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Thursday, 10 July 2014

"Christian" assemblies and cake

This week has seen a furore over a couple of, dare I say, non-issues.

In the first, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev'd John Prtichard - Church of England head of education - has opined on whether assemblies "of a broadly Christian nature" should continue in schools. He has concluded they should not. Unsurprisingly, the British Humanist Association (BHA), whose sole raison d'etre is to see the removal of all expressions of faith from public life, applaud the comments. The Daily Telegraph, amongst others, were less than impressed.

Let's not pretend that the Bishop of Oxford and the BHA are singing off the same hymn sheet. The BHA want to see any hint of faith removed from schools and other public arenas altogether. The Bishop of Oxford is less keen on that and more interested in "liberating" schools and offering a time for "spirituality" of differing forms.

Now, I can't say I agree with the reasoning of either the Bishop of Oxford or the BHA. However, I do agree that assemblies "of a broadly Christian nature" should no longer be enforced in schools. I take this view for three main reasons:

Firstly, removing the compulsion for "Christian" assemblies does not mean that we can no longer have assemblies "of a broadly Christian nature". All this would do is remove the compulsion for it to be "broadly Christian". Second, the makeup of schools in the UK is not "broadly Christian". In some areas, schools are majority muslim and in other areas there is a clear mix of beliefs. Even in majority white British schools, to say most are from "broadly Christian" backgrounds is probably false. Finally, and most significantly, assemblies "of a broadly Christian nature" - certainly stretching back as far as when I was at school (and I suspect further) - means, in practice, asinine rubbish that barely accords with any conceived notion of Christianity. I would far rather we had assemblies that didn't even purport to be Christian - whether they also amount to asinine nonsense or otherwise - than we keep up a pretence of "Christian" assemblies that are no such thing.

In the second cause of consternation, a Northern Irish bakery is being taken to court over their refusal to bake a cake containing a slogan in favour of gay marriage, which is still unlawful in the province. The cake was also asked to contain a logo for the campaign group QueerSpace and photograph of Sesame Street characters Bert & Ernie hugging. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland are seeking to argue the bakery has discriminated against Gareth Lee, the volunteer LGBT activist who ordered the cake, on grounds that refusal breaches equality legislation outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Asher Bakery argue they are not discriminating against homosexual people - whom they are happy to serve - they were simply unwilling to bake a cake containing the requested content.

On this particular issue, I rather have sympathy for the bakery. Should they have simply refused to bake a cake for a homosexual person, or refused to bake a cake because it would be used at a gay marriage ceremony, I should think Mr Lee would have a legitimate case. This would be open and shut discrimination. Indeed, in my personal opinion, it would be equally unnecessary for the Christian conscience to refuse such a request as they would have no part in the actions of the individual nor any part in the day. That they inevitably serve cakes to others - whose lifestyles and parties they no doubt do not endorse - would rather support the claim.

However, the bakery have not refused to serve Mr Lee. They have not refused to bake a cake for any particular gathering. What they have done is refuse to bake content that they find goes against their conscience. It is also worth noting this is not the first cake they have refused. The bakery have turned down cakes containing pornographic images, profanity and other offensive material. The issue is not the person ordering, nor the occasion for which it is ordered, but the content of the cake itself. 

Though this is obviously an emotive and current issue, let us make the same case for a white supremacist asking for a cake containing racially offensive material. Now, most of us would have no problem defending the bakery for refusing such business. Nobody would be screaming political discrimination here and, were they to, most would ignore it and side with the bakers. Yet, on the actual issue at hand - again a matter of content rather than buyer - we have a discrimination case being brought. Aside from their mainstream palatability, what is the difference between the two cases?

If this discrimination case goes ahead, and is won, a series of questions will follow. Most significant of these would be are there any grounds to ever refuse business now? Would the bakery be forced to produce any content, no matter what it contained, or face legal action? If so, would this extend to any and every service provider? Would Christians be forced to produce content for people specifically seeking to belittle their own faith?

I broadly think anti-discrimination legislation is good. I am certainly not arguing that Christians should never serve people with whom they disagree. It is quite right that people should be served equally as people. Nevertheless, in this particular case, I find myself siding with the bakery. They aren't refusing to serve people equally, they are simply refusing particular content regardless of whomever it is that was asking for it, LGBT or otherwise.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Can credobaptists consistently accept paedobaptists into membership?

I have recently seen three articles relating to traditional credobaptist views on baptism. Firstly, Bill Kynes at The Gospel Coalition outlines his view as a baptist willing to admit paedobaptists to membership. In response to this article, Jonathan Leeming at 9Marks argues this position is simply not credible. Finally, an independent yet related post by Andrew Wilson at Think Theology helpfully and briefly outlines the central problem (without giving any solution). Here, he considers the issue with the added complication of subscribing to a Strict Baptist position (which, I should admit, I do). So, comes the question, can baptists consistently admit convinced paedobaptists into membership?

Jonathan Leeming offers two central arguments as to why membership for the paedobaptist is simply inconsistent for the baptist. Firstly, he argues if you are willing to admit paedobaptists to membership you are, by default, a paedobaptist. Secondly, he argues baptism is an objective, subjective, and social sign. However, he contends there is no objective or social sign if the subjective belief of the individual is not present. He states the contention that the objective and social signs happen at baptism, whilst the subjective sign catches up retrospectively upon belief as an adult, is false as without the presence of subjective belief the objective and social signs simply don't exist.

His first argument is particularly poor. Simply because one accepts paedobaptists into membership - who themselves fully believe they have fulfilled Jesus' command to be baptised - does not make one a de facto paedobaptist. It is simply not true to argue that accepting the paedobaptist into membership is the same as telling yourself "paedobaptism is essentially okay". 

Leeming's appeal to views on slavery and abortion simply don't help his case. Firstly, the reason "pro-choicers" cannot credibly be anti-abortion is because they actively promote the right to choose. The issue is not that they personally oppose abortion, it is that they specifically and actively encourage it as an acceptable practice (whether they themselves would do it or not)! The convinced credobaptist is not actively encouraging, or practicing, paedobaptism. They do not carry out paedobaptism nor do they teach that it is the prescribed mode of baptism. Unlike "pro-choicers", they cannot in any serious way be considered to be promoting paedobaptist principles.

Secondly, the logic of Leeming's argument is flawed. There are many areas in which we allow individuals freedom but with whom we vehemently disagree. To take Leeming's argument to it's logical conclusion, we must say that permission of anything with which we disagree is, in reality, to support the act no matter how much we oppose it. That would mean Leeming himself must insist upon an American, theocratic Christian state or else he must be, in reality, OK with apostasy and false religion. Worse still, this view would mean God himself - who permits, yet does not condone, sin - must actually be OK with it really. The argument is clearly a nonsense.

The argument that there is no social or objective sign without subjective belief is much more cogent. Nevertheless, I'm not convinced this is insurmountable if one is Reformed (as 9Marks certainly are). If we hold to the traditional Reformed ordo salutis, we note that election, calling and regeneration all occur prior to conversion. Though I'm not sure I'd want to make this argument or press it too far (I am thinking aloud here), one could argue that paedobaptism mirrors the ordo salutis. Baptism, symbolising our regeneration, coming before conversion. Though it wouldn't be usual, nor the proper mode of baptism, if conversion did actually and really come later, it follows (on a reformed schema) that the person was elect at the point they were baptised (though they were unaware of the fact at the time). Therefore, we could view their baptism as effective in retrospect despite it not being the proper mode. Likewise, could one not argue the subjective belief - coming after the fact - makes good the social and objective signs? As above, though it is not the proper and usual mode of baptism, why could paedobaptism not be considered effective following conversion? Though it is 'out of order' does not necessarily mean it was ineffective altogether and carried no significance.

Kynes argues that humility (effectively, "I could be wrong") means he would not refuse to admit a paedobaptist into membership. This is not a good appeal to humility. If one is a convinced baptist, this is something of a moot point as he evidently doesn't believe he is wrong. If he did, he would practice paedobaptism alone, or as well as, credobaptism. That he doesn't promote paedobaptism suggests that he doesn't think he is wrong. Equally, this appeal to humility would not hold water on other issues. One would not argue that "I could be wrong" over the deity of Christ so we better admit those that reject this doctrine to membership. We rightly work out  our doctrinal positions prayerfully and then submit to what we believe scripture to teach. I don't see how this issue of baptism is any different. However, Kynes appeals to charity and theology seem more legitimate.

Of course, it is right that those in open disobedience to Christ should not be admitted to church membership. However, the committed paedobaptist would contend they are not disobedient; they have fulfilled Jesus' command to be baptised (albeit out of order and an improper mode). Based upon our agreement of the truth of the gospel and the nature of salvation, does charity not allow us to view the paedobaptism as retroactive? Indeed, as I commented above, the individual was elect at the point of baptism if conversion later truly occurs.

On this basis, I see no reason for baptists to be viewed as inconsistent for admitting paedobaptists to membership. The baptist is not encouraging paedobaptism nor teaching that it is a valid and acceptable mode of baptism. What they are saying is, given the conversion of the paedobaptist, the baptism can be considered "in effect" albeit out of order. As such, the baptist can consistently admit the paedobaptist to membership without condoning or promoting that mode of baptism. 

For the Strict Baptist, the addition of communion adds no further complication. If a believer is admitted to membership, that same believer is permitted to partake of communion. The issue for the Strict Baptist lies, not in the communion table but, in the admission to membership which has been handled already.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The loathsome introduction of judicially enforced eugenics

Here is a most troubling story. Lord Justice Munby - Head of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice in England and Wales - has ordered a 13 year old girl to have an abortion despite her clear desire to the contrary. The Cranmer blog comments here.

The basic facts of the case are these: The girl in question has an IQ of 54 and the comprehension skills of a seven year old. She has been deemed "very damaged", "impaired" and "largely out of control". The father of the child was a 14 year old boy, evidently reckless and irresponsible himself. Nonetheless, it was manifestly clear the girl "had set her mind against termination" and expressed "unambiguous hostility towards termination".

One expert argued "If the pregnancy were terminated I believe that this would cause considerable harm to this young girl, who would see it as an assault. Continuing the pregnancy...may have a less detrimental effect on her given her current circumstances". Nevertheless, Lord Justice Munby argued "a clinical psychologist showed the girl lacked capacity to decide for herself" and ruled "it was clearly appropriate for me to supply the necessary consent to enable the termination to proceed". All of this is over and against the desire of the girl herself and the recommendation of clinical experts.

Cranmer has previously commented on Lord Justice Munby and his underlying legal presumptions (accessible here). Whatever view one holds is rather by the by in this case. It matters not whether one believes, like Cranmer, Christian mores and values should underpin our legal system. Nor should it make a difference if one prefers Lord Justice Munby's position that "the law of this country is secular, and that Christianity no longer informs its morality or values". What really matters - and I see no reason to reach a different conclusion based on a Christian or secular worldview - is whether enforced eugenics (and let's make no mistake, that is precisely what we are talking about) is ever acceptable.

The decision made by Lord Justice Munby was clearly not made on the basis of the girl being a minor. A month earlier, Mr Justice Mostyn had ruled that another pregnant 13 year old girl "had the mental capacity to understand options open to her" and that she was free to "decide what she wishes to do". This makes it evident the decision was based on IQ alone. Moreover, despite expert testimony that continuing the pregnancy would have been preferable for the mother, Lord Justice Munby ruled for a termination. This rather suggests the best interests of the mother were not at heart (for the best interests of the mother were expressly stated as continuation of the pregnancy). 

What then are we to make of the decision to terminate? Seemingly, it was based on little more than the mother's low IQ and comprehension. Given the best interests of the mother were to continue with the pregnancy, it follows the mother's best interests cannot have been forefront in the decision-making process. We are thus forced to conclude that although the low IQ of the mother was the basis for the decision being taken out of her hands, it was also the fundamental basis of the decision to terminate the pregnancy.

Though Christian and secular values may differ over the rights and wrongs of removing the decision-making process from the mother (though not necessarily), surely both would agree that the "best interests" of the mother must be taken into account when reaching a decision. Though, when discussing abortion in the abstract, Christian and secular worldviews may differ over what constitutes "best interests", in this case the best interests were made manifestly clear by expert witnesses. They concluded the best interests of the mother were to continue with pregnancy. 

This begs the question: why did Lord Justice Munby rule to terminate the pregnancy over and against the wishes, and the best interests (in the view of experts), of the mother? One can only conclude that Lord Justice Munby was concerned the child would inherit the mother's low IQ and level of comprehension. The mother's wishes and best interests were apparently moot.

Cranmer gives undue credit by inferring that Lord Justice Munby believed he was acting in the girl's best interests, despite his palpable wrongness predicated on his secularist presumptions. Rather, it seems Lord Justice Munby, despite expert testimony clearly stating the girl's best interests, reached a conclusion contrary to this measure. It is hard to escape any other conclusion but that this represents judicially enforced eugenics. Whatever differences exist between Christians and secularists (and those with a foot in both camps), one finds it hard to believe that many would find this acceptable.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Romans 11 and "all Israel"... another wisdom of crowds job

Romans 11:11-32 outlines the climax of Paul's dialogue regarding the inclusion of Jews & Gentiles into the kingdom of God. As hotly contested verses go, these are up there. Doug Moo notes most scholars 'agree that the key verse is 11:26: "All Israel will be saved." But the identity of "Israel" and the manner and time of its salvation are contested' (Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, 2002).

Whilst there are a broad range of potential solutions, there are only three credible possibilities:

  1. "All Israel" refers to a significant number of Jews who will turn to Christ and be saved at the parousia (so Tom Schreiner, Bob Mounce, Doug Moo, et al)
  2. "All Israel" refers to the entirety of the church. So, the elect Jewish remnant and the fullness of the Gentiles will "come in" ushering in the eschaton (so most Reformers, Stuart Olyott, Tom Wright, et al)
  3. "All Israel" refers to ethnic Israel but, rather than a significant number at the end of time, only those elect Jews throughout the course of history (so C.M. Horne)
I am pretty happy rejecting one of the above options without too many qualms (I simply don't think it fits the data). However, I am rather torn between the other two options.

I have an inclination as to which option I favour (not much more than that) but I thought the wisdom of crowds might be useful.

So, those so inclined, what are your thoughts?

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Steve Chalke, Evangelical Alliance & why Cranmer is wrong about a new schism

Yesterday, the Archbishop Cranmer blog commented on the expulsion of the Oasis Trust from the Evangelical Alliance (EA). EA have released a statement regarding the issue. Oasis have responded in kind.

His Grace is quick to note that "The EA do not expel members who support abortion; nor do they sever links with those who marry divorcees or accept pre-marital sexual relations as a forerunner of marriage. They do not even expel a member for repudiation of the foundational Evangelical doctrine of substitutionary atonement, which the Rev'd Steve Chalke terms "cosmic child abuse", as though God casually murdered His Son for the salvation of the world, and penal substitution is barbaric and utterly morally indefensible."

It is this that causes him to argue we now see a new schism in Evangelicalism. He states "And so we now have (another) schism - Conservative (or 'Traditional') Evangelicals, who welcome fornicators, adulterers and abortionists, and Liberal (or 'Accepting') Evangelicals, who welcome all of the above plus gays and lesbians." 

Worse still, claims Cranmer, the EA are themeselves guilty of this error. He argues removal of Oasis Trust from the EA is hypocritical since Gavin Shuker MP sits on their Council of Reference and has voted consistently in favour of gay marriage. This, says Cranmer, is hypocrisy and should see Gavin Shuker MP removed from the Council of Reference.

On two fronts, I believe His Grace has gotten this one wrong.

Firstly, in respect to Gavin Shuker MP, it is entirely possible to uphold the traditional Christian positions on marriage and homosexuality whilst allowing for a recognition of same-sex partnership in law. As Tim Keller has noted: "you can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal. Those are not the same issues. They overlap" (1). I have commented similarly herehere, here and here.

Now, I have absolutely no idea about the specific position of Gavin Shuker on marriage and homosexuality. But, it is entirely possible he holds a view not dissimilar to the Anabaptist position outlined by Keller. Unless Mr Shuker openly and repeatedly espouses a view that homosexuality is not sinful, his voting in favour of Gay Marriage is not reason to expel him from the EA Council per se. 

Neither does this represent any hypocrisy on the part of EA. As Cranmer himself notes, "the Evangelical Alliance has excommunicated the Oasis Trust simply because its founder has stated (time and again) his support for committed monogamous same-sex relationships". Unless he has repeatedly made similar comments in the public square, the EA are perfectly entitled to "excommunicate" Steve Chalke whilst retaining the counsel of Gavin Shuker. Should His Grace produce evidence that Mr Shuker has stated monogamous homosexual relationships are blessed by God and do not represent any form of sin, his argument may stand. In lieu of this, we cannot say the EA have erred on this issue.

On the matter of a supposed Evangelical schism, His Grace argues "we now have (another) schism - Conservative (or 'Traditional') Evangelicals, who welcome fornicators, adulterers and abortionists, and Liberal (or 'Accepting') Evangelicals, who welcome all of the above plus gays and lesbians." Evidently, this is a false classification of the two sides.

Though the EA may defend the traditional position on homosexuality, they fail to defend orthodox views on abortion, penal substitution and a range of other issues. For this reason, most Conservative (or 'Traditional') Evangelicals in the UK would describe the EA as outside the 'Conservative' or 'Traditional' camp. Given, as His Grace rightly notes, the differences between EA and Oasis Trust seem based on homosexuality alone (rather than the more heinous theological errors for which they should have withdrawn fellowship long ago), one struggles to see how they sit on different sides of a schism.

Surely, if schism exists within Evangelicalism, it is between those who uphold traditional, Conservative theological positions and those who do not. Clearly it is possible to hold to traditional, Conservative theology whilst not seeking such implementation in law. Yet, schism does not exist between those who accept legal recognition of certain positions and those who do not. Rather, it is between those who argue that scripture itself permits and blesses those things which are clearly sinful which we may, or may not, choose to legally permit. That being the case, despite his expulsion from the network, Steve Chalke and the EA seem to sit on the same side of the divide. 

That EA have said "thus far and no further" does not alter the fact that the lengths to which they were willing to go before expelling Steve Chalke well and truly write them out of ever being credibly labelled 'Conservative' or 'traditional'. Compare Spurgeon with the Baptist Union or Lloyd-Jones with the Evangelical Alliance itself. If you want to see real schism within Evangelicalism, they occurred long before the EA kicked Steve Chalke out of membership. If the lines drawn by Lloyd-Jones still hold (and I think they probably do), EA and Steve Chalke - despite their recent separation - still remain part of the same camp.

Notes

  1. Keller has specifically clarified this statement. He says "In explaining the Anabaptist tradition, I was quoted saying, "You can believe homosexuality is a sin and still believe that same-sex marriage should be legal." I did say that—but it was purely a statement of fact. It is possible to hold that position, though it isn't my position, nor was I promoting or endorsing the position. I was simply reporting on the growth of that view."

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Four problems with "claiming" promises

Many people seem to make a habit of "claiming" promises from scripture. Here are four major problems with doing so:

1. You can't "claim" promises

As Barnabas Piper outlines here, you simply cannot "claim" promises. To do so is to miss the point. As he comments "A promise tells a little bit about who God is and what He will do. It is anchored in His holiness, goodness, power, and sovereignty. It is based on his omnipotence and omniscience. And it will come to pass in a way only God knows and ordains." We cannot "claim" it and take control of it. Were we to do so, we would change both the nature of the promise and they way it is ultimately realised. A promise is a gift that one receives from God and He will make it happen, not us.

2. The promise we claim may not be directed at us

As Graeme Goldsworthy reminded us in Gospel and Kingdom, it is false to read the Old Testament as a series of stories we can mine for moral lessons that relate directly to us. That being the case, we cannot simply "claim" the promises of the Old Testament and relate them directly to ourselves. When God makes a promise to King David, for example, he does so in his capacity as the Lord's anointed. It would, therefore, be misguided to presume the promises to David relate directly to ourselves in the same way. The way those promises come to us, if at all, is through our relationship to Christ. David was a type of Christ who is the Archtype. Jesus is the ultimate heir to those promises and they relate only to us by way of Him.

Other issues arise when we try to "claim" certain supposed promises. It has become fairly common to cite the prayer of Jabez (1 Chronicles 4:10) as a basis for claiming health and wealth. Firstly, there is no promise from God anywhere in scripture that he will do this for us (in fact, there is plenty which suggests the opposite). All we are told is that the Lord did this for Jabez. Secondly, we simply don't know why the Lord did this for Jabez. Perhaps there was a particular reason. What we do know is that plenty of other passages in scripture speak against wealth for wealth's sake. Thirdly, and most significantly, this simply isn't a promise. Jabez prayed and the Lord granted his prayer. This wasn't a promise from God that he would do this for Jabez nor is there any suggestion this is a promise of what God will do for us.

3. Claiming promises turns them into magic spells and silver bullets

At heart, we must ask why we see fit to "claim" promises. If we are working on the premise that claiming a promise will make it happen, we are really turning God's word into magic spells. We suggest that by reciting a mantra, or prayer, God will somehow honour us. The Lord never worked that way in scripture. More to the point, He does not appreciate being treated like a genie who exists only to grant our wishes.

4. We only ever seem to claim the promises we like

As in (2), associating ourselves with the bits we like and ignoring the less attractive parts is a particularly poor way to read scripture. Psalm 139 is a good case in point. Many of us like to associate with vv1-18, applying it directly to our situation and "claiming" these truths for ourselves. I am yet to meet anyone who "claims" vv19-22 for themselves! It is simply not credible to cherry pick the nice parts and ignore the less pleasant bits - especially within the same Psalm! Again, as in (2), these things only really relate to us so far as they relate to Christ and we are in Him.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

On idols

Some time ago, I posted here regarding the difference between the first and second commandments. I argued that idolatry is best understood as anything that changes, obscures or alters the true character, or nature, of God.

It is worth noting that the incident of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32 was not an exercise in worshiping a false god per se. The people said "This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt!" (Neh 9:18) and simultaneously dedicated the following day "a feast to the LORD" (Ex 32:5). The people were not attempting to worship another god. Rather, they had changed the character and nature of the true God so that they were, in fact, worshiping a false image. The list of idolatrous behaviours in Col 3:5 is such because, as Christians, we are called to be Christlike and pursue godliness. In indulging such behaviour, we suggest God's character is in line with these things. We change God's character and worship a false image.

Now, it wouldn't be false to say those things that vie for our affections are idols. If we suggest the key to our happiness and fulfillment lie anywhere other than in God, we may not put these things before God but we certainly fall foul of the second commandment. In effect, we suggest God cannot, or will not, meet our particular need and thus we change his character and obscure his nature. If we put this false image before God, we would then fall foul of the first and second commandments simultaneously. Yet, those things that vie for our affections, and by which we suggest God will not meet our needs, are modern day idols. They may not be before God but they are nonetheless gods we worship and seek as a means of fulfilling particular needs.

What is worth bearing in mind is that an idol is only an idol so long as we treat it like an idol. If Paul's comments in 1 Cor 8:4-6 and 1 Cor 10:19f teach anything, it is that idols are nothing. They are either lumps of clay, pieces of wood, bits of stone, moulded metal or conceptual ideas. What they are not is gods.

This is an issue with which many people tie themselves in knots. I have a bust of C.H. Spurgeon on my office desk. Most people rightly conclude this is not an idol - I don't worship it, I don't find any fulfillment in it and I don't believe, nor act, in any way to suggest it is a god. Now, suppose it wasn't C.H. Spurgeon but was one of those Buddha statues, or one of those Hindu deities. Presuming I treat it the same way as my Spurgeon bust, are these any more idols to me?

We may want to have a discussion about the wisdom of associating yourself, as a Christian, with the idolatrous statues of false religion. It may not be helpful to people coming into your home and may lead to all sorts of conversations that are not particularly profitable. However, Paul is clear, in and of themselves, they are nothing and have no power.

I knew somebody who was given a Hindu statue by a colleague (it was a genuine gift in an attempt to be thoughtful). They concluded it would be wrong to smash it to bits, or throw it in the bin, in front of their colleague. I think they were right. In fact, I think - partly because they decided it wouldn't be helpful to display and partly because it was so grotesque - to shove it in the garage out of the way. Did they invite evil into their home? I don't think so. Did they engage in idolatry? I don't see how. Were they sinful to have this thing in the house? No. Paul is quite clear idols are nothing. They have no power. They are simply lumps of clay, wood, stone or metal. It would certainly be wrong to worship these things but an idol is only an idol so long as you treat it like an idol.

If you believe these statues have some sort of power, if you think you are inviting evil into your home by keeping one (perhaps having been given it), ironically you are being idolatrous. You are investing into a lump of material the characteristics of God. You are making out that something God says is nothing is actually really powerful. 

Again, we may want to have a discussion about the wisdom of associating yourself with such things. But that is not a sin issue. That is not an issue of idol worship. It is purely a matter of sensitivity and that which is helpful to others in the gospel.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The resurrection and the grounds of Christian hope

Good Friday is the day we remember the death of Christ. As I commented here, the cross is neither the object of our faith nor the basis of our hope. Rather, it is the place at which Jesus fulfilled the work of his mission and secured the salvation of all who believe in him.

Easter Sunday is the day we remember the resurrection of Christ. Unlike the cross, the resurrection is the basis of Christian hope. In Romans 8:24, Paul reminds us "hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?" As such, the Christian hope is by definition some future event or happening for which we wait.

As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:20 "Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep". Firstfruits signal the start of a harvest and prove there is more fruit on the way. If Jesus' is the firstfruits of those who have died, his resurrection must signal more of the same to come. The resurrection acts as God's pledge to all believers that they will be raised to glory. Jesus rose as the firstfruits of the resurrection of all believers to come. According to Paul, the basis of our hope rests on the historical event of Jesus' resurrection.

If one can disprove the resurrection, one can destroy the Christian faith. Christian belief rests on the historical resurrection of Jesus. Without it, there is no future hope. Jesus did not rise, he is not in glory and  no believer is going to be there with him for eternity. Evidently, this is what the apostles themselves recognised when they returned to the very jobs from which Jesus first called them in the aftermath of the crucifixion.

The question that remains is this: what best accounts for the empty tomb? What best accounts for the sudden emergence of the Christian church? What best accounts for the willingness of the dejected followers of Jesus suddenly being willing to die for a faith based solely on the resurrection of their Lord? 

The evidence for the resurrection is quite astounding. The points of agreement among scholars on the basic historic facts surrounding the resurrection are enormous (see here for an outline of this). If the answer to the above questions is that Jesus actually, bodily rose from the dead then Christians have remarkable grounds for their current faith and future hope.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The nature of the cross and why Good Friday is still good

In an article I read recently, it was pointed out - via the questions surrounding when Christian was saved in Pilgrim's Progress - that we are not saved by the cross. Having outlined his position on when and where Christian was saved (at the wicket gate, if you are interested), the author states:
“Are you saying that someone can be saved without the cross?” a concerned student asks.
“No,” I answer, “No one can be saved apart from what Jesus accomplished on the cross, but the Bible proclaims that a person gets saved when he receives Christ, and the Bible does not say that a person gets saved through believing that Jesus died for him. Christ himself is the proper object of saving faith, not some part of his work.”
The author rightly goes on to say: 
virtually everyone has been told that if he will believe that Jesus died for him, he will be saved, but I repeat: this is not found in the Bible. A person is saved not when he believes in right doctrine (substitutionary, penal atonement, in this case) but a person is saved when he believes in the right person, namely Christ. So the object of saving faith is not a doctrine but a person. Christ himself is the treasure chest of salvation. Receive him, and you receive all that is in him.
The article correctly notes that penal substitution is a vital, indispensable part of the gospel. However, it is not the whole gospel and it is not through proper understanding of this doctrine that one is saved. In short, "all who receive Christ the risen Lord as Lord and Savior are saved".

It is also worth noting that none of the apostles seem to ground their hope in the cross either. Their hope seems to rest, not on the cross but, on the resurrection event. So, the cross is neither the object of salvation nor the basis of Christian hope.

Before we go throwing out Good Friday and ignoring Jesus' death altogether, here is why the cross is vitally important and Good Friday is still good. Despite the cross neither being the object of our faith nor the basis of our future hope, the cross is where Jesus ultimately and finally secured our salvation. The cross is the place whereby Jesus paid the penalty for sin, once for all, and completed the mission for which he came. At the cross, the price for sin had been paid, the debt cleared and - unbeknownst to them at the time - the salvation of all believers finally secured.

Although our future hope is not based upon Jesus' work of the cross (more of which on Sunday), without the cross our salvation would not, and could not, exist. The cross is of vital importance because it marks the point in salvation-history at which God punished, in himself, the sins of those for whom Christ died. The cross is neither the object of our salvation, nor the basis of our hope, but there would certainly be no salvation without it. 

That is why Good Friday remains good.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A collection of snippets from the interweb

Here are several posts, articles and videos that seem worth a moment of your time:

Schreiner on the New Perspective on Paul - "the Reformers were fundamentally right. What Luther and Calvin said in their day was a right understanding of Paul. They had a good and right understanding of the gospel."

The Church needs Philosophy which, likewise, needs the Church - "if history teaches us anything, it is that we are fickle. We are too easily tossed to and fro by the winds of popular culture, base appetites, and short memories. We need to take the long view, and now, because of the influence of prominent Christian philosophers such as Dallas Willard, Alvin Plantinga, and William Lane Craig it is a good time to remind the church of the usefulness, indeed the necessity, of philosophy in service to Christ."

When is Christian saved in Pilgrim's Progress? - One of my favourite books, through which I was saved. A must read for all Christians (and, preferably, unbelievers too). Nonetheless, a problem has plagued many, including Spurgeon, in that Christian's burden only rolls away at the foot of the cross despite having already entered the wicket gate. So, was Christian saved at the gate or the cross? Spurgeon said of Bunyan: "“If he meant to show what usually happens, he was right; but if he meant to show what ought to have happened, he was wrong.” Was Spurgeon right or had Bunyan something else in mind?

Why moralism is not the gospel - Al Mohler talks through the difference between moralism and the gospel message. "We are justified by faith alone, saved by grace alone, and redeemed from our sin by Christ alone. Moralism produces sinners who are (potentially) better behaved. The Gospel of Christ transforms sinners into the adopted sons and daughters of God."