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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

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I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 4)

Churches too often focus on evangelism to the exclusion of discipleship.  You confess Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and the Lord of life.  You’re done, right?

Nope.  I’ve already covered three of Brownlow North’s six rules for new Christians, and I believe they really apply to all Christians.

Rule #4:

If you are in doubt as to a thing being right or wrong, go to your room and kneel down and ask God’s blessing on it (Col 3:17).  If you cannot do this, it is wrong.

I like this.  It touches on the somewhat instinctual nature of moral duties.  Normal people know the difference between right and wrong.  My daughter, for example, knows what she is and is not allowed to do.  She knows that she has to listen to mommy and daddy when we tell her to do things.  She doesn’t, but whenever I get into it with her, she admits that she knows when she does something wrong and understands that it is wrong.

Similar to this would be asking yourself questions like

  1. How would my best friend feel about me if s/he knew I did this?
  2. Would I feel comfortable if my actions were reported on the front page of the newspaper?
  3. In my place, would my hero/mentor act this way?

As Dr. Tom Morris points out in Philosophy for Dummies (yes, I’m reading Philosophy for Dummies), these sorts of questions presuppose a generally good nature.  Humans, according to the Bible, are so enslaved to sin that we can often rationalize the most heinous of behaviors.  However, since we are made in the image of God, we have (at our core) a smattering of goodness that enables us to know the difference between right and wrong.

Asking whether we could, in good conscience, pray God’s blessing over an intended course of action is a great acid test for the validity of such an action.

I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 2)

So, once you’ve realized that your doubts are emotional, not intellectual, what do you do?  You give your life to Christ.  Then, you’re supposed to begin the lifelong process of discipleship, but many churches focus so hard on filling the pews that they leave folks to fend for themselves.

Enter Brownlow North, who has devised Six Short Rules for Young Christians.  Yesterday, we covered a simple one: pray everyday.  Today’s is equally simple, and profound as well!

Never neglect daily private Bible reading; and when you read remember that God is speaking to you, and that you are to believe and act upon what he says.  I believe all backsliding begins with the neglect of these two rules (Jn 5:39).

I think that North is absolutely correct in his assessment.  Daily prayer and daily Bible reading are the most important factors of becoming a Christian.  The necessity of God for the universe is an awesome, if abstract, thing to think of and discuss.  However, the necessity of God for one’s personal life is even more interesting.  And personal.

So we’re called friends of God.  A modern friend isn’t the model, however, but a client/patron.  Still, that’s more personal than most people ever got with the king in a feudal society.  Ancient serfs probably never saw the sovereign.  But, through the power of prayer, we get to talk to the sovereign, and confess our deepest fears and desires.

What’s more, God takes them into consideration!  Look at Genesis 18:22-33.  Abraham is able to strike a conditional bargain with God–if 10 righteous people can be found in the city of Sodom, then God will spare it.  God took into consideration what Abraham had said, and did as was befitting a truly righteous judge.

Other instances can be found.  Jonah preached to Nineveh to repent or the judgement would come.  The people repented, and God averted the judgment.  The namesake of this blog, King Josiah, did the same when he heard the Law read aloud.  God listens to us, and he responds to our actions.

How do we read Scripture, though?  Some people have wildly different ideas of what the Bible means.  Look at websites like EvilBible.com and compare it to the alternative interpretations offered by Mariano Grinbank in his study of the passages used on EB.  Why is Mariano right, and EB wrong?

The answer: consistent hermeneutics.  Mariano uses them, and EB uses whatever interpretive method supports their prior conclusion that the Bible is evil.  How does one approach the Bible consistently?  Some brief points:

  1. Interpret Scripture literally, but not hyper-literally.
  2. Read Scripture in context: documentary (the surrounding paragraphs), genre (the Bible contains numerous different genres; a proverb isn’t the same as a historical book), and cultural (this requires research, humility, and empathy).
  3. Interpret unclear passages of Scripture in light of clear passages.
  4. Newer portions of Scripture supplement, or in some cases overturn, previous portions.  (This is why I confess to God and accountability partners my sins instead of slitting a bull’s throat and splattering its blood at the foot of an altar.)
  5. Do not push language meant to communicate complex, divine truths to its literal extreme (God isn’t a bricklayer per Job 38:4, nor does he have wings per Ps 17:8).
  6. Scripture is multifaceted in its application, but the truth communicated by a given passage should be understood as what the author intended to communicate to his desired audience.

For more information about prayer, check out the very thin book Sense and Nonsense About Prayer by Lehman Strauss.  One of the best volumes on the topic, with high accessibility and readability.

For an introduction to consistent hermeneutics, check out this article at your own risk; I don’t agree with the doctrine of perspicuity of Scripture which the site advocates.

Remember, neglecting these two rules will cause more backsliding in your life than anything else I will say in this series.  So get to praying and reading that Bible!

I Gave My Life to Christ: Now What? (part 1)

The focus of this blog has been on getting you to the point where you can intellectually accept that Jesus and God are very real, and that you can commit in good faith to a relationship without surrendering your intellectual integrity.  I’ve gotten mixed reviews on my ability to do this; people open to the possibility are generally convinced, but hardcore skeptics think I’m deluded beyond even psychiatric help.

Once you’ve actually made it to the point where you accept Christ (or rededicate your life to Christ, in the case of one recent e-mail correspondence I had), what do you do?  Well, Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life worked for me.

Warren’s simple 40-day devotional gave me a great introduction into what it meas to be a Christian.  It helped turn the five New Testament purposes for a church into

Shorter and better, however, are Brownlow North’s Six Short Rules for Young Christians.  These aren’t just for young or new Christians–these will work for any Christian, no matter how far along in his or spiritual journey.

First:

Never neglect daily private prayer; and when you pray, remember that God is present, and that he hears your prayers (Heb 11:6).

Short and simple, and something that I think many people forget.  Being omnipresent in our reality, God is present during your prayers and he hears your request.  This doesn’t obligate him to answer affirmatively, but he is present and he does hear you.

That’s simple, yet very deep.  Let’s just think about that for today, and I’ll have more to say on this issue tomorrow, because this rule combined with rule #2 will have a profound effect on the life of the Christian.

Things That Should be Free: PrayerMarket.com

In a previous post, I’ve lamented that there are few resources for Christian churches that are 100% free of charge. Most charge some sort of membership fee, either lifetime or monthly. The ones that are free are, regrettably, extremely limited in quality and quantity of resources.

I think someone ought to open up a website that enables users to download high quality sermon resources for free. The site should subsist entirely on donations and/or PPC advertisement.

I would love to look into the feasibility of something like that, and perhaps trying to collect sermons, sermon series, scripts, videos, and other resources that match or exceed the quality of SermonSpice.com or the Skit Guys, but will be available free of charge to the public.

That’s just a dream. Perhaps it could become reality one day. We shall see!

As a follow up to my rant on resources that ought to be free, I thought I’d examine a few resources that exist out there that ought to be free, but really aren’t. This post fits in with my study theme of the month: prayer!

I’ve recently stumbled on to a site called PrayerMarket.com. It’s exactly what it sounds like. The site buys and sells prayers. That is absolutely reprehensible. The very concept is outright offensive. Read the rest of this entry

Wit and Wisdom of Facebook

For some reason, one of my Facebook friends inspires quite a few blog entries. So I would like to send a shout out to Domonique–thanks for staying my friend even though we don’t work together anymore. I swear I’ve been getting half my material from your posts recently.

The chatter on Domonique’s recent status update gives us some insight as to why many people refuse to bow the knee to our Lord.

I used to work with Domonique, so I’m confident that she’s a Christian and the deeper meaning I’m drawing from this doesn’t apply specifically to her.

I have no idea what Domonique’s friend Taylor’s religious leanings are. There is nothing on her Facebook profile to suggest that she’s a Christian, but nothing that would suggest she isn’t. No Atheist As or links to anti-Christian/anti-Bible propaganda sites.

The conversation is typical for young, single women. Domonique is moaning that all the good men seem to elude her, and Taylor agrees. Taylor also says that even good men lie to their women. Then Domonique makes the following comment:

I know, i wish i could marry jesus.

To which Taylor replies:

Jesus had a big beard. I do not find big beards very attractive. perhaps if he were to shave i would be happy 🙂

I don’t know if the insight I’m about to offer from this applies to Taylor or not. This insight is meant generally, and I’m not directing it to Taylor personally. Taylor, if you’re reading this and I come off as though I’m personally attacking you, please forgive me because that isn’t my intent! But if you see yourself in this as a Christian and can profit from it, then please consider it a gentle rebuke from a brother in Christ.

Taylor’s comment is interesting in that it reflects the typical desire that underlies most attacks on prayer and original sin. Here, Taylor wants Jesus to change something about himself in order to make him more palatable to her.

The reality, for the Christian, is that we (as humans) are repugnant to God. We must realize this as a prerequisite for saving faith. Once that realization is made and we receive Christ in faith, then begins the long process of sanctification: making ourselves more palatable to God. Taylor (and most skeptics that I’ve dealt with) reverse the formula. Reversing the formula is idolatry.

Again, this isn’t meant as a personal attack on Taylor, and if it was perceived as such then I apologize. I only meant to convey an important insight.

For more information on just how repugnant we humans are to God, please see my essay on total depravity.

Prayer: Provision of Wants Versus Needs

Jennifer Fulwiler

Jennifer Fulwiler has a great post on prayer on her blog, Conversion Diary. It’s nice to see someone reflect on what prayer should actually entail. Too often God is considered to be some kind of magic genie that grants our every wish.

Jennifer, on the other hand, has it right. In a theology of prayer, a balance has to be struck between specificity and generality. What do I mean?

Right now, I’m unemployed. It’s a long story. My wife’s income isn’t enough to sustain us, so something has to happen and quickly. If I pray, “God, please grant me a new job tomorrow morning,” what do you think is going to happen when I open my e-mail?

That’s right. No job offers. I doubt my cell phone is going to ring anytime soon either.

Am I missing something?

Yes, I am. Where in the Bible does God ever promise to give me everything I have ever wanted? Last I checked, Jesus called us to deny ourselves–our physical desires and perceived needs–and take up our crosses, and follow him. The Christian life isn’t one of ease, wealth, and good health-o’plenty (despite what Joel Osteen might tell you). A Christian life is one of sacrifice and (dare I say it?) persecution.

That message doesn’t sell well, especially in the United States. So hacks like Osteen spread their false prosperity gospel quite easily, even though there isn’t a shred of Scriptural evidence for what they’re saying. People buy it, hook, line, and sinker (see 2 Tim 4:3).

Why should the followers have it easy, living in the lap of luxury, when the master lived a pauper’s life and died a torturous, shameful death? The servant, Jesus wisely quips, isn’t greater than his master (Jn 15:20).

Jennifer suggests “zooming out” a bit. In other words, instead of thinking only of your health, wealth, prosperity–your perceived needs–try to think in terms of what you actually need.

So, I’m not going to get that magical job offer in my inbox tomorrow. Do I need a job? It could be argued that I do. But I think what I really need is a way to provide food for my children. We have food stamps forthcoming. And we already receive WIC benefits. God, perhaps, is working through these programs for the time being in order to provide for us.

None of us are starving. None of us will, it seems. Ah, God has promised that in his word, for we are more important to him than lesser animals, yet those do not starve.

And I have enough marketable skills that I won’t be without a job for too long. So God has provided a short term solution for us in the welfare benefits, but has also provided a long term solution in the form of the marketable skills I have gained over the years I have been employed. It’s not a clear, concise, detailed answer that magically dropped out of heaven, but it is an answer to prayer!

Next time, instead of focusing on minutely detailed answers magically provided as if from nowhere, “zoom out” a bit, as Jennifer put it. Look for the more underlying need and pray for its provision. And, as in everything, look for God’s will. Because, really, this life isn’t about you.

Danelle Ice on Total Depravity

John Calvin

Image via Wikipedia

Danelle Ice (Dangerous but Good) has a post on the “dangers” of Calvinism. I find her reasoning problematic for two reasons. First, she has an interesting philosophy behind what Christians can teach as truth:

We know that we can never teach something that isn’t scriptural.  So, even if I firmly believe something with all my heart (exaggerating example: that John the Baptist had 12 toes!)  I couldn’t teach it to my family or other Christians as truth if there is no scripture in the Bible to back it up.  I may think it makes sense, and I may really believe it, but as a minister and a Christian, the burden of proof from the scriptures is on ME before I open my mouth and talk about it.

I once knew a Christian (I’m not identifying this person by any designator other than “a Christian” because of how embarrassingly stupid this position is) who believed that Jesus never got sick, ate, or went to the bathroom because there is no Scripture that directly says he did any of those things.

What does Scripture say about the humanity of Christ? That Jesus shared our flesh (Rom 8:3) and was tempted the same as we were (Heb 4:15, referring to Mt 4:1-11). If Jesus essentially “emptied himself” of divinity to become a humble and obedient human servant (Phil 2:7-8)–and it is anathema to say otherwise (2 Jn 7)–it’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume that Jesus may have gotten sick, or had to eat, or used the bathroom at some point during his 33 (or so) years on earth. We don’t have Scripture that actually says Jesus ate, got sick, or went potty, but I think that we can take it for granted that he did.

Holy Trinity by Fridolin Leiber (1853–1912)

Image via Wikipedia

There is no Scripture (except for 1 Jn 5:7 in the KJV) that directly teaches the Trinity, either. I would assume that Danelle believes that implicitly despite the fact that the Bible never refers to God as a Trinity. If Danelle is going to be consistent, she has to reject the Trinity since we, as Christians, are only allowed to teach truth based on Scripture.

The apostle Paul, of course, didn’t limit truth to the Hebrew Scriptures of his day. Paul quoted pagan plays and poetry quite regularly. He told the Greeks that the “unknown god” to whom they built an altar is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Danelle’s point isn’t biblical, and the apostles certainly didn’t buy into it.

The second problem inherent in Danelle’s reasoning is that Danelle isn’t arguing against Calvinism proper; she is creating her own version of Calvinism and trying to beat that down. This becomes obvious when reading her definition of total depravity:

We will use the first point of Calvinism to  illustrate the point:  “Total depravity”, that people are not naturally inclined to love and serve God, but must be forced to.  We know this is not scriptural, because man was made in God’s image, and God is love.  Even though we fell into sin, sin can’t change the essence of what God designed and created us to be: loving, praising, worshiping beings.

First, it should be quite obvious that people are not naturally inclined to serve God. In the Bible, for example, you will see numerous prayers to incline one’s heart to serve God:

  • And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. (Num 15:39)
  • The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. (1 Kgs 8:57-58)
  • Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! (Ps 119:36)
  • Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! (Ps 141:4)

The fact that the people of the Bible are praying, both personally and corporately, for God to move them to obedience and faith indicates that they don’t believe that it is the natural tendency to have faith and be obedient to God. The natural tendency of man is opposition to the laws of God (see Rom 7:14-20, especially v. 18).

While Romans 7 sums up the spiritual battle quite well in verses 7-25, the most succinct teaching of total depravity is Ephesians 2:1-3:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

We are dead in sin, according to this verse. Paul also says in Romans that we are unable to carry out the desire to do good (7:18). This adds up to a powerful biblical case for total depravity, despite what Danelle is trying to say.

Second, God doesn’t force anyone to love him. Some have accused Calvinism of teaching this, but that isn’t so. God, from the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals to whom he would reveal his full glory and who would fellowship with God in heaven. The choice of these individuals is inherent in God’s character and has nothing to do with the individual so elected.

A general call goes out with each preaching of the gospel, but an effectual call goes out only to God’s elect. Upon hearing this effectual call, the elect are quickened by the power of the Holy Spirit and are regenerated to life. The only logical response to this quickening is a free will choice to put faith in Christ, and in so doing love and serve God. This isn’t coerced at all, the effectual call simply doesn’t go to everyone in the entire world.

Third, it is no wonder that Danelle would think that man is generally good (Prv 16:2). Apart from the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, we humans generally lack the objective ability to see our own sin. Generally, non-Christians don’t see mankind (by extension, themselves) as inherently evil. They see mankind as inherently good. Some see mankind as misguided in some way, but many (especially atheists) don’t think that mankind is in any way broken or in need of repair.

The problem that Danelle isn’t seeing is that sin does change us–so completely, in fact, that a new birth is required in order to follow God (Jn 3:3). This new birth is a total 180-degree switch from what we once were:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Pet 1:22-23; see also 2 Cor 5:17).

Danelle is correct in stating that we were made in the image of God, and she is also correct in thinking that we do retain something of that image. It is this that gives humans an inherent dignity above that of an animal (1 Cor 15:39); it is the reasoning behind the commandment to not murder; it is the reason that we have the free will to love at all (1 Jn 4:19).

I’ll Never Understand This

Christopher Hitchens

Image via Wikipedia

Okay, it is time for me, once again, to put on my “naive religious person” hat and wonder why on earth people get offended over the stupidest things.

It has nothing to do with the recent decision to ban cross memorials for fallen state troopers in Utah because it allegedly is Christian proselytization forced on innocent motorists driving down the highway. That was a bit outrageous, and those judges should have their heads examined. The cross isn’t a Mormon symbol, and both the folks who erected the monuments and the troopers to whom the monuments were dedicated were Mormons. The cross has come to mean “grave marker” just as much as it symbolizes Christianity. For more information on that, see the related links below.

No, the subject of this post is one of far greater concern to me. Vjack of Atheist Revolution has written a post decrying prayers being offered for Christopher Hitchens’s recovery from cancer. He discusses why prayer, in this specific case, is offensive, then treats the broader issue of why prayer in general is offensive. Read the rest of this entry

In Memorum: Clark Pinnock (1937-2010)

I really hadn’t read much of the work of Clark Pinnock, who was a defender of open theism, but I had always meant to get around to it (and to the work of John Sanders as well). I was familiar with Pinnock through my brief flirtation with open theism when I had first begun apologetics ministry back in 2006, but I was only passingly familiar with him. I know that he was a great thinker, as he pioneered a brand new systematic theology (however misguided that may have been).

His theology may have been wrong, but I think that it was constructed in the spirit of better defining the nature and person of God; trying to tear down some of the mystery surrounding the divine. That’s a noble goal.

His work survives, so I hope to still read some of his books. May he rest in peace, and may he delight in the presence of the God he endeavored to serve.