Friday, September 12, 2014

A Prayer for Muslim Lands

The following was over at Kevin DeYoung's blog.  It is a beautiful and theologically rich prayer for those in Muslim lands.  Samuel M. Zwemer (1867-1952) was called "The Apostle to Islam."  This prayer is from 1923.

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who hast made of one blood all nations and hast promised that many shall come from the East and sit down with Abraham in thy kingdom: We pray for thy prodigal children in Muslim lands who are still afar off, that they may be brought nigh by the blood of Christ. Look upon them in pity, because they are ignorant of thy truth.
Take away pride of intellect and blindness of heart, and reveal to them the surpassing beauty and power of thy Son Jesus Christ. Convince them of their sin in rejecting the atonement of the only Savior. Give moral courage to those who love thee, that they may boldly confess thy name.
Hasten the day of religious freedom in Turkey, Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Africa. Send forth reapers where the harvest is ripe, and faithful plowmen to break furrows in lands still neglected. May the tribes of Africa and Malaysia not fall prey to Islam but be won for Christ. Bless the ministry of healing in every hospital, and the ministry of love at every church and mission. May all Muslim children in mission schools be led to Christ and accept him as their personal Savior.
Strengthen converts, restore backsliders, and give all those who labor among Muslims the tenderness of Christ, so that bruised reeds may become pillars of his church, and smoking flaxwicks burning and shining lights. Make bare thine arm, O God, and show thy power. All our expectation is from thee.
Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son in the Muslim world, and fulfill through him the prayer of Abraham thy friend, “O, that Ishmael might live before thee.” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Some Recent Posts on Christianity and Sexual Ethics

As the sexual anarchy of our culture continues to march on at increasing speed a number of evangelicals are attempting to provide guidance on how to live in such a time.

Michael Kruger has written One of the Main Ways that the Earliest Christians Distinguished Themselves from the Surrounding Culture.  He cites a number of second century Christian sources that show their view on sexual ethics.  Here is a sampling of Kruger's post:


For instance, Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need.  But, then he says, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why does he say this?  Because, in the Greco-Roman world, it was not unusual for people to share their spouses with each other.
In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author goes out of his way to declare how normal Christians are in regard to what they wear, what they eat, and how they participate in society.  However, he then says, “[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners” (Diogn. 5.7).  Again, this is the trait that makes Christians different.
We see this play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides.  Aristides defends the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union” (15).
A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix.  In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:
Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all (31).
This sampling of texts from the second century demonstrates that one of the main ways that Christians stood out from their surrounding culture was their distinctive sexual behavior.  Of course, this doesn’t mean Christians were perfect in this regard.  No doubt, many Christians committed sexual sins.  But, Christianity as a whole was still committed to striving towards the sexual ethic laid out in Scripture–and the world took notice.
Needless to say, this has tremendous implications for Christians in the modern day.  We are reminded again that what we are experiencing in the present is not new–Christians battled an over-sexed culture as early as the first and second century!
Albert Mohler has written Why the "Concordance Reflex" Fails in Sexuality Debates.  In this post he speaks of the necessity of having a nuanced approach to the text of Scripture in order to address issues not specifically mentioned in Scripture.  Here are few selections:

As the church responds to this revolution, we must remember that current debates on sexuality present to the church a crisis that is irreducibly and inescapably theological. This crisis is tantamount to the type of theological crisis that Gnosticism presented to the early church or that Pelagianism presented to the church in the time of Augustine. In other words, the crisis of sexuality challenges the church’s understanding of the gospel, sin, salvation, and sanctification. Advocates of the new sexuality demand a complete rewriting of Scripture’s metanarrative, a complete reordering of theology, and a fundamental change to how we think about the church’s ministry.

Is 'Transgender' in the Concordance?

Proof-texting is the first reflex of conservative Protestants seeking a strategy of theological retrieval and restatement. This hermeneutical reflex comes naturally to evangelical Christians because we believe the Bible to be the inerrant and infallible Word of God. We understand that, as B. B. Warfield said, “When Scripture speaks, God speaks.” I should make clear that this reflex is not entirely wrong, but it’s not entirely right either. It’s not entirely wrong because certain Scriptures (that is, “proof texts”) speak to specific issues in a direct and identifiable way.
There are, however, obvious limitations to this type of theological method—what I like to call the “concordance reflex.” What happens when you are wrestling with a theological issue for which no corresponding word appears in the concordance? Many of the most important theological issues cannot be reduced to merely finding relevant words and their corresponding verses in a concordance. Try looking up “transgender” in your concordance. How about “lesbian”? Or “in vitro fertilization”? They’re certainly not in the back of my Bible.
It’s not that Scripture is insufficient. The problem is not a failure of Scripture but a failure of our approach to Scripture. The concordance approach to theology produces a flat Bible without context, covenant, or master-narrative—three hermeneutical foundations essential to understand Scripture rightly.

Mohler goes on to discuss the issue of transgenderism in terms of the larger Biblical Theological categories: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation.

Michael Brown's Appeal to Joel and Victoria Osteen

Michael Brown has recently written what is essentially an open letter to Joel and Victoria Osteen calling them to greater faithfulness to the Lord.  This is important in that Dr. Brown is a defender of the charismatic movement against the likes of such staunch critics like John MacArthur.  Dr. Brown shows himself willing to publicly rebuke those elements in the charismatic arena that need attention.  Below is the just a few paragraphs of Dr. Brown's letter.  Be sure to read the full letter HERE.


Dear Joel and Victoria, I hope and pray that you will read this letter and that you take to heart the things I'm sharing. I write as a friend wanting to help, not an enemy wanting to hurt, and everything I write, I write out of love for God, love for you, and love for the church and the world.
I have said many times that I'm glad to see your smiling faces on TV as you speak about Jesus rather than some stern-faced, joyless, angry Christian leader. And I believe you genuinely do care about people and want them to find wholeness in the Lord.
Joel, I appreciate the fact that you end every service by asking people to get right with God, having them pray a prayer where they say to Jesus, "I repent of my sins, come into my heart, I make you Lord and Savior."
The big problem is that you haven't told them what their sins are, and you haven't told them what real repentance is. And since you are speaking to people around the world, you can't possibly assume that all of them understand the meaning of sin and redemption and repentance. (Most American Christians don't even understand these things today.)
In short, you have not shared with them the whole counsel of God, and by telling them only part of the story, you have done what the false prophets of ancient Israel did: "You superficially treat the fracture of My people saying to them, 'All is well, all is well,' when nothing is well" (Jer. 6:14, my translation).
A true physician tells his patients what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. As one preacher of old, Jean Daille, once said, "Ministers are not cooks, but physicians and therefore should not study to delight the palate, but to recover the patient."
Have you been more of a junk-food cook than a physician? Have you been afraid to tell people their true condition? Have you been so concerned with making them feel good about themselves and giving them a sense of hope that you failed to diagnose their terminal sin disease?
Paul said to the elders of Ephesus, "I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27).
Do you really believe in your heart of hearts that you have declared the whole counsel of God to your listening audience?
God has given you one of the largest platforms for the gospel in human history. Can you say before Him that you are "innocent of the blood of all"?
Have you ever taught extensively on the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount? Have you ever worked your way through one of the letters of Paul? If not, why not?
Proverbs tells us that, "Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue" (28:23). Do you believe God's Word, or do you feel you have found a better way to do His work?
I appreciate the fact that you hold up your Bible before you preach, as your father did, and you have people make a confession about God's Word, as you also learned to do from your father. But do you really preach that holy Word?
Shortly before Paul was martyred for his faith, he reminded Timothy that, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16).
He also gave him this solemn commission: "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Tim. 4:1-2).
Is this your pattern of preaching and ministry? Do you rebuke in love (Prov. 27:5) as well as exhort and encourage?
Perhaps it's time to ask yourself honestly where you fit in this warning from Paul: "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths" (2 Tim. 4:1-4).
Wouldn't it be utterly heartbreaking if, on the day you stand before God, you discovered that you were one of these teachers? Wouldn't it be tragic if your efforts were found to be wood, hay and stubble on that great and glorious Day (1 Cor. 3:11-15)? And may I ask you candidly if you even talk about that holy day of accounting?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Worldview Formation and Theistic Science

School has started again and I'm teaching a course on apologetics and one on evolution.  Below is what I handed out for today's teaching time for the class on evolution.  I'm attempting to start with some thoughts on the philosophy of science and how theology should be integrated.


Worldview Formation and Theistic Science



[T]he Christian worldview has a wide variety of arguments in its favor.  Suppose someone is convinced that Christianity is true for some of the reasons offered in this and other apologetic works.  That person could be rational in rejecting the general theory of evolution for reasons outside science, even if evolution is rationally justified when science is considered alone (and this is itself questionable).  The rationality of a worldview is a multifaceted affair, involving scientific, historical, and philosophical considerations.  It is difficult to see why science should be singled out for the role of dictator in worldview assessment, since worldviews are broad paradigms which must take into account all the facets of life… Science is an important part of worldview assessment, but it is only one part.[1]


In its broadest sense, theistic science is rooted in the idea that Christians ought to consult all they know or have reason to believe in forming and testing hypotheses, in explaining things in science, and in evaluating the plausibility of various scientific hypotheses, and among the things they should consult are propositions of theology.[2]




Relationship between Doctrines





The above diagram is attempting to show something of the relationship between various doctrines associated with creation, humanity, and the age of the earth. 

The doctrine of creation—the fact that God has created without yet specifying an answer to the “how” question—is of crucial importance.  To affirm creation is to deny all forms of naturalism; it is to recognize that God is the Creator. 

The doctrine of the historicity of Adam and Eve is of importance due to its connections with so many other doctrines in the Scriptures (i.e., sin, the goodness of God, inerrancy, unity of the human race, etc.). 

The age of the earth is farther out on the diagram.  It does not hold as central a place in the doctrinal hierarchy.  One could change one’s view on this topic and it would require some recalibration of other beliefs to bring consistency but the re-working of the overall doctrinal system would not be as extensive as changing one’s view on Adam and Eve or on the notion of God as Creator.

Also, as one moves out from the center of the diagram the fullest and clearest biblical material is in the center with less as one moves to the outer edge.  In other words, there is more biblical data on God as Creator than on the age of the earth.



     [1] J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1987), 204.
     [2] J. P. Moreland, “Theistic Science and Methodological Naturalism” in The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer edited by J. P. Moreland (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 1994), 41.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Denying Inerrancy and World Evangelization

The importance of the doctrine of inerrancy can be seen not only in its positive presentation by defenders but also by what its denial entails.  What is the fruit of denying inerrancy?  Will there be greater devotion to Jesus Christ and the apostolic witness that testifies to him?  Will such a denial produce a greater sense of holiness and zeal?  What about the cause of world missions--will the denial of inerrancy fuel the church to bring the gospel to all nations?  John Stott has written:
It is, moreover, an observable fact of history, both past and contemporary, that the degree of the church's commitment to world evangelization is commensurate with the degree of its conviction about the authority of the Bible.  Whenever Christians lose their confidence in the Bible, they also lose their zeal for evangelism.  Conversely, whenever they are convinced about the Bible, then they are determined about evangelism. [1]
Now to be technically precise, Stott doesn't mention "inerrancy" but the broader category of the "authority" of the Bible.  Nevertheless, the issue is still germane.  Does a denial of inerrancy and, perhaps more importantly, the impulse and attitude behind such a denial lead to greater fruitfulness in world evangelism?  By their fruits you shall know them.



[1] John R. W. Stott, "The Bible in World Evangelization" in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthrone (Pasadena, CA.: William Carey Library, 1981), 3.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Hostility of the United States Armed Forces Toward Religion

The United States Navy has recently removed all Bibles from its guest hotel rooms in response to a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  One may be tempted to think that having Bibles in a hotel rooms is merely symbolic.  This case, however, is one more example of a growing hostility of the armed forces against religious belief.  A recent study published in the "Professional Military Ethics Monograph Series" highlights this antagonism toward religious belief.  In April 2014 Don M. Snider and Alexander P. Shine published A Soldier's Morality, Religion, and Our Professional Ethic: Does the Army's Culture Facilitate Integration, Character Development, and Trust in the Profession? (see HERE).  A few relevant quotations from this study:
[W]e believe that over the past 2 decades, coincident with the growing secularization of American society, the culture of our Armed Services has become more hostile to many things religious, including religious expression by individuals in uniform and the application of any sort of religious basis for decisionmaking.  This has created, in perception or reality, a culture hostile to, and perhaps even intimidating for, serving soldiers of religious faith. (p. 10)
This antagonism toward religion will have adverse affects on those with religious convictions.  Snider and Shine argue:
Further, we believe that a culture increasingly hostile toward religious expression will eventually cause some number of good Soldiers of all ranks to leave the Army. (p. 29) 
They go on to add:
Religious ethics, then, are a strong reinforcer of military ethics.  In our view, it will be self-defeating for the Army to cause men and women imbued with this reinforcing ethical framework to leave the Army because it allowed a culture hostile or intimidating to their beliefs, conscience, and expression of those beliefs. (p. 30) 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sophie Scholl on Being Prepared to Meet God


Mark chapter 13 is primarily referencing the coming destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70.  It’s theme of being watchful (vv. 5, 9, 23, 33, 35, 37) has application for Christ’s second coming as well for our own personal endings in death.  I thought of the words of Sophie Scholl who lived in the midst of the nightmare that was Nazi Germany.  In her diary entry for August 9, 1942 she wrote:
           
Many people believe that our age is the last.  All the omens are terrible enough to make one think so, but isn’t that belief of secondary importance?  Mustn’t we all, no matter what age we live in, be permanently prepared for God to call us to account from one moment to the next?  How am I to know if I shall still be alive tomorrow?  We could all be wiped out overnight by a bomb, and my guilt would be no less than if I perished in company with the earth and the stars.  –I know all that, but don’t I heedlessly fritter away my life just the same? O God, I beseech you to take away my frivolity and self-will, which clings to the sweet, ephemeral things of life.  I can’t do it myself, I’m far too weak.[1]



     [1] Inge Jens (ed.), At the Heart of the White Rose: Letters and Diaries of Hans and Sophie Scholl (New York: Harper Row, 1987), 210.