Saturday, June 30, 2007

The greatest proof of Christianity

The greatest proof of Christianity is not some philosophical argument. Nor is it some argument based upon creation. All these arguments are in and of themselves, while of some value, flimsy. The greatest proof of Christianity is the experience the Christian receives after he repents and trusts in God. The experience of redemption where our lifestyle changes and the constant changes that come afterwards vindicates the Christian religion as true. The understanding of the world into something that is coherent and makes sense because we have a new framework (or schema) in which to understand the world gives a solid argument. In other words, the greatest proof of Christianity is the subjective experience in which the world begins to makes sense and our life is changed in a permanent manner that is not attainable by mere human will. These experiences speak little to those who do not believe, but to those who believe, it is all the proof we need when we face the uncertainties of the world we have yet to make sense of. Personal experience is stronger than any argument one can present for or against the existence of God and the claim of Christianity.

But this vindication is made once we take the step of faith and not before. That is why those who do not believe struggle to believe and those who believe do not easily stop believing.

Predestination: Individual or National?

The topic of predestination is a topic that can get even the mildest people up in arms in discussion. I remember one time a few years ago where I got into a discussion with a person who held to Calvinist teachings and we get into a very heated discussion. Perhaps it was the zeal of youth. Anyways, I bring that point up because in the middle of the discussion, the other person reads Ephesians 1:3-14 to prove his point.

With the exception of Romans 9, Ephesians 1:3-14 is perhaps the most often quoted verses in support of Unconditional Election (The U in TULIP). The typical response from someone who rejects that is to say that predestination is on the basis on foreseeing the repentance and faith of the people (See Romans 8:29-30 and 1 Peter 1:2). The problem with this idea is that is doesn't have much applicability to Christian life and the writers of the New Testament were not concerned with theoretical theology in my opinion, but theology that has a practical meaning and application to human life.

This lead me at a point where I was conflict. The voice of Scripture as a whole is clear to me in it saying that salvation is genuinely offered to all (or most everyone) with the capacity for them to accept it. But Ephesians 1:4-5 created a conflict with that idea. So it lead me to study the Ephesians passage deeper.

I noticed something. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, there is a "you" and "us" type language throughout. When one reads later in chapter 2, I notice that the "you" is directed towards the Gentiles. One might say then, that through Paul's letter the "us" could very well at times refer to the Jews, especially when he uses the "you" and "us" language. Low and behold, this seems to be how Ephesians 1:4-14 is formatted, with 4-12 using the 1st person plural whereas 13-14 using the 2nd person plural. What could the author (who I am take to be Paul) be saying here? Lets look at little closer at the verses then with my translation of it (based upon the NASB).

Ephesians 1:3-14
Blessed the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places because of Christ. Just as He chose us in Him from before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him, by having predestined us in love to the adoption as sons for Himself through Jesus Christ, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely gave us because of the Beloved, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the freedom from our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He made to overabound for us. In all the wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him toward a dispensation of the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things because of the Messiah, things in the heavens and things on the earth, in whom we also have been given an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the plan of His will, to the end that we would be to the praise of His glory, those who have hoped in the Christ first. In Him you also, having listened to the message of truth (the gospel of your salvation) and in Him, having also believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of the promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance until the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Before going even further, it must be stated that the consensus is that Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence. However, this seems a quite bit odd considering the other Pauline letters than have a benediction such as we have in verse 3 and then starts with teaching. This may be said to be a default setting but not the rule because 2 Corinthians 1:3-12 has a benediction that is used to teach from. Also, Romans 1:2-6 contains some teaching before Paul even gets to the greeting and then benediction. Nevertheless, the default for Paul's greeting and benediction to be short and then for him to launch into the main part of the letter.

So what am I trying to get at? That I think verse 3 is in fact a separate sentence from 4-14. In verse 4, Paul starts the sentence with "just as" (kathws). Keep in mind that there is no actually punctuation in the Greek like we have today, so our attempts to find sentences is based upon trying to find where the author begins and ends a thought. So, with a word like kathws which is used to compare two ideas and typically goes between the two things being compared, the presumption would be that verse 4 an on is being likened to what is said in verse 3.

However, I propose a different understanding. I propose that kathws is used before the first idea and that Paul brings that which the first is likened to, the "you" in verses 13-14 (notice the two phrases I bolded). For kathws to be used at the beginning is not unprecedented. See Luke 11:30, 22:29, John 15:29, Romans 1:28, 2 Corinthians 1:5, etc.

Why is this important? For two reasons. First off, the first person plural is used from verse 3 all the way through verse 12. If verse 3 is part of the long sentence, then we would be hard pressed to change the meaning of the first person plural from including the audience to excluding them. Language is not generally used so fluidly. However, if verse 4 marks a new thought, one could say that the first person plural is used differently without much objection. Secondly, if kathws is used before the first thing that is likened to a second thing, then this means that Paul is not speaking universally in verse 4-12, but that it is one segment of the population (the Jews) which the Gentiles are likened to in 13-14.

Leaving the technical aspects of the text, lets look more at the meaning if I am correct. In verse 4-12, Paul speaks of 5 different ideas: choice, predestination, redemption, revealing the mystery, and inheritance. These aspects are more or less repeated in some form in verses 13-14. "Having listened to the message of truth" could be likened to the revealing of the mystery. Additionally, receiving the Spirit who was promised could be the equivalent to predestination and choice, because having the Spirit is a sign of the acceptance before God. Furthermore, inheritance is spoken of and also redemption (though one might say the word is used in two different ways between verse 7 and verse 14). Additionally, one should compare Ephesians 1:4-14 with 3:1-12 (discussion of the state of the Gentiles) and see the similarities of languag between the two passages.

So if verses 4-12 refer to the Jews, what does Paul mean that they were predestined? A common theme throughout the Old Testament was that the patriarch's (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) children would never be totally forsaken, but on account of them their seed would continue and would have a part in the inheritance. So, in order for God to be faithful to the covenant with the fathers, God would always have a remnant from Israel that would be in God's grace. As a result, the Jews as a whole were predestined to have some saved, but no other tribe would have such a promise made for them. But then Paul later turns to the Gentiles has basically says something along the lines of "While we are predestined to have a part in God's salvation, you Gentiles are also partakers yourselves in salvation." Paul essentially acknowledges Israel as the chosen people of God and how God will keep that promise, but likewise stating that the Gentiles are not excluded, but they too are included.

This better fits the context than of a predestination of individuals, since Paul clearly discusses the Gentiles place in 2:11-22. Additionally, one can see hints of this in the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2.

The thinking of a predestined remnant (as I would term it) is not without precedent elsewhere. In Romans 11:1-6, Paul denies that all of Israel was forsaken, but that there will be a remnant with them. Looking closer at 11:2, we note that Paul refers to the people of Israel as those whom God foreknew (one might render that as those whom God knew first). Paul has previously used the word in Romans 8:29 and speaks of them being predestined. If those who God foreknew was a phrase used to refer to the Israelites being the people first known (or chosen) by God (see Romans 1:16 also), then Paul refers to Israel being predestined, which would align with what is said in Ephesians 1:5.

I write all this to give a different way to view Ephesians 1 and to study more deeply. I have not addressed every issue in detail here, but in my time of studying this idea, I have found it to have a lot of support. Once again, that is something I would be willing to discuss. What I have provided is the primary parts of my study without going into excruciating detail.

Friday, June 29, 2007


To continue my rash of posting today, let me get in on the popular trend of the confession "meme," some theological and some not so much.

I confess that I don't read a lot, but instead I spend most of my time thinking and only read when I need more to think about.

I confess that I am an American, whose national past time is baseball, born and raised in the Southeast, whose past time is college football, who finds soccer (or futbol) the most appealing sport of them all.

I confess that I came into the blogging world thinking I was smart and have since realized how little I truly know.

I confess that I find the Barth obsession in the theology blogosphere bothersome even though I have not read much of Barth's work.

I confess that I am an undiagnosed and unmedicated ADHD, though it is relatively minor for me, thus I can seem sporadic in my posting.

I confess that I have a lot more "respect" for Christian Fundamentalism than the average blogger does, though I still am bothered by them.

I confess that I make many typing errors and generally do not proof read before posting.

I confess that I am not confessing everything here that I could confess.

Added confessions post-publication date:

I confess that I was kind of lazy when I first did this confession post, so I only posted a few.

I confess that I am not a fan of Reformed theology, but yet I am drawn to read about it.

I confess that I predicted the Denver Broncos were going to win Super Bowl XXXII over Green Bay, and they did.

I confess that I thought the Chicago Bears and the Seattle Seahawks were going to win the previous two Super Bowls.

I confess that before the previous two Super Bowls, I was actually 7 of 8 for predicting the winners (hey, I had to pick my Titans to win in 2000).

I confess that my favorite music is of the Christian Rock genre and not the classical genre like that of many of the theobloggers (I am still young and can grow up though)

I confess that I am sometimes more concerned with more basic theological topics, like predestination, eternal security, etc. etc. than with the more sophisticated ones.

I confess that I have an almost deep seething hatred for any doctrine that can be placed under the banner of "Eternal Security."

I confess that my favorite international soccer player is Michael Owen, purely because we have the same name (Owen) and I bought his jersey when I went over Europe the summer after my 11th grade year.

I confess that on the other hand, I think Landon Donovan is one of the most overrated US soccer players.

I confess that I enjoyed this probably a bit too much and strayed from whats it original purpose was.

I confess that I will probably add to this page again in the future.

Ahha! I knew it

I knew my theology blog was so much better than Faith and Theology. On Amazon's UnSpun list of Top Theology Blogs, Renewed Theology is listed at 126, whereas Faith and Theology is at 157. I have moved up in the theology blogosphere.....

Or there is a glitch in the system at UnSpun.

In other news, Chris Tilling is an egomaniac with his constant search for ad hominem against himself and his public announcement of them on his blog.....

Ok. Not really. I just want to see if he notices this ad hominem. I have a lot of respect for him and his blog Chrisendom, although I still have no idea what the heck he truly believes. But come to think of it, I don't know what Ben Myers at Faith and Theology believes either, except that he thinks Barth was a great theologian. Actually, the only bloggers whom I think I know their beliefs are the Conservative Reformed bloggers like Exiled Preacher (who was kind enough to comment on a previous entry of mine) and The Blogging Parson (I lack a better term than Conservative to distinguish them from Barthian Reformed). How is that for irony?

Knowing God

Over the past couple of days, I have begun to read through Karl Barth's Dogmatics in Outline. I have not particularly been a person who has agreed with much that I have seen attributed to Karl Barth. And in my reading so far, I find Barth's view that knowledge of God is impossible apart from a specific revelation of God to man (or at least this is where I see Barth going). No doubt, this is owing to his Reformed leanings. Thus, it is no surprise that I would disagree with it either. I do not find much that is redeemable in the teachings that are particular to the Reformed tradition (not to say that Barth's ideas are in full acceptance by other strains of the Reformed tradition).

Instead of writing where I disagree with Barth though, I will address what I believe to be the proper understanding regarding man and obtaining knowledge of God (I prefer to speak in terms of what I believe instead of what I do not believe).

First off, it is important to recognize that God is not bound to be known, but we can only know about God so much as He is willing to be shown. On that point, I doubt many would disagree with me. However, what Barth seems to stipulate is that only by revelation can we learn anything about God.

Lets define revelation. I would define revelation as the giving of some knowledge that would not otherwise be obtainable (though there are other aspects of revelation that I am not define). For instance, the idea that the sun and not the earth is the center of the solar system to ancient civilizations would be a revelation (or close to it) because they would not have the tools and knowledge to understand that. However, for a person at the invention of the telescope who had some proper understanding, to find out that the earth revolves around the sun, while an astounding find, would not be what I would call revelation. Likewise, I would find revelation the same Biblically. The idea of a Messiah would not have been revelation because the prophets foretold of the coming Messiah, but the way in which the Messianic prophecies would be fulfilled is revelation, because the Words of God revealed by the prophets did not give a satisfactory knowledge base to be able to derive the coming Messiah in the way that Jesus came.

But I do not find revelation to be the only means that God reveals Himself. God reveals Himself in nature (which would be termed a "natural theology"). Paul speaks about such in Romans 1:19-20. In Psalm 19, the Psalmist agrees in saying that the heavens (the sky) reveals the glory of God. The creation reveals God in a way. Additionally, the principles that are seen to apply to this world (though they do not work 100% of the time) speak about the one who created the world in such a way. For instance the idea that a bad deed will receive punishment (what some religions might term as "karma") show the way God Himself will in the end punish every evil deed. Likewise with the principle that good deeds receive rewards.

Knowledge of God can be obtained in other ways to. In our human nature, though flawed, do show some of the characteristics of God. Genesis speaks to humanity being make in the likeness of God. While certainly our nature is not that of total conformity to godliness, the idea of forgiveness, of unconditional love, of "brotherly" love, of justice, of righteousness, of joy, of anger, etc. all can, if properly understood, can show the nature of God.

There are multiple ways in which we can obtain knowledge about God, though many wrong conclusions can be drawn about those things is not properly understood.

And I think it is improper to assess to humanity a total inability to put some of the pieces together without revelation from God. Humanity's knowledge is essentially restricted and we are very, very, VERY prone to error in our knowledge, but this is not a denial of the ability to understand.

With all this said, the revelation of Christ was essential for us to fully understand God. A natural theology could reveal some of God's nature and workings, but it could not fully reveal who God is. But now that Christ has been revealed, all that is necessary for a full trust in God and what our future holds has been given.

It needs to be said that this revelation was made to humanity as a whole and not to people individually. Most all people are capable of putting together what has been shown in revelation and nature to take faith in God (only those who have so twisted their mind to a certain level have lost that capacity). Personal individual revelation is not required for faith (as the Reformed tradition would say), but instead all that is required for faith to be possible, humanity has. But our proneness to error, whether it be intellectual or moral, is what makes true faith in God and repentance so unlikely. However, our proneness does not take away our ability to move towards the truth in knowledge and morality. Instead, it cause us to see the world through colored lenses, where the perception of the world is changed so as to give the wrong ideas, but the perception is not totally different from reality.

Let me add that while I did not provide much Scripture and no exegesis in this, I have based my view upon an interpretation of Scripture (and experience interpreted through the eyes of the interpretation of Scripture), so I would more than welcome a discussion on the Biblical basis (especially from the Reformed tradition).

Sunday, June 24, 2007

10 comments on the purpose of baptism

Because it is easy, another list (forgive me for my lack of originality!).

1) Baptism is clearly spoken of in the Bible as being linked with and prior to salvation, so we must reject any notion that baptism is purely symbolic.

2) However in Acts 10, the Holy Spirit, the sign of a which a person was obedient (Acts 5:31-32), testifying to their purified hearts, was given before baptism.

3) Christian baptism clearly borrows from John the Baptist's baptism (if not even the same thing), which is probably derived from the Old Testament customs of washing to remove uncleanliness.

4) We should understand baptism then as a desire to remove spiritual uncleanliness, hence being a baptism of repentance (Mark 1:4).

5) Presumably physical actions do not in themselves change people in their nature and habits, so we should understand the mode which baptism purifies us differently.

6) In associating the washing of water with moral purification, the two seemingly unrelated actions are linked within the minds of the baptized.

7) The desire for repentance is the basis upon which God redeems the heart of people from their sins.

8) In associating repentance with being immersed then arising out of the water, baptism includes repentance into in its meaning, thus attributing to it a salvific aspect.

9) However, baptism itself is not the key to repentance, but a sign of the inner call for God's grace, or a sign of the inner call for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21).

10) Therefore, baptism is not essentially necessary, but yet is linked with and prior to salvation by assimilating the meaning of repentance into baptism in the mind of the baptized.

Friday, June 22, 2007

10 comments on Romans

Recently, I purchased Judgment & Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul by Christ VanLandingham, based upon Chris Tilling's review of it here. I am slowly reading through it, so I am not completely through it, but this is the second book that I have personally read that has attempted to make understanding of judgment, grace, justification, and works in the Romans letter without the typical Protestant view (the other being Paul by N.T. Wright). I am not through VanL thesis yet, so I am not reviewing his book. Instead, reading those two books have sparked me to present my opinions as to the nature of Paul's theology in Romans. So here goes:

1) Justification is not to be understood primarily as an eschatological idea, but justification does have implications for the end times. Justification is how God views us and has implications for the present (such as peace with God in Romans 5:1) just as much as eternal life to be received(Romans 2:6-13).

2) Justification is not an acquittal. Nor is justification itself the process of making one righteous. Rather, justification is the view of one's character.

3) God's justification of men is not at ends with works. Paul never speaks of generic works as being at odds with justification (but only the "works of the Law"). Romans 4:4 is not speaking of the person who does not trust God, but rather it speaks of a man like Abraham who obeys God. The justification he receives can not be attributed to grace.

4) Grace describes God's character in the paradox of the new convert or the penitent backslider. Their deeds, as they stand, would lead them condemned, but yet they desire to live a new life of obedience. At that moment where their deeds do no allow for them to be seen as righteous, God graciously forgives past and account their trust in God as righteousness, and thus they can stand justified before God, who justifies the ungodly.

5) Grace also describes God's character in giving the ability to man to fulfill their desire of righteousness. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied" (Matthew 5:6). The "gift of righteousness" (Romans 5:17) is given to us on the account of Christ's sacrifice so that we can be obedient.

6) God's grace does not absolve a person of their responsibility of righteous deeds if they so have the opportunity. Grace gives man a new beginning, by forgiving the past so that one can stand in confidence before God and by providing a hope of obedience. God's grace covers the sins of those who sincerely repent of their wicked deeds and desire to obey. It is not a covering for a lack of works when one has the opportunity (unlike the sincere death-bed converts who do not have the opportunity).

7) Justification and forgiveness are related to the final judgment where God gives according to one's deeds. (Romans 2:5). Forgiveness is the forgiveness past actions so as to not be brought up against a person, either in the present or in the final judgment. Justification is God's judgment of the person's current character, whether before or during the final judgment. And a person remains justified so far as a person's character remains consistent. Therefore a person justified presently will be be found to "patiently doing good" and thus receive eternal life (Romans 2:7) if they continued to live life in such a manner till the end.

8) The phrase translated traditionally translated as "faith in Christ," should be translated as "the faith of Christ," describing the trust in God that Jesus had while on the earth. This faith is given as a example for believers to follow.

9) The "righteousness of God" describes the righteous character that God has. It does not refer to the quality of God's righteousness (i.e. perfection), but rather it refers to the type of righteousness, and thus is to be contrasted with the works of the Law.

10) God's righteousness it is displayed by the faith that Christ lived by while on earth. By Christ's faith, we have an example of how we are to live to achieve the type of righteousness that God has. By mimicking Christ's faith, we achieve the type of righteousness that God has. Thus, by that type faith, seeing that is produces righteousness, a person may be justified by that faith when they have had no opportunity for righteous action.

Hopefully, I got my ideas across sufficiently. I realize these points do not address all exegetical questions one might have, nor does it address the objections one might bring up to this view of Romans. My point though isn't to address everything or explain why I believe these things to be true, but rather to explain how I see Romans and maybe encourage a view of Romans that gets rid of the tension between grace and works.

(I confess the similarity to the "ten propositions" series at Faith and Theology, though I did it unwittingly and discovered the similarity after I had finished. By no means though am I as eloquent as Kim Fabricus though)