Thursday, September 30, 2010

Threats To Christian Conscience

The federal Department of Education is on the verge of taking control of private colleges and universities.  It has informed Congress of it's intention to remove these educational institutions from the authority of independent accrediting agencies and placing them under the authority of state governments.  This would put government bureacrats in a position to determine course content and guidelines for hiring faculty and staff.  This unprecedented power grab is an attempt to enforce liberal orthodoxy in the fields of history, political science, sociology, law, science and religion. If you think I am unwarranted in this assessment, consider this: The Congress is debating an amendment to a House of Representitives bill (HR 5466) mandating that faith based groups that receive federal funds may not take religious criteria into account when hiring workers. This provision is sponsored by the not too soon to be departing Patrick Kennedy.  "The law has long protected the religious freedom of both the people who receive government-funded services, and the groups that provide the services – long before President Obama, and long before President Bush,” said Anthony R. Picarello Jr., general counsel of USCCB, in a statement. “Stripping away the religious hiring rights of religious service providers violates the principle of religious freedom, and represents bad practice in the delivery of social services." (From article linked to above.) One can see a more than a trend.  This is naked attempt to seize control of the thought life and ethical standards of the American public in the wake of a probable public repudiation of increased federal control over our lives which will take place this November. Not only is Christian conscience in the university and the market place under threat from without, but there are threats from within as well.  It is no secret that universities have been engaged in thought control aimed at viewpoints at odds with secular orthodoxies in various academic disciplines.  In the field of counseling, Christian students have been told that if they did not change their beliefs concerning same-sex relationships, they would not graduate. A student at Eastern Michigan University was assigned to counsel a person who was seeking assistance with a same-sex relationship.  The student notified her supervisor who reaasigned the person to a different counselor.  Yet the University informed the student that if she wished to remain in the counseling program, she had to go through a "remediation program" aimed at changing her religious beliefs concerning same-sex relationships. (For background, see here.)  Some colleges don't even wait for a conflict to arise before they attempt to enforce thought control upon Christian students.  At Augusta State University in Georgia, a Christian counseling student's views concerning same-sex relationships became known to her professors.  They told her she must enroll in sensitivity training courses and participate in activities promoting same-sex life styles.  She was told by the University that her beliefs were incompatible with the counseling profession and if she didn't change them, she would not graduate from the counseling program.  Meanwhile, in North Carolina, members of the North Carolina bar are attempting to alter the state code of ethics to prohibit lawyers from taking sexual orientation or "gender identity" (practices such as pedophilia or polygamy) into account when hiring or choosing which clients to represent. (originally seen at Ken Ham's blog.) Christians in the U.S. certainly don't suffer persecution as Chrisitians do overseas.  Yet there is a very real threat to Christian practice in the secular marketplace.  While we must actively oppose these attempts to dictate our beliefs and practices, in the end, the only effective weapon we have is prayer and an effective Chrisitan witness.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Biblical Archeology

Here are some links concerning Biblical Archeology from this year:

From Ben Witherington's blog: Pictures from the excavation of Ephesian terrace houses which shed light on Paul's ministry in Ephesus.  It might take two attempts before you can see the pictures.

Also from Witherington: The Gobeckli Tepe, the earliest temple known to have been built.  Its discovery debunks the notion that civilization begat religion, but in actuality, it was religion that precipitated the formation of civilization, particularly urbanization and large-scale agriculture.  Witherington also posted video of the site.  See here.

From Darrell Bock's blog: An ancient wall from Solomon's Temple verifies the Old Testament account of Solomon's kingdom.

New Findings suggest The Dead Sea Scrolls were not the work of the Esscenes but by 2nd Century B.C. Temple priests exiled after the royal takeover of the Temple in Jerusalem.  From Gene Vieth's blog.

Dr. Claude Mariottini explains the process of Carbon-14 dating.  He includes a video presentation.

Carbon 14 dating shows that these manuscripts could be the second oldest existing complete Christian text. Sent to me by Dave Bartlett.

The discovery of a statue of the Moabite god Hadad.  From Dr. Mariotinni's blog. Also from Mariotinni's blog: the discovery of a new Sumerian temple and new discoveries concerning the building of the Pyramids.

Finally, two artcles from Victor Reppert dealing with how archeological discoveries have dealt a blow to theories that question the historicity of Scripture. See here and here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Christian Presence

Long ago I noticed that many Christians arrange their lives so they have no contact with the secular world.  Many want to live far out in the country so they don't have to deal with urban areas, which is where most of the lost dwell.  They read in scriptures that we are not to love the world, so they shun the world.  Yet they spend big bucks for Christian entertainment to deal with the same emptiness that unsaved people try to supress through secular entertainment.  All the while, the Church makes little impact on society.  Here is the way K.P. Yohannan describes the situation:

"What does the Lord Jesus think of our religious merry-go-round?

"The question that must be asked of every Christian activity we support is simply this:  'Will this event create any impact on a lost and dying world?'  If the answer is no then we must reconsider sponsoring it.  We must ask if this is something from our agenda or His.

" 'But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.' (James 1:22)

"We have switched to a retreat and survival mode.  Actually confronting the takeover of our school systems and institutions by decades of secular humanism is too much of a strain for our kind of religion.  That would require going out and witnessing to the publicans and sinners of our day. 

"So we are running into temporary survival shelters such as Christian schools, religious radio and TV broadcasts, Christian concerts and a myriad of other escapisms.

"The controlling force behind this massive retreat from the post- Christian, secularized culture of the West is fear rather than holiness.  It is laziness rather than righteousness.  And it is born from a lack of love rather than a genuine desire for seperation.  (Emphasis mine-JHG)  Could it be that these 'good things' are really enemies of the best?

" 'For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.'  (2Timothy 1:7)"

From "The Road To Reality: Coming Home To Jesus From The Unreal World."

I decided to post this in place of "Monday Morning Devotions" this week.   

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"We Are All Free To Choose, But We Are All Slaves To The Consequences."

The quote above was spoken by my pastor in a sermon a few weeks ago.  What is your opinion concerning it?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Morning Devotions

1Jn. 2:25- "And this is the promise that He has promised us--eternal life."

Jesus said that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. (Jn. 8:44)  Satan tells us many lies.  But what is Satan's greatest lie?  That Jesus is not the Son of God, that Jesus is not the Christ. 

There is a difference between a created being and a begotten one.  Man is a created being.  When humans reproduce children, they beget children.  Humans reproduce, or beget, of their own kind.  None of us were begotten of the heavenly Father because we are not of the same kind as the Father.  We were created by the Father out of material not of His own being, out of material He created out of nothing.  Jesus is the Father's only begotten Son, He is of the same kind as the Father.  Jesus and the Father are one.  If Jesus is not the only begotten Son of the Father, then His sacrifice for our sins would have been for nothing.  Only a perfect sacrifice would meet the demands of the Father's justice, and if Jesus was merely human, not the only begotten Son, then He would not be the perfect sacrifice, for He would be tainted by sin as well.  If this were the case, Jesus would not be the Christ, the Messiah sent from the Father. 

Those that deny that Jesus is the Christ, John calls anti Christ. (1Jn. 2:22)  If we abide in the truth that Jesus is the Christ, which we heard from the beginning, then we abide in the Father and the Son. (v. 23-24)  Today there are some who believe truth or doctrine is not as important as doing what Jesus did.  Their favorite quotation is from St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words."  Yet if we abide in the truth, we abide in both the Father and the Son.  Those who deny the doctrines concerning the Son does not have the Father. (v. 23)  Abiding in both the Father and the Son qualifies us to receive the promise of eternal life. (v. 25)  We don't understand much concerning the Trinity; there is so much about it that is a mystery.  Yet all who do put their faith in Christ are taught by the Holy Spirit that the doctrine of the Trinity is true. (v. 27)  To abide in Christ is not only to seek to be Christian in action, but also to be truthful in knowing and teaching others who Christ really is.  We cannot abide in His person without abiding in correct doctrine concerning Him.  We cannot have the eternal life promise to us if we do not abide in correct doctrine.    

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wesley Biblical Seminary Has A New President

WBS President Dr. Ron Smith stepped down from his position earlier this year.  He will work full-time with the Francis Asbury Society as well as serve as scholar in residence at Asbury Theological Seminary.  Dr. Smith will be replaced by Dr. Jim Porter.  As WBS is my theological alma mater, I pray for his success in leading WBS in meeting the challenges ahead.  I wish Ron Smith well in his new position.  I will be sorry not to see him in future visits to the seminary.

Recently I have had some dialogue with some lamenting the liberal direction Methodist/Wesleyan seminaries have taken.  This has not been the case with WBS.  As I heard Dr. Porter reaffirm WBS's doctrinal stand that Scripture is both infallible and inerrant, those seeking a conservative seminary affirming Wesleyan holiness teaching will find a true home at WBS. They will also be trained to apply their theology to ministry.

Here is a link to a video from the television series "Revelations" about WBS made before Dr. Smith stepped down.  It is over 7 minutes.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way Of Doing Theology" by Dennis F. Kinlaw. Part VII, Conclusion

Those who have been following this series may have noticed that one of the subject tags at the bottom of each article is "Wesleyan Theology."  One may ask,  "why"?  Despite the fact that Dennis F. Kinlaw is Wesleyan in theology and his book "Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology" expresses polite disagreement with Reformed Theology, what is there about what Kinlaw writes that is distinctly Wesleyan?  The Wesleyan distinction lies in Kinlaw's description of the nature of the transformation God accomplishes in those who experience salvation.  We shall see this as we consider the final chapter, "The Fulfillment of Salvation: Perfect Love."

At salvation we receive not only pardon but a new birth through the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into new creatures.  The Holy Spirit initiates a new life in us, the very life of God. (Titus 3: 4-7)  The sign of this new birth is the holy-love of God that is poured into our hearts. (Rom 5:8)  The tyranny of self-absorbtion is broken and the love we receive from the Father is lavished on others. (IJn. 3:1)  The proof of this change within us is two-fold.  First, we experience consciousness of reconciliation with and of our belong to the Father again. (Rom. 8: 15-26, IJn. 3: 1-2)  Second, we experience a change in our conscious concerns, a divine love for God and others. (2Cor. 5: 14-15)  The self's point of reference changes as Christ assumes His position as Lord in our hearts.  The Holy Spirit reveals to us the enormity of our previous self-absorbtion and hostility to God.  This is the beginning of sanctification.  We now have the freedom to choose Christ rather than our own desires.  We are to walk (keeping in step, walking) in the Spirit.  (Gal. 5:25)  The purpose of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to the place Paul speaks of when he wrote "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:20)  See also Phil. 1:21, ICor. 4: 16-17.  The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to such a devotion to Christ as a member Christ's bride, the Church, that Christ has no rival for our heart's devotion. Christ reigns supreme in our hearts.  The state of such an undivided heart is what Wesley would call "Perfect Love."  Kinlaw illustrates this truth by quoting the ancient collect used to prepare hearts to receive Communion: "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen." (Kinlaw, p. 140)

Justification and the New Birth are just the beginning of our new life.  Justification and New Birth only makes possible our having an undivided heart.  Some in the Church have ignored or denied this possibility.  This denial is refuted by Scripure.  Dt. 30:6 and Mt. 5:8 speak of us having a pure heart, the opposite of an adulterous one.  In Mk. 12: 28-34, we read of the two greatest commandments.  If these commands are for all of us, then obeying them is not beyond possibility.  See also Rom. 6:1-4, 8: 1-15, 12: 9-15, 13: 8-10, 1Cor. 12:3.  Believers can allow their love to be tainted with self-interest; Rom 2:8 and Phil. 1: 17 both use the same word for self-seeking, eritheia.  Yet it is possible to live with our hearts untainted by self-seeking. (Phil. 2: 1-11) In Phil. 2: 19-23, Paul tells us that Timothy had attained this untainted heart; he had the mind of Christ.

Some would object that attaining this mind of Christ is a work we attempt in our own strength. If Timothy escaped the tyranny of the self because he was more noble than most, than his escape was through something other than God's grace.  But if this escape was through God's grace, then this escape is available to all.  The Corinthian Church was sorely divided by self-interest.  Paul writes to the Corinthians highlighting his own deliverence from self-interest.  Paul didn't admonish the Corinthians for their selfishness by presenting a contrasting state unavailable to most.  No!  This escape from self is open to all!  When Paul spoke of his not using his freedom to eat meat dedicated to idols in the presence of weaker Christians who still had not attained that freedom, Paul was demonstrating how he looked out for the interests of others above his own.  See also 1Cor. 3: 3-9, 8: 9-13, 9:12, 15, 18-19, 22-23, 10: 31-11:1, 15: 1-6.  This state of being Paul speaks of does not nullify the grace of God. (Gal. 2:21)  Kinlaw points out that "He (Paul) is citing himself not as an example of exceptional piety, but rather an example of what the Holy Spirit wants to do in washing every human heart clean through the blood of Christ." (Kinlaw, p. 145)  Kinlaw goes on to ask "So why are the history of the Church and the lives of most Christian believers full of strife and division?  Is it not because the possibility of the heart controlled by the pure love of Christ has been largely inconceivable?  The fact that we have not thought it possible has not kept us from yearning for it." (Kinlaw, p. 147)  As Kinlaw points out, much of the Church's devotional writing and hymnody testifies to this.  (Example- "Breathe on Me Breath of God")  Has the Holy Spirit put such a hunger in us merely to taunt us?  Is it impossible for the Holy Spirit to perfect our hearts in love?  IJn. 1:7 answers this with a resounding "NO!"  And in this verse John is not speaking of the necessity of salvation or of our legal staus before God.  He is speaking of our inner heart condition.  Sanctification, like justification, is a work of grace.  Faith is the key.  We must trust God that He is good enough to be trusted with our care.  Gal. 5:6 tells us that the Spirit works through faith.

In Romans Paul proclaims a New Testament sacrifice, not of animals, but of the self.  This sacrifice brings grace to the worshipper that enables him/her to discern and do the good, acceptable,perfect will of God.  (Rom 12: 1-2)  The grace that self-sacrifice brings is the agape love of God.  In Rom. 12-15, Paul reveals the content and meaning of this gift of grace in a person's life. Paul's major theme in these passages: agape love does not seek self-interest but is other oriented.  (Rom. 15: 1-3)  Paul begins Romans boasting of the power of God to save us from sin.  At the close of Romans, Paul demonstrates how salvation works itself out in our lives.  Christ's sacrifice restores to the human heart the glory, the agape love, the divine presence we lost in the Fall.  See Rom. 12: 3-5, 10, 14-20, 13:4, 13: 1-7, 8-10, 14: 7-8, 15: 1-3, 23-32.  "One does not rise to such a life" Kinlaw states.  "One kneels to receive, to let him who is agape love fill and complete our personhood." (Kinlaw, p. 152)

Why is it that we need more than justification and the New Birth? Kinlaw's answer: after the New Birth we need to live with Christ to see the depth of our need of cleansing.  We will not trust God to do something for us until we feel the need.  The failure to trust is the final evidence of our sinfulness.  (IJn. 4:18) "The passion of believer's lives then is to let God give us this love and then let him fill us." (Kinlaw, p. 153)  Kinalw quotes John Wesley stating this very thing in "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection" (a series on "A Plain Account..." will be featured  on this blog in the near future):

 "Love is the highest gift of God; humble, gentle, patient love...It were well that you should be sensible of this, 'the heaven of Heavens is love.'  There is nothing higher in religion, there is in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way.  And when you are asking others, 'Have you received this or that blessing?' if you mean anything but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, putting them upon a false scent.  Settle it then in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth of the Corinthians. You can go no higher than this, till you are carried into Abraham's bosom." (Kinlaw, p. 153)

Immediately after quoting Wesley, Kinlaw concludes "Let's Start With Jesus" with these words: "Why is there nothing higher than love?  Wesley understood just as John before him did.  There is nothing higher than agape love because that is what God is, and he offers himself to any who will receive him.  What a gospel, and it is for the likes of me!" (Kinlaw, p. 153)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

"Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way Of Doing Theology" by Dennis F. Kinlaw. Part VI

In chapter four of "Lets' Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology," author Dennis F. Kinlaw identified what he calls the "problem of problems": Man's deliberate reorientation of his relation to his creator and the broken fellowship between Man and God as a result.  In chapter five, "The Way of Salvation: It is All About the Nature of God," Kinlaw deals with the solution, which is salvation.  In particular, Kinlaw relates salvation to the nature of God and human personhood.

The Incarnation and Atonement was possible because Mankind is made in the image of the Triune God.  This fact made it possible for the second person of the Trinity to become a human baby.  Christ's willingness to do so as well as His willingness to be a sacrifice for our sins made restored fellowship between God and individuals possible.  One of the marvels of personhood, human and divine, is that persons operate in a web of relationships.  What happens in one person makes a difference in the possibilities of another person's life.  (Kinlaw does not exclude free will as a factor in one's destiny.)  According to Kinlaw, if we do not understand this truth, we don't understand the cross or the power of prayer.

To restore the fellowship broken by Man, God needed a human counterpart to Adam through whom redemption can work to overcome the sinful forces set in motion by Adam's sin.  God looks for one to stand between Him in His holiness and Man in his sin.  In Is. 59 we read that the answer to God's own need is God's own arm.  God's own arm executes His divine will (Is. 40:10, 48:14, 51:5, 62:8) but also it is His means of our salvation. (Is. 59:16) God's own arm is not used to impose a solution or simply declare the problem solved, but is the very power of God to take into Himself the very problem He wishes to solve.  In Is. 53 the identity of God's own arm is revealed: the suffering servant.  "Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?...He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered him striken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities...because he...was numbered with the transgressors.  For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Is. 53: 1, 3-6, 11, 12.  Kinlaws citation from the NIV) "The offended one takes the offense into himself to save the one who offends.  The physician assumes the very disease of the ones he has come to heal.  The eternal judge sentences himself to the very judgement that should go to the law breaker that stands before him.  The creator takes the place and the condemnation of the creature who has sinned against him." (Kinlaw, p. 130) (see also Rom. 5:6, 8, 15)

The only possibility for human salvation is for God's love to enter a human person, Jesus Christ, who has become one of us.  The triune nature of God's being and the personal nature of his creatures made the Incarnation possible.  Only Christianity is a religion of atonement.  The nature of God who atones for our sins is triune and Christianity teaches a biblical understanding of personhood.  All other religions depend upon self-effort to gain salvation.  In Christianity, salvation is by God's grace alone.  We rely on Jesus and His capacity to take us and our sin into Himself so we can receive Him and His saving life into ourselves.  The strongest Old Testament word for forgiveness is "nasa," which means "to bear."  Ps. 32:1 states that blessed is the person who is forgiven.  This passage can be read as "blessed is the person who is bourne."  Two other words conveying this concept are "he' emin" ("to confirm, support") and "batach" which occurs most often in Old Testament worship literature, mainly the Psalms.  This second word conveys trust and can be read as "to lie extended upon" or "to repose oneself upon."  A man or woman is saved in response to God's grace by casting themselves upon another, Jesus Christ. Our faith is not just in an abstract principle, but it is in another person.  "The key for us is not what we can do for ourselves, but in what another can and has done for us.  Faith as personal trust opens the door to the reception of saving grace found in the only one who is salvation.  And all this is possible because of the nature of personhood." (p. 133)

The concept of personhood is also helpful in our understanding of the mystery of intercessory prayer.  Kinlaw describes this mystery in a series of questions: Why do we need to pray for each other? Doesn't God care more for the other person than we do?  God knows their needs better than we do.  Why does God need our help?  Are God's resources dependent upon our assistance?  If God is holy love, why do we need to twist His arm to do good for others?  Why does God need to pray?  (Rom. 8:26, the Holy Spirit intercedes, Heb. 7:25, Jesus Christ intercedes in our behalf.)

Kinlaw points us to two factors that shed light on this mystery: the nature of perichoresis and the power of agape love.  Both can only be understood in terms of the interrelatedness of persons.  The key to every person rests in another or others.  What happens in others determines our possibilities.  What happens in Christ determines the possibilities for all humanity.  When He bore us in His heart, our options changed.  Only God can atone for an individual's sin, only God can transform another.  But when we make another's welfare more important than our own in our hearts, possibilities open up for the one being bourne.  After God's call, Moses lived for His people.  His whole life became one of intercession for his people, verbal or otherwise.  His intercession prevented God's judgement from falling upon Israel. (Num. 11: 1-3, 12: 1-6)  What happened in Moses had a determining effect upon Israel's possibilities.  Moses surrendered his own life for the sake of Israel and the blessing of all humanity.  The key to the power of Moses' life, as well as all the saints in Christian history, is more than an intellectual or psycological influence.  The power in their lives was an existential influence that affected the choice of possibilities in others.  The key to that power lay in their bearing others in their hearts, becoming more concerned about other persons than themselves.  (Gal. 4:17, 6:2)  Jesus told His disciples, and us as well, that to lose one's life is to find it.  It is through us making others welfare more important to us than our own that what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Mt. 16: 16-28)  That's when the possibilities for others are opened up.  And this reprioritizing of another's welfare is not acting in our own strength.  This is agape love which has its origins in the Triune God.  "The nature of love is other oriented, self-giving, and sacrificial.  It is bourne in our spirits by God himself, who is love." (Kinlaw, p. 135)

I wrote earlier that I was determined that I would finish this seven part series on "Let's Start With Jesus" by this weekend, but there is still one last chapter to be covered.  That should be done by the end of this coming week.