Tuesday, December 2, 2008

30 pieces of silver

Jesus was sold to those who were going to kill Him for 30 pieces of silver.
The going rate of silver in today's market is approximately $0.28/gram, with a typical Roman coin weighing about 4 grams. Now I know it's not an exact equivalent (since silver was harder to come by back then and therefore worth more) but considering the the only source of life and happiness was discarded for a few round discs dug out of the earth totaling $34 according to today's market... well that's just awful.

It would be laughable if we didn't sell our own souls for less.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The two wills of God?

Scripture presents what looks like a contradiction in the character of God when it speaks about his will to save men. On one hand you have the verses that speak to His desire to destroy sin and any sinner caught up in it: 

"Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess" (Deuteronomy 28:63).
"Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden" (
Rom 9:18).
"For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie" (2 Thessalonians 2:11).
"He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn-and I would heal them" (John 12:39-40)
"For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses." (Joshua 11:20).
"... for it was the LORD's will to put them to death" (1 Samuel 2:25). 

and on the other hand there are the verses that speak to God's will to save men from sin and death.

"This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3-4).  
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whomever believes in him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Matthew 27:37) 

"Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23)

I think the best way to reconcile the passages is to see the difference not between two equal and opposite wills, but as one set expressing the character of God and the other recording his actions. When presented this way there's no conflict between them (in fact you need both together to understand Him properly).
Say for a moment we had insight into the first set of verses describing Gods actions but not the second set describing His character. In that case we would see Him damning the wicked and withholding mercy, and we'd think Him cruel and unapproachable. On the other hand if we only had the verses describing His soft character He would appear to us to be a weak powerless God, if even a God at all.

The difference in Scripture then is not so much between His permissive, persuasive, effectual, continual will, but the between His nature and His decrees. His feelings and His actions. Together they paint the complete picture, showing us not only what He does for His glory, but why. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Problem with the Church of Christ leadership

Church of Christ theology misunderstands the role grace plays in salvation, seeing grace as a kind of necessary precursor to good works. The situation may be compared to a man needing to clean out his gutters. On his own he has no chance of getting the job done, but if someone were to show him grace and hand him a ladder, he would be able to climb up and improve his situation.

For the Church of Christ salvation begins with the grace of God forgiving you of your sins and continues on in the form of you keeping your salvation through good works. But it doesn't take long until the question comes, "Which good works?" The elder board answers, "All the good works necessary for salvation. You must avoid sin and attend church. You should also believe the same things as us."

This unity is only skin deep however, for while all the elders agree you need to keep your salvation each one has their own belief of which good works matters most for doing so. Invariably the member who isn't as practiced at doing good fails to keep the list and must be brought up for discipline. Or situations arise that breed arguments (like what color will the carpets be), and since these arguments pertain directly to good works, and good works pertain directly to salvation, the arguments grow like cancer until they split the church. Or the members quietly become fed up with being targeted and leave, not being able to put their finger on what's wrong, only knowing that they're unhappy.

This doesn't mean the elders are evil, only that they're people trapped by the consequences of a graceless theology.

Indeed, the very choice of elders is plagued by gracelessness. Who should be appointed as elders to help the church keep the rules? The men best able to keep them themselves of course. Men who are adept at not showing sin take up the job of purging the congregation of their sins so that they can be saved. This sacrificial duty is a heavy burden, but it also comes with the benefit of never having to face your own graceless presuppositions since you're busy staring into your brothers eye for debris. The paid ministry staff (particularly preachers) offer no solution to the problem either. In a religion where self discipline, dedication, and abstinence are of primary importance who is more virtuous than the man who's dedicated his whole life to preaching?

From top to bottom then the leadership is touched by the fundamental problem of not knowing how salvation works, which in turn multiplies fear. There's the fear of not being good enough for heaven, fear of being judged harsher as a teacher, fear of letting others slip away. The worst thing that can happen to a father is to see their children abandon the faith and the elders have to watch it happen over and over again. The philosophy doesn't work, so neither do the churches.

But the good news is that God has made it evident that the system doesn't work so that we would abandon that erroneous premise of faith-plus-works and trust in His grace alone. He pursues us (to correct us) and is continually calling us to heed the instructions of Paul in Gal 3:3.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why Free Choice passages?

Free moral agency is a necessary thing for us to have as God's greatest creation, because He wants us to experience the unique delight that comes only from choosing Him. He has set up a large variety of pleasures in this world, everything from eating, to dancing, to sitting quietly, to actuating our desires, and then arranges all of them so that they find their fulfillment in Him. Without a will we cannot experience the joy of sanctified choosing, but with a properly oriented will we gain access to a pleasure otherwise impossible to attain.
We give Him the use of our wills completely, without reservation, and He gives them back to us full of life. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

Calvinism and the Gospel

For the last year or so I have been full of energy to understand in Scripture those topics that I've unintentionally overlooked before, and boy, there's a lot of them. I'm starting this blog in order to sort out and think through those doctrines I once thought intolerable--doctrines like original sin, election, and the perserverace of the saints. Calvinism in so many words, as I have recently embraced a label my upbringing regards as evil. But for myself I find Calvinism to be something more like what Spurgeon said, 
"I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called"
Much to my great surprise I have found that Calvinism is not some empty or cold philosophy that constrains and kills, but the living grace of God. Once I became convinced God was going to ensure my salvation I then realized it didn't make sense that He would keep me unless He had always intended to keep me safe. And after that I realized that He had arranged the conditions that my heart until it had no other answer but Him, and that I was living through the outworking of a great and marvelous plan set in motion long ago. And I strongly suspect that I have much more to learn.

Monday, August 4, 2008

No free will in heaven

We must be careful how we define "free will" so that we don't fall into any obvious blunders. If we define free will as "the freedom to choose the opposite action, or select from any number of actions" then we're setting ourselves up for failure by saying there's no freedom in heaven, because after God removes our ability to sin we'll be completely unable to choose sin. And since we can no longer choose the opposite and choose sin, it must be the case that God has stripped us of our free will.
But this is clearly wrong. After glorification we will be free--truly free--and yet not mindless automatons. 

So whatever "free will" means, it cannot shelter sin, even tacitly.  

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No Original Sin!

Original sin is a doctrine that's somewhat difficult to come to grips with, but if you consider it carefully you'll see that refusing to believe in it creates a number of really difficult problems.

1. If people begin life perfect then at what point do they cross over into the age where sin begins to count against them, typically called the ‘age of accountability?’ If you reply "it is different for everyone" then what's the average age? Are there sins so heinous that God would count them when committed by someone still under the age? If God is just then why does He allow sinless children to die if death is the penalty for sin? Questions here could be multiplied.  

2. If everyone starts without fallen natures then why is sin in every single heart? Why is every last society, man, woman, and child broken?

3. Why, if the Bible is sufficient to tell us everything we need to know, does God refuse to disclose the age of accountability to us? Why would He withhold this critical information? We have an oblique reference in Isaiah and Jonah but that's it?

4. If babies go to heaven because they don't understand (or don’t knowingly commit sin) then what's to stop adults from getting a free ride on the same train? If God is willing and able to turn a blind eye to wicked creatures in one case why might He not do so elsewhere?  Since ignorance does not count against us, is all we need to forget about our sins to be saved? This is tantamount to insisting that Jesus was superfluous, and His death for our sins was merely a nice idea, not an essential event.

5. A man without original sin is a man capable of achieving salvation. But scripture does not allow us of this, instead it speaks in the strongest terms of our moral inability and fallen hearts: But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (Is 64:6, Eph 2:8,9) For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

6. A rejection of sin directly contradicts scripture: “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies" (Ps. 58:3). “Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. 51:5).

7. Someone with a clean slate has no need of grace, and therefore no need of Christ's atonement for sins. Babies are therefore saved apart by their own nature, and not Him who took on our nature. 

I understand that the thought of being personally evil is repulsive to the flesh, but we must suppress this desire to justify ourselves and instead insist that people are tainted to the core, and that God is a merciful God. As the Scripture says, "Let God be true and every man a liar." 

Monday, June 9, 2008

Jesus curses the fig tree

 Jeremiah 8:13- "The LORD declares "I will surely snatch them away, there will be no grapes on the vine and no figs on the fig tree, and the leaf will wither; and what I have given them will pass away."
This bears a remarkable resemblance to what Jesus was quoting in Matthew 21 when he withered the fig tree. In Jeremiah God had declared that the nation was to go into exile for being fruitless and wicked, it's destruction was imminent because it was not faithful to it's master. In Matthew, the Jewish gospel, Jesus effectively makes a claim to be God when he passes judgment as God would. It is not a coincidence that during the triumphal entry Jesus makes this claim of power, and statement that this bitterly wicked generation demanded would be destroyed.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Luke 15 thought

Poem by Mark
The story begins with a boy gone bad
Faces in the audience light up
The boy takes full advantage of his father,
An ancient kindly man,
He wants the inheritance- everything
Faces grimace.
An upstart someone says, horsewhip him!
Teach him some manners!
Some young men smile
But they all wait eyes fixed on the face of Jesus
The father lets him go after giving everything
The whole inheritance: the gold, the silver
The favorite horse, the treasured cloak, the ring
Faces show surprise
His fathers a fool someone whispers.
The sons a cheat
But they bend forward to hear
He spends it all on prostitutes
Wine, gambling, the best hotels, loose living
An old man looks down at his friend and winks
He should have invested it he says, that’s the wise way
But this one’s a fool the other says
Heads nod in agreement
Soon the boy hits bottom, nothing left
He ends up slopping pigs
Faces flinch, stunned
But some smile
He got what he deserved an old man says
This is a good story
But then the boy remembers home
The feasts, the plenty, the laughter
He sits and weeps, his head in his hands
He decides to return home and ask for a bed in the barn
Someone laughs
A twist! He says
Faces show intrigue
The boy comes home hands gritty, legs scarred
He is penniless, ragged wasted- a scarecrow
Listeners are laughing now
Revenge they think!
The disowning
But no!
The old man sees him on the road from his chair on the porch where he has sat waiting each day
He recognizes the walk The long hair, the shoulders
He jumps up and stumbles out to him
His heat thumping, his eyes wet
He runs to the boy while the boy stands there, his head down
The old man gathers him into his arms and
He holds him long
so long
And he weeps!
Faces are stern now, their eyes slit
This father’s a fool they murmur
But still they wait
The boy beings his speech but the old man has suddenly gone deaf
He throws a cloak over the boy’s rags
Pulls off his last and best ring
Slides it onto the boys finger
And begins calling for servants
Kill the fatted calf he shouts, we’ll have a feast!
Faces are hard now many shake their heads
A bitter elders son refuses even to speak to his lost brother
He stomps off angry cursing
Some faces nod, but most are gray
Their lips pressed white their eyes aflame
And sons stand up to go
Nothing has gone right in this story
They stalk off
A bad story one says
Stupid, says another
Not one of his best
But some from the crowd linger
A prostitute
A tax collector
A thief
A liar
They glance at Jesus furtively and wait,
Then they approach slyly, slowly
And one by one fall at his feet
And weep
For joy

This is how God has chosen to portray himself to us. A kindly loving old man who no cruel word or deed can turn away. A worried father who refuses no request, who asks for no grovelling, who keeps no history, and who gives no lecture.
Utterly without dignity.
We see the same God being flung to die on a trash heap outside the city of peace, without one single display of power or shred of dignity left. God himself was left to suffocate alone to bring his children back.
Now, that's not all there is to how God has communicated Himself, God is not weak, nor will He be mocked, but the parable is astounding, and we ought to be astounded. 

Credo vs Paedo Baptism: Pushback Part I

If you've been following this series you may have noticed my two Pastors commenting on my work.  Phil it might help those of us who fi...