Redeeming Life Church Public Launch (Or "The Funny Language of Church Planting")

April 28, 2015.

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In February of 2014, I packed a church van full of young people and set off for Missions Week on the Golden Gate Seminary campus.  It was a pivotal trip.  We attended workshops and sessions.  We helped a church plant and we slept in a poor part of San Francisco.  I met Dr. Richard Johnston and Pastor James Soy.  Dr. Irog and Dr. Wilson encouraged me to apply for the Doctorate of Ministry program, and I did. (Dr. Iorg also tried to convince an intern on my staff to transfer to Golden Gate; but so, far that hasn't happened.) A young man in our group demonstrated that he can lead worship.  We discussed the missional nature of church planting and Risen Life's role in that. And we prayed a lot.

The group was from Risen Life Church.   I was on staff.  My job was to learn and grow in preparation to plant a church.

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Upon our return, we started a Bible study group in my home with the purpose of examining what it might take to plant a church in another part of Salt Lake City. The Barnabas House Fellowship was the name of our study. We journeyed through the book of Acts with Elmer Town's book,  Churches that Multiply as a supplement.

The group grew as people came and went.  Some were simply not called to church planting.  Others were only in it for the excitement of the newest, shinny thing.  But some were there in the beginning and are still a part of our core team today. (More than I expected, actually!)

Eventually we outgrew our house and it became apparent that God was calling this group to plant a church.  We worked through all kinds of details.  Eventually we settle on the name, Redeeming Life Church.  ([R] for short.)

We started meeting on Sunday afternoons in the Risen Life Church building.  It was a special time because we saw God do some amazing things.  People were saved.  Believers were baptized.  And our core team grew stronger and stronger. 

Then something happened. God brought people from the Rose Park area all the way across the valley to worship with us.  We knew what was coming.  God was calling us to the Rose Park area of Salt Lake.  It was time to move out of the Risen Life building.

Risen Life released me from their staff and commissioned me as the pastor of this new church.  My family, as well as other families of the core team moved into the neighborhood. We started doing evangelism in our target area to include a campaign that resulted in us hanging 5,000 door hangers. We invited the neighborhood to our Easter Sunrise service. 

We've spend the past three weeks meeting in the Northwest Community Center in preparation for our 'public launch.' It's funny because in church planting language, this point is thought of as the day the church plant starts.  But we've been a church seedling for a while and we feel more like May 3rd is the day we stop saying 'plant' and just say 'church,' Redeeming Life Church. 

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I'm thrilled to see what God might do with this little church in Rose Park.  If you live in the area, we'd love it if you'd be our guest.  Our Sunday Gathering starts at 11am. We're praying that God is calling you to join us in this mission. Or maybe you don't live in the area but he's calling you to help us in some other way. And please, keep us in your prayers.   

Soli Deo gloria!

Bryan Catherman

Salty Believer and Pastor of Redeeming Life Church

None is Righteous, No, Not One

November 25, 2014

It's claimed that two great evangelists were in a theater together.  They were good friends and often traveled as a team to preach evangelistic revival meetings.  Before the film started, the newsreel played and gave accounts of the holocaust.  One man sat in horror before the graphic images on the screen and could only doubt God's goodness.  The other man saw the pictures and could only see a greater need for the Savior.  The first was Charles Templeton; the second was Billy Graham.

Truth be told, Templeton struggled with doubt until he finally declared himself an agnostic in 1957.  It may have been the images of the holocaust that started him down this road but there was probably much more involved.

Images on the news, such of the events playing out in Ferguson or Isis slaughtering Christians or wars or abortion or the sexual assault of children or human trafficking give us a glimpse of the deep darkness that resides within mankind.  'Depravity' it is often labeled.  And as we see such depravity it should--if we're honest--show us the potential blackness of our own hearts.  If it were possible for a news camera to examine our souls, we would see equal, if not greater atrocities with us, only waiting for the chance to rage onward.  The Bible calls this darkness sin.

We are faced with a choice.  Do we see this depravity and then doubt God's goodness or do we see this depravity and proclaim a greater need for Jesus?

First, we ought not be surprised by the depravity of mankind.  We see it throughout the Bible.  Sometimes we see God intervene directly, but often it is God's people who are empowered by God to bring the redemption of the Gospel through the proclamation of God's Word.  We are called to make Christ known because according to John, Jesus is light coming to a dark world, brilliance coming to our blackened hearts.  Darkness hates the light and can't remain.  The light overpowers the darkness.  And Christ, the light, frees us from this darkness.  (See John 1, 3, and 12.)  Christ is the perfect, sufficient, and only answer to our sin.

Furthermore, God's Word shows us the depth of mankind's sin, so we should not be surprised to see moments when our dark souls come out and play.  Quoting the Old Testament, Romans 3:11-12 says, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (ESV).   But it does not simply have to end with us thinking man is evil and without hope.  There is hope.

Romans 3 continues to show mankind where hope is found.  Romans 3:23-25 reads, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (ESV).   Romans 6:6 says of those who have placed their faith in Christ Jesus, "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing" (ESV).

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23, ESV).

If we believe that the Bible is God's Word, which I do, than we ought to see Ferguson as a city crying out for help.  In that city the depravity has boiled over and can be easily observed.   Isis should be more proof of the truth of God's revelation to his creation.  The atrocities we observe should remind us of God's explanation of our darkened hearts without him, his condemnation of our sin, and his free offer to bring us to salvation through faith in his son, Jesus Christ.

God help us all!   May we see the world turn to Jesus.


* Photo Mstyslav Chernov and is registered under a Creative Commons license. 

The Balanced Christian Life

The normal Christian life (if there is such a thing) is one of balance.  But balance of what?

Preaching on Romans 2:12-29 this week at Redeeming Life Church, I noticed a picture of the balance the Bible speaks of.  Romans itself offers a nice illustration.  The first 11 chapters of the book are Paul's systematic theology.  It's what we should know.  It's our doctrine. Romans 12:3 through the end of chapter 16 provide us with a picture of what it looks like to live like a Christian.  It's what we should do and how we should act, all based on what we believe.  Romans 12:1-2 is the point in which these two things should intersect.

It's like an old hinge.  One side is fixed, anchored. This side is our knowledge, doctrine, and theology.  It's what we believe.  The other side is attached to the part that moves.  It's our actions.  It's ministry.  This side of the hinge is what we do.  And the pin in the middle that holds it all together is our love and submission to Jesus Christ.  (Take a look at Romans 12:1-2 with this illustration in mind.)

As we journey through the Christian life, most of us will default to one side or the other.  For most Christians one part of the hinge is larger than the other and we often see the world around us from the perspective of our larger side.  The lynchpin is the critical piece however.  How we love Jesus and submit our lives to him is not only what allows these two parts to work together, it's what we must entirely orient our lives around.  It's what make the hinge work.  Without the pin, the two sides become something other than the Christian life.  They become ugly.  They becoming idols.  But when the hinge works well, we have balance, joy, and faithfulness.  These two parts, working well together, held together by Christ, should be our desire.

*Photo used in this post comes from pixabay.com

Summary Verses of the Gospel

While all of the Bible provides us with an expression and explanation of the Gospel, there are some verses that serve as summary verses.  These verses, when understood within the big picture and proper context fire up believers.  They serve as succinct reminders of the Gospel.

Taken out of context and simply quoted to nonbelievers often doesn't produce the results we hope for because these are summaries and reminders.  (Of course this is not to say we shouldn't share these verses with nonbelievers.  We should and we should seek to provide the big picture and context.)

Allow me to use the movie, "The Empire Strikes Back" as an illustration.  Imagine you've never seen the movie or the one that came before it.  All you have is a 2 minute clip from the film.  You see a young man walk into a strange industrial area.  Suddenly a large, black, robotic looking warrior in a cape enters the scene.  They fire up their light sabers and engage in battle.  The young man eventually gets his hand hacked off and his weapon plummets far below.  He's defeated yet still manages to crawl out onto a catwalk far above an endless pit.  The darker character says something about the two of them ruling the galaxy together and something else about the power of the dark side. (Whatever that is?)

Then the dark character speaks with a deep voice and says, "Obi Wan never told you what happened to your father."

The younger man says, "He told me enough. He told me you killed him!"

Then the other character says, "No, I am your father!"

If we had see the entire movie, we'd gasp in shock and horror.  Having seen the the previous movie as well as this one up to this point, we can easily understand this absolute plot-twisting shocker.  If you've seen this movie, emotions and thoughts may already be welling up from this single summary clip. (I mean really, what voice did you use when you read that last line?)  Cultural references have been made from this scene for years, to include a scene where the character, "Tommy Boy" is speaking the words "Luke, I am your father" into an oscillating fan, just as many of us have likely done in our own lives.  But without understanding the movie, the clip is not as valuable.  So it is the case with the summary gospel verses of the Bible.

Those who don't know the Bible should ask many questions about these verses.  Who is this Jesus?  Who is the 'he' being referred here?  Why is this sin so series that we need rescued from it?  What is so significant about the death of this one man?  What is so amazing about the grace being referenced in this verse?  Salvation from what?  What do I do with this summary verse?  These are important questions, which is why believers should strive to understand these verses in their proper context, know the bigger story, and strive to explain these verses in greater detail to those who don't know the Bible.

But the gospel is for Christians.  We should be reminded of it often.  We should be spurred on by it, driven and motived by the gospel.  So the summary verses serve a great purpose.  They remind us of the bigger picture.  In one or two lines, these highly loaded statements fuel us.  They are very significant.

Listed below are a sample of the many summary verses that remind us of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  (They are quoted in the ESV.)

Isaiah 53:5 - But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Mark 10:45 - For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jared Jenkins and I discuss John 3:16 on Salty Believer Unscripted. Listen here.)

Acts 10:43 - To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Acts 13:38-39 - Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Romans 4:24-5:1  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:7-8 - For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 Corinthians 15:3-6 - For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 - All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:21 - For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Titus 2:11-14 - For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Hebrews 9:27-28 - And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

1 Peter 2:24 - He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also suffered nonce for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

1 John 4:10 - In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.


*Photo by flickr.com user, Ihar, is registered under a creative commons license.

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet"  -- William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's character, Juliet, asks a good question: "What's in a name?"  Would Romeo be any different to her if his name were Steve?  Would she love him less?  When we think about church names, we really ought to ask that question.  
Biblically churches were identified by a lose nomenclature.  For example, in Acts 13:1 the church meeting in Antioch is called the church in Antioch.  In Paul's letter to the Romans he mentions Phoebe who was a servant of the church at Cenchreae.  This is simple.  Many churches still name themselves by their general location.  Maybe the name of the church is the street their building is located on.  Or maybe it's a regional thing.

The Bible doesn't dictate that names have to be geographical, however.  In some cases, this would be really difficult.  So some churches take names from other significance.  Living Stones Church is an example that comes from 1 Peter 2:4-5.  A friend of mine named the church he planted Taproot Church because the taproot is the strong root that grows deep down and anchors the tree.  Some churches just select catchy words like Velocity or Amazing or some other buzzword.  Some churches go with Greek or Latin names.  Or maybe the church is named after a saint of the past. 

Theology often makes an appearance in church names.  Many churches attempt to draw distinctions by including theological words like grace or faith or free will.  Or if it's not a theological distinction, it may be a practical one.  To indicate something about a church they may add Bible or community or evangelical to their name.  And of course many churches at one time held the denominational distinction in their name.  First Baptist.  Some Church Presbyterian.

A lot goes into a name, but in the end, the church may actually be the same if it's called the Romeo Church or Steve Church.  The local church is a gathered group of disciples who have covenanted together to be a local church.  Who they are will say much more about the church than the name.  A bad name can be problematic, but a good name really will only be a good church if the people are good, Jesus loving people in strong unity.

Jared Jenkins and I discuss this in greater detail as well as give some examples, make jokes, and share personal naming stories on this episode of Salty Believer Unscripted


*Photo taken by Romana Klee is registered under a creative commons license.

Beloved: A Love Letter From God

Reading the book of 2 Peter--a letter from God, through Peter, to Christians everywhere--one word should pop out.  Beloved.  Agapetos or agapetoi in the Greek are the words that are often translated into the English word, beloved.  In 2 Peter 1:17, Peter uses this word quoting the Father's words at Jesus' transfiguration.  At 2 Peter 3:15, Peter uses beloved to describe our brother Paul.  In the other four uses, it is a term of endearment toward the reader.  But is it Peter who loves reader?  Maybe.  Peter did have a great love for Christians; however, it is God who calls Christians everywhere 'beloved.'

Some may dispute that 2 Peter is a letter to Christians everywhere specifically from God, especially when 2 Peter 1:1 says, "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (ESV).  But in this very letter Peter says,"For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21, ESV).  If 2 Peter is Scripture, than it is prophecy and therefore not written by the will of Peter, but by God as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit."  This is a letter from God and it is written to Christians everywhere.

The use of 'beloved' in 2 Peter 3:14 is especially encouraging.  God (through Peter, carried by the Holy Spirit) says, "Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace" (ESV).  When we look at this verse in light of what the rest of the Bible says, we know it is impossible to be without spot or blemish apart from Christ, the only one who is without spots or blemishes (1 Peter 1:17-21).  We trade our sin for Jesus' righteousness.  We trade our lies and likes of the false prophets for the Truth of the gospel of Jesus.  He takes our sins, dies for them, and gives us a perfection we will one day share with Jesus in his glory.  And the same is true for peace.  Apart from the knowledge that our Lord is coming back and believers will live in eternity with God, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be at true peace.  We trade our waring soul for one that is at peace with Christ.

When we see that we are beloved, we really ought to see that we not only traded our spots and blemishes and our worry, doubt, and rage for salvation, we are now seen with love by the Father.

In the four Gospels, the word beloved is used in some interesting ways.  In Matthew 3 and Luke 3 the word appears at Christ's baptism.  Here there is an audible voice that says "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."  At the transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17 and Mark 9 an audible voice again introduces Jesus, saying, "This is my beloved son, listen to him."  Matthew quotes Isaiah in Matthew 12 showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the coming messiah and beloved son.  And even Jesus uses this word about himself when he uses a parable in Mark 12 and Luke 12 about a vineyard owner who has bad tenants.  Eventually this owner sends his beloved son.

God's people, that is, those who have repented and accepted Jesus as Lord become children of God, being loved as Jesus is loved.  Romans 9:25-26 is a quotation of Hosea 2:23 and Isaiah 10:22-23.  It reads, "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.'' And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called 'sons of the living God'" (ESV).  In Christ, we become children of God, sharing in Christ's inheritance and we gain entry into the "kingdom of his beloved son" (see Colossians 1:11-14).  By no means did we earn this love because as it is said in Romans 5:8: "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (ESV).     

If you are a Christian, repentant and calling on Jesus as Savior and Lord, then 2 Peter is a letter to you, from God.  As you read this letter, do not see it as anything other than a message from a loving father to a son or daughter.  Beloved, God loves you! 

 


* Photo by flickr.com user Pimthida is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

Picking a Mid-Level Bible

I recently encouraged parents to select a Bible written in terms their child can understand.  Early in a child's growth, this may be something like the Jesus Storybook Bible.  This is not a stretch; parents tend to be excited about buying a child her first Bible; but then there's a disconnect between her first picture-book (or over-simplified Bible) and the adult translation she'll own later.  At some point, children need a full Bible they can read, understand, and enjoy.

There are a couple ways a parent can go.  The first option is to get a para-phrased Bible like The Message.  A para-phrased translation takes the general ideas behind giant amounts of text and writes a giant amount of text in English.  Para-phrased translations sometimes get a bum wrap because they are not the best option for study, but they are a good option for general reading and sometimes even devotional reading.  Eugene Peterson, author/translator of The Message, says in his preface,
"The Message is a reading Bible.  It is not intended to replace the excellent study Bibles that are available.  My intent here (as it was earlier in my congregation and community) is simply to get people reading who don't know that the Bible is read-able at all, at least by them, and to get people who long ago lost interest in the Bible to read it again. [...] So at some point along the way, soon or late, it will be important to get a standard study Bible to facilitate further study" (NavPress, 2002, page 8).    
The different theories behind translating the Bible are many, as are the different purposes behind the translations.  It's important to understand the theory and approach of the different translations in order to understand which translation is right for the task at hand.  Often however, the theory and purpose is less concerned with the vocabulary and reading level of children.  Even Peterson's simplified The Message is focused on adult readers.

The second (and better option) is to find a Bible that was translated with children in mind.  There are not nearly as many full Bible translations with children in mind as there are picture-Bibles, but I've found one that seems good.  The New International Readers Version (NiRV) was specifically translated with children in mind.  Their goal was to produce an English translation of the Bible at an overall grade-reading level of 3.5 (3rd year, 5th month); but in the end thay managed to get it down to a 2.9 grade level. 

The NiRV translation team consisted of both Greek and Hebrew language scholars, children's literature experts, and editors who would keep a keen eye on readability and vocabulary levels.  Using the NIV84 as their base text, they set to their task.  As they encountered larger words, longer sentences, or more difficult sentence construction, they would return to the original languages and try to translate them at a lower reading level and child-capable vocabulary.  (On a side note: It's my prayer that they DO NOT attempt to make the same theological changes to the NiRV that were made to the NIV84, resulting in the less-than quality translation called the NIV11.)

Let's compare some different translations with reading level in mind.

I'll use the Flesch-Kincaid readability formulas to compare readability.  Up front I need to say the Flesch-Kincaid is not perfect, but it is a helpful tool for comparison purposes.  These formulas use the number of words, number of sentences, and number of syllables to provide reading ease and a grade level.  They do not however compare vocabulary or theological concepts, and different test engines may provide slightly different results.  For the sake of my tests, I'm using the readability tool provided with Word for Mac 2011.

The Flesch-Kincaid is reported in two ways.  The first is readability.  It is reported on a scale from 0 to 100 with 100 being the most readable.  For example, a score of 90 should be readable by the average 11-year old, scores between 60 and 70 should be readable by a teenager between 13 and 15 years old, and a scores below 30 are probably best understood by university graduate students.  

The second Flesch-Kincaid formula measures grade level.  With ever-changing educational standards, this is not truly representative of what's happening in schools today nor is it any kind of guarantee (so please don't compare your children to these numbers!)  The grade-level provides a number that attempts to represent the grade level in years and months.  For example, a 3.9 would mean the 3rd year, ninth month.  In this post, I'll simply post the readability followed by the grade level.  (Up to this point, this post ranks at  53.5/10.1.)

Neither of these two numbers are as useful when looking at a single translation as when used to compare translation against translation (NiRV, NIV84, ESV, NASB, and the KJV).  Therefore, we'll look at a few translations using 5 selected verses (which just so happen to be taken from my children's Bible memory verses this month).  Each verse will include the readability and grade-level.  Remember, these numbers only measure so much, so there's real value in the human factor.  Just read the verses and think about how a child in the 2nd Grade may understand the verse.

James 4:10
NiRV - Bow down to the Lord. He will lift you up. (100/0.0)

NIV84 - Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (87.9/3.7)

ESV - Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (78.2/4.8)

NASB - Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (83.0/4.9)

KJV - Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (79.5/6.1)


Luke 19:10
NiRV - The Son of Man came to look for the lost and save them. (100/1.2)

NIV84 - For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. (100/1.6)

ESV - For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost. (100/0.8)

NASB - For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost. (100/2.4)

KJV - For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. (85.1/5.8)


Romans 5:8
NiRV - But here is how God has shown his love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (100/0.6)

NIV84 - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (89.5/5.4)

ESV - But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (99.2/3.8)

NASB - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (85.1/6.1)

KJV - But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (72.3/8.1)


John 3:16
NiRV - God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but have eternal life. (92.7/3.5)

NIV84 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (76.3/9.0)

ESV - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (76.7/8.5)

NASB - For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (69.7/9.7)

KJV - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (50.9/12.0)

 
Ecclesiastes 7:20
NiRV - There isn’t anyone on earth who does only what is right and never sins. (89.8/4.1)

NIV84 - There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. (90.1/4.6)

ESV - Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (84.4/5.2)

NASB - Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (70.1/7.6)

KJV - For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. (70.1/7.6)


Hopefully this small sample has helped shape your thinking a bit about translation.  It's also my hope and prayer that this post will help you, the parent, find a good mid-level Bible for your children. And by the way, when running these tests with all 5 verses together, the NiRV scored a 100/1.5, the NIV84 is 90.0/4.9, ESV is 90.1/4.6, NASB is 82.3/6.2, and the KJV 86.1/5.6.  It may also be helpful to run more samples and include other translations such as the NLT, HCSB, and the NKJV.  

*I have no connection to any of the listed translations, material or otherwise.


Interconnectedness of the Bible: 1 Chronicles 28:9

"It's clear that the Bible is too superintended to be a random collection of books," a pastor friend once said to me.  I agree.  Like watching a good flick, reading the Bible a few times opens up a fascinating realm of things missed on a first or second pass.  This exploration can continue for a life time if you just keep reading the Bible.  It's a supernatural interconnected single story, woven together through the merciful revelation of God to his creation over the course of about 2,000 years through forty or so human authors.  (More technically, the Bible is God's divinely authored revelation of himself to his people, written through his people.  It's a complex dual authorship!)  And it is the Holy Spirit who illuminates new things as you read, learn, and grow; therefore,  as you keep reading you grow more and more convinced of the truth of God's Word, the Bible.

Evidence of the Bible's interconnectedness abounds.  I've not done a formal study or count, but I'd venture a guess that there are thousands of passages that point to other passages in one way or another and they all point toward Christ.  We'll use 1 Chronicles 28:9 as an example.

Chapter 28 of 1 Chronicles opens with David, the king of Israel, giving a speech to the officials assembled in Jerusalem.  He tells them that he had a heart to build a temple for God but God had not allowed him to do so.  He also expressed that Solomon, his son, was chosen by God to be his successor and it will be Solomon who will build the temple.  At verse 9 David shifts his speech directory toward Solomon.  He gives him a charge and some instruction.  "And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.  If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever" (ESV).

I found well over 100 cross references for the various aspects of this passage, but for the sake of this post, I'll only deal with a couple parts of this very loaded verse, and even in that, I'll only provide a small sample of interconnected verses. 

First, much of the Old Testament talks about God in terms of the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, or in other terms--the God of our fathers.  Many times the God of one's father becomes one's own God, as if there's a transition from one to another or a personal acceptance or relationship as the son grows and begins to know the God of his father for himself.  God is no longer the God of someone else, but personal.  This talk of the God of our fathers as well as the transition can be seen in verses like Genesis 28:13, Exodus 3:16, and Exodus 15:2.  In 2 Kings 21:22 Amon walks away from the God of his fathers, whereas Josiah does walk in the way of the God of David, that is, the God of his fathers (1 Kings 22:2). This language is found over and over again until Christ walks among his people and actually calls God his Father! No longer is the worship and service to the God of our fathers, but the Heavenly Father himself. Then, because of Jesus, we too are able to call God our Father because we are adopted into his family (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; and Ephesians 1:5).  

Next, as early as Genesis 6:5, the Bible indicates that God knows the thoughts and intentions of man.  1 Samuel 16:7, at the time when they boy David was being identified as Israel's king, it is said that God does not look at the outward appearance, but at man's heart.  Psalm 7:9 identifies God as one who tests minds and hearts. Psalm 139:2 says that God can even discern these thoughts from a distance.  The idea of testing thoughts and intentions is present again in Jeremiah 11:20 and again in Jeremiah 17:10.  So it should help us see that Jesus is God when he has this very ability.  In John 1:47 Jesus looks into the deep of Nathanael. Repeatidly, Jesus knew what the Pharases were thinking as well as his disciples (see: Matthew 9:4; Matthew 12:25; Luke 1:51; Luke 5:22; Luke 6:8; and Luke 11:17).  And the disciples new and believed that God searches the heart as is evident in Acts 1:24.  Paul also writes about it in Romans 8:27.

Jeremiah 29:13 says that seekers of God find him.  Jesus, as the Messiah and God, repeats the same seek and you will find  theme in Matthew 7:7-8, and in Revelation 3:20 he extends an invitation for a relationship.  Throughout both the Old and New Testaments there are repeated invitations to enter into a relationship with God, no longer serving the God of our fathers but the Heavenly Father himself.

It is because of the interconnectedness that we use the Bible to interpret the Bible.  The more plain passages help us understand the more complex ones.  The connections between the books, the players, and various smaller stories help us understand the larger story of God's redemption.  It's all interconnected.  It's one story woven together like a beautiful basket.

*Photo of weaved basket by Damian Gadal is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

Tough Texts on Salty Believer Unscripted

January 1, 2013

Jared Jenkins and I are working through a series on Salty Believer Unscripted called "Tough Texts."  Inspired somewhat by the guys at Credo House as well as our desire to diligently keep our exegetical work sharp, we identified some biblical texts that are difficult to interpret, confusing, shocking, or greatly misunderstood without a little labor.  On the whole, the Bible is written in simple language and is easy to understand, but that does not mean that we don't at times find its words difficult.  Our listeners helped us out by e-mailing us some passages they've struggled with over the years and we selected some of our own to add to the list.

Examples include Paul's words in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 where he talks about women being saved through childbearing.  Genesis 6:1-5 has this strange thing with the Nephilim.  Can people be baptized on behalf of the dead or does 1 Corinthians 15:29 get at something different?  Does Paul suggest that parts of his Epistle are not inspired by the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 7:12?   1 Samuel 28 contains a shocking story of Saul consulting a witch-like medium and raising Samuel to talk with him.  Uzzah is struck dead for touching the ark in 2 Samuel 6:5-7. How in the world can the psalmist write about smashing babies on the rocks in Psalms 137:9?  Romans 1:26-27 discusses unnatural relations and something about God giving these people up to their own desires.  Is total genocide to include even the animals what 1 Samuel 5:13 is getting at?  Peter is the rock has many meanings in the Church today based on how people understand Matthew 16:18.  1 Corinthians 11:27-30 seems to suggest that some believers have died for taking the Lord's Supper incorrectly.  And 1 Peter 3:21 has at times been taken to mean that baptism is an act that actually brings about salvation; how can this be?  We're dealing with all of these and we're still open to add some to the list if we get more tough texts before the end of the series. (You can contact us with a difficult passage you'd like us to address by using this contact form.) 

Jared and I believe that if it's in the Bible, we need to be able to deal with it, understand it, and allow it to change us no matter how difficult or shocking.  It absolutely cannot be that students of the Bible simply skip over parts of God's Word because it's tough, and it is for this reason that we want to discuss the tough texts and help those who truly seek the whole counsel of God.

You can find these podcasts as well as many other resources on the Resources pages of SaltyBeliever.com and EntrustedWithTheGospel.com or you can subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted podcast.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
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* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same.  


*The picture use in this post is in the public domain. 

Hebrews Relationship with the Old Testament

INTRODUCTION

It is difficult for a student of the New Testament to miss the significance of the Old Testament. These two sections of the Canon are like two acts of a play that depend upon each other for the proper presentation of the plot, conflict, and resolution. Character development—a necessary tool for any successful play—usually spans from the first raised curtain to the final curtain call. To properly understand the conclusion, one must understand the beginning. Like the two-act play, the New Testament depends upon the foundations set in the first act, which is typically called the Old Testament. Hebrews, probably more so than any other New Testament book is a second-act book that is highly dependent upon the first act. Its author demands that the reader know the Old Testament in order to fully understand the claims made by the book.

Hebrews, written to an audience with an old covenant background, makes heavy use of the Old Testament. George Guthrie writes of the book, “Thirty-five quotations from the Greek translation of the Old Testament and thirty-four allusions work to support the development of Hebrew’s argument. In addition, the writer offers nineteen summaries of Old Testament material, and thirteen times he mentions an Old Testament name or topic, often without reference to specific context.”[1] Carson and Moo write, “[T]he author cites the Greek Old Testament as if he assumes his readers will recognize its authority.”[2] Clements believes that the original readers are “men and woman who are assumed to be fully familiar with the scriptures of the Old Testament, although they themselves are Christian.”[3] Regardless of the exact identity of the original readers (which will be discussed below), George Guthrie argues, “The author assumes his audience has an extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. Of all the writings of the New Testament, none is more saturated with overt references to the Old Testament. The author so filled his discourse with Old Testament thoughts and passages that they permeate every chapter.”[4]

The Hebrews author exhorts that the new is better than the old. “His line of approach,” according to Donald Guthrie, “was that everything in fact was better – a better sanctuary, a better priesthood, a better sacrifice, a better covenant. Indeed, he aims to show that there is a theological reason for the absence of the old ritual, glorious as it may have seemed to the Jews.”[5] And Scott contends, “The Epistle to the Hebrews clearly affirms that because the final age (‘these last days,’ Hebrews 1:2) is present, the new covenant has made the former obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear; (Hebrews 8:13).”[6] Thus, to understand the thing that is better, it seems that the reader must have some familiarity with the former.

In an effort to understand the exhortation of author of Hebrews, this post will examine the author’s of use of the Old Testament. First, a brief discussion of the potential identity of the author and the most likely original audience should serve to provide an appropriated backdrop for the author’s Old Testament usage. Once the background is set, specific passages will be explored; however, for the scope of this post, not every reference to the Old Testament will be mined for additional understanding. In concluding this post, attempts will be made to understand how dependent the book of Hebrews is upon the Old Testament. Can the key points of Hebrews be understood by a reader with no previous knowledge of the Old Testament passages cited or alluded to in Hebrews? Does Hebrews require further study of the old covenant or does the author provide enough background information that right new covenant understanding can come from the book of Hebrews alone? How should a present-day teacher or preacher approach Hebrews in light of the examination of this post?
AN AUTHOR AND HIS READERS

The author of Hebrews is a mystery. Most introductions contain convincing arguments on why the author was not likely Paul, who wrote Romans and many other Epistles, despite that P46 places Hebrews behind Romans in the Pauline corpus.[7] And it may have been an Eastern Church belief that Hebrews was associated with Paul that allowed it its inclusion in the Canon. Even with the support of Jerome and Augustine, after the forth and early fifth centuries the idea of a Pauline authorship was drawing fire.[8] Today, Carson and Moo write, “The Greek of Hebrews is more polished than that of Paul, and the consistent quality of the rhetoric is quite remarkable.”[9] Hagner points to Hebrews 2:3 as proof that Hebrews was not written by Paul because the author claims to have only second-hand knowledge of the gospel but in passages like Galatians 1:12 and 1 Corinthians 9:1, Paul claims to have learned directly from God.[10] And Davies contents, “It would be very unusual to find a modern scholar holding this view, for there are no positive reasons for it, and strong reasons against it.”[11] But if Paul is not that author, who might the author be?

Luther first proposed that Apollos might be the author. Hagner provides a case for this authorship pointing to Acts 18:24, which states that Apollos was a “learned man” and held a “thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.” And Apollos would know Timothy enough to reference his release from prison (Hebrews 13:23).[12] Tertullian supported Barnabas as the author. Hagner lists that Barnabas was a Levite and would be interested in the livitical system, he was from Cyprus, and was likely influenced by Hellenistic culture.[13] Other suggested authors include Clement of Rome, Priscilla, Jude, Philip, and Silvanus.[14] Presently however, only aspects of the author can be gleaned from the text but there is still no clear evidence—internal or external—that leaves scholars with any solid suspects.

The audience on the other hand is shrouded in slightly less mystery. From Hebrews 10:23, it is fair to assume that the author had some specific people in mind when writing his Epistle.[15] There is silence on the temple, and the Old Testament is quoted from polished Greek, leaving one to conclude that either author or the audience did not know Hebrew. The audience was either not in Jerusalem or if in Jerusalem, they were most likely Greek-speaking expatriates.[16] And while there is no clear identification of who the original audience was, Hagner argues, “the early church was very probably correct in understanding the first readers to have been Jewish Christians. The vast majority of modern scholars have agreed with this conclusion from analysis of the content of the book.”[17]

EXAMINING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN HEBREWS

As one tries to understand how the Hebrews author uses the Old Testament, one must first ask how the author viewed the Old Testament. Yisa believes that the author was not arguing against the Old Testament, but rather building upon his position with a strong trust and understanding of the Old Testament. He writes, “At surface level, it may seem that the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament in an allegorical and fanciful way. However, that is far from the truth. A closer examination of the book proves that the author shared the Jewish and early Christian presuppositions and exegetical principles of the literal and natural sense of the text, a high view of Scripture, and the divine inspiration of the Old Testament as the Word of God.”[18] Like Yisak who essentially argues that the author of Hebrews holds to a Christocentric hermeneutic, Hagner writes, “Christ is seen to be the key to the real meaning of the OT as it can now be understood in this era of fulfillment. From this point of view, all of the OT points directly or indirectly to Christ, who is by definition the telos (goal) of God’s saving purpose.”[19] And Yisak rightly points out, “[The author] intended to teach that Jesus is the unifying factor of Scriptures.”[20]

Also worth noting is the source (or sources) from where the author drew his information. “In quotations,” writes Hanger, “the author regularly follows the Greek (LXX) rather than the Hebrew (or Masoretic) text that has come down to us.”[21] Bruce identifies two Greek texts that are in agreement with the author’s quotations (Alexandrinus and Vaticanus), but twice as many quotes are in agreement with Alexandrinus than Vaticanus. Interestingly, some of the quotations agree with neither.[22] Bruce explains, “[The author] may have selected his variants (where he knew more readings than one) for interpretational suitability. These variants were sometimes borrowed from the other parts of the Greek Bible or from Philo, but appear for the most part to have been introduced on his own responsibility. It has been argued on the basis of his use of certain Old Testament quotations that he was familiar with the interpretations of Philo and used some quotations in such a way as to counter these interpretations.”[23] And it may even be argued (as Bruce does) that the author of Hebrews actually influenced other Greek texts.[24]

From the broad background, this post will now adjust the attention to some specific Old Testament passages found in Hebrews. One way to outline Hebrews by major themes is to look at Chapters 1-10 as an argument that Christ is superior. In nearly every case, the inferior items are something argued from the Old Testament. Christ is superior to angels, Moses, the previous priesthood, the previous sacrifices, and even the entire old covenant. The remaining three chapters are centered upon the necessity and superiority of faith. To understand the thing that is better there is a necessity to understand the previous thing, and the author often reminds his readers of the Old Testament to make his case. Examining the book of Hebrews in this fashion will not give equal treatment to every Old Testament quote and allusion found in Hebrews, and in fact, some quotations will be neglected all together; however, this approach should provide enough examples to support the thesis of this post.

Christ is superior to the angels. The book of Hebrews wastes no time with an introductory opening and is quickly arguing that Jesus is superior to the angels. To make this argument, the author appeals to Deuteronomy 32:43, 2 Samuel 7:14, Psalm 2:7, Psalm 45:6-7, Psalm 102:25-27, and Psalm 110:1. Most of the entire first chapter is actually comprised of Old Testament quotes. Davies points out that all the Scripture appealed to in this specific argument is ascribed to God as the speaker, showing the author’s belief of divine authorship of the quoted passages.[25] Also worth noting is how short many of the quotations are. Most of them are one sentence, and of those, the first four quotes are rather short sentences. It is as if they are to serve as merely a reminder rather that a first-time presentation of the material. And the reader must already trust these statements as God’s Word, that is, divine Scripture, or there is no value in using the passages to support the argument for Christ.

Christ is superior to Moses. In Chapter 3, the author compares Jesus to Moses, saying, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses […].”[26] And while the author provides a little glimpse of who Moses was in verse 5 when he says, “Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant,” he provides very little about Moses the character. It is as if the reader must already be aware of Moses or the author wants to the reader to do some research. In providing commentary on this passage, Bruce discusses aspects of the golden calf, the relationship with Aaron, and even the unfavorable report from spies.[27] None of this is mentioned in the Hebrews passage, but Bruce seems to feel the need to express it to explain the comparison. Guthrie feels that he must do the same thing in order to explain the rebellion in verse 8.[28] In order to see a complete picture of Moses, one must read the Old Testament, and it seems the author understood this and expected it of his readers, just as Bruce, Guthrie and many others have done.

Christ is superior to the Old Testament priesthood. Much like the author’s argument about Jesus’ superiority to Moses, he also argues that Jesus is superior to any present priesthood system. This argument spans from the tail end of Chapter 4 through Chapter 7 with some minor breaks. For this argument, the author specifically only quotes Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4, but he alludes to the order of the Melchizedek priesthood and even of the high priest system that his readers would likely be familiar with. But unlike the Moses argument, the author provides some background on the mysterious person called Melchizedek. It is as if he expects the readers to be slightly less informed of Melchizedek—maybe aware of the person but not the magnitude of meaning wrapped up in him— because Hebrews 7:1-10 offers an explanation of who Melchizedek was before the author compares Melchizedek and Jesus. One might point out that the author of Hebrews provides enough information that the reader may not need to do additional research to understand the comparison, and this is a valid observation. This demonstrates the author’s awareness of his original audience and his awareness of the common understanding of Moses compared to that of Melchizedek. When likened to the author’s treatment of Moses, there is an indication the author must teach where necessary but depend upon the audience’s knowledge of the Old Testament where he can afford to do so.

Christ is superior to the old covenant. In making the argument that Christ as the new covenant is better than the old covenant, the author appeals briefly to Exodus 25:40 and extensively to Jeremiah 31:31-34. In appealing to Jeremiah, the author cites what might be the largest quotation from the Old Testament found in Hebrews. Hagner suggests that this citation is “of major importance to the epistle,” and “the explicit reference to the new covenant in this text makes it ideal for his purpose.”[29] This Old Testament passage is so useful in the argument in fact, that is quoted again in Hebrews 10. And just as with the previous uses of the Old Testament, little is outlined or summarized of the old covenant. It seems that the original readers must already hold some understanding of the old covenant, or at least the author assumed they did. And there must be some foundational information the author is assuming because the author is making an appeal that Jesus is better than the thing the reader already knows. What is different here compared to previous passages is that the author is using the Old Testament to demonstrate that the new covenant is actually spoken of in the Old Testament. The new covenant is actually inline with previous writings and the author wants his readers to see what they may have missed.

Christ is superior than the old sacrifices. In Chapter 10, the author argues that Christ is the ultimate sacrifice and writes, “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”[30] Like the argument about the better covenant the author is using the Old Testament to demonstrate that his point has already been made in the Old Testament. The readers should have seen the perfect and final sacrifice in Jesus. In this section, the author turns to Psalm 40:6-8 and again to Jeremiah 31:33-34. Here, the Old Testament supports the displeasure of the old sacrifices and then commentary is offered by the author. He states, “[E]very priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”[31] The author finds not only support in the Old Testament, which is treated as if spoken by God, but also boldness from within God’s Word.

So great a cloud of witnesses. The latter portion of the book of Hebrews argues for the superiority of faith. While many Old Testament allusions and quotations may be examined here, the cloud of witnesses proves most interesting. In a single chapter, the author uses 16 characters from the Old Testament as examples of 14 faithful men and two faithful women. This “great cloud of witnesses” includes Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel.[32] Some background is provided for some of these figures, but hardly more than a sentence. And Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel are lumped together in the explanation. Clearly, the author believes his readers know who these individuals were and need only a simple reminder. But to get a better understanding, the reader could consult Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Chronicles, and Ruth, where the accounts and writings of these individuals are found within the Old Testament. The author also includes many unnamed people who have suffered and then he said of them, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”[33] With the exception of the unnamed and more recent faithful witnesses, it is almost a requirement for one to know at least some of the names listed if one is to truly understand the better thing that God has in store. After all, how can one understand the thing that is better without first seeing the thing it is compared to?

CONCLUSION

John Patrick’s stage play, “The Hasty Heart” (1945), takes place in a World War II allied field hospital. In Act I, the hospital patients learn that a Scotsman named Corporal Lachlan "Lachie" MacLachlan is being transferred to the spare bed in their recovery area. Lachie sustained a wound to his kidney and had to have it removed; however, his other kidney is not functioning properly and within about four weeks, Lachie will die of the toxins in his own unfiltered blood. He has no family and he is a bitter, angry man. The commander in charge of the hospital felt that it would be best if Lachie did not know of his condition. While he informed the other patients in the hospital, he asked them to keep it a secret. He also asked the patients and floor nurse to befriend this lonely transfer patient in an effort to improve the quality of his short remaining life. The drama that unfolds shares a remarkable story of the condition of the heart. However, if a theatergoer were to enter and find her seat at intermission between the first and second acts, there is almost no way she would understand the activities playing out before her. In many ways, the play would make no sense. While many things could be learned about Lachie, Yank, and Sister Parker, the overarching plot and conflict would be rather hazy at best. The development of the characters would be only half the story. The same is true of many New Testament books, most especially the book of Hebrews.

As much as the author of Hebrews depends on the specific Old Testament passages, he depends even more upon the reader’s understanding of the scrolls from where those quotes were drawn. Like a playwright, the author is expressing the second act of a two-act play. This is where the conflict is resolved, the plot is concluded, and the character’s development is show to its full capacity.

Hebrews teaches the world much about Jesus; but if the student of the book is to gain the understanding the author intended, it is almost demanded of the student to turn back a few pages and examine the Old Testament. The student must see to what the author is alluding. He or she must observe what was before so there is a solid understand of what is better. In most cases, the author does not provide enough of a summary. The original readers were most likely Jewish Christians and it is assumed that they had the background knowledge of the material. This may not always be the case for modern-day readers; which is why pastors and teachers should be prepared to provide the summary that most students need in order to gain the two-act understanding.

Reading Hebrews a number of times and even studying the Old Testament verses will not fully plum the depths of this rich book. In its pages there is much to be learned, applied, and lived. There is an amazing Savior to be loved. Many commentaries provide additional insight into the author’s use of the Old Testament and these may serve as additional material for further study. However, it is the recommendation of this author that further study consist of starting with Hebrews 1:1 and reading line by line. At any point a quote or allusion to the Old Testament is presented, place a bookmark in Hebrews and explore the passage from where the quote came. Once the Old Testament passage has been read and studied to the point that a good understanding is achieved, turn back to Hebrews and continue where the reading left off. When the end of the book is reached, try it again and see what was not seen the first time. Chances are, this will take years and the journey will move the reader through much of the Old Testament. But the reward will be well worth the journey. It is the prayer of this author that this post is not where the investigation ends, but rather, this post has only served as an appetizer to such a rich reading of the book of Hebrews and even of the Old Testament upon which Hebrews depends.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised). The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing, 1990.

Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005.

Clements, Ronald E. "The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews." Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 1 (September 1, 1985): 36-45. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 23, 2011).

Davies, J. H. A Letter to Hebrews. The Cambridge Bible Commentary. London, Engl: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Guthrie, Donald. Hebrews. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, Illi: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983.

Guthrie, George. Hebrews. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zonderan, 1998.

Hanger, Donald A. Hebrews. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1990.

Scott, Julius, J., Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 1995

Yisak, Suru. “The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews: Understanding the interpretive method of the writer of Hebrews.” Th.M. diss., (2007) Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dissertations & Theses: Full Text [database on-line]. http://www.proquest.com (publication number AAT 1450952; accessed April 24, 2011).


END NOTES

1 George Guthrie, Hebrews, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1998), 19.

2 D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2005), 610.

3 Ronald E. Clements, "The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews" (Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 1, September 1, 1985: 36-45, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost) [accessed April 23, 2011], 36.

4 Donald Guthrie, Hebrews, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, Illi: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), 19.

5 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1998, 32-33.

6 J. Julius Scott Jr. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapid, Mich: Baker Academic, 1995), 327.

7 Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 600.

8 Donald A. Hanger, Hebrews, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Mass: Henderickson Publishers, 1990), 8-9.

9 Carson, An introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 601.

10 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 9.

11 J. H. Davies, A Letter to Hebrews, The Cambridge Bible Commentary (London, Engl: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 10.

12 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 10.

13 Ibid.

14 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1998, 23.

15 Carson, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2005, 608.

16 Ibid.

17 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 2.

18 Suru Yisak, “The use of the Old Testament in Hebrews: Understanding the interpretive method of the writer of Hebrews,” Th.M. diss., 2007 (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dissertations & Theses: Full Text [database on-line. http://www.proquest.com, publication number AAT 1450952; accessed April 24, 2011), 83.

19 Hagner, Hebrews, 1990, 15.

20 Yisak, 2007, 62.

21 Hanger, Hebrews, 1990, 15.

22 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Revised), The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing, 1990), 26.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid., 27

25 Davies, A Letter to Hebrews, 1967, 22.

26 Hebrews 3:3a.

27 F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, 1990, 91-92.

28 Guthrie, Hebrews, 1983, 102-104.

29 Hanger, Hebrews, 1990, 122.

30 Hebrews 10:18.

31 Hebrews 10:11.

32 Hebrews 12:1.

33 Hebrews 11:39-40.


*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

Your Cell Phone and God's Call

Set your cell phone or MacBook or latest electronic gadget on the table in front of you.  Look at it closely.  Imagine you were a person from 1950 looking at your gizmo today.  An iPad might be too much for 1950-man, so lets say it's a cell phone.  What could you know about it?  It's not lit up or making noise.  It's just sitting on the table.

If you stop and think about it, you could probably deduce that the device is something that has been intentionally created; that is, it wasn't accidentally assembled after a tornado ripped through computer plant.  You might also come to the conclusion that the device did not create itself.  There was a designer or a team of designers and they probably had a plan to build the phone.  A purpose for the object was probably also something the builders had in mind.  And the simple reality that someone else built the phone should lead you to believe that the builder deserves much more credit for the phone's existence than the phone itself.  

Like your cell phone, we can think about the creation of the world in much the same way.  The technical term for this is teleological thinking.  As we look at the created world, we can see a creator.  There is order and organization and harmony and design.  All this world came from somewhere and the credit belongs to the creator.  A funny thing happens however--throughout history people look at the world and worship creation, that is, they give ultimate credit to the created things rather than the creator.  This would be like crediting the plastic power button on your phone for the phone's creation and then worshiping the power button.  Of if they don't worship a physical part of creation, they worship an idea.  It's like saying all this world came about by accident and random chance gets all the credit and worship.  But when they say this, what they are really saying is, "I know best and the object of my worship is myself because of my own ideas."  The phone aught not think of itself better than its creator, yet so many people do this regarding their own creation and their creator.  How silly.

Looking at the world and seeing a creator happens because the Creator has designed in some markers into his creation.  This called general revelation.  General revelation is, “The knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law, which comes through creation to all humanity. […] General revelation comes through observing nature, through seeing God’s directing influence in history, and through an inner sense of God’s existence and his laws that he has placed inside every person.”[1] (A biblical picture of general revelation is available in Romans 1:18-2:29 and Psalm 19:1-6 for example.)

God has appointed all of his creation to point back to himself.  He has placed his trademark on all he has created just as Apple has a recognized symbol on all their products.  Yet even looking at an iPhone, iPad, or iMac, you don't need the Apple icon to know the item was created by Apple.  There's just something about an Apple products that screams, "I'm made by Apple!"

Interestingly enough, general revelation can demonstrate our sinful ways.  We can see that we've misplaced our worship and that's called idolatry.  Romans 1:16-2:11 provides a solid explanation that man is without excuse--we should know and believe that there is a God apart from creation and we are not that God.  In the book of Acts, the Apostles Barnabas and Paul go into Lystra to proclaim the good news of Christ.  The people there are so amazed, they begin worshiping Barnabas and Paul.  The Apostles respond by showing the people that they themselves are simply parts of the creation and not the Creator.  They go on to say that God has not left himself without a witness because his trademark is on his creation but that they should also listen to the message God has sent them to share. 

God uses the pinnacle of his creation, man, to share the good news of salvation found only through Christ.  This is what Barnabas and Paul were doing.  This is kind of like what the manufacturer of your cell phone does with press releases.  People stand up and tell you about the product and the manufacturer.  Even if you were not at the original press release meeting, you may learn of this information because someone wrote it down.  God has even commissioned his people to tell his story (and he appointed others to write it down).  The most famous of these instructions is found at the end of Matthew 28.  This telling of God's story is called special revelation and the instruction in Matthew 28:16-21 is called the Great Commission. 

Special revelation is, “God’s words addressed to specific people, such as the words of the Bible, the words of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles, and the words of God spoken in personal address, such as a Mount Sinai or the baptism of Jesus.”[2]

Now again imagine you are looking at your cell phone and it's an Apple product.  A guy walks up and says, "That phone is an Apple iPhone, designed by Steve Jobs."  You can choose to believe the guy or not.  God had many of his people telling the world about himself.  They were often called prophets in the Old Testament.  They told people about God and they themselves served as a mechanism for God's special revelation.  They often wrote stuff down too.  But the people rejected them and sometimes even killed them.

Now imagine that after the cell phone guy walks away, another man shows up.  While he's standing there the phone rings.  You answer it and the voice on the other end says "My name is Steve Jobs.  I created the phone you are holding in your hand."  You look up and the man speaking to you over the phone is the same man standing before you in person.  Again, you could believe or not. 

God has done this too when he said of Jesus at his baptism, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:15.)   You to have a choice.  Look at the world like you looked at your cell phone.  That's God's general revelation speaking to you.  Then open the Bible or talk with Christians telling God's story.  That's God's special revelation and he's speaking to you!



_____

1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1994), 122-123.

2. Ibid., 123. 


* Both the photo of Steve Jobs introducing the Mac Air in 2008 and Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" are registered under a creative commons license and are used with permission.  

The New Self: Colossians 3:5-16

INTRODUCTION
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul encourages his Christian readers to put to death the negative things (sin) that may have been a reality in their pre-conversion life and to put on—like a garment—the better things that should be a normal part of the Christian spiritual life. Just the fact that Paul is encouraging the Colossians to make this change suggests that this kind of transformation is not an automatic aspect of the impartation of the Holy Spirit upon regeneration as one might have hoped. And Paul has some experience in this aspect of Christian living as he confesses that even as a Christian he does the things he does not want to do and fails to do the things he desires to do.1 Yet this is no excuse. Paul still admonishes his readers, to include today’s Christians, and even myself, to make this wardrobe change daily.
Paul starts with the things that must go. He tells his readers that they must ‘put off’ the old self. This old self is the negative actions and attitudes of their earthly ways, which he lists as “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (which he calls idolatry).2 He continues by adding “anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk” and he includes lying to one another in the following sentence.3 Two words are used that liken the removal of these items to garments or coverings. The first is apotithēmi, which Stong indicates is to “put off, case off, laid down, lay apart, lay aside [or a] putting away.”4 The second word is very much like the first. It is apekdyomai, which means, “to put off, take off, [or to] divest wholly of.”5 Both of these words paint a picture of the old ways for old self being shed off like an article of clothing and the same picture is used when Paul discusses which articles should be put on. But Paul’s instruction is not simply to remove the rags of the old ways and drop them on the floor. He says to put them to death.6 And in fact, these old ways are not simply garments, they are the old self, that is, they are what the believer once was. Unfortunately, these rags still clothe the believer from time to time, which is why they must die, so they do not return, so they will never be worn again.

And when the believer takes off these items, metaphorically striped to nothing but nakedness, Paul encourages the believer to put on robes of another kind. Paul says, “put on the new self.”7 This self, it seems, presents the believer as in the image of the Creator. This image is much like that found in Genesis 1:26 before the fall; however, before sin there was no need for clothing, fig leaves, animal flesh, or the attribute robes of which Paul speaks. These clothes, and the image of the new self, are “holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” and above these garments like the belt that holds it all together in perfect harmony is love.8 The idea presented to the Colossians, which should also be applied to believers today, is to shed the old self (the sin nature) and replace it with the very image of God. And in doing so, Paul demonstrates what the practical results will look like—peace with one another, gratitude, teaching and admonishing one another for positive growth and worship through “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” all done with thankful hearts.
It is one thing to understand what the text means, and what Paul is really telling his readers to do—that is, to willing move toward sanctification—but it is another thing all together when one thinks of how this is done. Is it as easy as taking off a garment or putting a new one on? The truth of the biblical narrative is that this task is impossible for us to do. We fall short every time when we think in these terms because we often think of taking off and putting on in terms of our own work and our own doing.

Looking at the bigger picture of Paul’s teachings within the context of the Bible, the only way we are to truly mortify and kill these sins and then put on the new self, the very image of God, is through a total submission to God. It is only through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, be it through his conviction, his empowering, his gifting, and by the fruit of the Spirit that any of this is possible. Therefore, it would seem that Paul is actually telling his readers that one must be willing and prepared to be undressed and redressed. After all, the best Adam and Eve could come up with on their own was fig leaves. It was God who clothed them. And one day, God’s people will be clothed by God in robes of righteousness.9
The next question for this post then is this: Is there anything a person can do to be willing and prepared? The answer is yes. This is where spiritual formation is involved. Through a diligent effort to grow and develop in the area of our spiritual desires toward God, we can help prepare our hearts and minds for this continual transformation in our post conversation lives. We can strive for a diet of meat rather than remaining content on a milk like those the author of Hebrews addresses in Hebrews 6. We can engage in prayer and fasting, journaling and service. We can study and know the Word of God. We worship through singing, music, poetry, and many other art forms. Scripture memorization might also help shape the heart. Small groups that encourage open and honest discussion and support are yet another example of activities that help one grow in the spiritual life.

And I would like to conclude with a personal reflection upon my own efforts to grow and develop the spiritual life. I keep a regular habit of morning Scripture reading and prayer. This is not study, just reading as if to drink in the Word of God. I also keep a journal of prayer items and requests that I try to pray for regularly. This journal includes Scriptures that I like to pray through and meditate upon. It also contains a list of every lost person I know so that I may pray for them by name, usually about five a day. Later in the day I work on a Bible study to get much deeper into a specific passage. I teach a Sunday school class for adults and often the topic I teach tends to result in specific aspects of that lesson teaching me much that week. I meet with a group of men in an effort to seek help identifying the things that I need to put off and things I need to put on. Once we have identified them, we pray for God’s work to be done in our lives. This group of men also meets on Thursday evenings in a group that includes our wives where we pray and study together. And as a chaplain at the VA hospital, I often meet with other chaplains in much the same way as I meet with the men of the small group. This helps me serve better. I believe these are among some of the things I do to help me be willing to put off the old self and put on the new. I pray that I am always willing to mortify who I was in myself and put on the image of God as I am becoming the new self God has called me to become.



BIBLIOGRAPHY
Strong, James, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson. The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive
Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001.


1 See Romans 7:12-25.
2 Colossians 3:5, ESV. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes taken from the Bible will be from the English Standard Version (ESV).
3 Colossians 3:8-9.
4 James Strong, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson, The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), 1594.
5 Strong 2001, 1593.
6 Colossians 3:5.
7 Colossians 3:10.
8 Colossians 3:12, 14.
9 See Psalm 132:9 and Isaiah 61:10.

** This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

A Pastor's Need for Intimacy with God

Wilson and Hoffmann argue that there are three different types of intimate relationships—those with friends, a relationship with a spouse, and our relationship with God (26). And to define these relationships, they state, “Intimate relationships are those in which others truly understand us, even if they don’t agree with us. [. . .] They know the real us that exists below the mask we wear when we’re ‘on-stage’ in ministry. They know our hurts, our struggles, our private victories and the things at the top of our prayer list” (34). Defining intimacy itself they write, “[. . .] a simple but effective way of describing intimacy might be ‘any relationship where we know another fully and where we are also fully known’” (35).

All three of these types of intimate relationships (with the exception of the spouse for those who are unmarried) are necessary for ministers, especially an intimate relationship with God. Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (ESV). Here we can see that believes were not just brought onto a task or commission alone. It is not as if pastors were hired on by God to work for his Kingdom. Instead, we have been adopted into the family. We are a part of the family business but it does not end there. We are adopted into the family—this is language of love, relationship, and intimacy. God wants this intimacy with all of his children.

If a ministry gets so busy as to neglect this relationship, he or she might as well pack it up and close up shop. It is all about this relationship. Ministry is helping people foster stronger, better intimate relationships with God. A pastor may be able to lead others into this relationship for a time, but soon enough, if he or she does not have an intimacy with God, it starts to look like nothing but an employment contract and in the Kingdom of God, employment contracts are not what God is looking for. He wants to hear ‘Abba, Father!’ from his children.

___
Wilson, Michael Todd, and Brad Hoffmann. Preventing Ministry Failure: A ShepherdCare Guide for Pastors, Ministers and Other Caregivers. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2007.

* Painting by Nikhil Kirsh and used by permission. 

Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 3)


[This review is a review in parts.  If you are just joining this review, start with "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Prolegomena)."] 

Rob Bell explores his thoughts about hell in the third chapter of his book, Love Wins.  With a part of this chapter he challenges the traditional Christian view of a place of punishment, sorrow, and anguish, and it also seems that he is laying the ground work for a future argument about the everlasting aspects of the biblical hell.  But Bell also uses this chapter to present an idea of hell on earth, maybe something like his ideas of heaven on earth. However, this twisted idea of hell that Bell shares speaks against the Gospel of Christ and against the biblical idea of hell; it is a heretical argument and a tragic concept with the potential for epic devastation, a message which no Christian preacher should ever suggest, preach, or teach.

Bell argues that hell on earth is for victims. 

How can this be good news?

(At this point, I realize that readers who love and support Bell and his book will be tempted to stop reading this review, and that's okay.  But it is my hope that those readers remember arguments that they themselves might have made.  "Don't pass judgment," they might have argued, "and don't form an opinion until you've read the book."  Some also argued that I would have to get to the end of the book to see the entire picture.  So if this is you, I hope you continue reading this review.  I hope you are willing to see it through to the end. I invite comments and questions via e-mail or in person.  Please feel free to contact me. And I realize I have just leveled some serious claims about Bell's ideas; so Mr. Bell, I invite you to contact me to discuss your ideas so I can better understand. Come out to Salt Lake so we can discuss this over a cup of coffee.)

In this chapter, Bell shares some of his observations and experiences he has had as a pastor--a trip to Rwanda, a time sitting with a rape victim, a question from a boy about his father who had just committed suicide, the look of a cocaine addict, the ripples of a marital affair, and a cruel dead man.

When Bell was in Rwanda, he witnessed many teenagers missing hands and legs.  They were victims of brutal treatment, forced upon them by no fault of their own. Bell says this was a tactic of a person's enemy.  Cutting off your enemy's hand or leg leaves a brutal reminder of what you did to him.  He is reminded of you every time he looks at his child.  To this, Bells says, "Do I believe in a literal hell?  Of course. Those aren't metaphorical missing arms and legs" (71).

Bell also asks if his readers have ever sat with a woman as she described what it was like when she was raped.  In another question he asks, "How does a person describe what it's like to hear a five-year-old boy whose father has just committed suicide ask, 'When is daddy coming home?'" (71).   

But here's the problem with these examples.  In the common vernacular, one might suggest that a hot stone massage is "heavenly" or maybe it's a piece of chocolate cake the warrants such a high description.  I even remember once buying a honey-baked ham from a company called Heavenly Ham, but I really don't think I bought a ham from heaven, not even heaven on earth.  This is metaphorical hyperbole.  Heaven is the greatest thing one can think of so we use it to describe great things, as if to say there is nothing better.  But in reality, the biblical heaven is not a hot stone massage or a piece of cake or a ham or even the commercial building where I bought the ham.  That's not what these kinds of statements are attempting to say.  We use the word and idea of hell in much the same way.  Hell is the worst thing we can think of so we make statements like, "War is hell."  We want to dramatically declare that it just doesn't get any worse than this.  So in that usage, armless, legless boys and rape victims and mothers who hear very difficult questions could easily say, "This is hell;" but that would not be the hell described in the bible.

What these horrific examples demonstrate is sin, or rather, the effects of sin.  See, the teens in Rwanda and the raped woman are the victims of sinful acts thrust upon them.  These are examples of sin in motion, the sin of humans; it's sin in the fallen world in which we live.  However, in the model Bell gives us, Abel would have been in hell during the few moments while Cain was murdering him (Genesis 4).  Stephen would have been in hell as he was being stoned to death, despite that the Bible says that he saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man was standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7).  In this model, it seems that the early Saints were passing into a hell on earth while Saul was ravishing the Church (Acts 8).

And let us take a look at a parable Jesus shared about a rich man who died and was in Hades. (Bell also examines this parable, but for a much different reason.)  Luke 16:19-31 tells us a parable of this unnamed rich man and a poor begger named Lazarus.  Lazarus sat out side the rich man's gates starving.  Dogs licked Lazurus' sores, while the rich man did nothing for him.  In the parable, Lazarus ends up in heaven while the rich man ends up in hell.  There is a chasm between the two that does not allow anyone to pass from one place to the other (Luke 16:26).  But looking through the paradigm Rob Bell is giving us, it seems that before the two died, Lazarus was in hell, not the rich man.

In this parable, the dead rich man calls out to Abraham (who is with Lazarus) for mercy, but Abraham reminds the suffering man, "Child, remember that you in your lifetime received the good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish" (Luke 16:25, ESV).  And even later, the rich man begs that his brothers be warned so that they may repent (Luke 16:30) and avoid this . . . this what?  The rich man says "agony." Agony for what?  Could it be punishment?  But punishment for what?  His sin.  Maybe for neglecting the poor; maybe neglecting Jesus as Jesus discussed in Matthew 25 (another passage Bell examines for entirely different purposes in the previous chapter about heaven).  Doesn't this make sense in light of Romans 6:23 which states that the wages of sin is death?  Doesn't this make the gospel, that is, that Christ created a bridge across this chasm, seem like amazing news!  The painting that was so frightful to Bell is the bridge, and the reason it is a cross is because that is how Jesus made the bridge.

As I thought about those Rwandan teens, I couldn't help but think about the people inflicting "hell" upon these children.  They may have actually lived rather well, like the rich man.  And what about the rapist? And what about the religious people who stoned Stephen to death?  What about Saul?  It doesn't seem that there was a punishment or agonizing hell on earth for them.  Bell's hell on earth seems only to be agony and suffering for the victims.  Does the Bible really teach that the victims suffer hell on earth, a biblical hell, for the sins committed against them?  Or as with the rich man, does it seem that this judgment and punishment comes in the afterlife?

And what about the feelings and experiences of a cocaine addict or how the suffering a man might feel after he has sinned by having a marital affair?  Has God cast any of these living people in to hell, or at least a hell on earth? (And again, we can't say Mahatma Gandhi is in hell but it's okay to declare that these living people could be in hell?)  The answer is no, God has not cast these living people into hell on earth.  For the victims, we might think of this suffering in light of 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and Romans 8:28.  These victims are not cast away from God.  And for the perpetrators who are suffering as a result of their own sin, we might call this conviction in some cases, or it may be that the law is acting like a schoolmaster (Galatians 3), all for the benefit of their salvation.  God may feel distant to them, but only because they have pushed him away, done as an act of their own self punishment.  But God has not cast them to the burning trash heap of hell, not yet anyway.  God is not neglecting them; he loves them and desires good things for them.

It may seem that the Bible only talks of hell as a garbage dump as Bell tries to present it.  (He says that the only mention of hell is the Greek word gehenna. But even staying on the surface of semantics, this argument neglects 2 Peter 2:4's use of the word tartaroō.)  And of course it would seem that there are very little mentions of hell or any kind of punishment if we only look for the word gehenna.  And if we neglect Jesus' parables and much of the symbolic hints of punishment and reward, and even much of the direct statements about a punishment for sin after death, we might think that hell is not that big of a deal.  We could falsely draw the conclusion that Jesus wasn't that concerned about hell.  But that would be a mistake.  Before you incorrectly draw that conclusion, read some passages in the Bible again, without anybody's commentary.  Here are just a few examples; there are many more: Genesis 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31; Numbers 16:30, 33; Deuteronomy 32:22; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Samuel 22:6; 1 Kings 2:6, 9; Job 7:9; 11:8; 14:13; 17:13, 16; 21:13; 24:19; 26:6; Psalms 6:5; 9:17; Matthew 3:12; 5:22, 29–30; 7:23; 10:28; 11:23; 13:24-30, 42-43, 47-50; 16:18; 18:9; 23:15, 33; 25:32-33; Mark 9:43–47; Luke 3:17; 10:15; 12:5; 16:23; John 15:6; Acts 2:27, 31; James 3:6; 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 9:2; 14:9-11; 18:8; 19:20; and 20:13–15

And I propose that if we are to look for any example of hell on earth we must look to the specific moment while Christ was on the cross as a propitiation for our sins; that is, taking on the sins of the world which were laid upon him (Isaiah 53:4-6; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).  In that moment, when it appeared that Jesus was isolated from the Father, he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).  In that moment, Jesus was making a way for us.  And if anything were going to make an argument for hell on earth, it must be this moment.

Next up, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 4)."

* I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book, Love Wins.
** Photo of "The Poor Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door" by James Joseph Jacques Tissot is used with permission from the Brooklyn Museum.

What is the Kingdom of God?

I once taught a class where the kingdom of God was of chief interest.  For the sake of time, we didn't read all of the Scriptures listed below, but I did print this material as a handout to the class and I felt it would be worth posting here.  The question at hand is, what is the Bible referring to when it mentions the kingdom of God? 
 

THE KINGDOM OF GOD
A Systematic View

The kingdom of God (nearly interchangeable with kingdom of heaven, kingdom of Christ, kingdom of our Lord, and sometimes just the kingdom) is discussed often throughout the Bible. It can seem complex, because it is inside creation, outside creation, and above creation. Like the Trinity of God, there is no earthy analogy to adequately describe it. Presently, we only see it in bits and pieces but our understanding of it comes through faith.

“[The kingdom of God] is simply the reign of God in human hearts wherever obedience to God is found.”1

The Kingdom of God is not the Church. “The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and, derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In the biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men.”2

The kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven) is not strictly speaking of the afterlife or future place or future existence. It has an “already/not yet” aspect about it present in many of the discussions about it throughout the Bible.

The kingdom of God should not be mistaken with the sovereignty or rule of God. God is sovereign over all of creation. However, presently, one can be inside or outside of the kingdom of God. And we do not truly, positively experience it until we are within the kingdom of God.

There are 66 uses of “kingdom of God” in the New Testament. There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of God.” (Matt 6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43; Mark 1:15; 4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47; 10:14–15, 23–25; 12:34; 14:25; 15:43; Luke 4:43; 6:20; 7:28; 8:1, 10; 9:2, 11, 27, 60, 62; 10:9, 11; 11:20; 13:18, 20, 28–29; 14:15; 16:16; 17:20–21; 18:16–17, 24–25, 29; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18; 23:51; John 3:3, 5; Acts 1:3; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 28:23, 31; Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 4:20; 6:9–10; 15:50; Gal 5:21; Col 4:11; 2 Th 1:5.)

There are 32 uses of “kingdom of heaven” in the New Testament. There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10, 19–20; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 11:11–12; 13:11, 24, 31, 33, 44–45, 47, 52; 16:19; 18:1, 3–4, 23; 19:12, 14, 23; 20:1; 22:2; 23:13; 25:1.)

There are 2 uses of “kingdom of our Lord” in the New Testament. (2 Pet 1:11; Rev 11:15.) There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of our Lord.”

There are 3 uses of “gospel of the kingdom” in the New Testament, and all of which are found in Matthew. (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “gospel of the kingdom.” Matthew also uses the “word of the kingdom” in Matt 13:19.

There is 1 use of “The kingdom of Christ and God” and it’s found in Eph 5:5.

Not every use for kingdom without the various above qualifiers in the New Testament is referring to the kingdom of God, but many do. (There are 55 uses of kingdom not followed by either "of God" or "of heaven.") Significant examples include Matt 4:23; 6:10; 8:12; 9:35; 13:19, 38, 41, 43; 16:28; 20:21; 24:14; 25:34; 26:29; Mark 11:10; Luke 1:33; 11:2; 12:31–32; 22:29–30; 23:42; John 18:36; Acts 20:25; 1 Cor 15:24; Col 1:13; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 1:8; 12:28; James 2:5; 2 Pet 1:11; Rev 1:6; 5:10; and 12:10.

The Hebrew word for kingdom is used though the Old Testament mostly for earthly kingdoms but there are references to the Kingdom of God. Examples include: Ex 19:6 (Kingdom of Priests), 2 Sam 7:10–16 & 1 Chr 17:9–14 (near/far picture of Kingdom), Psa 45:6; 103:19; 145:11–13 (Blurred lines between Sovereign rule and the Kingdom of God), Dan 4:3 (everlasting Kingdom), and Dan 7:18, 22 (future view of the Kingdom).

___
1 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 1998), 1163.
2 George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament; quoted by Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1994), 863.

* Photo by Niall McAuley is registered under a creative commons license.

Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 1)

[This review is a review in parts.  If you are just joining this review, start with "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Prolegomena)."] 

Bell ends Chapter One by stating, "But this isn't just a book of questions.  It's a book of responses to these questions" (19).  I wish I would have read this statement before reading the first chapter because Chapter One is loaded with question marks--those printed on the page and many of my own.  Maybe the biggest question is how Bell is going to address all of these claims, questions, and puzzles in the remaining 177 pages.  That, in-and-of-itself, may take a divine miracle.  I'm somewhat concerned that Bell won't actually address many of these questions, leaving them hanging in the poor light in which he has presented them.  And if this turns out to be the case, the most fitting genre for Love Wins will be tragedy.  However, if Bell can manage to address each of the question marks that he's blasted into this first chapter, this book may be the greatest thing written in the past ten years.  But he's laid out a tough road ahead, and he has left an after taste with the manner in which he has asked the questions.

The chapter opens with a discussion about an art show that included a piece that quoted Mahatma Gandhi.  Evidently, someone had posted a handwritten note on the art piece that said Gandhi's in hell.  For whatever reason, Bell didn't feel the need to include what the Gandhi quote said and I wonder if it would have shed any different light on this story?  (If anybody knows what the quote was, please contact me and share.)  Following this brief narrative comes the first question marks.  Bell calls into question if Gandhi is really in hell and how anybody can possibly know this.  And again, Bell asks subtly attacking questions against the traditional Christian view of some going to hell and some spending an eternity in anguish (2).  He doesn't come out and make any claims here; he only asks questions.  But these questions were worded in a way that many of them could appear rather comfortably in a work by Christopher Hitchens.

Bell asks, "Does God punish people for thousands of yeas with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?" (2).  To this, I as the reader ask, "What does the Bible say about that?" Expecting some kind of support or biblical answer for any of the questions presented in Chapter One will only leave the reader wanting.  Bell doesn't get into the Bible for answers here, not yet anyway.  Instead he states, "This doesn't just raise disturbing questions about God, it raises questions about the beliefs themselves" (2).  Then comes many, many more questions.  Sixteen, in fact, before a sentence is written without a question mark.  And another five after that.

The questions sound like those coming from someone who really doesn't care for Christianity or God.  They are serious and legitimate questions, but I wonder if Bell has presented them in a way that is building the arguments for his book?  Maybe.  But through the specific questions, it becomes clear that Bell is using these questions to attack Christian ideas such is the biblical teaching that God chooses his creation, or the judgment aspects that the Bible teaches about God, and the reality of hell.  "What kind of God is that?" he asks (3).  Yes.  Indeed.  Bell seems to be asking just the right questions to pitch his argument upon.  And as he is asking, I keep thinking, what does the Bible say?  It doesn't matter what we want the answers to be if the answers about God do not line up with what God has told us about himself in his revelation to us, the Bible. That is, unless God is an evil liar, but Bell hasn't yet asked that question yet.

I realize that the Bellites, Bellinists, and Bell supporters will likely say, "He's just asking questions!" but it is the way Bell is doing so that I find so concerning.  It's the tone.  And it's how he's stacked the questions together.  There is an implication behind the way he's posed these questions.  Would the same defense apply if I asked, "Does Bell ever read his Bible?  Does Bell hate Christianity, and if so, is he wanting to create a new theological faith system?  What kind of pastor is this? And how could this possibly be biblical teaching that anyone would want to sit under?"  Just a few questions, but they come loaded with magnum charges.  Many of Bell's questions in Chapter One have the same tone, as if at any moment Bell is going to pull the trigger and sent a fiery volley at traditional Christianity.   

As the chapter advances, Bell begins to attack the Christian Church (although at times he's actually attacking his created caricature of the Church.)  Occasionally he draws from specific examples that are sad and unfortunate, but picking one or two cases like these is as unfair as treating Mars Hill Bible Church and the Westboro Baptist Church as one in the same.  At other times, he questions the general practices of the typical local church body, causing me to wonder why he is so troubled by the way his brothers and sisters teach and preach the Gospel.  I might be okay if he'd open up more rather than just asking the questions and moving on.  For example, Bell seems disturbed by the practice of an alter call, or at least a pastor (or anyone or that matter) leading someone in a specific prayer.  Why? What about it is troubling?  Maybe I'd agree if Bell expanded a little.  He's also seems troubled with any communication with God about the matter of salvation. Again, why?  And he also questions how God could elect some and not others.  Details might help me understand the problem.  So at this point, I'm left thinking it doesn't seem going to heaven has anything to do with God (at least the God Bell has presented) or the individual.  Is this where the book is headed or will this be an unresolved question?  But realize that he's only asking questions and it is my mind that is attempting to determine where he's trying to take me and how he's trying to get me there.

I'm not yet convinced I want to hop in the Bell-wagon.  From his questions thus far, I'm disturbed with Rob Bell as much as he seems to be with Christianity.

One area I found rather troubling is Bell's concern that Christians would teach people that when they die they will go somewhere.  I'm not yet sure why he's disturbed by this considering that on more than one occasion Jesus discussed going somewhere. (Luke 23:43, 24:51, John 8:14, 8:21-22, 13:33, 13:36, 14:2-4, for example).  He also asks about all of those people that don't claim to be Christian but live more Christlike than some Christians.  I hope if he answers this question, he will look at biblical passages like Romans 10:9, 1Corinthians 12:3, 1John 1:9, and 1John 4:3. Of course Bell masks this attack by ending every statement with question mark.

Then Bell takes a break, and when the roulette ball of questions has finally landed, it's on the topic of a personal relationship with our Lord and Creator.  He argues (not questions) that someone might interrupt his line of questioning to say that no matter how it happens, salvation comes through a personal relationship with Jesus (10).   "The problem, however," writes Bell, "is that the phrase 'personal relationship' is found nowhere in the Bible" (10).  Bell then goes back to asking his questions again.  But under this Bellonian logic/theology, neither is the Holy Trinity mentioned by name in the Bible--does this mean it doesn't exist?  As for personal relationship, I wonder how Bell reads John 15:12-15?  Or what about the passages that call believers brothers and sisters, or the comparison of a wedding feast? And what about Psalm 139? These all sound rather personal, even if they exclude the exact phrase, "personal relationship."

By the end of Chapter One, I found myself wondering if Rob Bell considers himself Christian.  Would he fellowship with the believers at my church?  He seems rather upset by Christianity, or at least how he understands Christianity.  Now, as I continue to read, maybe I'll start to see a different Rob Bell, maybe his answers will leave me feeling differently; I fully admit that.  But after the prologue and this chapter, I can see why some have had trouble with this book.  I'm having trouble with this book.  I sincerely hope that Bell starts to address these questions, specifically with biblical support, otherwise, he's merely on the bandwagon with the vocal critics of Christianity, and those that reject the teachings of the Bible.

If you haven't figured it out by now, Chapter One has left a foul taste in my mouth.

Next up, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 2)."

*I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book. 

75 Years of Southern Baptist Faith

INTRODUCTION
In a letter written to Timothy, Paul encourages his friend to, “Take hold of the eternal life which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presences of many witnesses.”[1] The exact nature of this confession is a mystery, but hints throughout the New Testament suggest that Timothy was certainly not alone in making a public confession of faith.[2]  In the early Church, simple statements may have served to publicly demonstrate belief or doctrinal positions. Norman and Brand suggest that the phrase, “Jesus is Lord” was a confessional expression used to determine those who were generally saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.[3] These statements are often called confessions of faith or creeds. “These proclamations,” state Norman and Brand, “are intended to declare the doctrinal perspective of the group on the matters addressed in the document.”[4] In addition, statements of doctrine by their nature, create theological guidelines or boundaries of belief used to communicate to others, but also to address heretical ideas. John includes the delectation that “Jesus came in the flesh” in two of his letters, potentially to deal with a heresy at the time.[5] And even included in the New Testament canon are longer statements of doctrine that include greater detail.[6]

Examining confessions of faith and creeds offer insight into what was most important to the authors of the statement. Through their confessions, one can also glean clues about what doctrinal battles were being waged at the time. For example, a review the Waldensian Confession of Faith (1120) shows a strong argument against specific Roman Catholic beliefs such as papal intersession, the veneration of Mary, the existence of purgatory, and the status of sacraments. As a group of people change or rewrite their doctrinal statement of faith, one can see either shifts in the most important matters of doctrine or a need to address changing heresies, or both. By comparing and contrasting the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) 1925 Baptist Faith and Message with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, this post will attempt to identify shifts in doctrinal focus and changing heresies over 75 years of Southern Baptist history. While the SBC revised their 1925 statement in 1963 and 2000, this post will only focus on the change between the first and the most recent statements.

ADDITIONS FOR 2000
The most obvious addition to the 1925 statement was the presence of more biblical references. At the end of each section, lists of biblical passages that support and guide the ideas of the section are provided. Each section has nearly twice as many references listed in the 2000 statement compared to the earlier statement. There are various reasons for this—possibly due to greater time and reference material, or to stress the importance of Scripture—but most likely, they are included to biblically address challenges to the statement with even more scriptural material.

Moving to the content itself, it is easiest to handle the additions in a linear fashion. There are many minor additions—a word here or there—but for the sake of brevity, this post will only address those that may offer changes to orthodoxy or orthopraxy, address heresies, or serve as points of interest. Starting in the first section, titled “Scripture” in both statements, the phrase, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation” was added.[7] A declaration such as this appears to be addressing Old Testament Scripture where the physical appearance of Christ is not present in the narrative; however, this inclusion argues that the meta-narrative is wholly centered on Jesus Christ, placing a significant and equal importance on both the Old Testament and the New.

“God,” the title of the next section, is where the majority of added material appears. In 1925, the SBC felt that 65 words were sufficient in expressing their position and doctrinal beliefs about God. The word count jumped to 264 in 2000. What was a simple statement about God in 1925 has been expanded to specifically cover and describe correct belief about the three members of the Holy Trinity. Nothing changed theologically, however. And when the 1925 statement cited 14 Bible verses for support, the 2000 statement appeals to approximately 187 scriptural references. Why the need for the addition (which primarily occurred in the 1963 revision) is open for debate, but it appears as if this addition was specifically made in an effort to deal with heresies. For example, a modified version of second century modalism—associated with individuals such as Noetus of Smyrna, Praxeas, and most notably Sabellius[8]—found popularity again in the twentieth century among Oneness Pentecostalism, also know as the Jesus Only movement.[9] Mormonism, although birthed in the nineteenth century, was also gaining popularity in the twentieth century. These additions found in the 2000 statement address ideas such as modalism or the wickedly-mutated idea of Christ’s deity by sects and cults.

The next notable addition to the 2000 statement is found in the section called “The Church,” (titled “The Gospel Church” in the 1925 statement). The twentieth century witnessed many social changes in race relations as well as a shift in the understanding of the roles of the sexes. This shift is likely the reason behind the addition of the sentence, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”[10] While this statement is not addressing heretical ideas and practices infiltrating the Church, it does attempt to answer the changing social question of the role of women in the office of pastor. Addressing this matter, Grudem asks,
Most systematic theologies have not included a section on the question of whether women can be church officers, because it has been assumed through the history of the church, with very few exceptions, that only men could be pastors or function as elders within a church. But in recent years a major controversy has arisen within the evangelical world: may women as well as men be pastors? May they share in all the offices of the church?[11]
Grudem’s questions are just as relevant today as they were the day he originally penned them; so it seems that the SBC has included this statement and additional scriptural references to clearly answer these questions.

Another two additions worth noting are found in the section titled, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper” and “Education.” The first addresses a theological issue while the latter deals with issues practical arising in a changing society. Over the 75 years between the two Baptist Faith and Message statements being reviewed in this post, people have grown more aware of differences among religious practices. In some circumstances, churches have attempted to syncretize differing areas of faith and practice. One such practice is that of the Lord’s Supper and the result is often a practice that is decidedly not Baptist in theology. Therefore, a line has been added to clearly identify what the Lord’s Supper is and how it should be understood. At stake is the departure of churches not adhering to this understanding of the Lord’s Supper; although many would argue that right practice and belief is more important than stout membership rolls. In similar fashion, additions were made to the “Education” section of the 2000 statement in order to guide and shelter the Christian educator but also allow the school or institution to remove the educator for teaching outside the “pre-eminence of Jesus Christ, by the authoritative nature of the Scriptures, and by the distinct purpose for which the school exists.”[12]

The final addition discussed for the purposes of this post is the section titled, “Family.” This section does not appear in the 1925 version in any form. In 270 words, the 2000 statement attempts to define the role and purpose of the family unit within society. In reading the section on family, it is clear that this addition is offered to not only to identify the worldview of the SBC and the understanding of the differing roles within the family unit, but also as a defense of the family within society. On the family, the committee charged with drafting the 2000 statement state in the preamble, “The Convention added an article on "The Family" in 1998, thus answering cultural confusion with the clear teachings of Scripture.”[13]

SUBTRACTIONS FROM 1925
Unless items addressed in a previous statement of faith are no longer issues among society or heresies no longer in practice, theoretically, there should be little reason to remove any material from faith statement. Deeply held beliefs should not be so fluid that they change every 75 years or it would seem that they were not doctrines worth holding so deeply. An organization entrenched in the social aspects of society, such as a political party might be expected to exhibit statements of purpose and ideology that change from year to year, decade to decade. And if a church organization is likewise entrenched in the politic of the social and moral aspects of society, one should expect to see this same pattern of change. If on the other hand, the Bible simultaneously speaks to humanity today and remains timeless, one should see little to no change among those who allow the Bible to dictate their beliefs. Therefore, one might ask what the SBC held deeply in 1925 that they are so quickly willing to drop. As it turns out, very little, if anything was removed from the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message in the drafting of the 2000 version. Instead, items were redacted, which will be addressed in the following section. It should be noted that not a single redaction changes any theological doctrine contained in the 1925 and 2000 statements.

REWRITES, REVERSALS, AND REDACTIONS
As previously stated, nothing was outright removed from the 1925 Baptist Faith and Message. Neither was any doctrinal position reversed. There are a number of redactions or rewrites present, however. Some redactions expanded a section to allow for more explanation. Other modifications shortened sections because either the material has become commonly accepted knowledge or a less lengthy paragraph, sentence, or word choice presents a thought more precisely. At times, word choices are made in order to combat a heresy that uses the same words with different meanings. While many specific examples can be provided, only a small selection is necessary to examine to understand the reason for nearly every change.

Section III, “Man” for example, changed the title from “The Fall of Man” and explains the fall of man through an explanation of creation, transgression, a sin nature, and the likeness of man and woman in the image of God. The original paragraph placed more focus on the fall of man; whereas, the new sections looks at a holistic view of man as a creation of God. Another redaction took the 1925 sections IV-X, “The Way of Salvation,” “Justification,” “The Freeness of Salvation,” “Regeneration,” “Repentance and Faith,” and “Sanctification,” and consolidated them into one section titled “Salvation.” The new section not only includes each of the areas previously addressed, it also presents them as a connection chain of the bigger picture and progression of salvation.

In what might look like an addition to the 2000 statement, the single 1925 word “unchangeable” in the ninth section sentence, “It is a most glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable,” is turned into a full paragraph in the 2000 version.[14] This paragraph, while not changing anything theologically, attempts to greatly expand on the idea of unchangeable. Essentially the argument it makes is that one cannot lose salvation after genuine election and regeneration. From time to time, this issue is debated within the Church; and therefore, by offering more detail, the SBC has staked out their position in the debate. Should one attempt to argue that this redaction adds theological material to the statement, it is important to realize that in actuality, the paragraph is simply trying to remove the ambiguity that could be present in the single word “unchangeable.”

Another redaction, while seemingly short, addresses church offices in the 1925 section titled, “The Gospel Church.” In 1925, the offices were called “bishops or elders and deacons.”[15] In the newer version, the titles are changed to “pastors and deacons.”16 In our present day, one might see a Roman Catholic bishop or a Presbyterian elder and feel these positions are not comparable to a Baptist pastor. However, this is not a matter of duty, but rather, a change in the generally understood meaning of the words. For example, the Greek word episkopos, which the King James Version of the Bible often translated as “bishop” is translated overseer or pastor by recent translations. With the change in words, confusion was more likely without the redaction. Therefore, to remain true to the meaning of the 1925 statement, the 2000 statement made these changes, changing nothing theologically.

CONCLUSION
As one examines the SBS’s Baptist Faith Messages from 1925 until 2000, additions  and redactions are present, but the theological under girding remains intact over the 75-year history. The 2000 statement demonstrates the doctrinal confession and beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention just as the 1925 original did. Not only is this significant in showing consistency of belief over this period of time, it also continues to announce to the world the major ideas as demonstrated by the Bible and held by those who adopt the statement. However, neither the 1925 nor the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statements were provided here, so it is the hope of this author that the reader will find these statements and examine them for oneself.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Brand,  Chad, Charles Draper, and Archie England. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
Nashville, Tenn: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003. Under “Confessions and Credos.” Prepared
by OakTree Software Incorporated, Accordance Bible Software 9. (Accessed October 2, 2010).
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Hindson, Edward E., and Ergun Mehmet Caner. The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics. Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.
SBC.net. “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.” Southern Baptist Convention. http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010).


1. 1 Timothy 6:12b, ESV.
2. See Romans 10:9-10, 2 Corinthians 9:13, Hebrews 3:1, 4:14, 10:23.
3. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, and Archie England, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, Tenn: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), under “Confessions and Credos,” prepared by OakTree Software Incorporated, Accordance Bible Software 9 (accessed October 2, 2010).
4. Brand, 2003.
5. See 1 John 4:2 and 2 John 7.
6. See Colossians 1:15-20, 1 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 3:18-22, Hebrews 1:1-3, Philippians 2:5-11.
7. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), I.
8. Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998), 360.
9. Edward Hindson and Ergun Mehmet Caner,  The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 371-376.
10. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, section VI.
11. Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 937.
12. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, section XII.
13. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, Preamble.
14. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 1925, IX.
15. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 1925, XII.
16. SBC.net, “Comparison of 1925, 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message,” Southern Baptist Convention, http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp (accessed October 2, 2010), 2000, VI.

*SBC logo is listed as released to the public domain.  

** This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

Purgatory and the Cross

I'm struggling to understand the idea behind purgatory.  No, that's not exactly right.  Purgatory, as I understand it, is something of a refining furnace that extracts the impurities from the soul prior to entering heaven.  Those impurities are the results of sin committed by the Christian. The idea then is that Christians, upon death, go to purgatory (or potentially straight to heaven), while non-Christians go to hell.  In the pre-Reformation church, the Roman Catholic pope could authorize indulgences, a transferable certificate that bought or earned less time in purgatory. However, there was really now way to know how long one would be refined in purgatory.  (These same indulgences were one of the fueling fires behind Martin Luther's swing toward reformation.)

So more accurately, what I don't understand is how purgatory lines up biblically with the cross.  The idea of purgatory is a mockery of the cross.

To the issue of purgatory and daily blasphemies needed to prop it up, John Calvin says,
"We are bound, therefore, to raise our voice to its highest pitch, and cry aloud that purgatory is a deadly device of Satan; that it makes void the cross of Christ; that if offers intolerable insult to the divine mercy; that is undermines and overthrows our faith.  For what is this purgatory but the satisfaction for sin paid after death by the souls of the dead? Hence when this idea of satisfaction is refuted, purgatory itself is forthwith completely overturned.  But if it is perfectly clear, from what was lately said, that the blood of Christ is the only satisfaction, expiation, and cleansing for the sins of believers, what remains but to hold that purgatory is mere blasphemy horrid blasphemy against Christ?  I say nothing of the sacrilege by which it is daily defended, the offenses which it begets in religion, and the other innumerable evils which we see teeming froth from that fountain of impiety" (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Ch 5, Sec 6.) 
I realize my statements here may be offensive to my Roman Catholic friends.  I am open to conversation on this topic, but I make no apology.  I hope that there is a mutual realization that purgatory is offensive to the Protestant understanding of passages such as Romans 5:8, Romans 8:1, Hebrews 9:25-28, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 53:6, and Philippians 1:23.

*Painting by Ludovico Carracci is in the public domain.

When the Hype Lets You Down

Salt Lake City recently had a national blizzard warning.  This warning was a big deal because these warnings rarely, if ever happen.  Early on, the Salt Lake media started their "blizzard watch" around-the-clock news coverage.

Residents were warned to stock up on batteries, water, blankets and other supplies.  We were told that this blizzard was massing power and intensity and would shut down Salt Lake City.  It had the potential of being the worst storm to hit the area in fifty years, they said.  The news was even breaking into regularly scheduled programing to provide updates hours before the storm arrived.  A scrolling banner was constantly moving across the bottom of the television screen to alert residents of emergency Red Cross locations. They hype was reaching overwhelming proportions.

But when the storm arrived, it didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary for Salt Lake.  There was very little wind and about 2 inches of cold, dry snow.  A week before, enough heavy snow came down to cause my neighbor's old tree to collapse in my driveway.   The week after the "blizzard," Salt Lake was covered in two feet of snow.  (It took me nearly three hours to shovel my driveway and sidewalks.)

The new outlets however, were not about to allow the hype (which they created) to fall short.  As the supposed blizzard started, they had reporters outside doing live broadcasts.  These reporters would say things like, "As you can see, nobody is outside because it's so dangerous."  Had they been in that same location on any other day, there still wouldn't have been anybody out, but not because of any blizzard danger.  At one point, the news put up images from a highway video camera.  In the shot, one could see about 3/4 a mile down the highway.  It was dark and there was a light snowfall.  Cars seemed to be traveling 30 or 35 miles per hour.  But the report stated that it was "whiteout conditions" and visibility was "zero."  "Cars were at a standstill" he said. 

After the storm, the news outlets in the Salt Lake area lost all credibility.  Not only was the storm nothing significant (showing the meteorologists' inability to accurately predict the weather), we also witnessed the reporters' inability to accurately report the news.  The next morning as the city was realizing that the blizzard was anything but, the news was still reporting that were lucky to be alive.

It seems that Christians do this from time to time when they share Christianity with those who do not know Jesus.  Intentional or not, there can sometimes be an unrealistic picture presented of what a life walking with Jesus looks like.  "Before I knew Jesus, I was a drug addict with lots of problems, but after I met Jesus, my life was great and I never faced any problems at all."  The prosperity gospel the worst culprit.  "I was poor before I new Jesus, but now look, I drive a Lexis and have lots of money."  But the truth is, life with Christ is not free of problems.  In fact, the Bible teaches that Christians will face trials.  (For examples, see James 1:2, Matthew 13:21, Mark 4:17, Luke 22:28-32, 1 Peter 1:6-7, Romans 8:35-39.)  We cannot expect that God will keep promises he never made to us.  At other times, Christians over-report the wonders of Christ's influence in their lives.  Emotion runs high and the hype grows to overwhelming proportions.  (I'm sure I've been guilty of this.)

So the best thing Christians can do is report the gospel accurately.  The gospel is life changing; no hype is necessary.  However, if we, like the news, create too much hype or incorrectly present the picture, we will lose all credibility and the gospel will be the victim.  And if we lose credibility, people will change the channel or read a different news paper.  Looking at America today, it is not hard to see many people changing the station because they do not see the Church as credible anymore.  It is important we remain honest and accurate if we are to be good ambassadors of the Kingdom.  Nobody should be left shoveling an inch of snow and three feet of cow manure because a Christian was more concerned about ratings than the truth of the gospel itself. 

*The photograph is in the public domain.

Accaptance Among the Body: Thoughts on Romans 14:1-15:13

Understanding the Passage 
In Romans chapters 1-11, Paul works through the theology of the gospel. When he hits Romans 12:1-2, he signals a shift from the theoretical to the practical. He then puts practical application to the first 11 chapters. From 12:3-13:14, Paul outlines what the theology should look like in the life of the believer. As Paul paints a picture of the faithful life, there is an inclination for those strong in the faith to potentially get puffed up and feel superior to those not as strong, that is, the weak. But then Paul moves into what has been numbered as chapter 14.

The early part of this text sets up the entire argument. Paul opens by addressing the strong in the faith because he leaves the responsibility upon the strong to welcome or receive the weak (14:1). In many ways, the strong are the leaders in the body and Paul basically is saying, “Hey, you strong Christians who walk well in the faith, you need to welcome those that are not as strong. You need to lead and teach.” It might be that Paul is taking away the leaders’ ability to use the previous passage to attack and demolish the weak. Verse 14:2 clearly shows that there is some kind of dietary dispute (likely the Jewish Law), and it seems the strong, like Paul (15:1), hold that there is no longer a dietary law that brings about righteousness. The weak person might be abstaining from eating meat to avoid eating anything unclean, or he or she may be mirroring Daniel’s actions when he was living among captivity. Either way, these are weak Christian beliefs. However, 14:3 instructs that there should be no fighting between the two groups within the Church. The strong should not look down upon the weak for bad theology and the weak should not pass judgment on the eating habits of the strong. In both cases, the one judging the other is actually saying, “I’m better than that person because. . . .” The end of verse 14:3 and verse 4 remind the reader that Christ has purchased the believer, thus owning them. The believer is ultimately accountable to him.

The text continues into the area of holding up a day as holy. The same idea applies to those who are strong in the faith and those in the weak as it does with the dietary dispute. Paul also points out that both the weak and the strong do what they do with the intention of honoring the Lord. And following this discussion, Paul again (only this time more apparently) states that Christ died for all believers and all believers will account to him (14:9-12).
Before moving on to the next point of this passage, it might seem that Paul is arguing that we should take no issue with differences among believers. However, looking at the whole of Paul’s writings, we can see that this is not as simple as it sounds. Paul hopes that all will one day have a strong, sound theology and he works hard to teach it, which is in part the purpose of his letters. Therefore, it seems the main point of 14:1-12 is an exhortation that believers should not quarrel over minor differences of gospel understanding when the intentions are to honor God (in these non-essential to salvation matters). The impetus of keeping peace among believers, however, is placed on the strong, the leaders, and Paul’s next point confirms this.

In the remainder of this text, Paul instructs the strong to act as such. 14:13 states that none should pass judgment and place an obstacle before another. Although the weak may judge the strong, it would be difficult for the weak to trip up the strong; therefore, it is likely that this passage is for the strong. Paul makes it very clear that believers in Christ are not under the Old Covenant (14:14a). However, if one thinks something is unclean, than they will behave as if it is and therefore it might as well be (14:14b). So, as brothers in Christ are coming together, according to Paul in 14:15, it is not love to cause the weaker brother to grieve over what the stronger eats in the presence of the weak. Verse 14:15 outlines the weight of the matter in dispute, placing it in its proper place: the diet is not the Kingdom of God, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit is. Verse 14:16 encourages the strong to do whatever it takes to have peace among the brethren and work to build up the body. Paul uses the remainder of chapter 14 reinforce his point.

As chapter 15 opens, Paul is still instructing the strong to carry the burden of peace among the Church. The strong are to voluntarily give up some of their liberty in Christ in order to serve their weaker brothers and neighbors. It is not that the strong simply overlook the weakness, but like Christ, humble themselves to enter the environment of the weak, in order to connect with the weaker brother and teach him, that is, build him up. And not only is this true for fellow Jewish believers, but with Gentiles who have never lived under the Old Covenant (15:8-13). And Paul reminds his readers that even though the Christian is not under the law, the Old Testament Scripture is still God’s work and good for teaching and understanding (15:5).

Still Quarreling Today

It seems that various non-essentials still serve as an obstacle. There are many, but one example comes in the form of alcohol consumption. Some in the Church think that a total abstinence of alcohol is necessary for holiness, while others see moderate consumption (to exclude drunkenness) as an acceptable liberty in Christ.

Does this sound familiar? It should because as Paul was discussing the quarrel due to dietary laws, he included wine! However, I have encountered Christians who look down on other believers who choose to have a glass of wine with a meal. And I have also encountered an occasional drinking Christian go off on those who say drinking even one drop of alcohol is a sin. In this case, the drinker may be like the stronger that Paul discussed and the non-drinker (for reasons of holiness) is the weaker. At least theologically, there is a strong argument that drinking in-and-of-it-self is not a sin, but drunkenness is. But when a pastor scoffs at those who hold that drinking is a sin, he is not adhering to Paul’s instruction. Instead, he may need to give up some liberty around these believers. He will do far more to teach the Bible in love than to scoff or try to make his point for the purpose of looking down on other believers (which is really to try to build himself up over them).

Here's another way to thinking about this, although I admit that this illustration is one-sided. I am reminded of my life as a private in the Army, before the war, compared to my life as a staff sergeant after my wartime experience. In 1996, as a young man and a new soldier, I felt I needed to prove myself. I wanted to be tested in battle. I talked about it very naively. The medals for bravery held a position of awe. But then after a few years in the military, I started to understand my role as a leader. Then, as a sergeant, I lead others in a war zone. The medals, I came to realize, mean very little. Keeping people alive and getting the job done meant everything. Avoiding reckless contact with the enemy was of the utmost importance. There was no need to be tested in combat. What a ridiculous notion! However, after my return, I would come across new, young privates that talk as I had. At times, I would chastise them for their stupidity, only to lose their respect. I quickly came to understand that if I were to help them grow as warriors, I would need to put aside my issues and allow them to hold to their dreams of John Wayne heroics, all the while working to prepare them. We all serve the same purpose—to fight and win wars. They will, just as I did, come to understand war and battlefield testing. The important thing is that I (as the leader) did not look down my nose at them, but instead trained them. The same is true with the gospel in the Church.

Paul’s Principle
Paul is not making a difficult point. His principle is as simple as loving one another despite some minor differences. We are not to quarrel over non-essential matters with our fellow believers. And it is the job of the leader to bring peace to the Church, to put aside these differences, and keep the focus on the more important aspects of the gospel and the Kingdom of Christ.


*This post was originally part of a discussion in seminary. The photograph is in the public domain.