Friday, September 15, 2017

Christianity is best when...

Roman Catholicism is best when it has little political power. The same is true for Protestant denominations. In general, Christianity is best when it has little direct political power.
- Rob Bittick

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Prophetic Scripture

In The City of God, Augustine writes regarding the early days in the book of Genesis,

“These secrets of divine Scripture we investigate as well as we can. All will not accept our interpretation with equal confidence, but all hold it certain that these things were neither done nor recorded without some foreshadowing of future events, and that they are to be referred only to Christ and His church, which is the city of God, proclaimed from the very beginning of human history by figures which we now see everywhere accomplished. “From the blessing of the two sons of Noah, and the cursing of the middle son, down to Abraham, or form more than a thousand years, there is, as I have said, no mention of any righteous persons who worshipped God. I do not therefore conclude that there were none, but had been tedious to mention everyone, and would have displayed historical accuracy rather than prophetic foresight.  The object of the writer of these sacred books, or rather of the Spirit of God in him, is not only to record the past, but to depict the future, so far as it regards the city of God.”
- The City of God, Book XVI, section 2, trans. By Marcus Dods, New York: Barnes & Noble, p. 624.

Note that Augustine argues that the purpose of scripture had both a historical and prophetic purpose, but that the prophetic purpose regarding Christ was primary. He further went on to write,

"...for in the Scriptures there are many things shady and close which exercise the mind of the readers; and Christ comes thence when he who has understanding finds Him there."
The City of God, Book XVIII, section 32, trans. By Marcus Dods, New York: Barnes & Noble, p. 761.

The focus of all scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is on Christ, who is God the Son. Prophecy was not written to focus on a particular nation or people, but to call God's children to Him through Jesus Christ.

False teachers take the emphasis off of Christ and place it on a people, such as Israel or even the United States, or on an individual the way a palm reader or astrologer would do in predicting the future.

See 2 Peter chapter 1 vs. 16 through chapter 2 vs. 3.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Frederick Douglass: "This good spirit was from God"

"I look upon my departure from Colonel Lloyd's plantation as one of the most interesting events of my life. It is possible, and even quite probable, that but for the mere circumstance of being removed from that plantation to Baltimore, I should have to-day, instead of being here seated by my own table, in the enjoyment of freedom and the happiness of home, writing this Narrative, been confined in the galling chains of slavery... I have ever regarded it as the first plain manifestation of that kind providence which has ever since attended me, and marked my life with so many favors...
"I may be deemed superstitious, and even egotistical, in regarding this event as a special interposition of divine Providence in my favor. But I should be false to the earliest sentiments of my soul, if I suppressed the opinion. I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence. From my earliest recollection, I date the entertainment of a deep conviction that slavery would not always be able to hold me within its foul embrace; and in the darkest hours of my career in slavery, this living word of faith and spirit of hope departed not from me, but remained like ministering angels to cheer me through the gloom. This good spirit was from God, and to him I offer thanksgiving a praise."
- Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, New York: Barnes & Noble Classic (2003), p. 39.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

False Teaching as a Positive Opportunity for Christian Investigation & Instruction

Rather than seek political means to suppress false teachers, Christians, as citizens of the City of God (Hebrews 11:14-16, 12:22, & Revelation 3:12, 21:1-3), must see this as a positive opportunity to both investigate and better understand the Bible, and then to instruct listeners in the universal Christian faith. As Augustine of Hippo noted early in the fifth century:

“For while the hot restlessness of heretics stirs questions about many articles of the catholic [i.e. universal] faith, the necessity of defending them forces us both to investigate them more accurately, to understand them more clearly, and to proclaim them more earnestly; and the question mooted by an adversary becomes the occasion of instruction.”

  • The City of God, Book XVI, section 2, trans. By Marcus Dods, New York: Barnes & Noble, pp. 622-623.

Unfortunately, many Christians throughout history, including even Augustine, ultimately sought political means to suppress false teachers. Yet, a human power to do good also implies a human power to do evil, which means using the political power of a "city of man" (as Augustine called secular governments) to suppress false teachers ultimately leads to using political power to suppress true teachers of the Christian faith. 

In contrast, the Jews of the city of Berea in Acts 17:10-1, upon hearing the good news about Jesus from the Apostle Paul and Silas, "received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so." As a result, many in Berea believed the good news about Jesus. May we all be as these believers when confronting seemingly new ideas in order to discern and distinguish false teaching from ideas compatible with universal Christian truth found in the Bible.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Myth in Christian Understanding

I saw the movie, Wonder Woman (2017), today with my family and thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend this movie. It is set in a mythical background that enters into human history. This is not a Christian movie, of course, nor a Christian themed movie. However, I appreciate the mythical aspect of the movie, along with some of the meanings conveyed therein.
Why, as a Christian, can I appreciate myth? Did not the Apostle Paul write, "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths..."? (I Timothy 4:7). Yes, and should anyone see Wonder Woman and adopt it as their religion, they would be irreverent and silly. No, I do not mean "myth" as the Apostle Paul wisely warned us to avoid. Rather, I mean myth as explained by C. S. Lewis:
"This involves the belief that Myth in general is not merely misunderstood history (as Euhemerus thought) nor diabolical illusion (as some of the Fathers thought) nor priestly lying (as the philosophers of the Enlightenment thought) but, at its best, a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination." 
- C S Lewis, Miracles: How God Intervenes in Nature and Human Affairs, New York: Collier Books (1960), p. 134 fn.
One of my favorite books by Lewis is Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, which has a strong woman as the main character (she is not Wonder Woman, but does fight a battle as Queen of her country). Anyone reading and understanding this story cannot miss its Christian theme. However, anyone believing myth can only be "misunderstood history," "diabolical illusion," or "priestly lying" will miss the Christian message in this book. Likewise, they will likely miss the "unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination" in modern fiction, as well.
To believe myths as if they were nonfiction is, indeed, irreverent and silly, as the Apostle Paul instructed. To find God's truth outside of the Bible in works of fiction, though unfocused and only as a glimmer of the true light found only in the Bible, takes understanding and discernment. I hope more Christians train themselves in God's Word to be able to understand and discern God's truth wherever it is found. It is the Bible where we find ultimate truth by which we can understand and discern values found in other works.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Liberating Free Choice

" choice stands in need of a liberator, but one, of course, who would set it free, not from necessity...but rather from sin, into which it had fallen both freely and willingly, and also from the penalty of sin which it carelessly incurred and has unwillingly borne."
- Bernard of Clairvaux, On Grace & Free Choice, translated by Daniel O'Donovan OCSO, Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publicans Inc., p. 63.

Friday, May 12, 2017

False Tests of Spirituality

"When we make dancing and movies the test of spirituality, we are guilty of substituting a cheap morality for a genuine one. We do these things to obscure the deeper issues of righteousness. Anyone can avoid dancing or going to movies. These require no great effort of moral courage. What is difficult is to control the tongue, to act with integrity, to reveal the fruit of the spirit."
- R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, Tyndall House Publishers, 1998, p. 161.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

History and Eternity

"In the eternal...nothing passes away, but the whole is simultaneously present. But no temporal process is wholly simultaneous. Therefore, let the heart see that all time past is forced to move on by the incoming future; that all the future follows from the past; and that all, past and future, is created and issues out of that which is forever present."
- Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 11.11.13, translated by Albert C. Outler, translation revised throughout by Mark Vessey, New York: Barnes & Nobel Classics, p. 195.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Reformed Theology: More than 5 Points.

Reformed theology is often called "Calvinism." So, what is Reformed theology, and what is a Reformed Christian? Some Christians often describe themselves as five point Calvinists, four point Calvinists, and I remember one minister describing herself as a 3 point Calvinist at most. What am I? My reply is that I hold to more than just five points.

You see, John Calvin, a pastor-theologian, did NOT come up with the specific five points attributed to him. They are all found in the Bible, but specifically, were derived from the Canons of Dort in response to five theological points disputed by followers of Jacob Arminius (called the Remonstrants). In this sense, Calvin was a Reformed Christian, but not a "Calvinist." The five points are often explained as TULIP:

  • Total depravity of humans - meaning sin is pervasive in all aspects of our lives. We were created to enjoy God, but sin separates us from Him.
  • Unconditional election - meaning we are spiritually dead and helpless to save ourselves, and do not by nature desire God as God. As a result, He must choose us.
  • Limited Atonement - meaning Jesus' death atoned for our sins, but He did not die for people in general, but purposefully came and died for His children.
  • Irresistible Grace - meaning God's grace is effective by accomplishing His purpose in the lives of individuals. God does not give up His sovereignty regarding salvation.
  • Perseverance of Christians - meaning God's salvations depends not on our works, but on His work of atonement. He will not let us go (though he may bring us home soon).
Another way to explain this is by BACON:

  • Bad people
  • Already elected
  • Completely atoned for
  • Overwhelmingly called
  • Never falling away

The problem today is that modern so-called "Calvinists" claim these five points as the defining theological positions of Calvinism. Yet, Reformed theology is so much more than these five points. It is rooted in God's sovereign love and mercy. The Christian story is about the Son of God coming to earth and taking the penalty of sin for us, though He was innocent. The Christian story is both a love story and a mystery.

For this reason, when these five points are removed out of the context of Reformed theology, they often produce an angry, proud attitude in its adherents. However, when understood within the broader context of Reformed Theology based on the Bible, the results differ. His love and mercy, when understood in context of His sovereign will, should produce a humble, loving response in such Christians. In my case, I am humbled when I look back at my life and understand that my salvation is 100% God's doing. I know I need God's sovereign love and mercy in my life because I sin against Him daily. So, while I know I have offended Him more than I will ever fully realize, at the same time I know I am loved by Him more than I will ever realize.

So, as a Reformed Christian, I know there are many more points to the Christian faith than these five points; and in it all, God remains sovereign. Yes, I hold to all five points in the context of Biblically based Reformed theology. I understand God wants me to enjoy Him forever.

"Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
  A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever."

- Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism with Scripture Proofs; Presbyterian Church in America.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jonathan Edwards Resolutions: Maintaining and Establishing Peace

In today's political environment, many Christians approve of name calling, stereotyping, and opposing just about anything done by those of the other party or political ideology. Given this, Jonathan Edwards resolutions remind us that Christians are called to be both faithful in our beliefs and peacemakers:
33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining and establishing peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. [[Dec. 26, 1722.]]
34. Resolved, in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.
[[35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.]]
36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. [[Dec. 19, 1722.]]
- from Resolutions, by Jonathan Edwards [1716], Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16) , Ed. George S. Claghorn. From the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University: