Friday, January 31, 2014

The Danger of Being One-sided

One the the things I see widely on Facebook is that people who are passionate about politics and speak out about it, seem to be doing so from a very one-sided perspective. The means that those are are commenting about issues are only reading and listening to people the agree with them.  To be well-informed, one needs to read and listen to people on all sides of the issues as well as all positions in politics be they right, center or left. Only then can we keep the wool from being pulled over our eyes by ideologues (like talk show hosts and syndicated columnists) who make their money by catering to the certain base of people with a certain base of belief.

This is how good biblical exegesis is done. You look at the full-view of writers down through history when seeking views of how a passage should be interpreted. The helps the interpreter deal with his or her own bias. Ultimately of course, good biblical exegesis allows the the text to speak and the meaning is established by the intention of the text (which was inspired by God and therefore we seek God's original intention). But lots of very bad biblical interpretation happens when we don't deal with our own bias. So reading and studying widely is important. It is the same when interpreting the times.

As I continue to read through Eric Metaxas' book "Bonhoeffer" I'm struck by how Hitler used one-sided, single perspective information to to control the hearts and minds of the people he got to follow him. That is the danger of only listening to one side or our favorite commentators. We get very polarized information. Now it's easier to only listen to people who believe like us. But it is ultimately dangerous. That's why I try to read very widely and not let others make my decisions for me. That's why I don't stop with people like Mark Levin (who says some very interesting things) and other radio commentators. He is convinced he is right and he wants you to be convinced he is right. But do we do the hard work of fact checking his pronouncements? Do we try to get to the other side of what he is saying as a check on his own bias?

In interpreting the times and interpreting the Bible, the only way to not have the wool pulled over our eyes is to be vigilant not to be one-sided in our research. Only then can we ask enough questions to arrive at a proper interpretation of both.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Our Own Point of View

"Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to 
depend greatly on our own point of view. - 0bi-wan

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Praying for God

Recently a young friend wrote me and asked for my thoughts. Here is what she said...

Hi Paul!

I've been pondering something lately and wanted to hear your thoughts on it. You have a great knowledge of the gospel and I respect, and am interested in, your gospel-related thoughts and ideas.

I was out for a run the other day, and my mind started to wander (running time is great thinking time for me). As I ran I realized that I do something kind of strange. Then I wondered does it even make sense? Am I confused about prayer? Or is it maybe not so strange and abnormal after all?

Sometimes when I pray I don't just pray *to* God, but I pray *for* Him. As I ran I wondered if others do this, or if it's a silly act to pray for an omnipotent God. I need Him, and I know that he loves having a relationship with me, and is happy to hear my prayers and worship, but does he need me to pray for him? I highly doubt it. I mean, I know that he doesn't *need* it, but does it make a difference?

I don't feel that I'm wasting my time. No time spent praying is wasted time, but I wonder if he just smiles and thinks "what a silly girl!" I've decided to assume that he just sees it as an act of love (like how I'd pray for my earthly father). I'm curious to hear what you think though.

(name withheld)

And here is what I said back...

Dear ...

I really enjoyed reading your story about running and praying for God. I got a good chuckle out of it. I'll admit that you are the first person that ever told me that they prayed for God. It's funny because if God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere at once) as well is, love, good, changeless, perfect, holy and more, then it would seem that God doesn't need praying for. As well, who do you pray to when you're praying for God. But since we pray for others whom we love, I'm pretty sure that God takes your prayer for him as a high compliment.

No, God doesn't need us to pray for him. God doesn't need or lack anything. Since God is Father, Son and Spirit loving each other, then they have each other's love. I think God probably has a chuckle when he hears you praying for him. But if you love God, that is what counts. I don't think he'll hold it against you.

The only think that I would caution you on, is that if you happen to be praying for God because you think he needs it or he is lacking something or is somehow imperfect, then, I would examine who I though God was.

Thanks so much for making my day with you story of praying for God! Catch you again.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Science And Scripture

Recently I saw some posts on Facebook where two people where vigorously debated the age of the Earth. One, evidently a (young-earth, Creation Science) Christian, contended that the Earth was 10,000 years old while the other, a science teacher, 4.3 million.  I decided to add my two cents worth.  "John," the science teacher said, "Did time begin when it was first invented and recorded by man? I would still say the cave paintings prove modern man is 50,000 years old, evolved over 250,000 years...Time being the same as is used today. And the planet is 4.3 billion years old in this theory that I would teach in a classroom, what you consider in a church is your faith."  This is where I jumped in with what follows, it because I wanted to address John's contention that science and faith are different and can't be reconciled.  Here is what I said...

John, you're on safe ground.  As Gallileo quoted, "The Bible is about how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."  The Bible was written before "science" existed.  God in his providence let Christians like Copernicus, Bacon, Kepler, Gallileo, Newton, etc, who believed that God created the universe, be at the forefront of modern western science.  They believed that through observing the visible universe, they could comprehend and understand what they observed.  They were under the conviction that a good God created it in an orderly way as evidenced by Genesis and therefore it is understandable and coherent.  It is this empirical method that has guided scientists ever since.  So the results we have today in modern science are not at various with how God's intends us to understand his creation.  Rather they are descriptive.  Of course, some of the findings of Science do need to be held tentatively, just like Marty's convictions and understanding of astro-physics. Unfortunately there are many well-meaning Christians who demand a literal reading of Genesis, and make it correspond directly to what it describes.  Instead of the literary account that it is, they make it a direct historical account. But a close reading of Genesis shows that it has subtle literary features that tip us off to its real nature. 

I contend that the very reason we can understand what we see around us, and that there is even the possibility of a “grand unified theory” is because "In the beginning, God created..."  That the processes are so uniform and enduring, speak of a God who brought order out of "chaos."  I suspect that if "chaos" were the primary “orderer” of the universe, there would only be chaos.  Even those who do "chaos theory" try to show that order comes from chaos. But they've not really figured out how, but just that is does. 

Faith is not in conflict reason or science.  We just need to bring together God's General Revelation (the created universe) and God's Special Revelation (God's Word, the Bible) and let each inform the other.  This is what Gallileo did and he got it right.  It was the medieval church of the time that got it wrong because they did not let what was being discovered about the universe, inform their reading of the Bible.  That is why they could not accept that the Sun and not the Earth was the center of the solar system.  Gallileo believed in two great books, the book of nature and the book of the Bible. That is why he got it right when he challenged the accepted wisdom of his day that the Earth was the center of the universe.  Unfortunately, many well-meaning Christians do the same thing that the medieval church did in not letting science inform their reading of the Bible and vice versa. 

Science has a bright future in spite of the frustrations, and dead-ends, seeming inconsistencies, particles that can exist in two places at once, etc .  Christians have nothing to worry about from good honest scientists, because what they discover- ultimately, when all is said and done, will not be in contradiction to the God that made the universe. Scientists should never lose heart and give up, because a good God made the universe in a coherent way that we can ultimately understand!  

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Problem with Blasphemy Laws

Morsi’s Sharia Justice: Death Penalties for Expatriate “Innocence of Muslims”

Blasphemy Laws that are being called for by some Muslims are not a good idea. Non-muslims blaspheme Mohamed by denying he's a true prophet. Non-Christians, blaspheme Jesus by denying that he is truly God. A better plan is for us to love one another, respect each other and agree to disagree.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Emergent's Big Problem: Bonhoeffer predicted it.

"In 'Act and Being,' he [Bonhoeffer] used philosophical language to show that theology is not merely another branch of philosophy, but something else entirely.  For him philosophy was man's search for truth apart from God.  It was a type of Barth's "religion," in which man himself tried to reach heaven or truth or God.  But theology begins and ends with faith in Christ, who reveals himself to man, apart from such revelation, there could be no such thing as truth.  Thus the philosopher – and the theologian  who operates on philosopher's assumption – chases his own tail and gazes at his own navel.   He cannot break out of that cycle, but God, via revelation can break in." - p. 89 "Bonhoeffer" by Eric Metaxas.

This quote by Eric Metaxas about Bonhoeffer's view of philosophy and theology really captures the essence of what I've seen as one of, what was at one time,  the big problems in the Emergent Church Movement.  In taking on Philosophy's assumption that either there is no such thing as Truth or that Truth is unknowable by those trying to discern it, Emergent theology is doomed to "chasing it's own tail" and does not end in being able to arrive at knowledge about God.  As Bonhoeffer astutely observed, theology cannot be built on the assumptions of philosopher because theology does not start with man's search for truth but rather it "begins and ends with faith in Christ, who reveals himself to man..."     

If those in Emergent had read Bonhoeffer and Barth, maybe they wouldn't have led so many people down the path of Harnack and Schleiermacher.

“Money doesn't change men, it merely unmasks them.

This quote by Henry Ford explains what I've seen and what I've experienced better than anything I've ever seen.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Response to Senator Obama

In 2006 then Senator Obama said this when addressing a Sojourner’s meeting…

“Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?”

Yes, deciding how to apply Scripture present day life is a challenge.

One of my favorite moments in the "Westwing" is when Bartlett addresses Dr. Jacobs on her selective reading of the Old Testament. Take a look...

But Bartlett doesn't really deal with the bigger issue of when Old and New Testaments speak of an issue. 

I think the answer to Christian Hermeneutical (thanks to Vince Morris for bringing this up)  problem centers on several linchpins (if that is possible).  First we need to view  all passages of scripture in the context of the Bible's overall purpose, i.e. to reveal God and his path of redemption for mankind.  Then we need to remember that on path of redemption are the two covenants that God made with mankind to bring about redemption.  God made the "old" covenant with Abraham which brought about the nation of Israel.  The chosen one or the Messiah who would be the savior of the world comes from Israel. Then the Messiah, who fulfills all the righteous demands of the old covenant makes a new covenant with all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. 

Thus, the civil and ceremonial laws that Israel was responsible to keep are fulfilled in Christ.  But the moral law defined through the 10 commandments and the "royal law" of loving God and neighbor, are the laws that Jesus said were still important for people of faith. 

So when applying God's word, both old and new covenants, we must be comfortable with the saying "that was then, this is now."   This helps us in dealing with the issues of continuity and discontinuity of the old and new covenants. God expects new covenant people not to have to live according the old covenant societal (civil and ceremonial).  But the moral laws that describe God's character and defines the redeemed life are part of the path of sanctification.   Christians who are new covenant people are to follow the words of Jesus who through his death began the new covenant.  He and his followers like Peter and Paul, never required dietary, civil or ceremonial laws.  Paul says that new covenant people are set free from both the condemnation of the old law and free from having to live legalistically according to it. On some of the ceremonial laws, Paul would say that there was freedom to follow them or not.  But living life legalistically according to the Old Covenant is not required.   Jesus said, "when the son sets you free, you shall be free indeed."  While this refers to being set free from  sin, still he seems to infer that being set from from sin also implies being set free from the law that defined sin.

So, what about shellfish?  They are considered "unclean" and therefore "inedible" for Israel.  But since that idea comes from the old covenant societal (dietary and ceremonial) law, the Christian has freedom in this area.  You can eat them or not.   What about stoning your child?  Since that is OT civil law and since  Jesus wouldn't stone an adulteress who broke the old law, then we don't stone our children who don't follow Jesus. However, this doesn't help us completely when dealing with homosexual behavior.

On one hand homosexual behavior was not acceptable for the nation of Israel.  On the other hand Paul says in Romans and 1 Cor. that it is still not acceptable.  So here we are, on the horns of a dilemma.  But since we don't the stone adulteress, we don't stone people for homosexual behavior.  But we are still to keep in mind the issue of "uncleanness."  It was a major Old Covenant theme.

Uncleanness does seem to touch the issue of holiness and sanctification.  We are to grow in holiness and therefore keep from things that make us "unholy."  So both adultery and homosexuality are not on that path of sanctification. But, they are not the unforgivable sins.  Therefore we are to forgive as Jesus forgave the woman in adultery.  And we are to "go and sin no more" as Jesus commanded.  There gain, as concerns homosexuality, we are on those dilemma horns. Today people want to say homosexual behavior is not morally wrong, like many people say that adultery is not immoral.  So how to we instruct those who think homosexual behavior is not immoral?  First, we must remember to first love.  Our job is not to condemn but to point people to the source of all love.  The as peace makers, we must condemn all violence based sexual preference.  Tolerance, true tolerance (not acquiescence or political correctness) must rule. 

But what about homosexual marriage?  The Christian desiring to follow the Bible still needs to affirm homosexual behavior is not acceptable.  So to sanction it by affirming same sex-marriage would seem to be a line to draw. Since we do need to protect the rights of people, same-sex contract or "unions" would seem a reasonable way to that. But it sends a message of tolerance.  Of course, if churches are required by law to practice same sex marriage, then civil disobedience is a proper option.

As for requiring the defense department to be governed by the Sermon on the Mount, it might seem strange to you, but I think it already is.  Words like restraint, proportionality, precision guidance, etc are all values that our government has put in place which, I think, reflect the values of the Sermon on the Mount.  While all of our defensive actions are not successful in bringing peace, that is the goal.  As Christians we need to always insist that our military not go beyond what is necessary to defend the country so people can live in peace.