9.29.2011

Fruit-Booting and Reality

I used to be a fruit-booter. At least that’s what the skateboarding crowd would call my friends and me. “Fruit-booter” was a derogatory term for those who were aggressive inline skaters. Let’s be honest, as far as aggressive inline skating went I was average. There were a few rails I could slide, some decent flights of stairs I could jump off of, and had there been the plethora of skate parks then as there are now I am sure my friends and I could have at least held our own at them, though we probably would not have wowed anyone, we certainly would not have inspired any film crews to show up to see our skills. The non-skating crowd would have thought what we were doing was amazing, but among those who know the sport few would be impressed. Nonetheless we had fun, tons of it.

As I look back to those days I realize that there was something different about me then, something admirable that over time I am afraid to say I lost. There was a passion in me, that rarely have I been able to capture since. This is going to sound weird at first, but when I look back at that time skating was my ‘worldview’. How I looked at the world was entirely shaped by inline skating. When I was at the amusement park standing in lines with my friends we would look across all the rails in the cue lines and discuss the various moves that could be done within those lines. When we drove by a staircase in front of a church our natural tendency was to see if it had enough of a run up to be able to jump off of, and enough space to land. When we saw sidewalks downtown with a concrete ledge we would question whether or not it could be waxed in order grind down. The entire world of concrete looked to me as a playground with unlimited possibilities. What was simply a planter box to the common observer was to me a royale to soul grind (skating terms) waiting to happen. The stairs you trudged up to get into your office building was to me a mute 360 waiting to happen. In the middle of winter while the skates got dusty my mind was still engaged, still creating, still seeing the world around me as a place of infinite possibilities.

The point is that my skating ‘worldview’ looked at the world seeking out its possibilities, not bogged down with its rational uses. I did not care what the intent of some flight of stairs was, I looked at those stairs for possibilities! That worldview brought life to everything I could see. My friends and I could have never put a finger upon why life was so good then. However if I had the chance to talk with them all now I imagine that we would be unanimous in saying that something has changed in all of us since then, and that the change was not for the better. At some point after careers began and life became driven by goals, and tasks the world lost its magic. Hand railings became something to help us up stairs, stairs became something we used to only to change our elevation to get somewhere different. Planters became nothing more than decoration and buildings became nothing more than places of employment. This supposed maturing process that we all go through is utterly tragic. As I grew up everything became so much more rational, so much more logical, and the world that was once a magical playground when I had the skating ‘worldview’ lost its magic. The strange thing however is that the world did not change, the world never lost its color, the world never lost it, it’s still here, I have just become blind to it. The magic is not gone, I have just ceased to believe in it! I contend with you that the magic that the skating ‘worldview’ allowed me to see was real, and the only reason I could see it was because of the ‘worldview’ I held. It was not a false magic, it was real, ask my friends Nick and Matt if it was real, they will gladly confirm it. Ask the kid on skates down the street, or the skateboarder with his skinny jeans and ugly haircut if it is real, he will tell you that indeed that magic is as real as the screen you sit in front of!

Now as great as the skating ‘worldview’ was, it is limited. For instance, rain or snow could bring the skating world to a halt. When the rain or snow fell you could only dream of the world that was, or the world that was to come again once the roads became usable again. Rain was not a blessing, it was the greatest of curses, because it temporarily destroyed your world.

Maybe my four year old son’s worldview is better even than the skating worldview. We walked in our house today in the middle of the rain and he had to stop to analyze the down spout. As I looked at the spout I saw it was flowing well which meant no clogs, all was well. When Joey saw it he saw a waterfall pouring into a newly created small lake in the front yard. Like magic the rain created a whole new world to be explored, he cared not about the function of the down spout, his thought was not rational in any sense, but you cannot tell either me or him that there was not a waterfall in our front yard that was not there a few hours earlier. He is not mature enough to see the function, he only sees the form, and the form was a waterfall. His view was far more desirable then mine! Don’t tell me it is just because he has a better imagination, it has nothing to do with imagination, he was just better suited to see reality! Clear as day there was a waterfall pouring into a newly formed body of water in my front yard, there was nothing unreal about it, you could touch it, feel the cold water, splash in the puddle that had formed, it was real. It was far more real than my view that saw nothing but a formed piece of sheet metal doing its job. This is not the case of a delusional Don Quixote fighting a windmill as though it were monster; this was the case of a real waterfall at my house.

What if I told you that I fought a monster today with hundreds of eyes that feasted on dead carcasses and vomited its prey all over the place? Would you think I am mad? I am not mad, no I valiantly destroyed a common housefly, which indeed fits the description I just gave. Go ahead and tell me I am a mad dreamer, I do not mind. Tell me I am nuts for seeing myself as a valiant monster slayer enjoying the task of taking out that fly as though it was the thing I was created for. Tell me I am nuts, I don’t mind, but it is you sir, not I, that is driven mad by the annoying fly in your house. You may kill the fly and have relief, but when I kill the fly I have victory and joy. Am I being childlike? Maybe, but you cannot say that I am lost in some fable or myth because I really did kill a little monster with hundreds of eyes that feeds on carcasses and vomits its prey everywhere. My mission was real, your worldview just limits you from being able to see it!

What I am saying to you is that this world is far more rich and dare I say ‘magical’ than you are willing to see. What I am saying is here is that the valiant fly swatter, skater, and waterfall downspout gazers are more realistic than you are! They see realities that exist that you fail to see. Your rationality prevents you from seeing the world as it ACTUALLY IS.

I could go on and on. The writer sees the English language with all its grammar and syntax as a great possibility for a story. The novelist sees more than just the function of grammar, they see a deeper more real reality! The rest of us see vocabulary and rules that we need to learn.

Hopefully what I have said above has piqued your interest, at least just a little. As you look down at your keyboard what do you see? Mere keys, or is it a device that enables you create and destroy worlds, to bring healing to people’s brokenness, and to expose wickedness. The REAL possibilities at your fingertips right now are staggering. Or what of your kitchen table, is it a mere place to eat your food and have some conversation. Or is it a place where you tell war stories about slain monsters, and discovered waterfalls. Is it a place to eat and complain about the days issues, or go through a few formalities of family life, or is it a conference of warriors, and explorers? Are you catching my drift? There are ACTUAL realities that exist around your own table that your view of the world does not allow you to see!

I would contend that the only worldview that actually seeks realities beyond the mere rational form and function of everything is indeed Christianity. In the eastern religions the goal is to ultimately separate from reality, that somehow entering into a state of nothingness can one truly experience spiritual life. Transcendentalism teaches essentially that matter is bad. These worldviews would teach us to learn that the downspout doesn’t matter, and that if we can get ourselves to the point where the downspout and nothing else for that matter affects us then we will truly be free. It’s bogus! I tell you that the waterfall was enjoyable and beautiful precisely because we realized it was REAL. It was not our distance that brought pleasure, it was putting our hand under it and enjoying it!

The reason I say Christianity gives us the proper worldview is because in it we realize that all things were created by and for Christ. All of it. We also see that we are indeed co-heirs with Christ, in other words this whole world in a very real sense is ours. When we say all things are created by Him we really mean ALL, from waterfalls to wrenches, it is all the creation of God. If indeed all things are ours as co-heirs with Him then we can determine how to use them as we please. Let me give an example. If I have a wrench, I can limit it’s usage to turning bolts, or I could make it a pendulum for a clock, or I could use that flat part as a mirror to pull out my nose hairs. It’s my wrench, therefore the possible realities for that wrench are limitless. Of course we are bound by laws of God so that we would not steal the wrench, or kill someone with it, but beyond illegal usage we are unbound. So it is with the entire world!

Even evil and pain function within this worldview to make something beautiful. Evil itself was the mere nemesis which God had nailed to himself in victory! There is a cosmic throw down which Christ won on the cross. It is a really beautiful thing, him reconciling the world to himself with real flesh and blood, a real cross with real nails. The existence of evil itself proves that there is the existence of good. The tension of good and evil makes the world all the more beautiful. Without pain there is no joy of healing.

In Christianity we have a sovereign God, the author of reality, all realities, nothing has been made that was not made by him. That means that even the reality to the skater is a reality created by him. The waterfall was His waterfall, the kitchen table is his command center, the evil housefly monster is a villain created by him that I might be the valiant king of my home. Do you see it?

If you can’t see it don’t quickly dismiss it. I assure you that in the middle of downtown Toledo there is a playground that spans over a hundred acres… you might just need to be a fruit-booter to see it. Unbeliever I implore you to look at the world through the eyes of a Christian, not one of those creepy Christians, but look at the world as a world created by and for Christ, a world of intense order and beauty that contains realities you have yet to imagine! You might just see there is more to all of this than you ever imagined.

9.26.2011

I love Mondays

I have spent almost my entire day today just thinking without an agenda. In other words my mind has been wandering randomly all day, and I am ok with that. It started this morning as I was thinking about a conversation I had last week with my cousin about the benefits of factions in the church, this thought later became a blog post over at Dead Pastor Society. Later I began to think about how most preaching both liberal and conservative typically amounts to just beating people down in order to get them to do something, and then the phrase “The beatings will continue until moral increases” came into my head and that spurred on a whole other line of thinking. Eventually I ended up watching some video about the holocaust, later listened to some teaching on the Theology of the Cross, checked facebook a few times… and now I am just sitting here writing another blog post. This is not an atypical Monday for me. In fact I always look forward to Mondays because this how they usually go. Monday is the day that I free myself up to do this sort of things, ALL DAY. Granted I do more of this at other times during the week, but for the most part I have no plans to do anything but bounce around in thought on Monday. When I get done with this post I will be picking up “Orthodoxy” by GK Chesterton and hopefully finishing the rest of it, and later I will continue reading from 2 Chronicles if time allows.

Monday is random, undisciplined, and free. In some ways it is even better than a day off.

Of course the question comes up, “Jay! How do you have time to do that?” Let’s be honest, you, reader (if you are like most people), are not as busy as you say you are. You’re just not. People ask you how life is, you say “really really busy”, but the reason you say that is because it makes you feel important, and it gives you an excuse for never calling or talking to the person you’re in the conversation with. We just are not as busy as we proclaim to be. Most of the tasks we have to do take far less time then we allot for them, and sometimes we take much longer than necessary just because it makes the task seem all the more important. Need proof? How many times has a deadline crept up on you and out of necessity you complete your task in 1/3 the time you normally take and lo it’s done just as well. Come on, be honest, you are not as busy as you say you are, and your job and your family is not as demanding as you make it out to be! (Of course there are exceptions and you may be one of them, but I bet most people reading this are sensing the truth of what I am saying.)

I don’t write any of this to condemn anyone, not at all. I write this to encourage you to free up some of your work time for random thought. You have already fought enough with employers and family and such to get everyone to believe it takes you longer to do a task than it really does, which means that you have extra time on your hands. Have fun with it! Don’t waste all of it on facebook (but waste some there), or looking through old emails. Get some books, think random thoughts, write, contemplate, do the things your mind longs to do. You will find that you are going to have so much more to talk about with people, you become more insightful, and more ready to do good creative work, all because you took time to be random.

I certainly believe we should be a disciplined people (that is why I give myself Monday and not the rest of the week.) There are tasks that we need to do, deadlines we need to meet. I only am telling you not to believe your own lies about how difficult your job is and how little time you have, because the time you take making those lies appear true is time that you could waste doing fun stuff, like writing blogs, reading books, and listening to good theology. (At least that’s what I find fun!)

I’d love to hear all your thoughts on this one.

9.23.2011

Why I am not a "creationist"

Again I remind you that post every Monday over at Dead Pastors Society, so if you are interested in more of what you find here, head over there.

Let me say that I have a huge beef with creationism. Now listen, I certainly believe in the literal creation account of scripture, meaning that I believe in a literal 7 days, a literal flood, and a literal tower of babel, all those things I take to be absolutely true. However I am not a creationist because the doctrine that defines my system of theology is NOT creation. Now I am not opposed to “-isms”, in fact I think they are helpful. Methodism is a system of understanding scripture and ecclesiology, as is Lutheranism, Calvinism, Romanism, Arminianism, etc… There is nothing wrong with an “-ism” in that sense. Now certainly not all “-isms” are equally desirable and therein lies my problem with “creationism.”

Creationism affirms that all biblical doctrine is eventually founded in the creation, or in the first 11 books of Genesis. One of the main things you will hear a creationist say is that if you lose the book of Genesis you lose the entire bible. In other words the creationist affirms that all doctrines are ultimately founded in the creation and without the literal creation account no doctrine can stand. This is standard creationism, and I believe creationism’s emphasis is horribly misplaced.

Let me give an example. One of my best friends, who I love dearly, in the Lord is what I would call an ardent creationist. I explained to him that I believe in the literal creation account simply because Christ seems to believe in it, and Christ being resurrected is indeed proven as God in the flesh, and if God Himself affirms a literal creation then who am I to deny it. In other words my sole reason for believing the literal creation narrative is the authority of Christ proven by his resurrection. After hearing that argument my friend said, “I will definitely add that argument to my arsenal.” What I presume he meant is that he will add the resurrected Christ argument in order to serve his creation argument.

So what is wrong with his methodology? Or is there anything wrong with his idea of the adding the resurrection argument to his arsenal? YES! Listen, the resurrection IS our arsenal, it IS our argument. It is not one of many arguments used to prove a greater point. It IS the great point! It is not a sub argument that we add to prove other points of doctrine, not at all! The life, death, and resurrection of Christ IS our doctrine, and all other arguments are subservient to that doctrine. In other words, the literal creation serves to proclaim the life, death , and resurrection not vice versa. To put it more clearly, I can proclaim the Gospel without mentioning the creation. However the only way to rightly proclaim the creation is in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. I can proclaim the Gospel without mentioning where Cain got his wife, but I cannot proclaim the story of Cain and Abel without making a beeline to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Christ’s life death and resurrection is the primary storyline of scripture, the one which every other scripture is governed by. The bible is Christocentric, not creation-centric. Can you see my issue?

Creationism wrongly places the creation as the foundational moments of scripture. You can be a young earth creationist without being Christian. You can be an orthodox Jew and be a YEC, hell you can be an agnostic and be a YEC. There is nothing distinctly Christian about creationism, and even if the argument for creation is ultimately won in the public sphere it does nothing to guarantee Christian doctrine. If you look a Paul arguing in Acts, the reason people get bent out of shape is not his appeal to a common ancestor, they can work with that, but the reason the reject or accept Christianity is always the resurrection!

Let me make it clearer. In Christianity we see Adam’s fall in the light of the redemption Christ offers. In Christianity the reason for the fall is found in the redemption which Christ offers. The creationist sees Adam’s fall as the action that necessitates Christ’s work. In Christianity Adam was subservient to Trinity’s ultimate plan of redemption by his fall (that is not to say God caused it, a topic for another time). In creationism Christ was subservient to Adam in that Christ was required to come because of what Adam had done. In Christianity Christ necessitated Adam, and creationism Adam necessitated Christ. In Christianity Christ is Plan ‘A’ from before time, in creationism Christ is plan ‘B’ as a result of Adam’s sin.

When I see fossil records that prove creation, and archeology that proves the Pentateuch I rejoice because all these things point to validity of Christ’s plan of redemption from before time began. However Christ’s life death and resurrection are the verifiable historical events in which I place my trust. In other words I do not get near as bent out of shape by some government agenda to squash creationism as I do by churches that are denying penal substitution, even if those churches are YEC churches.

With all of that said, I do appreciate the work of groups like Answers in Genesis, and I am not at all opposed to them, no I am very much thankful for them. Nonetheless I think they err in that they present a brand of Christianity which places creation as the foundation of all doctrine, and not the life death and resurrection of Christ. I believe this is a tragic misplacement of emphasis.

Hope that one makes sense, let me know what you think.

8.30.2011

Emotion and Intellect

I am not really good at debating creation vs. evolution, I’m just not. I think the one thing that both creationists and evolutionists can agree on is the simple fact that they are not going to change their position without some VERY compelling evidence. The Christian creationist needs their evidence to come from the scriptures else they will not accept it, the evolutionist needs their evidence to come through observation and the scientific method or else they will not accept it. The debate is a stalemate. Of course there are the occasional converts in both directions but by and large it is a settled point.

What I do find interesting however is the tendency of Christian creationist to appeal to the emotion and beauty, and the evolutionist to appeal to the hard evidence and scientific process. I think it is a fail on both sides.

It is typical in Christian circles to downplay the intellect. The Christian who reads many books, thinks deeply about doctrines that might not be essential is often derided in Christian circles as being high minded, or somehow wasting their time. They are often met with “The bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” or “you just need to have a childlike faith”. I wish more people would have a childlike faith! My 4 year old is constantly asking questions, and every question leads to a new question, and he is inquisitive beyond what I can handle at times. The child does not settle with simple answers, they always dig further, always want more, they do not care about ‘essential’ vs ‘non-essentials’ they want it all and in that sense ‘child-like’ is very intellectual.

On the flip side, the ‘evolutionist’ downplays the emotion and takes it completely out of the equation. They typically argue from the third person perspective and distance themselves emotionally from the arguments they make. It is unfortunate, because in many ways they have a wonderful story to tell that is stimulating and engaging, if they were willing to tell it in such a manner.

As Christians we say that history is a marvelous story of creation and redemption, of sin and grace, of a final victory, and tragic defeat of evil. We get wrapped up in, and immersed in this great story, a story that we affirm is true. It is a highly emotional story, and the emotion is part of its appeal. Nonetheless there is an intellectual side of it all, how the sacrifices work together, the types and shadows, the doctrines, the laws, the history. It is a complete package, and it is a mistake to neglect the intellect because the intellect serves the emotion and vice versa.

On the flip side the evolutionist has a marvelous story to tell as well, one that they affirm is true. It is a story of a world governed by natural law that defeats the odds while functioning with in those laws to bring forth the wonderful complexity that this world has. It is a story of life forming against the odds, but still within the possibility of infinite time and space. It is a story of ever increasing complexity and innovation. Like every good story it has a tipping point, and the greatness of this universe begins to return to the nothingness it once was, and tragically it ends as it began in an infinitesimally dense small speck. Honestly that is a story that we can get wrapped up in as well, one that, if it were true, we are really a part of, really involved in its timeline, and truly affected by it. (Of course I believe that story to be wrong, but I would be a liar if I said it wasn’t interesting and compelling.)

What I am saying is that the biblical narrative is much more believable if it is engaged intellectually, but also that the evolutionary narrative would be much more believable if it were engaged with emotion.

The teachers who were most effective in communicating their subjects in my education were my high school Calculus teacher, and my physics teacher (probably resulting in me becoming an engineer). I have no idea whether they were Christian or not, and as far as the subject matter was concerned that is irrelevant. The reason they taught so well was that they balanced intellect and emotion in their teaching. My calculus teacher was genuinely excited about the order that could be expressed by numbers, she genuinely portrayed an emotional connection to the math she taught. Our physics teacher was much the same. He not only wanted you to grasp the concepts, he drove you to become emotionally involved in them. If it were all emotion without the intellect we would have learned nothing, yet if it were all intellect without the emotion we would have dismissed the knowledge we received the moment we received our grade card.

A great book to read on this topic is CS Lewis’ “Abolition of Man”, he expresses this tension far better than I ever could on a blog post.

8.22.2011

DeadPastorsSociety

I am now blogging at DeadPastorSociety with some twitter friends of mine. I will still be blogging here, but make sure you stop over there too, I post every monday.

8.10.2011

Hey Aaron, are you going to eat all that?

There are certain portions of scripture that just make me question the veracity of the word. Yeah, that’s right, there I times when I question the book. Let me give a prime example. Moses, in Leviticus, is laying out the Law of God regarding the sacrifices and it just happens that the really good meat is not going to be burned up entirely, but instead it just gets nicely roasted, and lo, Moses’ brother Aaron and Aaron’s family is supposed to eat it. The cynic in me finds that to be an awfully convenient law for Aaron. I mean, here you have all the people of Israel bringing their best animals to be BBQ’d for Aaron and his people to eat, and it is a law that they must do it. Hey, why don’t I come down from a mountain and tell my people they need to bring ribs to sacrifice and they must be soaked with Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce, and yeah, why not bring a drink offering too, Coca-Cola Classic would be ideal. Does that not seem just a touch sketchy? Certainly I am not the only person that has taken issue with this text?

Something I have come to realize though, is that the Old Testament only finds its true meaning in light of the New Testament, specifically in Christ’s work on our behalf. In other words, if indeed the Aaronic Priests were supposed to eat this sacrifice and it really was the command of God for them to do so, this command can only make sense to me in light of Christ’s fulfillment of that command. So before I go dismissing the early parts of Leviticus as Moses trying to make sure his family eats well I must deal with it light of the Gospel.

So let me walk you through my thinking as I came to this portion of Leviticus with my skepticism yet again in my bible reading.

Aaron is commanded to eat the sacrifices, the priesthood so to speak is required to eat the ‘perfect’ sacrifice in the sight of God. Hebrews reminds us that in light of the Gospel we are a kingdom of priests, and that all who are the redeemed are priests before God. In other words the Aaronic priesthood has been fulfilled, there is no longer a set group of priests called to consume the sacrifice, but all believers now enter into that role of priest. Moreover, we know there is no longer sacrifice for sin, other than the perfect sacrifice which has been offered, that is the Christ himself. Moreover Christ has stated:

John 6:53 (ESV)

53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

In light of Christ’s words contained in John’s Gospel we see a new picture arising. This hard command of Christ, that we must eat his flesh and his blood begins to make a little more sense. Moreover as we consider the Passover, when each family was to kill a lamb and leave none of it until the morning, begins to make sense, when you consider Christ as the Passover Lamb. The idea of consuming the sacrifice finds it’s full meaning in the fulfilled work of Christ and more specifically in the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Needless to say, the command for the Aaronic priesthood to eat the sacrifice no longer bothers me at all, in fact it informs my doctrine of the Lord’s Supper and grounds it in the Old Testament sacrificial system and gives me a more robust understanding of what Christ meant by His hard teaching in John 6. This new reading further bolsters my belief that the sacrament is far more than a mere memorial meal that calls us to remember the Gospel, but that the sacrament in some sense is a part of the Gospel itself. Look, this does not make the case for transubstantiation, or some modern priesthood that must drink the portion of the sacrament not consumed by the people. Not at all, at the same time it does insert some healthy mystery into the Supper, and reminds me that in some sense we truly partake of the Lord as we receive the sacrament. This understanding of the consumption of the sacrifice leaves me thoroughly non-baptist with regards to the meal.

Was it wrong of me to question the veracity of the Law or to at least be a little skeptical of it? It would have been wrong if I had no intent of squaring it up with the New Testament, however if I allow my skepticism to drive me to answers, answers that I know must be founded in the Gospel, that initial skepticism proves to be a vehicle that drives me to greater faith and understanding of deeply profound truths.

Studying the scriptures should be a fascinating and enjoyable process, but it ceases to be that if you never let yourself be disturbed by the truths that you cannot seem to square up. Often we want to say something like “well it is in the bible so I am just going to believe it” without realizing that we are refusing to step on the mat with a God who is calling us out to wrestle. Unfortunately we are far too content to simply come up with trite clich├ęs to answer deep questions that really disturb us.

I suppose this post is a small treatise for a healthy skepticism, but a skepticism that trusts that real truth can withstand our petty doubts.

8.08.2011

obvious is not so obvious

I am a big fan of stating the obvious, and I believe that as humans, for whatever reason, we need the obvious stated to us often. So this post is a bit of an exercise in the obvious.

The meaning of a statement can rarely be ascertained without the context of the statement. Let’s start with a simple statement:

“The grass is green”

If you are standing in the middle of a desert that statement is a statement of a miracle of sorts. If you sprayed your driveway with round up three weeks ago and are looking at the grass in the cracks it is a statement of disappointment. Without context you cannot know whether the statement is positive or negative in tone.

Because this blog centers primarily on theology let’s move to a more appropriate example. Let’s try this statement.

“Jesus is the way”

Is that a true statement? There is no way to tell without context. If someone asks me, how do I get to the grocery store, and I answer “Jesus is the way” it would be ridiculous. If someone asks me how can I get to hell, that statement would be even more unhelpful. To have any idea of what is intended by the statement “Jesus is the way” some sort of context must be given.

Again this is an exercise in the obvious, but it seems to become less obvious when we are dealing with the scripture. We have been taught, and rightly so, that every word of scripture is inspired, God breathed, and inerrant. Of course we cannot understand scripture without it’s context, we all agree with that, but I do not think we are near as aware of the danger of placing a scripture in the wrong context.

If I am giving directions to a grocery store, and the final information I give is: “The grocery store will be on your right.” That statement would only be truthful if you were approaching the store from the directions I gave. To say the “the store is on the right” is an absolute truth within the context of the directions, but outside of the context it could be the polar opposite of the truth. Nobody who read the entire directions to the store would argue with the veracity of the claim that the store was on the right.

Now the problem arises when we affirm something as an absolute truth while placing it in a context that makes that very truth a lie. This is not postmodernism, in fact it is quite the opposite. I affirm it is an absolute truth that the store is on the North side of the road, but ‘left’ or ‘right’ are relative to context.

Again we affirm that the scriptures are absolute, when understood within their context, but by quoting a scripture you are not guaranteed to be quoting absolute truth. This is where it gets a little bit more sticky.

Let’s take a super important question: “What must I do to be saved?” We want to answer that question with scripture, so what scripture should we use to answer that? We must use a scripture that is answering the same question. A common Evangelical answer to that question would be to quote Romans 10:9.

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

This seems like a fair statement, by doing this we answer the simple question, with a simple scripture that contains absolute truth. However, does Romans 10:9 intend to answer the question “What must I do to be saved” or is it answering a different question? The context of Romans 9 through Romans 11 involves the salvation of Jews and Gentiles and it is answering a question regarding who is saved and why, but Romans 10:9 is not laying out the way to be saved. An honest reading of the whole context of Romans 9-11 would make that clear. It is not appropriate to use a scripture to deliver an answer that was not intended to be delivered by that scripture. Now we can disagree with the meaning of Romans 10:9 and what it means in context, but let’s at least be careful to examine what Romans 10:9 is actually answering before we drop it into our conversation.

I do not hold to baptismal regeneration, I am not Lutheran or Catholic on this, but the bottom line is that Acts 2:38 answers the question… “What must I do?” If you read Peter’s Pentecost sermon, and you see that the hearers have come to a place of despair, you see that their question is exactly the question we are dealing with. “What must I do to be saved?”

38 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.

Now we must do some leg work into what is meant by being ‘baptized in the name of Jesus Christ’, which might be something for another day, but at least by answering the question with Acts 2:38 you are answering the question in a way that is honest to the context.

So what about Romans 10:9, or even the entire “Romans Road” that so many people use to lead people to Christ? Is “Romans Road” evangelism biblical? Well it uses the bible, so in that sense it is biblical, but is it aware of the context? Look to the beginning of Romans:

Romans 1:8–13 (ESV)

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.

At the outset of Romans we see who this is written to. Believers! The audience is not the lost. That alone should temper our reading of Romans. Nothing in Romans is written as praxis on how to get saved. Yes it certainly speaks eternal truths regarding salvation, yes it answers why people are saved, and how people are saved, but it is answering those questions to people who already believe. In other words it is written to people heading west down the road who will indeed need to turn ‘right’ into the grocery store on the north. It is not written to those heading east.

We could go on and on with countless scriptures, Matthew 7:21-23 is another big one that abuses the context. (I’ve blogged about that before.)

I encourage you, before you quote scripture make sure that your usage of it is appropriate to the context it fits within.

7.11.2011

External Gospel for the Homeless

It is likely a common experience for a devotee of any particular doctrine of theology to come to a point where they honestly question the doctrine they hold. This questioning of our own doctrine is not necessarily healthy, nor is it unhealthy. In one sense we can constantly question and come to a point where we believe questioning everything is a virtue in itself, and our primary doctrine becomes a command to ‘question everything.’ Unfortunately that process is not as virtuous as it first appears. If ones primary doctrine is that to question everything is virtuous, then answers or truths become inherently evil, for if there is an answer or truth regarding a particular question the question is solved. Any sort of absolute becomes the enemy of the doctrine of ‘question all’. On the flip side, to hold doctrine without ever bringing it into question is equally dangerous. To never question anything is to assume that at some point in history you achieved perfection in your understanding and to refuse to question is to permanently lock your intellect and spirit in that one place and to arrogantly believe you have arrived. The bottom line is that questioning that honestly seeks answers is healthy, even questioning very foundational truths in some sense shows more faith than not questioning at all. When you question foundational truths you show faith that those truths can withstand your questions.

With that background laid out I want to bring forth a doctrinal stance that I have brought into question recently, and it is a doctrine that in my estimation is foundational to the Christian faith. In some sense a part of me thinks I should feel guilty for even questioning it, but now that I am on the other side of the question mark I am thankful that I asked it. The question is simple “Is the Gospel actually the simple message that Christ has done all that is required of us for salvation?” Now before I delve into the process of my questioning I will simply state the conclusion, which is; “Yes, that is the Gospel message.” Yet it is an honest question, and one that needs to be asked and answered because the answer to that question drives everything that is Christian.

In recent years, thanks to some reformed and Lutheran friends and authors, I have been led through the scriptures to believe that Gospel is news, independent of all personal action, that Christ has paid my penalty, lived the life required of me, and rose from the dead making me not guilty of His death and the proper recipient of His life. The implications of this understanding of the Gospel shattered both my lingering shreds liberalism and my strong fundamentalism. It shredded the liberalism that led me to believe that social justice and service we in some sense part of the essence of the Gospel, and it shredded my fundamentalism that believes that somehow my changed life is part of the essence of the Gospel. This understanding has left me with the bare truth that Christ alone is the essence of the Gospel, and that the Gospel is something entirely apart from me, or entirely external.

Now, after being brought to full commitment in this doctrine of a Gospel that is external to me, I then came to a place where I began to question this. The primary question I asked is this: “If the Gospel is entirely external to me, then is it really true that, with regards to salvation, my actions are irrelevant?” Of course to have true commitment to an external Gospel the answer to that question must be “yes”, but is that answer really yes? That is a hard question to wrestle with because the implications of a “yes” answer seems to scream “antinomian” (lawless). If I am to continue with a “yes” answer to that question I must dismiss the fundamentalist notion that “if I am saved, I will no longer do x, y, and z sins. If I answer “yes” I must also dismiss the liberal notion that “salvation is to become one who serves the poor and makes the world a better place in the name of Christ.” Both of those notions are difficult to dismiss, especially when they have become a part of the fabric of what I have grown to know about Christianity. While my answer has been “yes” to that question for a couple of years now, that “yes” answer has been tentatively hanging in the balance. A recent experience has solidified that “yes” answer.

A couple of nights ago my wife and I were at a coffee shop hanging out when a homeless man came in to get a cup of tea. He kept to himself, and we kept to ourselves. Eventually the time came for us to leave and I walked over to him before leaving and began to make some small talk with him. This was not a “missional” thing or some spiritual endeavor to serve the poor, or get someone saved. I simply saw a lonely looking guy and thought I would have a conversation with him partially because I thought he would enjoy it, and also because I just enjoy conversation. I was simply being a human, there was no conscious attempt to do a good deed. Our conversation progressed, and we ended up giving him a ride to a hotel ten miles away and put him up for the night there. Again, this was more about being a good human than anything else, a member of any faith, or even an atheist can do this sort of thing, it requires very little character for someone who is comfortable with people. This man, Mike, immediately upon getting into the car began speaking of Christianity. He had no idea that I was a pastor, it seemed that he assumed we were Christians by the simple fact that we were giving him a ride. As he opened up to us we found out that He lived in a monastery for a year and has sought with all his might to live a Christian life. In our age of contemplation this man seemed to have arrived. He had given up all to live a simple life of dependence on God. He had taken the concept of monasticism to its final conclusion. As he continued speaking, this man affirmed to us that he was currently in utter despair regarding his soul. Why? He kept saying that he wondered if he had done enough. While early in his life he sought poverty believing that was part of the essence of Christianity, he now wrestled with the reality that he had nothing of substance to give to those who had need. His poverty that He embraced now became his source of despair. The very fact that he needed to receive a ride from someone else caused him to believe he was not a Christian because he was receiving instead of giving.

This man was taught that the Gospel meant to give to everyone, yet he came to a place where he had little or nothing to give and was met with despair. This man was a clear picture of what currently theology promoted by the emergent movement and new monasticism eventually leads to… despair.

At this point, I had yet to reveal to him that I was Christian, let alone a pastor. As I was thinking during this conversation I was being reminded of the words of Pastor Mike Slaughter who said “If the Gospel is not good news to the poor, it is not the Gospel.” Unfortunately, pastor Mike, used this true statement to come to a false conclusion. The conclusion was that if your Gospel does not include service to the poor, it must not be the Gospel. The problem was that this homeless man’s Gospel was completely saturated with the command that he must serve the poor, and his means no longer allowed him to do so. Pastor Mike’s statement was true, if the Gospel is not good news to the poor, it most certainly was not the Gospel, but Pastor Mike’s conclusion was anything but good news to the truly poor. This poor man had embraced the emergent theology all the way into poverty and was left without good news, he was left only with commands he could never obey.

I revealed at some point in the conversation who I was, and what my vocation was, only because this man was dying to have a statement from the Church that he was somehow acceptable to God. This man needed an alternate message than the one he had committed his entire being to, and to hear that answer from an ecclesiastical authority meant a lot to him. I proceeded to proclaim the Gospel apart from works, the plain message that Christ has accomplished EVERYTHING on his behalf regardless of what he had or had not done. Possibly for the first time he had heard a Gospel that was truly good news for the poor. It made sense, and it was good news, with no strings attached.

If I still held firm to the fundamentalist Gospel I would have had to tell him about how he had to clean up his life, I would have had to convince him of his sin, bring him to a place even lower than he was in order that he would see his need. If I still held to the liberal Gospel I would have had to relax his despair be telling him that his poverty was honorable and that because he embraced it he was more Christian than most of the world. Both options would have left him in despair, because he knew what he had done was not enough. Instead I embraced the answer of “yes” to the question “Is the Gospel truly external to us, and independent of our actions?” Both Mike, the homeless man, and I can be thankful that the answer to that question is indeed yes.

Did I serve this man? Did I get him a room? Yeah. Did I engage a lonely man conversation? Sure I did those things. More than that, I shared the simple truth, the only truth, that is truly good news to the poor, and in the process it affirmed to me that the Gospel truly is external.

Beyond that I did something that might make a number of readers of this blog cringe. I absolved him of his sin. He heard the message of this external Gospel, in as far as I could tell he embraced this message of real hope that is independent of his action, and I pronounced to him that he was forgiven in the name of Christ. The man who had heard nothing from Churches except the constant calling to be something he was not, and to be something he could never be, heard from a pastor the reality that he was forgiven because of something done FOR HIM.

So before you get amped up on calling everyone to service to the poor, or calling everyone to separate from the world, or demanding people to be a new creation in Christ, think about the logical conclusion of those commands, think about the person who embraces those commands to the fullest and what they will finally become. On Saturday night I met the embodiment of what those commands produce if taken to their final and logical conclusion, and what I found was nothing but despair. Praise God that the commands of the Law are not the pronouncement of the Gospel.

3.09.2011

Being like Jesus!?

Sometimes it is important to state what you are not saying, prior to making your actual point, and this certainly is one of those issues.  I would never say that we should not strive to be like Christ in our love, our ethics, and our general discourse in this world.  Moreover I would never say that we should not serve the marginalized, oppressed, captive, and impoverished in this world.  We are commanded by both Christ and Moses to do that exact thing!  So because Jesus did those things perfectly, we too should strive to be like Jesus right?  Yes, in those ways, however to say that trying to be like Jesus is a universally acceptable rule of thumb is not wise.

We are called to obey all that Christ commanded us to do, we read that in the great commission.  Jesus never commands us to live by His example, but instead to live by His commands.  He certainly is a great example of what obedience to his own commands looks like, nonetheless it is His words we obey not his example.  Why is this important? or is it important?  It is incredibly important.

If you say you are trying to be like Jesus then you are trying to weep for my sin, trying to be a man of sorrows, trying to be despised, trying to be misunderstood, trying to end up on a roman cross, trying to sweat as it were drops of blood, trying to be a sacrifice for other's sins, trying to do a number of things which He has done, but never commanded you to do!  Am I splitting hairs?  It may seem that way at first, but this is more critical than we think.  When we look at Jesus' life as exemplary then we quickly lose sight of the work that He has done FOR US that could never be accomplished by us.  We gloss over His divinity while focusing entirely on His humanity.  When you encounter someone who is in sin if you ask yourself "What would Jesus Do?" the response should be weep and fear because you are going to die for that sin.  Yet if you ask "What has Jesus commanded?" you will be equipped to properly deal with sin.

The focus of being like Christ is a noble focus when properly framed.  However it quickly becomes a paradigm for life that doesn't take into account the things He has done for you and this world neither you nor anybody else could ever do.

So where do you focus when it comes to moral standards, ethics, and so on.  Jesus summed up the law for us, Jesus gave us a number of commands, He did not leave us without instruction.  Focus on His instruction, and then with regard to those instructions, see him as the example of how to carry them out, and never allow your sight of Him as an example to overshadow the sight of him as your righteousness, propitiation, and redemption.

2.14.2011

Sermon and Notes - 02.13.2011 - Revelation 8:2-11:19

You can download the Sermon from this past Sunday here. or visit http://deltaumc.podbean.com to view archived sermons.

You can also download my notes and outline by clicking here.

Also, the RSS feed address for our podcast is http://deltaumc.podbean.com/feed/ and this feed has been submitted to iTunes and should be available shortly there for you iTunes users.

2.12.2011

Pastoral Care from the Pulpit /not small groups

The pulpit is a place to dispense pastoral care, in fact it is the primary place to dispense pastoral care.  There is this tendency to segregate pastoral care, and pulpit ministry into two separate areas of the pastoral call.  The standard sentiment seems to be that the pulpit is for preaching the gospel, and the visitation or counseling session is for pastoral care.

There are probably a myriad of reasons this dichotomy of preaching/pastoral care has arisen, but I believe the number one reason is that we have come to believe that the Sunday sermon is the primary evangelistic tool of the church.  Most pastors seem to buy into this; the fundamentalist pastor builds his message around saving the lost soul that ventured into a pew, the Church growth guy builds his message around some principles for a better life complete with some cute stories and a joke or two to get them to come back next week, and the missional pastor spends his pulpit time inviting people to participate in social justice or the great commission with his congregation. In all three of the aforementioned examples the sermon is used with the intent of getting the uninvolved, unchurched, or unsaved into the flock.  What is the problem with this?  The problem is that the very covenant community, which happens to be involved, churched, and saved, is never the intended audience of their pastor.  The sheep get neglected in favor of 'potential' sheep.  Now the clever pastors believe they have found a way around this, and that way is small/home/cell group ministry.  The idea is that the pastor cannot preach in such a manner that his faithful will grow, because for them to grow the depth of his sermon would be too much for the 'unchurched'.  So to address the problem the pastor recommends that his faithful sheep go to the small groups to grow and to be cared for.  Sounds great right? Wrong!

I am not anti small group by any means, but I am sick of hearing the "that's wear the real growth happens" line brought out by pastors who have neglected feeding the sheep on Sundays.  In most cases the leaders of small groups who are called to 'facilitate' discussion, and have no theological training and have not been selected by a process that evaluates their qualifications as pastors.  Yes I said their qualifications as pastors!  If we are going to make the small group the primary place where people are pastored, should not their leaders meet the biblical criterion of a pastor?  Do you see the problem?  The sheep are left to whoever is willing to volunteer their home to lead, while potential sheep not yet of the flock get lead by the pastor, the one who has a calling on his life to lead the sheep!  It's all backwards.  Pastors, we are to care for the flock, so that the flock can go healthily into the world with the Gospel to the lost, unchurched, dechurched, or whatever current cliche you drag out when referring to people without Christ.

I do believe in doing visitations as a pastor, especially to the sick.  Yet what is it that you bring to them?  The good news of Christ, who lived, suffered, died, and rose FOR THEM.  That is what pastoral care is all about, bringing the Law and Gospel into the various dark, difficult places where people are.  While visitation is for the individual, Sunday morning is a visitation so to speak for the covenant community, and that is how it should be treated.  We should enter the pulpit with care of the congregation of our Lord as our first concern!  Our goal should be to bring Law and Gospel to the sheep for their health and edification, leaving them emboldened by grace to go into the world.  I will leave the lost to the small groups... but the pulpit ministry is for the sheep.

That was a bit rantish, but think about it.

2.09.2011

Quick follow up on Justification posts

First of all I want to thank all four guest writers for this past weeks blog content.  Though there was not much by way of comments, blog traffic was over 5 times what it usually is.  The one item that sticks out at me is that all views seemed to hold, to some degree an objective view of justification, though Connie's view did not place emphasis there.

Connie, and Dawn, both held a universal view of justification, and it appeared to me that Matt did as well.  Connie's view was hopeful that justification which occurred for all was also applied to all, or that all would reap the benefits of it.  Both Dawn and Matt, saw justification as purchased for all in Christ, but applied to those who by faith receive it.  I imagine if Dawn and Matt continued to hash this out we would see quite a difference in how faith is received, nonetheless the nature of a universal unlimited justification based on an unlimited atonement seems to drive their view of justification.  Dawn and Matt both seemed to attach this atonement firmly to Christ as second Adam for us.   Connie seemed less intent on getting into the how justification occurred objectively, and more into what action that justification produces in the world.

Ralph's reformed baptist view was the only view of the four that had atonement as limited to the elect.  Ralph's emphasis is on a monergistic work of Christ to redeem his people entirely independent of their efforts.  Ralph, Matt, and Dawn all held to what I saw to be objective justification, in other words, we are justified by the life, death, resurrection of Christ for us as a historical fact.  Connie may or may not believe that, but she affirmed that her focus was not at all on the 'how' but on the 'what this will produce'.

The greatest difference between the three classically orthodox views (Matt, Ralph, and Dawn) is how justification is applied.  Ralph has it applied on the basis of election which guarantees faith, Dawn and Matt have it based on faith which applies the already given justification.  Matt and Dawn's views would then differ on how faith is given or exercised.

Other thoughts? What did I miss?

2.08.2011

Justification (4 of 4) Outlaw - Connie W.

This post is from Connie W he can be found on twitter @conniejoh2o and she blogs at http://conniejoh2o.wordpress.com/ 
Read this before reading on, just to see what is going on here.  Note: these posts are guest posts and may or may not reflect my views.  -Jay
Trying to Understand Justification

Near the end of the Love chapter ( 1 Corinthians 13) Verse 12 we are given, I think, a lens through which we have to view most of our attempts to be assured that we “understand” the Bible, it says, “ For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now we know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was known fully.”  If Paul could admit that he couldn’t fully grasp the enormity of God’s essence (love) then it isn’t reaching for us to assume that there is no one human answer that is perfect on the topic of justification, but that our faith and belief in Christ Jesus is not in jeopardy if we question in a prayerful way, the specifics of how justification works.

I appreciated Jay asking me to present my understanding of Justification and to also speak, if I could to the “Outlaw Preachers” understanding of Justification.  His request sent me on a quest by way of several conversations to find out just what Outlaw Preachers believe when it comes to the topic of Justification.  As all good 21th century folks do, my first stop was Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justification_(theology) to get an overview of various understandings of justification. Next I had conversations with several Outlaws across the country whom I knew came from varied traditions and understandings.

Justification is not a foreign subject to me, having received my MDiv while a candidate for ministry in the United Methodist tradition justification was a topic at many DCOM meetings and in many of my seminary classes.  I am familiar with the understanding of grace of which justifying grace is an important step.  Justifying grace is the time in one’s faith journey in which you recognize the presence of God and begin your personal  relationship with God as you accept for yourself the action that God has already taken through Jesus Christ. Then begins Sanctifying Grace, you begin to display your growth in the Spirit by becoming each day more like the image of Christ, hopefully traveling on to perfection.  It wasn’t talked about much, but there was a brief mention in Seminary about “back sliding” or leaving the way and losing your salvation or the possibility that one wasn’t justified at all having never “really” accepted God in the first place because the actions never reflected the acts of someone moving on to perfection.  It made sense to me, but I always understood that our understanding of justification is unique to the United Methodist tradition.

As I began to speak with other Outlaws about how they were taught to understand Justification, it became apparent that there was great diversity (which I completely anticipated seeing).  Outlaw Preachers come from many traditions, and no traditions, some run away from the understandings of their youth, some cling to them, and some didn’t even know that “justification” was a big deal.  See, when you are part of a group that spans the gambit of theological understanding from Episcopalian to Assemblies of God, “Recovering Conservative Evangelicals” to Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Disciples of Christ and various other traditions and complete lack of tradition diversity is a given, finding common ground is the trick.  This bunch of rapscallions seem to be linked not by any academically defined doctrine, but a simple (not simplistic) belief that the Grace of God restores  ALL. There seems to be an understanding that God’s grace and God’s love are not contingent on our becoming someone else but that by the unconditional love and grace of God we become confident in whom we already are. 

Once God’s grace and love are seen in this way, the focus becomes not on “how God did it” but “what is our response to what God already did”.  Grace and love can never be seen as simply between God and the individual, while there is no doubt that each of us in important to and beloved by God, grace is extended to all humankind, making our response not one of deep relief because we are “saved” but gratitude for inclusion into the “body of Christ” and we then become part of the grace and love of God.
In conclusion, if you ask me now about my understanding of justification,  I would be most inclined to call myself a hopeful Universalist.  While I cannot see through the dark mirror clearly enough  to tell you that I know for sure that everyone, everywhere will get “in” in the end, I can say this, the God that I see in scripture, the God that most Christian traditions proclaim, the God I have observed in my life, and all that my logically mind has learned about God all point to the belief that God has done everything within God’s power, including giving that power up to walk among us, and die as one of us, to prove to us the lengths God will take to reconcile with God’s creation and extend God’s love and grace to that creation.  I hope that God does bring everyone home for eternity, nothing would make me happier than for everyone, everywhere to be perfected in the grace and love of God.  I don’t believe this understanding varies far from where I started, the idea of prevenient grace tells us that God is always seeking us, looking for a way to be a part of our lives and I don’t believe God ever gives up.  I long for the day in which I know fully the how’s of justification, but for now, I am content to live in the grace and love of God trusting that it is indeed for all of our good and not our demise, that is indeed good news that I can share with everyone, everywhere.

  

2.07.2011

Justification (3 of 4) Wesleyan - Matt L.

This post is from Matt L he can be found on twitter @mattlipan and he blogs at http://mattlipan.blogspot.com/
Read this before reading on, just to see what is going on here.  Note: these posts are guest posts and may or may not reflect my views.  -Jay
Special thanks to Jay for inviting me to guest post here on “the tenth letter…” about the idea of justification from a Wesleyan perspective. You’ll note my meager attempt to do so below. Don’t hesitate to continue the dialogue or connect with me @mattlipan.

It starts with the problem of sin, one we all have thanks to the parents of humankind, Adam and Eve (Rom. 5:12). What sin does is put you and me at odds with God. Our inability to perfectly follow God’s law has made us, as John Wesley noted in his sermon Justification by Faith, “dead to God, dead in sin…and under the sentence of death eternal” (I. 6.). And see, the thing is, there is nothing you or I can do on our own to escape the sentence of death we have earned because of our sin (Rom. 6:23). If it ended here we would all be in sad shape but fortunately for all humankind, there is more to the story.

Seeing the predicament humankind was in, God sent all the fullness of Himself and man to dwell among us in the person of Jesus. Wesley describes Him as, “a second general Parent and Representative of the whole human race” (Justification by Faith. I. 7.) and as such, it is only through Christ that you and I can be forgiven, or justified, before God. Through Christ’s willingness to bear our sins on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24-25) as the perfect and complete sacrifice for the entire world (1 Jn. 2:1-2), justification has been made possible.

Paul tells us in that we are “justified freely” by the grace of God through Jesus (Rom. 3:24) and not through anything we’ve ever done or will ever do (Eph. 2:8-9). It is a gift received through faith and by faith. Speaking on faith, Wesley says it is the “only necessary condition” of justification (Justification by Faith. IV. 5.) and that without it, one cannot be justified. He goes on to write

[We] must come as “mere sinner[s],” inwardly and outwardly, self-destroyed and self-condemned, bringing nothing to God but ungodliness only, pleading nothing of [our] own but sin and misery. Thus it is, and thus alone, when [our] "mouth is stopped," and [we] stand utterly "guilty before" God, that [we] can "look unto Jesus," as the whole and sole "Propitiation for [our] sins." Thus only can [we] be "found in him," and receive the "righteousness which is of God by faith."
(Justification by Faith. IV. 8.)

Wesley describes justification as “the forgiveness of sins” but says that this in no way implies that God “esteems us better than we really are, or believes us to be righteous when we are unrighteous” (Justification by Faith. II. 4 &5.). Here Wesley makes a distinction between justification and sanctification. The former implies what God does for us through Christ while the latter speaks to what He works in us by His Spirit (Justification by Faith. II. 1.). In this way, justification is the first step in the process of sanctification and a necessary one for anyone who would call themselves a disciple of Christ. 

Sermon and Notes - 02.06.2011 - Revelation 6:1-8:1

To hear the Sermon Preached at Delta United Methodist Church on February 6th from Revelation 6-8:1 click here.

To view the outline I preached from this weekend with the preparatory notes click here.

I hope this blesses you in someway, and as always feel free to leave your feedback.

2.04.2011

Justification (2 of 4) Reformed - Ralph P

This post is from Ralph P he can be found on twitter @ralphprovance
Read this before reading on, just to see what is going on here.  Note: these posts are guest posts and may or may not reflect my views.  -Jay
Also out of fairness to all, I am going to delay Matt L, and Connie W's post till monday and tuesday, simply because blog traffic is low on the weekend.  So lucky Matt gets monday which happens to be the highest traffic day for this blog.
Surely shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness. (Isaiah 45:24)
He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Martin Luther said that “Justification by faith alone is the article by which the Church stands or falls on.”  John Calvin said that it is the “main hinge on which religion turns.”  Leon Morris said “Understand justification and you understand everything that matters.”

The purpose of this brief study is to explain the glorious doctrine of justification from a Reformed perspective. There have been volumes written by many brilliant men of God over the years covering every aspect of this doctrine.  It is a topic that demands a great deal of diligence in study so we may grasp an understanding.  Again, this paper will be a “surface level” overview.

John Murray defined justification as “a constitutive act whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account and we are accordingly accepted as righteous in God’s sight. Justification is both a declarative and constitutive act of free grace.” (Redemption Accomplished & Applied p.124)

There are three areas where the doctrine of justification from a Reformed perspective differs from other traditions, i.e. Lutheran, Methodist, Orthodox, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic. They are in that 1. Justification is divinely monergistic; 2. Justification is a one-time event (not a process); 3. Justification is permanent.

Reformed Christians hold to the fact that there isn’t anything that we can do to cause or earn our justification. We are dead in our sins (Eph 2:1). We have a heart of stone (Eze 36:26). We are completely unable to exercise any saving faith apart from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Once we are “born again/regenerated” by the Holy Spirit, God grants to us the gift of faith that we may repent.  It is then that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us and we are justified. This is part of the “ordo salutis,” or the order of salvation.  The ordo salutis as held by those of the Reformed tradition is as follows- 1) election, 2) predestination, 3) gospel call 4) inward call 5) regeneration, 6) conversion (faith & repentance), 7) justification, 8) sanctification, and 9) glorification. (Rom 8:29-30.)  This is in opposition to those that hold to a synergistic view of justification.  While the views vary slightly within Protestantism, the general ordo salutis is 1) outward call 2) faith/election, 3) repentance, 4) regeneration, 5) justification, 6) perseverance, 7) glorificationThey state that we are able to exercise “inherent” faith and work in conjunction with God to be born again. Never is our faith the cause of our justification in the New Testament. That would be a “work” and therefore something to boast in (Eph 2:8,9).  An examination of the Greek text shows we are justified “pistei, dia pisteos, ek pisteos, kata pistin, epi te pistei,; “by, through, upon, according to” faith. Never are we justified “dia pistin” or “because” of it. Faith is our act, coming from a new heart, but not our work.  We must never look to ourselves, anything that we do, as grounds for our justification. 


Those of the Reformed tradition hold to the belief that justification is an instantaneous event, only occurring once.  God, the just Judge (Psalm 96:13), legally declares the sinner righteous because of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.  It is a legal declaration, a “forensic justification.”  It is not that the sinner is made righteous; but that he is seen as righteous because of Jesus.  Martin Luther framed the idea well with the phrase “simul iustus et peccator,” “At the same time, just and sinner.”  This is in stark contrast to the Romanist understanding.  They hold that justification is not a one time declaration of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner but a process that is conditional upon the ongoing work of man. This is why Rome is confused about the doctrines of justification and sanctification.  Rome holds that there are three main sacraments necessary for justification and ultimate salvation. The sacraments allegedly give grace to an individual and help to maintain him in a state of sanctifying grace. They are baptism, penance, and the Eucharist/mass.  In fact, according to the Roman Catholic Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, “If any one saith that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation...and that without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain from God, through faith alone, the grace of justification...let him be anathema.”  This statement by the Roman Catholic Church denies the clear teaching of Scripture.  The grounds for our justification can only be found in Christ alone. (Romans 3:24; 5:9,19; 8:1; 10:4; 1Cor 1:30; 6:11; 2Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9)

The final distinctive of the Reformed tradition, as relating to justification, is that our justification is permanent.  This means that we can never lose our salvation.  It is known as the “Perseverance of the Saints.”  It stands in contrast to every other religious tradition which says that our salvation can be lost by either a mortal sin (Catholic) or a loss of faith (Arminian.)  If our salvation is entirely of God, and not of any work of man, then how can we lose it?    As a Reformed Baptist, I hold to the creedal statement of the 1689 London Baptist Confession.  I believe that it summarizes the doctrine better than I ever could.  It states “Those whom God hath accepted in the beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, and given the precious faith of his elect unto, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved, seeing the gifts and callings of God are without repentance, whence he still begets and nourisheth in them faith, repentance, love, joy, hope, and all the graces of the Spirit unto immortality; and though many storms and floods arise and beat against them, yet they shall never be able to take them off that foundation and rock which by faith they are fastened upon; notwithstanding, through unbelief and the temptations of Satan, the sensible sight of the light and love of God may for a time be clouded and obscured from them, yet he is still the same, and they shall be sure to be kept by the power of God unto salvation, where they shall enjoy their purchased possession, they being engraven upon the palm of his hands, and their names having been written in the book of life from all eternity. (John 10:28,29; Phil 1:6; 2Tim 2:19; 1John 2:19; Psalms 89:31,32; 1Cor 11:32; Malachi 3:6)
We are kept by the power of God, if we are in Christ!
  

2.03.2011

Justification (1 of 4) Confessional Lutheran - Dawn K

This post is from Dawn K who blogs at http://www.realrealityzone.com and can be found on twitter @rumor99
Read this before reading on, just to see what is going on here.  Note: these posts are guest posts and may or may not reflect my views.  -Jay

How is the Lutheran understanding of justification different from that of other Christian traditions?

Lutherans believe that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone.  We are declared to be righteous in God’s sight because of the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not because of anything inside of us – not because of our human will and not even because of anything that God works in us, whether good works or faith. Christ died for all people, and because of Christ’s perfect life, death and resurrection, all people are forgiven and declared righteous in God’s sight. This is known as the doctrine of objective justification.

Unlike the Calvinists and the Wesleyans, who teach that we are only forgiven and justified when we believe in Christ, Lutherans teach that all are forgiven and justified at the cross but that this forgiveness and justification only benefits those who believe.  When God grants a person repentance and faith in Christ, they receive the benefits of the forgiveness that is already theirs through the death of Christ on the cross.  This is known as the doctrine of subjective justification.  Through the Word of God and through the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) faith in Christ is created and sustained.

The doctrines of objective and subjective justification might be illustrated in this way: Someone transfers a million dollars into your bank account.  The money is yours.  But if you refuse to believe that it is there, you do not use it and it does not benefit you in any way.  In the same way Christ’s death on the cross led to justification and life for all people.  But those who do not believe this do not benefit from it.

This is in contrast to the Calvinist view, which teaches that Christ did not die for all people but only for those who would believe in Him.  It is also in contrast to the Wesleyan view, which teaches that the death of Christ only made justification possible for all men through prevenient grace, whereby all are enabled to freely choose to believe.  And it is in contrast to the Catholic view which sees justification not as God crediting His righteousness to our account but as God infusing righteousness into us to enable us to cooperate with His grace.

Because of the reality of objective justification, Lutherans are not compelled to look inside themselves – whether to their heart or to the quality of their good works – to determine whether their faith is genuine.  Faith itself is created by the external word of Christ to the individual – that Christ died for me, that His life, death and resurrection saved me, that He baptized me into His family and that He gives me His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of my sins.

Lutherans do not merely believe a promise that is conditioned upon our faith.  And we certainly do not believe a promise that is conditioned upon our sincere decision or good works.  We believe the promise that has already been given to us.  Christ forgave us at the cross, and that forgiveness was delivered to us (and continues to be delivered) through the Word, water, bread and wine.  We constantly look to these objective, external realities in our daily lives as Christians as we fight against the Old Adam that is within us and seek to live our lives in service to our neighbor. We look not inwardly to our faith but outwardly to Christ who was crucified for us and who even now delivers to us the benefits of His perfect life, death and resurrection.