Monday, June 30, 2008
I am acquainted with numerous non-Calvinists who are baffled by the rising popularity of Calvinism, and almost all of them believe that John Piper is responsible in a large part. Watch this video for a taste of Piper's approach. It may help some to understand the beauty of the Calvinistic worldview, and its holistic, fulfilling, God-centered worldview. Mark Driscoll posted this video on his Resurgence blog, but I liked it so much, I just had to share it here.
I want this for myself, and for those around me.
In the Church today there is little desire to learn the original languages of the Bible. Though a love for Greek and Hebrew is not John Pipers main point is this lecture on William Tyndale, it is a point that comes through with power and passion. I would recommend this lecture to all who love and cherish the Word of God.
I have been in dialogue lately with many followers of or people who are at least influenced by Gordon Clark. I would like to start a blog series on dealing with the philosophical positions of Clark, specifically, his epistemology. However, before I begin a review of his theory on knowledge, I need to deal with a few issues that will clear the way for a clear conversation on these issues.
To lay all my cards on the table up front, I am squarely in the Van Tilian school of epistemology. As soon as a Clarkian hears this they want to throw the charge out that Van Til was a heretic (I know this because it has happened to me about 15 times) because of a comment he made about the Trinity. I do not believe that Van Til is a heretic and further, I think he is completely orthodox in his understanding of the Trinity. However, I do not wish to defend Van Til on this point here. Rather, what I want to do, is point out that Clark made many claims about the Trinity that are as troubling, if not more troubling, than Van Til's comment that God is three persons in one person. My goal in doing this is to disarm the Clarkian claim about Van Til by showing that Clark was not as "squeaky clean" on issues of the Trinity as the Clarkians let on.
In his book The Incarnation, Clark deal directly with the theological issues surrounding the second person of the Trinity becoming a man. After raising may valid questions that the Incarnation raises, Clark begins to answer these questions. It is in these answers that Clark allows his desire to be "logical" to lead him astray. "On the cross Jesus said, 'I thirst.' No Trinitarian Person could have said this because the three persons are pure incorporeal spirits and thirst is a phenomenon of the body" (Page 73). Notice that Clark claims that no Trinitarian person said "I thirst." However, Jesus made this statement. Thus, Clark concludes that Jesus must be both a human person and a divine person (he affirms the divinity of the Logos in earlier sections). This view of Christ being two persons is known as the heresy of Nestorianism. Clark know that he was flirting with the line between the orthodox understanding of the Trinity (which states that Jesus is only one divine person) and Nestorianism. "Some unfriendly critics will instantly brand the following defense of Christ’s humanity as the heresy of Nestorianism" (Page 75). Clark is right that people will call his view Nestorianism, because it is. However, notice Clark's use of the fallacy of poisoning the well when he says that those who will call his view Nestorianism are "unfriendly critics." Whether or not a person is friendly is irrelevant to the accuracy of labeling a view, if your view is Nestorianism, it is right to call it that.
I realize that this discussion is brief, however, that is the nature of a blog. But, I think that this post is sufficient to at least show that Clark made some troubling statements about the Trinity. I hope that this will disarm the ready response of the Clarkians to call Van Til a heretic and will allow us to discuss the merits and/or demerits of both Clark and Van Til's epistemology in the future.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Saturday, June 28, 2008
I'm currently in the process of finishing an article which (I hope) Reformation 21 will be running in the future about watching films to the glory of God. One surprising theme which is emerging in my writing is the incredible privilege we have to hear points of view which we disagree with. This happened in St. Paul's time on Mars Hill in Athens as often as the philosophers and religious leaders would meet. It still happens every day on the internet, it occurs whenever religious thinkers meet together to debate with one another, it happens when arminians and teetotalers read this blog, and it even happens when we go to the movie theater.
What got me thinking about this again is that my wife and I decided to watch the movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster; now I had seen this movie a hundred years ago, back when I was an atheist. I remembered greatly enjoying it and finding it a great reinforcement to my already skeptical worldview. Now, however, I see the movie as being full of horrible arguments and misrepresentations of a more robust and complex Biblical worldview than the filmmakers were willing to offer forth as its own counterpoint.
One of my favorite quotes from the film is from Ellie: [Referring to Ockham's Razor] "So what's more likely? That an all-powerful, mysterious God created the Universe, and decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that He simply doesn't exist at all, and that we created Him, so that we wouldn't have to feel so small and alone?"
Interestingly, Carl Sagan (the author of the story the movie is based on) has invented alien species in the film so humans don't have to feel so small and alone. Consider this quote from the alien who meets with Ellie in the machine: "You're an interesting species, an interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable is each other." So couldn't we just as easily turn the tables of Ockham's razor and ask the question whether the aliens don't exist at all, and that we created them, so that we wouldn't have to feel so small and alone?" It seems likely.
Actually, I have no problem with the existence of aliens. I believe that if they do exist, they will have been created by God, and therefore answerable to Him. I grew considerably more open minded about the compatibility of God's existence and extraterrestrial life since reading C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, but this is all a moot point.
On the subject of disagreeing with movies, I saw Wall-E on Friday with my wife and daughter, and thought it was a delightful movie which I recommend to everyone. I only wish I could disagree with Pixar's seemingly grim and horrifying dystopian future for Earth. Once I saw the space ship full of massively overweight white Americans living without the use of their muscles, I knew they were spot-on pessimists, just like me. The horrific dystopia which Wall-E presents actually rivals other dystopian visions (such as Children of Men or even Orwell's 1984) in terms of sheer realism and terror. With the exception of Mike Judge's brilliant Idiocracy, I don't know if I've ever seen a darker vision for humanity's future wrapped in such sweet, well-made candy coating. And yet I call it delightful; that probably tells you more about me than it does about the movie.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Master Stellman may have claimed the honor of biggest U2 fan involved with Bring the Books (Josh certainly isn't in the running). Though this post will probably not be a successful bid, it is, I am afraid, my own attempt at throwing my hat into the U2-loving race. Rather than write something original or insightful about my favorite U2 album (Achtung, Baby!), I instead want to share an interesting quote from Bono about the struggle to stay faithful to his wife, Ali, while he was out on the road - particularly during the rather riotous Zoo TV tour:
But it's not easy to deal with money, it's not easy to deal with fame, it's not easy to deal with women throwing themselves at you, even being married, perhaps especially being married. No matter how strong you are, no matter how upright, these are real hurdles that you have to figure out how to get over. I will never forget the time Adam saw me in a headlock with some starlet and said to me, "It's fun. It's exciting having sex with someone you don't know. Don't let anyone tell you it isn't. It's a great adventure getting to know somebody. But as rare as it is to fall in love, it's not as rare as real love, I will die for you love, I will be there when you're sick and when you're frail love. Now that's rare. I would give everything, all these experiences that I'm having, all these different and extraordinary women, I'd give them all up for what you have." I remember Adam telling me that. And if there was one reason for having him as best man at my wedding, that was it, that one conversation.
I can't speak from my own experience, since I literally married the first woman I ever dated, but the more I observe people around me, the more I think Adam Clayton's words to Bono are true. I am surrounded by people who are single, and they're looking for love, and they're discontended being alone. And these people compromise themselves, they sleep with their girlfriends, they date and they date and they date, and there is literally nothing but depression and regret. There is no real satisfaction in using God's gifts improperly, and I don't have to experience it for myself because I see it demonstrated for me day in and day out.
I try to avoid sentimentality as much as possible (irony provides a certain safety net), but the more I see the single people around me living promiscuously and settling for third best in their lives, and giving up on their standards and ideals, the more convinced I am that I am married to the greatest woman on the planet. The more convinced I become that marriage really works.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
There is an interesting conversation taking place between two bloggers I respect and love to read, Lane Keister of Green Baggins and our very own Jason Stellman. The discussion started with Lane's post on How to Avoid a Recession. This post prompted a response by Jason, Speaking Prophetically to the Church. After Jason's response, Lane wrote a Response to Jason. These are all relativly short posts. I would recommend reading them for anyone who is interested in understanding the Two Kingdoms idea in action.
I opened my email this morning and found my inbox flooded (well, for me it was flooded) with comments to a blog I wrote back in May, Federal Vision's Trajectory. Upon reading the comments I discovered that Lee Irons (who I mentioned in the post as an example) commented on this post on his blog, The Upper Register. I am grateful that a theologian of Irons caliber thought one of my posts was worth commenting on, even if it was to disagree with me. I have responded in the comment section of the original post, you can find my comments, as well as other's, by clicking here.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
I am surrounded by people (this is absolutely true) who dismiss Jesus' making wine at the wedding of Cana as evidence of Jesus' approval of alcohol consumption, because they says that Jesus did not make alcohol, but rather, grape juice. On what basis do they deny the alcohol content of Jesus' brew? Their rationale ties into the statement of the man running the party. After trying Jesus' impressive batch of wine, this is what he says:
"Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: [but] thou hast kept the good wine until now."Now, the rationale follows thusly:
A: Jesus made 120 gallons of wine, and if it was alcoholic, he would have been aiding in people getting drunk, because 120 gallons is a whole lot of drinkin'.
B: The "good wine" is non-alcoholic, because non-alcoholic tastes better than alcoholic.
C: Some argue that to make fermented wine would be no miracle at all, because new wine was harder to come by (since juice fermented quickly in the heat).
Well, in response to argument A, the moderationist agrees that Jesus would not have helped people get drunk, and so - assuming the wine really was alcoholic - there is no reason to suppose this was a small wedding. In fact, it must have been either very large, or Jesus intended to waste a massive quantity of drink. In either case, there is no reason to believe that Jesus was making wine for a small gathering.
In response to argument B, Jesus is in strong disagreement with the notion that non-alcoholic wine is thought to be the better wine. In Luke 5:39, Jesus declares that "No man also having drunk old [wine] straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better." Clearly, if the headmaster of the wedding thought Jesus' wine was better, his taste would be strange and out of step if he actually preferred new wine instead of old wine. And let me also say, he would not be much of wine connoisseur today, either. In fact, they probably wouldn't let him be a contributing writer for Wine Enthusiast magazine. Maybe he could be editor for Grape Juice Quarterly, but I hear their circulation is very small (not a whole lot of demand for grape juice enthusiasts, I suppose).
Finally, I can only say in response to argument C that turning water into alcoholic or non-alcoholic wine still looks like a miracle to me. After all, water doesn't just turn into a pinot noir on it's own.
Get over it, people: the Lord God Himself made 120 gallons of good, moderate drinking.
PS: Yes, I did have to look up the correct spelling of "Connoisseur."
Friday, June 20, 2008
I was led to question the traditional belief in everlasting conscious torment because of moral revulsion and broader theological considerations, not first of all on scriptural grounds. It just does not make any sense to say that a God of love will torture people forever for sins done in the context of a finite life . . . It's time for evangelicals to come out and say that the biblical and morally appropriate doctrine of hell is annihilation, not everlasting torment.Sin manifests itself in a lot of horrifying ways in our world. Every time that a bomb drops, a police siren sounds, or a door locks behind someone, we are reminded that we live in a fallen world full of depraved people just like ourselves. I consider myself a pessimist in the short term and an optimist in the long-term (because God's glory is the ultimate reason for all of this), but even I am occasionally surprised by the wicked things that my fellow humans are capable of (and I try to expect everything from them).
Emotionally, I find the concept [of eternal conscious torment] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain . . . Scripture points in the direction of annihilation.
Read this news story, if you can bear it. Personally, since I have a 2 year old, this story stirs something within me I never knew until fatherhood. I was just thinking that someone like this can never be treated as badly as he deserves. What can men do to him that would right the wrong which he has done to this poor innocent (albeit fallen) child? My answer is, nothing. "Do not fear those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear. Fear him who, after he has killed has the power to cast into hell" (Luke 12:4–5). For Jesus, the suffering which men can cause to the body is nothing compared to what the infinite God is capable of. Temporal suffering will always end, one way or another. But, Jesus says, there is another kind of suffering which will literally never have a termination point.
The thought of it is too much to bear for some, as you see with the quotes from Pinnock and Stott, above. But would Stott and Pinnock still tremble when reflecting upon the suffering of those in Hell and individuals such as Sergio Aguiar (the man mentioned in the above story)? This is a man who mercilessly and savagely stomped his 2 year old son's tiny body until it was beyond recognition; the justice for something like that will literally never be filled up. I charge that those who deny the eternity of Hell minimize a) God's hatred of sin and b) the heinousness of sin. To devalue these two things is the only way to make a temporal hell make any sense (not even allowing for the overwhelming Biblical testimony which others are better equipped to deal with).
So which is it, annihilationists? Is Aguiar's crime not nearly as bad as I say it is, or am I simply not being understanding enough? In Heaven, I will not shed any tears for Aguiar, but I wish I could muster up some today, while my feet are still on the ground. They simply aren't coming.
A gift from one of my church elders upon his return from Geneva, Switzerland, this beer not only sports the image of Reformed Theology's elder statesman, but it bears instructions that it is to be consumed at "4° - 6° C even outside the hours of devotion." I don't want to hype this beer up too much, but I was a bit timid about trying it, considering how it was brought by hand from the Fatherland and it has the image of Calvin on it. But I had a home-grilled hamburger for dinner, and decided this was the right moment to break open this intimidating brew.
The initial appearance of the beer, once poured, is golden and cloudy with a nice half-inch head on it. Calvinus is lightly carbonated with small bubbles throughout. I didn't care too much for the smell of it, to be honest, but I was pleasantly surprised by the sweetness of it. There are strong hints of citrus and barley; I almost felt there was too much of a sweet/citrusy presence, really, but it also seems to have a lot of complex flavors going on that I am simply too inexperienced to identify. The aftertaste was very faint, and not at all bothersome. I remember remarking to my wife after drinking it that it didn't leave a stinky funk in my mouth like Guinness tends to do. All in all, it is very easy to drink and an extraordinary refreshment after a long day of hard work.
Writing about it makes me want to drink the second bottle I have saved, but alas, I'm saving that one until the world collapses around me or until Jesus returns and decides to have dinner with me before blowing everything up.
I have, as of late, been doing a lot of thinking on the topic of forgiveness. There is a common idea in the world today that when a person is wronged he must simply "let go" and forgive the person who wronged them, regardless of the offenders actions or repentance. This idea of forgiveness has made its way into the Church. I cannot count the times I have been told to forgive so and so for something even when that person is still unrepentant over the wrong committed. I want to respond to this understanding of forgiveness by showing that: 1) God does not forgive this way and 2) God does not tell us to forgive this way.
It seems pretty basic that God forgives sinners based on condition. The most obvious one is the death of Christ. Christ had to die in order for God to forgive sinners. God did not, because he cannot, simply sweep sin under the proverbial rug. I think this condition will be without any objections. The next few conditions, however, might be.
Before I get into the next two conditions I want to make it very clear that I am a Reformed Christian who holds to all five solas of the Reformation. The reason I begin this way is because when I list the next two conditions for divine forgiveness, some might think I am going against the five solas. But to the contrary, I am in fact holding them up and putting them on display by affirming the next two conditions.
So what are these conditions? Simply put these conditions are faith and repentance. To my mind the Bible seems very clear that a sinner must repent and believe in Jesus Christ in order to be forgiven of sins. Luke 24 sets forth this idea, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from
Another qualification is in order. These two conditions, repentance and faith, are in no way meritorious. That is to say, the conditions do not in any way earn or merit forgiveness for the sinner. These conditions are gifts given by God to the sinner. However, these gifts are nevertheless conditions that the sinner meets to be forgiven. The sinner must exercise faith in Christ to be forgiven; the sinner must repent to be forgiven. Both of these are done by the sinner as preconditions (things that must happen before) for divine forgiveness. With this short sketch of the conditional nature of divine forgiveness, we turn to a key text on personal forgiveness. Luke 17:3-4 speaks directly to the way Christians are to forgive. “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him.” The first thing of note from this passage is that the Christian posture should always be a readiness to forgive. As people who have been forgiven so much, we ought to be quick and ready to forgive. However, this text also points that there is a precondition to personal forgiveness (actually it gives a few), namely repentance. In other words, in order for true biblical forgiveness to take place, the offending party must repent of the sin committed. If true repentance takes place, then the Christian is obligated to forgive.
However, based on the divine example and the words of Jesus, a Christian is not obligated to - and I would argue cannot - forgive unless the person who has wronged them repents of the offense. This seems to be the teaching of the Jesus and the example set forth by God himself.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
This year at the PCA general assembly there was a culoquium (an academic "get-together") on the Sacraments. The audio for all five sessions can be found here. All and all the papers that were given were good (a few points that I did not agree with, but they were addressed in the Q & A time) and the atmosphere was very Christ exulting.
During the Question and Answer section of the culoquium Dr. Ligon Duncan made a passing remark about the nature of the sacraments. He said that the sacraments, baptism and the Lord's supper, are not "justificational;" rather they should be understood as "sanctificational" (as a side note, one of the coolest things about theologians is the fact that they get to make up new words!). This language and understanding of the sacraments is a good way to understand the efficacy (the "working-ness") of the sacraments. However, some do not think the sacraments are "simply concerned with 'sanctification.'"
Those who want to understand the sacraments as more than sanctification agree that there is an aspect of justification to the sacraments.
Baptism does not just convey the message of “You are holy.” It does not only say, “You are set apart from the world.” It also says, “Your sins are forgiven.” So too with the Eucharist. “This is my body, broken for you.” “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for the remission of sins.”
Those are “justificational” ideas.
The problem, as I understand it, with this view is it misses the role of justification in our sanctification. If you notice in the argument that our "sins are forgiven." This is in the past. In other words, baptism reminds us, if we have faith and repent of our sins, that we are forgiven. This is not properly understood as justification, but rather as reminding us of our justification, which is sanctification. It seems to me to be misunderstanding that fact that part of sanctification is being reminded, daily, that we are justified. This is not the same thing as saying that sanctification has aspects of justification in it. It is right to say that these are "justificational" ideas, but it still remains that the the sacraments are dealing with sanctification, and not justification proper.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that a great tragedy has descended upon those of us in the Western world who enjoy the immense privileges of Cable TV, the internet, Big League Chew, and the George Foreman grill. What is this tragedy, you ask? What could so compel me to rise up in righteous indignation on behalf of my silently ashamed but nonetheless inflamed army of dorky brethren? I will tell you: the tragedy is that we have to wait until 2009 for the final half of season four of Battlestar Galactica. We waited one year for them to complete only ten frakking episodes? You've got to be kidding me. And now we must wait another year to see the final ten episodes? It's almost unbelievable.
[*Spoilers ahead; don't say I didn't warn you*] Setting my fury aside, I found the last episode of the summer season (which just aired on Friday) to be totally fulfilling, and entirely shocking. It leaves me wondering just where the show will be going, now that they have found the destination they have been seeking for the nearly four seasons this show has been on the air. I must confess, I did not personally expect such a pessimistic conclusion for this chapter of the show, but it does leave me wondering:
-Is it possible that humanity located to somewhere on the planet besides where the fleet landed?
-Could humanity have moved to other planets, such as Mars?
-Or could the humans of Caprica actually be descendants of Earthling explorers who left Earth after it became uninhabitable (which would mean the entire show takes place thousands of years in the future from present-day)?
One little bright spot I think we should all reflect on regarding the long break before the show resumes: take this time to get your friends into this amazing show before it comes back on the air.
Unrelated Postscript: I just received an incredible gift from one of my church elders. Two bottles of Calvinus beer, which were purchased while he was in Geneva, Switzerland. I sense that these are hard to come by in the states, and I am feeling too intimidated to drink them. They may just have to sit in my refrigerator like a pair of unapproachable trophies until I have the courage to break their seals and see what sorts of sundry delights these precious bottles might contain. Any recommendations on foods I should eat, perhaps days in advance, in order to cleans my palette and prepare me to do these beers proper justice when the time for tasting comes around? Any input is appreciated, because I thought I was ready for this, but I am not yet even close in my beer tasting experience to deserve to open a bottle with the image of Calvin himself on it.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
As most of our readers know, I was in Washington D.C. last week for a class on exegesis taught by Dr. Miles Van Pelt. During part of this class Dr. Van Pelt gave his lectures on the Canon and the Covenants. These lectures are fantastic. You can hear him give this lecture at Biblical Training.org. Pay particular attention to the Old Testament section to hear him on this topic. You have to register before you can download the lectures, but it is fast and, best of all, free. I highly recommend these lectures. They give a great framework for understanding the overall theme and structure of the Bible.
Friday, June 13, 2008
“The excess of drunkenness is compared to the danger of the sea, in which when the body has once been sunken like a ship, it descends to the depths of turpitude, overwhelmed in the mighty billows of wine; and the helmsman, the human mind, is tossed about on the surge of drunkenness, which swells aloft; and buried in the trough of the sea, is blinded by the darkness of the tempest, having drifted away from the haven of truth, till, dashing on the rocks beneath the sea, it perishes, driven by itself into voluptuous indulgences.” -Clement of Alexandria
"Some of the domestic evils of drunkenness are houses without windows, gardens without fences, fields without tillage, barns without roofs, children without clothing, principles, morals or manners." -Benjamin Franklin
"I drink too much. Way too much. I gave a urine sample, there was an olive in it." -Rodney Dangerfield
It is a common misconception that the Puritans, when they came to America, were teetotalers. It just isn’t true, because along with food and families, they also brought another necessity to lift their spirits and promote joyfulness before the Lord: wine and beer. In fact, the Puritans loaded more beer than water onto the Mayflower before they cast off for the New World.(1) “Local brewing began almost as soon as the colonists were safely ashore." Considering the (mostly unfair) reputation Puritans have gained as being moral tightwads, some may be surprised to know that the old Puritans were moderationists. Consider the words of Increase Mather: “Drink is in itself a good creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness, but the abuse of drink is from Satan; the wine is from God, but the drunkard is from the Devil.”
This quote stands somewhat in contrast to the words of an old pastor of mine who once called wine “the nectar of the devil,” and “the devil’s poison.” Whereas Mather pointed to drunkenness as the work of the devil, prohibitionists such as my old pastor (as I touched on in the last post) identify the substance itself as the evil to be cleansed and avoided.
In truth, there are real dangers associated with alcohol (as with any and all of God's gifts). These dangers are at the forefront of most prohibitionist arguments, but this need not be the case. Drunkenness happens when someone drinks more alcohol than they ought to, but when self-control is exercised, this is something that simply will not happen.
The Bible is full of warnings against the abuse of alcohol. John Piper nicely sums up the Bible's warnings against abusing alcohol:
[P]riests were prohibited from drinking wine or strong drink while serving the tent of God (Leviticus 10:9). Part of the Nazirite vow was total abstinence (Numbers 6:3). The Proverbs warn against the dangers of strong drink: "Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler; and whoever is led astray by it is not wise" (20:1). "Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of the eyes? Those who tarry long over wine, those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. 'They struck me,' you will say, 'but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink'" (23:29–35). "It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink; lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted" (31:4, 5). The prophets also attacked the abuse of strong drink: "Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening till wine inflames them" (Isaiah 5:11). And in the New Testament Paul repeatedly denounces drunkenness as a work of the flesh (Ephesians 5:18; Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:7). And it appears that Timothy had committed himself to total abstinence for a while, because Paul had to urge him, "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach" (1 Timothy 5:23).Piper then sums up the Bible's position (in part, anyway) by stating that "The least we can infer from all this is that while drinking is not always viewed as wrong, its dangers and harmfulness were such as to call forth numerous warnings, and in some cases (priestly service, Nazirite vow, Timothy's apostolic efforts) abstinence was seen as commendable. Drunkenness is always wrong."
Now, anyone who knows Piper's position knows that he takes further steps than some by opting not to drink for four reasons: "First, I choose not to drink because of my conscience. The second reason is that alcohol is a mind-altering drug. The third reason why I choose total abstinence is that alcohol is addictive. The fourth reason I choose total abstinence is to make a social statement." I do not follow Piper in his cautious approach, but I also do no condemn him for it. He has his reasons for abstaining, and for him, it would be a violation of his own conscience (and therefore a sin) to drink.
I do, however, take issue with people in Piper's position when they take their conviction and turn it into a command (which Piper, himself, does not do), condemning individuals for partaking of something which is not sinful simply because they choose to exercise caution. Nothing made Jesus angrier (except, perhaps, selling trinkets in church) than when religious leaders made up laws for God's people to follow.
In sum, it should be obvious that though alcohol is given to man as a good and a source of happiness, its abuse leads to drunkenness, which is a great evil and is forbidden.
PS: Read this story. I pretty much base all of my arguments for the morality of alcohol on this one story. (Just kidding.)
Next Time: The Blessing of Alcohol and Its Uses
Is this man drunk, or merely slain in the spirit? That's a serious question too, by the way, because I really can't tell the difference.
(1) Royce, James E. Alcohol Problems: A Comprehensive Survey. New York: Free Press, 1981, 38.
I am done with my class in Washington D.C. and am heading home this afternoon—a 15 hour drive, yuk! The class was great. I learned a lot of useful things about exegesis. I am very thankful for Dr. Van Pelt: his wonderful teaching style and insights into the biblical languages. I look forward to working on the paper for this class (it is a paper on the way the New Testament uses the Old Testament, any thoughts on a good text to pick?).
Also, I have been thinking and starting to work on a few blog articles. I hope next week to catch up on the comment sections and to post a few new blogs. I am really excited about a few of the blogs I am working on. On of them, to give you a teaser, has to do with the PCA's general assembly. It should be good.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Virtually all Christian denominations agree that drunkenness is a sin. For most of the existence of the Christian church, however (until, perhaps, the 18th century), alcohol has been understood as a gift of God which – like any of His good and glorious gifts – can be abused. Martin Luther responded to those who believed drinking alcohol to be a sin because it can be abused with his own argument. If alcohol’s abuse is an argument for its sinfulness, then this approach, he reasoned, should be applied in other areas. For example, he asked, how many women have led to the downfall of men? Or how many feasts have led to gluttony and obesity? If we followed the logic of prohibitionists, Luther said, then all the women would be dead and our food would all be gone! Surely, he suggested, there must be a better way of understanding the Bible's teachings regarding alcohol.
To begin with, we should be clear that there are many biblical passages which speak of alcohol in a negative way – but as I will demonstrate in later posts, these amount to helpful cautions against excess rather than outright prohibitions (assuming Scripture speaks consistently with itself, which I strongly believe). Now, I almost always find that my end of the conversation with prohibitionists normally ends up being very defensive, as they have a lot of verses they think seal the deal once and for all regarding God’s hatred for alcohol. So since I rarely get the chance, I am going to turn the tables and offer my reasons why things are not so clear cut. The Bible does have positive things to say about alcohol, and I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot of references, but this is a blog after all, and not a book. Perhaps my fellow readers will comment and add to these:
-Deuteronomy 14:26 says that it is a good thing to drink wine and beer as something to enjoy in God’s presence. “Then you may spend the money however you wish for cattle, sheep, wine, beer, or whatever you desire. You and your household may eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and enjoy it.”
-Job 1:13 refers to Job’s godly family as drinking wine.
-In Genesis 14:18, Melchizedek (a type of Christ) gave wine to Abraham.
-Psalm 104:14-15 says that God made wine. “He provides grass for the cattle, and crops for people to cultivate, so they can produce food from the ground, as well as wine that makes people feel so good, and so they can have oil to make their faces shine, as well as food that sustains people’s lives.”
-Proverbs 3:10 speaks of wine as part of God’s blessing of abundance.
-Isaiah 25:6 speaks of God as preparing a feast with “aged wine” (clearly not simply grape juice, right?).
-There are several places where God punishes people by taking their wine away (Jer 48:33; Lam 2:12; Hos 2:9; Joel 1:10; Hag 2:16).
-Jesus told many offensive stories and parables where wine or wineskins or vineyards were involved (for the prohibitionist, wouldn’t this be like if Jesus made a point by using employees at the local strip club as part of his illustration?) At one point, Jesus paints God as the vinedresser in one of his parables. If this were such a sinful substance (even granting that a “substance” could actually be evil in and of itself), why would Jesus so closely associate himself and his Father with it?
-In Romans 14:21, the Apostle Paul cautions believers against drinking freely around weaker brethren who may have more scruples regarding the dos and don’ts of the Christian life. This only makes sense if Paul is telling drinking believers to drink in private and not around the weaker brethren. Also, it only makes sense if the wine being consumed is alcoholic, since, to my knowledge, non-alcoholic drinks don’t offend anyone’s sensibilities.
According to Keith Matthison, “Prohibitionism errs by confusing the Christian virtues of temperance and moderation with abstinence and prohibition and by locating the evil in the object that is abused rather in the heart and deeds of the abuser.” In the early church, this was part of the struggle against heretical Gnosticism, because the Gnostics identified substances such as alcohol as evil and therefore took water at communion instead of wine.
This should be of particular interest, because at its root, prohibitionism’s good intentions lead it to a place where it essentially calling a substance evil. Consider, again, the Apostle’s statement that “nothing is evil in and of itself,” or Jesus’ declaration that “it is not that which goes into a man which makes him unclean, but that which comes out of him.” Prohibitionism stands in direct contrast to the biblical idea that substances are not in and of themselves evil. Essentially, all sin can be traced to an abuse of some gift of God’s, be it lust (an abuse of the gift of sex), gluttony (an abuse of God’s gift of food), theft (an abuse of personal property and freedom), or murder (an abuse of self-defense). The list could go on and on, I’m sure. Alcohol is also a gift from God, and was given to man for his happiness, just like all of God's other gifts. As Luther pointed out, if we abolished all dangerous gifts, we would have a world without women or food, wouldn't we?
I would write more, but I’m going to go have a pint, now. But let me be clear: only one pint, which segues us into our next post.
Next Time: The Danger of Drunkenness
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I am on the verge of doing some hardcore studying regarding the ethics of alcohol in the Christian life, and the Bible's teaching on whether alcohol is alright. This will probably manifest itself in the form of (hopefully) in-depth blog-posts here at Bring the Books. What I wanted to do today was comment on what I believe is an extremely potent argument that Christians are permitted to drink alcoholic wine. As iron sharpens iron, perhaps some input could help me to understand if I should be as confident about the clarity and strength of this verse as I am. Let me try this Aquinas-style.
Assertion: The Bible always condemns the consumption of alcohol. When it does seem to make a positive reference regarding alcohol, it is actually referencing a non-alcoholic drink such as grape juice.
On the Contrary: As the apostle says in Romans 14:21, "It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak." The context of this verse is that Paul is talking about Christian freedom. Earlier, in verse 14, Paul sets forth that "there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." The context is that Paul says that love for our brethren is more important than the exercise of our freedom and liberties. The crucial factor I want to examine is the curious inclusion of drinking wine along with eating meat in verse 21. If the prohibitionist perspective is accurate, and alcohol is always wrong (except, as some allow, for medicinal purposes), what is to be thought of Paul's statement that we should not drink wine if it offends or causes to stumble?
The traditional response is to say that this reference to wine here is to the "best wine," or the freshest off of the vine - unfermented wine (aka grapejuice). However, pretty serious contextual problems arise if we understand Paul as here referring to unfermented wine; most notably the fact that grape juice does not offend anyone. I repeat: there is nobody on the face of the planet who becomes offended by seeing someone drink grape juice. My 2 year old drinks grape juice, I drink grape juice, even prohibitionists drink grape juice. It is literally an unoffendable substance. It is more controversial to drink bottled water in some circles than it is to drink grape juice.
Let me counter by suggesting that in the context of Paul's day, it makes a lot more sense to understand him as referring to real alcohol and meat as two examples of things which are permissible and yet offensive to some.
Let me only add as a postscript that there may be some who say that since alcohol offends so many Christians, (regardless whether it is okay in and of itself) then everyone should abstain completely. Paul, however, does not feel this way, according to verse 22: "Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God." We are to enjoy the liberty of conscience while at the same time publicly abstaining from them because there are well-meaning teetotaler's out there. You're welcome, teetotalers.
Next time: "How To Drink Like a Christian"
Monday, June 9, 2008
The other day I was on Doug Wilson's blog and left a few comments on a post he wrote in response to Lane Kiester from the Green Baggins. When I opened my RSS read last night, I saw that Lane had responded to Dougs post on his own blog. As I read Lane's response I was a bit shocked and pleasantly please to see that he mentioned my comments from Doug's blog, not once, but twice.
I say all this only so I can brag! No really, the reason I bring this up is that I think the exchange that Lane and Doug are having on their respective blogs is a very helpful one. The issues of faith and works/obedience that are being discussed are important issues. And in this discussion I think that Lane is on the right track. I hope our readers will take the time to read the interaction between these two Christian brothers. It will prove to be time well spent.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Another important factor that Keating and other Catholic apologists fail to take into account is that John does not even record the central events of the Last Supper at all Obviously if we took the Catholic interpretation of John 6 and believed John included this passage to communicate that believers must eat the literal body and blood of Christ in order to have eternal life, you would expect John to have recorded the events that it foreshadows. You would expect John to have a historical record of the Last Supper, the inaugurating meal of the Eucharist. But John does not. What an oversight by John! In fact, John is the only Gospel writer that did not record the Last Supper. Therefore, it is very unlikely that in John’s mind, a literal eating and drinking of Christ body and blood are essential for salvation. Remember John wrote the only book in the NT that explicitly says it is written for the purpose of salvation and he does not even include the Lord’s Supper.
Friday, June 6, 2008
I wanted to let our readers know that I will be out of town for about 10 days (starting today). I am travailing to Washington D.C. with Dr. Miles Van Pelt and a few students from RTS Jackson to take Advanced Biblical Exegesis at the D.C. campus of RTS. I have no idea if I will be able to get online while I am gone, so I may not be able to post any new articles or respond to comments. However, you can rest assured that as soon as I get back I will follow up in the comment section and have pictures from the trip to post. Please pray for our trip. I think the drive is something like 15 hours. I have never been in a car that long before in my life. I hope my ADD stays in-check! Also, pray that the class will go well and the students learn to better handle the word of our glorious God and King, Jesus Christ.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
I received some exciting news the other day. I was asked by Dr. Miles Van Pelt assistant or to put the job title in a more regal way, I am now one of the Fairbairn Honor to be his teaching Scholar of Biblical Languages. Patrick Fairbairn was a biblical scholar in the 19th century in the Free Church of Scotland. My new position is named in honor of him. The job will mainly consist of helping students learn Greek (my Hebrew is not so good) and aid Dr. Van Pelt in his writing projects. This new position will not take away from my other T.A. position with Dr. Derek Thomas (you can read more about this in my blogger profile).
I am humbled by and I look forward to this opportunity. It will be a great chance for me to cultivate my skill in the biblical languages and build relationships with students and Dr. Van Pelt. Please pray that God will use this new opportunity to bring glory and honor to his Son through my hard and diligent work.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
If you have been following the blog, you are aware that we are having a discussion on natural law. In this post I have two very meager, yet needed, aims. First, I want to set forth a good working definition of natural law and second, I want to look at a passage, from Scripture, that teaches natural law.
Natural law can be easily defined as a set of ethical rules or laws that are impressed in every person. Notice that this law is impressed "in" every person and not "on" every person. This distinction is important because it illustrates how people gain access to this law--it is in them. This definition will work for almost all forms of an ethical natural law theory. However, since God is the creator, this definition needs to be a bit more specific. It needs to include the origin or source of this ethical code. Thus, the definition we will be using for natural law is a set of ethical rules or laws that are impressed in every person by their Creator. So there is no ambiguity, by the term "their Creator" I mean the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. This is the only Creator that exists. However, natural law does not reveal specifics about God. Nature (creation) itself reveals that God exists, but this is not the same thing as natural law. Natural law has to do specifically with the ethical sphere of man, and it is not intended to prove or show that God exists. Though Paul goes to great lengths in Romans 1 to demonstrate that all people know God exists, he does not use natural law as his reasoning; rather he uses nature (the created world) to prove that all men know God exists.
With this working definition of natural law, it is important to set forth a biblical case for this view. It is one thing to define a view, it is quite another to demonstrate that a view is taught in the Scripture. The locus classicus for proving that man has a ethical law within him is Romans 2:14-15.
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.In commenting on verse 15 Calvin argues for natural law.
Who show the work of the law written, etc.; that is, they prove that there is imprinted on their hearts a discrimination and judgment by which they distinguish between what is just and unjust, between what is honest and dishonest. He means not that it was so engraven on their will, that they sought and diligently pursued it, but that they were so mastered by the power of truth, that they could not disapprove of it. For why did they institute religious rites, except that they were convinced that God ought to be worshipped? Why were they ashamed of adultery and theft, except that they deemed them evils?Further, as to leave no ambiguity as to what natural law does and does not do, Calvin remarks about natural law in the Institutes 2.8.1.
Without reason then is the power of the will deduced from this passage, as though Paul had said, that the keeping of the law is within our power; for he speaks not of the power to fulfill the law, but of the knowledge of it. Nor is the word heart to be taken for the seat of the affections, but only for the understanding, as it is found in Deuteronomy 29:4, “The Lord hath not given thee a heart to understand;” and in Luke 24:25,“O foolish men, and slow in heart to believe.”
Nor can we conclude from this passage, that there is in men a full knowledge of the law, but that there are only some seeds of what is right implanted in their nature, evidenced by such acts as these — All the Gentiles alike instituted religious rites, they made laws to punish adultery, and theft, and murder, they commended good faith in bargains and contracts. They have thus indeed proved, that God ought to be worshipped, that adultery, and theft, and murder are evils, that honesty is commendable. It is not to our purpose to inquire what sort of God they imagined him to be, or how many gods they devised; it is enough to know, that they thought that there is a God, and that honor and worship are due to him. It matters not whether they permitted the coveting of another man’s wife, or of his possessions, or of any thing which was his, — whether they connived at wrath and hatred; inasmuch as it was not right for them to covet what they knew to be evil when done.
Now that inward law, which we have above described as written, even engraved, upon the hearts of all, in a sense asserts the very same things that are to be learned from the two Tablets. For our conscience does not allow us to sleep a perpetual insensible sleep without being an inner witness and monitor of what we owe God, without holding before us the difference between good and evil and thus accusing us when we fail in our duty. But man is so shrouded in the darkness of errors that he hardly begins to grasp through this natural law what worship is acceptable to God. Surely he is very far removed from a true estimate of it. Besides this, he is so puffed up with haughtiness and ambition and is blinded by self-love, that he is as yet unable to look upon himself and, as it were, to descend within himself, that he may humble and abase himself and confess his own miserable condition. Accordingly (because it is necessary both for our dullness and for our arrogance), the Lord has provided us with a written law to give us a clearer witness of what was too obscure in the natural law, shake off our listlessness, and strike more vigorously our mind and memory.Calvin is here, as well as in his commentary, expounding what Paul stated in Romans 2, namely, that man does indeed have a moral/ethical law written on his heart. He also argues that men know this law and are held accountable to it. However, Calvin does find a weakness in natural law. He thinks it cannot give us a clear picture or way to worship God. But as Gregory Johnson points out in his article Natural Law and Positive Law in Calvin's Thought, "while the Fall has left man unable to clearly discern the natural law in all of its fullness, the Fall has not left man blinded with respect to horizontal, earthly matters...Thus, Calvin distinguished between inability in 'heavenly things' and substantial ability in 'earthly things.'"
Further, it needs to be pointed out that this moral law that is in every person is given by creation. In other words, it is created in them; they are made that way. This is in contrast to the idea that they gain a sense of right and wrong strictly from the Bible. Paul makes this point when he says, "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires." This is not to say that we do not need the Bible. On the contrary, the Bible explains and expands on the law God gave us at our creation. It also informs us what duty we are to give God--how we are to worship him and glorify him.
Natural law, as defined as a set of ethical rules or laws that are impressed in every person by their Creator, is taught in Romans 2 and attested as a teaching within Reformed Orthodoxy. This view of natural law should not be seen as sub-Reformed or pseudo-Roman Catholic. On the contrary, since the Reformers held to Sola Scriptura they taught, along with Paul, that every human has a sense of right and wrong written on their heart and they can be held accountable to following this law because they know it.