Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Take a Moment...

A few concerning posts surrounding Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church: Part 1Part 2Part 3...

The blog tour for Pete Enns' The Evolution of Adam has begun...

Numbers in the Church: Is Bigger Badder or Better?

The Humanity of Christ Matters...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Adam: Actual or Allegory?

It has been almost 10 years…

I remember the summer after I turned 20 when I was first challenged with a new theological perspective: Calvinism.

Up to that point I had not heard much, if anything, about Calvinism, but I remember being simply blown away by the idea of God’s electing love, efficacious call, etc.

Since that summer I have not been simply blown away like that by another biblical/theological topic…until now.

This new (well, perhaps new for me) concept has given me reasons for pause.

My reasons for pause are twofold:

The first reason is somewhat similar to my recent attempt to precisely outline my theology of hell based on the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s most recent book, Love Wins – you can read my review here. My hope is that throughout this process I might be able to precisely outline what I believe and, perhaps more importantly, why I affirm said belief. In other words, whether a critique has been issued from a differing perspective or I am attempting to provide some insight to those within the same perspective, my desire is to be able to provide a clear, intelligent, and biblical argument for my affirmation(s).

The second reason is fairly dissimilar to my recent attempt to precisely outline my theology of hell. Throughout that recent process, I felt comfortable with where I thought I would end up, namely that upon completion of my studies I would remain “where I began” but with a bit more acumen. However, this time, I feel much less comfortable with where I think I will end up. My concern is that I will not end up “where I began.” I am also concerned about the implications of such an affirmation (i.e. How will this affect my theology? What will people think about me? Will I be ostracized from the conservative evangelical “family” because of my viewpoint?).

The above two reasons should clearly demonstrate why this issue is so important for me to think through.

Now, to the issue…

Painting broadly, the issue revolves around a few questions:

Is the Genesis account actually about human origins?

Could it possibly be about something else?

Something bigger?

Something more meaningful?

These are questions that need answers.

I recently posted a similar question as my Facebook status and received several challenges. I think what might be best, at least for me, is to address two of those challenges and demonstrate why, at least for me, they hold little weight within this discussion.

One challenge was posited as such: “[H]ow does one truly know which stories actually happened and which are just narratives? One could use this then to say that the story of Christ is just a narrative.”

I think we can nullify this challenge for three reasons:

  1. We need to be sensitive to genre-specific criticism, wherein we are charged with elucidating the text in its appropriate grammatico-historical context
  2. “To think that the Israelites, alone among all other ancient peoples, were interested in (or capable of) giving some definitive, quasi-scientific, account of human origins is an absurd logic.” (Pete Enns)
  3. The secular accounts of Jesus’ existence (Celsus, Lucian of Samosata, Josephus, Babylonian Talmud, etc.)
A similar comment was made and ended with a declaration that we need to submit to the authority of the Bible. Let it be known: I affirm the authority of the Bible! And yet, I do not think it is that easy. Affirming the authority of the Bible is empty without a proper understanding of the text (i.e. what did the text mean then, before what does the text mean today). More often than not, Christians seek to affirm various texts as authoritative without having first completed their exegetical due diligence. Therefore, it is not enough to simply declare that we must affirm and submit to the authority of the Bible, as this affirmation and submission to authority can be harmful (if not damning) based on our understanding of the texts we declare are authoritative.

A few questions I will be pondering throughout this process:

What was the purpose behind the Genesis account? Was it a declaration of human origins? Was it a declaration of something else? Was it both?

In light of Enns’ statement above, what if God in his wisdom, majesty, and sovereignty determined to reveal (at least in small part) the origin of the universe (and humanity) through his “special” book to his “special” people?

How does theistic evolution, or Adam as metaphor, figure into a Pauline understanding of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15?

As I continue my deliberatoin, my goal is to read several books (I Love Jesus & I Accept EvolutionThe Evolution of Adam, and Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?) and follow several blogs (Pete Enns, Karl Giberson, and The BioLogos Forum).

I encourage you to engage the issue(s)!

Lastly, please note that in no way am I claiming that I have this issue figured out...

In no way am I claiming any type of scientific or biblical/theological expertise on the matter...

My attempt is to wade through the mire that this issue presents (just as any Christian ought to!). And I do so with great trepidation...

Also, please know that I am open to, and, perhaps, expecting, your comments on this issue (regardless if they are affirmative or critical). Both types of comments should help me and those reading this blog as we collectively think through this issue.

May we have wisdom as we investigate.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Why "Organic" Living is Not the Best Way

Over the last few years, my wife and I have been trying to eat and live a bit more “organically.” Although we had been considering this decision for some time, it was the birth of our first daughter, and our desire to give her the healthiest environment possible, that provided the impetus to try out this “lifestyle.”

Sure, we still make mistakes (lots of them, in fact), and, no, we are not totally crazed hippies (whatever your definition of that might be…).

And yet, although we have embraced this “lifestyle” (at least, to a certain extent), I think there are two serious flaws with “organic” living.


“Organic” living can lead to idolatry and arrogance.

Now, be sure to hear what I am not saying: I am not saying that people should not eat healthy, or exercise regularly, or live consciously, or do what they think is best for their family.

Also, I am not saying that “organic” living always leads to idolatry and arrogance; I am saying that it can lead to idolatry and arrogance.

When we begin to trust in the food we eat, the exercise we endure, the supplements we take, the clothing we wear, the bicycle we ride to work, etc., we can place that in front of what ought to be our top priority, namely God in Christ.

If we look at the biblical definition of idolatry, we should understand it as placing anything above God. Most already understand that we can put many items into this category (wealth, sex, prestige, knowledge, etc.), and yet we should not be so naïve to think that “organic” living could not also fall into this category.

As early as Exodus 20, God instructed the Israelites with the Ten Commandments, wherein God specifically states: “You shall have no other gods before me.” So, what we ought to consider is this, “Are we placing our healthy, chic lifestyle on a higher pedestal of worship than we are God in Christ?” If we can answer in the affirmative (at any time!), then we are in fact in need of repentance for idolatry.

Additionally, “organic” living can lead to arrogance. Within the “organic” community there is a pervasive attitude that demonstrates an “I am (or know) better than you” mentality. Some might consider this to be a harsh judgment, but I have been able to detect this attitude for two main reasons:

First, because of my theological training I am often tempted to look down on others for either not caring for or understanding certain theological truths that I consider to be extremely important. Because I have (and do) struggle with this temptation, it has become easier to see this attitude demonstrated in other areas of life. Second, because my family is partially within this culture, I often observe those (both within my own family and those outside) who think less of others (sometimes subtly and sometimes overtly) because they do not either care for or understand the importance of “organic” living.

Perhaps what is best is to consider Paul’s argument from Rom. 14-15, and then to apply it to our present-day context, namely that those who are under conscience to eat a certain way (amongst sundry other “organic” lifestyle choices) ought not to judge those who do not yet have the knowledge or desire to render unto that lifestyle. Conversely, those not adhering to this lifestyle (whether in part or full) ought to not judge those living “organically” for the lifestyle choices they believe to be best.

In sum, my hope and prayer is that God would crush both idolatry and arrogance within the community of Christ in order that we might have charity on the non-essentials and move towards an ever-increasing love for God in Christ.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why Tebow [Doesn't] Te-blows

I love hype.

I love college football for that singular reason.

I love the NFL playoffs for that singular reason.

Tim Tebow has now been involved with both.

But, frankly, the hype surrounding Tim Tebow is exhausting. Regardless of which side you are on…

There are some who say,

“It was called a God thing :) ‘God searches the whole earth to find those who’s hearts are perfect toward Him.’ He is blessing Tebow.”

… and there are others who say,

“Amazing grace? Lol. Grace has nothing to do with it. Why can’t he just be a good player?”[1]

In light of these statements, I would like to make two recommendations: For those thinking that God shines down His “special” grace allowing Tim Tebow to throw, for instance, 80-yard game winning touchdowns – please note that this is highly unlikely, if not wholly (not to mention the apparent lack of special "grace" in his most recent 9/26 completion/attempts ratio with one fumble lost). But, conversely, for those thinking that grace has nothing to do with Tebow’s success – please note a theological concept entitled “ common grace”, not to mention also considering God’s sovereignty.

Proponents of Tebow’s overt witness for Jesus, those claiming that he gives all the glory to God and thereby receives (or deserves) God’s special blessing on his professional football career need to remember that God does not need us (Acts 17:24-25), as though he needed anything (which includes our worship or attribution of glory to God – although this also does not mean we should not worship and glorify God), and thereby is not required to bless anyone in anyway for their overt witness or attribution of glory to God.

Conversely, those opposing Tebow’s outspoken faithfulness need to consider that God “makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45), ergo there is a certain measure of “grace” that is bestowed upon Tim Tebow (and everyone in actuality) because of God’s overarching graciousness towards the world and people he created.

Now, I have heard the retort of those opposing Tebow (or at least the hype surrounding Tebow), “How can God care about a football game when 30,000 children die everyday from preventable disease?” I think the answer is twofold: God’s sovereignty and the problem of evil. However, being that this post is specifically about Tim Tebow (not to mention the time and spatial restraints), perhaps that topic is best deferred to a different post.

But, maybe, just one thought on God’s sovereignty: if we affirm Scripture as inerrant and authoritative (which I do), and we have texts indicating that “God does as He pleases” (Ps. 115:3; 135:6), and that everything is done “according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11), perhaps what might be safest is recognizing that God is able and actually powerful and magnificent enough to govern everything from molecular biology to supernovas, from tsunami waves to healthy childbirth, from throwing a football to [insert your potentially meaningless task].

In conclusion, I think that moderation is best (isn’t that true for most things?). Whether you affirm God’s “special” grace in Tebow’s every step, or think that grace has nothing to do with it…you need to relax.

[1] Note that both of these statements are direct quotations from Facebook (1 comment and 1 status), and both are from professing Christians.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Jesus > Religion: Some Thoughts on the Bethke Video Chaos

If you can answer in the affirmative to being alive and within the stream of Evangelical Christianity, then you have most likely seen the following video:

And, if you scuttle around the blogosphere you will have most likely seen not a few critiques of this video. However, the critique that I linked actually brought about more frustration than the video did (I think I would prefer you to read Kevin DeYoung's critique or Jared Wilson’s critique instead).

There is a certain sense of arrogance-laced theological one-upmanship that is becoming the pervasive norm within the blogosphere (some might even argue that what I am attempting to do here feeds the problem). One particular introspective moment I had after reading Fitzgerald’s post was how I often find myself desiring to critique (wherein my focus is on finding anything negative within the argument/discussion/message/idea), instead of, rather, focusing on the positive aspect(s) of said argument/discussion/message/idea.

So, instead of critiquing Fitzgerald’s post (which it could certainly stand to have – oops), or instead of critiquing the video itself (which has already been done ad nauseam), in this instance, I want to briefly reflect on three parts of agreement with Bethke’s video.

1. And just because you call some people blind, doesn't automatically give you vision...

My fear is that this statement is more true than we recognize. My fear is that within, primarily, American Evangelicalism we have those within the varied theological streams using their theological one-upmanship or pseudo-biblical understanding to mask their inability to see their own blindness (Luke 6:39), or to portray themselves as pure, when they are, in fact, not (Matt. 23:27-28). May God grant me the grace to repent when I see this particular sin within my own life.

2. See the problem with religion, is it never gets to the core. It's just behavior modification, like a long list of chores...

The core is sin; which leads to the need, which is new life in Jesus Christ. Jesus came (at least in part) to redeem a people and provide for them an opportunity for transformation. Moralism, which is probably the better term to use (instead of religion), can only offer behavior modification; it can only offer the "10 steps to a more fulfilled life." But moralism lacks eternal significance. Christ and what he accomplished at the cross is what we ought to focus on, not behavior modification.

3. See because religion says do, Jesus says done...

Now, this depends; if Bethke is insinuating that religion is the means by which we are accepted by Christ, than the separation is appropriate (Eph. 2:8-9); however, we ought to also remember that Christ has called us to obedience (Matt. 28:20). Moreover, I believe that one of the most over-looked themes in the New Testament is that of patronage (see David deSilva's excellent work Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture). Patrons would often extend an unwarranted gift to a patronee, but then would expect some type of return, which, if not reciprocated would have led to a great offense for the patron and shame on the patronee. In short, if Eph. 2:8-9 describe how "religion" does not provide any salvific efficacy, Eph. 2:10 describes the importance of "religion" in the post-conversion life.

In sum, there is much to say both positively and negatively in regards to this video and its varied responses. My hope is that we would learn to not necessarily retreat from disagreement, but that we would, rather, look to affirm truth and disagree with charity.

Monday, January 9, 2012

From the Pulpit to the Pew (A Guest Post)

**Today's post was written by Ryan Sarpalius. He is a Human Performance Manager for the largest utility in California. He graduated from The Master's College in Santa Clarita, CA and currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has a wife, Candace and three children, Owen (age 6), Ella (age 5) and Jack (age 7 mo.). Ryan writes for the blog Witherless.**

I’m not a pastor. I’m not an Academic or a Professional Counselor. I’m an average guy, saved by grace, trying to be the best Husband, Father and Employee that I can. It might seem strange, then that I am writing about the importance of preaching. It is a little bit strange. But while Pastors and Seminary Professors place a high value on sound preaching and teaching, those of us who listen have slowly come to value it less and less.

This is a big problem.

The Importance of Preaching
Preaching is important because it is a profoundly divine component of biblical worship that moves and shakes God’s people to glorify God’s name.

If we who are not pastors are to benefit from the very glorious purpose and design of preaching, we must understand that “to the extent that the preacher faithfully explains and applies the Scriptures, we are hearing the very words of God through the voice of a man. The preaching of the Word of God IS THE WORD OF GOD.” (Art Azurdia; The Master’s Seminary Chapel; Jan 18, 2007)

Many readers may have had the privilege to spend years under a faithful, hard-working, godly pastor who faithfully preaches God’s Word, holding it in high-esteem and working diligently to apply the meaning to their hearers. Other readers might not even know what a “pulpit” or a “pew” is. Perhaps I should have called this “From the Music Stand to the Comfy Stackable Chair.”

The bottom line is there are pastors who view preaching with high-regard and there are pastors who do not.

I’ve found myself sitting under the teaching of both. As I have observed preaching and the affect it has on the lives of my family and I, I have to come to realize that sound biblical preaching DOES matter.

It matters a great deal.

Several factors have contributed to the decline in biblical preaching. You can read more about my thoughts on that here: http://witherless.com/blog/text/13448724

Aspects of Biblical Preaching
Polluted preaching can sometimes be difficult to discern. So it is important we seek to understand what biblical preaching looks like. The shepherding of our souls and the worship of our Creator are at stake.

Here are 3 things to look for when searching out good preaching:

Cross Centered
Sitting under preaching that consistently leaves out the message of the cross will slowly starve your soul.

Paul says to the Corinthian Church, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:1-2)

Many churches and pastors give lip-service to “the Gospel” but fail to adequately preach God’s good news of grace to their hearers from every text of Scripture. While the message of the cross is not necessarily explicit in every text, we know that the entirety of Scripture is intending to teach us about Who God is, who we are and the wonderful message of saving love throughout redemptive history. THAT is what nourishes our soul.

You may ask, “Doesn’t that just mean every sermon will be exactly the same every time?” This leads to the next aspect of biblical preaching; Expository.      

Jeff Ray in his book, Expository Preaching says, “In preaching, exposition is the detailed interpretation, logical amplification, and practical application of a passage of Scripture.”
Jeff D. Ray, Expository Preaching (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1940)

When seeking out healthy, biblical preaching, it is important to find teaching that exposes the meaning of the text as it was originally written and then be told how that meaning applies to God’s people today. It is typically verse-by-verse preaching through one book of the Bible at a time, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be.

One of the dangers in today’s pulpits is “textual” preaching that appears to be expositional, but really is not. That is to say the preaching starts in a text, which may follow the text from the week before, but then the message shoots off into something else entirely. For example, I’ve heard a pastor start in Colossians 3:18, “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” and immediately go to Genesis 3 (and remain there) to talk about why God created men and women equal. While it is gloriously true both men and women are equal in God’s sight, that’s really not the meaning of Colossians 3:18.

The text of Scripture chosen by the preacher should not be a launching pad into personal thoughts and unrelated ideas, but should link the hearers to the context of God’s Word and help us understand what God meant when He said it.

The advantage of expository preaching for those of us in the seats is that even if your pastor/teacher is unable to adequately apply the text to you, you’re able to truly “see” the meaning of the text and allow the Spirit to apply its meaning to your life.

God Glorifying
It seems this should go without saying, but I fear that in many pulpits today man, not God, has become the center of preaching. There is such a hyper-focus on being relevant, keeping listeners engaged and applying the truth of the Word that many preachers are failing to keep the worship of God at the center of their preaching.

In California we have an unbelievably awesome sandwich shop called, Mr. Pickles. You can spot one a mile away because you can see a teenager dressed-up in a giant pickle suit dancing feverishly and sometimes spinning a sign. I know that when I see that dancing pickle, I can pull over and order a Turkey & Avocado on Dutch Crunch with garlic-pesto sauce.

In much the same way, we can identify biblical preaching by the way in which it seeks to bring honor to God and His Word. Is the preaching you’re listening to using a text to give you “10 Steps To A Better You,” or is it unpacking the dynamic truth of the Word of God and stirring up your affections for our Savior?

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy the following famous words about faithful preaching. As we listen in, we can see our responsibility of turning toward the truth and avoiding teachers who suit our own passions:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
(2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)

It is true that God can speak to his people in spite of poor preaching. But we ought to work hard to place ourselves under the preaching and teaching of a faithful minister who holds God’s Word in high esteem and loves to see the good news of the Gospel seeping out of every verse he preaches.

It is God’s Word through the message preached that flows from the pulpit to the pew (or comfy stackable chair).

Monday, January 2, 2012

A few New Year's resolutions...

This year I have only a few New Year's resolutions (see, in part, why we should always be resolving, and, in part, why New Year's resolutions don't work)...

1. Love God better (not just things about God - although I do think that is part of the equation).
2. Be a better husband and father.
3. Blog weekly (and not just the bi-weekly "Take a Moment..." segment, but personal, substantive material).
3. Read more.
4. Begin establishing a solid foundation in theological German, and (next fall) begin taking biblical Hebrew (both PhD prep).

Do you have any resolutions?

Do you have anything that you would like me to blog about in this next year?