Saturday, November 23, 2013

canon is self-authenticating

In giving verbal revelation about himself, to whom can God appeal for authentication?  Reason, evidence, church councils?  He uses these as confirming witnesses, but not as the grounds for the authority of his Word, nor as the basis of our acceptance of his Word.  

"For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, 'Surely I will bless you and multiply you.'  And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.  For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.  So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us."  (Hebrews 6:13-18 ESV)

There is some broad circular reasoning in this, which is acceptable when it comes to foundational principles.  We can't make a case for reason without using reason.  We can't authenticate empirical evidence apart from presuming the validity of such empirical evidence.  In giving revelation God does not appeal to some higher standard, or an outside authority.  He himself gives the standards for his own revelation.  He does not have to make his revelation acceptable to all demands of human reason (though it is reasonable), nor with all standards for empirical evidence (though there is evidence).  Nor is it his Word because a council or group declare it so (though many have).  It is his Word because it is his Word, and he validates it.  Or we might say, Scripture validates itself, no matter how many other witnesses and proofs we add to it, or arguments against it. John Calvin wrote, "God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word… Scripture is indeed self-authenticated.” (Institutes 1.7.4-5)

Hence the books given by God will be spiritually discerned by the very people the books affect.  At the core of the NT revelation is the gospel, which is "the power of God for salvation." (Romans 1:16) It is not the church that has given birth to the Scriptures, but the Scriptures have given birth to the church which will, in turn, recognize the voice of God.  Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, ...and they follow me." (John 10:27)

Michael Kruger comments on this self-authenticating nature of God's special revelation, here in consideration of the NT canon:

"Central to the self-authenticating model of canon is the conviction that canonical books are recognized not only by their historical authenticity (apostolic origins) or their ecclesiastical acceptance (corporate reception), but fundamentally by the nature of their content (divine qualities). If these books are constituted by the work of the Holy Spirit, then Christians, who are filled with the Holy Spirit, should be able to recognize that fact." (Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited)  

tolerance and despair

...what do these have in common?  British author Dorothy Sayers gives insight:

“In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.” 

 Here is Sayer's quote in context, on the topic of sloth (or acedia) as one of the deadly sins.

Monday, November 18, 2013

should the church be non-judgmental?

People will say that one of the main things they are looking for in a church, or in a group of  Christians, is that they are not judgmental.  Occasionally, people will say that they appreciate that our church is not judgmental.  It's meant as a compliment, I know, but I'm a little unsure how to respond to that.

Most people usually mean that a person or group of people don't pass judgment upon others in the sense of heaping condemnation upon them.  Fair enough.  But it may mean, you don't come down on sin (or a particular sin) so hard, or you're not negative about anything. 

But, can we ever really be non-judgmental?  Even the statement, "you are too judgmental" or "you should be more non-judgmental" is a judgment in itself.  The speaker is making the judgment that this other kind of judgment is wrong.  There's a disapproval of that other kind of disapproval.  "You shouldn't be so negative" is a negative statement. 

Should Christians strive to be non-judgmental?  Is this something we really want in our churches?  Do we want to be at the place where we don't have values, or make judgments as to what's right and what's wrong, what's true and what's a lie? 

Here's a key passage, from Jesus' sermon on the mount:  "Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.  Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you."  (Matthew 7:1-6)

What Jesus meant by "judging not" has less to do with discernment and distinguishing right and wrong, and more to do with hypocrisy and self-righteousness.  He assumes we will know who the "dogs" and "pigs" are (7:6).  And elsewhere the Bible tells us to grow in moral discernment:  "But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."  (Hebrews 5:14)

What Jesus is speaking about is passing judgment by inflating the fault of another while at the same time downsizing our own sin.  In this way we fool ourselves into thinking we have a clear and balanced perspective on another's problem, and yet be blind to our own flaws, which are usually bigger than we think.  There are many of us religious people who would be happy to "help" you with your problems, while being blind to the help we ourselves desperately need. 

But this does not call for non-judgment.  It calls for a healthy self-judgment in the light of truth.  And the gospel actually liberates us to be able to see the worst in ourselves.  We can face our problems with realism because we are under a grace infinitely greater than our problems. 

So, the condition of being non-judgmental is not really a good goal.  We are a new creation and are called to leave certain thoughts and behaviors behind.  The Apostle Paul says, "Put to death… put off…" certain attitudes and actions (Colossians 3:5-11, which is pretty negative), and then to "put on…" other attitudes and actions (Colossians 3:12-17), which is the positive flip-side.  We are certainly to make judgments, test our motives, confess sin, repent, be accountable, be humble, and be vigilant. 

But this is primarily toward ourselves.  The church as a whole should be such an environment that allows all of us to share in this mindset.  Occasionally there are situations where someone does need to be removed from fellowship (1 Corinthians 5, for example.)  And if we have been sinned against we are to follow Jesus' plan for reconciliation (Matthew 18:15ff).  But ongoing and healthy judgment means that the church -- by regular application of the Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit -- sees truth ever more clearly, exposing the lies we believe, walking in the light rather than darkness, and pursuing goodness rather than evil.   

The term "non-judgmental" is really not very useful.  It may lead to the conclusion that sin is no big deal.  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

1 Peter series

Listening to the three-part series on 1 Peter by Vaughan Roberts in this year's EMA conference in England.  Very encouraging and challenging.  Roberts applies Peter's letter to the increasing marginalization of evangelicals today in the west. 

Here are a few quotes from the second message...

"Do we add value to the culture and community in which we live?"

"We may not get justice in this life, but judgment is coming."

"God did not choose to save us through political power, but through the cross."

the anointed one

Here's a graphic I used in the History of Redemption walk-through.  In the Old Testament God raised up special individuals to mediate Israel's relationship with God. The prophet spoke to the people on behalf of God.  The priest represented the people before God.  And the king ruled the people for God.  These individuals were anointed with oil, and often with the Spirit.  

The OT looked forward to One who would combine all the special, anointed offices.  Ezekiel was both priest and prophet.  David was prophet and king.  But no one could combine all these offices except The Anointed One (Messiah).  This was the Messianic expectation.  See Deuteronomy 18, Isaiah 9, Daniel 7, and Psalm 2 and 110.  Jesus perfectly reveals the Father to us, represents us before the Father, and rules us in God's righteousness. 


Friday, November 8, 2013

calvary love

Amy Carmichael wrote convicting prose in her classic "If..." Much to reflect on from her life of service among the orphans of India.  Selections below, and the complete work is found here. 

If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting "Who made thee to differ? And what hast thou that thou hast not received?" then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I can enjoy a joke at the expense of another; if I can in any way slight
another in conversation, or even in thought, then I know nothing of Calvary

If I do not feel far more for the grieved Savior than for my worried self when
troublesome things occur, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I feel bitter toward those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly,
forgetting that if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much
more, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If souls can suffer alongside, and I hardly know it, because the spirit of
discernment is not in me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; if I cannot rest
under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more
than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary

If I have not compassion on my fellow-servant even as my Lord had pity on me, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

(Amy Carmichael)

on calling

"We are not wise enough, pure enough, or strong enough to aim and sustain such a single motive over a lifetime. That way lies fanaticism or failure. But if the single motive is the master motivation of God's calling, the answer is yes. In any and all situations, both today and tomorrow's tomorrow, God's call to us is the unchanging and ultimate whence, what, why, and whither of our lives.  Calling is a 'yes' to God that carries a 'no' to the chaos of modern demands. Calling is the key to tracing the story line of our lives and unriddling the meaning of our existence in a chaotic world.”

(Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

on leaving home

Ann Voskamp to her son, as he prepares to leave home...

The Bible’s true, son. Every infallible, sword-sharp, breathing word of it. Don’t let anyone ever rationalize one beautiful iota of it away. Love it because it’s your Life.

The only life worth living is the one lost.

Do it often: grab a lifeline by stepping offline. You’ll see your true self when you look for your reflection in the eyes of souls not the glare of screens.

This is what you always need to know: You have nothing to prove to anyone – if you’re in Him, you are already approved.

Be okay with not being liked: life’s about altars not applause. And be okay with not being seen or heard. It’ll let you hear and see better.

And it’s the work of every child to fully forgive the parents. This is how it turns, the torch passing from one to the next.

Read the complete post here.