Monday, December 29, 2014

The Battle of Scriptural Interpretation: Luther v. Erasmus

Here we are in the last post of the year 2014. It's been an interesting year all things considered, as this blog has become completely changed in its importance to my life. Due to time restraints, much over the last few months, my blog posts have been edited (ish) out of my college assignments. Unfortunately, today is no different.  I hope you enjoy a rather academic discussion of who has a better biblical argument: Luther or Erasmus on Free Will. One good way of reading this would be as a case study of what makes proper biblical interpretation.

Luther’s arguments were often in contrast with those of the established church. Such was the case with Luther’s arguments against the free will of man. The church beseeched Erasmus to write a response to Luther’s argument, which in turn elicited a further response from Luther. Upon analysis of their works, it becomes evident that Luther provides a better biblical argument (please note that this does not mean I agree with his arguments whole-heartedly. To demonstrate this, we will first evaluate the criteria by which we shall judge who has a better biblical argument, and then look at Erasmus and Luther’s arguments through that criteria.

Criteria - Proper Biblical Interpretation

From a definitional standpoint, a better biblical argument is one that is better supported by Scripture. But as these two giants (or maybe an elephant and a fly) both quote biblical passages in their arguments, there needs to be an analysis of what constitutes valid biblical support in the first place. Dr Jason Lee, Dean of the School of Biblical and Theological Studies at Cedarville University, says that in evaluating doctrinal debates, one should evaluate biblical support in accordance with whether or not the author was intending to express doctrine (twas a personal communication). In determining such intent, it is helpful that we follow the entirety of the author’s thought process, as well as how any other biblical authors respond to it. Naturally, there are no direct verses regarding free will in the Bible; otherwise, there would be no need for this discussion at all. Thus, we will see both sides arguing from inferences, but we should evaluate whether those inferences are built from interpretation of passages based on the intent of the biblical author.

Of course, according to Erasmus, the differences in opinion about unclear scriptural passages ought to be evaluated by the church alone, rendering our criteria irrelevant, as whatever the church says, must be deemed as correct. Nevertheless, as Luther points out, the Bible is written so as to be approachable to the common man, and thus, a specific authority in the church is not needed to evaluate which of these two men has a better biblical argument.

(This does not discount the importance of communal interpretation of the Scripture. There is one correct interpretation of the Bible, and collaborating with other members of the body of Christ is essential to a proper interpretation. However, church authorities are not needed to rule on differing interpretations directly, as the Bible is understandable by all of the church, not just a select few. For further development of this idea, see my later analysis on Deuteronomy 30.)

Erasmus' Misinterpretation of Scripture

Erasmus begins by quoting a passage from the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus. Unfortunately for Erasmus’ argument, at the time when he was writing, Ecclesiasticus was not even formally recognized as canonical by the Catholic Church.  In a world where even the established church who was supporting Erasmus in this argument doesn’t say that Ecclesiasticus is Scripture, it’s hard to consider it as biblical support. Thus, Erasmus’ argument from this passage is excluded from our analysis.

Even still, Erasmus quotes over 25 passages from the universally accepted biblical canon to support his logical arguments. Erasmus, for instance, argues that the commands in Scripture all imply the existence of free will. After all, one does not tell someone bound and unable to move, “Come.” Erasmus feels promises of rewards imply the same as one doesn’t reward someone for something he had no choice but to do. Still, it is difficult to argue that the authors of these verses were intending to promote the doctrine of free will. For instance, was Paul really making a statement about free will when he challenged Timothy to “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ?”

The closest Erasmus comes to our intent-based criterion is Deuteronomy 30:11-19, in which he talks about total depravity. In this text, Moses seems to tell the Israelites that the law is very nigh unto them, “that thou mayest do it.”  Erasmus concludes that this means that men have the ability and will to obey the law. Yet almost everything in this passage gives us reason to think that Moses was writing about the approachability and understandability of the law, not about the ability of the Israelites to follow it.

Indeed, Paul uses this very passage to indicate that the message of the scripture (specifically the gospel) is clear and understandable. This is within a chapter declaring the futility of an attempt to obey the law.  This demonstrates at least that Paul, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, thought that Moses was only intending to speak of the approachability of the law, rather than the Israelites’ ability to obey. As an inspired author, Paul must know what the passage means; thus, Erasmus’ contradictory interpretation must be wrong. As this is the closest Erasmus comes to proper interpretation of Scriptures, this leaves Erasmus with little more than human rationalization, rather than true biblical support.

Luther's Slightly Better Biblical Interpretation

Far too often, Luther also relies upon implications of passages, rather than authorial intent. Nevertheless, Luther does include some proper biblical support. In relation to Erasmus’ arguments from Deuteronomy 30 (as well as Erasmus’ conclusions from the rest of Old Testament commands), Luther argues that the law’s sole purpose was to show us our need for Christ. He specifically cites Romans 3:20, which states,
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” 

It is evident that Paul is making a doctrinal point about the nature of the law. If Luther really wanted to solidify this authorial intent, he should have cited the many other selections of Paul’s writings,  where this theme is developed. Even still, Luther’s counter-argument on the law’s purpose has better biblical support than Erasmus’ original argument did.

Luther’s arguments against free will are largely predicated on his belief in total depravity. Luther’s main proof for this is from Romans 1. Here we see Paul explain that the men of this world are ignorant of righteousness. According to Luther, one cannot act righteously if he does not even know what is righteous.

Ultimately, it is hard to give this verse much credence in its efforts to prove the depravity of man, as Paul never gives any clue that the sin he is discussing here is completely universal. Luther reads this into the text himself, by saying that the word “all” in the clause, “All ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,”  modifies the term men. A grammatical view of the text, on the other hand, would indicate that “all” modifies the words closest to it, namely, “ungodliness and unrighteousness.” Thus, we see no reason that Paul was intending this passage as a statement about the sinfulness of all men.

Even so, Luther’s argument from Romans 3:9 provides a stronger indication of the depravity of man. Here Paul declares that “all are under sin.” It is Luther’s contention that this excepts none, and is a great indication that ultimately that “all are under sin.” This takes the sin shown in Romans 1, and makes it universal.

Indeed, directly thereafter, Paul starts a long soliloquy that includes such statements as, “There is none righteous,”  “There is none that seeketh after God,”  “All the world may become guilty before God,”  and “For all have sinned.”  Thus, Paul intended the selfsame doctrine that Luther interprets from the verses. It is here that Luther argues that the depravity of man prevents him from choosing God (seeking after Him, perhaps?).Thus we see Luther’s use of implications to prove his argument. However, unlike Erasmus he does at least have a biblical foundation upon which to build his logical arguments.

Ultimately, both men present logical arguments, but only Luther has proper biblical foundation upon which to build his arguments as a whole. Erasmus’ implication-based style of argument simply ignores authorial intent. Thus, it is evident that Luther provides better biblical support for his argument than Erasmus did.

Friday, December 26, 2014

It's the Day After Christmas

It's the day after Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. For everyone all through the house is sitting a bit sleepy as they discover that they ate too many double chocolate chip cookies the day before. Or maybe that's just my house. 

It was a wonderful Christmas for me, as family members crowded yonder small house to enjoy quality time with each other (and a light meal). Weirdly, I got 4 pieces of Doctor Who merchandise, which begs the question, am I really that obsessed? 

Now, of course, it's also Boxing Day, but I don't know much about the culture of Canada, UK, and Australia as it pertains to Boxing Day, so I'll stick to the more obvious holiday around this date - Christmas! 

I have decided that I am going to try to go as many Christmas posts as possible without going to one of the two classic Christmas passages. I'm not entirely sure why I'm doing this, but it's happening. 

So, John 1:1-14 tells us a few special reminders for the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, 
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. hat was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

So, yes, obviously tells us of the incarnation of Christ with the discussion of the word becoming flesh, but it further highlights that which I tried to demonstrate last year - Christ's life didn't begin with His birth. That was not a beginning, but rather, "In the beginning was the Word."

That means that saying that Christ's life is sacrificial is not out of place at all. Because He agreed to be made in the likeness of man, He agreed to be "made flesh," despite the fact that He made the world. As one of the thousand Christmas songs so eloquently puts it, "He laid down His golden crown."

Of course, discussion of Him laying down His crown would be useless without explaining why He would decide to come to Earth as a lowly carpenter's son. He came because Someone who had no sin was needed to die for atonement of the sins of the world, so that man who believed may "become the sons of God."

 Yet, despite the fact that the world was made by Him, the world received Him not. Throughout the entirety of His life, Jesus Christ, God Himself, was considered by many to be a raving lunatic. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not."

But praise the Lord, that He still considered both sacrifices worth the price for the sake that "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, not of the will of man, but of God."

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Battle for Supremacy: Church v. State

During the time of a unified Catholic church before the Reformation, there was a controversy that still holds some weight today. A controversy dealing with the scriptural understanding of who actually holds supreme authority on earth - church or state.

With such decisions coming from the government on freedom of religion, the question must again be asked - who has that control? Since the question is not new, let's spend some time examining the history of the viewpoints.

The argument between church and state authority stemmed first of all from an understanding that both the church and the state did have legitimate authority. To prove this, the two camps misused Luke 22:38, where Jesus proclaims that two swords is “enough.”

However, this misinterpretation does not answer the question of which “sword” had the higher authority. Of course, both the church and the state wanted to exert that influence themselves and thus had “biblical support” for the supremacy of their authority.

The legal rulers used Romans 13 to illustrate that the members of the church were to be “subject” unto the authority of the government. Furthermore, Romans 13 clearly states that to resist this authority is to resist God Himself. Taken with Romans 13's labeling of government officials as "ministers of God…for good,” this passage, according to the rulers, provided ample support that the government was a high authority on earth, and indeed higher even than the church.

On the other hand, the church used support from the book of Matthew. In chapter 16, Jesus tells Peter that He will build his church “upon this rock.” This the church uses to indicate that Peter is a representative of the church itself. Thus, when within the same verse, Jesus promises to give Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” the church finds this to mean that the church has immense authority upon earth. Further support can be garnered for this from the fact that Jesus goes on to explain, that whatever Peter shall “bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” and the same for that which he shall loose on earth – a sentiment that is repeated later on in Matthew 18. This according to the church, means that everyone (even government) is bound to follow the edicts of the church.

As we examine these arguments as we approach today's questions, I think we should clearly see the varying difficulties that both of these positions dictate. If we are honest in our interpretative framework, at best what both of these positions are able to prove is simply that both the church and the state should have legitimate authority.

Romans 13, as stellar as it is to show Christian's obligations to government, does not give the government control over spiritual concerns. It doesn't give the government control over the church itself, only over the members of the church in the sphere of politics.

The verses in Matthew honestly don't mention government subservience to church either, or any reason why governmental affairs should be handled by the church. At best, the church could only use this to claim authority over the life of the Christian. Even that interpretation takes a few giant logical leaps away from the text itself.

Thus, it is my contention that both the church and the state are wrong in this viewpoint. Ultimately, the church should have its authority over its own members and spiritual concerns, but the state should have its own authority over political and legal issues. An argument can be made that both should be concerned with moral concerns (but then the question becomes, how much authority over morality do you give to the slimy government?).

Of course, keeping the divide between the two authorities is much easier said than actually done. The fact is, that each of the two authorities have a desire to control the other from time to time, such as demonstrated by this very argument.

In actually solving this conflict then, it becomes necessary to write (and have an enforcement mechanism for) a separation between church and state. Ultimately, there is no perfect solution, but I believe that the United States system is probably a fair model to emulate in creating a new one.

In it, both the church and the state are ultimately protected from each other. In the “free exercise” clause, each individual is given the opportunity to choose for themselves which religion they want to enter or even to not be religious at all, whereas the “establishment” clause gives a practical application to the free exercise clause broadly speaking.

These work to protect the church from the state, as well as the harmful effects of the church controlling the state in that there is no way to use the coercive power of the government to violate the freedom of conscience. It's a win-win for all.

Oh, and since you're probably wondering why the church needs protected from the state, and the state needs protected from the church, let's just say, there's another politics post in two weeks, and it might just be related to this one... 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Desires, Blessings, and Punishments

As I listened to my Pastor preach last night over Numbers 11 (yes, our mid-week service is on Thursday), I was reminded of a consistent theme in the Bible.

In this chapter, the Israelites complain a great deal about many things. Eventually, the Israelites begin to feel dissatisfied with the manna that God has provided for the last two years in the wilderness. It has always supplied their needs, but now they simply want the taste of meat.

It is here that I remembered the consistent theme of the Bible, as the Lord responds to the complaints of the Israelites by bowing to their wishes. Indeed, the Israelites are punished by getting exactly what they wanted. But as Numbers 11:18-20 indicates, when they get it, they no longer want it.
"And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt: therefore the Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; But even a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you: because that ye have despised the Lord which is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why came we forth out of Egypt?"

The theme I keep teasing without actually mentioning is this - the Lord has this tendency to punish the people of the world (especially the Israelites) by giving them exactly what they desired.

We see that at play here, but we also see it when the Israelites reject the Lord's kingship over them. They desire to have a king as all the other nations, so the Lord gives them a king as corrupt as the kings of all the other nations.

Perhaps most strikingly, in Romans 1, we see this same principle as it applies to those who have rejected the evidence of the Lord's existence entirely. As verse 28 clearly indicates,
"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient."

The Lord punishes them by simply allowing them to continue along the paths they set for themselves, along the pathway of sin.

But if this is such a consistent thing to see within the Bible, there is one shocking statement that must be true. If man's desires can be a punishment, then man's desires are ultimately harmful to himself.

How is it that man cannot know what is actually good for him? How is it that we consistently have our hearts in the wrong place so that we desire the wrong things? How is it that our desires don't line up with what the Lord wishes in our life?

It reminds me of Ecclesiastes 6:10-12,
"That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he. Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better? For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?"

And with that simple thought I leave you with another simple question - how are your desires? If the Lord granted them, would that be a blessing or a punishment?

Monday, December 15, 2014

[Video] Calling: What it Is

I cannot guarantee the quality of this video. I know that I was surprised by the quality when I uploaded it for my class assignment,which is the only reason I'm trying to see the quality here. If it's at all decent, you can expect more videos in the future... 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Life is too Short

I've been soaring through Finals week over here, and I'm just about ready to go home. But I have also reached a conclusion that I am pretty much insane because this Finals week here has been one of the most fun weeks I've had in a while. Yes, I have immensely enjoyed Finals week. I'm confused too.

As I continued to work my way slowly through the book of Psalms, I came across a psalm written by Moses. Indeed, it is specifically Psalm 90.

Through much of Moses' life, you would have expected him to be very much familiar with the frailty of life. As miraculous as it was for him to be spared in the first place, can you imagine growing up knowing that several from your generation your kinsfolk were killed as babies? Can you imagine knowing that your people were slaves living a life of turmoil? Yes, Moses indeed understood the trauma of the world.

So it comes as no surprise when he makes reference to the brevity of life in Psalm 90:10-14,
"The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. Moses knew one thing from all of his experiences with the trials in the midst of his life - life is too short not to spend it wisely serving the Lord, not to spend it rejoicing in God's mercy.

I believe the challenge speaks for itself.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Intent-based Framework to Fulfill Original Intention

The court has been endowed with the role of interpreting the Constitution to determine the constitutionality of congressional (or executive) action. As such, it is important for the nation to have an adequate debate about how this interpretation should take place. 

With this in mind, Edwin Meese, Attorney General under Ronald Reagan, expressed his opinion that the court should interpret the Constitution based off of the founder’s intent. His views generated a debate as opponents of his view expressed their own. Such an individual was Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, Jr., who argued that the Constitution needs to be interpreted and adapted to the current trends of the day. 

Ultimately, there are grains of truth in Brennan’s arguments, but Meese’s interpretive criteria is preferable. We shall examine this by weighing Brennan and Meese’s arguments on the topics of the feasibility of the historical interpretative methodology, the purpose of the Constitution, and finally, the room for flexibility within the document.

Feasibility of Intent-Based Framework

Meese begins his analysis of the intent-based methodology by describing our ability to know the intent of the Constitutional authors. After all, the Convention is relatively recent (only 200 years), and as such, information is readily available not just on the document itself, but also on the ideas that inspired its creation. 

According to Meese, we have a number of works written by the founders, which reveal their thoughts and intentions about the Constitution and its principles. It is then clear to Meese that we can discover the meaning of the original text, and not have to rely upon our own understanding of the document.

Brennan on the other hand argues that it is arrogant to think that we could know exactly what the founders would think about contemporary issues. Indeed, the founders couldn’t have anticipated the questions of intellectual property in the world of the internet. Thus, it is simply infeasible to use an intent-based approach to Constitutional analysis.

Ultimately, the truth lies with Meese’s arguments. Since the Constitution is intended as a limit to the power of government to protect individual rights, our understanding of what the founders would do in certain political situations is not as important as our understanding of their view on individual rights. Indeed, there is plenty of opportunity for us to see where the founders sat on political autonomy.  

Purpose of the Constitution

That leads well into Meese’s next argument - the purpose of the Constitution is to provide a limit to the power of our federal government. It is not far for Meese to then say that if we start reading our own principles and perspectives into the Constitution rather than the intended principles, that we quickly eliminate any inherent limit or protection of individual rights within the document itself. 

To support this point, Meese cites as an example the Dred Scott decision, where Chief Justice Taney read African-Americans out of the Constitution entirely – a position which is not found within the founder’s original writings, or within the current political climate of the time. Meese argues that just like in this instance, our individual rights become threatened if the court can interpret the Constitution according to any other standard than the founder’s intent.

Brennan’s arguments all really lend support to Meese’s argument on this point. Brennan makes the case even that the Constitutional principles should change based off of the generation, but that the fundamental principles should not be changed. Unfortunately for Brennan, he does not clarify what he means as fundamental principles. 

Without such a standard, it seems only logical to assume that each individual justice would determine which principles were “fundamental.” It doesn’t take much to see that this could lead to reinterpretation of the Constitution at the will of the justices alone. But a fluid document can never serve as a limit to the federal government.  

Adaptability/Flexibility within Document

We now reach the main point of Brennan’s counter-argument, namely, the ability of the country to adapt to changing circumstances. It is Brennan’s primary contention that limiting ourselves purely within the context of the original intent of the founders will result in anachronistic decision-making. After all, the values of 1789 are quite different than they are today. 

According to Brennan, this means that an intent-based methodology would eschew social progress because we would be inevitably biased against the claims of constitutional rights. Related, Brennan believes that the court should not be deferential to the other bodies of the legislature. 

Brennan believes that the Constitution includes a discussion of substantive value choices. Thus, he believes that the court has a duty to ensure that the rights of the people are protected from the majoritarian process.

Meese believes that the Constitution’s universal language when discussing human rights is enough to limit the power of congress. Meanwhile the power given to congress allows the flexibility to regulate new industries to protect the rights of the individual. Indeed, the Constitution was written so broadly and universally that it would never become outdated by social (or technological progress). 

Ultimately, then Brennan is correct in saying that the court should not simply defer to the legislative bodies when it comes to substantive value choices and should be able to strike down laws contrary to the Constitutional views of human rights. Nonetheless, the court should still base its decisions on such issues off of Meese’s intent-based methodology.  

Intent-based Framework to Fulfill Original Intention

When it comes down to it, the Constitution is about limiting the power of the federal government. To provide a meaningful limit, we must use the founder’s original intent as an interpretative framework. Any other framework opens the door for constant fluidity within the document, which kills its ability to limit the power of government. Thus, Meese’s intent-based framework is the only one that fulfills the original goal and intent of the Constitution – to limit government.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Helplessness: Internal Causes can Still be Taken to God

It is a truth universally acknowledged that one will find himself within his life in a position of sheer helplessness. No one can really doubt intellectually whether they will be in that spot. Of course practically, we tend to doubt that fact all the time as we try our hardest to ensure that we do everything ourselves. We know we could just rely upon God, but we don't tend to do so.

But today we will discuss not the fact that we should do this, but that we still can when the state of sheer helplessness we find ourselves in is purely our own fault. That is the situation that the Psalmist David finds himself in in Psalm 69. 

Little is known about the sin David refers to in this chapter, but I'm sure speculation abounds. I personally don't much enjoy speculation on things peripheral to the text such as this, so I will refrain from saying that the most logical assumption is that David is admitting his own helplessness due to a general sinful nature, rather than one particular sin. 

The point is, David was in a kind of helpless situation due to both external and internal circumstances, yet his response could have been and indeed was to bring it to God. For instance, in verses 5-16, we read, 
"O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee. Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel. Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face. I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children. For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me. When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach. I made sackcloth also my garment; and I became a proverb to them. They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards. But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O Lord, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation. Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters. Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me. Hear me, O Lord; for thy lovingkindness is good: turn unto me according to the multitude of thy tender mercies."

Accepting that he was filthy, he seemed to be first concerned with ensuring only he was affected by it. "Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord God of hosts, be ashamed for my sake." He didn't want to see others suffer because of his sin.

However, the main thrust of what I see here is that he asked the Lord to look down upon him according to the Lord's lovingkindness and mercy. He asked the Lord to help him with the external and internal causes of his helplessness. And you know what? I find it encouraging to know that our internal causes of helplessness and our sin do not have to keep us from relying upon God as long as we confess it.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Expectations and Commitment

While I am trying to find out stuff about what I should write about at this rather late hour, I wonder what would actually happen if I just didn't post anything today. OH! I can talk about that!

Yes, I just found myself a topic - the temptation to not follow through on your commitments because things just don't go quite the way you were expecting.

I made a commitment a little over a year ago to update this blog every Monday. But I never expected that the Monday after Thanksgiving 2014, I would decide to sleep in much later than I ever have within the space of the last year.

Seeing as how I just want to move on with my day (my last day of Thanksgiving break), I don't want to "waste any time" writing a blog post that no one is going to read anyway.

Hey, the struggle is real. It's also not just something that plagues "Ryan the Blogger." It also plagues "Ryan the Classmate" if there is an assignment that a friend of mine asks for a bit of help with. It also plagues "Ryan the Christian" in that if I commit a certain time to the Lord and things don't go as expected leading up to that time, I may have difficulty staying tried and true on that task I committed myself to.

For instance, I have rather recently committed Wednesday evenings after my shift in the cafeteria to in-depth Bible study. At times when my shift is more stressful than usual, or that my shift goes longer than usual, I usually don't follow through on that commitment.

Honesty is a great thing, isn't it? The point is, there is a temptation in my life to change my commitments based off a difference in what I expect and what actually happens. And I imagine I am not alone when it comes to this temptation.

So, to comfort myself and anyone else who happens to struggle with the same temptations, no matter how unexpected events were to us, they transpired exactly as God knew they would. Indeed, they transpired exactly as He directed them to happen.

But that doesn't mean He's going to make it easy for us to follow through on our commitments, and keep us from being tempted at all. But hey, we do have these wonderful words about temptation in I Corinthians 10:13, 
"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."

Friday, November 28, 2014

10 of Your Blessings (It's a Start for Counting)

1. God created humanity. There was no need for an incredibly magnificent God like ours, to take any interest into creating humans. We did not need to exist for God to find fulfillment, though yes, our purpose is to please God.

2. God placed man in an ideal world with luscious fruit and luscious fruit, and no animals hunting us humans. Wouldn't it be an incredible sight to watch dinosaurs walk with humans, and not be trying to eat them? 

3. But God wasn't a deistic type God, which would have made sense. He has no reason to be interested in us as individuals, but He stayed and communed with man.

4. (Also, God didn't just destroy the world altogether after Adam's sin. We know that one day He will create a new heaven and a new earth, so He obviously had that ability. But He didn't use it after man corrupted the ideal world that He placed them in.)

5. Indeed, even after man messed things up, He remained in a relationship with man, going to great lengths to set up a sacrificial system that allowed the Israelites to enjoy a relationship with him, albeit a broken one.

6. Further, He refused to leave it as only for the Israelites. Contrary to negative popular opinion, God allowed His covenant with Abraham to extend to non-Israelites, like the men of Gibeon, Barzillai the Gileadite, and so on.

7. Then the Lord wasn't content with keeping tne relationship as purely broken. Jesus then laid down His crown to be born from a virgin in a manger.

8. Jesus went through and lived a perfect life, then went and died on the cross to take away the punishment for all our sins, to all who will accept His death as a substitution for their punishment. Raising again the third day, we have a promise that we too will raise again to life eternal.

9. Furthermore, the Lord refused to leave it to just the Israelite, but opened up His route of salvation to the Gentiles. All people now have the opportunity to get to have that intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that brings with it salvation.

10. Even still, God doesn't just give us eternity, and then become a deistic type God when it comes to this world. He still cares for us, and tells us that He will "never leave us, nor forsake us." We have His words that through our struggles, we will have Him strengthening us.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Obligatory Post about Immigration

It would be amiss not to discuss the move that President Barack Obama made this past week. So yeah, it shouldn't have happened because it is an overstretch of executive power.

Now onto topics that I actually want to talk about...

Just kidding.. I will actually spend some time analyzing the President's move.

First of all, the move will not solve the problem of the United States' immigration policy. Right now, the immigration policy is incredibly constrictive to those trying to enter the country. Immigration is valuable to all of America, and we should allow it to be more legal.

Yet President Obama's actual plan to simply extend deportation relief falls short of meaningful action to make immigration a simpler process. Indeed, it would be even more atrocious for the President to exercise that kind of power.

But the President is still not acting within his own proper authority. Extending deportation relief has long been a power that has been held by Congress under article 1, section 8 of the United States Constitution. (See DACA and TPS).

By doing this selfsame thing as an executive order, Obama has taken this power out of the hands of the legislative branch. Essentially, he has reformed laws that Congress passed in the name of "enforcement."

This is indeed an overstep, but it might not be quite as unique of an oversight as we might like. This has been a consistent trend over the last few decades, and focusing solely on this President's moves is probably not the answer to our problems.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The History of Humanity

God is awesome. We heard as much last week. We have probably had it also grounded in our very face that the Lord who sits on the throne is one who is just simply awesome in the ways that He interacts with man.

Yet today I again want to share with you a simple, yet very very true history lesson. So here goes nothing.

Once there was nothing in existence, save one being, whom we call God. He decided for some reason that despite His extreme lack of obligation or need for such a thing, to create a world. It was an ideal world, and He put his creatures like man into it.

Now let's just make one thing clear - from a purely logical standpoint, a Deist God just makes sense. After all, a God who is so great that He can literally just speak things into existence is probably too transcendent to even care about His creation. I see no reason why He shouldn't just create the world, and leave us all to our own devices.

But in the ideal world that God placed Adam and Eve, He didn't just leave them alone, but specifically made sure that they had whatever they needed to survive. He even went so far as to allow them an opportunity to have a relationship with Him.

And Adam and Eve took that great blessing that was given to them, and they defiled it, breaking the one commandment that God had given to them to keep.

At this point, God's actions also don't seem to make sense from a logical perspective (logic is so very human after all). He could have easily destroyed the earth right then and right there and start afresh (or not restart at all). But He didn't. He decided to give Adam and Eve a lighter punishment of simply banishment from the ideal world that they were living in.

At this point, a deistic God really starts to make sense. Why should God still be concerned about these people who denied the blessings He gave them in exchange for some fruit? Nonetheless, the Lord goes to great lengths to keep man in a relationship with Him, albeit a broken one.

Eventually selecting the Israelites as His people, He looks after and guides them, confronting their enemies, and giving them a way to worship Him as He deserves. As He continually blesses them, they continually defile those blessings. And yet He still continues to bless them.

Indeed He blesses them through their sin until the point that in the very last book of the Old Testament, He proclaims,
"I am the Lord, I change not. Therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts."  

These are all the blessings God has bestowed on man prior to His actually coming to earth, and taking on the punishment for our sins, so that we can truly have a restored fellowship with Him.

Pretty amazing blessings, right? Well, how exactly are you responding to this blessing? Are you defiling it like humanity has done throughout history, or are you doing your best to serve the Lord in all the ways He deserves?

Monday, November 17, 2014

How Not to Read the Bible

In my Spiritual Formations class this Tuesday, the professor just casually mentioned that too often when we are reading the Psalms, we put ourselves directly into the story. We pretend that when the author was speaking of the faithful one, he was obviously referring to us.

Thus we read that our enemies will be vanquished if only we trust in the Lord. It's great; we now relate to the Scriptural passages we are reading, but we are not the faithful one that the psalmist was thinking of when he penned those words.

Here's the thing about the Bible - it already is a relatable book. One can definitely find teachings in it that are relevant to our own lives.

But our process in determining those types of applications should not come until after an understanding of the text itself.

This chronological step is not just a semantic matter. If one tries too much to only look to the Bible for meaning and application in his own life, it becomes all too easy to rest in "Promises of God" that God never actually promised. For instance, it becomes easy to say that Philippians 1:6 is a reason why the Lord will continue to bless a friendship into great things, because he started a "good work in you."

Obviously, the apostle Paul was referring to the idea that the Philippians' eternal salvation was secure, not any extraneous circumstances regarding friends. This relates to our own life in regards to our own eternal salvation, and nothing more at all regarding any other parts of life.

All this does not exclude the idea of applications into our own life that perhaps the original author would not have known possible. Just because computers weren't a thing doesn't mean that the admonition in Colossians 3:17 to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus doesn't apply to my writing of this blog post.

In conclusion, then, let's hear some words from my Spiritual Formations textbook, 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible, by Robert Plummer,
"Depending on the setting of the modern-day reader, a variety of implications are possible. The implications must flow within the channel of meaning determined by the conscious intent of the human author; they must be 'submeanings' of the original paradigm... The original author is the determiner of meaning, which in turn limits implications." 

So yes, we should be able to relate to the Bible, but let's be sure that we base that relationship on the Bible itself.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How about a Psalm of Praise (with only Minor Points of Application)

  There is a great truth, which cannot be suppressed by any Christian. I am fairly certain that all denominations can and do ascribe to this one belief. Disagree as we might on issues ranging from the mundane to the doctrinal, from the legitimacy of divorce to the extent of God's predestination, we all agree on one fundamental point (among others too).

God is pretty dang awesome! Kinda an incredible transcendent being that I ultimately can't try to pen down in words. A God who had the unlimited power necessary to speak this world in existence, and the unlimited knowledge to know what would all transpire after He did so. 

So why does He even care about the lives of us lowly human beings? From a purely logical standpoint, I must admit that the God of the Deists makes sense. The God who is big enough to create this world should have no reason to seek any pleasure or present any interest in it. 

But our human logic just can't understand the transcendence of God's reasoning and inclinations apparently. Still the question should be raised. Why does God even care about the lives of us lowly humans? 

It is a question that is raised at least twice in the Old Testament, though from two vastly different attitudes. 

We already looked at Job's response to the Lord's immanence and care for the plights of men, and honestly this post is about praise, not why we should be glad that the Lord cares to convict us of our sin. 

So I shall move on and conclude with the praise given by David for the same thought process. Looking at Psalm 8, 
"O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!" 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Midterm Victories: What they don't Mean

Midterm elections came and went this week. As expected, Republicans have won a majority in the Senate while further solidifying their control over the House. Republicans immediately state that this means that the people of the land are now done completely with ideas propagated by those nasty Democrats that have been thrusting our country into the ground.

But in the words of the wise Treebeard, "Don't be hasty!" It has been consistent that in the midterm elections of a president's second term, his party tends to fair poorly. Such a trend has happened in years such as 1874, 1894, 1918, 1938, 1950, 1958, 1974, 1986, and with George W. Bush in 2006. 

It is such a common phenomenon that it has a name - the 6 year itch. So maybe we ought not be so sure that Republicans are now going to experience the most amazing decade in their history quite yet.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Ignorance is no Excuse

"Well, it's ok because I didn't know that was wrong!"

Such goes the typical excuse for many horrendous things we do. I stole some money, I clearly was under the impression that private property didn't exist, and thus, I thought my actions were completely and entirely justified! 

A quick look at the sacrificial system of the Old Testament (or maybe just a quick look at one passage of Scripture within the Old Testament that happens to be about sacrifices) reveals that ignorance does not excuse sin. 

Leviticus 5:15-19, declares, 
"If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the Lord; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flocks, with thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering. And he shall make amends for the harm that he hath done in the holy thing, and shall add the fifth part thereto, and give it unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him. And if a soul sin, and commit any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord; though he wist it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity. And he shall bring a ram without blemish out of the flock, with thy estimation, for a trespass offering, unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him concerning his ignorance wherein he erred and wist it not, and it shall be forgiven him. It is a trespass offering: he hath certainly trespassed against the Lord."

So the ancient Israelites were held accountable for sacrificing for sin that they did not know they were doing, or did not know was sin. That's all for today because I have a debate tournament.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Re-examining Absolute Truth: A Deeper Look at the Contradiction of Relativism

One of my first posts on this here blog almost one year ago was to start an Apologetics series. When trying to take upon an enormous endeavor such as defending the truth of the Bible, I felt it valuable to actually show that truth existed in the first place.

My answer to demonstrating absolute truth was admirable, but ultimately, just a tad bit lacking in terms of depth. Because of that (and the fact that I had to write a paper that more deeply covered the subject), I have decided to reexamine the concept of absolute truth and why it must exist.

I believe it is self-evident that some truth exists. Indeed to deny that claim is nonsensical, yet as the Bible predicts in Romans 1, there are plenty who try to deny the truth set before them. But the actions of every human, including those who claim to deny obtainable, objective knowledge, demonstrate that they actually do believe in its existence.

So to demonstrate this disconnect, we must show that such disconnect is possible; more specifically, it is necessary to see how what one actually believes and professes to believe don’t always line up. After this, we can see how this principle pans out in the life of the skeptic. Finally, we can show how the skeptic’s ultimate belief in truth indicates that knowledge is indeed obtainable. (Yes, I even left in my super snazzy road map for you; you're welcome.)

Two Sets of Doctrines

In the science fiction novel Shadow of the Hegemon,  Orson Scott Card pens these words,
“I don’t know a soul who doesn’t maintain two separate lists of doctrines – the ones they believe that they believe and the ones they actually try to live by.” 

The point is rather simple – there are certain things we claim to believe; however, sometimes our actions are a truer indication of what our beliefs actually are.

For instance, look to the many people who profess to come to faith that ultimately fall away. Commonly labeled “easy-believism,” it has become a consistent problem in the church - those who profess Christ do not depart from iniquity or show the fruits that Jesus mentions as accompanying naturally with salvation.

It is likely that the actions of these “Christians” indicate that underneath their words, they are simply deceiving themselves, and ultimately have not believed in the name of Jesus Christ at all.

The Bible describes that at the last day, many will stand before the Lord claiming to know Him and to have cast out demons in the His name, and yet, be told that the Lord never knew them.  What we see through this illustration is that one can believe that he believes one concept, but his actions underlie his true beliefs.

Why No One Really Believes in Relativism

So how do those who profess that objective knowledge is impossible violate this principle? The adherents to this philosophy argue that they can’t know anything. (I will refrain from mentioning that they somehow know that they can’t know anything.) But how exactly do they argue this point?

To conclude anything about the world, such as that there is no knowledge, one must go through an investigative process. However, such a process requires the utilization of certain knowledge to begin with.

In an as of yet unpublished work, Dr. Richard Tison discusses the process by which Adam would have obtained any knowledge of the world in the Garden of Eden. He explains that in order for his investigations to bear fruit, he would need to already have some knowledge to gain any further knowledge. Specifically, he opines,
“Without these presuppositions (causality, natural order, and regularity), he could not organize or classify data of his observations because he would not be able to identify any intelligent, uniform pattern to his experiences… These axioms of knowledge, then, were not first discovered by his investigation because no investigation would have made sense without them.” 

At first glance, since the skeptics don’t believe it is possible for one to find any universal patterns, this doesn’t seem to be a problem for them. However, as aforementioned, to come to any conclusion about the possibility of knowledge required such an investigative process.

You don’t just assume conclusions without first going through some sort of process to verify those conclusions. But as Dr. Tison correctly points out, your investigation will be meaningless if you do not already have certain “axioms of knowledge.” Without logic, for instance, you would be unable to make a connection between point A and point B.

Thus, in order to get to the conclusion that there is no knowledge, you have to rely upon knowledge. Try as you might, you will ultimately always believe in this knowledge, as it is impossible for one to conceive of a world without such truth.

The Metaphysical: Conception and Existence 

Before we jump into the metaphysical question of existence, it is important to repeat and clarify. A world without objective knowledge cannot be conceived because such a task requires the use of objective knowledge. It is because of this that a world without objective knowledge is impossible.

Ayn Rand explains in “The Metaphysical Versus the Manmade,” that the world exists; thus, we can observe it.  Further, while not everything that exists can be observed (i.e. God), nor everything that can be conceived of necessarily exists (i.e. a unicorn), anything that has the potential to exist in the world can be conceived of by the human mind.

Indeed, anything that can exist can be conceived of (i.e. there is no rational reason why a unicorn can’t exist in reality). The logical extension to this point is that if something cannot be conceived of, it cannot exist.

Seeing as we just demonstrated that it is impossible to conceive of a world without objective knowledge, it follows that such a world does not exist. To put that another way, there is such a thing as objective knowledge.

Professing Themselves to be Wise...

By utilizing rational processes to make arguments about how such rational processes don’t exist, man underscores his belief in objective knowledge. While some men have blinded themselves to think that they believe objective knowledge is impossible, no human being can conceive of a world without absolute truth.

Since anything that has the potential to exist can be conceived of, a world of subjective knowledge cannot exist. All these men are instead living under the words of Romans 1:19-22, 
“Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” 

Ultimately, objective knowledge is undeniable and self-evident, and all of humanity believes in it. If they claim not to be, they are showing themselves as fools.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Oddest Rebuke in the History of Mankind

I have made it to the end of the book of Job. As most of you know, the book ends with the Lord rebuking Job for four chapters.

As I was reading Job truly to figure out what Job was being rebuked for, I was paying rather close attention to what the Lord said, so that I could determine whether my prior guesses were correct.

But the rebuke doesn't like a typical rebuke. Outside of maybe Job 40:2, the Lord says absolutely nothing of what Job's sins are, and what Job has done that has engendered this rebuke. Instead God spent His time explaining His transcendent power and majesty.

Naturally, this rebukes produces very much of the desired effect (how could God fail in His efforts?). In Job 42:5-6, Job responds,

"I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

And there you have it - repentance comes as the result of the Lord's rebuke. Repentance comes because of a further knowledge of who God is. I don't believe it is too much of a stretch to say that ultimately all true repentance will come from a greater knowledge of who God is.

Perhaps if we want to live a life of godliness, we ought to start by gaining a greater knowledge of who God is. And we also ought to continue by gaining a greater knowledge of who God is, and you know what? We ought to end by gaining a greater knowledge of who God is.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Whatever Happened to Ukraine?

Let's face it. The world is a huge place and a significant amount of importance happens every single day. There is no way that a news source will cover everything that happens throughout the entire world.

That's all commonplace, but I think we all tend to think a little warped about the effect that this actually has on the news. 

Because here's the thing. We tend to believe that an event simply has resolved itself to a new equilibrium if the news stops reporting on the unrest in the area. For instance, there was a ceasefire agreement in the conflict of Ukraine and Russia, but we heard reports early on that tension still remained and that the ceasefire was extremely fragile. 

Then the IS story was stressed in the news because it's kinda a big deal, so we stopped hearing about the conflict along the border of Ukraine. As we stopped hearing about it, we obviously stopped thinking about it entirely, and may even believe that it has simply stopped being an issue. 

I have posted in the past about keeping up with secondary sources to discover the truth about the news stories that are being presented, but what about doing research on issues that were in the news, but now are no longer? Do we continue to follow them to the full resolution? Or do we just let the news tell us that this other story is more important because it is more immediately dangerous and we all know danger sells? 

Yeah, so I don't think that's a good idea. I don't think we should let the news determine what we are interested in from current events around the globe. Unfortunately, we can't know everything about every culture in the world, but we should ensure that our extensive knowledge is not dictated by the coverage news sources provides.

If you were interested in the Ukraine crisis and the plight of those people when the news was covering it, you should still be interested in it now, and be looking to see what is happening as that progresses. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God, but...

Many are familiar with the text we have for today. It is the time in which Peter confesses that Jesus if the Christ.

I have decided to look at Matthew 16 because that's where the events of the story became sensitive to my life (because Matthew is the book I'm reading through for my Spiritual Formations class). The events unfolded more specifically in verses 13-18
"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

It is hard not to admit that Peter has made an excellent proclamation here. Obviously, Peter is correct when he asserts that Jesus is the Son of God. It is clear that Peter isn't just saying this, but actively believes it, as Jesus validates what Peter has said by explaining that it was revealed to him by God.

So we must understand as we follow this passage onward that Peter truly holds to the correct belief that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Thus, it seems odd that immediately after these events, Matthew tells us (as does Mark), that Peter rebukes Jesus for explaining that He must die for salvation to occur before all men. In verses 21-23,
"From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men."

It seems that while Peter knows who Jesus is, he hasn't quite acknowledged the importance of that fact. While Peter knows that Jesus has ultimate authority on earth, he somehow still thinks he knows enough to be able to rebuke the Son of the living God.

I wouldn't be too quick to judge here; after all, God had revealed to Peter who Jesus is. I also wouldn't be too quick to judge Peter here because I think I struggle with much of the same tendency. I know who Christ is, but I don't seem to acknowledge the importance of the fact.

 I may not necessarily rebuke the Lord for his actions, but I do spend far too much time looking for my own support rather the Lord's in troublesome situations. I do spend far too much time "savoring the things that be of men," rather than those that are of God.

I wonder how many Christians go around, knowing God and yet not living as though that should have any effect on their life. As if they were self-sufficient without God in their lives to begin with. But that's absurd.

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. We should probably trust His power and authority in our life.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Tradition! It's How We keep Our Balance

Honestly, this topic for today is one that I am surprised I haven't mentioned before. It is something that has been a concern of mine for a couple of years that I believe I have probably kept silent about for far too long.

There are certain practices within the church that do not have Biblical support that people will claim as necessary for the church. Now, I will be quick to point out that most of these practices are not denied by Scripture, but that doesn't change the fact that they are ultimately man-made traditions that are not essential for the proper functioning of the church. 

I speak of traditions such as the altar call, a particular form of music, tithing through offering plates, hymnals, having church on Sunday as opposed to another day, celebrating Christmas, or prescribing to only one translation of the Bible at all costs. 

These traditions are great tools (with the exception of the one translation tradition; that's just showing a lack of faith), but they are not essential for the proper functioning of the church. 

I don't feel I need to do much to support the idea that something that man has made within a church structure is not an integral part of the church's worship of the Lord. This is after all one of the many reasons why I would never become part of the Catholic church (the whole sacraments as a means of grace, and works to supply salvation thing would be the major ones of course). 

So to illustrate my point, we shall look at only one passage from the book of Matthew. Matthew 15:1-20 details a tie in which the Pharisees question Jesus on the fact that he doesn't have his disciples not wash their hands before they eat. This was a tradition within the Jewish religion at that time, which of course the Pharisees supported very thoroughly. 

It is important to note that there is absolutely nothing heinous about washing your hands before you eat. It's actually a rather healthy thing to do. But it will in no way harm your relationship with the Lord to do these things. Yet it is a tradition that is not necessary to actually please the Lord. 

To respond, Jesus points out another tradition that is contrary to the law of the Lord to illustrate more generally that the Law is just sort of more important than those man-made doctrines. He finishes by quoting Isaiah in Matthew 15:7-9,
"Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."

So here we have some pretty strong language in relation to teaching as doctrines that which were the creation of men. Or to apply that to our current context to treat as absolute Biblical truth the man-made traditions of a particular denomination.

Just in case there's any doubt that the Lord doesn't ultimately care about the traditions that are mentioned above as long as they don't actually deny the Lord, look to his words in Matthew 15;16-20,
"And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."

So essentially, I'm making a fairly simple point here. Traditions are man-made tools that do not have divine sanction. Don't teach as doctrines the commandments of men.

Apologies for the lateness of this post. Had a debate tournament, got in at 2, woke up at 11, and it spaced my mind entirely. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Contentment and Sadness: An Unusual Relationship

Ecclesiastes 6, which we discussed forever ago, is all about how we should be content in the position that we find ourselves in. It seems odd that immediately thereafter Solomon begins discussing the merit and value of sorrow.

Yet that is what we see in Ecclesiastes 7:1-4
"A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

Now of course, the rationale for sorrow being beneficial is along the lines of James 1, in that suffering make the countenance of the heart better.

But I believe this illustrates (though doesn't prove) that contentment and joy does not imply that one is happy all the time. It is entirely acceptable to shed some tears now and then. One does not need to be an emotionless robot (or stoic) to find contentment in his circumstances.

Contentment acknowledges that the situation is undesirable but trusts God to give fulfillment in the situation anyway. It does not ignore hardship in the name of contentment.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Amusing Ourselves to Death

According to Neil Postman in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, with the transition from a print culture to a television culture, American discourse in all of the relevant and important fields have had significant decreases in quality.

The printing press emerged as a primary means of publication within the 18th century. With the printing press, information could be disbursed in an efficient manner. However, this information was not useless or amusing trivia, divorced from any meaningful context.

On the contrary, the information was provided with clarity and enough analysis for the reader to weigh upon and reflect on that which he was learning. Indeed, the medium of the printed word was specifically conducive to critical thinking. When you read, you set the distractions down to meditate upon what you are hearing.

Postman specifically argues that the medium of the printed word provided a basis for a culture “inclined toward rational argument and presentation, and therefore, made up of meaningful content.” It is easy to see how this applies to the medium of the printing press itself; however, Postman argues that the typographical culture had implications beyond that of just the printed word.

To illustrate, the Lincoln-Douglas debates involved spoken words that read much like any printed type of the era, with sentences that rival the length of many modern day paragraphs. Perhaps more surprisingly, these debates were almost always longer in length than most sporting events today. In one instance, on October 16, 1854, Lincoln and Douglas debated in a formal, organized manner for about 7 hours, with Lincoln and Douglas each giving one speech that was a good three hours long. I sincerely doubt that any human being could fill three hours worth of time without addressing arguments from a logical perspective, and the record does indeed show this to be true.

Contrast this style of debate with our televised debates today. Today, the candidates would be lucky if the entire debate lasted anywhere close to the three hour slots allotted to one speech of a Lincoln-Douglas debate. Furthermore, the points we see brought up usually lack in logical analysis, but rather involve clever slogans or carefully designed rhetoric. I will refrain from mentioning how the debates have grown informal, with candidates interrupting their opponents to gain more speaking time, or even laughing at the arguments their opponents are making.

But Postman would argue this is not the full fault of our politicians, but is also at least in part due to the fact that television is not conducive to rational discourse. As aforementioned, when you look to read, you put aside all distractions. But this is not the case with the television.

Rather, the television is something that you listen to while you make dinner, build a TV cabinet, or write a paper. Very few people make it a habit to sit down to meditate upon the discourse offered by television.

But those who do are not much better off as their focus will be diverted as the programming goes to commercial or moves onto a new topic. This “Now...this” phenomena as Postman calls it, creates a tendency to pursue knowledge for its own sake (or for the sake of entertainment), rather than to enrich our lives. In the end, all televised discourse is purely for the sake of entertainment.

But just as other forms of discourse modeled the printing press, so too do other forms of discourse in our day today model themselves after the television. This can be evidenced in the written word. Compared to the zenith of the printing press, our newspapers (both printed and online) and books are not as conducive to logical analysis as they are in the past. Indeed, they are shorter, more conversational in nature, and generally more superficial. Even Amusing Ourselves to Death is written in a way where it could easily be read out loud as a speech live or on television. The watering down of discourse in America is spread across all mediums of the culture.

But there is a solution that we should consider important. Actually spending the time necessary to fulfill adequate non-trivial information from the online news sources that we read. Yes, I did say online news sources that we read. I would agree with Postman that the medium of television is not in any way shape or form conducive for discourse (but it does give us Doctor Who). One you find the information, take the time to something unusual for our culture, analyze the information to determine how it changes the way you are to live your life, whether that be through philanthropy, political activism, or a spiritual walk with God.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Actions Speak Louder than Words? Maybe Not as Much as You Think

Actions speak louder than words. This cliched statement is one that has almost universal appeal. This is great because it is generally correct. How you act does say more about you as a person (and your subsequent beliefs) than what you profess to believe.

But an important part of our actions are the words that we use in communicating to other people. Yes, I know that this semantical argument is a bit weird and maybe a tad confuzzling (love how spell check accepts that as a word). But there is a hint distinction between the words we speak to explain our viewpoints and the words that we use in every moment of our life that ultimately reflect our heart and attitude.

I won't belabor the point further since that is not the focus of this post at all. Nonetheless, I will point out that what I am writing now are words that express my opinions and fall into the "words" part of our magnificent cliche. If I complain about the quality of food here at Cedarville (totally guilty), those are words that more accurately fit into the "actions" part.

Without further ado, I will make the case that as far as our actions are concerned, the relevant words we use are a slightly better indicator of where our heart is. I will start by letting Jesus make my case for me from the context of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Listen to what he says in Matthew 12:33-37, 
"Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."

 Here's the thought I received as I read these words. The "actions" we make are far more deliberate and planned. It's "easy" to plan to spend time with the Lord, it's "easy" to plan time to serve others, it's "easy" to plan time to do actions that persuade you that you are ultimately pleasing the Lord.

Yet "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." The words you use to describe what you are doing usually are not quite as planned as what you are doing are. In the end, your words are more spontaneous, and thus more closely align with your heart.

And that is part of the discipline of a Christian life - to see how our heart is in relationship to the Lord, so that we can pray and work on bringing ourselves closer to the Lord.

To this end, actions speak louder than words that profess belief. But within the realm of our actions, the words we choose to describe speak volumes more than what we actually do.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pastor as Scholar: Reflections on the Differing Roles of the Academic and Pastor (Part 2)

Last week, we discussed Carson's take on the Scholar-Pastor. Today we discuss Piper's take on the Pastor-Scholar from the same book. 

Since Piper’s work is primarily an account of his life, it seems fitting to start our discussion with just that. Specifically, we want to examine the path that led him to ministry in the first place. It was in junior high school that John Piper would make an important decision about his future. He would never become a pastor. Piper was nervous at the concept of public speaking and thus ruled out the role that would require him to preach in front of a congregation at least once a week. 

All of his passions and desires that would lead him to ministry were already in place, but he didn’t see himself as qualified for that specific role. So he instead pursued a different passion – writing. Due to his love for poetry and logical reasoning, Piper began considering himself a romantic rationalist. But ultimately, he didn’t pursue his literature even further. 

He changed direction based off of hearing key sermons by Harold John Ockenga and John Stott in 1966-67. He became impassioned with the thoughts of missions and the Bible. Additionally, he was asked to pray for a summer chapel. For some inexplicable reason, he said yes, and somehow he survived the public speaking experience. At this point, he committed to never deny a speaking role because of fear again. Yet when he entered the field of Biblical Studies, his goal was still to be a scholar. 

Thus, Piper’s account past this point is the exact opposite of his fellow writer of The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor Don Carson, who studied to be a pastor, then became a scholar. Piper started his life in Biblical Studies intending to become a scholar in the academic world, but ultimately became a pastor. 

As of now, we have already seen a distinction between the pastor and the scholar. While Carson would later in the book stress that the scholar affects more people more superficially, while the pastor would affect more people deeply. Piper points out that this is inverted when it comes to knowledge about the text. For the scholar, he will have a few topics that he covers extensively, while the Pastor will cover many topics more superficially. 

In relation to the impact among people, Piper would completely agree with Carson. He would understand that the pastor’s reach by terms of scope is limited, but that he has a greater opportunity to develop real relationships with real people. Indeed, he thinks that one of the reasons that the Lord moved him away from scholarly work is because he would never have been satisfied with the detached emotional road of scholarly work (and neither would I). 

In contrast to Carson, Piper stresses the emotional aspects of the pastoral life versus the scholarly one. Simply, to Piper, it is an extension of developing real relationships with real people that he will be required to invest far more emotionally in his congregation than most scholars would even consider doing for their students.

That is as good a place as any to start communicating about what Piper views as the dangers of scholarship. Piper would agree with Carson that a scholar should invest in people and serve in a ministerial capacity. One of Piper’s heroes is a man by the name of Dan Fuller who would take hours to answer student’s questions, researching the answer when he did not know it. Simply, Mr. Fuller cared about his students and took time to pastor them to growth. Piper believes this to be a mold that scholars should follow; however, he fears that many scholars will lose touch of this valuable emotional connection. 

Another danger that Piper specifically highlights has to do with a great desire for peer approval. Piper was beginning to notice how many scholarly articles were written in technical jargon, which greatly impressed other scholars but left it out of touch with the layman reader. Considering the role of the scholar is to reach as many people as possible with a important message, it is counter-intuitive for him to write in language that could only be understood by a select few. Simply, these scholars have fallen into what Carson labeled “The seduction of applause,” rather than actually serving the Lord with the gifts that God has entrusted to them. 

The final danger we shall highlight here is that Piper believes that it is all too possible for the scholar to disconnect the study of the gospel from its power and majesty. Since your job demands that you sit and study the Bible extensively, you can begin to see your goal to merely understand the Bible perfectly - a merely academic exercise. But the Bible is supposed to be seen and read for the purpose of bringing you closer to the Lord. Knowledge about the Bible only exists to give us a greater appreciation and love for the Lord our Savior.

The fact that knowledge is needed for greater appreciation of the Lord is one of the two ways that Piper views scholarship as specifically relating to his role as a pastor. A pastor is supposed to engender love for Christ in the lives of others and naturally have such love himself. However, it is not enough to love the Lord if you have no grounds for loving Him in the first place. 

Piper here uses the analogy of a guy who stops you on the street announcing that he is trusting you with all of his bank account information. If he tells you that he simply saw you on the street, you would not find his appreciation to be honoring. Instead, you would find it to be simply blind and irresponsible. However, if the same event happens, and he tells you that he has been watching your practices at your job and in your life and has found you to be a responsible, honorable man, you will feel honored by his trust in you. (Piper neglects to mention that you will also find this complete stranger to be a creepy stalker.) 

Trust and honor without cause or rather, without knowledge to verify is blind and irresponsible. However, trust and honor, backed by knowledge is very much more pleasing to the Lord. 

The other reason why scholarship is so intrinsically linked to the pastoral life is that a deeper study is needed for communicating to members of the congregation. A simple fact of education is that it requires more understanding to articulate a point than to just have a vague understanding of the doctrine. 

To have learned in the book of Job that there are more reasons for suffering than punishment for sin is easy enough, but to communicate why Job illustrates this fact requires deeper understanding and a deeper knowledge. 

As pastors are called upon to communicate to the people truths they have learned in God’s word, it is necessary for them to actually spend time searching the Scripture for a deeper understanding. Piper describes that as being a scholarly impact upon the pastorate.
Piper thus describes a relationship between the pastorate and the scholar that he believes at times can become too pronounced. At the end of the day, these discussions about the scholar and the pastor are just extremes used to demonstrate the different focus that each has. We must remember that they are not as distinct as our binary mind wants to think.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Answers to Prayer

I figured we'd take a break away from Job for a little while (or at least one week; cannot confirm what next week's post will be). Perhaps it is far too obvious for my readers to know what book I'm reading in my daily devotions. By now, you've probably realized that I am slowly working my way through the whole Bible, currently midway through the book of Job.

But we are going to talk about and from other ways that the Lord impacts and shares in my life. Do you ever have those moments where everything you hear about seems linked to one similar theme?

About a month ago, I had a similar experience to just that. But let's start this story a bit earlier than there. Let's start it several months ago (I'm sorry, I don't have the date written in any of my journals), when I started praying seriously for boldness and instruction on how to witness.

I started praying for that on a daily basis, yet nothing seemed really to happen for the longest time. Until about a month ago. (But then you had already figured that out because of how this narrative was flowing.)

This of course, could just stop right here, and be considered a lesson in patience in the Lord in relationship to the burdens He lays on our hearts, but we're going somewhere different today if I know what my typing fingers are going to say next.

About a month ago, every lesson I heard in a gazillion different places (daily chapel, Spiritual Formations class, the church that I will attend here at college, and special seminars) were geared specifically at the thought process of evangelism and how to tell those around you about Christ.

And so, just like that, the Lord was answering my prayers about the instruction of witnessing in the first place. This instruction should find practical application more specifically this very night, as I head with a group to Central State University to cultivate relationships and share the Gospel. It is the opportunity that I have been waiting and praying with for a long time.

But that's not the only thing the Lord has been able to do in this here walk of my life. At a time in which I feared my prayer life was getting stagnant, the Lord supplied me with an opportunity to hear from Pastor Rohm through the Honors Program here at Cedarville. I almost didn't decide to go because I didn't want to or think I could get a sub for my job here on campus.

But I tried and was able to get said sub. And wouldn't you know it? Pastor Rohm spoke a little bit about prayer and presented some necessary insight into how my prayer life should continue. Additionally, the event gave me the opportunity to meet with him in a group of 8 to get a prayer journal and to hear him describe his own prayer life, and how his prayer journal has improved it.

It was a valuable experience indeed. But why should you care about my life?

What I am simply trying to convey in this post is that God cares about our relationships with Him. If you want to see yourself serving Him greater, the best thing for you to do is to pray about it.

After all, we don't have for nothing the admonition in Matthew 7:7-12,
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets."