Friday, September 30, 2011

Repost | "Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God's Word" by Stephen J Nichols

There is a growing trend in Christianity which I find helpful.  Many Christians are stepping back and looking at the grand meta-narrative of Scripture from beginning to end - from Genesis to Revelation.  If we believe that God is provident, then we also believe that God has directed the beginning, the middle, and the end of His Divine Story.  This is most clearly seen in Scripture itself.

Recently, Christian historian Stephen J. Nichols whose books have been particularly helpful to me has published his attempt at presenting the biblical story and how to understand it in Crossways Welcome to the Story:  Reading, Loving, & Living God's Word.

Nichols follows the basic storyline of the Bible presented as Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.  Each section receives its own separate chapter and the author shows how each effects the biblical story and, really, our story. Throughout these sections, the author weaves in biblical theology with insights from history (his bread and butter) guiding the reader through the Story itself.

For the most part the author manages to stay away from controversial theological issues. This was rather surprising to me especially since Nichols is an distinguished Christian scholar.  He has already written books on Christology, Bibliology, Martin Luther, and other topics and thus is quit competent to speak on some of the issues that are naturally raised when discussing the meta-narrative of Scripture.

For example, in the chapter on Creation, little to nothing is said regarding the various views regarding how to interpret the Biblical record. What about evolution? How old is the Earth?  Surely these views affect our understanding of the Story.  But one helpful part of the creation discussion was hos suggestion borrowing from Karl Barth that "image" means relationship.  Like the Trinity, we are relational beings. 

One shortfall here is common among such projects.  It is amazing how easily Christians skip from Genesis 3 (the Fall) to Matthew 1 (the Incarnation) or later (the crucifixion and resurrection).  A lot happens in between those events to say the least. What does the giving of the Law, the rise of the Judges, the monarchy, the captivity, and the rebuilding of the Temple have to do with God's Divine Story?  Though Nichols quotes from the prophets and other Old Testament texts later in the book, at this point he virtually skips them and he is not alone.  This is a serious challenge for Christians who tell the Story of Scripture.  We cannot dismiss God's dealings with Israel so easily.

But the book is not just a summary of the biblical narrative.  Much of the book helps the reader understand Scripture subjectively.  He guides the reader through how not to miss the point (a reference to Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo?), the affect that Scripture has on us, how to draw the right interpretation and meaning of Scripture, etc.  One of the things I love about Nichols and his books, writings, lectures, etc. is that he is not just an ivory tower academic, but a person who tries to make the complex understandable to the average believer.  He takes on soteriology, christology, and bibliology not to display his writing abilities, but to help Christians better understand his faith and that is what he does here.

Overall this is a helpful book worth considering but in comparison to his other books, this is not Dr. Nichols best book.  Nichols is at his best when he is discussing history and those who changed it.  That does not mean that this is a terrible book, it isn't, but only to offer an honest critique.  The book stands on its own as a helpful introduction to the Story of Scripture and how to love and live it (as the title and subtitle suggests).

For readers wanting to understand this story and to know how it all fits together, this may be a helpful tool for you.  But for those wanting details, perhaps you should look elsewhere.

This book was given to me free of charge for the purpose of this review. 

For more:
Reviews - "For Us and Our Salvation" by Stephen Nichols
Reviews - "Jesus Made in America" by Stephen Nichols
Reviews - "Ancient Word, Changing Worlds"  
Reviews - "King Solomon" by Philip Graham Ryken 
Reviews - "God's Word in Human Words": Full Series 
Reviews - "How to Read the Bible as Literature . . . and Get More Out of It
Reviews - "Am I Really a Christian?" by Mike McKinley
Reviews - "Life's Biggest Questions" by Erik Thoennes 

"Difficulties Do Not Weaken Mankind, But They Reveal the True Human Nature": A Letter From Pastor Youcef

As many know, Iranian Pastor Youcef is facing execution for apostasy & he could be killed very soon. His lawyer is optimistic that his case can be overturned, but nothing of that nature has happened yet. Keep him & his family in your prayers.

Below is a letter Youcef wrote last year to his church while in jail. The letter has been translated from Farsi into English.

Dear brothers and sisters, Salam

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I am continuously seeking grace and mercy to you, that you remember me and those who are bearing efforts for his name in your prayers. Your loyalty to God is the cause of my strength and encouragement.

For I know well that you will be rewarded; as it’s stated: blessed is the one who has faith, for what has been said to him by God, will be carried out. As we believe, heaven and earth will fade but his word will still remain.

Dear beloved ones, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of a few verses, although you might know them, So that in everything, you give more effort than the past, both to prove your election, and for the sake of Gospel that is to be preached to the entire world as well.

I know that not all of us are granted to keep this word, but to those who are granted this power and this revelation, I announce the same as Jude, earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints.

We are passing by special and sensitive days.They are days that for an alert and awake believer can be days of spiritual growth and progress. Because for him, more than any other time there is the possibility to compare his faith with the word of God, have God’s promises in mind, and survey his faith.

Therefore he (the true believer) does not need to wonder for the fiery trial that has been set on for him as though it were something unusual, but it pleases him to participate in Christ’s suffering. Because the believer knows he will rejoice in his glory.

Dears, the “ judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

Therefore those who are enduring burdens by the will of God, commit their souls to the faithful Creator. Promises that he has given us, are unique and precious. As we’ve heard he has said: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you”

How can it be possible for a believer to understand these words?

Not only when he is focusing on Jesus Christ with adapting his life according to the life Jesus lived when he was on earth? As it is said ” O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”

Have we not read and heard: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Many attempt to flee from their spiritual tests, and they have to face those same tests in a more difficult manner, because no one will be victorious by escaping from them, but with patience and humility he will be able to overcome all the tests, and gain victory.

Therefore in the place of Christ’s followers, we must not feel desperate, but we have to pray to God in supplication with more passion to help us with any assistance we may need.

According to what Paul has said: In every temptation, God himself will make a way for us to tolerate it.

O beloved ones, difficulties do not weaken mankind, but they reveal the true human nature.

It will be good for us to occasionally face persecutions and abnormalities, since these abnormalities will persuade us to search our hearts, and to survey ourselves. So as a result, we conclude that troubles are difficult, but usually good and useful to build us.

Dear brothers and sisters, we must be more careful than any other time. Because in these days, the hearts and thoughts of many are revealed, so that the faith is tested. May your treasure be where there is no moth and rust.

I would like to remind you of some verses that we nearly discuss everyday, (Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.) but as long as our human will has priority over God’s will, his will will not be done.

As we have learned from him in Gethsemane, he surrendered his will to the father, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

What we are bearing today, is a difficult but not unbearable situation, because neither he has tested us more than our faith and our endurance, nor does he do as such. And as we have known from before, we must beware not to fail, but to advance in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, And consider these bumps and prisons as opportunities to testify to his name. He said: If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

As a small servant, necessarily in prison to carry out what I must do, I say with faith in the word of God that he will come soon.”However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Discipline yourself with faith in the word of God. Retain your souls with patience. For there is no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly.

May you are granted grace and blessings increasingly in the name of Lord Jesus Christ.

Yusef Nadarkhani
Lakan Prison in Rasht

HT: Trevin Wax

For more:
Blogizomai - Pray For Youcef: Iranian Pastor To Be Executed For Refusing to Deny Christ
Blogizomai - A 95% Chance of Freedom?: An Update on Youcef - Keep Praying 
Blogizomai - From the White House: An Update on Youcef
Blogizomai - Pray for the Persecuted: Memorial Day & the Persecuted Church
Blogizomai - Pray For Our Brothers and Sisters in Iraq   
Blogizomai - Punishing Prejudice By Being Prejudice:  The Lesson and Legacy of Hate Crimes
Blogizomai - Repost | Coming Out of the Closet As Christians?: Welcome to the New World
Blogizomai - The (In)Tolerance of the Homosexual Movement: See, I Told You So
Blogizomai - The (In)Tolerance of the Homosexual Movement: A Response

Repost | Honor vs. Sacrifice: The Difference Between Christianity and Islam

All religions are not the same.  To assert that each religion is similar enough to argue that they essentially believe the same thing is simply foolish.  At this point one could easily point to the various religions views regarding God, sin, man, salvation, life, eschatology, morals, etc.  Compare the various religions and you will find them all very different indeed.  It is a simple fact that religions vary because they are different.

But maybe a more fundamental difference could be given.  Consider the clear difference between Christianity and Islam.  Islam is an honor religion founded on the mystical revelations of Mohammad who turned Mecca Islamic following a military victory.  Christianity, on the other hand, is a religion founded on the fleshly revelation of the Divine Son who transforms the individual which then transforms a culture.  Furthermore, Christianity began through defeat, death, and sacrifice.

This difference cannot be overstated.  Islam was built on victory, Christianity was built on defeat.  Christians see victory in defeat.  This means that restoration, reconiliation, love, forgiveness, etc. can only take place when we as individuals and as communities sacrifice our own selves, wants, needs, and desires like our Savior.  Certainly Christianity has abandoned this principle throughout her history and there is no need to defend such gospel-breakers here, but one must admit that at its pure root, Christianity is best when it lives in defeat.  This is what makes the Kingdom of God according to Christianity so great.  It completely turns everything on its head.

Islam is very different from this.  To dishonor the Prophet Mohammad or to dishonor the Koran deserve immediate outrage.  Certainly some Muslims would not support this, but anyone with a TV can verify that such a statement is true.  Consider for example two instances in recently years.  When a cartoonists portrayed Mohammad in a way that offended Muslims, they were outraged and resorted to violence.  Likewise, when Terry Jones, the crazy Christian pastor in Florida, burned a number of Korans, Muslims worldwide responded in anger and violence resulting in the death of several people.

We all remember the Jones flap and it eventually faded from the news, but unbeknown to the rest of the world and the US media, Jones and his church went ahead with the Koran burning away from the public eye several weeks ago.  It is only recently that the event has been made known public.  And, predictably, the Islamic world responded in violence.

Violence over a book burning.  First of all, book burning?  Is this still the 16th Century?  Secondly, book burning?  We're going to respond in murderous and riotous rage over a book burning?  How can anyone be offended in a digital world of book burning?  Its not like the Koran is in threat of becoming extinct.

But the answers are obvious.  To dishonor Islam is to dishonor Allah and justice demands immediate action.  Allah must be vindicate - victorious - in the end.  But the real question we ought to be asking ourselves is why Christians never respond in similar ways when their Savior or their Scripture is dishonored?  Certainly they have happened before.  Whether through South Park cartoons, through burning crosses from terrorists and racists alike, through crazy literature from even crazier academics and writers, through the murder and persecution of Christians worldwide including the United States, and on and on we could go.  Bibles have likewise been burned.  Hateful things have been said about Christians and their Savior.  Violence has been committed against Christians and yet there is no news of riots or violence perpetrated by Christians in response to their religion and God dishonored.  Why is that?

Before going farther, let us clearly state that Terry Jones and his followers ought to be publicly and privately condemned and challenged, not by the culture or by Muslims, but by Christians.  Jones and his actions is a bigger hurdle and has done more damage to the gospel than Islam, radical Muslims, or secularists ever could.  What Jones has done is unChristian and ought to retire never entering the public or the pulpit ever again.  He is an embarrasment to the gospel and should be ashamed.

With that said, the question still remains. Where is the violence when Christianity is dishonored? Christians instead criticize their own when they do such anti-gospel acts like burning Korans and when wronged, Christians are called to forgive.  Why is this clear difference so central to each religion?  For the simple fact that we've established that Islam was founded on a mystic revelation that led to a military victory whereas Christianity was founded on direct revelation to a people whose Savior was executed and raised.  At the root of Christianity is defeat, death, and sacrifice.  Not so in other religions.

This is a huge and insurmountable difference.  Christianity, when it is pure, is a religion of peace, not because it is naive or simplistic, but because the gospel is built on sacrifice and defeat.  Those who are last are first.  Those who die to themselves, live.  The paradox of the gospel is well established in the biblical record and Christians understand that real change doesn't come from violence, riots, or anger, but through a message that transforms the individual in which transforms a culture - not through violence but through grace.  What can man do or say regarding a Savior who suffered the worse threats, acts of violence, and swords?  Why worry about a book burning when one's Savior suffered more and still conquered?  Why respond in bitterness when one is wronged when one's Savior suffered death at the hands of His creation?  What do we have to lose?  Have we not given over everything to Christ?  Have we not already died to ourselves?

This applies both when Christianity is dishonored and when Christians are dishonored.  The gospel demands we lose ultimately to God.  We trust in God's judgment and pray for His work of salvation in the lives and souls of world citizens.  Whether we suffer or celebrate, we are victorious because we have died.  The paradox of the cross and the resurrection is strong.  Islam and other religions, on the other hand, are centered on the self.  Self-honor.  Self-sufficiency.  Self-righteousness.  And this is why the world is the way it is.  Being in constant rebellion, stubborn in our idolatry, we continue to resort to violence and fear.

This is why the gospel is so central to everything.  Will we ever learn to give up?  Will we ever turn to the cross and resurrection and there find the blueprint for life?  Only there can we be justified with our God allowing us to be reconciled with each other.  So are religions different?  Just burn a Koran and a Bible side-by-side and watch what happens.  The act will be condemned by both sides, but in two very different ways.

For more:
Blogizomai - To Burn or Not to Burn, That is Not the Question:  Where is the Gospel in the Koran Burning Debate? 
Blogizomai - To Build or Not to Build, That is Not the Question:  Where is the Gospel in the Ground Zero Debate?
Blogizomai - In Outrage Remember the Gospel:   Responding to Blasphemous "Art" 
Blogizomai - Have We Forgotten the Gospel?  Glenn Beck, Social Justice, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Thursday, September 29, 2011

From the White House: An Update on Youcef

Here is the press release from the White House regarding the conviction and planned execution of Iranian Christian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.  I agree with the message though I wonder if it could go farther.  But Kudos to the President and the Obama administration for at least publically defending Youcef.  Let's pray that it is more than words and contributes to Youcef's freedom.

Here is the statement.

Statement by the Press Secretary on Conviction of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

The United States condemns the conviction of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani.  Pastor Nadarkhani has done nothing more than maintain his devout faith, which is a universal right for all people.  That the Iranian authorities would try to force him to renounce that faith violates the religious values they claim to defend, crosses all bounds of decency, and breaches Iran’s own international obligations.   A decision to impose the death penalty would further demonstrate the Iranian authorities' utter disregard for religious freedom, and highlight Iran's continuing violation of the universal rights of its citizens.  We call upon the Iranian authorities to release Pastor Nadarkhani, and demonstrate a commitment to basic, universal human rights, including freedom of religion.

HT:  Touchstone Magazine

For more:
Blogizomai - Pray For Youcef: Iranian Pastor To Be Executed For Refusing to Deny Christ
Blogizomai - A 95% Chance of Freedom?: An Update on Youcef - Keep Praying 
Blogizomai - Pray for the Persecuted: Memorial Day & the Persecuted Church
Blogizomai - Pray For Our Brothers and Sisters in Iraq   
Blogizomai - Punishing Prejudice By Being Prejudice:  The Lesson and Legacy of Hate Crimes
Blogizomai - Repost | Coming Out of the Closet As Christians?: Welcome to the New World
Blogizomai - The (In)Tolerance of the Homosexual Movement: See, I Told You So
Blogizomai - The (In)Tolerance of the Homosexual Movement: A Response

A 95% Chance of Freedom?: An Update on Youcef - Keep Praying

Yesterday I mentioned the case of Youcef Nadarkhani, a young Iranian pastor who could be executed any day for refusing to recant his Christian faith.  The case has gone viral online and many are petitioning the Iranian government to stop the case and the execution and rightfully so.  As Christians we ought to fight for the life of the innocent but at the same time remember that as Christ's death was the seed that bore the fruit of the Church, so too the blood of the martyrs has historically been the seed of the Church.

Today the case of Youcef has taken a dramatic turn.  His lawyer is suggesting that perhaps the case may be thrown out and Youcef's life spared.  Though the case has yet to be thrown out, the optimism of his lawyer certainly is encouraging.  Let's hope that it is legitimate, based on fact, and ultimately comes true.  Regardless, we need to continue to pray for Youcef and his family during this trying time.

The Blaze, through various sources like the AP and CNN, reports:

But, alas, it seems there could be a positive end to an ordeal that has caught the attention of religious freedom advocates the world over. Of course, considering the lack of transparency in Iranian governance and the unpredictability of officials there, this potential for a favorable outcome may be optimistic.

Dadkhah is now saying that he is hopeful that his client will be acquitted by an appeals court. In fact, he’s so confident that he believes in a “95 percent chance” that Naderkhani will be released of the charges against him.

As we have already reported, the young pastor, now 32, made a conversion to Christianity years ago when he was a teenager. While this has become the basis for the Iranian case against him, his initial arrest surrounded his public opposition to Christian schoolchildren being forced to participate in Islamic religious education. He was subsequently convicted of apostasy in 2010 and remains in prison in Rasht.

So far, the courts have said that Nadarkhani must repent of his conversion or he will face the death penalty.

Under Islamic law, repenting would involve the pastor apologizing and denouncing his conversion to Christianity. To date, this has not happened, as Nadarkhani has stuck to his religious ideals during the past four days of his appeals trial.

Those this is all encouraging, let us remember that for now, Youcef is still set to be executed soon (probably Friday). So though there is some room for optimism, we must be cautious.  Youcef is still on death row and his time is running out.  Please pray!!

The Blaze - Update: Iranian Pastor Says He Believes in a ‘95% Chance of Acquittal’ 
Fox News - Iranian Pastor Faces Execution for Refusing to Recant Christian Faith
Washington Post - Lawyer for Iranian pastor on death row hopes appeals court may acquit his client 

Telegraph - Lawyer hopes Iran Christian pastor will be freed 

The Voice of America - Lawyer Hopes Iranian Christian Sentenced to Death Will be Freed

For more:
Blogizomai - Pray For Youcef: Iranian Pastor To Be Executed For Refusing to Deny Christ
Blogizomai - Pray for the Persecuted: Memorial Day & the Persecuted Church
Blogizomai - Pray For Our Brothers and Sisters in Iraq   
Blogizomai - Punishing Prejudice By Being Prejudice:  The Lesson and Legacy of Hate Crimes
Blogizomai - Repost | Coming Out of the Closet As Christians?: Welcome to the New World
Blogizomai - The (In)Tolerance of the Homosexual Movement: See, I Told You So

The Danger of the New Monism: Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4b

Part 2

Green makes this clear in his book In Search of the Soul.  In the introduction, he laments:

there has been very little work indeed on the implications of our portraits of the human person for our vision and practices of evangelism and mission. Instead, the longstanding and widespread assumption that the real person is identified with the soul has resulted in the primary attribution of missional interest to the saving of lost souls.  Addressing physical needs, in this rendering, has sometimes become a means to an end; witness, for example, the practice of some emergency-relief organizations, which require that the hungry listen to a sermon before partaking of the promised free meal.  Without prejudging whether body-soul dualism must lead to a relative deprecation of the body, we can observe nonetheless that body-soul dualism historically has done so when it comes to talk about salvation and practices of Christian mission.[7]

Contrast this with the viewpoint of the Christian monist in Green’s assessment.

[I]n their rendering, salvation would be defined in terms of human restoration; and, since the human being is inextricably bound up with the human family and with God’s created order, then salvation would of necessity be explicated as fully embodied, as oriented toward human community and as cosmological in scope.  “Healing,” in this portrait, could not segregate mind and brain, body and soul, person and community, or human and cosmos, with the result that Christian mission would have to be worked out in terms of practices that promote human recovery in the fullest terms. When it comes to “salvation” one could speak only of “human needs” and “human wholeness,” and not of “spiritual needs” (as if these could be distinguished).  Of course, this would require transformations in other areas of life as well.  The rigidly biomedical model used by most physicians and psychiatrists in the West, the work of pastoral care, practices associated with teaching and learning – these and many others would need re-envisioning in order to address human persons (and not bodies or souls or intellects) in community (and not as isolated agents).[8]
The difference cannot be more drastically contrasted.  In Green’s understanding, dualism promotes a “save your soul and get into heaven,” while monism promotes a more here and now, social justice gospel – or rather a holistic gospel that ministers to the holistic self.

This trend continues beyond these two leading voices.  In his chapter, “What About the Dust?: Missiological Musings on Anthropology,” Michael Rynkiewich discusses the change in missionary activity in light of the anthropological monism.  Like other monists, he criticizes the  dichotomy of saving the soul without concern for body.  After quoting Matt. 28:19-20 he writes,

A strong dualist ontology in Western culture has contributed to the view held by many Western Christians that it is possible save souls without bothering about the bodies, to speak words that convince without doing deeds that change, and to isolate individuals without considering their interrelatedness with community, land, and environment.[9] 

This then leads to the obvious question, “How will we do mission without souls to save?”  An important question, to say the least, but unfortunately not everyone among the new monists have asked it, but for those who have, the answer is troubling.  In his chapter, Rynkiewich’s argues that the monist-dualist debate informs our understanding of missions in three primary ways:  “It contributes to a more holistic theology of mission, . . . to a more incarnational theology of mission, and . . . to a more naturalistic theology of mission.”[10]

Rooted in a holistic, monistic understanding of man, Rynkiewich seeks a more holistic understanding of missions.  This means that missions isn’t primarily about evangelism but also about social justice.  One fundamental assumption here is that God is love and love demands relationship.  God is sovereign, but “loving relationship is prior to sovereignty.”  The reason is that sovereignty “depends on the creation for its expression.  Before that, there was nothing to be sovereign over.”  As a result, “The objective of mission is not to explain how a sovereign God loves, but to show to the world how a God of perfect love expresses sovereignty.”[11]

This applies directly to human personhood who is likewise defined relationally.  Because the “Fall shattered the unity of the monistic living being and damaged (not totally and to irreparably) the relationship between the living being and the triune God, on the one hand, and persons, on the other.”  Salvation, in this paradigm, involves redemption, reconciliation, and restoration.  Rynkiewich writes:

Redemption means reconciliation for the living being with God, and restoration of the body to relationship with God, because a body out of relationship is an individual, lost, lonely, and incomplete.  Redemption and reconciliation are steps in the mission Dei, paths to God’s ultimate goals.”[12]

In summary, Rynkiewich argues simply, “A dualism that allows missionaries to separate evangelism and social justice is contrary to the missio Dei.”[13]

[7]  Green, Palmer, and Corcoran.  In Search of the Soul, 28.
[8]  Ibid., 28-29.
[9]  Rynkiewich, “What About the Dust?: Missiological Musings on Anthropology” in What About the Soul?, 133.
[10]  Ibid., 134.
[11]  Ibid., 136.
[12]  Ibid., 137.  Rynkiewich concludes this section by saying:
        If there is only body-mind, and within it neural networks that link to personal and cultural hermeneutic systems, then it is impossible to be in mission to the mind-soul without being in mission to the body.  If our pathways are affected by development, diet, and damage, and they clearly are, then how can we expect people to change their minds (repent and believe) unless we also work toward repairing damage and building healthy bodies/brains so that there are no unnecessary stumbling blocks to the gospel? 
        This view of mission requires us to rethink the priority of the Great Commission, Matthew 28, and join it with Luke 4 and the rest of the story.  In light of the whole story of God’s personhood (the economy of the Trinity) and God’s mission (creation, redemption, kingdom), we need continually to rethink our theology of mission.  A dualism that allows missionaries to separate evangelism and social justice is contrary to the missio Dei
.  Ibid., 138.
[13] Ibid., 138.

The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 1 
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 2 
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 3
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4a
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4b
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4c

The Danger of the New Monism: Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 5

A Critique of the New Monistic Soteriology

A simple evaluation of the soteriology of this new diverse movement within the anthropology of monism would not be complete without a brief critique.  The direction that they are going is dangerous to say the least.  It is important for Christians to understand not just how other theologies understand the gospel, but how that understanding lines up with Scripture and with the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

Where is the Blood?

Where is the blood?  Outside of some of Joel B. Green’s writings on the atonement, in which he defends the Kaleidescopic view of the atonement, there is little said about the cross.[1]  This is perhaps the strongest critique one could offer any theology including the new monist movement.  To read their many writings is to be engulfed into the science of the mind and the investigation into our future resurrected bodies, but virtually nothing is said regarding the cross of Jesus and the salvific nature of the resurrection.

But is this not exactly what Murphy asserted above?  In her brief discussion on soteriology, Murphy postulated that if Christianity had embraced monism instead of dualism, “Would the creeds, then, not have skipped from his birth to his death, leaving out his teaching and faithful life?  Would Christian then see a broader, richer role for Jesus Messiah than as facilitator of the forgiveness of their sins?”[2] Such an argument speaks volumes of monism’s implications.  Propitiation has little to no room in the monist system because it is too individualistic and rings with the language of soulish salvation.  Instead, the monists prefer the language of restoration and earthly redemption geared toward socio-political issues and social justice.[3]

This is one of the clear dangers of monism.  To ignore propitiation seems to be rooted in a fear of sounding like a dualists.  As a result, the monists undermine one of the most key doctrines of Scripture and Christianity.  To deny penal substitution, for all their language of affirming Scripture, is to deny Scripture and its clear teachings.  Rejecting or discounting propitiation as a monists is not necessary, but it does seem to be natural.  Outside of Green’s extensive work on the atonement, nothing is said in regards to the cross.  Again, where is the blood?

The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 1 
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 2 
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 3
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4a  
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4b  
The Danger of the New Monism:  Fidelity to Science, Infidelity to the Gospel - Part 4c

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pray For Youcef: Iranian Pastor To Be Executed For Refusing to Deny Christ

The news is breaking that an Iranian Christian pastor likely faces execution due to his refusal to recant of his Christian faith.  Please pray for him, his family, and ultimately the gospel.  Christian history has proven that such methods of silencing the gospel are futile, but that does not negate the heartache and pain that such evil leaves behind.  It is well documented that Iran is changing from the inside and Islam is slowly losing its grip on its people despite of its leaders efforts to suppress movements like Christianity.

The Christian, Youcef Nadarkhani, is quite bold in the faith.  Consider the following paragraphs from Fox News and pay particular attention to his words:

An Iranian pastor who has refused to recant his Christian faith faces execution as early as Wednesday after his sentence was upheld by an Iranian court.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who maintains he has never been a Muslim as an adult, has Islamic ancestry and therefore must recant his faith in Jesus Christ, the 11th branch of Iran's Gilan Provincial Court ruled. Iran's Supreme Court had ordered the trial court to determine whether Nadarkhani had been a Muslim prior to converting to Christianity.

An undated photograph provided by the American Center for Law & Justice shows Youcef Nadarkhani, an Iranian pastor who faces execution for refusing to recant his Christian faith.
The judges, according to the American Center for Law & Justice, demanded that Nadarkhani, 34, recant his Christian faith before submission of evidence. Though the judgment runs against current Iranian and international laws and is not codified in Iranian penal code, the judge stated that the court must uphold the decision of the 27th Branch of the Supreme Court in Qom.

When asked to repent, Nadarkhani stated: "Repent means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my faith in Christ?"

"To the religion of your ancestors, Islam," the judge replied, according to the American Center for Law & Justice.

"I cannot," Nadarkhani said.

Nadarkhani is the latest Christian cleric to be imprisoned in Iran for his religious beliefs. According to Elam Ministries, a United Kingdom-based organization that serves Christian churches in Iran, there was a significant increase in the number of Christians arrested solely for practicing their faith between June 2010 and January. A total of 202 arrests occurred during that six-month period, including 33 people who remained in prison as of January, Elam reported.

Fox News - Iranian Pastor Faces Execution for Refusing to Recant Christian Faith 
The Blaze - Iranian Pastor Must Disavow His Christian Faith This Week…or He’ll Be Executed

For more:
Blogizomai - Pray for the Persecuted: Memorial Day & the Persecuted Church
Blogizomai - Pray For Our Brothers and Sisters in Iraq   
Blogizomai - Punishing Prejudice By Being Prejudice:  The Lesson and Legacy of Hate Crimes
Blogizomai - Repost | Coming Out of the Closet As Christians?: Welcome to the New World
Blogizomai - The (In)Tolerance of the Homosexual Movement: See, I Told You So

Hump Day Humor: uMove

A funny parody on technology.  Do you have a uMove?

HT: Kevin DeYoung

For more:
Blogizomai - Hump Day Humor:  Fun With Dick and Jane  
Blogizomai - Hump Day Humor: Leprechaun in Alabama
Blogizomai - Hump Day Humor: This is Not a Joke - Affirmative Action For the Ugly-Americans
Blogizomai - Hump Day Humor:  Office Pranks
Blogizomai - Humorous Hump Day:  Church Greeters and Hand Sanitizers
Blogizomai - Humorous Hump Day: Mark Lowry's Mamma Had Enough
Blogizomai - Humerous Hump Day: Brian Regan Cell Phones 101
Blogizomai - Humorous Hump Day - Harry Carry and the Moon Made of Rips
Blogizomai - Humorous Hump Day: Voltswagen Pinata
Blogizomai - Fuzzy Math & Even Fuzzier Theology: Abbott & Costello Meets Modern Theology
Blogiozmai - They're Only Giving Him Material: Letterman Responds to the Jihadists After Him
Blogizomai - Adam & Eve on Comedy Central: Colbert Takes on Mohler & Traditional Christian Theology
Blogizomai - Everything is Amazing, But Nobody Is Happy: An Important Lesson
Blogizomai - The BCS Applied in Real Life
Blogiozmai - Repost Friday: Happy RamaHanuKwanzMas!
Blogizomai - Judge Free Zone?: Daily Show Illustrates Discriminatory Discrimination 
Blogizomai - Taxidermatology: The Most Lifelike Dead Animals Around

Sola Fide and the Early Church: Quotes From the Patristics

Did the Early Church teach justification by faith alone like the Reformers?  The folks over at Reformation Theology have offered the following list of quotes suggesting that in fact they did.  This shouldn't surprise us considering that the Reformers were returning the Church to biblical doctrine, not to Church doctrine.  The early believers did the same.

This is an important point.  There is nothing new under the theological sun and orthodoxy is certainly not new. The Reformers did seek to return the church back to its orthodox roots believing that the Catholic Church of its day had lost its way. They read Augustine and the rest like we do (remember that Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk).  So it is inacurrate, as this brief survey reveals, to suggest that the Reformers discovered the gospel, but that they rediscovered the gospel. 

Scripture clearly teaches that we are saved apart from works.  We are saved by faith alone.  Our trust is in the Person of Jesus Christ and the work He accomplished at the cross and resurrection.  We do not meet God half-way.  Christ rescues us from our sin.  All our "righteousness" is likely filthy rags and so to suggest that works, ritual, or religion can somehow cleanse us is simply foolish.  Christ became our curse for us so that by faith - and only by faith - we might be saved.

This is exactly what the 1st Century church, the early patristics, and the Reformers taught.  And it is the gospel.  Sola deo Gloria.

Here are some of the quotes offered by the Reformation Theology blog:

1. Clement of Rome (30-100): “And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Source: Clement, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 32.4.

2. Epistle to Diognetus (second century): “He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! That the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!”

Source: The Epistle to Diognetus, 9.2-5.

4. Origen (185-254): “For God is just, and therefore he could not justify the unjust. Therefore he required the intervention of a propitiator, so that by having faith in Him those who could not be justified by their own works might be justified.”

Source: Origen, Commentary on Romans, 2.112.

5. Origen (again): “A man is justified by faith. The works of the law can make no contribution to this. Where there is no faith which might justify the believer, even if there are works of the law these are not based on the foundation of faith. Even if they are good in themselves they cannot justify the one who does them, because faith is lacking, and faith is the mark of those who are justified by God.”

Source: Origen, Commentary on Romans, 2.136.

6. Hilary of Poitiers (300-368): “Wages cannot be considered as a gift, because they are due to work, but God has given free grace to all men by the justification of faith.”

Source: Hilary, Commentary on Matthew (on Matt. 20:7)

8. Didymus the Blind (c. 313-398) “A person is saved by grace, not by works but by faith. There should be no doubt but that faith saves and then lives by doing its own works, so that the works which are added to salvation by faith are not those of the law but a different kind of thing altogether.”[31]

Source: Didymus the Blind. Commentary on James, 2:26b.

10. Jerome (347–420): “We are saved by grace rather than works, for we can give God nothing in return for what he has bestowed on us.”

Source: Jerome, Epistle to the Ephesians, 1.2.1.

11. John Chrysostom (349-407): “For Scripture says that faith has saved us. Put better: Since God willed it, faith has saved us. Now in what case, tell me, does faith save without itself doing anything at all? Faith’s workings themselves are a gift of God, lest anyone should boast. What then is Paul saying? Not that God has forbidden works but that he has forbidden us to be justified by works. No one, Paul says, is justified by works, precisely in order that the grace and benevolence of God may become apparent.”

Source: John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians, 4.2.9.

13. John Chrysostom (again): “God allowed his Son to suffer as if a condemned sinner, so that we might be delivered from the penalty of our sins. This is God’s righteousness, that we are not justified by works (for then they would have to be perfect, which is impossible), but by grace, in which case all our sin is removed.”

Source: John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, 11.5.

18. Augustine (354-430): “If Abraham was not justified by works, how was he justified? The apostle goes on to tell us how: What does scripture say? (that is, about how Abraham was justified). Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:3; Gen. 15:6). Abraham, then, was justified by faith. Paul and James do not contradict each other: good works follow justification.”

Source: Augustine, Exposition 2 of Psalm 31, 2-4.

19. Augustine (again): “When someone believes in him who justifies the impious, that faith is reckoned as justice to the believer, as David too declares that person blessed whom God has accepted and endowed with righteousness, independently of any righteous actions (Rom 4:5-6). What righteousness is this? The righteousness of faith, preceded by no good works, but with good works as its consequence.”

Source: Augustine, Exposition 2 of Psalm 31, 6-7.

21. Ambrosiaster (again): “They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God.”

Source: Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Romans 3:24.

25. Prosper of Aquitaine (390–455): “And just as there are no crimes so detestable that they can prevent the gift of grace, so too there can be no works so eminent that they are owed in condign [deserved] judgment that which is given freely. Would it not be a debasement of redemption in Christ’s blood, and would not God’s mercy be made secondary to human works, if justification, which is through grace, were owed in view of preceding merits, so that it were not the gift of a Donor, but the wages of a laborer?”

Source: Prosper of Acquitaine, Call of All Nations, 1.17

26. Theodoret of Cyrus (393–457): “The Lord Christ is both God and the mercy seat, both the priest and the lamb, and he performed the work of our salvation by his blood, demanding only faith from us.”

Source: Theodoret of Cyrus, Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans; PG 82 ad loc.

27. Theodoret of Cyrus (again): “All we bring to grace is our faith. But even in this faith, divine grace itself has become our enabler. For [Paul] adds, ‘And this is not of yourselves but it is a gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast’ (Eph. 2:8–9). It is not of our own accord that we have believed, but we have come to belief after having been called; and even when we had come to believe, He did not require of us purity of life, but approving mere faith, God bestowed on us forgiveness of sins”

Source: Theodoret of Cyrus, Interpretation of the Fourteen Epistles of Paul; FEF 3:248–49, sec. 2163.

28. Cyril of Alexandria (412-444): “For we are justified by faith, not by works of the law, as Scripture says. By faith in whom, then, are we justified? Is it not in Him who suffered death according to the flesh for our sake? Is it not in one Lord Jesus Christ?”

Source: Cyril of Alexandria, Against Nestorius, 3.62

29. Fulgentius (462–533): “The blessed Paul argues that we are saved by faith, which he declares to be not from us but a gift from God. Thus there cannot possibly be true salvation where there is no true faith, and, since this faith is divinely enabled, it is without doubt bestowed by his free generosity. Where there is true belief through true faith, true salvation certainly accompanies it. Anyone who departs from true faith will not possess the grace of true salvation.”

Source: Fulgentius, On the Incarnation, 1; CCL 91:313.

30. Bede (673-735): “Although the apostle Paul preached that we are justified by faith without works, those who understand by this that it does not matter whether they live evil lives or do wicked and terrible things, as long as they believe in Christ, because salvation is through faith, have made a great mistake. James here expounds how Paul’s words ought to be understood. This is why he uses the example of Abraham, whom Paul also used as an example of faith, to show that the patriarch also performed good works in the light of his faith. It is therefore wrong to interpret Paul in such a way as to suggest that it did not matter whether Abraham put his faith into practice or not. What Paul meant was that no one obtains the gift of justification on the basis of merits derived from works performed beforehand, because the gift of justification comes only from faith.”

Source: Cited from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ed. Gerald Bray), NT, vol. 11, p. 31.

HT: Reformation Theology

For more
Blogizomai - For Reformation Day:  An Insightful Documentary  
Blogizomai - Douglas Bond on the Legacy of John Knox 
Reviews - "John Knox" by Rosalind K. Marshall  
Blogizomai - The Mighty Weakness of John Knox 
Blogizomai - Was Calvin a Calvinist?  Helm Weighs In 
Blogizomai - He Turned the Water Into Wine: MacArthur, Alcohol, & Christian Liberty
Blogizomai - Theology Thursday | Calvin on the Redemptive Necessity of the Resurrection
Theology - Calvinist Baptists and the Many (False) Misconceptions
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 1
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 2
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 3
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 4
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 5
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 6 
GBC - "Without the Gospel": A Gem From John Calvin
GBC - Calvin on God in Theology and the Christian Life
GBC - Calvin on Providence
GBC - Calvin on Treasures in Heaven
GBC - Calvin on Fasting
GBC - Calvin on Prayer: Why Bother?
Reviews - "Young, Restless, and Reformed"
Reviews - The Theology of the Reformers  
Reviews - The Unquenchable Flame  
Reviews - "On the Necessity of Reforming the Church" by John Calvin
Reviews - John Calvin:  A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, & Doxology 
Reviews - Christianity's Dangerous Idea 
Reviews - "Five Leading Reformers"   

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

We Are Not Professionals: Martin Luther's Warning To Ministers

There is as much corruptible pride in the average minister, theologian, and seminary student as there is any secular professional and non-believer. As a full-time pastor and a TH.M student at a major theological seminary, I have often marveled at how prevalent the professionalization of the ministry has become. The local church has become a business, believers have become costumers to be satisfied with the product of the gospel. Churches, then, compete for the business of Christians from other churches by trimming their large budgets, their pastors smile or speaking ability, and by their music or youth program. Thus evangelism and church growth is about putting other churches (particularly those of other denominations) out of business by stealing their members/customers.

Many pastors, unfortunately, promote this sort of heretical, man-centered nonsense. For example, when was the last time you heard of a pastor called to serve at a smaller church? It seems to me that God only calls us to those greener pasture churches with larger numbers, more services, a bigger footprint, and better pay.

Brothers, are we professionals or ministers of the gospel?* Too many ministers use rural and smaller church as stepping stones to the real ministry God has called them too. What they don't realize is that stepping stone churches get stepped on.

I recently came across a great quote from the great Reformer Martin Luther from Justin Taylor's website. It speaks directly to this issue. His main point is that those ministers who think they are professionals already have their reward. Enjoy your book deals, your celebrity status, and the TV and radio interviews. They are all vanity and your ministry is vain.

Let us instead take the gospel seriously. You are not being wasted at that smaller church. Be faithful to them and don't measure your success by the quantity but by the quality of your members. Don't fight against other churches but with other churches. Be content where God has you. Continue to seek that bigger church and you will never be content with your ministry.  Love your people.  Preach the gospel.  Shepherd the flock and leave the results with God.

If, however, you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it—if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears.

Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, “See, see! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.” That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels.

—Martin Luther, LW 34:287-288 & quoted in Timothy George, Reading Scripture with the Reformers, p. 164..

HT: Justin Taylor

*  John Piper has written a book called Brothers, We Are Not Professionals:  A Plea to Pastors For Radical Ministry on this subject that I highly recommend.

For more:
Blogizomai - My Top 10 Free iPhone Apps For the Pastor
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 1
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 2
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 3
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 4
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 5
Blogizomai - The Real Divide:  Luther, the Reformation, and the Fight Over Perspicuity - Part 6 
Theology - Luther:  Right Doctrine and Righteous Living Go Hand-in-Hand - A Message the Church Needs to Recover 
Reviews - Reviews in Brief:  Martin Luther and the Reformation 
Reviews - The Unquenchable Flame 
Reviews - Luther: Man Between God and the Devil 
Reviews - The Trial of Luther 
Reviews - Martin Luther:  The Christian Between God and Death  
Reviews - The Theology of the Reformers  
Reviews - The Unquenchable Flame 
Reviews - Christianity's Dangerous Idea 
Reviews - "Five Leading Reformers"

This is News?: The Politics of Personal Distruction Continues

In our world of political destruction where gotcha moments and old videos trump message and resume.  The most recent example regards Texas Governor Rick Perry, the current front runner in the 2012 GOP Presidential Primary.  An old video has surfaced of the governor dancing with a number of orthodox Jews.  What we are to take away from this I don't know.  Perhaps someone thinks that Christians are going to abandon the governor for this.

My beef is the question of why any of this matters?  Maybe I'm missing something.  What matters more to you, a video of a state governor celebrating with a number of orthodox Jews or his views on the unborn and the size of government?

But whatever is the goal of this video (even if its just for a good laugh for some), it may help Perry.  With the recent special election results in the most Jewish precinct in New York swinging from Democrat to Republican much because of President Barack Obama's policies regarding Israel, this might end up helping the governor.

But at the end of the day, who cares?  If this is the important development of the election, then God help us. With the way things are right now, why does this matter again?

The Blaze - Did You Ever See the Video of Rick Perry Dancing With Rabbis?

For more:
Blogizomai - The Election Commercial Season is Upon Us: Discernment in the Season of Political Ads
Blogizomai - Is This the Dirtiest Campaign Season Ever?: Consider Circa 1800
Blogizomai - 2012 Presidential Debate 1: Republican Hopefuls Make Their Case
Blogizomai - 2012 Presidential Debate 2: Republican Hopefuls Make Their Case
Blogizomai - 2012 Presidential Debate 3:  Republican Hopefuls Make Their Case
Blogizomai - 2012 Presidential Debate 4:  Republican Hopefuls Make Their Case
Blogizomai - 2012 Presidential Debate 5:  Republican Hopefuls Make Their Case 
Blogizomai - 2012 Presidential Debate 6:  Republican Hopefuls Make Their Case 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Digital Media and Scholarship: The Dead Sea Scrolls Goes Online

As technology advances, scholarship will likely increase with it.  In recent years, scholars have been scanning and digitalizing ancient manuscripts giving the average person access to these critical documents and insuring that these documents will be with us forever.  Recently scholars on the most important archeological find of the 20th Century, the Dead Sea Scrolls, have began making them available online for free in their entirety.  No other find has enhanced biblical and Jewish scholarship more than the Dead Sea Scrolls and it is now being placed online for free.  Previously, one had to travel to Jerusalem in order to see the scrolls. Now one just need to turn on their computer, laptop, tablet, or smart phone.

The project of digitalizing and posting the Dead Sea Scrolls remains in work and scholars estimate that the project will be completed by 2016, but the Dead Sea Scrolls aren't the only manuscripts currently being put online. Dr. Dan Wallace has been scanning and publishing Greek New Testament manuscripts online for some time now and I highly recommend you going to his site for the manuscripts and more.

Such projects will only enhance scholarship and, I believe, Christianity.  As a seminary student, such resources are invaluable tools for study and research and as we increasingly become a more digitalized society, the better scholarship will become.  So though the Internet and our digital world brings with it countless problems and concerns, this is one worth celebrating.

Read the Scrolls online here.  
Dan Wallace - The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts 
The Blaze - 2,000-Year-Old Dead Sea Scrolls Are Now Available Online
PC Mag - Google, Israel Museum Put Dead Sea Scrolls Online 

President Wright on the Necessity and Reasoning for SBC Name Change

The Southern Baptist Convention President, Bryant Wright, has recently released a video explaining the necessity and reason for the recent call for the SBC to change its name.  If this ever happens, it will take several years and that is only if the President's proposal goes through.  But I do believe that this is something worth considering especially in light of some of the reasons given previously.  Wright reminds us that major name changes aren't new to the SBC.  Both LifeWay and Guidestone have gone through changes.

H here is what Bryant Wright had to say.

sbc video september 2011 from Johnson Ferry on Vimeo.

HT:  Denny Burk 

You can go to Pray4SBC if you would like to make your own suggestion for a name change.

For more:
Blogizomai - Breaking: Southern Baptist Convention is getting a Name Change
Blogizomai - Mohler on the SBC Name Change
Theology - Mohler on the Future of the SBC  
Theology - Repost | On Toilet Paper and Mission Work:  Ezell's Report at the SBC 
Theology - SBTS: A Conversation With Kevin Ezell   
Theology - 8 Months In: Kevin Ezell Reflects On His Tenure Thus Far  
GBC - Repost - Facing Reality: How to Respond to SBC Decline

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weekly Recommendation - "Jesus Made In America" by Stephen J. Nichols

I had the pleasure of recently meeting Stephen J. Nichols at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he was participating in a conference on Southern Seminary and American history. I really enjoyed his paper presentation and I have really enjoyed his latest book "Jesus Made In America: A Cultural History From the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ."

The book does what the title suggests. Beginning with the Puritans and ending with modern Evangelicalism, Nichols traces the belief and doctrine of Christology in the American Church. At the end, I must admit, although we started off wrong, we have ended in horrendous fashion.

The Puritans, though primarily mocked today in America, at least cared about the text of Scripture, what it meant and what it means. The Puritans wanted a pure Christianity as laid out in Scripture. As a Baptist, I disagree with some of their conclusions and beliefs, but at least they took Scripture seriously and raised their children to be godly.

But since the Puritans, our Christology in America has only gotten worse. Nichols traces this history with a scholars mind, but with the skill of a great orator. He allows humor, but also careful Scriptural and historical critique of each movements main leaders, pastors, scholars, and events.

The chapter I found most insightful was the one on the Jesus People movement and Contemporary Christian Music. As someone that has spent much time following the bands, the history, the festivals, and everything else around Christian music and products, I was could not agree more with Nichols assessment.

Nichols makes a few points (and this will not be an exhaustive list) regarding this movement that has affected our culture's understanding of Christology. First, Nichols notes that much of the lyrics in the CCM world today can be confused with everyday romance songs. Sing words like "I need you," can be applied to both Jesus or your girlfriend. Nichols provides many many examples of this trait throughout the movement using many different bands of different genres. This trend has attributed to the "lackluster intellectual rife in American evangelicalism" (128)

Furthermore, Nichols points to the danger of consumerism. Christianity and her Christ has become nothing more than a product to sell rather than a Savior to worship. This trend has had horrendous results. Christian products emphasize the self mirroring many self-help books in the secular world. Furthermore, books on the atonement, theology, Church history, practical living, etc. are rather absent because they do not entertain quit as well as the Joel Osteens of the world.

One possible solution to these things, Nichols points out, can be seen from the CCM world itself. Artist Steve Camp once wrote his 107 Theses to Reform the CCM world. Nichols points out Theses 41: "Christian music, originally called Jesus Music, once fearlessly sang clearly about the gospel. Now it yodels of a Christ-less, watered down, pabulum-based, positive alternative, aura-fluff, cream of wheat, mush-kind-of-syrupy, God-as-my-girlfriend kind of thing." The solution, it would seem, would be to return to the gospel and let the music reflect the gospel. But then again, whenever Christianity is for sale, the gospel becomes less entertaining.

Nichols also looks at movies and plays of Christ. Here I want to mention two dangers he points out. First, no matter how hard we try, after viewing a movie about Christ, for example Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ, whenever we come to the Gospels, we will view Jesus through the lens of that actor. I find myself doing this. Oftentimes I picture Jim Caveziel (The Passion of the Christ) or Henry Ian Cusick (The Gospel of John). To modernize Jesus can be dangerous.

Second, movies about Christ must emphasize Christ's humanity. It is very difficult to show the divinity of Christ on screen. For one, it is less entertaining because Christ becomes more of a superhero than a Jewish carpenter. Secondly, it gets to be a bit cheesy, Christ becomes a cheap magician. As a result, Americans are placing more emphasis on Christ's humanity over His divinity. As Christians, a healthy balance of both should be emphasized.

Although Nichols is not saying, "Thou shalt not watch such movies," his words do cause us to rethink the issue. I loved Gibson's film and found it incredible and a reminder of what Christ did because of my sin, but there are many dangers in it. As Christians, we should be more careful and discerning in what we view, what we take in, and how it affects our faith, our understanding of the gospel, and our theology.

I really enjoyed this book. More could be said and discussed. One good example would be the dual Nichols presents between Henry Emerson Fosdick and J. Greshem Mechen. But I will end the review here. Anyone interested in a scholarly, yet from someone not locked in a tower and down to earth, survey of American Christianity Christology since the Puritans, I can think of no one better than Stephen Nichols and this book. I had the pleasure of meeting him and talking with him. And I encourage everyone to give this book a try.
For more:
Reviews - "Ancient Word, Changing Worlds" by Stephen Nichols

Saturday, September 24, 2011

All Around the Web: Links For Your Weekend - September 24, 2011

World on the Web - City fines home Bible study | This is clear evidence of a silent persecution.  One city is preventing a group from having a Bible Study because they are without a permit.  Think about this (even beyond the religious aspect of it).  You can't have a group of people anywhere in this city without the city knowing and approving it.

The Southern California city of San Juan Capistrano fined a couple $300 for holding a Bible study in their home and ordered them to stop meeting because they did not have a city-approved permit.

Chuck and Stephanie Fromm started the Bible study in 1994 with just their family and a few close friends, but as word spread, the group grew to 50 people meeting in their 4,500 sq. feet home once a week. A neighbor who had previous issues with the Fromms because of their faith filed a complaint. The city fined the couple for violating a city ordinance that required regular gatherings of three or more people to obtain a conditional use permit. City officials said the couple would be fined $500 if they continued the Bible study.

The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a religious legal group, is appealing the decision to the California Superior Court in Orange County, stating that the city is violating the religious freedom of its residents.

“The home is very important and sacred place for the family to be able to exercise their faith, and if we are not able to preserve religious freedom in the home, then this country is no better than communist China or Islamic Iran,” said attorney Brad Dacus, president of PJI . . . 

“We’re just gathering and enjoying each other’s company and fellowship,” Stephanie Fromm told CBS2 News. “And we enjoy studying God’s Word.”

John MacArthur - “Contextualization” and the Corruption of the Church | MacArthur continues his series looking at Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians.

It should be clear that modern church marketers cannot look to the apostle Paul for approval of their methodology or claim him as the father of their philosophy. Although he ministered to the vilest pagans throughout the Roman world, Paul never adapted the church to secular society’s tastes. He would not think of altering either the message or the nature of the church. Each of the churches he founded had its own unique personality and set of problems, but Paul’s teaching, his strategy, and above all his message remained the same throughout his ministry. His means of ministry was always preaching—the straightforward proclamation of biblical truth.

By contrast, the “contextualization” of the gospel today has infected the church with the spirit of the age. It has opened the church’s doors wide for worldliness, shallowness, and in some cases a crass, party atmosphere. The world now sets the agenda for the church.

Parchment and Pen Blog - Top Ten Theologians: #6 – Thomas Aquinas | The series continues this time with Thomas Aquinas an important figure whose ideas are still with us, including some of the more unfortunate ones.

Noted Boston College philosopher Peter Kreeft regards Thomas Aquinas as the greatest philosopher to have ever lived.16 He gives eight reasons to support the claim: truth, common sense, practicality, clarity, profundity, orthodoxy, medievalism, and modernity.

Many people of his day considered Aristotle a threat to the faith. The reading and teaching of Aristotelianism was often forbidden. Therefore, Aquinas’s sympathetic writings were at first seen by many as a threat to Christianity. 

The old Platonic bias had helped Christianity through many early struggles with paganism, for it spoke of an invisible Supreme Being, of a higher world that senses cannot perceive, and of an immortal soul. Yet, Platonism also had its dangers. It was easy for Christians to undervalue the world which God had created. It was also possible to devalue the incarnation of Christ, for Platonism was not interested in temporary realities. There was a danger that theologians would pay less attention to Jesus Christ as a historical figure, and more to the eternal Word of God.17

Over time Aquinas’s influence grew. Aquinas’s work was of great significance for the further development of theology. He influenced the history of Christianity by joining traditional doctrine with the new philosophical outlook. He used Aristotle to bring balance back from too much Platonic bias.

Aquinas did not reconcile Christ to Aristotle, he reconciled Aristotle to Christ.18

Denny Burk - Moving Pro-Life Testimony on the X-Factor | This is interesting and always fascinating to watch how people react to such testimonies.  I wonder how people would have reacted if she reported that her child had cancer or some other disease or handicap?  Would they have been so sympathetic?

The Point (John Stonestreet) - Robertson and Alzheimer's | John Stonestreet joins the bandwagon and criticizes Pat Robertson's comments about divorcing a spouse with Alzheimers disease.

Last week on the 700 Club, Pat Robertson said a man could divorce his wife if she had Alzheimer’s since it was “a kind of death.” He then added, “but get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer.” Yes, please get another answer because his answer couldn’t be more wrong. Our vow for better or for worse must include worse.

Robertson’s words deeply contradict a Biblical worldview of what it means to be human. Alzheimer’s can be considered “A kind of death,” but so could depression, brain damage, Parkinson’s and all sorts of conditions. But even so, a “kind of death” isn’t death, and it doesn’t make anyone less human or less worthy of dignity and love. No one loses the image of God, even if they no longer know it.

The Blaze - Just How Many Texts Do Young Adults Send Per Day? | This is an interesting chart.  Welcome to the new world we live in.  Parents need to be aware of this information.

This is a neat video showing what the Earth looks like from the International Space Station.  The shots of lighting are wild.

HT: Justin Taylor