Watch Out for the Dogmatic Dogs, Ladies!

Watch Out for the Dogmatic Dogs, Ladies!

Paul addresses his famous three “Lookouts” or “Bewares” in Philippians 3. The reference is likely to Judaizers; those who pollute the law of Yahweh and make the commandments of God unbearable and burdensome. But something else came to my attention as I thought about this text in light of my experiences in Reformedom. And that is that we have built a haven for dogmatic dogs. These dogs are well within the pale of orthodoxy. Their creedal credentials are not at stake. What is at stake is what they add to their creedal credentials.

Let me be honest. I love a good dose of postmillennial, paedo-life, psalmic, and predestinarian theology for breakfast…and lunch, and supper. So I am not discouraging the pursuit and passionate embrace of these doctrines. At the same time, there are some who wear these as fervently as St. Nick’s commitment to the deity of Christ witnessed by many when he slapped a heretic over it. These dogmatic dogs would receive the same rebuke from Paul today. In those days, they would have been wearing their Apollos t-shirts to the marketplace. And here is where things get messy: they truly believe they have a high calling to be apologists for the kingdom of God–that really small faction that intends to take over the world one blog post at a time.

Ladies, watch out!

I love the idea and the application of courtships in my congregation and elsewhere. But what needs to be included in this courtship process is not just whether a young man loves Jesus or contemplates deeply the mysteries of God, but whether this young man contemplates unity as the foundation for loving Jesus and understanding the mysteries of God.

Dogmatic Dogs don’t want unity. They perpetuate the myth that unity is for ecumenical liberals. Their strong and rhetorical vision for a united Christendom involves dogs that bark just like them. Ladies, look out! These are the types of men who will go from job to job, and if they are pursuing pastoral ministry they will go from church to church.

If you are a young lady contemplating sacred marriage and a young man has asked your father permission to court you and get to know you, here are some questions to ponder:

First, what is his on-line track record? Is he known as a contentious dog barking everywhere only to get the world to see his point of view?

Second, is he so dogmatic that his parents–who happen to be on opposite ends theologically–cannot bear to hear the words “theology” or “God” for fear of the conversation that will ensue?

Third, does he have friends from different theological traditions? If not, press him on why not?

Fourth, does he only read 16th century authors? Does he think contemporary theological writing is corrupt?

Fifth, is he able to teach you the Bible without making you feel like a theological infant?

Sixth, has he ever read a story? Tolkien, Lewis, McDonald, Rowling? Or are Systematic Theologies his favorite past time?

Seventh, can he engage in any other type of conversation outside theology? I know, I know, all of life is theological, but you get my point.

Eighth, does he consider human emotions a sign of weakness?

Ninth, does he honor and submit to his pastor when he receives counsel? Or does he always think he has a better way?

Finally, how does he worship? Does he treasure gathering with the saints? Does he treasure singing, feasting, loving, submitting, serving, and sacrificing for the saints?

Ladies, watch out for the dogmatic dogs! There is always the possibility they will see the errors of their own ways and change when they get married, but don’t count on it. Pray that they are able to show you a gentle dogmatism that translates to love, patience, and mercy to fellow brothers and sisters before marriage. Pray that they will repent of their vicious dogmatism and re-orient their words and actions to benefit the body and the unity of the saints. If we treasure our Christian faith, we may have at times failed to answer these questions rightly at one time or another, but the real question is whether we have learned to make our dogma attractive, rather than repulsive.


Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?

As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.

I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.

It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.

In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.

It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.

It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.

Lent and Wilderness

Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.

Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.

But Why 40 Days?

Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.

Should Lent be Observed?

Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.

Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.

I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:

The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.

The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.

As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:

Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance.  But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like.  “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.

If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.

Saturday Night Live (SNL), DJesus Uncrossed, the Romans, the Jews and the God of the Bible

DJesus UnCrossed is SNL’s latest attempt to de-christ Christ. Of course, in our day, Jesus is easy to disrespect. One wonders if SNL would attempt a comedy journey through the life of Muhammad. No further comments needed.

David Flowers believes that the skit has something to teach us, and that we should begin to listen to our critics. He argues that the skit has hermeneutical problems, but that it shows our hypocrisy and inconsistency in our faith. Flowers argues that this is the result of an American-shaped Jesus. He is correct to assert that humor has a way of offending Christians and revealing weaknesses and hypocrisy. We should be aware of them.

The Jesus raised from the dead murdering Romans out of revenge seems bizarre in light of the biblical narrative. Flowers is correct to assert that it reveals the Jesus kick-ass motif portrayed by many in our evangelical culture. It is easy to object to the video’s false portrayals, but in what sense is this skit true, even with its exaggerative and faulty hermeneutics? There is something to be learned here. Flowers is correct that we are to listen to our critics. The point, however, is that our critics don’t go far enough.

Surely the 2nd Amendment Rights’ Jesus is very American and Neo-Conservative like. But that doesn’t even begin to describe the type of justice-driven Messiah we as Orthodox Christians believe.

For starters, we believe in a Messiah that is ascended to the right hand of the Father, and from that place of kingship rules and reigns over us and creation. He is not an unmoved Mover. Further, Jesus did not have the Romans in mind when He judged, He had the corrupt and idolatrous first century Jewish generation in mind. Upon them, He brought a profound tribulation (Mt. 24). The Gospel Lesson this Sunday is Luke 13:31-35 where Jesus laments over Jerusalem. He sought her with love, but she continued to kill and murder the prophets sent with a message of salvation and deliverance. The vengeful Jesus portrayed by SNL has no interest in context, but it should well observe that the Messiah who destroys is first the Messiah who shows mercy.

How Can we Learn from SNL?

First, Saturday Night Live is not a theology show. Its humor is devoid of accuracy, and frankly, that is not their interest. They have been on the air for 37 years because of their exaggerated (especially in the last ten years) view of current events. This is important to keep in mind.

Secondly, use these opportunities to correct false information. Bill Maher, the well-known HBO atheist host, does this better than anyone I know. He takes a portion of Scriptures and twists its meaning in a fashion that would make even the devil jealous. This is a good time for Christians to be hermeneutically savvy. In fact, go ahead and make a t-shirt with that slogan “I am hermeneutically savvy.”

Thirdly, do not allow an exclusively New Covenant narrative to shape your theology. As James Jordan observes: “The division of the Bible into “Old Testament” and “New Testament” is merely for convenience, for the Scriptures are one narrative from beginning to end.” It is important to note also that this one narrative portrays God as a God of justice who says all vengeance belongs to Him. The modern Marcionites have failed us just as much as SNL has.

Finally, remember that the life of Jesus–especially as we meditate upon it in this Lenten Season–is a life of cross before glory; suffering before resurrection. The Jesus that came out of the grave was first a Jesus that came riding on a donkey as the Prince of Peace. But that same Jesus has promised to come again riding a horse of judgment upon Jerusalem and upon all those who despise His Name.

The Elephant in the Room, James McDonald, and the Public Discourse

I concur wholeheartedly with Tim Keller and D.A. Carson’s decision and rationale behind the dangerous public affair of the ER2. Keller and Carson observe:

There is always a place for a Paul to reason with pagan philosophers in the Areopagus,” the statement said. “That is a bit different from trying to reform another’s theology in a public setting where the trappings and attitudes largely suggest everyone is already on the same side.”

When you set things in the context of “conversation” that is  very much public, the expectations entail a form of conciliatory agenda, even when the reconciliation may not be present. A conversation with Driscoll, Mcdonald, and T.D. Jakes on the particulars of Jakes’ trinitarian evolution would seem profitable in private. But as Carson and Keller observe, these public settings entail a form of “we truly agree on this” attitude. What I would suggest is a private meeting where these issues can be discussed without the pressure of the lights, cameras, and millions of viewers. Perhaps once participants of the ER observe, analyze, and confirm Jakes’ transition as authentic, and robustly creedal, then, and only then, should we give him a public opportunity to tell the world he has abandoned oneness theology, and truly embraced the Trinitarianism of Nicea.

The Homosexual Debate

Travis Waxman describes his wishes concerning the direction of homosexual debate in the mainstream media:

Host: You are a Christian pastor, and you say you believe the Bible, which means you are supposed to love all people.

Pastor: That’s right.

Host: But it appears to me that you and your church take a rather unloving position when it comes to gay people. Are homosexuals welcome to come to your church?

Pastor: Of course. We believe that the gospel is a message relevant for every person on the planet, and we want everyone to hear the gospel and find salvation in Jesus Christ. So at our church, our arms are outstretched to people from every background, every race, every ethnicity and culture. We’re a place for all kinds of sinners and people with all kinds of problems.

{Read the rest}

Bart Ehrman’s argument…

I heard some portions of the Ehrman/Wallace debate. Here is a major argumentation for Ehrman’s theory that the Bible cannot be trustworthy: a) There are about 400,000 variants in the Greek text. b) The Greek text contains less than 200,000 words, c) Therefore, there are more textual variants than there are words in the New Testament. Hence, the Bible, according to Ehrman is not inerrant.

Dan Wallace’s critique is quite striking. His point is a simple one: a) The reason there are more textual variants than the words in the Bible is because there are many Greek texts. b) The more Greek texts available, the more the variants. c) Therefore, Ehrman’s argument proves nothing.

If there were only five Greek manuscripts available and there were over 400,000 variants, then there may be a problem. Nevertheless, there are hundreds and hundreds of Greek manuscripts available (not to mention the oral tradition, and the patristic witness, and so on). The more the witnesses the better the ability to reconstruct the original. Unlike great works of literature, which contain one or a few manuscripts, the New Testament provides an abundance of evidence– in both oral and written tradition– that the present set of Greek texts available is reliable beyond a scribe’s dream.

Thanks to James White for some of the observations.