Thursday, September 29, 2016

Homeopathic Holiness (Repost)

Consider this verse:

The wicked flee when no one pursues (Proverbs 28:1)

Matthew Henry gives this commentary:
What continual frights those are subject to that go on in wicked ways. Guilt in the conscience makes men a terror to themselves, so that they are ready to flee when nonepursues; like one that absconds for debt, who thinks every one he meets a bailiff. Though they pretend to be easy, there are secret fears which haunt them wherever they go, so that they fear where no present or imminent danger is, Ps. 53:5 . Those that have made God their enemy, and know it, cannot but see the whole creation at war with them, and therefore can have no true enjoyment of themselves, no confidence, no courage, but a fearful looking for of judgment.

R. C. Sproul, in his book The Holiness of God, has a different take. He views it as a repulsion when unbelievers encounter the holy, even the tiniest holiness of God reflected in 1-part-in-109 homeopathic (my word, not his) quantities among believers. He relates an anecdote of a professional golfer who was part of a foursome with Billy Graham. After the round the pro returned to the clubhouse in a foul mood complaining to a friend that he didn't appreciate Billy Graham shoving his religion down his throat. But upon further questioning, it turned out the Graham had not mentioned his religion, not even once.

From my recollection as an unbeliever, I think Sproul is closer than Henry. When I was an atheist, the slight uneasiness I felt around believers (that is, around those who were not proselytizing. Around that type there was a profound uneasiness) was not that of a criminal fearing that an arrest warrant was about to be produced. It was a slight revulsion telling me that I should not stand too close to this person. He has cooties.

At any rate Henry and Sproul (and I) agree that the irony here is that there is, in fact, no persuit.

Sproul also discusses how people fear God much more after they come to know Him. This is very true--and interesting, given that atheists will often say that we come to God out of fear. Whether or not that is ever true (it was not in my case) it is certainly true that we come to know fear. Fear is not the cause. Fear is one of the effects.

Sproul gives the perfect example from scripture:
3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 6 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5: 3-8)

Peter was just getting to know Jesus. He was not afraid. He was even (possibly) a little condescending in an eye-rolling manner with Jesus. Ahem. Just who is the fisherman here? But OK I'll humor you, teacher. But when he saw God revealed he was so afraid that he had his personal Isaiah-6 moment, recognized his own unclean lips, and asked Jesus: please, just go away.

The New Community, Part 6

The New Community
The Church up to ~45 AD
Primary Source: F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame

The New Community, Part 1
The New Community, Part 2
The New Community, Part 3
The New Community, Part 4
The New Community, Part 5

Stephen’s stoning emboldened Saul and the Sanhedrin, who began systematic persecution, especially of the Hellenistic Christians. The Hellenists fled, and Saul, with official backing of the Sanhedrin (letters from the High Priest Caiaphas, whose authority was respected by the Roman overseers), set out for the outlying synagogues to capture the Nazarenes and return them to the Sanhedrin for trial. Note the bigotry at work here: the Hebrew Nazarenes, especially the apostles, were in Jerusalem, but Saul did not raise a hand toward them. He went after the Hellenists.
Saul left for Damascus, and as he neared the city he saw a blinding light, and the risen Lord stood before him. In a conversion that we Calvinists can only view as the archetype of all conversions, we read:

4He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" 5"Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. 6"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." (Acts 9:4-6)

Paul, blinded, was assisted by his companions into Damascus. Meanwhile, instructed through visions, a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, who had been at risk from Saul’s aborted mission, served as the Lord’s messenger. On Paul's third day in Damascus, Ananias found him, Paul’s sight was restored, and he was baptized.
Then Paul’s amazing journey began. Using his reputation and official letters of travel and access, he toured the very synagogues he had intended to purge. Those in attendance would not have heard what they expected. Instead, Paul boldly proclaimed what just a short time before he had held as dangerous blasphemy: Jesus, the very one who died on a tree, was the Messiah.
Those who had seen the resurrected Lord had been proven correct. Paul himself had seen him. He had been so very wrong about the tree. It is not clear how quickly he arrived at a true understanding, but he did: The Messiah was accursed, Deut. 21:23, was not contradicted. The radical insight was that the Messiah had to become a curse in order to redeem those who couldn’t keep the law from suffering their just curse (Gal 3:13).

Paul’s preaching of Christ in Damascus and the surrounding area eventually incurred the wrath of the local Jewish authorities, who conspired to kill him. (Now many of different stripes wanted to kill Paul!) Paul escaped by being lowered to safety in a basket, through a window in the city wall.
In the third year since he left for Damascus, Paul returned to Jerusalem, trying to contact the disciples. But they avoided him, afraid that his conversion was in reality a trick. Eventually Barnabas interceded on his behalf, testifying to the truthfulness of Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord, and finally Paul came face-to-face with the apostles.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The New Community, Part 5

The New Community
The Church up to ~45 AD
Primary Source: F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame

The New Community, Part 1
The New Community, Part 2
The New Community, Part 3
The New Community, Part 4

Saul of Tarsus

In the late twenties AD, Gamaliel, the  revered Pharisee, accepted a young student from Tarsus, in modern day Turkey, named Saul. He came from a distinguished Jewish family, and Saul's father was a Roman citizen, an honor which he inherited and valued.
Interestingly, Saul’s family did not consider themselves to be Hellenists, as you might expect, Tarsus being a great Greek city at that time, but Hebrews, which is why He went by the Hebrew name Saul. Paul affirms this in his own writing, when speaking of himself he writes "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee" (Phil 3:5).
He also shows great civic pride in his hometown, writing:

Paul answered, "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people." (Acts 21:39)

Saul comes into his own around A.D. 30-33, as the Nazarene movement is flourishing. In the debate over the danger of the Christians, Saul crosses party lines, agreeing with the Sadducees, rather than his Pharisaical mentor, Gamaliel. It was precisely because the Pharisees were somewhat taken by the Nazarenes that concerned Saul. Indeed, not just uneducated Galileans (the learned held little respect of the Galileans, see John 7:52) were being duped, quite a few of his own party had joined the movement.
Saul did not see the Nazarenes as an amusing yet harmless fringe group, but as a blasphemous cult who claimed the Messiah had died a death designated for the accursed, not the favored by God. He (correctly) worried that this movement would ultimate split Judaism, and so with passion he sought to destroy it.

It is interesting that Saul used because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse (Deut. 21:23) to point out the blasphemy of the Nazarenes. It wasn’t until he himself joined the movement that Paul saw the incredible redemptive significance of the passage, later using it like this:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree (Gal. 3:13)

Amazing! In computer software terms, the same line of code that was viewed as a bug by Saul was viewed as a feature by Paul.

Saul believed (again, correctly) that the two religions were incompatible. An opportunity for action arose when he encountered a stout member of the Nazarenes who, ironically, agreed him. Not one the apostles; they surely viewed “the Way” as the next stage of Judaism, and continued with their temple worship. It was the Hellenist Stephen, who saw Jesus “not only” as the risen savior, but also as the terminus for the existing age. The temple and its system would be replaced. Judaism wasn’t being upgraded, it was being supplanted.
Stephen epitomized what concerned Saul: a radical, and, far from an uneducated Galilean bumpkin, he was an eloquent and persuasive Hellenist. He presided at Stephen’s execution, showing his approval by guarding the clothes of the witnesses as they stoned the saint (Acts 7:57).


Jump to Part 6

The Rich Young Ruler (Yet Again)

I've always been fascinated, but with a slight twinge of unease, with the story of the rich young ruler.

17And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" 20And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." 21And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." 22Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

My view of this account has changed somewhat.

First, as I wrote before, and will only repeat the conclusion here, I believe that the rich ruler was saved. (OK, just one point: I believe he was saved if for no other reason than Mark went out of his way to tell us that Jesus loved him. I don't believe there are any lost among the people Jesus loves.)

The troubling aspect of this interaction is when Jesus unambiguously states that a requirement for this man to inherit eternal life is "sell all that you have and give to the poor." What are our choices here?

A) That Jesus was not telling the absolute truth. It actually was not required of the man. He was using hyperbole in a teaching moment.

B) That it is not required of everyone, but this man is an exception. Maybe the only exception. There actually are different requirements for different people to inherit eternal life. Some, or at least one, must sell all and give it to the poor.

C) In fact it is required of the ruler, and it is required of us. We all must liquidate our assets for the benefit of the needy.

I used to lean toward answer A. As a teacher I should know better. The answer to multiple choice questions is always C.

Yes, I now think it is required of us. Of all of us. We all are required to sell all and give to the poor. That it is part of God's moral law as introduced by Jesus in the Sermon in the Mount. Jesus liquidated all His assets and distributed the proceeds to the sick and weary. Plus it fits the "new and improved" pattern wherein the OT gives us a glimpse, a taste, a foreshadowing, viz.

  • New and improved priesthood.
  • New and improved high priest.
  • New and improved temple.
  • New and improved sacrifice.
  • New and improved covenant.
  • New and improved moral law.

We can stipulate,  merely for the sake of argument, that the ruler did keep the Ten Commandments, as he claimed. But like the ruler soon found out there is no way to keep the more fully revealed moral law. This is good news. Why is that good news? Because since we can't do it God has provided a representative who can and did.

This story could have been written another way. Instead of the rich ruler, it could have been the any-man story:
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him "You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: you must never ever look at a women who is not your spouse with lust, because that is adultery." Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he was--any man.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The New Community, Part 4

The New Community
The Church up to ~45 AD
Primary Source: F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame

The New Community, Part 1
The New Community, Part 2
The New Community, Part 3


Stephen's martyrdom hints at Jewish bigotry toward the Hellenists: the Hebrews of the council had Stephen executed, while Peter and John, native Hebrews, were treated more leniently (Acts 5:40).
Naming of Hellenists to positions of authority did not result in their complete assimilation into the Jerusalem church (anti-Hellenist bigotry). When the Sanhedrin initiated the first persecution of Christians, it seems to have been directed at the Hellenists:

2On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. 4Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. 5Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. 6When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said  (Acts 8:2-6)


This does not mean that every Christian except the twelve was flushed out of Jerusalem, but most of the Hellenists were forced out. Philip, for example, escaped to Samaria. In the persecution one can perhaps glimpse the will of God: Hellenists, who would have been more familiar to the Gentiles than Hebrews, began spreading the gospel. Later, (Acts 12) we see the persecution turn toward the Hebrew Christians, resulting in the martyrdom of James, the brother of John1. That persecution arose from King Herod Agrippa.

Further evidence regarding bigotry toward the Hellenists is that the great persecutor Saul of Tarsus left Jerusalem to go after the fleeing Hellenists, while not lifting a hand against the apostles, who remained in the city.

Not to be confused with Jesus’ brother James who was not one of the apostles, and was not a follower of his brother while Jesus lived (John 7:5). But James did have a Damascus road experience himself, for Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 15:7 that the risen Christ appeared to his brother James. James then rose to lead the Jerusalem church and was martyred later, in A.D. 62.


Jump to Part 5

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Law? Or just a good idea?

In Matthew 28, Jesus gives his commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matt 28:19-20,)

It is significant, I think, that we are commanded to make disciples, not converts, but that is a theme for another day. 

Here I want to discuss the instruction: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Now, I would never, ever, advocate baptizing any other way other than in the name of the Triune God. But the question is interesting: is this descriptive or prescriptive? Are we being told that this was a good practice, especially for the context in which it was given, or are we being told that this is the one and only correct way to baptize?

The majority view is the latter, sometimes to extreme--at which point we arrive at an incantation rather than a practice. However this majority view is not without legitimate challenge. For we find these verses describing early baptisms:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38) 

And he [Peter] commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (Acts 10:48) 

On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:5)

Those insisting that the only acceptable baptismal creed is "
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" must answer why these early-church baptisms, which appear to be acceptable, were in the name of Jesus only. One argument is: just because only the name of Jesus was recorded it it doesn't mean the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit were not included. I find that to be weak. If there is one and only one baptismal creed, I would have (perhaps unreasonably) expected the Holy Spirit to inspire Luke to give the fullest expression.

An alternative viewpoint is historical and practical. The earliest converts were Jews and Godfearers (roughly speaking, those gentiles who partially converted to Judaism.) They already understood about monotheism. They had some concept of the Spirit. The new element for them was the Son, and so to be explicit and for emphasis they were baptized in His name. However the Great Commission was for all nations. Pagans were further behind than Jews. The creed for them, this argument suggests, was meant to teach them even more--to have them affirm all three persons of the Godhead, all of whom were, perhaps, equally new and mysterious.

Having said all that-- I completely support the common baptismal creed invoking the full Godhead. I just can't go so far as to say it is the only acceptable practice.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The New Community, Part 3

The New Community
The Church up to ~45 AD
Primary Source: F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame

The New Community, Part 1
The New Community, Part 2

The Hellenists

Although there were no Gentiles at first, there was more than just Aramaic speaking Palestinian Jews. There were the “Hellenists”. Hellenists were Jews whose roots were outside Palestine as a result of the diaspora (the dispersion of Jews from Palestine, beginning with the Babylonian captivity. So vast was this scattering that in the first century there were a dozen synagogues in Rome.)1 Hellenists adopted Greek language and culture, which put them at odds with the Palestinian Jews.
Often overlooked is the critical role played by the Hellenists in spreading the gospel beyond Jerusalem. And the very man who persecutes them, and whom they then seek to kill, takes up their cause as his life’s work.

The first need for administration and the first internal problem in the church is traceable to the tension between “Hebrews” and Hellinists.

One early logistical problem was the distribution of food to the poor. Problems arose:

Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. (Acts 6:1)

The twelve apostles (Judas having been replaced by Matthias) appointed seven deacons to attend to lower-level duties. Probably all were Hellenists (all had Greek names, see Acts 6:5), and at least one, Nicolas of Antioch was not even a Jew. (He was, however, a proselyte, meaning he had previously converted to Judaism, was circumcised, and then became a Nazarene—as contrasted with the as yet nonexistent Gentile converts, who did not convert to Judaism but directly to Christianity.) No doubt the selection of the seven was made in part to placate the Hellenists.

Two of the seven, Stephen and Philip, surpassed expectations and became great teachers. In his amazing speech to the Sanhedrin (Acts 7), prior to being martyred, Stephen said:

But it was Solomon who built the house for him. "However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. (Acts 7:47-48)

This bold swipe at the temple, which enraged the Sanhedrin, may have been impossible for any of the Hebrews to make.  Some charges against Stephen, although brought by false witnesses, may have accurately reflected his teachings:

They produced false witnesses, who testified, "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us." (Acts 6:13-14)

Consider the amazing encounter of Paul, in Corinth,  with Priscilla and Aquila. (Acts 18)


Jump to Part 4

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The New Community, Part 2

The New Community
The Church up to ~45 AD
Primary Source: F.F. Bruce, The Spreading Flame

The New Community, Part 1

The Sadducees did believe in an after-life, but they did not anticipate bodily resurrection, arguing that the first mention of it comes in Daniel which, not having been penned by Moses, was non-authoritative.

In a classic Perry Mason move, Paul later uses the stark differences in their views to save himself in a touchy situation when on trial in the Sanhedrin:

Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, "My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead." When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (Acts 23:6-7)

In particular, one revered Pharisee named Gamaliel  pushed for restraint in oppressing the Nazarenes, arguing with inescapable logic that if the movement is not of God it would die in spite of their tolerance, and if it is from God it would thrive in spite of their suppression. (see Acts 5:33-38).

Gamaliel is quoted in the Talmud (a collection of rabbinical writings) as discussing an unnamed “impudent student.” Some have speculated that the student is Saul of Tarsus. It is easy to imagine: Saul (Paul) must never have been a very rewarding student, for contrary to Gamaliel’s teaching Saul oppressed the Nazarenes far more effectively than the Sadducees, only to then cross over in an instant to become their greatest teacher and evangelist. On one day Gamaliel may have been upset at Paul's severe tactics, and on the next day appalled by his total conversion.

The Nazarenes met in homes where they remembered Jesus’ death through a simple meal of bread and wine. Those who had been with Jesus taught the others what they had learned first-hand. New members were baptized in the name of Jesus. Considering themselves Jews, they kept the Sabbath and still kept to appointed hours of prayer at the temple. The new meal of bread and wine was partaken on the day after the Sabbath, i.e., the first day of the week, Sunday.

The importance of the Nazarenes living as good Jews cannot be overemphasized. It marked them as relatively harmless by the Pharisees, saving them from swift and sure persecution had they had no friends in the Sanhedrin. This early group of Nazarenes, in Jerusalem, is what we often call the Jerusalem church.


Jump to Part 3

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Deconstructing Al Mohler

A Baptist wrote:
But if you look in the first chapter of Genesis, you will there see more particularly set forth that peculiar operation of power upon the universe which was put forth by the Holy Spirit; you will then discover what was his special work. In the 2d verse of the first chapter of Genesis, we read, "And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." We know not how remote the period of the creation of this globe may be—certainly many millions of years before the time of Adam. Our planet has passed through various stages of existence, and different kinds of creatures have lived on its surface, all of which have been fashioned by God. But before that era came, wherein man should be its principal tenant and monarch, the Creator gave up the world to confusion.
(Boldface added.)

That was written (and spoken) by the greatest Baptist preacher of all time, Charles Spurgeon.1 In 1855. That's right, 1855!

How we have fallen. How awful that we allowed ourselves to create a line in the sand where previously there was none. How we have made an enemy and a villain of science, which in Christian terms, is simply the study of God's general revelation--a complement (not a threat) to theology, the study of special revelation.

Al Mohler, who has done so many great things at Southern, is, on this issue, a big part of the problem. Here he is touting a truly bizarre apparent age theory.

It's not a problem that he believes in a young earth. It's a problem that he makes it a line-in-the-sand issue.

Digging in your heels on a young age should no longer be looked at as a quaint virtue. It is as harmful (probably more so) to Christianity as those who insisted, long after the case was settled, that our solar system was not heliocentric. Because the bible said so--or so they thought.

Love God with all your heart, soul, and ... what was that other thing?... oh yeah, mind.

1 The Complete Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon. Book 1 (Vol. 1-3), Sermon 30.

Supplee's Submarine Paradox

The submarine paradox is quite interesting.

A pair of docs
Imagine a submarine with neutral buoyancy, i.e., it maintains a constant depth. Now imagine it takes off at a horizontal, relativistic speed.

• An observer in the water would say: the submarine Lorentz contracts (unofficially the well known "shrinkage" problem in the ocean)  so its density increases and the sub sinks.

• An observer on the submarine would say: the ocean is coming at me at high speed. The water Lorentz contracts, thereby increasing its density, so the buoyancy force increases, and the sub rises.

Ruh roh. As weird as relativity is, it cannot account for the sub crashing into the sea floor in one reference frame and bursting through the surface like a sperm whale in another. No, that just will not do.

Here is the result of a General Relativity calculation that concludes the sub will sink. I'm not sure I believe it is robust. A Special Relativity calculation also (in a more round-about way) also concludes that the sub will sink.

These agree, of course, with the engineering calculation that says in pushing to such speeds either the engines will explode or the sub will crash, in either case the sub will sink.