Posted by: Steve | January 28, 2017

Has American Christianity Failed?

A recent opinion post answers this very question regarding the “soul” of American Christianity, mostly because of the support Christians (particularly white, conservative Christians) have given to President Trump. The answer, by the way is yes. Very yes.

This piece is rather unremarkable – not to say that the writer is mediocre, but that I can find a plethora of similar essays. It’s mainly political and loosely Biblical, and one that is more likely to reinforce a preconceived notion than persuade someone on the other side of the political spectrum.

The purpose of my response is not to be political, although that may be unavoidable. Rather, it is meant to be a logical, and sometimes theological, critique. I think that’s fair – if this man is making bold statements about Jesus, I’m going to assess the power of his claim by testing it against scripture. In other words, who is the Jesus he’s talking about?

First objection: Oceans

In the beginning, the author makes an ironic connection to a popular worship song. While white, moderately prosperous Christians are singing about walking on water, Syrian refugees are drowning. The argument? If you voted for or support Donald Trump, then you actively embrace all of his policies, including locking down the southern border of the country and slowing the resettlement of Syrian refugees within American territory. Jokes on you, Christian dummies! You may say your trust is without borders, but boy do you trust a tight border policy!

I can agree with him that Christians should stop singing “Oceans” – it’s like the creators cut out a bunch of water-y Bible verses and blended in some mysterious and emotive words, culminating in a smoothie of false teaching, manipulation, and missing the point. We’re not supposed to walk on literal water, and we’re not supposed to apply water-walking in figurative risk-taking or faith-stepping. We’re not better than the Apostle Peter. The punchline of the gospel story is that they worshiped Jesus, as should you.

But just as the song is emotional gibberish, so is this introduction. It’s a good zinger that sounds profound at first, but actually lacks substance. “Drowning Refugees” is an oversimplification of a real, but complex problem. Donald Trump may not be actively showing international compassion (America first), but he’s not necessarily holding Syrian heads underwater, himself. And remember, not every Christian voted for him. And not every Christian who voted for him agrees with him on this policy. And not every Christian who voted for him and who agrees with him on this policy thinks nothing should be done for these refugees.

It’s quite the exercise to blame conservative Christians for drowning refugees. How about some different examples?

  • While you Christians are singing about peace, your country has soldiers in dozens of countries around the world.
  • While you Christians are eating Christ’s body and drinking His blood, there are millions who are hungry and lack access to clean drinking water.
  • While you Christians are reading the Bible, there are so many who lack access to public education.
  • While you Christians are singing about eternal life, your own country is aborting at least one child a minute.

No one can argue that these statements aren’t true. But they don’t tell the whole story, either. Christians throughout history are the ones that established clinics and hospitals and universities and orphanages. The reformation renewed a call for public education. The Catholic church is the largest operator of mission-schooling. It’s guilt-tripping (and misleading at that). The Gospel is not about doing something for God to repay Him because you feel really guilty. That’s quite the opposite of the Gospel.

Second Objection: The Good Father

The emotional appeal of the introduction is that, when it comes to accepting refugees, there is only one solution that is morally right (and it happens to be the author’s, by some coincidence). But does he lock his doors at night?

Do you lock your doors at night?

Can you be a good Christian if you don’t let a homeless person sleep on your couch? You don’t know the guy. You may be concerned for your children. Or you may decide to help him a different way. There are sure a lot of things to consider, and it seems like you can act Christlike even if you routinely lock your door.

Likewise, a ruler’s responsibility is to consider the welfare of those he is ruling. There are two virtues at conflict in the father’s heart – mercy for the stranger, and the welfare of his family. Both are good works, even if accomplished to the exclusion of the other. Pitting good works against each other is the preferred tactic of the Pietist, or those who believe in a justification by works. Its aim is not just to make one good work superior to someone else’s good work, but ultimately to dismantle salvation by grace.

Third Objection: Proof-Texting

The author furthers the offensive by dumping a snow-job of Bible verses on his readers: Too much information to argue against. Just like the song, Oceans, they’re ripped from context.

  • Sure, that part of Matthew 25 sounds like Jesus is saying we should be nice to everyone because then we’re really being nice to Him and we get to go to heaven (notice the emphasis on works-righteousness, once more). But given the similarity to Matthew 10 and the phrase “my brothers,” it’s about hospitality under persecution, specifically, to the apostles preaching the Gospel who are hungry, thirsty, beaten, imprisoned, and martyred.
  • Yes, Exodus and Leviticus both say we should not oppress the foreigner because we were once oppressed foreigners in Egypt. However, sojourners weren’t just foreigners, but those staying a long time and integrating themselves into society. And these books also say that the same laws should apply to both Hebrew and sojourner – including being stoned for idol worship.
  • And absolutely we should care about the poor and infirmed. But do we legislate the kingdom of heaven into existence, as if the civil and religious authorities were one and the same, like in Old Testament Israel?

Christians should definitely love their neighbor. Christ said it (and I’m surprised it wasn’t quoted). This long list of scripture snippets looks like it was compiled via google search, and not by actual study. It’s what one does when they have the conclusion first, and look for evidence later.

No one is going to argue that we shouldn’t love our neighbor. The question is how we love them, and that question remains unexplored.

Objection Four: Replacement Theology / Nationalism

Old testament covenants were made with the Nation of Israel and her kings. If the Israel was righteous, there were certain rewards; if the king was evil, there were consequences. And so we see cycles of righteousness, unrighteousness, retribution, and repentance throughout the period of the Old Covenant. This article assumes that the Old Covenant is binding. All the old laws (just the ones that sound good to our own consciences) should become civil laws.

This line of thinking denies the separation of the two covenants and begs the question of the cross – if it is our purpose and necessity to fulfill the old covenant, then why did Jesus have to die for us sinners?

Of course, maybe we could forget the Old Covenant with some of its extravagant laws and just advocate for the Red Letters becoming a national policy. You know, like, legislating that everyone should be charitable. Or a law that everyone should love their neighbor. Or a law that everyone should worship God. Laws against anger and lust; laws against anxiety; laws condemning the unrepentant.

I’m not saying that the Law cannot restrain evil. It’s good and just to punish murderers. But it’s a shaky foundation to say that we’re going to legislate the kingdom of heaven into existence. What’s the most likely meaning of Jesus’ commands: That you should give to the needy; or that you should vote so that the government makes everybody give to the needy?

Objection Five: Why were Christians fed to Lions?

In conclusion, the author points to the early church. Nobody knew how to walk out their faith like the early church – and they were persecuted and killed because of their service to others and to Christ. They dedicated their life to Christ, and not the state.

Of course, the author doesn’t mean this. He means Christians should dedicate some of their lives to the state – they should have just dedicated their lives the way he thinks and votes. But that little irony is besides the point.

Why were Christians killed by the Romans? Was it because they were just so gosh darn nice to everybody? No, not directly. I guess they could be “outed” by supporting fellow Christians in jail or their other good works. But you don’t kill somebody because they’re being charitable or nice. You generally keep those upstanding people around – unless the good works are more than just “being a good person.”

Like not burning incense to Caesar. Or driving out a demon from a fortune-telling slave. Or the spread of the Gospel decreasing business for the metalworkers who make idols. Christians were fed to lions because of Christ. They were martyred for the Gospel.

Objection Six: You keep using the word, “Gospel.”

I do not think it means what you think it means.

Here’s every instance of “Gospel” followed by what it means:

  • Gospel(s)… help the poor, oppressed, maligned, mistreated, sick, and those most in need of help
  • Gospel… humility, generosity, ministering to others, love
  • Gospel… do good, correct oppression, seek justice, help the poor, widow, sojourner, etc.
  • Gospel… give away prized possessions, abandoning your greatest fears

That, my friends, is a different Gospel. That is a browbeating law, and it should terrify your conscience. Because you suck at it, and you deserve hell because of it. It’s not good news at all.

The good news is that Jesus Christ came to free sinners like you and me. The good news is that He overcame sin and death on the cross. The good news is that He washes you clean. The good news is repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The good news is that He forgives you!

The Gospel is so much greater than the righteousness we can achieve. Our own personal piety cannot save ourselves, and it cannot save the world. It’s a false gospel and an abuse of scripture.

Advertisements
Posted by: Steve | January 21, 2017

Revelation 21, 22

Just noting the similarities between Revelation 21 and 22 and John’s other works, namely Jesus at the end of the Feast of Booths in John 7:37-39, Jesus’ crucifixion in John 20:34-37, and 1 John 5:5-11. Also note the word testimony in the latter two, and the “testimony” of John 3.

  1. Is it a theme John uses to tie things up like a bow?
  2. Is Revelation 21, 22 talking about the crucifixion pointing to the end of days?
  3. Is Revelation 21, 22 talking about the crucifixion as the end of days?

And

  1. Is the throne of the Lamb the cross? Is the River His blood?
  2. Is the Tree of Life the cross?
  3. If the tree is on both banks of the river, is it many trees, but one? Is it like John 15, “I am the Vine, you are the branches?”
  4. Is this about the present (and presently ongoing, by means of the Scriptures) ministry of the Apostles so that the “leaves” (or branches) of the tree nourish the nations?

If this is present (for John’s time) and pointing to the future

  1. Has Jesus been united as bridegroom to the church?
  2. Is there no more “night?” <—- The Lamb is the glory of God and the Lamp
  3. Is the curse broken, or is it a promise of the curse being broken?
  4. Is the curse THE curse, or is the whole “no unclean thing… nothing accursed” talking about the church being holy-fied by Jesus?
Posted by: Steve | September 30, 2016

“That Makes me Smart”

Paying the least possible income tax makes you very smart or savvy – unless you’re rich. As soon as you’ve amassed a certain level of wealth, paying the least legal amount of income tax makes you, among other things, immoral, anti-American, and the epitome of evil.

And yet, there is an entire profession, marketed across many socioeconomic demographics, devoted to the simple task of paying the bare minimum tax rate. If this action is indeed evil, then millions of citizens share the sin. Get your billion(s) back, America.

The love of money is a sin for both rich and poor. But is shrewd accounting also a sin? According to our own tax system, there are several ways you can legally reduce the amount of taxes you pay. If you deduct education and medical expenses, it makes you smart. If you take advantage of credits for owning a home (and paying property taxes) or having children (and paying for childcare), you’re being smart. If you give to charity, it makes sense to list it on your taxes. That’s all okay.

If you’re an entrepreneur of sorts, your income could fluctuate significantly. A year ago, maybe business was so good that you pulled in a cool million dollars, but this year the business tanked, and after expenses you weren’t able to draw a salary. Even if business is good, maybe you choose to reinvest every penny you would have made into expanding the company for the future. All of a sudden, we have a millionaire small-business owner not paying any income taxes. These choices could make you smart, savvy, or responsible.

Unless you’re hiding money in your mattress or cooking the books, when does playing the tax game become evil? Where’s the net-worth threshold? Imagine you needed new shoes, and could buy them at either of two places: The department store sells them for fifty dollars; but Amazon can get it to you for twenty-five. Getting a great “deal” isn’t evil for the everyday person, in so many words. On the contrary, many people brag about how much money they save on quality purchases.  But if you had near limitless disposable income, is paying the lowest price for shoes immoral?

Every week, I choose one of four grocery stores based upon the sales each place offers for the food I require. I do this not because I’m hurting for money, but because my wife and I are trying to save as much as we responsibly can. I could easily pay 4 bucks for a gallon of milk, but I choose to spend two.

All this is to say that when a wealthy man possibly didn’t pay much income tax, there are a few different ways to approach it:

  • It’s a 1st commandment issue where we don’t worship money.  Our lives don’t revolve around money, building bigger barns won’t save us from death, and our money belongs to God.
  • It’s a 3rd commandment issue where we submit to authority and pay our taxes according to the laws of the land. You pay taxes to Caesar, based upon what he demands. If the tax code in America sucks, then there are opportunities to change it.
  • It’s a 7th commandment issue where we don’t steal from one another. A master shouldn’t deprive his servants of rightful wages. It is also improper to take money from the wealthy at gunpoint.
  • It’s a 9th/10th commandment issue where we don’t covet. It’s morally laudable for a rich person to be generous, but we should not lust after his/her wealth or feel entitled to it.

We’re guilty of these sins in one way or another. A poor man who thinks that getting a raise would solve all his problems is just as much a lover of money as a rich man filling a swimming pool with gold coins. Is a wealthy person “stealing” by taking advantage of our current tax laws? Maybe. But so is anyone who shops at Walmart.

What is essentially the same action – being smart with how your money is handled – is a good attribute for poor and middle-class people, but a bad one for the rich. It’s so much easier to point out, “Hey, look over there at that sinner!” I bet we’d even be able to hide our covetousness under a mask of righteousness. Donald Trump’s tax history – unless a crime has been committed – lends itself to intelligent financial decisions. It doesn’t necessarily make him a good man or a bad man, but it does make him shrewd. Our distaste of his money exposes our sinfulness, and not our righteousness.

Posted by: Steve | September 7, 2016

3 Good Reasons to Pray the Lord’s Prayer

Jesus knows what we need

“Do not be like [the Gentiles who heap up many empty words], for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

The Lord’s prayer is the culmination of Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Matthew 6. While we quickly accept that God the Father knows what we need (and before we ask it), we don’t naturally make the connection that the words that follow are what we need. Or, more accurately, the prayers for what we need.  This interpretation eludes us because, so often, we don’t know what we need, and don’t easily make the connection.

Our natural condition is to heap up a bunch of empty prayers for things we don’t need. What makes a word empty? A word can be empty because it’s gibberish; or because it’s rote; or because it’s frivolous. Ironically, some churches avoid the Lord’s Prayer entirely because they think it is just a rote prayer made of empty words. However, Jesus’ answer to these “empty” words are our “needs.” Context demands that heaps of empty prayers are things we don’t need, and that Jesus’ prayer is full of things we do need. We need God’s name to be holy; and His will in our lives (which is His daily provision, His forgiveness, and His salvation).

Jesus told us to pray it

“Pray then like this:”

The ESV is a great translation, but can, at times, make interpretations rather than translations. All translations do this. Here, for whatever reason, the word “like” appears. And while it is an acceptable interpretation, it is not the simplest.

Therefore, [you] pray this:

Jesus isn’t giving us some prescription on how to develop our prayers. We don’t need to start everything with adoration, jump into intercessory prayers, then enter confession and personal petitions before ending in thanksgiving. There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s just not being commanded by Jesus here. We don’t have the weight of a burdensome formula plus the pressure of filling in the blanks ex corde. Instead, we have a simple prayer, deep in meaning, covering all our needs. If we could only pray one prayer for our lifetimes, it would be this simple prayer.

Jesus’ words come true

Sometimes we get the false impression that our words always come true. I can name it and claim it. If I pray the sinner’s prayer (or something similar asking Jesus into my heart), then I get the assist on salvation. If I go the path of the persistent widow, then eventually God will answer my prayer – hopefully in my favor, but at the very least He’ll change my desires.  Unfortunately, our words don’t become reality. But Jesus’ words do.

How does Jesus calm the waters? He speaks to them. How does He cast out demons? He tells the to leave. He heals, raises the dead, and forgives sins by His words. He speaks the universe into existence. Don’t say that our words are an improvement upon His.

Jesus has promised to do several things, like save us; send the Holy Spirit; be with us always; forgive us; send us teachers; increase our faith; give us hope in suffering; bear fruit in us; prepare a room for us in heaven; wash us white as snow; etc. When we cling to these things in prayer, we know that they will come true. We are not forcing God’s hand, as if we can shake Him down like debtor. We are celebrating the gracious nature of God, and that He has bound Himself to His promises. God doesn’t break promises.

So when we pray, we don’t have to pray using Jesus’ words, but we have the assurance that Jesus’ words always come true, while ours do not. We know that every single time we ask Him to “forgive us our trespasses,” that our trespasses are forgiven. Likewise, we know that His name is holy, His will is being done, and His kingdom is coming. We know that He will deliver us from evil. We have a great anchor for our soul in this prayer – the assurance that Jesus will never break these promises.

 

Posted by: Steve | June 15, 2016

Worldview Analysis: Brock Turner

Brock Turner was convicted of three sexual assault charges in 2016. After an ugly trial, the presiding judge sentenced him to six months in a local jail and three years probation – the prosecutor had recommended six years, while the defense pleaded for probation. The relatively light sentence sparked widespread debate and protest, with the hope of recalling the judge and bringing attention to a culture which blames the victim, protects the rapists, and allows straight, white, male college athletes to be above the law.

Turner’s actions were morally reprehensible, but the reactions around social media reveal a couple of key things about how we perceive the world.

Sex means everything

There is a push to qualify rape as an act of violence that has nothing to do with sex – rape is about power and control, not sex. This may have a kernel of truth when it comes to men, where rape is the about the power and control in order to achieve the means of sexual gratification. However, the reverse is not true for the victims.

One of the unique factors in this case is that the anonymous victim wrote a compelling account of how her life has changed after the fact. Despite being unable to recall the details of the rape, there was an intimate intrusion into her life, to the point where she no longer wanted her body. Further compounding the devastation, the judicial process made her re-live it, and the defense put her character on trial.

As a culture, we have tried very hard to disassociate sex with anything meaningful. Contraception means it doesn’t have to lead to children. The sexual revolution made it socially acceptable to participate beyond the confines of marriage. The hookup, for a time, was glorified as protagonists of both genders used sex as a show of empowerment and rugged (if not cosmopolitan) individualism. They were above succumbing to emotions or being trapped in a long term relationship. For decades, popular media have normalized no-consequence sex – I should not need to convince anyone of the litany “He/she/it meant nothing!”

As a culture, sex means nothing, unless it means everything. Verbal assault and physical assault don’t hold a candle to sexual assault. It may be a violent act, but it uses sex. It does teach us that sex is something that needs to be protected, because when it is taken, the consequences can be overwhelming. Gnosticism says that the body belongs to the true self (our soul/spirit), but the Biblical worldview says otherwise – our bodies are an intrinsic part of us. Our bodies are inseparable from our identity, and it hurts our very core being when it is violated.

The enormity of the crime is a rare example where people deviate from established social norms and align themselves more closely with the Biblical truth.

It’s not about provocative dress, promiscuous behavior, or intoxication

Blaming the victim doesn’t help her, and doesn’t make him free of guilt. She’s not on trial. However, there are things that we can learn.

First, our culture is constantly trying to find ways to excuse aberrant behavior. We need to find a reason for how a person could be so different and so evil. The child abuser is propagating the kind of love he learned as a child; the murderer was betrayed by his closest friend; he didn’t pick the fight; the driver came from a long line of alcoholics; the shooter felt rejected by society. We shouldn’t be surprised when this is applied to the rapist. She was wearing revealing clothes, he knew that the ladies who frequented the bar slept around a bit, and both of them had their inhibitions lowered by alcohol/drugs.

In this worldview, man is by nature socially good, or, at the very least, a blank slate imprinted with morality. We feel compelled to excuse criminals because we refuse to accept the truth that we are, by nature, sinful and unclean. We don’t believe that human beings could be capable of such evil under normal circumstances – I’ve got to be better than that. In a sense, when we justify the unjust we are promoting our own self-righteousness, both as individuals and as society. Think of the protester carrying the giant sign that reads, “Look! I’m not raping right now! It’s not that hard.”

We can also analyze this attack in the order of vocation. When God ordains any authority, it is specifically for the benefit of the people under that authority. A soldier protects people from invaders, and a cop from criminals. All this authority flows from the fourth commandment, where God ordains fatherhood and family. The father protects his family, and that authority is delegated to other people. Think of teachers, pastors, police officers, and governors as substitute-parents. They protect those under their authority as if they were parents. This will be relevant in a later point, as well.

Regardless, it is the job of the father to protect his kids, and I’ll understand it more when I become a parent. That means teaching them the dangers of alcohol. It means showing them the warning signs of predators and supplying their daughters with pepper spray. It means teaching children the value of a person (and that value is worth protecting). Sometimes it means not letting your daughter show too much skin. Tell them why, of course! I wouldn’t be a fan of my daughter walking among wolves, but I’d be even less inclined to do so if she insisted in covering herself with juicy steaks. The wolf is still responsible if he attacks, but she’s definitely not helping her cause. This may seem like a primitive attitude, but I have no qualms about believing that men are capable of great sin.

Teach men not to rape!

The solution is simple: All you have to do is teach men and boys not to rape. This is an appeal to intellectualism – that as society progresses and as levels of education increase, we will usher in the kingdom of God (or its secular counterpart). I agree that learning is good and intelligence is good. However, there is a long history of smart, learned men who commit terrible acts. Some of the most advanced societies have turned quite evil. I’m not saying progress is impossible, but we’re never going to “better” ourselves out of sin.

I could also point to several failed programs that intended to progress our children. Anti-drug, anti-gang, and abstinence programs have been rather ineffective. There were some claims that D.A.R.E. ended up exposing more kids to drugs. When I was in college, I had to go through both alcohol education and rape education/sensitivity classes. They are mandatory for all college freshmen. Everywhere. We’re trying to tell men not to be rapists. Unfortunately, because we’re slaves to sin, it doesn’t always work.

The idea that we can educate ourselves “above” rape is also strangely anti-rational. It believes in the Star Trek future of humanism, where society advances beyond war, money, and violence. It’s more faith than facts, and that faith is in the moral goodness of humans. The idea that utopia comes through education is strangely devoid of scientific facts and rationalism, and is the result of putting faith in humankind rather than God.

The punishment is not severe enough

The rally to recall the judge (judges are elected in California) is zealous, mostly because people think that the sentence is far too short. This reaction allows us to look at two aspects of the criminal justice system.

First, there are conflicting views as to the primary purpose of prison. One group would treat the prisons as areas of rehabilitation, arguing that punitive actions rarely produce an individual that can contribute to society at the end of his/her sentence, and should be as obsolete as corporal punishment. Prisons should be more like drug treatment centers, hospitals, or schools. One study’s striking finding was that the reincarceration rate was lowest among prisoners who were able to obtain a college degree while behind bars. There is something to be said about the reoffense rate, escalating levels of violence after release, and gang recruitment; and the United States prison system is ripe for reform, especially for non-violent or drug-related crimes. However, I do not believe that all prisoners can be coerced into rehabilitation. There are some that are impenitently evil, and desire to do wrong (you can recognize the denial of original sin at the heart of this movement, as well). In fact, those who are truly discompassionate are the ones who can best manipulate parole boards and probation officers.

There are some who believe differently – that prisons are there to protect the public from criminals. Jail is a method of justice, and retribution or vengeance. It also serves as a deterrent to prospective criminals. The death penalty supposedly discourages people from violent crimes because they fear death. There are some detriments to this system, as well. Prison may teach some people a lesson, but it also churns out hardened criminals.

Second, there is the contrast of flexible or strict guidelines for sentencing, which is closely related to the concepts of relative and absolute truth. Every crime is different, and so is every criminal, and so judges are often allowed leeway when it comes to the length of sentence and where it’s served, independent of jury recommendations. There are exceptions, like the mandatory minimums instituted in the war on drugs in the 90’s. Regardless, most sentences are flexible, or relative. Ten years might be short for one person and an eternity for another.

Now, I’m painting with a broad brush, but those who would call themselves progressive are more likely to embrace prison reform and idealize prisons as rehabilitation centers. These people tend towards relative truth. When it comes to this case, it is of little surprise that progressive sources are running headlines claiming justice wasn’t served, or lamenting that the punishment is not severe enough. Progressive activists are also leading the charge to recall the judge for exercising his opinion on relative truth. Again, this is using a broad brush, but it seems that, when it comes to crimes representing progressive pet issues, some forego their own worldview and latch on to vengeance and hard sentences.

A man’s identity is…

This is an irony that caught my attention very quickly. Our national social positions over the past five years have leapt extraordinarily to the left (some would rather say absurd). At the heart of national debate is how a person defines his or her identity. There are many different theories that stand at cognitive dissonance. We’ve come to the point where identity is a conscious decision of the will, independent of corporeal form. Maybe it’s something that you’re born with (again, independent of genetics), or maybe it’s environmental and something that forms over the course of time. Or perhaps it’s the sum total of actions and decisions over time.

Regardless, we can conclude that, as a society, identity is now self-determined, and isn’t exactly what appears on the surface. This is, again, a form of Gnosticism. It applies to everyone, especially the outcasts of society. However, there are certain cases where the tables are turned. I found this photo on Facebook:

13450323_998008956941718_8610330285937211422_n

I don’t like Brock’s family playing the victim (the “Brock Turner Family Support” page is either a trolling site or a weird attribution). But see the rhetoric? Brock is a monster. He is a rapist. Deep down, he is a rapist. This doesn’t seem like the ever-so-enlightened group that claims identity is self-determined, and you can be whoever you want to be, and if you try hard enough you can transcend your circumstances. It sounds more like a rancher wielding a branding iron.

Fact is, Turner is a sexual offender. It’s a title he’ll have to wear for the rest of his life. Spoiled kid. He made an inebriated decision. Deep down? I can’t tell if he’s a monster. I can’t tell if he is, by nature, a rapist. Frankly, I don’t think anyone outside of his family or the courts has the knowledge to make a good guess. The only thing I do know is that he is, by nature, sinful and unclean.

Turner’s father shouldn’t defend his son

There was a stink made about a letter Turner wrote to the judge. In it, he claimed that Brock was broken, and that his future was taken away. He had learned about what could happen under terrible circumstances, and that prison could teach him no more lessons. His father plead for probation and community service in the form of speaking engagements warning other college students not to walk in Brock’s footsteps. It sounds quite like he’s talking about the best way to rehabilitate his son.

The infamous line is that the conviction [and lifelong consequences] is a high price to pay for 20 minutes of action our of 20-plus years of life. A law professor retweeted the letter, taking the quote out of context to imply that by “action” he meant “sex.” I see this a purposeful deception intended to rile up more protests – the context clearly does not mean “Brock getting 20 minutes of harmless action – boys will be boys!”

Regardless, Turner’s father received a lot of flak for defending his son. The defense was highly criticized for the ugly trial. These are objections brought up outside of the realm of vocation. Remember how parenthood is ordained for the protection of the son? This letter is the father trying to protect his son. Now, I think he failed in his vocation by raising an irresponsible and morally questionable child, but it is within his realm of duty to protect Brock by painting him in the most favorable light possible. In this case, the most favorable light is a dumb kid who made a drunk mistake.

Likewise, the defense acts as an extension of parental authority. In our legal system, sleazy defense lawyers play an important part. Not only do they defend the indefensible, but they also require that prosecutors achieve the burden of proof. Their clients may be guilty, but the zealous defense ensures that innocent defendants do not end up behind bars. Essentially, it’s their job to do everything within their power to obtain their client’s freedom.

Both of these may seem deplorable to us, but within the context of vocation, they make sense. Brock’s father is not supposed to act as a judge (just a father), nor is the defense attorney supposed to represent the victim (only Brock). They perform their duties within their vocations. Likewise, we have to remember that we haven’t been appointed the judge in this case. We can act within our vocation as citizens to speak up and elect those to better represent our interests and the common good.  We can train our children as mothers and fathers. We can act as respectful friends to the opposite gender. But we are not judge, jury, and executioner.

Posted by: Steve | April 30, 2016

Review: Second Chance by Hillsong United

I enjoy some songs which are theologically suspect. This is one of them. Who doesn’t like the idea of a second chance? Is this not the most simple explanation of grace?

There are some things to appreciate about this song:

1) The first verse mentions our redemption, implying a proper understanding of man’s fallen condition.

2) The second verse mentions Jesus and that He removes the condemnation of sin.

3) The end of the chorus may refer to John 15:13 (Greater love has no man than this: That he lay down his life for his friends), meaning that the song communicates the method of our redemption – Jesus laid down His life on the cross.

4) The bridge says that God’s love never fails.

These are very generous conclusions, giving the song the benefit of the doubt. Many of the stanzas are intentionally ambiguous, and Biblical references are very loose. Just because the songwriters penned “redeemed” does not mean that they are bringing with it all the wonderful depth of that word; nor does the tenuous reference to the Gospel of John directly link us to the cross. We need to supply that doctrine because it’s not quite clear.

Which brings me to the weaker components of this song:

1) The first verse talks about Jesus calling my name and reaching out His hand… entering my life. While poetic, it does nothing to describe how one is redeemed, or how man is called, regenerated, converted, or justified. Is this an inward, silent call, or an external call by the words of Christ? Did He reach out through relationships, through feelings, through circumstances, or directly/silently into the heart?

2) The song implies a singular conversion experience – there was a moment when Christ entered my life. This usually means that there is an emotionally-driven manipulation towards Christ or a reasoned decision of the will. Both of these trend towards an Arminian or Semi-Pelagian view where man can effect his own salvation. There are nuances in other reformed theologies, but, sufficed to say, if the intention was pure monergism, there was a more clear way to express it.

3) The second verse does not explain when “that day” was. Was this moment my conversion experience, or was it 2,000 years ago? This point is of great significance, because the definition of the word “grace” depends on it. The first verse (and this one) tend towards language describing this moment as if it happened within my lifetime. If that is the case, then what is grace? Grace is intangible, invisible goodness of some sort. It is some mystical substance. This stands at odds with actual saving grace that Christ gave on the cross.

4) The chorus starts with us reaching out our hand, which is more evidence that this song teaches synergism. Christ reached out His hand in the beginning, and now we reach back. Otherwise, the act of justification is confused with sanctification, where Jesus died so we can “change,” not necessarily to save us from sin, death, and the devil.

5) The chorus (and the song title itself) mention a second chance. My question is… a second chance to do what? There seem to be three options: The first is not to sin anymore; the second is to please God through keeping the Law; the third is to finally devote myself fully to God. The second and third options seem to fit well within the song – the third verse is peppered with hints of Psalm 1 and more of John 15 (delighting in/meditating on God’s law and keeping Jesus’ commandments), while both the bridge and chorus latch onto the more mystical, devotional option.

A second chance sounds good, right? Consider how it portrays God. God sees humans screw up, saves them, and then says, “Alright. I’m giving you one more chance to be good.” Even if He does this an infinite number of times, and we get third and fourth and hundreth chances, the obligation is still there. God is expecting us to be good, and setting us up for failure. A “second chance” theology teaches imparted righteousness or infused grace, where the Christian is gifted the ability to be righteous on his/her merits. God saves by grace at first, but everything that follows is our responsibility. “Salvation was by grace, but what works have you done for Me lately?”

And from our perspective, we make bold claims in singing this song. “This time I’m going to obey Your commandments. This time I’m going to be fully devoted to God. All I have to do is search more and serve more. Before I wasn’t doing enough, but I’ll work harder.” Striving for good works is fine, but there’s a certain hubris to this. As if, in the history of humanity, there was more than one person who could really make the claim that He could do it. When we say we can do it, we cheapen the Law, and miss the point of the Gospel. Remember all those Israelites who said they would keep God’s commands at Sinai? Didn’t turn out so great for them.

The million-dollar question is: Is Jesus’ death and resurrection for our justification by grace; or did it infuse righteousness so that we could finally fulfill the law and become pleasing to God? Truly, there is a sense of the latter where we are given the new will which desires good, but it is never to be confused with the former such that our justification is our second chance to be a good person/Christian.

6) Jesus did say that a tiny bit of faith would be able to cast a mountain into the sea, yet I haven’t seen anyone lift or move a mountain. Some people think He was speaking figuratively, and that, by faith, we could move the “mountains” in our life. The big stuff. I don’t think that was His intention. I think His point was simple: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could command this mountain to be thrown into the sea. You can’t throw (or haven’t thrown) a mountain into the sea, therefore you do not have the tiniest bit of faith. Jesus is telling His disciples they don’t have faith. It adds to the song’s arrogance when we use the phrase meant to be a rebuke as a badge of honor. We’ve got enough faith – more faith than those before us. It’s close to the word-of-faith heresy, where faith is a mysterious substance, and if you have enough, then your prayers get answered.

7) This song, after putting so much of an emphasis on our response and our commitment to good works, does not describe a single good work. We don’t hear anything about prayer, listening to God’s word, or repentance.  We don’t get anything about loving family, being neighborly, or working hard at the job. We don’t sing one word about self-sacrifice, the Fruits of the Spirit, sharing the Gospel, or anything related to 1 Corinthians 13. Nada.

This is why theology and right doctrine is so important. They may have intended to write a song about responding to Jesus’ love with our own love and devotion. It ended up also teaching emotional mysticism, synergism, works-righteousness, and the word-of-faith heresy; while omitting any real good works.

Posted by: Steve | April 19, 2016

Autonomy and Abortion

Is a woman’s autonomy dependent upon her access to abortion?

“And in the meantime we have states, governors doing everything they can do to restrict women’s rights. We have a presidential candidate by the name of Donald Trump saying that women should be punished. And we are never asked about this.

And to be complete in my concern, Senator Sanders says with respect to Trump it was a distraction. I don’t think it’s a distraction. It foes to the heart of who we are as women, our rights, our autonomy, our ability to make our own decisions, and we need to be talking about that and defending Planned Parenthood from these outrageous attacks.”

~Hillary Clinton, April Democratic Debate, CNN

Autonomy is the ability of a person, people group, or nation to govern themselves. On an international scale it is associated with independence, and antonymous with dependence or oppression. When talking in individual terms, a lack of autonomy largely means a person is devoid of rights: They could be called 2nd-class citizens; people unable to make their own decisions; or people of none to little worth. They wouldn’t be described as persons, but subjects.

On some level, all of us are subjects. When we’re young, we’re subject to our fathers and teachers. When we’re old enough to work, we become subjects to our bosses. All of us are subject to the law of the land. These systems are not meant to degrade us. Our parents protect and nurture us, our bosses provide our wages, and our government protects our rights, according to the rule of law. The authorities in our lives can aggravate us, but they are provisions for our benefit.

In a sense, a law that prohibits theft restricts our ability to steal. In any given moment, we are denied the ability to make that decision for ourselves, or, at least, to make that choice without fear of consequence. We are not immediately autonomous, but subject to law. However, we still have the right to self-governance, ie: We vote for our leaders and legislators, and have a voice in changing the rule of law. It’s one of the reasons why we call them public servants and not kings. From this, we can properly conclude that a law against theft does not deprive an individual of his or her autonomy.

So would a law restricting abortion revoke a woman’s autonomy? Not in a legal sense, unless you prove one of three things:

  1. Those on the losing side of the vote are always being oppressed
  2. There is a tyranny of the majority upon the minority
  3. The law infringes upon a natural right

No one can reasonably argue the first, and the second is difficult in this scenario considering that women outnumbered men in the last election roughly 53-47. The logical conclusion is that: Those who believe that restricting abortion is revoking a woman’s autonomy believe that abortion is a natural right. Whether they ask for the right or not, women are second-class citizens without access to abortion. They are no longer independent.

If these women are being deprived of rights, what is the right? Is it the right to be happy? The right to be financially stable? The right to comfort? No American has these assurances. We do not have an inherent right to be happy or have our desires fulfilled. We do have the right to pursue these things, but it is not the government’s responsibility to see that they happen. No. It’s a right that is assumed of men – the right not to be pregnant.

The oppressor is not some governor or all of “man”kind. It’s not even the man who gets her pregnant. Unless he’s abusive, getting her pregnant is not subjecting or controlling her. The oppressor, ironically, is the baby. The baby causes discomfort and pain. The baby changes her body. The baby costs money. The baby complicates her career. The baby forces her into motherhood. Once born, she won’t be able to make any decision without considering the baby. The baby forces her to make certain choices and compromises. She is no longer the ruler of her life – she is slave to the child.

The baby takes her autonomy.

This comes from a mindset where men and women must be equal in every way. Since men cannot get pregnant, women must have the right to not be pregnant. Women should also be sexually liberated, meaning she must have full access to birth control and abortion. Three horrible pillars: Women are only valuable insofar as they act like men, therefore sex should be separate from marriage; sex does not lead to pregnancy; pregnancy does not lead to birth. These are the foundations of the real war on women.

Women must be men, and children are slave-drivers. It’s so backwards and upside-down. No wonder abortion advocates disguise their rhetoric.

Posted by: Steve | February 6, 2016

The Way of Escape

1 Corinthians 10:13 is often interpreted to mean that whenever there is an instance of temptation, God will provide a special means of escaping that temptation; that is, if one is drawn in a particular situation to sin, there is always a way out. You’re not going to be super-tempted beyond your ability, just run-of-the-mill tempted such that you always have the ability to overcome.

Practically, this interpretation means that whenever there is something that is sinful that you want to do, there is a God-given option not to do it – you just have to deny yourself, suck it up, and make the right choice.

(There is also a thoroughly heretical application, where this verse means that whenever there’s something that you don’t want to do, there is a God-given option not to do it. This is antinomianism, where God grants free license to do whatever I want, and not do whatever I do not want; I despise the Law to become a law unto myself.)

But what exactly is the way of escape? How are we free of these temptations?

When this verse is taken by itself to say that God will provide a special escape from each individual temptation, it is our responsibility to identify it, deny our sinful nature, and choose it.

But take a look at all those references to the Israelites’ sojourn in the desert. The people get trapped by the Red Sea, and God literally makes a way of escape through the waters. The Israelites grumble for water, and God cleanses the water with a log. The Israelites grumble for water, and God provides the rock which springs forth water when struck. The Israelites resist Moses and God sends a plague, and Aaron makes atonement and stops it. The people’s sin didn’t allow anyone to come close to the tent, and God provides ritual cleansing for the priests. The Israelites grumble for food and water again and God sends poisonous snakes, and Moses lifts up the bronze serpent to save them.

In each instance, the people fall in temptation, and then God provides the means of “escape,” usually in the form of cleansing by water or sacrificial atonement. God does the saving, and it is not a coincidence that this verse is sandwiched between some of Paul’s most explicit statements concerning Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

What if the way of escape actually concerns the means of forgiveness which strengthen our faith? When temptation comes our way, we can say with confidence that we have been killed and raised through our Baptism, and that God is truly in us and with us through the Lord’s Supper. The way to escape temptation is effectively that we’ve been forgiven by grace through faith – to have the assurance that we’re already on the way of escape.

Here, the way of escape is properly that Jesus has saved us from sin, death, and the devil, and the way to escape individual temptations thereafter is to hold fast to that promise. Practically, believe!

Posted by: Steve | January 13, 2016

Review: “Touch the Sky” by Hillsong United

“Touch the Sky” is the fourth track and lead single on Hillsong United’s album, Empires. I found myself caught up in the song, and the music is used well to complement the lyrics, inducing feelings of flying or being set free.

While I appreciate the instrumental artistry, the weakness of the song is the lyrical component, which is often wrapped in layers and metaphors so that the message gets lost. There are elements of theology in there. Jesus gets a shout-out, and there are references to repentance and forgiveness, but they are never called such. The anthropology of the song never asserts that man’s problem is sin, and does not concretely describe how we can know God or be sure about redemption.

I know that I am a sinner who has transgressed a holy God but is saved by grace alone by Jesus’ work on the cross, but the song fails to communicate that. I could just as easily agree with “Touch the Sky” if believe that I am a generally good person who has fallen upon hard times, but I know it’s all okay because I get butterflies in my stomach when I am on my knees during a powerful worship song.

For this reason, I find this song unsuitable for use in the church, and it could be dangerous to play on the radio if it happens to reach the wrong person and reinforce an unsound theology. My detailed review follows:

What fortune lies beyond the stars
Those dazzling heights too vast to climb
I got so high to fall so far
But I found heaven as love swept low

This first verse talks about someone who tried ascending somewhere. The high place is obviously not meant to be taken literally, so it must be interpreted figuratively. So what does the fortune or dazzling height represent? It could be either worldly success, or the spiritual success of reaching God in a mystical mountaintop experience. In either case, something caused him or her to fall down.

Perhaps this person thinks that life is all about having the best job, or a perfect family, or lots of friends, or following his or her own ambitions and dreams. Then it all came crashing down. At the rock-bottom of earthly suffering, God reveals Himself.

On the other hand, maybe this person is spiritually-minded, and tries desperately to reach a God who is “somewhere out there.” He or she climbs so high, but has a crisis of faith and it all comes crashing down. In humiliation and desperation, this person prays and/or repents. God then reveals He wasn’t in all the gaudy, external, mountaintop stuff; rather, He is found in lowliness and prayer and submission.

My heart beating, my soul breathing
I found my life when I laid it down
Upward falling, spirit soaring
I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground

This chorus uses a lot of imagery.

“My heart beating” could mean that he or she is nervous, or perhaps that it is so quiet and intimate that he or she can only hear a heartbeat. “My soul breathing” is a nonsensical phrase insofar as souls do not breathe, but it could be using the Greek play on words that pneuma can mean spirit, wind, and, by extension, breath. There are hints of Gnosticism, making a distinction between the flesh and the soul, as if one owns the other. Both opening phrases could be contrasting how this person was once just physically alive, but now he or she is also spiritually alive.

Continuing with the imagery of falling down and God coming down, the song employs Jesus’ famous words, “He who loses his life will find it,” omitting, for any number of reasons, the words for my sake. It so happens that by quoting Him this way, losing one’s life is no longer about the crucifixion or being persecuted for the sake of Jesus, but about mystical commitment to surrender. I’m all-in. I’m soul-ed out. If I deny myself hard enough, I become this super person.

The last two lines are poetic images of spiritual successes being found in prayer – when my knees hit the ground. These are hints of what is to come, where prayer is described as a means of grace. This is common to many sects that dabble in synergism and/or Pelagianism.

What treasure waits within Your scars
This gift of freedom gold can’t buy
I bought the world and sold my heart
You traded heaven to have me again

The second verse seems to backtrack and review what just happened. It does not define treasure or freedom; it doesn’t explain what buying the world or selling one’s heart means; and doesn’t illustrate what it means to be “had” by Jesus, again.  However, it contains the one reference in the entire song to Jesus: Scars. Assuming that this is a religious song, no other major religious figure has famous scars, so it’s got to be Jesus. That is a profound statement, but it’s just used as a passing reference. The song moves on, and doesn’t really dwell on the only reference to Jesus.

And here’s my main beef. The song is afraid to call Jesus by His name and doesn’t mention God or the Holy Spirit; it doesn’t even refer to Jesus as Lord; it doesn’t use the words sin or repentance or prayer or the cross. This song has come down with a case of the metaphors, and every statement is clouded by them. It is so detached from scripture that it can assert no truths, and is unable to make a cohesive theological statement.

In other words, it has no power to make you believe something. It can only make you feel something, and that ‘something’ could be whatever you want it to be. You do you, and the song reinforces your a priori beliefs.

Find me here at Your feet again
Everything I am, reaching out, I surrender
Come sweep me up in Your love again
And my soul will dance
On the wings of forever

Musically, this bridge mimics the feeling of flying. The music makes you feel up in the air, and is designed well. But here we confirm the pitfall of this song – it is pure mysticism. This person has fallen, and has turned to reaching out to God in an un-identifiable way. Most likely it’s in prayer.

It’s like when you come home and your wife left a note saying that she went out, and if you wanted to talk to her, you only needed to call her on her cell phone. Then you immediately put down the note and proceed to search every room of the house for her, walk outside and yell her name as loud as you can, and ask every passerby if they have seen her.

The mystic approaches God the same way. God has said where we can find Him, but let’s ignore those ways and try to find Him somewhere else. And the goal isn’t really to “find” Him, but about how to find Him. Because you can never really find Him. Your soul can dance on the wings of forever, but you’re not really dancing, and the only reason we mention wings is that things that fly generally have wings, and you won’t reach this metaphorical place we’re calling forever.

It’s not about God finding you, it’s about you searching for Him. It’s not about repenting and being forgiven, it’s about you going to revival meetings and praying on your knees. It’s not about Jesus accomplishing everything, it’s about how we need to surrender, but we can never quite surrender enough so we should keep spinning our wheels – which is apparent because of the repetition of the word ‘again’ throughout the song.

I had mixed feelings when I tried to review this song. At first, I wanted to dissect it, verse-by-verse, and try to interpret what it likely means. Then, I would put the best construction on it.

I started putting the best construction on it by fleshing out the details and making it so it would make theological sense, but realized that the grand majority of “theologically sound” things in the best-construction interpretation were things that I added. I lost interest before refining and completing it. Which one sounds like the Gospel?

Best Construction: Someone – let’s call her Leah because I don’t know any Leahs and the song has a female lead – either put stock in her earthly ambitions or vainly reached out in some mystical way to God. Either way, Leah royally messed up, fell, but then was comforted by scriptures that point out that we don’t have to ascend to God and that Jesus came down here (Philippians 2, Hebrews 1, Deuteronomy 30, 2 Peter 1, Romans 10). Jesus, who is both God and love, swept low to the point of humiliation on the cross, and He is all the objective assurance we need to be content in every situation. Leah is convicted of sin, and is perfectly set up for repentance and absolution.

Leah repents and is forgiven, receiving the Holy Spirit who assures her that Jesus has promised to be with us. She can hear His voice in the scriptures. We are even united in His death and resurrection by our baptism, and we receive Him in the Lord’s Supper every week. Now, she can endure the hardships this world has to offer, either the universal hardship of the sinful nature or the Christian hardship of being persecuted for Jesus. He listens to our prayers and He’s actually with us. Leah can go forth, confident in salvation and Jesus’ ultimate victory, to boldly and freely do good works to her neighbor, knowing she stands under God’s forgiving wings.

Likely Meaning: Leah was all about chasing her dreams. Maybe she tried to reach out in some mystical way to God, but it was the wrong kind of mysticism so she fell. God isn’t always found in the bright, show-y heights (ignore the fabulous light show highlighting our famous worship team) or fancy miracles. He’s not really found in scripture, either. He’s found when you mystically reach lower, in super-devotion to prayer. Leah has been sucked into mysticism, trying to reach out and touch God in a different, yet still extra-Biblical, way. Leah either goes from worldliness to mysticism; or trades one form of mysticism for another.

Then, Leah prays really hard. And when she has prayed for a long enough time, there is this feeling of jubilation and peace. Because of that feeling, Leah has evidence that she has really submitted his or her life this time. Now, Leah knows that in order to touch heaven, either for the reassuring feeling or for special revelation, one must only kneel and pray. Leah walks out of the revival meeting, confident that she has a relationship with God because of the special prayer-time experience, and cycles through seasons of faith and doubt, recommitting again and again while searching for God as hard as she can.

Posted by: Steve | January 13, 2016

Protestants Gone Wild: Hillsong Worship

There are no new heresies. Which wacky combination of false doctrine is foundational to Hillsong Worship (specifically the worship ministry)?

Prosperity: Leaching in from the sermons of Hillsong Church, this is the idea that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, happy, and an overall great person. Usually, there are conditional aspects where you achieve these positive results if (and only if) you do something for God. Or give money to the church. Also, it supplants God’s eternal blessings for temporal or worldly blessings – God doesn’t send Jesus to save you from your sins, but in order for you to be wealthy; or happy; or have lots of friends; or be fearless; or start a business.

Decision Theology: A rehash of Pelagianism, where man has the free will to choose God, effectively denying the depravity of man. This destroys the comfort of the Gospel by removing the believer’s assurance of salvation, taking away the anchor of Jesus’ effective work and exchanging it for the sinking sand of our subjective works.

Denial of the Sufficiency of Christ: Jesus’ sacrifice was not totally effective for our salvation. Pagan worship is about men bringing offerings and gifts to god(s), whereas Christian worship – even in the Old Testament – was about being clothed in Jesus’ offering. This false doctrine pulls us back to the pagan attitude about worship, where we offer stuff to God in the form of money, emotion, commitment, or “real worship;” and also denies the theology of the book of Hebrews, were the high priest and only true sacrifice is Christ, Himself.

Narcigesis: A combination of Narcissism and Eisegesis, coined by FFF.  Reading yourself into the Bible where you do not belong, ie: Are you walking on water? Who are the Goliaths in your life? What are the Jerichos you need to overcome?

Mysticism (emotion): The way to find out God’s secret will for us is in euphoria. Our ecstatic experiences prove that the Holy Spirit is present.

Mysticism (music): The purpose of church music is to be the medium where the congregation reaches out for God’s secret nature which is “somewhere out there.” We listen for God’s whisper, or want to see Him more clearly, and it happens when we sing this song.

Mysticism (evangelism): God’s secret will is to make changes so that church becomes more attractive to unsaved individuals. The church copies worldly things not to more effectively deliver Christ or more accurately exegete the Bible, but to be more relevant to the world or “seekers,” often to the detriment of the clarity of the Gospel.

Older Posts »

Categories