In Response to “A Letter To Christians In Indiana, [supposedly] From Jesus”

It is absolutely vital, particularly in this day and age, that we read the Scriptures as the connected whole they comprise. If we seek to be “red-letter” Christians we make a critical error, for Jesus’ words were not the new manifesto for how now to live, but an example of perfectly and faithfully living out what we—rather unfortunately—call the Old Testament.

If we presume the Gospels portray a comprehensive example of how we are to live, we make the same mistake as the people of the Gospel’s era: mistaking Jesus’ mission and purpose for that time. He was not there as conquering King, but as suffering servant. This did not mean that he is not the Sovereign of the world; did not mean that he doesn’t have a plan for civil justice. Rather, in the Torah God had already demonstrated how His word/character was comprehensively worked out in every arena of life, and Jesus exemplified living perfectly as an individual who faithfully kept every single jot and tittle of God’s law. But in his time on earth, he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful civil servant, he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful voting citizen (he lived in an occupied land), he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful father, etc. But, he did demonstrate how to be a faithful servant, and how to love your neighbor.

We need to pay greater attention to how he loved his neighbor(s). For some reason, we note that he defended the woman caught in adultery from injustice (note: she was caught in the act, but then, where was the man?), yet he also told her, “Go and sin no more.” Note that Jesus did not break God’s law (the law required the testimony of two or three witnesses to convict, and furthermore required a valid court to hear the case), rather he upheld the law’s requirements and prevented a perversion of justice (which is defined and described by God’s law).

Note that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners—who were seeking salvation and the truth. What was his response to those who self-righteously thought they were fine as they were? “You brood of vipers,” etc. Or to one who was unwilling to change? In what context did Jesus confront the rich young ruler? Mark 10:21 reveals how love really works: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him…” and proceeded to deliver a command to change; a command Jesus knew would highlight the young man’s unwillingness to repent.

The fact that we do not have in the earthly life of Christ an example of a faithful citizen, nor of a faithful father, nor of a godly judge, nor of a righteous politician, does not mean that we are left without instruction. The character of God is described in detail by His law as expressed in application from Genesis to Revelation, and exemplified in limited but personal humanity by the life of Christ in the four Gospels. It is our task to wrestle with how to pull these instructions for life into our time and place. This is no easy task, but it will never mean failing to exercise our God-given responsibility to work for justice—as biblically defined—in the nation where we live.

Certainly, we should be known by our love—but love is defined, not by the society around us, but by the character of God as described in the law and exemplified (partially) by the life of Christ. Love is compassionate, but it always works for the good of the loved one, even if that is not what the loved one wants. There is such a thing as unsanctified mercy, and lying to someone about the consequences of their lifestyle choices certainly qualifies.

Why is it that we highlight (and misunderstand) many of Christ’s actions, but fail to weigh his other statements? Perhaps it is because we are not committing ourselves to wrestle with the totality of Jesus’ message.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household (and denomination). Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

What are we to take from this? The truth, though delivered in love, will often drive the unrepentant away. This does not mean we should modify the truth to accommodate their sin, for to do so is not loving. To unjustly infringe on actual rights in order to gratify the unjustly claimed false rights of unrepentant sinners is not to imitate Jesus. Rather, if Jesus were a citizen of the United States of America he would both work for justice in legal structure, and minister to the brokenness of individual neighbors.

It is not contradictory to lobby for a just law which prohibits or restricts the practice of sin (or protects the rights of all not to participate in, encourage, or bless sin) and at the same time invite a sinner over for dinner, or out for coffee, or to live in your home. Both should be happening. I know this is possible because both have been occurring in my life for the last 20 years.

What Was the Sin of Sodom?

Micah, I’m so glad you brought this point up, as it is little understood these days, and in desperate need of correction. If you don’t mind, I’m going to address your second point first, and then move to your first in a second comment.

You are essentially making a plea for precision as we identify what the Bible says. This presupposes the Bible as an authority, a position we are in agreement on. So…let’s be precise.

I would like to state out of the gate that I agree, the sin of Sodom included arrogance, abundance without gratitude, and a failure to help the needy. We are rightfully indicted by the destruction of Sodom when we see these same sins in our hearts and lives.

The more salient point here, however, is that the failure to confront these sins led to a state of sinfulness in Sodom so great that, “the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man” wanted to rape the angelic visitors. This is simply a fact, plainly stated by Scripture. That fact is included in the Ezekiel passage, but listed at the end of the list of what God has against Sodom as “They were haughty and did an abomination before me.” (You may note in a few moments, how this language corresponds with language from 2 Peter.)

What concerns me is that our knowledge of the Bible and of God’s perspective is so deficient that we are being deceived by antichrist activists into believing that it was for inhospitality and not sexual deviance that God judged Sodom.

The Bible consistently portrays some sins as so egregious as to provoke God to judgement; as so beyond the pale that God actually permits the natural order to be overturned that people might receive the penalty of their sins in themselves and in their society. Wilson speaks to this below from another article,

When Ezekiel mentions the sin of Sodom in an aside, many conservative Christians might be surprised at where he starts. Sodom was a degraded city, and they had gotten to the point where the rape of visitors was something that a number of people thought should be allowed in the public square. But how did they get there?

This was the sin of Sodom—pride, fullness of bread, abundance of idleness, neglect of the poor, haughtiness, and abominations. At the end of that list we find what caused Sodom to become a household word. But consider what went before, and ask yourself how America got to the place where the folly from our federal courts is taken even halfway seriously.

But does the Bible explicitly indicate that the sin of Sodom was of a sexual nature? It does. St. Peter writes that Lot was greatly distressed by the “sensual conduct of the wicked,” and that those will be judged “especially” who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.” (2 Peter 2:7-10 ESV)

I draw your attention to the connection between despising authority and engaging in defiling passion as that point deserves an article of its own. However, I also want to point out that this verse does not contradict Ezekiel 16:49-50. The primary point here is that when men cast off God’s instruction they lose clarity of sight (Prov 29:18), when men despise authority they end up defiling themselves, when men fail to give God their gratitude they become idolators (Deut 8:10-14, 17-19). When men fail to confront being arrogant, overfed and unconcerned, they end up committing penultimately despicable behaviors. Behaviors so obviously against God, against nature, and against reason that it should be obvious to all, whether believer or not, but both in Sodom and now, we live in a time where even Christians don’t recognize that the horrific wickedness we read about in Scripture is happening in our midst and we are cooperating in excusing it!

I am sickened to my soul, not in disgust but in despair, when I see that many priests and pastors do not even understand these things. We have claimed Israel’s blessings as our own, and are now re-committing their errors, and are now receiving the same judgements as did they. Isaiah 1:1-23 describes where we are heading in America. And so, for that matter, does Ezekiel 16…read that chapter from the beginning.

Wilson correctly points out,

Why are men sexually attracted to other men? It is the judgment of God upon our culture because we would not honor God as God and would not give Him thanks. Therefore God has given men over to the downward spiral of their renegade lusts fueled by father hunger.

Pondering a Three-fold Division of God’s Law

From our brief survey, we conclude that any suggestion that … Christ rejects certain Mosaic laws as unauthoritative is quite groundless. What He is doing is simply exhibiting the true meaning of the law as a rule for life in the kingdom of God.

Nor can we fairly treat the words by which (according to Mark’s later interpretative comment) Christ ‘declared all food clean’ as implying that He rejected the Old Testament food-law as uninspired and unauthoritative. The subject about which He was speaking was not, after all, food, but defilement; and what He was saying about defilement was that the thing that makes a man unclean in God’s sight is not what he eats, but what comes out of his heart. This only shows that our Lord saw that the uncleanness with which the food-laws dealt was merely ceremonial, not moral or spiritual. It typified the real defilement of sin, but was not to be equated with it. That it was God who had instituted the food-law, presumably to be a constant reminder to His people of the reality of spiritual defilement, Christ was not denying in the least. The effect of His statement was thus to interpret the food-law, and throw light on its real significance, but not in any way to impugn its divine origin, or its binding authority over Himself and His fellow-Israelites.

It seems, then, that all the problem passages in which Christ appears to cast doubt on the inspiration and authority of parts of the Mosaic legislation can be explained, and, indeed, demand to be explained, in a way that is entirely consistent with Christ’s assertion that no jot or tittle should ever pass from the law. Christ knew, of course, that the civil and ritual part of the law, which had been given specifically for the ordering of Israel’s national life in Palestine until Christ should come, would soon cease to apply, when the Israelite state passed away. But when He spoke of the perpetuity of the law, what He had in mind was the moral law, which in different ways both the civil and ritual law had subserved. This, He maintained, was an abidingly authoritative word from the Lord, which, in the final form and application which He Himself had given it, would stand for ever as the law of God for His own people.[1]

I agree with Packer that all the New Testament passages which seem to cast doubt on parts of the Mosaic legislation can be explained, and demand to be explained; I don’t always agree with him on how they should be explained… and I view that difference as being a result of the consequences of the re-planting of the Jewish people in their homeland, and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls—two factors which have radically impacted how the Church reads (and how accurately we are able to read) the New Testament.

Also, I struggle with, on the one hand, but agree with on the other hand, the categorization of the law into moral, ceremonial and civil. I think Packer and most other Reformed scholars misunderstand how Christ/the Bible see the ceremonial aspects of the Law, and this causes a weakness in our theology of sanctification. However, we do not thus lose so critical a linchpin as when we reject the abiding prescriptive force of Old Testament law as being the foundation of New Testament explication, amplification and application.

For example, having lost their moral foundation, the zeitgeist of contemporary Christianity is moving in the direction of concluding that just as Christ explicitly overturned the food laws (a mistaken presumption), by not mentioning homosexuality he implicitly condoned monogamous, committed same-sex relationships.  In the same vein, we must ask: upon what coherent basis does your theological reading of Scripture account for the abiding prohibition of bestiality or a fiat monetary system? If it cannot do so (and no perspective of discontinuity can) then we have a serious problem on our hands, a problem well highlighted by our current circumstances within both secular culture and the Western Church.

As it relates to the tri-fold division of the law, I think it is accurate to speak of a ceremonial, civil and moral categorization of the laws on an observational basis—meaning, one can’t deny that some instructions pertain to clearly ethical/behavioral issues, and others clearly pertain to the conduct of worship, while others clearly pertain to the theocratic judicial system.

Unfortunately, we often move from an observational analysis to thinking of the law as if it was conceived of in a three-part manner. As if God gave us a ceremonial law, a civil law and a moral law. Rather, the truth is (as the dispensationalist protests), the Mosaic law was delivered as a unified whole. This thinking leads us to thinking/behaving as if the ceremonial no longer
applies, etc.  This is where we get in trouble.  The reason the ceremonial laws are no longer practiced is not because they’ve been superseded in Christ, but because it would be unlawful to do so.

Let’s take the biblical festivals as an example. The Spring feasts point to events in the course of redemptive history that have already happened: Passover=Redemption, First Fruits=Resurrection, and Pentecost=Revelation. The Fall Feasts, on the other hand, point to parts of redemptive history that have not yet been witnessed: Trumpets=Return, Atonement=Glorification, Tabernacles=God dwelling with man, the marriage feast of the lamb, the inauguration of the world to come. By observing the primitive Church in Acts and the 1st century we see that they did not stop celebrating these festivals, or stop the Spring feasts but continue the Fall feasts.

Unfortunately, however, due to our separation from our Jewish Roots and the onset of supersessionism as a theological perspective, much of the Church has come to believe that fulfillment equates to uselessness. Nothing could be further from the truth; when Christ is revealing to his disciples that he is about to fill Passover full (a useful way to more accurately think of “fulfill”) by becoming their sacrificial lamb, his words to them were the opposite of stop: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

In other words, Passover is clearly a ceremonial instruction, but Jesus didn’t introduce its cessation, he filled its significance full that it might becomes so much more to us than just a remembrance of our rescue from Egypt and from the hand of the death angel.

The Churches of the Reformation from the very beginning distinguished between the law and the gospel as the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace. This distinction was not understood to be identical with that between the Old and the New Testament, but was regarded as a distinction that applies to both Testaments. There is law and gospel in the Old Testament, and there is law and gospel in the New. The law comprises everything in Scripture which is a revelation of God’s will in the form of command or prohibition, while the gospel embraces everything, whether it be in the Old Testament or in the New, that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus. And each one of these two parts has its own proper function in the economy of grace. … Both are subservient to the same end, and both are indispensable parts of the means of grace. This truth has not always been sufficiently recognized. The condemning aspect of the law has sometimes been stressed at the expense of its character as a part of the means of grace. Ever since the days of Marcion there have always been some who saw only contrast between the law and the gospel and proceeded on the assumption that the one excluded the other.”[2]

[1] J.I. Packer, “Our Lord’s Understanding of the Law of God.” The Campbell Morgan Memorial Bible Lectureship. No. 14, 1962. Published on-line at

[2] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 612.

Discerning God’s Will

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.  Romans 1:13

In A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah, J.I. Packer suggests there are four factors that ordinarily ought to be taken into account when trying to discern God’s will about one’s proper place or task. The four factors are: the biblical, the pneumatic, the body, and the opportunity.

“The biblical factor is basic, in the sense that God never leads us to transgress any scriptural boundaries, and if we think we are being so led we need someone with a Bible in his hand to tell us we are deluded.”[1] The Bible tells us in general terms what is and is not worth doing, what sorts of actions God encourages and what sorts he forbids. In so doing, God says to us, in effect, within these limits, in pursuit of these goals, in observance of these priorities, you will find both the nature and the place of your ministry.

The second factor is pneumatic, meaning both the God-given desires of the spiritually renewed heart, in addition to any particular nudges the Holy Spirit may give, or any special burdens he may lay on our heart(s) over and above the general desires of a disciple pursuing the imitation of Messiah. Packer reminds us that this area is one of frequent self-deception, where mistakes are often made. The classic reference to this kind of guidance is Acts 16:6-8 where Paul is prevented from taking the Gospel into Asia, and then responds to the vision of the Macedonian man.

Packer warns us, “Christians vary, in this as in every previous age, as to how much or how little of this nudging they experience (and no sure reason can be given for the variance, save God’s good pleasure); but it would be perverse either for those who know more of it to treat as unspiritual those who confessedly know less of it, or for those who know less of it to treat as self-deceived those who claim to know more of it…. We may not ourselves often be guided by this kind of inner nudge—few of us, I think, are; but to discourage Christians from being open to it, as has sometimes been done, is radically Spirit-quenching.”[2]

Third comes the body factor: that is, the discipline of submitting such leading as we believe ourselves to have received to a cross-section of the Body of Christ in its local presence. Because there is such a danger of self-deception in the realm of the pneumatic, this is a sensible precaution and biblical guideline consistent with Proverb 15:22 (and 11:14), “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

The fourth and final factor is that of opportunity. If none of the previous three factors eliminate a particular goal we are pondering then we are left with the fact that we serve the God of providence, and if He is truly calling us to a particular place or task than He will overrule our situation so we might find ourselves able to pursue His leading. If, on the other hand, circumstances make such a move impossible, the right conclusion is that while God indeed has a plan for us, it is not in what or where we originally thought. As we see in Nehemiah’s life as well in St. Paul’s, the final confirmation that God had ordained a particular task or journey was that in quite unpredictable ways the opportunities were provided.

Let us then expect any goal that is God inspired to be consistent with His revelation in scripture, persistent in its nudging our spirit, blessed by others in His body, and made possible through evidence of divine intervention.

Reflect: When God calls me, he makes it possible for me to move in the direction he is leading.

[1] J. I. Packer, A Passion for Faithfulness : Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1995). 55.

[2] Ibid, 55-56.

The Faith of Jesus vs. Faith in Jesus

I recently read an essay by David Flusser that I had not previously been familiar with; perhaps I had read it before, but for some reason it never struck me till now. Flusser writes,

“This scholarly digression has been necessary in order for us to arrive at an understanding of the dual nature of the Christian religion, which comprises both Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus. The first aspect, that of Jesus’ faith, consists of the tenets of Christian love and ethics. These were a special development of the new Jewish ethical sensitivity that developed in the period of the Second Commonwealth, and while this aspect of Christian behavior and feeling stems primarily from Jesus’ own preaching, it was also influenced by contemporary Jewish ethics and theology. The latter aspect of the Christian religion centers around what is known as the charisma of Christ. The primary motifs of Christian messianism and Christology are also derived mainly from Judaism, and I would venture that their point of departure lay in the acute self-awareness of Jesus himself. As already stated, this latter belief in the metahistorical drama of Christ and especially in the idea of redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection became the cornerstone of Christian religious experience and until very recently was a kind of conditio sine qua non for calling oneself a Christian.”[1]

I agree with Flusser that both Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus derive from (and indeed, remain) Jewish thought. I also believe, however, that it is a unique requirement of post-Yavneh Judaism to view Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus as separate, and that Christian thought is correct in viewing them as rightly composite. Similarly, healthy Christian thought ought to view both the faith of and faith in Jesus as being essentially Jewish in nature. It is the truth, however, that redemption is through Christ’s death and resurrection, and this is a cornerstone of True Religion that at this point, Christianity uniquely holds vis-à-vis contemporary Judaism.

As Flusser rightly concludes:

“By its very nature, moreover, Christianity cannot really renounce offering its salvation to all [Jew as well as Gentile].”[2]

This observation follows faithfully in the footsteps of the Apostles, who felt it urgent to inform their Jewish brethren regarding the identity and the redemptive action of Yeshua mi Natzeret.

Flusser also rightly observes, though this is MUCH more difficult to digest and to parse without falling off the precipice of supersessionism: “The authentic Christian interpretation of itself is that it is the true religion of Israel and that without faith in Christ no one can be redeemed….” (65). Of course, this conclusion is further complicated by Christianity’s large scale rejection of Torah (and in many circles of Israel herself). But we must wrestle with two equal and polar truths: theologically speaking (emphasizing its focus on Christology) Christianity is true, while theonomically[3] speaking Judaism is true.

Said another way, while we cannot conclude that God has two paths to salvation, we may truly state that Christianity can authentically declare to all, “You need the Savior,” while Judaism might with equal authenticity declare to all, “You need the Torah (way of life).”

It is these two parallel truths that grip me much more powerfully than any emphasis on distinction within the utilization of Torah, precisely because they are of primary importance. In other words, it is part of accepting Yeshua as Messiah to acknowledge that He is fully God and fully man, while it is also part of accepting Torah as prescriptive to acknowledge that the Torah contains within it distinctive commands relative to gender, ethnicity, time and place.

There are two great propositional battles in our day (there may be more, but these two have captured my attention), one within Christianity and one within Judaism. We must articulate a cogent reading of Scripture that at the same time acknowledges the Redemptive nature and necessity of Jesus Christ, and avoids supersessionism and anti-nomianism. Stereotypical Judaism denies the divine nature and requisite redemptive action of Messiah, while too much of Christianity denies the requisite relevance of Israel in the on-going redemptive plan of God and ignores the continuing necessity of God’s law in the process of sanctification.

It is clear that in our time the Holy Spirit is placing these two concerns upon the hearts of many believers. Unfortunately, to date the believers so energized have often split into various camps frequently equally critical of one another. All seem aware of both propositional battles, but emphasize varying approaches.

I wish that we could all begin by acknowledging our unity: we are one Body in Messiah, and He is both fully God and fully man. Furthermore, He did not come to replace God’s Law as delivered from Sinai, but to explain, apply, and fulfill its righteous demand. God’s Law then, remains prescriptive for all God’s children and in fine Jewish tradition, let’s allow it to be interpreted and applied variously across time, place, denominational and ethnic lines as the Holy Spirit seems to permit.

I’m sure, we will variously disagree on the manner of its application, but if we can agree on the divine identity and redemptive necessity of Messiah, as well as on the continuing necessity of the Law for the progressive sanctification of the believer, as being pivotal truths, I believe we will observe a wave of unity that will push before it a consistency in character and application not seen among the Body of Messiah since the first century of this era, which will in turn result in a similarly unprecedented lifting of the partial hardening that has been upon God’s Chosen People since the days of the Apostles.

My argument is this: unitatem in necessariis; in non necessariis libertatem; in omnibus caritatem – in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.[4] In other words, unity and peace require an agreement upon Truth, but secondary things like halakah (way of walking out God’s commands), can be left in the hands of the local inheritors of the authority of the Apostles to bind and loose, so long as the essentials are maintained.

I believe that any de-emphasis of the need of all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile to:

  1. believe in the divine nature and redemptive action of Jesus of Nazareth, and
  2. obey God’s law since it continues to be “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness”

will unnecessarily sacrifice essentials for sake of non-essentials and obstruct the Unity of the Body of Messiah.

[1] David Flusser. “Christianity,” in 20th Century Jewish Religious Thought: Original Essays on Critical Concepts, Movements, and Beliefs, ed. Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 2009), 61 (this quote from p. 63).

[2] Ibid. 65.

[3] For deeper discussion of theology vs. theonomy see

[4] Often mis-attributed to Augustine of Hippo, Richard Baxter (who widely distributed it among English-speakers), or Philip Melanchthon, this phrase is first found in the writings of Marco Antonio de Dominis (1560-1624), Archbishop of Split, in book 4, chapter 8 (p. 676 of the first volume) of his De republica ecclesiastica libri X (London, 1617).

Reading Scripture

A critical element of the faithful reading of Scripture is a due regard for its unity and coherence. The practice of comparing Scripture with Scripture guards against fragmentary readings which frequently misuse individual texts. Biblical theology – the study of the unfolding nature of God’s revelation in salvation history, which highlights the relationship of each part of the Bible to its centre in the person, words and work of Jesus Christ – is immensely valuable in this regard. It expresses the conviction that Scripture is its own interpreter, that one of the most important resources God has given us to understand any part of the bible is the whole Bible. Faithful Christian doctrine and ethics rely upon both an explicit appeal to biblical texts, and an understanding of how those texts fit within the message of the Bible as a whole. This is also the commitment which lies behind the statement in Article XX of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion: ‘And yet is is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another’.  – Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today, p 127

Clean or Down the Drain?

Many students of  Scripture consider Mark 7:19 to be a slam dunk indicating that God considers all food clean and available for eating. Rabbi Dr. John Fischer provided the most succinct analysis of Mark 7:19 that I’ve ever encountered. This is significant because analyzing the passage can be a very complicated exercise.

His article “Jesus Through Jewish Eyes” is excellent it’s entirety, but the Appendix “Are All Foods Clean? or Down the Drain!” can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the page.

A Strictly Literal Rendering of Mark 7:19

"…because it enters not of him into the heart but into the belly, and into the drain goes out, purging all the food."

Contextual Analysis of Mark 7:19

1.  "Food" by definition in Yeshua’s context is only what is kosher!

2. The context of this text deals with hand-washing not eating food or what is kosher.

3. The point of the passage (as emphasized by Mt. 15:20b) is "eating with unwashed hands—not eating non-kosher food—does not make a person unclean."

How do you read Scripture?

Can we read the Scriptures in such a way as to understand the people of God’s story, not solely as history might record it, but as God would want us to remember it and learn from it? Would we be better off to describe the faith of God’s people, not as the First Testament or archaeology record it, but as the Scriptures reckon it should have been and should be? What if we aimed to live life, not as it was actually lived by the people of God over the centuries, but as the Scriptures describe it should or could have been and should and could actually be lived?

I live according to the unlikely conviction and perhaps improbable reality that the Scriptures are designed to inform a vision for the people of God in the twenty-first (and every other) century. [1]

[1] This musing was prompted by and is actually a re-working of the opening paragraph of John Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, Volume 3: Israel’s Life (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 13.

Repent is a Compound Word

Though Jesus delivers the Gospel in several ways and on multiple occasions, for some reason we often tend to think of His message as the one time it is recorded in Mark 1:15,

Repent and believe in the gospel.

Jesus more often says “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” or simply, “Repent, lest you perish.” But let’s go with “Repent and believe” for a moment, shall we?

My wife mentioned something this afternoon that struck me. How often have we heard sermons urging us to repent, but has it ever occurred to you that they seldom, if ever, urge us to something…only from something—from sin.

So we jaunt through life under the impression that the Gospel is a 2-step process:

  1. Repent, and
  2. Believe.

It’s a remarkably convenient way to think about it. Aye; for if the culmination of our action, repentance, is to simply believe, than we’ve done the hard part; we’ve turned from sin and now we simply change our minds, and life moves on, jolly well a lot like it was before we changed our minds.

But “repent” is a compound word.

The first part of repent is to turn from something, but the second part is to turn toward its replacement. You are running away from the ways of the kingdom of darkness and turning around and now running toward the ways of the kingdom of light.

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.  (Romans 6:19)

From: “My son, do not forget my teaching,”

To: “but let your heart keep my commandments”

To: “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.”

To: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart

From: “and do not lean on your own understanding.”

To: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

From: “Be not wise in your own eyes;

To: “fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. (note that it doesn’t stop there)

To: Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce;”

Conclusion: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. … do not lose sight of these– keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble.” (Proverbs 3:1-23 ESV)

Why do we shrink away from urging one another all the more toward love and good deeds? (Hebrews 10:24)? After all, the good works, the commandments of the Lord that the Psalmist so passionately loved, that we are urged to meditate upon day and night, are the very things that we were created for!

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

Let’s stop cutting our sermons in half! Let’s recall that repentance is a two-part process, and let’s start calling people from sin and to godliness!

Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort! Shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? God forbid! Make yourself a slave to righteousness; it’s your destiny.

Perhaps we ought to stop feeling satisfied that we’re struggling to walk away from sin, and start feeling desperate about the reality that we’re not consumed with occupying our day-to-day lives with walking toward godliness. Incidentally, it is much easier to find success when you’re dedicated to something than it is when you’re struggle against something.

What are you dedicated to? What are you moving towards?

Defending the Faith

This is a follow up to Post-Kantian “Reality”, which in some ways, I found enormously disconcerting. Many Christians today find themselves overwhelmingly discouraged; they are not alone. Joseph Butler, Bishop of Durham, (1692-1752) was quoted as saying,

It is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted by many persons that Christianity is not so much a subject for enquiry, but that it is now at length discovered to be fictitious.

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Unbeknownst to Bishop Butler a revival of rarely seen proportions was about to break out in Scotland and northern England (the location of the Diocese of Durham). The Cambuslang Revival resulted in such large-scale conversion that by 1751 in Glasgow, for example, one out of every three people was a regular participant in church life. Just when, as a contemporary of the Cambuslang Revival wrote:

Many Christians were tempted to think that the Holy Spirit’s mighty operations upon the souls of men, by the preaching of the gospel, belonged only to the first ages of Christianity.[1]

the Lord broke out amongst His people (maranatha!!!) and stayed the tide of Deism which had previously seemed to be inexorably advancing.

Just so, when it seems there is no hope of the Church embracing Christ’s truth as it often does these days, we must cling to the reality that God and His Church have been here before.

It is helpful to remember that this is not the first time the Church has faced a situation where people embraced a fluid view of gender. It was a key tenet of ancient Gnosticism—that mystical blending of ideas from various backgrounds into an aspiration for secret knowledge and enlightenment….

The response of Irenaeus in the second century was to write his book Against Heresies. In this he outlined different parts of Gnostic belief in detail, and countered them by laying out the big picture plot-line of the Bible….

Irenaeus was aware, more so than any of his predecessors, that the plot-line of the Bible has a cumulative weight of persuasiveness. All views of the universe which differ from the Bible are implicitly telling a different story—it just so happened that Gnostics were literally rewriting and editing versions of the Bible to fit their philosophies. A vital part of our response to Queer theory must be to take every opportunity to educate people in the plot-line of the Bible. This means not only giving people Bible overviews, but also helping them see how each part relates to the whole—and how the exercise of so understanding scripture actually has real life implications for issues such as gender, sexuality and identity.[2]

I find it exhilarating that there truly is no new heresy. God has responded to these same old attacks before. Their new dress is no obstacle for the Architect of the Cosmos.

What needs to be done? We must re-learn the narrative of the Bible; it is the meta-narrative of the world. We must be captured by and formed by the story that is God’s redemptive action in the world.

There is much that Christians ministers can learn from engaging with Queer writers. We ought to be humbled by the scale of their achievements in the face of considerable opposition. Queer writers have persistently campaigned politically and sacrificially for the furtherance of their visions. Foucault modeled this. When speaking to a homosexual group he returned the 2,000 Francs payment saying, ‘A gay man does not need payment to speak to other gays.’ The immense cultural impact of Queer theory is testimony to the practical and social changes that can be wrought by academic work. The insight of gay/lesbian activists in perceiving their need for intellectual underpinnings to their political ventures is one Christians would do well to learn from. We once had a similar tradition, which like Queer theory, saw all of life as a unified reality to be seen through a common lens.[3]

We must unlearn our idolatrous perceptions of God. We must be willing to face persecution to insist on the truth. We must be willing to lean on God’s sovereignty to direct the course of history. The resistance we will find most discouraging will come from within the Church itself.

…I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

– Matthew 16:18b

[1] Arthur Fawcett, The Cambusland Revival: The Scottish Evangelical Revival of the Eighteenth Century (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971)

[2] Peter Sanlon, Plastic People: How Queer Theory is Changing Us (London: The Latimer Trust, 2010), 36-37

[3] Ibid, 35.

Another Look At Proverbs 3:5-6

I’d like to challenge us to take another look at a very familiar passage. Yesterday David, Edith, Ruth and I had a good discussion about the necessity of learning to “live in the tension” as believers who have embraced the Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith.

I thought Proverbs 3:5-6 might hold the key to some encouraging thoughts as we anticipate walking this not so simple path.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

So familiar, eh? And yet, it is a timely reminder, particularly when we begin to contemplate the word “ways”, which comes from the word derek in Hebrew. Derek (H1870) is a noun that derives from the verb darak (H1869), which means “to walk.” So we understand that derek can be understood to mean “the way that one walks” or the path that one walks. What word does that remind you of? Yep – halacha: way or manner of walking.

We might responsibly re-read Proverbs 3:5-6 like this:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your halacha acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

As we contemplate being trailblazers in a world that has forgotten the rule or standard by which good is measured, we can be assured that as we trust in the LORD, and as we acknowledge Him in our attempts to put His teaching into practice, He will straighten our paths.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Galatians 6:7 ESV)

Be strong and courageous. The LORD will not leave you nor forsake you.

The Story

Have you ever wondered why Jesus so often taught in parables?

Eugene Peterson wrote:

… if we want to change our way of life, acquiring the right image is far more important than diligently exercising willpower.[1] Willpower is a notoriously sputtery engine on which to rely for internal energy, but a right image silently and inexorably pulls us into its field of reality, which is also a field of energy.[2]

A story paints a picture. If it is true that “willpower is a notoriously sputtery engine,” (to this I think we can all attest) but that the right image or vision contains an inherent power to cause change, then painting pictures with words, or to say it another way—to tell stories, is perhaps the most powerful thing we can do when it comes to transforming our lives, and indeed, the world.

It should not surprise us that Jesus knew this! Viva storytelling!!!

The insistent argument of post-modernism is that there is no Grand Story that makes sense of the world. The late Robert E. Webber, Myers Professor of Ministry at Northern Seminary in Illinois, and founder of the Institute for Worship Studies, was a prolific author. His final book—literally dictated from his deathbed—is titled Who Gets to Narrate the World?.

Dr. Webber considered this question to be the most pressing spiritual issue of our time.[3] Webber believed that Christianity in America will not survive if Christians are not rooted in and informed by the uniquely Christian story that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wherever there has been conflict in the world—throughout history—it has been as a result of conflicting stories meeting head-on. In days past, this happened relatively rarely, but in today’s highly mobile society, where the views of any obscure philosophy are only a google-search away, competing stories are colliding at an unprecedented rate. Will we teach our children to cope with this new reality by giving them to understand that Jesus is “the way for me” or that He is “the way, the truth, and the life”?

This may come as a surprise, but the answer to that question will be determined by storytelling; by whether we do it, by whether we do it convincingly, and by whether we live in accordance with the story we say we believe—by whether we do it well.

My passion is to tell the story of the gospel—God’s narrative as told in Scripture—in a manner that makes it leap from the pages into our lives! Too often we consider the Scriptures theology to be studied (and it is), principles to follow (most certainly it is), maxims to remember, or archaic stories of people who lived long ago in a situation far removed from ours, and who found solutions little relating to the predicaments of today. May it never be so!

The Scriptures are not just a collection of stories, but a meta-narrative, an over-arching tale that gives meaning, purpose, and sustenance to our lives. It tells us our place in history, our role in society, the hope of our future, and the way we should “walk” today (Eph. 2:10).

If it is true that the road to the future lies in the past, it is also true that when the past has been lost or neglected there is no certain future.[4]

R.C. Sproul has said that “truth is reality as God perceives it.” Let’s make sure our children understand the world according to the story that God tells.

[1] Hauerwas, Stanley. Vision and Virtue (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981) p.2

[2] Peterson, Eugene. Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) p. 6

[3] Webber, Robert. Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008) p. 16

[4] Ibid