27 February 2006

A Reminder Concerning Compassion

This post reminded me of a man in my church back home. He was the head of the local crisis pregnancy center, and he continually poured himself into hurting sinners who were looking for help and compassion. Because he was more frank than our parents in warning us about sexual immorality, my friends and I always thought he was a little strange. But as a new dad and as a future pastor, I see his life work in a new light.

He and his wife daily labored to provide what these girls needed:

Help, compassion, and straight talk from someone who has taken the time to get to know them, to invest in them, and to love them in their current state. Someone to cry with them, to change diapers with them, to laugh with them, to enjoy motherhood with them, to have coffee with them and talk about their now shared experiences.

Certainly this is one vital way we can “do good to all people” (Gal 6:10).

24 February 2006

"Many Advisers": The Purpose of Blogging

Proverbs 11:14 For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure.
Proverbs 15:22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
Proverbs 24:6 For waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.
Proverbs 26:16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.

There are many good reasons to blog. For instance, in the secular realm blogs are used to share news and recipes. These are good goals and helpful for those who are interested in those sorts of things. PittsSpot has a different purpose in mind: wisdom. Specifically, I seek the wisdom gained by submitting one's thoughts to a broader community for argument and discussion. Three of the verses above refer specifically to planning and strategizing, especially in military contexts, but I think an application could be made to one's thought-life as well.

Blogging helps me take several steps in the path of wisdom. First, I must wrestle my thoughts into words. Second, I must rally them into intelligible order and reasonably sized units. Third, I must humbly and attentively accept criticism from even the most vitriolic of critics. Fourth, I must evaluate criticism and respond to it either with rebuttal or with revision of my own views in light of the authority of Scripture.

So there is my purpose for blogging. The last verse is there to remind me that seeking wisdom is hard work. In self-deception, I might think it unnecessary, but these lying thoughts are only manifestations of laziness and pride.

22 February 2006

Darwin Day

The recent coincidence of Darwin Day with Sunday gave some mainline Protestant churches the opportunity to organize Evolution Sunday. One of the main purposes of the event was to proclaim "that religion and science are not adversaries." Darwin has also been celebrated by the scientific community, as in a recent article by Jonathan Weiner in Scientific American. Al Mohler criticizes the article’s nearly worshipful tone. One can almost hear the Weiner’s voice quiver with admiration as the article describes the “imagination” and rigor of Darwin’s scientific endeavors. The criticism is well-founded: Darwin deserves about as much worship as the Beagle he rode in on.

I did wonder about this statement at the end of Mohler’s criticism:

“The truth that dawns on me is the fact that this scientist seems to be letting his adultation [sic] of Darwin get in the way of anything even close to scientific detachment.”

Here’s my question:

Does worshipping a man disqualify a person from doing science correctly?

I am certain that Mohler did not intend his statement to be reworked this way, but his words caught my attention because there is another Man that I worship. With Mohler, I accept everything this Man says, even those things which pertain to science, as indisputable. I accept what this Man says before I begin any scientific investigation and whatever the results of scientific investigation. Does that make any science that I do tainted with partiality? Am I disqualified because of my attachment to Jesus?

In the end I am convinced “that religion and science are not adversaries,” and not because they belong to two different realms, one spiritual and one material. I am convinced that they must be compatible because all true science presupposes my religion. Science is not dependent on neutrality; science is dependent on Christianity. The Christian worldview provides the only adequate philosophical basis for science, and, therefore, real science can never contradict the sayings of Jesus or any of the other Scriptures.

So worshipping a man is not what “gets in the way” of doing science correctly; worshipping the wrong man is. So my job is to celebrate Christmas and Easter everyday and to do all my observing with Jesus in mind.

(Now, of course, the reasons that science is dependent on Christianity have not been given. I have only made some [strong] assertions. I’ll save the reasons for another post. That’s what blogging is all about.)

20 February 2006

You can't be serious!

Kevin Bauder's blog used to be one of my favorites. The site is empty now; all posts have been removed. Does anyone know if he is blogging elsewhere now?

18 February 2006

The Believer's Reward

A few years back, I met one of the parents of a friend from Bible college. After we had talked some about some plans my friends and I had for the summer, he began to tell us something about his background. He had come to know Christ through a ministry with apparently little interest in discipleship or doctrinal instruction, and he recounted how he eventually found a church that taught the Scriptures more thoroughly. The example he mentioned caught me off guard: he said this new church taught him that Christ would reward his own for their faithful service and that this should motivate his servants to vigilance and perseverance.

There is much to be said about the believer's reward on the Day of Christ. Sometime I would like to discuss the relationship between rewards and final salvation. Also the relationship between rewards and grace deserves some attention. These will have to wait for later.

What I have been thinking about recently is the relationship between rewards and the people we serve and influence for Christ. I think they are more than related. I think that in some ways they are the same thing. A text may help me explain what I am getting at:

"For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy" (1 Thess 2:19-20).

At least part of the reward that Paul is hoping for is bound up in the people that he will see there. This is not to say that rewards will not come in other forms; it is simply to point out that Paul affectionately emphasizes one aspect of a believer's eternal reward over all the others. Sometimes I have missed this aspect altogether.

Because Paul's heart was genuinely bound to the Thessalonians (1 Thess 2:8), because he had made his joy dependent in some measure on their perseverance (1 Thess 3:7-8), he would "glory" in them on that Day because seeing them meant his incessant "efforts" on their behalf had "not been useless" (1 Thess 3:5).

This is the kind of thinking that motivated Paul to "to share with [them] not only the gospel of God but our lives as well" (1 Thess 2:8).

16 February 2006

Propositions and the Scriptures

On page 15 of New Testament Exposition, Liefeld says, "The best communication of divine truth is not always through propositions." This statement prodded me into a couple of thoughts:

(1) All communication is inherently propositional.

McCune notes that even general revelation is propositional in content though it is not always propositional in form. Piper agrees stating that all of nature is shouting to believer and unbeliever alike, "God is glorious! God is glorious!" Nature may communicate unpropositionally, but it still communicates propositions.

But Liefeld is not referencing nature anyway. He is referencing written communication, and, other than perhaps some of the works of some modern poets (e.g. e. e. cummings), written communication is not only propositional in content, it is also propositional in form. It is difficult to imagine written communication that is not organized into subjects and predicates. Such a strange form of writing certainly does not find its place in the Scriptures, so on one level Liefeld’s s words refer to an impossible situation. He references narratives as non-propositional, but surely he does not think of them as gobbledygook. They are historical propositions arranged in a (chrono)logical sequence which is intelligible to rational beings familiar with the language in which they are written or translated.

So Liefeld’s statements about the relationship between "the communication of divine truth" and "propositions" may evidence a deficient understanding of the flexibility of propositional communication. But, then again, I'm probably just being picky.

(2) Now on whether the style of Romans, which perhaps resembles formal, logical discourse more than any other work in the Scriptures, is the best vehicle for the communication of all divine truth the answer is obvious: no. I think this is what Liefeld is getting at. God has chosen to reveal himself to us in many genres and styles, and we have no choice but ascribe to him all wisdom in doing so. Granted, systematic theologians may find Romans more helpful for their task than Proverbs [I'm in the middle of a good blog series on the interpretation of Proverbs starting which starts here.] or Numbers. But this fact does not imply that Numbers does not communicate any material for systematic theology. It does not imply that Numbers does not communicate propositionally. And it does not imply that Numbers is somehow a lesser style of communication. It is a different style to be sure with particular strengths and limitations, but it is a necessary like Romans' style is necessary. Both Numbers and Romans are written in the best form for their respective functions and content.

14 February 2006

It's Just Entertainment

This was not what I expected to read first when I surfed over to Christianity Today's website. I also appreciated both sides of the conversation in the comments here last month.

Entertainment and the Christian is a topic I would like to spend some time writing about, but there is a lot of reading I want to do first. Some questions that need attention might be:
(1) Is entertainment as such an acceptable pasttime for a Christian?
(2) Is it morally valid to expose oneself to forms of entertainment which are objectionable due to violence or language?
(3) Is it possible to expose oneself to these forms of entertainment for non-entertainment purposes (e.g. literary or cultural studies)?
(4) Do the forms (e.g. books and movies) differ only formally when they present violence, for example, or are some forms acceptable and others inacceptable for the Christian?

One thing that is certainly not on the table is depiction of sexual activity. Christ's exhortation to "gouge [your right eye] out and throw it away" (Matt 5:28-29) is utterly incompatible with exposing oneself to this material in any form of entertainment.

12 February 2006

Three Obligations for the Preacher

While the last post dealt with a personal requisite for the preacher, I wanted to highlight three obligations the nature of the preaching task demands of him: hermeneutics, exegesis, and homiletics.
How do these relate to each other?

Exegesis and hermeneutics are often used with a great degree of overlap, and Liefeld is no exception to this trend in usage (see p. 24 where "hermeneutics" entails "convey[ing] the basic message of a biblical passage faithfully"). However the two disciplines are often distinguished from each other.

As Liefeld implies elsewhere in the book, hermeneutics pertains to the "principles" of interpreting a passage (p. 17). Hermeneutics is the study which concerns itself with the necessary foundations (and therefore the proper methods of) exegesis. Within the purview of hermeneutics comes questions like "Is language univocal or equivocal?" "Is communication between rational beings possible?" and "What are the necessary preconditions of successful communication?" However, building on these foundational concepts, hermeneutics also encompasses answers to less abstract questions such as "What is the aim of interpretation, authorial intent or reader response?" By answering these questions, hermeneutics provides the principial framework within which exegesis takes place.

As has already been implied, exegesis is the activity of interpretation proper. If hermeneutics writes the rulebook for interpretation, exegesis plays the game. Good exegesis works within the confines of good hermeneutics in an effort to arrive at authorial intent (that is, what the author wanted to convey to his readers). Exegesis follows the method established by the principles of hermeneutics.

As exegesis relates to homiletics, the former is the activity which discovers meaning; the latter is the activity which presents the meaning to a public audience. Part of the homiletical task is considering what Liefeld calls the "human need" aspect of expository preaching. The preacher has the responsibility of casting the truths of the text in imperatival form for the audience. If good exegesis arrives at authorial intent, good homiletics cannot fail to address contemporary application. Those who sit under a well-crafted sermon will know what it would look like in their lives to submit to the Biblical text.

While application forms the driving motivation of any sermon, the task of the homiletics, as we normally speak of it, concerns the logical and persuasive structuring of the sermon so as to best communicate authorial intent to the contemporary audience. The goal of the homiletician is to produce in his audience three levels of appreciation for the passage of Scripture: (1) comprehension of the text (Do they get it?), (2) retention of its meaning (Will they remember it?), and submission to its truth (Will they obey?). Preachers must strive for no lower goal if they are to obey the commission of Christ "to teach them to obey all that [he] commanded" (Matt 28:20). Therefore, the preacher’s sermon, especially the big idea of his sermon, but even the main points of his outline, should therefore be incisive, memorable, and persuasive.

To sum up the obligations as a whole then, hermeneutics gives us the framework within which to interpret. Exegesis is the activity of interpretation itself. Homiletics takes the data produced by exegesis and forms it into an incisive, memorable, and persuasive sermon.

10 February 2006

The Self-Watching Pastor

Recently I was asked: What do you believe is the most important personal requisite of the preacher and why?

Three personal qualities come immediately to mind. First, when Paul is giving his qualifications to the Corinthian believers, showing them why they should not listen to the demeaning arguments of his opponents, the first quality Paul lists is endurance (2 Cor 6:4, "Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses"). Second, in his preceding letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that even the most self-sacrificial of ministries with the most skillful and gifted speaking is "nothing" without love (1 Cor 13:1-3). Third, Paul instructs Timothy, in his first letter to him, about the importance of what the Puritans would later call the principle of self-watch: "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1 Tim 4:16).

While ministry is absolutely impossible without the first two qualities, I believe that the third quality is the most important personal requisite of the preacher for at least two reasons. The first reason is that Paul explicitly connects this requisite to the salvation of both Timothy and his hearers. In light of all Paul has written about grace and the human condition (and I still intend to write some more myself), we should not understand Paul’s words to refer to the basis of salvation, but rather the necessary evidence of salvation. As Calvin would say, "persever[ing] in them" is the cause sina qua non of salvation. And here your own salvation is not the only issue, "your hearers" also have an eternal vested interest in the pastors perseverance. If one does not persevere in right doctrine and living, if one does not experience present deliverance from sin, he should not expect final deliverance from God’s wrath. Nothing could be more important in Paul’s ministry than the perseverance of those to whom he preached the gospel (1 Thess 3:8, "For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord"). If this is not an unimaginably important personal requisite, I do not know what could be--if one does not strive to apply the principle of self-watch, he should flee pastoral responsibility: he can only prove to be the detriment if not the damnation of those he is called to serve.

The second reason I think that the principle of self-watch is so important is that in encompasses both the other two qualities and so many others. Love (1 Cor 13) and endurance of hardship (2 Cor 6) are part of the "watch your life...closely." The principle of self-watch is broad enough to concern itself with ordinate affections in worship, with doctrinal accuracy, with exegetical precision, as well as with exemplary lifestyle and extraordinary brotherly love. Self-watch is what will help keep anyone from looking "down on you because you are young" because self-watch is essential to becoming "an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (1 Tim 4:12).

Can Homosexuals Really Change?

This is a little longer than normal, but it is thoughtful and worthwhile. Mohler's realistic optimism reflects Paul's theology thoroughly:

"We acknowledge the incredible power of these enslavements and desires. In fact, we know of only one power greater -- and that is the redeeming and transforming grace of our Lord."

07 February 2006

I think he is on to something here.

Well, this is chuckleworthy.

03 February 2006

Grace for Fallen Humans: Necessity

I was thinking through three terms this morning that have been helpful to me in understanding the historic debates within Christendom about grace and human sinfulness. The first of these nifty terms is necessity.

As far as church history is concerned, Pelagius and perhaps some modernists posited that God's grace is not necessary to divine-human relations. Human beings, without any divine assistance, are able to keep God's moral law. Therefore, while divine grace is there to help out the fallen, some people may have a righteous standing before him without his grace.
As Cairns observes, "The church has always been closer to Augustine's view than to that of Pelagius" (p. 132). At the very least, Bible-believing Christianity has always asserted the necessity of grace, which Pelagius denied. Universal depravity under Adam makes grace necessary to every divine-human relationship.

So the overwhelming majority in Church history is on the side of the necessity of grace. Does the Scripture support their claim? The answer to this is "yes" on two levels.

First, there are many texts which show the fact of universal depravity (e.g. Rom 3:10-20, 23; 1 Kings 8:46). Because everyone has sinned grace is necessary. Simple enough.

However, objectors could say to these texts, "Well this shows that no one has kept God's demands, but it does not show no one can keep God's demands." Therefore the objector could opine, God's grace might not be necessary in every relationship between God and a fallen human. This objection has an element of truth: the texts we normally use to point out universal depravity do not directly speak to human inability.

So: Second, I think there is at least one Pauline text which implies that it is impossible for fallen humans to keep the law.

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree" (Gal 3:10-13).

Human inability is a necessary assumption in this paragraph. Paul’s logic goes like this:
Stated premise: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."
[Unstated premise: No one can do everything written in the Book of the Law.] Conclusion: All (who do not rely on Christ’s redemption, but on observing the law) are under a curse.

This conclusion is unwarranted if the assumption is that no one has lived up to God’s demands because if someone could "do everything written in the Book of the Law," then not "all who rely on observing the law" would be "under a curse." The conclusion is warranted only if the assumption is that no one can keep God’s demands. So human inability is a necessary assumption in this text.

Therefore, both on the level of fact, and on the level of possibility, grace is necessary for every relationship between God and fallen humans.

02 February 2006

Luther Blog

Apparently this is a new blog devoted to Luther quotes. Some of them are long; the blogger likes to use large fonts; but Luther is always worth your time.