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Rachel Held Evans vs. John Piper: Both Miss the Point

As a liberal, it isn’t too surprising that Rachel Held Evans repudiates the Reformed understanding of tragedies like the Moore tornadoes.  Essentially, we join Augustine in proclaiming that God feels it better to bring good from evil, than to eliminate all evil.

What started this is a tweet by John Piper (now removed) that quotes Job 1:19.  Here, a great wind topples Job’s house and kills his children.  Piper is, quite obviously, applying it to the recent tornado that ripped apart Moore, Oklahoma.

Is that insensitive, as Evans says? Read the rest of this entry

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Salt and Light to the World

After we see God celebrate virtues that our secular counterparts would hardly consider virtuous, we have to ask:  If God intends for me to suffer, why?

The answer is in the next passage:

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  (Mt 5:13)

Salt is a preservative.  Jesus is calling on Christians to preserve the virtues that God finds honorable and good.  To that end, when we become a new creation in Christ, God then molds us into the image of his Son (Rom 8:3-4, 12-14, 29-30) — not for our sake, but for the world’s sake:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mt 5:14-16)

In other words, don’t just be a Christian on Sunday in church.  Be one at work, at rest, at play, in your marriage, on a plane, on a boat, on a train, in your house, when you’re here, or there, and everywhere (1 Cor 10:31).

James, brother of our Lord, echoes the sentiment: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jms 1:27).

Do what God has commanded, and do it boldly.  And in the process, do not become like the rest of the world.  It’s a simple message, a simple prospect, and it has a powerful world-renewing effect for those who live it out.

Scripture Saturday: Importance of Bible Study (Prv 28:9)

I’ve heard that some folks benefit from a regimented blogging schedule, so I thought I’d give it a shot to see if it helps me.  And that means I will now introduce two new features.  If I blog nothing else in the course of a week, I will blog the two features.

The first is Contradiction Tuesday, where I will detail a perceived contradiction in the Bible.  I’ll take requests for this series from skeptics and believers alike — e-mail me.  It will begin next Tuesday; I didn’t have time to do one this week.

On a side note, I’m thinking of adding Anti-Testimony Wednesday sometime in the future.  I would critique the latest “Why I’m not a Christian” bit from ex-Christian.net, with a private offer to the poster to defend him or herself here.  Since they don’t like their unbelief challenged on the site, this would be playing by their rules.  After all, the anti-testimony is posted publicly so it’s unrealistic to think that someone won’t pick it up and challenge it somewhere.

The series beginning today is Scripture Saturday.  What better way to kick off Scripture Saturday than with a verse on the importance of studying Scripture?

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.  (Prv 28:9)

Strongly worded.  If a person stops studying God’s Law, then that person’s prayer is an abomination.  An abomination!  That’s the strongest way God can revile something.  And here, God is saying that he will revile a person’s prayers if that person refuses to hear God! Read the rest of this entry

What is True Christianity(tm)? (part 1)

It keeps coming up in discussions with atheists that I say certain Christians are wrong about particulars of Christianity.  And they are.  If I’m right on certain things (which I think I am), then necessarily others who disagree with me are wrong.  Not a radical notion.

What do you suppose happens when I call a Christian’s particular doctrine into question?  I always get the same response from the atheist.  He sarcastically tells me that I believe I’m the only one who has found True Christianity™ and that I believe every other Christian will burn, just like every other Christian he has spoken to, because believers are all that arrogant.

I think that is more evidence of the shallow thinking of the atheist, not to mention their complete ignorance of theology.  Atheists, I’m going to make this as plain as I possibly can:  There is no such thing as True Christianity™! Read the rest of this entry

Follow Up #1: What is Faith?

The series on why I’m not a Roman Catholic despite the temptation to return to the Church was extremely brief.  I oversimplified many issues, and I wanted to take a quick moment to hash out the ones that deserve further examination.  Let’s start with what my wise brother-in-law pointed out in a comment to part #1, which is that a lot of what I said hinges on defining faith.

Authentic biblical faith has two prongs to it.  The first is right belief, or “orthodoxy.” [1]  Generally speaking, to call yourself a Christian you would have to adhere to the following minimalist set of beliefs:

  • Existence of God as a Trinity
  • Preeminence of Christ over his creation
  • Mankind fell into sin, and is now utterly enslaved to it
  • Death of Jesus making atonement for the sins of mankind
  • Resurrection of Jesus on the third day
  • Future return of Christ to judge the living and the dead

And the rest varies quite wildly, even the mechanics of the above vary somewhat (even if the generic belief is still the same).

You need more, because the devil believes that stuff too.  The second prong is right practice, or “orthopraxy.” [2]  Pure religion is to help others and stay separate from the rest of the world.

Again, it’s great if you save the world, either by donating money to causes, championing nonprofits, or rolling up your sleeves and building an orphanage.  The rich young ruler told Jesus he kept all the commands from childhood, and he wanted to know what else he lacked.  Jesus also told his disciples during the Sermon on the Mount that people who did a lot of great things will cry out for Jesus and he will tell them to depart into hell.  Doing good isn’t enough, either.

You need to bring the two prongs together.  Faith is neither one nor the other, but both together.  Salvation occurs solely by grace, but we respond to that grace in faith.  It’s not just believing.  It’s not just acting on a belief.  Mere belief and mere action are both condemned in Scripture.  Both belief and action are required; one separate from the other isn’t going to cut it.

Saving faith always and necessarily produces works, but the works alone will never create a saving faith.  Works apart from faith are merely some rote ceremony, performed without thought for the one whom the works are supposed to glorify.  Faith apart from the works is similarly dead.  What good is a belief until you act on it, after all?

J.P. Holding explains this in more detail here.

Therefore, a true saving faith is going to manifest itself in the life of the believer in a conspicuous way, through that believer’s works.  We see this in the changed lives of those who surrender to Christ. [3] Read the rest of this entry

I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 3)

We’ve been looking at Brownlow North’s Six Steps for New Christians.  I’m pretty sure they apply to all Christians.  In fact, today’s step is brilliant:

Never let a day pass without trying to do something for Jesus.  Every night reflect on what Jesus has done for you, an then ask yourself, “What am I going to do for him?” (Mt 5:13-16)

I remember once having a conversation with regular commenter Alex and saying something to the effect of “God created the universe, you, gives you life and sustains your existence, sent his Son to die for your sins, and you’re basically asking me, ‘So what has God really done for me?’  Tough room!”

Alex was a bit irritated by that, and said that if I want him to take me or “my God” seriously, then I shouldn’t be so flip.

Except that it’s true.  God has done a lot for humanity, even though we don’t deserve it.  So, to echo North’s sentiment, and to paraphrase JFK, let’s ask what we can do for God instead of always asking what he can do for us.  He’s already done plenty.

Fascinating Phone Call on EWTN Radio

I was listening to EWTN radio this morning and I heard a fascinating phone call.  The caller asked the DJ (maybe the guest, I tuned in and only heard this call) why he needed to receive a sacrament of Penance before receiving the sacrament of Confirmation.

I was floored, to say the least.

Catholic theology teaches that the sacraments are containers of God’s grace.  When you receive a sacrament, you are essentially taking an outpouring of God’s grace.  The sacrament of Confirmation, however, is more than that.

In Confirmation, the Holy Spirit descends upon you, and bestows his gifts chosen for you to be a faithful worker in God’s kingdom.  Though it isn’t strictly necessary, biblically speaking, I think it is an excellent idea to invite the Spirit to take residence in a clean temple.

I stole that from the DJ or guest, because I liked it.

Now, why didn’t the caller already know that?  You think he would.  I knew the answer right away.  True, I was raised Catholic, but it wasn’t on my Catholic upbringing that I drew for the answer.  Consider the words of Paul regarding the receiving of the Supper:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. (1 Cor 11:27-32)

I should think that anytime we receive a measure of grace from God, we ought to do such a self-examination.  Just because grace is an unmerited favor that God shares with us, we still ought to accept it reverently and with as clean a heart as we are capable of.  Never should we just take it lightly, or we are taking judgment on ourselves.

For the Catholic, that means confession to a priest, and completing a penance for absolution.  That is so small considering the gift of the Holy Spirit that is about to fill you; greater peace and grace isn’t possible here on earth.

But, is this only a Catholic problem?  Nope.  The whole church, Catholic and Protestant, has done an awful job of educating people of the first step of the gospel of our Lord–that we are sinners in need of a Savior.  The world teaches us that we are basically good; we are evolving toward something greater.  Our evolution is merely incomplete, so it’s not our fault when we behave like roughians.

I blame the world for teaching that.  I blame the caller for buying into it, and not submitting to the teaching of the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is one example among many of how far we as Christians have to go to get the gospel message out to a world that needs it now more than ever.

God: Model Teacher

When I was in eighth grade, we started learning algebra.  The teacher told us that variables stand for numbers, and we either solve for the specific number the variable represents, or treat the letter as if could be any number.

When a particularly astute student noticed that x, y, and z were always used as variables, he asked if any other letters could be used.

The teacher said any letter would work, but told us to avoid i.  We asked why, and he replied that it could be too easily confused with 1.

But, math wizards, that’s not really why we don’t use i, is it?  It’s actually a mathematical constant, defined as the square root of -1.

Like a good teacher, my math teacher gave us what we could handle.  Later, those of us that either read the sidebars in our algebra books (because we’re extra geeky) or took calculus learned the real reason why we don’t use i as a variable.  Clearly, eighth grade students learning the basics of algebra wouldn’t have been ready to learn about imaginary numbers.

My eighth grade math teacher didn’t lie.  He just didn’t give us information that we weren’t ready to have.  Later, a fuller revelation of the facts would be realized.

This is the reason that God gave the Law.  Not because he was lying or misleading us.  And he didn’t “edit” things or change his mind later.  He gave us the system that our feeble brains could handle, and now he has fully revealed the purpose and meaning of the Law, freeing us from its tyranny to live by grace in Christ Jesus.

The Law was but a shadow of the perfect reality to come (Heb 10:1).  Now that the perfect reality is here, we may rejoice in him (Jesus Christ) rather than having to follow the Law.

Apt Description of God

Chris Reese from Cloud of Witnesses featured a concise and excellent quote that perfectly describes the nature of God, as cited by Dallas Willard:

God is “the eternal, independent, and self-existent Being; the Being whose purposes and actions spring from Himself, without foreign motive or influence; he who is absolute in dominion; the most pure, the most simple, the most spiritual of all essences; infinitely perfect; and eternally self-sufficient, needing nothing that he has made; illimitable in his immensity, inconceivable in his mode of existence, and indescribable in his essence; known fully only by himself, because an infinite mind can only be fully comprehended by itself.  In a word, a Being who, from his infinite wisdom, cannot err or be deceived, and from his infinite goodness, can do nothing but what is eternally just, and right, and kind.” [Adam Clarke in Cyclopaedia, vol. 3 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1894), 903-4, quoted by Dallas Willard in Knowing Christ Today, chapter 4, n. 1.]

Let’s break take a look at just a few of these descriptors. Read the rest of this entry

Comment Round-up! (part 1)

I’ve decided to respond to all comments from the user styled “Doc” in this post because I’ve taken so long to get to answering them that my 30 day window is drastically narrow.  With this, Doc has another 30 days to reply (should he choose to do that).

First up, my post on fallacious arguments for homosexuality, here’s Doc’s reply to my previous comment:

“Since we’re on this topic, let me ask you a question that I promised myself I would ask the next idiot that said homosexuality is okay because animals do it: ”

I didn’t say that. I asked you if “done in nature” is your definition of “natural.” If it is, then “It’s unnatural” doesn’t hold up, since it is done in nature. Of course, like a typical theist, you twist that into, “If animals do X, it’s okay for humans to do X,” because you’re a theist, and logic is hard.

So, no answer forthcoming.

“There’s no broad definition of natural that’s going to work for everything.

No, you can’t run away from your own charge. You say homosexuality is wrong because it’s unnatural. In order to make this claim, you must define what you mean by unnatural.

It’s true, though: there isn’t a broad definition that’s going to work for everything.  As I apply below, common sense is going to have to apply.  Unfortunately, I gave an answer that a utilitarian would be proud of, and I think that school of thought is totally bogus.  Which means that we’re going to have to refine things a bit. Read the rest of this entry