Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A weekend with G. K. Beale

Many of you know that I've been working through Beale's book The Temple and the Church's Mission. Because of the nature of the study it is a very intense book, which I'll be following up with some more posts in the near future. Nevertheless, I recently came across a great page from our friend Zack Nielson's blog, which, incidentally is the church which he leads worship at.

Beale had a seminar weekend there which he offered some great insights into Understanding Symbolism and how the New Heaven and New Earth equate with the Temple. This is a major premise in the above book I'm reading. As you can see in the picture, he also lists some great resources on the book of Revelation and Biblical Theology...and even download notes on the Temple.

You can access the site by clicking the pic...or here.

If there were an ESPN for Christian blogging... would have to be these guys.

For those of you not familiar with them, its Justin Taylor (left) and Tim Challies (right).

Justin has his blog Between Two Worlds where he basically links-up the top stories going on with respect to Christian blogging, theology, culture, and everything else that fits the bill. I also refer to Justin's blog the CNN of Christian blogging. He's always got good informative stuff that makes you think, which is why I visit there numerous times a day to see the latest post!

At Tim's blog, Challies dot com, there is a slightly different agenda. Tim made it to the big leagues by writing articles that deal with Reformed theology, book reviews, personal reflections and other various topics. You will find a little more personal substance on the items under review. Taylor for the most offers his two cents, Tim usually offers ten cents. Tim's also has a few unique items. One is called the a la carte where be does something similar to Justin's site; offer a few little comments on some interesting links. He also has something called "king for a week." In his own words, "This section allows me to highlight the contributions of other bloggers and to pay tribute to people who have blessed (or even just amused) me through their efforts."

For what its worth I figured since I've been in the blogosphere for close to 4 months now, I'd have a little fun and also let our readers know who the bigger players are.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Are God and evil compatible?

The above caption is the title of chapter 3 in Hasker's work The Triumph of God over Evil (IVP, 2008). A question for the ages, indeed. Therefore I want to continue my review with a short little summary of chapter 2 and 3. Being there are 8 chapters total I plan on doing a post on each subsequent chapter, with hopes of having Dr. Hasker to join the conversation for clarification, correction, and discussion. I will warn you at the outset that dealing with the types of philosophical argumentation Hasker utilizes you'll need to put your [theo-logical] thinking hat on tightly. Lets move on, shall we?

In chapter 2, Hasker examines the impact that the Holocaust has on the development of a theodicy. He starts off by introducing John K. Roth, a noted philosopher and Holocaust scholar. Then moves on to D. Z. Phillips, a Wittgensteinian philosopher of religion. Roth essentially calls for what he terms is a "theodicy of protest." By this he asserts that one shouldn't even attempt a theodicy in light of the many evils the world has known. It appears that Roth utilizes an interesting theological perspective in regards to what it traditionally regarded as theology proper. Reason being, he goes on to state that in order for God to be "vindicated" from evil, it will largely depend on the "future" of man and the "future" of God. What he means here is that in order for God to 'redeem' himself, he not only needs to offer a radical (good) transformation in the eschaton, but must also repent, as it were, with respect to his allowance (or permission) of evil. As a result it seems that Roth has allowed for an unsubstantiated alternative view with respect to the attributes of God, particularly with respect to his immutability. All in the name of evil.

Phillips also challenges the traditional attributes of God with respect to his omnipotence. He holds the position that God cannot do something that is logically impossible for him to do. Now, this I would agree. But Phillips then goes on to assert that it is impossible and inharmonious for God to "allow" evil to exist, if he is to be morally perfect. Therefore, according to the logic employed by Phillips God cannot be omnipotent, given the fact that he could not, know all things exhaustively. Otherwise if He knew (or knows) evil would happen, and didn't act upon it, the he either knew it and allowed it (bringing his morality into questions), or he didn't know (calling his omniscience into question). Phillips takes the later position.

With that said, I do want to offer that Hasker's does find flaws in each and determines to starts to make his case chapter 4 onward. As a result, the title of chapter 3 is the logical step in the right direction when dealing with the development of a theodicy.

In chapter 3 Hasker starts off by quoting a statement from David Hume regarding God's omniscience, omnipotent, and morality. As stated earlier regarding Phillips position, Hume deems it illogical for evil to exist in conjunction with the three aforemetioned attributes about God. Hasker then moves to what seems to be the answer to this question, the free-will defense. Bear in mind that Hasker does not use chapter 3 to make his argument, only to establish his rendition of the logical compatibility of God and evil.

At this point Hasker seeks to uncover the this compatibility by establishing the nature of free will. He does so by starting with Alvin Plantinga's position. A significant quote by Plantinga is this, "To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, he [God] must create creatures capable of moral evil, and he cannot leave these creatures free to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so." To this I would have to agree, assuming at the outset that all is good that the creatures in fact possess the ability to choose good (which I would deem was the scenario with Adam and Even before the fall). Hasker then goes on to speak more in depth about the possibilities of a given scenario. He looks at the questions of God's knowledge of Adam and the possible situations in which Adam might find himself, circumstantially. For example, Hasker asks, could God create Adam good with the ability to choose between good and evil, but place him in certain pre-determined situations so as to create an environment that Adam would not sin? He defines these instances as the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. Ultimately Hasker concludes this as impossible since if God were to create Adam within a particular situation so as to completely prevent Adam from sinning, then in fact Adam was not truly free (or significantly free.)

Hasker then moves on to address the elements of natural evil (hurricanes, disease, etc) and middle knowledge (for more, click the word) and how they affect the arguments for and against. I will not add much of what was discussed here except the fact that Hasker determines natural evil to in fact be logically coherent in the schema God and evil, but denies middle knowledge can really play a factor in the discussion due to the lack of cohesion within the "counterfactuals of freedom" and the alleged "foreknown" determined outcome (more on this later).

Hasker promises at the end of chapter 3 that after establishing the groundwork [in chapters 1-3] he will then move on to voice his argumentation in the subsequent chapters. I promise the subsequent posts to be more interactive and offer more of my [and his] opinion as opposed to simply summarizing the book. I will say this, thus far Hasker has yet to address the biblical data with respect to the apparent tension of this issue. I expect him to do so in the subsequent chapters.
Incidentally he does note in the preface that to find a book that deals with the philosophical aspects coupled with a theological response is a rarity. I look forward to the coming chapters.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Thoennes, Talley, and Grace EV Free on Romans

Dr. Erik Thoennes (who I t.a. for at Biola) and Dr. David Talley are the primary teaching pastors at Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, CA, where they semi-recently began preaching through Romans.

I do not attend Grace EV Free, but I listen to sermons from there all the time. Talley and Thoennes are two of the best preachers I know, and not only has my girlfriend (who does go to the church and is dang smart) attested to how good this series has been, but I've begun listening through it and have been both convicted and blessed.

It's the series called "The Story of Redemption" when you click on the link. Enjoy. the Gospel.

Here is just one of the many reasons I love Sproul.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Radical Worship Defined

Lisa Robinson guest posts on Parchment and Pen on what it means to worship God. I found it thoughtful and biblical and generally in line with thoughts I have had ever since reading D. A. Carson's essay in Worship by the Book (which I could not recommend any higher). The anecdote she presents and her response always reminds me of the "I don't care about your sacrifices if you aren't living obediently" injunctions in the Prophets (e.g. Isa. 1:11-17; 66:3-4; Amos 5:22ff).

The Good News According to Ben Stein?

Maybe it's because my primary employment is as a substitute teacher at two private Christian high schools, but has anyone else noticed that Ben Stein and Christian culture are strange bedfellows?

At at least one of those two schools (and I think at both), teachers are offering extra credit for their students to go see Expelled. In fact it seems that the Christian world more generally is getting giddy about catching academic Darwinism with its pants down. I wonder if the film's subtitle should actually be: "See, all us Christians told you rotten atheists, and we were right!"

Well, maybe not. For one thing, it just isn't catchy. But for another, perhaps we ought to remind everyone that Mr. Stein, a bright fellow though he may be, is not a Christian. And I have not yet seen the film (I plan to when it hits the dollar theater- or does it have special effects worthy of my ten bucks?), but isn't the point not as much that ID is correct, but that academic Neo-Darwinists are pushing out the IDers? Starts to make you wonder why Christian high school science classes are being encouraged in droves to go see a documentary about academic integrity.

But of much greater concern is that we Christians are missing much more than the point of the movie. Stein is a Jew making money by pushing a point about ID vs. Neo-Darwinism in academia. And that's fine. But he is not sharing the gospel. So even if we think he is right, why do we Christians fight battles like this so hard in our culture when we won't share the gospel with our next door neighbors? Which of the two really matters most: the effects of Darwinism, or the effects of sin?

Expelled is certainly not the only time this Christian culture phenomenon has reared its ugly head (cf. all the hoopla about removing the Ten Commandments from courtrooms). So why do we get sucked in to things like this? While it probably is not the only reason, maybe it is that we desire to not only be right, but vindicated as such in the eyes of the larger culture.

The problem is that this is not what we are called to (you may remember that stuff Jesus said about how everyone will hate us for following him) and is potentially dangerous: do we not run the risk of confusing the culture about what matters most to Christianity?

As followers of Jesus, we are called to make disciples, not theists. The gospel is the only way that this can happen. I am not saying that we should not watch or even tell our friends about Expelled. I am not saying we should not engage the culture and discuss ideas. I am not saying that the ID vs. Darwinism debate shouldn't matter to Christians.

I am saying that we need to make the main thing, the main thing. And the main thing is the gospel.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How Christians Ought to Talk About War (or In Defense of Systematic Theology)

My first substantive post on CIC covers something I'm tired of: anti-war Christians (a position I respect) defending their anti-war stance with the simple "Jesus said to turn the other cheek and love your neighbor" argument (and here I refer to people who are anti-war in principle, not just anti-Iraq-war specifically).

The most recent Relevant magazine has a pretty fascinating section where 8 or so prominent Christian thinkers (including Brian McLaren, N. T. Wright, Jim Wallis, Shane Claiborne, and Chuck Colson, et. al.) give their thoughts on various issues in the church and culture. All frustrations with the fact that McLaren has never actually answered a question in his whole life aside ("Brian, do you want to eat at In-N-Out or Chipotle tonight, hunny?" "Dear, you're asking the wrong kind of question- we need to move above these polarizations and look at food in a more inclusive way; we need to form a dialogue between the Mexican and American cultures and the food they produce..."), many of the answers were relatively thoughtful, if a little Christian-culture-trendy. Even a couple of McLaren's "go above the question" answers had some insight that I had to be careful not to immaturely dismiss just because of who they came from.

That said, I was just shocked at how many of these folks wrote off war in a way that came off nothing short of shallow. I constantly read, "Jesus would not have gone to war. Jesus was about peace and love." And of course, they're not completely misreading Jesus- Jesus was (and is) about peace and love.

But then, so is the God who commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites. In fact, Phil. 4 calls that God the "God of Peace." And unless we deny the full deity of Christ and the unity of the Trinity (whether you want to restrict yourselves to those horrible canon-within-a-canon theological categories or not), then we must say that the Jesus who talked about loving your neighbor as yourself also talked about slaughtering the Canaanites. Come to think of it, didn't he get that "love your neighbor as yourself" business from Leviticus (you know, that book in the God-of-Canaanite-slaughter-authored Old Testament)?

My point is this: give Christian just war theorists a little credit. They read the Gospels too. They know what Jesus said about loving neighbors and turning the other cheek. I promise- they aren't skipping that part of the Bible. I am not even really arguing a position; I am arguing that we need to argue better.

So let me suggest a few principles that we need to address/keep in mind for this debate:

1. Don't just say, "Jesus was about self-sacrificial love, so war is wrong." This argument is totally oversimplified, and, as I've tried to say above, is bad systematic theology. Of course, I know systematic theology has fallen on hard times, but you have to reckon with the whole counsel of Scripture on this issue. There's just no way around that.

2. If you do use the "Jesus was about self-sacrificial love" argument, develop it better. Do not just say it and leave it at that. Christian pacifists certainly can appeal to Jesus to argue their point, but not if it is this simplistic. Be thoughtful.

3. Related to the first two, if you are a Christian pacifist, please explain the God-ordained slaughters of the Old Testament. Tell me what pacifism amounts to exactly (was every war in history necessarily evil, or is it only all war now that is necessarily evil?). Further, if you are a Christian just war theorist, tell me how I as a Christian could shoot someone who I am supposed to love and forgive unconditionally. There are difficult questions for both sides, and they should not be written off.

4. Don't start with the Iraq War- there are just too many ins and outs not related to just war theory itself. Start with the theory of a potential just war, attack or defend it, then apply those results and other thoughtful criteria to the Iraq War specifically.

5. Be gracious. This is true of any argument, but this is one of those that gets pretty charged. Just because someone believes in the possibility of a just war does not mean that he is a "shoot first and ask questions later" warhawk. Just because someone is a pacifist he is not necessarily a liberal sissy. Listen to each other.

6. Don't be a reactionary. It's cool to be a Christian Democrat now, probably large in part because people like questioning dominant assumptions. But do not just vote Democrat on an anti-war basis unless you can really honestly defend the position.

7. Don't be unthinking. It's easy to be a Christian Republican, probably large in part because it is the dominant assumption. But do not just vote Republican without thinking about having a consistent ethic of life.

Oh, and the systematic theology thing- I think that might partly be a pet peeve. But I do think this is a good example of a time where jettisoning systematics and "embracing tension" would make Christian ethical decision-making darn near impossible.

On Andrew Faris

Hey folks,
It is a distinct pleasure to have been invited to post on Christians in Context. Norm and I thought it would be good for me to tell you a bit about myself so you know at least a little a bit of what lies behind the new name on this blog.

My name is Andrew Faris. I am 24 years old and unmarried (currently dating a fine woman named Britt, who you can see from the picture is way out of my league).

I graduated in Fall '05 with a B. A. in Biblical Studies from Biola University (thus my connection to Norm) and will be finished this summer with my M. A. in New Testament from Talbot School of Theology. Before you ask, I don't know what is next for me. Maybe just sitting around and blogging if I can't come up with a job.

The Biola professor I t.a. for says that the best way to really get to know someone is to find out what they love and what they hate. I think he's right, so here you go:

I love Jesus, the Bible, theology, music (jazz, folk, indie rock, Johnny Cash) the Los Angeles Dodgers, black coffee, ultimate frisbee and disc golf, dark beer, my pipe, root beer, Chipotle, In-N-Out, and my family, friends, and godly mentors.

I hate my struggle with sin, bad Bible teaching, how afraid to share the gospel I can be, smooth jazz, pop country music, the San Francisco Giants, how slowly I read, grading papers, light beer, vegetables, and my inability to focus during prayer.

There is always more stuff that I could add to lists like this, but I'll end with a quick thanks to Norm, Damian, and anyone who is still reading. I look forward to interacting with all of you.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How to use the Law of God effectively in witness.

Our mandate from Christ himself in Mark 16:15 is “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." Kirk Cameron, former teen heartthrob offers up his rendition of sharing the Gospel. He and Ray Comfort from The Way of the Master have a ministry devoted to evangelism. Glean what you can and share the Gospel.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Triumph of God over Evil: an open theist's perspective.

I was given a copy of the book you see to the right by InterVarsity Press in hopes of offering a some feedback and consequently some publicity for the book. To be honest, I wasn't planning on starting to work through this book for another few months, seeing as I was and am still eager to grapple with Beale's book on the Temple. But after I did a little research into who William Hasker was about and what his previous works had been, I discovered something unique about his theological position. He's a self confessed open theist. For those not familiar with this concept it is the belief that God does not exercise meticulous control of the universe. Rather he leaves it “open” for humans to make significant free will choices that impact their relationships with God and others. A corollary of this is that God has not predetermined the future.

Now I'll be honest, I've only really heard one person who was an open theist speak of their views. It was a debate between James White and John Sanders. Though I haven't heard this debate in about 3 years, so my recollection is quiet dim. However I am familiar with the concept and have read articles pertaining to this doctrine from an evangelical standpoint. Nevertheless, the fact that Hasker, who incidentally is a philosopher, had undertaken the task of offering a theodicy, I simply had to dig in.

Now I've just finished chapter one which basically offers a summary and starting point for what and how Hasker plans on addressing. Therefore for the purposes of this post I'm simply going to lay out his plan for you and offer some comments and expectations I have going forward.

Hasker first starts off by noting the nature of the arguments from a somewhat different perspective. His purpose of the book is to offer some answers to the argument from evil. This 'from' he defines as "arguments that claim to show, on the basis of the world's evil, that this evil is either logically inconsistent with the existence of God or, failing that, provides compelling reason to disbelieve in the existence of such a being." Hasker then goes on to make reference to the nature of whom is carrying the argument. That is, whether it be from the atheist or from the theist. He rightly states that for the atheist who is considering the argument for the lack of consistent evidence for the existence of God on the basis of evil, that the atheist has no real ramifications from his argument. There are no consequences to his rationale since arguing against God offers no shift in his original position. Hasker then makes reference to how differently this argument is for the believer. Clearly the outcome for them will be much more considerable. He says, "for the theist a successful argument from evil may for the abandonment of a cherished belief system, or it may have the result that the person continues to believe but does no in such a way that his or her doxastic [belief] structures lacks coherence and is threatened with internal collapse."

After this Hasker shows how the evidence for the acceptance for the arguments can shift based on the two considerations, the existential and the philosophical. By existential he means, personally experiencing evil, and philosophical he refers to making abstract concepts adhere to rational thought. He notes how C. S. Lewis dealt with the nature of evil quite differently when writing The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. Noting that Lewis wrote the latter after he experienced evil firsthand with his wife dying of cancer.

It is at this point that Hasker introduces his theological position which he plans on utilizing to defend the historically accepted attributes of God (all powerful, all knowing, all loving). There is no beating around the bush, Hasker candidly admits that he is an Open Theist. This, Hasker feels, is the only position that can offer a credible argument for the existence of evil and God as all powerful, etc. To his credit, Hasker he does do a good job at accurately presenting the evidence for the "classical theistic" position. That is, the attributes of God as generally accepted in the teachings of Augustin, Aquinas, and Calvin. However his initial arguments that God willingly set aside and restricted himself in order to allow for a more genuine relationship between his creatures remains suspect. Hasker writes, "...God has not chosen to do this [unilaterally control everything] but has instead bestowed upon his human creatures a genuine power to make decisions of their own, including decision as to whether or not to cooperate with God's loving purposes toward them." He goes on to say, "This creates a real possibility of tragedy in the world, as our actual history illustrates all to vividly..."

Now, let me say that I believe this to be a topic of great importance and deserves the attention of every believer. How we as Christians understand the nature of evil and how it relates to God is of the utmost importance. However, at the outset I do feel I'm can suspect where and how Hasker plans on addressing these items. The rationale has pretty much been set forth. If God does not govern all events in the sense that he offers control and stability to existence, and man is ultimately free in the libertarian aspect, then of course evil can happily co-exist in our world, or any world for that matter.

In conclusion, though I feel I might know where Hasker is going with all this, I am quite curious to hear his argumentation and plan to interact further in subsequent posts. The reason why I offered up as much in this post is because I felt it necessary to lay some ground work to Hasker's endeavor. That way as I follow up with some succeeding thoughts the reader can have a good basis for my interaction, and possible argumentation.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Some intriguing links..

The folks at caver 319 pointed me to a lecture from G. K. Beale on the book I'm currently reading The Temple and the Church's Mission (here).

Ben Myers talks about his experience with Logo's new electronic edition of Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics (here).

Ligonier's new blog is offering some podcasts from the Together for the Gospel conference, here is one of Sproul's messages (here).

Our friends at Theology Unplugged have a good discussion on nature of slavery and polygamy (here).

Andrew Jackson offers some advice on how to engage in politics as a Christian (here)

Michael Spencer (the internet monk) speaks to the issue of persecution among American Christians (here) (cf. here).

...and finally....

Joe Carter offers some humorous advice on how to pick a preacher (here).

Hot and Cold: some thoughts on my journey through atheism...

About the same time my brother Chris came to know the Lord in 1999, I declared myself to be an atheist. Incidentally, no one really saw my desertion from God as a shock, mainly because of my lifestyle during those times (which I will come back to in a moment). But my main reason for beginning to abandon my Catholic upbringing had to do with my brother getting saved. His influence and radical transformation had a big impact. I used to say to friends and family, "Well, if there is an Christian out there, my brother is one of them and I am not." So in the beginning of my journey I stopped pretending to be something I wasn't. To my credit, then, at least I was honest enough to be honest.

As this happened, things began to erupt in my family. The two closets brothers (of 3) met each other at polar opposite with respect to their religious beliefs, something that became a major burden to everyone we knew. On the one hand Chris was preaching Christ crucified, and on the other, I publicized the notion of a Godless world. Now the negative implication were major battles of belief and disbelief; dissension grew enormously between my brother and I. But in the positive, it forced my mother and other brother (along with my grandparents and absent father) to wrestle with the question of life and death. I said above that I was raised Catholic. In my home there was no real ethics to deal with, only that which was approved by the family and the local community. And if you did do something slightly more heinous, then the occasional trip to church and the confessional took care of the ol' conscience as well as societal perception. Which goes to show that religion in my family was more apart of our heritage than anything else. But when Chris and I went to both extremes, it compelled everyone to evaluate their own perception of the meaning of life and eternity.

Now, I by no means thought critically about the scientific or philosophical arguments against Christianity, only the ramifications of a life without God. Which ultimately I was using as a conscience buffer to substantiate my lascivious lifestyle. And as bad as this was, God used it as a tool to bring my subsequent family member to Christ. Allowing them to consider how and why a godless person in the truest sense could or would be saved. You can imagine the reaction; it made everyone consider it even more.

The reason I'm sharing this is to encourage our readers of the impact that each one of you have, that you may or may not be aware of. We all have unbelieving friends and family members and whether you know it or not, when you let your (His) light shine, it does make a difference. Sometimes in the beginning it may seem bad, like in the case with me. But consider my testimony, or more importantly, think about what God did for Saul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul)...

I pray that each one of us would not grow faint of heart, but that we trust in the sovereignty of God in salvation praying each day for the lost souls of our friends and families.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Friendly Reminder

This is just a friendly reminder to our readers and visitors that there are now just 15 days away from the end of the FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY. Since we announced the giveaway on March 30th we've had 19 people enter the contest; which means that if you enter today your chances are actually very good.

You may also notice that we have a new addition to the site in the side bar, the THEOLOGICAL WORD OF THE DAY. We are co-sponsoring this endeavor with Reclaiming the Mind Ministries. So be sure to sign up for our word of the day and expand your theological vocabulary!!!

Sin: a personal preference?

The following excerpt is from Banner of Truth's abridge version of John Owen's The Mortification of Sin. Like I've said before, I read Owen devotionally. This particular section hit right home with me. I can't tell you how often I find myself with the same mind set that he describes; often battling one vice while neglecting the others. That is, not taking into consideration the seriousness of sin as a whole as opposed that which I only struggle with. I'm sure after reading this you'll feel the same way I did.

"We must hate all sin, as sin, and not just that which troubles us. Love for Christ, because He went to the cross, and hate for sin that sent Him there, is the solid foundation for true spiritual mortification. To seek mortification only because a sin troubles us precedes from self-love. Why do you with all diligence and earnestness seek to mortify this sin? Because it troubles you and takes away your peace, and fills your heart with sorrow, trouble, and fear and because you do not have rest through it? Yes, but, friend, you have neglected prayer and reading! You have been vain and loose in your conversation with other things. These are just as sinful as the one that troubles you. Jesus Christ bled for them also. Why do you not set yourself against them? If you hate sin as sin, and every evil way, you would be watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God. you would not be concerned only about the sin that upsets your own soul! It is evident that you fight against this sin because it troubles you. If it did not bother your conscience you would let it alone. If it did not bother you, you would not bother it. Do you think God will help you in such a hypocritical effort? Do you think that the Holy Spirit will help in the treachery and falsehood of your own spirit? Do you think he will free you from this so you are free to go and commit another sin with grieves Him?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Fine Man Has Left Us...

Dr. Clyde Cook, I'm informed, has gone to be with the Lord just a few hours ago. Dr. Cook was one of the most humble and kind men I've ever met. He was also Biola's President for 25 years. A fine institution stands as an encomium to his faithfulness. Pray for his wife, Anna Belle.

(HT: John Mark Reynolds)

The Temple and the Church's Mission - part 1: some questions to start

Before I begin my journey through Beale's book on the Temple and the Church's Mission (which is in the mail as we speak), I wanted to start off by giving sort of an outline to what I hope to accomplish by reading it. Obviously I'm hoping to gain a more thorough understanding of the purpose of the Temple with respect to Old Testament history as well as the New Testament. But here are some further things I hope to accomplish...
  1. I'm hoping Beale addresses in detail how the NT Gospels and Epistles relate to the Temple.
  2. How a literal verses a symbolic interpretation affects how we view The New Temple as expressed in Ezekiel 40-48.
  3. Jesus' reference to himself as the temple.
  4. Is the Temple spiritual or physical? Future or now?
  5. What implications does taking a literal approach (as premillenials do) have on ones overall hermeneutic.

By looking at the table of contents I'm sure that some if not all of these questions will be answered. I'm particularly looking forward to chapter 5 which is The "Already and Not Yet" Fulfillment of the End-Time Temple in Christ and His People: The Gospels, and chapter 11 which speaks to The Temple in Ezekiel 40--48 and Its Relationship to the New Testament. Reason being, how one views these two aspects seems to have a major (if not the defining) say in how one executes their biblical theology.

I know this topic isn't the most clear cut, but I'll try my best to relate it in the simplest of terms as I tackle each chapter. Like I said in my last post, I'd like the readers to chime in here a little, see their thoughts on eschatology as a whole. Perhaps in your mind these are simple questions to answer. Well, I'm really open when it comes to this subject. I said I was ammillenial, but really I'm nothing. I just want to examine the evidence that presents itself and come to the most accurate understanding I'm able to.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hip-hop inspired Hymn lyrics

The other day I was cleaning out my hard drive (no, that's not a metaphor) and came across some old lyrical poetry that I had written when I first became a Christian some 7 years ago. The setting I came out of at the time of my conversion was the hip hop scene. No, I wasn't overly ambitious to become a mogul, I just loved to listen to the creative use of words and the mental pictures that can be created through this genre. Unfortunately most of what was (and is) being conveyed through modern hip hop is a slew of debauchery. Nevertheless, when I became a Christian I attempted to combine the two loves I had a the time.

In the spirit of amusement, I figured I'd post some of my old works. This particular stanza was the beginning of a composition that offered a perspective from Jesus. Enjoy!

I was sent here to defeat the thief and bleed for the people,
To preach the resistance of evil and teaching to seek the kingdom,

Wisdom exceeding the leaders even as a teenager,
Releasing a legion of demons into creatures years later,

I spoke in parables and compared most of the rarest things to gold,
Thirty pieces I was sold and even suffered worse than Job,

Surprised the minds of the Rabbis by stating a line,
Written by the Scribes, Scripture that was initially mine,

The texture of a lesson came in the form of question,
Convey a message using any section of the Old Testament,

Forever contended I ascended to heaven,
My blessing to you is endless intercession,
Pending you repent of sin,

My weapon is double edged with a central premise,
Its message is perfected through prophetic redemption,

Attention to the skeptic, Try explaining how I was resurrected,
The truth has seemed ineffective to those who reject it,

Well respected detectives have learned to accept the evidence,
Malevolence has been here ever since the devil sinned,

In the beginning he tried convincing angles to plot against me,
He tempted my creation now he’s facing eternal damnation,

Before Abraham was I am, perpetuation,
Adulteration in action no more continuation,

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ammillenial and homeless...

My eschatological roots began when I first explored the writings of Tim Lahaye. When I first become a Christian I didn't even know that there were even competing views, as I'm sure many do not. Who knew? So, because the majority consensus in Evangelical Christianity is, was, and may always be premillenialism, I believed the same by default. But after some general studies into the view I had some serious questions regarding their interpretation of Revelation 20, Ezekiel 40-48, and other passages that spoke of the [future] Kingdom of God. After I pretty much abandoned allegiance to the position due to my reservations I found it next to impossible to find a church that held to the same views I did. What are they? Well, I'm a Calvinist-Credobaptist-Covenant theologist, with a bent toward Ammillenialism to boot. I'm not so sure there are many churches in the Piedmont region that hold all of these.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that it is a must to be in a church where you believe in every little jot and tittle of their doctrinal statement. I mean, my current home church is decidedly premil, and we get along just fine. This really isn't a problem for me at this point being merely among the laity; I can basically choose any church I want to go to, but I wonder how many other ammillenials out there are in this position? Are you ammillenial and homeless?

Incidentally I'm going to be continuing my eschatological inquiry by obtaining G. K. Beale's The Temple and the Church's Mission from InterVarsity Press. Now, I'm fully aware that Beale is decidedly ammillenial, but I'm not trying to look for defenses of this position. Rather due to my fairly decent understanding of the premillenial position I am seeking to understand more about this concept due to the impact it has on the whole scope of the debate. Consequently, I will be interacting with the book through a series of upcoming posts, so stay tuned if your a fan of eschatology. I'd love some feedback and interaction.

As we begin this discussion, I'd appreciate having some of you state both what your general stance is with regard to eschatology and what you think some of the pivotal questions are surrounding this issue.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Matthew 5:10 and the Middle East

This video convicted me to pieces. I'm sure it will do the same to you.

We in the Western world pledge allegiance to the idea of persecution, but really have no idea what it actually means to be idea.

(HT: Vitamin Z)

Exploring Tillich

Intro: Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring the thought of one Paul Tillich. I am not approaching this series as an expert on Tillich’s theology philosophy; on the contrary, I’m going to be blogging through Tillich for the express purpose of becoming acquainted with this figure who I know so little about. My text of introduction is Theology of Culture (Oxford, 1959), an assortment of Tillich’s essays. Hopefully some of you will find this interesting and informative. And for those of you who know Tillich well and are theologically and philosophically astute, I urge you to weigh in and make sense out of this sometimes-hard-to-understand thinker.

Summary: The first section of Tillich’s Theology of Culture, consisting of four essays, is called “Basic Considerations.” The first chapter is titled “Religion as a Dimension of Man’s Spiritual Life,” a title which, quite transparently, is also the proposition that Tillich desires to affirm. To affirm that “religion is an aspect of the human spirit,” Tillich has to dismiss the criticisms of two strangely allied groups: “Christian theologians” and “secular scientists.”

The Christian theologians reject Tillich’s assertion in order to insist that, rather, religion is something that is given to man from without and may therefore “stand against him.” “One could summarize the intention of these theologians in the sentence that religion is not a creation of the human spirit (spirit with a small s) but a gift of the divine Spirit (Spirit with a capital S).” The theologians, according to Tillich, see man’s spirit as creative with regard to self and the world, but not with respect to the transcendent God. God is free to relate himself to man, but not vice versa.

The criticism coming from the secular scientists (psychology, sociology, anthropology, and history) is made on much different grounds. They drudge up the existence of the diversity of beliefs and practices present within the world and the existence of non-religion in order to deny the uniformity of “religion” found within humanity. Instead, this group contends that religion is simply a special stage in human development and not an enduring, essential quality of man’s spirit.

So far, so understandable, right? However, Tillich leaves me in the dark here. He says that both parties (theologians and scientists), for all their differences, have this in common: they “define religion as man’s relation to divine beings, whose existence the theological critics assert and the scientific critics deny.” Tillich says that if we define religion as such (man’s relation to divine beings) we make “any understanding of religion impossible.” He goes on to explain that if we start by considering the existence or non-existence of God we can never reach Him. When the scientists set out to disprove God’s existence, thus refuting religion, that they actually help religion by forcing it to reconsider the word God. The theologians, starting with the assertion that God exists and that they have received his revelation, have taken “the first step on the road to what inescapably leads to what is called atheism.” I’m not sure why Tillich thinks it is justified to make such a claim, other than that he must have already accepted a naturalistic, scientific definition of “existence” and that presumably, since God’s existence cannot be demonstrated thus, God must not “exist.” Essentially it seems that Tillich is saying that God does not exist because he is beyond existence.

And so Tillich affirms, in spite of the critics on both sides, that religion is indeed “an aspect of the human spirit.” Tillich expounds this theorem thus: “Religion is not a special function of man’s spiritual life, but it is the dimension of depth in all of its functions.” Religion is not a special function of the human spirit because it cannot be isolated to one realm of man’s life; it cannot simply be collapsed into the moral function, the cognitive function, the emotional function, or the aesthetic function.

“In this situation, without a home, religion suddenly realizes that it does not need such a place, that it does not need to seek for a home. It is at home everywhere, namely, in the depth of all functions of man’s spiritual life. Religion is the dimension of depth in all of them. Religion is the aspect of depth in the totality of the human spirit.”

Tillich says that by “depth” he means that the religious aspect of man points to what is “ultimate, infinite, and unconditional in man’s spiritual life.” Thus he simply equates religion with “ultimate concern.” So it is that we see, according to Tillich, religion at play in every function of man, be it moral, cognitive, aesthetic, or emotional. In the sense that all of these express “ultimate concern” they are part of man, who is unceasingly religious.

So, having thus defined religion as an essential aspect of man’s spirit—indeed, the controlling aspect of man’s spirit—Tillich asks, “what about religion in the narrower and customary sense of the word…?” That is, why has humanity developed religion externally and as a separate entity? The answer: “because of the tragic estrangement of man’s spiritual life from its own ground and depth.” So institutional and external religion, which opposes itself to the “secular” realm, finds its glory in that it opens up man to what is ultimate. However, to its detriment (according to Tillich), this religion makes itself and its doctrines and laws and rituals ultimate and forgets that they are not ultimate, but exist because of “man’s tragic estrangement from his true being.”

Because this form of external and institutionalized religion has forgotten that it exists because of man’s estrangement, the secular world has reacted sharply against it. Ironically though, the secular world, by dismissing the religious, inflicts harm upon itself. Why? Because both the religious and the secular have the same concern: namely, ultimate concern. As we realize this, the separation between the secular and the religious is overcome and religion assumes its true meaning as that which gives depth and meaning to all functions of the human spirit.

Questions: As I read Tillich for the first time here, I'm somewhat intrigued by what he is saying. I see some validity in the way he describes everything that man does as an aspect of an incurably religious nature. This is insightful, for God can not be relegated to merely a religious realm. Beyond this insight, which is not wholly unique to Tillich, I have some questions which I hope readers will be able to answer or that I hope Tillich himself will answer as my reading progresses:

  • What does Tillich mean by "existence"? This term is clearly pregnant and is very important, as Tillich seems already preoccupied with man's existence.
  • Why does Tillich feel so comfortable dismissing the possibility of God's "existence"? Why does he say that those who assert God's existence are on the path to atheism?

  • What role, if any, do metaphysics play in Tillich's philosophy? I already have the sneaking feeling that, to Tillich, this "science" is irrelevant. Am I right? If so, why?

  • Tillich says that man has experienced a "tragic estrangement from his true being." I am assuming that this is what remains of the Christian doctrine of "the Fall." I'm anxious to see how this "tragic estrangement" philosophy plays out. Any hints?

  • I get the feeling at points that Tillich is aiming at transcendence when he says things about how God cannot be classified as an object within the universe of existent things. It seems, however, that Tillich collapses God into the human psyche or spirit with his definition of religion. Am I on the right track with this?
Reaction: So far I find Tillich quite titillating. I also find him quite disagreeable right out of the gate. When I started reading Barth I was surprised to find such robust doctrines and solid exegesis of Scripture. I had always heard Barth's name mentioned in negative terms and was pleasantly surprised; Barth speaks in a language I find intelligible. Tillich on the other hand seems like he is from a different planet! I look forward to continuing this exploration nonetheless.

Exegetical Fallacies

This post isn't really going to be a full blown review in the sense that I'll be breaking down some aspects and drawing on the purpose of the book. Rather I simply want to recommend the book. In a second I'm going to tell you why and, yes, I'm going to give a good example (or two) that Carson uses in the book that should pique your interest enough to purchase it (or just borrow it from one of your theological buddies).

Let me start off at the outset for our more lay readers that this book isn't geared toward those who have little knowledge of bible interpretation. However if you'd like a good place to start I'd suggest you begin with (surprise, surprise) R. C. Sproul's book called Knowing Scripture.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is its simplicity. That is not to suggest that the book is outright simple. Rather what I mean is that the book isn't overly technical so as to confuse the reader. As the title suggests, Carson's aim is to expose some of the most common mistakes students of exegesis encounter; to this I feel he does an excellent job. I can remember first reading this book about 3 years ago after I first began to delve into the more meatier aspects of interpretation and feeling so convicted afterward. In the beginning, all people learn to interpret the Bible by somebody; whether it be their preacher, Sunday school teacher, or seminary professor. I know the first lessons on interpretation I learned was listening to my Pastor's sermons. That helped me focus on how and what was important when I was reading Scripture. However while this may end up being a good thing if you happen to be Shepherd by Charles Spurgeon, but it can be detrimental. While I am fully aware that not all degree laden Pastor's have solid interpretation skills, it does help to be cognizant as to how your interpretation is being communicated and would behoove the Pastor to qualify themselves more regularly.

Nevertheless, let me take one example from Carson's book to give you a taste of what you'll encounter. The very first common fallacy that many interpreters face is what Carson calls The root fallacy. This error...presupposes that every word actually has the meaning bound up with its shape or its components...meaning is determined by etymology (p.28). One of the examples he gives surrounds the word translated apostle. Here Carson talks about how by simply taking the root of a word in its original linguistic usage may not offer us the best meaning; and it doesn't. Carson says, "It is arguable that although apostolos (apostle) is cognate with apostello (I send), New Testament use of the noun does not center on the meaning the one sent but on "messenger." Now a messenger is ususally sent, but the word messenger also calls to mind the messgage the person carries, and sugest he represents the one who sent him. In other words, actually usage in the New Testament suggest that apostolos commonly bears the meaning a special representative or a special messenger rather than 'someone sent out.'" This good example, for me at least, serves as a good reminder when doing exegesis not to place too much emphasis on the root of a word, but rather to place it more in its contextual usage.

Another great example is what Carson calls the uncontrolled historical reconstruction. This might be a good chapter to review entirely in light of my co-blogger Matt Wilcoxen's most recent post. This fallacy in its most basic form is the ability to trace a network of theological trajectories to explain how the church changed its thinking from decade to decade and from place to place. In other words, thinking that speculative reconstruction of first-century Jewish and Christian history should be given much weight in the exegesis of New Testament documents. (p. 131). Carson's major problem with this concept is that we have almost no access to the history of the early church during its first five or six decades apart from the New Testament documents [themselves] (my addition).

I believe that this book should be the companion of any sober student of biblical interpretation. I have read this book twice and both times I read it I found tendency after tendency which I had utilized in one way or another. Other fallacies which Carson tackles in this book are Grammatical, Logical, and Presuppositional fallacies. I'm convinced that we all exhibit at one time or another a proclivity toward one of the five fallacies which Carson speaks to. It would be to the benefits of our more astute readers to grab a highlighter and pick up a copy of this book and begin having your fallacious affinities exposed...I know I did.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Tentative Proposal for Evangelical Hermeneutics...Or, The Use and Abuse of History in Reading Scripture

For the last few years, I've been intensely engaged in the practice of interpreting Scripture. The more involved I've become in studying theology, the more I've come to realize that the topic of how we interpret Scripture is a central issue. In short, hermeneutics has become one of the most important issues in theology. My theological upbringing made use of the historical-grammatical hermeneutic. I'm sure yours did too.

Here is a general definition of this hermeneutical method, taken from Wikipedia:

The historical-grammatical method, also referred to as grammatico-historical or grammatical-critical, is a component of Biblical hermeneutics that strives to find the intended original meaning in the text. This original intended meaning of the text is drawn out through examination of the passage in light of the grammatical and syntactical aspects, the historical background, the literary genre as well as theological (canonical) considerations. The historical-grammatical method distinguishes between the one original meaning and the significance of the text. The significance of the text includes the ensuing use of the text or application.

As I review that definition I see a lot of good things. However, there are also some major problems as far as I'm concerned. The biggest problem is the role that history and historical reconstructions typically play in the interpretive process. More specifically, I'm concerned with the role that extra-biblical literature and information play in ensuring a correct interpretation. Too often these things are treated as the hermeneutical keys, which serve to unlock the meaning of the passage for us.

This is standard fare in our churches and Christian writings, from evangelical to emergent. It usually plays out this way:

  • We are reading a particular passage; say, John 2:1-11.
  • We then make some effort to locate the passage within its historical context.
    • If we’re less sophisticated, we’ll look for all kinds of historical background information about Cana in Galilee, or about Jewish weddings, or about ancient wine. Armed with this material, we’ll see the real significance of what Jesus was doing. This is the most innocuous way to go about historical interpretation.
    • If we’re a little more sophisticated (and educated) we’ll go this route: we will dig deep into history and try to find out who wrote John (John, right?) and then we’ll look in commentaries at all the high-falutin’ information on the audience John wrote the book to. Then, armed with all this information about the original author and the original audience, we’ll find that the meaning of the passage is related to some dispute or issue in the early church.
  • Now, armed with our interpretation that has been based on our historical reconstruction, we must, as Bible-believing Christians, move to some sort of doctrinal teaching, application, etc. So, we do one or more of the following:
    • We develop principles from the story that are “timeless” and we teach these as doctrinal points.
    • We find in our own context parallel situations to our own lives and then we make application based on the commonalities we have with the original participants or the original audience.
    • We determine that there is no parallel situation in our own lives and so we either a) allegorize to find meaning or b) let the text lie dormant.

Now, admittedly, none of this sounds too bad. And not all of it is bad. But my problem is this: the more one anchors meaning to an original context constructed through historical information, the more one will run into some serious hermeneutical, theological, and pastoral problems. Those who adhere to this method often take Scripture very, very, very seriously and are trying to be faithful servants of the Word. Ironically, however, they encroach upon some very important doctrines as they do so! Namely, they violate the doctrines of the inspiration and perspicuity of Scripture.

  • Inspiration:Adherents don’t deny the inspiration of Scripture; far from it! However, the focus in a historical method of interpretation is almost entirely on the human author and his intent. Then we smuggle the inspiration through the back door, after we’ve interpreted the text. Inspiration, then, basically comes to be a doctrine which tells us that we must appropriate this human text. I believe, rather, that we should be aware of the doctrine of inspiration from the beginning of the interpretive process. We can’t take the human author out of the picture, but we have to remember that we are dealing here with the verbi divini. Both the human author and the original audience are dead and gone, the divine author is eternally self-existent
  • Perspicuity: This doctrine broadly states that Scripture is clear and intelligible. That is, with the twin-aid of Scripture and the Spirit, we interpret and appropriate Scripture. What can happen with a historical approach is that we find it necessary to have a plethora of sources to simply interpret Scripture. For example, N.T. Wright needs the Mishnah, the Talmud, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a myriad of other writings to interpret Jesus. And everyone (except John Piper maybe) loves N.T. Wright precisely because his interpretations are fresh and insightful. However, we should beware of what we are saying when we endorse Wright’s interpretation of Scripture. He is essentially telling us that without these extra-biblical documents we cannot have a full-orbed understanding of Jesus or his significance. DID YOU HEAR THAT?! It is necessary to have certain non-scriptural information to interpret or understand Scripture? This is troubling: we are saying that historical documents are necessary to illuminate Scripture. Umm, last time I checked, Scripture and the Spirit are those things that are to illuminate all else! … This also presents the problem that we have once again taken the Scriptures out of the hands of the common person, so that now, to understand Scripture, you’ve got to head to the library of ancient documents, or at least buy Wright’s latest book.

So, if the historical-grammatical method is in need of being re-worked, what am I proposing? I have for some time been under the conviction that we’ve got to come to a much more theological reading of Scripture, one less dependent on general hermeneutical theory and definitely less dependent on extra-biblical historical information. In this method of interpretation, we would adhere to the following stringencies:

  • Extra-biblical sources should not be used to develop an interpretation that cannot be ascertained solely by use of the canon.
  • Historical reconstructions (for say, an epistle) should only be used when these reconstructions are drawn from the text itself or from the larger canonical context.
  • We should dispel the notion that exegesis precedes theology; theology will always influence and undergird our exegesis. Exegesis can explode our theology at points where the tension becomes too much to bear, but exegesis of a text cannot go on without theology.
  • Our emphasis in our doctrine of Scripture and in our hermeneutical approach should be on the fact that we are dealing with God’s Word. Mediated through man, yes, but ultimately God’s. This will help us remember that we are not simply hearing what God said to those in the past, but that God is, through the Word-Spirit interplay, addressing us today.

If you’re still reading, I’d love to hear your feedback on this.

What dangers do you see in what I’m proposing? What implications would this proposal entail? I know, for instance, that all this talk of the “New Pauline Perspective” and even the debate over gender roles in the church would have to be reframed….Thanks for weighing in.

***Just a Note: I'm not at all saying that Scripture isn't historical (in the vein of, say, Bultmann). I'm aiming at the use of extra-biblical historical information in interpretation.

Scholarship for the laity

Recently I've been doing some thinking about starting an organization (or, association) for lay theologians. Reason being, while there is so much in the academic arena to help promote theological instruction, there seems to be little in the way for those not called to full time ministry. Sure there are resources that we all can access, they're not restricted to just the scholars. But what I see missing is the outlet (or medium) for those individuals, like myself, who can exercise and contribute to the scholarly inquiry. While I'm fully aware that blogosphere is an excellent channel, I have a vision for something bigger; something more official. So what I propose is to develop an alliance of self educated Christians for the promotion of theology essay's, publications, and the like. Something along the lines of an Evangelical Theological Society, but exclusively for the laymen. Therefore I propose launching the first Lay Theologian Society. I have much more to consider, but I figure I could round up some other bloggers/readers who find this an appealing endeavor.

If this is something that you might be interested in, please contact me, at the "info" email on the side bar. I'm looking for a few like-minded men who can offer some ideas, who might want to band together. I'd also appreciate some help to spread the idea from our readers and fellow bloggers.

Onward Christian Soldiers!