Monday, June 30, 2008

LAST DAY to enter the June giveaway

This is just a friendly reminder to our readers and visitors that today is the last day to enter the FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY for A. T. B. McGowan's The Divine Authenticity of Scripture: Retrieving an Evangelical Heritage.

Our very own Norm Jeune worked through the book and offered some thoughts in a few recent posts:

1) Presuppositional Theology and Foundationalism

2) Considering a Fundamentalist Perspective on the Scriptures

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Carson on the Relationship between Seminary and the Church

Adrian Warnock did an interview with Don Carson a little while back. Here are some of Carson's remarks about the relationship between the seminary and the church. I found them a convicting reminder to think and live for the well-being of Christ's body.

But I would say that the front line is the local church. And there is a sense in which seminary is a back-up slot. The front line is the local church, and the first impetus towards ministry and towards stamping people for what ministry ought to be should be within in the context of the local church. And then a good seminary, a good theological college, helps to provide the kind of training and further exposure to more technical knowledge, a grasp of the languages, and this sort of thing. Virtually no local church can provide that, and yet it’s really important for those who teach in such places, nevertheless, to be pastors first, because if they think of themselves of teachers and scholars first, then they tend to produce teachers and scholars. So there’s a stamping, not simply from the course material, but from your own values, what you dream about, what you think about. So, at our seminary, we always want to hire a certain percentage of faculty who wish they were in the pastoral ministry, or else quite frankly, we don’t want them. Now, they have to be academically competent and all the rest, but we don’t want people who just want to be in a seminary. We want people who in many ways would prefer to be in the local church. So, that’s as close as I can come to explaining where I’m at.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Coming Out of the Complementarian Closet

I’m still reading Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus But not the Church. I know, I know, and I hear you: “Andrew, haven’t you been reading that book for well over a month? Isn’t it an easy read and relatively short? I mean, if it takes you this long to read Kimball, how in the world are you almost finishing a Master’s Degree? And hasn’t Norm finished at least two books of considerable more substance while juggling a ministry job and a wife and child since you began that simple work? Surely your vision is fading or you have developed narcolepsy since beginning it, for how else could I possibly explain your literary sluggishness?”

Look, I’m just a slow reader, so get off my back.

In any case, Kimball is still challenging my thinking on nearly every topic that he writes about. If you’re willing to overlook the sloppy style there is much to be gained, and while still unfinished I give it my hearty recommendation.

One of those aforementioned provocative topics is the church’s view of women as perceived by the outside world (ch. 7). Obviously this is particularly relevant to us complementarians. As one who has been interacting consistently with other Christians almost exclusively (until what will hopefully continue to be my liberation from that subculture), the issue of emerging non-believers’ perception of our treatment of women has never been that practically relevant.

But once again, Kimball has forced me to consider something I otherwise would not have. Indeed, how do emerging (i.e. 18-30 year old) non-Christians perceive the church’s treatment of women? This question becomes especially interesting when we note Kimball’s semi-paradoxical claims that emerging generations tend to gladly see significant differences between male and female as beautiful and God-given, yet see the church as oppressing women. Is this inconsistent thinking by those non-Christians, or is it a case of disjunction between Christian practice and theology (i.e. are we really oppressing women)?

For now I will leave aside the important issue that non-Christians frankly are not supposed to love us. Jesus went to the cross for his claims and said that we servants would not escape the master’s fate. This is one of those issues that some just won’t understand: yes, I do see functional differences between males and females including a God-given hierarchy of authority. Sorry if you don’t like that.

But this truth should never excuse us from thoughtfulness. Kimball offers a challenge that I pass on to you, dear reader: if you are a complementarian, how well can you defend that belief? Why do women not wear head-coverings? Why are they not silent in the churches? If we cannot answer these questions with real thoughtfulness, we should not such strong opinions. The normative relationship between males and females is too provocative of a cultural question (both to Christians and non-Christians) for us to not have thought seriously about. Some might not like your answer no matter how thoughtful about it you are. That much is ok. But we must think about it well.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Religious Pluralism: from within the church

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released their findings on Monday from a recent survey revealing some interesting statistics on religion in America. The interview was conducted on 35,000 Americans age 18 and older from May 8 to Aug. 13, 2007. Now I'm not sure what the past surveys have found, but it seems that Protestant Christianity is suffering pretty intensely by biblical standards. As you can see from this chart, an astonishing 66% of confessional Protestant Christians believe that there is more than one way to God, which means that only 34% believe otherwise. Of course, I'm quite certain the right hand column pretty much highlights why a person takes this view.

Another statistic comes from a section in the 18 page report on the Authority of Scripture (found here):

"More than six-in-ten Americans (63%), including majorities of many religious traditions, view their religion’s sacred texts as the word of God. This belief tends to be most common among Christians. More than eight-in-ten Jehovah’s Witnesses (92%), Mormons(91%) and members of evangelical (88%) and historically black (84%) Protestant churches view the Bible as the word of God, as do majorities of Catholics (62%), mainline Protestants (61%) and Orthodox Christians (59%)."

Now, from this number we can gather that at least the majority of Evangelicals have a high view of Scripture; that is, they feel the Bible is the Word of God. The problem is, this statistic doesn't seem to match up with the one listed in the above chart. 88% of the people in this survey believe the Bible to be the Word of God, yet more than half believe one can enter eternal life [with God] outside of their own religion. Strikes me as odd when Jesus himself expresses the very opposite in John 14:6. So much for a high view of Scripture.

Now I suppose we must take into account that while 35,000+ people were surveyed only 19,000 were Protestant Christians, which of course cannot speak for the greater Christian community. Not to mention the focus on the survey was religion and not Christianity. But this must still make us think about who these people are that are identifying themselves as followers of Christ. And I think the findings are definitely something that the evangelical church should take seriously.

Seeing the statistics reminded me of the article by David Wells called The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church, which you can find here. In the article Wells mentions some similar statistics that were just as astounding. Wells noted that he believes the main reason for the decline in western Christianity was due to a lack of theological character. In his words, "It is not that theological beliefs are denied, but that they have little cash value." Unfortunately I think this poll might be an indicator that we're moving beyond the cash value stage into outright denial. For any professing Christian to say he or she believes that there is more than one way to God is simply denying the very foundation which they "supposedly" uphold. I have to wonder, the people being surveyed are wither attending churches where the unadulterated Gospel is being preached and simply ignoring (rejecting) most of it; or the church in which they attend (if they attend) lacks any manifest adherence to the Scriptures. Based on my experience, I assume the latter.

So what we have here is nothing other than religious pluralism from within the church. I'll bet if each of the Christians in the survey were asked the same questions by their Pastor there might be a different outcome; then again, maybe not. I guess this just validates the notion that there will be tares amongst the wheat until the end. But what do we do about it? How can we as Evangelicals curve the statistics? Seems to me that the answer is the same in which Wells noted 15 years ago...

"If we do no recover the sufficiency of the Word of God in our time, if we do not relearn what it means to be sustained by it, nourished by it, disciplined by it, and unless our preachers find the courage again to preach its truth, to allow their sermons to be defined by its truth, we will lose our right to call ourselves Protestants, we will lose our capacity to be the people of God, and we will set ourselves on a path that leads right into the old discredited liberal Protestantism."

We might be on our way.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Saving Righteousness of God (chapter 1)

In chapter 1, Bird introduces the burden of his project, and provides an enlightening autobiographical account of his own journey studying Paul. For the past 25 years or so, scholars have been divided on the issue of justification. Here's an oversimplification that helps clarify the debate; proponents of the old perspective on Paul have (along with Luther and Calvin) emphasized the individual and vertical dimensions of justification, while proponents of the New Perspective (e.g. Wright and Dunn) have emphasized its horizontal and corporate dimensions. Whereas the old perspectivites think justification pertains primarily to one's standing in the divine lawcourt, New Perspectivites think it has more to do with how people are marked out as members of the church. Bird appreciates the contributions of both perspectives, and contends for rapprochement;

The burden of this project is to demonstrate that reformed and "new" readings of Paul are indispensable to attaining a full understanding of Paul's soteriology... The vertical and horizontal aspects [of justification] need to be appropriately described and weighted in order to provide a holistic rendering of justification in Paul's letters. (p. 1)

For the remainder of the chapter, Bird describes his own Pauline pilgrimage, noting how interaction with university teachers and Pauline scholars (e.g. Richard Gaffin, Mark Seidfrid, D.A. Carson, N.T. Wright, and others) has shaped his view of justification. At present, he values the contributions of the New Perspective, but believes its advocates fail to appreciate some of the insights of the Reformers (cf. p. 3). Additionally, he thinks that the tone from the Reformed side has not always been charitable to New Perspective supporters, not least N.T. Wright. He thus offers (in the words of Scot McKnight), a peace plan. Collectively, the articles in this book contend for the legitimacy of old and new readings of Paul, and urge for a change in the rhetoric of the debate.

I'm interested to see whether the plan is a success. Furthermore, since this chapter summarizes what's to come in the book, I don't have a whole lot to comment on. However, I have a few questions for Michael.

(1) The literature on Paul is seemingly endless. Where should one start? What books have you found to be helpful?

(2) Who is the book geared for, and why should they read it?

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Eagle Has Landed! Introducing Michael Bird

Over the next 8 Mondays, I will be blogging through Michael Bird's book, The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective. The monograph contains a number of articles addressing hot topics in Pauline studies. Bird teaches New Testament at Highland Theological College in Dingwall, Scotland. I have benefited greatly from his blog, which provides a wealth of helpful info on issues of New Testament interpretation. Dr. Bird is an impressive young scholar, who writes clearly, charitably, and with sparkling wit. Unfortunately, he enjoys the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I'm willing to overlook the transgression in order to grow in my understanding of St. Paul. He has graciously agreed to interact with my reviews, so be sure to check for his comments each Monday.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Barth on the Cross

I haven't read much Barth, but Jason Goroncy has, and here's a quotation I dug up that he posted a while back. I found this quote breathtaking.

Jesus Christ, in His solidarity with “human nature which has sinned could pay the penalty of sin” (Heid. Catech. Qu. 16), and at the same time, in the power of His divinity, could “bear the burden of the wrath of God in His humanity” (17). Without any diminution of His divine majesty, in the exercise of the divine majesty of His love He could enter into this “likeness of sinful flesh” to bear, in the same majesty, the judgment of divine wrath without annihilation, to be and to reveal Himself supremely as divine majesty even in His humiliation, to rise from the dead as conqueror of the judgment to which He had subjected Himself, the first fruits of all who were to follow in His steps. He could drink the cup which had to be drunk. Because He was God Himself, He could subject Himself to the severity of God. And because He was God Himself He did not have to succumb to the severity of God. God had to be severe to be true to Himself in His encounter with man, and thus to be true also to man. God’s wrath had to be revealed against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. But only God could carry through this necessary revelation of His righteousness without involving an end of all things. Only God Himself could bear the wrath of God. Only God’s mercy was capable of bearing the pain to which the creature existing in opposition to Him is subject. Only God’s mercy could so feel this pain as to take it into the very heart of His being. And only God’s mercy was strong enough not to be annihilated by this pain. And this that could happen only by the divine mercy is just what did happen on the cross of Golgotha: that double proof of omnipotence in which God did not abate the demands of His righteousness but showed Himself equal to His own wrath; on the one hand by submitting to it and on the other by not being consumed by it. In virtue of this omnipotence God’s mercy could be at one and the same time the deepest and sincerest pity and inflexible and impassible divine strength. He could yield to His own inexorable righteousness and by this very surrender maintain Himself as God. He could reveal Himself at once as the One who as the servant of all bore the punishment of death which we had deserved, and the One who as the Lord of all took from death its power and for ever vanquished and destroyed it. In this twofold sense God’s righteousness triumphed in the death of Jesus Christ. (Church Dogmatics II/1, 400)

Concerning the Methodology of Eschatology

It is hard for me to think of eschatology anymore without thinking of the hilarious and brilliant larknews article on how the rapture happened but Jesus only took the two people whose eschatological views were perfect. The article is a joke (who really thinks that perfecting eschatology will get you raptured?) but the satire is poignant: what actually is the point of attempting such precision? For that matter, what kind of precision is even possible? Some issues in eschatology are of course worth pursuing, e.g. are we or are we not in the millennium? More broadly, the covenant theology vs. dispensationalism debate also has some serious implications for how you read your Bible on a daily basis. So I understand the point in some of this and have to be careful that my general lack of interest in the subject doesn’t make me too jaded.

The problem for me comes when we try to get much more precise than those more foundational concepts. I have no doubts about the validity of systematic theology (which I do not, generally speaking) and neither am I overly intimidated by Revelation. And while I do struggle to find much practical payoff to spending so much time on the subject, this is not my concern here.

My primary concern is this: has not past revelation revealed to us that God’s future eschatological plans are not always as they first appear? I think of two specific instances.

First, while Jeremiah was told that the exile would last seventy years (and that with far more clarity than much of what is revealed in Revelation, Jer. 29:10), Daniel was told that it would actually be seventy weeks (i.e. seventy weeks of years; Dan. 9:24-27). God apparently had that plan in mind the whole time but chose not to reveal it as such in the beginning. Imagine Jeremiah dictating to Baruch where to draw the lines on his exilic eschatology chart: the one thing Jeremiah could have bet the farm on was that after seventy years the exile would end. But it was not to be so.

Second, there are literally no existing pre-Christian texts that predicted a suffering Messiah or that interpreted Isaiah’s Servant Songs as Messianic. That is, if you only had the Old Testament, what would your Messianic (i.e. eschatological) expectations be? Probably similar to those of the Rabbis. And this does not even begin to touch the paradigm-exploding nature of an inaugurated kingdom.

So my point is this: Scripture consistently teaches that while the future is in no way out of God’s control, it is in his hands and mind only. The outworking of God’s future plan often does not happen the way it appears it should. This is not to say that God is not faithful to His word; it is to say that His plan is not very predictable even when He reveals it. Combine this historical Biblical precedent with the fact that the only thing that Jesus himself ever expresses limited knowledge of is eschatology, we probably would do well to follow his lead.

All of this combines to lead me to the conclusion that the God’s intention in declaring future events to humanity is not for us to figure out their timing, but to respond with faithfulness. I can think of no instance in the Scriptures where a misapprehension of God’s eschatological plans precluded them from following Him. Such misunderstanding does reveal the hard-heartedness of first-century Jews, but this is not at an issue of wrong eschatology but of sin. Apocalyptic texts in the Bible (esp. Revelation) vividly show that Jesus will win in the end, and win decisively. This much is beyond question. Our role is, like Baruch’s in Jer. 45, to seek faithfulness rather than earthly greatness until that end comes, whenever that will be.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

7 steps of Idolatry

So I figured since I'm going through the book of Romans in my personal study, I'd do a little exposition of sorts...switch things up a little. Now, I'm not trying to be the internet Pastor here, and I know this will seem quite elementary to ya'll Seminary folk, but I'm sure it will appeal to some of our other readers.

Romans 1:21-23, "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."

First, in verse 21 we see that man doesn’t glorify God in his natural state. Though it is the primary purpose of man to glorify God and enjoy him forever, as a result of his sinfulness man would rather worship themselves or something altogether other than God.

Secondly we see in the latter part of this verse that the unconverted man is not thankful. Or, to say it another way, man does not offer honor or thanks which is appropriate for his everlasting power and Godhead .This implies the reality that man should be of a thankful heart due to his being created and sharing in the delights of God’s creation. Nevertheless, man has no reason to be thankful for something (or someone) he believes fails to give credence to.

Thirdly, man becomes vain in their imaginations, or as the ESV renders it, futile in their thinking. When man removes God from his thinking he becomes entirely other than he was created to be. Proverbs 1:7 tells us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. Therefore, if man is to acquire anything he must first acknowledge God in his thinking.

Fourthly, the text shows us that man allows their foolish hearts were darkened. As Matthew Henry notes, nothing tends more to the blinding and perverting of the understanding than the corruption and depravedness of the will and affections. Light and darkness is a concept regularly used in the NT, especially of Paul and of John. Luke tells us that Jesus came to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Paul is clearly making this the object of his thinking in this verse.

Fifthly, man professes to be wise. Quite opposite of the truth, the unregenerate man confuses himself so much that he actually thinks he is wise. A parallel and subsequent concept to this is the connection of a person’s fallacious wisdom to that of the proverb knowledge puffs up. When man acquires what he supposes to be knowledge, he often fails to compare his undersized capacity to that of the omniscient God. Satan has done the same thing. Given the stature of the highest of angels, he abused this role and began the rebellion; to which fallen mankind falls right in line with.

Sixthly, and this is the truth about the man who falsely professes wisdom, that he has become a fool. The truth of the matter of man claiming to be wise is that he in fact has become a maroino, that is, he has become foolish. Paul is evidently alluding to the erroneous nature of mankind in involving themselves in idolatry. A fool is one who has turned away from God to his own way. In this case, he has done so as a result of his willing removal of God in his thinking.

Lastly, in verse 23 we see the ultimate result of the preceding notions, namely, that man makes for himself his own gods. The text says, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Man has so utterly removed God from his thinking, but retains the need for worship, that he cannot face the Omnipotent God because of his sin, so he invents his own god to supplant the living and true one. As John Owen has said so eloquently,

since men have become sinners, they require, but by nature lack of sin, of conviction, and of repentance toward God. If anyone will ground all of his hopes on a correct interpretation of God's self-revelation in providence, they simply cannot hope to come to an understanding of Him, of how He is to be worshipped, or of how their lives might be framed so as to be pleasing to Him. Why? Because sin stands in the breach between them! No revelation which lacks the elements of conviction, repentance, or atonement can suffice for fallen man! Will any man attempt to forge a system by which the pagans have so ordered their lives by the light that they had as to obtain salvation? He has his work cut out indeed! Any number of such reasoning might be brought forward with no effect at all. (Biblical Theology, SDG, 55)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Last night: REVELATION 20 fulfilled.

Nearly 2000 years ago the Apostle John wrote the apocalyptic writing we know as the book of Revelation. This book has been the center of theological controversy for nearly two millennia. The interpretive difficulty of this writing has spawned a plethora of biblical doctrines to unfold. Perhaps the most controversial section of these writings has been chapter 20.

Well, I'm delighted to say that after all this time it has finally become clear as to what the meaning of part of this chapter really is. Let us observe together by evaluating a few verses, namely 7-10.

In chapter 7 we read, And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison. The thousand years here is clearly metaphorical. What John is saying here is not a literal thousand years, but rather only a few years. To be more specific, he is really only speaking of a period of 4 years, bare with me on this. As far as who Satan represents, well, because John is speaking in metaphors, he is not speaking about the spiritual nemesis of God. Rather he is speaking of the long awaited entity knows as the Los Angeles Lakers. The four years represents the period of time from 2004 to the present, 2008.

Now that we have the major players in the apocalyptic vision, lets move on and properly interpret the following verses.

Verse 8 tell us that after "Satan" (Lakers) has been released from prison (western conference), they will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. Statistics will tell you that Kobe and his entorage have increased their fan base nearly 10 fold during this season with the acquisition of Pao Gasol. With the addition of Gasol, that give the Lakers a footprint in all four corners of the "earth" (actually, Europe). Observe: Spain (Gasol), Italy (Brant), Slovania (Vujacic), and France (Turiaf). With that we're told that they will gather for battle. This is clearly a representation to the 2008 NBA finals. Lets move on...

Verse 9 says, and they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. The "they" represent Laker fans as they march to the broad plain of the "earth" and surround what has become clear to us as the TD Banknorth Garden, in the "beloved city", Boston. The verse then tell us, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them. This clearly represents the GARGANTUAN defeat from last night, does it not?

Observe the picture below for the exact representation of this.

Finally, verse 10 tell us the following, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Unfortunately verse 10 has yet to be fulfilled, so far as history can tell. But I take great comfort in the promises of God, knowing when His word goes forth, it will accomplish that what He purposes.

I hope you all find the humor in this.

Disclaimer: I'm not a Celtic fan. I'm actually a die-hard Suns fan who wholeheartedly despised the Los Angeles Lakers.

Twain on the Book of Mormon

I try not to be too negative, but as one who has done a fair amount of ministry to Mormons and read bits and pieces of the Book of Mormon, I just couldn't help but post this great bit from Mark Twain's Roughing It (which includes a number of great, if fanciful, sections on the Brigham Young era Mormons). Anyone else who has been subjected to Smith's book can relate:

"All men have heard of the Mormon Bible, but few except the 'elect' have seen it, or, at least, taken the trouble to read it. I brought away a copy from Salt Lake. The book is a curiosity to me, it is such a pretentious affair, and yet so 'slow,' so sleepy, such an insipid mess of inspiration. It is chloroform in print. If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle- keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate. If he, according to tradition, merely translated it from certain ancient and mysteriously engraved plates of copper, which he declares he found under a stone in an out-of-the-way locality, the work of translating was equally a miracle, for the same reason." (from the first paragraph of chapter XVI, or 102-3 in my copy!)

I recommend the rest of the section, as Twain's sarcastic wit continues with equal hilarity. I guess it is especially poignant for me since a couple Mormon missionaries recently came by and I almost fell asleep as we all read through a chapter from the Book of Alma out loud.

An Attempt at Some Poetry

exegesato (Jn 1:18)

betwixt two broken frames
hangs Israel's consolation
name above all names
rendered ignominious and forsaken

from an infinite fount
crimson love flows
streaming from an ignoble mount
clothing innumerable souls

hidden in the cleft
a semblance of the afterglow
but at the foot of Calvary
glory is truly known

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Fresh Prince of the New Perspective

One is easily disheartened by the abyss of scholarly literature on Paul. Conflicting views abound, and the interpretative waters continue to muddy.

For this reason, I am always excited to read works which attempt to transcend some of the current impasses. N.T. Wright's 2005, Paul in Fresh Perspective is one such work. The book represents brilliant Bishop Tom's most recent attempt at a grand construal of Paul’s thought. Supplementing earlier work with (inter alia) insights on anti-imperial rhetoric and narrative substructure, he provides an interpretation of Paul which takes the Jewish, Hellenistic, and Roman worlds in which he lived seriously (3-13). Wright operates with a critical realist hermeneutic that simultaneously eschews na├»ve objectivism and despondent deconstructionism, and with a view to the significance of Paul’s thought for contemporary life (cf. 13-20; ch. 8). A sweeping proposal for Pauline theology emerges, which is strong in conveying the “big picture,” yet lacking in the detailed exegetical substantiation of said picture.

The strength of Wright’s proposal rests in his ability to cast a coherent picture of the constitutive elements in Paul’s thought. Emphasizing the themes of creation and covenant, messiah and apocalyptic, and gospel and empire, his summation of the apostle’s message is both elegant and forceful. According to Tom, Paul fundamentally believed that Israel’s (and creation’s) hope has been fulfilled by her Messiah, who has ushered in a new age wherein the powers of this world (not least Caesar) are called into account (58). Such a summary succeeds at (1) encapsulating salient Pauline themes, (2) acknowledging the various worlds in which Paul operated, and (3) appreciating Paul’s thought in a manner which does not divorce it from his apostolic mission. Similar remarks obtain for Wright’s understanding of monotheism, election, and eschatology as reshaped around Messiah and the Spirit. Moreover, one is struck by the apostle’s incipient Trinitarianism, and how classical Jewish doctrines such as the oneness of God are reconfigured in accordance with Paul's new paradigm.

In so emphasizing the theological forest, Wright has, however, overlooked a few significant trees. On several occasions he appears to mischaracterize his opponents. For instance, he believes that a resistance to identifying implicit narratives is driving scholarly opposition to the New Perspective on Paul (henceforth NPP) (12). This seems a misleading, for the primary objections against the NPP have been directed at E.P. Sanders’s covenantal nomism and reductionistic interpretations of key Pauline phrases (e.g. "works of the law"; "righteousness"). Elsewhere, Wright accuses NPP detractors of attempting to smuggle Pelagianism into Second Temple Judaism (109). Such an indictment is quite uncharitable, given that (1) NPP detractors are claiming nothing of the sort, and (2) are publishing quite detailed and nuanced studies on Second Temple soteriology. Anyone who has spent time with the first volume of Justification and Variegated Nomism, or the massive monograph by Mark Elliot (The Survivors of Israel) would be reticent of making such an indictment. Wright is also subject to criticisms of inconsistency. In articulating his “fresh” perspective, Wright criticizes the myopia of both the old perspective and the NPP (116-17), claiming that each perspective needs to be appreciated (36). However, he consistently sides with the former view, while consistently chiding the latter (12; 109). Additionally, he fails to articulate the relation between these two perspectives. In a lecture in our Pauline Theology class last semester, Seyoon Kim helpfully noted the interrelation between the universal elements of Paul's gospel (e.g. justification by faith apart from works in virtue of the vicarious cross-work of Christ) with the sociological elements (e.g. Jewish and Gentile reconciliation/unity). This schematization in Paul's thought is clear in Romans 3 and Ephesians 2, where Paul first states what God has objectively accomplished, and then moves to the sociological implications. Wright should probably take note of Kim on this point. Finally, Wright tends to major in what are ostensibly exegetical minors. He is committed to taking echoes and implicit storylines seriously (10), yet it is intriguing that such implicit features often furnish him with substantiation for interpretations which lack more explicit textual verification (cf. 26-33). In contrast to Wright, I am wary of finding anti-imperial "echoes" in Paul's letters. As John Barclay pointed out in an SBL lecture from last year, Paul explicitly mentions the empire/Caesar infrequently in his letters, which is precisely why we shouldn't be too optimistic about finding imperial allusions.

To sum it up, Wright has written a work which should provoke scholarly discussion for years to come. Yet, its brevity renders it susceptible to critique. Many questions arise from reading the book, and Wright consistently refuses to go into more detail in substantiating his proposals (cf. 38-39; 75; 107; 153). This is inevitable when an author attempts to summarize such a massive topic, yet one feels Tom leaves too many proposals on the table. One also gets the sense that readers must await the fourth volume of the epochal Christian Origins and the Question of God series to receive Wright’s definitive word on the apostle’s thought and life.

Monday, June 16, 2008

When a Pastor Calls it Quits (And When that Pastor is Your Dad)

Bill Faris has been a pastor for longer than I have been his son. Two weeks ago he told his church of just under one hundred people that his church will cease existing as early as August.

The Crown Valley Vineyard has been in South Orange County for all of its eight year life and has done remarkably well. I know of few members who passively sit by on Sundays as if that was all that being a part of a church meant. Church members genuinely desire to grow in Christ and evidence that by consistent giving of their time and money, not to mention their attention at most church gatherings. The community is tight knit. Even this last weekend on a church men’s retreat, men were, as we have now been able to expect on such retreats, beautifully open and honest about their struggles and equally responsive with exhortations and encouragements. There is passionate worship, a good children’s ministry, and biblical preaching and teaching (including frequent guest preaching from regular members of the church, even if not pastors).

So it should come as no surprise that upon hearing the news at our church family meeting two weeks ago, many were upset to the point of weeping. Understandably so: not only has the church done well according to general church standards, but many of those who wept at that meeting had personally seen their lives and marriages saved and their relationships with Jesus come to some vibrancy thanks to my Father and other church leaders (through Christ, of course).

Thus the natural question: why does a successful pastor shut down his church? Is it moral failure? Dryness in personal relationship with Christ? Family problems? A mid-life crisis?

No. My Father is incredibly godly, walks in daily communion with the Lord, loves his wife and kids, and is thoroughly pleased with what Jesus has used him for in this life, most certainly including as the pastor of the Crown Valley Vineyard, which he calls the best years of ministry he has ever had.

The answer is somewhat the opposite of any of those proposed above. My Father is utterly convinced both that the Lord has worked powerfully and still has much work he wants to do with the people that thus far have comprised the Crown Valley Vineyard. This is why he has thoughtfully and prayerfully decided to close his church.

At least three factors have combined to make this move happen. First, even when your church is good at giving, it is financially difficult to have a building in South Orange County. Almost all of the money that the church has is spent on simply sustaining itself which is so frustrating when there are so many needs in the wider community and in the world more generally. Second, the church as it is now does not meet non-believers with the gospel. If we are not mobilizing to be missionaries in our local communities in eight years despite having a great church family, we need to rethink things from the ground up. Attractional model church does not work for the generations younger than the baby boomers. We must go to the world and we are failing to do so as we are currently constituted. I plan on writing more broadly on this topic in the future. Third, my Dad sees his role as a leader shifting from pastor-shepherd to mentor-empowerer for younger generations. My Dad is powerfully aware of an obvious truth: he will die. Seeing as he is closer to death than to life, he now sees the need to develop the next generation of leaders to continue Christ’s work.

Younger leaders need to be developed who will both now and later be equipped to reach their own (read: my own) generation with the gospel, and we need to spend huge money on ourselves to do that. The Church- and now I do not just speak of the Crown Valley Vineyard- must get away from trying to get people to come to it if it will survive in America when the Baby Boomers die. The brothers and sisters who have heretofore made up the Crown Valley Vineyard are realizing those same things, and that is why the weeping was overshadowed by passionate exhortations to take heart and jump in with the vision of bringing Jesus to the world at that church meeting two weeks ago. Church will still happen, even if it looks different than it has (house churches are a real possibility), largely because believers are realizing that church is a group of people rather than a place you go.

And I am thus encouraged that people like my Dad are thoughtfully and carefully following the Lord’s leading over his church to do His work in the world.

Pardon the length of this post: it is an issue close to my heart both in my own thinking and studying and because it so directly involves my family. My hope is that, like the story of my friend Jacque saving a child’s life, it will encourage some to see the way theology is touching the life of the church and continue in the pursuit of following the leading of Christ in this world well.

I should also add that Christians in Context is hoping to have my Father do a series of guest posts on his thoughts on the church to clarify more of how he got to this point. I think they will help you as much as my own dialogging with him through this long process has helped me.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Jesus, Parables...and the doctrine of Election

After listening to the July message-of-the-month from Ligonier Ministries, I was compelled to blog about a particular aspect of it. The topic of the message was the Parables of Christ. In usual fashion Dr. Sproul began by speaking on why it is important to glean from the pedagogical methods used by Christ...hence the parables. He then pointed out how Jesus' use of parables is one of the indicators that point to the doctrine of election. And to this I agree with Sproul's overall summation. Therefore I wanted to do a brief run down of the passage Sproul uses to make his point.

We're all familiar with Matthew 13 where Jesus delivers the parable of the sower. He gives us the four possible conditions/reactions that we will encounter when the Gospel is preached. Not only is the teaching itself profound, but in verse 10 it leads the disciples to then ask Jesus his purpose for parables, to which Jesus responds, to you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given (ESV). I personally cannot see how else this verse can be interpreted? I think its overtly clear that Jesus is telling his disciples that they have received the ability to understand what was being spoken, and the others have not; which, as Jesus goes on to say, is a fulfillment of Isaiah 6. So, I think it's safe to conclude from this passage (and others) that the ability to [ultimately] hear what Jesus [truly] meant was something that was/is not given to everyone.

Now why would Jesus say that the revelation of the Gospel has been given to his disciples and not given to the others, outside of teaching the doctrine of election? We see the same thing taught in several other places, particularly John 10:26. For purposed of keeping this post short, the classical Arminian appropriation will not be considered. I will say this: Why would the biblical authors use concepts like this, and terminology such as "chosen," "elected," "given/not given," if in fact something wholly other was intended? For purposes of clarification, and to avoid confusion it would seem much easier to leave the aforementioned out.

I'm going to end here and give you John Calvin's commentary on this verse. I think captures the essence of the passage by stating,
To ascertain fully the meaning of the present passage, we must examine more closely the design of Christ, the reason why, and the purpose for which these words were spoken. First, the comparison is undoubtedly intended by Christ to exhibit the magnitude of the grace bestowed on his disciples, in having specially received what was not given indiscriminately to all. If it is asked, why this privilege was peculiar to the apostles, the reason certainly will not be found in themselves, and Christ, by declaring that it was given to them, excludes all merit. Christ declares that there are certain and elect men, on whom God specially bestows this honor of revealing to them his secrets, and that others are deprived of this grace. No other reason will be found for this distinction, except that God calls to himself those whom he has gratuitously elected. (my italicizing)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dan Kimball and the Challenge to Christian Subculture

I went into reading Dan Kimball's The Like Jesus but Not the Church without the intention of blogging all the way through it, and that still is not my intention. That said, I finally got around to reading the second chapter and I am rather too convicted to not write anything about it.

Here is what I am taking away immediately: Dan Kimball is on to something, and that something is more important than most of us realize (and by "most of us," I think that I mean we Reformed types who are too quick to write off Kimball because he is labeled "Emergent"). To this point in the book, he has framed that "something" as the problem of a Christian subculture that sucks all of us into it. And even I, a steadfast opponent of most Christian music, Christian radio, Christian clothing, and all the other Christian crap you get at "Christian stores" (as opposed to Christian book stores), have been so sucked in.

Allow me to ask you a blunt question, dear reader: why don't you share the gospel with non-believers?

Of course there are a number of you to whom that question will not in fact apply because you regularly share your faith. But if statistics hold true (which they usually do!), the majority of us spend almost all of our time with other Christians, fail to make relationships with non-Christians, and generally are unfruitful in terms of evangelism. How is it that we can have such a supposed high view of Jesus but not go to the effort to invite others into relationship with him?

That effort, according to Kimball, is simply reorganizing our lives in such a way that we stop spending all of our time with other Christians. His primary test for this is to ask who you socialize with. The convicting truth is that almost every social gathering that I am a part of is with all Christians. Like I said, I have been sucked into the Christian bubble despite having never purchased a "'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus Chocolate Bar."

It really is simple: we Christians need to stop making church into a social club so that it can instead be the launching point for God's mission in the world, namely the discipleship of all people to Jesus. For Kimball this means, at the very least, writing his sermons in a coffee shop instead of in his office. Pretty simple, but from what I understand, pretty effective (although I am curious to hear more about the development of these relationships). And to be sure, that is not all Kimball does to get into the non-Christian world.

The point is this: we take far too lightly the problem that we Christians tend to spend almost all of our time with other Christians. How can we expect to see the gospel go forward in the world if this is the case?

Maybe all these people who like Jesus but not the church have gotten the wrong idea from the outspokenness of Christian leaders who many of us would distance ourselves from. Maybe all they hear about is the way the religious right are the anti-gay war mongers who seat Republican presidents. Maybe they drive around and see weird Christian bumper stickers with weird Christian lingo on them (What is a "rapture" and why would that guy not want his car in case of it?). Maybe their perceptions of Christians (and thus of Christ) are actually not quite right.

But what have you and I done to make them think otherwise?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Pilgrim's Progress

Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of reading John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress knows how powerful that book is. I remember before I had ever encountered it hearing so many Christians of today and yesteryear speak of how wonderful the book was and seemingly accurate it was to the Christian journey. I used to think that I didn't have time for fiction. I wanted to get into the thick of reality and truth that I couldn't bring myself to spend time on a book like this. Boy was I wrong! Jesus used parables and stories for a reason, and Bunyan (who wrote this from his jail cell) was a master storyteller. In my opinion, this book is simply the best allegorical fiction that has ever been written. I was fortunate enough to experience the book through the dramatic version from Answers in Genesis, as shown in the photo. There they bring everything to life as if it were a movie. The emotions of the characters and the overall sound effects bring the book to life. I can't say enough how much this book has helped me to view (and review) my own life.

There is a reason that it is the #1 best-selling book of all time, other than the Bible. I encourage anyone who has never read this book to either grab a copy and find yourself engulfed in the characters Bunyan so eloquently portrays. There are so many versions out there, original or contemporary vernacular, movies, audio sets, etc. Though if I were to recommend any version I would say get yourself a copy of this audio version from AIG (HERE), you won't regret it. I promise.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Premillenial problems...

As you all know, there are a couple ways to view the overall structure of the Bible and the plan of redemption, which more times than not, determines how one formulates their eschatological position. Now, I'm the first one to say that I'm not an expert in eschatology, nor do I profess to be a hermeneutical scholar of the first order. But that's not to say that I don't attempt a sober evaluation on a given biblical position.

Having said that, I have an issue with premillenialism (actually, I have a few, but that's for another time). Now I really don't subscribe to any eschatological position because I find there are some issues with them all. But one of the main issues I have with premillenialism is the idea that in the millenium (1000 year reign of Christ on earth) there will be a return to Old Testament types and shadows (not all subscribe to this). And after reading an excerpt from Kim Riddlebarger's book The Case for Ammillenialsim [which he posted on his blog the other day] (HERE), I can't help but truly find fault with this position. Riddlebarger observes,

" Once Christ has come and fulfilled these particular prophetic expectations, how can the dispensationalist justify his belief that the future millennial age is characterized by a redemptive economy of type and shadow, when the reality to which these things pointed, has already come? This pre-messianic Old Testament millennial expectation, complete with restored temple worship and the reinstitution of animal sacrifices, can only be justified by a redemptive historical U-turn...According to dispensationalists, type and shadow are fulfilled in Jesus Christ who, in the millennial age, supposedly re-institutes these same types and shadows which are inferior and have passed away."

I said it above, I'm no expert; and I'm really looking for someone to help me out here. But how can one answer Riddlebarger's claim? I mean, doesn't Hebrews 10 seemingly annihilate this position? While I'm aware that the main purpose of the argument in favor partially stems from the idea that the Temple in Ezekiel 40-48 has yet to be fulfilled. And in these chapters you find specific detailed references to a Temple that has "yet" to be built which speak to the reinstitution of animal sacrifices and the like. But when Hebrews 10:1 says, or since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near."

The author of Hebrews point: Only Christ can make perfect those who draw near.

So here's my question: Why would God re-institute the types and shadows [in the millennium] that he has clearly did away with (cf. Heb 10:2, 9);something which was only to pointed to Christ in the first place?

There is obviously much more to consider when it comes to this element of their overall schema. And I'm aware that not all premillenials subscribe to this. I'd encourage you to read Riddlebarger's whole post to get a better idea of how this interpretation is explained. But this is the gist of it, and I can't seem to reconcile this with most of what the NT has to say about who Christ was and what he came to do.

Perhaps those with a little background can weigh in here.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Why the Abortion Fight is Still Worth Fighting

On Tuesday night one of my closest friends saved a child's life.

Well, assuming that the woman she talked to continues to go forward with her intent to parent or give her child up for adoption anyway. Either way, on Tuesday a girl came in to the pro-life clinic my friend works at with the intent to abort her unborn child, only to leave with the intent to carry her pregnancy through.

As my friend (a woman named "Jacque" - pronounced like "Jackie") told me the story, I was gripped. Jacque works in this clinic's offices for her regular job, but she got connected through her volunteering there on Tuesday nights, which she still does.

This last Tuesday it was the offer of a free ultrasound that even brought the pregnant woman in. For that matter the woman only called the clinic because she thought that it was an organization comparable to Planned Parenthood (i.e. one that could refer for or even perform an abortion). When the woman on the phone explained to her the importance of an ultrasound, she decided to come get her free one.

So here is this woman, intending to kill her unborn child, and she goes in for her ultrasound at Jacque's recommendation. The first thing she finds out is that she is actually eight weeks pregnant rather than the six that she came in thinking she was. Jacque explained to me that the significance is that at eight weeks a fetus has developed all of its organs. The only differences between an eight week fetus and a newborn baby? Size and time. I think this was explained to the pregnant woman. But what really pushed her to change her mind was a moment that could have only been stunning in its emotional power: this pregnant woman heard her eight week old fetus's heartbeat through the ultrasound.

Jacque said she saw the look on her face completely change. The woman cracked. Apparently it became clear that if this was not a real human baby, then real human babies don't exist.

On top of all of that, Jacque was able to counsel this woman who has undergone incredible personal pain that ultimately led to her pregnancy (I'd like to share the details, but I don't want to risk this woman's privacy or Jacque's ability to continue in her minitsry- just take my word for it). That is to say, Jacque met the woman personally, in the midst of her pain, without leading her to the all too easy (and all too pain-adding) cop out of abortion. The pain is real, but so is the baby.

Why share this story? Well, partly just to praise my friend Jacque. I felt like I was talking to a hero: Jacque saved the life of a real human being. She's the kind of person that gets interviewed on at least the local news for above-and-beyond heroism.

But Jacque won't be interviewed for any of this. Some would even sneer at her for her work. And that brings me to my second reason for sharing the story: sitting and listening to Jacque humbly recount the joy of what she had done that day reminded me of the ever so simple reality that the eight week old fetus who now will likely live is a human being made in the image of God.
Eight weeks old and already bearing the image of the Almighty God.

Stories like this are why I still think the abortion fight is worth fighting. Science and statistics can't substitute for a story like this for making us feel the weight of abortion. And at a time where I am beginning to notice more and more Christians finding this issue less and less important, my heart is deeply saddened.

This is one that we cannot give up on.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Free will and theodicy

The beginning of chapter 6 is titled, "Why is life so hard." As I mentioned in my last post, this is where Hasker seeks to insert what he considers is the value of free will as it relates to a convincing theodicy. Personally I felt this chapter was based on mere speculation, particularly as it relates to a sound biblical understanding. I'll explain why as I continue to evaluate.

The first part of the chapter deals with the difference between opposing views with respect to free will; these are compatibilism and libertarianism. Regarding the former he notes, "the view is called compatibilism because it is logically compatible with the claim that everything we do is causally determined, either by the "strongest motive" (psychological determinism) or by physical causes." This view is can be similarly compared to that which Jonathan Edwards espoused. For the libertarian view, which Hasker notes is the most plausible, he observes that it "insists that for an action to be free in the most important sense it is not enough that a person be able to do what he most desires to do...In order for the person to be really free, it must be really possible for him either to perform the act in question or to refrain from it; it must be entirely within the person's power to do one or the other."

Hasker goes on to explain, I believe rightly, that the compatibilist view is maintained by some philosophers, but mostly theologians; primarily those who maintain divine sovereignty (i.e. Calvinism). Though he takes issue with it by saying this view offers no real help in answering the problem of evil. His rationale is: if God can grant man to have free will and then so control this will to act so as not to ever perform or incline to evil, then the fact that there is evil would lead us to believe that God is ultimately responsible for evil. I grant that this logic is sound and does appear to present a problem. Thing is, it not only creates a problem for the Calvinist, but also for the Arminian; for that matter, anyone who holds to any view of sovereignty. Then again, this is apparently why the book was written, to offer an answer to the question: how could there be a God who is all loving, all powerful, and all knowing, yet still be evil. As stated before, Dr. Hasker feels the answer lies on the unknowability of the future (God included), as well as libertarian free will viewpoint. I'll digress for now, but continue shortly.

Essentially, the free will argument that Hasker utilizes is basically the same as the Arminian [Semi-Pelagian] position. How does this relates to his theodicy? Well, logically it fits quite well (I said logically, not biblically). According to this view, we must be completely free to make choices, whether good or evil. That way, God cannot be held responsible for this, as the responsibility lies totally on us. But what if God knew they were going to happen, as in the traditional Arminian view? Did God turn a blind eye to the future except in the soteriological sense of choosing those for salvation those who [in a sense] already chose Him (cf. Romans 8:29)? This is a problem for the Arminian theodicy. Which is why the final component, already discussed in previous posts, is that God does not, indeed cannot know the future completely or exhaustively, only all true propositions. Which is why I say, while I don't believe the libertarian free will is biblical, the open theist is clearly more logically consistent than your everyday Arminian.

Now, I said in the beginning that I felt that much of the chapter was based on speculation; here's why. While I grant that the libertarian free will schema shows a logical constancy overall (Hasker shows this effectively), the continued argumentation for the view seemed rather emotive than biblical. Hasker spends a few pages speaking to the value of free will by use of human analogy. He relates situations of father/child relationships as if they can be fully applicable to God in his relation to us. Sure, we as humans would rather have a son or daughter that would be a free thinking person with an "undetermined" future as opposed to a robot. But our thoughts are not God's thoughts. Just because we cannot fully conceive God's omniscience as it applies to his relation to us and the notion of evil, doesn't mean that we somehow have to redefine (or limit) it.

To continue, Hasker cites only one Scripture in the entire chapter which doesn't really provide an explanation for his free will thesis. He does offer what appears to be an explanation for the structure of the world, in which the elements of our world (human and corporate development and progression: through rational free will) are good and therefore must be rendered the most rational and sensible. Again, he states why he feels other possible world scenarios must not be considered. He quotes John Hick who, by way of summary, says that a paradise where there is no pain, evil or immorality would not serve the purpose of allowing its inhabitants to develop from self-regarding animality to self-giving love. But what first pops in my mind as I think this through is Eden and Heaven. Surely we were to be fruitful and multiply and till the land, and this was achieved even without pain, evil or immorality. And heaven we're told will no longer contain the evils we are accustom to. Then again, with Hasker's evolutionary tendencies, I'd be interested in hearing how Eden fits into his overall system.

In conclusion, while I feel that Hasker did and continues to do a good job of developing his position in a logically consistent manner throughout, I must affirm that he is not doing so from a biblical standpoint. He has yet to offer biblical examples to back his position, nor respond to the biblical instances that clearly speak of God as "determining" all actions. It appears that he may be attempting to create a god after the image of man, not the other way around.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Adoptee

Greetings to all,

Thanks Andrew for the kind introduction. I am humbled at the prospect of blogging with this league of distinguished bloggers. Here's some additional information concerning me. I have been married to the lovely and altogether superlative Kashelle Bruce for a year now. This summer we are moving to the Bay Area with the hope of planting churches in the East Bay (e.g. Oakland, Berkeley). I'll probably stick to blogging on New Testament issues at present, but I will try to pontificate on other matters as I get my bearings here. As for my theological leanings, just read Andrew's posts. We agree on just about everything. I am especially excited to dialogue on contemporary issues in Pauline studies, and church planting.


It's a Boy! or Changes and a New Addition at Christians in Context

Christians in Context as an entity is not legally allowed to adopt and is unable to have children. In lieu of those joys we have done the next best thing: added another blogger.

Jeffrey K. Bruce (called "Jeff" for short...) is not only one of my best friends in the world (I have brothers, but if I didn't, he would be the brother I never had), but he is a real live genius. As I have said before, I try not to use words that I don't mean, but if you knew him as well as I do you would know that if that isn't true, then it's dang close to it.

Jeff has amassed just about every academic credential possible to the level that he has studied at (which currently is his just finished M. A. in the New Testament from Talbot School of Theology). If you ever want to know anything about the New Perspective or Pauline Theology more generally, Jeff would tell you to talk to Stephen Westerholm. But supposing you can't get in touch with Dr. Westerholm, he is a great source on these and many other issues related especially to New Testament studies and theology.

But beyond that, Jeff is a devoted man of God and a great friend and brother in Christ. He will tell you more about his interests, theological and otherwise, but I for one am utterly thrilled to have Jeff joining the CiC team and greatly look forward to his contributions.

It is, after all, always nice to add a genius to your consistent reading!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

June - Book Giveway.

Just sign up for email updates for Christians in Context by June 30th to enter a drawing to receive a free copy (shipping included) of The Divine Authenticity of Scripture: Retrieving an Evangelical Heritage By A. T. B. McGowan. There are 2 available.

Another thank you to all of our faithful Christians in Context readers.

Just scroll down in the sidebar and enter your email address and enter the verification code. You'll then receive an email asking to "activate" your subscription. Only those who activate their subscriptions will be entered in the drawing. Those who already signed up for email updates you'll automatically be entered.

Note: Your email will not be given or solicited to any third parties.

Give-a-way rules:

1 - One entry per email subscribed. You may increase your chances by referring someone. Just send us an email to info [at] christiansincontext [dot] org and include the email of who you referred. If they activate their email you'll receive 3 entries into the drawing.

2 - You must carry an active subscription until the drawing takes place.

3 - Free shipping only available within the United States. International winners will receive a $5.00 USD discount toward shipping.

Good luck!

The Emerging Fad?

Some of you may see the title of this post and skip it if for no other reason than that you are tired of seeing Emergent-bashing on this blog. Heck, even if you aren't tired of "bashing," maybe you're just tired of the topic itself.

And I understand that. When all of this Emergent stuff got going I took some comfort in the thought that it was just another church fad that would get its fifteen minutes of fame before fading away into relative unimportance. And frankly it does appear to me that some of the early names in the movement are starting to lose a little bit of the flurry that first surrounded them.

But an important realization hit me yesterday as I began reading Dan Kimball's They Like Jesus but Not the Church: there is a real, serious problem that the Emergent movement is really, seriously trying to address, and we need to really, seriously do the same thing.

Now I am not entirely sure that the Emergent movement will prove itself to be the answer, especially not in its early, more radical forms. In fact I find Kimball's thought in general to be much more palatable than others because he seems less extreme, and, well, less obnoxious (if I can be frank, and that of course isn't to say that us non-Emergents are never obnoxious).

The fact of the matter is that megachurches reach the boomer generation but utterly fail to reach the 18 to 30 year olds. Attractional churches don't attract young people, plain and simple. This problem has become so real to me that I even find myself driving past large church buildings and thinking, "When all of the adults who go there now kick the bucket in however many years, that church will be empty."

Kimball draws a comparison that has haunted me since well before I started his book, "I once heard someone explain that the church in America is not above what happened in Europe...Their great cathedrals and church buildings once were filled with people, but now they sit almost empty on Sunday mornings and serve as tourist attractions...With the increasing [church] dropout rate of people in emerging generations, it could be our destiny that in thirty or forty years, all of our recently constructed megachurch buildings...will end up as virtually empty tourist attractions." (16)

Is the Emergent movement itself a fad? I'm not sure yet. But I am really confident that we need to take seriously the realization that they have been much quicker in coming to than most of us non-Emergents, namely that America is rapidly becoming post-Christian, and we who want to see the name of Christ glorified by the most people possible need to be serious about how to reach the emerging generation with the gospel.

So yes, I'm even a little sick of all this Emergent talk myself. But heed their urgency and think seriously about how the church accomplishes its mission to the world in America. Maybe that's why yet one more post on the Emergent movement is worth our time.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Free Speech, and the Homosexuality Agenda.

There is definitely an agenda in America, there's no doubt about it. My friend Drew Buell, Youth Minister at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, WA has found himself smack dab in the middle. Below is a excerpt from his blog post, the full post can be found here, and a follow up here. Please pray for him and offer up support regarding this. We need to stand for what makes this country great, our freedom of speech. But more importantly we need to stand for the truth of the Gospel.

"Several months ago the local High School in Mount Vernon became the first school in our state to have an official homosexual club on campus, even allowing them to hold an "Over the Rainbow Festival" where they brought in speakers and propaganda promoting their agenda.

I was privileged to be invited by the recently established Christian Club, on the same campus, to come and speak on "What the Bible teaches about homosexuality" last Thursday. The meeting went extremely well, with great dialogue from both the homosexual students and the Christian students. Sadly, last week I received a phone call from the school asking me never to come back to the campus due primarily to the separation of Church and State.In addition to all of this, this weekend I have an article that will be published in the local newspaper dealing with the same topic of "What the Bible teaches about homosexuality" along with an opposing view point from another local pastor."

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Thoughts on Women in Ministry, Part 3: The Incompatibility of Complementarianism and Cessationism

This post serves as the other side of the coin from part 2 of this series, and comes from an idea I had in a class this semester. As yet I have not talked to a complementarian cessationist about it, so if you fit that bill I am especially interested in your response.

The basic thesis, as the title suggests, is that it is impossible to be a complementarian and at least one form of cessationist. If it is not impossible there is a major problem. I'll explain my thought in numbered, point-by-point form to make it easiest:

1. 1 Cor. 11:4-5 clearly indicates that both men and women prophesied publicly in Corinth, and Paul never says this is a problem. Any form of complementarianism must take this into account, as I have tried to in my last post...

2. 1 Tim. 2:11-14 states that women are not to teach in mixed gender settings. Most complementarians think that this excludes any teaching or preaching from the pulpit for women in church today (I think it only limits a specific kind of preaching, but that is for another post).

3. Cessationists do not think prophecy still legitimately happens in the church today. The authority nature of first-century prophecy has been superseded by the Canon of Scripture, such that there is no longer need for such prophecy.

4. Many (most?) cessationists think that, because the issue with the charismatic gifts is divine authority (which now resides in Scripture alone), the modern equivalent and application to first-century prophecy is pulpit preaching, where the preacher speaks out of the authority of Scripture.

But this presents a major problem. A syllogism might help:

If first-century prophecy is the equivalent of modern pulpit preaching;
and women could prophesy in the first century;
then women can preach in church today, because the two ministries are the same.

That is to say that women cannot be both be denied and allowed a ministry at the same time,Make sense?

What this amounts to is that some position needs to be dropped, the options being (a) cessationism wholesale, (b) complementarianism wholesale, (c) the cessationist equivalence of first-century prophecy with modern preaching, or (d) the complementarian ban on all preaching for women.

It will come as no surprise that I would choose to drop option (a). This is partly because I think cessationism is completely biblically untenable and tends to stem from the spirit of the (modernist/rationalist) age more than good exegesis (I try not to use such strong words unless I really mean them, and in this case I really do mean them). So given the choice between dropping complementarianism wholesale or dropping cessationism wholesale, I pick the latter.

But this leaves the question of why not just renounce the preaching/prophecy comparison. But that is too simple of approach which raises a lot of questions about the nature of divine authority in the church. The preaching/prophecy comparison is based on the idea that prophecy served as divine guidance that is now surpassed by the completion of the canon. But if a woman could once serve with that high of a level of authority, why could she not at the same time teach or have authority? It makes the reasons for the guidelines of the authority order of the earliest churches nearly incoherent.

I suppose you could just drop your complementarianism wholesale too, but I would suggest otherwise. Why? That's for a different post.