Hard Truths: Election

When most of us think of the word election we think of a democratic process in which we decide who we want to vote for and select for office.

The Bible also speaks of election and it has historically been one of the hardest truths for Christians to wrestle with.

The truth is no Christian who seeks to be faithful and wrestle with the full text of the Bible can avoid the subject.  So what do you do with it?

I could of course expound all the biblical evidence for individual election and why I think it is clearly found in the text, but let me go a different direction.

Two points.

1. Election seems unjust.  It does indeed, if we are viewing things from a western democratic framework.  We think, “hey that’s not fair, I should get to have my voice heard and make my own choice.”  Ephesians 2 tells us that humans are dead and unable to make any choices for or against God.  The human nature apart from God electing them is not that some would make a decision for God and some would not, but that none of us apart from God’s grace can make any kind of decision.  Dead people are unable to choose or elect for anything, this is why God elects and gives life to those who are spiritually dead.  Dead people cannot vote and when they do, its called election fraud.  Therefore it is not unjust for God to elect, all of us are dead and God does not owe any of us life, it is all grace.

2. No matter what, salvation involves a (pardon the Bushism) a “decider.”  Either each of us make a decision for God or God makes a decision to save us.  The bottom line is that decisions are being made.  So while this question is outside of the biblical scope, and assumes my first point is incorrect, I would ask who is it you want making such weighty decisions?  Creator God who is kind, wise, and all-knowing; or sinful humans that often make foolish choices that are not wise or in their best interests?

Though the truth of election is a hard one, especially considering our cultural framework and perspective to which we approach it from.  It is a major mountain I believe believers must summit as they progress in their delighting and submission to the word.  Let me leave with a quote from Paul Jewett.

The question of individual election has led more people to read scripture for what they want to find ( rather than listen to scripture for what they are afraid to hear) than virtually any other theological issue.

Yet I believe that letting the Bible speak clearly on the matter of election regardless of how it first sits with us, has exponential value to our souls.

ryan

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Dr. Blomberg And The “Resurrection Sequel Stone”

I get a subsciption to TIME magazine and they recently had a sensational article about how a stone had been uncovered that proved the resurrection story of Jesus was a rip off or borrowed tradition from earlier Jewish tradition.  Here is a picture of the stone.

Pretty impressive huh?

The scholar consensus seems to be that the stone is authentic and does date back to the days before Jesus.  Therefore it is a valuable artifact for ancient cultural and religious studies.  But does the stone really propose a earlier resurrections story?  Not according to New Testament Scholar Dr. Blomberg.  Read his blog post as gives his opinion of what the stone seems to say.  The notion that it records the idea of a resurrection is simply not there.  Of course that does not stop some from contorting the inscriptions to make it say that.

All of this to say that in our day of cynisim, conspirasy theory mania, it is big business to try and debunk traditional religions, especially Christianity.  If anything this event gives followers of Jesus another opportunity to study and strengthen our own faith and then engage in conversations with those around us.  Events like this do not have to be times when we become reactionary or combative but rather times in which we dig deeper to understand the complexity and realiness of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

ryan

Preached Today On “Piss Against The Wall”

I am taking an intensive Old Testament preaching class for the next two weeks.  Taking a preaching class thats designed for a whole semester in two weeks is quite challenging.  For example, on Monday the first day of class we were given our first passage to preach and I was assigned to preach it today.  That is a day and a half turnaround.  I have done that a couple of times for the young adults group I led.  Usually in those situation it was more of a talk, and I was much more familiar with the passage.

There were pros and cons to having such a short time to put together a sermon.  I came home from class on Monday and ended up studying, figuring out my “Preaching Idea” and then doing an annotated outline, all of this taking 9 hours for me that day.  And in all honesty, this is more time than a lot of pastors get to, or do spend on their sermon each week.  Plus I actually enjoy that pressure, it makes you really hone in and put all your energy into the task that you know is right in front of your face.

Well I preached this morning and got a good grade, so all is well.  But what really makes it fun is that my passage was 1 Samuel 25.  A story in which David is driven to rage by a greedy landowner named Nabal, for not giving him and his men some food.  David becomes so angry that he swears a curse upon himself if he does not kill every man in Nabal’s household. (1 Sam. 25:22)  Well I was digging in the Hebrew and discovered that the literal translation of the curse by David is that he would kill “all who piss against the wall” in Nabal’s house.

Oh the irony!  It is as if Pastor Steve is haunting me.  And if your wondering if I had the gall to highlight this in my sermon this morning the answer is…You bet.  I went for it, not to be a shock preacher, but because when preaching narrative your objective is to do everything you can to draw people into the story and help them feel the emotion and reality of it.  By telling of this we get a greater sense of how David is still a young, hot-headed, impetious fellow who is worked up to the point of using quite bold language.  And in case you are wondering who Pastor Steve is then watch this clip below, my post will then make a lot more sense.

Rob Bell and Egalitarianism

I have gone to a mostly egalitarian seminary for the last few years.  Do not ask me to explain the “mostly” that is a topic better left out of the blog world.

In the spectrum of biggest hot bottom issues to be found at seminary campuses these days, it is the issue of women as elders that might rank number one.  Some like to phrase the issue as “women in leadership” but outside a few backwood churches like Pastor Anderson’s, not many churches are against women in leadership, the real issue is women as elders.  I can remember the issue coming up in classes throughout my time in seminary and the whole entire vibe of the class would become tense and dicey.  I would venture to guess the issue has become what the authority of scripture was for the last generation of seminary students.

The issue of women as elders has divided churches and both sides of the argument have sinned in the process.  So where do we go from here?  Well if I had that answer I would write a book and get rich!  But part of being biblical is also the way we go about living out our biblical truths.  No matter how right either side feels they are on this side we must proceed with humility and charity for those we disagree with.

I came across this article written on the Resurgence about how Mars Hill Bible Church, where Rob Bell pastors, reached their decision on women as elders.  The article is a fasinating insider’s account (at least one side of it) about the what the process of deciding on women as elders at Mars Hill Bible Church.  If this article is true I think it can serve as a lesson to all of us on how to do better.

Rob Bell and Mars Hill Bible Church decided to embrace women as elders largely due to the work of William Webb in his book, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals.  In it Webb argues that the ethics and values of scriptures were not fully unveiled but were meant as a point in a redemptive trajectory toward higher and ultimate ethics.  If this is going over your head the big idea is that the ethics and teachings of the Bible are evolving and getting better.  Kind of like Atari leading on a trajectory toward Xbox.

And yes I know there are other routes to get to an egalitarian understanding of the scriptures, I am not arguing that here.  My point is that as churches go through this process we must guard our hearts and fight recklessly for unity.  As the article highlights, things get messy at churches when they debate the issue of women as elders.  No matter the side of the debate you come down on, and I would encourage all of you to study vigorously and search the scriptures on this topic, we must fight recklessly for unity.

ryan

Moses Was Using Drugs on Mt. Sinai

At least according to one scholar.  It is reports like this that remind me what academia is so dang important.  What would we do without deep insight such as, “well when I use psychedelic drugs I have experiences of seeing weird stuff and hearing  strange sounds, so that must have been what happened to  Moses.”  So what really qualifies now for scholarship is a recollection of one’s own drug abuse and then pass that off as something that should be taken seriously.  So next time your pastor tells you that Moses face was glowing because he had encountered the LORD, you stand up and tell him that it was because Moses was tripping on acid and PCP.  Amazing.

Though I only have a limited knowledge or what happens when you subject your mind to massive amounts or narcotics, I am highly skeptical that when someone is high that they come away with commandments like these.

And God spoke all these words:  2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

 3 “You shall have no other gods before [a] me.

 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

 7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.

Most people who are habitual stoner’s break most of these commandments by 2pm everyday, when they are waking up in the mom’s basement.   Just a thought.

ryan

Part 1 And the Poor Are…

Matt wants to know who I think the poor are, here goes!

Well since I am taking a Latin American theology class right now with a heavy emphasis on Liberation Theology, the question of poverty and the poor is one I have been encountering from a third world perspective. Here is what famous liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez says about the poor.

“In the final analysis, poverty means death: lack of food and housing, the inability to attend properly to health and education needs, the exploitation of workers, permanent unemployment, the lack of respect for one’s human dignity, and unjust limitations placed on personal freedom in the areas of self-expression, politics, and religion. Poverty is a situation that destroys peoples, families, and individuals.”

In fact from this definition and other liberation theologians came a term that is quite popular with the emergent/mainline crowd, “institutionalized violence.” The belief that certain powerful structures, be they political, social, economical, cause great oppression to certain people groups.

This definition though by Gutierrez only highlights how difficult it is to define who the poor are in an American context. As you can see bits and pieces of his description fit many different segments of our population. Which is exactly what I was getting at in my last post, it is very gray and blurry for us in America to find who the poor are.

Yet we have a phenomenon that is not found amongst the third world poor and the Biblical poor, and that is a mentality/values crisis. As Bill Cosby has served to highlight over the last few years, there is a problem in many urban communities of a devaluing of education, lack of stable families, and drug abuse that perpetuates poverty. We also see this in other settings were many Americans lack the financial acumen to know what it takes to build and sustain a middle class lifestyle. Put that all together with a entitlement mentality that crosses all economic groups, of instant gratification and you have many people who find themselves getting in their own way of financial peace.

Education can solve some of these problems, but not all. Many are cultural and systemic familial sin patterns. Plus the beauty of America is that while these individuals may be below the poverty line, they may be more than content with their life and circumstance, so I am hesitant to use the poverty line as the end all for defining the poor.

So once again the group I find myself most concerned about are those who are working incredibly hard, and still because of factors outside of their control, come up short in being able to have the basic resources of health care, food, energy, and housing. This group is also known as the working poor and is estimated to number around 30 million Americans, and rapidly growing as the basics become more and more expensive. They often have no health insurance because they cannot afford it, and are one unexpected expense away from being homeless.

And to the last part of your question Matt the Bible constantly speaks to why and how poverty occurred. If a young dude buys rims, plays World of War Craft all day, doesn’t work and racks up massive debt and finds himself poor because of this behavior, Proverbs would tell him to stop being dumb with money, and quit being a lazy sluggard.

There is more that needs to be said here because in America some are poor in education, opportunity, or resources.  I will try and write more about this in the next few days.

Are Hermeneutics Important?

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Yes they are. And if you have not read any books on the subject I would highly recommend this one. Of course some think the Holy Spirit makes it possible for all of us to understand the Bible and therefore hermeneutics and solid exegesis is a waste of time, and just like any heresy that is partly true. If you want proof the biblical interpretation/hermeneutics is important than read this story. It is “mind-bottling.”

ryan