Monday, December 30, 2013

An observation on cartoons

An observation:  The parents of "Dora the Explorer" are some of the most irresponsible adults in all of cartoon history.

Here their daughter is, talking to animals, including a monkey, a bull, and a squirrel, and they don't even blink an eye.  Daily, it seems, she is getting into dangerous situations, such as jumping over sharks in a boat, climbing a mountain, running from a dragon, and riding on a train with missing parts in the tracks.  In all of these situations she has nothing more than a backpack and a map along with some various friends to help her get through them.  Her parents are apparently too busy having tea and biscuits to be aware of the danger their daughter is engaged in.

At the same time, the cause of much of these problems happens to be a fox who steals her belongings and then endangers her life by placing the things he steals in hard to reach places.  The police are apparently unheard of in this world and theft is so common that children are left to their own devices in getting their belongings back.  Child endangerment and reckless behavior are the flavor of the day.

In such a world, any sane parent would never let their child go unmonitored outside for a minute.  Ever.  Yet Dora's parents not only allow it, but in one episode seem to encourage it by asking her tell the "funny" story of the time they had to chase after babies who were helplessly caught in run-away strollers and ended up right next to a volcano.  Of course the volcano erupted with a harmless result, but that is hardly reassuring when you consider that the whole family was unable to catch up to their run away strollers, and on more than one occasion the babies went through situations that would normally be considered life threatening.  Once again this illustrates the gross irresponsibility of Dora's parents, along with their callousness in that they thought it was a "funny" story.

Of course no child looks at cartoons in this way, but upon consideration I have to say that Dora's parents are horribly scary people.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Arminianism and Calvinism: Part 3

It's been three weeks since I've been able to get back to this.  I was hoping to do a post a week, but it's been a crazy three weeks.  So I', going to try and wrap things up this week with one last post.  It may be longer than normal, but I'd like to really finish addressing these two systems, at least in their classical positions, and sum up where I stand on the issue.

I already noted that there are only a few areas where these two positions differ.  First of all they disagree as to whether or not one can resist the Holy Spirit.  The second area they disagree is what the term "election" means.  The Calvinist says that the elect are those whom God has chosen in his will from eternity past.  That means that "before" creation (I put "before" in quotations because there was no time before "in the beginning") God had already determined whom he would save based on his sovereign determination to call them to himself.  The Arminian argues that the elect are those who have responded in faith to the call of God.  Thus for the Arminian the elect are only "elect" once they have believed and responded, for the Calvinist the elect are always the "elect" and always have been, so that if a man is going to accept Christ at 40 he is one of the elect at 20.

What we can say with confidence is that the term "elect" in Scripture clearly refers to those who have been saved and are found clean in God's sight through the blood of Christ.  An example we could look to would be Mark 13:20 wherein we read, "But for the sake of his elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days." (ESV)  Also in Matthew 24:31 where we read that Christ will send his angels and gather "his elect" from all the earth.  So the term "elect" is biblical and is in reference to those who are saved by the gracious work of Christ.

But, what is the basis for election?  According to Romans 9:10-12 we see the following, "And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not born yet and had done nothing either good or bad-- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls-- she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.'" (ESV)  Here we see the argument laid out that God's election is not based on works but based only upon him who calls.  Likewise in 2 Peter 1:3-4 we see Peter declare, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." (ESV)

The Arminian position is that God is only acknowledging those as elect whom he knew would respond by looking through time and seeing who would respond to the call of Christ.  Thus, because men may resist the call of the Spirit, God could not elect men based on some irresistable call, but rather had to see which men would respond to the call and then acknowledge those men as the elect of his promises.  The problem with this position seems to be the fact that Paul refutes it entirely in Romans 9.  Paul says that the election of Jacob and rejection of Esau was not based on works, which would mean it was not based on what they would do, but rather it was based on him who calls.  Thus Paul is arguing that election is based on the prerogative of God to determine whom he will save, not based on the works and will of man.

This comports equally with what we find the rest of Scripture. For instance God said to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," and John says that we became the sons of God not based on human birth or the will of man, but of God.  However, bringing in John allows us to examine the counter argument that election is based on the response of men.

John says that "as many as did believe" were given the right to become sons of God.  Thus the right was given in response to the belief.  On this I would give a hearty agreement, faith precedes regeneration.  However, at the same time it says that they were given the right to become children of God based on the will of God.  Thus it is still the will of God that is primary in men coming to God.  Also, we have already looked at Jesus discussing the question of those whom God called in the post on this subject.

So, how do we get out of the situation of trying to say that men really must choose, but that God has already chosen who will choose?  How do we reconcile what appear to be contradictory statements as to how men come to be elect?

Here the Calvinist has a long philosophical tradition that actually addresses many of the complaints that Arminians bring against Calvinism.  The tradition and position is known as Monergism.  Monergism, in brief, argues that the will of man and the sovereignty of God work hand-in-hand.  That is man is totally responsible for what he chooses, and God is totally sovereign over all of creation.  Thus men must choose God, but God is sovereign in his call to those whom he chooses.  Here we may say that the Calvinist position is that we choose him because he has chosen us, just as we love him because he has first loved us.  This is not to say that we did not actually choose, but rather that his election of us was not based on our choosing, but our choosing was part of his sovereign creation.

For the Arminian this would be an absurd argument, saying men are actually acting of freewill but God is actually sovereign over all the decisions of man.  But the Calvinist says this is the most accurate reading of Scripture, and so while we may not be able to explain everything and answer all the difficulties, still we must accept this teaching as accurate to what Scripture says.

The second problem the Calvinist would point out with the Arminian position is that their argument that God looks through time to determine whom he will elect is no where found in Scripture.  Thus the Calvinist would argue that they are attempting to hold more closely to what Scripture teaches without bringing in additional human constructions.

The question of election brings us rather easily to the question of perseverance.  The reason is simple: what does it mean to say a man is elect, and there by saved?  The historical Arminian position is that one can lose their salvation.  Thus the only one who can know he is saved, eternally, is the one who has died and reached heaven.  Everyone else must be sure to stay in the faith and must always be cautious lest one walk away from the faith and lose their salvation.

The problem with this position is that it ignores the previous philosophical arguments made by Arminians, and that it radically changes the concept of salvation.  For the first part, if God has looked through time to see who would be saved and thus elected them, why would he not equally be sure to look through time and only call the elect those who would really persevere until the end?  That is, why would anyone be called "saved" who is actually not going to persevere to the end, even if God does not have control over who will persevere and can only know based on his knowledge of the future?

The far more damaging issue this brings up though is the issue of works.  According to Scripture, salvation is a gift of God, not based on works so that no one may boast.  So, if salvation is not based on works, then how can one who did not earn lose what was given as a gift?  This would require God to remove salvation.  But if God was to take salvation away from someone that would assume that the person did something meriting the loss of salvation.  But, if one can do works to lose salvation, then one must do works to maintain salvation (the not doing of the works that would cause them to lose salvation would be doing something).  Thus salvation would become a matter of works.

Thus here the only biblical argument and philosophical argument that stands the test of logic seems to be that salvation cannot be lost, or else it would mean that one was not "saved" in the first place.  The idea that one is "potentially saved" is foolishness, because God knows whether a man will or will not be in heaven for eternity.  Or else God is ignorant of the future and thus cannot make any assurance of salvation at all.

This is to say that one can accept Christ and then reject discipleship and simply embrace whatever life he wants.  According to James works are a necessary part of salvation, but they are the results of salvation, not what saves one or keeps one saved.  That is to say that the saved man will work, but not that every man who does work will be saved, nor that the works keep a man in salvation.

I myself come down in the Calvinist camp, holding that God's gracious sovereignty is totally responsible for my salvation and my only reliance for the salvation of others.  However, I also recognize that there are great men of God who hold contradictory views to my own.  This is an in house discussion, but one which does have serious ramifications for what and how we teach.  We should take such discussions seriously, but we should also not make this a litmus for true Christianity.

I'm sorry for the brevity of this post, and I hope I have some time to flesh these arguments out more in the future, but I wanted to complete this series of posts for my friends who had asked my opinion on this matter.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Arminianism and Calvinism: Part 2

The last post I attempted to put forth the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, this post I would like to start examining the two positions from a biblical and philosophical position.  My goal is not to put forth a definitive resolution to the questions raised between the two systems, but rather to simply lay out some of the basic arguments so those who are unfamiliar with the positions can begin to think through these issues for themselves.  At the same time I want to illustrate why it matters that we take either position on this subject.  The teaching of our churches and our personal views of the work and person of God are affected by the position we take on Calvinism and Arminianism.  How we view God, how we view our work as Christians, and how we view ideas such as justice and fairness are all tied together in our theology of salvation (soteriology).

So where shall we turn first in considering the first point I brought up that divides the Arminian and Calvinist camps?  The issue we want to examine is the question of whether or not men can resist the Holy Spirit.  For a quick answer we might turn to passages such as Acts 7:51 where we have a rather blatant statement on the subject, "You always resist the Holy Spirit."  But at the same time we have the words of Christ in John 6:37, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."  So how do we resolve such contradictions?  And what does the answer to this question imply about other issues relating to the issue of the freedom of the human will?

First off we have to examine the context of each passage.  In the case of the passage quoted in Acts 7:51 we are looking at the testimony of Stephen before the council when he was asked about the veracity of the charges made against him.  Stephen was not speaking about resisting the Holy Spirit in terms of men resisting the will of God, but rather in terms of persecuting those who spoke the truth of God's word.  Resisting the Holy Spirit in the context of what Stephen said has to be understood in the context of doing violence to the prophets of old.  Thus Stephen was not saying that these men were resisting the call of the Holy Spirit to be Christians, but rather that they were persecuting those who spoke the word of God.

Contextually, however, Christ was speaking about salvation when he spoke to the Jews in John 6.  John 6:22 to the end of the chapter is one long discourse on salvation, and all the conversations between Jesus, the Jews, and the disciples have to be understood in terms of talking about salvation.  This does not make the issue as clear cut as some might would like but it does raise the issue of how each side interprets passages such as this.

First off let's assume the Arminian perspective.

Note that Christ says, "All that the father gives me will come to me."  This demonstrates that men come to God of their freewill.  Christ does not say, "All that the father gives me will be brought to me by the Holy Spirit."  Thus those who come to Christ must come of their own freewill, aligning themselves with the Holy Spirit who calls them.  Also note that Christ says that he will never cast them aside, he does not say that they cannot leave of their freewill, just as they came.

In addition, the Arminian points out that this is a passage written to the Jews.  That the "all that the Father gives me will come to me" is in context of those Jews who have a covenant relationship with God.  This is not a passage talking about salvation in general, but salvation specifically among the Jews.  So here when Christ says that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him is speaking about those who are already in covenant with God needing to be drawn through that covenant to the messiah they are awaiting.

Finally, the discussion of salvation here should be understood in terms of the group to whom Christ was speaking.  Christ was not here trying to lay out that God has called and chosen certain individuals, but rather that as God has given all those who have faith in Christ to him, thus Christ is here teaching that the believing community receives life from him, and that they are all his.  So the issue is not whether or not God has called any certain individual, but rather have you believed, and are you thus part of the community of Christ?

Thus the impetus is on man who responds to the teaching God and comes to Christ because of this teaching, not because the Spirit cannot be resisted.  And so men are called "drawn" by the Father based on their response to the teaching and the calling of the Spirit.  The Father is still the one who initiates the call, but this does not mean that all men who are called will respond, but that those who do respond will be received and accepted by Christ.

However, the Calvinist responds to this that Christ says that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him, and all those whom father gives him will come to him.  Thus the Calvinist points out that it is the determination of God who will be saved, for all those whom God has given to Christ will come to him, and each man comes to Christ because the Father draws him.  Verse 44 becomes important in understanding verses 37-40, because verse 44 lays out that men only come to God because he draws them, and it links those who are drawn with those who are given by noting that those who are drawn will be raised up on the last day.  Here the Calvinist points out that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to draw men to God on behalf of the Father, so the Spirit cannot be resisted or else that would mean that God had given some to Christ who will not come to Christ.

The Calvinist agrees with the Arminian that this passage is not, per se, a discussion on the individual call of believers, but that the individual call is necessitated by the fact that Christ discusses both "all those" and "him" thus showing that Christ has both the universal body and the individual believer in mind in this passage.  So the Calvinist reasons as follows:  All those the Father gives to Christ will come to him, and Christ will raise them up on the last day, because it is the will of the Father that Christ should not lose even one of those given to him, but should raise up each one on the last day; and each one who comes to Christ must be drawn by God, so that he will be raised up on the last day.  The effectual call of God cannot be separated from this passage as the Arminian would like because the text itself requires the effectual call in order to make sense.

Further the Calvinist notes that Christ says that it is the will of God that none that the Father gives him shall be lost, again proving that whoever is drawn to God by the Spirit will necessarily come to God, and he cannot be resisted.  Christ himself says that the spirit gives life, the flesh is no help at all.  Since all men are in the flesh, apart from the work of the Spirit, that means that the will of man in the flesh is of no help in coming to Christ, who is the giver of life.  So men are totally dependent upon the calling and work of the Spirit to draw them to life, their will is necessarily set against the Spirit for their flesh is set against the Spirit, yet God overcomes this opposition in his call to them, rescuing them from the helpless state they are otherwise found in.

Again, the Calvinist and Arminian agree on this point, that no man comes to the Father unless the Father draws him, but the question is whether or not men can resist this call.  The Arminian says that this passage assumes the full knowledge of God and the idea of those who God has given to Christ is based on his final knowledge of who will and won't be saved.  The Calvinist argues that the giving is based on God's decree and that the drawing of the Spirit cannot be resisted, or else that would mean that some of those whom the Father has given the Son would not come to the Son.  The Arminian position must assume an additional theological position of this passage relying on God's foreknowledge, and that his giving in predicated on man's response, thus making man the active agent in salvation.  The Calvinist also assumes God's foreknowledge, arguing that God has determined whom he will call from eternity past, and that the response of man is just that, a response to the will and work of God, who is the active agent in terms of salvation.

Here we see how the teaching of the church would differ based on which position the church takes on these issues.  The Arminian would teach that this passage shows that God's knowledge is so great that he knows who will respond to the call of the Gospel, and at the same time his mercy is such that he will never reject those who come to Christ.  Further they would note the fact that the majority of individuals walked away, despite the fact that Christ was calling them to believe in him, thus illustrating that God works with the freewill of humans to bring about salvation.

The Calvinist, on the other hand, would preach this passage as one showing the sovereignty of God in drawing whom he wills and in assuring those whom he brings to Christ will be saved.  Thus his great mercy is shown in assuring salvation among those whom he effectually calls.  The fact that the majority of those who heard the call turned away does not prove that God is dependent upon the will of man to effect salvation, but rather shows that those who turned away from Christ were not called by the Spirit to salvation.  If they were called to salvation and left Christ that would mean that the will of God was thwarted, because some of whom the Father gave to the Son would not be raised up on the last day.

Other verses could be examined and interpreted, but here we see an example of how the two positions interact with just one passage.

Arminianism and Calvinism: Part 1

I haven't written on this subject because I feel there are already plenty of posts on this subject written by those smarter and with far more training in this area than myself.  However, recently I received a request from a friend of mine to write back to him on this issue and help him understand the two points as he wanted to understand where he stood in this discussion.  Also, as a Southern Baptist, this is a subject that is very important within our churches and our convention.  Unfortunately this debate has become far more divisive than it needs to be, and so I thought I would write a few posts to help clarify the issues for those who are just beginning to learn about these two positions.

A first point must be made that cannot be stressed enough: neither of these positions will save anyone.  This is a debate within the Christian community that revolves around soteriological (soteriology is the study of doctrine of salvation) issues, but being a Calvinist or being an Arminian does not mean you are going to heaven.  Faith in Christ saves a man, and it is possible to understand the soteriological implications of both of these positions (that means you understand how these positions impact one's view of how salvation happens) and take a strong stance on either of them and still not have faith in Christ.  Salvation is not granted by theological acumen, sound argument, or the adherence to traditions that have come from the early church.  Salvation is a gift of God, coming by faith, which faith understands the truth of the Gospel and looks to Christ as the author and perfecter of faith, the only path of redemption for a fallen humanity.

With that being said, these positions are also both within the realm of Christian orthodoxy.  One may be an Arminian or a Calvinist and still be a brother or sister in Christ.  Yes, some of the theological ramifications that develop from these systems will lead to differences in teaching that would lead to some divisions within the church.  But neither of these positions should so divide those within the faith that they would cast one another out or begin screaming "Anathema!" at those who hold to the other view.  In the end this is a discussion within the family of Christ.

Understanding this is an "in-house" discussion, I would like to devote this first post to understanding the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism.  Unfortunately both sides tend to paint the other with an unfair brush, often leading to straw man arguments, or at least less than accurate portrayals of the two theological systems.  Arminians often describe Calvinism in a way that makes it seem that Calvinism necessarily leads to a view of God as a capricious, even petty deity.  Calvinists, on the other hand, tend to discuss Arminianism in a way that makes it seem as though every Arminian is, at best, a semi-Pelagian, and at worst a full blown Pelagian.  (Don't worry if you don't understand some of the terms here, just know that Pelagianism has been condemned by the church as heresy, and Arminianism is not Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism.)  In order to have a conversation about these two systems we must first look to them honestly so as to understand where they differ.

Here is where the Calvinist and the Arminian agree:  No one comes to faith apart from the working of the Spirit of God.  The Calvinist and the Arminian both recognize what I opened with in regards to Salvation:  Salvation is a gift from God.  This means no one comes to God apart from God calling that person to Himself.  This is where Arminianism differs from semi-Pelagianism.  The Arminian does not say that men do all they can and then God must call them the rest of the way, rather the Arminian, along with the Calvinist, says that God is the one who initiates the call of men to himself.  This is important because it is an area where many Calvinists tend to misrepresent what Arminians actually hold to.

Now, at the same time the Arminian and the Calvinist agree that God must call men to himself, they disagree as to the effectiveness of this call.  The Arminian holds that God calls men to himself, but that the man may then resist or respond to the call, thus resisting the desire of God to save him, or aligning his will with that of God and being drawn to relationship with his creator.  For the Calvinist though the idea that man can ultimately resist the will of God is foolishness, for the nature of God being sovereign means that he will accomplish saving those he desires to save.

This necessarily points to another area where the Calvinist and the Armenian disagree, that is what it means to be one of the "elect."  The Arminian argues the elect is the one who has faith.  Thus if you have faith in Christ you are one of the elect.  The idea of election is based upon God's looking forward to see who will  respond in faith to the Spirit's call, and thus those who have faith are the elect.  Again the Calvinist sees this quite in the opposite, arguing that those who are elect are the ones who will have faith.  The Calvinist says that God has determined whom he will effectively call to himself, he has elected to save those individuals as an act of great mercy and thus the elect are those who will have faith in Christ, and their election is in no way based upon any work of their own but only upon the sovereign work of God.

Discussing the idea of election then brings in the question of the extent of the atonement.  Here the classical Calvinist and Arminian positions differ as well.  The Arminian, seeing that those who have faith are the elect and that anyone may align his will with that of the Spirit and so be saved, argues that the atonement is for all humanity, and that the call is wide and general that all men may respond to it.  The Calvinist argues that as God has determined whom he will save and has elected those individuals, the atonement is necessarily limited only to the elect, and that while there is the general call of the Gospel to all men,  Christ did not die to procure salvation for all men, but rather his death was only for those whom God would effectually call, that is, the elect.  (It is this area more than any other I often hear argued about among Christians.)

The final area that I want to discuss as far as Calvinist and Arminian disagreements goes is in the area of final salvation.  What I mean by this is the question of whether or not men can lose their salvation.  In this area modern Arminians have taken a more traditionally Calvinist position, but at the same time many are not aware that their position is historically Calvinist.  In the Baptist tradition there is the saying, "Once saved always saved" which indicates the impossibility of men losing their salvation.  However, the original Arminian position was to reject this position, which the Calvinists held to.  The Arminians argued that the Calvinists were wrong, and that as the will of man was free to determine his own response to God it was therefore possible that a man who had responded in faith to God and had entered into the New Covenant with Christ- a man who was saved- could, in fact, lose that salvation by walking away from Christ.  The Calvinists, again appealing to the sovereignty of God, had argued that whomever God saves is saved, and that as no act of man's will brought him into salvation, but men only responded as the Spirit drew them, so likewise no one who had been so drawn would ever turn away from Christ.

So, on this last point, as to whether or not men can lose their salvation, the Arminian position was that yes, men could lose their salvation.  However, the Calvinist position was that men could not lose their salvation. 

In this area we see the final outworking of the real crux that divides the two camps, that being the question of the freedom of the will of man.  The Arminian argues that the will of man is necessarily free, that God desires a relationship with man built upon this foundation of free choice.  In this view man must decide wholly upon his own whether he will respond to the call of the Spirit or not, and though God calls a man he does not bind the will of man to respond to that call.  The Arminian view may be somewhat summarized as the idea of a lover pursuing his beloved.  The Calvinist argues that the will of man is corrupt, and that God saves men based upon his will, not upon their desire to respond to him.  Consequently, in the Calvinist view, the will of man is either in bondage to sin or grace; there is no such thing as a true "freewill" that is totally unbounded and is not bent either toward God or away from God.  For the Calvinist the relationship between God and man is both a lover chasing after his beloved and also a military captain conquering a rebellious city.

In the next post I will attempt to being looking at the areas where the Calvinist and the Arminian differ.  My goal is to look at Scripture and see which of the positions makes sense of the biblical witness and what the weaknesses are within the positions.  I hope to look at each of the positions from both a philosophical and theological perspective, seeking weaknesses in logic and deficiencies in textual soundness.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Food for Thought

For my dear friend, Amitie

You said you'd like me to write a post on my favorite place to eat.  I've actually been thinking about that since you requested it.  This is a hard subject for me to write on because I don't really have a favorite place to eat, at least not like most people think of it.  I don't have a complex appetite.  I'm a bit of a picky eater (though not as picky as some) and so I rarely travel to new places to eat unless they seem to specialize in things I know I like (or I anticipate I can find what I like on their menu).  But, because you asked for it, I'm going to try and give you an idea of my favorite place(s) to eat.

I should first note that my wife and I don't go out to eat very often.  Maybe we eat out once every other week.  Usually when we go out to eat it is with friends after church.  On occasions like a birthday, anniversary, or other special event we will go out to eat, but even then we usually go out to eat at a chain restaurant (Like Logan's our Outback, etc.).  The reason for this is because both of us are very budget conscious.  We don't like to spend a lot of money on a meal and usually we can find something we know we will like without spending a large amount of money.

With that being said, we do occasionally try a new place, like going to a local greasy spoon that we heard was good, or even trying an ethnic restaurant with friends.  But, the first thing we look at is usually whether we think the value of the food is worth what a place charges.  If you invited me to a black tie place I'd probably go for the sake of a friend, but I'd find myself constantly thinking "Wow, the prices here are crazy!"  So most of the places I would mention as "favorites," where we spend time, would be places that would be very pedestrian and common, not likely to impress anyone.

Growing up we both liked eat seafood from Carry Hilliards around Savannah, GA.  We like pizza, burgers, chicken fingers, pork chops, and all kinds of southern food.  Granted, neither of us is big on greens, squash, and salads, but at most southern restaurants we can find plenty of sides we like in place of those.  So I can't say we are big on all "southern" food, but we certainly like our chicken and fish fried, and our burgers juicy.

So, where do I like to eat?  For pizza we liked a place in Louisville, KY called Wick's (the downtown one, located near Baxter Ave.).  The first time a friend took us there we fell in love with it.  The toppings were plentiful and stacked so heavily they fell out when you picked a slice up.  The sauce was a perfect flavor and the deep dish style was perfect for the recipes they used.  We couldn't eat there too often, just because we'd both be as big as blimps, but when we did eat there we liked it every time.

For burgers I would have to say I like to go to Five Guys.  Yes, they are a chain, and there are a lot of them around, but I've never had a bad burger at any of them.  There really isn't much more to say about Five Guys.  Great burgers, great fries, peanuts are copious and a nice snack while waiting.

Oddly enough the best chicken sandwich I ever ate came from a Red Robin in Cincinnati.  The chicken was cut up as though it had been fried on the bone and then cut off and put on the bun.  It was so tender, flavorful and juicy.  I had that with one of their overflowing milkshakes.  That meal resonates as one of the best meals I've ever eaten out at a restaurant.

I tried to eat at a really posh place once.  I was a "Star Student" for my high school.  Because of that several of us were invited to meet the school board and eat at a really fancy place that had a dress code, served food on china, etc.  I can honestly say that I didn't care for much of anything they set before us.  I'm not big on sweet meat (no, I don't mean "sweetmeats" I mean sweet meat).  And I can't remember much else of what they set on the table, only that I drank a good bit of tea and only lightly touched some of the other stuff.

But, if you really want to know my favorite place to eat, it shouldn't surprise you.  My favorite place to eat is my own kitchen table.  My wife has become an amazing cook since we got married (or perhaps she cooks to my palate).  I love her fresh biscuits, any vegetable she cooks, and the way she has learned to use seasonings.  Her pork chops are delicious, she's learned to fry chicken so that we both love it, and I can't think of anything she cooks that I don't like.  Normally I don't like baked beans (yeah, I know it is a perennial favorite for a lot of people) but I even enjoy those when she cooks them.  On top of that we don't have to get dressed up, we don't have to go anywhere and wait on anyone else to get our food ready, and I can let my daughter run around and squeal and chatter to her heart's content.

I know it is trite, and I'm sure it isn't exactly what you were looking for, but it is true.  If given my preference, I'd rather stay at home with my wife and daughter, eat at the kitchen table and talk to my beloved than anything else.  I like to go out for a special occasion, so that we can both enjoy ourselves without having to worry about dishes or cleaning up, but I wouldn't call anywhere I go a "favorite" place.  My favorite place is at home, with my family, enjoying the cooking of my beautiful wife and munching on some cookies or something else she made for dessert.  it isn't fancy, but it makes me happy.

Your friends,

Theo and Anasi.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I Wear Glasses

I have a very dear friend who is not a Christian.  She is one of the most supportive and kind friends I have.  I could spend this whole post just talking about how I love her and respect her, even if she and I disagree on religion.  I can honestly say that she has never been anything but supportive and encouraging, always pushing me on even when I've talked with her about how frustrating some parts of my life have been.  At the same time she's always been honest and open, laughing, complaining, and even sometimes just talking about what's going on in life.

I mention her because she recently told me that I should spend some time blogging on things not related to religion and politics.  My response to her is that I have no idea what I would write about if it weren't for religion.  Even my politics revolves around my religion.  I know that upsets some people, they feel as though people like me, who measure everything by our religious profession, are a danger, because we want to enforce our religion through the power of government, or because we can't separate religion from other aspects of life.

I'd like to take the opportunity to talk about why I view everything through religion.  I want to do this for two reasons: first, I want to explain to those who don't view life like I do why I view life through the glasses of Christianity, and secondly I want to encourage other Christians, who may sometimes struggle with how to think about life, to let Christ be the one through whom they understand all things.  For those who don't see the world like I do I hope this will help them to understand the views of people like me, so that hopefully they see there is less reason to be concerned than they might otherwise think.  For those who are struggling with how to view life I want them to be confident in how they walk, so that they might remain strong in the face of a questioning world.

My reason for viewing the world through a religious lens is quite simple: I don't know of any other way to view the world and still hold God as first in my life.  What I mean is that Christ commands of his followers to put him as first; the only and absolute standard by which we live.  He commands me to take up my cross, deny myself, and daily follow him.  That means that in every situation I must first and foremost consider him and his desires, dying to myself above all else.

When I was young this is what I feared the most about Christianity.  As I saw it God was the only one who was ever called good in Scripture (Jesus himself affirms that when the rich young ruler calls him "good teacher").  But, if God is the only one ever called good, and if my life was to aim for the highest good, then that would mean that I would have to ever die to myself and become more and more like Christ.  My fear was quite simply that I would no longer be me, but I would be more and more like Christ, and I wasn't sure that was what I wanted.

The reality is that I like me, for the most part.  I know me better than I know anyone else, and I'm pretty happy with the me I know.  After all, if I didn't like who I was I could change who I was into who I like, or at least that's what I tell myself.  Yes, there are aspects of me I don't like so much, there are parts of me I wish I could change, but over all I'm pretty content with me, and I don't know that I'd like being anyone else quite as much.  There is something terrifying in thinking that one day I might find that I'm not me anymore, that I'm someone else, because I don't know that I'd like that person as well as I like who I am today.

But, as I have walked more and more with Christ I find that I like him far more than I like me.  I've come to learn that Jesus loves my wife better than I love her.  God cares for my daughter more than I ever will.  In fact the Lord cares for my friends, my enemies, and the strangers that I will never meet in a way that I could only dream of.  In every way I've discovered, Christ is a better man than I am, and I want to be more like him.

Because I want to be more like him I try and view everything through the lens of Scripture, trusting that it is his very word, given that I might know him and his ways better.  With this foundation I look to passages such as Ephesians 5:16 wherein Paul calls to us to make the most of our time, realizing that the days are evil.  Thus every moment of my time must be measured, recognizing that I won't ever get that moment again.  Since every moment of my time must be viewed through that lens, that means everything that happens in that moment must be equally viewed through that same lens.

If I spend 30 minutes watching a video, then what else could I have done with that 30 minutes?  If I spend 30 minutes relaxing, then have I set my mind and body at ease so I can be of better service in the upcoming struggles of life?  If I spend 15 minutes talking with my neighbor about his work, then have I wisely spent that 15 minutes so that I might serve God?  In everything these is a balance, and every minute must be counted and weighed so that I know that I have made use of the times I have.

Do I perfectly think of everything in this way?  No, of course not.  If I so thought perfectly then I would never sin, for how could even one moment of sin or misbehavior ever be considered worth the trade off in time I could have spent in righteous pursuits?  Yet, in the large view of life, this is how I view everything.

I think politics is important, but I'm not as active or as vocal as I sometimes want to be because I would rather not deafen someone by talking politics when the things of God are of greater import.  Sure in the time that Jesus walked the earth there were very important political questions, yet for the most part Christ never engaged in open political criticism or discourse, because he understood that the kingdom of God is more important than any kingdom in this world.  How can I take any different view?

I like movies, entertainment, and even computer games, but why talk about them when there are more important questions to discuss, like the coming eternity?  Moreover, how do I view those games if not through the redemptive lens of Christ, thinking about how the themes of the games and movies I entertain myself with relate to the greater narrative that God is unfolding in all of reality?  I long ago told my wife that I realize it was impossible to tell an interesting story without intersecting with gospel themes, because Christ is the final anti-type of every hero, his romance with the church is the culmination of every romance we have ever dreamed, and the threat of eternal damnation and the enslavement of humanity to the powers of evil is the root of every helpless orphan and every abject terror or ruthless villain man has ever conjured.

You see, I cannot help but see the world through the lens of Christianity because Christ is the architect of this world, and he has woven it so that everywhere I look I see him looking back.  I see the grace of God in the sunrise of the morning, the power of God in a thunderstorm, the horror of sin in sickness, death, and dissolution, and the hope of redemption in every child's smile, in the dew on the ground, and the gentle breeze on a hot summer day.  I'm hardwired to think this way, it is not just my religion, it is my whole being.  While I love to write, and while I'd love to write on a hundred topics, I know that they would always come back to this: The gospel is the only story worth telling, and any story that doesn't point us to it is a poor story indeed.

Moral Perfection and Christ

The other day I had a friend ask me a question about the impeccability of Christ, and whether we downplay the humanity of Christ in appealing to this doctrine.  For those who aren't familiar with theological terminology the question of the peccability of Christ has to do with whether or not Christ could have sinned.  Usually this is a debate among Christians who all agree that Christ did not sin, but the question is whether or not Christ could have sinned.  In some sense we are asking whether in an alternate universe it would be theoretically possible that Christ could sin.  It may seem like a non-issue, but there can be some serious implications that develop from this question depending on which side you take.

I'm not going to go into the whole argument on the impeccability of Christ here.  Instead I am going to assume the position of Christ being impeccable, that is that Christ not only did not sin, but that Christ could not have sinned.  If you want to read the whole argument for the impeccability of Christ there are multiple websites that give a very good analysis of the doctrine (a simple search in any good search engine can get you to multiple discussions on the matter).  For now, whether you agree or disagree with the doctrine I want to address the specific question that was sent to me: how does the impeccability of Jesus Christ impact our understanding of his humanity?

There is a concern that due to the impeccability of Christ we could end up minimizing the humanity of Christ as we apply his righteousness to ourselves, fighting temptation, etc.  However, I think this would only be the case if we divide Christ in these areas instead of considering the whole counsel of Scripture.  If we allow all of Scripture to speak to us and we consider the fullness of Christ then we are never in danger of falling away from the clear teaching of Scripture.  In this area, applying the righteousness of Christ and thinking about fighting temptation should not detract from the humanity of Christ, but rather should bring that humanity into focus.

Yes, we have a truly righteous savior because of the divine nature of Christ.  Because he truly was the righteousness of God he was able to live perfectly, never falling into temptation as Adam did.  And because he was righteous and of infinite worth he allows all those who have faith in him to participate in that righteousness.  No mere man could ever offer this righteousness to others, because, as Job says, if we are righteous, our righteousness affects only us, not God.  Yet, the righteousness of God in its infinite value can be applied to all men through the atoning sacrifice of the perfectly righteous Christ.

At the same time we are able to fight sin not merely because of the presence of Christ, which we ought never denigrate, but also because he promised, and sent, the Holy Spirit, who is the very person of God living in us.  As the Spirit indwells us he fills us with power to resist temptation, whether we walk in that power or not depends on whether we follow in obedience to Christ in crucifying the human nature that lives within us.  Thus we must rely totally on God in bringing us out from sin, so that the divinity of Christ is well seen as we think on these things.

But, that is only one aspect.  On the other hand we have passages such as Hebrews, as you quoted in your text.  In Hebrews 2 we see that the righteousness of Chris is applied to us not because he is God, but because he is our high priest.  As our high priest he must be fully human, for if he were only God then how would he have any connection to the fallen state of humanity to redeem us?  By becoming human and suffering as a man Christ brought humanity into perfection, something that was necessary and that could only be done by God joining to man in perfect unity.  Now we have a high priest who is like us in every way, that is being totally human, yet without sin in any way, that is being totally God.  Thus we need both his humanity and his divinity if we are to walk in his righteousness.

Likewise when we come to him to ask that he would give us strength to fight sin, he knows our every temptation.  God cannot be tempted by Sin, as James 1 makes clear.  Since God cannot be tempted by sin, while yet being omniscient, how could we say that God knows our sufferings of temptation so as to be merciful to us and respond to our cries with such grace?  But, because Christ is fully man he knows our sufferings, he has experienced temptation, and thus he is able to be merciful to us, responding in grace because of the great love with which he loved us.

So while Christ is impeccable and eternally unable to sin, yet at the same time this does not take away from his humanity.  If it were not for his impeccability would we not always have to worry that our high priest might yet sin against God?  For Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, meaning that his nature never changes.  But, knowing that our brother will never sin against God we have the eternal comfort of a redeemer who testifies on our behalf at the throne of God, interceding for those who would otherwise deserve only the judgment of God and hell thereafter.  And because of his humanity we know that we never need to fear being rejected by him, for he was made as one of us that he might call us brothers.

So we have a great hope in Christ and a wonderful participation in the righteousness and power of God because of Christ's divinity and his humanity.  We ought always remember that there is no separation of Christ's nature, for while he is fully human and fully God he is also only one, not two Christ's divided by nature.  We must remember it is because of both of these natures we participate in the divine blessings.  And we must remember that it is by means of both natures that we can come and offer praise and blessing to him who lives forever and ever.  We come not in our own humanity, but rather in the robes of righteousness given us by the Son of God; humanity reborn, dressed in divine clothing as given by our merciful Father.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Beauty of Marriage

I learned something recently about tree surgery. Apparently it is possible to use concrete to help heal sick trees. You see, holes often develop in trees due to bacteria causing an infection which then causes the wood to rot, leading to a hole in the tree. It is these trees, the ones with holes in them, that can be helped with a bit of time and some concrete.

The first step in caring for these trees is actually to remove wood from the hole. You see you can not help the tree until you have first stripped all the infected wood out of the hole. The only way to help the tree is to cut out all the infected wood, otherwise you will simply have more rot even if you treat what remains.

Next, you must use something to clean the healthy wood that remains once you have fully hollowed out the hole. You need an antibiotic of sorts to clean the wood so you can make sure no remnants of the infection remain in what appears to be healthy wood. Again, the purpose of this is to prevent the infection from returning after treatment.

The third step is to use something like pitch, tar, or some other substance to coat the wood in the hole. You see you need to seal it so that every void is covered. You need to create a surface sufficient for the concrete to hold on to. Without this step, even if you were to try and use the concrete to help the tree, it may not hold, or you may have air pockets where, again, infection can develop and cause more damage to the tree.

Finally, you pour concrete into the hole. Since the voids in the tree are covered the concrete will now stick to the insides of the hole. Doing this allows the concrete to reinforce the remaining tree. Now, no additional infection can get in, and if the rotten area removed some of the integrity of the tree, the concrete will help to reinforce those weak points. On top of that, the additional weight of the concrete makes the tree less susceptible to wind damage as it will be much harder for the wind to bend or move the tree.

So, why do I begin with trees when talking about marriage? Because for many Christians our definition of marriage is a bit rotten. Like a tree, we still have the right shape and form, and we may still be producing good fruit, but our poor definition and understanding of marriage is like rot in the trunk of a tree. Eventually, unless we treat the problem, we will no longer have a foundation to stand on, and then our understanding of marriage will die.

Why do I say we have a bad definition of marriage? Well, follow along with me, and I think you'll agree, most of us need a bit of a refresher course on what marriage really is. Far too often we define marriage by what it isn't, but the problem is that course does not defend what marriage is. We fight for marriage in our popular culture, but in doing so what we fight for is a view of marriage that is sometimes alien to what marriage really is.

Let's begin where we would if we were treating a rotten tree. Let's start by stripping out all the dead wood, and see if we can find something healthy to preserve. Get rid of what you think marriage is. Marriage isn't about faithfulness, it isn't about love, it isn't about happiness, it isn't about communication, and it isn't about the proper exercising of our physical passions. Marriage isn't about family, it isn't about mutual support, it isn't about establishing a healthy foundation for society. Marriage isn't about any of that, though all of that may be included in a healthy marriage.

Everything I just said may sound outrageous to the Christian. But bear with me. The problem is that what we often defend is not marriage, but rather how marriage has come to be expressed in our culture. After all, some will argue that the idea of monogamous faithfulness are mere cultural entities. Abraham was never rebuked by God for having multiple wives, Solomon, son of Bathsheba was chosen as the successor of David, despite the fact that she was not the first wife of David, nor was he the first born of David's children. And, if we needed to be reminded, even God sanctioned levirate marriages in the case of a man dying without any heirs.

By stripping out all of what marriage is not, we are then able to get to the healthy wood of determining what marriage is. In order to determine what marriage is we must turn to some foundation, some source of teaching us about marriage. In this case we must turn to the bible. Specifically one section of Scripture stands as the crux of understanding the bible's teaching on marriage.

Ephesians 5:31-33 reads thus, “'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” And this is the bedrock of our understanding of marriage. This is the healthy wood in the hole we have dug out of the tree of our understanding of marriage.

The implications of this passage are what we will flesh out for our concrete filling, but for now we know how deep we have to dig to get to the healthy wood. Likewise, when we pause to think of how we will cleanse the wood so as to make sure the infection has been treated, we see that the antibiotic we need is the Word. The infection is our cultural and worldly tendency, how we allow the definitions and arguments of the world to influence our understanding of what is important. We must come to the Word, and let the Word cleanse us and purify our minds, so that we can rightly understand what is important to the Christian.

We must understand, we are the new creation. Being new, we cannot allow our old understandings to stand in the way of the new reality we live in. We must conform to the truth of God's Word, we cannot think that our civilization, our culture, or our ways are necessarily true unless we find that what we hold to be true matches the Word of God. For instance, we hold that murder is wrong, but not because of the inherent value of man, or because murder weakens our society, but rather because murder is a defamation of the image of God, because man is made in the image of God. To murder a man is to trespass against the holiness of God, because we are taking his image and making it nothing, we are taking what was made to be a representative of God and treating him with contempt.

So with marriage. In laying our concrete in the hole, assuming we have allowed the Word to both cleanse us and to fill in the voids of our understanding, we see that marriage is more than love, more than faithfulness, more than all the worldly things we want to say it is. Marriage is about Christ and the church. Yes, men are called to love our wives, but not as the world tells us to love. Men are to love our wives just as Christ loved the church. We are to be sacrificial in our love, unfailing, faithful in the face of faithfulness.

We said what marriage is not about, but here we see what marriage is about. Marriage is about Christ, it is about us demonstrating a lifestyle that makes much of Christ and shows how he is the foundation of every relationship. He is the one who establishes what marriage is. Marriage is about all the various things we want to put at the heart of marriage in as much as Christ is about any of those things. Yet Christ is the true center of marriage, Christ is the focus of marriage, Christ is the support and foundation of marriage. We can tear away everything else and yet, if Christ is the center, the marriage will remain. A man may abandon his wife, treat her with disgrace and hatred, refuse to provide for her or give her physical accompaniment, and yet if she married him with her focus on Christ, the marriage still remains, and she still has hope that Christ, in his power, will redeem her husband and bring him back to her.

So for the bride, her role is that of the church. She represents the hope of redemption that we find in Christ. If a woman is unfaithful to her husband, disrespects him, uses him for money or for power, or in any other way fails to live up to her image as the church, it does not negate the marriage. The marriage remains because the man, in his role representing Christ, still has hope that his wife will be redeemed, even as the church is redeemed in Christ.

The focus of marriage is Christ and nothing else. If we want to rightly define marriage, we cannot put anything at the center of marriage apart from Christ. Which means the world will never accept our definition of marriage, because the world will never acknowledge that Christ is the center of marriage. No one, apart from the Christian, will ever accept Christ as the center and focus of marriage.

Think about this. The world wants us to change who we worship and how we worship. If the world wants us to change what goes on in the church and condemns us because they do not understand our God, how can we expect them to embrace our view of marriage? The world thinks we are strange, arrogant, illogical, and foolish, all because we claim that there is only one way to be saved, and that way is through faith in the God-Man who was crucified and raised some 2000 years ago. If the world cannot understand our worship and cannot understand how we could really believe in a God who would die on a cross and bring reconciliation through his death and resurrection, how could they understand why we would think he is at the center of a relationship that is thousands of years older than they think our religion is?

We, as Christians, must make a point of not fighting for a false definition of marriage. Unfortunately that means that we cannot fight just for an idea of marriage that says, “Marriage is one man and one woman for life.” That idea of marriage is just as false as any other view of marriage, because marriage is really, “The union of a man and woman as one flesh, representing the relationship of Christ and his church, lived out to the glory of God as a testimony to the truth and purpose of the gospel,” or, to paraphrase from Paul, “Marriage is a man leaving his father and mother, holding close to his wife, the two becoming one flesh, and it is a great mystery that has now been revealed as speaking of Christ and the church, and how the church is both the body and bride of Christ.”

If we argue for less than this, then we are not arguing for marriage. But, our definition will never be accepted by a culture that rejects Christ. Therefore, we make greater gain not in fighting against this or that definition, but rather in preaching the gospel, winning souls wherever we can for Christ, and realizing that we must be counter-cultural, embracing a definition of marriage that no one but a Christian can accept. We must realize that we will always have to teach our children, “Culture does not understand marriage, they get it wrong, and even when they look like they have it right, it is only a facade, because the truth of marriage lies with Christ, who this present world system rejects.”

If we want to see the beauty of marriage and argue for what marriage must be in our culture, then we must place Christ at the center of marriage as he is supposed to be. When Christ is at the center of marriage then marriage becomes about forgiveness, about the worship of God, about honor of one another as our own flesh and blood, about submission to authority and care for the weak, about giving sacrificially, and about reconciliation. Marriage becomes a ministry of all the hard things that culture puts secondary, and we realize that love, compassion, intimacy, and joy flow out of these hardships.