Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Setting it Back to 'Simmer'

I'm working through a few thoughts before I finish my "Burn Your Noodle" provocations. Specifically, I'm thinking about Supralapsarianism, Infralapsarianism, and sublapsarianism. I know that those words might put you on the edge of your seat with anticipation, but they have brought me to the edge of madness with the implications. I believe that John Calvin was right when he said, "The predestination of God is truly a labyrinth from which the mind of man is wholly incapable of extricating itself. But the curiousity of man is so insistent that the more dangerous it is to inquire into a subject, the more boldly he rushes to do so. Thus when predestiantion is being discussed, because he cannot keep himself within the proper limits, he immediately plunges into the depths of the sea by his impetuosity" (Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and the Thessalonians.) More on that sort of thing in "noodle burning 3".

In the meantime I have another fun problem for everyone, myself included, from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians chapter 7 verse 14. I will quote the passage here, the context concerns Paul's teaching on marriage and why a believer should stay with an unbelieving spouse if the unbeliever is content to stay:

The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

Here's are some thoughts to ponder: How can an unbelieving spouse be said to be "holy"? What are the implications of how faith and grace work through a believer in the marriage union? How can it be said that children are "unclean" if they belong to an unbelieving couple, and how does having a believing parent make them holy? I'll anxiously await your thoughts in the comment section.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Burning our Noodle Part 2

It is nearly universally accepted by Christians that God knows everything. We call that God's "omniscience." We have no problem grasping the idea that God knows every person on earth, the atomic structure of an atom, how many stars there are in the galaxy, and how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie roll tootsie pop. However, our meditation on God's foreknowledge rarely goes beyond such basic thoughts. The problem comes in when we realize that God's knowledge of the facts may actually create the facts themselves. Let me elaborate a bit.

We tend to make God like us, and so when we think of God knowing something, we think that He knows it like we do. That is, we tend to think of God knowing geometry like we do. He simply has a set of truths and facts memorized and He uses those facts to build things. The problems is that those geometric facts and truths cannot exist outside of God. God does not memorize a set of facts, the facts come into being by His will. Without God willing it, there is no geometry.

This trouble is part of the problem we have with God's foreknowledge of human events. We have the idea that God, somewhere back in "time", started this thing called "creation." After He created things, He sort of looked down the corridor of time into the future to see what would happen. The problem with that is that God did not simply create "Creation" and let it go. He actively ordained whatever comes to pass. Indeed, things cannot come to pass apart from His will because it is by His will that all things consist and hold together (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3; 2:10). God is actively sustaining the universe at this very moment, and it cannot exist independently of His will. So God's foreknowledge of something cannot simply mean that God is simply seeing how things will "play out." He has decreed everything that comes to pass.

Another thing that Christians ought to agree on is that everything comes to pass precisely the way God means for them to, and that the end result of the universe is assured. Think on the implications of the Book of Revelation. John saw, over a thousand years ago, what will certainly come to pass at some unknown time in the future. He saw all of the future redeemed, indeed, he saw the full number of them. Each individual that John saw must certainly be there, and every tongue and tribe and nation will certainly be there. The end is assured. Every redeemed soul that John saw will certainly be redeemed, and every condemned soul will certainly be condemned.

The natural question that arises is to wonder, if God has indeed scripted the history of the universe and everything turns out precisely as He means them to, then how can man be said to be free in any real way? And how does our involvement affect the outcome? And where, if God has ordained all things, does evil come from?

While confusing at first, God's sovereignty in all things will turn out to be a great source of hope if understood correctly. Today we have not answered any questions, we've just made the questions a little clearer. Soon, we'll take a look at some evil things that God predetermined to take place and how that harmonizes with human responsibility.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

This Will Burn Your Noodle

I want to submit a quote from the 2nd London Baptist Confession of 1689. I happen to agree, but that does not make the concept any easier to grasp:

God has decreed in Himself from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things which shall ever come to pass. Yet in such a way that God is neither the author of sin nor does He have fellowship with any in the committing of sins, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

Let's break this down since we don't all speak the good English of 1689. First, God decreed all things from eternity, and His decision on how things would be were of His own will and without coercion or being dependant on any creaturely input or action. That's pretty easy to grasp I think. God has decided everything that has happened and will happen and everything will happen just as He meant for it to. The next section makes this clear: Although God knows everything which may or can come to pass under all imaginable conditions, yet He has not decreed anything because He foresaw it in the gurture, or because it would come to pass under certain conditions.

Here's where it gets difficult: if God planned everything, then that include the Fall, sin, famine, hurricanes, tornados, murder, mayhem, and everything else. How can we say that God has planned for, indeed that He decreed all these things, and still come away with a good God? And if that is not enough to burn your noodle, try and imagine the alternative, which is particularly awful: God did not ordain all things that come to pass, and some certain events are random and even gratuitous! That is, some events, particularly tragic ones, serve no redemptive purpose at all.

Think on these things and we'll come back to look a little more into second causes and man's volition. Hope you've got your coffee/tea in hand for this!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Onward, Thinking Baptist

Yesterday, I paid a visit to a retired Southwestern Baptist Seminary professor. During his tenure, he saw around 25,000 students come through his classes and oversaw well over 50 Ph.D's. His name is Dr. Leon Marsh, and he is quite the character at a spry 87.

I enjoy Dr. Marsh's wit, and one then that he said made me laugh and it made me sad. He said, "Son, if you'll be a thinking Baptist you'll find that you don't have any competition." I hate it, but I am afraid he's pretty on target there, at he has been. I hope that things are changing.

Dr. Marsh and I do not agree on many things. He claims to be a 3 point Calvinist with a laugh. His idea of inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures are not the same. I did not argue with him but I let him have say his mind. I enjoyed his banter and candidness if not his theology. His love of Christ was evident, and his joy at our visit was apparent. I was thankful to have gone and hope to go back.

His comment on being a thinking Baptist stuck in my head. Thinking, after all, is no easy task. Even though many Baptists have grown up under "Bible teaching," I find that few have been forced to think through Scripture. Few have dealt with Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 concerning election. Few want to deal with the warnings against apostasy in Hebrews. We have no idea, in general, of what to do with the Old Testament and the law and grace relationship. I believe that the greatest struggle that many have endured revolves around church music, and that is sad. A good debate over theology and coffee is a about the best thing in the world. After all, how will we be conformed to truth if our errors are never confronted, and conversely, won't we be more grounded in the truth and confident of it after it survives a hearty challenge?

So I hope that the Church I pastor will be a thinking church. And I hope that we will trust one another enough to allow our assumptions about things to be questioned Scripturally.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Woody Allen and the Meaning of Life

I have a strange sort of appreciation for Woody Allen, though I can't say that I've ever seen a single one of his many films. My entire sympathy for Allen rests in the interviews and comments that I read about him from time to time. Some day, I may have a Woody Allen film fest to get to know him a little better.

Today I read another interview/excerpt about Woody Allen, and it did a good job of expressing his hopeless world view. Here is a quote for you to get the feel of his philosophy, "The fact that there is no god and that we're alone in the universe makes it more important than ever to act decently, but people don't, very frequently." Allen believes that there is no God at all, and yet he persistently and stubbornly insists that people ought to "act decently." The natural response to that is, "Why, Woody, should we act decently then?" It seems that it is precisely this sort of question that has driven his most recent films.

His latest film, "Cassandra's Dream," demonstrates Allen's struggle with this very question. He says, "I've always felt that the worst kind of crimes and sometimes not the worst crimes often go unpunished. Everyday, from genocide in the political spectrum to street crime, people do terrible things and get away with it." If there is no God, then Allen is precisely right, which again begs the question of why people ought to "act decently." Allen has no good answer for that.

Eventually, this sort of reasoning must lead one to ponder why to live at all, which is another thing that Allen ponders. What, exactly, is the point of life. Here's Allen again, "I feel the trick is to try and find, not meaning, because there is no meaning, but to try and find some enjoyment in that context and know that it's meaningless, short, nasty, brutal, and still, you know, find a modicum of enjoyment, get what you can get out of it, which is not a lot." Can you see the connection between believing that there is no God to the inevitable conclusion that there is no meaning to life? Once God is erased from the equation, one is left with a meaningless existence in which the best one can hope for is to scratch a "modicum of enjoyment" out of life.

This leads to the final Allen quote in the article. His philosophy of life eventually cause people to ask him the ultimate question. Here he answers in his own words, "People say, `Well, why go on at all?' Camus' question, why choose life? And the only answer I can ever give to that is we seem to be hard-wired to. The brain asks the questions, but the blood says live. So if a guy comes in here with a gun, you do everything you can to get it away from him. You do whatever you can to live. You bargain, you lie, you jump on top of him.

"You're hard-wired for self-preservation, but when you think about it cerebrally, why, to what end, what am I savoring here? And you can't really think of a good answer, so you give up and say, `I can't think of an answer, but my body fights to live, so I'm not going to resist that. I'm going to go along and trust the impulse toward life."

I find Woody Allen interesting because his reasoning is sound. He is right to say that if there is no God, then art and life and love and everything here is meaningless. I like reading about him because he is clearly uncomfortable, or so it seems, with this dismal outlook. His philosophy forces him to admit that horrible crimes will ultimately go unpunished, and that truly, there is no reason to go on living because life is both meaningless and without purpose. In his films, he struggles with this Godless reality. I grieve for him and for others like him who can have no hope for any meaning beyond fleeting, worldly pleasures.

Perhaps you wonder why I find this interesting at all and not simply morbid. I find it interesting because Woody Allen displays the inherent hopelessness of a godless universe and the bleak truth that without God, there truly is no purpose in the anything. That explanation will never satisfy one made in the image of God. Fallen as we are, we still long for something more than that. I hope that Woody Allen can find mercy in Jesus Christ, in whom we find purpose and justice and meaning for life.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Quote of the Day

I may put up a quote each day from the current Puritan Paperback I'm reading. The next several should come from Richad Sibbes' The Bruised Reed. Here is today's quote:

It would be a good contest amongst Christians, one to labour to give no offence, and the other to labour to take none.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

An Exciting Project

One of the first things I desire to do here at Mt. Calvary is to take the church through the church covenant. It is my goal, and I believe my duty as a minister, to have oversight of the membership of the church. Technically, that means I am currently responsible for some 1,200 souls. Of that number, we have had in the 250's present on Sunday mornings for worship. That makes for quite a large number being unaccounted for!

I believe that these absentee members, to the best of our ability, need to be contacted. First, we need to find out why they aren't attending, as is their duty (and joy!) in the Lord. Then we may be able to seek reconciliation for them to the body, or else we may remove them from the membership role. This sounds harsh in modern ears, but it is a necessary part of serious, loving church ministry.

In order for the body of Christ here to understand this, it will be important to understand the obligation and responsibility of every member who joins this covenant fellowship. To that end, I plan on teaching through the church covenant this Sunday night, beginning with the Baptist Faith and Message.

As I am certain is fairly typical across the Baptist landscape, Mt. Calvary has never made the transition from the 1963 BFM to the 2000 BFM. I doubt this is due to any opposition, but rather it is most likely attributable to the lack of zeal in amending constitutions and by-laws. This gives me, as a pastor, a great opportunity to teach through the BFM, to highlight the revisions and the reasons behind them, and to point out those things which remain the same. The BFM is foundational for our covenant since has been adopted as our statement of faith.

It will be an ambitious project. We have suspended all other classes on Sunday nights until this is finished. It is my goal to be finished in eight weeks. From these classes, I will endeavor to create a prospective members class that will be a pre-requisite to membership. It is only fair that someone seeking to join with this fellowship knows what their obligations and responsibilities are before they actually join.

I am looking forward to this time of learning. I believe that if other churches would do something similar, we may find our associations to be strengthened and many problems addressed.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Puritan Reading Challenge

Timmy Brister has issued a challenge this year to read one Puritan paperback per month. The books he has listed are quite excellent, and they are by no means impossible to get through. In fact, the first one is a personal favorite which I have blogged on here: Richard Sibbes' "The Bruised Reed." I encourage you to take up the challenge with me. The total reading will be about 7 pages a day. I think you can handle it! (Of course, the Puritans are sometimes a little harder to digest than modern fluff, but they are worth the effort.)

Here is the list:

January: The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes (128 pp)
February: The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel (221 pp)
March: The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson (252 pp)
April: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks (253 pp)
May: Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ by John Bunyan (225 pp)
June: The Mortification of Sin by John Owen (130 pp)
July: A Lifting Up for the Downcast by William Bridge (287 pp)
August: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs (228 pp)
September: The True Bounds of Christian Freedom by Samuel Bolton (224 pp)
October: The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie (207 pp)
November: The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (256 pp)
December: A Sure Guide to Heaven by Joseph Alleine (148 pp)

Go to Timmy's website and encourage him in this if you will. Also, there are some package deals being offered through his site for the books. Here's the link: The 2008 Puritan Reading Challenge

Family and God's Glory

Last night at the student service I spoke on the 5th Commandment and highlighted its importance. It is, as Paul notes, the first commandment with a promise attached. "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12). My first point to show, in general, why honoring of parents is critical to society for it to function. This, I said, should be self-evident even to those who are not believer's.

The second and third points revovled around the idea that parent-child relationships mirror God's love for us and even serve as a parable for God's love relationship within Himself. That is, we are told by Jesus to call God "Father" as we pray, and Jesus is called God's beloved "Son." When God expresses His affection toward us and His Son, He most often employs the language of family.

This lesson reminded me of the horrors of divorce and the chaos we may reap as a society due to the breakdown of the family. It further drove home the challenge of communicating God's love and relationship to a generation that has never known a father or mother in a healthy relationship. Unless God does a great work, the problem will only get worse.

Francis Schaeffer was told a parable involving parking lot stripes. He said that the reason we can park without chaos is because we have a striped parking lot so we know where to put our cars. He likened a rebellious generation as a generation who removes the stripes. They, despite their rebellion, are still able to park with some semblance of order because they still have a memory of the order the stripes brought. However, the next generation will devolve into chaos piled up at the front door of the supermarket because they have never seen parking lot stripes and have no idea how to maintain order. The divorce of the last generation was terrible, but at least the parents knew how a marriage was supposed to look and how parents should relate to their children. The next generation has no such luxury.

So I am grieved this morning that words like "father", especially father, are nearly a semantic blank for many of our country's youth. Instead of instilling feelings of peace, love, protection, and safety, "father" brings up memories of abandon, anger, and neglect. How very sad for such children, and what a stumbling block to faith that is. This is yet another way in which the image of God has grown dim in us.

The only hope I have, and this is the only hope I ever have, is that in His grace, God will be a father to the fatherless. I know that He is able to rebuild that which is fallen and to repair that which is broken. That is my prayer this morning for those who have no idea the great joy that is ours when we say "Our Father."

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Textual Variance at Its Aggravating Finest

For the second time in my life, I am endeavoring to preach through the book of Genesis on Sunday Morning. I believe that if God ever calls me to another work, I will do so again. I believe that Genesis, and actually the Torah in general (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), is the foundation upon which the rest of Scripture rests. Indeed, if you read the prophets, especially John's Revelation, you will find that the prophets are speaking "Torah."

Nevertheless, I am now faced for the second time with a very difficult textual variant in Genesis. Here is how the New King James translates the text:
"The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it" (Gen. 2:15). This makes it seem as if the first duty of man in the garden is to work and cultivate the garden paradise. There's only one problem: the pronouns don't agree in the Hebrew. In the Hebrew, there are pronouns attached to the words translated "tend" and "keep". Literally, it would be to "tend it" and to "keep it." In Hebrew, these pronouns are feminine. The thing which they seem to refer to later in the verse, "garden", is actually a masculine noun. The problem is that the pronouns should agree in gender with the antecedent, or the noun they are representing, which they don't.

Now the OT Hebrew did not origninally have vowels. These vowel points were added by a group called the Masoretes who worked on the text between the 7th and 11th century A.D. If you take away the vowel points and search have a translation which would correspond with gender agreement, the text becomes, "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to worship and obey." The only commentary that I know of that directly addresses this gender-bender problem is Dr. John Sailhamer's The Pentateuch as Narrative. Even the usually super-scholarly Keil and Delitzsch pass over it without comment. The only one who even seems to notice is Victor Hamilton in his commentary in the New International Commentary of the Old Testament series. He writes in a footnote:
The pronominal suffix "it" on "dress" and "keep" is feminine. "Garden" is masculine. Does this indicate thtat the reference is to the ground/earth (fem.) in the garden that man is to till and tend? Or is it the case that many nouns deoting places have a variable gender (GKC 1221)? I am inclined to prefer the former explanation, if only for the fact that nowhere else is gan treated as feminine.

Now, you aren't already asleep, I want to pose to you a question. If you knew about this, would you bring it up in your lesson? Does it change how you view this verse? How would you address it in a sermon? Would you? Just some food for thought. Comments appreciated.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hiatus Over?

Wow. I haven't posted a thing since December 20th. I've been a little busy moving, getting started at a new church, and trying to get my books in some recognizable and findable order on my new book shelves. Books are like dear friends. I like to be surrounded by them at all times. My philosophy in life is to buy books, and if I have any money left, I buy food.

So I suppose this little post means that I am back in the blogworld, even if it means I have to come in a little earlier to post my thoughts. I need to write. It helps me think.