Archive for January, 2009

Link on the Mass Resurrection

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:51-53)

We tend to view this as an odd passage–and skeptics like to point to it to discredit the biblical record.  After all, they say, it’s only mentioned in Matthew–not in any of the other Gospels, not in any other early Christian writing, and especially not in any non-Christian writing.  Why don’t any Roman historians talk about this spectacular event?  I’ve wondered about this, myself.

Jason Engwer over at Triablogue has a recent entry called, A Bad Argument Against The Resurrection That’s Often Repeated, in which he addresses the issue.   He brought some interesting insights to bear.  An excerpt:

Sometimes critics suggest that the raised individuals would have been naked, would have been wearing deteriorated clothing, would have been similar to zombies, etc. But as I wrote in response to one such critic in my article linked above, “The concept that God would raise people from the dead, but leave them with no clothing or deteriorated clothing, is ridiculous. It’s consistent with the imagery somebody might get from a horror movie, but it’s absurd in a first-century Jewish context. People wouldn’t have been walking around nude, and assuming that bodies would be restored without restored clothing is dubious. Did Jesus have to travel nude for a while, looking for clothing, after His resurrection? Does God raise a person, but then leave him on his own to find some clothing to wear?

[...]

What leads you to view it as something more like a horror movie is your desire to criticize the passage….You don’t ignore the implications of a context just because the text doesn’t spell out every implication. What does a term like ‘raised’ mean in a first-century Jewish context? Does it imply a zombie who walks around in the nude with a partially decomposed body?

[...]

Given that so many other Jewish and Christian documents imply that God provides such things [clothing] (angels in human form are clothed, the risen Jesus is clothed, etc.), and given other factors such as ancient views of public nudity, the idea that risen people would be left naked is less likely.

That makes me wonder.  If you were in Jerusalem at the time, and you didn’t happen to know any of these resurrected people, and you didn’t see them come out of the tomb, how would you know that you were looking at a resurrected person?  How many people in Jerusalem would even be aware that something spectacular had happened?  And of those who did see, how many became believers because of it?

Wouldn’t this event become another rumor about the strange things claimed by Christians?

Something I still wonder about:  What happened to them afterward?  Were they taken up by God, like Elijah?

Advice on Prayer

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

A recently received piece of advice about personal prayer:

Pray out loud, not silently.  That way you know when you’ve stopped praying.  (If your mind drifts, you stop talking.)

Integrity & Struggle with Sin (Plus awesome mp3s! More D.A. Carson!)

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

While we’re on the subject of hypocrisy (I’m not done with the series yet), I’d like to share some awesome mp3s.

Last night in my small group, we listened to D.A. Carson answering a question about progressive sanctification, and sins that don’t seem to get better.  This was in the context of talking about pastors whose ministry collapsed in sin & scandal.  He talked about the concept of integrity in Scripture, and our struggle when we see that who we are on in the inside isn’t the same as who we try to be on the outside.  Open this mp3, and go to 1:05:20.  It lasts about 4.5 minutes.  (We listened to the second part of a 3-part answer.)

Background:  The mp3 comes from a conference for Christian ministers in South Africa.  The two speakers were D. A. Carson (the guy we listened to) and Mark Dever.  I love both of them. Here are the Q&A sessions:

Q&A Pt 1
Q&A Pt 2 <– the one we listened to
Q&A Pt 3
Q&A Pt 4

More about the two speakers:

D. A. Carson:  Probably my favorite guy to listen to.  He’s a NT professor at Trinity seminary in Illinois.  He manages to combine being very intellectual, very academic, very theological, and very pastoral.  There’s a lot of heart in what he says, and a lot of application.  (He has some really good stuff on evil & suffering.)  And he does a great job of being biblical when he’s doing theology–he’s not just talking about ideas, he’s not being dryly academic.  He’s teaching the Word.

I’ve had a link on the right to some Carson mp3s.  But there is now a massive collection of Carson mp3s available, at his page at the Gospel Coalition, so I’m changing the link.  443 files, at the moment.  It’s organized by topic.  That’s where I found these Q&As.  (If you listen to many of the mp3s, you’ll start to recognize illustrations & stories he uses a lot.  They become very familiar.  :) )

Mark Dever: He’s the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C.  He has an organization called 9 Marks, named after his book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.  The description of the organization says, “9Marks wants to help local churches re-establish their biblical bearings and re-think their ministry methods. We exist to help local church pastors and leaders in the discovery and application of the biblical priorities that cultivate health and holiness in the local church.”

Anyway, they have a page of mp3s, too.  Most (all?) of the mp3s have Mark Dever interviewing someone about some topic. Or group interviews.  I haven’t listened to all of them, but there’s some pretty interesting stuff.  So, look through the files, and if you see a topic that interests you, you’ll probably profit from it.

One more recommendation about Dever:  This year, he spoke at a conference called Together For the Gospel.  The other speakers included John Piper, Albert Mohler (of SBC’s Southern Seminary), John MacArthur, RC Sproul, and CJ Mahaney (who is from a charismatic quasi-denomination called Sovereign Grace Ministries.)  There was also a guy named Thabiti Anyabwile, who gave a really interesting message on race & ethnicity.  Anyway, here are the mp3s.  There are the sessions themselves, and then panel discussions.

Update: Oh, cool!  For some reason I didn’t think to check Dever’s page at the Gospel Coalition.  They’ve got a lot of mp3s for him, too.

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

In the previous entry, I talked about how the Gospel should be at the center of anything we say about homosexuality–and this includes stressing the point that we are all sinners, and no one has the right to feel self-righteous. It’s interesting that Paul makes precisely that point when he talked about it.

Romans 1

Paul talks about homosexuality in Rom. 1:26-27, and then lists other sins in Rom. 1:28-32–like gossip and disobedience to parents.  So, I started pointing that out, when I wanted to show that–biblically–homosexuality is a sin among other sins. To show that everyone–including me–stands condemned in the same way. No one can be self-righteous.

It’s odd. For some reason, I didn’t notice that Paul seems to be making exactly that point. Then recently, it clicked.  When he lists “big” sins with “small” sins, he almost seems to bait a trap for the smugly self-righteous–letting the readers feel comfortable for a moment, before cutting them low.  (Though… See the P.S. at the end of the entry.)

(more…)

Free Apologetics Cruise!

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Another interruption to my series:

Free Apologetics Cruise!

Well, not really free.  But it’s cheap-as-free.

In Ft. Lauterdale, FL, on Jan. 21,  James R. White will be debating Bart Ehrman on the question, “Can the Bible be inspired, in light of textual variation?” The debate will be followed by a 4-day cruise with apologetics lectures.  Due to a flailing economy, the cruise line has cut the price of the inside cabins by half, to $150.  (You’ll also need to spend about $150 for the hotel on the night of the 21st, and airfare, of course.)

FYI, Bart Ehrman is the author of Misquoting Jesus, a best-selling (well-written) book on textual criticism.  (Dan Wallace has a good review–both a short and a long version.)  Ehrman is now an agnostic, but was once an evangelical graduate of Moody Bible Institute.  He lost faith in the inspiration of Scripture, for a strange reason:

He thinks that if God miraculously inspired the Bible, then He would miraculously protect every copy that was ever made, so that we would have zero variation in manuscripts.  (None of those footnotes in your Bible that say, “Some manuscripts read…”)  It’s an odd bit of theology, and Dr. White will be challenging him on it.  (Ehrman later became agnostic, because of the problem of evil & suffering.)

Who is Church for?

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Here’s a brief interruption to my “Homosexuality & Hypocrisy” series.

The Church is the only society that exists primarily for the sake of those who are not its members. — William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury (1881 – 1944)

I’ve been thinking about this quote since I heard it a week ago.  (I’m not sure about the exact wording–Google reports many forms.)  How true is it?  Or maybe put the question this way:  In what sense is that sentence true, and in what sense is it not true?

It’s clearly true in this sense:  For every Christian, evangelism and acts of service are part of our discipleship.  Part of being like Christ.  Our lives should include an outward orientation.  Part of following Christ is loving people.  So as Christians, part of our lives is supposed to be for the sake of those outside the church.

But what does “the Church” exist for?  When we meet together in a local church, what are we doing?  Aren’t we coming to be built up & fed?  To be challenged, encouraged, convicted, held accountable, comforted, consoled, rebuked, taught?  In that sense, doesn’t the church exist to build up the members?

That is, after all, what Jesus commissioned Peter to do–feed His sheep.  He commissioned Peter as a shepherd–a pastor.  The leaders of the church exist “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-16).

Of course, we don’t come to be passive.  The leaders aren’t the only ones who serve.  On the contrary, 1 Cor. 12-14 tells us that we are all given gifts by the Spirit–”To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”–and each member of the body is needed.  So we come together to love and serve one another.  When we’re fed, it’s “for the work of ministry”.

It’s interesting, though.  In these three passages, the purpose of gathering together is talked about in terms of building up the Body.  In that sense, the church–seen as a local gathering of followers of Christ–exists for the sake of its members, not for its non-members.  We gather to be fed, and to serve one another.  When we gather, it isn’t directly for the sake of people outside the church.  Except…

It’s not quite either/or.  The two sides come together, in at least these ways:

  1. The church sends out missionaries.
  2. When we are fed & built up, that means that we grow in discipleship.  And discipleship includes loving those who do not know Christ.  Our edification does include an outward aim.
  3. Feeding & equipping Christians to serve can mean organizing community service efforts.  Or it might not.  Instead, a church might help its members get plugged in with existing community service groups–or encourage & exhort its members to serve in “unorganized”, random acts of kindness.  All three can be good.

But however the church handles community service, we should be sure that we are adorning the gospel with good works–not replacing the gospel with good works.

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 1: Slogans & the Gospel

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Lately, I’ve been encountering the combined subjects of homosexuality, hypocrisy, and shallow interaction. I started writing one entry on homosexuality in Romans 1-2, but it ballooned, and became too much for one post. So this will be the first in a small series. (Hopefully, I can keep each post terse! It’s hard for me to be brief.)

The major theme will be “going deeper”. Which is pretty tough to do, consistently.

The Bible & Homosexuality

The biblical passages on homosexuality evoke strong reactions. Many people see them as harsh & mean-spirited. They’re associated with a self-righteous attitude of condemnation–a mindset that looks down on homosexuals as the worst of all sinners. A mindset that ostracizes and rejects. A mindset that doesn’t understand, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

Slogans

There are standard evangelical responses. The most common soundbite is, “Love the sinner, and hate the sin.” Unfortunately, it has two major problems.

  1. It’s a slogan–one that’s easy to spit out, regardless of whether there is any love in your life. It’s something Christian kids learn to say, without necessarily learning what it really looks like. So it can sound empty and hollow. Especially if people have been hurt by those who say it without living it.
  2. More importantly: It almost implies a lie. It almost implies that gay people are sinners–unlike us. It does nothing to counteract the bad assumption that gay people go to hell, but straight people are fine.  As though gay people are unique, as sinners, instead of everyone being in the same boat. Self-righteous condemnation.

Canned Answers

There are better slogans, maybe. (“We’re all sinners in need of a savior.” “Jesus said, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged,’ but he also said, ‘Go and sin no more.’”) Pithy statements can be useful. Canned answers can help. But not when the canned answer reflects canned thinking. Not when the deeper truths aren’t deeply grasped, and lived out. Not when the only thing people hear is canned answers.

So we need to make sure that we know the truths behind the slogans, and that we live in accord with them. Our lives should be adorning the gospel.

Responding With the Gospel

When we talk about homosexuality, at the very core we need to be communicating the gospel. We need to be pointing to the universal need for salvation, and to the work of Christ to save us. To the need for repentance, to the need for trust in him, and to the power & sufficiency of trusting him, apart from any of our efforts to live well.

We’re sinners in need of a savior. Christians shouldn’t view ourselves as “righteous”, and scorn homosexuals as lowly sinners–everyone is together a sinner. And “not judging” doesn’t mean that we never say, “That’s wrong.” Rather, it means not condemning–we speak God’s grace to fellow sinners. In love. There’s no place for self-righteousness. When Christians understand Christ, then we respond with humility and grace and love and the free offer of the gospel. We look with love and care, in part because we know that we ourselves have been forgiven much.

When we understand the gospel, we cannot look down on anyone.

Wrap-up

We need to get past slogans. Or we need to put meat on the slogans we profess. It includes communicating the gospel more clearly. That includes rooting out any hint of self-righteousness. It includes avoiding the perception of being noxious, holier-than-thou “Religious Types”, by living out lives of Christ-like, loving, humble service.

————-
Update:
Here’s the entire series:
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 1: Slogans & the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 3: Hypocrisy, Stereotyping, and the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4: Dealing with Stereotypes
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4.5: P.S. On Dealing with Stereotypes