Friday, March 29, 2013

Planned Parenthood and Infanticide

I know the trendy new term is "post-birth abortion" but let's use the old term of "infanticide."  There are those people that would like to keep the discussion rarefied and abstract.  This was the case a year ago when "ethicists" wrote an essay defending infanticide--see HEREHERE, and HERE.  Now here's a video with a representative of Planned Parenthood standing before a Florida legislature unable and unwillingly to speak with clarity about what to do with a live child which is the result of a "botched abortion."  Listen as Alisa LaPolt Snow attempts to dodge the implications of child killing.  Also notice that in the end she has to speak of "logistics" (read "convenience") to justify inactivity that would directly cause the death of a baby. Weep for the blindness and be angered at the callousness of our culture.

I first saw this video at The Weekly Standard.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Poem in Praise of the Eternality of God

I’ve been thinking about God’s eternality and letting my mind reel in the vastness.  I’ve been thinking of the passage in 2 Peter 3.8:
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

Yesterday, Today, Forever

My mind is to grasp, sit up, take notice,
            to ponder and reflect upon depths beyond my depth

You, O God, keep pace by a different time piece

With time, in time, above time—just in time
You weave a dance that is layered and thick

Eternity opened its eyes and You were already awake—
            active, radiant, Father to Son in the Spirit of love

“A thousand years like one day”—so says the text and so my mind wonders…

1776 is but a few hours ago; near half a day sees Luther’s hammer begin its resounding ring

A full day—ah, we arrogantly label of Ages the Middle
            but You behold a different hourglass and so say “yesterday”

Clarity, clearness, Your memory is clean

My memory, a date or two but You…

You delightfully know every face, thought, and hair out of place
            You justly remember and remember again—all will be remembered no matter the

Intoxicating Eternity, a teaspoon I’m done and undone
            and yet the text says still more…

“One day is like a thousand years” and here I pause (Selah)

Words have meaning and metaphors fly,
            and so I run until weary just touching the wing.

The day, some day, a day—today?
            My mind bends and expands—an inch or two

But how? 
Will the closet of Your glory be artfully stuffed into the luggage of 24 hours?

Or maybe—am I allowed to dream?—maybe in Your eyes and by Your hands
            a millennia of activity will transpire and expire this day

Seven Billion crawl on this dust chip
            living, dreaming, hoping, dying, living…

and You stoop to behold each one
            All hairs counted and all thoughts known—billions of pieces and, yet, Your one plan

History is short—two days ago, Jesus
Today is vast—Come, Lord Jesus, perhaps tomorrow?

I am lost in Your immensity but not lost in Your love
            so I smile

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Global Training Network--New Video!

I am affiliated with Global Training Network (GTN).  GTN exists to train some of the neediest pastors in some of the neediest places on the planet.  Here are a few stats:

75% of Christians on the face of the Earth live in non-Western countries--sometimes called the "Majority World"

4 out of 5 pastors have no formal Bible training

GTN is at work in over 50 countries in the Majority World equipping pastors in biblical, theological, and ministry skills.

Here is GTN's newest video to give you a flavor of this strategic and important ministry.

Global Training Network - "Church Arise" from Paul Madson on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The New New Testament: Another Attempt at Pushing Gnostic Christianity

Here it comes again--just in time for Easter--the latest attempt to push a "new" version of Christianity under the guise of Gnostic texts.  A New New Testament is the brain-child of Hal Taussig who is a professor at Union Theological Seminary and a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  A New New Testament (ANNT) contains the 27 canonical New Testament books as well as an additional 10 more books.  Here is the promotional video for ANNT:

With scholars like Karen King (of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fame--see here for details) and John Dominic Crossan you know this is not going to be any where near orthodox nor historically credible.

As can be seen from the video this newer grouping of books was put together by a "council of spiritual leaders"--a full 19 of them.  Sixteen of them are self-confessed Christians and three are non-Christians, according to an interview with Taussig over at Amazon.  One can be a little skeptical that a group of 19 "spiritual leaders" should really be considered a "council."  Michael Bird has these appropriate words to say:
Okay, I’m all for encouraging the study of extra-biblical texts, esp. early Christian literature from the second and third centuries. But you CAN”T just gather a council of nineteen buddies and decide to put new books in the New Testament. It’s a great marketing ploy, but these folks don’t seem to have a grain of catholic or canonical respect.
So what is included in this new version of the New Testament?  Of course, the Gospel of Thomas is included--it's placed first in the whole package.  So for one's daily devotions one can read saying 114:
Simon Peter said to them, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life."  Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males.  For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."
And these are supposed to be the "more inclusive" texts?

There is also The Prayer of the Apostle Paul.  I went looking in my copy of The Nag Hammadi Library (edited by James M. Robinson) and found the following words by Dieter Mueller introducing The Prayer of the Apostle Paul:
The short text is of unknown provenance.  Its general gnostic affinities are clear.  Details such as the reference to the "psychic God" (A,31) may indicate Valentinian connections.  That association in turn suggests a date of origin between the second half of the second century and the end of the third century.  (p. 27)
I'm thinking that Paul didn't write this or pray this prayer.

There is The Thunder: Perfect Mind which doesn't even mention Christ and may be a pre-Christian text.

There is The Gospel of Truth with its "clear affinities to the Valentinian school" and "some scholars have suggested that the Gnostic teacher [Valentinus] himself was the author" (p. 38 in The Nag Hammadi Library).  So who is Valentinus?  New Testament specialist Ben Witherington in his excellent book The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci (IVP, 2004) gives a brief description:
Valentinus, certainly one of the most prominent names associated with Gnosticism, began as an orthodox monk in the second century A.D.  After he lost an election to be a bishop, he went in a Gnostic direction, which his contemporary Tertullian called a lapse into heresy.  His real influence in terms of Gnosticism came in the last third of the second century.  (Remember, there is no evidence that Gnosticism existed before the second half of the second century).  So there was perhaps a couple of centuries of development before Gnosticism was officially repudiated, but it is clear enough from Tertullian and Irenaeus that it was already deemed heretical by major figures in the second century.  (p. 85)
Why is it that some scholars continued to be fascinated with the Gnostic texts and alternative versions of "early" Christianity?  In a previous post last year I mentioned the work of Karen King and her interest with the Gnostic texts.  I wrote the following:
 According to King, there were alternate versions of Christianity and over time the forces of "orthodoxy" silenced other versions of Christianity.  This is nothing new for Dr. King.  She has been arguing this thesis for a number of years.  For example, in discussing the Nag Hammadi texts which contain a number of Gnostic "gospels" she has written:
These writings are of inestimable importance in drawing aside the curtain of later perspectives behind which Christian beginnings lie, and the exposing the vitality and diversity of early Christian life and reflection.  They demonstrate that reading the story of Christian origins backward through the lens of canon and creed has given an account of the formation of only one kind of Christianity, and even that only partially.  The fuller picture lets us see more clearly how the later Christianity of the New Testament and the Nicene Creed arose out of many different possibilities through experimentation, compromise, and very often conflict.  From her book The Gospel of Mary Magdala (Polebridge, 2003), p. 157 as quoted in Ben Witherington The Gospel Code (IVP, 2004), p. 118.
New Testament scholar Ben Witherington effectively answers this perspective when he responds directly to Karen King:

Did you catch the sleight of hand in this analysis?  Forget altogether the fourth and fifth century councils and the formation of the creeds.  The essential question is, What were the earliest documents (and what do they say)?  The answer is the New Testament itself.  We have no documents earlier than these, and as any good historian knows, the documents closest to the source of a movement are likely to be most revealing about its origins.
The documents written by eyewitnesses or those in contact with eyewitnesses are our primary sources, and these documents happen to be in the New Testament, plus a few other likely first-century documents, such as the Didache and 1 Clement.  There is no good evidence that Gnosticism was one of the dueling forms of Christianity in the first century A.D.  Thus the degree of diversity that King thinks existed in the earliest churches is not historically demonstrable.  There is no evidence of Gnostics or Marcionites in the first-century church.
In King's view the earliest Christians modeled wide diversity, and we are called to "emulate their struggles to make Christianity in our own day."  So the agenda is laid bare: it's our job not merely to rewrite the history of ancient Christianity but to remake modern Christianity.  This clarion call needs to be seen for what it is.  It's not simply a rejection of the canonizing process and creedal orthodoxy but also of the limits of first-century Christian diversity in favor of a much broader and more pluralistic model.  King calls us to reject our earliest historical sources, the New Testament, as the basis of defining the normative character of the Christian faith.  It plays right into our culture's belief that "the new is true."   Ben Witherington The Gospel Code (IVP, 2004), p. 118-119. 
These ancient fragments become, for some scholars and others, vehicles for contemporary agendas.
This is agenda is also seen in the words of Hal Taussig in answering questions on Amazon:
Q. What will Christians learn from A New New Testament?
A. They’ll learn that their early roots are deeper, more diverse, and more widespread than the general story of how Christianity began is told. Perhaps most importantly for Christians, they will be able to claim a set of new resources for their 21st century life. A New New Testament opens the door to a wider set of expressions, practices, stories, and teachings than they have previously known. 
Q. What will non-Christians learn from A New New Testament?
A. Non-Christians will learn that some of the narrow-minded doctrines of orthodox Christianity and the old-fashioned ideas of the traditional New Testament are not the only way that the early Christ movements expressed themselves. 
Did you catch that?--"narrow-minded doctrines of orthodox Christianity and the old-fashioned ideas of the traditional New Testament"--hardly detached and "objective" analysis.  This is an endeavor with an agenda.

The Jesus of the canonical gospels is too much for some people.  But rather than reject Him outright they seek to re-make Jesus into something more culturally palatable.  This is done under the banner of "scholarship" but the attempt to tie the historical Jesus to a Gnostic portrait continues to be overthrown in the scholarly literature.  But how many Americans are aware of this thorough debunking of this Gnostic lunacy?  The church needs to be ready to speak the true gospel about the true Jesus as revealed in the canonical New Testament.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Strange Fire" Conference

In this promotional video for the upcoming "Strange Fire" conference, Pastor John MacArthur warns about the "unacceptable" and "false worship" of the charismatic movement.  This is a movement that "blasphemes the Holy Spirit."  Notice the broad brush strokes that are used to implicate this group called the "charismatic movement."  Notice, also, the opening scene of the video with its bloody figurine being stoned to death!

Pastor MacArthur has not been known to be an accurate or careful critic of the charismatic movement in the past.  For example, his 1992 book Charismatic Chaos was woefully lacking in any serious engagement with responsible charismatic/Pentecostal scholarship.  Rich Nathan in his response to Charismatic Chaos notes the following points (as scattered throughout his review):
"This book, however, is particularly difficult to read for a number of reasons.  MacArthur has the unfortunate weakness of exaggerating his opponents' faults.  Not only is the bizarre and the quirky repeatedly emphasized, but MacArthur rarely acknowledges a mainstream view within the charismatic or Pentecostal movements that's balanced, Biblical, and mature.  MacArthur, moreover, rarely admits that the Pentecostal/charismatic movement--now over 400 million strong--has borne tremendous fruit for the kingdom of God.  He simply does not permit himself to acknowledge positive contributions by this enormous and varied movement."
"Throughout this entire book, MacArthur has chosen to exaggerate the weaknesses of the charismatic viewpoint by selecting examples of the worst or the weakest of charismatic proponents rather than the best."
"Perhaps the worst flaw in MacArthur's argumentative style is is tendency to label his opponents with excessively negative and perjorative adjectives."
"In other places in Charismatic Chaos, he accuses charismatics and Pentecostals of being immoral (p. 21); 'keen but clueless' (p 40); anti-intellectual (p. 40); not far removed from existentialism, humanism, paganism (p. 41); and, being 'perilously close to neo-baalism' (p. 43).  It is difficult to dialogue with somebody who is as abusive and caustic as MacArthur is in his attacks on charismatics.  He expresses surprise that charismatics become defensive when he simply 'speaks the truth in love' to them.  Perhaps if MacArthur stopped labeling and vilifying charismatics, they might find it easier to listen to him." 
Based on the video preview of the conference I fear that not much is going to be different with this upcoming critique.

NOTE: I have written a brief critique of Pastor MacArthur's handling of one issue in his Charismatic Chaos.  It is not an exhaustive critique but it does detail his logical and exegetical errors on one specific point.  See my post: Epaphroditus, Sickness, and Healing.


"Strange Fire" and Responsible Criticism

"Strange Fire" and Responsible Criticism (2)

John MacArthur on John Piper and Wayne Grudem Regarding Spiritual Gifts

"Strange Fire"--Michael Brown Responds (Twice!)


Evangelical and Charismatic: Affirming Both Word and Spirit

Charismatic Calvinist

Monday, March 11, 2013

Song on Joshua and the Promised Land

I have the opportunity to preach on Joshua and the beginnings of the movement of Israel into the Promised land.  I came across this song and I liked it!

Friday, March 8, 2013

On Doubt, Apologetics, and Affections

C. Michael Patton has some good thoughts on how doubt works in people’s lives and how this is operative in a number of people moving away from the faith as they reach their twenties.  Patton’s focus is primarily intellectual in nature.  He does recognize there are other kinds of challenges.  He states the challenges this way:

Intellectual challenges: Often, the doubt comes from intellectual challenges. Challenges to the Bible’s reliability. Challenges from science. Challenges to the very need for a belief in God.

Experiential challenges: These type of challenges come from God’s actions (or lack thereof) in our lives. This is exemplified by prayers that don’t get answered, the apparent silence of God in a person’s experience, or a tragedy out of which you or someone else was not rescued. These experiential challenges are normally the catalyst which eventually ignite intellectual challenges.

As the rest of Patton’s discussion makes clear his primary focus is on the intellectual challenges and how to best address them from an early age through a good grounding in the “intellectual viability of the Evangelical faith.”  All of this is good and ought to be affirmed.  In what follows I want to broaden Patton’s thought to include other perspectives—especially focusing on the “experiential challenges” to faith.

J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler have written a wonderful book entitled In Search of a Confident Faith: Overcoming Barriers to Trusting God (IVP, 2008).  In this book Moreland and Issler tackle these categories of “intellectual” and “experiential” challenges in an insightful manner.  They begin by making some important distinctions that are helpful:

First, one must distinguish among (1) unbelief (a willful and sinful setting of oneself against a biblical teaching), (2) doubt (an intellectual, emotional or psychological hindrance to a more secure confidence in some teaching or in God himself—I believe something but just have doubts) and (3) lack of belief (I don’t believe something but know I should and want to—I need help).

Second, as we shall see, not all doubt is explicitly intellectual.  There are deep affective, psychological issues involved as well.  For example, if you had attachment issues as a child and were not regularly connected to warm, strong, loving parents, you may have difficulty believing that God the Father is tender and kind.  If so, then what is essential for developing greater confidence in God includes participating in healthy relationships and engaging in spiritual formation exercises, perhaps also being involved in therapy.

Third, confidence is not an all-or-nothing affair.  If one doe not have confidence in something, he or she may lack trust to varying degrees.  The same may be said for having trust in something.  (pp. 21-22)

These are important distinctions that people need to be made aware of for their spiritual health.  The pangs of doubt are not an indication of sinfulness that needs to be suppressed.  Confidence in God is something that ebbs and flows because it is a relational category.  We are in relationship with God and we have the ability to grow closer to him or move away from him.  Failure to understand these distinctions leads to problems in the church, as Moreland and Issler point out:

Thus, we now have a stifling, stagnating situation in the evangelical community: People do not feel safe in expressing doubt or lack of belief about some doctrinal point—even the question of whether they actually believe in God.  The result is that people hide what they actually believe from others, and even from themselves, all the while continuing to use faith-talk to avoid being socially ostracized in their local fellowship.  Because we do not fully understand assensus (and fiducia; see below), we have unintentionally created a situation in which people do not know how to distinguish what they believe from what they say they believe.  Thus, they substitute community jargon for authentic trust.  

This is a powerful point!  The language of faith (“community jargon”) is not the same as faith.  Unless we recognize the potential dangers of this our churches will not be healthy communities of authentic faith.

To effectively address this situation, we must create safe, honest, nondefensive fellowships in which people are given permission to be on a faith journey, with all the warts, messiness and setbacks that are part of such a journey.  We must also address general and specific intellectual doubts, provide insights about the affective, emotional hindrances to growth in confidence in God, and become more intentional about bearing credible witnesses to each other regarding answers to prayer and other supernatural experiences that strengthen faith. (p. 22)

That last sentence lays out three categories to be addressed: (1) intellectual doubts, (2) emotional hindrances, and (3) the need to share with one another God’s active presence in our lives through answered prayer and other supernatural experiences.  We must beware of attempting to focus only or, even primarily, on the intellectual issues to the exclusion of these other areas.  Later in the book Moreland and Issler make these important comments:

If you had to guess, what would you identify as the most prominent source of doubt in America today?  Is it certain discoveries of science?  Incredulity about some stories in the Bible?  The intolerance of Jesus’ claims to be the only way?  These are not even close.  In his study of doubt and defection from Christianity, sociologist Christian Smith claims that far and away the chief source of doubt comes from God’s apparent inactivity, indifference or impotence in the face of tragedy and suffering in the respondents’ lives and in others’ lives, and the apparent lack of God’s interventions and help in the toil and fatigue of daily troubles.

Notice that this is not simply the traditional “problem of evil.”  It is the “problem of evil” personalized.  It is the “hiddenness of God”—his seeming indifference and aloofness—that is the main issue.

In light of his study, Smith claims that spiritual experiences are a major source of development in trust in God and strengthening of that trust: “Very many modern people have encountered and do encounter what are to them very real spiritual experiences, frequently vivid and powerful ones.  And these often serve as epistemological anchors sustaining their religious faith in even the most pluralistic and secular of situations.”

With two qualifications, we believe Smith is onto something very important.  First, spiritual experiences in themselves can be dangerous and misleading, so they cannot sustain on their own the weight of religious, especially Christian, conviction.  However, given a framework of objective biblical revelation (e.g., Jesus’ promises developed in the last chapter) and a biblically pregnant view of God-confidence that includes the various factors covered in this book, experiences of the triune God, his love and mercy, and his responses to prayer are powerful sources of encouragement and confirmation of reliance on God.  Second, since Christian growth is a communal and not merely an individualistic endeavor, we would expand Smith’s frame of reference from personal experiences of God to include hearing of, even experiencing, his presence and actions vicariously in and through the lives of others.  (pp. 133-134)

In light of this there is needed more than simply traditional apologetics—as needed as this is!  What is needed is an integration of the intellect and the experiential.  Our youth must be taught how to think (apologetics, theology, philosophy, etc.) and how to experience God (what to expect, what happens when God feels distant, how do I develop an interactive relationship with an invisible Being?).  There is the need for what once was called “spiritual direction.”  Moreland and Issler move us in the right direction with their book.  May we heed the message.