Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Frightful Forms of Faith

4 Frightful Forms of Faith to think about this Halloween...

The Zombie Christian
A Zombie Christian is a person who has some of the same habits as a Christian (church attendance, Bible knowledge, etc), but has actually never made a commitment to follow Christ. They may appear to be alive, but they are actually dead in their sins.

The Vampire Christian
A Vampire Christian is a person who has asked that the blood save them in their sins, but they have no intention of recognizing Jesus as their Lord. They just want a little bit of Jesus' blood and have no interest in actually following Jesus.

The Werewolf Christian
A Werewolf Christian is a person who is generally committed to Christ, but there is one area that they refuse to surrender and/or repent of. They have a secret that they hope no one will discover. They know it and, usually, try to hide it from others.

The Head-Hunter Christian
The Head-Hunter Christian is a person that claims to have a deep spiritual relationship to Christ, but has no interest in being connected to Jesus' body (the church). They only want the head, a decapitated Jesus. They individualize the Kingdom of God.

Ask yourself... "Do I have a frightful form of faith? Have I found life in Christ? Am I following Jesus daily? Is there an area of my life I haven't submitted to God? Have I given up on the church that Jesus calls His body?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hell is not ECT

Recently I read an article from Answers in Genesis on the subject of Hell. As anyone familiar with this particularly fundamentalist ministry might expect, the article was a defense of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. As a conservative Christian (I actually happen to be a Young Earth Creationist) who rejects the doctrine of eternal conscious torment, I offer a critique of this article.

The author, Tim Challies, begins with a startling statement that includes a typical bait and switch: “if you want a God who is just and holy, then you must have this God, this God who condemns people to suffer the eternal torments of hell. You cannot have the God you want unless there is a hell.” The idea here is that a holy God must deal with sin (I agree) and that dealing with the sin of those who die as sinners requires some sort of doctrine called hell (I agree). The bait and switch, however, is that Challies takes a leap from the necessity of hell to his particular opinion of what hell is like (eternal conscious torment).

Next, the article attempts to defend this leap with a section titled “Scripture is clear about hell.”  But if you actually read the scriptural references contained therein, you won’t find a strong case for eternal conscious torment. For example, the very first reference given is Matthew 10:28, which reads, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” A destroyed soul/body doesn’t sound much like eternal conscious torment to me.

Since the references in that section obviously weren’t all that helpful for his argument, the article makes a mini-argument for each word of its doctrine:

Why ETERNAL? Well, because, of course, “When you sin against an infinite God… you accrue an infinite debt.” Not only is this a non-sequitur, but it also fails to recognize that extinction would be just as ‘eternal’ a consequence for sin as conscious torment.

 Why TORMENT, then? Umm… because “God’s holiness is unable to tolerate anything or anyone that is unholy; His holiness is like a gag reflex.”  OK? Are we to think of God as, somehow, out of control of His own emotions? And, again, why is torment a better ‘reflex’ than destruction?

Why CONCIOUSLY? The author says that because “those who have sinned consciously must also bear their punishment consciously.” This is some sort of ‘the punishment must fit the crime’ argument.  But clearly they didn’t sin consciously forever! So by the author’s own logic, his argument doesn’t make sense. Why not a doctrine of hell that allows for some conscious torment, but not eternal conscious torment? The author uses Jesus’ conscious torment on the cross as an example, but, obviously, his conscious torment wasn’t eternal (yet I’m sure the author would say it satisfied God’s holy demands!).

Frankly, the article simply doesn’t make the case it sets out to make. It’s flawed on various fronts. Perhaps most significantly, it comes from what I would consider a very flawed theology. The author states, “God’s goodness flows out of His holiness.” I would say the opposite. God’s holiness flows out of God’s goodness (God’s love). Love deals with sin, so there is such a thing as hell. But hell must be loving… or it cannot have been created by God.

Meanwhile, the author (I'll assume he's a Christian man with a transformed heart) admits that his “heart naturally cries out in rebellion against the thought” of his own doctrine, but apparently he is more eager to follow a particular interpretation of the Bible than a possible impression God has put on his heart. I would suggest that he not so quickly attribute his heart’s cry to worldliness and, instead, recognize it as identical to the kind of love that Jesus commands us to have for our enemies. The article asks, "What kind of God would condemn people to eternal torment?" My answer... not a God like Jesus.

Friday, October 24, 2014

McKnight Highlights

Went to hear Scot McKnight talk about his newest book (Kingdom Conspiracy) at Northeastern Seminary on Wednesday. Here are some highlights of what he had to say in the form of 50 brief notes:

1. Christians are using the term 'kingdom' in all sorts of different ways
2. McKnight sees 'kingdom' as an ecclesiological (church) doctrine
3. He means to basically equate (unpopularly) the kingdom with the church
4. Skinny jeans Xians tend to be younger, democrat-voting and, for them...
5. Kingdom = good people doing good things in public sector for common good
6. But good works disconnected from church, while good, are not kingdom
7. Skinny jeans Xians are influenced by social gospel and liberation theology
8. Pleaded pants Xians tend to be older, republican-voting and, for them...
9. Kingdom= Redemptive moments (conversions, healings, changes in law)
10. But when the kingdom is 'everywhere' it is nowhere
11. Pleaded pants Xians are influenced by guys like Dodd/Ladd/etc.
12. McKnight says both reduce kingdom. Kingdom is a complex.
13. Kingdom is intensely political, can't be spiritualized
14. The character of the king determines the character of the kingdom
15. There are 5 elements of the kingdom/church (he nearly equates them)
16. First, a kingdom has a KING (theocracy-->monarchy-->christocracy)
17. Second, a kingdom has a a king who RULES (as redeeming Lord)
18. Third, a kingdom has a king who rules a PEOPLE (don't devalue church)
19. Fourth, a kingdom has a king who rules a people with a LAW (for church)
20. Fifth, a kingdom has a king who rules a people with a law in a LAND (???)
21. Kingdom and church are the same, but not identical (doesn't know why)
22. You can't follow Jesus w/o the church (that's not biblical)
23. The kingdom is just the people of God. So is the church. 
24. We tend to skip from fall to individual redemption
25. But OT isn't obsessed with fall or individual redemption
26. We should emphasize theocracy-->monarchy-->christocracy narrative
27. Gospel is not about individual salvation, it's about Jesus being King
28. Reducing atonement to substituion metaphor alone is a sacrilege
29. Jesus died with us, instead of us, and for us (identifies to incorporate)
30. The heavier we get in interpretation, the more likely we're not listening
31. Nervous about commitment to universal or para-church w/o local church
32. Local church is a dwelling place for God, a politic where love rules
33. Love is a rugged commitment to be with & for someone unto Christlikeness
34. Churches are to be a fellowship of the different
35. We can't expect for a village/city/nation what we can't display ourselves
36. We fight about what we think about. Who is fighting about Jesus?
37. Church is marked by Gospel, fellowship, sacrament, Spirit, sharing, witness
38. Church isn't getting together at Starbucks, it's more ordered than that
39. Good works within church will spill over into public sector
40. Secular work puts food on the table. It is not kingdom work even if it's good
41. 'Son of Man' doesn't refer to Jesus' humanity. It's about suffering/vindication
42. Kingdom mission must be cruciform
43. We must start with Jesus, not add Jesus to our predetermined agenda
44. Question is not where will I go when I die, but who is Jesus
45. God does capital I Incarnation. We do lower case i incarnation
46. Incarnation is about dying to bring life, not just going where people are
47. It is actually impossible to preach the Gospel without words
48. My book IS reactionary. I'm reacting to the sloppy usage of 'kingdom'
49. 'Conspiracy' in title isn't necessary (just bouncing off Willard)
50. Some places 'church' isn't allowed, that's terrible. But Kingdom=church.

Wesley Sermon #20

The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit,
that we are children of God.

The witness of the Spirit is somewhat difficult to describe even though it is an obvious experience for those who have been born again.

Since many presume to be Christians without this witness of the Spirit, it is necessary to share the circumstances which go before, accompany, and follow the witnesses of the Spirit of God and the spirit of the believer.

Those who are of the Spirit enter into this life through deep and profound repentance. Repentance is always a catalyst to true change. Those unmarked by change have not repented and should not presume the Spirit.

Life in the Spirit is, of course, accompanied by the fruit of the Spirit. True Christians can’t help but demonstrate this fruit, but those who only presume the Spirit demonstrate contrasting characteristics.

The genuinely spiritual person will walk in obedience. You know you do not have the witness of the Spirit when your attitude toward obedience grows more and more lax. Zeal for holiness testifies for the presence of Spirit.

Repentance comes before life in the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit accompany life in the Spirit. Holiness follows life in the Spirit. Without these, there is no testimony.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Wesley Sermon #19

There is therefore now no condemnation
to them which are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)

A major mark of the new birth is the lack of condemnation experienced by those who are in Christ. They actively trust that Jesus frees them from sin/sins.

There is no condemnation over past sins because they have been dealt with, once and for all, in Christ Jesus.

There is no condemnation over present sins because those in Christ do not presently sin.

There is no condemnation over inward sin because the believer does not yield to it.

There is no condemnation over imperfection, since these simply serve to remind believers of our need for Jesus.

There is no condemnation for involuntary sins since such are not even properly counted as guilt-inducing sins.

There is no condemnation for anything that one wasn’t empowered to avoid, since guilt is connected to choice.

There is not even necessarily condemnation for so called sins of surprise, insofar as it is not linked to negligence.

God does not condemn such, for God is forgiving, wise and compassionate. And it is a sin for a believer to condemn oneself when God condemns them not. It is foolishness to allow sin to masquerade as an entity more powerful than God. God’s love is higher than all my sins.

Friday, October 17, 2014

What are We to Think of Mediums?

A medium is someone said to have an intuitive ability to communicate with the dead. For Christians, two key questions emerge: First, are mediums legitimate (do they actually communicate with the dead?). Second, what does the Bible say about mediums?

A “Yes” or “No” answer to the first question is inadequate. Let us assume, for a moment, that it is hypothetically possible to communicate with the dead. In such a case, it STILL wouldn’t demonstrate that just anyone claiming to be a medium is actually communicating with the dead. There are other possibilities.

For instance, they could be purposefully deceiving their cliental in order to make money in a lucrative industry (taking advantage of people’s desire to communicate with lost loved ones, for example). Or, perhaps, they could be deceived themselves (believing that they are communicating with the dead when they are, in fact, not. They may even be communicating with the demonic realm). Worse still, they could be intentionally communicating with the demonic realm.

But, hypothetically, it is possible that some people do, somehow, acquire the ability to communicate with the dead (most Christians do believe, after all, that the dead exist somewhere). The Bible, it could be argued, assumes that there are such people who ‘consult with the dead.’ (they are not simply condemned as frauds). Biblical scholars debate whether Samuel, for instance, was actually consulted by the medium at Endor (1 Samuel 28).

Our second question, the Scriptural one, is much more black & white. The Bible clearly forbids God’s people from turning to mediums: “Do not turn to mediums” (Leviticus 19:31). Doing so would result in being cut off from God’s people (Leviticus 20:6). In fact, under the Old Covenant, this practice was considered so serious that anyone found guilty of doing it was subject to the death penalty (Leviticus 20:27).

The practice was considered one of the detestable ways of the nations (along with activities like child sacrifice, divination, sorcery, interpreting omens, witchcraft, spell-casting, etc. See Deuteronomy 18:9-13). These are things that people of the world do, but God’s people refuse to participate in. Saul was right to expel the mediums from the land of Israel (1 Samuel 28:3), but wrong to consult one (1 Chronicles 10:13).

As it turns out, then, the Christian approach to supposed mediums is not overly complicated. Either they are really not contacting anyone (it’s a hoax); contacting the devil and/or demons (knowingly or ignorantly); or they are legitimately contacting the dead (which is forbidden by God). None of those scenarios are favorable, to say the least.

When Christians find themselves interested in such practices, it begs a bigger question... what is the motivation behind such interest? Are we looking for comfort and/or answers? Go to God! As it says in Isaiah, “When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?”

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wesley Sermon #18

“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin”
(1 John 3:9)

It is the great privilege of the children of God that they are freed from the power of sin. The new birth changes us so fundamentally that ‘whosoever is born of God… doesn’t sin.’ This Scriptural statement, however, has resulted in much confusion. I shall clarify both parts.

To be born of God is to experience drastic change (that is why ‘birth’ is an apt analogy). Previous to birth, the child has little to no awareness of his/her dependence on the world around them, but once born they begin to experience life in that world. So, too, with us. The new birth allows us to experience life in God.

What better privilege than power over sin? Those who are born of God do not sin! By sin, I mean a voluntary transgression of a known law of God. By do not, I mean that while they remain in step with God, they never sin. It is possible to fall out of step with God, but it is impossible to stay in step and sin.

David and Peter are good examples of godly men who fell out of step with God. David was a man after God’s own heart, but when temptation came he fell out of step with God and sinned. Peter was a Spirit-filled Apostle of Christ, but he, too, gave way to temptation. When we fail to stay in step with God, our faith fails. And when our faith fails, all sin is possible. So… stay in step with the Lord!