Friday, December 11, 2009

the gift of faith

“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19)
For about the last four years (as I remember my line-in-the-sand in conjunction with the birth of my second son) I have been an ardent advocate of the truth that faith in Christ, true saving faith, is a gift that is given to some, the elect, and not to others. When stated clearly like that, it can be a bit…uncomfortable or controversial inside of the church. But that is where I stand on the basis of Scripture.

And by the grace of God, I have been saved for over 20 years. By the grace of God I have been spared from emotional, physical, and spiritual pitfalls and trouble. The Lord has spared me from certain things and disciplined me out of love for other things when I sinned. The older I get and the more I work with and study in the church, the more I am convinced of the truth and glory of the fact that true saving faith is a gift from God which He imparts to the elect.

I fully and whole-heartedly acknowledge and glorify God in the fact that I am certain that the only reason that I am a faithful, yet constantly warring with sin, disciple of Christ is that God has given me new life and faith to believe in Him. And because it is a gift from God, it will not fail. Because my faith is a gift of God, it will continue and endure forever. For if my faith fails and I deny Christ or deny the true doctrines of salvation for the apostate doctrines of men that mingle human works with the work of Christ, this will begin to show that John’s words would apply to me.

…so why am I blogging this (after months of silence)?

  1. I want to get back into writing (published or not) my thoughts and meditations. It is a very helpful tool for my own growth and development that I have missed of late. And let’s face it – life’s not going to get less busy ever, so I gotta kick it into gear now.
  2. Sometimes I take things for granted – health, life, faith, house, job, you name it. Well, today I am intentionally not taking the faith that was given to me for granted.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Summary of my view of The Shack

The following is the final paragraph of my paper (still in rough form at this time) on the theology of God in The Shack. I will post more at a later time, but this sums up most of what I believe about this popular book:

This book is not a Pilgrim’s Progress for our generation (as Eugene Peterson claims). If anything, it may have the effect of pushing many people into a heretical view of God when Pilgrim’s Progress encouraged devotion to the true God. And if the current acclaim for The Shack is that it gives readers a whole new perspective of God or that it changes how they understand God, then this much can be sure: whatever that reader’s previous understanding of God was before reading The Shack, he is now more fully embracing a non-Biblical and soul damning view of a god who not only cannot save his soul, but does not exist.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tornado in Minneapolis: Boyd & Piper Could Both Tweak their Responses

I make my comments regarding the tornado, where and when it happened, and who has made what comments very carefully knowing that my own comments are equally (if not way more so) dissectible and wrong on a point or emphasis here or there.

You can read the comments of Dr. Piper and Dr. Boyd and in it you will find more details surrounding the tornado in Minneapolis, its timing and place relative to the ELCA conference. But in a snapshot, here’s how I understand what the events were:

The ELCA was going to have a vote regarding human sexuality in its denomination, and this vote was to take place at the very church and the very time when the tornado hit and broke its steeple.

Dr. Piper laid out his thoughts for why there is some precedent for stating the following:

Conclusion: The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.1

Dr Boyd’s comment about why this happened is very different:

I have an alternative interpretation of tornado behavior to offer. They have nothing to do with how pro-gay or how sinful people are and everything to do with where people happen to live. Tornadoes strike Oklahoma frequently because it’s located in a place where hot and cold air currents tend to collide frequently at certain times of the year. Much less frequently, the same thing happens in the Twin Cities. Why can’t we just leave it at that?2

My brief thoughts about Dr. Piper’s comments:

I think that Dr. Piper’s comment is off specifically related to his use of the word “was” instead of “might have been”. We can only interpret Scripture definitively. Natural disasters or murder (or whatever else) is not subject matter that we can answer the specific question of why it happened. We can, and should, uphold the big answers the question. The big answer, as I understand Scripture, is that God will be glorified and that His purposes will be accomplished in this world. I can say that definitively, but I think that we must be careful by saying that this tornado was for a certain specific purpose and not another.

My brief thoughts about Dr. Boyd’s comments:

Dr. Boyd stressed that the issue is not with how sinful people are, but where they “happen” to live. I stress the word “happen” because he went on to specifically objects to John Piper’s use of the Biblical example of Jesus rebuking the storm as evidence that God controls all of the weather by saying the following:

Even more interesting, Jesus “rebukes” the storm by commanding it to be “quiet.” The Greek term used here literally means “to muzzle” or “strangle,” and its the same word he sometimes used when confronting demons. The implication is that, far from suggesting that Jesus controls all storms, the passage actually suggests that at least some life-threatening storms have a demonic power behind them that resists God’s good purposes (for a fuller discussion on this, see Boyd, God at War [IVP, 1997]).3

I have not read Dr. Boyd’s “God at War” book, I believe that I understand his presupposition and thinking. Effectively God doesn’t control those things in the purposeful way that John Piper sees. For Dr. Boyd natural disasters are random and catch us off guard…but God didn’t know that they were going to happen either or He couldn’t (or didn’t) control them. For Dr. Boyd, the future is not something that is knowable by God.

I have understood his openness theology as it relates to human decisions but never in relation to natural disasters or the weather. But I suppose one has to go along with the other because it may be possible that man could alter the climate and weather (I don’t know Dr. Boyd’s position on this one, so I’ll leave it at that). However, I fully disagree with the presupposition that acts, natural or otherwise, in this world are truly random as they relate to God and His purposes.

I think that Piper is correct in his understanding that God has a purpose in all suffering and all disaster, but I think that he (and we) go too far when we ascribe what the exact purpose was. To speculate what it might be is another ball of wax, but we are better off there than to be dogmatic about the exact divine purpose of an event.

The question is not whether or not there was a purpose in the tornado that hit the ELCA church, the question is what was the purpose. And the definitive answer is the same as it is to the question of why tornados came through my neighborhood last year – I don’t know. And to ascribe a particular reason goes beyond our ability to understand natural revelation and events, but to ascribe that there is no purpose at all and that things just randomly happen apart from God’s divine purpose is to misunderstand God’s special revelation.

That’s my two cents.

Soli Deo Gloria.

3 Ibid.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Kicked Out of Como

Last night my brother-in-law asked if I wanted to go out witnessing to people at Como Zoo today. I sooooo wanted to go, but today has been booked up for me for a while what with studying for seminary and preparing a sermon for Sunday (I know...not going out evangelizing because I'm studying is pretty lame, but its my only day off to study before I preach 3 weeks in a row and have a paper due for Seminary right after that).

Well, I am sitting at my desk working when my brother-in-law calls me. It's about the time when he said he'd be leaving anyway and so I excitedly ask him how it went. His answer was, basically, that they just got started singing a few hymns and then were asked to leave because "we don't allow this here."

So a small group of Christians were asked to leave a public place (I don't believe Como is privately owned) because they're singing a few hymns must have offended people (and apparently 93X was playing on some speakers there - go figure).

Well, if nothing else - I'm not going to miss the next time!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Shack Thoughts #2 - God the Father is Not Mrs. Butterworth

“Am I supposed to believe that God is a big black woman with a questionable sense of humor?” 1

As a matter of fact, yes. In this novel Mr. Young portrays God the Father, for the most part, as “a large beaming African-American woman” named Papa.2 It is in this context, where not only the Father is portrayed as a woman but the character of the Holy Spirit is a slight Asian woman named Sarayu, that Mr. Young goes to great lengths in an attempt to justify his creative license in not wanting to reinforce a stereotype that the Father would resemble Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. I too would like to dispel the notion that God the Father is a white-bearded grandfather in the sky, but not by replacing Gandalf with a character who resembles Mrs. Butterworth.

Although this issue of the incarnation of the Father as a woman originally was of high concern, I was shocked at how accustomed to reading feminine pronouns attributed to either the Father or Spirit and how little they seemed to bother me as the book went on. I must have been most of the way through the book before I realized at how desensitized I had become to constantly referring to Mr. Young’s version of the Biblical God as “she”. This was even more infuriating to me when my primary purpose in reading the book was to examine and critique the theological content. How much more would a casual reader, who is engrossed in the story and not intending to examine its theology, be desensitized to the conception of God as a woman? It is both because of the grievous nature of this characterization of God and its desensitizing effect that it has upon the reader that this is the first primary theological issue that I will examine.

There may be few things that are as clearly stated in Scripture as it relates to how we are to picture God than His command in the Decalogue: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” (Ex 20:4) The word idol, or graven image, may make one think only of worship and so it may be easy to divorce the Mrs. Butterworth-like incarnation from the second commandment because she’s not a statue and there is no real worship service directed at her that occurs in the book (although there are “devotions” where the Shack-Trinity3 talk of their love for one another).

It may further be argued that my objection would not be raised if the Father and Spirit’s characters were male instead of female, and honestly that may have been the case. Others may continue to object because there is not this kind of uproar over the symbolic depiction of Jesus Christ as Aslan in the Narnia series. This objection is true for me personally in that Narnia didn’t cross my radar in such a way so as to raise my concerns, but that doesn’t change the fact that it still may well be, and I think that it is, a violation of God’s Word to depict Him in that way. So in the cases where I have been silent when God is depicted wrongly in fiction, I take responsibility for not responding when I was exposed to it. However, the fact that objections were not raised in the past does not excuse or give a pass to The Shack.

The point is that Exodus 20:4 does not limit objectionable images or likenesses to that of a specific characterization (i.e. Gandalf, Aslan, Papa, etc.) or substance (wood, gold, stone, etc.) and Christians should ardently object to any creaturely characterization of God the Father or the Holy Spirit. In their commentary on this commandment, Keil and Delitzsch compare the command given with Deuteronomy 4:9ff where Moses reminds the people that when they were given the Ten Commandments they “saw no form—only a voice.” (Deuteronomy 4:12) They go on to say that the specific terms used to describe the graven images “are to be understood as referring to symbolical representations of Jehovah.”4 In other words, artistic license – even if it is not for the primary purpose of pagan-type worship – is not a valid shelter for this type of characterization of God the Father or the Holy Spirit that we have present in The Shack.

And I would further add that if we do need to anthropomorphize the Father, Son, or Spirit at any time that we should first and foremost be very careful when we do so. And if we still feel confident to tread these waters and somehow express what God is like, we must do so only in the language and context that the Scriptures present God in. There are plenty of ways that God’s character and attributes are shown in Scripture, and we should be very careful to limit our characterization of Him to the way that He has provided for us.

To close out my thoughts on this particular part of this issue, I want to look at Christ’s words lest people object to my using only using the Law and not the New Testament.

23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23,24)

I submit that the characterization of God the Father as Mr. Young does in his book violates both verse 23 where we are to worship God in truth and verse 24 where we are plainly told, “God is spirit.” And by definition, spirit is not something that we can put tangible/human substance to. But furthermore, Jesus says that true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth…and the truth that we have is the Scriptures themselves and what they say about God.

“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

Finally, and briefly, I want to address the fact that the author did choose to have the two members of the Shack-Trinity incarnate as women. First of all, the way in which God has chosen to refer to Himself in the Scriptures is by using masculine pronouns, never feminine. There are a few instances where an action of God is compared to something feminine, but that is hardly a warrant to anthropomorphize or incarnate God as a woman. One of the more common texts that may be brought up to object to what I’m saying is Matthew 23:37 where Jesus is lamenting over the false teaching of the Pharisees,

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” (Matt 23:37)

You see – Christ Himself depicts Himself in a feminine way in this verse. Well, that is what some would say to add validity to the feminization of God in their overall theology or in their ability to have God be a woman in their fictional book. I, however, would like to point out the phrase “the way a” which is also rendered “as” in various translations. Jesus is not comparing Himself to a hen, He is comparing His desired action to that of a hen – there is a big difference. Furthermore, the feminine characterization is not even of a mother or wife…but of poultry. I certainly hope all Christians would object to a fictional characterization of God as a chicken, but you never know these days.

1 William P. Young, “The Shack” (Los Angeles, Windblown Media, 2007) 88-89.
2 Ibid. 82.
3 I cannot, in good conscience, refer to the characterization of Mr. Young’s god in The Shack simply as the Trinity because that term actually means something in the history of Christianity. I will deal with this at a later time and why I am so adamant about my concerns here, but that is why I must use this term to refer to the Mr. Young’s created god.
4 Keil, Carl Friedrich ; Delitzsch, Franz: Commentary on the Old Testament. Peabody, MA : Hendrickson, 2002, S. 1:396

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Reverse-Psychology Hermeneutic of Greg Boyd

Surprise, surprise…I disagree with Greg Boyd...again.

On the face of it, I believe that Greg Boyd’s view of God, if I understand the openness theology correctly that men like Dr. Boyd hold to (i.e. that God knows everything knowable, but that future events are not knowable, therefore God doesn’t know the future), is such a change in the understanding of who God is that he has departed from what can be considered an orthodox theology and is a heretic.

That being said, I would like to address a few of his points from a recent blog post “Jesus’ Repudiation of Old Testament Violence” and then in a separate entry, I’ll offer a few counter thoughts that directly apply to what seems to be the issue when people try to reconcile what they understand as the difference between the vengeful and violent God of the Old Testament and the meek and peaceful Jesus of the New Testament.

From Dr. Boyd’s Blog –

I haven’t been following his blog, but the title of his recent post caught my attention. Apparently he has been blogging about “the problem of reconciling the Old Testament God of war with the God of the cross revealed in Jesus” lately and, for the life of me, I don’t understand how a Christian scholar doesn’t more easily see the resolution to this question. But I guess, there is no reconciliation needed if you properly understand both the Old Testament and New Testament, God, and salvation…but that is where my later thoughts tie into this issue.

Dr. Boyd references Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew when He addresses the Law and its standards,

38 "You have heard that it was said, `AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' 39 "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (Matthew 5:38,39)

The Biblical context for the eye-for-an-eye standard is found in Exodus 21:23ff and Leviticus 24:17ff and in both cases Moses is writing about legal standards of governing the people. In other words, this is the law given so that an offender would know what his punishment would be if he were convicted of fighting and hurting or killing another (the person in view in Exodus is a pregnant woman’s prematurely born child). If the child is stillborn or dies because of the premature delivery, then the attacker’s life is forfeit. If the child is injured in any way, then you are to deal with the attacker in the same way – if the child loses an eye then so does the attacker.

23 "But if there is {any further} injury, then you shall appoint {as a penalty} life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Ex 21:23-25)

I sincerely reject Dr. Boyd’s categorization of the Law here merely as violence and not as an act of justice for the wronged. On a side note, those concerned with social justice seem most blinded to actual justice in the punishing of criminals…but again, I digress.

This is the standard in their justice system, their penal codes. The parallel passage in Leviticus is the same, but it includes the gracious provision,

“There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the Lord your God.” (Lev 24:22)

This was the law of the land, regardless if you were the poorest of the poor or if you were the richest of the rich or even f you were an outsider. As I understand Jesus’ audience at the time and His words “do not resist an evil person” correctly, then He is not talking about the correct application of the Law as it was to be applied under the rule of Moses and the judges or the kings. Christ is not talking about legal punishment, but about the attitude of the one being offended. If someone is going to take something from you, your attitude as the offended party should not be to resist or fight back, but to give it to them. Christ is not revoking the legal standard or chastising the Old Testament Law in any way. Whatever else may be true of Jesus’ words here to the assembled masses, He is not repudiating the Old Testament Law and its “violent” punishments, although again – I object to the way that Dr. Boyd has categorized this.

Furthermore I think Dr. Boyd does a disservice to the Bible and to his readers in the way that he strings together his various comments. He begins with the punishment of an eye for an eye with its command to show no pity comparing it to Jesus’ admonition to turn the other cheek (where Dr. Boyd’s asserts that Jesus is telling people to show pity, something the text does NOT say) right before this amazing quote,

“the Old Testament allowed Israelites to hate their enemies and sometimes command them to slaughter them”

Thus, whether intended or not (c’mon, I don’t believe it was unintentional) he is further arguing for the vile nature of the “violence” of the punishments for criminals by linking it to the phantom idea that the Old Testament allowed people to hate their enemies. Yes God did command the utter slaughter of Israel’s enemies primarily in the conquest of the land, that is true. But to say that the “Old Testament allowed Israelites to hate their enemies” without trying to qualify what that means is utterly reckless. Hatred for hatred’s sake was never condoned nor was allowed as some non-wrong in Scripture. There is hatred of God’s enemies because God’s wrath was against them, holy indignation, righteous anger – but not a self-centered hatred of others because of a personal reason. Shame on you, Dr. Boyd.

Regarding Dr. Boyd’s comments relating Jesus’ rebuking of Peter:

Peter is rebuked for striking the ear off of one of the men coming to arrest Jesus because, as Dr. Boyd says, “Peter drew his sword in self-defense — acting in accordance with Old Testament norms.” Old Testament norms?!?!? So Dr. Boyd must believe that He would be Scripturally bound to not defend his wife or children from a rapist or murderer. I sincerely hope that he is hypocritical in his statement here, and that is no joke.

Leaving aside the issue of self defense and whether it only has its basis in “Old Testament norms” or is a belief that is consistent with the New Testament, why was Peter scolded? In both Matthew 26:53 and John 18:11, the reason given is so that Scripture would be fulfilled (Matthew 26:53) and that God had prepared this to happen (John 18:11). That is why it was wrong for Peter to come to Christ’s aid at that time. I am again amazed at the reckless mishandling/avoiding of the direct context of the situation he’s talking about. And by the way, Dr. Boyd, don’t forget to read Luke’s gospel where just before Jesus is arrested He tells the disciples to take a sword when the go out, and if they don’t have one now – to get one (Luke 22:36-38).

And finally, Dr. Boyd leaves us with his teaser thought on perhaps what may be going on in the Old Testament with the violence that is in there.

“Is it possible that some divinely inspired material is not supposed to reveal to us what God is like but what he is not like? Is it possible that some material is inspired precisely because God wants us to follow Jesus’ example and repudiate it?”

I’m not sure where to even begin in commenting on this bizarre hermeneutical idea. But I will deal with the example that he brings up; Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. In an effort to give some sort of footing for his crazy “I commanded those people to do things that were wrong to show you that they were wrong” hermeneutic, here’s his explanation of what was going on in Abraham’s head.

“Abraham believed God told him to sacrifice his child, yet he trusted that God was not really like the bloodthirsty Canaanite god Molech and thus would not make him follow through with his request, even though he had no choice but to move forward in obedience. He trusted that God would supply the commanded sacrifice, if only at the last minute (Gen. 22:8).”

Perhaps I missed something in Genesis 22:8, but Abraham’s comment was “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Now whether or not Abraham had any thought that God would miraculously have a lamb appear for them to use, or if he was looking forward to the coming Messiah, or if he was referring to the fact that God would provide the sacrifice – in Isaac the miraculously born child, this text doesn’t specify. But Scripture does tell us what Abraham believed, and that is found in Hebrews 11.

“19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.” (Hebrews 11:19)

I think that it would be more Biblically consistent to say that Abraham believed that since God commanded him to sacrifice his son and he also knew that this son was the promised heir and fulfillment of God’s promises who had to be alive to do those things, then if God made him sacrifice his son He would also raise him from the dead. Hebrews is clear that Abraham’s faith was not in God to provide a substitute lamb at the altar, but for God to raise the dead! Now whether or not these thoughts crossed Abraham’s mind or similar prayers came across his lips, we aren’t told. To base a theology of reverse psychology on this text, or to use this text as a proof text for this wacky idea, is as foolish as…well, it’s as foolish as open theism. So I guess it’s par for the course.

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, August 07, 2009

What I’ve been up to in recent days…

Other than working, playing with my 3 older children, holding my 6 week old, trying to be a blessing to my tired wife, and studying for Seminary (attempting to, anyway) – including reading a book with an overly heretical view of God in it (well, that’s last post and some upcoming ones)…what have I been doing?

Well, a friend of mine happened to be getting rid of his 55 gallon fish tank at the same time that I was thinking about getting a big one…so I was SUPER blessed to get this tank which came with three bottom feeders and two red tinfoil barbs. Well, in the transition between locations, trying to clean the tank, and figuring out how to put other fish in the tank – one tinfoil barb died and one was donated to a pet store.

So now, we no longer have two enormously large fairly aggressive fish that would have eaten any smaller ones we got…we kind of splurged and got some fun fish. We wanted a fun and multi-colored variety of fish in the tank, and so here is what we have. I hope to figure out how to take pictures of our actual fish in our tank…but there is an art to taking those pictures that I am not in possession of at this time.

Here’s the list of the fish we have:

1 inherited Plecostomus bottom feeder

2 other Catfish bottom feeders we inherited

3 Dalmatian Molly

3 Black Molly

3 Balloon Molly

3 Sunburst Wag Platy

3 Silver Molly
3 Red Velvet Swordtail
3 Electric Glowfish (these are SWEET LOOKING!!!!)

4 Guppies (3 female, 1 male so as not to “tire out the females”)

28 total fish that will hopefully produce more (and not just Guppies, hopefully).

I know that the guppies will multiply like…well, guppies (the rabbits of the sea), but I figure the various omnivore fish that I have will help keep that under control for a while, anyway.

The kids love the fish, and I’m psyched about it because I am (eventually) going to build it into the wall that will separate the study (my office & Steph’s craft area) from the TV area when our basement is finished.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Initial, Partial, and Rough Thoughts on The Shack

So I realize that my commenting on The Shack is like much of what contemporary “hip” evangelical Christianity does when trying to be relevant to the modern culture – I’m commenting on a book that has been a humungous seller and influence in the modern Christian community. However, now that I think about it, my comments are not like Evangelical Christendom trying to be hip in the fact that The Shack was published 13 months ago while much of culturally relevant Christian stuff lags years or decades behind the culture…but that is not my main point, only an observation.

Before I even write down my rough and preliminary thoughts on The Shack I feel compelled to explain just exactly why I decided to read it. Soon after the book was published I began to hear reports of the serious theological concerns based on the contents of the book related to the doctrine of God and so I decided to find out what the concerns were. I read or listened to the commentary of a few Christians who I greatly respect for their theological commentary related to this issue. Each of these individuals raised the same concerns. Following reading the commentaries on the book, I began to warn friends and relatives to be very wary of The Shack because of the (sometimes) subtle but very serious theological problems in it.

But in doing so I never made the claim to have actually read the book myself, but I was taking the analysis from good and Godly men and women who had read it and raised some good questions and serious concerns. I guess I am not overly surprised at the fact that one of the chief responses that I received from those who love the book was something to the effect of, “You really cannot comment on what the book says if you have not read it yourself.” While I understand the objection raised, I utterly reject it as a valid argument against my stating or defending my concerns. And here’s why….

Have you ever read Hitler’s Mein Kampf? If so, have you ever read it in the original German? Have you heard, read, or seen any summaries or descriptions of what the content and context of Mein Kampf is? Do you have any opinions on what Hitler wrote in that book? Or better yet, if someone asked you whether you thought that Hitler’s Mein Kampf was a good book or a bad book, what would you say? Even if you haven’t read Mein Kampf but you’ve learned enough about what it says, you have the basis for an opinion and a valid enough reason to voice that opinion.

Now, granted, the comparison is very extreme and I am not suggesting that The Shack and Mein Kampf are the same or that their authors are similar or anything like that. The point is simply that to say that one cannot or should not have an opinion on a book unless they have read it themselves is ridiculous. The argument could further go to the requirement to read a book in its original language, or to read all of the source documents that someone used in writing a specific book on a subject, and on and on.

It is totally acceptable, and a wise use of time, to find sources that you can trust (by researching them and testing what they say) and take what they have to say about an issue into consideration when you form an opinion without having read the book, watched the movie, or whatever.

So with what I’ve seen documented about The Shack and the problematic things that it contains, I see no reason that I must read it myself in order to be concerned about its content or before I warn others about it based off of the work done by others who I trust. I decided to read it as part of a project for theology to, in essence, answer the question “What is the doctrine of God in The Shack?” And in order to speak more thoroughly, I am reading it for myself.

My Initial, and brief, thoughts – having read 1/2 - 2/3 of the book so far.

  1. All three members of the Trinity are shown in actual human form and they all eat meals together. My understanding of Biblical theology is that the only member of the Godhead who ever took human form is the Son (see John 1:1-14; Hebrews 1 & 2). I understand that some see various Old Testament examples of God showing Himself to men as Theophanies (God the Father) whereas I see them all as Christophanies (God the Son). There are many reasons that I would say this, but in short it seems to me that one of the distinct roles of the Son is that He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) to men whereas the Spirit and the Father are spirit, they do not have bodies.

  2. I don’t have the quote in front of me at this point, but there is a scene where the Character of God the Father, Papa, the African American woman, shows her hands and the main character sees scars on her wrists (page 95 or 96). This goes hand in hand with the first problem listed above, but also it brings into question just exactly what does this mean. And since no further is given (at least as far as I have read), the imagery links the Father with being on the cross which is where the Son received His marks as we see in the Scriptures. A historical example of this type of theological stance is called Patripassionism that says the Father was crucified. Orthodox and Biblical theology rejects that and, rightly, labels that heresy.

  3. “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human.” (p. 99) This is such a muddle, it’s almost hard to know where to begin. But this gets at the whole continuing problem of the blurring and muddling of Trinitarian doctrine. The only incarnate one is the Son. Neither the Father nor the Spirit “became fully human”. But this is not supportable by Scripture nor is it good creative license because of the fact that it is contrary to Scripture.

  4. “We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father, and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one.” (p. 101) Okay, now this is just as convoluted as the previous statement. Let me summarize. Hank Hannegraaff, the Bible Answer Man, summarizes the proper distinction in Trinitarian theology when he says that the Trinity is “one what and three who’s”. In other words, proper doctrine affirms the shema (Deut 6:4) in that there is only one God – true monotheism, and that is the “one what” – the what = God. Proper theology also understands that the Father is not the Son who is not the Spirit who is not the Father, and yet they are all God and all eternal. This is the “three who’s”. But what the author of The Shack is saying in this quote is first that he is explicitly denying modalism with the first sentence, but then completely botching it up and confusing it with the second. The character of God the Father is speaking when saying, “I am one God” somewhat affirming the shema, but then goes on to say, “I am three persons”. When one of the members of the Trinity says “I am three persons” that just doesn’t make sense. The one person of the Father is not the other two persons of the Son and the Spirit.

  5. The simple fact that the Father and the Spirit are incarnate as women is really troubling. While I had initially felt that the Trinitarian confusion (much of that is noted above) would be paramount in my concerns, the simple volume of times that God is pictured and referred to as a woman simply makes me very troubled. While the author goes to some great length for why God would have chosen to do this in his novel, the simple fact is that God always portrays Himself and describes Himself with masculine pronouns. There are a few examples in the Scriptures when describing an action of God that feminine language is used, the most notable in my mind being Matt 23:37, but even then it is describing an action using a female bird and not a human woman. It would be no more proper to refer to God as poultry based on this verse than it would to refer to Him as a woman based on this verse. And when I see the movements in various denominations to blur the distinctions between men and women, and even openly referring to “God our Mother” in some hymns in these churches, this is no small or insignificant issue.

There will be more to come as I finish reading the book and continue to study the various Trinitarian and other issues that are raised by it. And I say this simply because of the books depiction of the Trinity in a convoluted and contradictory nature along with blatantly changing how the Triune God of Scripture portrays Himself by portraying the Father and Spirit not only as female but as incarnate human women.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Dr. Tiller’s Murder

Dr. Tiller was a murderer. That is how I understand what he did and who he was. The United States legality of it matters not to me. Abortion is murder, and he was a high profile murderer of the unborn.

However, regardless of my view on who he was and what he did...

His murder in his church this weekend is appalling and a gross act of murder on the part of the individual and is not something that any pro-life Christian should ever condone. Anyone who claims Christian faith and condones this murder or commits a similar murder has a good deal more to worry about than the legal ramifications, but a murderer will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 John 3:15) unless he is saved and changed by God. And that change comes with repentance.

To the Tiller family:

May God grant you grace in this time of weeping. I pray that the Spirit would console you and that you would see the gospel clearly in this time of grief. I pray that you would be able to find peace that only Christ in His saving mercy and grace can provide. While I strongly opposed what Dr. Tiller stood for and did, I am truly and genuinely sorry for the loss of your beloved husband, father, and grandfather. I, along with my three children and wife who is 9 months pregnant, will be praying for your family in this time of sadness and loss.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

One Upon a Time, A Heretic Came to NWC Chapel…

I believe it was in ‘97-‘98 or ‘98-‘99 school year that we had a chapel speaker come to my Christian college. I was a freshman or sophomore when he spoke, and he is one of the speakers that I clearly remember, and that was at least a decade ago, but this is one of the speakers that I remember. The speaker was a young(er) man who made three statements to open up his message to the student body, and I will paraphrase from memory what was said:

One: tonight hundreds of children are going to bed hungry. Two: you don’t give a damn. Three; most of you are more concerned that I said “damn” than the fact that hundreds of children are going to bed hungry.

Now to be fair, I cannot remember if the subject of the first statement was hunger, death, disease, or something else. But what I do remember that the first statement was something along those lines – it could have been something to the effect that people are dying and going to hell, but I do not believe that was the case. Regardless, it appears that the speaker was right – I did care more about the second of his statements than the first. Not because profanity in and of itself is more concerning to me than caring for people, but if someone gets up in a pulpit and uses foul language that I do not expect from a gospel messenger – of course that is going to cause me to pause and give me concern.

But then, Bart Campolo, the speaker I am referencing, is not a herald of the gospel. He is not an evangelist or a minister or a missionary. Technically you have to be a Christian in order to be any of these, and Bart Campolo is not. He is a heretic.

I do not say this because of his statements from chapel 10 years ago that I remember somewhat foggily, nor do I say it because of my similar conclusion about his father, Tony Campolo. Here is my reason:

In an article posted on his blog on January 10, 2008 (and apparently published in Youth Specialties) he was responding to a letter from someone concerned how Bart could believe in the god and the bible. He wrote that his “most cherished ideas about God are supported by the Bible” but that “they did not originate there.” He then begins to paint a picture of a cosmic dualistic battle where his god is nothing near the omnipotent and sovereign God of Scripture. He is well aware of this fact, to which he wrote,
Unfortunately for me, God may be very different than I hope, in which case I may be in big trouble come Judgment Day. Perhaps, as many believe, the truth is that God created and predestined some people for salvation and others for damnation, according to His will. Perhaps such caprice only seems unloving to us because we don’t understand. Perhaps, as many believe, everyone who dies without confessing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior goes to Hell to suffer forever. Most important of all, perhaps God’s sovereignty is such that although He could indeed prevent little girls from being raped, He is no less just or merciful when He doesn’t, and both those children and we who love them should uncritically give Him our thanks and praise in any case.

My response is simple: I refuse to believe any of that. For me to do otherwise would be to despair.1

As if this blatant heresy is not bad enough, and denying the exclusivity of Christ is heresy of the first order, he goes on to write this:
Of course, to believe in God the way I do is to change the rules of ministry, and especially of youth ministry. I still convince young people to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour, but not because I’m afraid God will damn them to Hell if they don’t. On the contrary, I want kids’ to follow Jesus because I genuinely believe it’s a better life. Eternity aside, I want their lives to be transformed by God’s truth right now, for their sakes and for the sake of all the hungry and broken people out there who need them to start living His disciples. After all, the sooner we all start following Jesus by feeding the poor and freeing the oppressed, the sooner God’s will will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. But most of all, I evangelize people because I know they are my loving God’s beloved children, and I don’t want them to live a minute longer without knowing too that most wonderful fact of life.2

If Bart is not a blatant example of a knowing and willful wolf in sheep’s clothing, I do not know who would be better to fill such a category. He admits that he doesn’t hold to the orthodox Christian faith, but yet he “evangelizes” young people to “accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour” when he doesn’t believe that this is necessary for someone to do in order to be at peace with God. One wonders what a “gospel” message would sound like coming from Mr. Campolo.

But I do not know what is more disturbing – the fact that he believes this and has gone on record with his blatantly heretical beliefs or that Christian colleges still invite him to speak. He came to my school in the late ‘90s, and I do not know what his position would have been back then. But he is currently on a list of chapel speakers (along with his father, Tony Campolo) at another Christian school where many people I know have gone.

Where is the discernment in Christian institutions?

The school I am referring to is one that I found by googling “bart campolo chapel” and it was the second hit on the list. Northwestern College in Orange City Iowa…sad, very very sad.3


2 Ibid.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thoughts from Leviticus 2

I elected to take a class on the book of Leviticus at seminary because of all of the books of the Bible, Leviticus is on a short list of the books that are more difficult to read or study because of the information contained and the way in which it is presented. My hope in taking this class would be to increase my understanding of the book so that I could read it and learn from it better. And while I am not currently done with the class yet, I must say that I have been very blessed by more of a thorough study of the book.

One of my tasks is to write some papers relating to some subjects of the book, and I thought that since the first five or six chapters tend are the foundation for the book and the whole sacrificial system that we see in the Old Testament, I have decided to write on four or five of the sacrifices shown there. Most recently I have been looking at the grain offering

The Component of the Offering:

While the primary component of the Grain Offering is fine flour, the offerings were additionally to include oil, frankincense, and salt. It has been noted that frankincense was not only added to give “a grateful perfume”1 to the offering, but it also acted as a fuel accelerant which aided the burning of the offering. The salt added symbolized the offering’s “durability or eternality”2 and its preservation from corruption of the thing offered and implied God’s faithfulness to the “eternal permanence of the holy covenant of salvation into which Israel has entered with God.”3 Both leaven and honey are explicitly restricted from being included in the offering. One possible reason for this is `that both of these materials are “prone to ferment and decay” and would mingle corruption with the preservative of the salt and thus “change the nature of the offering.”4 Another reason is these materials were used in offerings to pagan deities during that same time, and their omission would clearly distinguish offerings to the LORD from offerings to false gods.

Practical Application:

In some of the reading, there were comments about the ways in which this might be applicable to us, and I believe it was Rooker who noted that we might be wise to resist the incorporation of things into our worship for the same reasons that honey or leaven were not allowed into this sacrifice. So the question is in what way would we be able to apply this type of standard to our worship settings today?

Perhaps the best way that the exclusion of honey and leaven may be more applicable to today’s Christian worship that I have come up with has to do with what we bring into the worship setting. In a day and age when many churches in the United States offer their version of a risqué sermon series on sex with each seemingly trying to be more shocking than the one before it, I have many reasons to object to this on a number of levels. But one specific level can be that since the culture is so sex-centered – between the enormous industry that is Internet pornography and other adult entertainment operations – that I believe that we are embroiled in our own version of the fertility cults and religions when the ancient world worshipped Baal or Ashtoreth.

Therefore on this basis, it would be a direct application to say that we should go to great lengths to abstain from course or risqué use of sexual content in our gatherings because this is what the world already worships and we do not want to confuse worship of the Lord Jesus Christ with something that is crass and vulgar. Not that this type of subject matter should never be addressed or that it should be completely off limits, it is the way in which we address such things that, in my view, might be objectionable on the basis of the pattern seen in the grain offering’s regulations as they related to the cultures surrounding Israel.

Just a few thoughts.

Soli Deo Gloria.

1 Kellogg, Samuel Henry (1839-1899). The Book of Leviticus. In The Expositor's Bible, ed. By W. Robertson Nicoll. p 71

2 Mark F. Rooker. Leviticus. New American Commentary. Vol. 3A. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000. p 98

3 Kellogg p. 75

4 Rooker p. 97

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Blessings of "Bible-Time" with my kids

I have been blessed with the opportunity to have evening before-bedtime Bible-time become a habit with my children. So much so that my kids practically stage a coup if we just sing and pray without reading if it is too late in the evening. Now I think that any child would have a desire for the consistency of a bed-time routine regardless if you read Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, the Bible, or something else – but I am very grateful that my children have become accustomed to the Bible reading and look forward to it, and they do not really have a spoken desire to read something else.

Now if that isn’t sweet enough that my kids love Bible-time, they also love to talk about the Bible and ask questions…and that is where I am really pleased. Bible-time, in my house, is not just a time to read the stories of David and Goliath, Samson, Daniel and the Lions Den, and the birth of Jesus, but it is a time of teaching them big truths for their little hearts and minds to wrestle with. I might mention how I deal with some of the subject matter later (like the doctrine of the Trinity) and how I address it with them or what some of my goals are, but for now let it be known that we deal with some pretty heavy stuff for almost 6 year-old and a 3 ½ year old to wrestle with.

Although the nightly Bible-time that we have is very consistent, my preparedness for each time is not very consistent. I’m not saying that it is imperative that I need to study for hours each day in order to teach my children the evenings lesson (not that it would be a bad thing to do this and it would definitely be beneficial), but if we’re going to read the Bible (which we normally do) usually we read what the kids request. Noah might say, “I want to read Abraham” – this means…anything where Abraham is mentioned, and so the field is pretty wide open – and Micah might say “I want to read something that we’ve never read before,” so the field is wide open but it has lent to my not preparing anything. What I always prepare to do is to get the gospel message of their sin, God’s anger at sin, their just punishment before God, who Jesus is, His death and resurrection, and salvation grace through repentant faith – to get that message to them nightly. Now, this is no small thing, for these are the subjects that they must deal with first before any other level of teaching or application can be addressed. But, I did not like that I was walking in unprepared to deal with whatever we might read…so I tried something new yesterday.

The day before we’d read a little bit in Luke 2 about Jesus staying at the temple and interacting with the teachers. I told the boys that the next night we’d read about John the Baptist. So the next morning I read Luke 3 to be thinking about what we’d read later in order to be prepared. Now, I am not sure of which factor played the bigger role, but between having the Scripture on my mind during the day and the questions of my boys – I was greatly blessed by our Bible-time.

So without typing out our conversation (a conversation between a daddy and two small children is hard enough to follow when you’re present), suffice it to say that some of their questions, my answers, and the application of bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8) and those not bearing fruit being cut down and thrown into the fire (Luke 3:9) were, I trust, helpful to their little minds and hearts as well as provoking me to want further study and understanding on some of the things in this text.

I don’t know how we would have progressed had I not been a little prepared for that specific passage, but I do know that having been prepared I was blessed more by reading and talking about the Word than other times.

…who’d’a thunk it?

So tonight – we’re reading about the baptism of Jesus. Fun stuff!

Soli Deo Gloria.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

the Power of God in Conversion

I'm reading some old Baptist confessions for one of my Seminary courses, and I came across this article of the 1646 London Baptist Confession of faith. I thought that it was just a beautiful statement:

Faith is ordinarily begotten by the preaching of the gospel, or word of Christ, without respect to any power or agency in the creature; but it being wholly passive, and dead in trespasses and sins, doth believe and is converted by no less power than that which raised Christ from the dead.

Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 1:28; Rom. 9:16; Ezek. 16:16; Rom. 3:12, 1:16; Eph. 1:19, Col. 2:12.

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