Saturday, August 22, 2009
Coming soon! Blogging will resume at a new site that will be announced in September.
The title of the new blog will be "Weak on Sanctification." I hope you will read and comment on the various posts as we carry on our discussion of life, love, and salvation.
See you in September!
Friday, June 5, 2009
I will be taking a hiatus from blogging and spending lots of time on the internet this summer. I need to give attention to other aspects of life. You know, marriage, family, neighbors, church, baseball. Some real flesh and blood concerns.
This might be a good practice for some of you as well.
For your edification, I urge you to read Michael Spencer's straightforward and wise cautionary post about the temptations of technology, HERE.
All things in moderation. As for me, I am pursuing other matters this summer. See you in the fall.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Two good friends from Franklin High School are competing in the NCAA College Baseball tournament, and had their first games today.
Bart Carter, of the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers, celebrated with his teammates as they beat second-seeded Missouri with a convincing 11-5 win today. WKU scored 6 runs in the first inning and never looked back. They will play either #8 Mississippi or Monmonth on Saturday evening at 6:00pm.
Jeff Mercer and the Wright State University Raiders traveled to Fort Worth, Texas to play the host TCU Horned Frogs. They didn't fare so well, losing 6-3. That drops WSU into the losers bracket, and they will play Texas A&M at 3pm on Saturday.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Giberson makes the point that we ALL must make accommodations as we try to understand life and the universe.
But what about the accommodationism of materialists? How do they reconcile their materialism with the rationality of the world? It seems to me reality has to be grounded in one of two deeply mysterious foundations: God or matter. Each has its own set of questions. Theists wonder about the nature of God's existence, the problem of evil, how and why God acts in the world and why God has chosen to remain hidden from us. These are difficult questions and certainly must trouble thoughtful believers. But don't materialists have another set of mysteries? Don't they have to wonder about the nature of physical existence? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are the laws of nature so rational? Why is our species so religious? Is the world just a big pointless accident?Don't let the materialistic worldview back you into a corner and make you think theists are the only ones who must face troublesome intellectual problems. "Material alone plus time plus chance" has plenty of its own. In my view, even more troublesome.
Monday, May 25, 2009
On Thursday, May 21, the first annual Small Victories Charity Golf Tournament was held in memory of Daniel Mercer, on what would have been his 21st birthday. Daniel died three years ago on Memorial Day, after a long, courageous battle with brain cancer. His life, death, and the subsequent charitable works that have been done in his honor have been an inspiration to all of us here in Franklin. His parents, Jeff and Pam, hosted a wonderful event that raised thousands of dollars for at-risk youth here in central Indiana. Thanks to all who participated and helped in so many ways!
To read Daniel's full story, go to the Small Victories website and order a copy of the book that details his remarkable, if all too brief, life.
Then, over the weekend their oldest son, Jeff Mercer and his baseball team from Wright State University battled to win the Horizon League Conference tournament and earned a berth in the field of 64 on the Road to Omaha for the NCAA Division I baseball championship.
And this just a week after Jeff had been named the Horizon League Player of the Year!
In the opening round of the tourney, WSU will travel to Fort Worth, Texas to face the top-seeded TCU Horned Frogs on Friday, May 29 at 8:00 pm Eastern Time. Go Raiders!
We thank God for such a blessed, exciting, and happy week for our friends!
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Today, I read a post there that I admire greatly and commend to you. It's called "Apologies to the Atheists." Christians who tend toward culture warrior-ism ought to meditate on it deeply. Cwirla makes the point that getting angry in response to the rants of today's popular atheists only proves...
- Our view of God is too small.
- We've forgotten that our anger does not accomplish God's righteous purposes (James 1.20).
- We've forgotten Jesus' call to love our enemies.
...I don't know why the atheists are so angry. Perhaps they have good reason to be. I know that Christians aren't always noted for their manners, much less their Jesus-like compassion for those with whom they disagree, myself included. Maybe the angry atheists are just getting back at the playground bullies. Fair enough.
Ghandi once remarked, "I don't reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It's just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ." We can't expect the other guy to put down his sword while we are swinging ours. That's true for many situations. Don't expect someone who believes in nothing to put down his sword. We're called to go first. We claim to follow the One who said, "Turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, bless those who hate you, pray for your persecutors."
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
What is the Gospel? In my last post on this subject, I gave a common list of points that people often use in sharing Jesus with others. On his Jesus Creed blog, Scot McKnight suggests the following as a better, fuller account of the Biblical Good News that we are called to proclaim:
- God loves you and everyone else and has a plan for us: the kingdom community.
- But you and everyone else have a sin problem that separates you and everyone else from God, from yourselves, from one another, and from the good world God made for you.
- The good news is that Jesus lived for you, died for you, was raised for you, and sent the Spirit for you - so you all can live as the beloved community.
- If you enter into Jesus' story, by repentance and faith, you can be reconnected to God, to yourself, to others, and to this world.
- Those who are reconnected like this will live now as God's community and will find themselves eternally in union with God and communion with others.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5.21 (NRSV)
In this verse Paul returns to his self-defense and plea. No longer the future common destination of all Christians, but the actual situation—his strained relations with the Corinthians—will be treated."Self-defense and plea."
Lembrecht's observations answer a major weakness in N.T. Wright's interpretation of 2 Cor 5.21. Wright correctly identifies the primary theme of this portion of the letter as a defense and theological explanation of Paul's apostleship. What he does not emphasize is the APPEAL that Paul is making to the Corinthians on the basis of this defense. Wright therefore interprets 2 Cor 5.21 as a further element in Paul's description of his own apostolic ministry, when in fact it is more likely linked to the challenge he is delivering to the wayward church.
"We and you"
One way to grasp the flow of this passage is to note the interplay between "we" ("us"), and "you," and broader terms such as "the world" or "all" in the passage.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, WE try to persuade others; but WE ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that WE are also well known to YOUR consciences. WE are not commending ourselves to YOU again, but giving YOU an opportunity to boast about US, so that YOU may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if WE are beside ourselves, it is for God; if WE are in OUR right mind, it is for YOU.
For the love of Christ urges US on, because WE are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 12131415
16From now on, therefore, WE regard no one from a human point of view; even though WE once knew Christ from a human point of view, WE know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled US to himself through Christ, and has given US the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to US.
So WE are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through US; WE entreat YOU on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him WE might become the righteousness of God.
1718192021Viewed like this, we can see that Paul's statements break down into three types:
- Words about the apostles and their ministry
- Words about what God has done for the world
- Words about, and directed personally to, the Corinthians
That means that the final "we" in this passage (in 5.21) is different than all the other "we's" that come earlier. In every other instance, the "we" refers to the apostles and their ministry. But the final "we" grows out of Paul's personal appeal to the church and links them together. If the verse is a creedal statement or line from a hymn that Paul is quoting, as I believe it is, then this solidifies the idea that he is not narrowly referring to the apostles here, but to all Christians.
2Cor 5.21 functions as the REASON for Paul's appeal in v. 20—"We entreat you on behalf of Christ—be reconciled to God."
Next time, we'll sum up...
Sunday, May 17, 2009
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5.21 (NRSV)
Verse 21, in particular, may be a creedal statement or hymn fragment, which likely reflects Isaiah 53.10-11, about the Suffering Servant who would be made a sin offering, the Righteous One who would make many righteous by bearing their iniquities.
Yet another aspect of this passage is the way Paul uses evangelistic language to deal with a pastoral situation in a church. "The call [be reconciled to God] is issued with the Corinthian congregation and its pastoral problems in view, and should primarily be interpreted in that context." Paul uses language normally directed to call people to saving faith in Christ and applies it to believers, to impress upon them the ongoing implications of living as reconciled people in right relationship with God.
So, what we have in 2 Corinthians 5.21 is...
- A creedal statement about Christ's substitutionary sacrifice that brings us righteousness,
- In a context about being reconciled to God,
- Which is addressed to a church, not those who need to come to initial faith in Christ.
Comments always welcome!
Saturday, May 16, 2009
I have been reading N.T. Wright’s new book, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision. It is a well-written defense of certain aspects of the so-called “new perspective” on Paul, which has caused a great deal of controversy, especially among those who hold traditional (“old perspective”) Reformed and Lutheran views of justification by faith. More on that debate another time.
For this post, I want to focus on a verse that has become central to the controversy—2 Corinthians 5.21. This has always been a favorite verse of mine. I have considered it to be one of those great summary texts, which express the Gospel message in a nutshell.
Here it is in the NRSV translation:
For our sake he (God) made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.The immediate context for this verse is the section that runs from verses 18-21. This passage has as its focus the ministry of Paul as a “minister of reconciliation,” and here is how he develops that focus:
- God reconciled the apostles to himself through Christ.
- God then gave them the ministry of reconciliation.
- Their message is that God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, that he did not count their trespasses against them, and that the apostles are the authorized proclaimers of this message.
- Therefore, the apostles are God’s ambassadors and God is making his appeal through them.
- And so, Paul appeals to them to be reconciled to God for Christ’s sake.
2 Cor 5.21 is an expansion of what Paul introduced in v.19—that God reconciled the world to himself and did not count their trespasses against them. Some commentators think Paul may be quoting a creedal statement of the church that sums up what Christ has done for us. If so, this solidifies the interpretation that Paul's purpose here is to state the apostolic message in concise form.
The traditional interpretation of 2 Cor 5.21 is represented by this quote from Phil Johnson in his blog post, “The Great Exchange”:
Here is the apostle Paul's most succinct statement about the meaning of the cross. This could be the shortest, simplest verse among many in the Pauline epistles that make the meaning of justification inescapable: "He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."Now, N.T. Wright takes a radically different approach in interpreting this text. Trying to remain faithful to the context, which focuses on Paul as a minister of reconciliation and an ambassador for Christ, he takes the phrase, “that we might become the righteousness of God,” as synonymous with these other vocational descriptions. So, it turns out something like this: “God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be made a sin-offering for us, so that we (the apostles) might become (representatives of) the covenant faithfulness (i.e. righteousness) of God.”
That text is all about the atoning work of Christ. Its meaning can be summed up in a single principle: substitution. It describes an exchange that took place through the atonement that Christ offered—our sin for Christ's righteousness. He took the place of sinners so that they might stand in His place as a perfectly righteous man.
Notice the graphic language: He was made sin (that's the very epitome of all that is despicable and odious), so that we might be made righteousness (that's everything that is good and pure and acceptable in God's estimation). This was the exchange: our sin for His righteousness. Our sin charged to His account; His righteousness credited to our account....
I understand Wright's concern to respect the context, but I don’t think his is the best reading of 5.21 in relation to its context. I believe it makes more sense to see it as a summary statement of the message that the apostles bring as God’s ambassadors. This interpretation fits the context just as well. Wright's view seems forced.
Even though I don't accept that position, nevertheless, on other grounds this verse does present problems for the traditional view. Most notably, what are we to make of the verb, “become” in the second half of the "great exchange" described here. What does it mean that, “in him we...BECOME the righteousness of God”?
The Lutheran and Reformed understanding, based on the economic concept of imputation, is that our sin is placed on Christ’s account and counted against him, and in exchange his righteousness (the merit earned by his sinless life) is reckoned to our account. This "double imputation" leads to a change in the believer's status. We are declared righteous; our legal position before God the Judge is changed from that of "sinner" to that of “righteous.” Imputation does not describe an actual change within us, but a change in our legal standing before the Divine Court. Justification is a forensic matter. We are acquitted of any charges of law-breaking, and furthermore, God declares us perfectly righteous.
This traditional Protestant view has been defended against other interpretations of justification, such as that of Roman Catholicism, which holds that justification consists of a real, interior change in a person—imparted righteousness or infused grace—rather than an external legal transaction.
It is at this point that 2 Corinthians 5.21 causes Protestants problems. Listen again to the text:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.If Paul wanted to describe justification as a declaration of righteousness based upon imputation, would he have said, “that in him we might become the righteousness of God”? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say something like, “that in him we might be declared righteous by God,” or “that in him we might receive righteousness (i.e. a righteous status) from God”?
What does it mean to “BECOME the righteousness of God”?
Please share your thoughts and the insights you have gained from your own study as I work through this text in the days ahead and try to grasp Paul's meaning.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
America may possess the world’s largest infrastructure for nurturing human spirituality, complete with hundreds of thousands of houses of worship, thousands of parachurch organizations and schools, and seemingly unlimited products, resources and experts.They found "five challenges" with regard to the subject of spiritual maturity:
Yet, a new study from the Barna Group identifies an underlying reason why there is little progress in helping people develop spiritually: many churchgoers and clergy struggle to articulate a basic understanding of spiritual maturity. People aspire to be spiritually mature, but they do not know what it means. Pastors want to guide others on the path to spiritual wholeness, but they are often not clearly defining the goals or the outcomes of that process.
- Most Christians equate spiritual maturity with following the rules.
- Most churchgoers are not clear what their church expects in terms of spiritual maturity.
- Most Christians offer one-dimensional views of personal spiritual maturity.
- Most pastors struggle with feeling the relevance as well as articulating a specific set of objectives for spirituality, often favoring activities over attitudes.
- Pastors are surprisingly vague about the biblical references they use to chart spiritual maturity for people.
America has a spiritual depth problem partly because the faith community does not have a robust definition of its spiritual goals. The study shows the need for new types of spiritual metrics. One new metric might be a renewed effort on the part of leaders to articulate the outcomes of spiritual growth. Another might be the relational engagement and accountability that people maintain. Of course, spirituality is neither a science nor a business, so there is a natural resistance to ascribing scientific or operational standards to what most people believe is an organic process. Yet, the process of spiritual growth is neither simplistic nor without guidelines, so hard work and solid thinking in this arena is needed.What are we to make of these findings?
- God created you to live in relationship with him.
- However, you have a sin problem that has separated you from God.
- Jesus died to save you from your sins.
- If you put your trust in him, he will forgive your sins, you will become God's child, and you will go to heaven when you die.
I'd love to hear what you think.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Since the 1970's evangelicalism in America has taken to getting involved in public cultural activism and the political sphere with unprecedented vigor. Evangelicals have followed the voices of religious leaders like Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, and James Dobson to raise their voices in the public debate about such issues as abortion, the erosion of personal morality especially as portrayed in the entertainment media, and the gay rights movement. In the process, evangelical Christianity became so connected to the conservative wing of the Republican party that at times the two seemed indistinguishable. This involvement had its high water mark in the presidency of George W. Bush and the Republican domination of Congress.
As a result of this evangelical embrace of a culture war approach to their mission in the world, churches, pastors, and individual Christians have been swept up into having to choose sides on many complex issues and to adopt a "Christ against culture" mentality. This has coincided with the development of an entire Christian subculture, which in my view has isolated believers from their neighbors and genuine redemptive interaction with the world.
Thus, evangelicals find themselves in the equivalent of spiritual trench warfare. We are dug in to our positions, separated from our "enemies," seeing things only from one perspective, and having no real contact with those on the other side except to bombard them relentlessly. Doesn't sound like a Great Commission lifestyle to me!
As Michael Spencer observes on his Internet Monk blog:
Every day I listen to and read Christians whose consideration of other persons is on the basis of politics and cultural conflict. Not the Gospel. Their anger and frustration dominates, not the Gospel.Frankly, I don't want any part of that approach. And so I've decided to conscientiously object to that path of life and "ministry."
Here are some of the reasons I've gone AWOL...
(1) The culture war approach assumes the position that America is somehow different than other nations in our manifest destiny, a "Christian" land that must be "saved" and "brought back" to its Christian "roots."
In the minds of those who assume this, there is an idea of some kind of vague Eden that once existed in our nation when people all went to church, lived moral lives, and the government supported the teachings of Christ. 'Twas never so.
(2) The culture war approach holds that the media is the arena in which we should fight our battles, that it accurately represents the reality of the situation on the ground, and that therefore we must make our voice be heard through the media in order to win peoples' hearts and minds.
The simple fact is that most people listen to broadcasts that confirm their beliefs, not challenge them. You won't find the conservatives lining up to see the latest Michael Moore or Bill Maher film. Nor will you pass many liberals listening to Rush in their cars or catch them watching Fox News at night. Culture warriors generally preach to the choir.
But that's not the only problem. By moving to a media-driven strategy, Christians have become conditioned to seek the spectacular and forsake the down-to-earth path our Savior teaches us to take--the small, seemingly insignificant, seed-planting approaches of loving our neighbors in the context of real daily life. That is the mystery of how the Kingdom comes and how the world is changed.
(3) The culture war approach relies on political machinery as a primary weapon to restore righteousness to the land.
This means we have allowed the world to choose the arena, the weapons, the rules, the referees, and the definitions of what it means to "win" or "lose" in the conflict. In addition, it makes Christians vulnerable to the temptations of power, which are among the least understood among us.
(4) The culture war approach teaches us to fear, dislike, oppose, and look down on our neighbors rather than lay down our lives for them in sacrificial love.
It pits us "against" them, when the Incarnation teaches us to be "with" them.
(5) The culture war approach leads to Christians unwisely choosing our battles and showing a misleading face to the world.
Must a person have "correct" political or cultural opinions before he can come to faith in Christ? The simple Good News of Jesus and his gracious salvation can become so mixed with righteous "positions" that the Gospel itself gets distorted.
IMHO, the culture war approach has a lot more in common with the way the Pharisees lived out the religious life and ministry than it does with our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles.
Friday, May 8, 2009
- When it comes to the culture war, I am a conscientious objector.
- I believe in sound doctrine; I believe even more in proper emphasis.
- Being with sinners is infinitely more important than being against them.
- If you want to have a healthy Christian mind, you should stop listening to talk radio and all the screamers out there—conservative and liberal alike.
- "Relevance" is a sham. Why don't churches try to be "relevant" to the poor and needy, those who live in inner city neighborhoods, the elderly, the mentally ill, the disabled, street people, and others on the fringes of society?
- Liturgical worship is not a style preference, and free church evangelicals who think it is betray that they don't understand worship.
- Few things hinder the growth of true holiness more than a strong emphasis on holiness.
- Few things portray the contrast between small town community and suburban isolation more than the front porch and the backyard deck.
- One of the most neglected facts of life is found in James 1:20—"the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." I don't think I have ever encountered a situation that has been made better in any way by anger.
- The older I get, the more I see that most situations could be improved simply by me shutting up and listening better.
- "God, I love baseball." (Roy Hobbs in The Natural)
- What I like about belonging to the Lutheran tradition = (1) An unceasing emphasis on the grace of God in Jesus Christ, (2) Liturgical worship, (3) Theology that is pastoral in emphasis rather than doctrinaire.
- Bob Dylan's last few albums reveal that he has taken the role of a wise old bluesman, speaking our pain, lust, and disillusionment with a growl and a wry smile.
- The most important things rarely scream at us, and often go unnoticed because we pay so much more attention to the less important things.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Thursday, April 30, 2009
This is not the normal path that those who come to question creationism take. The stereotypical student who comes to reject the fundamentalist view becomes a questioner through considering scientific evidence. However, my doubts were born from studying Scripture! Genesis is so much richer and deeper than the bare literalist explanation. The creation narratives also fit within a larger work, the Torah, an interpretive context that most fundamentalists fail to consider adequately.
Now, esteemed scientist and believer Francis Collins has established a foundation with an excellent website that attempts to provide an alternative to the culture war approach of both atheistic and Christian fundamentalists. It's called BioLogos, and here is its mission...
The BioLogos Foundation promotes the search for truth in both the natural and spiritual realms, and seeks to harmonize these different perspectives.It is a well-designed and well-written site that seeks to answer many of the questions that arise when one tries to take both the Bible and science seriously.
You can also check out the blog that complements the site at Science and the Sacred.
Highly recommended, even if you don't agree. BioLogos is a fine example of thoughtful, careful, and irenic scholarship.