Saturday, November 7, 2009

Literacy and Biblical Knowledge

I just wanted to point you all towards an article in the September issue of JETS (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society) that I found an enlightening and fascinating read. Timothy Larsen in his article Literacy and Biblical Knowledge: The Victorian Age and Our Own, traces the results of a reaction against the biblical saturation of the Victorian era and the effects it has had upon literacy. I won't necessarily endorse every line of reasoning he pursues, but he is reasonable and balanced in his analysis. I know many of you may frown at the title of the article and dismiss it as irrelevant but I would encourage you to forsake your prejudice and give it a read. There are several important implications for us today that Larsen brings out.

If you read it and find it boring, eh... you're a philistine.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Appropriately preaching, teaching, and defending God's wrath

I am by inclination, believe it or not, much more enthusiastic about preaching God's love, mercy, and grace than I am about preaching hell-fire, brimstone, and wrath. I've seen churches and preachers who have overemphasized God's wrath and it's not only ugly it's a perversion of God and of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today, however, I feel like the trend is not overemphasizing God's wrath but to completely ignore it. My inner being rejoices because I am so much more comfortable with this "tickle my ears" (pseudo-)Christian message, but, unfortunately for my "inner being", I know that my desire to preach and teach this truncated gospel is inspired by selfishness and out of a desire to please people and not from a love of God or, even, out of a love for people. The gospel without wrath is incomplete. The cross is pointless (even twisted) and the Scripture and gospel become simply inspirational messages but give us nothing of eternal value.

That is not to say that we don't need to be cautious when we preach God's wrath. I've heard preaching before that unintentionally made God look like a capricious three year old with occasional temper tantrums. We can't preach God's wrath without helping people understand why God's wrath is appropriate. Telling people that "God is angry at sin" is good, but needs meat. We need to help people see why God is angry at sin. I think people are willing to accept the assertion that they do wrong things, but what's the big deal? Why would God get so angry at sin? Why hell? Why the purging of the Canaanites and the subsequent punishment of Israel for not wiping them out when they are told to? Why doesn't God just forgive us?

It seems like those of us who remain committed to preaching a gospel which includes God's wrath, do a good job of telling people that God hates sin but do a very poor job of helping people understand why. If people don't understand how bad their sin is and how much they need forgiveness, then they will miss out on the depth and power and wonder of God's love. Believers who know that God is angry at sin but don't have a full understanding as to what is so bad about sin, may see God as harsh and unjust (even though they wouldn't verbalize this underlying doubt since that would make it look as though they are questioning God, and we can't have that!).

If any of you still remember my Apology of Hell novel thing from about a year ago, that's kind of what I'm trying to accomplish, defending the need and appropriateness of God's wrath in response to sin. I've recently begun to revive this stuff and will have another chapter finished pretty soon. But I would like your feedback before I share some of my thoughts in both fictional and nonfictional formats.

How do we help people understand the appropriateness of God's wrath towards sin?

P.S. I'm still getting to the baptist distinctive series, but those take work in the form of research! SO you have to wait until I get the time!

Monday, November 2, 2009

"Who Killed Davey Moore?"

Not to harp on certain sports that, in my opinion, show a low regard for human rights, here's a song by Bob Dylan written as a reaction to the death of the boxer Davey Moore in the 1960s. I think if we are going to have the moral authority to go after abortion and euthanasia, both of which I wholeheartedly oppose, we shouldn't wink at boxing, nascar and other sports that puts human life at stake for the sake of entertainment.

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not I," says the referee,
"Don't point your finger at me.
I could've stopped it in the eighth
An' maybe kept him from his fate,
But the crowd would've booed, I'm sure,
At not gettin' their money's worth.
It's too bad he had to go,
But there was a pressure on me too, you know.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not us," says the angry crowd,
Whose screams filled the arena loud.
"It's too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight.
We didn't mean for him t' meet his death,
We just meant to see some sweat,
There ain't nothing wrong in that.
It wasn't us that made him fall.
No, you can't blame us at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says his manager,
Puffing on a big cigar.
"It's hard to say, it's hard to tell,
I always thought that he was well.
It's too bad for his wife an' kids he's dead,
But if he was sick, he should've said.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says the gambling man,
With his ticket stub still in his hand.
"It wasn't me that knocked him down,
My hands never touched him none.
I didn't commit no ugly sin,
Anyway, I put money on him to win.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says the boxing writer,
Pounding print on his old typewriter,
Sayin', "Boxing ain't to blame,
There's just as much danger in a football game."
Sayin', "Fist fighting is here to stay,
It's just the old American way.
It wasn't me that made him fall.
No, you can't blame me at all."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

"Not me," says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist,
Who came here from Cuba's door
Where boxing ain't allowed no more.
"I hit him, yes, it's true,
But that's what I am paid to do.
Don't say 'murder,' don't say 'kill.'
It was destiny, it was God's will."

Who killed Davey Moore,
Why an' what's the reason for?

Okay, enough on sports. I promise to leave this topic alone for a good long while. This is not and never will be a sports blog!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pet Peeves about Christianity and Sports

What is it with Christians and Sports? I like sports just as much as the next guy, but contra Al Mohler, I think I'm about ready for the separation of church and sports. Rather than make this a research paper for which I've done no research, let's turn this into a list of pet peeves:

1) The rape of Philippians 4:13

Sorry to bust any bubbles, but Philippians 4:13 has to do with contentment, not with God guaranteeing sports victories. I know we are supposed to like Tim Tebow for wearing patches under his eyes with Philippians 4:13, but it seriously bugs me. I was going to say that Tebow bugs me until I found this when I was looking for a picture of his Scripture abuse. Thanks Tebow for killing my point, but I refuse to back down. This verse is not a promise for accomplishing great things on the football field. Please quit using it as such.

2) Praying for sports victories

Hmmm... so does God reward whichever team prays harder? I used to get this a lot from my kids, but I always refused to do it, so it happens less frequently these days.

I remember once as a kid skipping sunday night church to watch an nba finals game. I was thoroughly convinced it was my fault the bulls beat the jazz. I felt like I should write a letter of apology to John Stockton and Karl Malone.

3) Making every sports contest a battle between good and evil.

I guess I'm still convinced the Lakers are Satan's team. I've lost my moral authority on this one. Moving on...

4) Every Christian school team having some lame team name from the Bible.

Like the Eagles (taking Isaiah out of context), or the Crusaders (seriously?), or the Saints (better, if you're Catholic). I guess it could get worse. You could be the Flames!

5) Sports Illustrations in Sermons

I don't think there's anything wrong with them in moderation, but I feel like they are way overused. What do you think?

6) The Obligatory "Praise God" comment when you win

Some of you might be ready to flay me for getting bugged my this but I have to admit that it bugs me how most athletes give God credit after they win. I think it is wholly appropriate to praise and glorify God for everything he has given you, including your physical abilities and talents, but it bugs me when God's goodness is proved by a sports victory. What about the the Christians on the other team? Is God any less good because they lost? I find it hard to articulate what all bothers me here, but I think there is something seriously off in our thinking here quite often.

7) Christians enjoying sports that promote violence and a somewhat low view of human life.

Boxing, MMA, Nascar, etc.... It seems to me that we are a little inconsistent to talk about the sanctity of human life and be big on sports that are willing to put human lives at severe risk for entertainment purposes. I do like football, so it is possible I'm being a hypocrite here, but I do feel like it is in a different category than those I listed.

I think the essence of what bothers me is that I feel like God is being used as a good luck charm. That's about as succinct as I get.

Feedback, either positive or negative, is welcome

Monday, October 26, 2009

Quick thoughts and questions on Christian education in the church setting.

My credentials to addressing this topic are neither impressive nor overly deficient. I've been a youth pastor for the last 4 years at a relatively small (about 120) congregation, so I do have a good deal of first hand experience, but I've very little exposure to big churches or various denominations/traditions contexts. In other words, my resume is deep but not wide. I suspect that much of what I have to say will be relevant in a variety of settings, but some of it will be rather useless. Regardless I would very much like to hear your thoughts and feedback.

1) Is expository preaching really sufficient?

In the church contexts in which I grew up, asking this question amounts to heresy. I think I understand and can sympathize with the arguments for it. John MacArthur, one of it's most famous proponents, answers a question in regard to why he has has remained committed to expository preaching:

Well first, because it is a biblical mandate. It doesn’t fluctuate with culture, with expectations, with times or seasons. Expository preaching is the best way to preach the Bible. If every word of God is pure, if every word of God is true, then every word needs to be dealt with. And expository preaching is only way you actually come to grips with every word in the Scriptures.

Secondly, expository preaching familiarizes people with the Scripture itself instead of simply giving them a speech, as true and as reflective of biblical teaching as that speech may be. With expository preaching, people become familiar with the Scripture. They can go back to the passages that have been addressed, and they can be reminded by the text itself of what it means. So you give people the Word of God in a way that has long-term impact, because it makes them familiar with Scripture.

Thirdly, it makes the authority unequivocal, and that authority is the Scripture. That’s very clear no matter how powerful or gifted the preacher might be. In consistent, expository preaching, the people always know what the authority is. It’s not about homiletics. It’s not about personal viewpoints and insights. It’s about relentlessly affirming the true authority of Scripture, which is the most critical thing that anybody can ever learn. It isn’t about, “Wasn’t that a great sermon?” It isn’t about, “Wasn’t that a great outline? Wasn’t that clever?” It’s always about, “What did the Word of God say?” And that makes it truly authoritative, because the Word is from God. No other preaching paradigm does this.

I respect John MacArthur, even though I may complain about him from time to time, because I think he really does try to be a faithful minister of the Word of God. I'm becoming more and more convinced, however, that expository preaching is not enough. I've been getting the distinct impression that people who sit exclusively under expository sermons have a very difficult time with synthesis and in understanding the meta-narrative of Scripture. This approach tends to chop the Bible up into pericopes, or in some cases smaller than that, which the preacher can preach as a unit. It fails, however to put it all together. Texts, even pericopes are meaningless outside of their context within the larger argument of the book at hand or even the whole of Scripture. I also think exclusive expository preaching tends to weaken people's ability to think theologically, but I won't go into that for now. I also feel as if the vast majority of Christians have no concept of our historical-theological context. Again, not now. I may post on this at some later time. I'm not sure I agree with any of Johnny Mac's above points, but I do, at least, respect them and I think I understand where he's coming from.

What do you think?

2) & 3) Do we tell people "what" too much? Do we tell them "how" enough?

We tell people to read their Bibles, but do people really know how? We tell people to share the gospel but are they really equipped to do so? We tell parents to raise their children for the Lord, but do they even have a clue what that means or how to go about it? We tell the laity that being a Christian on Sunday is not enough, but do we help them understand what it means to be a Christian in their workplace, in their home, in school?

4) We tell people that they need to use their spiritual gifts and/or contribute to the church's ministry, but how well do we facilitate this? I get the feeling that a lot of people would be willing to serve in some capacity but aren't sure how or feel like they aren't "good enough Christians." I've run into this attitude among mature Christians that certain people aren't really "qualified" to be involved in the church's ministry because they aren't mature enough spiritually. Although it is certainly true that some level of spiritual maturity is needed for certain roles, I have found that people often grow in spades when they become involved within their church's ministry. If they feel like they aren't good enough yet, they won't become involved, however.

5) Have we become too soft on our own sins and too hard on the sins of others? 99% of all church discipline that I've seen or heard of has been in regards to sexual sin. Is this appropriate? Is this the only sin Christians struggle with that can ever be confronted? What about greed? Or idolatry (depending upon how you define this)? How about not loving your wife? I'm not trying to be funny, it just seems as if we've singled out a certain sin area because it's easier to quantify, more "black and white" if you will. But if we single out this sin I'm afraid it's far too easy to become self-righteous if you've never committed adultery. I also feel like the way church discipline is applied is rather unfair to women, but I won't go into that right now.

5) How confidently should we preach difficult passages or theological concepts?

6) How guilty are we of syncretism? Is singing patriotic american songs idolatrous? I think so. Have we put our concept of "family" in too high a place (see Jesus' statements about the family...)? Have we become too republican? Have we idolized a culture in which we were comfortable instead of learning how to live in the culture in which we find ourselves?

7) Have we been tickling people's ears because we don't want to sound judgmental or legalistic?

Tackle or respond to whichever ones you feel like.

I'll have a Baptist Distinctive post up soon.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Loving Irritating People

My favorite place to study, as many of you probably know, is Bertolino's, a 24/7 coffee shop in Tacoma. It is certainly not ideal, its drip coffee leaves a bit to be desired, its chairs are not only uncomfortable but somewhat dangerous, and it does get a bit crowded at certain points in the evening. All in all, however, I really do love the place. The fact that it is open at 3am is a large part of it but the real draw is the wide and interesting variety of people who frequent Berts. Most of its baristas are Christians, though the night barista (11pm-5am) is an outspoken atheist, and many of them play Christian Contemporary music over the radio (which means I usually have headphones - my apologies if you enjoy that genre, I cannot endure it). Its patrons, on the other hand, are quite the radical mix of people with whom I really enjoy talking. I have gotten more opportunities to talk gospel with people there without having to try and force the conversation that direction than I have anywhere else that I can remember. Religion is a popular topic and, because I'm always studying "seminary stuff" people ask about it. As a somewhat shy person (this may surprise you, but with people I don't know I actually am) this is great because I don't have to take the initiative. One of the main reasons I continue to go there is because I have built a good number of relationships there and I am looking for ways to share the love of Christ with people. It's a slow process, but I believe I not only genuinely love most of the people I talk to there, but I even truly enjoy the conversations.

I realized the other night, however, that I still have a great deal to learn about love. There's a lady (50, 55? not sure) who has been frequenting Berts lately that drives me nuts. Although I do want to talk to people and I do want opportunities to share the gospel, I also go to study and want to be able to be productive, something I am actually able to do there most of the time - believe it or not. This lady has walked up to me several times when I am deep in my books and just started really off the wall conversations in which I get few words in edgewise. She saw me studying Greek and tried to tell me that Greek came from Latin, which is obviously incorrect, and started to go off on how Latin and Greek have some sort of magical quality, which I didn't really understand. I had never talked to her before but she just intruded into my study session, completely oblivious to the fact that I was trying to study. But being the good seminary student that I am, I tried to correct her a little bit (quite gently) but she didn't really listen to me she just went off to another weird topic about more things that made no sense. She is not a completely unique phenomenon. Coffee shops attract these kinds of people. These people do not fall into any sort of definable religious category they are really founders of their own special cult of one. They have some sort of Christianity mixed in usually and even though they claim to be Christian and claim to be some sort of follower of Christ, they are more than a little bit "out there" and need to get a better grasp of who the God of the Bible is.

But back to my unlovingness. The other night I was trying to write a Greek paper for Glessner, which had to be good because the last one was bloody awful, and it was really late at night (I didn't end up sleeping AT ALL that night). When I saw her walk in, I made sure my headphones were in, I kept my eyes zeroed in on my books and computer screen, and I completely avoided eye contact. She made her rounds, like she always does, going from table to table looking for someone to talk to, and, to my delight and someone else's chagrin, she found a victim who had an empty seat next to her and pounced. The lady she was talking to was clearly annoyed but, aside from being extremely rude, which I and most other Washingtonians have a very difficult time with, there was nothing she could do about it. As time progressed, I noticed her begin to kind of ignore her, nodding occasionally but not really looking at her, and eventually she decided to look for someone else. I zeroed back in on my work (thankfully someone else was at my table so there wasn't an open spot) and when she did walk up to me I pretended not to hear her as she tried to start a conversation with, "Oh Greek, that's really cool!". It was believable. I had my headphones in and she wasn't very loud, I honestly only barely heard her, and she went away. She was actually unsuccessful in finding a victim this time and as someone had just vacated the back table, she sat down by herself and drank her coffee. A bit later I saw her bury her head in her arms and I think she fell asleep.

She is obviously a very very lonely woman. She has some form of her own version of Christianity, mixed with God only knows what else, but she needs, wants, and is desperately looking for love. I felt overwhelmingly convicted that I should go back there and talk to her but I resisted it. I was scared that if I did, I would be her victim everytime she came in. I was worried that I would never get out of the conversation if I started one and it was already about 130am, maybe later. I justified it with the argument that it wouldn't do any good anyway. She was nuts afterall and that I really had a lot of work to do so I should get that done too. I didn't talk to her and eventually I left to get a change of scenery (I finished my all nighter at home) but I still feel guilty about it.

But here's where I am looking for help. How do you talk to these people? How do you have a meaningful conversation with people whose own ideas don't really make sense in the least? How do you share the gospel with people who don't really want to listen to you, they just want to talk? I'm afraid of the answers - I don't like where my answer would take me - but I genuinely would like help here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Baptist Distinctive 3: Priesthood of the Believer

Back by popular demand, unbelievable as it is, is my series on the "Baptist Distinctives". But since those few brave souls that actually seem to read these things on a regular basis have continuously pressed and because I am going to be teaching a class on the subject come January, I've brought it back (fireworks please!).

The last distinctive was (Religious Liberty), admittedly, one of my favorites largely because I knew I would get the same reaction from others that I have when I compare the distinctive as understood by early baptists and how most view baptists today. My Mom, who reads my blog but only comments through email because she doesn't want to "embarrass me" - haha -, summed it up well: "The distinctives that historically define them are certainly not what comes to mind when one thinks of a Baptist." In 21st century US, Baptists are thought often thought of as those trying to institute a Christian State, which, considering the awful effect post-Constantine Rome had upon the church, may not be as grand an aspiration as it sounds. It is extremely ironic that today's baptists are often seen as re-instituting what they were trying to end.

BUT, I must get off of my little soap box and climb onto another one. The distinctive I will now discuss is the "Priesthood of the Believer", another distinctive that I think will resonate with most, even those who do not think of themselves as Baptists, but was not always warmly received in the 17th century. I think I'll be able to keep these next few shorter, but no promises.

Explanation of the Distinctive

The Priesthood of the Believer is one of several Baptist distinctives that focuses upon the individual (see also "Regenerated Membership"- the focus on the faith of the individual; Congregational Polity - the role of the individual church members [not only the clergy] in church polity decisions; and Liberty of Conscience). It stands in stark contrast to the Catholic, and most other Protestants in varying degrees, view of the priest as a mediator between the christian and God. This distinctive is very closely related to the "Two Ordinances" distinctive and the Baptist rejection of Sacramentalism.

Baptists affirm that all Christians have equal access to God and that every true believer is a priest. No mediator, save Jesus Christ, is needed for access to God. Neither is an ordained clergyman needed for Baptism, Communion, or preaching, though these are most often performed by the clergy. Baptists do not believe there is a difference in the eyes of God between a pastor and any other believer. This does not mean that Baptists do not have Pastors or Church Government but that they are not needed in order to approach God.

This distinctive is not merely an affirmation of the privileges of individual believers but implies responsibilities as well. The modern missionary movement, which began with William Carey - a Baptist, has seen Baptists at the front and center again and again. Because Baptists take the Scriptures as their sole authority, not the church, they tend to apply passages of the Bible, such as the Great Commission, individually.

How this Distinctive works out practically

Mostly, this is self explanatory. A Baptist church without an ordained pastor can still have communion and can still perform Baptisms.

Although this distinctive may seem to have an overwhelming individualistic bent, there are communal implications. Because there is an inherent equality amongst believers, baptists should be more focused upon their own contribution to the life and growth of the church. Baptists should not go to church merely for the purpose of being taught or hearing music but should go, as priests, in order to minister themselves. The gathering of believers in a Baptist church should be different than the gathering at a Lutheran, Catholic, or Presbyterian church. Instead of going with the mindset of being fed, being taught, and being encouraged, this distinctive should emphasize the dual emphases of being fed and feeding, of being taught and teaching, of being encouraged and encouraging. I do not mean to imply that Christians from other denominations or traditions do not every think of how they can contribute and be a blessing to others, only that this distinctive should result in a greater emphasis upon this attitude in Baptist(ic) churches.

Why this Distinctive is Good

1) The priesthood of the believer should result in a focus amongst individual believers to examine and care for their own individual walk. Although individualism can certainly be overemphasized, as it has in this country, the awareness of one's personal relationship with God and his/her contribution to the church body is essential for the life of the church.

2) This distinctive should influence people to more actively take responsibility for their own growth. It is not the Pastor's job to confer grace but the believer's responsibility to listen to the sermon and apply it personally. When a Baptist takes communion, s/he does not believe that the priest is conferring grace upon him, but s/e should be thinking about and contemplating the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

3) This distinctive can help prevent the descension of a church into heresy or liberalism. If the spiritual health of the church is not only the responsibility of the clergy, congregations can more effectively prevent the infection of false teaching or corrupt leadership in their church. At least in part, I think this Baptist strength contributed in the shocking reversal of the SBC from liberal to conservative in the recent past. This would not have been so easy in a Methodist or Presbyterian denomination.

4) This distinctive tends to put a greater emphasis upon the individual reading of Scripture and prayer.

Challenges and Problems for those who hold to this Distinctive

Although this distinctive is important and a strong point for many baptistic churches, there are some very difficult implications that often follow. These are not necessary, but they do seem to be a specter in many baptist churches.

1) This distinctive can result in legalism and, sometimes, "anti-intellectualism". It is not usually the educated who lead congregations into legalism but the uneducated masses who are uncomfortable with change in their culture or thinking. The uneducated often have a difficult time distinguishing between cultural adaptation and theological or moral compromise. How does this relate? Just as a strength of this distinctive is that it helps prevent the inception of liberalism, the power of the laity tends to put "church that I grew up with" on the same plane. If a pastor's changes make them uncomfortable they are more likely to rebel against him all the while thinking that they are upholding the integrity of their church. I am sure that this goes on in non-baptistic churches as well, but there is a reason that "King-James-Onlyism" is more prevalent in Baptist churches. No one with a decent theological and linguistic education could possibly, with intellectual integrity, believe that the King James Bible is inspired or the only legitimate translation. This is not to say that there are not a few who, with intellectual integrity, believe that the Byzantine text family is more reliable and thus prefer translations that follow it, but there is a world of difference between the (rather) few scholars who hold to this position and the shrill "hand over their ears" crowd who believe that any other translation is a part of Satan's evil scheme to blaspheme God with disrespectful language (you!) and cause Christians to abandon belief in the deity of Christ!

2) This distinctive can encourage Christians to think too individualistically. This is wildly obvious and the implications are far too great too expound upon here so I'll just make a couple of comments and let it be done. When one focuses upon reading the Bible personally, one often gets a much more narrow and much less educated perspective and thus the Bible becomes whatever the individual reading it wants it to be. Bible studies can become a "what does this mean to you" session instead of asking and deciphering what the text actually means. The important role of community in the reading of Scripture and prayer is often diminished and lost.

Let me take a quick shot at how to fix this last problem. We are not to be isolated individualistic priests but a community of priests fellowshipping and worshiping together. Paul's illustration of the church as a body is most helpful. An eye, ear, hand or foot by itself is quite useless. But functioning all together are quite useful. So it is with the believer. Trying to read and understand the Bible needs to be done in community. Worship should be done in community. Prayer needs to be done in community. This does not mean that one cannot or should not read their Bible, worship, or pray unless they are gathered with their church family, but it is important to avoiding the radical overemphasis on the individual, without denying the importance of the individual application and living out of the Christian life.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Why Christianity is a Religion

Have you ever heard someone preach, teach, or say the following cliche: "Christianity isn't a religion, but a relationship"? (see here and here and here and here... just to show a couple quick google results). "Religion," I hear people continue, "is man's attempt to get to God, but Christianity is about God reaching out to you."

But is this really true? You probably guessed that I disagree from my blog title, but I think it is important that we stop saying this for several reasons.

1) It is inaccurate.

Merriam Webster:
1 (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Hmmm... so in what way is Christianity not a religion? Is it not the service and worship of God? I think most Christians who say it's not a religion would be quick to agree that it is. Is it not a personal (or institutional) set of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices? They would be quick to say that Christianity is not an "institutionalized system", but without arguing the point, it is at least a "personal set", is it not? If Christianity conforms to the first two definitions, then I think, by any standard of definition, Christianity is a religion.

It may not fit YOUR definition of religion, but who are you to make up your own definition of religion? Unless we descend into extreme hyper-individualism and give in to Neo-Existentialism resulting in utter chaos without the possibility for any sort of communication, we can't all have our own personal definitions of words that make us feel better. If you don't like thinking of Christianity as a religion, I'm sorry, you're wrong - it is one.

2. This statement undermines the importance of a vital aspect of being a Christian: the Church

Unfortunately, I have not only heard this phrase from the "uneducated laity" but from preachers, church leaders, and from campus pastors at an educational institution that will remain nameless. Even worse, I remember saying it on several occasions about 5-6 years ago before someone pulled out a dictionary on me and made me look like an idiot (thanks Ryan if you ever read this). Why did I say it? I said it because I had heard it several times before from people I respected and it resonated with me. I suspect that this is why most people who say it say it. So my polemic is not aimed at the laity, but at the educated and the clergy. They are the ones who disseminate good and bad thinking to their congregations and they are the ones who need to stop. But back to the point, why did it resonate with me? It resonated with me because I was sick and tired of the institutional church and I wanted a way to distinguish my faith from it. I said it because I wanted a way to historically separate "True Christianity" from Christendom. I said it because I wanted a way to put my faith in a completely different category, separate from false religions. All noble reasons I suppose but there is an anti-institutionalism here that can be very dangerous.

What is dangerous about the anti-institutionalism of this statement? It individualizes faith and implies that your faith is just between you and God. But isn't it? NO it is not. You cannot be a Christian apart from the body of Christ. Your faith is NOT just between you and God. Christian faith is lived in community. Christianity is not just about A relationship, although it certainly includes that, but about RELATIONSHIPS. You cannot separate yourself from your brothers and sisters and still be good with the Father. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Living in community and worshiping with others is very often very difficult, but it is a vital part of being a Christian. Sorry!

3) This statement implies that theology isn't important or that you can believe whatever you want.

It implies, whether intentionally or no, that there are no standards of belief. How does it do that? By refusing to call Christianity a religion and you are reducing it to one aspect of the Christian faith and by extension minimizing or eliminating altogether all other aspects of the Christian faith. I'm sorry, but you can't be a Christian unless you believe and hold to certain fundamental doctrines. If you like to quote this mantra, how do you reply to heretics when they say that God himself has lead them to certain heretical positions? How do you distinguish yourself from them? How can you associate yourself with true doctrine? If it is all about a relationship, just between you and God, then everything else is unnecessary. This is not what most people who say this want to communicate, but it is what it often communicates.

4) This statement flatly contradicts the Bible

James 1:27 says:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (ESV)

God wants us to be religious, but to practice our faith/religion purely. See the problem is not religion, but defiled and impure religion. When Jesus confronted the Pharisees, he was not attacking religion, but defiled and impure religion. Jesus doesn't hate religion, he calls you to a religion. If you want to be a Christian, you must adhere to a set of beliefs, you must be a part of his body, you must do religious acts (helping the helpless, loving the unloved, etc), you must be devoted to God and to others, you must worship God, and, I'm sorry, you must be religious.

How to say what you want to say without being inaccurate or threatening the core of your faith

If you want to communicate that true Christianity is different than people often perceive it, which is probably what you are trying to do in the first place here are some suggestions for a replacement to your current cliche

"True Christianity is different from other religions in that while most other religions are about earning salvation, true Christianity recognizes that we could never be good enough to please God." etc...

"True Christianity isn't about following a list of rules but about following the example of Christ, the perfect image of God. Christianity isn't about being enslaved to rituals but about the freedom we have in Christ from the bondage of sin."

"True Christianity isn't about rituals and going to church Sunday morning. True Christianity is about having a relationship with God and following the example of Jesus. The church isn't a building, but the community of Christians as we use our gifts and abilities to help each other to follow Christ and worship God together."

If none of these are succinct or quotable enough for you, you are welcome to work out your own. Just be careful... cliches are rarely as good as they sound.

@Bri and Brenda: Baptist post next...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Back again, with thoughts on preaching and teaching with integrity.

My blog may begin to evolve into something more like a real blog. My previous blogs has been much more like mini-research papers than actual blogging. Hopefully they were beneficial for someone, but they were so very long that I suspect they took far longer to read than many of you had time for. My intention is to write shorter blogs and to write them more often. I'm not sure if I'll be any better. There is something within my nature to be long-winded and, quite frankly, in this format I don't care too much. I write for whoever wants to read and for myself. If I was preaching or writing for mass audiences I would have to care a lot more about being reader-friendly, but, alas, such is not the case.

My thought for today is about preaching and teaching with integrity. I was talking to my brother today (for the first time in about 7 months) and he was of the opinion that the Bible is not applicable to us, really at all. It was not written to us but to the Colossians, the Jews, the Ephesians, etc, etc.... He thinks preachers go off by even trying to apply the Bible to people it wasn't written to. I didn't really go much into answering him, not because I didn't have an answer but because I very much doubt he cares to hear what I think about it, but I understand and agree with some of his sentiments. It maddens me when preachers "rape" the Bible for the sake of finding suitable applications for their congregations. The more often I hear them abuse the Bible the more I feel the way my brother does. The sermon feels false and forced. It seems like the speaker is grasping to find some way to make it fit a contemporary context but you know that his application is really not legit.

When a pastor misuses the text for the sake of application, he is not only abusing the text of Scripture, he is substituting the Word of God for the words of Pastor "Fill-in-the-blank". I am sick of the words, "This isn't me saying it, but God, so if you have a problem take it up with him!" when it really isn't God's Word at all, just God's words twisted into someone's poorly constructed replica. Furthermore, if preaching really is going to be the center focus of our services, which it is in most cases, we are wasting a good chunk of time. I used to believe, because I HAD to in order to make it through some bad sermons, that I could get something out of any sermon, no matter how awful. I don't believe that anymore. If people are misrepresenting God's word, let's not try and twist it into something positive!

Why does this happen? Does it happen because it's impossible to apply 2000-4000 year old texts to the twenty-first century? No, it happens because we're either lazy or without integrity. It is much harder work to construct a good sermon than most people think. If it's easy, then you aren't doing it right. It's not easy to analyze the social and political context of the Ephesian church, the literary context of Ephesians 5-6, our own political and social context and apply properly and carefully discern principles relating to husbands, wives, children, slaves, and masters. Pastors often make it look easy, not because they're good, but because they're lazy.

Other times this happens because they lack integrity. They push their predetermined political or societal views on how they think things should be on the text. If they are republicans, they magically find anti-welfare, pro-gun, anti-big government, pro-capitalism, anti-Obama passages. If they are democrats, they somehow manage to find anti-capitalism, pro-labor, anti-gun, and pro-welfare passages. If a pastor doesn't like drinking or cussing, he will find ways to present the text as anti-drinking or cussing. You get the point. This is a lack of integrity. It doesn't deal honestly with the Word of God but uses, abuses, and rapes the text.

In defense of pastors and preachers and teachers, it is hard work. Pastors have a lot on their plate and it's hard to get everything just right. It will often be impossible to be sure on what exactly the text is saying and thus extract the right principles. I'm not asking for perfection, just integrity. If a text is difficult to understand and there are several possible views, BE HONEST and say so instead of pretending that you have it all figured out. If you demonstrate how much work you put into getting it right, perhaps that will help others to understand that they too need to read their bibles slowly and carefully. Perhaps it will show others how important it is to get the Word of God right. Expressing absolute confidence when you do not have absolute confidence is not rendering a service to people, it is an extreme disservice.

I'm sorry my first post back was so negative. Maybe next post will find me in a happier mood.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Blind Cynicism

First of all let me welcome myself back to the blogging world. Finals always forces me to take a break from blogging - not so much because I'm so busy with finals but because I'm so tired of writing when I finish. It took a week or so before I could start reading and about 2 1/2 before I could start writing again. Hopefully this summer will be productive on both counts. I have high ambitions but I'll also be fairly busy. We'll see.

I will get back to the Baptist posts (I have one basically finished) but for now I wanted to react to a quote that I read in the current issue of Books and Culture. In Brad Gregory's article "Saints' Lives Decoded?" he relates the following anecdote concerning Aviad Kleinberg's (a history professor at Tel Aviv University) reaction to Mother Teresa:

"(Kleinberg) saw (Mother Teresa) on television telling an interviewer about the very first dying leper in the streets of Calcutta whom she picked up, cleaned, and fed. When the leper asked why she had done it, she said: "Because I love you." ... (He) relates his own response to her words, which "shocked and confused" him: "I believed her. For an instant, at least, I believed that those words were the pure truth, that she had truly loved him, the dying leper in her arms." But then, as he tells the story, he came to his senses, recovering his usual stance toward religion: "I am a skeptic by nature, and when it comes to religious phenomena, my field of specialization, I am even more skeptical." According to Kleinberg, "Freud forever demolished the sublime. When saintliness is not a con, it is a self-deception.... the subconscious [sic] is a cruel master. Some find their pleasure in feeding their id, some in nourishing their superego. The moment of 'faith' that took hold of me while watching Mother Teresa was brief. Immediately I was filled with doubts, beset by my usual cynicism. I was almost ashamed of my naivete.""

I too am a cynic by nature and although I will not declare with confidence that Mother Teresa's motives were pure or her love genuine (who am I to make that determination?), most of my cynicism, as well as a fair dose of sympathy, is reserved for professor Kleinberg. This guy has already predetermined that humans are no more than animals who can only have their self interest at heart. Having no concept of the "image of godness" in humans and no room for the work of the Spirit to produce Christlikeness, he has no room for anything that resembles love or self sacrifice. When he sees an act of love he cannot, thanks to his presuppositions, accept it as such. What a dark bleak world this man sees! Having been momentarily moved by an act of love, he must explain it away as a self deceiving and self serving phenomenon, no more or less noble than any other human action.

I think Kleinberg serves as an example of what I would call "blind cynicism". It does not matter how apparently loving and selfless the act, it cannot be love because love really does not exist. This "blind cynicism" is present also in liberal bible and history scholars who predetermine that since the miraculous is impossible, all apparent tales of the miraculous are automatically false and any apparently fulfilled prophecy must have been written after the fact. It is apparent in the statements of atheist scientists, like Richard Dawkins and others, who declare that if life on this planet did not come about as a result of evolution, it was seeded here by aliens from another planet. It is a supremely arrogant cynicism that already assumes itself right and allows for no other possibility or alternative explanation. Not only do I think this foolish, but especially in Kleinberg's case, I cannot imagine anything more sad. Not even taking into account the eternal state, When I think about going through life without acknowledging the existence of love, self-sacrifice, and the possibility of anything worthy of praise or honor I cannot help but think that Professor Kleinberg has already arrived at some form of internal hell.

Thinking about Professor Kleinberg's statement also reinforces my theological understanding of man without God. Man without God is blind, completely and willingly. He refuses to acknowledge God despite the clear signs of a supremely powerful and personal Creator whose greatness demands worship. Without the work of the Holy Spirit this man will never acknowledge God. I praise God for my salvation and his softening of my heart and the way in which he drew me to himself. I acknowledge that without him I would be like this poor man, blind arrogant and lost. In recognizing this, I can only ask God to open this man's heart and eyes to the love and power of the gospel.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

About a Dog...

I know some of my friends will think less of me for this, since, apparently, I'm not supposed to be sad over the death of a dog, but this post is a tribute to my dog, who died yesterday. I already miss her very much.

Pepper became a part of our family when she was an eight-month old black-lab puppy and I was a thirteen year old boy. We got her from a family that had just had a baby and Pepper was just too crazy for a new baby. I'll never forget the time we went and saw her for the first time. Not only was she the most beautiful dog I'd ever seen, she was the craziest, most out of control, misbehaved, and funniest circus act I'd ever seen. "New people?" she must have thought, "Time for a Pepper greeting!" She ran towards us at full speed and launched her body into us, turned around, ran back into the yard and back again, repeatedly launching herself at these new people. Somehow, this awful display of quite deficient dog-manners, charmed us and we were all hooked. My sister, who had opposed the proposition of a new dog, changed her mind quite quickly and couldn't help but laugh at the ridiculous spectacle. We were all laughing at Pepper, which was characteristic of life with that goofy dog.

I have some favorite memories of Pepper that still, even as I am still very sad, mix in some tears of laughter with the tears of sorrow. She used to always sleep on my bed, mostly because I was a softie and would curl up into a ball while she spread out. I remember once when she got off of my bed and my brother, with whom I shared a room, got quite excited as she walked over to his bed. "Come on Pepper, come on Pepper!" He invited her onto his bed. She hopped up squatted and started to pee all over his bed, to his dismay and, ashamedly, to my delight. She hopped back off and and hopped back on my bed looking very confused as to why Joel was so angry. She looked at me as if to ask, "What's his problem?"

Pepper had so much energy, even as an older dog but especially as for the first couple years, that it was a real chore to contain her. Perhaps her greatest trial was for the first eight or nine months that we had her, we had to keep on tied up in the back yard because she would jump the fence if we didn't. But this was even more of a trial on us! She kept breaking her collars (probably 8-9 times) and our attempt to solve the problem with a harness lasted all of an hour before she broke that too. Even worse, though absolutely hilarious, was when we let her inside because she had to release all of her pent up energy - and she did with vigor! She would tear across the house, full speed, jumping clear over the couch in the middle of the living room, making a big round loop through the dining room and living room, and repeating over and over and over again. I honestly don't remember how long this would last but I would guess it was over five minutes each time of full speed Pepper before she would finally slow down. I wish I had a video of it, it was one of the funniest things ever to watch.

Pepper loved people, but was a very good watch dog. Once she knew you, you were friends for life, but until she did was quite suspicious and not overly friendly. But she couldn't stand for someone not to like her and would not give up trying to make friends. I remember when my Papa (my grandpa) came to visit for a few days and stayed with us. He didn't like dogs, especially dogs that licked - which Pepper did incessantly- and wanted nothing to do with Pepper. She always tried to get to him while he was there but we had to keep her away. Unfortunately for Papa, however, his door was left cracked open while he was sleeping and Pepper snuck in. He woke up to the feeling of a wet slimy tongue all over his nose and mouth, which didn't go over well from his end and Pepper's attempt to make friends failed. But we still laugh about it 10-11 years later.

What a funny dog. I remember her barking at her soup because it was too hot, digging huge holes and getting dirt all over everything, and playing baseball and football with me. I used to play baseball with a tennis ball in the back yard, just me and Pepper, I would bat (throwing the ball to myself) and Pepper would play fielder, and she was quite the fielder. She's also the only dog I've ever seen catch a football. She would bring both paws up and catch it in combination with her mouth. Goofy dog loved her tennis balls. You should of seen her literally prance around the house whenever she got a new one. She was always such a happy dog. You should have seen her dive into lakes and oceans when we'd play water fetch with her and her tennis ball, always so intense and focused, as if there was nothing half so important in all the world.

When I went to college, I lived on campus so I would be gone for a few months at a time. I have never received more enthusiastic greetings than Pepper's. Even as she got older she would get so excited, jumping up, wagging her tail, rubbing up against me, it would take quite a while for her to calm down. Every time I came home there were few things I looked forward to more than Pepper's greetings. It was nice to know that not only were people happy to see you, but that someone was so excited that she couldn't contain herself. It was really funny the last couple years when I came home (I usually only go home once a year these days) because she would sleep on my bed again (she always slept on my bed when I was a kid) when I got home for the first two nights and then go back to her normal spot. It was like she wanted to spend time with me because I had been gone for so long then she would think things were normal again after two days. It was always the first two days. So very funny.

She had different relationships with everybody in the family. Mom always said that she thought I was her puppy. Maybe so. She licked me much more than she licked anyone else and there was something of a ritual about it. She would hold my hand down with one paw and lick my hand until it was literally dripping wet, then turn it over with her other paw until she finished the other side. If I let her she would do the other hand. Everytime I came home after being gone for a while she had to repeat this ritual. Mom said she was "reclaiming me". Maybe so, I just always found that really funny, especially since she usually only did it to me.

I would like to say that she was "my" dog especially but this would be inaccurate. She was my Mom's dog more than anyone else. She was my Mom's constant companion on walks, always reminding her when it was "time". She would watch my mom intently around walk time, waiting for signs: shoes, leash, collar, change of clothes, or any of the words "collar", "leash", or "walk". Mom used to try and get ready on the sly because Pepper would get too excited if she realized it was time and jump all over everything. Of course we kids would always ask Pepper if "she wanted to go on a walk", just to see her cock her head, and start racing around the house looking for Mom. As she grew older she became increasingly more attached to Mom and would barely leave her. When she was younger she always had to have a leash because she would go chase some cat or smell of some kind, but Mom largely stopped using the leash later because Pepper didn't want to leave her. When I was home last I tried to take the dog on a walk without Mom and Pepper flatly refused. She would only go if Mom went.

I told my Mom yesterday that it was okay to cry. I know she was a dog. I know she wasn't human. I know much more tragic things happen all around the world constantly. I know all those things you're going to say. But even though I truly feel thankful and grateful to God for Pepper, with the laughter and joy that came with her, I am also very sad for the loss. I've been told its wrong to cry over a dog. But I join with all Creation in crying, because this world is not the way its supposed to be. I praise God for his creation, but I cry over the brokenness, pain, suffering, and death that sin brought in. I remember that God created the animals and called them good. I look forward to the day when, with the New Creation, all will be good forever, without the tears, pain, sorrow, and death. I remember Jesus' affirmation of God's care for the sparrows, surely he must also care for Pepper. I so often thought about Creation when Pepper would curl up next to me. How cool it must have been back then when the world was without sin. I've always wondered what human-animal relationships were like. Perhaps knowing Pepper gave me a glimpse of what was and what will be. If the "lion laying down with the lamb" and the "little child leading them" is more than a figure of speech and actually denotes something of future animal behavior, perhaps C. S. Lewis' thought on the subject is somewhat accurate. He wrote something to the effect in his book "The Problem of Pain" (which I would quote exactly had someone not borrowed it without ever returning it... grrr...) that tame animals are more natural than wild animals. That it is inaccurate to say that wild animals are in their "natural state" and tame animals are in an "unnatural state", is indeed an intriguing thought. For now, anyway, I will leave this with the Apostles Paul and John:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

and Revelation
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And allow me a couple pictures. These are all in the last couple years (because we didn't have digital cameras 10 years ago...)

Pepper and her Momma...

Always happy, and spoiled rotten

She always was getting into things so she occasionally got sores on her paws that she wasn't allowed to lick. Of course she would lick them anyway so we had to put this on her. It was quite hilarious actually- she didn't much like it.

Goodbye Pepper. Thanks for the memories and the loyal friendship. I know I will never be able to forget you....

I have to quit before I get sappy

Friday, May 22, 2009

Baptist Distinctive 2: Liberty of Conscience / Separation of Church and State part 2

I have a problem with going too long and so I separated this into two sections in an attempt to keep somebody reading at least. The first half of this post dealt with the explanation of the distinctive. This half will deal with how this distinctive works itself out and its strengths and weaknesses. I'm trying to be a bit shorter - no promises!

How this Distinctive works out practically

Historically, as I hope you saw in the last section, this distinctive has meant that Baptists have stood up not only for their own right to worship God as their conscience dictates, but also for the rights of others to practice their religion. This included not only other Christian denominations, but also, as we saw, Jews, Muslims, and American Indians. This does not mean that Baptists believe that these religions are equally valid or that they can lead to God. Any Baptist who held to the first distinctive (sole authority of Scripture) could hardly hold to that! What it does mean is that Baptists realize that one cannot be forced to become a Christian and that a forced conversion is a false one. The best way to evangelize others is to treat them as you would want to be treated and thus share the gospel with them verbally and nonverbally. It also recognizes the importance of genuine faith and the worthlessness of salvation by dead ritual, baptism, or by doing "Christian things". Salvation has to come by genuine faith, not coerced, not forced, not bribed.

Consistent Baptists should not only stand up for their own religious rights, but also for the religious rights of others. To be a consistent Baptist is to realize the reality of the fact that we live in a world of not only many religions but many different understandings of the Christian faith expressed in a multitude of denominations. Consistent Baptists should never try and force policies through that coerce others to worship God as they do. For me, for instance, I would not try and work towards any kind of official prayer time in public schools. Not only is this not an effective way of evangelizing, but it would result in blasphemous insincere prayer - worse than no prayer at all! We are not working towards a Christian State with any sort of special privileges for Christians or unfair treatment towards Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Methodists, or Mormons. We recognize that if people are to be converted, it will be by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in one's heart, not by the sword of man.

I want to quickly point out what this does not and never has meant. This distinctive has never meant that Christians cannot be involved in politics or run for office. Reread Thomas Helwys' quote if you need a refresher, but Baptists do not believe that we can do no good whatsoever in the political scene. We just recognize that one cannot use political coercion to spread the "gospel". It hasn't worked from the beginning of Christian political power in the 4th century. It won't work in the 21st century. Unfortunately, I think our overemphasis on politics often alienates people to the point that they will not listen to us. Remember, the problem isn't that people are proabortion, gay, or that they smoke marijuana. The problem is that they are lost and need the gospel. The gospel has a way of transforming people. Let's worry about their eternal destiny first not allow politics to destroy our chances to preach Christ. I see so often that the first barrier I have to cross with unsaved people is a political barrier. What's sadly ironic, is that it is too often built by those who call themselves Baptists.

Why this Distinctive is Good

1) This distinctive is pragmatic in a good way. It recognizes the boundaries of what one can do through government and that we will never all agree on the best way to worship God. Killing each other doesn't honor God and it only makes the problem worse, so freedom of religion is the best possible option in a pluralistic society. When Jesus comes back, he can outlaw all our bad theology!

2) This distinctive represents a good sort of Christian tolerance. Tolerance means something very different than it used to. Tolerance used to mean that you learned to live alongside those who disagreed with you. Tolerance could sit and listen to what another said without killing, torturing, or persecuting that person. Today tolerance means accepting that the beliefs of whoever you disagree with are equally valid. It means that you cannot tell someone that they are wrong. It means you cannot preach messages on right and wrong. It means you cannot say that someone's lifestyle is sinful. This distinctive represents the first kind of tolerance and I think this better represents the attitude of Jesus than the slaughter of Jews and Muslims during the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the religious wars following the Protestant Reformation.

3) This distinctive recognizes what has been proven throughout church history that when one mixes Christianity and Politics, Christianity becomes the whore. Over and over again, people have been manipulated through the use religion for political purposes. Power attracts some very shady characters. When we make it advantageous to be a Christian, we invite goats to infiltrate the church and contaminate her. If it is no better, politically and socially to be a Christian, you will have fewer fake believers.

4) This distinctive represents a practical outworking of the Golden Rule.

Challenges and Problems for those who hold to this Distinctive

1) The overemphasis on this distinctive could result in the attitude that politics doesn't matter and an apathy on the part of Christians towards our country. I think that this is part of what HAD been the case before the arrival of the Christian Right and the pendulum ended up swunging too far the other way. Christians must maintain a careful balance here. I do not think it is wrong for us to try and protect the rights of unborn babies. We shouldn't be trying to take away the rights of those we disagree with, but we can try and influence our world for good through politics. This is difficult and careful balance is essential.

2) Holding this distinctive makes it much more difficult to think through the issues as a Christian in political office. A Christian who is attempting to institute a theocracy has a clear and obvious goal. A Baptist in politics will have a lot more difficulty thinking through and implementing a philosophy of politics.

A Conclusion and a Question

Someone reading this has probably already figured out that I think many Baptists have become too political. Its not that I think we have become too involved as that I think we have become too much associated with the Republican party (or the Democratic party if you are a member of an African American Baptist church). It's not that I think you can't be a good Christian or a good Baptist and vote Republican. I voted for Republicans in the last election and probably will again in 2012 (although I really hope that certain unnamed candidates are not nominated...). Its that I think that Evangelical Christians are thought of more as a special interest wing of the Republican Party than they are seen as those who stand up for righteousness, justice, and peace. I think I see more republican influence in the church than I see Christian influence in the party. We need to remember that we are not a political entity, that lasting change will only be a result of the change brought on by the transformation of the gospel, and that (as I kept repeating to myself whenever I was getting upset during the last presidential election) "our salvation is not in politics".

I won't push my political beliefs on you. I'm more of a libertarian (though even probably doesn't quite represent my political beliefs accurately) than a Republican or Democrat, but that's not the point. The point is that we need to remember our priorities and our mission. The great commission says nothing about creating a Christian nation. I'm sick of Evangelical Christendom being seen as a political machine. Quit trying to create a Christian state. You'll never succeed and I'm scared of the results if you were somehow able to do it. Politics has a place, but its a bit lower on the totem pole than we've tended to put it.

Question: Are most baptists still baptists?

I know this is a controversial and very difficult topic. I would like to hear your feedback, just so long as you aren't trying to lop off my head....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Baptist Distinctive 2: Liberty of Conscience & Separation of Church and State (part 1/2)

In my last post I dealt with the Baptist distinctive having to do with Scripture, this post will deal with what was most commonly called the "Liberty of the Conscience" or "Individual Soul Liberty" and is more often today thought of as the "Separation of Church and State." I hope I don't say this before every distinctive, but this is one of the most important differences between Baptists and other denominations, especially when Baptists were first conceived.

Oddly, I think that this distinctive could be one of the most persuasive as to why one should be a Baptist or at least appreciate them historically, but it is also the distinctive from which those who call themselves Baptists (at least in the States) have departed the most. As probably most of you know by now, I graduated from Liberty University, the HQ of the Religious Right. The Religious Right and Liberty University make claim to be both Christian and political institutions and apparently see these ends as consistent and congruous. Oddly, many of the leaders were Baptists. I remember hearing Jerry Falwell talk about "taking back America" and the "Baptist" school he founded was to be his primary avenue towards that end. Roger Williams, one of the first Baptists in America, would have rolled over in his grave!

I will approach this distinctive in much the same way as the last one. I will explain the distinctive and its historical development, develop how this distinctive works out (or ought to work out) practically, and then put forth some positives and some challenges that are tied with this distinctive.

Explanation of the Distinctive
In my last post I commented how Baptists' comments in the early stages of the movement were very harsh towards those of other viewpoints, particularly those of Catholic and Anglican persuasions. One can hardly blame them! They were quite severely persecuted from the beginning for their differences. Obadiah Holmes was whipped for preaching, baptizing and administering communion outside the Church of England, John Bunyan was thrown in jail for preaching without a license, and John Smyth and Thomas Helwys were forced to flee to Holland because of their dissenting viewpoints. In the U.S., Roger Williams, a Baptist for a time, was forced out of Massachusetts and into Rhode Island largely because he protested against the mistreatment of the Native American people by the Puritans. When one is under threat of physical harm, imprisonment and being forced from your home, one tends to be rather unreceptive to the idea that those doing it are part of any "true church"! That they are portrayed as "antichrists" should hardly be surprising.

Baptists saw the wars over religion and the harsh persecution of Christians by other "Christians" and wondered, understandably, how this could be consistent with the message of the Bible and the model of the early New Testament church. Following are some early Baptists on the matter of religious freedom.

Thomas Helwys:
...none should be punished with either death or bonds for transgressing against the spiritual ordinances of the New Testament and that such offenses should only be punished with the spiritual sword and with censures.

and later
If the kings people are obedient and true subjects, obeying all human laws made by the king. our lord the king can require none more. For men's religion is between God and themselves. The King will not answer for it. Neither may the king judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least manner.

Roger Williams states, rather sarcastically one imagines:
...the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of protestants and papists (Catholics), spilled in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required not accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace (emphasis mine).

and later
I conclude ... that the Christian church does not persecute; no more than a lily scratches the thorns, or a lamb pursues and tears the wolves, or a turtle-dove hunts the hawks and eagles, or a chasts and a modest virgin fights and scratches like whores and harlots.

A bit later historically (1791), John Leland:
Every man must give an account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment,, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free....
...religion is a matter between God and individuals: the religious opinions of men are not the objects of civil government, or in any way under its control.

Finally, in a very important document from an American history standpoint, here is an excerpt from a letter written by the Danbury Baptist Association in 1801 to the recently elected Thomas Jefferson:

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty - that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals - that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions....

From Jefferson's reply:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between a Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State....

Baptists believe that one cannot force someone to believe. Baptists argued that not only should differing varieties of Christians be free to practice their faith in the way dictated by their conscience, but also "Jews and Turks (meaning Muslims)". Roger Williams argued that the Native Americans too should have religious liberty. Although this may seem like a given for most Christians today, historically it was not so. The idea of separation of Church and State, now taken for granted in the U.S., is a Baptist idea. It is God's job, not the job of the government, to judge a man's soul.

Before I move on, I feel I must point out that this does not mean that one could not be an elected official and a Christian or a Baptist. Early Anglican opponents often accused Baptists of this but it was a false accusation. Nor did Baptists teach that one should not submit oneself to the secular authorities, quite the opposite, in fact. Thomas Helwys emphasizes both of these points in his "declaration of faith":
The Magistracy is a Holy ordinance of GOD, that every soul should be subject to it not for fear only, but for conscience sake... They are ministers of God to take vengeance on those who do evil, Romans 13. It is a fearful evil to speak evil of them.... We should pay tribute, custom and all other duties. We are to pray for them, for GOD would have them saved and come to a knowledge of his truth.

And therefore they may be members of the Church of CHRIST, retaining their Magistracy, for no Holy Ordinance of GOD debars them from being a member of CHRIST'S Church....

This is getting too long for one post. I am aware that I am far too longwinded. I will save the rest of this for another day. I have most of it written already, but will give you all a chance to read part 1 first. In the meantime, I would welcome your comments and your thoughts on the following.

-Before I give you my positives and negatives, I would love to hear yours. Is this a good distinctive? Why/Why not? What are some potential difficulties?

-How true do you think today's "Baptists" are to this historical distinctive?

Quotations taken from: Readings in Baptist History Joseph Early Jr (editor) Nashville, TN: B&H Press, 2008.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Baptist Dinstinctives, Number One: Baptists and the Bible

The first question that should be asked when one talks about Baptists is, I would think, what is a Baptist? I asked "what makes being a Baptist different than being a Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, or Catholic?" of my 7-12 (which is way too big of a range, by the way!) and the following were all they could come up with: Baptists believe the Bible; Baptists believe in the gospel; Baptists baptize people; Baptists pray to Jesus; and Baptists believe in the trinity. Hmmm... even though these things are all true about Baptists, at least good Baptists, methinks they haven't been taught very well about what it means to be a baptist, even though they go to Prairie Baptist Fellowship. Somebody isn't doing their job maybe? Who would that be? Ah, yes. That would be me. At least they didn't say anything about steeples, poorly sung hymns, awkward pews, overweight blue haired ladies, fights over music, splits every five-ten years, or pastors with ties!

Well somebody is working on changing that. I'm teaching on Church History in Sunday School now and will emphasize what it means to be a Baptist and the how and why they developed historically. One might think that these highschoolers and junior highers wouldn't be interested in "Baptist distinctives". I certainly thought so. But oddly enough, I took a poll with 10 potential topics I could cover or emphasize related to church history and had them write, on a scale of 1-10, how interested they were in each topic. What was number 1? Baptist distinctives, with mostly 10s! I felt fairly sure that it would rank fairly low. Obviously I'm not as smart as I thought I was! Hopefully, by time I finish this class, they know what it means to be a baptist and how that is different from being a Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Methodist. I also hope they will be able to gain an appreciation for Baptists historically. If I find out, 30 years ago that some of them are thoughtful and godly Presbyterians I will rejoice and praise God. I care so much more about whether they love and serve God or not than if they are Baptists or not. But, as I told them, there are two things I hope they can understand from my teaching on the subject. 1) I want them to understand that the differences we as Baptists hold to are important, and 2) I want them to understand that they have many godly brothers and sisters who are not Baptists! So, with those same goals in mind, let me begin my postings on the so-called "Baptist distinctives".

There are many different lists of the Baptist distinctives and I could list them all for you and argue why some of them are and why some of them aren't really Baptist distinctives. But that sounds tiresome to me so I will skip that part. I will go with the list Mr. Banz provided a few years ago in the Baptist History class I took with him. They are, as he suggests, as follows:

The Peerless Authority of the Bible / The New Testament as the Basis of Ecclesiology

Liberty of Conscience & Separation of Church and State

Priesthood of the Believer

Regenerated Membership

Autonomy of the Local Congregation

Congregational Polity

Two Ordinances: Baptism and Communion

Faith as a Prerequisite of Baptism

Baptism by Immersion

Two Church Officers: Elder (or, sometimes, Pastor) and Deacon

My format in this series of posts will be to take one distinctive from this list at a time and 1) explain what it means and how it is distinctive, 2) explain how this distinctive works (or should) itself out in practice, 3) give some thoughts as to why this distinctive is good, and 4) give some thoughts as to potential problems, difficulties, challenges and dangers to the distinctive at hand. The first distinction on my (or, more accurately, Mr. Banz's list) is: "The Peerless Authority of the Bible / The New Testament as the Basis of Ecclesiology"... so here goes:

The Peerless Authority of the Bible / The New Testament as the Basis of Ecclesiology

Explanation of the Distinctive

When one of my kids said that believing the Bible was a distinctive of being a Baptist, he was not wrong, obviously, because Baptists don't believe the Bible, but because so do Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans etc.... Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, Jews, and even many liberals would say that they believe the Bible. The Baptist distinctive is not "belief in the Bible." The distinctive has more to do with the exclusive nature of the Bible in regard to Ecclesiastical authority. To understand what this means and why this was so important to the earliest Baptists, try and imagine yourself in England in the early stages of the 1600s. The Protestant Reformation has been raging for going on 100 years (October 31st 1517, if you begin with Luther and the 95 theses). England is Protestant, but the Church of England is the dominant church. One of the main themes, very close to the most important one, of the Reformation had been the idea of Sola Scriptura in contrast to the Roman Catholic practice and belief in the Church itself as the primary authority. When you, however, compare the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, you still see a lot of similarity. And who was the first "head of the Church of England"? The quite ungodly King Henry VIII. Even with continuing changes, reforms, and evolution within the Church of England, the ultimate authority still looks very much like it is the Church, not the Bible. The King is King James who insists upon the "divine right of kings." In combination with the renewed interest and emphasis upon the Bible brought on by the Protestant Reformation, the Bible has been translated into English (until 1611, the Geneva Bible, then the King James Version) and widely dispersed throughout the country. People read their bibles and one of the first issues they deal with (as did the Anabaptists before them) is that, in Scripture, only believers are baptized and that (seemingly) by immersion, not sprinkling.

What does one do when the church and the Bible (seemingly) disagree? For Baptists, the answer has always been to go with the Bible. But this is not the full extent of this distinctive. Here is an enlightening quote from one of the very first Baptist doctrinal statements by one of the most important "Baptist Fathers", Thomas Helwys' Declaration of Faith in 1611 [all spelling and punctuation siq except where noted]:

That the scriptures of the Old and New Testament are written for our instruction, 2 Timothy 3:16 and that we should search them for they testify of CHRIST, John 5:39. Therefore they are to be used with all reverence, as containing the Holy Word of GOD, which is our only direction in all things whatsoever (bold mine).

Note how the Bible is not merely "our guide in all things" but our only
guide. This is the foundational principle of the distinction. Tradition is not guide to church practice. We've always done it this way cannot be a guide. The Pope cannot be a guide to church practice. The Bible, and the Bible alone provides the authority for Faith and Practice for a Baptist.

How this Distinctive works out practically

This distinctive can be seen in Baptist churches not only by a very strong emphasis upon the Bible, but by the incessant need to justify all practice (as well as theology) from the Bible. Baptists look at the New Testament to answer how they should do church. Baptists are not only against Church practice and theology that is contradicted by Scripture, like Luther, but against anything not found in Scripture. The emphasis on the Bible prejudices them (somewhat oddly considering the fact that instructions concerning tongues and as well as the practice of speaking in tongues are found in the New Testament) against the sign gifts because this is supposedly a form of revelation and thus authoritative. This distinctive is foundational to many of the other distinctives , such as the "only 2 ordinances" one. Many Presbyterians teach that the preaching of the Word is a sacrament. Baptists do not find this belief taught and practiced in Scripture and thus it cannot be such.

This distinctive should result in a great deal of flexibility and fluidity in areas not addressed by Scripture. For instance, what songs and what music style do you sing? Baptists, if consistent, do not rely upon tradition as authoritative. A consistent Baptist will never appeal to anything, other than the Bible, as authoritative. Dr. Willsey once talked about a GARB conference of some kind he attended once which wanted (and I think did - if he reads this, which apparently he has done before *gulp*, he can affirm or correct me as need be) to define themselves doctrinally with the "Reformation Doctrine of Justification." This is NOT being a Baptist! A Baptist cannot prove something by saying "Baptists have always believed this," or by appealing to the Protestant Reformation! When they do, they cease to be consistent Baptists.

Theoretically then, Baptist should be fairly fluid in practice, since the New Testament does give us a good deal of flexibility in "how we do church", and fairly stable in theology, since the Bible doesn't really change and isn't added to. Of course we are all humans with our own presuppositions and preunderstandings and contexts and we make mistakes etc etc, so we, as good Baptists, should always be reexamining our views on what the Bible teaches. But unless our understanding of Scripture changes, generally, the theology of a consistent Baptist remains relatively stable.

Why this Distinctive is Good

There are a lot of good things about this distinctive. A few are:

1) Since Baptists appeal to God's Word as their authority, they should be less susceptible to leaders or teachers who lead them astray. A pastor is only considered authoritative as he is accurately teaching Scripture. This keeps the leadership of a/the church accountable to the people and the Bible.

2) As already hinted at, this should free us from the tyranny of tradition. This does not mean we can't have tradition or that tradition cannot be helpful, meaningful, or worshipful. But if a tradition, such as a steeple on top of a building, is no longer culturally relevant or communicative, Baptists should be able to abandon it without any real problems.

Now for many of you, this may seem quite the opposite from normal Baptist practice, but although you may argue with me, I do not believe that consistent Baptists are quite as enslaved to tradition as some think. Today, many Baptists (by theology) do not call or consider themselves Baptists either because they don't want to be associated with some Baptists or because they don't like what the term communicates - it doesn't communicate what they would want it to. This is quite consistent with being a Baptist! If nothing in Scripture calls you to label yourself a Baptist you are very free to adjust. This is, in my opinion, more indicative of being a "real Baptist" than those who cling to the name on the sign because its always been there.

3) This distinctive causes churches to focus upon and strongly emphasize the importance of EVERYONE reading the Bible for themselves. If the Bible is the authority and not the church or the pastor, everyone reads it (or should). This is why "Berean Baptist" is such a common name for a baptist church. They really tend to like that church....

4) This helps keep Baptists from "going liberal". This is not to say that Baptists don't or can't go liberal. They do and they can. But when a church begins to teach things Baptists see as contrary to the Bible, Baptists have tended historically to break off from said church. As you can probably see, this characteristic is both a blessing and a curse and will thus also be listed in the next section.

Challenges and Problems for those who hold to this Distinctive

Although I do like and hold, with some reservations which will be explained, to this distinctive, it does create some problems and challenges which a Baptist church or Baptist individual would do well to think carefully about. The below challenges do not indicate what I believe are necessary problems but typical problems for those who hold to this belief.

1) If the Bible is the only authority, how do we determine which or who's interpretation of the Bible is right? The Bible may be fairly clear on a lot, but there are a lot of less clear issues that produce a multitude of interpretations. We can't all interpret the Bible however we want to, can we?

2) The emphasis on the Bible far too often, and I am guilty of this, leads to a underemphasis on the Holy Spirit. Nuff said.

3) The emphasis on the Bible as the only authority is a big reason why Baptist churches are so famous for splitting over minuscule disagreements. I can see this in the very foundations of Baptist theology as I read the earliest Baptists. They tended to characterize other Christians very harshly. Instead of recognizing the fact that there are other believers who understand some things in the Bible differently, they tend to accuse them of "not believing the Bible." This is good when churches have departed from the faith, but bad when they are genuine and faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

4) Baptists have tended, at least today and at least in my observation, to underemphasize the importance of the church as a community of faith and overemphasize the importance of the individual. The emphasis on everyone reading the Bible for him/herself can lead to each person being their own determiner of truth and practice. This works very well in America, by the way. Baptist preachers very rarely emphasize "obey your elders". Submission for the good of the community is sometimes more rare than it ought to be. Baptists in America can be accurately characterized, far too often unfortunately, by hyper-individualism.

Concluding Remarks

I could list many more positives and problems if I had the time, but this is already WAY WAY WAY WAY too long and I'm not sure anyone is still reading. If you are, please accept my sincere apologies. Once I get the blogging bug I tend to go overboard.

As ALWAYS, comments and discussions are not only welcomed, they are begged for. I see no point of blogging on these matters without interaction.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Return to the Blogosphere: Baptist Distinctives

If anyone missed me, they can stop their mourning. I'm back. My absence was mainly due to being overloaded with finals and that I had chosen a topic that required a good deal of work on my part and I never got around to it. I still hope to get around to the animal topic but I need to do some research on what goes on so I can have some sort of coherent application. Hopefully that will be possible this summer. No promises however. I do want to dialogue on this issue so anyone who has strong feelings on the issue with stuff for me to read should fire their ammo at me.

For my return to the Blogosphere, I want to choose a subject that used to make me roll my eyes in boredom and smirk in cynicism. I want to blog on Baptist Distinctives. When I was in college at Liberty University (which, though not officially baptist, is full of them), I refused to allow anyone to call me a baptist. I looked around me at the republican political machine that called itself a Christian University with a Baptist pastor as the head of this monster and I wanted nothing to do with it. I was "nondenominational" and certainly not a Baptist. It was not until a couple of years ago, in a Baptist History class at NBS, when I began to appreciate the Baptist heritage and begin to be comfortable claiming it as my own. Ironically, most of the problems I had with Liberty and the Baptists in the SBC and GARB were really deviations from what being a Baptist historically means. In effect, I was the Baptist and those who claimed it were pseudo-baptists.

I am still uncomfortable calling myself a Baptist but this discomfort is unrelated to what being a Baptist really means. In my exit interview with NBS I said that I thought we should drop the "Baptist" from the name. Why? Because a) Pseudobaptists everywhere have distorted the name and the name now gives a connotation that I feel does not represent what NBS really is, and b) there is nothing about being a Baptist that requires designating yourself as such. It's funny, I grew up in churches that were nondenominational and would never call themselves Baptist churches because they were independent churches, and proud of the fact. They were basically Baptist in theology and practice, just not in name. What's so funny about this? This is a very Baptist attitude! They refused to be called baptists, basically, because of their baptistic perspective on denominationalism.

In this next set of blog posts, I will examine what have come to be called the Baptist Distinctives. I like these dinstictives, but I do have problems with them as well. I will seek to explain each in turn, give the rationale for each distinctive, explain how this works out practically, and offer a critique of each to point out the problems and difficulties that each present. As always your feedback is appreciated.

I'm back baby....

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Biblical Data: Genesis 1-11

Faith and Politics

To begin, I feel I must once again emphasize the importance of both separating and integrating faith and politics. It is very easy for us, as evidenced by the so called Christian Right and Christian Left, to allow politics to dictate the way we look at Scripture and apply our Christian faith. It is also easy for us to see the political extremes in our society and react against our "political enemies" or stand with our "political allies" instead of reacting to Scripture and allowing it to dictate where we stand on a political issue. I want to emphasize that I do not believe it is wrong for a Christian to be involved or informed politically. Politics is important and our faith should be integrated into every area of our lives. But we need to be careful that we are Christians who are republicans or democrats (or whatever else), not republicans or democrats who happen to be Christians.

I say this because some of the issues that I will be addressing are very much related to politics. On the left, we have some animal rights activists who would have us treat animals as equals. On the right, we have some who have an "animal rights are not important, let's just eat them because they taste good" attitude. It is important to allow Scripture to inform our politics and I think there are wrong headed attitudes and beliefs on both sides of the political spectrum.

With that out of the way...

The Bible as our Framework for Thinking

Merely looking at the Biblical data will not decide or close the book on the issue. For better and for worse, the Bible is not a theology handbook, or really even a theology book. WHAAT!? You protest. No, the Bible is not a science book, or a history book, or a philosophy book, it is not even a theology book. It does speak to all of these, and other, disciples however. The Bible provides us a framework from which to approach information, knowledge, and life but it does not provide a systematic index for every theological question we have and understanding what it says is essential for approaching varying topics. So before we work out a theology of animals, lets examine the data and make some observations. Next time we will examine data from other sources and evaluate it in light of the Biblical data and begin to make some conclusions.

The Biblical Data

Genesis 1-3

Genesis 1 is a very structured passage. It's structure is significant and there is much we could say but I'm not trying to publish a book here. But a basic structure of the days of creation can be helpful.

A Day 1: Separation of light and darkness. Heavens prepared for population.
B Day 2: Separation of clouds and sea; and of sea from land. Skies and waters prepared for population.
C Day 3: Plants planted. Land prepared for population.
A' Day 4: Heavens populated with sun, moon, and stars. Rulership granted to sun and moon over day and night.
B' Day 5: Sea and land populated with sea creatures and birds.
C' Day 6: Land populated with animals. Humans created in God's image and granted rulership over the land, sea, sky, and creatures therein.
D Day 7: God rests and the day is set aside as holy.

Okay a couple things can be noted here.
1) God carefully prepares the heavens, skies, seas, and land for their inhabitants. I think it is fair to say that all of his creation is important to him. At the end of each day, he declares it "good", which demonstrates that he is both pleased with his creation and that it is how he wanted it to be.

2) Humans are similar to animals in some important ways. a) Both have the breath of life (see 6:17); b) Both are created from dirt (see 2:19); c) Both are created on the sixth day (well, the land animals are anyway); d) Both are given some of the same instructions: be fruitful and multiply; e) Both are provided food from the same source, plants; f) God is apparently pleased with his work with both of them.

3) Humans are distinct from the animals in some important ways. a) Humans are made in God's image; b) Humans are given dominion over the land, skies, seas, and the animals therein; animals are not; c) Humans are given additional tasks reflective of their unique place: they are to name the animals and they are specially placed in the garden of Eden and are commanded to cultivate it; d) Humans are forbidden to eat from a particular tree, animals are not given any prohibitions (at least in the text); e) Human gender is different. Animals are apparently created from the beginning with sexual distinction but humans are not. The woman "comes from man", there is not apparent parallel with animals; f) From this we can also discern a greater need and longing for relationship which can be seen in Adam and Eve's relationship and their relationship with God.

4) Moving from #3, because of these distinctions, humans are held responsible in a way that animals are not. When humans sin, animals apparently suffer as well. Humans are held responsible for their dominion and their dominion suffers when they mess up.

5) Humans are given plants to eat originally. It is not until Genesis 9 that meat is allowed.

6) When humans fall, God covers their nakedness with animal skins (apparently).

Genesis 4-11

After the fall, we see some differences in animal-human relationships. Animals are not the focal point of the text anywhere in this section but they are mentioned and there are some significant observations to be made:

1) Animal sacrifices are seen immediately in the text post-fall. This is very interesting for various aspects of theology but lets stick with the animal aspect for now. But, despite animal sacrifices, animals are not yet given as food.

2) Cain's sacrifice of fruit is not accepted by God. There is some debate as to whether the content of the sacrifice even mattered, let's leave that for later.

3) When man gets really really evil, God expresses sorrow that he made man and then proceeds to threaten to blot out ALL life for MAN's sin.

4) When Noah is spared for his righteousness, animals are spared extinction as well.

5) Interestingly, there are already classifications of clean and unclean animals.

6) Noah makes animal sacrifices to God when he exits, apparently offering up a lot of animals (some of EVERY clean animal and EVERY clean bird).

7) After the flood, Animal-human relationships are fundamentally changed. Animals are now permissible for food. Animals are given an instinctive fear of humans. Animals are to be used as a substitute for humans when they sin.

8) I think this is an interesting observation. The Noahic covenant is made with all flesh, including animals.

Some closing remarks...

Genesis does not ignore the importance of animal life. Animals are not the focal point of the text but they play an important part in the opening chapters of the bible. This is not all of the Biblical data, but is, perhaps, the most important and definitely provides us with a foundation from which to build.

Next time I will make some observations from the rest of the Bible and will begin to move on to some observations from other sources. Finally, I will attempt to explicate principles for application in our contemporary context.

About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul