Thursday, May 29, 2008

Those Red Letters

Printing the words of Jesus in red is considered by some to be foolish. It’s certainly not without it’s dangers.

Today there are a host of people who desire to make the red letters a canon within the canon – that is, they believe the red letters, as the words of Jesus, carry special weight. That goes against the idea of the inspiration of all scripture, and it ignores the fact that the words of Jesus are filtered through the gospel authors.

There is also some debate about which letters should be red. The first time I read my Bible’s footnote on John 3:15, I was taken aback – how could John 3:16 not be the words of Jesus?! But when I compare other passages, I can see how some might think John, not Jesus, first uttered those words.

After all of that, I still don’t care. I like the red letters. No, I love the red letters.

I truly believe that the words of the apostles were inspired by the Holy Spirit. But it is not the Spirit-filled Paul I long to meet.

If my wife had her mother send me a letter, the information sent to me would be from my wife, but it would be in her mother’s words and in her mother’s hand. Wouldn’t a letter in her own hand be a bit more precious to me?

In the same way, the words of Jesus, though filtered through the gospel writers, are closer to Jesus than the words Peter, Paul, or Isaiah wrote under the Spirit’s influence. Even though there should be no theological difference, there is still a qualitative, emotional difference to me.

I would give anything to be able to sit at the feet of Jesus. If I could, I’d go back then. If I could, I’d get Him to come here now. Since I have to wait, I’ll settle for the only bit of His presence I can get. I’m going to hold on to those red letters.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Misc Links

=RIP Cinderella:
If you haven't heard, Steven Curtis Chapman's youngest daughter was struck by a vehicle and killed on Wednesday. One of her brothers was driving. Please pray for the family and especially the boy.

=Moving on to happier things, if you didn't catch Mark D. Roberts' statement of faith, it's really a must read.

=Someone has compiled a wonderful list of free audiobooks that are available on the web; someone else has reviewed 13 Bible study programs. (HT: ESV blog)

=There is also a collection of positive and negative material relating to Expelled. is running a training program for teaching apologetics. (HT: STR blog)

=This week's Christian Carnival is at Parableman.

=Finally, meet Anselm.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Different in All the Right Ways

Reflections on Leviticus

A familiar command starts off Leviticus 19: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (v2).

We often use holiness to mean moral purity, but in it’s truest sense it means “other.” God’s people are to be other, set apart, different. This passage gives many good ways to be different. It also gives some odd ways. This is the Mosaic covenant, and it doesn’t apply to Christians, but much of what is listed here is repeated in the NT, and so this provides a useful list of things that are important to God.

What would our society be like if we would do these things?

=Each of you must respect his mother and father…. (v3)
=Show respect for the elderly… (v32)

Respect for father and mother can turn into respect for authority, which our society needs. It could also return us to the days of children being expected to support their aged parents rather than expecting society to do so.

=When you reap the harvest, … leave [food] for the poor and the alien. (v9-10)
=Do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great…. (v15)
=When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. (v33-34)

Charity mingled with justice is an idea that could transform a society that tends toward one extreme or the other.

=Do not steal. (v11)
=Do not defraud your neighbor…. (v12)
=Use honest scales and honest weights…. (v35-36)

=Do not deceive one another. (v11)
=Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly…. (v17)
=Do not seek revenge…. (v18)

Don't steal, don't deceive, don't hate. Or as some wise person said, "love your neighbor as yourself." A far cry from our get what you can from whomever you can by whatever means necessary society.

The church is meant to be the community that lives by God’s standards. Even though we’ll never do it perfectly, we need to commit to each other and to our Master to strive to be different from the world in all the right ways.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Can’t We All Get Along? 3

Civility with different religions

My wife and I recently spent a few days in Las Vegas. In the hotel I opened a drawer and found a Gideon Bible. And a Book of Mormon.

I was sorely tempted to put it where it could do no damage – such my bag or the fireplace. I stared at it and thought about it; I flipped through it; I put it down and stared at it some more. Then I closed the drawer.

I may have made the wrong decision, but my reasoning is two-fold. First, if Christianity can’t play fair and win, it’s not what we say it is.

Second, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Would I want a Mormon taking the Bible out of there? Of course not.

Loving your neighbor, in our pluralistic society, requires treating each other’s beliefs with respect – especially when you think they’re wrong. It’s what “tolerance” used to mean.

Here are a few thoughts on ways we can love our neighbors from different religions.

Don’t ridicule their beliefs
Other religions do things that strike me as quite silly. There are things other Christians do that strike me the same way. There are things I do that seem silly to other people. I really don’t want to hear about it, and neither does anyone else.

If their god is a six-headed elephant that appears in Norway every third Thursday in June, that’s their business. They don’t want our opinion about how silly it is.

Does Ramadan or reincarnation strike you as odd? Keep it to yourself. Think about how “take, eat, this is my body” sounds to outsiders.

Respect their desire to be faithful
You’ve probably known someone who got grief at work because they didn’t want to take a customer to a strip club. Or maybe it was a teen who got teased for not drinking. It’s not a fun place to be, and no one should have to put up with it.

A few months ago one of our Muslim students was furious at her classmates for giving her something to eat and later telling her it was pork. Not nice.

This probably starts in the same place as the ridiculing. I see no need for Muslims to avoid pork or Hindus to avoid beef or Mormons to avoid caffeine because I think their religions are wrong. That doesn’t change the fact that they desire to be faithful to their upbringing, and we, who often struggle with the same thing, should respect that.

Be sensitive about issues they’re sensitive about
If you’ve got Roman Catholic friends, you probably tread lightly discussing the priest abuse scandal. If you’ve got Presbyterian friends, you might be careful bringing up homosexual bishops.

I’ve had a number of Muslim coworkers. We can talk about family, movies, sports, religion, and the madness we deal with at work. We don’t talk about Jerusalem.

At work you don’t want to start a fight that can get you in trouble, but more than that, we just need to be sensitive to the feelings of people around us. We don’t want to offend unnecessarily.

Don’t evangelize them to death
I will never suggest that you shouldn’t witness to anybody. However, when the people in your life know where you stand and what you believe, you don’t need to keep pestering them.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t discuss your faith or theirs. I’m not saying don’t invite them to church or any other activity. I’m not advocating letting the great commission down. I’m saying let’s don’t be jerks.

As the saying goes, the gospel is offensive enough without our help.

Don’t pretend your beliefs don’t matter
People aren’t stupid. If they know you’re a Christian, they have at least some idea what you believe. We don’t need to become milk sops who don’t stand up for our beliefs.

Believe me, when coworkers want to make an issue out of Christian exclusivity, or want to evangelize for vegetarianism, or starting spouting some new age mumbo jumbo, I’m ready to rumble. But there is a time and a place for everything and a manner in which it should be done.

It’s all about love
Here in the West, especially in America, we’re in a multi-religious environment unlike anything that has existed for over a thousand years. We have the two-fold duty of representing Christ well and getting along with our neighbors in this pluralistic society. I am convinced that we have the truth. We also need to have love.

P.S. I closed the drawer, but I continue to pray that whoever opens it will ignore the Book of Mormon or, better yet, see through it. You might too.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

They Came First for the Polygamists

“Texas, calling a polygamist sect an abusive environment, is poised to tell its mothers they will lose their children unless they distance themselves from portions of their religion.”

I fear things have gotten out of control regarding CPS and the fundamentalist Mormon YFZ compound.

Even though the original complaint that launched the police action turned out to be false, 400 children have been removed from their homes because of accusations of underage marriages.

1. If the accusations turn out to be true, the pre-pubescent girls and all of the boys are in no danger.

2. If underage girls are being impregnated, we should prosecute statutory rape as appropriate, but that is not cause to remove all of the children from their homes.

3. These children are reportedly physically and emotionally healthy. They come from loving homes and are well cared for – and no doubt deeply miss their families.

Are these people being persecuted because of their odd religious beliefs and practices? It seems very likely that this is so, and that is wrong.

Yes, they’re weird. To many, normal Christian families are weird. Today they’re going after the fundamentalist Mormons. Tomorrow it may be the home schoolers. Next, it’ll be regular Christians – remember, there are those who think Sunday school is child abuse.

Implore the governor of Texas to get involved. Ask your governor and Congressional representatives and senators to pressure Texas. Don’t let CPS further harm these families. It’s wrong, and it may come back to haunt us all. We don’t want to set a precedent that may one day be used against normal everyday Christians.
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Can’t We All Get Along? 2

Civility and theological differences: In one church

Last time we looked at how people with theological differences can disagree amicably. But how should we handle having these disagreements in one local church body? Now the concern isn’t loving debate but actually laboring beside one another.

More precisely, what if someone who teaches differs from the official position of the local church or denomination on a subject? (Again, the Calvinism debate will be our example.)

Be honest
Put all cards on the table. If you’re a Calvinist and the church isn’t, it would be tempting to try to stay under the radar, but eventually it’s going to get out, so let’s just do it up front.

The question was raised recently about Calvinists interviewing for pastor in a non-Calvinist church. Again, all cards on the table. Yes, that may mean that it will be hard to get a job as pastor in your denomination. Sorry.

Try to put yourself in the other position. In this example, think of a Presbyterian congregation that finds out half-way through Romans that their pastor is an Arminian. Can you imagine a Pentecostal church accidentally hiring a cessationist? People have a right to know what to expect from you.

Be honest about what you believe and, if you’re not interviewing for pastor, emphasize your willingness to do the next step…

Adhere to rules
If the church is Calvinist and you’re not, teaching certain passages would be difficult. But not impossible. When you get to a problem passage, you can skip it, or you can teach the standard line or the debate.

For example, when you can to Romans 8, you can give the official stance. Or you can give both sides – take it as an opportunity to discuss Calvinism and Arminianism without coming down on any side.

You cannot take the opportunity to argue that the pastor/elders/denomination is wrong on this issue. If you have to do that, skip the passage or don’t take a teaching position.

Avoid unnecessary controversy
This is useful, and biblical, advice in every aspect of life but especially here. Don’t pick a fight if you don’t have to. Don’t let someone else pick one either.

With a little self-control, you can probably go decades without most people in your church knowing that you’re the one Arminian or the one amillennial or the one consubstantiationist in your church. You can be honest with the leadership without advertising your beliefs to the rest of the congregation.

There is no perfect church, so occasionally people will end up joining a church that they are slightly out of synch with theologically. If we’re careful we can manage without causing division in Christ’s church.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Can’t We All Get Along? 1

Civility and theological differences: How can Calvinists and Arminians coexist?

I’ve said before that I have no interest in the Calvinism debate. I have lots of interest, however, in how everyone involved can get along and act like brothers in Christ.

Christians hold countless theological positions, and too many become fodder for vicious fighting. We can disagree – if truth matters to us, we must – but we can do it in a Christ-like way.

These are my thoughts on how to keep theological debates from descending into fights. This should cover any theological debate, but I’ll use Calvinism as an example when one is needed.

Don’t question integrity
Don’t suggest you’re more godly than those who take other positions. Don’t suggest that someone holds a position because of a secret sin. Don’t suggest that if your opponent just loved the Lord as much as you (or simply “more”) they’d see your side.

I think this includes suggesting Arminians hold their position due to pride. (This isn’t necessarily the same as suggesting your opponent is smug; just don’t suggest the smugness is why he holds that position.)

Don’t question intelligence
Some of the finest minds on the planet have been Calvinists. Some of the finest minds on the planet have been Arminians. Ditto for Protestants and Roman Catholics, credobaptists and paedobaptists, inerrantists and, well, errantists.

Sometimes things go beyond facts, but many times it is simply a matter of how one weights one fact versus another. The other's differing interpretation is not a sign of low intelligence.

However you might phrase it, if the words coming out of your mouth can be retranslated as “you friggin’ moron,” you’re stepping out of bounds.

Don’t question commitment to Scripture
Similar to the above, godly people who love and respect the scriptures, even inerrantists, can differ on how one passage should be weighed against another. Few deny that Romans 8:29 talks about election (among others); the problem is how to square it with 1 Tim 2:4 (among others).

Don’t argue against straw men
Please understand the other position before you argue against it. You might feel comfortable calling yourself a Calvinist having only read books by Calvinists, but you shouldn’t argue against (or preach about) Arminianism without having read a couple of Arminians and vice versa.

I don’t recommend learning about Arminianism solely from John Piper just as I don’t recommend learning about Roman Catholicism solely from James White. Do some more homework.

By the way, suggesting that people reject Calvinism for emotional reasons is a straw man unless your opponent mentions emotional reasons. Which leads me to my next point.

Do listen
Don’t assume you know what their argument is going to be. Listen carefully. Ask questions about their points – not just the standard questions.

Be prepared to learn something new.

Don’t expect to win
Sorry, but it’s unlikely that you’re going to “convert” anyone to your side. People who will argue a theological point either are emotionally committed to it or have thought their position through and come to this conclusion carefully. Neither is likely to have his mind changed.

Yes, people do switch to Calvinism every day, but how many are Arminians versus being in the uninformed, undecided mushy middle?

In summary, assume your opponent is a godly, thoughtful person who loves the Lord and the Bible. You can disagree, even vehemently, without disparaging your brother or sullying the name of Christ.

We’ve covered the generic theological debate. Next time I want to look more specifically at sharing a church with those of another persuasion. In the mean time, please tell me what I’ve missed – or disagree vehemently but kindly.

Friday, May 9, 2008


Reflections on Leviticus

Leviticus 17 says, “Any Israelite who sacrifices an ox, a lamb or a goat in the camp or outside of it instead of bringing it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting … shall be considered guilty of blood shed … and must be cut off from his people” (v3-4).

This is one of the few rules that are explained in the law: “This is so the Israelites will bring to the Lord the sacrifices they are now making in the open fields” (v5).

Apparently, some people were making sacrifices to the “goat idols” out in the desert (v7). It’s kind of hard to tell to whom you’re making sacrifices out on the edge of camp; if everyone brings their sacrifice to the priests, no one has to wonder.

This rule builds a hedge around the first and second of the Ten Commandments. If you don’t violate the hedge, it’ll be that much harder to break those two of the top 10.

This hedge was actually part of the Mosaic law, but people made other hedges that were simply human traditions. The Pharisees were masters of this. Hedges aren’t, in themselves, a bad thing. A simple common sense rule that keeps you from sinning is a very good thing.

However, it becomes a problem when you mistake your rule for God’s law. The hedge in this passage is part of the Bible, but the ones created by the Pharisees weren’t.

They made their rules into such a burden that many people couldn’t keep up. And they treated those who couldn’t keep their rules like wicked sinners.

Lots of Christians have hedges:
If you don’t drink, you won’t get drunk.
If you don’t use credit cards, you won’t go into debt.
If you don’t watch movies, you won’t watch the wrong movies.
If you don’t play cards, you won’t gamble.
If you aren’t alone with a member of the opposite sex, you won’t commit adultery.

These are good, sensible rules that some people set so they could stay not only out of trouble, but well away from it. But if you look at people who, e.g., play cards as wicked sinners, you have sinned.

What rules have you, or your denomination, set to keep yourself out of trouble? (If you haven’t set any, you might consider some.) Do you look down on people who violate your rules? Do you accuse people who have violated your rules, but not scriptural principles, of sin?

Used properly, hedges can be very useful. Used incorrectly, they can hurt your neighbor, your brother, and your own soul. Handle with care.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Not The End

I was reading to my 4-year-old the other night, and as usual we weren’t going to make it to the end of this book,* so she wanted me to turn to the end so she could say “the end.”

Normally, I don’t want to know how a book ends before I read the whole thing, but this time it was different.

The book was the Big Picture Story Bible, and we turned to the end and read:

“A loud voice came from the throne saying,
‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.
He will dwell with them,
And they will be his people….
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
And death shall be no more,
Neither shall there be mourning
Nor crying nor pain anymore…’”

What I want for my kids, what I have trouble with, is to live in light of the fact that we know how the story is going to end.

How much bolder would you be in a war if you knew – knew for a fact – that you were going to win?

We are in a war, and our side is guaranteed to win.

And as we struggle, when we’re in pain, as we blink away the tears, we look forward to the day when these will be a thing of the past. Earth will be reborn, we will be made new, and God will dwell with us.

Our book doesn’t say “the end.” It ends with a beginning.

“Come, Lord Jesus.”

*She always insists on starting at the beginning. We made it to Joshua once.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Voting for Candidates You Disagree With

Do you have to agree with a candidate on every point before you can vote for that person? I think most people will say no. The important question is, on what issues can we disagree amicably, and what issues are deal killers?

As believers, we want to let the Bible inform our vote, but there are issues the Bible doesn’t seem to directly address, and there are issues that the biblical position, if there really is one, isn’t especially clear. On those issues, I believe we can only use our best judgment after careful, prayerful consideration.

Even then, though, we’re going to disagree – with each other and with those running for office. That’s ok, but it doesn’t help us decide what to do. How should we approach choosing a candidate?

We can disagree about whether a policy is prudent. Was NAFTA a good idea? How about Social Security “privatization?” If you think a policy is a bad idea, and your candidate disagrees, you can overlook that. Of course, if the list of such issues is arm length, maybe you need a new guy, but the occasional policy difference is not a big deal.

We can disagree on whether a task is the government’s responsibility or prerogative. Some think certain issues are not the federal government’s jurisdiction – e.g., funding for the arts. Others think some problems are best handled at the local level – like education. Even if you disagree about constitutionality, that is differing on interpretation of the law, and you can get over that.

We can disagree on whether a policy is the best way to approach an issue. Everyone thinks we need to do something to address illegal immigration. If your candidate’s position is somewhat more liberal than yours (or vice versa), I think we can let that slide when there are more pressing issues. How should we handle tariffs, foreign aid, or health care reform? Reasonable people can differ on how to address these issues.

However, if we disagree on a moral issue on which you are convinced that I am indisputably wrong, you cannot vote for me. For believers, morality – i.e., God’s moral law – is immutable, and if a policy is sure to violate or encourage others to violate it, we can’t support that.

The “indisputably” is an important caveat. Can you accept that reasonable people can have different beliefs on this issue? Can you see how a case can be made in the opposite direction, even if you find it unconvincing? If so, then the other is not being recklessly immoral; a seriously considered, prayerfully formed position that is different than yours can be respected and even overlooked if necessary.

If you cannot fathom how another person can hold that position, though, voting for that candidate is voting for what you are convinced is an immoral policy, and I think that is a compromise believers cannot make.

I’m not saying that you have to get all judgmental or that you believe you are inarguably right on all moral matters. I’m saying if you cannot even imagine a plausible case for the other side, you’ve got to act as if I’m wrong.

Now the question begs to be asked: What are moral issues upon which I should hinge my vote? Over the coming weeks we’ll be looking at some issues that I believe are, and some that aren’t, deal killer issues.