Thursday, January 31, 2008

Humour - Outta the Boat

Humour: Top Ten Lesser Known Arguments for the Existence of God

From Carrie Hunter@

For those familiar with Christian apologetics you will know of the long standing arguments that are often employed to argue for the existence of God.

The Kalaam Cosmological Argument – impossibility of an infinite regress of physical causes and effects.

The Teleological Argument – The glaring evidence of design within the universe, the world, and the human body (not just the “appearance of design” as Richard Dawkins asserts to his embarrassment).

The Moral Argument – That mankind is governed by an objective morality that with which we seem to innately identify.

The Ontological Argument – Hmmm… this one is tough … God is the greatest conceivable being therefore because we can conceive of Him, it stands to reason He does in fact exist.

Well seeing as how the above arguments are quite convincing it is understandable that the lesser known arguments go unused and even unnoticed.

It is often said that the best way to go about the study of God is by studying man. I feel that the arguments listed below accurately reflect the human condition and subsequently point to something outside of ourselves to which we often appeal. So I think they are at least worthy of consideration.

10. The Road Rage Argument – more people not succumbing to road rage is evidence of God existence. That I don’t succumb to road rage personally is evidence of His existence. Have you ever been stuck behind a long line of soccer moms creeping along in their SUVs drinking Starbucks and talking on their cell phones in Peachtree City? Oh I have, and the fact that I haven’t climbed out of my vehicle (Dukes of Hazzard style) to pummel them is evidence that God exist. (Evidence of common grace as well but I digress…)

9. The “Stop Looking at Me” Argument – again, this is to do with mankind’s ability to constrain their wrath. How many times a day has a mom or dad heard one of their children say to another “Stop looking at me”? It isn’t simply the words said but the sound that accompanies it. A sound which echoes throughout the house or car with such volume, that it has been know to draw blood from even the most resilient ear drum. That parents don’t lose their sanity completely from such things is evidence that God exists.

8. The “Stop Touching Me” Argument - this mimics the “Stop Looking at Me Argument”. (These two can be used interchangeably.)

7. The Post Office Argument – Standing in line at the post office as apathetic postal workers shuffle back and forth at a sloth like pace can try even the most patient of souls. That we can do this and still avoid jumping on the counter and wrapping their heads with packing tape and bubble wrap whilst screaming “WHY ARE YOU SO SLOW” is evidence God exist.

6. The Hammered Thumb Argument – at one point or another when one is engaging in their woodworking hobby, or hanging a picture, or taking the DIY approach to home improvement, they will invariably hit their thumb with a hammer. Upon this happening assent is always given to God to where His very name is called out. Moreover God is petitioned with a request to send damnation upon the situation. Not only does this evidence God’s existence it displays an inherent knowledge that God has the ability to damn things.

5. The “How Did They Miss That?” Argument – it would seem that even the most harden atheist finds himself looking upward when viewing (insert name of any given sporting event here) as to ask “why?!!” when a ball is fumbled, or a player fouls out, or gets the red card, or the clock runs down in the final game of the season leaving them with the harsh realization that they have to wait yet another year for it to be “there year”. One looks up as to ask “God, why did this happen. Is their no justice?!” The involuntary action of looking upwards for the answers points to God being there. He is there and He is not silent. (Not silent because He is laughing at the horrible defense in the game.)

4. The Britney Spears Argument – upon seeing the latest footage of Britney Spears on the news the words “Oh My God” are often spoken. This is not only an argument for God’s existence but one against Deism as the phrase “Oh My God” contains the possessive pronoun “my” which indicates a relational aspect between God’s existence and our own.

3. The Dial-Up Argument – For those in this world still on a dial-up internet connection, (yes I know you are out there and maybe reading this albeit 15 hours after clicking on the link that led to this blog) prayers to God for “it” (anything) to download faster are often heard. In some way people are aware of God’s sovereign hand on all situations, including sluggish downloads on slow internet connection and they plead with Him for whatever “it” is to hurry up already!

2. The Windows Argument –.this argument became somewhat outmoded when XP was introduced. However in a bygone era called B.XP (Before XP), the PC user would routinely be met with the now infamous “Blue Wall of Death” and end up calling out God’s name. And like those exampled in the Hammered Thumb Argument requests for damnation (on their computer [and Bill Gates]) were frequent.

*** With the advent of Vista however this argument is now more relevant than ever. Nothing works with Vista, and God is frequently called upon as a result. Requests for damnation at an all time high…

1. The Maxwell House Argument – This is probably my favorite argument. I once heard Greg Koukl I believe it was say that he is “an atheist before his first cup of coffee”. I can certainly identify with such a statement. I think coffee governs a lot of the situations found within the other arguments. So it is my contention that because coffee exist therefore God exist. “I drink, therefore I AM”.

Abortion Creates a Mission Field

By: Abraham Piper

Sometimes I fall into thinking of abortion as an American issue, or worse, an American political issue. Most of the stats I read, after all, are about abortions in this country. And when I consider voting for a candidate, one of my first questions is "Are they pro-life?"

So I find it helpful to remind myself that abortion is not American and it is most certainly not primarily political. Those stats are kids, not numbers. And the kids are from many colors, cultures, and countries.

Life International is a ministry that actively remembers that abortion is a world-wide scourge. They note,

Abortions in the U.S. and Canada (1.4 million) amount to 3% of abortions worldwide. And while the U.S. and Canada have 2,500 pregnancy centers to counteract 3% of abortions, the rest of the world has 600 centers for 97% of abortions.

So their mission is to "help nationals establish LIFE ministries wherever abortion exists in the world." And they do this ultimately for Jesus, knowing that both physical and eternal life are important.

Like every mission, they need us, the church. With our time, our money, and our prayers, we can be a part of seeing "lives saved physically and transformed spiritually ... in the mission field created by abortion."

How Shall We Love Our Muslim Neighbor?

By: John Piper @

There are as many answers to this question as there are ways to do good and not wrong. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10). “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Here are some things that, it seems to me, need to be emphasized in our day.

1. Pray the fullest blessing of Christ on them whether they love you or not.

2. Do good to them in practical ways that meet physical needs.

3. Do not retaliate when personally wronged.

4. Live peaceably with them as much as it depends on you.

5. Pursue their joyful freedom from sin and from condemnation by telling them the truth of Christ.

6. Earnestly desire that they join you in heaven with the Father by showing them the way, Jesus Christ.

7. Seek to comprehend the meaning of what they say, so that your affirmations or criticisms are based on true understanding, not distortion or caricature.

8. Warn them with tears that those who do not receive Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Savior who takes away the sins of the world will perish under the wrath of God.

9. Don’t mislead them or give them false hope by saying, “Muslims worship the true God.”

How To Meditate On God's Word

by Stephen Altrogge @

The word 'meditation' is a pretty cool word these days. Everybody is in to meditation. A lot of productivity websites say that when you feel burned out it's really helpful to take a 'meditation break'. Recently on the Oprah Winfrey Show (yeah, yeah I was watching Oprah) a guy named Dr. Oz (no relation to the wizard) said that meditation can significantly lengthen your life. Meditation isn't just for Tibetan monks wearing burlap robes that chafe their armpits. No, everybody loves meditation.

The truth is, the Bible is big on meditation as well. Psalm 1:2 says of the godly man, "... his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night." Which brings me to the question: what exactly is meditation? According to our culture, meditation is the relaxation of the mind to the point where little or no thought occurs. But according to scripture, meditation is the increased focus of the mind with much deep thought occurring. The goal of secular meditation is to empty the mind, the goal of godly meditation is to fill the mind with God's truth. To put it in a succinct definition, godly meditation is the practice of filling the mind with God's word for the purpose of applying God's word.

So how do we meditate on God's word? What does this look like practically? Here's just a few suggestions.

Meditate Prayerfully
When we read the Bible, we're not just reading a book - we're reading the sacred word of God. The Bible is the very words of God, given to us that we might know him, love him, and obey him. Which means that we simply can't understand the Bible apart from the enlightening power of God's spirit. We must have God open our eyes to understand and apply the glorious truths that we read in scripture. Apart from the spirit of God our devotional times will be dry, listless, and fruitless. Before you read God's word, pray that God would give you understanding.

Meditate Quietly
It's difficult to give deep, concentrated thought to a passage of scripture if you're surrounded by distractions. I realize that this isn't the case for everyone, but for most of us effective meditation on God's word occurs in quiet places. If you're trying to do your devotional time in the middle of Starbuck's, you might be selling yourself short. I find that my most effective times of biblical meditation come in the quiet of the early morning, before my day is rolling. Psalm 131:2 says, "But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me." Effective meditation usually happens in the stillness.

Meditate Vocally
Just because you're in a quiet place doesn't mean that you need to be quiet. God speaks to us when we read scripture and it's often appropriate to respond vocally to God's promptings. Take for example, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, which says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." When I read this verse, I want to respond out loud to God with rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving. Scripture isn't a dry textbook, it's the living word of God. We must interact with scripture, responding to it's commands, rejoicing in it's promises, and delighting in its revelations.

Meditate With Pen In Hand
I first heard of this from John Piper, who said the following:

"A pastor will not be able to feed his flock rich and challenging insight into God's word unless he becomes a disciplined thinker. But almost none of us does this by nature. We must train ourselves to do it. And one of the best ways to train ourselves to think about what we read is to read with pen in hand and to write down a train of thought that comes to mind. Without this, we simply cannot sustain a sequence of questions and answers long enough to come to penetrating conclusions"

The practice of writing down my thoughts as I read my Bible has had a transforming effect on my devotional times. Writing forces me to think through each verse, and to trace the logic of each passage. It helps me to fight distraction and to focus all my attention on the words before me. Go out and get yourself a Moleskine journal and start writing as you read.

What about you? What helps you to meditate on God's word? What suggestions can you give to others who are seeking to grow in meditating on God's word?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

John MacArthur Explains Why Homosexually Destroys Families

Expand Your Prayer Life (4): Truck Caps and Daily Bread

by Mark Altrogge@

I used to think that God was so busy managing the cosmos, he didn't have time for my peewee concerns.

I thought that if I asked him for money to pay the bills, he'd shout down at me, "Can't you see I'm directing the destinies of nations? Away with you and your petty requests."

Jesus taught us that when we pray we should make our Father's honor and kingdom our first concerns. But our Father who is both rich and generous also wants us to bring our daily needs to him.

In Luke 11:3 Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us each day our daily bread". What could be more down to earth than bread?

R. Kent Hughes says, “We are not to use the Niemann Marcus catalog as our daily devotional guide. One of the sweet realities of our prayer life is that God cares about the simple, day-to-day needs of life. He cares whether his children are warm, fed, and housed. He is concerned for our well-being, including those things necessary to maintain a whole, happy family.”

God doesn’t limit us to praying for big things – he invites us to ask him for a new coat or new tires, money for groceries or tuition or vacation.

Here is an amazing truth: God gets glory by meeting our smallest needs. God's sign reads: "No job too big, no job too small."

My friend Bob bought a "new" used truck. His previous truck bed was 7 feet long but the new one was 6. This rendered his 7-foot truck cap 1 foot too long for his new truck. So he prayed about the situation. The audacity - praying about a truck cap. Doesn't God have enough on his mind without being bothered about Bob's truck cap? One day Bob saw a truck pull into the parking lot where he works. He noticed that the cap on that truck's 7-foot bed was a foot too short. So Bob approached the man, whom he'd never met, to ask him if he'd be interested in a swap. Amazingly, both Bob's cap and this man's cap were the same brand and both fairly new. They were able to trade caps and each fit perfectly.

One of the ladies at a "Caring Sisters" party in our church shared how the Lord used her sister in Christ to give her very specific gifts that she had secretly desired, but could not afford. Among them: a pair of earrings on the day she came to church with none on; a new watch when she hoped for one; and a spoon rest after a fleeting desire for one had crossed her mind in her kitchen that week. God gave her a spoon rest! How specifically and tenderly the Lord cares for us! And if he provides these material things, think how eager He is to meet us in our souls. (Thanks to Sarah B for sharing this).

We need daily provisions of wisdom, strength, joy. God invites us to make our requests known to him and bring our needs to him. So seek first God's glory and his kingdom, then ask him for whatever you need each day. And watch him provide!

When God Applies Bandages

by Stephen Altrogge @

In Psalm 147:3-4 we read, "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names."

I have to admit, when I read these verses I was astonished. This was a picture of God I hadn't encountered before. The stark contrast between the two verses astonished me. Think about these verses for a moment with me.

Verse 4 tells us that God determines the number of the stars. There are billions of galaxies spread across the universe and within each of these galaxies there are billions of stars. Each of these stars is blazing with brilliant light and blazing heat. We are tiny and weak compared to a star. And there are billions upon billions of stars.

Yet God knows the exact number of stars, and He gives to each star a name. Ponder this truth. God knows each star individually, and He gives a name to each star. How great is our God! Most studies show that humans can only hold between five and seven things in their mind at one time. God holds all the stars in His mind, and He gives each one a name. Do you feel the greatness of God? When you look at the night sky, do you feel the immensity of God?

But we don't just serve a great God, we serve a tender God. The Psalmist tells us that God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. God cares about those who are brokenhearted. Our great, infinite, awesome God, cares about our sadness. This is astonishing. The God who keeps the planets in orbit is the one who binds up our wounds. God is infinitely great, and God is infinitely tender.

Let us worship God for his greatness and love him for his tenderness. He is the one who heals our sadness and repairs our broken hearts. Our almighty God is the one who gently binds our wounds. How can we not love such a God? How can we not find all our joy in such a God? Today let us worship our great and tender God.

God, Moral Judgment, and the Death Penalty

By Albert Mohler @

In a fascinating new look at capital punishment, Professor Walter Berns of Georgetown University argues that support of the death penalty is tied to belief in God. He documents the link between secularization and declining support for capital punishment.

In "Religion and the Death Penalty," published in The Weekly Standard, Berns begins by observing that the best case for the death penalty "was made, paradoxically, by one of the most famous of its opponents, Albert Camus, the French novelist." Indeed, in opposing the death penalty Camus seems to have grasped what others had missed.

As Professor Berns explains:

The death penalty, he said, "can be legitimized only by a truth or a principle that is superior to man," or, as he then made clearer, it may rightly be imposed only by a religious society or community; specifically, one that believes in "eternal life." Only in such a place can it be said that the death sentence provides the guilty person with the opportunity (and reminds him of the reason) to make amends, thus to prepare himself for the final judgment which will be made in the world to come. For this reason, he said, the Catholic church "has always accepted the necessity of the death penalty." This may no longer be the case. And it may no longer be the case that death is, as Camus said it has always been, a religious penalty. But it can be said that the death penalty is more likely to be imposed by a religious people.


The reasons for this are not obvious. It may be that the religious know what evil is or, at least, that it is, and, unlike the irreligious, are not so ready to believe that evil can be explained, and thereby excused, by a history of child abuse or, say, a "post-traumatic stress disorder" or a "temporal lobe seizure." Or, again unlike the irreligious, and probably without having read so much as a word of his argument, they may be morally disposed (or better, predisposed) to agree with the philosopher Immanuel Kant--that greatest of the moralists--who said it was a "categorical imperative" that a convicted murderer "must die." Or perhaps the religious are simply quicker to anger and, while instructed to do otherwise, slower, even unwilling, to forgive. In a word, they are more likely to demand that justice be done. Whatever the reason, there is surely a connection between the death penalty and religious belief.

Berns then turns to consider the contrast between attitudes toward the death penalty in the United States and Europe. The contrasts are both obvious and instructive. Secular Europe is now on something of a global crusade against the death penalty. In the United States, high rates of church-going are matched to a high level of support for the death penalty.

As Berns explains, this has not escaped European attention. "European politicians and journalists recognize or acknowledge the connection, if only inadvertently, when they simultaneously despise us Americans for supporting the death penalty and ridicule us for going to church." Berns documents the depth of European secularity -- only about 4 percent of Germans attend church weekly, and in other major European nations the percentages are often even lower. In the end, Berns argues that Europe has lost a passion for punishment -- even respect for a structure of moral law.

He then offers a cogent observation:

A world so lacking in passion lacks the necessary components of punishment. Punishment has its origins in the demand for justice, and justice is demanded by angry, morally indignant men, men who are angry when someone else is robbed, raped, or murdered, men utterly unlike Camus's Meursault. This anger is an expression of their caring, and the just society needs citizens who care for each other, and for the community of which they are parts. One of the purposes of punishment, particularly capital punishment, is to recognize the legitimacy of that righteous anger and to satisfy and thereby to reward it. In this way, the death penalty, when duly or deliberately imposed, serves to strengthen the moral sentiments required by a self-governing community.

Professor Berns offers genuine insight and understanding in this argument. Indeed, I think his argument is even larger than the death penalty in its application. The absence of God -- and thus the absence of a transcendent standard of judgment and morality -- inevitably weakens all moral judgment. This certainly applies in the case of the death penalty, but it must also apply in other cases as well. When a transcendent standard of judgment and value disappears, the regime of therapy remains. Crime becomes anti-social behavior, wrong-doing becomes a syndrome, and moral judgment is endlessly hesitant and constantly renegotiated.

Secularism transforms a society. Professor Walter Berns understands that one of the apparent consequences of secularism is the difficulty of making hard moral judgments -- the kind of hard judgment needed for the most evil of crimes.


Photo: Albert Camus

NPP and Covenantal Nomism

By Ian Clarey @


For twenty or so years New Testament scholarship has been embroiled in a controversy over the so-called “New Perspective on Paul” (NPP).[1] Although James D. G. Dunn in his Manson Memorial Lecture at the University of Manchester coined the term in 1982, the essential thinking of the NPP stretches much farther back into history.[2] One could trace its steps back a hundred years to the writings of Albert Schweitzer where the seed that germinated and eventually grew into the NPP could be found.[3] However, the key players that properly developed the thinking of the NPP wrote more recently. In fact, some are still writing on this subject today. This paper will highlight a select number of New Testament theologians and provide a brief overview of their thought relative to the New Perspective on Paul. The “chosen few” are Krister Stendahl, Edward P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn and Nicholas Thomas Wright respectively. After summarizing the pertinent contribution of each of the men, a brief response to the common substance of their thought will collectively be provided.

Krister Stendahl
A key claim of the NPP is historical-theological. This may seem strange considering that the regular cast of characters involved in the NPP is comprised of New Testament scholars. However, when one considers the nature of Biblical interpretation and its relevance to the field of New Testament studies, historical considerations are in order. Therefore it is wholly appropriate that a man of Martin Luther’s stature and significance be evaluated. The view of the NPP respecting Luther has to do with the Wittenberg Reformer’s struggle against the medieval Roman church. It is their contention that Luther read this struggle with sin and his relationship to a holy God back into the New Testament, in particular into Paul’s struggle with the Judaism of his time. This apparent act of anachronism by Luther has led to a great number of misunderstandings concerning such soteriological categories as justification, righteousness, works of the law, imputation, etc. This has then led the NPP to reevaluate Paul contrary to Luther and his followers.[4]

Ironically no other scholar has influenced such a view of Luther than the Swedish Lutheran Krister Stendahl. In 1963 Stendahl published an essay in the Harvard Theological Review entitled “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” in which he first argued that Augustine’s reading of Paul was impacted by his conversion experience in the infamous garden in Milan. The personal struggles felt by the bishop of Hippo not only then impacted Augustine’s understanding of Paul, but served to impact all of western Christianity that followed in the same manner.

Stendahl in turn argued that Luther’s misunderstanding of Paul was of Augustinian proportions. Like the namesake of his order, Luther the Black Augustinian, was deeply impacted by sin in his conversion experience. The result of his sensitivity regarding sin led Luther to a more individualistic understanding of salvation as per the Apostle Paul.[5] Stendahl contrasted the Reformer’s “introspective” conscience with the Apostle’s “robust” conscience and determined that the two did not match. Pre-conversion Luther had been obsessed with his sinful status before God and wrestled deep in his psyche over how he could be reconciled with his Creator. This then interfered with his exegesis of Paul and has tainted all exegesis following him.
The Apostle Paul, however, did not have such a struggle because he viewed himself as being already involved in a right relationship with God. Therefore, for any true interpretation to be had of Paul requires one to go over Luther’s head for a fresh picture. According to Stendahl, Paul’s central issue did not have to do with personal, individual sin; rather his primary concern was community relations. Specifically, Paul did not ask the question, “How am I right with God?” Instead, he asked two questions: “What happens to the Law when the Messiah has come?” and “What are the ramifications of the Messiah’s arrival for the relationship between Jews and Gentiles?”[6] Stendahl understands Paul to argue that the Law drove Jews to belief in the Messiah in order to show that Gentiles did not need to have the Law imposed upon them in order to be included in the people of God. The Gentiles have now become partakers of the promises given to Abraham, and this not through the Law but through faith.[7]
This argument of Stendahl’s, later developed in “Paul Among Jews and Gentiles,”[8] called for a reevaluation of Pauline theology in light of these two questions. Sin no longer should be seen as the driving issue for the Apostle, rather the important question was that of the role of the Law in Jew/Gentile relations. The centrality of these questions and their answers cut against the grain of all Reformational understandings of Paul. Stephen Westerholm summarizes Stendahl’s view well by saying, “For Stendahl, then, the ‘use’ of the law as ‘God’s mighty hammer’ bringing complacent sinners to despair has little support in Paul. The roots of the notion are rather in problems peculiar to the modern West. Hence the function and indeed the definition of the law need reexamination.”[9]

E.P. Sanders
Although Stendahl’s work on Luther’s “introspective conscience” was a watershed in recent New Testament studies, E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Palestinian Judaism[10] was an atomic bomb. Since the publication of this work in 1977, Biblical studies relating to Judaism, Paul and justification have not been the same. No respected scholar studying any of these subjects would neglect interaction with Sanders’ seminal work.[11]

Working along similar lines as Stendahl, Sanders believed that all New Testament scholarship influenced by Luther had misread Paul. More than that, they had misread Judaism. One of the significant aspects of Sanders’ work is that he brought primary Jewish sources to the fore in New Testament studies; sources that had long been relegated to quotations from secondary literature. By interacting with the Jewish writings directly, Sanders brought about a methodological revolution.[12]

When evaluating the Judaism of the Second Temple period, Sanders did not believe that a systematic theology of Jewish beliefs was to be found. Instead, he sought to determine a “pattern of religion” that gave a general characterization of Judaism spanning the years of 200 BC to 200 AD. Sanders’ main concern when considering this pattern involved two questions. The first, how did one enter the religious community and the second, how did one remain within that community. To quote Sanders himself, “A pattern of religion defined positively, is the description of how a religion is perceived by its adherents to function – how getting in and staying in are understood.”[13] Although there are soteriological elements to Sanders’ questions, they are primarily sociological in that they are primarily concerned with the nature of the covenant community.

Sanders found the answer to these questions in a pattern of religion that he has termed “covenantal nomism.” It is this pattern that has dominated NPP literature, and functioned as the foundation for its adherents. Sanders summarizes covenantal nomism in eight points.
The “pattern” or “structure” of covenantal nomism is this (1) God has chosen Israel and (2) given the law. The law implies both (3) God’s promise to maintain the election and (4) the requirement to obey. (5) God rewards obedience and punishes transgression. (6) The law provides for means of atonement, and atonement results in (7) maintenance or re-establishment of the covenantal relationship. (8) All those who are maintained in the covenant by obedience, atonement and God’s mercy belong to the group which will be saved. An important interpretation of the first and last points is that election and ultimately salvation are considered to be by God’s mercy rather than human achievement.[14]

Thus, for Sanders, according to the literature of Second Temple Judaism, covenantal nomism was the normal pattern of religion. What this meant for Sanders, and for adherents of the NPP, was that the Jews of both Jesus’ and Paul’s day looked quite different than the Jews of Lutheran interpretation. These were not Jews who were concerned with performing meritorious works to gain entrance into the people of God. Rather, as members of the covenant people, and that by grace, they were only concerned with maintaining covenant status. The significance of this for understanding Paul’s arguments with the Jews could not be overstated. The Jews of Paul’s day were not legalists who tried to merit favour with God by works righteousness; instead they had a well-developed theology of election and grace. If Paul had no reason to challenge them on the issue of works, his arguments must have been involved with an entirely different set of concerns. These concerns did not require Paul to discard his Judaism so much as it required him to renovate it. According to Sanders, Paul was still a covenantal nomist, though in modified form; for Paul, the conditions of entry into and maintenance within the covenant were different. Entrance into the covenant required baptism and maintaining covenant status required obedience to the laws of the new covenant.[15] Therefore, Paul’s problems with the Jews did not have to do with them earning salvation by works, rather, their problem was that Judaism was not Christianity.[16]

For the sake of space, only covenantal nomism has been considered here. Sanders has a greater and more complex understanding of Paul and Palestinian Judaism that cannot be evaluated in so short an essay. Briefly, these include the question of whether Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, or whether he merely received his call as the Apostle to the Gentiles; the nature of obedience within the covenant community as participationist – the “in Christ” motif; the question of whether one should argue from plight to solution or solution to plight when considering Paul; and a number of other issues. All of the above are intertwined within Sanders’ thought to provide a more holist support system for Sanders’ primary argument.

With all of this considered, the implications for Pauline studies are large. No longer are students of Paul to understand his arguments against the Jews as involving legalistic categories. Instead, words like “justification,” “works of the law,” and “righteousness” are to have sociological definitions. The Jews are not to be seen as legalists and Paul’s terminology in arguing against them are not to be understood forensically. A brief example would be the word “justification” that had traditionally been interpreted within the sphere of the law-court analogy. Now, in Sanders’ understanding, justification is about one’s status as being a member of the covenant people, not that one is declared morally righteous before God. This has had drastic consequences for how justification is now to be understood.

Sanders’ work laid the foundation for subsequent thought that has become known as the New Perspective. Any scholar who seeks to deal with the challenges brought forth by the NPP must deal with covenantal nomism and its implications. This can be done either positively in agreement with Sanders, or negatively in disagreement with him.[17] But in both cases, one still has to pay him strict attention.

James D. G. Dunn
One New Testament scholar who has paid strict attention to and has gleaned much from Sanders’ work is James D. G. Dunn, one-time Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at the University of Durham. As mentioned earlier, it was Dunn who had in fact coined the phrase the “new perspective on Paul.” This was said in light of the changes evident in New Testament scholarship since Sanders’ advocating of Jewish covenantal nomism. Although Dunn has contributed much towards the vast field of writings on the NPP, it is this essay that will briefly be explained.
Taking his cue from Stendahl and Sanders, Dunn argues that the traditional understanding of the Jews of Paul’s time is sorely lacking.[18] Agreeing with the moniker “covenantal nomism” for Second Temple Judaism, Dunn argues that the standard Lutheran hermeneutic has placed an improper grid upon Paul and has maintained a caricature of Judaism that has fed Christian anti-Semitism.[19]

Although Dunn is in substantive agreement with Sanders on the issue of covenantal nomism, he may perhaps be described as a “dissenting disciple.” Dunn believed that Sanders was essentially correct in his formulations, but that the latter did not follow through this insight with adequate consistency.[20] Contrary to what he perceived Sanders to be saying, Dunn does not believe that Paul’s switch from Jewish to Christian covenantal nomism was random or arbitrary.[21] Instead, Dunn saw Paul challenging those exclusivist Jews who identified themselves against the Gentiles by such boundary markers as food laws, circumcision and Sabbath.[22] These boundary markers are what are to be understood when Paul speaks of “works of the law.”[23]

Traditionally such works were understood as being meritorious in an attempt to attain favour with God. But according to Dunn, these works had nothing to do with getting into a relationship with God. Rather, Jewish Christians were wrongly maintaining their Jewish identity instead of being one in Christ with Gentile Christians.
As with Stendahl and Sanders before him, Dunn’s thought has transformed the soteriological terminology that had been traditionally used to explain Pauline theology. Now, instead of the forensic categories of a “Lutheran” reading of Paul, words like justification, righteousness, etc., have taken on sociological connotations.[24] Alongside his predecessors, Dunn’s writings have resulted in a drastic re-reading of Paul and a reworking of the face of Biblical soteriology.

N. T. Wright
The final figure to look at in this summary of key New Perspective theologians is N. T. Wright, now Bishop of Durham. Out of all of the authors involved one way or another with the NPP, Wright is likely the most well known. He writes not only at an academic level, but has been greatly concerned with distilling theology into more popular forms for the average church-goer. Therefore, Wright’s understanding of justification as it relates to the NPP has found itself in the hands of more than just New Testament scholars. He thus cuts a wide path.
Probably the best place to obtain a satisfactory view of Wright’s teaching on justification is his popular level book What Saint Paul Really Said.[25] Wright, like Dunn, is in essential agreement with Sanders’ discovery of covenantal nomism within Palestinian Judaism. Also like Dunn, Wright has certain criticisms of Sanders, in particular the bishop does believe that justification language in Paul is drawn from law-court analogies and retains a specifically forensic definition.[26]

But Wright also assumes the veracity of much of what Sanders has argued. He believes, like Stendahl, that later Protestant orthodoxy misunderstood the essence of Paul’s gospel. Wright says, “It is not, then, a system of how people get saved.”[27] For Paul, according to Wright, the gospel is only a proclamation of “Jesus is Lord.” Gaffin summarizes: “This gospel proclamation…has four basic components: the death of Jesus, his resurrection, the crucified and risen Jesus as Israel’s Messiah/king, Jesus as Lord of the entire world.”[28] As Gaffin further comments, “Wright is emphatic that Jesus is Lord, but much less clear about how he is Savior.”[29]

Wright has, in many respects, continued the transformation in New Testament studies initially wrought by Sanders. The force with which he has redefined certain key soteriological phrases has accomplished this change. For instance, “righteousness of God” for Wright does not refer to the right standing of a believer upon being declared just before the site of God in justification. Instead, “righteousness of God” speaks of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people. According to Wright, “God’s righteousness…is that aspect of God’s character because of which he saves Israel, despite Israel’s perversity and lostness.”[30] Because righteousness is not about the believer’s status, rather God’s, and because Wright sees it as a forensic term drawn from the Jewish law-court, traditional conceptions of imputation are precluded. In what is likely his most famous statement regarding imputation Wright says,
If we use the language of the law court, it makes no sense whatever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom…To imagine the defendant somehow receiving the judge’s righteousness is simply a category mistake.[31]

When one considers the weight that confessional theology has placed upon the doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer, it is easy to see why many have been critical of Wright on this point.

There is much more that could be said of the theology of one so prolific as Wright. His views on justification alone, not including writings on the historical Jesus, Palestinian Judaism, New Testament interpretation, etc., are enough to fill entire monographs. Suffice it to say, in summary, Wright follows the same essential train of thought as Stendahl, Sanders and Dunn in terms of articulating a theology that strips Paul of his Reformation interpreters and sets him within the historical confines of his period without any later prejudice.

Concluding Response
A brief response to some of the common thoughts espoused by the men surveyed above is in order. Recognizing space constraints, only one or two points can be made, although much more could be said.

The obvious place to start is Sanders’ assertion that Palestinian Judaism is marked by a pattern of religion known as “covenantal nomism.” Because this is the hallmark of Sanders’ overall argument, and because it is a theme picked up by Dunn and Wright, if one were to show that covenantal nomism was not the only pattern of religion for the Jews of this period, much of the NPP’s bite would be rendered toothless. Probably the key critique of covenantal nomism has come from the first volume of collected writings called Justification and Variegated Nomism.[32] Itself a massive tome, one would do well to at least consult D. A. Carson’s introduction and conclusion to catch the drift of their essential argument.

What this volume has shown is that Sanders’ appraisal of covenantal nomism is reductionistic at best. The work of these scholars has shown a great diversity in opinion amongst the Jews of Paul’s day that go beyond merely covenantal nomism, although there are aspects of it in much of the Jewish writings. Carson’s concluding chapter summarizes the work by evaluating each essay highlighting the common conclusion that the Second Temple literature was diverse in nature. To quote Carson’s final paragraph,

Examination of Sanders’s covenantal nomism leads one to the conclusion that the New Testament documents, not least Paul, must not be read against this reconstructed background – or, at least, must not be read exclusively against this background. It is too doctrinaire, too unsupported by the sources themselves, too reductionistic, too monopolistic. The danger is that of the “parallelomania”…by which texts are domesticated as they are held hostage to the ostensible background called forth by appealing to certain other antecedent texts.[33]

In other words, although there is an element of truth to the existence of covenantal nomism during this period, it is not the only pattern of religion. One must evaluate all of the evidence, not just a selection, to determine what and who Paul was combating when he spoke of justification not being by works of law, etc.

The New Perspective on Paul has provided New Testament theologians much food for thought. Not all that its proponents have said is necessarily bad, in fact, some of their writings prove intellectually stimulating. However, that being said, certain of the NPP’s main emphases are wrongheaded and damaging. In particular the denial of key aspects of Paul’s doctrine of justification because of selective readings from the Second Temple period are especially bad. It is hoped by this author that the rise of the NPP has resulted in a positive aspect of Christian theology: that of theological development. Wherever there is error in the church, those corrective steps taken have been fruitful for the overall flavour of theology. May the positive contributions of New Perspective writers and their critics be to the glory of God and for the benefit of the church.

[1] In recognition of the diversity of opinion among scholars, it is better to think in terms of the New Perspectives on Paul. However, due to common parlance, the singular will be maintained.
[2] James D. G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), 183-214.
[3] For instance Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle trans. William Montgomery (New York: Holt, 1931).
[4] For more on the relation of Martin Luther to the NPP see Timothy George, “Modernizing Luther, Domesticating Paul: Another Perspective” in D.A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien and Mark A. Seifrid eds., Justification and Variegated Nomism Volume 2: The Paradoxes of Paul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2004), 437-463.
[5] Now as Krister Stendahl, “The Apostle Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West” in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Fortress Press, 1976), 78-96.
[6] Stendahl, “Apostle Paul,” 84.
[7] Stendahl, “Apostle Paul,” 86.
[8] Krister Stendahl, “Paul Among Jews and Gentiles” in Paul Among Jews and Gentiles and Other Essays (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), 1-77.
[9] Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 149.
[10] E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977).
[11] Save for the notable Jesuit scholar Joseph Fitzmyer in his commentary on Romans.
[12] Guy Prentiss Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2004), 36.
[13] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 17 (emphasis his).
[14] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 16.
[15] Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, 513.
[16] On this see Waters, Justification, 88.
[17] An example of recent scholarship that highlights both agreement and disagreement with Sanders is D.A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien and Mark Seifrid eds., Justification and Variegated Nomism Volume 1: The Complexities of Palestinian Judaism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001).
[18] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 185.
[19] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 61.
[20] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 188.
[21] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 188.
[22] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 191-193.
[23] Dunn, Jesus, Paul, and the Law, 191-202.
[24] For a summary of Dunn’s usage of such terminology in his larger body of writings see Waters, Justification, 98-109.
[25] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997).
[26] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 97.
[27] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 45.
[28] Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “Paul the Theologian: Review Essay” in Westminster Theological Journal 62 (2000): 124.
[29] Gaffin, “Paul the Theologian,” 125.
[30] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 96.
[31] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 98.
[32] See footnote 17 above.
[33] D. A. Carson, “Summaries and Conclusions” in Justification and Variegated Nomism Volume 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism, ed. D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien and Mark A. Seifrid (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 548.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What if you had no more excuses?

Nasty Like Jesus? Use of Tough Rhetoric in Christianity

Prissy people don’t like Jesus. Jesus Christ was always saying things like this:

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’

(Luke 13: 31-33)

A “big hug” Christian, whose image of Christ has more in common with Barney the Purple Dinosaur than the King of Kings, wishes Jesus had not been so unkind to Herod. Big Hugh Christians cannot help the feeling that it was unloving of Jesus to call Herod a “fox” or perhaps, like a woman who called me during a talk radio show offended by my use of the term “wolf” to describe an evil person, it was cruel to foxes for the Christ to compare them to Herod!

Whenever a tough article appears on Scriptorium Daily, some well meaning soul will write to wonder how we could be so unloving. Now it is perfectly possible that we are being unloving, but using tough rhetoric cannot be the infallible sign of this sin, or the Lord Christ is unloving!

What use is tough rhetoric? In Christ’s ministry, it often served to grab the attention of the listener and move him or her into the deeper teaching. It also could be used to accurately describe wicked people like Herod in order to reveal to the wicked man and the people around him the true nature of the person being described.

A Christian cannot consistently believe that he or she cannot use “tough talk” because the Sacred Scriptures do so all the time.

It is this “labeling” of others as wicked (as Christ often did with the “pharisees”), that is the most difficult for those of us who are not the son of God to use well. If there is a danger of becoming nicer than God, there is a greater danger of becoming nasty, something Jesus Christ never was.

There are Christians who are in no danger of being Barney, because they have become bestial dinosaurs ripping everything around them with brutal and vicious words and insults. They think they are “being like Christ,” the apostles, or the prophets, but they really are self-indulgent cowards who have mastered Jeremiah’s insults without his profound teaching, poetry, and prose.

Generally lightly armed numerically, spiritually, and academically, they confuse robust rhetoric with argument. Name calling replaces arguments instead of acting as sign post to argument or deeper things.

Of the two errors, the second is more dangerous than the first. Abuse of the tough language appeals to our desire to be gods. It is the temptation of Eden where, without care, we know “good and evil” and pronounce upon it confidently. Second, too many social niceties in the face of evil may make a man culpable for evil in a secondary sense, misuse of tough language does harm directly.

Evil may triumph when a good man is silent, but evil is done for certain when a man speaks viciously.

There should be another important limit to our use of such talk. In modern times, a little goes a long ways. The style of speech used in Jesus’ time is less persuasive to a modern audience. It was acceptable and even expected to use hyperbole a great deal and set up “straw men” in attacking a position. Aristotle did it. Plato did it.

Audiences understood what was being done and were not deceived by its use. It worked, but it does not work now. A sort-of-academic style is now favored in polite company in discussing hard questions. We want the attacks to sound fair. Where an ancient might glory in some good hyperbole, we are suspicious of it, preferring instead to mask our rhetorical assaults (and they are still there!) in a different style.

We have to acknowledge that socially acceptable styles of speech change over time. Rhetoric must be moral, but it must also be “useful.” Rhetoric acts to persuade as part of an overall argument. Christians cannot morally lie in order to persuade, such rhetoric is immoral so always wrong. Some styles of speech, however, are not immoral but become ineffective in different cultures.

For example, the Victorians enjoyed paragraphs of exquisite complexity loaded with adjectives and what to most twenty-first century Americans seems like an overload of emotional hype. There is nothing wrong (morally) with such rhetoric, but it is fairly ineffective to a modern audience. This is not to suggest that our approved styles of speech making are “better” or an “improvement,” but merely that our styles work best for us because they are our styles.

In my experience, Americans don’t respond well to name calling. We are an ironic age, if anything, but even irony can be overdone. A little Colbert goes a long way.

An effective Christian communicator would use certain rhetorical styles sparingly because they don’t work very often with the audience he or she is addressing. Christians who over use such talk often defend their courage when they should be questioning their cultural competence. Courageous ineffectual speech is no virtue and aping the style of Jesus while missing the point of that style is foolish.

Jesus may have used tough language, but he was never nasty. A nasty communicator leaves only the memory of his barbs, but a great teacher like Jesus leaves the lesson. The after taste of his great teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount, is not bitter, but blessed.

The two extremes, Barney and the beast, are not easy to avoid in any time, but perhaps are particularly difficult in an era where communication is so easy. Tough talk makes for good radio, or a fascinating blog, but does not wear well over time. If every evil or disagreement is labeled apostasy, or fascism, or communism, then nothing is left to say when real evil happens.

And since real evil does happen too much syrup is false and sickens an adult.

How can we avoid the extremes?

Modesty about our own virtue and knowledge, theological or otherwise, is a first test. Certainty is a rare gift for great men. The rest of us are almost surely deluding ourselves when we lose all sense of self-irony. The web site with only one tone: prophetic must be held to the Biblical standard for prophets: perfection.

The rest of us would do well (God help me!) to thunder less and suggest more.

Generally, tough rhetoric is best when it is applied to people in power or to self. Of course, since He was perfect, self-deprecating humor would have been difficult for Jesus, but He frequently attacked injustice and powerful people at great personal risk.

Given that we are not the Son of God, pointing out faults by revealing our own sin and God’s grace to us is almost always appropriate and well received. Putting down those who are weaker is distasteful and often self-indulgent. Attacking those, like the mob or the powerful, that have an ability to harm self is generally safer.

A little tough rhetoric is good, but frequent use of it is a danger sign in our cultural context. In my experience, the guru or sect leader with something to hide frequently resorts to calling his opponents names. In a church, it is the pastor who is “against” more often than he is “for.” Beware the leader who cannot even break for Christmas in his jeremiads . . . most people who think they are Jeremiah are just hateful.

Finally, the Golden Rule is always helpful. If we were wrong, then how would we wish to be treated? Most people are not Hitler, Stalin, or Bin Laden. With most of us moderate language is more helpful and redemptive than extreme rhetoric. That is just the way our culture has wired us.

Great evil does exist and sometimes we will be called to comment on it. In the cases of great evil, such as the bombing of the World Trade Center or the actions of the Klan, plain talk is demanded. The Klan is evil. Terrorism is wicked. Even at that, we cannot hate the sinner, but only his sin as Christians.

So we are left, as usual, walking a narrow, but plain way.

Tough language?

Yes, a bit.


At times.

A bit of mockery of the Devil and his works?

Of course.

But all this in moderation, just as in all things.

We are not, after all, the Son of God in whose hand lies final judgment. I must try to write as I pray and my deepest prayer should be: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This cry for mercy for self should be matched by a longing for mercy for all sinners in this broken world.

Persevering in Our Priorities

by Doug Smith @

The Message of Haggai

You’ve probably heard about or seen the object lesson where someone takes a jar and fills it with big rocks, gravel, sand, and then water. The point of the lesson is that if you don’t get the big rocks in first, you won’t get them in at all. In other words, if you neglect the important things in life, other things will press in and crowd them out. We need to make sure we Jar of rockshave our priorities right.

The book of Haggai chronicles God’s message to people who had let their creature comforts crowd out their priority of fully restoring the public worship of God. The Jewish audience was composed of those who had returned to the land under the auspices of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians who carried the Jews into captivity in 586 B.C. They began the project, laying the foundation, but soon quit due to opposition (Ezra 3:8-6:18). They would go on to complete the work (6:14), but first they needed some serious reminders from God. By the time Haggai the prophet (a contemporary of the prophet Zechariah) brought them God’s message in 520 B.C., 16 years had passed. The people were living in nice, paneled houses while God’s house still lay in ruins (Hag. 1:4). God had sent agricultural and economic hardship to get their attention (vv. 6, 9-11). Haggai’s message was this: consider your ways and get to work rebuilding the temple (vv. 5, 7-8). The people got the message and got to work (v. 12).

God is not calling us to travel to Jerusalem and begin working on a construction project on the ruined temple there now. The application for us is to build our spiritual lives, as individuals and corporately. Christ Himself is the fulfillment of the temple—it is through Him that we have access to God (John 2:19-22; Heb. 10:19-22). If you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, the first priority is that you come to God through Him. You must repent of your rebellion and place your trust in Him who died as a sacrifice in the place of sinners so that God’s wrath against them could be removed and that they could have eternal life in knowing Him.

Now that Christ has ascended and given His Spirit, we who are Christians are the temple—something that is true for us as individuals (1 Cor. 6:19) and as His church (3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16). God dwells with us and in us. The Jews needed to restore the public worship of the temple as a testimony to the living God who was worthy of worship. We need to live for God’s pleasure to display His glory (Hag. 1:8). Therefore, we need to make sure we have the right priorities.

There are several ways to discover what our priorities truly are. How we use our time and money are chief indicators. Our goals, or lack of them, and how we pursue or don’t pursue them may show where our treasure is. Our prayer life, including the content of our prayers (and indeed if we pray at all), reveals much about us. Our commitment to hearing God’s Word through reading the Bible and diligently listening to preaching is likely to be quite telling as well. The presence or absence of family worship in our homes and the quality and consistency of our relationships with others in the local church may also help us assess our priorities. Do we think of others? Are we living lives that show joy in God, denial of self, and loving service to others? We need to consider our ways. What and who are we living for? What do we hope for ourselves and our children to accomplish and why? Let us see that, as individuals and as God’s people, we are evidencing a heart of worship through obedient lives ordered by God’s priorities.

Getting our priorities right is important, but not enough. It is insufficient to simply be committed to an idea or vision on paper. One must implement these priorities and be committed to persevering in them despite difficulties. Haggai encouraged the Jews and reminds us to do just this.

Haggai reminds us of God’s help. The people became discouraged by memories of the previous temple and its glory (2:3). Haggai encouraged them to look for their help in the LORD, who brought them out of Egypt, who will shake heaven and earth, and who has all resources (vv. 5-8). The encouragement to be strong and the reminder that God is with them may echo David’s words to Solomon, who first built the temple (1 Chron. 28:20). These words are addressed to the leaders, Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor, as well as to the people (Hag. 2:2, 4).

Church leaders and congregations may become discouraged by their lives or ministries when they compare them to how things used to be or to others who seem to be blooming. But we must remember that God has not called us to live in the past, to reconstruct the “glory days,” or to imitate the latest church growth fad in order to get the appearance of success. He has called us to faithful obedience to His Word. He is our strength and help. And what He chooses to accomplish through us should not be despised as something worthless.

Haggai reminds the people that holiness is not contagious, but uncleanness is (vv. 10-14). Yet from their time of obedience, God would bless them (v. 15ff.). This blessing may refer to the contaminating nature of their previous disobedience among one another, or perhaps to sinful attitudes and behaviors that remained even after they began rebuilding. Either way, they are instructed in the importance of holiness. We too should persevere in holiness, valuing God’s blessing and desiring to encourage God’s people, knowing that our sinful attitudes and disobedience can easily infect others (cf. the warning about the root of bitterness in Heb. 12:14-15).

Finally, Haggai would have us hope in the sovereign power and plan of God. God has the final word in history. He promises to overthrow thrones and kingdoms and to make Zerubbabel his signet ring, a symbol of authority and blessing (Hag. 2:21-23). Ultimately, this promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who is of Zerubbabel’s line (Matt. 1:12-13; Luke 3:27). Though we may face opposition, we must remember that God keeps His word. The coming of Christ, His perfect life and death for sinners, and His resurrection and ascension give us hope in the One who overthrows thrones and kingdoms and gives salvation to all who repent of their rebellion against Him and trust in Him alone. It is this hope that enables us to persevere in our priorities and glorify God.

smith_doug.jpgDoug Smith is happily married to Krystal and glad to be the father of three children.

He is a member of Cornerstone Chapel in Bristol, Tennessee, teaches music in a Christian school, is pursuing an M. Div. through Southern Seminary, preaches in a supply capacity through the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply, and blogs at Gazing at Glory.

In What Sense Are Jesus and the Father One? Part I: One in Person?

By Rob Bowman @

One of the many, many New Testament texts that orthodox Christians historically have regarded as testifying to the deity of Jesus Christ is John 10:30, in which Jesus famously says, “I and the Father are one” (Greek, ego kai ho pater hen esmen). But in what sense does Jesus mean that he and the Father are “one”? We may identify at least three main views:

One in person: Jesus is the very same person as the Father. This is the view held by Oneness Pentecostals. This view agrees that John 10:30 identifies Jesus as God, and concludes that it also identifies Jesus as the Father.
One in power: Jesus is one in divine nature, essence, or power with the Father yet personally distinct from him. This is the view usually favored by Trinitarians (orthodox Christians).
One in purpose: Jesus is united with the Father in purpose; that is, he is in full agreement with the Father, always acting in line with what the Father wants. This is the explanation typically given by those who deny the deity of Christ, including Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is also the answer that Mormons typically give, although they also usually claim to affirm that Jesus is God.

As you can see, orthodox Christians think the two anti-Trinitarian interpretations both get something right and both miss something. Oneness Pentecostals rightly see John 10:30 as attesting to Christ’s deity, but miss the distinction between Christ and the Father. Other anti-Trinitarians see this distinction between Christ and the Father but not the divine unity of nature, essence, or power that they share.

So, who’s right? I propose to make a case for concluding that the Trinitarian interpretation does justice to the text in context better than the other two interpretations. In this post, I will discuss the Oneness Pentecostal interpretation.

Not One in Person

The least plausible way to understand John 10:30 is that it means that Jesus is the Father. Such an interpretation is clearly wrong, for several reasons.

First, Jesus here differentiates himself from the Father by speaking additively of himself and the Father in the plural (“I and the Father,” not “I am the Father”; “we are,” esmen, first person plural). This wording is most naturally understood as denoting two persons. If I said, “Father and I are named Robert,” you would of course understand that even though we both have the same name, we are two different persons. The very semantic structure of saying “Father and I” denotes two persons. Interpreting it as a circumlocution for “I am the Father” is highly implausible and exegetically unjustifiable. Likewise, if I were to say, “My wife and I are one,” you would know that I was not saying that I am my wife, simply because one’s wife is never oneself! You would therefore know that the oneness that characterizes my wife and me—whatever it might be—is something other than oneness of person.

Second, neither here nor anywhere else in the New Testament does anyone ever actually refer to Jesus as the Father. Had Jesus wanted to say that he was the Father, he certainly could have; but in fact he never said this. The lack of any such statement, taken by itself, is not decisive, but this lack considered in conjunction with the many statements differentiating the two personally is quite decisive.

Third, we have such statements in the immediate context. Jesus refers several times in this passage to the Father in the third person, as someone distinct from himself (“in my Father’s name,” v. 25; “my Father,” “has given to me,” v. 29; “the works of my Father,” v. 37). In this context, “I and the Father” is obviously a reference to two distinct persons, the speaker (“I”) and someone else (called “the Father”).

Fourth, had Jesus wished to affirm that he was the one person of the Father, the appropriate way for John, in reporting this statement, to express this in Greek would have been to use the masculine form of the Greek word for “one,” heis, rather than the neuter form, hen. We must be careful not to overstate or misstate the point here. It is not true that the masculine heis in any and every context means one person. It is not true that the masculine gender somehow in and of itself conveys singularity of personhood. Typically, the masculine form is used because the noun that the word “one” modifies happens to be masculine. For example, earlier in the passage Jesus refers to himself as “one shepherd” (10:16); the Greek text uses the masculine form heis because it modifies the masculine noun poimen (“shepherd”).

In verse 30, the word “one” modifies, or is a further description of, the compound subject “I and the Father.” The pronoun “I” (ego) has no gender, but “the Father” (ho pater) does—it is, of course, masculine. The neuter hen in this grammatical context treats these two referents, ego and ho pater, as referring to two distinct persons who share some sort of unity (however profound). The type of unity intended must always be inferred from the context, not from the gender of the word for “one” treated independently of the context.

The use of heis, in this context, would have been at least more consistent with an affirmation of identity of person than the neuter hen. Had John written ego kai ho pater heis esmen, such a statement would simply have been confusing, or ambiguous, since “I and the Father” is still most naturally understood as referring to two persons. But the use of the neuter hen in the same sentence as “I and the Father are” really shuts the door on the “one in person” interpretation. It is the way these verbal elements combine—their synergy in the formation of the whole statement—that precludes such an interpretation, not the use of the neuter hen in isolation or in the abstract.

Thus, a consideration of these four factors combined—the wording “I and the Father” together with the plural verb “we are,” the utter lack of precedent for identifying Jesus as the Father, the distinction made repeatedly in the immediate context between Jesus and the Father, and the use of the neuter “one” (hen)—lead to the conclusion that Jesus is not here claiming to be the Father.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Who Did you Tell?

Who did you tell? from theopenlife on Vimeo.

Here is a song by Abraham Juliot. You can find his music for free here.

Submissive Christians Proclaim the Gospel

by PastorJoeRoof @

Are people hearing the gospel from us? It is God’s plan for people to hear the gospel from our lips. Romans 10:14 says, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (KJV). Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47, John 20:21, and Acts roof_reach.jpg1:8 teach that each believer is to be a “preacher,” proclaiming the “good news” of the Lord’s salvation. If George Barna’s research is right, at least half of the people who call themselves “Christians” are not actively sharing the gospel on a regular basis.

It is impossible to hide the evidence of our disobedience to God in the area of evangelism. Multitudes of unreached people surround us, and many church members are more interested in church business meetings and property maintenance than in church outreach. More energy is given to board meetings and Bible conferences than to the spread of the gospel. More time is given to debating nonessentials and matters of eternal insignificance than to sharing the message of salvation. We’ve come to the place in church planting where going through the target community and simply telling the people about the Lord is one of the last things on the preparatory master plan. As a result, some new churches are nothing more than recycling plants for dissatisfied believers instead of centers for the spread of the gospel. We even mark those who we believe are making poor attempts at evangelism but do none ourselves and think of ourselves as better than they. While all of this is going on, we sit and wonder why churches and movements are dying. In our lamenting, we forget about all the souls who are dying without Christ.

We need to get our eyes off ourselves and look to the fields where God has appointed a harvest (John 4:35). As we mingle through the crowds in our communities, we need to be moved with intense compassion like our Lord was when He saw the crowds (Matt. 9:36-38). We don’t need a great program; we just need to start telling those whom God brings into our lives the truth of the gospel. If they receive the truth, then we need to make sure they are baptized and taught the Word of God. For the gospel’s sake, we need to be willing to surrender our personal rights instead of splitting churches over them so that people might be saved (1 Cor. 9:23). This act can be done without surrendering any of the precious doctrines of the faith once delivered to the saints. While we witness, let’s not forget to ask the “Lord of the harvest” to “send forth labourers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38).

The “preacher” of Romans 10:14 is not a reference to the pastor. It is a reference to every one of us who are the redeemed of the Lord. Will people be hearing the gospel from our lips in 2008?

roof_joe.jpgFor the past 14 years, Pastor Joe Roof has served God as the senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church (Albany, NY). He is also involved in area church planting and serves on several nationwide ministry boards.

He graduated from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) with a B.A. in Bible in 1990 and an M.A. in Bible in 1991.

He has been married to Kim for 15 years, and God has given them three children with one on the way.

The Final Word on Death

By Rich Richardson @

Last month while Christmas shopping, a middle-aged woman in our church died unexpectedly of a heart attack, and our church suddenly and painfully had to grapple with how the gospel functions in death. How were we supposed to help a family dealing with the lingering pain of life without their mother-wife-grandmother?

Without a thorough understanding and application of the gospel, our response to death can be reduced to a collection of well-meaning clichés rather than the sturdy, life-giving hope intended for those left behind.

Too often, we Christians seem to be content with quips and phrases that work well for bumper sticker slogans but don’t carry meaningful weight in real life. The blunt force trauma of death means that gospel application must be sturdy enough to function in those moments of quiet (or perhaps vocal) despair.The gospel will not disappoint. What Paul delivered as of “first importance” is our best tool in this unholy business of death.

Jesus was overrun with death so we don’t have to be. While death will always be a heartbreaking reality, Jesus and the gospel deliver unbridled hope.

Death is a paradox of sorts because it is both unavoidable and unnatural. We know by experience that it is unavoidable—the human mortality rate is 100 percent. Live long enough and you will have to deal with the reality of facing life without someone you know. But that death is also unnatural is found in the account of mankind’s origin in Genesis 1 and 2. Each time God surveyed his creation, the refrain is repeated “And God saw that it was good.” But have you looked around lately? The world is decidedly not good now. What happened? Sin happened. When Adam and Eve ate that fruit to try to be like God, sin came and began to wreak havoc. But sin did not come alone—it brought an unholy companion that would touch all of humanity: death. Paul says in his letter to the Roman church, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). God did not create mankind to die. This is why when we encounter death, we weep and mourn and feel a sense of loss.

What should we do with these two aspects of death? If we only believe death is unavoidable, we will become comfortable with it. But Jesus wasn’t comfortable with death. He responded to death like the unnatural enemy it is. In John 11, Jesus came to Bethany after his friend Lazarus died. After interacting with Mary and Martha over the timing of his visit, Jesus surveyed the scene. Verse 35, the shortest verse in the Bible, captures his response: “Jesus wept.” Seeing the suffering of humanity because of sin and death, Jesus responded emotionally right there outside Lazarus’ tomb. Though in just a moment he was going to call Lazarus back from the dead, he still wept—perhaps he was thinking about the day that Lazarus would die again (big speculation). Sin and death were on display, and as Jesus took it all in, he didn’t attempt to hide his emotions. He hated what death was doing to mankind.

Jesus didn’t get used to the ravaging effect death had on people and neither should we. Death is unnatural. There should be something in us that is revolted at the thought of children without parents, parents without children, and people facing their twilight years alone. Death is here because of sin, and we should hate this unholy pair with all we are.

Faithful gospel application, however, is not complete if we just contemplate how much we should hate death. We should also celebrate the fact that the threat of death (separation from God—really dying) no longer looms for Christians. In dying and rising again, Jesus defeated death once and for all. On that glorious Easter morning when Jesus emerged from the tomb, he not only sealed the forgiveness of our sins, but he also forever removed the hazard of death for all believers.

Paul explains it this way: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22–23). Christ is alive and that means all believers who die will not experience the bitterness of death but instead will experience the gloriousness of life with Jesus. This truth informs our grief. We grieve but know that there are no wasted tears for the Christian. The gospel says we weep now, but not without hope. Even though we can’t see our friend/parent/sibling/cousin/child, we know they are not dead in an eternal sense.

Because of this eternal life with Christ we are free to hate death, but not fear it. We and all believers exist outside death’s jurisdiction. Paul even goes so far as to mock death. He literally ridicules death in 1 Corinthians 15:55 saying, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” We too can look death in the eye because death has been reduced to merely a physical reality with no spiritual danger anymore.

Donald Grey Barnhouse, a preacher and pastor from the last century had a wife who died in her mid-thirties of cancer, leaving their three young children without their mother. On the way to the funeral service Barnhouse said to his daughter, “Tell me, sweetheart, would you rather be run over by that truck or its shadow?” The little girl looked curiously at her father and said, “By the shadow, I guess. It can’t hurt you.” Dr. Barnhouse said quietly to the three children, “Your mother has not been overrun by death, but by the shadow of death. That is nothing to fear.”

Jesus was overrun with death so we don’t have to be. While death will always be a heartbreaking reality, Jesus and the gospel deliver unbridled hope! Genesis 3 shows us that death is unavoidable, but the story doesn’t end there. Revelation tells us what the end of all things will be like: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Until that happy day we will have many sad ones. But in our sadness we have gospel hope. As we anticipate the day when all pain is removed, the gospel tells us the pain we feel is temporary. The shadow passed over a godly woman in our church recently and we miss her greatly. But make no mistake, death has not won her soul—Jesus did when he emerged from that tomb long ago.

Jesus—not death—has the final word.

Rich Richardson is the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Gilbert, AZ.

Old and Alone?

By Albert Mohler @

For many years now, Elizabeth Marquardt has been producing some of the most compelling research on the children of divorce. As her research makes clear, the children of divorce leave no doubt about the negative -- indeed devastating -- effects of divorce among their parents.

Now, Marquardt has turned the research tables, so to speak, looking at what happens when divorced parents age -- a significant demographic trend in a world of aging baby boomers.

In "The New Alone," published by The Washington Post, Marquardt reports on the research she has been conducting with Norval Glenn, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin. As Marquardt and Glenn report, divorce often leads to permanent changes in the relationship between children and parents. As they summarize, "the divorce itself has a lot to do with how parents and children get along."


The grown children of divorce in our study were far less likely to report that they had gone to either or both parents for comfort when they were younger. When they grew up, they were more likely to have strained relationships with their fathers and mothers. Most of the 18- to 35-year-olds in our study still had relatively young parents, but some had already confronted the illness and death of one or the other of their divorced parents. They struggled especially with whether and how to care for estranged fathers who were ill and often living alone, men who had done little for them but who now badly needed help from, well, someone.

What happens when aging parents need help at the end of life? Will the children of divorce feel this obligation? What about the complexities of additional marriages and additional spouses?

Marquardt begins her article with the story of one woman who wonders about her obligations to her aging mother's new husband. If her mother dies first, is this woman responsible to take on responsibility for a man she hardly knows?

Marquardt reflects:

My friend isn't alone in her uncertainty. Because of profound changes in how Americans organize and sustain -- and often break up -- our families, our nation will soon confront a never-before-seen shift in how we die and whom we'll have around us when we do. And the likelihood is that on every level, we will be dying much more alone.

Reduced birth rates, widespread divorce, single-parent childbearing, remarriage and what we might call "re-divorce" are poised to usher in an era of uncertain obligation and complicated grief for the many adults confronting the aging and dying of their divorced parents, stepparents and ex-stepparents. And compared with the generations before them, these dying parents and parent figures will be far less likely to find comfort and help in the nearby presence of grown daughters and sons.

Almost 40 percent of adults have divorced parents. The bonds of family and kinship have been strained over the last century by advanced industrialization, career mobility, and a host of developments that have subverted family intactness and intimacy. But none of these can equal the total impact of easy divorce and the divorce culture that is now simply taken as a fact of life.

The impact of divorce on children has been a controversial issue for decades now. Marquardt and Glenn now point to challenge that will explode in significance in years to come. They warn of "lonely grief" as a common experience.

In Marquardt's words:

As the generation that ushered in widespread divorce ages, an epidemic of such lonely grief may well sweep in behind it. Much of the expert literature on death and dying implicitly assumes an intact family experience. It assumes that people grow up with their mothers and fathers, who are married to each other when one of them dies. Some scholars are beginning to investigate aging and dying in families already visited by divorce. But most scholars and the public still give scant attention to the loss of other parent figures or to the deeply complicating, long-lasting effects of family fragmentation.

Here is yet another warning and reminder of what divorce represents and what happens when marriage is undermined by a social and legal revolution of this significance. This will challenge churches as well as families. "The New Alone" is a very troubling report.