Wednesday, August 24, 2011

We Have Moved

The new blog is at
All the old posts should be up on the new blog along with the comments.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Body and Soul

Back in 2004 I had another blog. Much of it is filled with prattle, but, especially in later entries, I composed some ruminations that I think should not be lost to cyberspace. I have decided to scroll through the old blog and to begin reposting worthwhile content periodically, though I will reserve editorial powers over it. I begin with the following from 6 December 2004, addressing the question of whether we will still be essentially the same person in the afterlife, given the fact that our bodies and brains have been destroyed. If memory lies in the brain (and our memories, or the sum of our experiences and interactions, make us who we are), then how can we in any sense be the “same person” after death. Or to put it another way, if brain malfunction can cause memory loss, even though the soul is supposedly still “in there,” then how can we say the soul remembers? And if it does not, then having once been disembodied, we cannot be the same person we were in life.

I want to quote Charles Hodge on a couple things, and I will underline what I want to emphasize. First, he believes animals have souls:

"'Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?' Eccles. 3:21. The soul of the brute is the immaterial principle which constitutes its life, and which is endowed with sensibility, and that measure of intelligence which experience shows the lower animals to possess. The soul in man is a created spirit of a higher order, which has not only the attributes of sensibility, memory, and instinct, but also the higher powers which pertain to our intellectual, moral, and religious life."

It is interesting that all the Hebrew and Greek words for soul and spirit and soul and spirit in English are used indiscriminately in the Bible of men and irrational animals (Hodge). I want to quote a few more related things.

"Man, then, according to Scriptures, is a created being in vital union with a material organized body."

"It is a fact of consciousness that certain states of the body produce certain corresponding states of the mind” (by which he means the soul). “The mind takes cognizance of, or is conscious of, the impressions made by external objects on the organs of sense belonging to the body. The mind sees, the mind hears, and the mind feels, not directly or immediately (at least in our present and normal state), but through or by means of the appropriate organs of the body. It is also a matter of daily experience that a healthful condition of the body is necessary to a healthful state of the mind; that certain diseases or disorders of the one produce derangement in the operations of the other. Emotions of the mind effect the body; shame suffuses the cheek; joy causes the heart to beat and the eyes to shine. A blow on the head renders the mind unconscious, i.e., it renders the brain unfit to be the organ of its activity; and a disease of the brain may cause irregular action in the mind, as in lunacy."

Hodge attributes will to the soul. He also attributes joy and shame to the soul. I think this must be the case, because consciousness as well as having sensations are not properties of matter. We do have sensations (a property of the soul), and we have them (we know from experience) through our physical senses and sense organs. So Hodge has satisfactorily demonstrated from experience that the body and soul exist, at least for the time being, in vital union with each other. This suggests the idea that if a disorder of the body causes all recognition of an experience to vanish completely, it is only because the soul is presently dependent on the body for its expression, not because the soul either does not exist, or because the soul cannot retain memory apart from the body. Since the soul/mind is immaterial, it cannot be directly affected by a blow to the head. That is, suffering trauma to the brain may cause apparent memory loss. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the memory is lost completely to that individual, since memory is a function of the soul. The soul remembers. The brain does not, and therefore you do not, only because you cannot in the current state of things: You need the normal operation of the brain. The soul's expression of your memory is dependent on it.

Think of a client computer in a network: say the client’s network card burns out. The client (i.e., the brain) can no longer access the file on the server (the soul/mind), but this does not mean the file has been deleted; the file still exists on the server. You’re “lost” memories may return when you are freed from the body, then given a perfect one at the eschaton. So therefore, going a step further to the point I really wanted to make, no one can prove from your experience that your soul will not retain the integrity of your personhood after this life. Temporal memory loss and our general experience that memory and the integrity of one’s self (think of Alzheimer's) is tied to the brain does not necessarily show that these things are tied to the brain ultimately. The possibility remains that such things are functions of an immaterial aspect beyond the brain for which the brain is merely an instrument of expression. Since consciousness and having sensations are not properties of matter, regardless of its configuration, such a possibility seems an inevitable conclusion, leading us to believe that the idea of retaining memory and being “the same person” in a disembodied state after physical death is really not a problem at all.

P.S., I think of Stephen Hawking. His body in his latter years would not have allowed us to see who he is, but for modern technology. What a soul this guy has. What a mind. Thankfully, we've been able to allow him to express his mind by aids for his body. We would not have known who he is because of his Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, but he still would have have been that person—the soul God created for his body.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Roots Run Deep

I just completed Tom Nettles first volume on Baptist history, and I found it to be an inspiring read. It covers the time period after the Protestant Reformation from about 1600 to the 1830s and gives us surveys of a total ten key Baptist men during pivotal epoch in church history. Seven of these ministers were Reformed, and it is to them—John Spilsbury, William Kiffin, Hanserd Knollys, Benjamin Keach, John Gill, Andrew Fuller, and William Carey—that I trace my spiritual heritage, as I have after my own Bible study come to embrace the Reformed Baptist faith. Here, I want to say something from the text about each of them.

John Spilsbury: Fought for several important points of doctrine including 1) credobaptist practice. He believed that “the new covenant assumes the effectual working of the Spirit to create a believing community and employs new positive ordinances as the symbols of its character. Believers’ baptism, not infant baptism, corresponds to the nature of the new covenant,” has Jesus’ authority behind it, and was the practice of the Apostles (Nettles 114). According to Nettles, Spilsbury’s opponents thought of him as uneducated but felt compelled to compose responses to his arguments against infant baptism. One such rebuttal came from a man named Praise-God Barebone. But praise God, Barebone eventually became a Baptist himself.

Second, Spilsbury argued for confessionalism, teaching that “no church, and thus no baptism, could exist apart from submission to orthodox evangelicalism embodied in a confession of faith” (Nettles 118).

Third, he defended the compatibility of particular atonement and universal gospel preaching.

William Kiffin:  Tom Nettles first word on Kiffin is that he “must be given a prominent place in the affections and appreciation of all Baptists” (129). In fact, One historian calls Kiffin the Father of the Particular [Calvinist] Baptists. Kiffin was the only signer of the 1644 London Baptist Confession of Faith who also signed the Second London Confession in July of 1689.

He also argued enthusiastically for believer baptism alone and paired up with Hanserd Knollys in debating two paedobaptists on the topic. Kiffin later found it needful to defend the practice of requiring baptism in order to take Lord’s Supper. Kiffin also helped plant Baptist churches.  In disputes with Quakers and others, he proved to be fair and honest.

Hanserd Knollys:  Knollys became a minister in the Anglican church in 1629, but resigned after becoming convinced that some of their practices were not biblical. He came to the conclusion that he himself had been “building his soul upon a covenant of works and was a stranger to the covenant of grace” (Nettles 148). After a struggle, he learned to embrace God’s promises of grace and was “filled with joy unspeakable and glorious” (Knollys qtd. in Nettles 149). Knollys was not yet a Baptist, but sailed for America, stayed two years, and returned to England. Exactly when he was convinced of Baptist doctrine is not certain, but it is certain that he was a decided Baptist some time after he came back to England, and from there began to defend their cause with “stable, courageous leadership” (Nettles 152). He fought against antinomianism, and signed the 1646 revision to the first London Confession, which contained greater clarity on God’s sovereign providence and particular redemption. He defended an evangelistic Calvinism. Along with William Kiffin, Knollys spearheaded the first national assembly of Particular Baptists, which took place in 1689 and there the Second London Baptist Confession was republished publically and Knollys was the first signer. Knollys wrote in defense of Baptist church government, which believes each local church to be autonomous and not subject to any higher denominational authority. He preached in his London church until he was 93.

Benjamin Keach:  Keach born again at the age of fifteen. His study of Scripture led him to reject infant baptism and he joined a Baptist church. Nettles remarks that Keach “seemed never to be convinced that he had exhausted all truth, or even the capacity for understanding as much truth as possible” (163). He goes on to say that “the covenant and all its accompanying blessings are the driving force in, and give coherence to, Keach’s entire theological scheme” (Nettles 167).

Keach wrote a handful of major works on the topic of justification, defending the Reformed position and saying that “the Christian, therefore, is not to work for Life, but from Life” (Keach qtd. in Nettles 179).

He also wrote poignantly against paedobaptism and for credobaptism, with works like Pedo-Baptism disproved, and The Ax Laid to the Root, or One Blow More at the Foundation of Infant Baptism and Church Membership. No subtlety there. But he wrote many books on many topics. He wrote on what a true church is, spoke against the Church of England, noting that “true biblical discipline is, in fact, incongruous in a state church for none of the members has voluntarily committed himself” (186), and defended the singing of hymns and songs in church worship.

John Gill:  Gill was a prolific writer and a exceptionally intelligent. Nettles says, “Very early in life Gill’s intellectual precocity emerged and he soon demonstrated extraordinary ability in languages, specifically Greek, Hebrew, and Latin” (197). Gill was a powerful defender of Calvinism, composing a four-part tome, The Cause of God and Truth, published between 1735 and 1738, in response to Daniel Whitby’s attack on the doctrines of grace.  Gill also spoke on behalf of the prescriptive use of a confession of faith. He believed that not doing so was one cause of theological decline, the other being a neglect of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

Gill also addressed other things such as deism and Sabellianism (the idea that God is one person who has revealed himself in three modes). Gill proved to be an effective defender of the Trinity.

He wrote a lot. He engaged many enemies with keen analysis and exposition of their logical fallacies.  Nettles remarks, “Issues of biblical theology, historical theology, philosophical theology, systematic theology, practical ecclesiology, apologetics, biblical linguistics, biblical exposition, experimental religion, and issues of pastoral ministry are all dealt with clearly and cleanly” (215).

Gill’s education and sharp analytical thinking was not superfluous. When Anthony Collins composed a sophisticated attack on Christianity, “Gill’s knowledge of Jewish literature was invaluable for demonstrating the vacuity of Collins’ destructive arguments” (Nettles 240).

Andrew Fuller:  Fuller was baptized in 1770 after conversion from a sinful lifestyle, then joined a Baptist church.  In 1775, Fuller learned of a debate among Calvinists which was to occupy much of his effort. It revolved around the so-called “modern question” that asked whether unregenerate people were under any obligation to repent and believe, and also were preachers under obligation to call upon such people to repent and have faith. Fullers answer was a resounding Yes. He argued carefully that if God’s withholding grace were sufficient to nullify man’s responsibility, then grace was no gift, but a burden, for without it, a man was not truly guilty. Fuller’s full treatise on the subject has been touted as “the shot which provoked the army into the field of battle” (Nettles 243). It was called The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation, published in 1785.

Fuller, like the others, defended Calvinism, and did so astutely. Consider the following thoughts from Fuller: Arminianism “appeared to me to ascribe the difference between one sinner and another, not to the grace of God, but to the good improvement made of grace given us in common with others.” He believed that “to suppose God to act in time without an eternal purpose in his action is to deprive him of wisdom, or to suppose a new purpose to arise is to accuse him of mutability” (Nettles 254). Therefore, we “are landed upon election” (Fuller qtd. in Nettles 254).  He once proposed seven reasons why regeneration must precede our coming to Jesus.

On the other hand, he refuted hyper-Calvinism by arguing the “modern question” and also by taking a view of the atonement that sees it as not as limited to the elect in its nature, but limited to the elect by the covenantal design of God—God’s deliberate purpose to save a certain group of particular people. The first view sees the atonement more as a commercial transaction. But, says Fuller, if this were the case, it would be “inconsistent with free forgiveness of sin, and with sinners being directed to apply for mercy as supplicants, rather than as claimants” (Fuller qtd. in Nettles 256).

He also, according to Nettles, “did not ignore the broader issues of his day,” but rose up against “deists and Socinians, thoroughly mastered their writings, and fired off replies so perceptive and to-the-point that his opponents found their arguments clearly emasculated” (268). He was a faithful and caring minister, exercising church discipline with seriousness and glad to warmly receive penitent sinner back into the fold. He died in 1815.

William Carey:  William Carey accomplished much for the Lord, but led a very hard life. His faithfulness is a great inspiration. After conversion, Carey was influenced positively by Robert Hall’s book, Help to Zion’s Travelers, which taught from a Particular Baptist viewpoint. This does not mean he did not thoroughly examine the argument for infant baptism. But he finally rejected that practice in favor of believer baptism alone. Carey would prove to be very gifted in linguistics, and this would aid him later in the work God had for him.

In 1792, he was part of the formation of “The Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Amongst the Heathen.” Supported by this organization, he would go to India to preach the gospel. One of the first requests was for a Bengali translation of the Bible.In 1801, the Bengali New Testament was completed. It was just the beginning. “Carey was responsible for translating the Bible, or supervising and overseeing its translation, whole or in part, into thirty-six distinct languages,” says Nettles (296). Indeed, Carey became one of the most respected Sanskrit grammarians among scholars. His work in Bengali even helped improve the language. He began schools in illiterate areas, and used the Bible to teach, believing that “comprehensive education [would] prepare the students for a rich life free of superstition” (Nettles 302). He taught math, science, geography, logic, and reading. He and the missionaries he worked with thought that “sound education would reveal several untenable features of pagan religion and at the same time enhance one’s own openness to true Christian faith” (Nettles 302-3).

But things were not easy. Carey’s first wife only reluctantly agreed to move to India. There, she eventually lost her mind and gave William much aggravation, accusing him of infidelity, breaking into outbursts of anger and profanity, and threatening his life. When she died, Carey was uncertain of her salvation, though others believed her to have been saved, but afflicted with stress, fever, and mercury poisoning.  Later a fire destroyed huge volumes of Carey’s work, especially in certain indigenous languages. Following this, the Society defunded his operations due to lack of converts. Carey continued to work. He fought the spreading notion that many ways existed to reach God and that exclusive religious claims were arrogant and intolerant and outdated in our pluralistic world. He died in 1834, leaving a great legacy, and was buried by Charlotte, his second wife.

As these seven portraits impress me, they do so not only as Christians, but as theological forbears, seeing that I, as a Reformed Baptist believer, have myself identified with the community of faith to which they belong. I look up to them, therefore, in a special way. You may wonder if it is right to admire mere men. It is, as long as the admiration never eclipses our worship of God. In fact, it is not only right, but healthy to have admirable heroes. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul plainly told the Corinthians to imitate him, as he imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). Consider Hebrews 13:7, which tells us to “remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” God knows that sometimes, as earthly as we are, it is easier to follow the example of someone closer to home, and encouraging to know that fellow human beings can do right, even if not all the time. So choose heroes. Just make sure you don’t idealize them (or idolize them) and most importantly, make sure they’re the right heroes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

“Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad” – and “God shows no partiality.”

It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son." And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.

So says Romans 9:8-13. The verses that follow are even more explicit concerning God’s free right to choose some to bless and save and some to curse and condemn without regard to any of their own actions or anything else about them. It is a choice based entirely on God’s free will. The Bible is clear: God exercises complete freedom in election and saves whomever he wants, without anticipating any cause for his selections in the people selected. God is the prime mover in election.

The Bible is also clear about something else: God shows no partiality. He is not partial to any persons for any reason, but is completely fair and impartial. From Deuteronomy 10:17 through Colossians 3:25, God’s impartial judgment is emphasized. He judges with equity and rules with fairness. Are God’s sovereign election and his impartiality compatible?

In discussing divine predestination with a friend many years ago, I was first confronted with this dilemma. Stressing that God chooses sinners for salvation not based on anything about them—that God chooses whomever he wants—I was reminded, “But there is no partiality with God.” I stopped. In Calvinism, God is not granting equal treatment; there can be no dispute about that. It certainly gave me something to think about, and it wasn’t for a long time that I would have a satisfactory answer.


The first thing to realize is that, when you think about it even briefly, this is not a problem for Calvinism alone. All orthodox Christians believe that God (regardless of the reasons) is not going to treat everyone alike. He is going to treat some people according to what they deserve and treat other people not according to what they deserve. The only way to get around God’s discrimination here is to teach that everyone will be condemned (which no one teaches) or that no one will be condemned (which universalists teach but Scripture doesn’t). So the difficulty stares us in the face: God is not partial in the least, but he discriminates between persons, saving some and judging others. This is equally true in Calvinist and Arminian schemes. All I would have initially have to have done for my Arminian objector is turn the tables on him.


Partiality in the Bible is constantly condemned. It is not only God who is to be impartial, but we as well. Under Mosaic Law, partiality was forbidden in the court of law. Verses abound prohibiting partial judgment, but most such verses are attached to a group of people. Don’t be partial to the poor. Don’t be partial to the rich. Don’t be partial to someone who bribes you. Don’t be partial to the wicked. Partiality is tied to being attracted to (either by sympathy or by being impressed or by what you’re given in return, or whatever) a certain party or group of people and, because of that, leaning toward them or treating them better, even when it isn’t just. Impartiality is a communicable attribute of God—an attribute of God that we can posses to some degree, and ought to try to. So we can be confident that God’s impartiality is the purest form of the impartiality he commands of us.

Taken this way, what it means for God to be impartial is that God will not treat anyone contrary to justice due to anything about that person that attracts the deference or pity of God or as a favor for something they can offer God. No action, no promise, no motion on your part can pull God’s favor.


True. But it is not because he is partial to them. Then could it be because their works have made them deserving of salvation? If that were the case, then God’s favor would not be partiality—it would be justice. The problem is that all our so-called righteous acts are filthy before God, and the harder we try to assuage God, the further we dig ourselves into debt. But then we’re left with the same question. How does one receive favor from an impartial God if it cannot be earned?


The answer lies in two very important things: 1) God sent his Son as a propitiation for the sins of the world so that “he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Because Jesus was a substitute who was judged in the place of God’s elect, they can be set free without an infraction of God’s perfect justice. But the question still remains: Why them? And this is the question that concerns our look at God’s impartiality. Jacob is loved, Esau is hated. Joe Schmoe is loved, Jon Doe is hated. We still have our initial partiality problem.

Here is my conclusion. Remember how partiality is defined. The reason my Arminian friend threw God’s impartial nature at me is because it seemed to contradict the Calvinist idea of unconditional election. But that’s just it. Therein lies the solution. God is NOT partial because his choice of sinners is UNCONDITIONAL. He is not attracted to his special people by anything in them or anything they do or offer in return. He chooses men and women, boys and girls, from a wide cross-section of nations, people groups, races, social classes, and backgrounds. And his choice has nothing to do with them! They cannot bribe and have not bribed God. This is strictly because God’s effectual call is a gift of free grace and “not from anything at all foreseen in mankind, nor from any power or agency in the creature” (Baptist Confession of Faith 10.2). This is why God’s unconditional election of sinners is not a show of partiality: because the recipients of his saving grace have not in any way pulled God’s favor; God has pushed it entirely on his own. They have not persuaded God, as it were, to save them over against the mass of mankind who remain unsaved.

In the final analysis, this leaves Arminian theology with the partiality problem it thought was a conundrum for Calvinism. The Arminian idea of a conditional election, an election rooted in the anticipated faith of the recipient, appears, as I see it, to pose a difficulty. It makes God partial to the faithful. You see, in Arminian theology, Jesus died for all people indiscriminately and alike, God’s prevenient grace enables any and all to accept Christ in faith, and God waits for those who respond and retroactively “predestines” those people. If this is true, if Jesus died for every single person, then what’s the difference?

It’s you.

You have effectively bought God’s favor with faith and repentance, which are not free gifts of grace, but come—in the ultimate determining sense—from within you, and, by the way, put you on higher moral ground than those around you who, though equally able (or enabled by God’s universal draw), did not accept Christ. Congratulations! You have successfully made God partial to you by bribing him with your faith and repentance.

But may it never be, for God shows no partiality.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pirate Radio

Pirate Radio wasn’t a bad movie. It was interesting and had some very likeable and unlikeable characters and other characters that had likeable and despicable sides to them. But what I noticed was the way the movie depicted two very unhealthy extremes. It showcased the dehumanizing lifestyles of the excessively strict and the excessively libertine.

Alistair Dormandy, an English bureaucrat, represents the legalistic way of life, and at one point even quips, with visible pleasure, “If you don’t like something, you simply pass a new law making it illegal” (the basic logic of liberal progressives in the United States today).

Life on the boat, on the other hand is as free from moral laws as Mr. Dormandy’s life is free from freedom. But contrary to creating a wonderland, the lack of any moral lodestar here gets people deeply hurt--and confused.

Whatever else the movie may have communicated, I liked how it allowed us to see how flawed and how destructive these two extremes of restraint and autonomy can be. Of course, most people do live between them, society itself usually providing the guidelines of what is considered normal behavior. But even here there is an absence of true guidance. It turns out that it is only in Christ and the law and liberty that he brings can we find a new and balanced way to be human, since “he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord” and yet “likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ” (1 Cor. 7:22).

Monday, November 29, 2010

“I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren…”

Sadly, survey after survey (here’s one) show that a large portion of professing Christians are, when it comes to matters of their own religious faith, severely uneducated. Sometimes it’s not their fault. Usually it is. Many Christian adults have never even read the whole Bible, which they believe is the inspired Word of God, upon which their entire system of thought is founded. One atheist quips “It’s like a lawyer spending thousands of dollars and years in law school while never managing to actually read the Constitution.” His insult is not entirely undeserved, and it makes me wonder, Why aren’t Christians learning about God and Christianity with fervor?

Reading in Hosea, I was reminded how important it is to study spiritual truth. God is not content for us to sit back, but desires us to be active in pursuing a complete picture of the truth that he condescended to give to us via the Bible. In Hosea chapter 4, God is bringing an accusation against Israel, his chosen people. He says that there is “no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery.” God is very aware of something my pastor said yesterday in his sermon: that bad theology leads to bad living (and vice versa, creating a kind of circle—but the point is, the two are very much interrelated). In verse 6, God says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God [read: the Bible] I also will forget your children.” In fact, in chapter 6, God says he prefers knowledge of God over burnt offerings.

These texts have something to say to us. We Christians are God’s people now, the real Israel, and the people with whom God is in covenant relationship. In Matthew 22:29, Jesus himself rebukes the Pharisees because they did not know the Scriptures well enough. Our sincerity is not sufficient—our faith is only as good as the validity of its object. Remember in Romans 10:2, that Paul says the Jews have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Their ideas about God were incorrect, so their zeal was meaningless. Fortunately, God has given us the truth about himself in the Bible, since all Scripture is profitable for doctrine and for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Bible study, then, is not an option in the Christian life.

Christian ignorance comes from two sides, of course. First, there is poor teaching in churches where the truth is watered down, stops at preschool level, or is replaced with cheerleading, motivational speeches, or funny anecdotes. My advice: find a better church. But second, there is the laziness or apathy of the individual Christian. Theology is not for “them.” It’s for YOU! And luckily, we in the West have a pile of resources to help us learn about God. There is no excuse. And why wouldn’t you want to learn about the thing which is most important to you? Go ahead, pick up a systematic theology book. It may weigh ten pounds, but no one is asking you to finish it by next Wednesday. There are great ones. Try James Boyce or Wayne Grudem. For a slightly lighter serving, Grudem has a condensed version simply called Bible Doctrine. Not a bad starting place. There are also great books by R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer (notably, Knowing God), Michael Horton, and James White, just to name a few. Don’t know where to start on the Web? Try

The resources are endless. Unfortunately, you have to filter out the jewels from the junk. With a good foundation laid from the kinds of teachers and ministries I listed above, that will become much easier over time. Eventually, you’ll be able to sniff out faulty teaching like a hound. I leave you with the apostle Peter’s encouragement to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What Our Schools Need is a Moment of Science

The National Medal of Science is awarded by the President of the United States of America to individuals whose scientific contributions have been deemed worthy by a 12-member committee gathered for just this purpose. The medal itself pictures a man with a crystal in his hand and inscribing a formula in the sand. When I first saw a picture of the medal, I thought the man was holding a flame of fire in his hand, which to me was a poetic depiction of human discovery, immortalized in the ancient myth of man’s first discovery of the means of controlling fire, from which, according to the myth, our scientific progress proceeded. The crystal which the medal actually depicts represents the order of the universe, apart from which science would be impossible, and the unfinished equation represents scientific abstraction. The man is surrounded by earth, sea, and air, representing his attempt to comprehend the elements that make up the world around him.

To me, this picture of man is a beautiful one, hearkening back to the words of Shakespeare, “in apprehension, how like a god!” or of the Bible, that God has “made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor and has given him dominion” and stated that “nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

Human existence is one of discovery and subsequent control, in the creation of artifacts based upon knowledge of the materials we use to create. Science is of utmost importance. It is one of the things that separates man from the apes. It is indeed a result of the imago dei in humankind. And it works. Everything we see around us is due to the understanding we have of nature through the scientific method. Your house, your air conditioner, your car, your computer, your Advil, your shoes. Even your toothbrush. They are all products of applied sciences. I trust science. And so do you. It’s value cannot be questioned, but it is not only a vehicle of comfort, security, productivity, or health; it is an intrinsic part of the human experience, and without it, we stagnate into a kind of essential death, or death of our essence. Scientific inquiry is a necessary part of the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:26, 28, and to abandon the pursuit of it would be to sever a piece of the human soul and to spurn the desire of God.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Progressive Inequity is Alive in American Politics

This set of clips was something of a shock to me. Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention. I knew there were progressives affecting and trying harder to affect the American landscape, but I didn’t realize how many and how hardline these progressives were. There desire is plain: to socialize U.S. economics, allocate more power to government over companies and individuals, and to redistribute wealth in a socialist fashion. This is serious because such an economic system is not merely unsustainable; it is immoral. It is a moral wrong for the government to use the force of law to redistribute wealth from some citizens to others. It is a violation of the property rights of the citizens whose wealth is expropriated and a mockery of the human dignity of the citizens to whom it is distributed, and the whole process is an affront on the freedom and rights of the people.

Why is redistribution evil? Quite simply, because all human beings are created equal. As an intrinsic law of nature, you own yourself. This is what makes involuntary servitude immoral—because it forces people to invest themselves without reaping the fruits of their own investment. That is, it is forcing people to give away a part of themselves, and this is stealing. Let me break it down. You own yourself. When you labor, that labor comes from you and belongs to you by right. As it is your natural possession, you are free to trade it for any compensation you agree is fair. For most of us nowadays, we trade it for money, in an amount we have agreed to with the party receiving our labor (our employer). They want our time and energy more than they want the compensation we get from trading it to them, and we want the money more than that same allotment of our time and energy, so we enter into contract and are both satisfied.

Now, say someone stronger than you made you work for him without pay. That is immoral because it is stealing. He is taking what is yours without giving you anything in return. It is also immoral because it necessarily denies the self-ownership of the one in forced, uncompensated labor, thereby making a person into a possession. We know what to call this: it’s slavery.

When the government takes what some people have legally earned and gives it to someone else, this is also stealing, and it means that a certain amount of work those people have done has been done as slave labor. I don’t know about you, but I want a society that has left slavery behind! It also denies the total self-ownership of the people whose wealth is being “spread around.” The government is saying, We own part of you. The amount of wealth a person has legally earned or inherited is not relevant to the question of the immorality of expropriating that wealth by force.

On the other hand, any possessions you own you are free to give away. Since this is done with your consent, such charitable giving is moral, not immoral, and does not result in slave labor nor is it demeaning to the recipients.

Socialism is an evil system of economics. Communism is an evil system of government. Capitalism is simple the practical consequence of freedom, and I want to live in a free country. Think before you vote. Then vote—even if you come to different conclusions than I have.

As a note of clarification, it is morally permissible for the government to levy taxes to provide for the general welfare and the common defense. This means the government can use tax money to provide services for all, but not for particular people. This would include certain infrastructure, and more importantly, the ability to enforce contracts, and protect the people from violence and fraud or any violation of their natural rights, which are infringements upon their persons. I think of it like this: the government should provide the people with an environment in which they have the liberty to pursue happiness and prosperity, should defend their natural rights and protect from internal and external enemies, but must never guarantee happiness or prosperity to anyone (the only means of making good on such a guarantee being to violate the natural rights of other citizens, which the government is supposed to be preventing or punishing).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Baptism in the Church

I have recently finished Douglas van Dorn’s book Waters of Creation. It is a mind-blowing biblical study of the ordinance of baptism, and it has helped me have a greater, expanded appreciation for where the ritual came from and what it means for us today. The study is lengthy and there is certainly a lot in it to digest. I am trying to come to a clearer understanding of the arguments made in the book so that I can streamline them in my own mind and learn to present a cogent summary in just a few minutes.  This is my first attempt.

Point #1:  There are many typical “temples” in Scripture. First, there is the archetypal temple described in Revelation 4-5 as well as Isaiah 6 and Daniel 7. This is a description of heaven itself. An archetype is the original model, one that serves as a pattern for other things of the same kind. The sanctuary in heaven is the real sanctuary that is represented in typical temples in history.  Every sanctuary has these features: three gradations of holiness, from the common space to the holy place to the holy of holies; tree or lampstands; and water for cleansing (baptism).

These “temples” include both sanctuaries made by God, and sanctuaries made by man. A detailed study (which I won’t go into here) of each of these sanctuaries shows parallels with the archetypal sanctuary which show that it is indeed a sanctuary. Prototypical sanctuaries include the very heavens and earth, as God built a sanctuary in his work of creation. The earth was made from out of “the deep” and the land was gathered together and arose out of the waters.  The Garden of Eden is the other prototypical sanctuary, and Adam served there as a priest.

An “ectype” is copy of an original. Ectypal sanctuaries in Scripture include Mt. Ararat, as Noah, its priest (he offered sacrifices to God on the altar he built afterward) ministered; Mt. Sinai, and the promised land.  The two ectypal sanctuaries built by man at God’s specific instruction are the Tabernacle and later the Temple.

Point #2:  Sanctuaries are associated with new creation and baptism is required to enter. The first is the original creation itself, of course, but notice how at in the Flood, God is recreating the world, as it were, and beginning anew. At Mt. Sinai, God is creating a people for himself, establishing a nation, and in entering the promised land you have a new creation as well.  None of these occur without a baptism! 2 Peter 3:5 tells us that “the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God.”  The Flood is an obvious baptism. 1 Peter 3:20-21 says baptism corresponds to that catastrophic event in which eight people were saved through water. Likewise, the Israelites made it to the foot of Mt. Sinai only after passing through the Red Sea. 1 Corinthians 10:2 says they were baptized into Moses “in the sea”! Nor did the Israelites enter into Canaan without first passing through the River Jordan.  God seems to be upholding a pattern. New creation and entrance into the temple are preceded by the washing of baptism.

Point #3:  Baptismal washing is required of all priests entering into priestly ministry. A perfect example of this is Jesus’ baptism. Remember, Jesus is the High Priest of Israel, he is a high priest forever, and intercedes for us. He fulfills that office in his offering up himself as a sacrifice to God and in interceding for us. Not coincidentally, Jesus began his earthly ministry at the age of 30. Numbers 4:3, 47 tell us why—that’s how old you had to be to enter ministerial service in the tent of meeting.  Jesus said he needed to be baptized, not because he was repenting, but to “fulfill all righteousness”—that is, to fulfill the law. Which law? The priestly ordination rite of Exodus 29:4. (A word study reveals that this washing was a full body immersion, unlike the sprinklings that were ordained elsewhere, such as Numbers 8:7. The need for this explains the enormous baths that were built into the temple (2 Chron. 4:2-6)). Shortly hereafter, Jesus does something only a priest would have been allowed to do: he cleanses the temple. The furious Pharisees ask him where he gets the right to do that! Jesus refers back to John’s baptism!  So Jesus had been ordained as a priest for his people and did so in a lawful way. Of course, all priests must undergo this washing, and since God made an eternal covenant with the house of Levi on this point, this must still be the case, and the priesthood must still be maintained in the New Covenant. But then how is it being fulfilled?  This leads to my next point.

Point #4:  All Christians are priests before God. If you have believed in Jesus and chosen to follow him, God cleanses you and ordains you to serve as a priest before him. This is why protestants have historically held to a “priesthood of the saints.” We are priests!  This in not merely a deduction. The New Testament is clear about this. In Romans 12:1, Paul urges us to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. Philippians 4:18 describes the gifts the Philippian Christians sent to Paul as a fragrant offering and a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Only priests are permitted to offer sacrifices to God! But the New Testament gets even more straightforward about our role as priests in 1 Peter 2:5 and 2:9, Revelation 5:10 and 20:6.

Point #5:  All Christians enter into priestly service within the temple of God, Jesus and his church.  Jesus Christ and the church are identified as the temple God now recognizes. John 2:21, and Revelation 21:22 speak of Jesus as the temple. But he is the cornerstone of the larger temple God is building. The real temple, the temple of his church. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22.  To enter to serve in God’s temple, baptism is a requirement.  This is why baptism is so important, and why new converts are always baptized soon after conversion. Neglecting baptism will not keep you from being saved, but it means that you are serving God illegally in a way. God is concerned that after a disciple is made, she or he is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, even before they begin to be thoroughly taught about their new faith. Make disciples, baptize, teach. In fact, make disciples by baptizing and teaching. By baptism, the convert is (in some more express way) made a disciple.

Conclusions for Christian Baptism:  So there is a lot of continuity between the Old Testament washing of the new priest, and our baptismal washing as new priests in God’s new temple.  What does this say about the mode, meaning, and subjects of baptism?

  • Mode: Baptism is not related to circumcision. The two rites are nothing alike. They are not organically or in any other way corresponsive to one another. Baptism does not originate in Old Testament ceremonial sprinklings. Rather, baptism comes from baptism. Baptisms in the Old Testament, including the washing rite of the priests, were full body immersions. Baptism represents washing. It also represents passing through an ordeal (think of the Flood or the Red Sea. We are said even to be baptized into Christ’s death!). But it also represents (as we emerge from the water) deliverance from the ordeal or from God’s judgment. In this way, it represents for us our identification with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection. Only full immersion captures these images in a meaningful way. There is a trauma to being held under the water, as our old self is put to death, but then we are raised to new life in Christ.  Furthermore, baptism’s root in the ritual of Exodus 29:4 requires a mode of immersion. It is the lawful mandate. There is good circumstantial evidence from the New Testament that baptism was done by immersion, and good historical evidence from the early church. But the continuity that baptism shares with its Old Testament counterparts is the final appeal we can make: God’s law expects a dipping of the whole person in water.
  • Meaning:  Baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace. As we saw, baptisms are associated with new creation, and this is what we become when we are saved, a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)! As such, we must pass through the waters of baptism and come out a new creation. Baptism also serves as a symbolic representation of our fellowship with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection, as we are submerged into the water then raised up out of it again (Romans 6:3). But baptism is not just a memorial looking back to our salvation. It is living sacrament in which God is saying, “I ordain you as one of my servants. You will minister for me in my temple as a priest.” It is our initiation into God’s service as a Christian. It is not about what we are saying to God, but what God is saying to us. In that way, it isn’t so much our testimony in front of witnesses in the church, but God’s testimony in front of witnesses in the church about what he has called us to and where he is placing us. Van Dorn says, “It is not what we do to prove to the world we are saved, but what God does to his priests so that they may serve before him legally, biblically, and in sanctified purity.”
  • Subjects:  This is of course directly related to meaning. According to our study, covenant membership is not really relevant to the question of whom to baptize. That is, even if the infant children of believers are automatically members of the New Covenant in Christ by virtue of their parents’ faith (and I believe they are not), they still should not be baptized. Why? Because baptism, though a sign of the covenant, is not a sign of covenant membership, and is not a holdover from the Abrahamic Covenant. Rather, it is a holdover from the Levitical Covenant (Malachi 2:4), and a ceremonial sacrament of cleansing required of those who would serve as priests before God. So first of all, only followers of Christ may be baptized, or those who claim to be so, whom we believe in good faith. Baptism cannot be applied to unbelievers because priests had to be called by God.  Also, priests had to be at least 30 years old to serve. The New Covenant changes this, as we see young people being baptized. However, all those baptized in the New Testament are conscious of their baptisms. This seems to be the corresponding New Testament requirement.  Recipients of baptism are making a conscious and serious (Luke 9:62) commitment to enter into God’s “royal priesthood.” An infant, even if a child of God, cannot serve in the temple. They are not aware of what they are doing.  Therefore, neither the infant’s salvation, nor his membership in the New Covenant, nor whether he is under the federal headship of Adam or Christ has anything to do with his qualification for baptism. Therefore, it would not only be illegitimate to administer this sacrament to a baby, but somewhat of a mockery of its significance. Both the Lord’s Supper and baptism are to be guarded by the church and ordinarily reserved for those who can discern the meaning of what they are doing.

Well, so much for a streamlined summary in a few minutes. If you want to learn more, pick up the book Waters of Creation by Douglas Van Dorn, available on Amazon.  Baptism is important, and I pray that all of us can come to a greater appreciation of its meaning and what God does and promises at each and every baptism.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mordecai’s View of Faith and Responsibility

I just read the book of Esther, a spellbinding narrative in the Old Testament about a woman who becomes queen and risks everything to save her people. The story is riddled with fortuitous events which clearly show God’s hand of providence surrounding the lives of Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews. Some such events are not without irony that is so thick it’s comedic.

For those who are not familiar with this tale, it involves the rise of a young Jewish woman named Esther who, initially because of her exquisite beauty, is made queen in Susa. (Queen Vashti was deposed, after which the king decided to have a beauty contest to find a replacement.)

From this office in government, Esther learns of a plot on the part of the king’s newly-appointed advisor Haman “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews.” Those are the words of the edict itself; it certainly didn’t leave any room for uncertainty.

Esther herself was Jewish, but the king wasn’t aware of that. Because the king had fallen for her so deeply, there was a chance that she might be able to persuade the king to repeal the edict.


She succeeded.

But before she did, Mordecai, Esther’s closest friend, warned her to act. He tells her, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will rise from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  The first thing I noticed here is Mordecai’s faith. He is absolutely certain that the Jewish people will not be destroyed. He is certain they will be delivered-- somehow. There is no question as to that. But at the same time, he is using his trust in (presumably) God’s sovereignty, God’s faithfulness to his covenants, not as a reason why Esther is safe lying low, but as a spur to action. It is his knowledge that God will act in history to accomplish his decree that motivates Mordecai to act immediately to rescue the Jews from jeopardy. He urges tactical action on Esther’s part, noting that it may have been for this specific reason (to intervene on behalf of the Jews) that Esther now finds herself in her current position.

He understood God’s sovereignty, and also understood that God has sovereignly ordained the use of means or causes, namely human action, to carry out his unchangeable plan. What he understood was that Esther had been providentially put in a place where she could be a part of God’s deliverance of the Israelites. Esther understood this too, and for Esther, that was more of a privilege than she could pass up.