Archive | March, 2009

On Government and Politics, Part 2

23 Mar

Read part 1 of this blog post here.


What is Government Supposed to Do?

It’s been generally established that a great majority of the American public who are eligible to vote fail to exercise that right. As such, these represent well over a 100 million Americans who are apparently content being governed by whoever others (voters) choose.

Those who do exercise their right, privilege, and duty to vote go into the booth and make their choice as to who they want to govern them (and everybody else). Now, it seems to me that if we are choosing who will run the government and who will “govern,” it would be a good idea to think about what government is and what it is supposed to do. After all, how well can we do a good job choosing GOVERNORS if we don’t understand GOVERNMENT? That’s sort of like picking the best NFL football team based on how their helmet looks.

Of course, that consideration doesn’t seem to enter into some people’s thinking. Most Americans know precious little about nearly every aspect of government. Even a simple straw poll of the Man on the Street consistently shows that the average American (though maybe not ‘you’) doesn’t know even the basics about government– things like, “What are the three branches of government? Who serves as the Secretary of State? Who is the Majority Leader of the Senate? What is a Filibuster?” and so on.

But despite the fact that many do not really understand the role of government, all that is required to choose the most powerful person in the world [POTUS] the President of the United States, is being an American citizen who has done nothing more than simply “been alive” for 18 years– and noting else.

But, for argument’s sake, if a person wanted to learn more about government, what would he or she need to know?

Theories About The Role of Government

The study of the role of government is the business of political science or political philosophy. There are different approaches to governing, but one of the major areas that separates the two major political parties in the United States (Democrat and Republican) is the issue of “Negative” and “Positive” rights. Let me try to explain.


Civil and Social Rights

Civil Rights are sometimes thought of as “negative rights,” while Social Rights are sometimes thought of as “positive rights.” The two major political parties in the United States largely line up along these two perspectives.

Democrats (Social Rights/Positive Rights)

Generally speaking, people who are ideologically committed Democrats (and not just those who consider themselves Dems because their mother was) favor positive/social rights. Positive Rights means that a person believes they have a “claim” to something– that the government owes them some material goods and services. In other words, positive rights are “entitlements.” People with this view think it is the “government’s responsibility” to provide more than just protection and justice. They believe the Fed has the obligation to completely level the playing field between citizens (and sometimes even illegal aliens) by the compulsory enforcement of government-financed entitlement programs which raid money (through taxes, etc.) from one segment of society in order to re-distribute it to others.

So, in short, in this view– the government has the right to forcibly take resources earned by one person/group and to give them to another person or group– even if that person/group did not earn it. This inevitably leads to “big government” because the Fed must “manage” this money and distribute it to those agencies and organizations. This may include an expansion of basic public health into things like “government-provided universal health care” or “state-owned banks,” etc., etc.

One more thing. In addition to a type of re-distribution of wealth or goods, politicians who believe in the idea of positive rights also works to ensure that the government provides resources to certain projects and organizations of its choosing– or “earmarks.” Here, government leaders work to create larger budgets for the expansion of funding for things related to “special interest” groups such as the National Endowment for the Arts or the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), or Stem-Cell Research, or AIDs Research, or the Anti-Gun Lobby, Planned Parenthood or Abortion on Demand monies, Evolution Research, Needle-Exchange Programs, and so on.

Note: Those who reject the Social Right approach (entitlements/big government/tax and spend/special interests/earmarks) are PRIMARILY CONCERNED that these programs are paid for using taxpayer’s money. Whereas it is one thing for programs such as these to exist, it is fundamentally different when government officials subjectively choose specific organizations and issues and programs to fund, while other organizations with other convictions are ignored and excluded from such funding (for example, right to life organizations, and so on).

Republicans (Civil Rights/Negative Rights)

Whereas “True” Democrats hold Social or Positive Rights which express themselves in above the line entitlements, Republicans generally reject that approach. While Republicans agree that these groups have the right to exist, Republican thinkers do not believe they should be forced to pay for them to exist, nor pay for those positions to be financed with private tax resources.

As such, Republicans who truly understand what the overall Republican perspective on government actually is, support “negative” or “civil” rights for all people, but not special rights. So “ideologically committed” Republicans believe that government should provide negative rights, and that it is the responsibility of government to require people to obstain from the harm of others. In other words, rather than government acting in favor of advancing policies for a great host of “causes,” the idea of negative rights simply argues that government should be objective about what rights people receive, which means EITHER the rejection of special interest groups OR a leveling of the playing field where a free and fair market can exist.

This can be a bit confusing, so let me try to unpack it better. Republicans get their understanding on rights from a strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Recall that the Declaration said all people have the “unalienable right” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These have historically been called “negative” or “civil” rights. What that MEANS is that government exists to ensure that individuals or groups of people do not forcibly intrude on one another. Accordingly, when a company tries to unjustly violate a person’s rights, government steps in. Or when a person violates another’s unalienable rights (such as the Bill of Rights, etc.), and seeks to harm, murder, kidnap, burglarize, cheat, trespass, supress the vote of, or otherwise restrict another person’s rights, the government will act to stop them– even using force, imprisonment, and punishment.

You see here that, in this case, government is not required to give greater ADVANTAGE to people… but merely to stop the disadvantaging of people. And because the U.S. government was historically created this way and the American body politic understood this, government from a Republican perspective was to be “smaller” with fewer agencies and less bureaucracy, and also made to be non-intrusive except when necessary, as well as to be a supporter of free-market, open trade, lower taxes, and fewer entitlement programs. That, of course, doesn’t mean that Republicans are not for necessary things like unemployment programs or minimum wage laws– but true Republicans with an understanding of negative/civil rights would not seek to expand these approaches in some of the ways Democrats would. You would not, for example, find a thoughtful Republican working to provide social security programs to illegal aliens/undocumented residents, nor would you find Republicans working to expand the Death Tax or Capital Gains Tax in order to give that money to able-bodied people who refuse to work to support their family.

There’s a lot more to government theory– and this brief introduction is certainly abbreviated and somewhat simplistic, but it is nonetheless accurate. It is upon these general principles that much of American politics is built. And once you understand these basics, you will also begin to understand some of the “planks” or “key positions” of each major political party, as those ‘planks’ line up pretty neatly along the principles stated above.

Political Parties By Perspective

Finally, I’ve provided a grid of how I think of some of the various political persuasions in the U.S., and how they might look on a continuum, in my opinion.

SOCIAL RIGHTS —–CIVIL RIGHTS

Communist >> Socialist >> Democrat >> Republican >> Libertarian >> Anarchist
Green >> Independent

Conclusion

There’s enough in this post to make just about everyone mad. My purpose in writing it, however, is that it helps us think about what role Government should play in politics and society. Because I am a Christian, I look to scripture about these matters and generally believe that though the Bible does not identify political parties of choice, it does speak about political issues and, in particular, the role of government. Someone seeking to build a Christian worldview and one wanting to construct a biblical perspective on life would want to look to the Bible to identify how it ‘treats’ these subjects. In my view, it seems that the New Testament (which more accurately represents our time than the Old Testament’s theocracy) tends to favor a less-intrusive approach of government and more of a negative rights approach. Everyone must make these judgments for themselves, but that is what helps dictate my opinions on these matters. Every person has a right and a duty to think about these issues for him/herself.

What To Do When We Disagree With Others on Biblical Issues and How To Discern What the Bible Teaches (A Follow Up To A Previous Post)

8 Mar


What Posture Should We Take When We Disagree With Others on Scriptural Teachings?

  • In general (but not completely), my advice is that we give careful consideration to the opinions of those who have studied the Bible more rigorously and/or longer than we.

Note that I said “more rigorously and/or longer” and not simply “who has been a ‘believer’ longer.” Scriptural truth is not had by mere seniority. A person may have been a professing Christian for 40 years and done precious little serious study of scripture. In such a case, I would probably bet on the findings of a 8 year ‘serious student of the Bible’ over such a person.

  • Take a teachable posture toward one another, seeking to understand the other’s perspective and where such a person is coming from. Often, we will find richness in another person’s perspective, even if we come to alternate or opposed positions than they.
  • Realize that (a) the other person may be right; (b) you may be right; (c) neither of you may be right; (d) the matter may not be discernable– in some situations where scripture is silent and a clear biblical position cannot be deduced; or (e) one or both of you may be partially right.
  • One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the “Law of Non-Contradiction” tells us that two opposing positions cannot be simultaneously true at the same time, in the same sense.” That’s another way of saying that it’s NOT AN OPTION for you both to contradict one another and for both positions to be deemed “correct.” For example, infanticide cannot be BOTH right and wrong AT THE SAME TIME. Scripture DOES teach “something,” and what it doesn’t do is to contradict itself.
  • Keep studying and keep evaluating your convictions, assumptions, and beliefs– as your knowledge of the Bible and as your knowledge about how to study and interpret the Bible develops.

How Do We Discern What The Bible Teaches?

When we are trying to discern which biblical view is correct, how do we decide?

1. First, we make sure our view of God’s Word is accurate.

Conservative Evangelical Christians (like me), hold that the Bible is three things: inspired (that it came from God to humanity), infallible (unfailing in the purposes God intended for it to have), and inerrant (without error in any matter it addresses). In addition, conservative Christians’ view of inspiration is typically that the Bible is inspired verbally (that each word is free from error) or is inspired in a plenary way (that the Bible, as a complete book, was given to humanity from God, not only parts of it)… or BOTH, a.k.a. verbal-plenary.


2. Second, we make sure our view of hermeneutics is correct.

Conservative Evangelical Christians (like me), hold that the Bible should be interpreted using a historico-grammatical approach. This isn’t really that confusing. A historico-grammatical hermeneutic simply means that the Bible should be approached and interpreted:
(a) as a historical collection of books that are sacred scripture, and that each book should honor and seek to understand the historical context of the people and place in which it was written. That means we do not seek to simply ask “what does this Bible reading mean TO ME” but we FIRST ASK “What does this Bible teaching MEAN” or “What did this passage mean to the original hearers/readers of this message?” In other words, “How did they take this? How did they, based on their culture, heritage, time in history, history, location, geo-political status, etc. think about what was said?”

(b) as a piece of literature having certain grammatical features. In other words, to properly interpret a passage of scripture, one cannot run rough-shod over the type of literature the book is (prophecy, history, law, poetry, letter, etc.) since each of those literature types are read and understood differently. For example, today we would read a fiction book differently than a non-fiction book or a legal brief. Likewise, literature types are grammatical features that should be taken into consideration when studying scripture. Moreover, the author who wrote a scriptural passage also used certain figures of speech (simile, metaphor, hyperbole, anthropomorphisms, etc.) and those figures of speech have certain impact on how to interpret someone. Also, there may be other devices such as specific word choice, sentence structure/syntax, dialect, or other feature that can be discovered through careful study that impact how something is rendered.

Together, these are what “historical-grammatical” or historico-grammatical method of interpretation/hermeneutic mean.

3. We Make Sure our Exegesis Does Not Become “Eisegesis.” Exegesis is the process of seeking to discern what a text means in the plain sense of reading the Bible in the way it was written and intended to be interpreted, originally. This is the process of simply reading what God has said and meant.

But many people get into the business of Eisegesis, instead. Eisegesis is actually a derisive term used when people fall into the practice of imposing their own preconceived ideas or concepts completely foreign to the plain reading of the text INTO THAT TEXT. Often, eisegesis (or sarcastically called “extra-Jesus”) places meanings into the text that are not only inaccurate, but that could or would not have been in the minds of the author or original readers when the text was received. This is spiritual malpractice and should be avoided, and should also be called out when it is present.

Why People Interpret the Bible Differently and Why It Matters

8 Mar

Have you ever wondered why there are so many different opinions about different biblical passages, ethical issues, and other matters addressed in the Bible?

It’s a good question.

After all, why (or even better, how) could people reading the same Bible and the same scriptural passage come to such diametrically opposed positions on different issues?

Some, for example, read Genesis 19 as God metes out punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah, and conclude that God punished those cities after multiple warnings and rebellion over unrepentant sin, particularly sexual/homosexual sin, while others (such as those sympathetic to homosexuality) will say that God punished the people of Sodom and Gomorrah for a lack of hospitality to its divine guests/angelic visitors.

Other examples abound. There are people who profess to be Christians who believe in “just war” and others who believe the Bible teaches pacifism. Some believe in capital punishment while others believe in rehabilitation of prisoners without thinking of incarceration as either a deterrent or extracting hard time to “pay back society” for evils done. Other self-described Christians believe in abortion, while others strongly oppose it.

People use scriptural passages to posit teachings and perspectives that are quite novel. For example, some read the Bible and come, somehow, to believe that Jesus was not a historical figure and the Bible is not an accurate record of his life. Others believe Jesus was a real man, but that he was a homosexual who enjoyed frequent orgies with his Twelve Disciples and women having troubled pasts, like Mary Magdalene– whom many believe was a former, reformed prostitute. These are only a handful of examples but, really, need I continue?

So, what about the two questions I have posed?

Why Do People Interpret the Bible Differently?

If you’ll stick with me, I’ll use a couple of technical words– but I believe it’ll make perfect sense. I think it’s important, however, to keep in mind that the problem I’ve described is usually due to all of the following issues I’ll describe, so it’s important to keep them all in front of you when you discuss matters like this with those whom you disagree.

People claiming to be Christians come to different opinions about ethical and other matters because of: differing views on biblical inspiration, different hermeneutics, different exegesis, and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who helps illuminate one’s mind to ‘truth.’

1. Differing Views of Inspiration

How you “approach” the Bible makes all the difference in how you interpret it. There are numerous different approaches to or “views of” inspiration. These range from vague notions where the biblical writers felt ‘inspired to write’ just as Shakespeare was inspired… to views of inspiration that imply the human recorders of scripture fell into a trance where they were controlled by a divine force who wrote through them, without regard to their own experiences, emotions, or perspectives– they were merely “mediums” or something like that.

Those who take a “low” or loose view of scripture invariably come to looser and more liberal views of ethics, morality, and biblical teachings– while those who take a high view of scripture invariably come to a more solid view of Biblical teachings and, generally, come to hold views more consistent with a clear, straight-forward reading of the Bible– which is often considered more conservative or progressive, but not often liberal.

How does one decide which view to take? It’s simple… If one is a believer in Christ OR if one has come to believe that the Holy Bible is from God and that it articulates God’s perspective and, literally, “truth,” then that person would hold a high view of scripture. Such people naturally believe that God is our ultimate authority, so they want to know exactly what He says. In addition, those people believe that God knows everything– so learning from Him and seeking to live consistently with scriptural teachings– is a way to live a blessed life and one with great meaning, regardless of how much pain life may or may not deal out. In this view, pain doesn’t imply God’s disfavor– what matters is devotion to God, obedience to His Word, and seeking His perspective in order to gain meaning in life.

2. Different Hermeneutical Methods

Hermeneutics simply means “the art and science of interpretation.” More specifically, it is the discipline that investigates the principles and theories that govern how to properly interpret a text– especially the Bible, and its different parts.

As such, hermeneutics is also concerned with understanding how the human author of a particular Bible book should relate to the content being presented, and how that should relate to the original readers of the biblical passage and to those who read those same verses of scripture today. So that is the so-called “hermeneutical bridge”– namely, what did it mean in the mind of the writer as that person understood the mind of God, and what did that mean to the people to whom it was addressed… and what application does that timeless truth have for us today? That is the job of hermeneutics– and that is the job of every person who teaches the Bible or seeks to properly interpret the Bible.

3. Different Approaches to Exegesis

People also come to different beliefs on ethical/moral/biblical issues because of their “exegetical approach” which is closely related to their hermeneutic, mentioned above. Exegesis is related to the word “educate” but, in this sense, means “to draw meaning out of.” To educate means “to draw out” or “to lead.” Certainly, when one does proper exegesis, he or she is educating a person in the purest sense of the word.

At any rate, exegesis is the process of seeking to understand what a text means or communicates in its unretouched, unfiltered original meaning. In other words, good exegesis seeks to provide the plain sense of what a particular portion of scripture (verse/verses) means. Metaphorically, it implies looking closely at the scriptures with spiritual glasses that have exacting and accurate lens that are able to view the accurate meaning of the original author. Exegesis is concerned with telling us what the original author meant– as opposed to simply telling us “what it means TO US.” The point of exegesis is that it doesn’t matter what we think of it UNTIL WE FIRST find out what it meant originally. Only after we apprehend the original meaning can we properly and accurately apply it to us. So in this way, hermeneutics provide the means for us to exegete scripture. Proper hermeneutics leads to proper exegesis– and that can safely lead us to an accurate interpretation and application of God’s Word on all matters of importance in human life (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

4. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who helps illuminate one’s mind to ‘truth.’

1 Corinthians 1:18-through chapter 2 in the New Testament talks a lot about this. In short, it simply means that people who profess to be Christians but who do not possess the presence of God within them, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, may be religionists or socially religious practitioners, but they fail to meet the biblical description of a person who is a biblical or born-again Christian (1 John, chapters 4-5), especially 1 John 4:13-17.


When a person has this type of intimate, indwelling reality of “Christ in us,” such a person is given a special type of relationship with God in which truth is more readily realized, perceived, and experienced. Illumination has to do with God guiding you in and toward “truth.” People without this indwelling– whether or not they ‘profess’ to be Christians (because professing and possessing are two different things), do not have the same capacity to apprehend truth as a person who legitimately enjoys a relationship with God through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God.

Why Does It Matter?

The reason it is important to properly interpret the scriptures and where they land on different issues, is because “truth matters.” Truth represents reality. And if we are incorrect on our view of what is true, that means we are living in a false reality. Our perception does not create reality– all that really matters is what is ACTUAL and REAL. When we base our beliefs on false ideas that are not true, but only propaganda, the problem is that we then ACT on those false beliefs. When we act on false beliefs, ramifications follow– and those ramifications are often destructive.

So when a person interprets something wrong or comes up with the incorrect position on a moral or ethical or political or economic view, there are real consequences to those ideas. This could include making mistakes that lead to many detrimental effects on our lives that affect both ourselves and others. That is why, however painful reality can be, it’s less painful than living in false hope, holding onto a lie, that only ends up allowing one’s life to collapse like a house of cards. “And great was the fall of that house, for it was not built upon a rock.”

That’s why truth matters.

Orthodoxy and Neo-Orthodoxy

4 Mar

Well, another friend of mine asked me to address the following question. It took me so long to type it out, I figured more than only one person may have this question, so here goes. It’s late, so I probably shouldn’t be writing technical pieces like this… and I’m certainly not an expert– but I do understand a little about it and hope it’s a helpful discussion to get you thinking about how things, especially theology, “works.” She asked:

Question: I’m confused. What is the difference between Neo-Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy?

The confusion comes from the fact that these two ideas (Orthodoxy and Neo-Orthodoxy) are TWO DIFFERENT CATEGORIES of things.

* Orthodoxy is not completely related to NEO-Orthodoxy– at least, not in the exact way they are often used today. They just happen to have the same words in them. But in my discussion below, I will relate them to one another in a way that may make sense.

Orthodoxy has two definitions. It can EITHER BE (a) The large body of Christian believers, the Orthodox Church– similar to Roman Catholicism. So that’s “one type” of Orthodoxy: The “Orthodox Church.” But that’s probably not what you’re thinking about. The second type of orthodoxy is (b) the essential beliefs of the Christian faith. Meaning, the irreducible minimum of convictions and beliefs that one must affirm in order to legitimately be a born-again believer.

Note: Those essentials of the faith, this irreducible minimum that I’ll outline, are typically the same beliefs that we call “Evangelical Theology.” So you could say that, generally speaking, Evangelical Theology is BUILT ON this original concept of orthodoxy—these primary beliefs I’ll list below.

* Neo-Orthodoxy is a WAY OF LOOKING AT THEOLOGY– it’s a type or view of theology. It could be compared to (a) evangelical theology and (b) process theology and (c) liberal theology and (d) so on. Neo-Orthodoxy is a view that drifted from the fundamentals of the faith (orthodoxy) and rejected some of those major views that comprised orthodoxy.

Orthodox means “right beliefs.” The right beliefs that comprise orthodoxy are the same as essential, biblical conservative evangelical Christianity. They include:

  • authority of God’s Word (usually certain and specific views, be it inspiration, infallability, and/or inerrancy)
  • virginal conception/virgin birth
  • deity of Christ
  • substitutionary atonement in Christ’s blood/necessity of new birth for salvation
  • literal physical resurrection of Christ
  • holy trinity as Godhead

Well, neo-orthodoxy rejected at least the absolute authority of the Holy Bible as absolutely necessary. They rejected that former view of orthodoxy I just gave, and established a NEW ORTHODOXY– a new set of standards about what comprised ‘correct beliefs.’ In other words, they changed the rules. They reinterpreted what ‘truth’ meant. They moved the goal lines. They decided they didn’t like those essential rules, and changed the rules of belief. It’s like going from a gold standard where a dollar EQUALS a dollar, to devaluing your money and a dollar being equal to only .29 cents, but still “calling it” a dollar, despite the inflationary value of the dollar bill.

So that’s what lots of theologians at that time did. It originated in Europe, particularly Switzerland and Germany, if I’m not mistaken.

Europe was increasingly liberal. Many of the schools there had long before outright objected orthodox convictions and had gone WAY OUT, completely departing from anything even remotely similar to biblical beliefs. They were social Christians, called Christian as far as religion goes, but were not convictionally biblical in their teachings.

But this group of theologians who would become neo-orthodox didn’t want to go that far. In fact, they rejected the far-out liberal views. They wanted something in-between. Not too restrictive and fundamental, but not as far out as flat out liberalism.

So they knew they were drifting far from true biblical beliefs and true orthodoxy (the 5/6 fundamentals of the faith I described). So, instead of feeling that way, they decided as a collective group of theologians to begin thinking a different way. Those theologians who felt that way rejected orthodoxy, created new rules– and Neo-Orthodoxy was established. And any person who used their basic beliefs AS THE STARTING POINT (OR THEIR ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT GOD, TRUTH, THE BIBLE) OF DOING THEOLOGY (THINKING ABOUT GOD, LIFE, ETERNITY, THE BIBLE), WERE FROM THEN ON CALLED “Neo-Orthodox Theologians.”

After a while, people who trained in Europe under those theologians naturally began to be swayed– and they began to believe the same things. So Neo-Orthodoxy’s influence spread.

People began, in lots of places, looking at the Bible differently. They began looking at “church” differently. They began thinking of Christianity differently. And these schools who were now teaching Theology and Bible from a Neo-Orthodox perspective, began to produce graduates who (naturally) came to accept much or all of what they were taught. This led to at least 3 big things.

1.Graduates from European Neo-Orthodox seminaries were hired by those faculties at the seminaries at which they studied. This ensured that neo-orthodox views would continue to be taught generation to generation.

Graduates with advanced degrees from European Neo-Orthodox seminaries were hired by faculties in the US and elsewhere—further establishing Neo-Orthodox views in other places. Since it is often considered avant garde in educational institutions to hire people with novel ideas and who were trained abroad—to broaden people’s perspectives and allow for liberal academic freedom, those graduates were/are hired in many schools.

3. The majority of graduates from schools with heavy percentages of Neo-Orthodox faculty tended to become neo-orthodox in perspective themselves, and assumed leadership positions in (a) churches who would accept those views or didn’t know any better and (b) in denominational agencies who hired them. Since denominational agencies seek people with advanced degrees, lots of neo-orthodox graduates were hired for leading roles in those denominations, which further pushed (over a period of time) those denominations in a certain theological direction—typically AWAY FROM biblical Christianity (orthodoxy) and TOWARD Neo-Orthodox views of theology (meaning, toward a new way of looking at orthodoxy—a new way of looking at spiritual things).

That is how neo-orthodoxy got so rooted into things.

So, what is Neo-Orthodoxy then?

Neo-Orthodoxy came primarily, originally, from the early 1900s from two main people—Karl Barth (pronounced with a silent “h” meaning pronounced “bart”) and Emil Brunner. These men wrote books about their views (the most well-known possibly being Barth’s Doctrine of the Word of God and Christian Dogmatics, among others. They attracted other minds, such as Soren Kierkegaard and Rudolph Bultmann, and Donald Bloesch and Bernard Ramm, etc.

Neo-Orthodoxy is complex, but these major points are important.

· God is enormously transcendent. Most Christians believe this concept—but Neo-Orthodox take it way farther. They view God as far, far, far beyond us or our ability to truly comprehend and know. This makes some of those groups sound like they are preaching a great and holy God, but one that is really, really distant from us and perhaps not as close and as intimate as we would like Him to be.

· Interesting Note: Some churches that tend to be more neo-orthodox tend to ‘feel’ less intimate in worship and in their approach to discipleship and knowing God intimately. (This includes SOME Reformed, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, etc. This would also include SOME, fewer groups like Methodism, Disciples/Christian Church, Episcopals, etc. Some of those latter groups I just mentioned ended up in full on Liberal Theology- and others ended up more Evangelical in theology.

· The big issue with Neo-Orthodoxy is their view of the Bible. This view is that, and I may be oversimplifying here—and I’m not an expert on this—but the gist of it is that there is the Word of God (the Bible) and the Revealed Word of God (the spirit-empowered essence of truth). And while I believe that the Holy Bible IS the Word of God as it is written in the Bible, they would believe that the words in the Bible are words… that BECOME the Word of God at certain times and in certain experiences when God speaks to us. In this way, a Neo-Orthodox wouldn’t completely focus on the Bible and its teachings, but may focus more on personal experience, and religious experience, and truth then isn’t just what is said by God in the Bible—but really, something we experience—and what we believe and what is true is more subjective and relative, and we may believe and experience something that is “truth for us” even if it contradicts specific teachings in the Bible—since “we are not under the law, but under grace” and so on.

That view of the Bible and truth and the Word of God changes everything about truth—and that opens the door to views and beliefs that are, well, unorthodox.

When You Feel Like Life’s Beating You Down

2 Mar

Earlier today, a friend of mine told me that life was beating him down. He asked what I thought about it, and I wanted to share it with you.

When Life Beats You Down

When you feel this way,
I suggest that you determine whether what is happening is (a) God (b) Satan or (c) a little of both- – and, hint, it’s probably “c.”

If God is doing it. First, if it’s God that’s doing it, then whatever pain you’re going through is designed for your good and for your betterment. If God crushes us, it’s not for our destruction, but to squeeze the bad stuff out– those things that will drag us down and, ultimately, destroy us. Also, the crushing is allowed in order to build our character and to strengthen us for the opportunities ahead. The idea is that unless God replaces our “little boy” (or “little girl”) with “manhood” (womanhood), then the weak little boy/girl inside of us will wimper and pout when tough times come– and we won’t be strong enough and MAN/WOMAN ENOUGH to do what He wants us to do.

So this is a necessary part of making us 100% man. As you know, lots of guys who are 20, 30, even 40– are older, but they’ve never become men yet. So God places an opportunity before you. If we face it down, handle the pain and push through– then we become all He’s made us to be, and when the opportunities come– we meet the challenge and capitalize and rock it. So, opportunity WILL COME- the question is, will be ready for it when it happens?

So work hard at eating these challenges and the pain, and use the pain as fuel and allow it to capitalize and strengthen your inner being. You’re tough on the outside– you can take tons of punishment. So IF God’s doing it, then it’s for your good.

If it’s Satan doing it. You know, I’ve said many, many times to my wife Kristy that life tries to crush you in your late 20s and early 30s. God sometimes allows Satan to get to us– and when he does, two things are going on. On God’s side, it’s to push out impurities and build strength. On Satan’s side, it’s intended to crush you.

Now, remember 1 Corinthians 10:13. I’d read that. Basically the point of it is that God promises never to let us face more than we can bear. So know that IF you have these problems you’re facing– then you already know that God has determined that you are strong enough to overcome it. But that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to win and learn all you should. God will let you make mistakes and fail sometimes, as you know. But Satan is given sometimes the opportunity to work you over.

Now, while God means it for good, Satan wants to spank you and to discourage you and to cause you to settle for second (um, third, even fourth) best. These are the years that many people get the beat down– and if… IF– watch that, “IF” you can push through the pain, the disappointment, the hurt, and the frustration… and IF you make the decision to stubbornly refuse to quit and decide to get up every time– then the forces that want to force you to settle will ULTIMATELY submit. And sooner or later, you’ll make it through the woods and out of the desert. And when you do, you’ll have a type of unstoppablity that few experience.

Think of it this way– where God wants to take you in life– He knows you won’t be able to get there and be successful unless He does this major work of maturing and strengthening you. I think most people settle or God doesn’t even allow them to be tested in the ways others are tested.

So, it’s all in how you approach it.

Eavesdropping in my Conversation with a Friend about the Canonization of Scripture, Part 1 of 2

1 Mar

Question Posed To Me By a Good Friend (that I thought I might make available to you)

I’d like you to shed some light on the idea of “Divine Inspiration” of the Holy Bible and the selection of the books we consider to be the “Word of God.” Is there a theological concept of ‘divine selection?’ There are different ‘canonizations’ out there, like the Jewish Bible, the Deuterocanonical writings, and the various Vulgate versions (e.g., Jerome’s, Gutenberg, Clementine, and the Nova Vulgate).

My Thoughts

Good questions.

I started to write a really long treatise on this, because it is so important and needs treatment on any number of levels to be an adequate answer.

What I then did was to locate this “summary article” that is written by one of the best thinkers in the world, one whom I respect and who taught at a school that I formerly attended. I’m going to give the link below, but will also give some other perspective, just so you can get a few specific tidbits about the specific questions you have. Still, this article is so outstanding, it will help you clarify these issues greatly, giving you lots of inner peace.

Beyond that, here are a few other tid bits.

The key to divine inspiration is that the Bible represents the only divinely authorized sacred text in existence. Meaning, this is God’s self-disclosure and only authorized autobiographical/biographi

cal work in existence. But, as you’ve asked, beyond that– how do we think about the selection of the books?

It’s important to understand that the books “recognized” as authoritative and “scripture” were not haphazardly chosen, which is what some who wish to have unbounded moral freedom would have us believe. They believe that, if they cast doubt on the selection of books, then that jeopardizes the authorship and, hence, the authority of the Bible.

Essentially, it worked this way: The books were given by what conservative evangelicals and others call “Verbal Plenary Inspiration.” This is one of about 7-9 views of inspiration. Those theories of inspiration range from viewing “inspiration” as being nothing more than a slightly heightened sense of awareness… to the human writers being nothing more than entranced copyists who fell into a divinely-induced trance. Serious Bible-Believing Scholars generally agree that the Bible was given by verbal-plenary inspiration, meaning that God gave the content of the book and, while allowing freedom to the author to express his or her general attitudes, personalities, emotions, and so on– that God superintended the ULTIMATE PRODUCT so that (a) the writer was supernaturally enabled to ensure that the individual words chosen were in accordance with God intended and were free from error– and (b) that the final autographs (the original book the writer completed) were wholly, as a complete document, free from error (inerrant). Then, Bible-believing scholars agree (and insist, due to specific passages of scripture such as 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:19-21) that though thousands of copies of those originals (autographs) were copied (viz., manuscripts), that the careful evaluation of those as a whole by qualified biblical scholars has given us a clear and still accurate understanding of exactly what God originally intended. This is a view called “preservation.” We know from textual evidence (the 24000 partial, whole, and fragmental pieces of ancient manuscripts, including the 5200 or so complete ancient manuscripts), that even the copyists of those originals were in 96% agreement, with (a) the remaining 4% of differences being on non-essential and non-doctrinal issues (unspecific, minor words) and (b) that those 4% can be explained by obvious slips of the quill of the copyists, alternative spellings for words between different dialects of languages, and obsolete words that were replaced by future generations, and the like. ALL OF THAT TO SAY that we have solid certainty about the authority of the text in general.

Then, 5 tests (described in the document I sent– I checked to make sure it was in there) were applied by the church and its global leadership to ensure that the books which were being evaluated for inclusion into the Holy Bible met each and every of these obvious and clearly biblical standards.

That said, though you are right in saying that there are some differences in opinion between Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism today, it’s more easily explained than it seems. But first note that, those branches of modern churches are not authoritative on these matters, because believers of the ancient Jewish faith before Christ and the Early Church, as a whole, established these facts about what was and wasn’t scripture. More recent waffling on these issues doesn’t change the global and collective agreement that stood for centuries. But the gist of it is this: Deuterocanonical works are just that– deutero (secondary) canonical (standards). Meaning, they are “edifying reading” but not authoritative– but still generally better than, say, a romance novel. So they have some historical or religious merit, but are not scripture. Think of them as ancient Christian novels or ancient Christian historical-narratives, with some bias and some potential errors (factual and/or theological), but still… somewhat valuable. Now, of course, we have newer reflections on things that exceed the value and accuracy of the deuterocanonical writings, so many of those newer writings are of greater insight, accuracy and worth than the DC writings– hence, I study those more than I take time for DC books like Judith, Ecclesiasticus, etc. But those DC books were NEVER considered scripture, equal to the Bible. But because of Roman Catholic elevation of them and their relative value in the early centuries of the church, they were sometimes included as Christian writings after the biblical writings– but never simply interspersed with the scriptures themselves.. They would appear in groupings, etc. Other words, such as the Pseudopigrapha in particular– (pseudo/false pigraph/writings– are known to be spurious, so they are even further out and less reliable than even the DC writings (apocrypha), so they hardly, if ever, appear beside scripture. These are books like the Gospel of Thomas (which wasn’t)… that things like the DaVinci Code was based on, and so forth.

When scripture was established by the global community of faith– there was nearly immediately universal agreement on the books of scripture. The Old Testament canon was established very early as it was being written (through the tests of canonicity) and the New Testament was as well. The only exceptions were very limited and regional differences among some smaller factions (such as a group that may have objected to including Esther because the name of God didn’t technically appear), but those disagreements were dispensed with quickly and global consensus cleared up those matters. Only later, as less informed people and even unbelievers crept into churches and began to push the legitimacy of some books (e.g., such as today, where many Roman Catholics value certain DC books– but aren’t, themselves, even bonafide and legitimate believers who honor biblical teachings on what salvation and the church are, for example). So, yes, on the surface, this seems to have confused the issue– but no Bible belieiving Christian who is abreast on the facts is confused by these things.

One other thing– differences in things like the Vulgate, though I’m not an expert on it– are due to a few things (a) the fact that the Vulgate represents a less technical and ‘vulgar’ or ‘low brow, colloquial’ type of language– as opposed to the higher, technical language that would be more appropriate for theological language– but less suited for a less-educated populus (think of how more accurate you could explain something with the complete English language versus explaining technical issues with only a 600 word vocabulary that is under the 7th grade reading level– you get the idea); (b) as time went on and language changed– as all living languages do, nuances and etymologies and meanings of some words changed, leading to variances of words between dialects, regions (just like Cuban Spanish and Mexican Spanish may differ), and so on– so that affected how some words were understood and written; (c) finally, for the sake of time and brevity, different publishers and scholars had varying opinions and budgets to work from, and some we know chose to include footnotes in the text and explanatory notes, historical pieces that shed light on some texts, and other glosses as they may be called, and this led to the differences. Just as different writing styles and formatting approaches (like APA, MLA, and so on are used today here, and different ones may be used elsewhere in the world), different companies publishing Bibles with different scholars included different things.

Eavesdropping in my Conversation With a Friend About Canonization of Scripture (Part 2 of 2)

1 Mar

Follow Up Question (related to the last blog I wrote):

Are you saying that, as the books of the Bible were being written that they were becoming canonized (pronounced as Holy Writ and placed in the Bible as scripture)? That is to say, were we working with an open canon for quite some time, during both the Old and New Testament times?

Answer

It worked this way.

As the texts were being written… (around 1500BC-400BC for the Old Testament, and 40-100 AD for the New Testament), there were these general understandings that the People of Israel/Jews had about this literature they were exposed to, as there were with the New Testament writings (which, again, came MUCH closer together and were more widely circulated, because the Christian Church was geographically spread apart than Israel and Judah). So there were a ‘little’ differences between Jewish perspectives about authoritative tests and that of the Christian church, but that’s too technical to really matter here.

So let’s don’t get tripped up on the word ‘canonized.’ That’s showing a more Roman Catholic perspective, and we want to think in terms of the New Testament period and that of ancient Judaism, not to suspend a several-centuries later perspective on it.

So what happened was that the people of God were exposed to both false prophets and prophets/apostles of God throughout time. Some of them had writings that were ostensibly received from God. As the people of God heard or read these things, the Spirit of God bore witness in the hearts of people, along with the tests of canonicity– general principles that were taken into consideration, that these were (or were not) the Word of God. (Keep in mind, when you read the Gospel of Mark, you don’t have to be a theologian with a Ph.D. to know it is God speaking, if you follow me). But the people of God quickly and immediately identified certain books as scripture. And as they were being identified and written, more and more were accepted (and others were universally rejected, like the apocrypha and pseudopigrapha, etc.). And as this happened in real time, over centuries, as God dynamically gave His word and self-revelation to people, the ‘canon’ grew. When the Old Testament was completed in or around the 400s, it was already an established fact which books were official. Later on, like in the article below, because of some later challenges by smaller factions of people who probably weren’t even true believers and the like, there were sometimes a need to ‘reaffirm’ or ‘clarify’ officially what was universally known, accepted, believed, and taught all along. So when groups like this met, they sometimes reminded people of what they believed and sometimes offered a statement publically to summarize their beliefs. So, like at Jamnia below, there were times when the “canon” was identified in writing and it became a part of the historical record we have. And that’s fine and no problem.

The problem is that, because churches like Catholicism think that their church and their bishops speak for God in an official authoritative way– in ways that go beyond scripture, I might add– and when they do this, they make statements that make the untrained theological eye believe that they had the authority to make official pronouncements about canonizing scripture and establishing what scripture was, etc. While, in fact, that was already established by the people of God, universally, in the past. There was no need for any canonization because (and this is my central point), HUMANITY CANNOT ‘CANONIZE’ AND DICTATE WHAT GOD’S WORD IS OR WHAT THE BIBLE IS– GOD DOES THAT. GOD DICTATES WHAT HIS WORD IS AND HE DETERMINES WHAT THE BIBLE BOOKS ARE… THEY DON’T NEED THE APPROVAL OF SOME CHURCH BODY LED BY IMPERFECT PRIESTS. The fact that they are from God is a self-justifying reality and they are easily identified as scripture, and it is God (not we) who establishes the canon. We only recognize and affirm what it is, we don’t determine it. However, through discernment, we can compare other writings against the established canon, and through that, we speak to establish what ISN’T THE CANON. So the church’s job is one of polemics and apologetics.

Polemics is when Christian leaders speak to the church and clear up confusion to people inside the church and call out on the carpet false teachers pushing false teachings and false books. Apologetics is when Christians defend the faith against unbelievers outside the church. I hope that makes sense.

So, like at Jamnia, the point wasn’t to “try to figure out what books will be included in the Bible” but to come to consensus among those people (who didn’t have universal authority in the church in the first place) regarding issues about certain scriptural questions they had. Just like today, if there was an issue we needed to really establish clarity on, we could call a church council to discuss and try to DISCOVER what God said about the matter– and not to create a policy about it. God has spoken, and our job is to discover what He said and to then communicate that– our job isn’t to speak for Him by putting words in his mouth.

So canonicity was God’s people agreeing publically and “for the record” stating the obvious and helping, once and for all, to promote ideas that were already widely understood and accepted– and to clarify minor issues related to those topics as well.

Final point:

Because the Bible came to us not as one finished book, but as it was being revealed in real time in history by God at the appointed time– it HAD to be ‘open’ during those days.

But, at the completion of Revelation, God made it clear there (in chapter 21 or 22) that it was the concluding authoritative book, and said so. This officially CLOSED the canon, so now we know that any and all books (form the pseudopigrapha to the Quran to others) that claim equal status to scripture are in error, because God made that clear. And that’s why there has never been any serious challenge to what is authentic canon since that time. Only small factions of uninformed activists ever dream up these ideas, but the universal church speaks against those things and they never materalize, because it’s clear to the church what is and what isn’t scripture.