Sunday, January 29, 2006

Great Ideas Diary

Last Sunday I started the "Great Ideas Diary" on . The idea is that roughly every week I will put on about a 5 minute piece on some topic of interest to me. [The rest of the site is still running but I'm planning to revamp the format over the next few weeks]

I plan on rereading Plato's Apology this week, Plato's account of the trial of Socrates. If you want to read to finish by next Sunday, it's roughly 3 sections a day (probably a little less than 3 pages a day). I plan to post about 5 minutes of reflection on it a week from Monday (Feb. 6).

I would definitely place the Apology on the top "50 Great Idea Books of All Time" list.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Baptism 3: Acts

I should finish my baptism series...

When we mention Acts, 2:38 springs to mind: "Repent, let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and to all those far off, as many as the Lord our God should call."

Clearly this reference targets adults (or at least those mature enough to repent) who accept Christ and repent of their sins. They are to be baptized and will in association receive the Holy Spirit. We have no evidence of the laying on of hands being done to infants in the early church. The Spirit is the boundary line for truly being in for Acts and it is connected to water baptism in Acts. So there you have it: I've given a strong argument to those who would argue that baptism must only be a matter of individuals who are capable of repentance.

However, I don't think this is the end of the story. I've already suggested why I think Paul would be in favor of infant baptism if he were here today. Here's why I don't think Acts should be used to contradict this position:

1. Acts is an idealized portrayal of the early church, not a special on the History Channel. I want to make it clear that this does not in any way make me think of Acts as false or untrustworthy in message. It just means that we are getting a theological portrayal in Acts that must be balanced with other theological portrayals, particularly that of Paul.

Think of it this way: if all we had were Luke, we would have a significantly different sense of who Jesus was and what he did than we have when we factor Matthew, Mark, and John into the equation. For example, we would not know that Jesus ministered for three years or had pre-existed before he came to earth. We would not have nearly as great a sense of the saving significance of his death as we do if we only had Luke. Unfortunately, we don't have the second volumes of Matthew, Mark, or John. And you can bet they would shed just as much contrasting light on Acts as Matthew, Mark, and John do on Luke.

Paul's writings give us some hints of what these portrayals might look like. For example, 2 Corinthians 12 lets us know that it was not just the Jews who were after Paul in Damascus. In fact, Paul never mentions any Jews being after him. It is rather the ethnarch under King Aretas, the Arabian king. What we find as we go through Acts as a whole is that one of its thematic tendencies is to downplay conflict between Christians and secular authorities, choosing rather to put blame on non-Christian Jews. This contrast between Paul and Acts 9 is one example.

If Galatians 2 and Acts 15 are the same event--and the most natural way of taking "after 14 years" in Gal. 2:1 pushes in this direction--then we have quite contrasting perspectives on the same event. Paul emphasizes that he went to James, Peter, and John because God told him to and emphasizes his independence from their authority. In Acts he is a delegate from Antioch and looks well submitted and subordinate. In Galatians it looks like a private meeting. In Acts it looks like a General Conference. Paul's writings never mention the letter issued from the conference of Acts 15, even though some of the same subjects came up explicitly at Corinth later (by any reckoning of dating).

Many other "hints" in Acts could be mentioned that make it clear that there is a good deal of artistry and theology in this presentation, as I believe was appropriate for an ancient writer. In that sense, Acts does not always give us the three dimensional portrait we find in Paul. Paul is so "real time" that some accuse him of being hopelessly contradictory as he argues in different ways for different contexts (sometimes with the very same verses in contrasting ways!). Acts is more two-dimensional, the portrait of a general superintendant showing how the church is supposed to be, with everything done decently and in order. And of course it is a very good portrait of what the church should be. I find no fault in a beautiful portrait that is what it intends to be.

2. So we find hints that indeed many of Acts' statements are general statements of theology that are not necessarily exhaustive in scope. So we see whole households being baptized in Acts 16:15 and 33. I believe this would have included children.

One question we face when we read Acts is whether all Christians will have or should have exactly the same experiences as the Christians in Acts. For example, can a person today receive the Holy Spirit and become a Christian if no one is around to lay hands on him or her? I think so.

Are all experiences of the Holy Spirit going to be as dramatic as on the Day of Pentecost? Should we see more individuals speaking in tongues than do today when people receive the Holy Spirit? I don't think necessarily so. Perhaps I am wrong, but I don't think that everyone will have a huge emotional experience when they ask God to forgive them of their sins. If you have truly surrendered yourself to God's lordship, I believe you should claim by faith to have received the Holy Spirit and to be bound for the kingdom. I think you should do this whether you feel any differently or not. I would of course hope that you would feel a special sense of peace, but it sure seems like some of our emotional wires are unfortunately crossed up for any number of reasons.

I believe we should take Acts as a general picture of conversion but not force everyone into it as a Procrustean bed, the cookie cutter model for every single person. I believe Acts is highlighting theology in its portrayal. It is not at all clear to me that Peter and John were constantly being called all over the place to lay hands on people so that they could receive the Holy Spirit. In addition to the beautiful structure that Acts presents, we have hints throughout the New Testament of more charismatic things going on with less of a chain of command. Paul considered himself just as much an authority as the "pillars" of Jerusalem and probably would not have liked the way he was portrayed at all points in Acts.

In short, Acts far more gives us the "rule" rather than the exception. It is the place to find the fundamentals of the early church more than the nuances. At least that's the way I see it.

So the household baptisms of Acts, in my opinion, give us some sense of this on this topic. I think Luke would say something like this: "Oh, if you got the impression from my portrayal of the standard conversion that we did not baptize children, that was unintended because we did."

The way I see it today...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sermon Starters: God Is Working Among You

I spoke at the Honors College Chapel this week from Philippians 2:12-18. I won't reproduce the entire outline. The heart of the message was certain thoughts on the "you" of the statements: "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" and "God is working among you both to will and to do according to His good pleasure."

Anyone who has had much exposure to me will have heard me often mention that this "you" is plural. They will also know that Paul's use of salvation is primarily future oriented around the Day of Wrath (Rom. 5:9), which is at the same time the Day of Salvation. So Paul encourages the Philippian church, just as they have always obeyed whether Paul was present or absent, to continue to work together so that they are all saved on the Day of Wrath.

Although I left the subject open ended on Wednesday, most will know that Paul considered it a possibility that even he might not be saved after he had preached to so many others (1 Cor. 9:24-27). There is thus a real sense of striving together, of urging each other on to finish the race and win the prize. I also believe that much of our debates over whether a person is saved by faith or works is misguided. A person may be justified by faith, but the overall tenor of Paul's writings is that "fruit" and indeed "good works" (Eph. 2:9) are an essential component in making it to the Day of Salvation (Eph. 2:8 is mentioned below).

But the heart of the sermon was to point out how many of the "you's" of the NT are plural.

"You are the temple of the Lord, and God's Spirit lives in you" (1 Cor. 3:16). Of course God's Spirit is in us individually as well (cf. Rom. 8:9). But the in you plural is arguably more central to Paul's theology than the you singular. More than in my individual body, it is in the body of Christ that the Spirit of God dwells.

Here we might as a side note mention the Spirit fillings of Acts. Have you ever noticed that not a single person receives the Spirit (and thus becomes a Christian) alone? Paul does not receive the Holy Spirit during his vision on the road to Damascus. He does not become a Christian at that point technically. He cannot baptize himself. It is not until another Christian--Ananias--lays hands on him that he receives the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, we have good reason, I think, to see the laying on of hands as the sacramental sign that the early Christians understood to facilitate the reception of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews 6:2 mentions it as one of the beginning teachings of Christianity (cf. 10:22 also). Notice that in Samaria (Acts 8) it is only after the apostles Peter and John lay hands on them that they receive the Holy Spirit.

So on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, the refreshing of the disciples in Acts 4, with the Samaritans of Acts 8, with the Gentiles of Acts 10, and with the John the Baptist followers in Acts 19--in all these cases the Holy Spirit comes corporately or when another Christian lays hands on someone. No one ever receives the Holy Spirit all by themselves in the book of Acts. This is an important consideration for those who think they can just as well meet God out on a lake as in a gathering of other Christians.

Another interesting passage is in 1 Corinthians 6:19: "Your body is a temple of the Lord." While the word "body" is singular, the word your is plural. I do not think that this verse is simply saying, your bodies are temples (and thus, don't smoke or drink). It is rather a double entendre: 1) your individual body is the church's body too. When you visit a prostitute, you are taking the body of Christ and the church to the prostitute with you, but also 2) your body of Christ, the collective body of the church at Corinth, is the temple of the Spirit.

The kingdom of God is inside you (Luke 17:21). This is a favorite verse of those who want to say that the kingdom of God is an individual thing. It's a matter of God inside your heart. Unfortunately, this is a plural you. The kingdom of God is inside you all collectively, among you, in your midst (e.g., TNIV). Another strike out for the current trend toward lone ranger Christians.

Finally, by grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:8). I have been contemplating this plural this week. I suspect that Ephesians is not focusing on individuals, but on Christians as a whole and, arguably, even primarily on Gentiles as a whole. I believe the primary sense of this verse is, "You Gentiles have been saved by grace through faith... not of works so that no one can boast."

Some interpretive notes:
1. saved here is either proleptic--such a certain inheritance that we can speak of it in the past tense--or Ephesians is working from a "realized" eschatology atypical of Paul's other writings (things are already accomplished rather than waiting to be accomplished).

2. "By grace" in the ancient patron-client context meant neither that the client had done nothing to solicit the patronage, nor did it mean that there were no strings attached. We should not thereby think that God's grace here came "irresistably" or that it came without expectation--grace could be severed if the client gave inappropriate response to the patron.

3. through faith--I still tend to take this as a reference to the faith of humans, but simply mention that one might argue that it is a reference to Christ's faith--by grace you have been saved on the basis of Christ's faithfulness.

4. not of works--notice that Ephesians does not say, not of works of law, which is Paul's usual phrase in Romans and Galatians. I think it is precisely because this discussion is not aimed at the Jewish question of law but at Gentiles who stand somewhat beyond or outside that debate. In that sense, Ephesians is closer to Augustine and Luther's interpetation of Paul than Paul's other writings are.

5. As a complete side-note, I suspect that Tychichus served as the primary writer of Ephesians (6:21). That need not mean that Ephesians is pseudonymous, for Paul could have assigned him the task of writing. This would explain the differences in style and theological/perspectival shifts such as these in Ephesians. Further, it would account for my sense that Ephesians has primarily been composed on the basis of Colossians, which already is somewhat different from Paul's other writings in terms of style and perspective (Dunn suggests Timothy may have had more to do with its composition than Paul: 1:1). In short, I strongly insist that we should not use Ephesians as the starting point for understanding Paul's theology (thus my befuddlement at John McRay, Wheaton emeritus' approach to Paul in Paul: His Life and Teachings).

I am sympathetic to the argument that Ephesians was meant as somewhat of a circular letter without so much of a specific destination. The words "at Ephesus" are missing from several early manuscripts, even while "to those who are" is there. Further, it seems incredible to suppose that Paul would have written 3:2 to the Ephesians--"Surely you have heard of the inheritance of the grace of God given to me toward you..." He spent over two years with them--they hadn't heard of it; they'd experienced it. I suspect then that this letter was broadly meant for Asia Minor and perhaps found its home primarily in Ephesus.

So Ephesians 2:8 seems to me primarily a reminder to its Gentile audiences that it is only by way of the grace of God that they have been given the promise of salvation. God has destroyed the dividing wall of the law that separated them from Israel. So it is only by secondary connotation that "you have been saved by grace" applies to me as an individual. It is of course true of me as an individual, but it was not originally focused on individuals but on the Gentile race as a whole and, then, on all humans.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Baptism 2: Paul

I suppose Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians on baptism are a little surprising at first. Paul starts off in chapter 1 sounding like baptism wasn't a high priority for him and seems to have difficulty remembering who he had actually baptized while he was at Corinth. He baptized Crispus and Gaius, oh, and now that I think of it, I baptized the house of Stephanus as well (1:14-16).

The way Paul says all this, and a little extra reflection, stretches my imagination a little. For one thing, the baptism of the house of Stephanus is introduced as if it were an oversight. He started in 1:14 with the impression that Crispus and Gaius were it. Further, it is then doubly suspicious that the house of Stephanus shows up in chapter 16, and we find out that Stephanus and his servants were in fact the first converts of southern Greece!!! (16:15). How do you forget that? And, indeed, it makes sense to see them as the ones who brought the letter that Paul is answering for so many chapters of 1 Corinthians (chaps. 7ff).

In short, I have good reason to see Paul's deemphasis on baptism in chapter 1 closely in relation to the situation at Corinth. So I'll respect Quakers and Salvationists who might use this chapter as an argument against the significance of baptism. But ultimately I think Paul considered baptism the fare of every convert. See next paragraph.

Galatians 3:27 implies that all the true sons of God (which, remember, explicitly includes women in this passage) have been baptized. Romans 6:3 also implies that baptism is the common experience of all Christians. In a side note to Friends and Salvationists, we have no evidence here that Paul used the word baptism only in relation to the Spirit. Indeed, Ephesians (which may not reflect Paul's normal use of language, but that's a different issue) speaks only of one baptism (Eph. 4:5).

And if we have to decide on the evidence whether it is more likely that a reference to baptism without explanation would be to water or to a more metaphorical meaning, the normal use of the word is the more likely. Hebrews will later use the image of the washing of the body with pure water (Heb. 10:22); Acts clearly uses baptism primarily in relation to literal water (cf. Acts 8:36); and Paul speaks of being buried with Christ (6:4)--so tempting to see such a comment in relation to immersion in water.

I imagine that most of Paul's references to baptism in these passages relate to adult baptism. After all, he was a church planter who 1) did not like to minister where the gospel had already reached (cf. Rom. 15:20) and 2) saw himself as an apostle to Gentiles rather than to Jews (cf. Gal. 2:8). It thus makes sense that most of his baptisms were adults accepting Christ for the first time.

As a side note, Paul never connects baptism with repentance. Indeed, repentance is not one of Paul's dominant categories, an observation that has sparked a good deal of discussion in terms of how Paul related to his Jewish background.

We can at this point ask how the early Christians came to baptize. For various reasons I will leave Matthew 28:19 out of consideration at this point. I imagine that early Christian baptism was an extension of JB's baptism. At first I imagine that many Christians continued to baptize in preparation for Christ's return and the restoration of the nation of Israel. I wonder if at first they saw such baptism much differently from the baptism of JB.

I imagine that baptism was an essential part of converting to Judaism if you were a Gentile. I don't think it was an initiatory rite per se, but rather essential because a Gentile would simply have massive amounts of sins to cleanse. A Jew who accepted Christ as Messiah would want to purify him or herself in preparation no doubt, and perhaps eventually as a sign of allegiance and acceptance of the gospel. Whenever the early Christians came to see Jesus' death to have atoning value (I think almost immediately), baptism in Jesus' name would have been a completely appropriate way of appropriating that atonement.

These are all thought experiments, attempts to fill in gaps in our knowledge of how the early church got from Jesus to Paul. Acts is of course written much later and, as the gospels, is written with the benefit of hindsight.

So eventually Christian baptism is connected with the death of Christ (e.g., Rom. 6:4). It is uniting with Christ. For Gentiles in particular, Paul connects it with adoption into the people of God (e.g., Gal. 3:27). It is possible, although I will just mention the thought, that from 1 Corinthians to Galatians we see some solidifying of Paul's practice of baptism. Since many evangelicals date Galatians before 1 Corinthians, of course, that thought would not be viable for them.

I do not find it at all surprising that Paul baptized whole households like that of Stephanus (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:16). Would this have included children? Given the way I think Paul thinks, I believe it would have. On the other hand, given how pragmatic Paul was, I don't know if he would have baptized very small babies. I'm not sure that Paul would have been a stickler on a particular mode of baptism, but I suspect he at least primarily immersed.

The next text you might expect me to turn to is 1 Corinthians 7:14. In this "strange" verse, Paul encourages those married to unbelievers to stay with them. His reasoning goes like this: the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believing spouse, and this sanctifies (makes holy) the children as well. Needless to say, this is not a verse that the typical evangelical would have written. We usually resort to some banal comment on spiritual influence--which seems a rather weak translation of "to sanctify."

Indeed, Paul addresses the church at Corinth as "those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called..." The most natural inference is that the unbeliever and the church are brought into the church by their relationship with the believer--the holiness is contagious in the direction of the non-believer and the children. Now Paul does not equate such sanctification with being saved. He tells the believer not to worry if the unbeliever departs: "How do you know if you will save your spouse?" Here we remember that Paul thinks of salvation mostly in the future tense, as escaping God's wrath on the Day of Judgment (e.g., Rom. 5:9). The connection with the believer brings them into the Spiritual force field of the church, but it does not ensure that they will escape the coming wrath of God.

What does this imply about child baptism? I don't know whether the practical side of baptizing an infant came into play with Paul. But if Paul considered the children from even one Christian parent "in" and sanctified, then how much more would he have considered children from two Christian parents in. I truly believe that Paul would have baptized everyone in the household who was at all willing, including children. And think it would even have been appropriate in that world for fathers of households even to twist a few arms in some cases.

So if Paul were here today and were to comment on this issue, I truly believe he would be in favor of infant baptism--the children are sanctified by the believing parent or parents. Salvation is not thereby a done deal, for salvation depends on where you stand when God comes in judgment. And there might just be a whole lot of time between childhood and that Day.

I don't think I should close until I have mentioned Paul's peculiar reference to baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29: "Then what will those are are baptized on behalf of the dead do? If the dead are not raised at all, why are they even baptized for them?"

To be clear, Paul does not include himself among this group. He does not argue against such individuals, but he does not argue for them either. Here are some thoughts:

1. He is surely referring to Christians, unless this is some strange mystery religion rite he has in mind. Baptism seems a word with a Jewish provenance. But Jews themselves would probably not feel a need to baptize so that other Jews would be part of the resurrection.

2. So we most likely have Gentile Christians being baptized for individuals who died before the Christian message came. Or perhaps we have Jewish Christians who believed baptism in Jesus' name was essential for resurrection and are doing similar things. In either case, Paul's argument makes it clear that it is baptism with a view to future resurrection.

3. Whoever they are, they must be some group that the audience of 1 Corinthians would respect or that Paul thinks they might respect. Apollos or Peter would fit that bill, but I have difficulty picturing Peter teaching this. Wouldn't he more assume that Jewish heroes of faith would be resurrected? Very difficult. 1 Peter 4:6 may picture Christ preaching to the dead after his resurrection, another possible solution to the question.

While I find the following interpretation difficult, it is where I'm at right now. After Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, we have the teaching that the dead in Christ will rise. But there is no clear teaching by Paul on other dead. What about Jews before Christ? What about Gentiles who never heard of Christ? I wonder if some segments of Gentile Christianity started baptizing themselves for family who had never heard the gospel so that they might be part of the resurrection.

Again, Paul does not promote such a practice. But it helps us get into the minds of the ancient church a little, a church that existed in a world where identity was far more a matter of the groups in which you were embedded than of you as an individual. You can bet that if they were being baptized for the dead, then they were having their infants baptized as well.

So some options on how we might reflect on our our often hyper-individualistic focus today: 1) a God-sanctioned development in understanding from that of the NT world, 2) a balancing out of excess in the early church, 3) we might see it needing some corrective, a partial by product of our own cultural factors today.

Wheaton: Protestant or Anti-Catholic?

Many will know that Wheaton College fired one of its professors these last few weeks because he converted to Catholicism. He was a professor in medieval history (surprise) and originally Episcopalian. Wheaton made a determination that one could not be a Roman Catholic and consider the Scriptures the "highest and final authority," chiefly because a Roman Catholic must (or so Wheaton says) view the Pope as an equal authority to the Bible.

I remain conflicted over this decision. I want to be (and am) angry at Wheaton. On the other hand, I recognize the right of private institutions to set boundaries for its faculty. I suppose it's far easier simply to say, "Catholics are out" than to come up with some reliable measure for biblical compatibility.

I suspect the standards for hiring at IWU are much stricter in some regards than Wheaton's, and for the most part I affirm IWU's hiring standards. But I wonder whether you can just say, "if you belong to group x, you are automatically disqualified." I'm sure this would be true at IWU of a Mormon or Jehovah's witness--such people do not believe in the Trinity. I suspect I would similarly resist hiring a "Jesus only" Pentecostal to teach at IWU.

But here's the rub for me. I don't think you can assume that a Roman Catholic is "outside" in the way these others are simply because such a person is Roman Catholic. I suspect there are as many Roman Catholics in the world who have a personal relationship with Christ as there are Protestants. And I suspect that a very significant number of Roman Catholics believe the Bible to be as or more authoritative than the Pope.

I suspect that orthodox Roman Catholic theology views the Bible as more authoritative than the Pope when the Pope is not speaking "from the chair," and when was the last time a Pope did that... over a hundred years ago. And even if the Pope did speak "ex cathedra," would the RC church drive a wedge between Pope and Bible or simply claim that the Pope was giving the right interpretation of the Bible.

This last point leads to the Wheaton rub. No one, not even Wheaton professors, really use the Bible as the "supreme and final authority" on any issue. I've already gone into this matter in detail. Because we as interpreters have to join the individual teachings of biblical books together and then jump the river of time from their time to our time, the interpreter is always the final authority on what the Bible actually teaches. And for evangelicals, this authority is heavily a function of evangelical theology and tradition.

So the substance of Wheaton's explanation amounts to "we cannot hire this person because we cannot guarantee that his interpretations of Scripture will be the same as ours any more." So tell us what those interpretations are, that will help us out. I imagine they probably could if they approached it in this way. What are the elements of Roman Catholic theology that this person has embraced that are incapatible with the limits of evangelical theology allowed at Wheaton? Show me the money.

Friday, January 20, 2006

More Adventures in Baptism: Gospels

I thought I would wander through the NT and think about baptism for a few entries.

I thought the gospels were a fair enough place to start... and a pretty easy place to start, really.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the baptism mentioned is primarily that of John the Baptist. We would not, as Christians, consider this baptism to be Christian baptism. Matthew 3:11 does predict that Christ will baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire. Mark 1:8 similarly mentions a coming baptism with the Holy Spirit.

But of most interest to us of these is Luke 3:16, which also predicts that Christ will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.<1> This prediction in itself is not unique, but in the case of Luke we have Acts to give us what Luke understands to be the "rest of the story." Of greatest interest to us here is Acts 19:1-7, where Paul clearly does not consider baptism by John to be Christian baptism because it did not include baptism with the Holy Spirit. Paul insists that this group of twelve men be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Baptism in Matthew, Mark, and Luke thus is more indirectly related to our subject than directly. John the Baptist of course baptized Jewish individuals who repented of their sins with a view to forgiveness and in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. For JB this was a one time act of preparation, but baptisms were not uncommon, repeatable things in Jewish life at this time. Miqvaoth were cleansing pools that you can find in any number of places in the Holy Land (e.g., at Qumran, Masada, etc...).

John is a little more complicated, for John is the only gospel that says Jesus' disciples baptized before JB was arrested (John 3:22, 26; 4:1-2). Are we to understand these acts as Christian baptisms? Certainly not in the world of Luke-Acts, for the Holy Spirit does not come until the Day of Pentecost. In that sense Jesus "baptizes" no one until that day and we cannot properly even speak of any Christians until that day. Paul agrees in his own way: "If someone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they are not his" (Rom. 8:9).

But I think John also agrees in his own way with these ideas, for he makes it a point to say that Jesus himself did not baptize (4:2). John also teaches that Christ will baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:33) and symbolically presents the beginning of such baptism after the resurrection (20:22).

So what do we learn from any of these gospels about contemporary issues relating to baptism?

1. Mode: It seems more likely than not to me that JB immersed or dipped people in the river water. I suppose it is possible that he poured water over their heads. The text doesn't really say and I don't really buy the argument that the word baptizo in Greek itself proves it was immersion. This seems a kind of root fallacy that insists the root must dictate how a word is used in practice. But words take on a life of their own and often leave the root or etymological building from which they came. Nevertheless, I have no problem with the usual suggestion that JB probably immersed in the river. Again, this does not take us yet to the question of what a Christian mode of baptism might be.

2. Infant: It seems to me very likely that all or at least nearly all of those who came to JB were adults. They were preparing Israel for the Messiah by purging it of its sins. Of course, I would not say absolutely that no children were involved. It seems a little difficult logistically in that they would have to travel out to the river from wherever. I also wonder how many women he would have baptized. I wonder if there were many.

Does this impact the discussion of Christian infant baptism? We'll have to wait for the argument that baptism involves repentance and therefore does not apply to an infant. For the moment, we will simply note that JB's baptism is not Christian baptism and therefore that it is somewhat of a unique moment in salvation's history that does not directly affect our discussion of Christian baptism.

3. Repeatable? I doubt that JB's baptism was meant to be repeatable, although baptism in general was in Jewish culture at the time. JB was preparing for the Messiah. That would normally have been a one time act I think.

<1> By the way, the story of John the Baptist is one of those rare places where Matthew and Luke agree in wording against Mark. Given the extra stuff that Matthew and Luke have in common in this story, it is often suggested that the JB story was in Q.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Protestant Limbo

I don't enjoy Christian baby dedications. To me they're a little sad and a little irritating all mixed together.

It's sad to me because to me it's like making your kids live in a tent in the back yard until they know how to unlock the back door. You let them stay on the property but they don't really belong. So you make sure they don't come in the house. It's irritating to me because I don't really agree with the reasons usually given against infant baptism.

I should say right off the bat that I don't think baptism saves you. I don't think that baptism keeps a child from hell or protects them from the consequences of original sin. In that sense, I believe it is possible for a person to go to heaven even if they are never baptized. So in terms of the symbolic aspect of baptism, deciding when a person is baptized is partially a question of what you are trying to symbolize. Do you want them symbolically in from the beginning of their lives or only when they have made the personal commitment?

But are they really out when they are 2? I believe they're really in when they're 1, 2, 3, maybe even 4, 5, 6. Indeed, I believe it's possible that a person might be "in" at every moment of their life--if they accept Christ from the moment they understand their need for him. I bet Russ Gunsalus and Keith Drury have been on their way to heaven every single moment of their lives! Accordingly, it makes me really sad when we make it a point of saying that our children are "out." Frankly, I think our children should take communion too. I guarantee you the children at Corinth ate the communion meal of 1 Corinthians 11.

But of course I believe baptism is also a sacrament, a means of grace. In that sense, I believe it "helps" our fellowship with God in some mystical way. I actually believe that a child who has been baptized has a better chance of accepting Christ personally later, not too dissimilar from the passage in 1 Corinthians 7 that says our children are sanctified by our faith apart from any act of will on their part.

If baptism is truly a means of grace in this way, then to forbid our children from baptism is actually to refuse them an avenue of God's grace. In other words, it sets down a "harder" path into the kingdom for them than it could be. If we knew this to be true for certain, refusing our children baptism would be rather infuriating to us, something we would actually fight against (P.S. I write these words with some restraint).

I suppose the main objection to infant baptism is the idea that you cannot be saved without a personal confession of faith. But of course nothing I've said thus far contradicts this idea. That's part of what's irritating to me. Salvation is not the same thing as baptism. And there's often a subtle individualistic assumption that goes along with this position--as if for an experience to be meaningful I have to be conscious of it (note to self: examine possibly self-oriented assumptions I may not have examined).

And of course the fact that the baptisms recorded in the New Testament are all or at least nearly all adult baptisms doesn't settle the issue. The Bible never tells us an incident where someone is baptized as an adult who was in the church as a child. All the adult NT baptisms are people entering the church for the first time as an adult. And of course the NT does mention more than once that whole households were baptized--we just don't know who all was in them. On the whole, my sense of how group dynamics worked in the Bible makes me suspect it more likely than not that child baptism was a part of early Christian practice.

A personal relationship with God and Christ is of course essential, meaning that every individual must confess Christ and appropriate his death if they are at all intellectually able (Frankly I would still baptize a severely mentally challenged person, even if they will never really understand). But I suspect that such relationships were always imbedded in the community of faith in New Testament times. In a sense they were personal, but not individual, relationships with God and his Christ.

And of course infant baptism isn't just some Catholic thing. Luther, Calvin, and Wesley would all give an intense scolding to anyone using their name and not baptizing their children. In recent times, adult baptism is really an Anabaptist thing that resurfaced these last few hundred years, a backwater trickle that has really only flourished in America.

Many will disagree with me, but I find baby dedications lamentable, missed opportunities. To me they impoverish the church by placing our children in a limbo that they are not really in. While we could use baptism to emphasize that we are communities and families of faith, instead we accentuate ourselves as isolated individuals of faith. Rather than making our children have to work to leave, we make them work to get in when they are really in already. Rather than avail them of God's means of grace and give them any sacramental benefit to baptism, we make them come in cold turkey.

So maybe I'll go become a Methodist. Oh wait, the Wesleyan Church actually allows for infant baptism. I wonder why nobody does it? Maybe it's because we've been hanging out with the Baptists for so long.

Monday, January 16, 2006

On a Lighter Note...

I've put a two part algebra promo on If you're looking for a reason to procrastinate, I'd be interested to know any problems you have opening up anything.

I've been having problems with my own computer with my Internet Explorer shutting down while the video is downloading. I don't know if this is a glitch with my computer, because some hidden internet file is full and I'm having memory problems, or whether there's a code problem.

If you want to blow twenty minutes, I'd appreciate any comments on whether it works or not:

then click on algebra to the left. Thanks!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

What's Wrong with Those Who Oppose Women in Ministry?

I have worded the title of this piece boldly, for I write it prophetically and not as a matter of academic discussion. I do not mean the piece personally in the sense that I do not think I am necessarily more spiritual, more informed, or more intelligent than anyone who is opposed to women in all roles of ministry. And I do not mean to say that someone is automatically unspiritual, uninformed, or unintelligent if he or she opposes women in all roles of ministry.

But I do mean to say that this position is wrong. And those who are against women in all roles of ministry simply do not know God's mind on this issue. The Christians of even fifty years from now will view such individuals as most of us view the Christians who were in favor of slavery 150 years ago. That future generation will have to pray for the Lord to give them strength not to think badly of such people. They will need the Lord's help to have faith that the problem was one of heads and not hearts. It will take some hard thinking for them to understand that such individuals could be spiritual even though they believed the way they did. Luke implied it best through the mouth of Gamaliel in Acts 5: This is of God. There is nothing you can do to stop it because you are fighting against God.

So what are some of the reasons why some Christians oppose women in ministry?

1. Their head is in the way.
I believe that perhaps even for most Christians, opposition to women in all forms of ministry is mostly a matter of their heads. In other words, some aspect of the way they understand the world and have formulated their faith is getting in the way.

I have the utmost of respect for many who don't really understand why (or so they think) God opposes women in some offices of the church. But their head tells them that's what the Bible teaches or what the church teaches. And indeed, in a culture where 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 have been highlighted again and again by some, it is easy to think God just mysteriously doesn't want women doing these things on earth--even though it makes no sense at all from any reasonable perspective. Just using our heads alone, it seems pretty stupid since we know factually that male genitilia have nothing to do with leadership ability or spirituality.

I have the utmost sympathy for the person who says, "I don't understand it. I know women who are more spiritual than I am. I know women who say they're called. I know women whom I think would make gifted speakers and leaders. But the Bible just doesn't seem to allow them. I don't understand it but I submit to it." I respect this person and pray for their heart to win out over their heads.

This is not the place for a detailed examination of the key passsages; I have done some of that elsewhere. Instead I simply want to point out that no one directly applies all the statements and injunctions of Scripture directly to today. And this is the way God wants it to be. Why?

a. Because Jesus and Paul did not directly apply the words of the OT directly to themselves without passing those words through a spiritual filter. In Matthew 5:38, Jesus tells his audience not to live their lives like Deuteronomy 19:21: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." And in Mark 2:25-26 he actually argues that there are times when the right thing to do is to make exception for some of the most significant laws.

Paul sometimes takes the OT text allegorically in ways that contradict the clear original import of those passages, such as when he interprets the veil on Moses' face as a hiding of the fading glory of the old covenant (2 Cor. 3) or when he interprets Hagar in relation to the literal Jerusalem (Gal. 4). To be sure, some learned modernist evangelicals have applied their immense intelligence to wiggling out of these plain interpretations. But just because you're smart enough to come up with an ingenious alternative doesn't mean you're correct and it certainly doesn't mean that you're actually listening to Paul. So called "high views" of Scripture often have a way of shoving their preconceived views on the text when the text doesn't say what they want it to say.

b. The original meaning of so many passages is ambiguous or inaccessible to us. I submit to you that the connotations of 1 Timothy change drastically depending on the situation that stands behind it. Again, an honest listen to Paul's writings and the gospels must conclude that the tone and approach of these writings is often in tension with the others because of situational factors.

c. And again, if we really value the text of Scripture enough to listen to it rather than make everything fit together, we will find a healthy dialog within the text of Scripture. Once we allow for these things we will find that some parts of Scripture point in opposite directions from other parts. Ezra would point us toward divorcing spouses and children who are not "Israel" like we are. Jonah, Ruth, and Paul would point in the opposite direction. Luke-Acts is perhaps the most pro-women work in the New Testament. 2 Timothy would lead us in the opposite direction if we absolutized it and ignored the rest. But if we did not have 1 Timothy, we would not expect Paul to make some of its comments, since his other books make no issue of women in ministry roles. He seems to refer to one woman, Junia, as an apostle in Romans 16:7, and he calls Phoebe a deacon in Romans 16:1 as well.

d. Finally, if we really listen to Scripture rather than shove our preconceived theology down its throat, we will conclude that there is a flow of revelation that moves not only between the testaments but into the history of the church. The OT simply is not as close to our Christian beliefs as the New Testament is, and the New Testament books are not the end of the story on matters like the Trinity or the precise nature of Christ's divinity. As a scholar, I would claim that we will not believe Christ to be fully and ontologically divine, of one substance with the Father, unless we accept developments in Christian belief beyond the New Testament.

It takes more than just the original meaning of the Bible to know God's will for today. It takes the Holy Spirit more than anything else. And to hear the Spirit rightly, we need the church.

2. Their tradition is in the way.
For Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, 2000 years of church tradition stand in the way. This is a strong argument to be sure. But as someone who believes God had some part in the Protestant Reformation, I allow that truths can lie dormant in the broader church for hundreds and even thousands of years. The fact that large portions of the church are recognizing the clear trajectory of the Spirit on this issue is a sign of the latest Reformation. It will only grow.

There is always room for the prophetic element of the church, especially when its witness is on a path to become the view of the church at large. You will not have to exhume my body to burn it at the stake, for in a hundred years, even the Roman Catholics will allow for a woman Pope.

I am not concerned with other more recent traditions among fundamentalists or other American trends against women in ministry. They are largely a mixture of the early 20th century reactions to modernism combined with a reaction to the empowerment of women in the post-WW2 era. They are a blip that will not stand the test of time. We as individuals can often live with irrationality because of the comfort of the familiar. But our children may not have the same emotional attachment to traditions that cannot be easily defended in the face of reality.

3. They're really reacting to something else that's been lumped in with the women in ministry issue.
I know some people who really get irritated with things like Martin Luther King Jr. stamps and days off school for his birthday. Yet I also suspect that these same people would fully be friends with a person of color and would strongly oppose something like the KKK. The only thing I can figure out is that they are confused. Maybe they thought the protests of the 60's were wrong because people broke the law, believing that Christians should keep the law. Maybe they saw it as people fighting for their rights selfishly rather than being like Christ, who submitted to unjust treatment. Similar things are said about the women's rights movement.

But somehow these things seem like diversions and even resistance to change. It is irritating when someone suggests you should speak more inclusively and say "people" rather than "man." But at the same time, surely no one with a pure heart thinks that God actually values men more than women or whites more than blacks. We have to believe that as spiritual equals, God values men and women the same. So if you are consciously using your language to exclude women, then you have the beginnings of a spiritual problem.

It's irritating, but once you are aware of how male-oriented language is, it becomes increasingly difficult to talk the same way with a pure heart. The principle of the equal value of women pushes you to include them in your speech. To do otherwise eventually requires you to exclude them deliberately in a way you perhaps did not before.

Yet some Christian groups act as if it would glorify God to resist the inclusion of women in language. On what basis? Is it because of what they associate inclusive language with? If the original Greek does not specify male or female at a point, how does it glorify God to push the translation toward the masculine? I think more than anything such individuals are resisting change and resisting things they associate with groups they disagree with. Or perhaps they do not like being forced to do something by the broader culture.

To our shame, God sometimes uses Babylonians and sailors on their way to Tarshish--those who are not His people--to get His people to do what they should have been doing on their own and leading the way on.

4. They have a serious heart problem.
Finally, some men resist the idea of women in ministry because of a spiritual problem. They do not want a women telling them what to do. Or perhaps they would feel intimidated if a woman had authority over them. And some of the above reasons can become spiritual problems when the truth is resisted. Irritation of being forced to change can become prejudice or hatred, and so many of us really value our traditions far more than the truth.

And it is not simply men who oppose women in ministry. Women are some of the greatest opponents to women in all roles of ministry. This can be for all of the same reasons as I've mentioned above. Yet it can also be for spiritual reasons.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with a woman feeling called to stay at home and be the best mother in the world. But it's quite a jump in logic to say thereby that all women should do exactly the same thing. There are women who should be in ministry but don't answer the call because of their fear of what others will say in the church. They often face stiff opposition and difficulty finding a congregation that will take them. Others like a comfortable world with well defined roles and someone else to take care of them. They don't want to move outside their comfort zone. Would some women feel less valuable next to a woman minister? They shouldn't if they are doing what God wants them to do. Would some feel envious because other women have opportunities they did not have? They shouldn't.

Not all women are called to ministry. But woe to those who put stumblingblocks in front of those who are!

Conclusion: God is on the move. The kingdom is a place where men and women both have the Spirit equally. We know that women are just as smart as men and that there are gifted women speakers and leaders who are just as gifted as any male speaker or leader. We would need a really good reason to prohibit any one of them from any role in the church, particularly since some of them feel called to these roles.

There is none. Quench not the Spirit.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Week in Review

I haven't posted all week, in part because it's the first week of the semester, in part because I don't have anything useful to say.

But of course there have been things that have "stirred" my emotions.

1. The anniversary of "No Child Left Behind" came and went, and I talked to myself of the shallowness of the "punitive" approach to changing behavior so typical of the Bush administration and conservative Christianity--change or I'll beat you, invade you, or remove your funding (in the latter case of course simply compounding the problem rather than helping). I muttered to myself in the car how a more informed and intelligent approach tries to inspire and equip for change rather than simply hold a stick over you if you don't change.

2. I got angry both at conservatives and Democrats during the Alito hearings. At conservatives for thinking that a strict constructionist, small government, libertarian is automatically what God thinks. I muttered in imaginary debates the possibility that on some issues God is a liberal.

I got angry with Ted Kennedy for being a moron and at stupid Democrats (not meaning all Democrats but the ones that seem to be steering the Democratic party) who can even turn an advantageous climate to their disadvantage.

3. I got angry with the Bush administration again for invading Iraq now that a much more real threat--Iran--is at hand. We scarcely have the resources to take military action because we have squandered it in Iraq.

4. And I had a wonderful week of reading in preparation for classes. I read things I've wanted to read for years but didn't have the "inspiration" of a class overhead to prepare.

My potentially-but-not-blogged week in minature.

Monday, January 09, 2006

CafeTutor, open for business

I'm not sure that many of you will be interested in buying a tutorial on the basic Greek verb!!! but CafeTutor is open for business! If you want to muse at the portal:


If you know anyone who wants to learn NT Greek, it's available.

More promos and Greek to come...

Schenck Lectionary: January 8-14

I ended up changing the Gospel, Proverbs, and Old Testament readings at the end of last week because of Epiphany and other factors:

But here are the new readings for this week:

Sunday, 8th
Morning: Psalm 7:1-8; Matthew 3:1-17

Evening: Genesis 6; Romans 3:9-20; Proverbs 1:22-24

Monday, 9th
Morning: Psalm 7:9-17; John 2:23-3:21

Evening: Genesis 7; Romans 3:21-31; Proverbs 1:25-27;

Tuesday, 10th
Morning: Psalm 8; John 3:22-36

Evening: Genersis 8; Romans 4:1-12; Proverbs 1:28-30

Wednesday, 11th
Morning: Psalm 9:1-10; John 3:22-36

Evening: Genesis 9; Romans 4:13-25; Proverbs 1:31-33

Thursday, 12th
Morning: Psalm 9:11-20; John 4:1-15

Evening: Genesis 10; Romans 5:1-11; Proverbs 2:1-2

Friday, 13th
Morning: Psalm 10:1-9; John 4:16-30

Evening: Genesis 11; Romans 5:12-21; Proverbs 2:3-4

Saturday, 14th
Morning: Psalm 10:10-18; John 4:31-54

Evening: Genesis 12; Romans 6:1-14; Proverbs 2:5-6

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Arabic Promo on CafeTutor

CafeTutor is almost ready to sell. I should have several purchase options up and running by Monday.

In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy the Arabic promo click pick I did:

Friday, January 06, 2006

Adventures with Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson is in the news again, this time for suggesting that Sharon's brain hemorrage is God's judgment on him for giving land to the Palestinians.

On the one hand, I understand Robertson's position. Does the Bible indicate that God strikes people down when they violate His will? Sure. There's Ananias and Sapphira, Uzzah, Nebuchadnezzer (insanity for a while), the prophet who stopped at someone else's house on the way home....

Does Joel 3:2 condemn those who divided up God's land a long time ago? Sure. Does Ezekiel 47 foretell boundaries to Israel that would include Gaza and the West Bank? Sure.

But... You knew there was a but coming.

I don't think Robertson knows that this is true of Sharon. And I suspect even if he did know, this is the kind of thing he should keep to himself. Maybe it's a theoretical discussion for a class or coffee shop: "So do you think this is God's judgment..."

But perhaps the biggest reason why I think Robertson is wrong is that there are problems with his understanding of biblical prophecy. If we are to take OT prophecies about Israel's land literally, then shouldn't we take the OT comments on Davidic kingship literally? As Christians, we don't. For us, Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah of Israel, the permanent anointed one. But Jesus was not the kind of king--or at least is not yet the kind of king the OT had in mind. The Davidic rule the OT had in mind was an earthy king who would rule an earthly kingdom. Maybe in the millennium, but that's not modern day Israel.

Similarly, the temple Ezekiel prophesies about in conjunction with its comments on the restored land of Israel can never be fulfilled literally. Why? Because Hebrews indicates that the glory of the LORD can never return to an earthly sanctuary (cf. Ezek. 43:4). There will be no temple in the eschaton (cf. Rev. 21:22), for Christ has made atonement in the true, heavenly sanctuary (cf. Heb. 8:1-2; 10:14).

Paul does indicate that all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26), and it is clear that he is referring to ethnic Israelites who were currently hardened (11:11, 25). So Paul predicts that most ethnic Jews will convert in the end times. He also speaks of a man of lawlessness setting himself up in the temple (2 Thess. 2:4), something very difficult when there isn't one currently standing. Can we take these comments "spiritually" when Paul probably meant them literally. The NT certainly does this with the OT, but did God intend us to interpret the NT this way as well (we often have without realizing it, I think)?

In any case, it is not clear to me that there are any end times prophecies in the Bible regarding the land of Israel. And even if there are, it is not at all clear that now is the end times, despite the fact that people have been saying it's the end times for a couple hundred years now.

In the end, Pat Robertson simply doesn't have the prophetic authority, in my opinion, to claim the death of any individual as God's judgment on him or her. Who knows the mind of God? If it had been Billy Graham, Robertson might have said it was Satan tormenting him. It just shouldn't be done.

And even more importantly, foreign policy decisions should not be made on the basis of supposed interpretations of prophecy. A tweaked Micah 6:8 seems a much better guide: "He has showed you, O nation, what is good and what the LORD requires of you: to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

More Schenck Philosophy

The truth doesn't care.

If something is an "objective" truth, it is true whether it is convenient to you or not. We do not know objective truth as it is objectively. We only know the world as it appears to us. But it "works" to posit that there are such truths. Reality exists, even if I only know it as it appears to me.

Only God is truly objective because He can hold all the Dinge an sich as they exist in relation to all other Dinge an sich. But it "works" to make the distinction between objective and subjective truth in practice.

Reality doesn't care. And if something really bad has happened, it can be expressed more colorfully. It doesn't matter what you believe about the consequences of jumping off the Empire State Building. The truth doesn't care. Say goodbye to life. I don't care what your perspective on getting hit by Mack trucks is. You're going to go splat.

On the other hand, all truth is God's truth.

Truth from one area of knowledge will not contradict truth from another area. Unless of course you're dealing with quantum physics where the truth is that everything is likely to contradict.

X usually marks the spot. If your construction of reality requires great feats of irrationality, it's probably wrong. It's at least not as good as someone else's.

If the evidence for God or Christianity largely did not point toward God or Christianity, then I think God would say just before He left the building, "I don't want you to believe in me if the evidence is that weak. Then I wouldn't be God." Obviously I think the evidence is quite reasonable enough to believe in God and Christianity, so the point is moot from a practical perspective.

When someone asks, "Why should I believe in God?," my first thought is, "Because He exists." If God exists, then it doesn't matter whether you are interested or benefited by His existence. It's irrelevant. If God exists objectively as a person, then He exists and your interest or disinterest in Him has nothing to do with it.

Many people, even many Christians, do not really operate their lives as if God really existed. Many Christians pray as if they are only talking to themselves or the others in the room. They are largely unaware that their god is largely a subjective contruct. The next step in Christian growth is to pray as if there is really a God out there listening and watching.

If we really understood what it means to be God, we would live our lives completely differently. For one thing, we would be scared a lot more of the time.

A lot of Christians hold beliefs on issues where the vast and overwhelming majority of those who are most informed and most intellectually capable of judging on that issue disagree with them. There's something wrong here. Someone's assumptions or emotions are at work here, and it isn't always the experts.

Most Christians use the Bible as the banner over whatever they already believe (insert Koran for Muslims or Tanakh for Jews). The Bible is a canvas on which many different meanings are painted. The idea of basing your beliefs or practices on the Bible alone is an impossibility of language. Let's acknowledge it and be conscious about the other factors rather than slipping them in unawares.

Meaning occurs in minds, not in texts.

The meaning of the Bible for humans is always a function of human minds and understandings. That is why there are over 20,000 different denominations who think they get their varying beliefs and practices from the Bible alone.

The movement of God in relation to our apprehension of it is best summarized by Gamaliel in Acts 5. If God is opposed to something that we are all saying is His will, then it doesn't matter ultimately that we are wrong. God's will be done.

Many Christians reflect their lack of trust in God by trying to monitor and catch the bad behavior or motives or others. If you really believe in God, then no one is fooling anyone. If you really believe in God, you don't have to catch the liars and "sneak-ers" for there to be consequences. Or is it that you don't actually believe there's a God there to do the repaying?

The world is big; I am small.

Travel the world, and you will see yourself better. If you have open eyes, you will realize how funny you are and how narrow your ideas.

Think the thoughts of others as they think them, not as you think them.

But the deepest things people believe usually aren't a matter of thought but of feeling. Most people will not change their viewpoints on family, religion, or politics even in the face of the most obvious evidence to the contrary.

A friend of mine once said, "People are stupid." I'm sure this is true of us all far more than we realize. "The more you know the less you know." Socrates put it well when he suggested that the wise person is the one that realizes he or she doesn't really understand much. The more you think you know, the better chance that you're really an idiot.

We are far more determined than most of us realize. If we have free will, it is a miracle of God. Are we in fact most god-like when we create "will" out of nothing.

A person is freer to believe what they believe after they know other options. You don't have to change your ideas, but you choose them more freely when you have considered others.

We find the noble and the wicked in all places and all religions. I would like to believe that God judges us all by the light we have and by our heart response. If I were God, I would give everyone a chance to choose Him. I would discard the uninterested by consigning them to oblivion, by not resurrecting them.

I am not God.

Protology and eschatology both require us to leave normal language and categories. We can discuss neither on a purely literal level.

The distance between God's thoughts and my thoughts is bound to be greater than anything I can imagine. Try to explain calculus to an ant and perhaps you'll begin to appreciate the problem.

God's revelation to humanity is baby talk. He must speak mostly by analogy.

There is probably a certain predictable amount of contradiction involved in theology, because we're talking about God. Systems that are intelligible are probably vastly wrong.

"Surely the judge of the earth will do what's right?" (Gen. 18:25). Yes, He will, even when I don't see how what's happening or will happen makes sense. Faith in the Christian God is ultimately faith that He is in control and that what He is doing or allowing to happen is right. This is the ultimate answer to the problem of evil.

You can be tolerant of the ideas of others and still believe you are more correct than they are. I can believe that other religions understand parts of God correctly without surrendering my belief that Christianity is correct.

All Christian denominations likely have some things correct and some things wrong.

One of my favorite examples of virtue from history is the Roman Cincinnatus. He was a farmer who was asked to lead the Romans into battle in the 400's BC. He led them to victory, disbanded his troops beyond the Tiber, and then went back to farming. He did the right thing as a servant of his people, then he resumed an unpretentious life of normalcy.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Most Recent CafeTutor Click Pick

I've finished the third Greek "click pick": "Finishing the Alphabet." You can select it from

I still go back and forth on how to move into the ones for sale. I think I'll just use PayPal for the next month since I'm not expecting to get too many purchases. That means I'll have to process each one individually from the secure part of my site.

Next one's 99 cents: "The Basic Greek Verb."


Sunday, January 01, 2006

How to Respond to "Are there contradictions?"

Russ Gunsalus and I did a session at the area youth convention called "Ask a Genius." We figured that since they couldn't find one genius, they must have thought we two "half-wits" at least added up to one "wit" together.

One of the questions was, "What would you say to someone who said there were contradictions in the Bible?" My answer was swift: "Get a life."

My response to the question went on... "Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again." My faith rises or falls on the resurrection and divine identity of Christ, not on whether there was one blind man or two and whether Jesus performed the healing going into Jericho or coming out. "On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking stand."

I went on to say that some people felt called to answer questions of contradictions. I mentioned the 700 page book I have called Alleged Discrepencies. A person like Josh McDowell feels called to put out the question fires. More power to him.

But some people lose their faith in the pursuit of fire putting out. And the sad thing is, the fires aren't anywhere near the fortress. They're in Christian territory, but the faith fortress is in no danger of burning from questions like whether Jesus died on Passover or on the day before. In theory, 98 percent of the biblical stories could be historically inaccurate and the Apostle's Creed would be unscathed. (please don't read into that comment... it's an "in theory" statement)

Don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing for errors in the Bible. I am arguing that a lot of Christians have their priorities out of order when the historicity or "scientific accuracy" of the biblical text is more central to them than the real center--Christ, a real person who lived, died, and rose again from the dead to reconcile us to God.

And when you think of it, it's really silly to stake your faith on questions like whether Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed once or it crowed twice. After all, there are so many disagreements over what each text means exactly that the uncertainty of the Bible's interpretation is way bigger an issue than the particulars of whether there was one or two angels at the tomb. He is risen from the dead; he is risen indeed.

And when you're looking at the subject from the standpoint of a PhD in New Testament, then you're bound to wonder if half the things people get out of the Bible really have much to do with what it was originally about anyway. They're often hearing God, but more often through the Spirit than from some fixed meaning in the text. The "read this for the timeless message" banner is often really in practice, "read this for what our tradition believes."

Again, I'm not faulting this. I'm just pointing out what's really important is that we get the "fortress" part of the tradition straight... and it's in the Apostle's Creed.

So let's read the Bible this year, and let's increase our children's knowledge of its content and message! They gave out one year Bible's at the conference. Great! I hope every single youth reads it.

And let's make sure they know where the fortress is too! There's no need for them to have faith crises over some very nice trees in Haggai. And it's really important for them to know that Christ is risen from the dead.