Posts Tagged Bible

Walmart Believes in Total Depravity

While the superstore would never ever admit it, what I witnessed this “Black Friday” morning was a major corporation organizing itself in such a way for which the only reasonable explanation is that they do not believe in the “goodness” or in the “reasonableness” of humanity.

I have not done “Black Friday” door buster shopping for probably 14 years. This year, there is one gift (the initials of it are Nintendo Switch) that I rolled out of bed to try to nab. Alas, to no avail, “online special only” I was told.

Upon entering the store, the door buster cohort and I were literally herded (no other appropriate term here) by Walmart shepherds through a single looping one-way street with a towering median of door buster items. Credit goes to the workers for having the median so well-organized. However, this plan was doomed to fail. People are going to cross the median; they are going to go the opposite way in the one way lane; they are going to get to the thing for which they woke up at 4am.

The amazing observation here is that Walmart anticipated this. Not only did they anticipate our/my consumerism would prevail over circumstances of pandemic proportions, but also the powers that be saw the nasty cocktail of “Black Friday” during a pandemic, and said, “Cards on the table; we don’t trust in the orderly goodness of humanity. We will build a wall and corale them into our loopity loop. We’ll station workers like security guards at every 10 yards.” While the superstore executives would never ever say it publicly (nor would the government), actions speak louder than words. Walmart believes in total depravity.

For those reading who are unfamiliar with total depravity, it is the Christian doctrine found in the Bible that teaches that humanity is not always as bad as it can be, but it is as bad off as it possibly could be.” That is to say, at any given moment, human beings by nature possess an indwelling spiritual bankruptcy that has the capability to be and do great evil.

Walmart anticipated this. They acted as one would expect a believer in total depravity to act. Did the superstore’s plan work? Not at all. The plan disintegrated after the first person had to wait at the first turn. People dispersed and broke every law.

Every external law fails to cure or order the totally depraved soul. Law simply can’t do the job. This is why Paul wrote in Romans 8,

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

(Rom. 8:1–6 ESVi)

Only the God of the Bible through the work of Jesus Christ by the power of the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit can resurrect spiritual life in a totally depraved sinner. Jeremiah the prophet asked,

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

(Jer. 17:9 ESVi)

The answer is God.

“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

(Jer. 17:10 ESVi)

And upon his searches and tests, humanity is found wanting; we are found incurably wounded with a heart that lies to us about our spiritual condition. For this reason, God sent and revealed his Son, as the Nicene Creed teaches,

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven;

he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

and was made human.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered and was buried.

The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.

He ascended to heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again with glory

to judge the living and the dead.

His kingdom will never end.

If the Spirit of God is awakening you to the truth of your own depravity (as he did me), then you are ready to receive the good news,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

(John 3:16 ESVi)

Thanks Walmart. Thanks for reminding us that we really aren’t as good as we think we are. We aren’t okay. We aren’t law abiding, good little boys and girls. We are sinners. Thanks be to God, for he has spoken to us in these last days by his Son, who after making purification for sins, sat down at the right hand of Majesty and now offers to us a life and salvation sweeter than ten thousand charms (and Nintendo Switches). Merry Christmas! Christ has come!

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Signs of Life Episode 7: Dead End Decisions

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Signs of Life Episode 6: Pay Phone

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The Historical Development of Lent

Will you practice Lent in 2018? I have practiced in the past; however, it’s admittedly been a few years.

To be honest, Lent (and a strict Christian calendar in general) is something that I struggle to reconcile with apostolic teaching from Paul, who wrote,

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 2:16-3:4).

Paul seems to be instructing that asceticism and calendars are overrated compared to Christ and underwhelming in the battle against the sinful nature. Then, he compels readers to set their minds on their union with Christ in the experience of the gospel; that is, think on heavenly accomplishments rather than earthly shadows for power in the spiritual life.

Before my theological education, I found this liberating. During my education, knowledge of church history, extra-biblical Christian texts, and exposure to a variety of Christians in various traditions caused me to wonder if I was missing out on my historical heritage – I didn’t want to act as if my Christianity was the only Christianity that there ever has been. Having been removed from the academic environment for about 7 years now, I’ve felt pulled in two directions – one existing in my knowledge of the historical expression of the Christian, spiritual life and one existing in my simple, post-conversion liberty found only in Christ and his gospel.

I imagine that some may respond in saying the historical liturgy aims to image the gospel and to orient all of life around it. I can see that, but I can also see how it possibly focuses the mind on shadows of the gospel rather than on the reality itself.

When I turn to the Scriptures for clarity, the only “icons” we’re given are the Eucharist and Baptism. We weren’t given any specific fasts or specific festivals or holy days. In fact, this 2013 article by Nicholas V. Russo casts all kinds of doubt on any solid proto-Nicene Lent tradition. At the most, one can say that the early church employed fasts and certain days as tools to prepare catechumens for Baptism. These lesser things served the people and the true apostolic ordinances.

Today marks the beginning of Lent for many of my brothers and sisters. My hope for them is that they aren’t only living in the shadow but also in the reality of the union we share in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have died. Our life is hidden in Christ with God. I want to know more of this death and life with which I have been united. I’m just not certain that Lent is the way. I’ll remember my Baptism; I’ll sit at the Lord’s table, I’ll hear the word of redemption in Christ; I’ll gaze upon the Head of the church, and try to yield to his Spirit, whose aim it is to conform me to Christ.

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Rogue One, Miracle Clusters, and Faith

Rogue One was incredibly entertaining. It gave life to my childhood imaginations regarding the opening scene of Episode 4. 

How did Princess Leia get those Death Star plans?

Now we know.

The profound silence and absence of Jedis drew the spectator in a surprising way. It was up to the ordinary, not the extraordinary. No clusters of miracles to be found. No Jedi mind tricks; no Luke, no Obi-wan. In fact, a Jedi temple is obliterated. Perhaps, the most significant mission in the entire saga placed in the hands of some ordinary Stardust.

Yet, despite the absence of any good and noble wielder of the Force, the ordinary rebels still believed in it. Interesting. No miracles. No Jedis. But faith remained. Hope remained. 

In the story of the Bible, we are wrong if we think miracles are common. Throughout the centuries of development of the story, miracles cluster, and they are rather rare. They take place at specific progressions in God’s story, where both word and act unite in special revelation from heaven. However, there are long periods, centuries even, of silence from God. 

During the silent eras, ordinary faith becomes a most remarkable and powerful thing. It’s not that God is dead or that he has always been silent. His voice and his actions come in waves, in clusters, and they reveal him. He does not speak on command, but when he must, he does. He does not act on command, but when he wills, he does. 

A friend and professor recently said,

We don’t discover God; he discloses himself. We don’t uncover data; he unveils truth. We don’t climb to him; he comes to us.

So how does one live in a “silent” era? Ordinary faith in what has been spoken and has been accomplished. Ordinary hope in what is to come.

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Divorce and Remarriage in the Christian Context—Part One: Divorce, Remarriage, and My Own Existence

In a 2014 article with Catalyst entitled, “Everything We Think We Know About Marriage and Divorce Is Wrong,” Shaunti Feldhahn challenges the oft quoted divorce statistics with which most of us have grown too accustomed and familiar. She writes,

Perhaps most surprising, half of all marriages are not ending in divorce. According to the Census Bureau, 72% of those who have ever been married, are still married to their first spouse! And the 28% who aren’t includes everyone who was married for many years, until a spouse died. Non-one knows what the average first-marriage divorce rate actually is, but based on the rate of widowhood and other factors, we can estimate it is probably closer to 20–25%. For all marriages (including second marriages, and so on), it is in the 31–35% range, depending on the study.

She goes on later in the article to mention her partnership with The Barna Group during which both Feldhahn and Barna calculate that the divorce rate among those who regularly attend church is 27%.

These statistics are certainly more encouraging than what we typically hear about marriage in the world and in the church. Although in my opinion, if Feldhahn and Barna are correct in their calculation about the divorce rate among regular church goers is 1 in 4, I still say we can do better. Comparing Feldhahn’s numbers according the the Census Bureau and in her partnership with Barna, the divorce statistics in our nation and in the church are still basically the same. Don’t get me wrong; I am elated if these lower figures are correct! However, I believe that the effect of the grace of the gospel and the ministry of the Spirit in marriages of Christians should cause our numbers to be lower in comparison to the general population. I recognize that even as Christians we still wrestle against the sinful nature, but we also by grace have been given power and awareness to overcome and then yield to the will of God for our lives and marriages.

My plan is to make this something like a five part series on Divorce and Remarriage in the Christian Context. Other than this first article, I’ll be interacting with a book entitled, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics by Richard B. Hays. In this article, I hope to share briefly about my own experience and identification with both divorce and remarriage. In the articles to follow, I plan to interact with Hays (1) on those New Testament texts that address divorce and remarriage, (2) on the (canonical) development of the Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, (3) on his hermeneutical principles in response to the New Testament’s witness against divorce and remarriage, and (4) on his exhortation that the Christian Church is a community making the love of God visible (and one way we do this is through our marriages).

But before interacting with Hays, first let me say that I would not exist were it not for two divorces and a remarriage. Neither would my sister Jade. I find the complexity of my own existence in light of the will of God quite confounding. If the Scriptural commands to uphold marriage had been completely obeyed by my mother and father, then I seemingly would not exist. I suppose an appropriate response from me on this is that I should always rejoice when the word of God is obeyed, even at the cost of my own life. The divorces that took place prior to my existence, that indeed paved the way for the possibility of my own existence, were not without causing deep pain, confusion, and heartache for others, including children. I suppose another appropriate response from me on this is that I thank God for his grace in allowing me to have existence despite the messy circumstances that preceded my life; and moreover, I thank him for his grace in calling me into relationship with him. And as dysfunctional as it may be, I am thankful for my mother, my father, my two half-brothers, my half sister, and my full sister. I love them and continue to grow in relationship with them.

Today, my extended family has grown larger as a result of four other divorces and two remarriages. My mother and father divorced when I was 16, and they both remarried. My stepfather was also previously married, as was my stepmother. Confused yet? So, in addition to the family I started with, I now have a stepfather, a stepmother, two stepsisters, and three stepbrothers, not to mention the numerous nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, etc. While I look back upon the divorces that led to my own existence with some sort of gladness that I was able to have life, I can’t say that I have always looked at the divorce of my mother and my father with such grace and gladness. I am learning. I am learning that Christ’s redemptive grace is able to reach deeply into broken families, heal any and every wound, and make relationships into friendships, even if there was once hostility and brokenness.

As I write and interact with the Scriptures, Hays’ book, and the topics of Divorce and Remarriage, I wanted you to know that I do not come to these topics somehow lacking in experience. The temptations that lead to divorce has surrounded and bullied my family. While I am a grown man, I am still a child of divorce, and there isn’t a day that goes by in which I am somehow still affected by my family dynamics. I don’t say this resentfully; it’s just reality for me. I am eager to learn God’s grace and how to lean on his love and show his love in this family context. In other words, I’m not a slave to the dysfunction of my family; none of us are. The power of the gospel sets us free, and we are growing in this freedom.

These experiences came with me when one glorious day, Jesus reached down and saved me. Very early in my conversation, he taught me that Ephesians 4:32 is part of the new life that he had for me, “Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This forgiveness that I received has allowed me to continue to have an extended family. It has transformed my heart to seek out these new step-relationships with charity. God in Christ has forgiven me every sin, and O how great a sinner I am. Therefore, I must then extend forgiveness, kindness, and gentleness to others whose sins may have had some affect on my life. Interestingly, the teaching in this verse that has brought healing in my experience of divorces and remarriages is the same teaching that serves as the foundation to my marriage to Aimee. I ought always to forgive Aimee, and Aimee ought always to forgive me because God in Christ has forgiven us both. Perhaps, you feel that I am a bit naive here, and I may very well be a bit naive about some things. However, as per my experiences listed above, I don’t think divorce is one of those things. I look forward to writing and interacting with you more in the coming months about what the Bible teaches about Divorce and Remarriage. God’s grace to you and your families.

In Christ,

Rex

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Bible Study Websites

While the World Wide Web certainly at times ushers garbage into our homes from time to time, I think we also must admit that it is an amazing resource when employed for good. Recently, I was asked to create a list of quality Bible Study Websites that may be of benefit to my students as they grow in the love and understanding for God’s word. I have provided this list below, and I would appreciate it if you would share with me any other websites that you have found helpful for Bible study. Thanks and enjoy!

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Bible Study Websites

1. Bible.org is THE site for Bible study assistance. It has everything.
2. Salem Communications seems to have a number of helpful Bible study websites, such as . . .
a. http://www.biblestudytools.com has helpful tools such as concordances for word studies, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, etc.
b. http://www.godtube.com and search for the Bible Study Methods videos with Dr. Howard Hendricks.
c. http://www.jesus.org focuses on topics surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and seems to have an apologetic tone to it.
3. DesiringGod.org is another helpful website that provides sermons, articles, some Bible study guides, and much more.
4. http://www.studylight.org is full of resources too! Concordances, original language helps, Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries. It also has a decent variety of daily devotional materials.
5. http://www.blueletterbible.org is a great place to start for the person who some interest in studying the Bible in its original languages. Yes, you can do some study in the original languages even though you’ve never taken a Greek or Hebrew course! This site is designed with the beginner in mind and is very helpful for those who really want to labor in the text of the Bible.

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Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—6. You Gave Them Hand-Me Downs

6. You Gave Them Hand-Me Downs

Today’s response to Marc5Solas on the “Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave the Church” allows me to – once again and more fully – use one of my favorite last names belonging to a past theologian . . . Schleiermacher. SCCCHHHHLLLEEEIIEEERRRRRMMMAAAACCCCHHHHHEEEERRRR! If you’ve been in the SSM for any amount of time, then you know how much I like to say Schleiermacher. Unfortunately, I loathe Schleiermacher’s theology. In Church History as the Enlightenment and Reason began to take the lead in people’s thinking and as the Church suffered from the mortar blasts of Modernism, Friedrich Schleiermacher stepped up in attempt to rescue the Church and Christianity. As Michael Patton and Tim Kimberly of The Credo House have said, when anyone claims to “save the Church” or “rescue Christianity,” turn and run the other way. Jesus is just fine as the Head of the Church, thank you very much. In his response to Modernism, Schleiermacher single-handedly moved the Church away from its historic, corporate creeds and doctrines of the apostles on to an embrace of an immeasurable, personal and internal feeling of dependence upon God. The Credo House gentlemen in their Church History Boot Camp DVD Series suggests an illustrative comparison between Schleiermacher’s claim that we need not get rid of Christianity to the same reason we need not get rid of Christmas Celebrations – don’t you like all of the festivities around Christmas? All the family? All the meals? All the presents? All the decorating? All of the get-togethers? All the children’s choirs? We can’t get rid of Christmas! Christmas makes us feel good. We need Christmas. We need the stories about Jesus; they make Christmas special. You need not believe those doctrines about the virgin birth, God becoming a man, etc. Those are just fables designed to create in us a feeling of dependence upon God. They are not real; they are not historical.

As the Church embraced Schleiermachian theology (and it largely does still today), it headed down the slippery slope of making the feelings within the self the final authority concerning truth. Marc5Solas claims that we have given our kids “hand-me downs” of a particular kind. Namely, we – the adults and the teachers – have followed Schleiermacher’s liberal theology of turning the Christian faith into a purely subjective, independently personal, self-fulfilling, good-feeling seeking religion. Some other comments by The Credo House fellows are helpful here:

You must know Schleiermacher in order to get your neighbors.

With one swift move . . . he disconnected the head from the heart.

Schleiermacher himself said,

You reject the dogmas and propositions of religion. . . . Religion does not need them; it is only human reflection on the content of our religious feelings or affections. . . . Do you say that you cannot accept miracles, revelation, inspiration? You are right; we are children no longer; the time for fairy-tales is past.

Thus, Marc is right when he claims that the Church at large has been attempting to pass on a “feeling” about God to the next generation, hoping that they will “feel” it too. But we are asking ourselves, to what extent have we at Scofield in the Student Ministry (even in the Children’s Ministry) passed on hand-me downs to our kids? Parents? I’m not sure about you. How are you discipling your kids to experience (i.e., to know, to feel, and to submit to) God? Do you immediately jump into a description that is primarily “feeling” oriented? Then, you are a child of Schleiermacher trying to create another child of Schleiermacher :-). Stop it. Feelings are fine in our faith, but only so long as they flow and trickle down from biblical truth. When our children want to know God, we must point them to four sources and trust that their feelings will be shaped appropriately as the Holy Spirit works. I’m not saying ignore or neglect emotions – we are human beings – but emotions must be controlled, just as the thinking and the will must be controlled by the Holy Spirit. So, here are four sources for helping a kid to believe and experience God rightly:

  1. The Holy Scriptures – help them to learn the Scriptures. Help them to discover God in his word. Look to the God-breathed writings of the apostles and the prophets. “Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
  2. The gospel of Jesus Christ – of course the gospel is in the Scriptures, but what I mean specifically here is that you can help your kid grow by teaching them the good news about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, his current ministry as our high priest, and his second coming. Is your kid suffering through something, show them what the apostles taught/wrote about the Lord Jesus’ suffering and how God brought good and later highly exulted Jesus.
  3. The Holy Spirit – now by turning your kid to the Holy Spirit, I am not suggesting the warm fuzzies that you sometimes feel on the inside. Don’t reduce the Holy Spirit to the warm fuzzies. He’s a bit more . . . like He is God for heaven’s sake. As I mentioned before, we must practice belief in the ministry of the Holy Spirit as we are told by the apostles in the Holy Scriptures. What does the New Testament teach us about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Church and its members? A lot is the answer. Mainly, the Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and glorifies him to us and teaches us about him and about life in him. The Holy Spirit has an aim to make you into the image of Christ (Romans 8:26-29). He seeks to gift you for service and God’s glory. He seeks to produce certain fruit in the Christian. There is no such thing as a Holy Spirit-less Christian.
  4. The leadership of your local church (a.k.a. Elders/Pastors) – don’t forget that the Lord Jesus blesses the local church with pastors and teachers and more. Need help discipling your kid in the real Christian faith? Get them to church. Encourage your student’s participation in as many discipleship activities as possible in the local church.

Which brings me to my last question, how is our teaching at Scofield with regard to passing on a substantial, biblical, historical Christian faith to our kids? Well, I may need you to tell me :-). My comments here would be much like my assessment in the previous response. Our content is solid, biblical, in continuity with the orthodox Christian faith of all times. Yet, I think we need to be less aimless in our plan. A little more focused on the beginning point, the finish line, and everything in between necessary to do our best in disciple making.

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Election 2012: Can the Christian Vote This Year?

November is coming. As I begin to consider participating in my fourth presidential election, I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. Let me begin by expressing the mood of this post just in case you don’t intuitively catch it through the text. I come to this as an average Christian guy simply praying for thoughtfulness about and loyalty to the gospel of Jesus Christ as I consider candidates and issues in our current political and social context. I am a theologian by training and a pastor by vocation, not a political analyst, economist, or any other similar thing. I have traditionally made political decisions from a politically conservative position; that is, I am in favor of smaller government in America’s democratic context; I lean more toward the effectiveness of conservative economic principles; and I view health care as a commodity, not as an entitled right (IMO, it has to be paid for somehow; therefore, health care is something that should be available to working people, and of course compassionate and wise consideration should be given to the poor and disabled, but without the present sense of entitlement.) I have voted for a Republican in every previous election since 2000. There . . . now you know my political history . . . no secrets.

But this election is different. It is unlike any other I have faced. I am an evangelical Christian, which means (among other things) that I believe in (1) the Triune God of the Bible, (2) the orthodox Christian doctrine on the second Person of the Trinity—Jesus Christ, (3) the depravity of humanity (see Luther’s The Bondage of the Will), and (4) salvation for humanity by grace through faith in the faithful work of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1–22). I agree with the Christian Church, which has always historically taken the position that abortion of a child is wrong (see Didache 2:2; Barnabas 19:5; as well all Scripture passages condemning child sacrifice and those in which we see Jesus’ great love for children).

On this topic, I do honestly wonder about certain, rare ethical situations caused by today’s medical and technological advancements. A brief story here, when my wife went into premature labor at 20 weeks with our twins, Hadlee and Jaxon, I was nearly faced with a decision that humbled my conservative political views on this issue a bit and caused me to diligently consider what Scripture had to say to me as a husband and a father. Hadlee was born first, and she lived only a few minutes. There was a chance that Jaxon could survive; however, this came with some risk. I remember very vividly the doctor pulling me aside and saying to me that the pregnancy had been compromised which put both Aimee and Jaxon at risk. He advised me that should the situation require such a decision, that I/we would need to be prepared to choose whose life we would seek to protect. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe where I found myself . . . never in a million years would I have thought that I would have to make such a decision. In order to prepare, I first spent time in a long season of prayer. Then, I searched the Scripture for guidance about my responsibilities to God as both a husband and a father. After having done this, I felt sure of a conviction that my relationship to my wife took precedence over every other earthly relationship according to Scripture. I communicated to Aimee that should a decision need to be made, that I felt sure that the right thing to do was to protect her life. However, such a decision did not have to be made; little Jaxon came on his own . . . too early and his life expired after only a few minutes.

Continuing on, I am also in agreement with the historic position of the Christian Church on marriage. For the Church, the reason marriage must be between a man and a woman is a theological reason. God created a male and a female to be joined in a one flesh covenant because it was decided long before creation that such a human relationship would image what God the Son would do for his Bride, the Church (see Ephesians 5:32).

So what’s my dilemma? We have two candidates this election — Mr. Romney and current President Barack Obama — neither of whom I can endorse wholeheartedly as a Christian. Mitt Romney, as has been well publicized, is a faithful member and leader in the Mormon LDS Church. His election (really even his nomination and campaigning) has and will no doubt bring Mormonism into the public view—for the good of it or for the bad of it is yet to be seen . . . more on this later. My problem with this is that Mormonism is heretical and deceptively so. If you were to read the LDS Beliefs, you would most likely not see anything too different from what you may expect from your Christian church’s doctrinal statement, but this is where you would be terribly wrong. Little words full of meaning are left out (e.g., “eternal” in Article 1 of the 13 is only associated with the Father, not with the Son, nor the Spirit—this is intentional by the LDS, which does not believe in the eternal existence of the Son and the Spirit but only the Father). Further, unorthodox doctrines are employed (e.g., see Articles 2, 3–4, 8, and 10). Of the four orthodox Christian doctrines that I mentioned above, the LDS rejects all four, and in so doing, they are guilty of preaching “another gospel” about which Paul has some very strong words (see Galatians 1:8–9). So, how does this relate to politics for me as a thinking Christian. Well, can I vote for a candidate whose religious views may lead to confusing Americans about orthodox Christian theology and therefore allow for a false gospel to be popularized? And don’t compare previous Roman Catholic presidents with a potential Mormon president please—that is not an accurate parallel. I would feel more comfortable voting for a man of no religion than a man advancing a false and confusing gospel.

Then, there is the incumbent, President Barack Obama. I cannot endorse wholeheartedly his position on abortion, which in some sense seems compassionate toward women, but is too free so as to neglect the humanity and life of the unborn:

The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way. We also recognize that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. We strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child by providing affordable health care and ensuring the availability of and access to programs that help women during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including caring adoption programs (taken from http://www.barackobama.com/women).

Further, I cannot—in my understanding of the marriage covenant represented in Scripture as well as Scripture’s clear teaching that all humans since the fall have perverted human sexuality—endorse his position on same-sex marriage:

So, what am I to do? This is the evangelical Christian dilemma in 2012—to ignore the dilemma is not thoughtful nor good—there is a dilemma. Now, I could just drink the “Republican Kool-aid” as a traditional Republican and not think too deeply about these things, but I can’t. Or, I could side with the more progressive and trendy democratic party (clearly more trendy than the Republicans) because there is a mood of progress about them, but I can’t do this either. The whole “lesser of two evils” is not a justifiable Christian ethic—evil is always evil. I do support small government, so maybe that should be my guiding light to the Romney camp, but can I do this at the expense of the clarity of the gospel? And let’s be honest—do either parties really believe in small government today?

I feel like a sheep being led to the slaughter-house. There’s no good way to go. Even if I decide not to vote—I have committed the gravest sin in America—to not exercise my right in the democracy. In many other places and in the days of monarchs and emperors, I wouldn’t have had to worry about this dilemma. The people in power would be in power—regardless of my opinion—until they just weren’t in power anymore. I would have had no other choice but to seek God, the truly Sovereign King, who gives a hearing at his throne of grace to humble sinners concerned for his/her nation and its leaders. Yet to an American, is praying really doing something? Let me ask this, is praying doing enough? I and you probably feel that it is not—that we must cast our vote and do our part. I don’t know about you brothers and sisters, but I don’t see our part making much of a difference in our country no matter who wins every four years in November.

The real problem here is that we have forgotten how to depend on God as our Sovereign. We Americans have a history being a people who always have to “do something” (and no I am not speaking about hard work here) and then feel like we have fixed things (or at least tried) by our participation in the political process. But where do we Christians go when we are presented with a context like the one we are now facing? Do you decide to contribute to a decision that potentially does harm in the advance of the gospel? Do you vote for a candidate who holds moral positions that violate your conscience? What do we do?

It is time, brothers and sisters, for us to return to God. When is the last time you met with God about the advance of the gospel in our nation? When is the last time you met with God about the moral bankruptcy of our people? The road to being a good American citizen begins with a heart that hungers and thirsts after the things in the heart of God. Consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I recently watched a documentary on Bonhoeffer and am now reading a biography about him. Bonhoeffer was a German, theologian, and pastor in the days of World War II and Nazi Germany. In his day, it was very clear that the church had ceased to be a group of people who could think critically about ideologies. This is why most of the church gave the blessing of God upon Adolf Hitler. Tell me Christian brother or sister, to what ideology are you most loyal? Is it to the Republican idea? Is it to the Democratic idea? I hope that your first and foremost loyalty is to Jesus Christ, which does not lead one to become inactive in the affairs of his/her nation (as Bonhoeffer clearly illustrates by his life); however, thinking through the gospel implications of things allows a citizen to act in a godly way in the midst of godless nations. You see, the German church was too late in its attempt to call Christians to think critically and biblically about politics. What about us? What about the American church?

For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says:
“Awake, O sleeper!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you!”
Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is (Ephesians 5:14–17).

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Review #3 of Roger Bagnall’s Early Christian Books In Egypt (2009)

In chapter three, Bagnall discusses The Economics of Book Production in the ancient world. The chapter opens with Bagnall mentioning something he “remarked briefly” about in chapter one—the difference between the audiences and uses of classical and Christian literature in the second and third centuries. He goes on to emphasize, “The most important difference was of course that Christian books had no role in the traditional Greek educational system of these centuries” (50). It is not difficult to see that such an observation is important for the presence (and therefore the discovery) of Christian books in Egypt from the second and third centuries. Without the support and use of such literature in the education system, teachers and schools would not be purchasing nor promoting such works. The spiral continues because the educated Alexandrian would not be familiar with the Christian writings, and it is the educated Alexandrian who had moolah, that is cash money (ha—only those who are acquainted with late 1990’s and early 2000’s hip hop will get this reference :)). In the ancient world, the wealthy had the finances to buy, copy, and produce books.

Bagnall next goes on to display very, very detailed work on the economics involved in the manufacturing, selling, and buying of the ancient book. We are most indebted to his tedious work here, as well as to those whom he references. However, I would like to challenge an assumption that I see in the argument from the previous paragraph. Admittedly, I am a novice in the area of the education of the ancients, and in no way am I suggesting a perfect correlation between education systems today and those of antiquity. However, I feel like there is some bit of timeless truth to the nature of young pupils. My first challenge is this: how many of us leave elementary, high school, and even college with an allegiance to certain works of literature? Is Bagnall’s assumption that educated individuals had a desire to purchase the books of their youth accurate? Perhaps, but I feel like the question is worth asking. Second, is it a fair assumption then that educated individuals would not have purchased new or unfamiliar works of literature, such as writings from a curious and developing Christian movement? Just some thoughts.

Bagnall’s book is worth its weight in gold because he has gathered so much information from the most current research regarding the economics of ancient book production. His bibliography and research on the primary sources available are priceless. He is precise and to the point—such a technical discussion could…effectively…bog down…the…reader, but Bagnall shares the necessary information and moves on to make his point. For the sake of not simply repeating what he has so perfectly summarized, allow me to simply give you some bullet points on ancient book economics:

  • Ancient book prices are rarely preserved, so the database of information with which to work is limited.
  • Apophthegmata Patrum owned by Abba Gelasios is a complete parchment Bible priced at 18 gold solidi, or 72 Roman grams of gold [1 solidus = 4 grams of gold from Constantine (272–337) onward].
  • John Moschus (Pratum sprituale, PG 87/3.2997) values a New Testament at 3 solidi. A New Testament is about 19% of the total Bible; thus, implying a value of 15.6 solidi for an entire Bible—not differing greatly from Gelasios’ Bible (18 solidi).
  • These prices should be accepted only with caution; however, the consistency of the two witnesses is encouraging.
  • Testimony from the ostraka found in the Theban West Bank (credit given to Anne  Boud’hors) informs us of prices that, at first, appear a bit cheaper; however, two important factors raise questions about such “door-buster” prices: (1) it is uncertain that the prices listed included binding, which typically doubled the price, and (2) it is uncertain that such affordable prices would have applied to complete Bibles.
  • Bagnall has a very helpful section on the prices of parchment and papyrus (54–56).
  • For the sake of space, several other factors come into play when researching the economics of ancient book production: (1) material: parchment or papyrus, (2) the cost of labor, (3) accuracy of the ancient records that provide us with testimony about the prices of ancient book production, (4) the size/format of the sheet chosen for the production of a book, (5) the quality of copying desired (6) the practice of recycling writing materials—palimpsests, stuffing for binding and the Panopolis practice of gluing written sides of papyrus together in order to create one, new, thicker, “blank” leaf—and (7) the possible low cost of monastic labor (but see page 60).
  • On page 57, Bagnall provides readers with a helpful table (3.1) that illustrates the “Cost Estimates (in Solidi) for One Bible” based upon the style of the desired handwriting, the material chosen for production, and the cost of labor.
  • Bagnall proposes that the savings one would retain from choosing papyrus over parchment is correlated to the style of hand desired in the copying of the Bible.

The bullet points do not do justice to the thorough discussion of Bagnall, but hopefully, you feel a little more acquainted with factors one must consider when thinking about ancient book production. So, just how expensive were books? This is a key turning point in Bagnall’s argument in chapter three. Who would have owned Christian books? Bagnall insists that the prices of books were expensive enough that copies of the Scriptures would have been possessed, in most cases, only by churches and monasteries. Churches were concerned with charity and financial support for their clergy—thus making clergymen the most likely owners of Christian books. Listen to this quote from Bagnall,

At the lower end, let us imagine a reader who received 10 solidi per year. A complete Bible would cost him half a year’s income. Such a purchase would have been entirely out of reach. Even an unbound short book, a single gospel on papyrus of the sort that cost a third of a solidus in the ostraka cited by Anne Boud’hors, would amount to one-thirtieth of a year’s income—in proportionate terms (although not in purchasing power) the equivalent of $1,000 today, let us say, for someone earning $35,000. People at that sort of income level do not buy books at that price. Even the best-paid of academics do not buy books at that price (62).

Further, it is most likely that we must look to the high clergy (e.g., the office of bishop) for those who may have been able to purchase books in ancient Egypt. Thus, Bagnall returns to his thesis: with this in mind, how many Christian books should we expect to find in and around Alexandria? Three factors immediately come to the forefront: (1) the number of high clergy Christian communities in the region, (2) the salary of high clergy, such as bishops, in the region, and (3) the presence of other, well-educated (and therefore, wealthy) Alexandrian Christians in the second century. These factors coupled with Bagnall’s view that the Church as an institution was underdeveloped reinforce that the “probability of finding many Christian books truly datable to the second century is very low” (65).

Prior to ending the chapter, Bagnall takes time to “redeem” the third century. A considerable amount manuscripts have come to us from the third century. Apart from the influence of Demetrios’ bishopric, Bagnall proposes another interesting explanation for the apparent increase in Christian book production—some among the urban elite became interested. He offers two examples: (1) well-educated, Alexandrian Christian like Origen and Clement most likely did not live in isolation and (2) even more intriguing is the testimony of a bilingual, book-owning, experienced writer about whom we learn via Chester Beatty Papyrus VII, which is a Greek codex of Isaiah that contains marginal glosses written in Coptic.

Thus, for Bagnall, the second century Christians in Egypt simply did not possess the Church structure or finances needed to establish a respectable library. However, the third century saw the development of the Church as an institution and the growing interest among the urban elite which led to an increase in Christian book production. Speculations abound in certain areas of his argumentation; however, he is quick to recognize this. Yet, his reasoning is convincing. Some counter arguments are swirling around in my head, but I’ll save these for later.

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