Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Studies in Acts (2): Miracles

By anyone's understanding the book of Acts miracles play an important role in the forward movement of the Christian message from Jerusalem to Rome.  I want to look at a number of the miracles narrated in the book of Acts in order to pay attention to how they function and what they result in as they are performed.  I will then draw some conclusions from this data.

1.  Healing of the lame beggar: Acts 3.1-8

Some of the effects flowing from this miracle:
A.  The people who witnessed the man, now walking and leaping and praising God,  "were filled with wonder and amazement at  what had happened" (Acts 3.10).
B.  This miracle draws a crowd to Peter and they are "full of amazement" (Acts 3.11).
C.  This leads to the opportunity for Peter to share the message of the gospel.  As a result of this message proclaimed, Acts 4.4 states:
But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. 
D.  The scribes, rulers, and priests acknowledge the miracle (Acts 4.16) but rather than rejoice they, in opposition to them and their message, seek to silence the disciples (Acts 4.17). 
E.  The people "were all glorifying God for what had happened" (Acts 4.21).
F.  The disciples ask the Lord for more healing to happen in the name of Jesus (Acts 4.29-30).
2.  Judgment of death upon Ananias and Sapphira: Acts 5.1-10

Some of the effects flowing from this miracle:
A.  And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.  Acts 5.11
B.  But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in hight esteem.  Acts 5.13
3.  Signs performed by Philip in Samaria: Acts 8.6ff

Some of the effects flowing from this miracle:
A.  The crowds with one accord were giving attention to what was said by Philip, as they heard and saw the signs which he was performing.  Acts 8.6  (cf. this with verses 9-11 where the people had previously been "astonished" by the magic of Simon)
B.  There was "much rejoicing in that city" Acts 8.8.
C.  But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.  Acts 8.12
D.  There is a misplaced focus on the part of Simon.  He is amazed at the "signs and great miracles" (v. 13) and he seeks to offer them money to receive this power (vv. 18-19).
4.  Healing of Aeneas from his eight year paralysis: Acts 9.33-34

This produces the following effect:
And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.  Acts 9.35
5.  Raising of Dorcas from the dead: Acts 9.39-40

This produces the following effect:
It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.  Acts 9.42 
6.  Blindness of Elymas the magician by the hand of Paul: Acts 13.6-11

This produces the following effect:
Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord.  Acts 13.12
7.  Healing of a lame man at Lystra: Acts 14.8-10

Some of the effects flowing from this miracle:
A.  The people "raised their voice" (Acts 14.11).  There is a general excitement about the miracle.
B.  The people interpret this miracle from within their confines of their worldview.  They see Paul and Barnabas as the gods Zeus and Hermes and attempt to sacrifice to them (Acts 14.11-13).
C.  When Paul challenges their religious fervor (Acts 14.14-18) the people are stopped from their plans to sacrifice.
D.  Jews come from Antioch and stir up the people.  The crowds stone Paul and drag him out of the city (Acts 14.19).
8.  Exorcism of slave girl in Philippi: Acts 16.16-18

Some of the effects flowing from this miracle: Acts 16.19-24
A.  Persecution
B.  Legal trouble
C.  Jail time
9.  "Extraordinary miracles" by Paul and the failure of certain Jewish  exorcists in Ephesus: Acts 19.11-16

Some of the effects flowing from this set of miracles:
A.  Event becomes "known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus" (Acts 19.17).
B.  "Fear fell upon them all"  (Acts 19.17).
C.  "The name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified" (Acts 19.17).
D.  Confession and repentance of magic practices by believers (Acts 19.18-19).
E.  "So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing" (Acts 19.20).
10.  Healing of Publius' father from fever and dysentery by Paul: Acts 28.8

Some of the effects flowing from this miracle:
A.  The rest of the people "on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured" (Acts 28.9).
B.  They honored Paul "with many marks of respect" (Acts 28.10) and helped Paul on his ways with supplies.   

Some conclusions from the above:

1.  Miracles, in and of themselves, do not save.
This is evident from a number of the instances above.  Jewish religious leaders (1.D. above), Simon (3.D), and certain Gentiles (7.B., 8.A) all encounter the miraculous but are left unsaved. 
2.  Miracles, in and of themselves, are not self-identifying.
This is most clearly seen in Paul and Barnabas' encounter in Lystra.  The people see an amazing miracle but they interpret it from within the confines of their religious worldview. It is precisely that worldview with its false gods that needs to be challenged in order for there to be proper repentance and, thus, salvation.  Miracles need a conceptual framework in order to be interpreted rightly.
3.  Miracles serve the gospel proclamation.
Two closely related points are important here.
A.  The primacy is on the proclaimed message for salvation.  This is most clearly seen in 1.C. and 3.C. but it also implied in 4., 5., 6, and 9.D. and E.
B.  Miracles do create opportunities to preach the word and an environment in which the proclaimed word is more readily assented unto.  This is evident from 1.B., 3.A., 4., 5., 6., and, perhaps implicitly, 9.A., B., and C. 
John Piper has accurately analyzed this dynamic of the relationship between the self-attesting power of the gospel and the power and place of the miraculous.  
My own answer to the question how the power of the word and the authenticating function of signs and wonders fit together is this. The Bible teaches that the gospel preached is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:161 Cor. 1:23). It also teaches that the demand for signs in the presence of God's word is the mark of an evil and adulterous generation (Matt. 16:41 Cor. 1:22). But the Bible also says that Paul and Barnabas "remained a long time [in Iconium] speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands" (Acts 14:3; cf. Heb. 2:4Mark 16:20). So signs and wonders were God's attesting witness to the spoken word of the gospel.
Could we not then say, in putting all this together, that signs and wonders function in relation to the word of God, as striking, wakening, channels for the self-authenticating glory of Christ in the gospel? Signs and wonders do not save. They do not transform the heart. Only the glory of Christ seen in the gospel has the power to do that (2 Cor. 3:18-4:6). But evidently, God chooses at times to use signs and wonders along side his regenerating word to win a hearing and to shatter the shell of disinterest and cynicism and false religion, and help the fallen heart fix its gaze on the gospel.  "A Passion for Christ-Exalting Power: Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Need for Revival and Baptism with the Holy Spirit" Jan. 30, 1991 available HERE.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Studies in Acts (1): "Power" in Luke and Acts

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon
you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem,
and in all Judea and Samaria and even
to the remotest parts of the earth.
Acts 1.8

Acts 1.8 is a familiar verse.  I want to look at the nature and meaning of the concept of "power" mentioned in this verse.  I want to make the case that the word "power" in this verse has connotations of the miraculous.  The word, by itself, does not necessarily imply miracle working power but the context in which this word is used shows a link with miraculous power--especially focused on healing and exorcisms.  The best way to come to an understanding of this word in this context is to see how this word is used throughout the book(s) of Luke and Acts.
And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through all the surrounding district.  Luke 4.14
Why did news spread about Jesus?  It seems reasonable to link this to Jesus' performance of healings and exorcicms.  This can be seen by the next passage.
And amazement came upon them all, and they began talking with one another saying, "What is this message? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out."  And the report about him was spreading into every locality in the surrounding district.  Luke 4.36-37 
"Power" is linked with an exorcism (Luke 4.33-37) and it is this report that helped cause the spread of Jesus' fame throughout the surrounding district.
One day he was teaching and there were some Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was present for him to perform healing.  Luke 5.17
"Power" is linked here with healing.
And all the people were trying to touch him, for power was coming from him and healing them all.  Luke 6.19 
Again, "power" is connected with healing.
But Jesus said, "Someone did touch me, for I was aware that power had gone out of me." Luke 8.46
This is in reference to the woman with  a hemorrhage for twelve years "and could not be healed by anyone" (Luke 8.43) who was healed when she touched Jesus.
And he called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases.  And he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing."  Luke 9.1-2
"Power" is here linked with the ability to heal and cast out demons.
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.  Luke 10.19
Here "power" refers to the enemy's power.  This might be a reference to the enemy's (Satan) causing of sickness.  Luke 13.11 refers to a "sickness caused by a spirit" and Luke 13.16 speaks of how "Satan has bound" a woman who was afflicted with a bent spine.  There is also Acts 10.38 in which Peter speaks of Jesus as "healing all who were oppressed by the devil."
"You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending forth the promise of my Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."  Luke 24.48-49
This is the ending of Luke and provides a number of linguistic connections to the beginning of Acts.  The language of "witnesses" and "power" are used in Acts 1.8.  The language of "promise" is used in Acts 2.33 in reference to the Holy Spirit being poured out on the church.

This leads us up to Acts 1.8.  Now it is important to watch how the book of Acts continues to use the language of "power."  The Greek word used for "power" in Acts 1.8 is dunamis.  This word is used ten times in Acts and is translated by either "power" or "miracles" in the New American Standard Version.     Here are the other nine instances of this word:
"Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know..."  Acts 2.22
This is an obvious reference to the miracle working power of Jesus as Peter is speaking of his pre-cross ministry.
But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, "Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why are you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?"  Acts 3.12
This is in reference to the healing of a lame man.
When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, "By what power, or in what name, have you done this?"  Acts 4.7
This is in continuing reference to the healing of the lame man in chapter three.
And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.  Acts 4.33
This use of "power" is not explicitly tied to healing in the immediate context but it makes sense in light of the larger context of chapter four of the healing that happened earlier (see above Acts 4.7).
And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people.  Acts 6.8
"Power" is linked with "great wonders and signs"--miraculous power.
Now there was a man named Simon, who formerly was practicing magic in the city and astonishing the people of Samaria, claiming to be someone great; and they all, from smallest to greatest, were giving attention to him saying, "This man is what is called the Great Power of God."  Acts 8.9-11
Even Simon himself believed; and after being baptized, he continued on with Philip, and as he observed signs and great miracles taking place, he was constantly amazed.  Acts 8.13
Here in this context the Greek word dunamis is used twice and translated as "power" and "miracles" respectively.  The context is a miracle working context.
"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  Acts 10.38
"Power" is associated with Jesus' ministry of healing those "who were oppressed by the devil."
God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.  Acts 19.11-12
Here the word dunamis (translated as "miracles") is obviously associated with healing and exorcisms.

Dr. Wayne Grudem draws some conclusions from this data.  He writes:
Therefore, when Jesus promised the disciples in Acts 1:8 that they would receive "power" when the Holy Spirit came upon them, it seems that they would have understood it to mean at least the power of the Holy Spirit to work miracles that would attest to the truthfulness of the gospel.  Because the context of the sentence talks about being witnesses for Jesus, they may have understood Him to mean they would also receive the power of the Holy Spirit to work through their preaching and bring conviction of sins and awaken faith in people's hearts.
The point is, we cannot separate these uses and say the only kind of power the New Testament talks about is power to preach the gospel, or to bring regeneration.  The New Testament often uses "power" in referring to power to work miracles in connection with the preaching of the gospel or in the ongoing life of the church.  "Should Christians Expect Miracles Today? Objections and Answers from the Bible" in The Kingdom and the Power edited by Gary S. Greig and Kevin N. Springer (Regal, 1993), p. 70. 

"The Gospel" Must Be More Than a Slogan

We can be thankful for the re-emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ within the ranks of segments of the evangelical church.  The Gospel Coalition has been a powerful influence for good in this re-capturing of the gospel.  Along the way, though, there has been a tendency on the part of some (both in leadership and some of the followers) to project truncated versions of the gospel message.  It's instructive and heartening that one of the council members of The Gospel Coalition, Thabiti Anyabwile, has written a provocatively entitled piece "I'm Tired of Hearing 'The Gospel'."

Here a few selections from Anyabwile:
It doesn’t matter what the topic is.  Men and women struggling to get along in their marriages?  ”The gospel.”  Someone struggling to find work in this economy?  ”Believe ‘the gospel’.”  The mechanic just “fixed” your car–again–and charged you–again–for the same problem you noticed last week?  Think of “the gospel.”  The Russian high court sentencing a punk rock band to two years in prison for a flash mob performance in a Russian Orthodox cathedral?  ”They need the gospel.”  Want rock hard abs?  Try “gospel” aerobics.  I smashed my little toe against the dresser?  All together now, “the gospel.”
It’s ubiquitous.  And it’s becoming an inflexible law.  We dare not face any issue without the requisite hat tip to “the gospel.”  If we do, there’s bound to be someone to write us a ticket for our verbal violation, to insist we missed a “gospel” opportunity.  Are Christians unable to have an intelligent conversation about some issue or confront some problem in life without using the phrase “the gospel” or pointing people to “the gospel”?  Or, is it that our own grasp on Jesus’ life and ministry are so slippery that we’ve not yet learned to naturally turn any conversation to a legitimate discussion of the Lord’s redemptive work on our behalf?
Anyabwile is quick to point out that he loves the gospel as properly understood.
Of course, I’m not tired of hearing the actual gospel.  Let us all determine to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  But let us also learn that the apostle taught a lot of things about Jesus Christ, His crucifixion and resurrection without lackadaisically tossing out a few cliched references to “the gospel”.  He meditated on and expanded the message of God’s redemption through His Son in many varied arguments, tropes, and statements.  But that’s not what’s trotted out in today’s situations of human need.  We’re not getting deep reflections on the Person of Christ–His offices, nature, and work.  We’re not given robust explanations of the cosmic renewal of all things in Christ as the grounds of hope and joy no matter the circumstance.  We’re not having very many conversations that explore the dynamics of repentance and faith when we’re tempted to blast our mechanic.  Too many Christians lazily tell us we need “the gospel” the way little kids answer every spiritual question with a reflexive “Jesus.”
As blasphemous as it sounds, “the gospel” is not the answer to every question.  It’s not enough.  What about Jesus do I need to know that I’m unaware of when the medical report comes back?  I’m sure there’s something I’m likely to miss, but “the gospel” doesn’t communicate it.  What about joblessness is addressed by Jesus when I’ve sent out the 132nd resume with no response?  What specific promises should I hold onto in order to persevere through life without income in a monied economy?  Help me by telling me the actual message.  Bury my nose in the text of Scripture if you can.  My husband of 50 years just died?  Can you not tell me at length something about the resurrection–Jesus’ and ours–and the adoption the entire creation awaits to be fulfilled?  Can you not reduce the entire scope and swoop of Christ’s redemptive work to the mere facts of the gospel, but along with those facts sketch and paint something of the goodness of this news?  I know I need Jesus.  I know the news is good.  I need reminders specifically enumerating the reasons why.  That’s what plants, roots, and grows enduring faith.  That’s how we actually get to know Jesus more personally–by finding out what He’s like in the crucible of life.
I wonder if the cliff notes references to “the gospel” doesn’t blunt our understanding, meditation, application, and enjoyment of the incredible realities accomplished for us through the Son of God.  Are we inoculating people against the actual gospel with our frequent but unexplained references to “the gospel”?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Orthodox Inclusivity in the Early Church

New Testament specialist Larry Hurtado has an interesting piece entitled Early Christian Movements: "Successful" and "Unsuccessful" in which he briefly discusses the variant streams of early Christianity including the streams of "gnosticism."  The post is good but what captured my attention was a comment made by Dr. Hurtado in the comments section.  He was asked:
(1) How great a role, in orthodoxy’s success, was its claim to apostolic authority?
(2) Does orthodoxy’s claim have validity, denied to competitors?
Dr. Hurtado's answer:
 Lots of people and and groups in early Christianity claimed apostolic authority. E.g., many/most of the texts of “heretical” views claim apostolic figures (e.g., Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Philip, etc.). One difference between the emergent “proto-orthodox” folk and their rivals was that they seem to have gone more for a collective apostolic claim. E.g., the interesting text, “The Epistle of the Apostles” (Epistula Apostolorum) purports to relate how the entire 12 were commissioned by Jesus, and it’s widely recognized that this text was likely written to counter the claims of other Christians about the special authority of this or that individual apostle. LIkewise, the collection that became the NT reflects a clear effort toward an inclusiveness of a certain diversity of apostles and emphases. In its earliest expressions, “proto-orthodox” Christianity = not a single point of view or group but a constellation that was united in their readiness to recognize a certain critical diversity. After all, the early Christian sense of the Greek word for “heresy” (“hairesis”) was a “sect” or “party”.
I found this to be a fascinating perspective.  The usual, popular-level understanding is that the forces of orthodoxy in the early church were somehow tyrannical in imposing a narrow vision and version of belief.  This perspective comes to goofy expression in Dan Brown's The Da Vince Code.  Hurtado's brief comment puts this view on the defensive.  The NT canonical process did exclude books but it also "reflects a clear effort toward an inclusiveness of a certain diversity of apostles and emphases."  This explains the diversity within the NT canon (why we have four gospels, why both Paul and James are kept together, etc.).  Who knew orthodoxy could be so tolerant of "inclusivity" and "diversity!"

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Christian Foundations of the Social Order

Brain Mattson has a great essay over at First Things entitled "Why Conservatism Needs the Religious Right."  Here are few quotations to whet the appetite:
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat likewise observes that secularism hasn’t given up on religious ideology at all. It relies on metaphysical notions bequeathed by earlier generations. “The more purely secular liberalism has become,” he concludes, “the more it has spent down its Christian inheritance.” Elsewhere, he elaborates:

I don’t think that many humanists actually do have strong reasons for their hopes regarding human dignity and human rights. I think that they have prejudices and assumptions and biases, handed down as an inheritance from two millennia of Christian culture, which retain a certain amount of force even though given purely materialistic premises about mankind and the universe they don’t actually make much sense at all.

Italian philosopher and statesman Marcello Pera argues similarly in his book, Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians: The Religious Roots of Free Societies. Classical liberalism, he concludes, is ideologically underwritten by Christian ideas about human dignity and purpose. The purportedly secular public square has succeeded for so long because it has a presupposed ideological consensus about those ideas, even if we have naively papered over their Christian origins. Religion—deeply held, pre-critical normative convictions—is not optional. It is inescapable.
For those familiar with the thought of Cornelius Van Til, Mattson's essay will be familiar territory.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dishonorable Disclosures--New Video

A new video by former U. S. intelligence and special forces personnel is gaining momentum.  It has an important message whatever one's political allegiances.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Chick-fil-a: News and Notes

The Chick-fil-a appreciation day continues to create noise and news.  Below are a few selections from around the web.

Brian Mattson had a great post prior to the CFA day.  Be sure to watch the video he has at the beginning of this post.

One would think, given the outrage, that somehow Chick-fil-A was banning homosexuals from entering their premises or even working behind the counter. Nope. Not even close.​ The simple fact that they give money to pro-family organizations means that they have been declared enemies of the body politic. Supporting marriage and family, according to progressive activists, is beyond the pale.
The mayor of Boston vowed that if Chick-fil-A attempts to open a restaurant in Boston, the necessary permits will be denied: "If they need licenses in the city, it will be very difficult — unless they open up their policies." What policies would those be? Are they discriminating against somebody? Of course not. "Policies" means "unless they agree with me on a controversial public policy." I hardly need to explain how frighteningly anti-American that sentiment is. It is one thing for a person or group of people to choose not to go to Chick-fil-A, as they are free to do. It is another thing altogether for the government to actively seek to damage Chick-fil-A.
Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel opined that "Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago values." Really? He knows that each and every person in Chicago supports same-sex "marriage"? On the contrary, Chicago has a very large black population, a demographic whose majority consistently opposes same-sex "marriage."​ A pretty arrogant and ignorant attitude. I know, shocking coming from Rahm Emmanuel.
So here we have it. A hugely successful company renowned for its philanthropy, a company that has done nothing but positive social good in the course of employing of tens of thousands of people, is thuggishly castigated, threatened, and boycotted for not bowing to elite orthodoxy.  ​
Trevin Wax on his Gospel Coalition blog states that the boycott of Chick-fil-a by various political officials is really all about Jesus.
 What we are seeing today is a massive cultural shift that permits leaders to label Christians as intolerant and bigoted simply for expressing their views about how society should function. But strangely enough, the same social ostracism and cultural condescension are not extended to Muslims and faithful adherents to other religions. No, the prejudice appears to be directed toward Christians who dare to speak publicly about their deeply held religious convictions.
That’s why, at the end of the day, this conversation isn’t really about marriage, gay rights, or restaurant permits. It’s not about the cultural divide between north and south, liberal and conservative.
It’s about Jesus. It’s about the radical sexual ethic He put forth in His teaching – a moral zealousness that hits our current culture’s sexual permissiveness head-on. And it’s about His forgiveness offered to all sexual sinners, so long as we agree with Jesus about our sin and embrace Him instead.
As weary as we may be of the culture wars, the Chick-fil-A controversy is a harbinger of further ostracism to come. In the United States, the words of Jesus are coming to pass for those who hold tightly to His vision of sexuality: You will be hated because of Me. 
So how should we respond? We’ve got to go beyond boycotts and political statements and feigned offense at perceived persecution. We’re called to love those who ostracize us, not boycott back. So let’s trumpet the message that Jesus is for all kinds of sinners, from the self-righteous deacon to the promiscuous transsexual, no matter what kind of vitriol comes our way.
The world tells homosexuals, “It gets better.” The church tells homosexuals, “Jesus is better.”
And that is why this boycott is really about Him.

Barnabas Piper thinks the whole CFA appreciation day is a "bold mistake."
Homosexuality is one of the most defining, contentious, and complex issues facing this generation of the church. We cannot sacrifice our biblical convictions but neither can we sacrifice the church’s ability to serve people of opposing viewpoints and lifestyles. The 452,000 people supporting Chick-fil-A are delivering more than one message, and the message the homosexual community and its supporters see is “us versus you.” The event also sends a message of separatism and territorialism in the “reclaiming” of those restaurants that are being boycotted, a collective action easily seen as a shaking of the fist or a wagging of the finger.
Convictions, especially biblical ones, will divide people. That is inevitable, but not desirable. The separation of believers and unbelievers, when it happens, must be a last resort or an unavoidable result. Actions to the contrary, those that clearly promote an “us versus them” mentality, are most often unhelpful. There is a time for Christians to engage in boycotting, such as when a business deals in obviously immoral areas or is clearly unethical in its methods. But for a mass of Christians to descend upon Chick-fil-A restaurants across the country tomorrow to support the leadership’s view on this issue is, I believe, a bold mistake.
Michael Kruger responds to Barnabas Piper's "bold mistake" claim:
However, I confess I find this whole line of argumentation problematic on many levels.  Let me mention a few:
1. Such reasoning would require us to avoid all public displays of support for contentious moral issues.  Couldn’t we make the same argument about abortion?  Should we stop all pro-life rallies (or public events) because it might make pro-choice people think its “us vs. you”?
2. I suppose that some people might see support for Chick-fil-A as “shaking the fist” or “wagging the finger.”  But, I am not sure that is a reason not to show it.  Any public display of support for biblical marriage would be construed as “shaking the fist” or “wagging the finger.” The media is quick to portray any public event where biblical issues are defended as bigoted, hateful, and intolerant—even if they are done with respect, sensitivity, and courtesy.  In fact, I would argue that Piper’s reticence about the Chick-fil-A event is good evidence that such tactics are quite effective.  We are all afraid of how we might look.  But, I do not see how such a fear is a solid basis for suggesting that a display of public support for a biblical position is a “bold mistake.”  Indeed, one might argue the contrary, namely that it would be a “bold mistake” to stop public events on the basis of such fears.
3. Piper argues that a public show of support for Chick-fil-A would create a “separation of believers and unbelievers” which “must be a last resort.”  But, I confess I don’t understand what he means be “separation” of believers and unbelievers.  Sure, making public declarations about truth certainly can cause division between us and those who disagree. But that is inevitable when you proclaim the truth.  The only alternative is that we don’t ever make public declarations!  Since Piper surely doesn’t mean this, I can only surmise that his main advice is essentially “don’t go around picking fights.”   Fair enough, but I don’t think eating at Chick-fil-A can be construed as picking a fight.  Rather it is standing up for biblical truth and against some of the most blatant anti-Christian aggression from government officials that we have seen in quite a while.
Rachel Held Evans practically ditched the faith due to the CFA appreciation day!

Images of lines snaking out of fast food restaurants, taunts and jeers on Facebook, tearful conversations with gay friends, failed attempts to understand and explain both sides
Is this what following Jesus is supposed to be about? Eating a chicken sandwich to prove a point? 
Is this what mobilizes the people of God? 
Suddenly, my religion is alien to me—small, petty, reactive.  My faith has lost its bearings. I don’t feel like praying anymore, not even for the mom who begged me to pray for her gay son who vowed yesterday never to return to church again. 
Can I blame him?  Perhaps it is better if he stays away.
I am hanging by the tips of sweaty fingers on this ledge of faith, wondering if letting go will bring freedom or death. I’ve hung on before—through the science wars, the gender wars, the Christmas wars, the culture wars—but I’m just so tired of fighting, so tired of feeling out of place. 
This was a bit overmuch as even one of her supporters pointed out in the comments section:

Crap. I like you Rachel, but this is overly dramatic BS, and I think you're better than that.  

Do you seriously believe your faith is so dependent on the Denny Burks and Mike Huckabees of the world that when they go eat chicken to support some guy's right to say what he thinks about gay marriage, your faith might dissolve?  That you might renounce your faith altogether because a bunch of folk disagree with you and act out? I don't believe it. 
I'm pretty sure you believe Jesus is the messiah of Israel, the savior of the world, the Lord of heaven and earth, the one who says that 'if you love me you will obey my commands' yet you write like He has no purchase in your life, like he is not worthy of worship. Like a bunch of brothers and sisters with whom you disagree can determine whether Jesus is real for you or not. Are you really "hanging by the tips of sweaty fingers on the ledge of faith"? I don't believe it.
Jesus is real, he's alive, he is not dependent on our notions of fairness, our ideas about what the church should look like. Gay people need to know that their master is Jesus, not a group of brothers and sisters who read Scripture differently from them. When did Jesus become so weak, so uninteresting, so non-compelling that faith in him depends on how Doug Wilson or Denny Burk behaves?
Brian Mattson also responds to Rachel Held Evans with these words:

Christians have been fed to lions, crucified, had their loved ones arrested, tortured and killed, their property torched to ashes (as they were yesterday in Cairo), yet a little unpopularity causes Rachel to "hang by the tips of sweaty fingers on the ledge of faith." Seriously?

And later he writes:

Our therapeutic, feel-good, tolerant, relativistic culture tempts us to think that what non-Christians really want and need is Christianized versions of Elliot Richards, most "emotionally sensitive man in the world." Christians so focused and intent on not "offending." Christians who think there is no disagreement that cannot be massaged away by attending to others' feelings. Christians who take the soft, "middle ground" on any and every disagreement. Christians who think that everything is a negotiable "conversation" and that real conflict and confrontation doesn't exist. Christians like Rachel Held Evans (Really: read this piece.) I believe the long-term result is a loss of respect. Squishy, emotionally sensitive, chameleon Christianity that prizes feelings to the neglect of Truth engenders contempt, not respect.
You can let down your guard, give in, and go to bed with the world. It won't respect you in the morning.
The number one, go-to weapon of anti-Christian, Christophobic activists is make Christians feel alone, isolated, aberrant, backward, "on the wrong side of history," outnumbered, outgunned, hopeless, and helpless. They boldly pretend that pro-traditional marriage forces are the distinct minority. They blithely ignore the fact that every time marriage laws are put to a vote, same-sex "marriage" advocates lose. Big time. Such activists absolutely love it when Christians cower into embarrassed self-loathing. They do not "respect" such opponents: they mock them.
This is why a Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day is a bigger thing than it might seem. It is a visible reminder that Christians are not alone, isolated, aberrant, backward, "on the wrong side of history," outnumbered, outgunned, hopeless, and helpless. I am encouraged by a massive number of Christians and like-minded well-wishers who oppose government "thought police" standing up instead of cowering. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Jeffrey Ventrella: "Living in Sin...Well."

Recently our church concluded our summer series entitled "Christianity and Contemporary Challenges."  We had four lectures:
1.  James White "Islam: What Every Christian Needs to Know"
2.  Richard Klaus "The Historical Adam: Biblical Reality and Current Challenges"
3.  Wayne Grudem "Why and How Christians Should Seek to Influence Government for Good"
4.  Jeffrey Ventrella "Living in Sin...Well: Faithful Living in Babylon" 
I wanted to draw particular attention to Dr. Ventrella's presentation.  (Audio and lecture notes are HERE)  He is a phenomenal speaker and I found him challenging, insightful, convicting and faith building.  Dr. Ventrella, as a Senior Vice President with Alliance Defending Freedom, is uniquely situated to speak to the cultural issues of our day and how Christians should respond.  Dr. Ventrella spoke from Jeremiah and applied the insights of this prophetic book to our time.  In this he reminded me of Francis Schaeffer who did something similar in his 1968 lectures which became the book Death in the City.  We live in a time of cultural decline but this is not the first time that God's people have faced this kind of crisis.  Drawing from Jeremiah 29 Dr. Ventrella shows how God's people are to respond in this kind of cultural captivity.

One of the points that I found helpful came out in the question/answer period.  I mentioned that I had recently read the essay What Is Marriage? by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.  This is an attempt to provide a non-religious argument for traditional marriage.  It is an example of natural law reasoning.  My question revolved around the propriety of this kind of argumentation.  In his response, Dr. Ventrella mentioned the example of Daniel refusing to defile himself with the king's food (Daniel chapter one).  The argument Daniel makes is a prudential argument:
Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink.  Then let our appearance be observed in your presence and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king's choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.  Daniel 1.12-13
This is a not a "we must obey God; not man" argument.  Rather, it is an appeal to pragmatic issues.  There are times when these types of arguments can be used and used effectively.  This is not deny that explicit Scriptural arguments ought to be used.  And at times we should speak of our fundamental religious commitments as constraining our obedience--this happens in Daniel chapter three when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego simply refuse to bow before the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar.  Here there is no prudential reasoning.  There is just flat out obedience to God and disobedience to the king's decree.  Of course, wisdom is needed in understanding the contexts in which the various kinds of reasoning can and should be used.

For more from Jeffery Ventrella be sure to see "Square Circles?!! Restoring Rationality to the Same-Sex 'Marriage' Debate".

Also, I began watching a debate Dr. Ventrella had with professor Mary Anne Case on the issue of same-sex marriage.  That video can be accessed HERE.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chick-Fil-A Day!

My family and I spent about two hours waiting for chicken sandwiches today at Chick-Fil-A--and it was worth it!  This, of course, was the day set to show support to Chick-Fil-A for their president's (Dan Cathy) remarks about marriage.  Some news organizations and blogs are speaking of this as a "protest."  It wasn't a protest.  I saw no signs.  I heard no angry speeches.  There were just hundreds of people lined up outside in the hot Phoenix sun waiting patiently to order food.  It was a largely symbolic gesture but nonetheless an important gesture.  This will not turn the "cultural war" but it was a public act by large segments of the community.  It spoke a number of messages.  It spoke about the public's stance on marriage--Dan Cathy's position of one man, one woman faithfully committed together is a view point shared by a large number of people.  It spoke about the freedom of religious expression.  There were those elected officials who sought to threaten Chick-Fil-A with economic sanctions because Dan Cathy expressed his thoughts on a social issue in the public square of ideas.  The appreciation expressed today was a reminder that the traditional view of marriage is not marginal and will not be marginalized.

Here are a few pictures of our time at a Northwest Phoenix Chick-Fil-A: