Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Difficulty in Identifying Systemic Oppression


Something I wrote last year but just now posting.


There are privileged whites who believe the welfare state is a good means of dismantling the systemic oppression of blacks. There are black economists who suffered persecution under Jim Crow who believe the welfare state is a means of oppression that has disproportionately affected blacks. Who is right? One group either supports a system that oppresses blacks or the other group opposes a system that supports blacks. One group is contributing to the problem; the other is contributing to the solution.  One group needs to confess and repent. Which is it? I mean, both groups want to help blacks, but one group is unintentionally supporting their oppression. More importantly, as a Christian (white or black), with whom do you side? What is the truth? Because, depending upon the side you choose, you will either be a part of the problem that oppresses blacks or a part of the solution, regardless of your intentions. Furthermore, regardless of which you choose, the other group will accuse you of oppressing blacks. If you are white, they will accuse you of unrecognized privilege. If you are black, they will accuse you of false consciousness. And here’s the thing: in this specific instance, there’s a 50% chance that they are right. Again, what do you choose? How do you avoid committing an unintentional sin?


Now I’ve used the welfare state as an example in a dichotomous manner, lacking nuance. However, I could use those same two separate groups (privileged whites and black economists) and supply similar examples that would make the same point: gentrification, cultural appropriation, minimum wage, reparations, the drug-war, policing methods, the justice system, racial quotas, affirmative action, school choice, abortion, identity politics, micro-aggressions, and the list could go on.


In recent weeks I’ve read a number of Christian leaders talk about racial reconciliation and the need of confession and repentance. Alright, the examples just mentioned are at the forefront of the issue of race in America. Please tell us where we should side on each of these issues. Please tell us which is oppressing blacks and from which position we should repent. This is no time for sitting in the safe position of spouting generalities about race and repentance. We need particulars. If, like me, you believe in systemic oppression, specifically in the racial category, let’s be specific in our identification of the structures that dominate. Otherwise, this is all virtue signaling, ethical preening, and empty theological posturing.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Further Thoughts on Separating "Families" at the Border

For the past 20 years, drug cartels in Mexico and Central America have been expanding into human trafficking, acquiring many of the small-time trafficking outfits. A conservative estimate is that these larger outfits can make $500 million a year trafficking humans. This human trafficking has only increased with lax enforcement of U.S. border laws. Indeed, the human traffickers use immigration and asylum laws to their advantage. Many of the illegal immigrants being trafficked are promised better jobs, economic conditions, and safety by the traffickers. The “better” traffickers just want the money – about $5,000 per person. The “worse” traffickers smuggle these illegal immigrants into the U.S. for slave labor, drug trafficking, and prostitution. One of the reasons its important to administer proper border security is to stop such human trafficking. For many human traffickers, smuggling children into the country for slavery and prostitution is better than adults: the pay is the same but easier to transport and with larger hauls. Also, the human traffickers have realized that it’s easier to smuggle adults into the U.S. if they have a child with them. So illegal immigrants and human traffickers are incentivized to find children to help get adults into the country. Sometimes these children are legitimate to the parent, other times they belong to relatives, other times they are kidnapped, and sometimes they have been purchased. Still, at other times, teenager minors who live along the border work for the human traffickers. They pretend to be the children of an adult to get the “parent” into the U.S. After they’ve entered and been let go, the teenager sneaks back over the border, making nearly a month’s wage in a night for his work. This is how human traffickers are exploiting children using U.S. immigration and asylum laws. Up until recently, the U.S. government had not been enforcing border laws in order to account for the dramatic shift in drug cartel sponsored human trafficking. This only further incentivized the exploitation of children. The shift in policy now is to enforce those laws and determine whether the child belongs with the adult. The enforcement of these laws will be a deterrent to human trafficking, child exploitation, and illegal border crossing.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Romans 13:1-5 and Separating Children from their Parents

When Paul invokes government in Romans 13:1-5 (see also Titus 3:1; 1 Pe 2:13-14), the context is important. Starting in chapter 12, Paul is exhorting believers to live out their faith by not following the deep patterns of thinking and behavior that characterizes the world (v. 2; see also Ephesians 4). Paul lays out what he considers depraved patterns in 1:18-32 (see also Ephesians 4:17-25). Instead, we need to have minds that are renewed (12:2), specifically into the mind of Christ (Romans 11:34; 1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5). See my article on the subject.

In 12:9-21, Paul explains what this looks like. Not surprisingly, it is the ethic of Jesus expressed so fully on the Sermon on the Mount. Paul bases it in love and advocates for a non-retributive ethic. “Bless those who persecute you” (v. 14), “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (v. 17), “Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath” (v. 19), and help your enemy (v.20). This is the forgiving, submissive, “turn-the-other-cheek” ethic that should characterize all followers of Jesus. But note again, verse 19: “Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath.”

As I have noted in other articles, there are two ethics at work within the Bible and within the world. I’ve already mentioned the ethic of Jesus which is that of the Kingdom of God. The other ethic is that “eye for an eye ethic.” As I’ve written elsewhere:

“[This] ethic is predominately found in the Old Testament and is spelled out in Leviticus 24:19. It is basically the ethic that states that a person who has injured another person is to be penalized to a similar degree. While you can find this ethic throughout the Old Testament, the legality of it has its antecedent in the Code of Hammurabi and in almost every society that has come before and after in every place society exists. Its near universality should not surprise us. This is the ethic of justice, of equality. This is how the world works and this ethic works very well. And, as my Old Testament professor stated, this ethic is still grace. It is grace because it mandates that a person or a society cannot mete vengeance upon the guilty party beyond the crime they have committed. This is grace. Nevertheless, it is an ethic of retribution, violence, and the implied threat of violence. This ethic finds its fullest expression and most organized principle in government. The purpose of government is to hold back evil through violence and the threat of violence. Paul talks about this in Romans 13 where government is seen as an instrument of violence whose purpose is to fight against evil. And this is seen as a purpose ordained by God.”

As Paul is transitioning from chapter 12 to 13, this is how he is thinking: Christians should display the ethic of Jesus and leave the retribution and punishment to government because they are “agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (13:4).

Government cannot defeat evil because its methods are evil (12:17-21), but it can hold back evil through its inherent violence. Yet government, with its monopolistic use of inherent violence, its aggregate of authorities, and its God-ordained purpose, establishes it as an immense institutional Power. This is why both Paul and Peter warn Christians about the dangers of going up against it (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Pe 2:13-14). Therefore, because of the immensity of the inherent violence, Christians should advocate for a small, less intrusive government, with less power, fewer regulations, and with more checks and balances to lessen the propensity for violence. Therefore, Christians need to refrain from closely associating ourselves with government and its political parties. Christians need to refrain from using government and its inherent violence as a means of advancing the Kingdom of God through social programs, welfare, property theft, and faith-based programs.

Nevertheless, while we as Christians should forgive those who wrong us, we are nevertheless supposed to turn over to government those who commit evil. For example, if someone comes to us saying they have been assaulted, abused, or harassed, we are to direct them to government. We are not to cover it up or suppress the truth, no matter who the abuser or his family is.

But this ordained purpose of government to hold back evil is twofold. On the one hand, government flexes its muscles by establishing and enforcing laws within its jurisdiction. On the other hand, it flexes its muscles by securing that jurisdiction from outside powers. On the national level, that necessarily and fundamentally means securing a sovereign border to prevent evil from entering by crossing the border. This is a universal application of government’s fundamental purpose. Every nation secures its borders and makes determinations about who enters and who doesn’t. For it not to do so would mean a relinquishment of its fundamental responsibility. The results would inevitably be the chaotic spread of evil. For the government not to enforce the laws that establish the border-crossing determinations would be to nullify those laws and effectively relinquish responsibility. While nations can argue what those determinations are, those determinations must be enforced. The enforcement of those determining laws must fundamentally mean that those who violate those laws be punished; otherwise, the laws mean nothing, and government forfeits its God-ordained purpose.

What the punishment for this illegality consists of will depend on various factors, including past criminal record and the existence of repeat offenses. At the very least, excluding mitigating factors, in order to discourage further law-breaking by others, the punishment should be deportation. Those who are arrested for robbing a bank, even if they are sent to prison, they or their children aren't allowed to keep the money. The process of deportation will vary due to various circumstances, but it will necessarily involve some form of confinement until deportation can be administered. This confinement will be some form of prison preventing the perpetrator from escaping.

Here’s the essential question: when an adult is arrested and put in prison, do the governmental authorities put their children in prison with them? No, they do not. Children are not placed in prison with their parents. Not only would that be cruel, it leaves open the possibility that the child could be put in a dangerous situation. In order to protect the child, the government separates the child from the parent. Ideally, the child is placed with another family member. If there is no other family member, the child is placed in the protective custody of the government (i.e., HHS). Nevertheless, in order to protect the child from prison, the child and the parent must be separated. In other words, in order to protect the child from evil, the government uses its God-ordained purpose to punish. The length of the separation depends upon various factors; nevertheless, separation is necessary for the good of the child.

This is how Romans 13:1-5 applies itself to national borders and separating illegal aliens from their children.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Discerning the Discernment Bloggers

Over the past few months I’ve begun to refamiliarize myself with the heresy-hunters of evangelical Christendom. It’s been many years actually. Apparently, they are now called “discernment bloggers” and are doing their thing via blogs, podcasts, and tweets. My problem with these individuals is that they too often go after good Biblical preachers, speakers, and pastors. Their false targets tend to be highly effective and popular ministers who are making a huge impact for the Kingdom of God. These targets are labeled “false teachers” and “heretics” while pursuing their God-ordained ministries.

I’d like to delve into the matter of “discernment bloggers”. I’m not going to name any names because 1) that’s not my purpose, 2) I’m speaking generally here, 3) occasionally they do point out a real false teacher, and 4) I know some of them personally. With this in mind, I’m also not going to offer any specific examples so as not to link back to specific individuals. Rather, I want to give you some of my observations into their methodology so you can discern whether or not those being critical are being false or not. Here is what I notice about “discernment bloggers”:

  • They tend to be profoundly ignorant of the Scriptures and have an immature understanding of the faith. They are often fundamentalist in theology and disposition.
  • They approach their subject in hateful, arrogant, and worldly manners. They show little signs of humility, which is actually fundamental in accurately discerning Biblical truth and falsehood. They never approach their subject matter with gentle, loving correction. Indeed, they don’t show necessary spiritual fruit to be taken seriously.
  • They are often short on evidence and long on opinion and characterization. Instead of providing evidence of false teachings or explanations of why such teachings are false, they prefer ad hominem attacks. Usually, one has to read several paragraphs of vitriol before coming to the current point of attack.
  •  They often mischaracterize a preacher’s sermon, taking bits out of context.
  • Their rants are not analyses of preachers’ arguments but characterizations of particular pull-quotes. This, in of itself, is strange. You would think that if they were so concerned with a false teaching, they would actually involve themselves in the actual argument, the actual point, that these false teachers are attempting to make. But they aren’t. Instead, they focus on individual quotes. They seem either incapable or unwilling to understand someone’s overall argument and then understand the quote in light of that argument. But this shouldn’t be surprising; they frequently take Scripture out of context.
  • Their evidence often consists of links to other discernment bloggers who themselves mischaracterize a preacher’s sermon, taking bits out of context.
  •  When I’ve finally tracked down the sermon in question, I find that a preacher’s words have been obviously mischaracterized. Indeed, so obvious are the mischaracterizations that I often suspect that the blogger is being deliberately false. Indeed, it’s almost as if they hope you won’t look at the evidence or listen to the whole sermon, but just take their word for it.
  • Guilt by association seems to be the most prominent means of attack. A preacher’s sermons, quotes, ministry, and/or person is dismissed as false because he or she can be somehow linked to another presumed false teacher. “He is friends with X.” “She’s friendly with Y.” “He spoke at the same conference as her.” “She went on his show.” What is not discussed is any similarities in their teachings and theological positions. Furthermore, at most a mischaracterized pull-quote is taken out of its context to link a preacher to a “disreputable” movement. Again, what is missing is an analysis of the actual teaching.

These observations come down to three points about “discernment blogger” methodology: ad hominem attacks, Scriptural ignorance, and lack of analysis. It’s the last point that seems the most important to me. Whether from laziness or intention, the lack of analysis of a presumed false teacher’s argument should absolutely disqualify a “discernment blogger” from serious consideration. It seems most people like ad hominem attacks and most people are ignorant of Scripture. At the very least, you should recognize when someone is not analyzing a quote within the intended point of the sermon.

Even if these “discernment bloggers” are not deliberately mischaracterizing a preacher’s sermons, their sloppy criticism and lack of analysis on such a serious issue absolutely disqualifies them from discernment. Indeed, they themselves are false teachers. They themselves are leading people astray. This is the great irony of the “discernment boggers”. Their ignorance and mischaracterizations are damaging the Kingdom of God and ministries of individuals within them. Furthermore, they are making it more difficult for people to spot real false teachers. As I’ve often said, “Wolves in sheep’s clothing often don’t know they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

                So just be careful when someone labels another person a false teacher. Before you accept such a characterization, please do your research. Listen to the entire sermon, look at the overall work of a preacher. Be sure you are discerning the discerner. That includes me.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Real Problem with Andy Stanley’s Sermon: A Response to the Argument in Aftermath, Part 3: Not Difficult

Personally, I really like Andy Stanley. I’ve read a few of his books and used a few of his series at different churches. I think he’s done amazing work for the Kingdom of God in Georgia and elsewhere.

When I first saw the headlines about his “OT-unhitching sermon” I first assumed he was either being misunderstood, mischaracterized, or taken out of context. So I ignored it. But then I saw people whose insights I appreciate make criticisms. So I read some sermon quotes from some critical articles.

"[First century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures."

"Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well."

"Jesus' new covenant, his covenant with the nations, his covenant with you, his covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures."

To me the quotes were extremely distressing as well as highly inaccurate about apostolic teachings, and I couldn’t see how they could be taken out of context. I thought, “You better rethink that, brother.” Nevertheless, I’ve heard preachers in the past speak about legalistic Judaism and how Jesus came to abolish the Law. Certainly, the ceremonial and sacrificial requirements, as well as the cultural identity markers, are no longer required for followers of Jesus; perhaps Stanley was simply uncharacteristically muddled in his presentation. Perhaps he went off script in his enthusiasm. It’s possible.

A few days passed, and I saw the following comment by a theologian:

“The reactions to Andy Stanley by Rachel Held Evans and many others seems to me largely based on a clickbait headline. If he had said ‘the OT is not directly normative for Christians’ he would have said the same thing. It's a pointless controversy.”

To me the sermon quotes did not indicate a pointless controversy, and they did seem to go further than simple questions about normative practice. However, to clear up the confusion in my own mind, I decided to listen to the entire sermon.

Having now twice listened to the sermon, Aftermath, Part 3: Not Difficult, I must admit that it is far worse than even the pulled quotes indicate. People are rightly upset about Stanley’s disregard of the Old Testament, but, actually, his disregard is a means to a specific end. It’s that end, and the argument he constructs, that is the real, serious problem.

Much of his sermon is a theological train wreck. He obviously has a terrible grasp of the covenant, Israel, the Law, Judaism, and how the Apostles and New Testament writers understood the Old Testament scriptures. However, he is only somewhat more confused than the average pastor is with this stuff. But, far beyond the misconceptions of some popular theology, Stanley confuses the “Law of Moses” with the Old Testament. He appears to confuse the ceremonial and ethnic cultural badges of the Old Testament with the moral rules, especially the sexual morals.

In his teaching on the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, Stanley argues that the conclusion to the question of whether Gentiles should adopt circumcision (and other “works of the law”) was summed up in James’ statement, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19 NIV).

Stanley argues that the Jerusalem Council concluded that Gentiles should not follow the Law of Moses or the Old Testament as a whole. He says the Jerusalem Council was effectively saying to the Gentiles, “You are not accountable to the Ten Commandments.” Stanley then tells his congregants what James is effectively telling them: “You should not obey the Ten Commandments because those aren’t your commandments. Yours are better. And yours are far less complicated.”

Here’s the key thing: no one in the American Church or contemporary evangelicalism is currently advocating that today’s Christians follow circumcision, Jewish dietary laws, ceremonial cleanliness, or any of the other Jewish ethnic traditions involved in the Acts 15 debate. So what are the Jewish, Old Testament rules that Stanley intends his congregants to abandon? Stanley doesn’t really say. He doesn’t specify. He doesn’t give a direct, practical application to his sermon. He leaves it up to the congregation to decide how to specifically apply his teaching. However, he does give a general idea of what he’s thinking about.

Stanley states that the letter from the Council telling Gentiles to avoid foods sacrificed to idols and the eating of blooded animals (15:20, 29) was simply a compromise to keep the peace with the Jews. He then states that the reference in the same verses to abstain from sexual immorality is not tied to Old Testament sexual ethics, while also saying that probably everyone would have a different view of what sexual immorality means. Notice these sermons quotes:

“This is so important: This was a general call to avoid immoral behavior but not immoral behavior as defined by the Old Testament.”

“Paul tied sexual behavior, not to the Old Covenant, not the Ten Commandments, but the one commandment Jesus gave us: You are to treat others as God through Christ has treated you.”

“Paul was explicit about teaching on sexual immorality, but he did not tie it to the Old Testament.
“The old covenant, law of Moses, was not the go-to source regarding sexual behavior for the church.”

“The old covenant, law of Moses, was not the go-to source regarding any behavior for the church.”

Basically, Stanley appears to be saying that New Testament teachings on sexual immorality are not tied to Old Testament conceptions and that sexual immorality should be defined as treating others like Christ has treated you.

Now obviously Stanley’s argument is Scripturally erroneous. The New Testament writers, Jesus, and Paul himself frequently defined Christian morality (sexual and otherwise) by the Old Testament and pointed to the Old Testament Scriptures frequently as a basis. One of the major parts of the New Covenant and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not a rejection of the Law but the Spirit-driven ability to actually do the Law. But I leave it to others to pick apart Stanley’s theology here. My focus is not the merits of the argument but the construction of the argument and the end to which it points. He’s obviously not going of script. You can tell he’s not fumbling about, misstating what he actually means. He is making a deliberately intentioned, scripted argument. And that’s my concern. Here’s how I would sum up his argument:

“‘People are losing faith because of something in or about the Bible, especially the Old Testament.’ We should not make it difficult for people to embrace the Christian Faith. The Apostles and early Christians abandoned the Old Testament rules, including the rules of sexual immorality, to include others; we should do so as well. Instead, our sexual ethics should be based solely on one rule: ‘You are to treat others as God through Christ has treated you.’”

If this correctly summarizes Stanley’s point (and I believe it does), what do you think he is referring to?

Note the following summary Stanley gives concerning Peter’s testimony:

“God is doing something new in the world and we [referring to Peter speaking to first century Jewish Christians] need to be a part of it even if it means letting go of and setting aside the traditions, the *Scripture* [Stanley says with emphasis] we grew up with.”

I think Andy Stanley has left his application unstated but heavily implied.

Again, I really like Stanley. I really tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and consider other interpretations of his sermon. If I have mischaracterized his argument and point, I do apologize; but I really don’t think I have. Regardless, I recommend people listen to the sermon and gauge for themselves if I have been unfair in my critique. If I am right, I hope some learned pastor friends of Stanley’s will pull him aside and offer some loving correction.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Getting the Gospel Right: Correcting the Popular Misconception about the Message of the Gospel

The biggest, most fundamental misconception of the Christian Faith is the Gospel itself. I find it utterly bewildering that the most essential concept of the Christian religion is so completely misunderstood by the vast majority of Christians, including well-known preachers and theologians. Whether it is John MacArthur, John Piper, or R.C. Sproul, these learned men consistently misinterpret the Scriptures about what the Gospel is. I find this somewhat baffling because even a casual reading of the New Testament gives a clear indication of the meaning. Indeed, these men are aware of the alternative to their conception and, yet, still refuse to cede the point. Let’s examine the evidence.

The word Gospel is derived from the Greek work euggelion and literally means “good news”. So what is this good news to which the Gospel refers? The popular and pervasive belief is that the Gospel refers to the idea that “Jesus died for your sins, so you can be saved if you believe”. The problem with this conception of the Gospel is that it’s wrong. The gospel itself is not principally about “personal salvation” but specifically about the coming of the Kingdom of God. You can see this in Matthew 4:23: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.” (Other places are Matthew 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:14-15; Luke 4:43; 8:1; 16:16; Acts 8:12; 20:25; 28:31.) The Kingdom of God (or Heaven) is the rule, will, and reign of God on earth and heaven (Matthew 6:10).

The good news of Jesus is that he is the King of that Kingdom of God. Thus, we get references to the “gospel of Christ” (Acts 5:42; Romans 15:19; 1 Corinthians 9:12; 2 Corinthians 2:12; 4:4; 9:13; Galatians 1:7; Philippians 1:27; 1 Thessalonians 3:2). The Greek word “Christ” (Christos) is the translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. The Messiah/Christ was the term used for the King of the Jews. When Jesus is identified as the Christ, he is being identified as the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2; 21:5; 25:35, 40; 27:11, 29, 42; Mark 15:2, 9, 12, 18, 26, 32; Luke 19:38, 23:2-3, 37-38; John 1:49; 12:13, 15; 18:33, 37, 39; 19:3, 12, 14-15, 19, 21; Acts 17:7; 1 Timothy 6:15). This is why Jesus is identified as coming from the line of King David (Matthew 1:6; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9; 21:15; 22:42; Mark 10:47-48; 11:10; 12:35; Luke 1:27, 32, 69; 2:4, 11; 3:31; 18:38-39; 20:41;  John 7:42; Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8; Revelation 5:5; 22:16).

The four Gospel books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are stories about how Jesus became King. That is there primary function. That is the story they are telling. Jesus as King is what they want you to know. More importantly than just becoming King of the Jews, the enthronement of Jesus as King by God has also made him King over the world (Psalm 110; Daniel 7; Mark 12:36; 14:61-62). Essentially, Jesus is currently ruling this world, sitting at the right hand of God (Mark 10:35-38, 40; 14:62; Matthew 19:28; 22:44; 25:31-34; 26:64; Luke 22:38-30; John 21:31-33; Daniel 7:13; Acts 2:33; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; Revelation 3:21; Psalm 110). Having been made king over the world, all power and authority has been given to him (Matthew 28:18) and all powers and authorities have been subjected to him (Ephesians 1:20-22; Philippians 2:8-11; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Colossians 1:13; 2:10, 15; Jude 1:25; Revelation 2:26-27; 12:10; Matthew 9:8; 21:23; Mark 3:15; John 5:27; 17:2; Psalm 110).

The coming of the Kingdom of God with Jesus as its King, who now rules the world, is the “good news” of which the proclamation of the Gospel speaks. But let’s be exhaustive.

In other places you find references to the “gospel of God” (Mark 1:14; Romans 1:1; 15:16; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Timothy 1:11; 1 Peter 4:17). However, the “gospel of God” (euggelion tou theou) could mean “the good news of God” or “God’s good news”. Regardless, while Mark 1:14 says that Jesus proclaimed the “gospel of God”, he immediately clarifies this in v. 15 by giving the content of that proclamation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Again, the Kingdom of God is the substance of the good news. This then clarifies for us what Mark means by his other indirect mentions of the gospel (8:35; 10:29; 13:10; 14:9). Since the Kingdom of God is God’s Kingdom and Jesus does share in the nature of God (Philippians 2:6), however you interpret euggelion tou theou, the reference is still the same.

In other places, we see references to “gospel of Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:20; 2 Thessalonians 1:8), “gospel of his Son” (Romans 1:9), and the “gospel of Jesus” (Acts 8:35). These references still refer to Jesus, and, knowing how both Luke and Paul understand the Gospel to refer to the Kingdom and its King by their other references, we easily grasp the designation.

However, while the specific content of the Gospel is the Kingdom and Jesus as its King, we do see a few references where the Gospel results in peace (Ephesians 6:15; Acts 10:36) and salvation (Ephesians 1:13). Paul can refer to the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) in the same breath as he states that he is “preaching the kingdom” (v. 25). Only in Romans 1:6 do we get an affirmation about the Gospel being about the power of God for salvation.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

This verse (along with Ephesians 1:13) is the sum total of the direct evidence that has been used to water down the message of the Gospel from the rule and reign of Christ upon the earth to one of personal salvation in order to “go to heaven”. Though the message of the Gospel does have the power to bring people to faith, the message of the Gospel itself is not “salvation”. As N.T. Wright notes in his book What Saint Paul Really Said, “when the gospel is proclaimed, people come to faith and so are regarded by God as members of his people. But ‘the gospel’ is not an account of how people get saved” (pp. 132–33). Now, again, this does not mean that salvation is not a result of the Gospel. Salvation is very much a result of the Gospel, but just as is peace (Ephesians 6:15; Acts 10:36), power (1 Thessalonians 1:5), healing (Matthew 4:23; 9:35), grace (Acts 20:24; Ephesians 1:13), justice (Romans 2:16), and repentance and faith (Mark 1:14; Acts 15:7). However, these are effects of the Gospel of the Kingdom, not the Gospel itself.

In all other places, the Gospel is not directly qualified; it is simply called “the gospel”. But, again, knowing how these writers elsewhere do qualify the “good news” with reference to the Kingdom and Christ as its head, we can readily grasp how they conceptualized it. Just one example: While Matthew 26:13 does not directly reference the content of the gospel, Matthew 4:23, 9:35, and 24:14 inform us that Matthew does mean the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Heaven).

Therefore, it should be clear that when the Bible speaks about the Gospel, it is not referring to personal salvation but to the coming of the Kingdom of God and Jesus as its King. Now why is this clarification important?

First, the Gospel message is fundamental to the Christian Faith. It behooves us to get it as accurate as possible so that a) the message reaches its peak effectiveness and b) we have a clear idea of the mission and ministry God requires of us.

Second, the Gospel message that Jesus is currently ruling the world means he is not some distant figure. Jesus is actively at work in this world through his Spirit and his Spirit-empowered followers bringing all the corrupt powers of this world into obedience under him (1 Corinthians 15:24-27; Luke 20:43; Hebrews 10:13; Psalm 110:1). That is the goal. That is the endgame. 1 Corinthians 15:24-27 is very explicit that Jesus will reign until he has put all things into subjection. In doing so, this chapter also tells us that, in light of the Resurrection, the work Christians do in the Lord is not in vain (v. 58). God is using all our obedient work for the Kingdom purpose of bringing everything, all the corrupt powers, rulers, and institutions, into submissive obedience. That is the Gospel (v. 1).

The Gospel is not a message of personal salvation so that you can one day escape this world - so you don’t have to care about this world. Far from it! The Gospel is about the coming of the Kingdom of God and Jesus as its King, so you are called to give him loyal-obedient-allegiance and help with the bringing all the people and powers of the world into that same allegiance. When we get the Gospel wrong, we lose focus of our purpose and mission. When we get the Gospel right, we become more effective at accomplishing our calling.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Some Thoughts on the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC and their Current Opportunity to Rid Themselves of the Resurgent Leaders

As a conservative inerrantist and someone who has studied the Conservative Resurgence, let me tell you that it was an absolute disaster that severely damaged the SBC and significantly impaired its ability to grow the Kingdom of God. It was led by very ignorant, egotistical, greedy, corrupt men with serious character flaws who employed brutal, unchristlike methods to gain power over the entire denomination. The results were catastrophic. During the period when mainline denominations were in decline, the so-called moderate SBC and its agencies and seminaries were still growing rapidly. Not resting on their laurels, the SBC leadership was planning a huge evangelical push in the late 70s and early 80s. Instead, the Resurgent leaders wrestled for control of the SBC, achieved it, and began a systematic operation to gain absolute power and purge the SBC of all undesirables. They began to centralize control of the SBC to the top of the denomination and then consolidating their power. Yes, during the same period in which these people were decrying how secular liberals and Democrats were centralizing government onto the Federal level and maintaining top-to-bottom control, the leaders of the Resurgence were doing the same thing in the SBC. Indeed, they used the political weapons of the world to defame, mischaracterize, silence, and fire everyone who didn’t agree with them or posed a threat. Thousands of SBC ministers were fired. No, not just liberals and moderates; thousands of conservatives were fired. They were fired for voicing concerns over how people were being bullied. Then after those conservatives were fired, the conservatives who protested those firings were fired. And if you protested the bullying methodology, the Resurgent leaders accused you of being a liberal, not believing the Bible, and being against sound doctrine. This is the equivalent of calling people a “racist” when they disagree with you. Yet, this was standard Resurgent methodology. It was the same methodology the communists used in Russia to denounce as “capitalists”, “colonialists”, and “counter-revolutionaries” any communists who opposed the purges of Soviet methodologies. Yes, the Resurgent leaders used left-wing tactics. They used Saul Alinsky tactics. In personal conversations, the leaders admitted it. Old copies of Rules for Radicals appear in their personal libraries. They labeled anyone who disagreed with them a liberal and had them fired. And all the while they imposed domination upon the convention and created fear in the minds of anyone who raised concerns over their tactics, these Resurgent leaders promised an Evangelical Harvest would be the result. Did you really think that God was going to bless such bullying tactics? So, instead of the continued, rapid growth of the “moderate” convention, the SBC has experienced a severe decline. Membership and attendance have dropped. Seminary enrollment gutted. Baptisms declining year after year. Yet, while the SBC declined, the Resurgent leaders enriched themselves personally and built monuments in their own honor on the denomination’s dime. I’ve spoken with seminary professors – professors who signed and agree with the BFM2000, professors who have strong character and Christian faith – who said he was an ungodly bully with whom they wanted nothing to do. Others pointedly refused to say what they thought of him. They feared telling the truth, but they also feared telling a lie before God. And that’s where we are. The denominational leadership fears the Resurgent leaders even while they loath their tactics and the damage they’ve caused. There are still very godly men and women in the convention trying to do Kingdom work while keeping their heads down. You people now have a God-given opportunity to be rid of these bullies once and for all. You see, eventually the history of these Resurgent leaders, who they are, what they did, and the tactics they used will be written by those in the future who no longer fear them. It’s all going to come out. At the same time, the question is going to be asked, “Why did the SBC allow this to happen?” Staying silent and keeping your head down is not going to cut it. People are going to notice that you knew the character and tactics of these men, knew how much damage they were causing the SBC and the Kingdom of God, and, even when they were exposed to the world, still refused to hold them accountable. Believe me, the world has barely tapped the surface of the corruption that lies beneath the façade of doctrinal purity. And, again, it’s all going to come out. And the longer they’re there the more the world is going to investigate. The secular press, who would love to see the Church and the SBC diminished, are going to start looking into things, and they won’t need to mischaracterize anything. So you better seize this opportunity while you have it or you are going to share in Resurgent leader’s ruin. Haven’t these men caused enough damage?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

John MacArthur Mischaracterizes N.T. Wright

At 3:16 MacArthur quotes N.T. Wright but conveniently leaves out some extremely important clarification ***at the center of the quote***.  Here is the actual quote in full:

I must stress again that the doctrine of justification by faith is not what Paul means by ‘the gospel’. It is implied by the gospel; when the gospel is proclaimed, people come to faith and so are regarded by God as members of his people. But ‘the gospel’ is not an account of how people get saved.”
N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, pp. 132–33

Now I’ve read this book and many others by Wright and listened to dozens of his lectures. I know exactly what Wright believes the Gospel to be and how he believes it saves. I also understood how even the edited quote given by MacArthur doesn’t contradict 1 Corinthians 15:1-2. But by leaving out Wright’s very important clarification, MacArthur mischaracterizes the argument for those unfamiliar with Wright. MacArthur is either being blatantly dishonest or profoundly ignorant. Given that he freely admits that he doesn’t understand Wright I will go with the option that MacArthur is profoundly ignorant of Wright’s theology.

Again, quite fine to critique Wright’s work (I do so on his views of penal substitution and the intermediate state), but before MacArthur gets into the pew and publicly criticizes Wright he better understand what he’s talking about.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Jesus and the “Harrowing of Hell”: An Interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-22

On the Saturday just before Easter, I spent much of the day studying 1 Peter 3:18-22. This study came while the Roman Catholic Church was still reeling over Pope Francis’ admission and subsequent retraction of his view that unbelievers do not go to “hell” when they die. This Catholic incident caused many Christian theologians, scholars, and bloggers to discuss the issue, and, particularly since it was close to Easter, the issue of the state of Jesus on the Saturday between his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. There are different traditions which speculate on what Jesus was doing or not doing that Saturday. Was he simply dead in the tomb, both body and spirit? Or did his spirit leave his body at death and go elsewhere? If the latter, then where did it go and what did it do?

One particular and often popular theory is that Jesus’ spirit descended into either “hell” or the realm of the dead and made some form of proclamation to the beings there. There are many different formulations to this theory, largely dependent upon the identity of the beings in this otherworldly realm. While I do not feel the need to analyze the various and sundry scripture verses used as evidence to construct the main idea of this theory, I did want to tackle the key passage of this theory: 1 Peter 3:18-22. This passage is the lynchpin holding the tradition of Jesus’ “Harrowing of Hell” together. All the other verses mentioned in this tradition are either used as evidence to buttress or elucidate the central interpretation of this passage.

Let me start off by saying that if this passage has been sorely misinterpreted (and it has) it’s only because this is a very difficult passage, one of the most difficult in the New Testament. Why is this so? Basically, in order to make his point, Peter delves into some pretty deep theology and is, perhaps, using some extra-biblical apocalyptic mythology to make that point.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned about this passage is its context within the overall purpose of Peter’s letter. The recipients are Christians living in Asia Minor (1:1) who are suffering under serious persecution (1:6; 2:4, 7, 11, 19; 3:13-14, 17; 4:4, 12-19; 5:10). Peter is attempting to encourage them on the one hand and give them wisdom on how to avoid persecution on the other (2:11-20; 3:1-13; 4:2).

In order to encourage, he likens them to stones being built into a holy house or temple (2:4-5). This is significant because the imagery of believers as a temple is common metaphor in the New Testament for the corporate nature of Christ, and the idea that all believers are summed up in Christ so that what can be said of him can be said of them. Allow me to quote myself:

We have the voluminous references to people being “in Christ” throughout the New Testament (Romans 8:2, 39; 12:5; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 30; 15:18, 22; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:4; 3:28; 6:15; Ephesians 1:3, 10, 12, 20). Indeed, the followers of Jesus - the Church itself - are frequently called the “body of Christ” (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 3:6; 5:23; Colossians 1:18, 24). Not only that, Christian believers as a group are referred to as a Temple (1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21). To put this altogether: believers are in Christ, they are the body of Christ, they are a Temple, Jesus is a Temple, and believers are a part of that Temple body.”

The corporate nature of Christ and the Church is a fundamental concept of theology and runs all the way through the New Testament, being based upon several ancient Hebrew concepts.

In the context of 1 Peter then, not only is Christ is our example (2:21-25; 3:18; 4:1), but, because we are incorporated into Christ, we share in his sufferings (4:13-14). Therefore, if the sufferings of Christ (1:11; 2:7, 21-24; 4:1; 5:1) lead to his glory (1:11, 21; 3:22; 4:13; 5:1, 4, 10) then our sufferings will also lead to glory in Christ (1:7-8; 2:5, 9-10; 4:13-14; 5:1, 4, 6, 10). Thus, the sufferings the recipients of the letter are currently experiencing will lead to glory in Christ.

Obviously, I’ve given a very brief summary, skipping over a lot of important detail that is a part of Peter’s argument. Yet, it is within this context that we have our particular passage.

“For Christ also suffered for the sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that he might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which he also went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison” (v. 18-19).

In verse 18, Peter describes the sufferings of Jesus unto death and THEN immediately his resurrection: made alive in the spirit. It was the power of the spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 1:4; 8:11). Peter then follows this with “in which also” (en hōi kai), meaning in the spirit. This sequence makes clear that whatever is happening is happening after Jesus’ resurrection but by the power of the same spirit that raised him from the dead. This means that whatever proclamation Christ is making he did so after his resurrection and not between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

If these two verses tell us what this passage is not saying, then what actually is it saying? Who or what are these spirits? They were once disobedient in the time before Noah (v. 20). Peter then uses Jesus’ proclamation to them to reference the story of Noah’s salvation (v. 20) as a metaphor for baptism (v. 21) which symbolizes the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (v. 21; see also Romans 6:3-7). Once again, we have the language of participation in Christ. Baptism symbolizes a believer’s participation in Christ, specifically participation in his death and resurrection.

Peter immediately follows this second reference to Jesus’ resurrection identifying him as one “who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities had been subjected to him” (v. 22).

I believe verse 22 is the key verse in helping us understand the meaning of this passage.

One of the central beliefs of Christianity is that God enthroned Jesus as King of the world, following his death and resurrection. Essentially, Jesus is currently ruling this world, sitting at the right hand of God (Mark 14:62; Matthew 22:44; 25:33-34; 26:64; Daniel 7:13; Acts 2:33; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; Revelation 3:21; Psalm 110). Having been made king over the world, all power and authority has been given to him (Matthew 28:18) and all powers and authorities have been subjected to him (Ephesians 1:20-22; Philippians 2:8-11; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Colossians 1:13; 2:10, 15; Jude 1:25; Revelation 2:26-27; 12:10; Matthew 9:8; 21:23; Mark 3:15; John 5:27; 17:2; Psalm 110).

This is what Peter is saying in verse 22. Following is death and resurrection, God enthroned Jesus as King and ruler of the world and then gave him power and authority over all other power and authority on earth. Ephesians 1:20-22 is another clear and compact example of this teaching.

Now what are these powers and authorities? Here we get into some very deep and complicated theology. Other than the Hebrew conception of corporate influence (of which this is closely related), there is probably nothing theologically deeper than the biblical conception of power relations which was more readily understood in the ancient world but which seems completely foreign to the contemporary post-Enlightenment worldview.

Notice how Peter refers to the subjugation of “angels and authorities” in verse 22. He does so because “angels” (aggelos) were considered a form of power alongside numerous others identified by such terms as archai, archontes, thronos, kyriotes, kyrios, dynameis, and exousia among others. Walter Wink has done immense work in analyzing the power terms of the Bible and they help us understand the interaction between the “spiritual” and the physical. Since a significant part of the book I am currently writing is an application of Wink’s theory of biblical power relations to ministry - specifically the church - allow me to quote myself.

“Wink proposes that ‘“principalities and powers” are the inner and outer aspects of any given manifestation of power. As the inner aspect they are the spirituality of institutions, the “within” of corporate structures and systems, the inner essence of outer organizations of power. As the outer aspect they are political systems, appointed officials, the “chair” of an organization, laws.’ He arrives at this conclusion by surveying and analyzing the whole range of New Testament usage of the language of Power with corroborating support from the contemporaneous literature. He concludes that the Biblical writers employed interchangeable terms of Power which can refer either to the visible or invisible aspects of any given manifestation of Power, or even both together, as the context required. The language employed indicates that, in the Biblical view, the Powers are both visible and invisible, both earthly and heavenly, both spiritual and institutional. Wink notes the following:

‘The clearest statement of this is Col. 1:16 which should have been made the standard for all discussions of the Powers: “For in him [the Son] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones (thronoi) or dominions (kyriotētes) or principalities (archai) or authorities (exousia) – all things were created through him and for him.” The parallelism of the Greek, ably rendered here by the RSV, indicates that these Powers are themselves both earthly and heavenly, visible and invisible.’

                “In this view, the Biblical thought is that there is a spirituality behind (or within) physical manifestations of power. Behind every ruler, behind every nation, behind every administrator, institution, church, and pastor, there is a spirituality at work. The Powers possess simultaneously both an outer, physical manifestation and an inner spiritual essence, or gestalt corporate culture, or collective personality. The spiritual Powers, specifically, then are not to be understood as separate ‘heavenly entities’ but as ‘the inner aspect of material or tangible manifestations of power’. … Every business, corporation, club, organization, school, government, denomination, and church has this combination of both outer and inner, visible and invisible, physical and spiritual. The Powers are both spiritual and institutional.

“Importantly, these Powers are not fundamentally bad but the good creation of a good God. However, all of them have fallen into corruption, having turned towards idolatry, becoming more or less evil in intent. It is when a Power turns towards idolatry, placing its own will above that of God’s, however consciously or unconsciously, that the Power becomes demonic. Thus, ‘demons’ are the psychic spiritual powers emanated by organizations, institutions, individuals or sub-aspects of individuals whose energies are bent on overpowering others in a radical rejection of and idolatrous estrangement from God.”

                This is why Peter includes angels, along with authorities and powers, as having been subjected to Christ at his enthronement following is death and resurrection. Angels, like demons, are the inner spirituality of a given manifestation of power. If all power in heaven and on earth, spiritual and physical, has been given to Jesus and all power has been subjected to him, then, naturally, angels have been subjected to him.

Now let’s go back to verse 19 of 1 Peter 3. What are these “spirits” in prison to whom Christ made some proclamation after his death and resurrection? Verse 22 suggests we should understand these spirits as referring to the inner manifestations of particular powers. These would have been powers that became disobedient, fell into corruption, turned towards idolatry, and became evil in intent.

What the proclamation entailed is somewhat uncertain. The context suggests it probably consisted of a declaration of Jesus’ victory on the cross and the disarmament of the powers. You can see this very idea in Colossians 2:9-15. In this passage, Paul speaks about the incorporation of believers in Christ in which they participate in his death and resurrection – symbolized in baptism (vv. 10-1) – and how the forgiveness of sins defeated the rulers and authorities. In doing so, Paul says that Christ “made a public display of them, having triumphed over them” (v. 15). I think the proclamation, like the public display and triumph, is a way of Christ’s victory over the corrupt, disobedient spiritual powers.

But these particular spiritual powers were in “prison” when Christ’s proclaimed his victory over the powers. What Peter means by “prison” (phulake) is a bit ambiguous. The word can mean “prison”, “guard”, “post”, or “hold”. Revelation refers to spiritual powers being in prison. In this apocalyptic and symbolic work, the prison (phulake) in 20:7 refers to the “abyss” where the Satan is bound. In the Gospel of Luke’s account of the Gerasene demonic (8:26-38; cf. Matthew 8:28-34 and Mark 5:1-20), the demons beg Jesus not to send them to the abyss when he exorcises them from the man (v. 31). A request Jesus grants. However, in Revelation 18:2, after the fall of “Babylon”, the place becomes a phulake for demons and unclean spirits. Again, this could mean prison or post. But if Peter is referring to these same spirits in 2 Peter 2:4 when he refers to angels being cast into “pits of darkness” (seirois zophou) and “consigned to Tartarus” (tararōsas) then perhaps prison is meant (see also Jude 1:6 and Enoch 20:2). This seems probable. These would then be disobedient spiritual powers during the events recorded in Genesis 6 that were somehow spiritually imprisoned. Of course, the Genesis account does not explicitly mention powers. The idea of disobedient angels imprisoned before the time of Noah comes from the non-canonical Book of Enoch (18:14-16). This is a mythological and apocalyptic book that gives a fictional and symbolic account of spiritual powers. It seems that Peter was speaking of a forgotten tradition using a literary reference in order to refer to Christ’s subjugation of the Powers. Why do so?

I believe that Peter, like Paul in Colossians 2:9-15, is attempting to connect the believers participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, symbolized in baptism (v. 21), with the subjugation of the powers that followed that death and resurrection. From 2 Peter 2:5, we know that Peter likes to use the story of Noah as an example. In verses 20-21 of our present passage, Peter speaks of Noah’s family being “brought safely through the water” and then says this corresponds with how baptism saves through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, having understood this passage this way, we can put Peter’s argument this way:

“You are suffering under persecution. But because you are believers participating in Christ, specifically through his death and resurrection, symbolized in baptism, then you share in his sufferings and he shares in yours. Jesus’ sufferings unto death led to his resurrection to glory. So shall your sufferings in Christ. Jesus’ resurrection into glory enthroned him and subjugated the powers of the world to him, including the ancient powers of the world. And just as in ancient times God saved Noah’s family from judgment through the waters, so God shall save you through the water of baptism which symbolizes participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which leads to glory and victory. So follow the example of Jesus Christ, being obedient to God’s will (1:2, 14, 22: 2:14-15, 20; 3:6, 17) which leads to a good conscience (2:19; 3:16, 21), not disobedient which leads to judgment (2:8; 3:1, 20; 4:17), so you patiently bear under unjust persecution and find favor with God (2:19-20).”

                I think this interpretation makes sense of this very difficult passage.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-55): A Brief Commentary

For the past two weeks I have been reading Isaiah 40-55 as a devotion. I wrote down my thoughts as I read.

Second Isaiah is breathtakingly amazing. It is an epic work of triumphant Yahweh. It's the unfolding of the plan to rescue creation. It is SO very important for how Jesus, Paul, and the early NT writers understood how God was fulfilling the promise to Abraham and rescuing creation through Jesus. You are really missing out on the meaning of Christianity if you don't understand this connection.

40:3 (Mark echoes it in his gospel 1:3). This is good news. The coming of Yahweh to his people. The Coming of Yahweh indicates that sins have been forgiven (40:2).

40:12-31. Clear statement of monotheism. Yahweh is the creator. Empires and nations come and go and are reduced to futility, but God endures forever. Yet, he is involved in history (vv. 23-24) and looks after those who hope in him (vv. 29-31).

Side note: Chapter 40 appears prominently in the film Chariots of Fire.
Side note: 40-41: I wonder if the author of Job 38-41 was inspired by these chapters.

41:2. Yahweh raises up Cyrus as the means of continuing the covenant. Cyrus' personal success is due to God's utility. Kings, nations, and empires are falling by the wayside of history, returning to dust, but Israel, the family of Abraham, remains. But only because their god is the creator God who is faithful to his covenant.

41:8-9. More on the covenant. Israel is the family of Abraham. They have been called to serve Yahweh. God has not rejected them despite their sin. Here the Servant is corporate Israel as a unified figure. Monotheism and election here.

Kings, nations, and empires are falling by the wayside of history, returning to dust, but Israel, the family of Abraham, remains. But only because their god is the creator God who is faithful to his covenant.

42. The first Servant Song. A chosen one. The spirit rests upon him. Non-violent figure. He will be faithful to the covenant. He will establish justice upon the whole earth, not just in Israel.

42:5-9. The creator god has called the Servant for the purpose of the covenant. He has made him a covenant. He is to be a light and redeemer to the world that is imprisoned within the darkness of powers of idolatry and false gods.

42:18-25. Yet the Servant (clearly Israel here) is blind to the truth and the reality of God's plans in history. Yahweh wished to be faithful to covenant and spread blessings, but Israel proved faithless. Instead, judgment came upon them.

43:1-7. But Yahweh still loves his people and will not leave them. He will bring the children of Israel together from around the world.

43:8-13. Israel is the proof and witness to the nations that Yahweh is the almighty creator God.

43:14-28. Yahweh destroys Babylon for the sake of Israel. A new Exodus is taking place. While Israel proved by their cultic practices that they did not honor their god, Yahweh will forgive their sins anyway for his purposes. Israel faced the cherem but was redeemed.

44:1-8. Yahweh, the creator god, who chose Israel, will renew his people like he will renew the land. The saving/renewal power of Yahweh will result in the nations wanting to become his followers and his people.

44:9-20. A polemic against idolatry. A brutal satire on the absurdity and futility of it. Sarcasm and ridicule. Swiftian. The idolater is one who is spiritually blind. He is led astray be a deluded mind. See the works of Walter Wink for connection between idolatry and delusion.

44:24-28. Again, Yahweh is the Lord of History. His ways confound the prognosticators yet sends interpretive words to his prophets. He determines the course of events. In this way, he had called Cyrus for his purposes to decree the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

45:1-13. The creator god uses the pagan Cyrus for his purposes, for his chosen people, for the covenant in order that Yahweh's name can be known throughout the world. Yahweh goes before Cyrus' armies (much like the Ark of the Covenant went before Israel's). Creation and history are continually being intertwined in these chapters. Yahweh is lord over both. He is bringing Israel out of physical exile, being faithful to the covenant, in order to bless the entire world.

45:14-25. The prophet predicts a religious conquest of the world. Yahweh is inviting all nations of the earth to share in the salvation of Israel. This is God's faithfulness to his covenant. But woe to the idolaters!

46:1-13. False gods are falling. Their idols lead only into captivity and exile. This is the state of the idolatrous. Yet, while people carry the idols of their false gods, Yahweh will carry his people. Deliverance is coming. Yahweh will establish his victory.

47:1-15. An oracle against Babylon about to meet its fall by Cyrus.

48:1-22. Israel has been unfaithful to Yahweh and his covenant, yet God has been patient for his own purposes. He has revealed the truth throughout Israel's history and will continue to do so. Yet Israel refuses to listen, Yet, liberation and restoration are in store. Yahweh is not governed by the conduct of Israel. The purpose of the punishments against Israel is to make it what election and covenant destined Israel to be. Yahweh notes the promise of offspring as numerous as the sand on the seashore (v. 19). This is a reference to the covenantal promise God gave to the patriarchs (Genesis 22:17; 32:12; cf. 15:5). Yahweh is saying that there is a historical purpose for the election of Israel and the covenant - to bless the nations. Israel has been faithless to that purpose, but God is going to honor the covenant for his purposes.

49:1-6. The Second Servant Song. Identity of the servant in some doubt among scholars. Possibly Israel. Possibly another figure whose identity fluctuates between himself and Israel. This servant will renew Israel and be used to bring salvation to the world. The mission of the servant to restore Israel but this is the lesser part of the mission. The fuller mission is a restoration of the world.

‏49:7-13. Again, the covenant for Israel is a medium for which Yahweh's revelation and salvation reach all nations. The powers of the world will bow before God.

49:14-26; 50:1-3. Some theodicy here. Israel is in despair over their circumstances. However, Yahweh has not forgotten Israel. He remains faithful. He has power over the nations and rulers of this world and they bend to his will. His power to destroy shows his power to build.

50:4-9. Third Servant Song. A prophetic figure. His mission grows more difficult, yet he won't respond to violence with violence or to insult with insult. Instead, Yahweh will vindicate the servant. The language is legal. The servant will be justified, declared righteous.

‏50:10-11. But those who do not hearken to the voice of the servant will not share in his vindication. You will not be justified, declared righteous.

51:1-23. Reference to the call of Abraham (v. 2), the Garden of Eden (v. 3), and the Exodus (v. 10). Possibly a reference to mythological incident and the blended imagery of creation and exodus against chaos (v. 9). Yahweh promises judgment, victory, deliverance, salvation to all the nations (vv. 4-8). Yahweh, the creator, promises to free the oppressed from the oppressor (v. 13-16)

52:1-12. A messenger brings Good News of peace and salvation. He announces the Kingdom of God (v. 7). Yahweh is returning to Zion (v. 8). The ends of the earth shall see salvation (v. 10).

52:13-15; 53:1-12. The Fourth Servant Song. The Servant is exalted but there is nothing to commend him. He has no beauty or attractiveness. A low, humble person. He bore people’s diseases and pain. Because of it, people thought him afflicted by God. He was wounded and crushed. A victim of a legal injustice. He is killed. Yahweh brings transgressions upon him so that his plan may succeed. The curse of the people come upon him. Yet, he is innocent. Despite death, he will experience long life. He is delivered from death. And he will deliver many. His is an atoning death. This is a saving act that is going to astonish the powers of the world. The suffering of the righteous becomes the medium of salvation.

54:1-17. The ancient sins of Israel are referred to. Israel is likened to an unfaithful wife. However, what might have been a divorce was merely a temporary separation. Now reconciliation has begun. This recalls the theology of Hosea. The reference to the barrenness of the wife (v. 1) recalls Sarah and the promise recalls Abraham (vv. 3, 10). There is also references to unbreakable covenants (vv. 9-10). The vision of the enduring Jerusalem approaches the eschatological. It is a community of the redeemed.

55:1-13. Yahweh invites everyone to eat and drink. Food and drink that will make people live. An eternal covenant will be made. The covenant will be made out of God’s love for David (possibly a reference to 2 Samuel 7:11-16 and Psalm 89). He will be a witness, a prince, a ruler of people. Those who don’t even know him will run to him. There is a call to everyone to come to Yahweh. Seek God, seek forgiveness. The creator god’s thoughts are beyond humanities. His saving purposes can grasped, but not its scope. Yahweh sends his Word out. The externalization of his person. It shall not come back unfulfilled. It will accomplish its mission. Instead of thorns and thistles, trees, bushes, and flowers will grow. A reversal of the curse of Eden.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Recommended Religious Reading List

Here is a recommended religious reading list:

*Top Ten in Bold

Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Transforming Mission – David Bosch
Dogmatics (vols. 1 and 2) – Emil Brunner
I and Thou – Martin Buber
The Book of Daniel (ABC) – Alexander A. Di Lella and Louis F. Hartman
The Message of Genesis – Ralph Elliott
Christian Theology – Millard Erickson
Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally – David Hesselgrave
Untamed: Reactivating a Missional Form of Discipleship - Alan Hirsch and Debra Hirsch
The One and the Many in the Israelite Conception of God - Aubrey Johnson
The Vitality of the Individual in the Thought of Ancient Israel - Aubrey Johnson
The Concept of Anxiety – Soren Kierkegaard
Concluding Unscientific Postscript - Soren Kierkegaard
Either/Or – Soren Kierkegaard
Fear and Trembling – Soren Kierkegaard
Philosophical Fragments – Soren Kierkegaard
Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Soren Kierkegaard 
Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis
The Baptist Heritage – Leon McBeth
Apostasy – Dale Moody
Word of Truth – Dale Moody
The Axioms of Religion – E.Y. Mullins
The Christian Religion in its Doctrinal Expression – E.Y. Mullins
Message and Mission – Eugene Nida
Customs and Culture – Eugene Nida
Nature and Destiny of Man – Reinhold Niebuhr
A Literary Approach to the New Testament – John Paul Pritchard
Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. I-VI – A.T. Robertson
Corporate Personality in Ancient Israel – H. Wheeler Robinson
Understanding Genesis – Nahum Sarna
New Testament Theology - Frank Stagg
The Polarities of Human Existence in Biblical Perspective – Frank Stagg
Can We Do That? – Andy Stanley and Ed Young
AquaChurch – Leonard Sweet
Soul Tsunami – Leonard Sweet
Blinded by Might – Carl Thomas and Ed Dobson
The Powers Trilogy - Walter Wink
The Challenge of Jesus - N.T. Wright
The Day the Revolution Began - N.T. Wright
How God Became King - N.T. Wright
Jesus and the Victory of God - N.T. Wright
Justification – N.T. Wright
The New Testament and the People of God – N.T. Wright
Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright
The Resurrection of the Son of God - N.T. Wright
The Creative Leader - Ed Young