Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Science as God

I noticed something about myself today- I find modern science fiction to be much less satisfying than in the previous days. In fact I'd say what the kids are being raised on today is terrible and idolatrous.

I don't know when it happened exactly, which makes me think it was generally a gradual slope. What I do know is that in the old days of the 60's and probably 70's a number of movies in particular feature poverty, crime, cults, and the wars of our fathers. Soilent Green, Road Warrior, etc, but eventually the culture decided that these ideas were passed, and it was better to and build something lasting and good. Star Trek was on the rise. But how do we pass from human nature being the same, full of greed and vice, to a utopia? The tonic to all that ails us was a thing called science. Now before this time science was the observing of natural phenomenon, you impart energy in the form of heat to a substance, add a catalyst, and observe the following reaction, record the results. But at some point observing science gave way to panacea science, something more akin to a belief system.

Panacea science is a wonderful thing, it allows us to wave away with our hands our fallen and ruined sinful nature- with the exception of a few bad guys of course, because science has found a cure for our spiritual blight. It allows us to evolve, growing into a form of perfection, both as individuals and as society. With the winds of science at our backs we can, and will become godlike. All we need is knowledge, knowledge to unlock the inner power within us all.

I find this to be pedantic, and idolatrous. I therefore ask the same question as the Quoheleth: "Who can make straight what God has made crooked?" Man has not changed in all of his recorded history. We are neither wiser, nor smarter, nor more moral than we ever were, and appealing to science to change that is nonsense. What I want to see is more fiction that does not drive its story toward man becoming God, but toward man glorifying God.  History is not moving forward so that mankind may become great, but so that God may be.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Getting Kids Through Service

By popular demand, a post on how we get our kids to sit through service.
But first some reflections: we came from a "denomination" where only the nursery age kids would go to class during the sermon, so not having them with us for any of the service smote our conscious as a terrible idea, and as a result we decided to keep them with us the whole time, even through the sermon. Needless to say this seems like a crazy idea to most of our peers, because our current church is much more of a commuter church, but from the comments of the older people, this trend away from family together the whole time is a recent innovation. Which is another reason I am suspicious of it. My gut tells me that unless my kids see us there, worshiping, honoring God together, unless they sit through those sermons, they are going to be bereft of a solid foundation. After all, why should they want to attend church later if they don't attend church now?
So that's why we do it, partly because we were raised that way, and partly because it seems like a sacrifice we need to make on their behalf. Now for how we do it.

First and Foremost: Commit
If you decide to keep your kids with you in service, do it with courage, dedication, and zeal. Commit to it as if their very soul depends on it. Go into it knowing you are breaking the mold, that you're swimming against the culture, that the kids are going to be difficult, that it's just going to be hard.
I'll speak for myself here - in a challenge my competitive nature comes out to meet the occasion, and if you want to get your kids to sit through service, you are going to need that killer instinct too. Because let's face it, you may have to pick them up and take them out to spank them, or to sit them on time out, you may have to stand in the back and muzzle them for a little bit. But if you commit and really go for it, they will not be able to withstand your might for very long. If you make it clear that failure will not be tolerated and success will be rewarded, they will fall into line soon enough.

Secondly: Plan Ahead
If you know your kids even moderately well you will be able to put together some toys, games, and snacks that will enjoy and will keep them busy the entire time. For our kids the book Goodnight Baby could keep Kaylie busy the whole sermon by itself. Coloring books buy us ten to fifteen minutes, the Disney figurines another thirty, and the kid games like 'draw' and 'memory match' or 'fruit ninja' on the Kindle tablet get us the rest of the way there. Planning ahead a little can go a long way to having a problem free service.

Thirdly: Set Practical Rules and Schedules
While it may sound impressive for our kids to survive a whole service, in reality we only have to survive the length of the announcements and sermon because we make our kids stand and sing with us, and bow their heads and pray with us. We are also aided by some rules:
We begin the first (ten to fifteen) minutes of sitting still time with a snack. With their bellies full it also helps them to sit quietly and be more patient while doing other things.
After the snacks comes games, but these come with rules
  • No getting down, or only getting down to pick up an accidentally dropped crayon or toy is permitted. By keeping them in their seats on their bottoms we can keep the wiggles at bay. This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you give them an inch, they are going to take a mile.
  • No making noises. We shush them for talking too loudly, crashing things together, etc.
  • Nothing that keep them from hearing the sermon is permitted.
  • No facing backwards.
  • No sitting outside our reach.
  • Good behavior is rewarded with freedom to run around immediately after service and bad behavior is punished with having to stay in the seat until we leave the church building. If they have demonstrated discipline and ability to obey the rules they get to be set free to do run around and have fun. If not, they do not get that reward. We also compliment them throughout the rest of the day if they have done well.

Lastly: Expect Success
Every week is different from the last, some are better than others, but in general we do have great success getting our 9 month olds to sit still, face forward, and be quiet because frankly, we expect them to. Kids, like all humans, will rise of sink to the level of expectation you set for them. That's why we won't use the Message Bible, or Contemporary English Bible, or the Living Bible, because we want to come up to the Scriptures, not get lazy and sink down to them. But it's something anyone can do, it just takes work. When our friends express astonishment at us and our success and tell us that we have superhuman kids my wife and I shrug and laugh, because although it looks impressive, it's really only a combination of small things. They have been trained over the course of time to respond properly, not that they were born patient.
So in all things look to the horizon for long term success, be prepared for the occasional failure (more at first, less as you go), and you will shape them into little angels who can make it through even a long sermon with no problem.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Particular Atonement From Kingdom through Covenants (1/3)

From "Kingdom Through Covenant" Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Crossway, 2012, starting at page 670 of the first edition. (Their own words in gray, mine in italics, blackened if I'm re-writing their argument, red for my own words.)

The topic under discussion is the extent of the atonement, and what was the design of Christ dying on the cross. Was it to provide a way that all can be saved, effectually save the elect, or a combination of both? They insist that the second, and the second only is valid. The atonement is not sufficient for the non-elect. We begin:

Christ died for the purpose of saving only those who to whom He actually applies the benefits of his work. As such, the intention and outcome of the cross are in harmony, and the cross work of Christ serves as the sole ground for our salvation in achieving it and securing everything necessary to apply it to our lives by the Spirit... Most affirm with John Murray that our Lords work is presented in Scripture as a priestly work...
Yet many who affirm that Christ's work is a priestly work, including general atonement advocates divorce Christ's priestly work from its covenantal context, and miss the power of the argument for definite atonement. What is the argument? Christ's work as the great high priest of the new covenant entails redemption. Two steps will sketch out the basic contours of this argument: 
  1. Christ's work as our great high priest is a unified work
  2. Christ's work as the mediator of the new covenant entails a particular and not general representation.
Let us look at each point in turn.

Next we will look at their two points more fully.

Particular Atonement From Kingdom through Covenants (2/3)

Christs work as our great high priest is a unified work

His intent was not only to achieve the redemption of a particular people but also to secure everything necessary to bring those same people to the end for which his death was designed, namely, the full forgiveness of sin and all the blessings of the new covenant including the gift of the Spirit, who effectively  applies his work to those whom the Son represents... the problem with all general atonement views is that they must divide Christ's unified priestly work, redefine Christ's relation as priest to his people, and ultimately make ineffective his work as the head of a new covenant- all points that Scripture will not allow.

P1, God gives all things to those whom the Son dies for
P2, God has not given all things to all men

C, Therefore the Son has not died for all men.

The fault here is easy to see if we take the tacit premise and make it into it's own syllogism:
God either gives all things, or nothing whatever to men
God gave all things to the elect,
The non-elect therefore get nothing whatever.

The next bit of text which begins with "The priestly argument for definite atonement is nothing new. Almost every defense of particular redemption includes it. Yet it is rarely dealt with by its critics, or if it is discussed at all, only aspects of it are mentioned- aspects which are usually divorced from its full biblical-theological presentation..." is irrelevant and I can't make an argument out of it, so I've omitted it. We go on,

There is no evidence He intercedes non-salvifically for the non-elect. Three texts buttress this claim.
In John 17:6-19, our Lord effectively prays for His disciples, those whom the father has given him, but not for the world (9-10). In verses 20-26 Jesus then prays for all future believers, once again given to him by the father (v24, 6:37-44). This intercession is consistent with Jesus teaching previously: he is the good shepherd who dies for the sheep (10:11-15); his sheep are given to Him by his father (10:29) his sheep receive eternal life due to his death; but not all people are his sheep (10:26-27). All of this is consistent with his office as a priest who offers himself for a particular people and intercedes for those same people.

P1,  Jesus prays for His disciples only, and not all men equally,
P2, In the same way He does not die for all men equally.

C, Jesus has not made a way for the non-elect to be saved. 

I'm trying to be fair about how I summarize the argument, but this is just going terribly.

The problem with all general atonement views is that they fragment Christ's priestly work of offering and intercession. Either they must view Christ's work apart from these typological patterns and not discuss the atonement within the constraints of these biblical categories, or they must separate Christ's intercession from his death, thus dividing his priesstly work... 

P1, Christ's atonement and intercession are inseparable,
P2, Christ intercedes only for the elect,

C, Therefore Christ atoned only for the elect.

This is a bit harder to show the error in, but on the other hand it's much harder to prove, for you must first conclusively show that both these premises are bulletproof truths, not just statements. The authors must use the OT to show that in every instance there was never a time in the OT that God was concerned about the Gentiles, and then use the NT show Jesus never showed regard for the non-elect. The problems with doing this are manifold (Nineveh, the Rich Young ruler, Jerusalem etc). They then must prove Christ only intercedes for the elect, and has never kept the non-elect in His grip in any way. But that's a problem too because the only place that says anything like this is John 17. Note John 17:12 "I have kept all you have given me except..." Which means God gave Jesus Judas to keep as well. It's a problem again in v23 where Jesus says "...that the world may know..."
It's indicative that they came into this with the assumption that both points were true, and then tried to prove it. I'll show you why I think that with this next bit:


... What about Luke 23:34? Is it proof that Christ intercedes salvifically for the non-elect? No, and for four reasons: 
  1. Such an interpretation goes against the entire scriptural presentation of the intercession of the priest.
  2. ... One cannot conclude from a specific prayer for a handful of people that this is a prayer "for all and every man that ever were, are, or shall be"
  3. ...Christ prays for a delay of judgment, thus allowing history to continue and God's ultimate purposes to save his people to be realized. Tied to this is God's common grace upon the non-elect who crucified him and, bu a delay in judgment, the salvation of the elect as evidenced in the thief on the cross and many people on the day of Pentecost. This prayer does not serve as evidence that Jesus intercedes salvifically for the non-elect. 
  4. ...[if he did intercede for the non elect] it would mean Christ failed in His high priestly work, but this goes against everything scripture teaches about the priestly work of Christ as perfect and effective.
 Unless you were already committed to thinking that Christ hates the non-elect I can find no grounds for being swayed by any of these four points. If one cannot conclude from a specific prayer that Christ regards men in general with favor then whose word will convince us? If "common grace" is a tool to save the elect while condemning the non-elect then it's not grace. And then why must we conclude Christ has failed if the non-elect perish? Only if we first define His work a certain way first does that hold true.
Now for the arguments put forward in the last section.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Particular Atonement From Kingdom through Covenants (3/3)

Christ's Work as a Mediator of the New Covenant Entails a Particular Redemption
 
Here the authors begin with the idea that Christ's work must be understood in light of the covenants, particularly the New Covenant.

What is the scope, extent, and design of the new covenant? Is it a general covenant made with everybody, making salvation possible for everyone, if they will take it? Or, is it a limited covenant made only with certain men and assuring their eternal salvation?
-Before I go further I must point out that the authors believe it is "a limited covenant made only with certain men" and they have set this against the other option, which they reject. That means they reject the notion that salvation is available for everyone, even if they wanted to take it.

... Christ's atoning work cannot be extended to all people without also extending the new covenant benefits and privileges to them, which minimally includes regeneration, forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Spirit, and so on. General atonement views must either redefine the nature of the new covenant or argue that Christ dies as the covenantal head of another covenant, whatever that is, which is unsustainable. 

 Or, more succinctly:

P1, Christ unfailingly provides justification, regeneration, adoption
as part of His atonement.
P2, All men do not receive these gifts.

Conclusion, Therefore not all men have been atoned for.

-I attack premise one: why are blessings inexorably linked to the finished work of Christ from the cross such that no gift can come apart from the cross? Does the cross procure election for us? If not then this argument collapses.
But the case that it does is equally problematic. In that case all the blessings come from the cross and unless we have all of them we are able to acquire none of them. So "The authors lack wisdom" "Wisdom was procured for the saved from the cross" "Therefore these authors have no salvation procured for them" would be equally valid. Further, common grace is either procured from the cross for the non-elect or it doesn't exist, but if common grace, then why not other kinds of grace?


... [those who say] "in terms of the Atonement provision Christ died not merely for the elect but for all sinners in all times and places" [do so] without ever wrestling with the new covenant context of that death. Who are the subjects of that new covenant? Under the old covenant, it's subjects were primary the nation of Israel as a "mixed" entity, but what about the new? Does Christ as the new covenant head, represented all people without exception (a "mixed" group) and thus make salvation possible for them, or does he represent a particular people who are effectively brought to salvation and receive all the benefits of that covenant including the application work of the Spirit? Once again, Scripture affirms the latter...

Only believers are in the New Covenant, and Jesus mediates only for the New Covenant members.
All those in the new Covenant know God, are justified, and have His Spirit.
The Spirit is sent only to those members in the covenant community.
Jesus therefore did not die for members outside the covenant community.


-As defined here the New Covenant is restricted to current or previous believers, because those who are in Covenant are the justified, it does not extend to those who will be justified. Jesus therefore didn't die for future believers, which means only those who believed at the time of the cross will be saved. I know they mean well, but I honestly can't think of a worse argument.

Why is this important to emphasize? Given that Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant and it is a completely effective covenant in terms of both provision and application, it is difficult to deny, unless we want to affirm universalism, that Christs's priestly work is particular and effective. In other words, all those in the new covenant, for whom Jesus acted as the covenant mediator, are, in time, regenerated, , justified, and brought to glory. Not one of them will be lost, since our Lord Jesus, as the greater priest and mediator of a greater covenant, does not fail. for those for whom Jesus died as their covenant head, His work is effectively applied by the Spirit - the same Spirit who cannot be divorced from the new covenant, since He is one of the central blessings Jesus has secured by his atoning death.

P1, The covenant mediation is effective - all who have been atoned for will be saved.
P2, Universalism is untrue - there are people who will be lost
Conclusion, Some people don't have an atonement available for them.

-I don't think this argument needs to be refuted, because I don't think it can stand at any point on its own. Only if salvation is no more and no less than atonement does this work, and the moment you collapse salvation to atonement you have people saved regardless of faith. But the whole point is that the New Covenant community is faithful, which means this argument doesn't have the power to go anywhere.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hiding Christ in the Translation

Today Alistair Begg was preaching on Hebrews, and how it references Psalm 8:4-6.
That Psalm at first glance has nothing to do with Christ, it's talking about man, how and where God stationed him on creation. But the writer of Hebrews takes it, even though it looks nothing like it belongs associated to the Messiah, and applies it to him anyway, with a kind of dashing boldness that challenges the reader and asks them, "Yes I quoted that. What are you going to do about it?" And the reader of that quote would look at it and be completely lost on how the Hebrews writer got from there to Christ.

But the truth is, if you understand the key principle it makes so much sense, and it's obvious. The key is this: He's everywhere. He's seen in the creation, in the stars, and the laws and conscious of men. His finger has pushed up the mountains like wet clay. When the trees shake in the winds and make that low low roaring, hissing noise together as their leaves and branches shake, that's them praising Him aloud.
He's all over the Bible, absolutely everywhere. It's not just in the obvious passages that we see Him, the Psalm 2, or Psalm 22, or 20:6, it's in all of them. He's the one who can ascend the Holy hill with clean hands in Ps 24. He's the one who doesn't walk in the way of sinners, and all He does prospers, Ps 1. He's the shepherd who makes us lie down by still waters Ps 24. He's the one who came to Earth lower than the angels that He may see all things in subjugation to Him, ps 8. Psalm 10 is His lament from the cross. Ps 51:2 is an appeal to Him. Hes the friend who sticks closer than a brother in Proverbs. I could go on, but well, you get the idea. It's all about Christ.

Then it occurred to me that there is nothing so horrid and disgusting as the NIV project. "Let's strip out all that nasty business, that vulgar, sickening, purifying male dominated prose. Let's show the world the beauty of the Bible by making it accessible to everyone, with a gender neutral approach."
But if the Bible is about Christ, then what have you done? You have wiped His fingerprints from the book about Him. I'm half surprised they didn't start rendering Jesus as she while they were at it. Look at what they did to Him!
"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor."
"Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers"

"Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place the one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior."
What kind of sickness is that? They will receive? I will ascend the holy mountain? God has crowned me with glory and honor? Why not just go all the way and make even the obvious stuff about Christ about me too? We can rewrite Psalm 2: "God said to me, “You are my children; today I have become your father.”"

What theologian who loves Christ can endure this? To be among His very words that men have bent to hide Him wilts my soul. Hopefully this trend of 'inclusive gender language' will go away soon and never come back.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Goodbye, Mr. Anderson

I got some not-surprising news yesterday: the situation at our old church of Christ has gone from bad to worse, and it's crisis has become dire.
That's significant because this is one of the big churches in California, and by might, power, or the Spirit of God it had about 800 members at it's peak. 700 or more would show up for the two services.
Now they are in the 300 and bleeding faithful, long time Church of Christ members, not just the standard college age kid who becomes an atheist and doesn't come back.

And that portends the death throes for the Churches of Christ here out West. If the big oak that could withstand the strong winds tree is uprooted by the storm, what makes the rootless, smaller trees think they have a chance? My sisters church, 40 people or so, is having conflicts and looks to split. That's about 10 families. 10 families cannot get along and cannot agree on doctrine.They will know we are Christians by our love, and the corollary: they will know we are not Christians because we cannot love.

Our old church is in a particularly bad way now because the blight has been gaining strength over time. A year and a half ago (or thereabouts) they brought in a new preacher to try to staunch the bleeding. Jimmy is your regular, standard, church of Christ preacher who has done nothing unusual in anyway to deviate from tradition, time honored church of Christ operating procedures. But the elders who hired him will not accept blame for the church's collapsing, they point the finger at him, fire him, and hope that was the source of the conflict. Que triste.
Who is really at fault here? Is it the preacher for preaching Christless, boring, terrible sermons? Is it the elders for tightening their grip of law on the congregation? Is it the congregation itself for wanting entertainment and socializing rather than doctrine? Is it their fault they don't like a black preacher in their club?Yes. Top to bottom. As I've said before 'repent' is not a word believed in the CoC, so the awful consequences of this are being made manifest at every level. The elders cannot ask themselves what they have done wrong, or what they are doing wrong, or beg God for forgiveness, they can only keep their eyes down and work, and work harder. There is no sorrow or soul searching, there is only "They were unfaithful." It will go this way until the church reaches 10 people, at which point they say to one another "look at the state of the world" and shut the doors for good. The preacher cannot ask where he has failed, because he hasn't, the elder board who controlled him is to blame. The people in the pews have nothing to repent of, because those people in leadership making these terrible decisions are to blame. There is no repentance to be found, so there is no forgiveness to be found. They are working so hard, being so busy trying to save themselves they have no time to love others.
And if we have not loved, we are nothing.
And they are nothing.
And are becoming nothing.
And it calls for our prayers that God would deliver His people into His presence with great and abundant joy.

Pentecostal preacher on the radio

Our local "evangelical" radio station apparently has a Harvest Church preacher on at 2:00 PM. I thought "hey why not," and not to my surprise, he was preaching on the day of Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit, just confirming my suspicions that that's only what they preach on.
I kid. Although it did drive home in my mind that statement, "The text without a context is your pretext."
He was doing a mediocre job, mostly because he was jumping around a lot and saying "some people believe X and some believe this means Y, and still some others..." without preaching with authority.
But he did bring up a few good points. Like why is there a gap between Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on His disciples, and the day of Pentecost. Why is there a gap? Why shouldn't that gap exist for today?
Now I think the answers are pretty straightforward here and there are good answers but I will say I did enjoy being challenged. Until he wrapped up the sermon.
When he came to the 'so what,' the take home, he said, "Now we are westerners, we like reason, and rational understanding, we are scientific, and so we want to sit down and think this stuff out. Don't do that. Come like a little child and don't think, but trust... Then, when it's God's time you will begin speaking in tongues."
Because that's what Paul said in 1 Cor 14:20 I believe... ah yes, here is the passage, and look just what the preacher said, "Brothers, do not be... thinking. Be infants."
Oh no wait a minute, it actually says this "Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature."
Wrong and way wrong. Wildly, stupidly wrong, I mean, what does it say when I have to side with the Atheists on this one? If Christianity means do not use your brain then how do you know you are not supposed to use your brain? Doesn't it require brain power to reason that statement through, then follow it?
Please, no. Just no.