Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Friday Night Frozen Dinner And An Intellectual: "Holiness And Human Nature" by Leon And Mildred Chambers

(For an explanation of the title, "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual, see here.)

This year was the only the second time since 1999 that I could spend Thanksgiving with my parents in my hometown.  The Friday after Thanksgiving, I dined at a Chinese resturaunt with my parents and one brother.  When we got home, I read a 71 page book I had bought at seminary by Leon and Mildred Chambers entitled "Holiness and Human Nature." The Chambers' purpose in writing this is to make us aware of the differences between sins and infirmities.  The Chambers, as Wesleyans in theology, recognize that salvation and sanctification concerns the saving of people from all sin.  Yet they recognize that individuals are still the products of their genetic heritage and family background.  Family background, attitudes, patterns of thinking, emotional dispositions, preconceived ideas, habits, personal methods of problem solving, sets of values, all these can hinder saved and sanctified persons from fully reflecting the image of God.  As the authors write: "Salvation, then, is from all sin.  There is no promise that God will take away our normal human nature.  We are what we are because of genetic inheritance and what we have learned. Salvation from sin does not change one's genetic inheritance nor erase what he has learned.  Man and nature still suffer from the Fall."  These negative effects of the Fall are infirmities, not sin.  There is no promise of deliverence from them contained in scripture.  Yet they can lead to sin if saved men and women fail to mature.  When counseling, Chrisitans must learn to distinguish between sin and infirmities.  Failure to do so can lead to lasting damage to Chrisitans needing to mature.  It is this distinction between sin and infirmities that Paul makes in Phil. 3: 11-12 and 15. In verses 11-12, Paul writes: "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended by Christ Jesus."; he writes in verse 15: "Let us therefore, as many be perfect..." (I use the KJV here because it is correct in using the word "perfect" rather than "mature".) According to the Chambers, verses 11-12 are not refering to deliverence from all sin but the presence of infirmities in Paul's makeup. These infirmites are not sin, but Paul strives to overcome the limitations these infirmities place on spiritual growth. In verse 15, Paul is speaking of deliverence from all sin, or entire sanctification.  The Chambers identify two Chrisitian responses to the presence of infirmities that has caused damage to the health of the Church.  One is to state that when one is delivered from sin, that one's basic humanity has been eradicated.  Those who promote this view treat the manifestation of infirmities as evidence that someone is not saved or has not yet been sanctified.  The other damaging response has been to treat infirmities as evidence that we are not wholly delivered from sin until death and so Christians still must sin while they remain on earth.

The Chambers identify several infirmities that can be found in a Christian's makeup:

1. Erring in judgement: Perfection, as Wesleyans believe scripture speaks of it, is a perfection of motives, not the intellect.  Also, one can behave wrongly without intending to rebel against God.  The Chambers cite Peter's reluctance to associate with Gentiles in Acts 11.  Once Peter knew that God wanted Peter to speak to Cornelius and his household, Peter obeyed without reservation.
2. Lack of harmony among the Spirit-filled: Paul and Barnabas' dispute over Mark was due to personality differences rather than whether one was Spirit-filled and the other not.
3.  Lack of physical perfection which affects personalities and abilities.
4.  Lack of perfection in one's works or discipline:  In 2Tim. 1: 5-6, Paul compliments Timothy's spiritual heritage but then urges Timothy to stir up the gift he already has.  Our failure to be diligent in exercising our gifts should not produce despair as this failure can be remedied. Failure, or refusal to follow this advise, could lead to backsliding.
5.  Memories of past sins forgiven are not sins in themselves.  Yet we can allow these memories to entice us to sin.
6.  Negative emotions such as hurt feelings, impatience, worry, anxiety:  One must understand their motivation before their sinfulness can be determined.  People differ in their emotional responses.  When counseling, we must understand this or we will stumble in our understanding of perfect love.  Emotions can lead to sin.  If the emotions affect the Christian's faith to the point that he/she becomes rebellious, then his/her motives are no longer pure.  Our goals are determined by our motives; when our motives are sinful, then sinful goals will be chosen.  The Chambers point to the example of Martha and Mary.  Had Martha's intent been to publically humiliate Mary, then her reaction to Mary's not helping her would have been sin.  Since this was not Martha's intent, Jesus treated Martha's behavior not as sin but as behavior rooted in an attitude which needed to be changed.
7.  Biological drives: We are all subject to sensory stimualtion.  However, seeking sinful sensory stimulation reflects what kind of persons we are.

The presense of infirmities does not signify that our spiritual growth must therefore be stunted, or non-existent.  We are called to grow in grace. In other words, we are to be "...perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord." (2Cor. 7:1)  When James wrote, "Confess your trespasses to one another, that you may be healed...", the word for trespass used here signified an offense, a stumbling or a false step.  In other words, infirmities.  This word from James is just one way to perfect holiness.  The Chambers identify six other ways to overcome the power of infirmities in our lives:

1.  Learn to walk with the Lord without being dependent upon others for strength.
2.  Become stable; the authors write, "Christian stability is learned.  The person who is stable in most other areas of his life is more apt to be able to be stable in his Christian life."
3.  Learn how to relate to others in a Godly manner.  This, the authors point out, will determine whether we have joy in our Church fellowship or not.
4.  Develop a good conscience.
5.  Develop sound attitudes.  Attitudes are learned and are resistant to alteration.  They are more the result of the emotions rather than of the intellect.
6.  Develop responsible behavior patterns.

The authors warn that indifference to spiritual growth is contempt for the known will of God.

"Holiness and Human Nature" was published in 1975.  It was revised from an earlier work entitled "Human Nature and Perfecting Holiness" published in 1972.  Some of the psycological and medical evidence cited by the Chambers may or not be outdated.  The only information I could find concerning the Chambers comes from the Forward to the book written by W.T. Purkiser.  "Holiness and Human Nature" was published by Beacon Hill Press.  The next "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual" will be an examination of sanctification and genetics.    

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Best Of The Web 2010

Here is a list of what I consider the best articles on the World Wide Web I came across in 2010: David Wilkerson on the subtle trap that ensnares Christians so that they don't become all that God wants them to be. Dr. Claude Mariottini on praying for Christopher Hitchens. While this short poem by Dr. Doug Groothuis is written from the view point of the chronically ill, I found it helpful in dealing with healthy but difficult people. Dr. Roger E. Olson believes the decline in exposure to hymnody has resulted in a decline in theological knowledge as well as knowledge of Biblical imagery. Roy Ingle points out that one test of our own salvation is whether we pray for the lost. The most balanced article I have seen on why young people leave the Church. The most significant event this year was probably the earthquake in Haiti.  While I am not in agreement with everything written in this article, I did find this these reflections on the event by Dr. Ben Witherington to be the the most theologically sound.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Something New Under The Sun: A Christmas Sermon

(I wrote this sermon last year as part of a series on the scripture references that form the basis of Handel's"Messiah."  When my pastor asked me to preach a few Sundays ago, I thought this would serve as the basis of the sermon.  The sermon preached is very different from the original version appearing here.  Soon the spoken sermon will be posted on my audio blog.)

God is in the business of doing new things.  Yet there is a scripture passage that would seem to contradict this statement and the title of this message:

"...There is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which it may be said, 'See, this is new'? It has already been in ancient times before us." (Eccl. 1: 9-10)

So says King Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes.  In speaking of the realm of human affairs, Solomon's statement is true.  Humanity's habits have changed very little, if at all.  We can even say this statement is still true when we speak of heresy.  Today we see a plethora of books by scholars and popular writers rejecting the triune nature of God, debunking the divinity of Jesus Christ.  These writers claim that the Church was made up of many competing factions each proclaiming a different Gospel.  They say that the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity prevailed because the orthodox faction had the power to crush all other competing versions of the Gospel.  Jesus, say these writers, never claimed to be the Son of God; the doctrine of His divinity was forced upon the Church centuries after His death and the Biblical manuscripts were altered to reflect the triumphant orthodoxy.  Much of the current literary output on this subject claims to be revolutionary, that these views have just surfaced recently.  But these views have been around since the Church's beginning.  John the Apostle wrote:

"By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.  And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.." (1Jn. 4: 2-3)

There is a familiar verse from the Old Testament, a promise many of us sing to the tune written by Handel in his oratorio, "The Messiah":

"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Is. 9:6)

Isaiah continues in the seventh verse:

"Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order and establish it with judgement and justice from that time forward, even forever.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this."

This promise describing the Messiah is older than the Church itself, nearly 650 years before the birth of Christ and nearly a thousand years before the Church's first written declaration concerning the Trinity.  These two verses paint a wide-ranging picture of who Jesus is.  And it is a picture of the Triune God; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Let's examine the names ascribed to Jesus in Is. 9:6.  It should be no surprise that He is refered to as the Child, the Son, the Prince of Peace.  But look at the other names He is given:  Lord of hosts, mighty God, Everlasting Father.  Everlasting Father?  These are names generally associated with the first person of the Trinity.  Then there is the name Counselor.  This is a title given to the Holy Spirit.  The birth of the Child is the revelation of the Triune nature of God to the world.  In the Child does all the fullness of God dwell. (Col. 1:19)  These two verses from Isaiah contain a promise older than any heretical notion of Christ's identity.  It was a promise of the manifestation of the Triune God made nearly a thousand years before the Church first articulated the doctrine of the Trinity.

God revealed Himself through the birth of a child.  And when God revealed Himself through the birth of a baby, He truly did a new thing.  True, we can speak of the Incarnation as an event that occured more than two thousand years ago.  But when Jesus enters the heart of a new disciple when that disciple first truly believes (Eph. 1: 13), a new thing is done under the sun.  You and I are so unique that when Christ comes to dwell in our hearts, Christ, who is still all that Is. 9: 6-7 tells us He is, the clothing of Christ within our flesh and the manifestation of Christ through us is truly a new thing that hapens every day around the world.  There has never been, nor ever will be, another "you" or another "I" through whom Jesus lives out the Christian life as He dwells within us.  As the Christmas season comes and goes, let us not forget that as we continue in our walk with God, the new thing done in us continues to unfold, so that that new thing is always happening in us.  In our usual day-to day routines, this newness of Christ's work in us does not always seem apparent.  That is why we need a season to celebrate the birth of Christ.  We need to take time to thank Him, worship Him and wonder at the new thing He is doing in us.         

(All Scripture quotations are from the NKJV)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Offerings Worth Your Time

Dr. Ben Witherington interprets the Gospel account of Christ's birth in a way that is at odds with many of our traditional views.  It appears that in the interest of veracity, some of our traditions are going to have to be jettisoned.  This post originally appeared last December.

Also from last December, an Arabic Christmas Carol.  The words link Christ the human being as God the creator of the universe.  From the blog His Peace Upon Us. Running time: 7:31.

From this December, Dr. Roger E. Olson posted an Arminian Advent meditation at his blog entitled "For God So Loved The World...That He Coundn't Stay Away."

Michael Novak writes on how real human liberty is grounded in the Incarnation more than in any human ideology.

Many saw on the news or the internet the video of a choir performing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" without warning at a busy food court at a mall.  Is this a creative way to remind people about the real meaning of Christmas? Or do such exercises actually reenforce America's consumer mentality? James K. A. Smith thinks the later.  Video of the performance plus Smith's comments can be found here.  This is from Dr. Smith's Fors Clavigera blog.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Effective Compassion and Cross-Cultural Ministry

The Acton Power blog recently posted an article on a well-intentioned ministry endeavor gone wrong.  Sometime in the past, a group of Christians decided to minister to the poorest families somewhere in Appalachia.  This group sought out who they believed to be the poorest families in the area and brought them Christmas gifts and food such as turkeys.  Apparently this was done in a pubic way so that the community knew who received these gifts.  One man testified that his father was so humiliated that his life was destroyed.  It shamed him that his family was identified as the poorest in the community and believed that his ability to provide for his own family was denigrated.

The first lesson from this story concerns effective compassion.  Effective compassion? Is there such a thing as ineffective compassion?  Yes there is.  The provision of needs without an incentive to change character habits that perpetuate poverty enslaves those who are seeking help.  Forty-six years of the war on poverty and the failure of the welfare state should make this evident to all.  Private Christian endeavors that fail to teach good character traits replicate the same failures.  For nearly three years I participated in a monthly food give away at my home church.  While recepients were asked if they wanted someone to pray for them, the ministry mainly consisted of people picking up a box of food.  I witnessed no spiritual results in those who received food.  To them, this ministry was nothing more than one more place to find needed food supplies.  There was no other Christian involvement in these peoples lives. One of the meanings for the biblical word "charity" is "to suffer along side of."  Before government took over the role of caregiving from the Church, American Christians involved themselves in the lives of those they ministered to.  They made their charity a vehicle not only for meeting basic needs, but also the teaching of good character habits that lifted families out of the cycle of poverty that had enslaved their families for generations.  Their success is chronicled in Marvin Olasky's "The Tragedy of American Compassion." The dropping off of food and leaving cannot be labeled as effective compassion despite the motivation for the act or how well it made those who performed this act feel good afterward.  One person wrote in the comment section that charity is ineffective unless it necessitates those who want it to actively seek it.  Charity should not be forced on those who do not want it.  The person is correct here, yet he also states that charity should be impersonal. Another person replied that charity should have a human face attached.  This would be in line with charity as suffering along side of someone else.  When in seminary at Jackson, Ms., I heard of a ministry that fed thousands every year and after so many years produced only one person who gave their life to Jesus.  A ministry that sought to forge character as well as meet needs may not result in many souls being saved, but this would have a greater impact as those who would be saved would be multiplied as those saved souls witnessed for Christ.

If one immerses oneself in modern missions literature, one will come across the term "cross-cultural ministry."  Cross-cultural ministry reflects the recognition that when taking the Gospel to a different culture, one must do so in a manner that is culturally relevant for those Christians mean to reach.  Christians in cross-cultural ministries must learn to present the Gospel in such a way that does not offend the sensibilities of individuals being witnessed to.  For instance, western mass evangelistic methods have proven to be ineffective in spreading the Gospel in many third world nations.  These nations can only be reached by Christians actually living among those they seek to reach.

This principle is no less relevant for communities in the United States as it is overseas.  Had the Christians in this story made an effort to understand the Appalachians they sought to minister to, they might have been more sensible to the feelings of men such as the father whose life was destroyed.  One person wrote in the comment section (in addition to some very extreme statements) that :  "There is no shame in offering or accepting heart-felt charity from well-intentioned souls...He should have either refused the charity or just admitted they WERE the poorest in the community and be THANKFUL for such generosity.  Truth is truth.  No need to live in lies, please!" It is just such insensitivity that prevents the spread of the Gospel, here, or overseas. If such "honesty" exhibited by the Church of one culture translates into another culture as something that brings public shame in his or her community, then the Church, in the interest of spreading the Gospel in that culture, must seek to operate in an alternative mindset to reach those they are targeting.  Otherwise, good intentions could result in destructive results for those whose eternal souls are at stake.  

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Elizebeth Edwards, Good Works and Eternal Rewards

The Christianity Today Politics Blog recently ran a short post concerning the death of Elizebeth Edwards.  Among her views concerning her religious beliefs quoted in the article was this:

"I appreciate other people's prayers for that [a cure for cancer], but I believe that we are given a set of guidelines, and that we are obligated to live our lives with a view to those guidelines.  And I don't believe we should live our lives that way for some promise of eternal life, but because that's what's right.  We should do these things because that's what's right."

One person wrote in the comments section responding to this quote:

"...And I agree with her there.  We should live a certain way because it is right, not to earn any favors from God.  It is right and it pleases God."

The following is an expanded version of my response at the CT Politics Blog:

It is true that we should love God more for who He is than just for the rewards of His mercy.  Any good work that we do should be undertaken without mixed motives.  But the quote from Elizebeth Edwards reveals the mistaken belief that to do a good work to please God is on the same level as doing good works to please men.  Jesus warned us not to pray, give to the poor or fast to be seen by men. (Mt. 6: 1-3, 5, 16)  But Jesus also commanded us to pray, give to the poor and fast in secret and the Father who sees in secret will reward us openly. (Mt. 6: 4, 6, 18)  The rewards Jesus speaks of are not necessarily health and wealth or any other thing we may desire. (See here)  The Father gave His Son so that our sins could be forgiven and so we can have fellowship with Him here on earth and for eternity in heaven.  Not to be mindful of such rewards is to neglect the Father's will for each individual and the cost He paid to see that His purposes for us are fulfilled.  Doing good works to please God is an inseperable part of pleasing God.  Jesus told His disciples that if their righteousness did not exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees they would never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mt. 5: 20)  Jesus told the rich young ruler, "...If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven..." (Mt. 19:21) Jesus pictured what righteous deeds look like in the parable of the sheep and the goats. (Mt. 25: 31-46)  Those that minister to the vulnerable and despised ones are the righteous ones.  They are the ones who receive eternal life.  You might argue: "Wait a moment.  In this parable, the sheep did not know that they were ministering to Christ by performing those good works.  Doesn't this prove Elizebeth Edward's contention?" No.  Jesus spoke this parable for our benefit so that we may be encouraged to do good deeds and receive eternal life. Paul commands us to walk worthy of God who calls us into His kingdom and glory. (1Thess. 2:12)  If we are truly abiding in Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit will guide us so that we engage in the works the Father and the Son want us to engage in.  It is only by the Holy Spirit's guidance and empowerment that we can do what is truly right.  It is right that we examine our motives.  If we do good works that are inspired by the love of God and men that God Himself pours out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), we can be sure that we are pleasing God and doing what is right.  "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth...but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven...For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Mt. 6: 19-21)

All scripture quotes from the NKJV

Monday, December 6, 2010

Spasibo, Danke, Merci, Spasibi, Liels Paldies, Thank You

Today marks the fourth anniversery of the beginning of this blogging enterprise.  This year has exhibited two contradictory trends.  This year has seen the least amount of posts while readership seems to have increased. This year my profile page records 375 viewings.  Until recently this has been the only measurement of readership.  Recently I added Blogger Stats to my dashboard, so now I have a better sense of how many readers this blog has had.  According to my profile page, only 1,325 readers have viewed my profile page in four years.  However, according to blogger stats, 3,463 people have actually read posts appearing here. I don't know who is reading them, but I do know from where.  Majority readership, of course, is in the U.S.  But a sizable number of people in Russia have been readers.  Readers can also be found in Germany, Canada, France, Ukraine, the Netherlands, the U.K., India and Latvia. This is quite encouraging and has greatly eased my disappointment in the very few comments that appear here.  This year has been a transitional year marked by many interuptions that have prevented me from publishing long planned articles.  Hopefully this next year will see a return to greater productivity.  Thanks to all, including the six official followers of Redemptive Thoughts, for giving some time to reading what appears here.

One reason for the lower output has been the amount of work that went into the writing of some of the articles.  "A Post Without Answers" was a respose to prominent Christians' views concerning God's role in the Haitian earthquake.  It was the hardest single article I ever wrote for this blog.  As I was writing it, further reflection forced me to change my position on some aspects of the issue.  I did a series on Tim Keller and Theistic Evolution entitled Sola Smorgasbord, the title refering to the fact that Keller is Reformed, that many in Reformed circles think they own the doctrine, and yet Keller himself mixes Christian and non-Christian thinking to an alarming extent to bring about a "reconciliation" between Biblical faith and Evolutionary thought.  I had intended to write just one article on the subject, but one grew to seven, three of which are listed by Blogger Stats as the most read of any article appearing on this blog.  These three are Part I: A Faith And Evolution Reconciliation?, Part II: WDJS (What Did Jesus Say?) and Part V: Congregational Confusion On A Scale Previously Unimagined. (To read the whole series, visit the May, 2010 archives.)  The series on Dennis F. Kinlaws "Lets Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology" took more time than expected.  The last in the series is also one of this blog's most read articles. One last article I would like to mention that had some readership is The Lab Rats Are Dead, an article on Obamacare.  Some might think it to be a bit ridiculous, but I was quite pleased with it.  Enough with this exercise of self promotion, until 12/6/11.