Kingdom, Ethics, and Individual Salvation — A response to D. A. Carson

by Sam
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Published on: August 19, 2013

D. A. Carson recently wrote this article, which was published by the Gospel Coalition. I feel like he is writing against theologies that I hold to, and therefore I should respond. My response will be from a personal perspective with the goal that Reformed theologians will be willing to have a dialog with people who have different theologies rather than use caricatures.

Let us start with the introduction. I have no problem setting myself against traditional evangelicalism and reformed thought. After all their tradition has existed only for the last five hundred years. In the past I would have identified myself as evangelical, but of late there are many groups who seek to define evangelicalism around themselves and exclude the rest. Rather than debate what is evangelicalism, I would rather focus on what the scriptures say and go further back in history to the early church. So Carson is right, I do claim to be more Biblical and faithful to the Christian tradition.

The main thrust of my article will be to show that Carson is not really hearing us well and that he is lumping us with people who we have big differences with. In Carson’s article he lays down six challenges which he responds to. Below you will my responses to Carson’s six challenges.

 

Challenge 1:

Carson: The kingdom, especially as emphasized in the Synoptic Gospels, is often tied to communitarian ethics rather than individual ethics. By contrast, Paul downplays the kingdom and focuses rather more on individual salvation. This has played into the individualism of the West, which must be resisted by restoring a return to Jesus himself, achieving a better balance with Pauline emphases.

My response: Here is one of those places where not just Carson but other Reformed theologians get me wrong. I do not pit Jesus against Paul, in fact it is their misunderstanding of Paul that causes them to interpret me wrong. The Kingdom of God is the context where both commnutarian as well as individual ethics are practiced. In fact the Bible does not make a distinction between communitarian ethics and individual ethics, but reformed theology does. I also do not like talk of ethics, because ethics is something that can be practiced apart from the Kingdom of God. Rather I would describe our way of life as being witnesses of the Kingdom. Paul does not downplay the Kingdom, he speaks within the context of the Kingdom. Reformed theologians need to get this. The letters that Paul writes, are to churches that have already heard the Gospel of the Kingdom (Think Matthew, Mark and Luke). When Paul writes to a Church, he does not need to repeat the Gospel all over again, he simply addresses their individual situation, within the Gospel which Jesus preached. Because reformed theology has taken out salvation out off the context of the Kingdom, they have gotten salvation wrong. The issue is not maintaining a balance between Jesus and Paul, but understanding Paul who wrote within the context of Jesus’ ministry.  In Carsons response to the challenge, he claims that we pit ethics against atonement. Again, I don’t do that. Because of atonement we can enter the Kingdom of God. We live our lives righteously, as witnesses of the Kingdom, because we are in the Kingdom. Finally Carson thinks I extract ethics out of the narratives. What I get from the narratives is what a righteous life looks like. Reformed theologians seems to think that we get “ethics” only from teachings, not from narratives. I would like them then to obey Jesus’ teaching “follow me”, because when Jesus said that he expected us to do things he did when here on earth.

Challenge 2:

Carson: The kingdom is bound up with a way of looking at reality that undermines the perceptions of the fallen and broken world order. Many of the “parables of the kingdom” have this fundamental reversal at their core, so it turns out that the last are first and the wild and wayward son is given the party. In this kingdom, we do not govern the way the world does: the one who wishes to lead must be the slave of all, even as Christ came not to be served but to serve (Matt 20:20–28). The kingdom-cross has more to do with ethics, especially the ethics of reversal, than with atonement.

My response: I can agree with how Carson describes here until we get to the last statement. He once again says we pit ethics against atonement. The reason why Carson sees me as doing this, is because he understands atonement apart from the Kingdom of God. In John 1:29-42, Jesus is seen as both the person who takes away the sin of the world and as the Messiah, or King. Interestingly, in Carson’s response to the Challenge, he makes no mention of atonement, which proves what I said earlier that Reformed theology does not see atonement as related to the Kingdom. They speak of salvation apart from the Kingdom.

Challenge 3:

Carson: With the triumph of Christ achieved on the cross and through his resurrection, the kingdom has dawned—a glorious anticipation of the spectacular glory of resurrection existence in the new heaven and new earth. That means Christ’s people are mandated to begin now to work out the dimensions of righteousness and justice that will be consummated at the end: saying “No” to raw power, caring for the poor and needy, reversing discrimination, being good stewards of the created order that anticipates the consummated created order. All of this is the mission of Jesus.

My response: I can agree with what Carson said here of my theology, but it still betrays how much he misunderstands me. First off, I would not separate righteousness and justice from each other. To understand the full meaning of Biblical righteousness would be a really long article.  Also we simply don’t say no to worldly power. We are saying yes to the power that has been revealed through Jesus, who has triumphed over all the worldly powers, Col 2:15. Our mission is to triumph over these worldly powers (Eph 6:12)  just as Jesus did.

Challenge 4:

Carson: The clear command of Jesus is to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness—and Jesus makes clear, not least in the Sermon on the Mount, that this entails a range of shocking ethical transformations: turning the other cheek to violence, recognizing that the heart is more fundamental than mere action, and forgiving others (because, quite frankly, we will not be forgiven unless we do). This stance is often associated with the Anabaptist movement, whether in its more traditional guise or in its Hauerwas form. The broad pacifism Jesus mandated finally means that the church in some measure, in some way, must withdraw from the world: our job is not to transform culture, but to constitute a new people, to live by the shaping constraints and privileges of the kingdom. It is not our job to tell the world what to do, or even to figure out how to interact with the broader culture; it is simply our job to be the people of God.

My response: Again most of what Carson’s says of me is right, except for where he says, we withdraw from the world and not engage it. I think using the word withdraw is too broad. There is a sense that we are called to be holy, to set ourselves apart and not be of the world. But we are still called to bring the whole witness of Christ upon it. The world needs to see our light and feel our saltiness. We should tell the world what to do, which is to repent and follow Christ and to seeks his Kingdom and righteousness. We do not seek to transform culture, but to transform people, who in turn change culture.

Challenge 5:

Carson: A postmillennial anticipation of the coming of the kingdom, combined with either a soft sphere-sovereignty (think Kuyper) and/or with some form of theonomy, develops its own ways of thinking about the transformation of the culture.

My response: No, I don’t believe this. I expect something cataclysmic to happen. After all we are going to clothed with immortality.

Challenge 6:

Carson: At a popular level (think “Left Behind”), it is still not uncommon for some to think of the kingdom as virtually an exclusive reality, so that terms like “gospel” and “church” may be nicely tied to this generation, but “kingdom” has to do with the future, millennially conceived or not.

My response: Again not my stance. You are lumping me with dispensationalists? I actually lump dispensationalists and theonomists with reformed theology.

 

The purpose of this article is to show that Carson and by extension other reformed theologians are not listening properly to how people have challenged them. I hope they have some real dialog with those outside of the reformed camp, about the Kingdom of God.

 

Twister Apologies

by Sam
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Published on: June 3, 2013

On May 20 tornadoes struck Moore OK. Well you know, we Christians have a view on everything and we got to let people know about it. So while people, including children, were being pulled from the rubble of the elementary school, John Piper tweets

  • @JohnPiper: “Your sons and daughters were eating and a great wind struck the house, and it fell upon them, and they are dead.” Job 1:19
  • @JohnPiper: “Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.” Job 1:20

Christians on the blogosphere reacted. I posted on the kind of theology which gives rise to such responses to tragedy. Rachel Evans, Internet Monk and Stephen Smith responded. Mike Chaplain calls John Piper a miserable comforter, much like Job’s friends. My favorite response was from the humorous Jim West. I suggest reading those links, because they deal with John Piper’s theology.

John Piper does take down his tweets and offer something more compassionate, a more appropriate Christian response in situations like this. Others defended Piper saying that too much is being read in Piper’s tweet. I think all people were doing was reading Piper’s own ministry and theology into the tweets. So the tweets were still very Piperish. Others said we should speak the truth no matter what the situation. Gabe points what is wrong with that reasoning.

Rachel Evans apologizes for her rant. John Piper/Tony Reinke also apologizes. No wait, he didn’t. He only offered an explanation. My post is mainly about the explanation. I want to make the following points.

  1. For all those who think too much was read into Piper’s tweet, well Piper himself admits that the tweets are about a “Sovereign God”, which is a big part of Piper’s theology.
  2. There are some including Piper/Reinke who think that only if people saw the second tweet all would have been well. Such reasoning shows that they still don’t get the idea of what it means to comfort others.
  3. God is always worthy of praise. But as others have pointed out, in times like this we are called to weep with those who weep. Piper was not living this out with his tweets. If you protest this, just continue reading.
  4. Piper expected the tweets to comfort the victims, because Piper himself has been comforted by them. Here is where he got things backwards. Piper should have been the one empathizing with the victims not the victims empathizing with Piper’s past sufferings.
  5. Piper’s tweet which is suppose be more compassionate was “@JohnPiper: My hope and prayer for Oklahoma is that the raw realism of Job’s losses will point us all to his God, “compassionate and merciful.” James 5:11″ still does not go far enough. Yes God is merciful and compassionate and he wants us to be that way too. This is where Piper has to admit that he was not being compassionate especially with his initial tweets.
  6. Finally, Piper does not want to debate it anymore. What Piper refuses to see that is more than just a debate, it is people holding him accountable.

 

Determinism and Causality

by Sam
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Published on: May 23, 2013

“What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” Tertullian asked rhetorically. It is some thing we should be asking today. But to be able to ask that question we need to know the differences between Greek and Jewish philosophy. My quest into Greek and Jewish philosophy began with me trying to understand the Christian scriptures, not just some of it, but all of it. In asking some hard questions of scriptures I found that one of my biggest obstacles was that Christian theology is built on Greek philosophic foundation. This is the lens we read scriptures through.

I would like to focus on the related philosophies of determinism and causality. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle are considered the fathers of Greek philosophy. Determinism comes to us from Plato and Causality was a development of determinism by Aristotle and the Stoics came to adopt them and make it popular. These ideas eventually found it’s way into Christians theology.

Determinism is the belief that if the same set of conditions happen over and over again, the same event will be the result over and over again. Causality is related to this, stating given an event, the cause of that event can be determined.

This way of thinking has permeated into some strands of Christian theology, particularly some strands of reformed theology where the belief of meticulous sovereignty is strong. It also comes close to saying that God is author of evil.  There will be times when Determinism and Causality may seem true, but not always. Determinism, can somewhat be seen in the verse, what a man sows, that he will reap, Gal 6:7. But this does not mean, given the same sin, the person will experience the same consequence. For some people it might be severe and for others it may be a light suffering.

Because of the belief in Causality, every time an event happens we ask what caused it. There is a tendency to use Galatians 6:7 all the time. Paul uses Galatians 6:7 as a warning to believers but not as a means to determine the evil cause that caused the bad event to happen. We especially do not use Causal thinking when it comes to natural disasters. Jesus had the best way of addressing natural events. He said “God causes it to rain on both the righteous and the wicked”, Matthew 5:45. The story of Job is one of bad things happening to a good man. The Psalmist in Psalm 73 acknowledges that the wicked prosper. This is does not mean Galatians 6:7 is not true, it just means we need to use it properly.

As Christians I think we should not live according to Greek Philosophy. Instead we are called to live faithfully to God. We are to always examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith, not just when the bad things happen. But when bad things happens let us not immediately assume that some sin has caused it.

Let us not also assume that when bad things happen to others it is because of their sin. When bad things happen to others, we are called to react in compassion, not point out their sin.

The prime example is Jesus. He did not live by Greek Philosophy, When he was here on earth he could have pointed to everyone’s sins in painful detail and explain to them the cause of suffering. Instead his attitude towards the world was to lovingly seek and save the lost.

 

When will the thousand years begin?

by Sam
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Published on: May 14, 2013

In modern times, people have defined their eschatology around Revelation Chapter 20. This tends to be a very narrow working of what the Bible talks about as a whole. The scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses, have always been forward looking. This view would drive them to always be looking ahead to something better. This became especially prominent during the days of Israel’s exile. I think to be faithful to the scriptures we should stop defining ourselves around the Revelation 20, but instead have a fuller view of how the Kingdom of God is established. It is for this reason i prefer not be define myself within the categories of pre-, a- or post-millennialism.  But for the sake of discussion within the pop-Christian sub-culture, i describe myself as leaning towards a-miilennialism.

In the NT even after the Resurrection of Jesus, Peter and Paul had an apocalyptic view of the world which defined them. In the book of Acts from the very beginning we see Jesus spending his last days on earth teaching his disciples about the Kingdom of God. The disciples see the need to select a 12th disciple based on their reading of Messianic Psalms. (Every time I use the term Messiah or Christ or their derivatives, I am talking of the final King of the Jews, whose Kingdom shall not end.) Peter sees the pouring of the Holy Spirit as a sign of the “last days”, Acts 2:17, and therefore entering a new era of the Kingship of David being restored, Acts 2:25-36. In Acts 15, the Church as a whole sees that David’s kingdom is being rebuilt Acts 15:15-18. with the difference being that Gentiles will be part of the Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is being built. This was the perspective that the disciples had in Acts. They saw themselves and God as the ones who were doing the building. “Being built” implies a present continuous action as well a future final action when the building is completed. throughout the New Testament you will see that the Kingdom of God is spoken of both in present continuous as well as future. It is not a contradiction but there is a process of building that kingdom taking place.

The Present

In Romans 1:1-3, Paul introduces Jesus as a King. Pauls call him, the Christ/Messiah and son of David. If we understand the Old Testament prophecy properly, Messiah is not just any King, but the King that will save Israel. For a Jew in the first century, it means that the Messiah would overthrow the Romans and setup an Israelite kingdom. In 2 Timothy 2:8, Paul describes his gospel as Jesus who is risen and is also the son of David. In the gospels and Revelation, Jesus calls himself the descendant of David, meaning he is a King. In Matthew 1:6, David is specifically called, “the King”. So calling Jesus a son of David is saying that he is “the King”. Every time in the New testament, Jesus is called Christ, he is being called a King. Paul in 1 Timothy 6:15 calls Jesus King of Kings. So why is recognizing Jesus is king important? Well in Biblical times to be called King means that the person was reigning. Unlike now, we are capable of imagining a person to be King but not really reigning, in Biblical language, this concept did not exist. In Paul’s perspective, Jesus is reigning, In fact Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:25, Jesus must reign.

Why stress the reign of Christ is present? Well i am sure those that are A-millennial and post-millennial will be seeing the connection, but it will become clear when we get to Revelation 20. Another important aspect of Jesus’ reign is that we reign with him. In 2 Timothy 2:12, it says we reign with Christ. In Ephesians 2:4-7, Paul not only says we reign with him but that we were also resurrected with him. While the word reign is not there in the Ephesians 2:4-7, it does say we are seated with him in heavenly places, which means that we are reigning with him.

The Future

It is necessary to understand properly what the past and present age is like, before we can actually understand the future. One of the big events the writers of the New Testament looked forward to, is Jesus coming. Paul in 1Corinthians 15:23 mentions it. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, Paul expects Jesus to come. This coming will be marked with a trumpet, a resurrection of those who are dead in Christ and together with them, those who are alive will be with Christ forever. In all of the verses so far, notice the coming of Jesus is always singular and final, which means he comes with wrath, judgment and reward. There is no mention of an in-between time. In 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12, Jesus coming will be in Judgment and to be glorified among the saints, notice they happen at the same time. The judgment is complete, 2 Thessalonian 1:9, and not wait for something else to happen in the future. All of this happens at one coming.

Finally Peter in 2 Peter 3: 1-13 also looks forward to Jesus coming. His view is very similar to Paul’s. Jesus comes like a thief in the night. When he comes he will judge all things and establish the New Creation. Notice also in Peter, he mentions no in-between time. Jesus coming is final or the end of the age. After Jesus comes we expect the New Creation, not some in between “millennial kingdom”.

Hermeneutics

Before we get into Revelation, there is a need to talk about hermeneutics. One of the important principles is that we let scripture interpret scripture. If scripture has an interpretation, no matter how outlandish it may feel to us, we should accept it and not have any other interpretations of our own. Also we should let the clear passages interpret the vague passages. This is why when talking of the present and future, I did not use much of Revelation.

The book of the Revelation is an epistle/letter to seven churches, which means, this book was very relevant to them. It is also of the apocalyptic genre, meaning it uses figurative language as a means of description. Revelation also gives us a big picture of the past, present and future. The function of images in such kind of literature is to allow us to fill in or interpret the images with what we already know. This is another reason why we should first understand the past, present and future from other books of the Bible before reading Revelation. What you get out off the book of Revelation depends on what you take in with you.

A common mistake people make is that assuming that everything from Revelation chapter four is futuristic. This is easily disproved by reading Revelation 12, where it talks about the birth of Christ which is in the past and Revelation 17:10 where it talks of five kings that have already fallen. Also a lot of people assume that Revelation is one single vision. It really is a series of visions. Each vision has a different focus but span or overlap the same periods of time as other visions.

Another mistake people make when reading Revelation is thinking that numbers are a measure of accuracy. This is disproved by 2 Peter 3:8.

Revelation

There is only one place in the Bible where the millennial kingdom is mentioned is Revelation 20:1-6. So let us see how this Kingdom and it’s times are described.

First we have Satan being bound up. According to Jesus in Matthew 12:24-30, the devil has been bound up. This is why Jesus is able to save people. Even in Revelation 20:2-3, the bounding is described as not being able to deceive the nations anymore. This is happening now, that we see people from all nations/Gentiles getting saved. They are no more being mislead.

The second description of this time is that Jesus is reigning. This is happening now. In Matthew 28:18, Jesus says that all authority has been given to him. Compare this to Matthew 4:8-9. Jesus has taken over the reigns of power from the Devil. It also says that during this time, Christians will reign with Christ. This too is happening now.

After the thousand years Satan is released and then we have the great battle more commonly known as Armageddon. The problem with pre-millennialism is that there would need to be two two great battles, one before the millennial kingdom and one after. In the same way you need two coming of Jesus, unless you are pre-trib, then you need three comings of Jesus.

I hope by now you see that the millennial kingdom started when Jesus said “All authority is given to me”. When it ends, the New Creation will begin and the Kingdom of God will be fulfilled and God’s dwelling will be with man, Revelation 21:3.

 

 

Who knew Jesus was a King?

by Sam
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Published on: May 8, 2013

Over the last few days I have been reading Luke 22 – 24. If you are doing the one year Bible, then you also would be reading those chapters. There are many questions that you could ask of the Bible, but only a few of them get answered. A better way of saying this is that the scriptures has it’s own perspective of what it important and goes about answering them.

As Jesus got closer to Jerusalem and even after his resurrection, Luke focuses on the Kingship of Jesus. He did this by focusing on the Kingdom of God and Jesus being Christ or Messiah.It is important to note that the Kingdom is among us (Luke 11:20) and is yet to come in fulfillment. This gets to be confusing but the best way to think of it is that we are ambassadors of the Kingdom. The kingdom exists now, we are part of it, yet where we are in life, we see a foreign reign over us.

The “Last Supper”, appropriately named, is the last time Jesus would celebrate the Passover with his disciples before the Kingdom of God is fulfilled. In the disciples mind that would mean, that by this time next year, the Jesus would establish his reign in Israel and the Romans would be out. They still had not understood what the Kingdom of God was all about. They started to discuss among themselves who would be the greatest in that established Kingdom. But Jesus talks about being a servant, not exactly what power hungry people would want to hear. The disciples still would be the judges for Israel’s tribes, but not in the way they expect.

Did Peter understand the Kingship of Jesus? Probably not! After all he betrayed Jesus on that Passover day. In Peter’s mind, his Jewish expectation had been dashed, Jesus had prevented Peter from using the sword and said “none of this” Luke 22:51. Also  Jesus let his arrest go unhindered. Surely Peter must have thought that this Jesus was not much of a Messiah.

How about the elders and chief priests? Did they know Jesus was the Messiah? They actually asked Jesus. Jesus said yes and not only that he goes further saying that from now on he will reign with God. Of course they did not believe Jesus. After all Jesus was bound, what display of power is there in that? But for the Jewish leadership, all Jesus had to say was that he was the Messiah, and they understood him as challenging the established powers, including Rome, Luke 23:2.

How about Pilate? Looks like Pilate had no problem accepting Jesus was the King of the Jews. But he saw no threat from Jesus. Pilate must have assumed that Jesus was the king of the Jews, just like King Herod ruled over the Jews, without threatening Roman authority. But the Chief priests understood what being a Messiah meant and therefore accused Jesus of inciting people to overthrow Rome.Instead Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, to whom Jesus would have been a direct threat, but there too Herod found nothing about Jesus worthy of death.

So far it was the disciples, to a certain extent and the Jewish leadership who saw Jesus as challenging the present powers, but Pilate and Herod saw no threat from Jesus. Finally the Jewish leaders managed to have Jesus killed.

One of the thieves crucified with Jesus put him to the test to save himself, if he really was the Messiah. The other thief was strange. He asked a dying man who claimed to be a King, to remember him in his Kingdom. In this whole story, it is probably only the second thief who understood the Kingship of Jesus. When the people around the cross saw Jesus die, they only understood him to be a righteous man.

How about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Did they understand Jesus to be a Messiah? Well no! Initially they believed Jesus to be dead, they were not sure about the Resurrection. Since he was dead, he could not be the Messiah, the most they could muster was that Jesus was a prophet. They were hoping that he would be the Messiah and bring Israel freedom. Instead Jesus corrects them saying that the Messiah was to suffer and then enter into glory. Here “Enter into glory” does not mean Jesus goes to heaven, but rather his Messiahship is accomplished.

So why focus on the Kingship of Jesus and his Kingdom? It is something that a lot of people today would not want to hear. We prefer to only hear of him as a savior from sins. After all who wants his Kingdom when we have our own! Or there are some who acknowledge Jesus as a King, but they do not want his Kingdom. The kingship of Jesus cannot be separated from his Kingdom. Jesus purpose is to establish his Kingdom over all the earth. Even the devil understood this, Luke 4:7. Jesus took no short cuts. Jesus had his way of doing things, which is why he did not bow down to the devil. One of the ways the Kingdom would be established would be through suffering of the Messiah. Luke even quotes Paul in this issue “through many sufferings we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Jesus took strides to show that he was not a spirit, Luke 24:37-43. If the King is not a spirit, then his Kingdom is not merely a spiritual Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is as real as Jesus the Messiah. Jesus showed his disciples that from scriptures that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and die, but rise from the dead.

Initially, only the second thief on the cross understood the Kingship of Jesus, by the end of Luke’s story, everyone understood the Messiahship of Jesus because that is what Jesus taught them and proved it by his Resurrection.

 

 

 

Scriptural view of voting.

by Sam
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Published on: October 1, 2012

A friend of mine sent me the following email.

I’m struggling as to my presidential vote come this November.  I won’t be voting for Obama, but it’s hard for me to vote for a Mormon also.  Have you given any thought to this yet?  My struggle is that it’s hard for me to vote for someone of the Mormon faith.  But I realize that by not voting for him I will be essentially be aiding a vote for Obama since we’re a two party format. I know politics are a hard conversation but wondering if you had thought through it

I am putting out my reply to him since I know many people have similar questions.

I won’t tell anyone how to vote. My main aim is to enable you to think rightly about voting.  I will start by dispelling a few myths that are prevalent in churches today.

1. As Christians we should vote.

2. You are being faithful to God when you pick the lesser of two evils.

 

Debunking myth #1

First for some history or political context to the New testament. During the New Testament times or the 1st century, Rome was an empire but still had some aspects of the Roman Republic left over. The most important one was voting. Like today, voting was not compulsory. In Rome, Roman citizens could vote for members in the Senate. The members of the Senate and the Caesars were at odds with each other. One of the major issues of the day was when Nero wanted to do some construction in Rome and was blocked by the Senate for lack of funds. So when Rome burned (not sure who started it), people accused Nero of starting it or not doing anything to stop it, so that he could make progress on his construction agenda. To deflect all attention from him, Nero blamed the Christians for the fire. This was the kind of tense political drama that took place during the time of Paul.

Why is this history important? Well, Paul being a Roman citizen and also having written a lengthy letter to the Romans which would have consisted of many Roman citizens does not mention anything about the politics of his day. He does not even encourage them to vote according to their conscience. Instead all he asks them to do is submit to all authorities, Romans 13:1-5. This may seem like an argument of silence, but what it really is, is an argument of focus. Unlike today, where in many evangelical churches here in the US, you may hear leaders encouraging us to vote because it our responsibility, in the early Church, voting would not even have come into the focus of the Church. The difference between then and today is the importance we give to voting. In the early Church their focus was on the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of Rome, even though it was the most powerful empire of the day.

Another passage that is quoted to encourage people to vote is 1 Timothy 2:1-4. Here we are told to pray for all leaders. What often gets left out from this passage is that we are told why to pray for the leaders. We as Christians pray for them so that we can live in peace. If there was a place where Paul could have encouraged citizen of Rome to vote, it would have been here. He could have asked them to support only those Senators who would be sympathetic to Christians, but Paul does not do this. The kind of emphasis we see among Christians in the US today for voting does not exist in the scriptures.

Debunking myth #2

One of the biggest arguments that is heard among Christians is that we need to pick the lesser of two evils. Such a view comes from not fully understanding what it means to live by faith. Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38 all say the same thing. “The righteous one shall live by faith”. This is really a quote from Habakkuk 2:4. The context of Habakkuk is crucial to understanding this phrase. The book begins with the prophet Habakkuk lamenting about the sin in Judah. He wanted God to punish them. God replies that he is going to punish them using the sinful Babylonians. This perplexes the prophet. Habakkuk 1:13 gives insight into his confusion. How can God look idly when the more wicked swallows up the more righteous. Understand that the more wicked is Babylon and the more righteous is Judah. Also notice how Habakkuk now sees Judah as righteous. This is a normal human reaction to the see the less wicked side as righteous, but God does not d this.  In a battle of the more wicked and less wicked, Habakkuk expected God to side with the more righteous. This is when God replies that the “the righteous one will live by faith”.

For Habakkuk this would mean not to take either side, neither Israel nor Babylon. Instead he is to wait for God who would work things out, which in this case would be exile for Israel. This was a hard thing for the prophet to accept but this is what it means to live in faith. Jesus when here on earth did not chose between the Pharisees and the Romans, instead he chose to be faithful to God and was crucified for it, by both the Pharisees and Romans. In this case the Pharisees would have been seen as more righteous than the Romans. We as Christians in the end should be faithful to God, not to the lesser of two evils. In God’s eyes there is really no lesser of two evils. Jesus wants us to hold on to all righteousness not some, Matthew 23:23.

Here in the US, conservatives could be seen as the lesser of two evils. But I believe that if we were to see all  sin as God does, we would find both sides to be equally evil.

I could agree with one Politician, Gov Gary Johnson, when he says that the only wasted vote is the one you cast for someone who you cannot agree with. Also I think as Christians we should realize not casting a vote is an option. If a person casts a vote, he does not sin, also if he does not cast a vote, he still does not sin. Also if you cast a vote, you are not sinning if you vote conservative. You are not sinning if you vote liberal either. If you find yourself becoming religious about the whatever direction you chose to vote, then I would say do not vote. In conclusion, I want you to consider that you do not have to vote and in case you decide to vote, understand this, voting for either side will not make you any more faithful to God, because God wants us to hold on to all righteousness.

The Eight Commandment

by Sam
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Published on: September 10, 2012

Did you know the commandment “Thou shalt not lie” did not make the top ten list? You don’t have to be Christian to know that lying is just bad. Instead what we have in the commandments is “thou shalt not bear false witness”. This covers lying, but even more. Sometimes we can be “technically true” yet mislead our hearers to believe something that isn’t true. For example in Gen 20:1-12, Abraham spoke the truth that Sara was his sister, but it was still deceptive. It hid from King Abimelech that Sara was also Abraham’s wife. If Abraham were to be a true witness of Sara, he would said that she was his half-sister and wife. The scriptures see lying within the larger context of being a false witness. A good example would be 1 Cor 15:15, where Paul  instead of hypothetically labeling himself a liar, labels himself a false witness.

Before going further, I would like to introduce two new/old words. The Faithful and Christian Claimers. Faithful ones are the ideal followers of Christ. Claimers are those who claim to be Christians. This includes me and you unless you do not claim to be Christian.

So why the focus on bearing false witness? I am finding that among Claimers, bearing false witness is no more a big sin. Relatively speaking, bearing false witness has become to us what used to be a white lie. I have been in Church situations where a being false witness was considered to be no big deal, it was not something that needed to be dealt with. There were people who did not even want to hear that it happened within the Church. How did we as Claimers get here? Have Claimers become tolerant of bearing false witness?

I want to explore two movements within the Church that have have influenced our way of thinking, psychology and politics. I should nuance here what I mean by politics. There is good politics. Jesus practiced it. If you think Jesus was apolitical, read the gospels again. He was very political, after all he came claiming to be a King and bringing about the Kingdom of God. Jesus could have been accused and actually was accused of sedition. But his kind of politics is not what I am lamenting here, it is the worldly kind. Any discerning Christian would say that psychology and politics should not influence us Claimers, but rather we should influence them. Unfortunately that is not what has happened.

Psychology and its counseling methods have made massive inroads within the Church. Today it is very prevalent within the church. Claimer institutions teach it. Many claimers are not cognizant of it’s presence within churches. Without going into a long discussion, what psychology has done is replaced God’s Holy Spirit with itself.  Psychology is deceptive because it’s end goal is to heal people’s soul which is similar to some of the goals of Christianity. But they come about it using different methods. In psychology the healing of the patient/victim/person’s hurt is the ultimate goal. As long as you can get there, anything is acceptable. It is within the confines of counseling situations that patient/victims are allowed to bear false witness to their perceived perpetrators. After all the end goal is healing of the patient, not becoming a people holy to God. The faithful rely on God’s Holy Spirit for healing and do not need to resort to bearing false witness.

Politics too has been incredibly deceptive to Claimers. What I have in focus here is conservative politics. While liberal politics has deceived people too, it has not done so in large numbers among Claimers like how conservative politics has. Before talking about the present, we should remember this is not something new. Politics has caused Claimers in the past to be tolerant of bearing false witness. In the run up to the second Gulf war, accusations were made that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). There were different voices regarding the matter. Conservative politics took the stand Iraq had WMD’s.  The majority of Claimers never questioned it. If Claimers were intolerant of bearing false witness they would not have capitulated so easily. The war is over now and no WMD’s have been found. Yet very few Claimers will admit that they were wrong to believe in the WMD accusation. Coming back to today, not much has changed. Having seen some of the speeches of the Republican national convention, I can say there have been many false representations of the opposition. Yet you will find very few Claimers who lament it. In fact they even take part of it. One good example is the whole “you didn’t build that” controversy. Looking at what the President said in context, when he said, “you didn’t build that” he was referring to roads and bridges, not to the small business. Yet the Republicans continue to bear false witness as to what he said. Claimers too have gotten caught in that deception. A good example is this popular Claimer radio host in my town. So not only have some Claimers become tolerant of bearing false witness, they are even taking part in it.

Politics is deceptive in that a lot of Claimers defend themselves by claiming they are picking the lesser of evils. In a future article I will discuss why picking the lesser of two evils is not something a faithful person does. In fact the faithful life can be described by the phrase “the righteous will live by faith”. It is quoted a few times in the New Testament. It comes from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. When read in context God telling Habakkuk that the “righteous will live by faith” is also saying that the righteous does not pick the lesser of two evils.

To end this, I plead with Claimers or people who Claim to be Christians, do not bear false witness, whether in personal or political situations. Neither be tolerant of it.

 

 

 

I am eating Chicken for the rest of my life!

by Sam
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Published on: July 29, 2012

I would like to first put things in a Biblical perspective regarding male and female. God created man (male and female) in his image so that they could bear the image of God and rule over the earth. They are to have dominion over the earth by being fruitful and multiplying. (Gen 1:26-28). Th Biblical view of a ruling is more of a benevolent ruler. The ruler’s job is to take care of what is under his care, rather than the idea of being able to do anything as he pleases, good or bad.  It is interesting that marriage is not the final purpose of man, but rather being in the image of God and ruling over the earth is the purpose. It is only in light of this observation that something said by Jesus (Matt 22:30) and Paul (1 Cor 7:29, 38 – 40) will make sense.

The creation story in Genesis 1 begins to be expanded in Genesis 2 and it is here where we see the first mention of marriage, Gen 2:20-25. From this passage comes the common saying that the Biblical definition of marriage is one man and one women for life.

Today as we look around us we see the world trying to redefine marriage in its terms. This is sin against a holy God. So what kind of things redefine marriage or to put it in provocative terms, destroy marriage? Let us name a few, homosexuality, divorce, infidelity in marriages, sex before marriage and any form of birth control including mutilation of the body. Yes all of these acts destroy marriages!

So let me parade before you the people who have destroyed marriage by their sin. These people who are shaking their fists at God are the scum of the earth.

Parade of Shame

  1. Abraham: He had a beautiful wife, which many other men desired. But they were childless. So in order to have a child, he sleeps with his wife’s servant. In short, Abraham destroyed marriage and shook his fist at God just because he wanted children. He is scum.
  2. Jacob: He falls in love with Rachel, but was cheated into marrying Rachel’s sister Leah. But Jacob really wanted Rachel, so she still marries Rachel seven years later. Is falling in love a good reason to be shaking your fist at God? But this exactly what Jacob did. He married a second wife and destroyed marriage. He is scum. But wait, you think this scumball stopped there? Well he went on to have more children with his two wives’ servants!
  3. Judah and Tamar: This is one twisted couple. You should read Genesis 38. Judah was Tamar’s father in law. Tamar deceives Judah into thinking she is a prostitute. So Judah sleeps with her or should I say shakes his fist at God. All the time Tamar’s intention was to have a baby with her father -in-law (I know, it’s twisted). The story ends with Judah saying that Tamar was more righteous than him. What kind of scum are they?
  4. Gideon and David: They both were war heroes. They probably had that tough guy look, you know the kind girls cannot resist. So what do they do? They marry several wives. Each time they married they shook their fist at God. If that was not enough, David even stole another war heroes wife. What a sick man! Scum
  5. Hosea: He married a prostitute. That is just asking for trouble. I am sure none of you would counsel a man to marry a hooker, not unless she has proved herself. But Hosea shakes his fist at God and married her. What happens next? She cheats on him. I wish was there to say, “I told you so.” But I do not think that would not have helped, because this deranged man, goes and gets her back to be his wife. Really this guy makes a mockery of marriage. He is shaking his fist defiantly at God.
  6. Lady in John 8: Her name is not mentioned. Well women like her deserve to be un-named. She was caught in the act of sex with a man who was not her husband. Imagine the scene and the outrage. She deserved to be stoned to death. Every man who want marriage preserved should have stoned her. Anyone protecting her is just shaking their fist at God.
  7. Moses: Well he is last on the list of shame. Not sure whether to blame him or the guy who he claimed he got his stuff from, Yahweh. For now let us give Moses the benefit of the doubt and assume that he did not make stuff up but that it was given to him by Yahweh. Well this Yahweh actually allowed divorce to be legal. Who does Yahweh think he is to contradict God? Yahweh shook his fist at God. ‘enough said.

So there you have it, people who destroyed marriage and shook their fists at God.

OK by now, you would have realized that I was being sarcastic. But I hope it gets a message across. All those xians who claim to defend marriage and are all riled up only at homosexuals are really being homophobes and the sad part is they use the Bible as their defense. So please stop misusing the Bible. If you claim to be Christian, then be a follower of Christ whose ways of dealing with sin is very different from what conservatives or liberals prescribe today.

 

King Jesus Gospel — 8

by Sam
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Published on: May 14, 2012

Chapter: The Gospel of Peter

 

So far McKnight has taken us on a journey where he showed that Jesus preached the gospel, the Gospels tell us tell us the gospel and Paul passed on the apostolic tradition. This gospel is the Story of Israel finding its resolution in Jesus. In this chapter we will look at what Peter preached as the gospel.

The book of Acts will be the focus of this chapter. In this book, there is gospel preaching by both Paul and Peter. Even though both have used different words, a careful reading will show that these two apostles still stood together in preaching one apostolic gospel. As a reminder, the aim of this book is to show that what we call evangelism today or gospel preaching is different from what the Bible teaches as the gospel. What better place than the book of Acts could be a source for evangelism.

There are seven different gospel sermons in the book of Acts. If we include the sermon of Stephen, then it would be eight. They are Acts 2:14-39, Acts 3:12-26, Acts 4:8-12, Acts 10:34-11:18, Acts 13:16-41, Acts 14:15-17, Acts 17:22-31 and Acts 7:2-53.

While we started with 1 Corinthians 15, it really is not a gospel sermon in a public setting. In fact it was written to those who have already heard the gospel, therefore it serves more as a reminder. Even the gospels are not sermons but the full gospel. What we see in Acts is first century evangelism preaching to those who are not followers of Christ.

What we find in Acts that neither Peter or Paul reduced the gospel to the plan of salvation. They also did not frame from the perspective of atonement theory. Instead they framed the gospel through the grid of Israel’s story coming to its destination in the story of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 15:3 we read “according to scriptures”, in the sermons in Acts we see this “according to scriptures” filled out. Peter in Acts 2 quotes Joel 2:28-32, Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110:1. Peter preaches Jesus as part of Israel’s story. In Peter’s second sermon he quotes Deuteronomy 18:15-19 . In Acts 3:25 he quotes Gen 22:18 or Gen 26:4. In Acts 10:43, Peter says that “all the prophets testify about Jesus Christ.”  Paul in Acts 13 preaches Jesus as a descendant of David. He summarizes the message by saying that the good news is that God promised his ancestors and fulfilled it by raising up Jesus. This kind of framing of the gospel is pervasive in the book of Acts that failing to preach that way would be failing to keep the apostolic tradition.

We live in a world today where different stories seek to capture our imaginations. This has effected the Church and now we have different Jesus’ each to their own liking. For some Jesus is a social activist, to others a Republican or Democrat or an anti-empire Jesus. But if we want to know the real Jesus we need to situate him in Israel’s story as the apostles did. We need to be able to make the same claims of Jesus as the apostles did. Peter uses many labels for Jesus including servant, righteous one prophets etc. But the major terms used for Jesus in the New Testament are “Messiah (Christ)” and “Lord”.

(In this paragraph I deviate from McKnight’s views about natural revelation). Our next quest would be to understand how Paul brought Israel’s story to the Gentiles who were not “God-fearers” or those who never inserted themselves in Israel’s story. In Lystra (Acts 14:11-17) we find Paul rebuking the people for trying to worship him. He tells them to turn to the living God who made the heave, earth and sea. it maybe tempting to think that Paul was using natural revelation, but God being the creator of heaven, earth and sea is a Jewish concept. In the past this Jewish God, let the Gentiles go their own way. Yet is was this God that brought rain from heaven and crops in their seasons. What Paul is doing here is imposing the God of Israel on the gentiles. Even in Athens, Paul goes back to the creation story to frame the present day existence of the Greek society. What Paul is doing here is still using Israel’s story but only that which is common to both Jew and Gentile. He is adapting the gospel to his audience. What is interesting in the Athens sermon that Paul bring Jesus not as a savior but as a resurrected man who will judge the world.

From all of these sermons, the apostles expected the proper response to be believe, repent and be baptized. So while salvation was the result of the Apostles preaching, salvation was not the way of the message was framed. The context of the message is always the Story of Israel being fulfilled in Jesus.

The goal of understanding the gospel is not to replace salvation, but to situate salvation within the bigger story of the gospel, which begins with creation and covenant with Israel. While the story has not ended, it resolves itself in the life of Jesus.

Good Friday Reflections

by Sam
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Published on: April 6, 2012

Michael Gorman has an excellent post on Good Friday. If I were going to do a short post that represents the theological depths of the cross, this would be it.

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