Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why the Ending of Mark Was Not Originally There, and Why It Doesn't Matter If You Think It Was

In light of the snake-handling pastor who died this past week, the issue concerning whether the ending of Mark (i.e., 8:9-20) is original and to be applied to us has once again come up. So I want to address both of these issues, from the standpoint of one who rejects its original presence in the text, and from the standpoint of one who sees the text as Scripture (whether it was originally there or not).

First, most scholars don't think this was the original ending of Mark, although there are many who do. The original ending is either understood to be v. 8, or that it had another ending that was lost. I think it's the former rather than the latter.

The reason why I think so is because the theology of Mark emphasizes death. Mark continually records Christ reminding us of His death and that we also need to follow Him in death to Self. In other words, the Gospel communicates the point that following Christ means dying, and this is exemplified in Christ's sacrifice. Hence, the most fitting end is one where the emphasis is on the death of Christ with less emphasis on His resurrection.

Now, having said that, this doesn't mean that Mark doesn't mention the resurrection. It's both in the Gospel and that to which is alluded at the end. The point is on emphasis, not whether Mark thinks the resurrection is important for the overall gospel message and the Christian life.

What I think likely happened is that Mark, being the shortest Gospel, was likely read in liturgy or used as a presentation of the gospel message at some point in the early Church, but was deemed incomplete for that purpose. Hence, a summary made up of the resurrection accounts found in the other gospels, along with some of the things that happened to the apostles was tacked on to give one the gist of what happened after Christ's death. In fact, when you read it, it very much sounds like a summary account of someone who is distant from the apostles and speaks of them in the past tense (a tense gained from context rather than verbs of course).

This brings me to my second point. The summary message is made up of Scripture, so it actually is all inerrant truth. If one were to accidentally include it as original, there really is no mistake that's being made. To demonstrate this, let's briefly take a look at the passage and those texts it uses to summarize.

Now when [He] rose early on the first [day] of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.

This could be from any of the Gospels, such as Matthew 28:1-10, but it is most likely from John 20:1-18, since only John mentions Mary the Magdalene alone. This is significant in showing that the summary of Mark here is not just a matter of using Q-like sources similar to the other synoptics, but is also a summary of information found in John (and Acts as we will see). This is another indication that this is a later summary, not necessarily one that is constructed in the time of the apostles.

She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept.  
 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. 

Luke 24:9-11

After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. And they went and told [it] to the rest, [but] they did not believe them either. 

This is clearly from Luke 24:13-29

Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. 

Matthew 28:16-17, Luke 24:36-43, and of course, John 20:24-30 that speaks directly of Thomas' doubting.

And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 

This, of course, is a paraphrase of Matthew 28:19-21

"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 

This could be taken from Luke 24:47, or even Matthew 28:19-21, but it is likely primarily taken from John 20:23. In any case, it seems to be a mixture of all of the Gospels together.

"And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; "they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 
And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with [them] and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

Here we have a summary of things that happen in the Book of Acts. The apostles cast out demons, speak in tongues, Paul is bitten by a serpent when he accidentally picks it up with sticks and is not harmed by it, and they lay their hands on the sick and heal them. The only reference not found in Acts is the drinking of poison, but this was a common form of murdering officials in the ancient world, and it may be that the author wanted to note that the apostles, as God's officials, could not be harmed in that way. He might have gotten that from the idea that serpent poison did not harm Paul. In any case, the rest of the text is definitely a summary of the lives of the apostles. Note, this is what they did. They went out everywhere, the Lord working with them and accompanying them with these signs.

This brings us to the final point. If one accepts this text as Scripture, which I do, even if it is not original to Mark, the correct interpretation of this text is that is a summary of what God does with the apostles. It is not something that is promised to every Christian. I've said before on this blog, God does not throw out miracles left and right throughout Scripture as many think He does. He usually only displays an outpouring of such things in order to establish His Word. Once established, He expects people to listen to it, not seek for signs in order that they might believe (which isn't belief anyway). Hence, these things were for the establishment of the apostolic message and authority we see in the New Testament now, not for all Christians either in their time or ours.

Hence, we can accept the end of Mark as Scripture, since it is a summary of Scriptural truth anyway; but we cannot apply it to ourselves directly, as the text is merely descriptive, not prescriptive, concerning what God does with the apostles. Where it does apply to us is in the prescriptive concerning what the apostles were to do (i,e., go and preach the gospel to all creation). That is the task we pick up from the apostles because it is through our spreading of their message that they complete their task. We are participants in the work they were commanded to do, precisely, because we are the vehicles through which their work will come to completion. But as for God giving us the signs of apostles themselves? That's not for us, as their message has already been established with signs, and now it must simply be proclaimed.

So if you leave Mark in, interpret it in context and for what it is meant to be. If you take it out, no problem, you're not missing anything, as it is essentially all in other places in Scripture anyway. But don't apply it directly, or it may come back to bite you.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Superficiality versus Depth in Our Relationships

Why is superficiality so enticing as an answer to diversity of thought and pluralism?

 I think it's enticing because it allows us an easy retirement from the fight. Diversity of thought breeds conflict, so it's simply easy to become so superficial in our relationships by snipping away at who we are and what we really think until we find common ground, which is usually going to be on something not worth discussing, as it has no real effectual influence on our lives. Hence, our interactions with other people either become flattery sessions, where we merely just encourage others in what they're doing regardless of what we think about it, or they turn into unity around some menial experience or idea. The quest to find common ground is often a quest to kill off the profound and important in our relationships. Even evangelicals argue that we should major on the majors in order to get along, rather than teach and discuss the whole counsel of God, but even the majors are becoming the source of too much conflict. At the end of the day we end up with just agreeing to allow Christians to believe in God in some way, in Jesus in some way, and let everything else drift to the wayside in our conversations with one another.

And why do we do this? Because we get tired of conflict. Diversity of thought creates opportunities for conflict if, in fact, one or more people are willing to stand up for what they believe in. And we don't like conflict. It takes energy out of us. It takes work to overcome. And we are exhausted by it. Hence, the easy answer is just not to engage anymore in such conflicts. Make your interactions all happy ones.

The other answer is to simply surround yourself with people who agree with everything you say, or at least, agree that what you believe is valid in some way. Hence, no real criticism of what you believe or do is available to you. In other words, there is no ability for what you believe or do to actually go through a process of purgation of anything that might be harmful or fatal to your life.

The problem with avoiding conflict by retreating from critical conversations that are brought on by conflicting thoughts is that we become only shadows of what we were meant to be. We become superficial humans ourselves, never allowing our ideas and practices to be evaluated for their truthfulness or goodness. In short, we become empty people who can't take criticism, since our ideas have not been tried and tested by friends. All who would do so look like enemies to us. All who would engage in deeper conversations and stand up for what they believe as the true and the good in exclusion to bad ideas are to be avoided. Conflict goes away. The world's concept of peace ensues. And we are left as happy, shiny people holding hands. There's just not much left of the "people" part, or the "happiness" part, since we are made for deeper relationships than that. Perhaps, it would be better to call us "accommodating, dull subhumans waving at each other." That about sums up the amount of true depth we're getting with one another, along with the amount of genuine satisfaction in becoming all that we were meant to become in our relationships with one another as humans.

In fact, it becomes impossible to have any idea that what you believe is true, since others are often given to us to question what we believe so that we might sharpen one another. True knowledge, then, becomes impossible, or at least, improbable, to actually discover, beyond just being plain lucky or blessed to have stumbled upon such a perfectly cut diamond right out of the coal mine. We need each other to learn, but learning beyond what you already believe is impossible to do in superficial or self-flattering relationships.

For Christians, however, superficiality is not an option. We are commanded to go into all nations and teach them all that Christ has commanded, not just the stuff that everyone would commonly see as true and good. We are commanded to engage in a spiritual warfare that is not against flesh and blood, and to hold every thought captive to Christ. Our goal is not to get along. It is to transform subhumans into real humans in Christ, and we do this by entering real relationships that are brought on by real conversations that often have a lot of real conflict. The Christian may not get to hold hands with those who reject the truth he brings, but as said before, they're not really holding hands with each other either.

Instead, our goal is to not become exhausted by conflict, but to see it as opportunity for transformation and growth toward what is true and good and bring others under the loving Lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is why we are continually exhorted to not grow weary in our struggle against what is wrong by doing what is good. We are to speak the truth to everyone, and have the love for others as our motivation for doing so. We are to fight the good fight, to keep the faith, to exalt Christ in every conversation possible. Search the Scriptures and you won't find a single superficial conversation that God has with His people. You won't find Christ just talking about sports or the weather. Even the mundane is turned into something profound by Christ, because He is infinitely profound. But His depth and stand for what is true created nothing but conflict in the world of the superficial and the evil tendencies of man who desires peace at the cost of what is right. I wish the same could be said of all of His children.

And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the  knowledge  of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all [aspects] into Him who is the head, [even] Christ . . . (Eph 4:11-15)

  And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real  knowledge  and all discernment,  so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ (Phil 1:9-10)

Do not withhold the truth from one another, since you laid aside the old self with its [evil] practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true  knowledge  according to the image of the One who created him-- (Col 3:9-10)

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you  contend  earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Biologos and Liberalism

Again, I have to agree with the following. Biologos has had ample time to make a case as to why their version of evolution (i.e., Darwinian, unguided natural evolution) is compatible with orthodox Christianity. In fact, all we have seen so far is a denial of the biblical basis for redemption, which is the historical person of Adam and his rebellion against God, a denial that the Bible is completely inerrant, and a denial of Augustinian views of God's interaction with the world, which can be seen throughout the Bible as well as takes it true place in orthodox Christianity. In other words, it is the same denials that liberalism proposes against orthodox Christianity. In short, Biologos theology is liberal theology, and that's why it works well among liberals and emergings (i.e., young liberals). It has failed to convince the more theologically robust camps of evangelicalism, because by its seemingly own admission, it must reject the theology of those camps in order to have agreement with its interpretation of the data (i.e., its empirical experience). I've spoken before on this blog concerning the reason why liberalism and atheism are in so much agreement (i.e., because they share the same Enlightenment-oriented presuppositions concerning knowledge). In any case, I thought this article once again displays that either orthodox Christianity is right or Biologos is. But the two seem to be completely incompatible at this point.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why Liberalism Breeds Arrogance

For some reason the term "arrogant" gets tacked onto conservatives. After all, they're the ones supposedly oppressing others with their view of morality.

But what does it mean to be arrogant? Arrogance is really a lifting of oneself over another. It is to think less of one who is outside of the Self and more of the Self. Hence, it is to exalt the Self over others.

The problem is that actually a true conservative isn't doing this at all. In fact, it's the liberal that does this. And he must do it, precisely because his authority is himself. Hence, whenever he judges something to be true, right, wrong, absurd, ridiculous, imperative, responsible, irresponsible, etc., he is at all times only expressing his personal opinion. His basis for holding that opinion is only his own personal experience (and whatever external authorities may happen to agree with him are used to bolster his claim).

Hence, he, unlike the conservative who basis his authority outside of himself, is actually imposing his opinion on other people whenever he judges something to be right or wrong, good or evil, true or false. But what sort of human being thinks of his own opinions so highly, his own experience so exceptional, his own abilities to judge an issue or a matter so great, as to subject everyone else's opinion, whether based on internal or external authorities, to his?

You see, that is why the Bible presents arrogant, haughty, self-important people as those who do not submit themselves to God's Word. They lift up their personal opinions so high they cannot possibly submit them to lower authorities as the Bible or the Church. In Scripture, the liberal is the arrogant man, not the conservative who follows the Scripture.

The one who is in submission to Scripture isn't impressing his opinions over another. He's not the one subjecting everyone else to himself and his experiences. He yields to another authority, outside of himself, in order to judge issues and matters. In other words, the conservative who follows the Bible is often called arrogant for telling other people what is right and wrong, true and false, but according to Scripture, he is what God considers a humble man.

In Isaiah 66:2, God declares that His Spirit does not dwell in temples made by human hands, but in individuals who are humble and contrite in spirit. And who are these individuals? The text says that they are those who "tremble" at His Word. They take God and His revelation seriously enough to submit themselves and their judgments to it. This is also why Moses was considered the most humble man alive, not because he didn't tell others what was what, but because he continually subjected himself and others to what God had said.

But the liberal's primary authority for judging reality (and therefore issues and matters in life) is his personal experience. He can't humble himself before God's Word. He has to poke holes in it instead. He must see its variations as ultimate contradictions rather than ultimate complementations. He must mock those who would place themselves under it, and despise those who would tell others what is good and true based upon it.

In short, the conservative is arrogant to the liberal because the conservative won't bow down to the liberal's interpretation of reality. He won't yield to the liberal's low view of the Bible and the Church. He won't concede to him the authority he so desires all to recognize.

This is also why liberals get so much more offended than genuine Christians often do when you correct them. The liberal is completely unteachable unless he wants to learn something new or be corrected, but he doesn't want the imposition of an external authority to be placed upon him without his permission.

I had a older pastor friend in the PCUSA who had a lot of friends who were liberal pastors. He once said to me that liberals were the most intolerant people he knew, far more than the conservatives he knew. I concur with this, as my friends are the same (or I should say, were the same, liberals don't stick around very long when they don't get their way and the conservative friend isn't one of those silent, passive types).

In essence, liberals are intolerant because their view of reality stems from their personal experience and to reject what they say about what is good and true is to reject them. The conservative, however, may be offended for his authority, but not for himself, as what he says doesn't really have its source in him. In a way, although he wants to emulate it, the good and the true is not intrinsically linked to who he is and his experiences necessarily. He is at all times seeking to yield to another, and so he has a lot of practice at looking at issues from a distance to himself first. To reject the issue is to reject the conservative's authority, however, not the conservative himself. Hence, he makes a better sparring partner in debate than the liberal who takes everything personally.

But the point of it all is that liberalism breeds arrogance because when someone exalts the Self as the primary interpreter of reality, and another comes along and rejects the Self as right in the matter, thus tearing the Self down from that exalted position, the liberal sees it as a personal attack. And this sensitivity is bred by the fact that the Self is used to being stroked by the individual as something great and honored. If one does not yield by allowing the liberal to interpret reality according to his own experiences, then he is viewed as a bad person. Only those who allow the liberal, in our relativistic society, to interpret reality for himself and judge others by it, are allowed to be good people in his universe.

The point is that the liberal is at all times speaking from himself, telling others that they need to be in agreement with him that his interpretation is valid in some way. If he does not get this submission, his wrath is great indeed.The bodies of any conservatives who may have disagreed will be strung upon the walls of slander and exiled from social acceptance (i.e., cut off from his people). One cannot defy the divine liberal without severe consequence.

Transgress one of his commandments (such as, "Thou shalt not bring into conversation an external authority that is greater than the Self"), however, and feel his wrath. As the Psalmist says, "The  arrogant  utterly deride me, Yet I do not turn aside from Thy law" (119:51). And again, "The  arrogant  have dug pits for me, those who are not in accord with Thy law" (v. 85).

Of course, there are different kinds of liberals, but the arrogance that is produced by liberalism is seen best when it comes into conflict with another authority that negates it. It is only then that you see the exaltation of man in all of his hubris, and his own little Babylonian tower that has been erected as a monument to the Self. In that conflict, the liberal is viewed as arrogant by God for lifting himself up above God's Word and the conservative Christian is viewed as arrogant by the liberal for lifting God's Word up over the liberal. Which kind falls into judgment according to the following verses seem obvious:

 Listen and give heed, do not be arrogant, For the Lord has spoken. Give glory to the Lord your God, Before He brings darkness And before your feet stumble On the dusky mountains, And while you are hoping for light He makes it into deep darkness, [And] turns [it] into gloom. But if you will not listen to it, My soul will sob in secret for [such] pride; And my eyes will bitterly weep And flow down with tears, Because the flock of the Lord has been taken captive. (Jer 13:15-17)

Everyone who exalts his own thoughts is an abomination to the Lord; Assuredly, he will not go unpunished. (Prov 16:5).

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Biologos, Theistic Evolution, and Misplaced Confidence

Having been one who used to "hang out" a lot at the Biologos website and listen to, and sometimes join in, the conversations there, I can say with certainty that Mike has hit the nail on the head here. This all stems from Enlightenment ideas (primarily what I defined as a liberal take on things in recent days) that see theories based on empirical data as more certain than beliefs based upon external sources of authority that discuss metaphysical ideas. If Christians, aided by the Holy Spirit of God, can come to different conclusions about the Bible (i.e., the expressed means through which the Holy Spirit brings us into the truth), then why in the world would we believe that we can be more certain about natural revelation when we have not been promised any aid by the Holy Spirit or that He will use that as His means to bring us into specific truth? In other words, if we are so in need of God to help us understand something due to our finite condition and fallen nature, why do so many fail to apply such to theories based upon empirical observations?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Two More Objections to My Liberal Posts

I found only two more objections (the other one was simply a vacuous one concerning my use of the terms) to my posts concerning the incompatibility of liberalism with Christianity. The following is a summary of what they are and my answer to them.

1. Liberals don't attribute ultimate authority to Self because they attribute that authority to community.

Liberals see community as a power to be wielded, not an authority to which one must submit himself. I've been a part of too many liberal fellowships, have had too many liberal friends, and read too widely in liberal scholarship to take that claim seriously. The idea that liberals somehow see community as authority works well if you don't think past the rhetoric. Do liberals often claim the "Spirit via community" as authoritative? Yes, when the community agrees with that particular individual. When it doesn't, suddenly the liberal sees community as that which must be reformed via education, protest, political power, etc. In other words, community is a way to give power and persuasion to enact one's self-interpreted reality, but it is not an authority that is seen above Self. So, Yes, liberals see community (and the Bible, and tradition, etc.) as authoritative in the sense of powerful vehicles through which the individual's ideas can be bolstered. No, the liberal does not see these as ultimately authoritative in terms of needing to submit to these authorities when these authorities disagree with his personal experience (empirical or existential).

2. Everyone chooses and so everyone is making Self authoritative. Hence, everyone is liberal.

This objection is just plain bad reading on the part of those who make it. I didn't say anything about choice. The distinction is not that one side makes a personal choice and the other does not. The distinction concerns what authority primarily drives that choice. Is it a choice that must experience the truth for oneself or is it a choice that bows the Self to a higher authority, even though the Self did not experience that thing to which he is being called to subject the Self? In other words, one act of choosing is based upon the authority of Self, and the other is based upon trusting an external authority that is higher than the Self. One is an act consistent with what one is inclined to believe, given one's personal experience, and the other is what one is inclined to believe, given one's submission to an external authority. So merely pointing out that Protestants choose in disregard of one particular ecclesiastical tradition is not going to cut my argument one bit (especially since I'm not an anabaptist, but believe in orthodoxy via the Majesterial Reformation, i.e., an external tradition--not to mention that Prots believe in the Bible as their ultimate external authority within that tradition).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Worse than Pharisees

Even if the Pharisees were damned for devouring widows' houses, they can at least claim that they weren't so careless as to terrify people with homelessness so as to make widows themselves.

Monday, May 21, 2012


No, it isn't. But if anyone wants to send me an early Father's Day present, this is what I would want. ;-)

This or the RIMA series. It's all good. 

What Hath Cambridge to Do with Sunday Morning

The Canaanite Conquest, the Warrior God, and Hell: An Example of the Liberal and Conservative Distinction

Many people in the blogosphere took issue with my preceding post. I was offered no alternative definition of liberalism by any of them, as the definitions I gave I believe to be the best definitions available when the two words "liberal" and "conservative" appear in contradiction to one another in contemporary speech.But they did protest my use of the terms nonetheless.

However, what I said is best displayed in the approach to the Bible a "liberal Christian" and a "conservative Christian" often take. When approaching texts that deal with God's judgment in wiping away or punishing people in hell, one group attempts to redefine their concepts of God and man according to what the Bible says and the other group attempts to reject those portions of the Bible in one way or another as true depictions of God.

The latter group, of course, are what I have defined as liberals. Liberals are not people who interpret texts figuratively. They are not people who are "non-fundamentalists" or who concentrate their efforts on social outworkings of the gospel. Many who consider themselves liberals for this reason really aren't necessarily liberals at all.

Liberals, however, approach the Bible with themselves as the moral compass by which the things in Scripture must be judged. This is why liberals today will talk about all sorts of things in the Bible as being morally reprehensible and that must now be rejected as true depictions of God or what is right by a more enlightened society. Again, the Self is the primary interpreter of reality, and hence, it must judge all other authorities (e.g., the Bible and the Church) by its own experience (empirical or existential).

Hence, when we approach things in the Bible like the Canaanite Conquests or God slaying people as the Warrior of Israel (of course, He is also a Warrior against Israel at many times), or the idea of hell put forth by Scripture, these often do not accord with the God of liberalism in our modern context. God is loving and a loving God could never do those things. This judgment comes from the fact that the liberal likes the concept of love taught by the Scripture, but he doesn't like what he views as contrary to love (although if it were not completely absent of the creational trajectory of the theology of love taught by Scripture, such an acceptance of Scriptural love would cause it to accept the rest). His definitions of love, however, being something close to "acceptance" and "toleration" cannot make sense of a God of wrath, and so rather than change his concept of love, he rejects those portions of Scripture as true and chalks them up to the primitive musings of an ancient (i.e., less enlightened), violent peoples.

The real God (i.e., the God the liberal has imagined for himself) is not a God of wrath, but a God of love as love is defined by the liberal himself.

Now, if a liberal were a more violent man, His God would be as well. The point is not that all liberals believe the same about God, but that their beliefs about God are primarily based upon subjective experience, i.e., the Self, unbowed to a greater authority that might correct that belief (i.e., the Bible through the Church). In essence, the liberal can only be corrected if he or she is convinced to believe otherwise. He or she cannot believe otherwise just based on faith in a greater authority than Self. The Self must be convinced and then he or she will believe.

Hence, I'm not really saying that if you have an allegorical interpretation of the Canaanite Conquest, for example, that means you're a liberal. What I'm saying is that it is how you approach Scripture: with an attitude of submission to whatever it says or with an attitude of skepticism toward what it says as you stand over it in judgment, determining if you want to believe this and reject that. Such an attitude reflects that the Self as primary interpreter of reality is perched higher on the tree than the Scripture is in determining the nature of reality (e.g., who God is and what He is like, whether man rightfully goes to this fate in accordance with the God revealed in the rest of Scripture, etc.).

This is why liberalism cannot have true faith that denies the Self. It cannot say, God is loving and wiped out the Canaanites in accordance with His love. It cannot say, God is loving and will send people to hell in accordance with His love, because the Scripture says it is in accordance with who He is, and He is love. Instead, it must take a stand against that external authority and say, God is loving in accordance with my view of love, and therefore, the Scripture that speaks of Him otherwise must be radically reinterpreted or just completely rejected as untrue.

The liberal, as one who has trust in himself more than another, cannot be corrected on the matter. There can never be a submission of the Self because the Self is always in the highest seat of judgment. It must judge all views of God, including those found in the Bible and the Church. It must dissect Scripture and keep only those portions that accord with it. In essence, liberals all have their own Jefferson Bibles, even if they don't literally cut out the particular things said that they don't believe and paste in the particular things not already there that they do.

Hence, in liberal theology, the Bible must be redeemed by the Self rather than the Self being redeemed by the washing of the teaching of the Bible. Where the author of 2 Timothy commanded that the Scripture be used to correct, rebuke, reprove, exhort, etc., the liberal uses the Self for his correcting, rebuking, reproving, exhorting of the Bible. However, since it would be absurd to suggest that the human Self is greater than God's Word, the Bible must be reduced to the words of men that sometimes, and sometimes not, accurately communicate that Word. Other liberals just deny that it is anymore God's Word than any other religious document. Either way, its authority must be diminished in the presence of the Self however one chooses to accomplish that.

Again, the conservative is not without the problem of the Self. I've said before on this blog that there are really only two religions in the world: Christianity and the religion of the Self. Hence, everyone struggles with it. However, the problem I am describing with liberalism is that there is no way for the Self to be corrected if it remains in the highest place of judgment in terms of interpreting reality. The Self needs to be bowed to, and corrected by, the external authority of Scripture if it is to be subjected in its beliefs and practices to Christ (i.e., if it is to repent, which is the context of the denial of Self pericope in Mark).

It is one thing for a conservative to struggle with Self. It is another for liberalism to exalt it unhindered by what is external to itself. A liberal can always self correct, again, if the Self is convinced of something better, but it can never have the type of faith that believes contrary to what he sees as the best explanation for God, man, reality, etc. And that's the problem. There is no salvation without submission. There is no following Christ without denying the Self the right to determine what is true and right. There is no justification without faith, no redemption without repentance, no being conformed to the image of Christ without being course corrected by what is outside the non-conformed image of Christ that is the present Self. That's why liberals can't be Christians, because the religion of the Self cannot allow for it. Hence, as said before, there can only be a conservative Christianity. "Liberal Christianity" is a contradiction in terms.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Why Liberals Can't Be Christians

Many people today think that the terms "liberal" and "conservative" are empty terms. I think that's because they don't understand what the terms mean. They don't mean "Democrat" and "Republican." There are very liberal Republicans and very conservative Democrats. They don't mean that you believe a certain amount of what has typically been considered liberal (e.g., pro-environment, anti-poverty) or conservative (e.g., pro-life, anti-homosexual agenda) causes. Americans are such ideological muts theses days that one cannot judge another person's interpretive authority simply based upon what side of a particular issue he comes down on. What they do mean, however, has great relevance for us, and will also help us understand that, although liberals are free to believe whatever spirituality they wish, they cannot be genuine Christians.

But let's define the terms first. The term "liberal" really refers to a person whose primary interpretive authority of reality is the Self. The term refers to the liberal, or free, position one wishes to have in interpreting life and experience. He or she is free from external authority as the primary guide in interpreting life.

By contrast, the term "conservative" refers to someone who seeks to "conserve" an external authority (a religious book, a religious body, a tradition within culture). He or she has one or more external authorities that serve as a guide in interpreting reality. The primary authority, then, is external, outside the self, and cannot be altered by the Self, as the self is but a lesser interpretive authority that must give way to that higher interpretive authority.

The question then becomes, Can both of these maintain their essential identities and accept genuine Christianity at the same time? In other words, can one simply adopt Christianity within either grid? My answer is, No, and here's why.

Christianity, at its very core, calls everyone to a denial of the self. But the self cannot be placed in submission under Christ if in fact it must remain to interpret Christ and all that God has said and made in the first place. If self experience is the ultimate guide to life, then it cannot be denied. In essence, if one argues that Christ uses the self to disclose the true nature of reality, then the Self is the most important authority in all the world, as it is the means through which God/Christ comes to us. I must, therefore, exalt it, not deny it.

The problem with this, of course, is that if Christianity, at its core, is the denial of the Self, then it cannot be the exaltation of the Self. In other words, liberalism in its essence is the antithesis of Christianity in its essence, and unlike other theses and antitheses, these two are diametrically opposed and cannot be reconciled, being an absolute contradiction.

Please understand that I am not saying that I don't like liberals and therefore want to exclude them from my group. My point is that by the very definition and the very practical outworking of liberalism, it simply cannot be wed to Christianity.

What happens instead is that liberals, like so many other cultures do with secondary religions, syncretize their secular humanism (which is what an exaltation of the Self to the primary interpretive authority of life is) with Christian themes and language, but have to throw out its core in an effort to maintain the identity of being "Christian." But this is no more Christian than any cult that uses certain themes and language of Christianity to clothe itself, only to deny the very foundations and matrix of Christianity itself. The liberal cannot bow the Self to Christ because he is always and at all times bowing Christ to the Self.

A Roman convert in the early Church could have argued that Christianity is compatible with Caesar worship, and made Christianity about a generic sense of love and morality; but at its core, Christianity is a rejection of all other lords in the exaltation of the one Lord, Jesus Christ. Hence, one cannot serve two masters.

This is not a problem for a conservative matrix, since conservatism by definition places its interpretive authority outside the Self. This means one must simply come to the correct external authority God uses to disclose Himself, and of course, in Christianity itself, and I would argue also at its core, this is the Bible and the Church, or I should say, this is the Bible through the Church.

It's not that self is not present. It's just learning to take a backseat to Christ as He communicates the correct interpretation of reality through an external source and an external means first. And this is not what liberalism is capable of doing, lest it no longer be liberalism, i.e., a freedom from external authorities as primary interpreters of reality.

So liberals really can't be Christians, simply because a circle can't be a square. I know that sounds very narrow minded and mean to exclude a poor square that wants to be called a circle, but those are just the facts. I can redefine things to fit, but that's simply a rearrangement of words to make everyone feel better. It doesn't shift reality. I can use my oft cited example of claiming to be a butterfly, as long as I define "butterfly" to mean everything that defines a human and nothing that defines a butterfly. In the same sense, I can call liberals Christians as long as what I mean by Christian is everything that isn't Christian and everything that is secular humanism instead (again, by "secular humanism" I don't mean non-religious or non-spiritual).

The truth is there is no such thing as a conservative Christian either, since all Christians by definition must have their interpretive authority outside of the Self, as the Self is being humbled and denied that authority to dictate the true nature of reality. Hence, there are only Christians who are conservatives. There is simply no other category within Christianity.

I'm sure someone will simply say that this is just another case of mean old Christianity excluding another group, but such a person didn't bother to read what I wrote above with any sense of the point being made. My point is that liberalism and Christianity exclude one another. They reject one another. Liberals may like certain themes in the Bible, certain traditions, certain language, even certain doctrines; but they cannot allow the Bible and the Church to reside over them in interpreting life for them in an absolute sense. They simply cannot bow the Self down to another, as in their religion, the heart knows best (there's the assumption of that liberal anthropology again).

So when I speak of liberals, this is what I mean by it. I mean those who place themselves and their experiences as the primary interpreters of reality. External authorities are subjected to the Self rather than vice versa.

You can see why it makes no sense to continue the facade any longer. And you can also see why liberalism kills churches (Why bother going to church if the Bible it preaches or the truth in which it fellowships is inferior to what you can gather for yourself through meaningful experiences elsewhere?).

Unfortunately, what is said above will not gain much traction among liberals, and they will continue to claim to be Christians anyway, as do Mormons, as do Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. That's because very few people who have come to see Christianity as something to do with God really want to reject Christ outright. They would rather just reinvent Him in their own image, i.e., in the image they personally see as most worthy of their respect. So the claim, no matter how delusional and contradictory it may be, will continue; and we will continue to hear the term "conservative Christian" as one category of Christian, even though that is the only category within Christianity that can logically exist.

A Great Quote

Nick Norelli posted a great quote on his blog that I thought summarizes nicely what I've said many times on this blog (and a million people have said long before me).

We believe the Bible to be the infallible word of God because the Bible itself tells us that this is the case. The immediate objection is that this is a circular argument — which of course it is! But is it really different from saying we know that God is God because he says he is? Can circularity be avoided and, if so, how? There are those who suggest it can be avoided merely by refusing to make assumptions, and by allowing the evidence to speak for itself. But this is to make another set of assumptions about what constitutes evidence and how it does speak for itself. If we refuse to start with the assumption that the Bible tells the truth in claiming to be God’s word, we must start with another assumption: that it does not or may not tell the truth and, therefore, it is not or may not be God’s word. If we seek to avoid the obvious circularity of this latter approach by saying that we must test the Bible by certain objectively neutral facts, then who determines what is neutral and which facts are applicable? In the end, it becomes human reason that judges what is reasonable evidence about the nature of the Bible. As soon as we admit this, then we see that it is a choice of two opposing circular arguments: one that assumes the ultimate authority of God and his word, and the other that assumes the ultimate authority of unaided human reason. We must examine these two positions more closely in pursuing the basis of valid interpretation of the Bible. Perhaps it will emerge that one position is really an exercise in futility in that it undermines itself by its own assumptions.

Homosexuals and Effeminate Men Are a Chemical Mutation

LOL. This would have never made it on TED Talks if the speakers had made that connection, but it seems quite clear that such can be applied in such a way. I, of course, think that these environmental issues, along with liberals, are important (for different reasons than liberals do). So even though this is spoken in a TED Talk (i.e., church for liberals who don't want to go to church--most liberals don't), I think it was a fascinating talk nonetheless. 

n Of course, my quest is not to find the secondary means through which the judgment of God (via Romans 1:18-31) upon a culture comes; but only that such secondary means are successful in the first place due to God's handing people over (to their own tendencies to go down wrong paths, to the devil, to their environment that was meant to be ruled by them, but now rules over them, etc.). 

Universalism as Nihilism

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Some Are Born Evil and Some Are Born Good?

I think this little conversation was enlightening as to how the liberal anthropology is trapped to conclude that being bad is just a genetic crap shoot.
If the reason one is bad has been disproved to be environmental, which is still the most popular opinion, even though it clearly is illogical and does not make sense of the data briefly mentioned here, then we are left with either the devil making me do it (which seems to be what this woman thinks "religion" says--I don't know where she got that one, as the Bible says that we are evil because of our lack of a redemptive relationship with God, who is the source of the will to do good--the devil simply provides opportunity for us to express our falleness), or one is left to argue that it's simply genetic, which explains to a secularist why some people are better than others, even when their environment should have dictated otherwise. What this says is that some people are inherently bad and some people are inherently good by virtue of their physical makeup. This is sort of a hybrid view between a gnostic anthropology, where one's physical matter has made one bad, on the one hand, and a Hindu type caste system, where the other group is made physically superior in terms of nobility and goodness than the inferior group on the other. It's interesting that such an observation shows that two humanities do exist. It just makes the wrong call for why they exist and what produces good and evil.

However, what is also interesting is that one must assume what good and evil are in order to conclude that certain people are one group versus the other. This requires a metaphysical knowledge that such a naturalistic attempt to understand humanity has thus far neglected. If all we are are a bunch of genes then actually no one is good or bad in the ultimate sense. Such an observation is subjective imposition upon other people. Maybe the woman speaking is evil and Jeffrey Dahmer good, or maybe they're both neutral, since good and evil can only truly exist if they stem from a transcendent entity, without which, to speak of people in terms of good and evil is simply an archaic religious assumption that no longer has place within a naturalistic paradigm.

Furthermore, one is not likely to define himself as evil. Most of the worst of people in the history of the world thought they were doing something good. Hitler was trying to preserve that more noble humanity that such a liberal anthropology creates. He was trying to lift up his people by destroying and ruling over the bad people. The same goes for Mao, Pol Pot, and pretty much every instigator of genocide that ever existed. Most people don't view themselves as evil people, but as good people; and even if you get them to acknowledge that they do something evil, they still see themselves as good people who just do bad things (or they say that they "make mistakes" in order to lessen the claim that what they do is evil). One man's violent rebellion is another man's fight for independence and liberty from oppression. Who's to say otherwise?

The retreat from environmental causes of evil, which have proven themselves to be completely bogus (environment creates opportunity for one to express his nature; it does not give him a new nature), will not save the concept of good and evil within a liberal anthropology. It will merely speed its demise. The only way back is to acknowledge that God is the standard of good and evil and has communicated clearly the definitions and boundaries of each. Hence, it is possible to redeem the liberal anthropology if in fact God has made some people bad by virtue of genetics and others good, and we can tell that because He says so in the revelation He has provided us. Unfortunately, for the liberal anthropology, His revelation says something very different. Hence, if we are to give the only reasonable answer to concluding that good and evil people exist in the world, we must acknowledge the existence of God and rely upon the revelation God has given us to know what good and evil are and why people do either one of them. In other words, the only reasonable thing to do with the liberal anthropology that assumes that man is either born neutral or basically good is to reject it completely on the grounds that (1) Good and evil exist; (2) Environment does not create a good or evil person; (3) God exists and has given us revelation that good and evil are neither genetic or environmental, but have to do with one's relationship (or lack thereof) with God. 

Again, we see that the Scripture accords with reality, giving us a far better understanding of the data than the contradictory, liberal anthropology can muster.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"You Talkin' to Me?"

One of the more overused lines amongst movie quotes is the Robert De Niro in "The Taxi Driver," "You Talkin' to Me?" But if it doesn't aptly describe what I'm talking about today, I don't know what movie quote does.

One of the most interesting aspects of ministry, probably the most fascinating to me, when I was a pastor is when I would preach a sermon and then be approached afterward by someone within the congregation asking me if I was specifically addressing him or her in the sermon. I would always tell him or her, "No, I don't do that," but he or she would never believe me. It sounded too much like him or her, in his or her mind, for me not to be addressing him or her.

I can see this of course. I knew them well. What I was saying sounded like I was talking to them. Hence, in their minds, I was specifically talking to and about them. But that's not what I do when I discuss something. I only ever think about the idea, not the person who may believe or practice the idea, unless that person is the main advocate of an idea in the popular sphere, and only then I mention them as the source of what is said.

Of course, it has its negative elements as well, since people who are offended that I would call them out in such a way ended up becoming bitter toward the preaching event--yet another work of God I believe, as those who do not humble themselves to the conviction of the Spirit have their hearts hardened against the truth. But it was sad to see nonetheless.

However, the funniest, and almost most offensive, time it happened was when I was approached by a young man who thought that someone had told me all about him and that he was coming to church that day. I had never heard of nor seen this man before, so I had no idea who he was or what he was talking about. I told him, again, "No, I wasn't speaking about you or to you," but like so many others, he didn't believe me. I finally just asked him who he was, because I honestly had no idea and knew absolutely nothing about him.

This phenomena can be explained naturally, of course, along the lines I've talked about before. People aren't freethinkers. People are pretty much cookie cutter in what they believe and do, so of course, if you address ideas and lifestyles common to many people, most people will think you're talking about them. It's like walking into a Mormon Church and speaking against Mormonism. Everyone is going to think you are specifically speaking against him or her. We, in fact, do live in a cult, and as much as everyone wants to be unique and different, everyone is pretty much the same in terms of their core ideas and practices. I would expect nothing less inside of this box that is the cult of Western Society.

However, there is also a supernatural element to it from which I don't want to detract. As an example of this, along the above lines, I would often experience the phenomenon while driving to or from church where I would turn on another preacher and hear the exact thing I was addressing that morning. It was funny when it happened once. It was a weird coincidence when it happened another few times. But then it seemed that it happened more times than not. I could chalk that up to the above, where we were all just addressing similar things within the cult, but addressing the same exact topic within the cult on the same exact Sunday?

This is where I think people underestimate what is happening from the pulpit on Sunday morning. God reveals that His presence is with His Word, from Sinai, where He speaks the Ten Commandments to the moving of those commandments into the tabernacle, then to the temple later, then to the canon, which is then preached in and by the local church. In each case, the Spirit of God moves in and from these places only because He is present with His Word.

Indeed, I saw such supernatural things happen whenever I preached, it caused me to turn down a colossal dream job teaching at a Megachurch in Florida and stay in a small corner of the world in a church hidden away from most of society. I was continually amazed at the transformational power and the reconstructed ministry of the Lord Jesus created by the preaching of the Scripture. I knew, theologically and theoretically, that God's Word was the means to this, but seeing it was another thing entirely. I was simply amazed by what was happening, and could never be convinced that what was happening at church, good or bad, was anything other than primarily a supernatural event.

And this is why church is so important. You're not going to get God's presence in nature. That's where the false religions go according to Scripture. That's where the idolaters go, because they can mold God in their own image that way. There is no correcting Word for the Holy Spirit to use in nature in order that their minds and hearts might be drawn back to Him. That's why we are missing the presence of God and His transformational work in our lives and the lives of our families when we miss church, and should weep when we can't go rather than casually dismiss it. That's why we should immediately stop what we are talking about and listen. We are entering the presence of God, and even though the preacher may not be speaking to you directly, God is. God is convicting you of your beliefs and sin, and if you will unite this conviction with humble faith, He will change you. If it is demoted to the words of a man, and discarded as yet another person's opinion or efforts to change your mind, you will lose out on the presence of God in your life via your unbelief.

The Bible makes this very clear. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth. He speaks truth through the gifts He has given, the primary gifts that direct the others being prophetic (in a time when the canon was not complete) and teaching (both in the time of canon, but especially since it has been completed). He convicts the world of sin and judgment. If we take this seriously, then we should not be surprised when a person thinks he or she is being addressed specifically. He or she is being addressed specifically. It's just not often through the human preacher. Instead, the conviction of the Holy Spirit is the means through which we bow our lives to God in worship of Him. Hence, He is always active in the pulpit, and this why the preaching event should be revered: not because of the intentions of the preacher, who likely has lesser intentions than most people think, but because the intention of the Holy Spirit is to draw you into an encounter with Him, encourage you in the truth, and deal with any wayward beliefs and practices that will lead you away from glorifying God in your life by being conformed to the image of His Son.

So, "No, I am probably not even thinking about you when I speak," but I know you won't believe me. Either way, however, the Holy Spirit is speaking to you through the truths of His Word, so I would ignore me, and with all fear and respect and love, listen to Him, because He is talkin' to you.

"But the Helper, the Holy  Spirit , whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (John 14:26)

"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63)

"And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not become anxious about how or what you should speak in your defense, or what you should say; for the Holy  Spirit  will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say. " (Luke 12:11-12)

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Illusion of Friendship with the World

If you've ever seen the movie "House of Flying Daggers," you've seen a great example of the illusion of friendship. The movie is filled with surprises as friend becomes foe becomes friend becomes foe, etc. What is interesting about the movie is that you don't know who is a friend and who is a foe until something happens that reveals reality. Of course, reality is ultimately revealed at the end.

The movie is interesting precisely because I think it has much to say to Christians in the world. Everyone within one's communal sphere, for the most part, looks like friend. We have some exceptions, but by and large, we view friends as people who are nice to us and enemies as people who are mean to us, or to put ourselves on the "bad side," we consider people we like as friends and people we don't like as enemies, or at least as "non-friends."

However, the Bible says that we are actually at war with the world and the world is at war with us, not because we started the war, but because the world is at war with God, the one true God that is. The world is a friend to you in so far as you conform to its comfort zone and don't reflect God through word and deed too much; but when you do, those happy friendships are soon dissolved. This is either because they were never friendships in the first place, or because one of the parties within that friendship has moved closer to or further away from God. Hence, they were either illusions created by superficial encounters, or have simply come to a place where one must retreat to nothing but superficial encounters if he or she are to remain friends.

I have no interest in such friendships, as is evident by the path I've chosen to take in moving people to discuss what they really believe and practice at a deeper level. I've lost many a friendship because I chose to speak truth into someone's life because I loved them. They do not perceive it as love, as God Himself is not perceived as love, but only judgment and a hindrance to what they wish to accomplish in life.

But it's this deeper level that displays who we really are inside, and so, it is this deeper level creates genuine friendships, where people are bound at the core rather than by some common endearing external (what foods we like, what activity we like to do, what movies we like, what school we went to, where we grew up, where we worked, etc.). We're not really about sports or fishing or food. We just stay in those things because we either don't want to show ourselves to ourselves, fearing that we in fact may be lost, or we don't want to offend others by ourselves. We want the world to love us. We, hence, only reveal ourselves to others occasionally. But our friendships that are based on the core of what we believe and who we are, our real friendships, reveal something about ourselves, not just those to whom we are bound. Our true friendships reveal our allegiances or lack thereof to God.

This is actually a major theme within the Apocalypse. Despite being misused by the Left Behind franchise, the Book of Revelation is actually a large argument that seeks to comfort Christians who have been dispossessed by the world more than it is a judgment of the world. The world is wicked and not acceptable to God. That is obvious in Scripture, but that is not the primary revelation given to us in the Apocalypse. The real message is that the loss of friendship with those in the world is the norm. Persecution is the norm. Being an annoyance to the world is the norm. The world is no longer the friend of a Christian, because he has become friends with God, who the world does not love (despite it's protests otherwise).

Of course, the world loves its gods. It just doesn't love God. To the world, the real God is oppressive, and those who reflect Him reflect His disdain for the disobedience of the world. This comes off as a feeling of judgment when a child of the fallen world is around a child of God. And talking about Him night and day, as one who loves Him is prone to do (per Deut 6:6-9), is an absolute annoyance to the world. It doesn't want to talk about God all the time. God is relegated to occasional late night conversations, deep speculations concerning the universe when one is drunk, and when Aunt Betty discovers she has tumor. And only then are the world's gods discussed, comforting deities of human creations that never judge our personal evils and always encourage us to pursue our unfallen hearts. But Christians who display and speak of God all the time don't make good friends in the world's eyes. Their constant discussions of the true God, a God who is not accommodating to the worship of the self, are toxic to the lives the world wishes to cut out for itself. And it is difficult to go up to the surface and find a more superficial common ground among Christians and the world IF the Christians choose to live in the love of the Holy God continually to the disrespect of the world who hates His holiness.

Hence, in the Apocalypse, we are told that there are actually three groups of people, not two. Most people think that there are just two groups: Christians and the world. But actually there are three: Christians, the world, and false Christians who try to be friends with the world by compromising their love for God and His holiness. It's this third group that is often missed. What is interesting is that this group is equally seen as an enemy of Christians that joins hands with the world, even though it's religious/spiritual. It is seen as such because it displays itself as loving God, but really has no love for the real God at all. Instead, it loves the world and wants to please it with its spirituality. It's the whore who rides on the back of the beast, false Christianity. The world, at least, is an inhuman creature that acts like the unreasoning animal it is. The false church is a whore, a malfunctioning human that does not take upon its role as a woman, and thus, as a human being. It does not create life. It only serves to fulfill the spiritual desires of the world to be accepted by God without having to submit to God's standards, repent of its sin, be justified by His work, and be sanctified by His Word in order to be made acceptable.

This is what the world wants of Christians too. It doesn't want them to be Christians. It wants them to be a group of whores. When they do not act like whores, they are persecuted for it. They are shunned. They are slandered. Some are beaten. Some are killed. But none are seen as friends, because to be a Christian is to make an enemy of the wicked world. To love God means one now no longer loves what does not reflect God, and this is reflected in the Christian's speech and actions.

The world loves us for our service to it with good works. It praises God, at least their version of God, for those works accomplished through us. It is when we open our mouths that we evidence who we are down deep, and that is when all sides realize that we have nothing meaningful in common. We are enemies at war. Our friendships were illusions created by our lack of communicating who we really are down deep, covered up by a thousand foot pile of superficial conversations and silence.

The war, however, rages on. And we can decide to be who we are and be enlisted into it, or we can continue to forget who we are, and do and talk about the same things the world likes to do and talk about in order to appease it, in order for it to love us, in order to keep our "friends." who would otherwise kick you in the dirt if it knew the real God we served.

But friendship with the world is an act of war upon God. The Letter of James says: "You adulteresses, do you not know that  friendship  with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? (4:4-5). Again, the apostle John says: "Do not love the  world , nor the things in the  world . If anyone loves the  world , the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the  world , the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the  world  And the  world  is passing away, and [also] its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).

And what good was a friendship to a person who is annoyed by Christ anyway? What did they contribute to us? We should love and seek their good and wish them well on their way, but they are of no value to our lives, beyond being a catalyst for compromise, a means to destructive end. As the Apostle Paul once quoted, "Bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Cor 15:33). Their religion is just as toxic to ours as ours is to theirs.

We are eternal. Our love for the true God burns eternal. We cannot bind ourselves to the temporal world that is passing away. Our friendships must be rooted in Christ because those are the only friendships we really have to value. All else is chaff. All else is illusion. And Christians are called to reality with God. They have been set free. All allegiances have been revealed. All illusions of friendship with the world destroyed.

"This I command you, that you love one another. "If the  world  hates you, you know that it has hated Me before [it hated] you. "If you were of the  world , the  world  would love its own; but because you are not of the  world , but I chose you out of the  world , therefore the  world  hates you. "Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. "But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. "He who hates Me hates My Father also. "If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. "But [they have done this] in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, 'They hated Me without a cause.'(John 15:17-25)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Sermon Passage for Tomorrow

Hebrews 3:7-4:2

Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says,
"Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, 

Where your fathers tried [Me] by testing [Me], And saw My works for forty years. 
"Therefore I was angry with this generation, And said, 'They always go astray in their heart; And they did not know My ways'; As I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'" 
Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. 
But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is [still] called "Today," lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 
For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end; while it is said,
"Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me." 

For who provoked [Him] when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt [led] by Moses? 
And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 
And to whom did He swear that they should not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 
And [so] we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. 
Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. 
For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why a Liberal Anthropology Can't Save Us

One's view of humanity is vital in determining what solutions he or she will provide for a humanity that becomes wayward. If one believes that people are basically good, then if they are not perfect, their imperfections are due to a lack of achievement brought on by some outward deficiency. If someone is a bad person, it is because he or she was influenced to be bad by poverty, lack of education, bad parents, etc. In other words, the problem is not within, precisely because the individual is human and humans are basically good. Hence, the problem must be a deficient environment.

It might surprise you to know that most Christians unknowingly assume this unorthodox view of humanity, which is actually the classical liberal view of humanity adopted by the Enlightenment. It assumes a Pelagian theology of man, where man is a blank slate to be written upon by his environment and may simply choose of his own freewill to latch onto good or bad elements therein. This, of course, is the polar opposite of an orthodox Christian view of man.

I myself assumed this when I first became a Christian, and it led to many days of frustrating evangelistic and discipleship efforts. The reason why is because I assumed that the real problem people had was a lack of education. They believed and did what was wrong because they just didn't know the truth. If they were told the truth, if I could somehow convince them that it was the truth, the problem of their disbelief or immoral behavior would dissolve in light of those glorious truths.

And so I did bring numerous people to the threshold of truth. I had the ability to bring people to the point of saying, "I now believe everything you have said is true." The problem is that there was always a "but." The "but" was in terms of not wanting to believe or do otherwise. In other words, they now believed everything that was said was true, but they didn't like the truth and want to believe it, and they certainly did not want to conform their indulgent behavior to it.

This is because the liberal view of humanity is false. Liberals have proven it to be false by pouring millions of dollars into a failing education system. Education has not made anyone better, and in many cases, it makes them worse. As Paul once said something to the effect that the knowledge of the law increases sin, so the knowledge of the truth makes people worse when that truth infringes on what they want to do. It's almost like a teenage girl being told she can't date the school rebel. She may have "loved" him before, but now she wants to marry him.

Likewise, I think the Holy Spirit actually stays with a person for awhile until he is given the full truth. At that point, if he does not receive it into his heart, He finally lets go of him, and he descends into further deception, believing he is taking a good path, but ending in further corruption and death.

Now, I'm not saying that the truth doesn't do any good. Of course it does. But educating someone is only half the battle, precisely because we aren't good people. Humanity is not good in its post-lapsarian condition. It desires what is destructive, and it is that desire that is a greater force in one's life than all of the light of the truth. As Christ said, people didn't come to Him because they loved the darkness rather than the light, not because they weren't given enough light.

Now, of course, the Holy Spirit works through the truth, specifically the truth of His Word rather than general truths of the world, so the truth is not invaluable, and in many ways, the communication of truth is the only part we get to play in the redemption of others.

This bring me to why I should never have cried so many tears when Mormon missionaries would be brought to the truth, but reject it because it would mean they would have to give up the community they had come to love, or why I should not be so depressed (even to this day) about my failure to communicate in just the right way as to cause one to believe. It's because I can't cause anyone to believe. No one can come to Christ unless the Father grants it to him (John 6:36-47).

This means that our only part in this is to communicate truth to someone as clearly as we can, but whether they receive it and repent is left, not really even up to them, but to the work of God in their lives. That's because their hearts are stone toward what is good and true until they are made flesh again by God. A stone heart cannot be changed by us with a million words, but it can be changed by Him with only a few.

The liberal view of man, of course, is a joke. If people were basically good, then society would be good. Hence, there would be nothing in the environment, especially from the standpoint of bad humans, that would influence one to be bad. Furthermore, if people just needed to fill up a deficiency then they would improve once that deficiency no longer existed. As we know too well, such is simply not the case.

But liberals will continue to talk about improving oneself through education because it's all they have. They'll seek the type of counseling that looks to the environment as the source of, rather than the catalyst for, their lack of perfection. They'll continue to see poverty as a major source of human evil, even when its the multi-millionaire stealing from little old ladies and blowing their brains out when they feel empty inside. That's because liberals don't want to believe the truth. The truth is too frightening. The truth makes me turn to God for the answers, outside of the Self that liberals so love to exalt.

And that's just it. Liberalism is really just another word for secular humanism (an elevation of the self and humanity in general), the religion of our society; and for it to acknowledge that the answer is outside of humanity means to give up all of the assumptions and comforts of its religion and once again submit itself to what it views as a tyrannical deity that does not allow it to do whatever it feels is right in its own eyes.

Hence, the stoney heart of liberalism remains and we are continually bombarded with its assumptions because it simply does not want to believe the truth made so evident by its continual failure to accord itself with reality.

By all means, we should work to eradicate poverty and educate the masses; and we should absolutely speak truth into each others' lives; but these are not the solutions to our primary problem, which is rebellion against God and the exaltation of the self to God's rightful place in our lives.

Education can't save us because a lack of truth isn't our problem. Solving poverty can't save us, because a lack of money isn't our problem. Our problem is not outside. It's inside, and the sooner we realize this, the sooner we can look outside of ourselves to He who is our real solution to our only real problem.

"And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them. And I shall take the heart of  stone  out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances, and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. "But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things and abominations, I shall bring their conduct down on their heads," declares the Lord God. (Ezek 11:19-21)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Tale of Two Theodicies

We deal with suffering in one of two ways, or with two different worldviews I should say. In the one view, suffering is meaningless. It makes no sense to us. It looks like pure cruelty. And so, when we come to the question of God and suffering, we view God as cruel. Some decide to no longer believe there is a God as a result. Some decide to believe God still exists, but maybe He is too transcendent to deal with us and our problems, or maybe we just get angry with Him and decide, in one way or another, to no longer follow Him (as though that will punish Him in some way more than it simply being a further punishment of ourselves). In any case, we view suffering in the temporal. We see it in terms of imminence and the emotion and pain that it immediately stirs in us. We view it as it occurs in space and time, not in terms of what is eternal (either because we have worldviews that don't believe in the eternal, or because the pain causes us to focus on the moment like a baby who cannot see that his parents only wish for him to be cured by the shots being administered, but only sees them as cruel and their actions as a betrayal of trust).

The other view is to see all things from a more transcendent perspective. This view acknowledges that no suffering is pleasant. All of it is to be lamented. But there is meaning in all of it, simply because God is involved, and God is good. Hence, come what may, God is working through it to bring about a greater good (like the parent who administers the shots to save his child).

It is interesting to find both of these perspectives in the Bible. Although the two perspectives can be found throughout, the two books of Genesis and Job deal with the issue head on. They each individually work to teach us something about God, His goodness, and suffering/evil in the world, but they also work to clarify by providing a canonical context to one another. In fact, both books share some rare archaic words, and along with that, and their use of divine names to portray God's closeness and distance, as well as the subject matter, make me believe that one is written in a response to the other, or by the same author or school. In any case, which came first is difficult to know, but what they say is brilliant and are God's words to us in times of pain and suffering.

In Job, we are presented with God from both the transcendent view and the imminent view of suffering. Here, unlike Genesis, however, the author reverses the use of the divine names. YHWH, which is used in Genesis to portray God's imminence and revelation of Himself to us in the day to day, is used here to show God's hidden love for Job. The name YHWH is relational, and it conveys God's love of Job as an upright man who God acknowledges as having His favor. But Elohim, unlike in Genesis, where it is used to convey God's transcendence and sovereignty which is largely hidden from us (as it resides in the eternal perspective), is used to convey how Job perceives God in his suffering (i.e., God is aloof. God does not care. God is hidden from Job's sight and is distant). We are left with God answering Job in the end, but only with a display of His sovereignty and rebuke of Job that he must trust in God's right to do what He has done, to bring about the suffering He has directed Satan to accomplish. We are never told why the suffering exists. There is no mention of a greater good here. Only that God knows what He is doing, and one must submit to that.

As said above, Genesis does the exact opposite. It presents YHWH from our perspective, the view from below. YHWH relates to us by entering into the conflict with us. It looks like He loses battles with evil. It looks like He struggles against evil and suffering, precisely because evil still overwhelms the earth, we still get sick, we still starve, we still die. But Elohim is used to show us the perspective from above. God is transcendent, and not under any threat of losing His sovereignty over evil. Instead, His entering into the struggle, from our perspective, is nothing more than His sovereign use of evil and suffering to accomplish His complete victory over it. In other words, it is through suffering that suffering will ultimately be defeated (e.g., Gen 50:20). Even evil itself, then is the means used for its very destruction. Suffering accomplishes the greater good.

Both of these theodicies (and I do believe both of them to be such despite the pull of other theories to go elsewhere) convey the idea that suffering is very real and it is very painful. They both portray God as sovereign. They both grapple with His goodness in light of suffering. But they both have different answers that I think are very complementary to one another, and provide us with a solid worldview to make sense of God's existence, His goodness, and the presence of evil and suffering.

First, Genesis teaches us that the view that sees evil as triumphant is only a finite perspective of what is going on. It's just the view from the ground. It's the view from below. It's the view that sees Joseph thrown in a pit by his brothers, unjustly put in prison to rot for years. But it stops there. It can only see the pain in the moment. The emotion of suffering clouds its long term judgment. It cannot evaluate reality as it is. It can only see the now. It sees suffering win. It sees God, for whatever reason (whether He is too weak or not good enough to care) fail us. It looks around but not up. It's the view from prison.

But Genesis teaches us that this isn't the whole story. There is God's perspective that is eternal. His view is actual reality in terms of what is going on and why it is going on. In this perspective, we see God overcoming evil through evil. We see Him destroy chaos with very acts of chaos. He sends a flood to destroy agents of suffering in order to save His children. He throws Joseph into a pit and then into prison through the hands of evil men in order to save many lives in the end. The suffering He used to bring about the good result of salvation is like the parent saving His child by harming him with the needle. But in our perspective, He's just being cruel, because we look out at Him like the baby who doesn't understand and only sees the parent as betraying him, harming him, being cruel to him, not caring for him. Yet, Genesis teaches us that this is the greatest of ironies, since it is God's very care of His children that has caused Him to act to harm us in the temporal sphere. These are acts of salvation.

Job, however, clarifies something important for us, though, and that is that we don't always get to see the good. We don't always get to understand why this or that occurred for such and such a purpose. We can read Genesis and feel that God is vindicated, but we read Job and have no sense that what He has done there was right. This is why the book compels us to listen to God's sovereignty in the end chapters. It wants us to know that we will never be able to see all of the tied up ends as God can, but we can know that God is in control. So even if the good that God was working toward in a specific act or life of suffering is not known, Job tells us to trust in Him anyway, and Genesis tells us to do so because, even if we don't know the specifics, we know that God is good and works toward the good of His children.

A great scene in Genesis displays this beautifully. Before God goes to destroy Sodom, he tells Abraham that He's going to destroy it. Abraham then questions God's goodness for possibly killing the righteous with the wicked. Abraham eventually pleads God down to destroying the city, only if He cannot find 10 righteous people in the city. His words are continually meant to call God's goodness into question.

But what is so great about the passage is that God shows Himself to be better than Abraham. Where Abraham was insinuating that God wasn't as concerned about doing what is right as Abraham was, God shows Himself to be completely just and good and far exceed Abraham's claim know what is right. God actually only finds one righteous man, Lot. That's it. His wife is wicked and turns back. His sons-in-law don't believe him. Even his daughters, who make it out, prove to be shady, as they get their father drunk and sleep with him later on. The point is that God is not unrighteous so as to let the wicked go and to punish the righteous for no reason. Instead, whereas Abraham would have saved the wicked over 10 people or let 9 people perish for the sake of destroying the wicked, God destroys the wicked and saves even a single righteous man.

The point, of course, is that God is better than our perceived judgments of Him, and He is in fact better than we are. If we could see from His perspective, we would see that, but we are often trapped in the pain in the moment, and it binds us to the view from prison. What Job and Genesis do, however, is encourage us, not to ignore that we are in prison, but to look out the window and up in order to make sense of it. Prison has a purpose. Sickness has a purpose. Loss has a purpose. Death has a purpose.

We live in pain, but this pain is not our end if we have become His children. He is good. He is sovereign. And He is using what is painful and what seems to us to be overwhelmingly meaningless, toward a most meaningful goal: to save our lives. Whether we can always see how that works out is irrelevant. The point is simply that if we believe God is good and sovereign, it always does work out.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [His] purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined [to become] conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God [is] for us, who [is] against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:28-39)