trading than the exchange of coinage.

[4] Since capital punishment was such a common form of punishment in the Roman Empire, we must consider Paul implicitly to endorse it as a form of punishment.

[5] There is a difference between fighting to protect others and fighting because others are "breaking rules." The first can have the Spirit of Christ. The second has more the spirit of the Pharisee.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Psalm 7 and Proverbs 2:6-15

Psalm 7
1. The title to this psalm (which was not original and about which we cannot at all be certain) is puzzling. What was a "shiggaion"? Who was Cush the Benjamite? Perhaps the obscurity of the title speaks to its historicity. Nothing about the content would speak against David as its author.

2. Psalm 7 might be called an imprecatory psalm in that it asks God to judge the psalmist's enemies. It asks the LORD in anger to rise against the fury of the psalmist's enemies (7:6). The sense of verse 7 is unsure, but it may ask God to take his seat in judgment over an assembly of peoples. The psalmist asks the LORD to bring the evil of the wicked to an end (7:9).

3. For the psalmist's part, he is turning to the LORD for refuge, as his enemies try to drag him away like a lion (7:1-2). The psalmist believes he is innocent. If he is truly guilty, he says, let his enemies prevail (7:3-5). He gives examples of the kind of thing that would make him guilty--repaying a friend with evil or plundering an enemy without cause (7:4).

4. We have an interesting picture of God in this psalm. God is righteous and just (7:9). He judges the hearts and the kidneys (metaphorical seat of the intention). He is angry (at evil) every day (7:11). When someone does evil, he sharpens his sword, strings an arrow, bends his bow (7:12). He has deadly weapons, flaming arrows (7:13). But for the psalmist he is a shield (7:10).

5. The evil make a pit and then fall into it (7:15). Their mischief falls on their own heads (7:16).

Proverbs 2:6-15
The LORD gives wisdom. This is exactly what James says (1:5). His wisdom is for the upright. His understanding is a shield to them. Wisdom, knowledge, prudence--they all watch over a person. They guard a person. They save from the way of evil. Wisdom saves from the crooked, from those who rejoice in doing evil, from the devious.

Psalm 1 and Proverbs 1:1-7
Psalm 2 and Proverbs 1:8-14
Psalm 3 and Proverbs 1:15-19

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Vulnerability of Young Men

1. During the night I vaguely heard a segment on cable news about how men go around recruiting for the Islamic State among young men in all sorts of places, not least among young Muslim men in Europe. I thought of gangs of young men in urban cities in the US. I thought of the Hitler youth. I thought of violent video games and the thirst of some young men for the military.

In their late teens and early twenties, a lot of young men want to fight something. If their social circumstances are bad, they have plenty of opportunities at hand. They only need presented with a cause and they are ready to go, ready to fight. It can manifest itself in ideas--ideas to fight for. Or it can manifest itself in real violence, as in gangs and terror.

We're seeing a layer of violence in Indy right now, and a little even in Marion. In Marion, some of the recent violence has been young males of high school age.

What are we to do?

2. Sports are an easy option. Sports give young men a chance to express their built-in lust for fighting in their late teens. I don't know if video games are ultimately good or not, but they're better than going out and beating someone up for real. As a nerd, comic books partially fed my thirst to fight something in my late teens. More idea-oriented young men might fight for ideas. Republican, Democrat, creationism, scientism--the underlying fervor is the same basic male dynamic. Guys tend to want to fight something.

The church is often ill-equipped to satisfy the young male thirst to punch something. The true church preaches love of one's enemies, which works against the impulses of a male in his late teens, even though it is the most noble cause to fight for of all. Churches that give a young man a cause to fight for, so to speak, scratch at the itch. Churches that just talk to youth about ideas that don't involve a fight are not likely to attract many from this segment.

3. It is a great worry. The desire to fight, if it is coupled with an anger from one's social circumstances, becomes violent. Think of the Boston bombers or the young men that shoot up movie theaters or schools. Think of inner city gang violence. Think of the recent French violence. The Islamic State is currently selling a vision to fight for a world in which the whole Middle East is Islamic as in the days of old. What's scary is that it has all the marks of a vision that will sell to an 18 year old male.

On one level these phenomena seem predictable. Young men don't tend to think straight. They are prone to anger, an anger all too easy to manipulate or degenerate on its own. Left to their own devices, a certain subset are going to do stupid things of a violent sort. Some get in over their head and suddenly they're stuck in a very bad situation, following the lead of someone else.

4. Cities have to provide other options. Incentivized sports and competitions? Venues to express frustration? Good ideas provided to fight for? Young men can't be left to their own devices. They have to be shepherded.

There are smart people out there. It seems like we could come up with something. Public schools are again crucial as all males have to pass through. Vocational training can play a role. Some churches are very effective in this area but most aren't. That's a matter for some consideration!

Thursday, November 26, 2015


... for this moment in time. My children are well. My wife is well. My wife's family and mine are well. I have a church. I have a job. I have coffee. I have purpose.

"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances...  I can do all this through him who gives me strength." (Phil. 4:11, 13)

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Farewell, Sweet SBL

1. In a couple hours, I'll wake up and begin the drive back to home and family, leaving behind the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), my bitter sweet old friend. SBL is a friend because it is the language I dream in. It is the field in which I have put my 10,000 hours.

Students, church friends, even colleagues might look at some of my thoughts as strange. Well, they might here too, at least at some of my ideas. But some of my strange ideas at home would get knowing looks here as a common framework. What might take some time to persuade at home is sometimes a starting assumption here.

2. Yet my friend SBL is not all sweet. So just because something is true doesn't necessarily make it helpful or useful. Some scholars here would fight over how to pronounce an omicron and might think the heavens are falling, not only if their course is not taught their way, but if it is not required of all students.

I don't think it's necessarily hard to grow or at least maintain a seminary or educational institution right now in theory. The biggest obstacle, I suspect, is the stubborn idealism of faculty and a resistance to change. You not only have brilliant minds here. You have stubborn, brilliant minds. The ones with political skills too are downright scary.

Humanity is humanity. Some just fight with different weapons than others.

3. And still there is the cynic here. Year after year of pointless paper and pointless new book weigh on the soul that remembers. Some, maybe most, never remember. Each year they buy another couple hundred dollars worth of books. They make their proposals. They start their groups.

The deconstructionist still lurks at the bar, coming mainly to scoff at the mindless crowd, like the old men in the balcony on the Muppets. Vanity of vanity, all is vanity. I saw a first presentation last night, a young scholar in a doctoral program stretching her wings for the first time. Well presented. Ignorance is bliss. The world doesn't care about the nuances of obscure passages, but it will still move you toward a job and tenure, nonetheless.

4. As long as we all continue to play the game, the game legitimates itself. As long as there are still jobs requiring biblical experts and experts on religion, SBL will live on. And some of us do actually believe there is a Reality behind all this.

I have not lost hope in meaning and truth. But perhaps I am the odd one who realizes that the "it" book or session this year isn't really that important in the vast scheme of things. God looks on the heart, not on the head. But the smallest of ideas is a sacrifice to God, a small participation in the grandeur he has created.

Farewell, my bitter sweet SBL. You've re-inspired me to read yet again. You've re-inspired me to play yet again. An hour and yet I shall awake to the real world, that cares little of thee.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Psalm 6 and Proverbs 2:1-5

Psalm 6
This is a psalm of lament. Although some take the psalmist to be extremely sick, the expression, "my bones are shaken" (6:2) probably has more to do with the terrifying situation the psalmist is in. There are hints of enemies who are ready to pounce (6:10).

But the psalmist is convinced that the LORD will spare him. The LORD has heard his prayer (6:9). The psalmist has shed tears before the LORD, pleading for deliverance (6:6, 8). "How long?" he asks, before the LORD will deliver (6:3).

There is a hint that the psalmist senses the LORD's anger and discipline as part of what is going on (6:1). The psalmist pleads--there will be no praise of the LORD in Sheol (6:5). In effect he says, "Let me stay alive, because in death I am no good to you."

This psalm reflects a lack of sense of any meaningful afterlife. "In death there is no remembrance of you" (6:5). Sheol here seems like the Greek Hades of that time--mindless shadows with no thought or memory.

God is also asked to save the psalmist because of his hesed, God's "steadfast love." God's hesed is a key concept in the Old Testament.

Proverbs 2:1-5
The father now speaks to the child. The child wishes to gain a knowledge of God. The child wishes to know the fear of the LORD. The father knows how.

The path to knowledge means treasuring up the teaching of Solomon, the father. Wisdom is like silver, like a hidden treasure. Cry out for her...

Psalm 1 and Proverbs 1:1-7
Psalm 2 and Proverbs 1:8-14
Psalm 3 and Proverbs 1:15-19

Friday, November 20, 2015

Jesus the Pharisee Fighter?

It is well known that people who like Jesus usually make him into whatever picture of him they like. So was Jesus a hippie type or a Pharisee fighter? Did Jesus keep silent when he was attacked and accused or did he stick it to the man?

Jesus' earthly mission (see also a more detailed version):

1. Jesus preached the kingdom of God.
"The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15)

The good news was the kingdom of God, the coming reign of God to the earth. God had let the Romans rule, but was going to restore Israel if it would repent and believe in God (and his Messiah). What did Israel need to repent of? "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness." (Matt. 23:23)

2. Jesus' exorcisms prepared the way.
"But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you."(Luke 11:20).

For whatever reason, God had allowed Satan to run rampant on the earth. Jesus exorcist ministry was Jesus cleaning house in preparation for the arrival of the kingdom of God.

3. Jesus wanted everyone to be a part.
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor." (Luke 4:18)

Jesus did not focus on the religious leaders in his ministry. At least initially, he referred to individuals like the Pharisees as "healthy" and indicated he did not come to minister to them (cf. Mark 2:17--"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.") Jesus focused on tax collectors (who abused the people monetarily for their own gain) and sinners.

4. Jesus taught love of one's enemies.
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matt. 5:43-44)

Although some people like to celebrate Jesus telling off religious leaders. This was not the centerpiece of his message and in some cases may reflect especially the contexts of the Gospel writers. But Jesus did not go looking for conflict. It came to him. Those who emphasize Jesus telling people off are telling more about their own psychology than about Jesus. When Jesus stood before the government, he said nothing. (Mark 15:4-5)

5. Secretly, Jesus knew he was the Messiah.
"The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 14:45)

Jesus kept his messianic identity somewhat of a secret. It's not until he's on his way to Jerusalem at the very end that he reveals this fact to his disciples (Mark 8:29-30). He did not preach himself much at all when he was on earth and only really mentioned his death at the end.
Jesus would find no welcome in most American churches. He would be labeled a liberal and a socialist, a wimp who was anti-American. He rejected the "Bible-believing" fundamentalism of his day (e.g., Mark 2:23-28).

Psalm 5 and Proverbs 1:28-33

Psalm 5
Psalm 5 is usually considered to be an "imprecatory" psalm. an imprecatory psalm is one in which the psalmist calls God to bring justice on his enemies. So the psalmist writes, "Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of their many transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you" (5:10).

Although the later heading calls this a "psalm of David," the mention of the holy temple in 5:7 suggests that the psalm dates to a time after David.

The psalmist appeals to the righteousness (5:8) and steadfast love of God (5:7). God is not a God who delights in wickedness (5:4). God is a God who listens: "O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice" (5:3).

Psalm 5:9 is quoted in Romans 3:13: "their throats are open graves; they flatter with their tongues." Paul of course uses the verse, along with a string of others, to point to universal sinfulness. In the psalm, however, the psalmist is not talking about everyone but about his enemies.

The good news is that God covers the righteous like a shield (5:12). God protects (5:11). God gives refuge (5:11).

Proverbs 1:28-33
Wisdom now gives a sobering word. While there was a time when wisdom called out, there is also a time when wisdom stops calling. Those who once hated knowledge, who wanted nothing of wisdom's council, they will not find her once they finally come to their senses.

"For waywardness kills the simple,
     and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but those who listen to me will be secure
     and will live at ease, without dread of disaster." (1:32-33)

Thus ends chapter 1 of Proverbs.

Psalm 1 and Proverbs 1:1-7
Psalm 2 and Proverbs 1:8-14
Psalm 3 and Proverbs 1:15-19

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Christ-level calm--what does it look like?

This is what we have to be today, even in the secular realm.
  • "When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly." (1 Pet. 2:23)
  • "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." (1 Peter 2:22)
  • "Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also." (Matt. 5:39)
  • "He gave Pilate no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed." (Matt. 27:14)
  • "Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed." (Mark 15:4-5)

Psalm 4 and Proverbs 1:20-27

So far we have:
Psalm 1 and Proverbs 1:1-7
Psalm 2 and Proverbs 1:8-14
Psalm 3 and Proverbs 1:15-19

Psalm 4
Psalm 4 is another psalm of lament in which the psalmist calls on the LORD for help. The later heading calls it a psalm of David, and we can read it that way or not read it that way.

The psalmist asks for God to answer his prayers when he calls. The LORD alone can make the psalmist dwell in safely (4:8). He also intercedes for his people and asks for God to let his face shine on them (4:6).

The psalmist also tells his people not to sin (4:4) and not to turn the leader's honor into shame (4:2). God has set apart the godly for himself (4:3).

Proverbs 1:20-27
Now wisdom begins to speak. She calls on the simple to heed her advice. Wisdom will mock those who do not heed her advice.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Psalm 3 and Proverbs 1:15-19

So far we have:
Psalm 1 and Proverbs 1:1-7
Psalm 2 and Proverbs 1:8-14

Psalm 3
1. The heading of Psalm 3 suggests we read the words of this psalm against the backdrop of David the king as its author, at the time that he was fleeing his son Absalom. That is a generative way of reading the psalm, although the headings to the psalms were obviously added later than the writing of the psalms themselves. So we might read the psalm twice, once without thinking of the heading, then again in light of the heading. We will hear truths both ways.

2. In itself, this is the psalm of someone who is under fire from his enemies. Some classify it as a psalm of lament.

The enemies of the psalmist do not believe that God will deliver him, but he has confidence that God will. The Lord is a shield to him. "I will not fear though ten thousands assail me on every side" (3:6). "From the Lord comes deliverance" (3:8). The psalmist asks the LORD to strike his enemies on the jaw and to break the teeth of the wicked (3:7).

We can pray this psalm when we call on the LORD for help, even when our enemies are metaphorical (envy, jealousy, rage, depression).

3. Nothing internal to the psalm suggests inductively that it was written when David was fleeing Absalom. Indeed, the mention of God's holy mountain seems to allude to the temple, which was not build in the time of David. It suggests that the psalm dates subsequent to David.

Nevertheless, perhaps the story of David fleeing Absalom might give a certain concreteness to the psalm. We always connect better when we can picture a specific instance of the words, in this case Absalom chasing David. Of course fleeing is not mentioned in the psalm itself, and David would scarcely have prayed for God to break Absalom's teeth.

Proverbs 1:15-19
So the son is exhorted not to go along with the gangs that steal and shed blood. Those who live lives of violence set a trap for themselves. As Jesus would later say, "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword" (Matt. 26:52). Those who go after gain that is not theirs lose their lives. Christians might say in the next life if not in this one.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 ("let wives be silent")

1. I usually process these verses by reading them against 1 Corinthians 11, where wives pray and prophesy in public worship. These verses must be about disruptive speech because Paul has already assumed that wives will speak spiritually in the public assembly. That's what the veil is for, to negotiate an awkward situation where wives are speaking around men who aren't their husbands.

But if you have read my commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, you know that in the end I actually lean toward another position as a scholar. That is that these verses weren't even in 1 Corinthians originally. When I put on my big boy shoes, I lean toward the position that these verses are an "interpolation" into 1 Corinthians. I join other scholars like Richard Hays and Gordon Fee in this leaning.

To clarify, we do not have the original copies of any book of the Bible. We only have copies of copies. Evangelicals and Wesleyans affirm that some work needs to be done to determine how the biblical texts read originally, since we do not have any of the original manuscripts. We affirm that all the texts have been transmitted without any loss or corruption of doctrine. But the task of reconstructing the original text is necessary and should be conducted with great gravitas.

2. Here are the reasons why I think the balance of evidence points toward 14:34-35 not being original.
  • Although 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 appear in all known manuscripts, they do not appear in the same place in all known manuscripts. In several manuscripts considered part of the “Western” tradition, these two verses appear after verse 40, at the end of the chapter. This displacement might indicate that these verses were not part of the original text but something first written in the margin of some very early manuscript.
  • The passage reads more smoothly without the verses. "God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the churches of God—or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?" The instruction to wives comes out of nowhere and returns to nowhere just as quickly.
  • Similarly, the point of view changes from "you" in 14:33 to "they" in 14:34 and 35 and then back to "you" again in 14:36.
  • Paul shifts from addressing the church, singular, of Corinth (1:1) to addressing churches, plural (14:34). But Paul is not writing churches. Instruction to churches does not fit the context of 1 Corinthians because only one church is listening. 
  • It is uncharacteristic in the extreme for Paul to consider Gentiles to be under the law, yet this text says that wives must be in submission, "as the law says."
  • Finally, even though the disruptive speech approach softens the tension between 1 Corinthians 11 and these verses, it still is hard to fit women prophesying in church with, "it is disgraceful for a women to speak in church." It just doesn't sound like the same person talking, and there are no textual issues of this sort in 1 Corinthians 11.
These are the reasons I and others lean away from these verses even being original to Paul.

Psalm 2 and Proverbs 1:8-14

Yesterday, I started doing posts on the psalms:
Psalm 1 and Proverbs 1:1-7

Today, Psalm 2
1. Psalm 2 is a royal psalm, a psalm that was addressed to the king of Judah. Some think it might even have been an "enthronement psalm," a psalm read at the enthronement of a king. The royal psalms then were often taken in a "fuller sense" later as messianic psalms, psalms whose content anticipated Jesus as the Christ.

2. 2:1-3 gives the situation surrounding Judah. Judah seems to be threatened by other kings, other peoples. They are setting themselves against Judah. Perhaps Judah has prevailed against them and they are wanting to revolt, to "burst their bonds asunder" (2:3).

In 2:4-6, YHWH laughs. He is the one who has set his king on Mt. Zion (a clear indication that Judah is in view, unless this psalm specifically related to Solomon). By the end of the psalm (2:10-11), those opposing kings will be warned not to oppose YHWH or his king. They will perish quickly if they oppose YHWH.

This is the context in which 2:7-8 appear. YHWH says to the king, "You are my Son; today I have given you birth." This is the enthronement of the king, the "birth" of the son of God. Yes, the king in the Ancient Near Eastern context could be considered a son of God (cf. 2 Sam. 7:14). God says not to oppose his anointed king. Otherwise, God will dash them to pieces.

3. Taken in a fuller sense, a sensus plenior, the earliest Christians connected this verse to Jesus' resurrection and exaltation to God's right hand (Acts 4:25-26, 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). When Jesus sat at God's right hand, it was his enthronement as king of the world.

Proverbs 1:8-14
So the proverbs begin. These proverbs are directed to, "my son," who is first told to heed the instruction of his father and mother.

The first instruction is not to join the violent, sinners who ambush the innocent. He has in mind individuals who kill and steal. They call a young man to join a gang that shares with each other what they steal. Sounds like what happens in many inner cities.

As a side note, Sheol and "the Pit" are mentioned as places that swallow the dead. These are not places of punishment in Hebrew thought but ways of referring to where the dead go when they die. Perhaps for some they were just figures, metaphors of a sort. No doubt other Jews thought of Sheol as a literal place where the shadows of the dead go, just as in Homer.

Monday, November 16, 2015


So there's Black Friday after Thanksgiving (one of my least favorite days of the year).

There's CyberMonday (during which I secretly plan to sabotage the wireless in our house).

Now The Wesleyan Church has an idea it's calling, "Giving Tuesday." It's a little more spiritual than the other two in my book.

What better way to show our thanks to God for all the blessings he has given us but to give to ministries? You can give to emergency relief, church planting, global leadership development, urban ministry, or the one I've highlighted, ministry scholarships.

Before you get lost in the yearly Bacchanalia of buying lots of stuff, set aside some "pay it forward" money for ministry. Again, here's the site: Giving Tuesday.

I'll be reminding myself on December 1, "Giving Tuesday."

Psalm 1 and Proverbs 1:1-7

Last year I blogged a 40 Day read through the New Testament. Then I blogged through Genesis. I'm thinking about doing another book. I thought I'd work through Psalms and Proverbs. So that's a chapter of Psalms a day (when I can) and six verses of Proverbs each post. Feel free to read with me!

Psalm 1
1. I suspect that Psalm 1 was added as an introduction when Psalms reached something like its final form. Psalms 1 could of course be an introduction to Book I of the Psalms. The Psalms are made up of five books. The first 41 psalms make up Book I.

Psalms is the lead off hitter to the third section of the Jewish Bible, the "Writings." At the time of Jesus, the Old Testament was grouped into three parts: The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. In the Christian Bible, Job is the first of the "poetic books" (with Psalms second). But Psalms begins the Writings in the Jewish Bible (see Luke 24:44).

2. The first psalm is a wonderful presentation of two ways. There are those who delight in the Law of the LORD (1:1-3), and there are those who are wicked, who do not follow God's Law (1:4-6).

The blessed do not follow the advice of the wicked. They do not take the path of sinners. We should not read Pauline debates in here. Sinners are people who violate the Law, and the standard is such that the Law can be kept. The psalmist believes it is fully possible not to be a sinner and, indeed, we must not be.

The Law here is likely a reference to the Law of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy. That suggests that this psalm is post-exilic. The fact that the Psalms as a whole are in the Writings also suggests that they reached their final form after the exile.

3. The wicked will perish. The psalmist means in this life. This is deuteronomistic theology. The wicked generally face judgment and punishment in this world. Again, the psalmist fully believes it is possible not to be wicked. Indeed, we must not be.

The judgment in Psalm 1:5 was not originally the final judgment, although we are free to read it this way as well. There is no sense of a final judgment, not in context, anywhere in the Old Testament apart from Daniel 12:2.

Proverbs 1:1-7
Verse 7 is the key to the whole book of Proverbs: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge."

We are told that as we read the Proverbs, we will learn wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity. We will gain wisdom and insight. Read on!

Hard to know when 1:1 was added as the heading to the book. Since it tells us about Solomon, it is not likely Solomon who wrote Proverbs 1:1. Proverbs is clearly a collection of individual proverbs, not a book that was written in one sitting. And there are proverbs from individuals other than Solomon as well (e.g., Prov. 31).

Sunday, November 15, 2015

ET4. God calls us to respect authority in honor of his authority.

This is the fourth post on Christian ethics in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. The third set was on sacraments. This final section is on Christian ethics.
God calls us to respect authority in honor of his authority.

1. The authority of God is the universal assumption of Scripture. His will demands absolute conformity, even if he allows us to resist and disobey. We get a small taste of his holiness when Uzzah immediately dies when he tries to steady the ark (2 Sam. 6:6-7). Similarly, at Mt. Sinai, any person or animal that might touch the mountain was to be put to death while God presence was there (Exod. 19:12-13).

The ancient world was an honor/shame world. High premium was put on how highly you were regarded in relation to the values of your group. Such a world contrasts with our modern individualistic "guilt" culture, where high premium is put on being true to yourself and what you as an individual believe.

The command not to take the name of the LORD in vain was a command that had to do with taking oaths in the name of YHWH, the name of God. When one invoked YHWH's name, one put the honor of YHWH on the line in relation to a vow. To break the vow was to dishonor him. To break the vow was thus to incur the wrath of YHWH.

Jephthah gives us a picture of how important it was to keep a vow in Judges 11:30-31. He vows to YHWH that he will sacrifice the first living thing that comes out of his house if God gives him the victory in battle. It proves to be his daughter. So he gives his daughter two months to mourn her death as an unmarried virgin and then he keeps his vow (11:37-39).

Jesus undercuts this command when he says not to swear at all but to be a person who tells the truth (Matt. 5:33-37). If my "yes" really means "yes" and my "no" really means "no," then there is no need for me to take oaths. People will know that I am a person whose word is truth, a person who means what I say.

If God's people are truth-tellers, then God will get honor from us without us needing to take vows.

2. Vows of course have little meaning in the modern Western world today. People say, "I swear," all the time and it is practically meaningless. With Jesus Christ and the New Testament, we are also better aware of the compassionate forgiveness of God if someone were to make a bad vow like Jephthah's. We can now say that it would have been far more pleasing to God for Jephthah to ask God's forgiveness for a foolish vow and then to spare his daughter's life than to keep his foolish vow.

Cursing today doesn't have the same character as it did in other times and places. People say God or Jesus' name (or a derivative of them) as an exclamation rather than as a vow. The third commandment was not about cursing but about vow keeping. Nevertheless, Ephesians 5:4 and Colossians 3:8 tell us what we would have known otherwise--our speech should be honorable and uplifting. We can either honor or dishonor God with our language and, even more importantly, the attitude behind our language.

3. Almost every culture has some authority structure. Those few pockets of humanity that have not had a clear leader usually develop one or have one that is unacknowledged. Even if we were all in perfect submission to and communication with the Holy Spirit, there would still be a leader--the Holy Spirit.

So while it is ideal that, in any group, all the individuals would "honor one another above yourselves" (Rom. 12:10, NIV), it is likely that structures of authority will develop in any group of people of any size. Churches naturally have official leadership structures. Nations and people groups naturally have official leadership structures. "If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?" (1 Cor. 14:8).

Paul told the Romans, "The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Rom. 13:1). The way most of us apply this idea is that we should show respect to our leaders, even if they are evil, even if they are incompetent. The classic example is when David does not take an opportunity to kill king Saul, even though Saul is trying to kill him. He does not do it, even though his men are urging him, because he will not touch the LORD's anointed (1 Sam. 24:6).

To be sure, God also is said to sanction coups in Scripture (e.g., 2 Kings 9:6-7). Elisha anoints Jehu to destroy the house of Ahab. Yet even here, Hosea considers Jehu's slaughter of all Ahab's house to be a matter for which God was going to destroy the house of Jehu (Hos. 1:4).

Clearly there is a great wisdom needed here. When do we submit and conform to what we consider to be bad leadership? When do we, respectfully, work for leadership change?

In the light of Christ, our bias must be toward respect and submission, even if there may be times for exception. It is fallen human nature to justify subversion for our own selfish advancement. It is more often the evil impulse that wants to fight and overthrow. Any exception must be for the good of others rather than ourselves, and we can hardly trust ourselves to make that judgment.

4. We are thus called to respect the authority of those over us as a way of honoring God and respecting his authority. Our default should be submission and respect for those in authority over us in whatever domain. We should treat those in office as God's anointed. There is a time to work for change, but it must never be for our selfish advancement, only the good of others and to honor God.

Next week: ET5. God calls us to respect our governments.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Some "That Time" Old Testament Verses

I always enjoy time with the Indy Benjamin MDIV group on Saturdays. They're in their final course of the MDIV praxis sequence. This morning we went through key passages on marriage, polygamy, adultery, divorce, and homosexual sex.

There are some fascinating OT verses on these subjects. They remind us that the world of the OT was quite different from ours. Most of the OT Law, including its civil law, was for "that time" and the people of Israel rather than "all time" and the "new covenant." As N. T. Wright says, "We are not members of Israel" (124).

Here are some examples:
  • "If a man has two wives, one of them loved and the other disliked, and if both the loved and the disliked have borne him sons, the firstborn being the son of the one who is disliked, then on the day when he wills his possessions to his sons, he is not permitted to treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the disliked, who is the firstborn." (Deut. 21:15-16)
  • "Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord." (Deut. 24:1-4)
  • "When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel." (Deut. 25:5-6)
  • "When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins." (Exod. 22:16-17)

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Question of Evil

1. I don't think the biggest question in relation to faith is science. Nor am I threatened by battles over the Bible. Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again. We're good. The evidence doesn't have to demand anything, but it is plausible. There is no body. Multiple people were strongly convinced they had seen Jesus alive in different places and at different times after he died. In the end, faith is not based in proof.

The biggest question in relation to faith is why a loving God allows evil and suffering to continue in the world. I find incredulous the hocus pocus of some who wave a magic wand and say, "Love is whatever God does by definition." God has already defined love just fine in Scripture numerous times. He has defined it in Christ, not least. It involves related words like "saving," "giving," "kind," "hopes."

2. By faith, we believe that God is love, defined in the normal ways. The world does not always look that way. But then again, I don't believe God directly wills every event that happens. In many cases, I believe God allows things to happen that would not be his preferred course. This is the question of how much freedom God has built into his creation and given to humanity.

Some believe God directly decides and causes every event that happens. The problem is that this view makes God into Satan, almost literally, for it would mean that God directs every action Satan takes. Then he would direct the action of every demon down to the last evil detail. God becomes the direct author of all evil. God would then direct every feeling of pleasure that the worst serial killer has.

No, that position more or less makes Christianity incoherent, a devilish religion much to be avoided.

3. Most of the time, we will not know why God allows specific events of evil and suffering. We only know that they fit in some way with God's love. We know that God is currently allowing evil to fight back against him, although its days are numbered. There are personal agents of evil in the world, ranging from Satan to lost human individuals needing to find their God.

We know that God's priorities are eternal rather than the temporary. We know that we do not always have a good sense of what is most important. We know that God can use suffering for good. There can also be times when the good weighs against the good, but we cannot discern the better because we do not know the big picture.

In the end, however, these answers are not likely to feel sufficient in the moment of pain. Ideas and head answers are always weak in the face of the heart. For our pains, God has given us each other as an answer. Brothers and sisters in Christ are God's immediate answers to the question of evil and suffering. And by faith we know that God is still in control.

4. What we know is that Christ cries with us. He remains fully human. In Christ, God embraced our suffering, and in Christ he embraces it still.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Roger Olson on Nominalism

Don't have time today to develop a deep subject, but enjoyed Roger Olson's post yesterday on the "catastrophe of nominalism." Here's a memorable quote: "Nominalism is the ultimate poison of Western civilization that corrodes and erodes it. It lies at the top of the slippery slope down which we have slid into modern and now, increasingly, postmodern oblivion."

I hear what he's saying. If you deny that there is truth "in" the world or deny that the world in some way embodies a transcendent truth, then it is a short step to concluding finally that truth is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

This is a fairly common perspective. However, IMO, this same nominalist moment also stands at the root of the rise of modern science, economics, the rise of historical consciousness and the quest for objectivity, not to mention the Protestant Reformation. I think it would be a mistake to go back more or less to a choice between some form of Platonism or some form of Aristotelianism.

I hesitate to call myself a nominalist because I do believe in universals after my own idiom and I do believe in transcendentals after my own idiom. Yet, the situation of our human finitude and locatedness I think push us toward what I might call a "pragmatist nominalism" of sorts as a method of knowing. Most of what people see "in" things, whether beauty or whatever, is at least expressed through the eye of the beholder. And I more or less define pre-modernism as seeing things that aren't there but are really constructs of your own mind, without being able to tell the difference.

Time's up.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What's in a philosopher?

I enjoyed the side comments at philosophers last night in the GOP Presidential debate. Not entirely sure what Rubio was trying to say, but it does make me wonder if anti-philosophy is going to be a thing. There was that movie God's not Dead last year. :-)

Of course philosophers are notorious for not believing in God. They're notorious for being snarky and smug. Philosophy courses are the ones most notorious for being anti-faith at state schools.

Then again, it would be the fallacy of composition to suggest that all philosophy professors are godless just because some are. And it would be the fallacy of diversion to say that philosophy itself is anti-faith just because many people associated with it are anti-faith.

As I've said before, philosophy is ultimately the meta-subject to end all meta-subjects when it comes to truth claims. Dave Ward gave a paper last Monday arguing that theology is the heart of all knowledge, but he carefully indicated that he was talking about a way of being when he argued this, not a way of knowing. So I also have tried to make it clear that it is as a way of knowing that philosophy stands alongside all other knowing as the ultimate meta-discipline. When Dasein gets translated into knowing, philosophy lieth at the door.

Philosophy stands alongside science and asks what science is doing.
Philosophy stands alongside art and asks what art is doing.
Philosophy stands alongside psychology, history, religion, and asks what it is doing.
Philosophy can stand alongside theology and ask what it is doing, if it is allowed.
Philosophy stands alongside what we do, what we think, and who we are.

We are all philosophers, whether we admit it or not. Now, a shameless plug. :-)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Hermeneutics Slides

For whatever reason, I have a way of making PowerPoint slides that excite me sitting in my office, but when I go to present them, things suddenly seem vague and very controversial. Here are my latest slides:

Slide 1: The Default Hermeneutic
  • "God said it; I believe it; that settles it for me."
  • Direct application of the text to my life and everyone else's with minimal consideration of context or genre.
  • I become the "you" of the text.
  • One text from God to me
  • "Common sense" and ingenuity navigates "naughty verses"
Slide 2: Does the Holy Spirit use it?
  • Absolutely
  • It works if we have the Holy Spirit guiding us and if we have the right Christian intuitions, the right "common sense."
  • The right common sense is the law of love and the rule of faith.
Slides 3-8: The Wesleyan Quadrilateral
  • Scripture, tradition, reason, experience (post-liberal Methodists tend to hate it, post-fundamentalist Wesleyans like me love it)
  • Imbalances of experience: Pentecostal traditions can come to focus too much on “words from the Lord” without sufficient anchoring. But the Holy Spirit does seem to speak to people today in other ways than through Scripture.
  • Imbalances of reason: Liberal traditions can focus so much on the historical meaning of the books of the Bible that they become a dead, dissected frog from the past, a matter of antiquarian interest. So the Bible is not merely history, but it happened in history, and it also seems problematic to think we can suspend normal historical inquiry.
  • Imbalances of tradition: A lot of bizarre traditions have spun out over time. Luther pruned a number and sent us back ad fontes. But do we really want to rehash the Trinity or, for that matter, which books belong in the New Testament?
  • Imbalances of Scripture: The idea of "Scripture only" is ultimately unreflective. To decide what the Bible means, you need "rules of engagement" that, de re, are outside the text. But Scripture is a God-instituted sacrament of transformation. It is the focal unpacking of Jesus, who is the final Word.
Slide 9: Fundamentalism
  • Is anti-modern. It is a reaction against developments in science and history. 
  • Ironically, however, it uses quasi-scientific and historical methods to combat modernism. 
  • It tends to be anti-tradition, anti-reason, and anti-experience.
Slide 10: Standard Evangelical Method
  • What did it mean in that time? 
  • What are the points of continuity and discontinuity between "that time" and "our time"? 
  • Or, alternatively, what is the "all time" in the "that time"? 
  • Reapply points of continuity. 
  • Reapply principles in "our time."
Slide 11: Critique
  • Recognizes the distance between "that time" and "all time." (positive)
  • Accepts historical method, but often only applies it within certain artificial boundaries. 
  • Can miss the crucial role of integration (formulating a biblical theology before application rather than applying directly from individual passages)
  • Can ignore the reality that orthodoxy requires some faith in developments after the NT in order to work fully
Slide 12: Memorable Version
  • What did it say? (observation)
  • What did it mean? (interpretation)
  • What does the whole Bible say? (integration)
  • What does it mean to us? (appropriation)
Slides 13-16: A Method for Applying Scripture
1. Pray
2. Do your exegetical work. (What did this text mean originally in context?)

[Exegetical work is quasi-scientific. It is an evidentiary process, even though it cannot be done without assumptions, bias, and presuppositions. By contrast, integration and appropriation are not a science. They are a spiritual task, a community task, and a convictional task. They are an "art."]

3. Ask integration questions
  • What does the rest of the Bible (in context) seem to say on this topic? 
  • Is there a (unforced) common thread throughout the books of the Bible? 
  • Consider matters of genre. 
  • If my passage is in the OT, does the NT in any way develop its content? 
  • How does the person of Jesus and the trajectory of the kingdom impact the topic? 
  • Is the subject “fully cooked” in Scripture?
4. Ask appropriation questions
  • What are the points of contextual continuity and discontinuity between you and the text? 
  • Are there integration principles you can reapply? 
  • What has the Spirit said to others, the communion of saints past/present? 
  • What is the Spirit saying to you?
5. Write it up
  • Exegetical portion, with intro and conclusion 
  • Biblical Theology portion (OT/NT, Christ/kingdom lens) 
  • Appropriation portion (continuity/principles, Spirit, church)

The Sections of Isaiah

Breaking down the outline of Isaiah today in a class. You may have seen divisions of Isaiah into chapters 1-39, 40-55, 56-66. As with most outlines, this captures a truth. Chapters 1-39 are mostly about Isaiah's own time. Chapters 40-55 seem to picture a point right at the end of the exile when Cyrus, king of Persia, allows significant numbers of Jews to return to Jerusalem from Babylon. Then chapters 56-66 seem to picture a time after the return has taken place.

I would rather just divide Isaiah into two parts: 1) chapters 1-39 which relate mostly to the pre-exilic time of Isaiah and chapters 40-66 which relate to the time at the end and after the exile.

Here is a more detailed outline of the content:

Part I: Chapters 1-39
A. Prophecies of Isaiah
1. Isaiah 1-12
This is a concentrated collection of Isaiah's prophesies, including both condemnation for the sins of Israel in Isaiah's day and hope for a king who will restore righteousness. The fear of Assyria is in the background.

2. Isaiah 13-23
Next we have a series of prophecies against various nations, including Babylon, Moab, Damascus, Cush, Egypt, Tyre, and even Jerusalem itself.

3. Isaiah 24-35
These chapters may actually belong with 13-23 but I thought it was worth teasing them out because they deal more broadly with the situation of the world, God's judgment of all the nations, the faithlessness of the leadership of Israel and Judah, and the future restoration of God's people. There are some passages here that were ripe for later eschatological imagery (e.g., chap. 26).

B. Historical Interlude
4. Isaiah 36-39
These chapters are virtually word for word the same as 2 Kings 18-20. Using evidentiary reasoning, we would likely conclude that they were taken from 2 Kings. However, for various reasons, some would strongly want to argue that 2 Kings copied his chapters from Isaiah. These chapters deal with the latter reign of Hezekiah and the surrounding of Jerusalem by the Assyrian king Sennacherib.

Part II: Chapters 40-66
A. Preparing to Return
5. Isaiah 40-55
Suddenly, the context of Isaiah shoots forward two hundred years to the time when Cyrus, king of Persia, allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem from Babylon. Cyrus himself is mentioned in 45:1. Whatever one thinks about authorship of this section (Isaiah is not said to be speaking in these chapters), to understand them we must put ourselves around the year 539BC to read them in context.

B. Hope in Devastation
6. Isaiah 56-66
From a literary standpoint, I don't see as clear a break here inductively, but I haven't studied it thoroughly either. It does seem to me that the tone changes in the last chapters of Isaiah. Whereas 40-55 are hopeful and optimistic, these last chapters have a certain sadness to them at points. It's almost as if the exiles arrived in Jerusalem from Babylon, and found a land laid waste (e.g., 64:10; 61:4; 62:12).

Sunday, November 08, 2015

ET3. We must not let any other thing take God's place in our life.

This is the third post on Christian ethics in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first unit in this series had to do with God and Creation (book here), and the second unit was on Christology and Atonement.

We are now in the third and final unit: The Holy Spirit and the Church. The first set of posts in this final unit was on the Holy Spirit. The second set was on the Church. The third set was on sacraments. This final section is on Christian ethics.
We must not let any other thing take God's place in our life.

1. The first four or five of the Ten Commandments relate mostly to the first of the two love commands: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5). [1] They give us specific examples of what it might mean to love God:
  • "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exod. 20:3).
  • "You shall not make for yourself an idol" (Exod. 20:4).
  • "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God" (Exod. 20:7).
  • "Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy." (Exod. 20:8).
  • And perhaps even, "Honor your father and your mother" (Exod. 20:12).
2. The first two commands relate directly to the fact that God is the Being of the universe, the all in all. He does not need the universe, but the universe could not exist without him. He is the central thing, the most important thing. Indeed, in a sense, he is the only important thing. The only reason anything else is significant is because it is significant to him. His existence is essential. The existence of everything else is derivative and contingent.

The worst sin of all is thus to consider something else more important than God or even as important as God. The command not to make idols also suggests that we must not mistake any part of the creation for him and that we should not mistake our attempts to picture him for who he literally is.

It is not that God is threatened by our misdirected worship. Indeed, we only show ourselves to be fools when we mistake something else for God. Scripture often uses the anthropomorphic image of God being angry or wrathful when we turn to other gods, but these are pictures meant to show us how serious and self-annihilating it is to do so. God does not literally throw tantrums, and any mistaking of this picture for God himself is to make yet another kind of image of him.

3. To say that nothing else is more important than God is to say that we must do everything to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). This is the heart of all our deliberations and choices--which choice will honor God the most? We do not live for ourselves first. Indeed, part of honoring God is even to put others above our own interests (e.g., Phil. 2:3).

As human beings, we will always have competing interests tugging at our lives. Sometimes, our choice is between the bad and the good. At other times, the choice is between the good and the better. A life lived with God first is a life where all our choices are made with the desire to glorify God the most. "Nothing between my soul and the Savior," one hymn says.

We love God by worshiping him regularly, ascribing to him the praise of which he is worthy. We remember his greatness and his attributes. We remember that he is the only necessary thing. We thank him for what he has done. We thank him for his loving wisdom, even when he has not done what we thought that we preferred.

We keep him in mind every day as we go about our lives. We "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). God is not jealous of the time we spend doing good in the world or doing what is necessary for life. It is not that he demands all of our time exclusively, although we should set aside regular time for him exclusively each week, ideally every day.

4. We demonstrate our love for God by loving our neighbors as ourselves. Loving our neighbor never contradicts loving God in the same way that God's justice does not contradict his love. Loving our neighbor glorifies God and so is one of the chief ways God has designed for us to love him.

We demonstrate our love of God by treating ourselves with respect. When we do not show proper regard for ourselves as one of God's creations, we dishonor God. We should not think of ourselves more highly than we are in God's sight (Rom. 12:3), but we should not think of ourselves as less than we are in God's sight.

We demonstrate our love for God by being good stewards of his creation. This is my Father's world. I do not treat others or God's creation as trivial or junk. They are God's possessions and to be treated with honor.

5. We cannot fathom God. We will thus always have to fight confusing the pictures of God in our understanding for God himself. We know that God is love and we trust in his love, but we do not always know how each action or inaction on his part is love. We know that God acts with justice and we trust in his loving justice, but we do not always know how each action or inaction on his part is justice.

Our impulse is to think we know what he is doing, but we must always leave room for our limitation and our tendency to confuse the image of God, which is what an idol is, for God himself.

It is crucial that we recognize that even the picture of God in the Bible is a picture, an instance of God stooping to our weakness and the weaknesses of each individual author and audience. The Bible gives us an image of God in words, an image that we must not confuse with God as he is on his own terms. The Bible gives us God in terms we humans can understand and grasp. God himself is beyond understanding. The Bible must always be read to point toward God, not to be God. We must never confuse the image of God for God himself.

6. The commandment to remember the Sabbath both honored God by commemorating the day that he rested from creation and honored God by respect for ourselves and others. God created the world. The Jews honored him as creator by resting on Saturday, the seventh day (Exod. 20:11). [2] God brought Israel out of Egypt. Israel rested in honor of his release of them from slavery and gave their servants a day of rest (Deut. 5:15).

Yet the day was not primarily a day of worship in the Old Testament, although there is some evidence of convocation on the Sabbath (e.g., Isa. 1:13; 66:23). The priests, however, did their service on the Sabbath (e.g., Num. 28:8-10; Ezek. 46:3). The primary emphasis was on rest and the cessation of work. Nehemiah strongly opposed buying and selling on the Sabbath (Neh. 13:15-17), and a man is stoned in Numbers for gathering wood for a fire on the Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36).

The significance of sabbath is strongly recognized today. The human mind and body will function much better if it has regular rest than if a person tries to work unendingly. More work will actually be accomplished with regular rest. The idea of a day of rest and worship is thus not only honoring to God, it is beneficial for humanity.

Christians traditionally have combined these twin functions into the Lord's Day, Sunday. On Sundays, Christians remember that Jesus rose from the dead. Each Sunday is a little Easter, a small remembrance of the resurrection. Sunday can also become a sacrament, a means of God's grace. Not only do we meet together to worship and experience God's presence, but it is wise for us to rest as Israel did on its Sabbaths.

Taking a day to rest is not, however, a matter of law under the new covenant. It is a matter of grace. It is a matter of wisdom. But the apostle Paul frees Gentile believers from any obligation to keep the Jewish Sabbath. "Do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths" (Col. 2:16). "Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds" (Rom. 14:5).

In the flow of revelation, the new covenant takes precedence over the old. Therefore, the Jewish Sabbath is not binding on Gentile Christians. It is a matter of conviction. So while it is wise to set aside a day of rest and it is foolish not to take time to rest, it is a matter of grace and not of law.

7. We must not let any other thing take God's place in our life. We must do everything we do in the name of the Lord Jesus, to the glory of God the Father. We must set aside time for God alone. Yet for most of our time, we will show our love for God through our love for others, our respect for ourselves, and our respect for God's creation.

Next Sunday: ET4. God calls us to respect authority in honor of his authority.

[1] Different faith traditions number the 10 commandments differently. The Jewish conception takes the verse, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery" as the first of the Ten Words (Exod. 20:2). Then the command to covet is split into two parts: not to covet your neighbor's house is the ninth (Exod. 20:17), while the command not to covet your neighbor's wife and possessions is the tenth. The Catholic and Lutheran traditions combine the commandment not to have other gods before Yahweh with the command not to make idols. Then the commandment not to covet is divided out as in the Jewish tradition.

[2] Technically, they rested from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, in keeping with the pattern of days in Genesis 1--"and there was evening and there was morning, the first day" (Gen. 1:5).

Friday, November 06, 2015

Wesley Hill and Celibate Homosexuality

Wesley Hill was in Marion last night to give a interview/talk back session with any students who might want to hear his testimony and thoughts on a book he has written on Spiritual Friendship. A faculty group read through this book and then anyone who was interested came to hear the interview at College Wesleyan Church last night. I would say there were several hundred in attendance.

1. Hill gets critique from both sides of the spectrum. There are Christians who believe that, if he is attracted to the same sex, then it isn't appropriate for him to be celibate. Then there are Christians who believe that he should be moving toward opposite-sex attraction and not accepting as permanent the desires he has.

I thought there was a healthy atmosphere last night. There was no sarcasm on anyone's part. Hill was extremely judicious in all his comments, almost contemplative. One person leaned over to me during the session and said something like, "It may seem strange to say it but there seems to be a spiritual atmosphere here." From what I could tell, those there concluded that Hill's testimony was authentic and that his convictions and faith all around were genuine.

2. I did have two students ask me earlier about IWU having the session. Was this advocating for homosexuality? Did Hill believe it was okay to stay gay?

Never having met Hill or read his book, I guess at an answer to the second question. I presume Hill would say that, for whatever reason, most Christian individuals who discover they are attracted to the same sex ask God to take away those desires at some point. Most gay individuals who grow up in a Christian context struggle significantly with their desires.

But, I think he would say, very few if any find that God takes away those desires. Instead, they eventually find a way to be Christian while being attracted to the same sex. Of course the church is typically hostile toward such individuals. Many end up leaving the church. Some end up marrying which is usually disastrous (it would be interested to know what percentage of Christian divorces come from gay individuals marrying because they think it is the right thing to do).

So to one student I suggested that Hill was not advocating staying gay. I assume he has concluded that same-sex attraction just usually isn't something that God takes away from a person, for whatever reason.

3. To the question of advocacy, neither Hill nor IWU was advocating homosexuality. The Wesleyan position is that homosexual sex is sinful, but that there will be Christians in the church who are attracted to the same sex. Temptations are not sinful, choices are. Hill's commitment to celibacy is what the Wesleyan Church advocates.

It seems inevitable that there will be individuals attracted to the same-sex in our midst in the church and certainly at a university as large at IWU. Our tendency in the past has been to ignore such individuals and let them wrestle with these issues in secret, meaning that they probably floundered at some point in relation to Christianity. In our current context, it seems much more Christ-like to offer counsel and to cultivate Christ-like attitudes toward individuals like Hill in our midst.

4. Let me close by giving background to the Wesleyan position:
  • The notion that someone might be gay and never have gay sex is a fairly recent paradigm shift in history. Even not too many decades ago, a homosexual would have been defined as someone who has homosexual sex. I don't think that in the 1920s, for example, a person would have been considered homosexual if they never had gay sex. 
  • So it is with the Bible. All references to homosexuality are references to people who have homosexual sex. None of the references have to do with some orientation abstracted from the practice of gay sex. The notion of orientation is a fairly recent one.
  • So Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 refer to gay sex acts. I would argue the same for 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. These do not refer to individuals like Hill who are celibate.
  • The Sodom and Gomorrah story is about attempted same-sex rape. In cultural context, these would have been married men with children trying to do an act similar to what is notoriously said to take place in prison. A similar event is found in Judges 19 where the men of the city go on to rape a woman to death when they can't violate the man.
  • Romans 1 is also about homosexual sex acts. It talks about "natural use" and "doing."
  • Temptation is not sin. Action on temptation--mental or physical--is sin (James 1:15). We all face different temptations. For some it is pride. For some it is women. 
  • We hopefully do not struggle to the same degree with the same temptations our whole lives. But entire sanctification is not a state beyond temptation either. 
So that is the basis for the Wesleyan position. Being attracted to the same sex is not a sin. But there have always been celibate individuals in the church. As I heard Russ Gunsalus put it, unless you get married immediately when you hit puberty and die with your spouse at the same time in a plane crash, there will be a period of celibacy in your life.

Hill has chosen to follow the monastic tradition of celibacy. Following Aelred in the Middle Ages, he has written a book about the importance of friendship without a sexual component. It applies to married men who have female friends and married women who have male friends. It applies to all singles who have friendships without sex. Hill would include himself within this latter category.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

One Time = That Time

One of the hermeneutical problems of our day, I increasingly believe, is that American Christianity has gravitated toward focusing so much on individual verses that bigger principles can be undermined (cf. Matt. 23:23). I've explored this topic a little here.

It is on the level of an individual verse that a truth is most likely to be 1) ambiguous and 2) most contextual. We understand the broader principles of Scripture more clearly because they appear over and over. And individual verses are much more likely to be "that time" rather than "all time" or "one time" even, for the specific moment in history of the biblical writing in question.

Rather than rehash the overall idea and rehash my criticism of American fundamentalism, let me present two examples that have recently come home to me.

1. How do we decide what in Revelation is hyper-symbolic and what we should take as a symbolism that corresponds more closely to specific events or characters? One possibility is to use the "one time" rule. If a concept in Revelation is relatively unique in the whole Bible, then it should probably be taken as hyper-symbolic.

The millennium comes to mind. As far as I can think, there is nowhere else in the Bible that divides a period with the Messiah ruling with resurrected martyrs from a more general resurrection and judgment that happens when Christ returns. The "one time" nature of the millennium might suggest that it is a hyper-symbol of the reign of Christ rather than a literal 1000 year period.

2. If 1 Timothy 2:12 refers to women teaching men (which I don't actually think it is. I think it is another husband-wife passage), then it is the only passage in the Bible that says anything like this. 1 Corinthians 14 has to be about disruptive speech (because women pray and prophesy in worship in 1 Corinthians 11). There are other headship passages, but they don't say anything about women not teaching other men.

Given that Priscilla does teach Apollos in Acts 18 and Acts 2:17 predicts that women will prophesy in the new age, 1 Timothy 2:12 is a highly odd verse, the only verse of its kind in the whole Bible. If it even refers to women teaching men in general (which I don't think it is), it is entirely unique in the Bible.

So as we try to peal back the fundamentalist era of the twentieth century, here is a crucial element in that equation. This individual verse impulse was used in the 1800s to argue for slavery, where individual verses were used to trump more important kingdom principles. Like the Pharisees, its tendency is to undermine bigger principles with "clobber verses." It's not the Jesus or Paul approach to Scripture.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Sermon Starters: The Right Stuff

Came up with a three point outline this morning that could be used as a sermon starter for a sermon based in the first couple chapters of 1 Corinthians. Don't have time to fill in the blanks but...

Paul has true wisdom, not the worldly wisdom of some Corinthians.

Paul has the right priorities. He is not out for his own freedom or rights. He is not out for self-promotion. He is not out to show his strength. But God's strength is made perfect in his weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12).

Paul has effective methods. Given the basic goal of winning people for Christ, Paul can only be described as pragmatic when it comes to his methods. To the Jews he becomes like Jews. To non-Jews he becomes like non-Jews. This is of course within certain basic limits but he is extremely flexible in his methods within those. "I am all things to all people so that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9).

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Tom Oord's forthcoming book

I will be reviewing Tom Oord's forthcoming book when it comes out in about a month: The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational View of Providence. He has produced a video teaser.

God is Love - what does it mean?

1. I did a quick search to try to find a crisp definition or description of God's love somewhere in John Piper's online footprint. This article seemed to come close.

Piper notes some strong statements by George MacDonald and a former professor named Thomas Talbott against the conception of God that Jonathan Edwards and Piper himself have. I've made similar strong statements in the past and I've heard Chris Bounds do the same.

Why does this conception of God so disgust Arminians? Because it makes God look evil. It seems to deconstruct the key aspect of God's character revealed in Jesus Christ and in the New Testament. It undermines his character as love (1 John 4:8).

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have never-ending life." The meaning of love in this verse seems pretty self-evident. God wants to save people. No problems here.

"Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:13). That fits. God wants to save. "In the good news, the God's righteousness is revealed... the good news is the power of God for salvation..." (Rom. 1:17, 16). "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Cor. 5:19). That all fits. God is love.

2. There is no problem for Piper when it comes to understanding what it means to say God is love when we are talking about those who are going to be saved from God's wrath. The problem comes with regard to those who aren't going to be saved, namely, 1) those who never had a chance because of lack of knowledge and 2) those who, in Piper's understanding, were predetermined to be damned.

In any normal definition of love, sending the majority of people to hell for eternity, when they never had any chance whatsoever to be saved, is discordant. This is not a disobedient spirit. This is not an attempt to get out of what Scripture says. Indeed, this is taking the central point of the New Testament literally and seriously. The verses that lead Piper to modify the normal understanding of love are not the central verses of the New Testament (e.g., Rom. 9). The verses that present God in terms of the normal understanding of love are the central verses (John 3:16).

Piper and others make a number of moves here that, while clever, ultimately seem to deconstruct any meaningful sense of God's character as loving. Here are some examples:
  • For God, love means something different than it means for us, at least when it comes to the damned.
  • Even one sin against God is so heinous that it deserves an eternity of fiery punishment.
  • We can't say that God "arbitrarily" chooses who will be saved and who will be damned. We can't know God's reasons.
3. Facile references to God's justice are sometimes made at this point. "God is love, but God is also justice." God's justice and "wrath" are revealed in Scripture, often in highly anthropomorphic pictures. But the Bible does not present God as a slave to justice. God offering Christ as a sacrifice is a demonstration of God's justice (Rom. 3:25-26), but nowhere is God portrayed as a slave to his justice, as if he cannot show mercy unless he satisfies some abstract law of justice.

To make justice God's key characteristic and love the secondary is to skew the New Testament priorities. Justice is the background against which the more central feature of love is featured. God's justice fits within the context of his love, not the other way around. This is the priority of the New Testament. Mercy triumphs over judgment (Jas. 2:13). God has the authority to show mercy because he is God. He doesn't have to fill out paper work to explain to some still higher power how he can justify it.

In the end, Piper's approach tends to skew Christian values in the church. It not so subtly teaches people to be just before they are loving. It fosters an attitude of "making sure people get what they have coming to them" over "mercy triumphs over judgment." It fosters an attitude of law over grace. This is deeply ironic, because God himself becomes the ultimate legalist at the same time that the New Testament is emphasizing God's grace.

4. But the intent of this post was not to rehash these reasons why Piper's theology infuriates so many Wesleyan-Arminians. It infuriates us because it undermines the revealed character of God in the name of logic and difficult verses. [It reminds me of the Seventh Day Adventists who see one verse saying not to eat pork and another that says all foods are clean and they pick the wrong verse as their base camp.]

The spark for this post was the fact that the New Testament doesn't have a different definition of love when it comes to God than it has for us. Where did the default definition of the word agape in the Bible come from, after all? God did not inspire the Bible in a completely new language that only believers could understand. The Bible was revealed in words that were being used at the time of the New Testament.

[Anyone who wants to argue that agape was some new, specifically minted Christian word needs to look at this use of agapao in the Greek Bible of 2 Samuel 13:1, just before Amnon goes on to rape Tamar.]

God might steer the concept of love with this word, but the starting point was a function of how the word was being used in the broader culture at the time of the New Testament.

5. So how does the NT understand love in relation to God? Let's start with John 3:16--God's love leads him to save. Romans 1:17 says the same--God demonstrates his righteousness by making a way of salvation. Both Paul and Acts emphasize that God is reaching out to everyone. He is expanding his reach beyond the Jews to non-Jews. The Lord does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). God wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).

This is the primary theme. God wants to save and he wants to save everyone.

But there is a secondary theme. Not everyone will be saved. This is also a dominant reality of the New Testament and this is where the logical problem arises:

1. God wants everyone to be saved.
2. God is all powerful.
The logical conclusion would be universalism, that 3. Everyone will be saved.

So where is the logical problem?

a. True, there are some Christian universalists and "hopeful" universalists (people who can't entirely justify universalism in their minds but hope God can). But this is not a position most of us feel like we can take biblically or theologically. Justice does matter even if it is not absolute.

b. Few of us would consciously fiddle with #2. There are some voices who would argue that the NT authors did not yet fully understand the omnipotence and omniscience of God, but this is not a path most of us want to take.

c. So we are left to qualify #1. Piper in effect negates #1. God simply doesn't want everyone to be saved. Indeed, he has determined himself that most will go to hell for all eternity. He determines everything that happens and has thus set up the system to send almost everyone to eternal damnation.

This wreaks havoc with the overwhelming emphasis and thrust of the New Testament. It undermines the central message of God's love. It does not modify or expand the meaning of the word love. It subverts it, changes it into is virtual opposite.

d. Arminians suggest that there is another principle in play here. That is to say, #1 is not absolute. This is infinitely more preferable a move both logically and biblically to Piper's virtual negation.

So Arminians suggest that there is another premise that makes the logic go something like the following.

1. God prefers everyone to be saved.
2. God wants even more for individuals to choose for him to save them.
3. God is able to save.
4. Those who choose him will be saved.

This is not only more logical than Piper's scheme. It fits the overall tenor of the New Testament much more naturally. [Piper also does not operate as if the NT gives a more precise understanding of God than the OT. He flattens out the understanding of God in the biblical texts.]

I'll leave it there for today. But let me emphasize again, the Arminian scheme stays fairly close to the surface meaning of the biblical texts. It takes the words in their most natural sense. Piper's scheme requires us to redefine the meaning of central passages in the name of difficult passages. He uses the "naughty verses" to reinterpret the central ones and thus gets the biblical priorities out of order.

The unintended consequence is often a Christian whose values are out of whack, a Christian who sees justice as more important than mercy.