11.14.2021

Lessons on Resisting the Government from Ezra, with a Typology Coda

In Ezra 4-6, the syncretistic Samaritans harrassed the returned exiles who are trying to rebuild the temple and city of Jerusalem.  They wait until Cyrus is gone (who told them they could build), and write the next king that Jerusalem will be rebellious.  He orders it stopped, and they do.

At the beginning of chapter 5, the Jews begin to rebuild.
They did not consult with the authorities before they went ahead and began building.  God had told them to, through Haggai and Zechariah.  They KNEW Ahasuerus' decree that they stop and not build.  But they listened to God instead of the king.

But this is not as clear cut as it seems.  

Many today, eager for civil disobedience, infer that the Jews were right to completely disregard any Persian king's order, and do what they know is right, come what may.  But it seems from Ezra 5:1-5 and Haggai 1 that God waits to speak until Darius has come to the throne.

So I would make two more modest claims.

1. It can be fine to challenge a bad law legally by intentionally disobeying it.
God, through Haggai and Zechariah, endorses it!  Daniel does it by praying to God publicly after the king's command not to.

2. Who is in power makes a difference, in civil disobedience decisions.
Ahasuerus believed slander, and sometimes you reach a legal, dead-end loss, and need to take your lumps.  Darius was more judicious, and Judah probably discerned this from the Empire News headlines.  "When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan" (Proverbs 29:2).  

In just war theory, one factor in deciding whether to go to war is the chances you have of winning.  So here, we ought to be more willing to make a legal or public square challenge, the more likely we are to win.

You could even say that God said to Israel through Haggai, "It's time, take this on, all the way to the emperor if you have to.  This one's going to listen."  They have a new opening to get the government's approval.

The typical rejoinder to this is that Haggai said Israel was disobeying Him to not rebuild.  It's not about the timing or who's in charge, but about obeying God rather than men, right?

But a close reading of the beginning of Haggai does not confirm this view.  God does NOT say, "You've been sinning all along, to not rebuild the temple against the king's command.  You never should have stopped."  No, He says, over a year into Darius' ascension, "Judah says it's not time to rebuild yet, but it IS time.  You've sat in your fancy houses long enough."  This confirms my point, especially Haggai mentioning the timing of Darius' reign.  And it refutes those who say, "When it comes to matters surrounding worship (circa sacris, like temple rebuilding, or zoning restrictions on churches), we always do what God says and never pay heed to Caesar."

There are certainly times to disregard or resist government intervention into our worship.

But to begin with the assumption, "You never have any right to give input on anything about the gathering of the church" is an overstep on the church's part.


A Coda
Personally, I think God used the sin of Judah's enemies and Ahasuerus, to provide for impoverished Israel to get their own families cared for first, before building HIS house.  God establishes/redeems/saves His people, gets them set up securely, then has them build Him a house.

1. Exodus
 - then families get plunder and set up their tents, 
 - then Sinai and tabernacle.

2. Conquest of Canaan
 - then inheritance to the tribes
 - then temple with Solomon.

3. Return to the land
 - then families build houses, 
 - then rebuilt temple and city.

4. Cross, Resurrection and Ascension
 - then apostles ordered and believers counted (Acts 1), 
 - then Pentecost (Spirit takes residence in His Church).

11.13.2021

Teachers I Respect

I've started a list of "Voices to Which I Listen."

This may seem a strange thing to do, but I believe it is important to be self-aware about who you are following, and why.

I'm giving you the whole (first draft) list here, and I'll probably do a blog series on each, explaining why I stop scrolling to read them, why I go to their blogs intentionally, or why I buy and read their books.

Preliminary thoughts:
1. It's impossible to include every author I've appreciated, so I'm limiting this to teachers I'm actively and repeatedly giving time to.  If their podcast drops, I'll listen.  If everyone did this honestly, it would be really revealing.  I'm going for transparency here.

2. I've also left off those I've heard snippets of and like, but just haven't gotten around to listening to a lot.  James White and Gary DeMar would be examples.

3. It's important to have a multitude of counselors, not just follow 1-3 people in the same narrow orbit.  Keeping this list broad is good.

4. I tried to make it "most influential earlier in the list" but that may not be exact.

5. I hope it's obvious, but these are earthly teachers, who are writing and speaking now, or in the recent past.  
Omitting Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, Augustine, Calvin, etc., doesn't mean I'm ignoring them for this list!

Please help me edit this list!  Add to it, or challenge names on it.


R.C. Sproul
Sinclair Ferguson
George Grant
Doug Wilson
Carl Trueman
Al Mohler
World Magazine/Marvin Olasky
Kevin DeYoung
Ray VanderLaan
John Piper
Mark Dever
Tim Keller
Ben Shapiro
David Bahnsen
Aaron Renn
Acton Institute
Alistair Begg
Jordan Peterson


I'll add categories and explanations later.  
For now, tell me who you listen to a lot that isn't here.
Or who you cringe at seeing named!

11.12.2021

The Unique Blessing of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches



This was so good, I listened TWICE.

It’s a description of the uniqueness of my denomination, the CREC – Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches.
 
The second time through, I took these shorthand notes, in case you don’t have the time to listen through all the banter.
 
Main Participants:
Jerry Owen – pastor near Seattle
Uri Brito – pastor in Florida panhandle
Toby Sumpter – pastor in Idaho

I. What is a presbytery? A council?
It is not good for man (or churches) to be alone.  They need relationship with others for encouragement and accountability.  That’s what presbyteries and denominations are.
 
II. What makes the CREC unique?
  A. A Cultural element
    1. Intentional personalism.  We know each other, have been in the homes of pastors and elders, seen their families interact naturally.  The man on the street craves relationship today, and we offer it, even if you don’t connect with our liturgy or theology right away.  “I’ve had 5 invitations to dinner in 20 minutes, after the worship service!”
 
     2. During worship, the dads will stand in the back with their kids who need care.  He’s loving his wife.  This is a form of masculinity unknown.  We have a “culture of men” that is healthy, not toxic masculinity or unhealthy patriarchy.  [No one believes this is true, because of the lies and slander hurled at Moscow, Idaho, but it is.]
 
     3. Cheerful resistance to totalitarian covid restrictions.
 
     4. Our strength is seeing the trajectory of cultural compromise in the church, like on sexuality or wokeness.
 
  B. A Theological element - common presuppositions, with Van Til.
            We actually believe that God’s Word directs us to worship and live this way, and challenge the culture in a specific way.
  
  C. A Liturgical element
     1. There is healthy disagreement on higher or lower liturgy (robes and collars, formalized prayer, etc.)
     2. “The men sing.”  “The church sings at the top of their lungs.”
     3. We are liturgizing our population.  Preparing them for cultural impact, through confession of sin, the Word, and communion.
 
 
III. The 6 P’s of the CREC:
A. Predestinarian – we are Calvinist, on the doctrines of grace
B. Post-millennial – God will keep His promises to propser His church in history
C. Psalm singing - the Psalter is still God's songbook for the church to sing today.  Not exclusively, but primarily.
D. Paedo-living – the role of children in the life of the church and family.
  1. "The background music of our sermons are crying babies."
  2. Psalm 8 – out of the mouths of babes!
  3. We welcome the presence of little ones.
E. Pre-eminent worship – Sunday morning is the highlight of our week.  We are in the presence of almighty God, welcomed and feasted by Him!
F. Pre-suppositional – we accept the self-authenticating authority of the Word of God, a la Van Til.
 
 
IV. Many are discouraged by their denominations’ response to cultural issues today.  Come to the CREC!  Why?
 - don’t be an island.  It’s harder to stand fast alone.
 - the baptism issue is not a deal breaker for us.
 - you need a group of people who agree with your values, not just on primary issues like the Trinity and Christ’s atonement, but also on secondary issues like how we worship, critical race theory, applying the Word of God to all of life, and Christian education.
 - we are okay fighting with each other on lesser issues.  Healthy disagreement is good.  But when covid hit, we came together.
 - When relationships break down, a denomination doesn’t sharpen itself.  It corrodes and degrades.  We need to keep up real fellowship, even where we disagree.

11.11.2021

Coveting // Leaving Your Church? // Mohler Gold

Crossway reprints some gold from Francis Schaeffer here on coveting and thanksgiving.


This is a good article on what to do when you're thinking of leaving your church.


Al Mohler's Briefing was EXCELLENT today:
 - the history and current state of public education.
 - what is social justice?
 - when does life begin?

11.09.2021

Slaying Leviathan - Book Review

Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian TraditionSlaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition by Glenn S. Sunshine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve enjoyed getting to know Glenn Sunshine on the Theology Pugcast podcast, with Chris Wiley and Tom Price. His insights into modern culture from medieval and Reformation history are consistently incisive and helpful.

In Slaying Leviathan, Sunshine wields his historical knowledge to help us understand the proper role of the state, in a Christian worldview.

Common knowledge has it that before the Enlightenment, Medieval Christendom was a theocratic, absolutist nightmare, right up through Calvin’s Geneva. It took the wars of religion in Europe in the 1600s to cure us of that, along with Christendom, and we’ve been happy, tolerant pluralists ever since. Conservative Christians who press for limited government do so against their history and against Romans 13.

Except that’s not how it is – or was - at all.

From monks arguing for property rights, to the Magna Carta restricting the king’s power, to England’s Glorious Revolution chasing out an absolutist monarch for the more reasonable William and Mary, Sunshine lays out the developing history of a Christian culture and theologians restraining its civil rulers from taking on too much power. But when the Christian faith wanes, the state waxes as a possible idol. Hobbes’ Leviathan, and our current culture’s values are two cases in point.

I cut my theological teeth on the Reformed teaching of RC Sproul. I’ll be forever grateful for coming across him. And he taught me that the classic Christian tradition says this regarding submitting to government: if they aren’t demanding you disobey God, or if they aren’t forbidding you to do what God requires, you have to do what they say. Sunshine presents a different historical view, with plenty of faithful Christian pastors and authors challenging the authority of the magistrate before that standard is clearly reached. (The American Revolution is a major example.) Are there any Scriptural examples of this, and does that matter?

Slaying Leviathan would have benefitted from some direct interaction with Sproul’s view, which is held by most in the church today. Still, Sunshine’s argument from history is well done and worth the read.

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11.08.2021

Thoughts on Covid - Now That I Have It

 So I lost my sense of taste a few days ago, and tested positive for covid the next morning.

 

The world has bought into the experiential basis of knowledge.  You don’t really know something until you have experienced it yourself, they say.  On one level this is true.  It’s hard for a Catholic priest who is single to give marriage advice.  On another level, this doesn’t work.  Men can accurately judge abortion to be the killing of a human life, even though they have never been pregnant or been through an abortion.

 

People expect your views on covid to change once you get it.  And I suppose that isn’t unreasonable.  In a way, I’ve been living as if covid didn’t exist, for about 17 months.  Going to the office.  No masks unless absolutely insisted upon in planes, hospitals, etc.  No vaccine.  Church life has been normal for that long, too.

 

The thing is, I haven’t been a covid denier all along, just because I was acting that way.  I know it’s no walk in the park for many.  But if you believe the media narrative, you’re either taking extreme precautions because you believe the science, or you ignore it with your head in the sand as a science and covid denier.

 

I’ve been neither.  I was just assessing statistical risk.  

If I caught it, I didn’t expect to be one of the 1% or less to succumb to covid in a hospital on a ventilator – my comorbidities weren’t that bad.  As the Delta variant hit, it was clear the virus was more pervasive but much less severe.  I figured there was a higher chance to catch it, but an even lower chance I’d be hospitalized for it.  I’m not in ideal physical shape, but decent enough that if covid found me I would likely fight it off with a mild case.

 

Now that I’ve got it, I think the same way.

 

I don’t believe this is recklessness.  I know plenty of acquaintances who have not fared so well.  Colleagues hospitalized.  Family of coworkers, young and healthy, whose life is taken tragically.  I don’t deny these realities, but remain thoroughly convinced they are outliers.  The anecdotal evidence is as strong on the other side: church members or family who get covid, and it’s so mild a case they don’t realize they have it, and it passes quickly with no lasting harm.

 

You may ask, if it’s 50-50-ish, anecdotally, why not get the vaccine to be sure?  It’s a fair question.  First, because the stats aren’t 50-50, at ALL, like the media tries to make you feel.  Getting covid is not a death sentence for most.  How many?  We don’t KNOW what the stats are, because so many contract covid without knowing it, or being tested – my guess is 90% of cases are not severe.  All the severe cases are reported, and most of the mild cases are NOT.

 

Second, I’m not one who thinks the vaccine is a Bill Gates conspiracy, or that it’s worse than the disease, or one who deeply suspects it because it’s so strongly pushed.  I’m just not an “early adopter” of such things.  I’m fine submitting to MMR and tetanus vaccines that have been proven over decades, and I approve of modern medicine in general.  But to require a brand new vaccine of the whole population RIGHT NOW is too much.  So I’ve signed letters to aid where church members seek religious exemption from their employers requiring the vaccine.  My family is healthy enough just to not need it, right now, I think.  But I don’t look squinty-eyed at the person who gets the vaccine.  I believe the data that it’s quite effective to stave off covid or its severe effects.

 

At the same time, medicine is a “practice.”  The crass protest here is “We are not your lab rats.”  The more vaccinations, the more data they have to find out how well it works – they don’t know for sure until they get wide-scale results from live cases.  I’m a little uncomfortable being Apple’s early adopter “Beta test” with my own body, instead of just with my computer software.  That’s a reasonable concern to me.  It overrules the knee-jerk, irrational objection, “You’re a covid and science denier jerk!”  Society, an employer, or the government does not have the right to force me to get vaccinated in this circumstance.  Give it a few years of ultra-low instances of damage done by the vaccine, and the requirement makes more sense.

 

Let’s be okay with each other making different choices on all this.

We don’t have to buy into one political narrative or the other.  I find it rather silly to overly minimize the threat of covid, to prove how conservative or anti-Biden we are.  Or to inflate the threat of covid, to prove how dumb Trump and his supporters are.

 

Resist the impulse to isolate from anyone who thinks at all differently from you on this topic.  That’s what “they” want - for us to be less willing to stand together against their tyranny.  Yes, tyranny.  The most disturbing thing in all this is the progressive and aggressive demand that everyone do exactly what the government says, and think what the government thinks.  We are beginning to think and behave exactly how the Chinese Communist party wants its people to be, and that should scare us far more than the coronavirus.

 

At the same time, I’m staying away from people while I have covid, out of love for neighbor.  It made sense to lock everything down back in March 2020 (15 days to stop the spread!), but now we should only be quarantining the sick (me) , not the healthy.

 

I’m doing fine physically right now, mild cold symptoms are subsiding, and I appreciate your prayers for those with more severe cases.

10.07.2021

What is Liturgy?

What is liturgy?

The greek word is simply “service.”  It’s any ritual or work we do for God.  Romans 12:1-2 says your reasonable service to God is presenting your bodies a sacrifice to Him.  So liturgy isn’t even confined to formal worship. 

But when we say we have a “liturgical” worship service, what does that mean?
 
First level: Planned, not spontaneous
        Not acting spontaneous when it isn’t.  The Crystal Cathedral’s Hour of Power was called “The show” by its producers for a reason.
        Prayers are written ahead of time.  Scripture readings are planned.
        Many Baptist churches do this, with a printed bulletin.
        Screens contribute to the spontaneous feeling.  You get a sense of “let’s all just do this,” instead of the understanding that church leaders have picked the songs they want you to sing this week.
        (Do you bring a Bible or notebook to a service you expect to be spontaneous praise to God?  Not usually.)
 
Second level: Formal, not casual
Closely related to the first, here people tend to dress up more than street casual.  From suit and tie heights, down to at least a collared shirt.  There is a sense that we aren’t just here to express ourselves to God, but that we are in His special presence, and so we should act and dress differently than we do in any other setting.  This is Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and some conservative PCA churches. 
(Do we dress the same for the office that we do for church?)
 
Third level: incorporating helpful aspects of the higher liturgy.  
We sing the Lord’s Prayer, and Sanctus each week, for example, and often incorporate the lectionary into our opening litany. 
 
Fourth level: bells and whistles.  
This involves robes or collars.  Candles, incense, and processions, even.  This is “high liturgy,” a la Lutheran, Episcopalian and Roman liturgies.  Another aspect of this is not deviating from form (Book of Common Prayer) prayers at all.
 

I’m a third level liturgist, along with my congregation.  I have yet to go to robe or collar (don’t know that I ever will), but neither am I trying to act spontaneously in the main worship order moves.  (I often am spontaneously, involuntarily, emotional in reading Scripture, but that’s a separate issue.)  CREC churches range from second to fourth level churches, which is fine.

 
These aren’t hard and fast categories.  Many congregations are second level in one part, and third or fourth in another aspect.  Let a thousand flowers bloom, without judgment.  Just maintain Scriptural principles:  have a reason from the Bible for everything you do.

9.15.2021

Thanatos Syndrome book review

The Thanatos SyndromeThe Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Thanatos Syndrome was my first Walker Percy novel, recommended to me long ago by a respected pastor. Written in 1987, Thanatos is a thought provoking social critique. Is there really a well-funded group of elites who pursue wide scale social manipulation and control? Sounds too conspiratorial, doesn’t it? But we’ve seen it happen in history several times. With echoes of Grisham’s The Firm, Percy deals deftly with the conspiracy skeptics.

Percy also channels Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, exposing the nihilism that was hitting the main populace in the 80s, ironically amidst great material prosperity. The main character is a psychiatrist who sees it in patients he’s known for a long time. People are reaching out and experimenting sexually, they know facts but have no context to put them in, they are barely self aware. These are all symptoms of a loss of meaning in life, though Percy never puts it that directly. He described a culture losing its way.

The results vary. Listlessness in most. Sexual aberration in a few (described explicitly at points – not for young people). But the Thanatos Syndrome is a sort of spiritual death that has afflicted us, for which the chemical being secretly injected into the populace is just a metaphor.

One interesting feature of the book is that the main character slowly figures out he’s being bribed, then the conspiracy behind it, then the chemicals-in-the-water element, and finally the pedophilia ring. At each point of escalation, he remains perfectly calm and says little. “I see” is the most common thing he says, when he understands and rejects what he sees. This is contrasted with “Yes” when he agrees on a course of action with his few allies. He is emotionally flat. The total absence of any shock registered is itself shocking. The reader can interpret that positively: it’s important for us to see and to act courageously in the face of evil, which he does. And particular emotions are not essential to doing that. Or is it negative? Has the psychiatrist been desensitized to the nihilism surrounding him? Perhaps to a degree. If we aren’t shocked and angered by what we read here, there’s something wrong with us. But the planned, concrete action he takes to stop the evil wins the day.

I’ve heard Percy is a devout Catholic, and this would fit with part of the message of the book. Embedded in the plot is a Catholic home for the disabled and elderly that is shut down by the sinister forces. They argue for euthanasia for the infirm, elderly, and for infants with disease or without fit parents to raise them. Sound familiar? Percy makes the case for the church caring for them instead. This is a profoundly pro-life book, at its core.

It’s a tough read for today’s evangelical, though. It stretches our categories, and depicts the trajectory of evil explicitly. But it also touches on important themes: our desire for normalcy, reputation, money and popularity can distort our moral compass. Wisdom for the world can be found in a church that looks to us crazy and detached from the world. There really are sinister, anti-life forces out there, and they’ll seek to recruit you.

3.5 stars, out of 5.

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9.14.2021

The Very First Christmas review

The Very First ChristmasThe Very First Christmas by Paul L. Maier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up at an antique store recently. Paul Maier is worth reading whatever the genre. Check out Pontius Pilate and the Flames of Rome, for his historical fiction/context on Biblical events.

I expected a little more from this, but it’s a child’s story book. His goal is to cut through all the fake Christmas stories and tell the basics of what happened. What is a manger? Was it a stable? What year was Jesus born? Maier gets too specific on that last one – do we really know it was 5 B.C. for sure? But this is a great go-to for young ones at Christmas time.

Maier uses a dialogue format, which I’m not sure works the best for a book to read your young ones at the bedside. Maybe. To voice questions they might have already could be good. It just seemed a bit clunky in the writing, maybe.

Some of the stronger points were his handling of the Incarnation, and not really addressing Mary as a virgin (not age appropriate). Instead he focuses on the marriage and family history then in a way that a 3-5 year old can translate to their own family.

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9.09.2021

On When to Give Our Children the Sacraments

In going over our church membership records, I noted that we have several infants in that stage of “taking communion yet or not?”

As parents of infants who hold to paedo-Communion, you have probably already thought this through plenty, but here are my thoughts.
 

This is How to, not why we ought to
I’m assuming here the paedo-baptist and paedo-communion positions, not defending them.  There are plenty of resources making the case.  My intent is to flesh out how we actually live this position out, once we hold it.
 

No desperate rush
Infants don’t desperately need baptism and communion from day one outside the womb.  Receiving the sacraments is not necessary for salvation.  It IS one of the ordinary means of grace for us, but being ordinary means you don’t need to take extraordinary steps to have your 10-day old receive it.  Your child has God’s grace and blessing on them because they are parent(s) of believers (1 Cor. 7:14), not because they attend church or receive baptism or communion.
 

Urgency and no delay
Set a baptism date as soon as convenient and possible.  Delaying for months starts to degrade the importance of the sacrament.  Some like to delay a bit just to remind themselves of point 2 above, which is okay, I guess.  But you’re extending a situation where they don’t have the sign on them that God wants on them.
 

Communion before other solid food?
On communion timing, it need not follow immediately for infants.  It can be detrimental to force-feed Communion to infants.  For obvious physical reasons, and for the disruption if they are sleeping soundly in their car seat, in the pew.
 

When they see the exclusion
It’s okay to wait on communion until the child notices what is going on.  When they see everyone else receiving, and they aren’t, they might start to wonder or ask.  This could be as late as 2-4 years old.
 

Better before that
But it’s better to initiate as the parent, and start serving them earlier than that.  They aren’t sleeping in the car seat anymore, but neither are they swinging their legs under the pew at 4, wondering why they don’t get the bread.  I would advise giving them the elements when they are alert and awake and easily able to ingest a bit of solid food, probably around 1 year old.
 

Elder involvement
Notify your elders.  Parental initiation is good, since you have the best read on your child’s situation.  But church leadership has the ultimate authority over the administration of the sacraments.  So let your pastor or elder know when your child begins receiving communion.


Exceptions to the pattern
Several of our folks at church don't fit this pattern (intending to have the baby baptised at birth).  They came to a covenantal view of the sacraments when their kids were 5, 12, or 16.  This is a cause for rejoicing, and also discernment.  The elders need to make a determination: how old is too old to baptize a child based on his parents' desire?  At what point should elders seek a profession of faith from the child himself?

9.07.2021

A Moral Basis for Liberty review

A Moral Basis for LibertyA Moral Basis for Liberty by Robert Sirico
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Father Sirico is on the academic side, but makes an important point in this 30-page booklet: democratic capitalism has the moral high ground in the ongoing debate over whether it or some form of totalitarian, planned government is the better system.

The debate certainly isn’t over, and Sirico seems to be responding to the last few decades of the dialogue within the Roman Catholic church. Of particular concern is how the terms of the debate stack the deck in favor of the planned economy, instead of the free one. Shouldn’t we plan to give to the poor, instead of rely on individual choice to do so? Lost in that assumption is the fact that liberty is curtailed too much, when a whole society redistributes personal wealth. Lost is the sad fact that the poor are not helped mainly by cash dumped into their account, but by private and local charity knowing them personally, and custom tailoring help to that, in love.

If you don’t know the Acton Institute, they are a good resource at the intersection of theology and politics.

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9.06.2021

Maker Versus the Takers review

The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and EconomicsThe Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics by Jerry Bowyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an excellent little book. It’s point: “Jesus confronted the takers of wealth, not the makers of it” (xiii). Thus the title: “The Maker (Jesus) Versus the Takers.”

Bowyer’s basic assumption is the same you will hear in any sound seminary: we need to understand what Scripture meant to its original audience, before you can translate and apply it today. He hones in on Jesus’ sayings about wealth, and discovers something startling. “Jesus’ conversations about money take on a more and more adversarial tone the closer He gets to His version of [Washington] DC: Jerusalem” (3).

The author is not a trained theologian, but he takes on passage after passage, and knocks it out of the park 9 out of 10 times. Some examples:

1. “The poor you will always have with you.” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 15, in which God promises Israel will not have any poor, if they follow His commands about debt forgiveness. Israel’s leaders were breaking that systematically in Jesus’ day, and Jesus’ words here were a rebuke to the greed behind it.

2. The promise in Isaiah 9:1-2 that Zebulun and Naphtali would be exalted, after being brought low before, points backward as well as forward to Jesus. Northern Galilee, where those tribes were located, was the first to suffer when the invasions came that led to Israel’s exile. They would be the first restored, with Jesus teaching and healing there first.

3. Part of Israel’s story was Jerusalem trying to exploit the rest of Israel. Think of Rehoboam, who planned to increase taxes. Israel killed the tax man he sent, and seceded! Bowyer points out, from trusted traditional sources like Edersheim and Josephus, that this same story was going on in Jesus’ day. The temple rulers concocted many ways to get as much money from the pious populace as possible. Jesus cleansed the temple of this “den of robbers.”

4. In the parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus starts with the man who owes 10,000 talents. Pastors love to wow people with how big this is in modern terms, but miss Jesus’ main point. It’s roughly 6 times the size of Israel’s gross national product at the time! And this fits into Jesus telling Peter to forgive 70 times 7, just before. We think the number is just randomly crazy big, but 70 times 7 referred to Israel’s exile. The Bible makes a point that Israel will be in exile for 490 years – the time the land should have had its Sabbaths, but Israel never gave it. So the servant who owed all that money, is the whole nation, or its leaders! 6 years’ worth of productive economy, and in the 7th year, the law said the land should rest, and any debts should be forgiven. But the leaders used legal work arounds to avoid both. Jesus’ point is, you owed God big time, and He forgave you. But you squeeze every penny out of the people you can, with no mercy.

There’s a lot more.
And you don’t have to wade through academic jargon. Bowyer is to the point, though slightly repetitive and disorganized at times.

There are a couple things he gets wrong, or that are a stretch. This is a common failing of those who draw from historical context. History isn’t an exact science, and we can try to make it such, to make our preferred point. Bowyer asserts that “forgive us our debts” in the Lord's Prayer should not be spiritualized, but taken literally. His point that we spiritualize the text too often is a good one, but not in this case. Many times a spiritual sense exactly what the text intends, the earthly reference being a metaphor, and this is one of those.  Besides, how would God forgive our financial debts to others?  Also, I’m uncertain about the timing of Rome’s economic and political disturbance compared to the crucifixion. Bowyer (and Paul Meier in “Pontius Pilate”) makes the case that the economic crisis, and political downfall of Pilate’s Roman sponsor happen just before the crucifixion. So Pilate is politically vulnerable in Rome, and thus more willing to give the Jews what they want, when they demand Jesus’ death. Maybe. Bowyer’s point is a good one: God providentially uses national economic life, as much as anything else. But maybe not specifically in how Bowyer reads the crucifixion timing.

Even with those caveats, I highly recommend this book. It puts in fresh language the historical situation in Jesus’ day, and clearly sets forth what He said about it. The direct political implications are in the short conclusion. I won’t spoil it for you!


View all my reviews

9.03.2021

Read. The Bible. Slowly.

In my weekly pastoral routine, I put the bulletin together on Friday mornings.  One part of this is putting Scripture into our opening litany – responsive reading.  Now and then, I will try cutting and pasting the text, to save time.  But due to formatting quirks, it’s just as fast to actually type the text in.

 

I realized today, typing out parts of Psalm 5, that this is one of the more spiritually edifying things I (a pastor!) do all week long.

 

I learned it in seminary, too.  When you have to slow down in the Bible, it is almost always beneficial in drawing you to the Lord.  You may be

 - reading aloud to your family

 - typing or writing it out for your own reasons, like I was

 - studying the grammar, or the original language

But whatever the reason, God was wise to tell us in His Word, not just to READ His Word.  But to meditate on it.

 

Over the centuries, our reading habits have changed drastically. 

1. It used to be in Augustine’s day, that only a few elites could read, and only did so out loud.  First-century pastors would read out loud the latest letter from Paul to their Galatian church, in church, because many in the church couldn’t read for themselves.

2. The Reformation brought a revolution.  Tyndale’s driving motivation was to get every ploughboy a copy of the Bible, and the ability to read it himself.  The last 400 years saw people in the West saturated in the written word, as a result.

3. I’m beginning to believe that the technological revolution is undoing much of that effect.  First it was radio.  Then TV and the silver screen.  Then the internet.  Now social media.  They tell me that Zuckerberg’s “metaverse” is next.  With each of these we are more absorbed in a world of images and sounds, and drawn away from the written word.  See Jacques Ellul’s books for more on this.

 

There are exceptions, I know.  ​I'm not a Luddite, and I do a lot of reading ON the internet.  But there is a reason that the first rule of posting on Facebook is to include a picture, or it won’t get read.

 

So, I encourage you:

1. Read.  Read the Bible every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.  I recently heard that people who read the Bible 4 times a week or more, are significantly more mature and fruitful in their faith.  Reading Scripture less often than that, the picture changes drastically.  Frequency is a factor.  Also, read good literature, and trusted contemporary authors and speakers.

 

2. Read slower.  Read out loud to your family more.  Train your children in the patience of focusing on the non-visual, spoken word.  It’s fine to help younger ones focus by giving them a coloring page at the same time.  But realize that is a crutch off which to wean them, at some point.  (Caveat: my artist wife sometimes during sermons doodles something related to what I’m saying!)  Have your children write out passages of the Bible at home.  (And not just the commands that they broke, as punishment!)  This works on their hand-writing, and gets them to meditate on God’s Word.

 

To the Word!

9.02.2021

Critical Race Theory at School

A few folks have pointed me to "CRT and the Christian School" and I thought I'd jot down some thoughts in response.

John Stonestreet has a better and shorter treatment of CRT here.

I found the article at Reformed Journal to be very unhelpful in the first section.
 - denying the explicit teaching of CRT in schools, when multiple instances have been in the news for a good while now.  Maybe it truly isn't in his school, or maybe he is unaware of it.  Then he admits this misses the critics' point!
 - arguing CRT people don't agree on a common definition, but giving one anyway.
 - setting up a strawman: CRT objectors don't understand it, they deny common grace, they conflate it with other things.
 - whataboutism - are we as worried about Christian Nationalism?  Seriously?  Talk about invoking boogeyman labels.  Holding a conservative political opinion makes one a dangerous "nationalist," but holding a view that CRT asserts does NOT necessarily make you CRT?  Obvious bias, there.

The second section where he lists concerns he's heard about CRT is quite good.  I recognized my position there, which is always a good sign that the other side understands you.

The last section where he responds to those concerns is so-so. He basically says, we doing our best to teach the truth, and the truth is complicated.  Well, yes, obviously.  But are you going to assert in class that America was founded on slavery, or on liberty?  Of course, the truth is somewhere between those, but it is CRT and the 1619 project that are making it an absolute binary choice today, more than conservatives.  There will always be extreme, polarizing positions on cable news on both sides.  The point is, should school boards allow either absolute position to be all that is taught in class?  No.  Banning CRT is not white-washing history.  It is disallowing historical reductionism in the classroom.

The last section could be culled to a few bullet points for school boards to define their position clearly for concerned parents (I took a stab at starting one, at the end of this article).  I believe this is an essential responsibility of boards today, or the leftist training that teachers typically receive will have free reign in our education system.  I am familiar with a similar dynamic in the church: seminaries are often more liberal than the churches they serve.  Churches that call pastors have to know this well, to ferret out potential problem areas in what the pastoral candidate believes.  Boards need to do the same with teachers.

CRT is a heresy, and I use the word advisedly.  Every heresy is a distortion of the truth, taking one aspect of the truth and over-emphasizing or distorting it, while believing many other true things.  What would Athanasius have said to the objection: "why can't we teach Arianism in your churches and schools?  Arians believe the Bible is God's Word, teach the atonement of Christ for our sins, and our need for faith in Him.  The Trinity is complex, so let's not freak out."

This article is doing a similar thing with CRT:
1. Ignoring or downplaying its fundamental error: exaggerating and distorting the (real and true) importance of race in society.  
2. Appealing more to the aspects of the truth that CRT gets right.  
3. Appealing to the complexity of history, when CRT's main assumption is the simplicity of history (it boils down to oppression).

It also ignores the Marxist and Gramscian roots and goals of the movement, and the extent to which such ideas have permeated the education of educators, without using the label CRT.

Holding views aligned with CRT while trying to deny you teach it erodes trust.  The author comes very close to doing this.  I don't mean to imply the author of this article is deceptive, but I do think teachers' unions and professors who train teachers often are.  This author is naive to or unaware of leftist aggression in academia.  He thinks it's insulting to even consider that teachers could grade papers differently based on political opinions, when this happens routinely in schools.

Parents are right to be suspicious.  Yes, their suspicions can be inflamed by political demagoguery on either side.  But if school boards do their job - creating clear policy - this can be an opportunity to advance their vision for their highly commendable endeavor in Christian education.



A statement on Critical Race Theory (CRT) from the school board of _____ Christian School
__________ Christian School is aware of many parental concerns over CRT.  We have communicated and expect our teachers to follow these basic principles in teaching on these issues.

1. Indoctrination
We reject the attempt to teach that America was founded in slavery and cynical self-interest, more than in principles of liberty.
We affirm the reality of racism in our nation, and that our founders did not all live up to their good ideals in this area.

2. Race Essentialism
We reject the attempt to classify people as oppressors or privileged solely by their whiteness.
We affirm that people are often viewed and treated differently based on their race.  Whether to pursue "colorblindness," or to take note of one's race so as to treat them well, is a constructive high school classroom discussion to have.

3. Christian worldview
We reject these and other errors of CRT as fundamentally contradictory to the Christian worldview.
We affirm that CRT shares some goals with the Christian worldview, such as advocating for the marginalized.  The merits of how effectively or justly CRT thus advocates, is a constructive high school classroom discussion to have.

8.31.2021

Covid and Health at Church

I’ve recently heard of churches requiring vaccine proof to attend church in person.

 

This position is light years from my own local church context.  We have met in person for 15 months now, unmasked, in fairly close quarters – no covid cases have arisen from it that I am aware of.

 

Churches requiring vaccines prompt me to write:

 

      Getting the vaccine is a very personal and private decision, and should NOT be required by employers, the gov’t, or churches.  Just because it also impacts public health does not justify social pressure or civil mandates.

2.      If you are vaccinated and go to any gathering, including church, where you know there are probably unvaccinated people, do not feel responsible for their health regarding that factor.  They have chosen to take the risk of what the data say so far – that the vaccine is quite effective in preventing and mitigating the severe effects of getting covid.  They may have several good reasons to take that risk, even if there are also bad reasons out there.

3.      If you are not vaccinated and go to any gathering, including church, do not feel responsible for the health of others such that you would not attend.  Others can get vaccinated or wear masks if they think it will protect them from your unvaccinated presence.

4.      There IS a responsibility we generally owe to others regarding health.  We routinely stay away from church and social functions when family members have fevers or flu or bad colds.  This is a way to love our neighbor.

5.      But there are equally important competing priorities.  The importance and benefit of gathering for worship justifies us taking some risk of passing on mild colds to others.  It took us a good while, but we have begun shaking hands in greeting again – another good sign.

6.      We need to avoid a spirit of fear even as we seek to love our neighbor, regarding health matters.  To stay home from church due to a mild cold or sniffle in the past was not common.  The needle has shifted because of covid, I think: whole families are more likely to stay home from church if anyone shows any sign of sickness.  I do not believe this to be a good direction to move.  We are more likely to isolate and avoid fellowship for many other reasons – it is generally spiritually unhealthy to add another one.  To stay away from church due to being unvaccinated, or because you sneeze an hour before the service, is yet another degree of separation that strains the cost-benefit calculation well beyond rationality.  Trust people to not freak out if you sneeze or cough in their presence.  Personally, I think the best place to draw the line on whether to attend is asking the question, is this cold mild enough that I can go, just not shake hands and maintain a bit more distance, and not feel guilty for exposing others to what I have? 

7.      Keep health matters in perspective.  Just as we need to avoid a spirit of fear, we should not let health matters dominate our thinking or conversations.  If all you can think of during communion is how germs are being passed unnecessarily, then you have a problem.  I think most of us were there at some point in the last 18 months, and we need to recover some equilibrium, if we haven’t already.  This will also involve being charitable to others, who hold a different view of vaccines, masks, and where the line is on attending church or not.  Don’t assume those who are more cautious than you are always giving in to a spirit of fear.  Or that those less cautious than you are always reckless.  We need to give others charity to draw the line a bit differently than we do.