Monday, April 13, 2009

Quick Justice and Escalation

It's been interesting to follow the recent headlines regarding the rescue of a sailor who had been kidnapped by a small group of Somali thugs.  The Somali thieves had apparently taken Capt. Richard Phillips hostage in an attempt to extort a large sum of money from his employer.  At the time of his capture, Captain Phillips was piloting a ship carrying, at least in part, food and aid to Rwanda.

This past weekend, Navy Seals shot and killed three of the four kidnappers while capturing the fourth.  While the overwhelming response of the U.S. supports this action, I found it iteresting that so many people are circulating the warning that "icould escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it" as U.S. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney is reported to have said.  Seems to me that it is far more likely that it will reduce violence in this part of the world.  The scriptures say, for example, that "when justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers" (Proverbs 21:15)  and that "when the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong" (Ecclesiates 8:11).  

The quick execution of justice in this case will indeed terrorize the remaining Somali pirates and will certainly lead to a reduction in their criminal violence.  I, for one, am glad that the U.S. still has the good sense to confront and destroy evil (at times) rather than tolerate the criminal conduct of evil men.  Of course there are many venues where the U.S. has opted out of executing quick justice - but that is another subject for another time...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Dok vs. Doc : May the "force" be with you

I'll have to admit that I'm somewhat perplexed as to where to go next since there are so many directions to pursue given the really terrific comments to the first posting. (good to see that the Weaver has joined in!) I've chosen to narrow my next post to the two comments that most attracted my personal attention and we can perhaps get to other issues later. The first is regarding the word "force" which the DoK uses twice in his comments and the second is the surprising (for me) statement that the DoK believes that Jesus has attained the highest level of revelation ever achieved by man!

FORCE: Commenting on the previous post, the DoK makes the following statement: "As a true Christian, one should not be concerned with HOW others believe and if that way is correct, only that others believe and do not force non-pious beliefs on others" and then "Everyone is entitled to their own belief, it is not anyone’s place to force them into any one direction, it is only our way to show them there are other paths that they might not see." (bold-faced emphasis is my own).

If the word 'force' is meant to be taken in the sense of 'physical coercion' such as "recant of your faith in Christ or we'll turn the lions loose on you" (used by early Rome against believers) or "confess your sins against Christ or we'll torture you" (used by the Catholic church against Jews and Muslims) then this statement is self-evidently true. It seems to me, however, that physical coercion is not what is meant here but rather 'logical persuasion'. According to this connotation , any attempt to merely persuade another of the truth of the Christian faith is somehow thought to be immoral or improper to some degree. But anyone who says that 'nobody should force their viewpoint on another' has violated the very rule that they state for they attempt to "force" that idea on someone else. This again is a self-refuting position and seems to be a way to stamp out dialog without actual debate. DoK, I know you well enough to understand that you are not trying to stamp out debate but I'm not really sure what you mean when using the word "force" in this context. Perhaps it is more related to something like 'judgmentalism' or perhaps I've completely misunderstood the issue here; it wouldn't be the first time.

JESUS: Again, commenting on the previous post, the DoK said that "None of us, that I’m aware of, have attained the same level of revelation as Jesus. Therefore it is necessary to learn how to be more like him through scripture via reading it, and via the example of others in the community (unless someone knows of a burning bush in the neighborhood that I don’t know about…)"

I'm just wondering what is meant by this. What exactly is it about the life and teachings of Jesus that is so admirable? I ask this because I'm still trying to figure out where the "source of authority" is actually located. If the response is something like "I believe that Christ is a good man because his life was lived like I think a good life should be lived" then the source of moral authority resides in the self and we're back to the "imperfect viewpoint" problem. If, however, the response is that "I believe that Christ is a good man because the Bible tells me so" then the source of moral authority lies outside of the self and is located in the mind of God since scriptures are his word.

Both the Bible and Christ himself claim that he was not just a good man, but the perfect man and also the omnipotent God of the universe. In John 8:58-59 the bible records the following conversation between Jesus and his fellow Jews. "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds. There are many other examples of his claims to be God but this seems to be one of the most clear - even the people who heard him understood what he was saying since they were going to kill him for (what they believed to be) blasphemy. Other examples include John 10:24-38 and Luke 5:20-24. DoK, I'm curious as to whether you believe, as the apostle John does, that "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God".

Finally, I found the burning bush comment to be right on target with respect to the source of belief. As imperfect people we can only rely on revelation to truly know anything about grace and fortunately for us there is a burning bush; probably lying on a bookshelf somewhere nearby. It's called the Bible.

Grace and Peace.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Dok vs. Doc : Source of Chrisitan Belief

A friend of mine, the Dok, recently became engaged and sent me some of his thoughts on getting married in a church setting. This led to a good discussion of Christian belief which we will begin to carry out online. With respect to the teaching of the 'Christian church' the Dok made the following statement.

If the people at the core of the church hold many negative qualities such as greed, dishonesty, pride, then it is quite easy to say that the church itself is somehow corrupt because of it. It is hard to receive teachings from a corrupt entity. All of my life I’ve been taught by others and have had it proven through experience that ideas, theories, thoughts, and hypothesis must be proven to be logically correct in order to be true. (bold-faced emphasis is my own)

First of all I agree with the Dok that anytime a debased person (someone who is consumed by greed or pride or dishonesty) speaks it will be difficult to believe even if what they say happens to be true. Since one of the fundamental tasks of the Church is to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, a message of truth, this serves as incentive for the church to live it's corporate life in such a way as to make belief in it's message as easy to swallow as possible for those who now stand outside of faith.

The important thing to note, however, is that the church is not the source of truth (regardless of what the Catholic church may teach) but is an institution that simply recognizes the authoritative teaching of the Bible as the source of truth. The Bible is itself the source of truth and the church merely recognizes this to be true. Hence, when debating Christian thought it is my task to always refer back to the teachings of Scripture, not to the teachings of a particular church or denomination or any other such group. While the church might make belief in the teaching of scripture more or less easy to believe by it's more or less pure life, the church does not make the teachings of scripture to be more or less true by it's more or less pure life.

One final note is also in order. In the Dok's initial post he indicates the premise by which he lives his life. His premise is that "ideas, theories, thoughts, and hypothesis must be proven to be logically correct in order to be true." He completely undermines this premise, however, since the premise itself is based not on precise logical reasoning but was established via the teaching of others and his own (imperfect) subjective experience. In addition, it should be clarified that things are true because we can prove them but they are believed upon proof. His initial statement is fundamentally self-refuting. As a christian my premise is similar but different in an important way. I would phrase my premise as "ideas, theories, thoughts, and hypothesis must be either proven logically correct or revealed in scripture in order to be believed.".

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Servant Leadership or Servant Servanthood?

I've been pondering the idea of "servanthood" recently for a variety of reasons; not least of which is an upcoming sermon that I am preparing from Ephesians chapter 5 on the submission of wives to their husbands. As I considered the notion of "servanthood" it occurs to me that in today's culture, the word 'servant' has literally lost all meaning and has become almost inverted in normal use.

I was curious to know how many corporations today are hiring 'servants' and so I logged on to and searched for "servant". More than 5000 jobs were listed when searching for "nurse", "engineer" or "manager" but only 32 job openings nationwide were listed as a result of searching for a position as "servant". Oddly enough, about 1/2 of these positions were not hiring "servants" but managerial leaders who were to exhibit "servant leadership". I don't know of anyone who aspires to make a career of "servanthood" - the very idea seems repulsive to most of our post-modern citizenry. But as Christians we are to be servants and we will be judged based on our performance as servants of Christ.

A servant is one who works in the interest of another; submitting his will to the will of their master. As Christians, we are all called to put aside our own will and to work to advance the kingdom of Christ but how often do we really take this view to heart? How often do we really see the scope of our life as an advancement of God's glory rather than our own? As Christians we should follow the example of Christ who, as Phillipians chapter two reveals to us: "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Modern Redemption

We have been working through the book of Exodus in our Sunday School class this semester and just last week began to examine the "plagues" of Egypt. These plagues are variously described as "signs", "wonders", and "acts of judgment" executed by God himself through the prophet Moses so that Egypt may know his power and so that God can claim for himself a people.

In the first chapter of Exodus we see that Pharaoh has become frightened of the growing population of the Israelites and hence embarks on a genocidal plot as reported in verse 22: "Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: "Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live." Pharaoh fills the Nile with the blood of Israelite male children and so in the first plague, God returns the favor and turns the waters of the Nile into blood. With this act of judgment God begins a series of increasingly severe punishments that eventually yield the complete freedom of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.

Of course, the story has a modern side since it is a magnificent and full-orbed portrayal of the nature of sin and the nature of redemption. The unbeliever is oppressed and enslaved by the power of sin but God has come to the aid of those who believe and has called them into freedom so that he can "be their God and they will be his people". God commands all people to believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ so that they might be saved. How foolish to remain in bondage to sin when perfect freedom can be found in Christ!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Modern Debate

I spent last evening at an exceptionally interesting Intervarsity Christian Fellowship event as a guest panelist. The event turned out to be an open forum for students to ask essentially any questions they wished regarding the Christian faith. I was one of four panelists; the others being a colleague in an administration position on our campus, a student, and a female preacher from a local church.

The questions were mostly of the expected variety. What about evolution; How do we know God exists; Why should we pray; Who wrote the Bible and how do we know that it's true. There were a few tricky ones: What about predestination, how do I combat doubt, how should I live my life and what about "dating"?

The question that brokered the most interesting controversy involved the role of women in the church. As a man of the reformed faith my position is that scripture clearly teaches the perfect equality of men and women in terms of identity (both are made in the image of God) and scripture also clearly teaches that men and women do not have identical functions in the context of the church. When Paul writes in I Timothy 2:12 that

"I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner."

This injunction clearly prohibits women from taking on the role of Pastor or Elder within the church structure. I find it quite odd that someone can read this text and argue that women should be Pastor's when that is what the text clearly forbids. The reasoning goes something like 'in the culture of his time there were women who were mis-using their positions of teaching and authority within the church and Paul was telling them to stop that mis-use'. They thus seek to relativize the equation.

But none of that logic is to be found anywhere in the text of scriptures. In fact, we are not left to guess as to what Paul's actual reason for giving this injunction was since he clearly states it: 'For Adam was formed first, then Eve'. It is a reason rooted in the historical fact of creation and the fall. Since this historical fact is equally true in all cultures at all times, there is no room to make this a culturally relative statement on womens roles within the church. The female panelist, herself a minister, strongly objected of course, but did not mount a serious biblical case for her position.

We also, very predictably, disagreed on the position of predestination; she taking the Arminian position and myself take the orthodox reformed position that God is sovereign in electing his children and giving them 'new birth'. Putting these two (important and relevant) issues asside, however, the panel was largely united in thought and heart and I hope that people were truly encouraged and edified.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Book Review : Exegetical Falacies

I've nearly completed reading an exceptionally well written text by D. A. Carson entitled "Exegetical Fallacies". It is a brief compendium (about 140 pages of narrative) of the most common logical and rhetorical errors made by preachers through the ages. As a part-time pulpiteer I understand the ease with which false arguments can be made and incoherent appeals constructed and was hence drawn to the text hoping to avoid such mistakes in the future.

This text catalogs and explains fallacies involving word studies (overgeneralizing and equating semantics with etymology for example), logical errors, improper presuppositions and a wide array of others. While Carson is himself a conservative scholar, he includes examples of errors made by a representative sampling of scholars from fundamentalists to moderates to liberals.

My interest was drawn particularly to the longest chapter; that on 'word study fallacies'. The author speaks at length and with great attention to detail on issues of grammar, syntax, etymology and literary genre. Of particular personal interest was his discussion of how often the notions of synonym and equivalence are conflated. If two words are equivalent, for example, they can be legitimately interchanged in any context without the smallest nuanced change of semantics or connotation or external referent. A confusion between similarity and equivalence can lead to a host of errors which are carefully described throughout the central portion of the text.

It is rare to find a book that is simulatneously modern, rigorous and linguistically rich. This is must reading for anyone who aspires to "rightly divide the word of truth". It gives clear instruction on how to identify likely sources of error and gives, by way of example, a vision of the well trained and renewed mind; an example that in today's postmodern academic environ, is all but extinct.