22 May 2007

Everything God Made is Good

While Christ is now reigning, though his victory over sin and death are secured, there remains an abiding manifestation of the old age. Spiritual enemies of Christ continue to attack the church. The battle is real, and casualties are eternally disastrous. Paul addresses a specific demonic strategy of attack against the church in Ephesus with the following paragraph.

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

The skies proclaim the works of his hands.From a church history perspective, it is interesting to note that demonic activity has often used this covert strategy of spreading heresy over against more overt paranormal activity. Perhaps we find it easier to fall into religious pride than outright witchcraft.
This paragraph gives another example of how the false teachers want to be teachers of the law, but do not know what they are talking about. Paul clearly alludes to the Penteuchal words, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31). In that sense, God’s word has “sanctified” creation. Creation is also sanctified when Christians acknowledge that it came from God. The temptation to idolatry is not a fault in the creation itself but is a symptom of unbelief and culpable ignorance of the truth. When believers acknowledge the source of the gift and love the Giver more than the gift, the gift is “sanctified.” Christians should embrace marriage and meat because God made them for his praise.

16 May 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness

A friend pointed out this abstract to me on the Resurgence.

What Piper might call Christian Hedonism, Lewis called Christian Eudaimonism. Both etymologically (pursuit of pleasure and pursuit of happiness) and substantively, they are strikingly similar if not identical.

Here's a bit from the abstract that roused me to courageous virtue in my personal pursuit of God:

A eudaimonistic perspective does not see ethics as a strictly separable domain of issues or rules, only extrinsically related to the overall aim of one's life. Nor, as Lewis points out, does it understand the ethical life as primarily negative or restrictive. Rather, a Christian eudaimonistic approach sees all of one's life, including the ethical life, as a positive, passionate pursuit of the Good worth ultimately seeking, which unifies and integrates all of life and ultimately satisfies one's deepest desires.

15 May 2007

Great Is the Mystery

It is not always that the author of a Biblical document clues us in directly as to his purposes for writing. We are happy to find that 1 Timothy has just such a statement.

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

The LORD roars from Zion and thunders from Jerusalem.The hymnic structure of the final phrases is evident. It represents one of a few well-attested examples of early NT liturgy or catechizing. It exemplifies what the church should always be doing: distilling the great truths of the gospel into crisp, beautiful, memorable sentences. The church at Ephesus had just this kind of responsibility to the truth, as we do today. This responsibility comes from what the church is—responsibility comes from identity. The church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” In context, these words refer not to the origin of the truth, but the proclamation of the truth. In other words he is not saying that truth gets its authority from the church. He is saying that it is the church’s responsibility to keep the truth above ground, up where everyone can see it. Included in this are both propagation and perpetuation.
What truth shall be propagated? The victory of Christ over sin and death is the central truth. This victory is exhibited in the worldwide reception of Christ by the nations and in the heavenwide reception of Christ by the angels. He is Lord with all authority. He reigns over the earth and heaven as God’s Man, the final Messiah, and the message of his victory spreads by means of assemblies of sinners who have experienced a taste of the kingdom life he will one day usher in.

06 May 2007

Portrait of a Servant

Just as the noble task of shepherding requires applicants to show themselves worthy, so also the recognized servants of the church must match certain qualities.

Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

Deaconesses too?The historical situation guaranteed that Paul was going to mention perseverance in “the deep truths of the faith” as an essential quality. Service motivated by financial gain (6:9) and malicious speech (5:13) had also infected the church through the heresy. Those who served the church must be tested and trustworthy, lest they become part of the problem rather than of the solution.

The word translated “standing” here and in most versions is somewhat ambiguous; English doesn’t really have a word with equivalent ambiguity. It can mean something like “social status,” as almost all English translations imply. In other words, Paul could be applying the sayings of Jesus to the office of deacon, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43). However, the word can also mean, something like “spiritual progress,” as the standard Greek dictionary indicates. In other words, Paul could be saying that the spiritual discipline required for good deaconship also results in growth in Christlikeness (2 Cor 3:18).
In either case, godly reward (not financial gain) motivates godly service, and Paul doesn’t think that this is a second-rate way to motivate people to serve. As Jesus says elsewhere, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

04 May 2007

The Resurrection and Apologetics (co-opted)

Las Cruces.Baylor at Luther’s Stein recently posted on the need to use the resurrection in apologetics. In the following discussion, he pointed out that it is incumbent upon the apologist “to address every part of the unbeliever’s worldview” and “to fully present our own,” which includes, if I understand him, a presentation of the resurrection as a demonstration of the validity of Christianity.
Though I still want to hear more about what Baylor and the others think about this, I think we have a measure of agreement on our understanding of the role of evidences. Let me demonstrate what I mean by describing how the resurrection would work in an encounter with unbelief. In a practical setting, I would present the resurrection as a historical vindication of Jesus (both his message and his mission). In other words, I would preach the gospel. If the Spirit works, and the unbeliever repents, no specifically apologetic task is necessary. If the unbeliever rejects the truth, then apologetic dialogue must begin. I need to find out why or on what basis he rejects the Scriptural account. Is he Muslim? Is he atheist? Perhaps he thinks the resurrection is historical, but he doesn't think that means he should stop following the Wiccan way. Whatever the case, I need to figure out what he believes that causes him to reject the clear testimony of Scripture. I also need to highlight the precariousness and futility of his autonomous worldview. I need to show how that rejection conflicts with his own intrinsic-but-suppressed knowledge of God. And I need to point the way to the Christian worldview.
At the end of the discussion, Baylor asked, “Do you believe evidentialist and presuppositionalist apologetics to be mutually exclusive?” In some ways, they have to be. On the evidentialist understanding, the universe of evidence is a neutral arbiter between anti-theism and Christian theism, and either position is a live option. On the presuppositional approach, the universe is distinctly Christian-theistic, and the anti-theistic worldview is futile. In another sense, I don’t mind presenting the distinctly Christian evidence as a starting point for the conversation. The whole universe speaks perspicuously, “God is glorious!” By grace, someone may find it convincing, repent, and join me in trying to interpret the universe Christianly. But if he rejects the evidence, it is due to some point of depravity which keeps him from accepting the authority of self-attesting revelation.