Friday, December 21, 2012

Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies

Did Christianity Steal the Date of Sol Invictus?

The claim is that Sol Invictus “Invincible Sun” is a more ancient pagan holiday in Rome celebrated on December 25th. The claim assumes that this pagan holiday was so popular and dangerous that the Christian Church sought to suppress it by establishing the celebration of Christ’s Nativity on December 25th. By doing this, the claim continues, the Christians adopted the pagan day and some of the practices of that pagan festival to make the celebration of Christmas more appealing to pagans.

Remember first that the Christian faith is as old as the curse on Satan in Genesis 3:15. And while pagan worship of the sun certainly existed in Rome before the spread of the fulfillment of that promise in Christ came to the city; the celebration of Sol Invictus as a god in Rome actually came as pagans attempted to suppress Christianity. This early attempt as suppressing Christianity by means of the pagan worship of Sol is found in the Historia Augusta, a pagan history of Rome compiled in the fourth century AD.

The Historia Augusta in TheLife of Elagabalus (1.3) relates events from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, a particularly twisted man, who reigned from 218-222 AD. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus came to be called Elagabalus after the name of the Syrian sun god, and was himself initiated as a priest of that false god. He viewed himself as the personal manifestation of the Syrian sun god. After coming to Rome and being established as emperor at the age of 14, the Historia states:
4 Elagabalus [established himself] as a god on the Palatine Hill close to the imperial palace; and he built him a temple, to which he desired to transfer the emblem of the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the Palladium, the shields of the Salii, and all that the Romans held sacred, purposing that no god might be worshipped at Rome save only Elagabalus. 5 He declared, furthermore, that the religions of the Jews and the Samaritans and the rites of the Christians must also be transferred to this place, in order that the priesthood of Elagabalus might include the mysteries of every form of worship.  [Latin]
And, coincidentally, very shortly after Elagabalus tried to establish worship of the Syrian sun god, Sol Invictus, he was thought to be too licentious and was assassinated by his own people, pagan Romans, at the age of 18 years old.

From that time there is no mention of the celebration of Sol Invictus in Roman history until the rule of Aurelian (A.D. 270-275). Aurelian did try to re-introduce the worship of Sol Invictus by decree in the year 274. But there is no record of this festival being held on December 25th. “The traditional feast days of Sol, as recorded in the early imperial fasti, were August 8th and/or August 9th, possibly August 28th, and December 11th.”(Hijmans, p. 588 )

Aurelian did declare games to Sol every four years. But there is no record from the period or early historiographers that these games were associated with December 25th in any way. The best evidence suggest that the games were held October 19-22 of their calendar. Anyway, on another coincidence, a year after Aurelian declared these games in honor of Sol Invictus, he was assassinated by his own pagan Roman officers out of fear he would execute them based on false charges.

The earliest calendar to mention that Invictus as a specified date for Roman religious life comes from a text of the Philocalian Calendar, VIII Kal recorded in an illuminated 4th Century manuscript called The Chronography of 354. In this late manuscript the date is listed in Mensis December (The Month of December) as N·INVICTI·CM·XXX.
[The calender can be seen by clicking here ]

Many scholars through the years have assumed that INVICTI in this calendar must mean “Sol Invictus.” This is possible. However, elsewhere the calendar does not hesitate to make explicit mention of festivals to Sol, for example: on SOLIS·ET·LVNAE·CM·XXIIII (August 28th) and LVDI·SOLIS (October 19-22).
Even if INVICTI does refer to Sol Invictus on December 25th of this calendar, all this shows is that the celebration of Sol Invictus was placed on December 25th after Christianity had already widely accepted and celebrated December 25th as the Nativity of Christ.

There are many historians and people following them who will still assert that December 25th is Sol Invictus in ancient Rome. Some will even claim that another religion, Mithraism, has close connection to this December 25th celebration. In actual fact there is no ancient documentation tying Mithraism to December 25th or Sol Invictus. The Christian celebration of the Nativity of Christ as December 25th predates anything in the earliest actual documentation for Sol Invictus on December 25th. That documentation is from the much later Philocalian Calendar Chronography of 354.

[For those interested in a more technical look see T.C. Schmid's article at

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What Can and Cannot Change in Our Relationship with God

Bryan Chapell, in Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength (Crossway, 2001), 196, has a helpful chart looking at what does and does not change in the relationship between God and his children (lightly adapted below):

What Can Change What Cannot Change
our fellowship our sonship
our experience of God’s blessing God’s desire for our welfare
our assurance of God’s love God’s actual affection for us
God’s delight in our actions God’s love for us
God’s discipline our destiny
our sense of guilt our security
(HT: Dane Ortlund)

These truths were wonderfully explored by the great Puritan theologian John Owen, who distinguished between our unchanging union with God and our changing communion with God. Kelly Kapic summarizes:
It is important to note that Owen maintains an essential distinction between union and communion.
Believers are united to Christ in God by the Spirit. This union is a unilateral action by God, in which those who were dead are made alive, those who lived in darkness begin to see the light, and those who were enslaved to sin are set free to be loved and to love. When one speaks of “union,” it must be clear that the human person is merely receptive, being the object of God’s gracious action. This is the state and condition of all true saints.
Communion with God, however, is distinct from union. Those who are united to Christ are called to respond to God’s loving embrace. While union with Christ is something that does not ebb and flow, one’s experience of communion with Christ can fluctuate.
This is an important theological and experiential distinction, for it protects the biblical truth that we are saved by radical and free divine grace.
Furthermore, this distinction also protects the biblical truth that the children of God have a relationship with their Lord, and as a relationship, there are things that can either help or hinder it. When a believer grows comfortable with sin (whether sins of commission or sins of omission) this invariably affects the level of intimacy this person feels with God. It is not that the Father’s love grows and diminishes for his children in accordance with their actions, for his love is unflinching. It is not that God runs from us, but we run from him. Sin tends to isolate the believer, making him feel distant from God. Then come the accusations—both from Satan and self—which can make the believer worry he is under God’s wrath. In truth, however, saints stand not under wrath, but in the safe shadow of the cross.
While a saint’s consistency in prayer, corporate worship, and biblical meditation are not things that make God love him more or less, such activities tend to foster the beautiful experience of communion with God. Temptations and neglect threaten the communion, but not the union [Works, 2:126]. And it is this union which encourages the believer to turn from sin to the God who is quick to forgive, abounding in compassion, and faithful in his unending love.
Let there be no misunderstanding—for Owen, Christian obedience was of utmost importance, but it was always understood to flow out of this union, and never seen as the ground for it. In harmony with Bunyan and other Dissenters like him, Owen “insisted upon a very personal and emotional experience of union with Christ and the Holy Spirit,” and out of this union naturally flowed active communion.

Kelly M. Kapic, “Worshiping the Triune God: Insights from John Owen,” introduction to John Owen, Communion with the Triune God, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor; foreword by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), pp. 21-22.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

7 Ways to Write an Awful Worship Song

So you finally learned to play the guitar and now you’re wondering, “How do I write a truly awful worship song?” You’ve come to the right place, my friend. Here are some surefire ways to write a truly horrible worship song.

1. Recycle a Love Song.

Write a song for your girlfriend. When she breaks up with you, convert it into a worship song. Be sure to change all uses of “girl” or “baby.”

2. Use Time-Tested Rhymes.

Make sure you rhyme “love” and “above” at least twice.
The song becomes doubly awful if you can also incorporate the word “dove.” Example: “You sent your love from above, makes my heart feel like a pure white dove.” You get the point.

3. Be Vague About Your Theology.

Make sure to avoid any theology at all costs.
Don’t talk about atonement, wrath or any other biblical concepts. You want your song to be all about feeling. Don’t let the mind get in the way.
Repeat after me: “Worship is a warm feeling, sort of like heartburn, only better.”

4. Make the Song All About You.

The main point of your song should be your experiences and how God makes you feel.
Don’t bother with objective truth about God. I would suggest you use the words “I” or “me” at least 12-15 times.
For example: “I feel like singing, yes, I feel like spinning, because You make me feel so good inside. Like it’s my birthday, but more awesome.”

5. Be Incredibly Poetic.

If you can, muddy the waters with poetic phrases that don’t make much sense. Example: “Your love is like a warm summer’s breeze, washing over my heart like a crystal river.”

6. Use Well-Worn Musical Progressions.

If you can, keep your music and melody boring. I would suggest you use no more than four distinct notes in a song, so by the time someone is done listening to it they want to scream.
A worship scream, but a scream nonetheless.
It also helps if you use the chords G, C and D over and over.

7. Defend Your Song Like It’s Your Firstborn Child.

Do not, I repeat, do not let anyone make suggestions for improvement.
Tell people God laid the song on your heart. Tell people you really want to preserve the artistic integrity of the song. Tell people you already did the song at your campus ministry and a revival broke out.
Don’t take advice from anyone.

There you have it. Seven ways to write a terrible worship song. You can thank me later.

Monday, November 19, 2012

How I Absorbed Three Punches and Stood Up Anyway

by Tom Chantry

Although I’ve been worried about this election for months, only in the aftermath did I realize that I never really thought our country would re-elect a President who has been such an abject failure by any and every measure.  It just didn’t seem possible that we would do so, and so at some level I didn’t expect it at all.  As the results rolled in, I found myself reeling, unable to take in the enormity of what has happened to our nation.  I scarcely slept, unable to stop running through the implications of the disaster.  I was, to put it mildly, knocked down and stunned.

But God is gracious, and eventually I slept, and this morning I find myself back up off the mat.  Looking back, I can see what it was that took me so by surprise.  I allowed myself to think too highly of my country – to imagine that the American optimists were right and that there is something exceptional and wonderful in the American spirit which pulls us through the worst crises.  That smugness was knocked out of me by a series of blows as I realized anew that we are a culture of sin, a culture of stupidity, and a culture under judgment – none of which really surprises me in the light of day.  Those blows absolutely leveled me last night, but today I’m standing.  Here’s why:

The reelection of President Obama demonstrates the wickedness of America.  Make no mistake about it: a vote for the President was a wicked act.  It is not sufficient to say that he is pro-abortion; the man is in favor of offing unwanted kids outside the womb as well.  He not only celebrates the lifestyle of perversion; he wishes to deconstruct God’s institution of marriage for the benefit of the perverts, one of whom he appointed as a judge over us.  On every point of American policy in which there is a clear side of righteousness and a clear side of wickedness, he stands with the devils rather than the angels.

Most Americans, though, did not vote for him for those reasons.  The majority does not hold his extreme position on infanticide, and every referendum shows that the majority does not agree to the institutional legitimizing of perversion.  But on the issues of this election his position is also on the side of evil.  As I wrote two years ago in my political credo, fiscal policy is also moral in nature.  The unavoidable reality of this election is that when Governor Romney ran on fiscal sanity, the majority decided to cast their votes in favor of more free stuff from the government.

In other words, last night’s vote demonstrates one fundamental evil that has overtaken our society.  Today’s voter is unimpressed by the biblical ethic of work and responsibility; neither is he too ashamed to engage in systematic theft.  We have become Greece.  Only a nation of wicked thieves could have produced last night’s results.  So if I imagined that my countrymen were too good to re-elect this man, I was brought to a rude awakening.

But the second blow was even more unexpected:

The reelection of President Obama demonstrates the stupidity of America.  I know, I should be using a softer word than “stupid,” but as I said, I didn’t sleep much.  The Scriptures teach that sin makes us stupid.  Paul’s argument in the first chapter of Romans is essentially this: there is no fact more obvious than the existence of a Creator who deserves our worship, but sinful men refuse to see it, and in their wickedness they become driveling idiots.  Paul said it much better, but that was his point.

Moreover, we see this truth enacted all around us – and in our own lives – every day.  How often have you continued in a self-destructive sin, all the while knowing that it can only bring you to grief?  How often have you tried to convince a friend or a child of the obvious error of his ways, only to discover that his sin has too great a hold to be broken by common sense.  In fact, this is why “common sense” isn’t common; it is countered on every side by common iniquity.

Yesterday the prevailing sin of our nation led to an electoral suicide.  Never in our history have so many voted against their own self-interest.  Retired seniors voted for a President who will destroy their health care system and bankrupt their social security.  Out-of-work college graduates voted for a President who considers 7.9% unemployment a huge victory.  Black Americans voted overwhelmingly for a President whose policies left them far worse off than they were before.

How do we account for this electoral lunacy?  It’s simple, if you’ve read Romans 1.  Sin makes you stupid, and we are a nation of gross sinners.  So if I thought my countrymen were too smart to re-elect this man, I was predictably wrong again.

But even this realization did not rob me of sleep last night.  The knockout blow was yet to come:

The reelection of President Obama demonstrates God’s judgment on America.  It’s pretty hard to overstate how bad this election is.  For starters, the President’s policy remains to raise taxes, raise regulations, and deplete the nation of energy.  We’ve been calling this downturn a “recession” for a long time; soon we’ll recognize it for what it is.  As more businesses are shuttered, as loans dry up, and as greater and greater numbers are out of work we will have to start calling it the “Second Depression.”  By the end of this term there is expected to be a severe shortage of doctors as we actively demolish the world’s greatest health-care system.  China is now free to continue manipulating its currency, Russia is free to point its nukes wherever it pleases, and Iran is free to continue being Iran.  It’s bad – very bad.

But what did we expect?  As I said in my earlier article, it’s all very well and good to have a fiscal revolution, because fiscal policy is a moral issue, but it does nothing to address the deeper problems of our body politic.  Did we really think that God would be content to allow us to continue ignoring his laws – to continue embracing perversion and executing our infants – and that He would never bring an end to our wealth?  Did we think he would take no notice of a nation descending into vileness while His churches churned out a perpetual circus act?  In fact, judgment was predictable, and now we know the form that it has taken.

In Romans 1 Paul explained that sometimes God’s judgment comes in the form of allowing us to descend into greater wickedness.  Complain about His manna and He will force-feed you quail until you are nauseated by it.  Love evil, and God will give you your fill of it and more.  What we are seeing is the judgment of the American populace.  We have loved wickedness, and God has elevated a Degenerate to rule over us.  The Lord is just, and we are about to discover exactly what that means.

So I was staggered and overcome.  The thought of the horrors that we must now undergo was too much for me.  So why am I up off the canvas today, ready to resume my responsibilities as a Christian man?

The church has the only answer to the sin and stupidity of our nation, and the only response to the judgment of our God.  Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to suggest that as Christians we have the gospel and so we should retreat into a neo-monasticism in which we refuse to take part in the political life of the nation.  We were right to cast a vote for a man who is relatively upright and who espoused relatively upright policies.  We are right to weep today over the destruction that has come upon us.  In fact, if you are unready to get up off the mat today, I don’t blame you.  If you cannot smile, I sympathize.  Ultimately, though, it’s true: we have the only answer.

Policies can address political circumstances, but they cannot address the fundamental weaknesses of the American soul.  Where we stand today is not so radically different from where we stood in, say, 1980.  We don’t need another Reagan; we need the Holy Spirit.  If men are to turn from their sin and discover the wisdom that comes from serving God, they do not need better government, but the message which has been entrusted to the church.

This election was a catastrophe; there is no reason to pretend otherwise.  Furthermore, it demonstrates the far deeper perils which threaten us.  But we are Christians, and we know the answer, and He is the Prince of Peace.  Let’s be busy about the work of His kingdom today.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

Is Faith Merely Assurance? - Heb 11:1

by Bill Mounce

A friend of mine recently pointed out a blog by John Piper on some upcoming changes (more properly, clarifications, precision) to his book, Future Grace, Revised Edition: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God.

One of those clarifications is going to be on the nature of faith in Heb 11:1. As you know, this is one of the more important verses in the Bible as it helps to define what “faith” is. I am always looking for new and clearer ways to define Christian terminology so that people outside the Christian tradition can understand — and for that matter, people within the tradition who tend to repeat words they don’t always understand. That’s what caught my eye.

This passage also points out the challenges of finding just the right English word for a Greek word. Sometimes, there just isn’t a word.

The NIV writes, “Now faith is confidence (ὑπόστασις) in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (also NLT). The problem with “confidence” (other than I always hear Julie Andrews singing when someone says the word) is that it is too weak. I can be confident, and wrong. Other translations speak of “assurance” (ESV, NASB, NRSV). The NET says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for.”
The HCSB is getting much closer to what the word means: “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for.” The NKJV speaks of “substance.” The NJB has, “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for.” You can see what they are all struggling to say. Faith is the bedrock, complete and total, conviction of what is true, even though the fulfillment lies in the future. This is the context for John Piper’s statement.

John writes, “The closest thing we have to a definition of faith in the New Testament is in Hebrews 11:1, ‘Faith is the assurance (Greekhypostasis) of things hoped for.’ That word ‘assurance’ can mean ‘substance’ or ‘nature’ as in Hebrews 1:3: ‘[Christ] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (hypostaseos).’ Therefore, it seems to me, that the point of Hebrews 11:1 is this: When faith pictures the future which God promises, it experiences, as it were, a present ‘substantiation’ of the future.

The substance of the future, the nature of it, is, in a way, present in the experience of faith. Faith realizes the future. It has, so to speak, a foretaste of it — as when we are so excited about something and so expectant of it, we say, ‘I can already taste it!’”

I checked with Guthrie’s commentary, and George says much the same thing. “The word hypostasis, translated by the NIV as a participle (‘being sure’), is in fact a noun, which was used variously to communicate the idea of substance, firmness, confidence, a collection of documents establishing ownership, a guarantee, or a proof. It probably should be understood in 11:1, as in 3:14, in the sense of a ‘firm, solid confidence’ or a ‘calm courage’ with reference to things hoped for. Thus, we can translate this part of the verse: ‘Now faith is the resolute confidence….’ The examples that follow demonstrate a posture of firm confidence in the promises of God even though the believers had not yet received the fulfillment of those promises (11:39).”

We know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). The one indispensable quality of a true followers of Jesus is that he or she is completely and totally convinced that Jesus is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. We trust not in ourselves but him Jesus and what he did, does, and will do for us. In fact, the purest form of faith sees very little difference between looking forward in the present, and what it will be like to actually experience the future when our hope becomes reality.

Perhaps it is better to say that faith sees the future as our present reality, and we do so with resolute confidence.

[my note:  How about smelling the Thanksgiving dinner before you actually get to eat it? Smell is, in a sense, (no pun intended) tasting, and not yet tasting the food that is yet to be fully realized once it hits your tongue. What do you think? Smell is real, but not the fullest experience of the meal.]

Saturday, October 20, 2012

C.S. Lewis on Novelty in Worship

C.S. Lewis had a very a different perspective. According to him, worship is like dancing: practice makes perfect. And introducing new elements into the dance simply distracts the dancers and diverts their attention from what they’re supposed to be doing: worship. So here he is warning against novelty and change in worship
It looks as if [pastors] believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain — many give up churchgoing altogether — merely endure.

Is this simply because the majority are hidebound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it.

Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best — if you like, it ‘works’ best — when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about the worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was ‘for what does it serve?’ ‘Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.’

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the questions ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, ‘I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.’

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. You give me no chance to acquire the trained habit— habito dell’arte.
 C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (Mariner Books, 2002), 4-5.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What Happens When Civilizations Die?

Jonathan Sacks is the erudite chief rabbi of Great Britain. He was educated at Oxford under Bernard Williams, the famous moral philosopher who also happened to be an atheist.  In his recent volume, The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning (Schoken, 2012), Rabbi Sacks assesses what happens when religious faith collapses under the weight of secularism.  The impact need not be explosive. In fact, Sacks argues that “civilizations can end not with a bang but with a whimper.” They can die slowly, gradually, almost imperceptibly.  According to the Rabbi, five things happen in a culture when religious faith departs. How many boxes can you tick?
  • First, belief in human dignity and the sanctity of life is eroded. “This is not immediately obvious, because the new order announces itself as an enhancement of human dignity. It values autonomy, choice and individual rights . . . But eventually people discover that in the new social order they are more vulnerable and alone. Marriages break up. Communities grow old and weak. They become members of the lonely crowd or the electronic herd.”  Ultimately, Sacks says, “life itself becomes disposable, in the form or abortion and euthanasia.”
  • Second, politics loses its covenantal quality where we understand society as a place where we undertake collective responsibility for the common good. Citizenship “involves loyalty and the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others.” But as civilization collapses, individualism trumps covenantal duty. “Society dissolves into a series of pressure groups and no longer deeply enters our identity. Being British or French or Italian comes to seem more like where you are than who you are.”
  • Third, morality is lost. “This does not mean that people become immoral. Some people do that, whether they are religious or secular; most do not, whether they are religious or secular . . . What happens, though, is that words that once meant a great deal begin to lose their force—words like duty, obligation, honour, integrity, loyalty and trust.”
  • Fourth, when a civilization is dying the institution of marriage dies. “The idea of marriage as a commitment, a loyalty at the deepest level of our being, becomes ever harder to sustain. So fewer people marry, more marriages end in divorce, fewer people—men especially—have a lifelong connection with their children, and the bonds across generations grow thin.”
  • Finally, people lose the belief in the possibility of a meaningful life. People see life as a personal project but there is no sense of vocation, calling and mission. “The universe is silent. Nature is dumb. Life makes no demands on us. The concept of ‘being called’ is one of the last relics of religious memory within a secular culture. A totally secular order would not have space for it or find it meaningful.”
It is not partisan politics to believe what the psalmist said in Psalm 33:
The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
 (Psalm 33:10-12 ESV)

Monday, October 8, 2012


Heavenly Identity from The Branch Corvallis on Vimeo.

video for the poem below


by Pastor Stephen Brucker

Popeye said ‘I yam what I yam’
But what did he mean
I mean

Am I time plus matter plus chance
A primordial goo, a universal glue, in a heartless dance

Am I what I do or do not do?

A good boy who cleans his room
Walks in moral purity, disguising ethical hypocrisy, and fancying religious superiority

Am I the clothes I wear, the school I attend
My family heritage or the things I comprehend
All which could go up in a flame
Which begs the question, what would be left of my name

Am I lower-class or upper-class
My favorite sport or my empty flask

Am I a liar a cheat
A clown with big feet.

Am I the collision of decisions
The mixture of personal conditions

Or am I an American, a Democrat, a tree hugger or free thinker
A moralist, a capitalist, a materialist or an individualist

There are endless numbers of ‘I am’ succumbers
Whose identity adapts like freshman newcomers

But what if I am NOT what I think I am
Not as I can
And not where I stand?

What if personal discovery
Doesn’t come from searching me?

What if a Man on transfiguration
Transfers his rights, creating identity from on heights?
What if a Man on the tree
Proclaims that I am free
Setting His identity
On a wretched man like me?

Who am I?
I‘ll tell you who I am
I am who He says I am.

A sinner saved by grace
Ripped away from my idolatrous embrace

I am rinsed by blood
Saved from the flood
Royal by heavenly decree
Chosen by divine mystery
Pardoned as if I always obeyed
Cleared as if I’d always stayed
Dead, killed, delivered, set apart
Regenerate with a new heart
Given a completely new start

I’ve been transferred into a new family
Thanks to the Son who exemplified humility
Being set apart, commissioned with grave responsibility
Proclaiming the gospel to those in need of a new identity

Oh yes I’m still a creature
With all its feature
Vulnerable, dependent and depraved
Ignoring Him most days,
In which I terribly misbehave

But worried I am not
As God the Son on Calvary fought
To justify and adopt
With His own blood he has now bought
And this new vision I now have caught

Though the world may claim my identify
Suggesting their need to clarify me
God has set his affection eternally
Grafting me into the Son’s identity

Christ’s righteousness is transferred to me
When I believed His act on Calvary

I am no longer guilty of sin
Because the Father crushed His own kin

As time passes I understand more fully
That this story, has made me holy

If you’re confused let me simply proclaim
It’s not about you, me, or your self-proclaimed identity
It’s about a person, his work and his fame.

Let us rejoice, for Popeye was in grave error
Our burden is dead, in Christ there is no terror
Because Christ is perfectly our sin bearer
Holy Union, there’s nothing in life more rarer

So Let us swim, basking in God’s glory
Flailing around, as children in the ultimate love story
Breathing in and out his rejuvenating peace
Freedom at last, I am now what I will always be
United to He and blessed with heavenly identity

Fifteen Myths about Bible Translation

Fifteen Myths about Bible Translation --by Daniel B. Wallace, 8 October 2012

1.  Perhaps the number one myth about Bible translation is that a word-for-word translation is the best kind. Jerome argued against this, noting that his translation of the Vulgate was not word-for-word, but sense-for-sense. And that’s as it should be. Anyone who is conversant in more than one language recognizes that a word-for-word translation is simply not possible if one is going to communicate in an understandable way in the receptor language. Yet, ironically, even some biblical scholars who should know better continue to tout word-for-word translations as though they were the best. Perhaps the most word-for-word translation of the Bible in English is Wycliffe’s, done in the 1380s. Although translated from the Latin Vulgate, it was a slavishly literal translation to that text. And precisely because of this, it was hardly English.

2.  Similar to the first point is that a literal translation is the best version. In fact, this is sometimes just a spin on the first notion. For example, the Greek New Testament has about 138,000–140,000 words, depending on which edition one is using. But no English translation has this few. Here are some examples:
RSV           173,293
NIV           175,037
ESV           175,599
NIV 2011   176,122
TNIV        176,267
NRSV       176,417
REB          176,705
NKJV      177,980
NET         178,929
RV           179,873
ASV        180,056
KJV        180,565
NASB 95   182,446
NASB      184,062
NLT, 2nd ed  186,596
TEV         192,784

It’s no surprise that the TEV and NLT have the most words, since these are both paraphrases. But the translations perceived to be more literal are often near the bottom of this list (that is, farther away from the Greek NT word-count). These include the KJV (#12), ASV (#11), NASB (#14), NASB 95 (#13), and RV (#10). Indeed, when the RV came out (1881), one of its stated goals was to be quite literal and the translators were consciously trying to be much more literal than the KJV.

Some translations of the New Testament into other languages:
Modern Hebrew NT             111,154
Vulgate                                    125,720
Italian La Sacra Bibbia      163,870
Luther                                     169,536
French Novelle Version2   184,449
La Sainte Bible (Geneve)    185,859

3.    The King James Version is a literal translation. The preface to the KJV actually claims otherwise. For example, they explicitly said that they did not translate the same word in the original the same way in the English but did attempt to capture the sense of the original each time: “An other thing we thinke good to admonish thee of (gentle Reader) that wee have not tyed our selves to an uniformitie of phrasing, or to an identitie of words, as some peradventure would wish that we had done, because they observe, that some learned men some where, have beene as exact as they could that way. Truly, that we might not varie from the sense of that which we had translated before, if the word signified the same thing in both places (for there bee some wordes that bee not of the same sense every where) we were especially carefull, and made a conscience, according to our duetie.”

4.    The King James Version is perfect. This myth continues to be promoted today, yet even the translators of the KJV were not sure on hundreds of occasions which rendering was best, allowing the reader to decide for himself. Again, the preface notes: “Therfore as S. Augustine saith, that varietie of Translations is profitable for the finding out of the sense of the Scriptures: so diversitie of signification and sense in the margine, where the text is not so cleare, must needes doe good, yea is necessary, as we are perswaded… They that are wise, had rather have their judgements at libertie in differences of readings, then to be captivated to one, when it may be the other.” The original KJV had approximately 8000 marginal notes, though these have been stripped out in modern printings of the Authorized Version. Further, some of the typos and blatant errors of the 1611 KJV have continued to remain in the text after multiple corrections and spelling updates (weighing in at more than 100,000 changes) through the 1769 edition. For example, in Matthew 23.24 the KJV says, “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” The Greek means “strain out a gnat.” Or the wording of Hebrews 4.8, which says, “For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” Instead of ‘Jesus,’ Joshua is meant. It’s the same word in Greek, but the reader of the text will hardly think of Joshua when he or she sees ‘Jesus’ here since ‘Joshua’ is found everywhere in the OT.

5.    The King James Versionwas hard to understand when it was first published. Again, the preface: “But we desire that the Scripture may speake like it selfe, as in the language of Canaan, that it may bee understood even of the very vulgar.” The reality is that the KJV was intended to be easily understood, yet today this 400-year-old version is difficult to comprehend in all too many passages.

6.     There has never been an authorized revision of the KJV. There were three overhauls of the KJV up through 1769, involving more than 100,000 changes (the vast majority of which merely spelling updates). The KJV that is used today is almost always the 1769 revision. And the Revised Version of 1885 was an authorized revision of the KJV. It used a different Greek text than the KJV New Testament had done.

 7.    The Apocrypha are books found only in Roman Catholic Bibles. Although the Apocrypha—or what Catholics call the Deutero-canonical books—are an intrinsic part of Roman Catholic translations of scripture, a number of Protestant Bibles also include them. Even the King James Bible, a distinctly Protestant version, included the Apocrypha in every printing until the middle of the nineteenth century. To be sure, the apocryphal books were placed at the end of the Old Testament, to set them apart (unlike in Roman Catholic Bibles), but they were nevertheless included.

8.    Homosexuals influenced the translation of the NIV. It is true that a woman who later admitted to being a lesbian was a style-editor of the NIV originally, but according to Dr. Ken Barker, one-time editor of the NIV, she had zero say on the content of the NIV.

9.   No translation can claim to be the word of God except the King James Bible. It may seem as though we are beating a dead horse, but the KJV-Only crowd is persistent and continues to exercise an inordinate role in some circles. In the preface to the KJV, the translators noted that the king’s speech is still the king’s speech even when translated into other languages. Further, even poor translations of the Bible deserved to be called the word of God according to the preface to the KJV. And yet, in all particulars, only the original Greek and Hebrew text can be regarded as the word of God. Something is always lost in translation. Always.

10.    Modern translations have removed words and verses from the Bible. Most biblical scholars—both conservative and liberal—would say instead that the KJV added words and verses, rather than that the modern ones have removed such. And this is in part because the oldest and most reliable manuscripts lack the extra verses that are found in the KJV.

11.    Essential doctrines are in jeopardy in modern translations. Actually, no doctrine essential for salvation is affected by translations, modern or ancient—unless done by a particular cult for its own purposes. For example, those Englishmen who signed the Westminster Confession of Faith in the seventeenth century were using the KJV, yet it is still a normative doctrinal statement that millions of Protestants sign today even though they use modern translations.

12.    “Young woman” in the RSV’s translation of Isaiah 7.14 was due to liberal bias. Actually, ‘young woman’ is the most accurate translation of the Hebrew word ‘almah. Although this created quite a stir in 1952 when the RSV was published, even the NET Bible, done by evangelicals, has ‘young woman’ here. The TEV, REB, and NJB also have ‘young woman’ here. And it is a marginal reading found in the NIV 2011, TNIV, and NLT. The NRSV has a marginal note that indicates that the Greek translation of Isaiah 7.14 has ‘virgin’ here.

13.    Gender-inclusive translations are driven by a social agenda. In some instances, this may be the case. But not in all. The NIV 2011, for example, strives to be an accurate translation that is understandable by today’s English speaker. And the translators note that the English language is changing. In reality, the older gender-exclusive translations may miscommunicate the meaning of the Bible in today’s world if readers understand the words ‘men,’ ‘brothers,’ and the like in numerous passages to be restricted to the male gender. Translations must keep up with the evolution of the receptor language. For example, the RSV (1952) reads in Psalm 50.9, “I will accept no bull from your house.” In today’s English, that means something quite different from what the translators intended! The NRSV accordingly and appropriately renders the verse, “I will not accept a bull from your house.”  One of the great challenges in English translations of the Bible today is to avoid language that can become fodder for bathroom humor. Or, as one of the translators of the ESV once mentioned, a major challenge is to remove the ‘snicker factor.’

14.    Red-letter editions of the Bible highlight the exact words of Jesus. Scholars are not sure of the exact words of Jesus. Ancient historians were concerned to get the gist of what someone said, but not necessarily the exact wording. A comparison of parallel passages in the Synoptic Gospels reveals that the evangelists didn’t always record Jesus’ words exactly the same way. The terms ipsissima verba and ipsissima vox are used to distinguish the kinds of dominical sayings we have in the Gospels. The former means ‘the very words,’ and the latter means ‘the very voice.’ That is, the exact words or the essential thought. There have been attempts to harmonize these accounts, but they are highly motivated by a theological agenda which clouds one’s judgment and skews the facts. In truth, though red-letter editions of the Bible may give comfort to believers that they have the very words of Jesus in every instance, this is a false comfort.

15.    Chapter and verse numbers are inspired. These were added centuries later. Chapter numbers were added by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the early 13th century. Verse numbers were not added until 1551. Robert Estienne (a.k.a. Stephanus), a Parisian printer, added verse numbers to the fourth edition of his Greek New Testament. The pocket-sized two-volume work (which can be viewed at has three parallel columns, one in Greek and two in Latin (one Erasmus’s Latin text, the other Jerome’s). To facilitate ease of comparison, Stephanus added the verse numbers. Although most of the breaks seem natural enough, quite a few are bizarre. Neither chapter numbers nor verse numbers are inspired.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Does God Love Everyone?

And no.

The question is deceptively difficult. The Bible speaks of God’s love in several different ways. D.A. Carson, in his excellent book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, mentions five (16-19):

1. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father.
2. God’s providential love over all that he has made.
3. God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world.
4. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect.
5. God’s love toward his own people in a provisional way, conditioned upon obedience.

After giving a brief biblical explanation for each way, Carson explains the danger of emphasizing one aspect of the love of God over the others.

If God’s love is defined exclusively by his intra-Trinitarian love, which is perfect and unblemished by sin, we won’t grasp the glory of God in loving rebels like us.

If God’s love is nothing but his providential care over all things, we’ll struggle to see how the gospel is any good news at all because, after all, doesn’t he love everyone already?

If God’s love is seen solely as his desire to save the world, we’ll end up with an emotionally charged God who doesn’t display the same sense of sovereignty we see in the pages of Scripture.

If God’s love is only understood as his electing love, we’ll too see easily say God hates all sorts of people, when that truth requires a good deal more nuance.

And if God’s love is bound up entirely in warnings like “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21), we’ll fall into legalism and lots of unwarranted self-doubt.

Talking about God’s love sounds like a simple theological task, but it’s actually one of the trickiest. I’ve heard of churches debating whether their kids should be taught “Jesus Loves Me” (some of the children might be reprobate, you never know). I know many more churches which so emphasize God’s all-encompassing love for everyone everywhere, that it’s hard to figure out why anyone should bother to become a Christian. The fact is that God loves everyone and he doesn’t. He hates the world and he loves the world. He can’t possibly love his adopted children any more than he does, and he is profoundly grieved by our sin. The challenge of good theology is to explain how the Bible provides warrant for all those statements and how they all fit together.

Any one truth about the love of God pressed to the exclusion of the others will make for a distorted deity and deadly discipleship. “In short,” Carson counsels, “we need all of what Scripture says on this subject, or the doctrinal and pastoral ramifications will prove disastrous” (23).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Whom Shall I Fear? Rescuing Daniel from the Children’s Books

by George Lawson
Of course you know about Daniel and the Lions’ Den.  Even if you didn’t grow up with a high-tech flannel graph presentation in your Sunday-School class, or use your creative genius to turn a paper lunch bag into a ferocious man-eating beast, you could rehearse the story in vivid detail.
But although we are familiar with Daniel’s rescue from the Lions’ den, he still seems to be trapped in children’s books, and is placed on the shelf between Mother Goose and Aesop’s fables.  The 6th chapter of Daniel is more than a bed-time story, and if I can be honest with you, for a long time I missed the main point.

• The main point of Daniel 6 is not Daniel’s example.
Was Daniel a great servant of God? Is he worthy of imitation?  Absolutely!  And there is nothing wrong with imitating the faith of faithful men.  That’s what we are instructed to do throughout Scripture (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1; Philippians 4:9).  We need to live lives worthy of imitation and find those who are worthy of imitating.  The author of Hebrews reminds us to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).  That’s an application of Daniel 6, but it’s not the main point.

• The main point of Daniel 6 is not Daniel’s faith.
That’s another application that we can rightfully draw out of this great narrative and that is the aspect that is highlighted in Hebrews 11.  In that chapter, known as the hall of faith, we read of men “who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions” (Hebrews 11:33). Daniel is a model of strong and robust faith in God.  There is no question that we can learn to trust God from Daniel, but again that is not the main point.

• The main point of Daniel 6 is not Daniel’s courage.
The VeggieTales Daniel helps us answer the question, “Where’s God when I’m s-scared.”   Is Daniel an example of courage?  You better believe he is.  In Daniel 6:10,  after he learned about the king’s decree, his very first act was to pray.  If that’s not an iron will, I don’t know what is.

All of these are lessons that we can learn from Daniel 6, but if we miss the point at the end of the story we are missing the main point!  What was it that struck King Darius as he walked away from the lions’ den?  What words did Daniel record, as a fitting conclusion to this chapter? What are we supposed to take away from this narrative?  Listen to this…

“Then Darius the king wrote to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language who were living in all the land: “May your peace abound!  I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel…” (Daniel 6:25-26).

• The main point of Daniel 6 is Daniel’s God!
That’s the main point that Darius walked away from the den with, and that’s the main point that Daniel wants us to walk away from this chapter with.  The great impression on Darius was not Daniel’s example, Daniel’s faith or Daniel’s courage, but rather the sovereign God that Daniel served.   Do you fear and tremble before a sovereign God?  Is that what you usually think of when you think of Daniel and the Lions’ den?  I’m all for helping kids get a good night’s sleep, but let’s not be satisfied with answering the question “Where’s God when I’m afraid?”  Let’s ask the more important question, “Who’s afraid of my God?”

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


If any preacher, pastor, or otherwise spokesperson for "God" ever prays or declares over you that you will "never have a negative feeling or a negative thought ever again," and says it with a straight face, please have a negative thought right away! Like, "this guy is nuts!" Seriously? People actually trust anything else this guy says???

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Cry for Tolerance – but is it really?

With all the ado surrounding the CEO of Chick-Fil-A’s personal stance on traditional marriage we hear, quite loudly, cries for tolerance. But is tolerance what is really being demanded? No. I don’t think it is.

Let me first start with explaining what tolerance in this context, truly is. Tolerance is defined a few ways in Webster’s but in relation to this topic the one that best defines it is as follows:

    2. a: sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own b : the act of allowing something

Essentially, tolerance is the act of allowing others to believe and do certain things while those beliefs or actions conflict with our own. That is tolerance, and I will argue, Christians seem to have a corner on the market.

This is ironic I realize, as we are the ones who are most often called “intolerant”. But we are not. We tolerate other religions. We tolerate the sinful behavior of our neighbor (and ourselves for that matter). We tolerate mockery and scorn. The list goes on…

Our tolerance however is called into question when we speak about the objective nature of things. When we make truth claims about how things are or how things are supposed to be, we are automatically thought of as intolerant. And I don’t think I need to rattle off the list of objective truth claims found within the Christian system. I am taking it for granted that most who read this will be able to intuit my point.

But yes, our tolerance is called into question when we say things are 1. Right or 2. Wrong. When taking an unwavering stand on certain “hot button” topics, it is thought of as intolerant. But if tolerance is understood as what is found in the above definition, then taking a stand on something isn’t intolerant it is merely saying that with which we disagree is, well, what we disagree with. And if we think those things should change, it still doesn’t follow that we aren’t tolerant of the thing in question. We are. This is made evident in the fact that Christians (in contemporary Western culture – and I think I am saying in all contemporary culture) are not putting people to death for worshiping false gods. We are not stoning people for what they are doing in their bedrooms. What we are doing however is saying false gods are evil and certain bedroom activity is sinful.

Pointing out that something is wrong and should come to an end doesn’t mean we are not tolerating it. What it does mean however is that we care. We care about people who are captive to false gods and the power of sin. We care deeply about them. If we are Christians we can’t help but care which leads me to why I am writing this in the first place. Which is this …

When people are crying out for tolerance, what they really want is indifference. They want us not to care. They do want approval to a certain extent but over all they just don’t want us to care about them. People don’t want Christians caring about their sin, the state of their souls, or them in general. Because when we care it nags at their conscience.

They don’t want tolerance, they want apathy.

When people demand that Christians be tolerant, what they are really saying is “stop caring.” Why do you care what people do in their bedrooms? Why do you care if people are Atheist or Mormon or Hindu? Why do you care? Why do you care? Why. Do. You. Care?
I would say ultimately because God cares and we being His people have been given hearts that reflect His own. And within those hearts is love and concern for all humanity. Yet we are being asked to do what is impossible. We are being asked not to care about the state of the lost world around us. And speaking of the lost world around us, we can now revisit the idea of tolerance.

As I said above we are a very tolerant group. When we consider that everything “of the world” is antithetical to our worldview I’d say we are exceptionally tolerant. But we must not forget to point to the most tolerant of all. God.

Consider how entirely holy and perfect He is yet stands by and permits our rank sinfulness. He tolerates a lot. He is the most tolerant of all. But one day, that tolerance will come to an end and only those who belong to Christ will then be tolerated for all eternity. This is why we care, and why the demand for apathy will go unheeded.

We will never cease caring for a lost and fallen world. We will continue to tolerate it but we will never stop caring.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Was Jesus Unintimidated by Pilate?

Ponder with me the lesson of Pilate’s authority over Jesus.
Pilate said to Jesus, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:10–11)
Pilate's authority to crucify Jesus did not intimidate Jesus.
Why not?
Not because Pilate was lying. Not because he didn’t have authority to crucify Jesus. He did.
Rather this authority did not intimidate Jesus because it was derivative. Jesus said, “It was given to you from above.” Which means it is really authoritative. Not less. But more.
So how is this not intimidating? Pilate not only has authority to kill Jesus. But he has God-given authority to kill him.
This does not intimidate Jesus because Pilate’s authority over Jesus is subordinate to God’s authority over Pilate. Jesus gets his comfort at this moment not because Pilate’s will is powerless, but because Pilate’s will is guided. Not because Jesus isn’t in the hands of Pilate’s fear, but because Pilate is in the hands of Jesus’s Father.
Which means that our comfort comes not from the powerlessness of our enemies, but from our Father’s sovereign rule over their power. This is the point of Romans 8:25–37. Tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger and sword cannot separate us from Christ because “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35–37).
Pilate (and all Jesus’s adversaries — and ours) meant it for evil. But God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20). All Jesus’s enemies gathered together with their God-given authority “to do whatever God’s hand and God’s plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). They sinned. But through their sinning God saved.
Therefore, do not be intimidated by your adversaries who can only kill the body. Not only because this is all they can do (Luke 12:4), but also because it is done under the watchful hand of your Father.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6–7).
Pilate has authority. Herod has authority. Soldiers have authority. Satan has authority. But none is independent. All their authority is derivative. All of it is subordinate to God’s will. Fear not. You are precious to your sovereign Father. Far more precious than the unforgotten birds.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Blessed Self-Forgetfulness

True growth happens when we take our eyes off ourselves.
--by Tullian Tchividjian

The way many of us think about sanctification is, well, not very sanctified. In fact, it's downright narcissistic. We thinking about how we're doing, if we're growing, whether we're doing it right or not. We spend too much time brooding over our failures and reflecting on our successes. We seem to believe that the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian.

Reflecting this common assumption, someone who was frustrated with something I had written said to me not long ago, "Don't you know that the focus of the New Testament is the personal holiness of the Christian?"
What? Seriously? To keep calm, I replayed Mr. Miyagi in my head, "Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out …"

The truth is, we spend way too much time thinking about ourselves, and we justify this spiritualized navel-gazing by reasoning that this is what God wants us to be doing.

There is nothing in the gospel that encourages us to focus on ourselves. Nothing! It's never honoring to God when we take our eyes off of Christ. Never! In fact, the whole point of the gospel is to get us out of ourselves and to "fix our eyes on Christ" (Heb. 12:2). The truest measure of Christian growth, therefore, is when we stop spiritually rationalizing the reasons why we're taking our eyes off of Jesus to focus on ourselves.

It's sin that turns us inward. The gospel turns us outward. Martin Luther argued that sin actually bends or curves us in on ourselves. Any version of "the gospel," therefore, that places you at the center is detrimental to your faith—whether it's your failures or your successes, your good works or bad works, your strengths or weaknesses, your obedience or disobedience.

Ironically, I've discovered that the more I focus on my need to get better, the worse I actually get. I become self-absorbed, the exact opposite of how the Bible describes what it means to be sanctified. Sanctification is forgetting about you. When we spend more time thinking about ourselves and how we're doing than we do about Jesus and what he's done, we shrink. As J.C. Kromsigt wrote, "The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth."

Maturity is not becoming stronger and stronger, more and more competent. Christian growth is marked by a growing realization of just how weak and incompetent we are, and how strong and competent Jesus is on our behalf. Spiritual maturity is not our growing independence. Rather, it's our growing dependence on Christ. Remember, the apostle Paul referred to himself as the "least of all the saints" (Eph. 3:8) and the "chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15), and this was at the end of his life!

For Paul, spiritual growth was realizing how utterly dependent we are on Christ's cross and mercy. It's not arriving at some point where we need Jesus less because we're getting better and better. Paradoxically, Paul's ability to freely admit his lack of sanctification demonstrated just how sanctified he was.
Here's my point: when we stop focusing on our need to get better, that's what it means to get better. Stop obsessing over your need to improve, and that is improvement!

The focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. The Good News is his victory for us, not our "victorious Christian life." The gospel declares that God's final word over Christians has already been spoken: "Paid in full." Therefore, we now live with confidence that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).

I love the story of the old pastor who, on his deathbed, told his wife that he was certain he was going to heaven because he couldn't remember one truly good work he had ever done.

He got it.

Blessed self-forgetfulness!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Making Sense of Scripture's 'Inconsistency'

by Tim Keller

I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because "they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey." Most often I hear, "Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts---about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren't you just picking and choosing what you want to believe from the Bible?"
I don't expect everyone to understand that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God's plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological adviser) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.

First, it's not only the Old Testament that has proscriptions about homosexuality. The New Testament has plenty to say about it as well. Even Jesus says, in his discussion of divorce in Matthew 19:3-12, that the original design of God was for one man and one woman to be united as one flesh, and failing that (v. 12), persons should abstain from marriage and sex.

However, let's get back to considering the larger issue of inconsistency regarding things mentioned in the Old Testament no longer practiced by the New Testament people of God. Most Christians don't know what to say when confronted about this issue. Here's a short course on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament.

The Old Testament devotes a good amount of space to describing the various sacrifices offered in the tabernacle (and later temple) to atone for sin so that worshipers could approach a holy God. There was also a complex set of rules for ceremonial purity and cleanness. You could only approach God in worship if you ate certain foods and not others, wore certain forms of dress, refrained from touching a variety of objects, and so on. This vividly conveyed, over and over, that human beings are spiritually unclean and can't go into God's presence without purification.

But even in the Old Testament, many writers hinted that the sacrifices and the temple worship regulations pointed forward to something beyond them (cf. 1 Sam. 15:21-22; Ps. 50:12-15; 51:17; Hos. 6:6). When Christ appeared he declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), and he ignored the Old Testament cleanliness laws in other ways, touching lepers and dead bodies.

The reason is clear. When he died on the cross the veil in the temple tore, showing that he had done away with the the need for the entire sacrificial system with all its cleanliness laws. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and now Jesus makes us clean.

The entire book of Hebrews explains that the Old Testament ceremonial laws were not so much abolished as fulfilled by Christ. Whenever we pray "in Jesus name" we "have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus" (Heb. 10:19). It would, therefore, be deeply inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole if we continued to follow the ceremonial laws.

Law Still Binding
The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament. Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship, but not how we live. The moral law outlines God's own character---his integrity, love, and faithfulness. And so everything the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Matt. 5:27-30; 1 Cor. 6:9-20; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.

The New Testament explains another change between the testaments. Sins continue to be sins---but the penalties change. In the Old Testament sins like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God's people constituted a nation-state, and so all sins had civil penalties.

But in the New Testament the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how Paul deals with a case of incest in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 5:1ff. and 2 Cor. 2:7-11). Why this change? Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation---it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible---about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation---then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mishmash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities. If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity's basic thesis---you don't believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God---and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything. But you can't say in fairness that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to follow the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing the other ones.

One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question: "Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?" If you are asked, "Why do you say that?" you could respond, "If I believe Jesus is the resurrected Son of God, I can't follow all the 'clean laws' of diet and practice, and I can't offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ's death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others."