Friday, November 30, 2012

The Threat of God: Secularism’s Objection to Biblical Christianity


If you have been watching any news at all this holiday season you have already noticed the God-haters clubs have started their annual assault on the religious orientation of Christmas. Why does secularism have such hostility toward religion, and especially toward Christianity? Why do these people find the idea of God so threatening? For many Christians, this phenomenon is quite puzzling. After all, according to Joel Osteen, Christianity is the very best chance you have of living your best life now. In addition, if you listen to the prosperity preachers, America could be out of its economic woes in a flash if they just had enough faith to speak it all away! According to the modern gospel of modern Christianity in modern pop-culture, Jesus will help fix your life, your career, your marriage, your kids, your finances, your health, you name the challenge, and He will fix it.

In sharp contradistinction to the modern idea of this strange new gospel, the Bible says something entirely different. Creation does not revolve around me, or my happiness or my best life now. Creation was, and is and, will always be for the sole glory of God. In order to understand why secularism has this seemingly mysterious disposition toward God, we must turn to Scripture. Is God the threat that Secularism considers Him to be? God’s speech to man is not for the purpose of speculation, but rather, for transformation. While understanding God’s revelation may require a high degree of meditation and supposition in some instances, this is not the end goal of that revelation. The end goal of the unveiling of God in the person of Jesus Christ as recorded and revealed on the pages of Holy Scripture is redemption, renewal, and transformation. God breaks onto the scene two-thousand years ago as a babe in the manger. That babe represents the very summit of God’s redemptive revelation to mankind. Jesus came, not to provide fodder for debate and speculation. Rather, He came to save His people from their sin! In this very statement rests the mystery of modern secularism’s hostility and opposition toward God.

Jesus said, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father.” (Jn. 8:44) In this world there are two distinct groups of people: children of God and children of the devil. This contradicts the modern notion that we are all the children of God. To put it quite simply, we are not. In Matthew 13 Jesus tells and explains the parable of the wheat and the tares. He tells us that the field in this parable represents the world. The enemy that sowed the tares is the devil. The tares are the sons of the evil one, literally, “the sons of the evil.” The wheat are the sons of the kingdom. In Ephesians Paul tells us we were once darkness, but we are now light. This indicates that those outside the Christian group, outside the kingdom of God are darkness while those in the kingdom of God are light. Consequently, Paul commands us to walk as children of light. (Eph. 5:8)

Jesus said, “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (Jn. 3:20) This is a remarkable, yet perspicuous revelation. In fact, it is starling. Literally this verse says that men who practice evil won’t come to the light so that their wicked deeds will not be exposed. The subordinate clause is a hina clause and this indicates purpose. The Greek word ἐλεγχθῇ (elegchthei) means to state that someone has done wrong, with the implication that there is adequate proof of such wrongdoing. In short, the evil doer loves their sin and will do whatever is necessary to avoid being convicted of it or especially giving it up. Light threatens darkness by nature of its brightness. Where there is light, darkness cannot exist.

Jesus said that the world hates Him because he testifies that its deeds are evil. In other words, Jesus has intimate knowledge that the world is guilty in the divine courtroom, and He serves as an impeccable and irreproachable eyewitness that this world is evil. The world sits at the defense table in utter contempt and intense hatred of the Divine witness.

Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (Jn. 15:19) The secular world hates Christians because Christians are not of this world. American Christians find this truth to be almost foreign to everything the American Church has taught them. They seem to be entirely ignorant of the fact that the Church and the World have such a hostile relationship. It is shocking because Christians in America bought into the idea that America was a Christian nation. While America was founded on values that are indeed closely identified with and in some cases identical to Christian values, this does not make her a Christian nation. This way of looking at America has clouded the judgment of many Christians and caused them to develop parallel loyalties for God and country that are seemingly indistinguishable. If you listen to some people talk or read certain blogs, Christians even have a social responsibility to preserve the “Christian values” in secular American culture. These individuals are shocked that American culture’s hatred for genuine Christianity is becoming more pronounced. Jesus was unambiguous when He said that the world hates Him and that it would hate us. He was clear on why the world would hate us. He did not launch into some convoluted philosophical or theological explanation. Men love their sin and they want to keep on sinning.

John tells us not to be surprised if the world hates us. (I Jn. 3:13) Yet here we are, completely shocked that secular culture hates us. Why are we shocked that the world hates us? Perhaps many Christians have not spent enough time dialoguing with God by reading His word to realize the truth of it all and to understand how we ought to respond to the vile criticism that we experience in this world. John says we should not be shocked. Jesus warns us that this world will hate us. Jesus also tells us to rejoice and be exceedingly glad when men hate us. He even tells us to leap for joy! (Lu. 22-23) However, is this how Christians are responding to persecution and hatred from American culture? Most Christians think that it is the duty of the Church to make sure this environment does not persist and we think the best approach is through political activism. American Christians don’t want to suffer for the gospel. The truth is that we don’t want to suffer for anything. We seem to be especially determined not to suffer for the gospel. One blogger thinks it would be socially irresponsible to allow civil infringements on religious liberty. Indeed, this philosophy seems to run quite contrary to the NT teachings on the matter.

The apostle Paul reveals that the worldly mind, that is, the mind of the world is a natural born, and naturally sworn enemy of God. “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” The Greek word hostile actually means enemy. The natural mind is a natural enemy of God. This is due to the curse of the fall. This means that the natural mind is not open to negotiations for a peace treaty with God. The natural mind will accept God only on its terms. In other words, God has to stop being the kind of God He is in order for the natural mind to accept Him. Conversely, the natural mind must stop being the natural mind in order for it to accept God as God. This is what we call a conundrum in the south. It is what Washington Politics call an impasse. The natural mind cannot stop being the natural mind on its own. By definition, it would not be the natural mind if it could. Similarly, God cannot stop being the kind of God He is without not being God at all. By definition, He would not be God if He could.

The world demands to live its life on its own terms. It loves its sin. The world loves to determine what kind of pleasure is acceptable and what kind is not without regard for God. Secularism’s basic principle is that man is the measure of all things. Man decides what is right and wrong, man decides how life should go, determines the rules, and defines all truth. Fundamentally speaking, at bottom, the very foundation of it all, God is the nemesis of secular philosophy. Secularism cannot stand up to God intellectually, ethically, or even relationally. In every way the idea of God is far more congruent with reality than secularism could ever hope to be. Deep down inside, secularists know this. (Romans 1) As long as God is in the public square, secularism has someone on the field blocking its way to the end zone! Secularism wants to remove God from the public square so that it can push its hedonist agenda of self without restraint. Naturally speaking, this should not surprise Christians. We should expect this kind of behavior from any godless secular culture. Jesus spoke openly and freely about this subject. All Christians need to do is read the NT gospels and they will realize that their views on this subject have been sorely misinformed by men who have abandoned the gospel long ago even though they stand in front of a podium and pretend to preach it every Sunday.

The American culture is staunchly secular contrary to what some evangelicals claim. It has been for some time now. America (American Christians so-called) has made demands about the kind of God it will serve for decades. She has corrupted the true gospel with a man-centered, hedonistic, patriotic kind of gospel that is foreign to Scripture. She has immersed minsters in secular philosophy and humanistic psychology for decades upon decades now. As a result, seminaries produce men who range from being altogether inept in the content of the gospel to being devoted skeptics and flagrant unbelievers. In short, much of the reason the Church is shocked at the world’s hatred of Christianity can be blamed on the fact that most pulpits and the majority of our congregations are made up, not of the sons of the kingdom, but of sons of the evil one.

Let us rejoice that the words Christ spoke about the world are and always have been true. We are to rejoice and leap for joy when men hate us because of Christ. At the same time, we are to remain in constant dialogue with this world, giving them the gospel.

Peter’s words are very fitting and encouraging in this regard: “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”

 

 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Hermeneutics of Evangelical Political Activism

Part II


The grammatical structure and the historical context of the words of Christ in Matt. 5:13-20 lend no support to the practice of making the logical inference that good works or social good requires or even involves political activism. The argument may be recast in syllogistic form:

1. Scripture commands Christians to do good works.
2. Political Activism is good works.
3. Therefore, Scripture commands Christians to engage in political activism where permitted.

The first problem is connecting the kind of good works of political activism with the kind of good works in first-century Christianity. Remember, a fundamental rule in hermeneutics is that we must understand how the original audience would have understood and applied the text before we can understand how to apply it today. There is little dispute that the Greco-Roman mind would have thought about good works in terms of political activism. Political activism simply would not have come into view when they heard kala erga.

In addition, the argument commits what D.A. Carson calls the fallacy of negative inference. It assumes that if you do not engage in political activism that you have not engaged in good works. In other words, I engaged in a variety of good works, ranging from feeding the poor to giving to the needy, but because I did not visit an orphan, I am guilty of not engaging in good works. Dooes Mr. Hays expect every Christian to engage in every good work possible or imaginable? Is this what Jesus had in mind when He said these words? Here is another form of the argument:
1. Christians have a duty to morally influence the culture.
2. Political activism is the most effective way to morally influence the culture.
3. Therefore, every Christian has a duty to influence the culture through political activism.

The major premise is really quite problematic. Matt. 5:13-20 nowhere commands Christians to be a moral influence to the culture. It does not suggest that we must try to influence the culture. What it says is that we must be concerned with personal righteousness, which is another term for personal holiness, which is another term for sanctification. Our efforts are to focus on our conduct. We must focus our attention on our behavior, our value, our beliefs. We have a duty to God and to the Christian group to uphold a very unique and peculiar set of values in front of the entire world. What the text says is this behavior serves as a light to darkness and as salt to food. It is the behavior that should receive our attention, not the impact that follows that behavior. I don’t focus on not getting a speeding ticket every time I drive. I focus on driving according to DMV norms, standards. By doing that, I ensure a certain outcome: no speeding ticket. The best way not to cause an accident is to focus on practicing those behaviors that ipso facto prevent accidents. Christians have a duty to live according to godly norms as mandated by Scripture. There is nothing in that set of norms that explicitly or even implicitly includes actively influencing the morality of a given culture. Christians obey God's command out of concern to please God, because they love God. This behavior serves as salt and light in a world of darkness and decay.

The second problem is in the minor premise. This premise asserts that political activism is the most effective method for influencing the culture. The first problem with this premise is that it is radically pragmatic. The second problem is that it is simply not true. The most effective way to influence or change the moral condition of a culture is to change to moral nature of the humans in that culture. The problem is that we cannot change that nature. Hence, any moral influence that does not change the moral nature is at best superficial and insignificant. A redemptive focus is the most effective way to influence a culture. This method focuses on the gospel of repentance. Our concern is the souls of lost men, not on making men more moral or even on preserving religious liberty or any other kind of liberty.

Matthew 5:13-20 fails to provide sufficient exegetical support for the argument of political activism because it violates the grammatical, historical rules that govern sound interpretive principles. It ignores the grammar of the text, not to mention the principle of original understanding and application. There are no general principles that support the logical inference used by the argument in question.

In addition, I have shown that there are several problems with the argument, not just in exegetical terms, but in terms of the logic of the argument itself. The second argument commits that fallacy of negative inference.

My second objection to the hermeneutic of the evangelical political activists is how they use the Mosaic Law. According to many in this movement, the Mosaic Law should serve as the basis for civil law. From a hermeneutical standpoint, this is puzzling to say the least. The Mosaic Law is part of the Sinaitic Covenant between the nation of Israel and God. In fact, the two are used interchangeably in Scripture. It is one thing for us to argue that the Law of Moses would serve this purpose well. It is another thing to leap to the assertion that gentile governments “ought” to use the Mosaic Law as their basis for civil law. It is even a bigger stretch for the Church to insert itself into the process by issuing such commands or by employing political strategy to move the governments in that direction. There is no precedent in Scripture for this use of the Law or for this function of the Church.

Exodus 19:3 says, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel.” The LORD did not instruct Moses to speak to the entire earth or all the nations of the earth. God had entered into covenant at Sinai specifically with the nation of Israel. Romans 3:2 tell us explicitly that the Jew has an advantage because God entrusted the commandments to them. Again, in Romans 9:4, Paul says that the Jews own adoption, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the temple service, and the promises. Romans 2:14 tells us that the Gentiles do not have the Law (of Moses). There is no exegetical warrant to expand the law of Moses to believing gentiles and there is certainly no warrant to expand it to gentile civil authorities. The Jerusalem conference makes it clear that gentiles were not to come under the law of Moses, in principle or otherwise. While the gentiles were not to be burdened with keeping the law, they nevertheless were instructed to be sensitive to their Jewish brethren so as not to give cause for reckless and unnecessary offense. The same people who lobby for this use of the Law stop short of carrying it to its logical end. They do not bother attempting to make adultery a crime, or lying under all circumstances, or Sabbath keeping. In addition, they ignore the punishment that comes with this law. Adulterers were stoned! Sabbath breakers were stoned! Proponents of this movement do not seem to understand that when you modify a law, it becomes a "new" law. Since this new law is a law nowhere revealed in Scripture, it is not a law of God. Hence, it follows then that it must be a law of man. This conclusion is very unattractive to the proponents of political activism. However, if they are going to be consistent, they must land here. Since they do not, I accuse them of being capricious and arbitrary in their hermeneutical method.

It follows that any attempt to bring a believer under the Mosaic Law is not in keeping with a consistent hermeneutic. Moreover, it is especially tragic when the politico-faith movement attempts to employ a very inconsistent hermeneutic in order to issue imperatives around applying the Law of Moses to unbelieving civil governments. Scripture is clear that it is a serious matter to use the Law in an unlawful manner. Using the Law to obligate civil authorities to fashion civil code is not a proper use of the law nor is it the role of the Church. We come back to the question of rules of interpretation. If God made His Law with the nation of Israel, who can say that man is free to expand that Law, that covenant, to the rest of the nations?

Finally, we come back to the question of special revelation and the nature of Scripture. I have argued that Scripture belongs to the elect, to the Christian community, the Church. Steve Hays disagrees. The Jewish Scriptures belong to the elect of God. At one point in time in history, the elect of God was the Jewish nation of Israel. Over time, the elect has expanded to all those who believe the gospel. The writings, the prophets, and the Law were given to the Jew. The central figure is Christ. As God’s plan of redemption progresses through history, He brings in under the new covenant, gentiles from all flesh. By their nature of being elect, the Hebrew Scriptures now belong to them as well. Romans 1:7 tells us that Paul was addressing the Roman Church, believers, called as saints when he wrote Romans. 1 & 2 Corinthians was addressed to the Church of God, the sanctified ones. (I Cor. 1:2; II Cor. 1:1) Galatians 1:2 is addressed to the churches in Galatia, the called-out ones. Eph. 1:1 was addressed to the saints, the holy ones who are at Ephesus. Philippians 1:1 was also addressed to the holy ones at Philippi. Colossians was addressed to the holy ones and faithful brethren in Colossae. (Col. 1:2) I & II Thessalonians was addressed to those whom God had chosen and those who were persevering in faith and whose faith had been enlarged. (I Thess. 1:4; II Thess. 1:3-4) Timothy and Titus were both pastors and Philemon was a fellow laborer in the gospel. Hebrews was without question written to believers. The writer says in 6:9, “But beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation.” James 1:2 refers to the recipients of this letter as brothers. 1 Peter 1:1 is addressed to those who are chosen while II Peter addresses those who have received the very same faith that Peter himself has. John writes to “His little children” in the hope that they might not sin. (I Jn. 2:1) Clearly John is not speaking to the unbelieving world as an audience. II John 1 is addressed to the chosen lady, the church. III John 1 & 3 addresses Gaius who is walking in the truth. Jude 2 is directed to those who are called and kept for Jesus Christ. The Revelation was sent initially to the seven churches of Asia.

This last issue brings us back to the idea of special revelation. Special revelation is redemptive in nature and purpose. God cut man off from certain truths about Himself and about man’s own condition. This was part of the curse. When the angel stood guarding the garden, it was at the initiative of God. Man was cut off from God and certain truths about God, not to mention creation. While man’s knowledge of God has been limited and extremely affected by his depraved condition, still man is not without some knowledge of the divine and even of the natural order of things. “The seeds of the sciences are naturally inherent in humans. Every science is gounded in general, self-evident principles. All knowledge rests in faith. All proof, finally, presupposes a principle of demonstration…In Religion, whether we want to or not, we always have to go back to a seed of religion, a sense of divinity, a divine instinct, an innate knowledge.” [Bavinck: Reformed Dogmatics. V.2, 71]
Calvin adds, “That there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service.”[1]

Man, having been cut off from knowledge of God due to his fallen, sinful condition is in desperate need of light. His mind is darkened, his intellect depraved, and his will captive. If man is to obtain redemptive knowledge of God, and a clearer understanding of God, a true knowledge of God that is uncontaminated by wicked corruptions and perversions and a depraved state, it will come at God’s initiative, not man. The Holy Writings serve a redemptive purpose, not merely a moral one, and not merely a social one. This purpose is supernatural, spiritual, salvific. The Torah was given so that Israel would recognize the holiness of God and his righteous demands. It was given to reveal to men their need of redemption, of a Savior, their helplessness to become righteous without divine intervention. The writings provide us with the story of God’s redemptive dealings with man as His revelation unfolds in history. In addition, the writings provide us with songs of praise and nuggets of wisdom declaring the praises, the wisdom, and the glory of God. The prophets speak to the wayward elect nation as she relates to God ever so inconsistently from one era to another. The Law, the Writings, and the Prophets, also called the Torah, Ketuvim, and the Nevi'im all point forward to the revelation of God in the Christ event, the incarnation. That the Scriptures are divine, supernatural revelation is beyond dispute for the most part within evangelical circles. The implications of this truth touches the politico-faith movement in democratic societies like America. The overarching purpose of God in Scripture is doxological: for His own glory. One essential component of that purpose is redemption.

The hermeneutic of evangelical political activism, which I have also referred to as the politico-faith movement proves to be inconsistent in that it violates the rules of interpretation. The method neglects to ascertain the meaning and application of a text to its original audience before seeking its own understanding and application. This opens the method up to an anachronistic approach on the question of social good in Greco-Roman times, politics in the modern era, and how these two relate to one another. The argument commits the fallacy of negative inference when it contends that Christians must engage in political activism if they wish to carry out their duty to be a moral influence in the culture. The argue fails to prove what it assumes to be true.

In addition, the hermeneutics of evangelical political activism uses the Mosaic Law unlawfully by subverting God’s intent for that Law and imposing it on gentile governments. Moreover, the movement presumes it to be the role of the Church, individuals within the Christian community if you will, to interpret that Law and engage in the actions necessary to inform the government of its duty. In other words, it is perfectly right for the Church to manipulate politicians into submission through political activism in order to shape the culture into one that certain evangelicals think we should have. Scripture nowhere imposes the Mosaic Law on believers, let alone gentile unbelievers. Furthermore, Scripture does not place this responsibility on the Church.

Finally, that Scripture belongs to special revelation with a redemptive purpose seems to be entirely ignored by the politico-faith movement. Steve Hays objected when I said Scripture belongs to the Church. He accused me of holding to an Eastern Orthodox/Roman Catholic view of Scripture. One wonders if Steve thinks that the EOC and the RCC are wrong in all their views. If Scriptures are redemptive, and they are divine revelation, then it follows that they were not given to make depraved men more moral. They were given to make dead men live again. They were given to make blind men see again. They were given to make bound men free!

If the Church will influence the culture around her, she will do so according to God’s design. God has deigned the Church to be a light on a hill and salt. If the Church behaves according to God’s design, she will be those things. If she focuses on allowing the world to hear her preaching, and proclaiming the true gospel, baptizing those who have professed faith in Christ, discipling one another, and loving and serving one another, living out those values that define who she is in community with herself and with Christ, then the world will see that light and they will experience that salt to the degree that God has determined. The mission of the Church is redemptive, salvific in nature. It is focused on the eternal. The mission of the Church has never been to create a culture of morally better people who, at the end of the day when it is all said and done, still reject God as their sovereign Lord. The Church's mission is to rescue the perishing. It is not to make the "perishing" the "morally good perishing." Jesus came, not that men would be morally good, but that men might believe that He is the Son of God, and believing, they might have life! 

 



[1] John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, vol. 1, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 55.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Hermeneutics of Evangelical Political Activism


Part I


This article will deal with the politico-faith movement in terms of its lack of a coherent hermeneutical method. I will accuse the movement of making unjustifiable exegetical conclusions in the areas of social good, the use of the Mosaic Law, and its view on nature and purpose of Scripture. The movement argues that political activism falls under the rubric of social good, that the Mosaic Law ought to serve as an authoritative magistrate over secular gentile governments, and finally, that the Scriptures belong not only to the Church, but were also given to provide for the moral and social good of the culture. My goal is primarily to ask what divine revelation has to say to us about how we should think about politics in democratic cultures.

Recently, I had a disagreement with Steve Hays over at Triablogue regarding evangelical political activism. The whole affair began with comments I made regarding Steve’s post on his interpretation of what this election meant. Steve argued that the recent presidential election was not a referendum on social conservatism. I took a slightly different view, arguing that American demographics have been moving away from values that agree more with the Christian ethic than not. A survey of worldviews indicates that American culture is a post-Christian culture at this point. Moreover, the demographics imply that conservative values will continue to shrink in the marketplace of ideas for the foreseeable future. Young people are more likely to embrace liberal values by wide margins. This applies to single women as well. The black community is soundly liberal in its worldview, with some conservative Christian ideas mixed here and there, but at a very shallow level. The one demographic that tends toward traditional Christian values is the older generation, which is of course, passing off the scene with each passing year.

A Christian epistemology has at its core, the view that all knowledge is revealed knowledge. Moreover, Christians believe there are two types of revelation: general and special. Francis Turretin writes, “Second, the theology of revelation is again divided into natural and supernatural.” [Institutes, v.I, p.6]

Man possesses knowledge through nature (general revelation), or special revelation. This is the very foundation of hermeneutics. As the recipient of knowledge, man is indeed at bottom, an interpreter. Ethically speaking, Christians must interpret reality according to God's knowledge of reality. And that knowledge is knowledge that is prior to the fact while man's knowledge is revealed after the fact. Moreover, humans only know something when their interpretation of the information is accurate. A faulty interpretation of information does not rise to the level of understanding, which is necessary for knowledge to exist.

“Our prolegomena begins from below, with man. The steps in our development of prolegomena will be to look at man, his nature and his receptivity to revelation; at God, as He is understood by man; and at the appropriation of some particular concepts disclosed by revelation.”[1]

To dismiss the significance of man’s ability to know and hear from God carries with it implications that ripple through every major area of theology and philosophy. Moreover, failure to distinguish between the two types of revelation results in a hermeneutic that, in my opinion, produces a worldview that comingles the sacred with the secular. The results can range from simple error to rank heresy. One has to look no further than Pelagius to see the unholy fruit of confusing the two types of revelation. In addition, theonomy or dominion theology represent very well what happens when theologians are not careful in their hermeneutic when they fail to distinguish between the two types of revelation adequately. "The content of faith can be defined because the message of the Bible is truly made known by the Holy Spirit. Yet this content cannot be defined exhaustively or definitively because mystery remains even in the act of revelation." [Bloesch: Holy Scripture]

Through the centuries well–intentioned men and women have erred either by reducing revelation to rational information or by misunderstanding revelation as an ecstatic experience devoid of cognitive content. Modern fundamentalism illustrates the first error and existentialism the second. [Bloesch: Holy Scipture] It would seem that many evangelicals with strong political leanings tend toward rationalistic reduction of biblical revelation. This seems to emerge in the conversation I had with Mr. Hays.
B.B. Warfield wrote, “There is the revelation which God continuously makes to all men: by it His power and Divinity are made known. And there is the revelation which He makes exclusively to His chosen people: through it His saving grace is made known.” [Warfield, Revelation & Inspiration, 5] Warfield argues that God’s special revelation is especially set aside for the elect. There is a reason for this. Special revelation requires the aid of the Holy Spirit in the process of illumination. Without this help, we cannot understand it. Of the gospel Paul said that the god of this world has blinded the mind of those who do not believe so that they do not understand it. (II Cor. 4:4)  Warfield continues, “In contrast with His general revelation, natural revelation, in which all men by virtue of their very nature as men share, this special, supernatural revelation was granted at first only to individuals, then progressively to a family, a tribe, a nation, a race, until, when the fullness of time was come, it was made the possession of the whole world.” [11] Here Warfield shows us the restrictive nature of special revelation. Even in his use of “the whole world,” he does not intend to say it belongs to all men without exception, but that it belongs to all men of all races who are elect of God. He goes on to say, “But revelation, after all, is the correlate of understanding and has as its proximate end just the production of knowledge, though not, of course, knowledge for its own sake, but for the sake of salvation.” [12]

It is upon this understanding of the nature and purpose of revelation that our hermeneutic rests. “Hermeneutics is important because it enables one to move from text to context, to allow the God-inspired meaning of the Word to speak today with as fresh and dynamic a relevance as it had in its original setting.”[2]

My objection to the politicized faith of most modern evangelicals is hermeneutical, and therefore theological in nature. Our desires for a moral culture are the same. However, even the unregenerate desire a moral culture even if it is one based on a set of morals that are quite different from the ones expressed in biblical Christianity. The problem with the politics of faith has very little to do with social good, or defending the defenseless. Rather, it has to do with hermeneutics. It has to do with interpreting the text. It has to do with knowledge and the understanding of the truths revealed in Scripture. While there is much interest in the procedure of hermeneutics, there is little if any  interest in wrestling with the notion that hermeneutical behavior, like every other behavior, touches Christian ethics. “If the Christian community erred so dramatically on the side of procedure that it ignored responsibility, then academic criticism frequently so emphasized the groundless freedom of reading that interpretation became an action without context or constraint.” [Lundin, Walhout, Thiselton: The Promise of Hermeneutics, xi-xii] The point is that interpreting Scripture always has a context and should always be humbly submissive to the Christian ethic. We are not free to turn the Word of God into play-dough and make it say whatever we please.

The politicized-faith movement within evangelicalism employs hermeneutical methods that violate the grammatico-historical principle of ensuring that the grammar and historical meaning of a text dictate application. By application, I mean praxis. By praxis, I mean embracing the Christian value system. In my discussions with Steve Hays, I accused him of making an unjustifiable exegetical leap when he asserted that the command to care for your family, given to fathers, necessarily involved political activism. When I asked Steve to provide exegetical warrant for his handling of the text, he responded that he was taking general principles and working by logical inference. However, to legitimately draw a logical inference from a general principle, the two must remain indisputably connected. Using Steve’s approach, a modern western woman could say that her husband is violating God’s command to love her because he did not do something she wanted him to do. In other words, God commands husbands to love their wives, but who determines what that looks like? If this command is nebulous, it opens Pandora’s Box. A wife could argue that loving her means doing the dishes. The husband could say that it does not. The wife could answer I am working from the general principle of God’s command to its logical inference. A child could insist on the same sort of reasoning that Steve Hays uses, to argue that a father should incur tremendous hardship to pay for his or her education. The point is that the command is not as nebulous as Steve thinks it is and hence, this helps us with the rule that says, “Where do we draw the line?” Where is the line in the sand that helps us understand what it looks like to obey God’s command? This is where hermeneutics comes in to help with our exegesis of the text. This is the process of interpretation that every believer must respect as they access the biblical text. The casual approach most Christians take to interpreting Scripture is not only foolhardy and aweless, it leads many into flagrant sin.

The Politicized faith movement argues that political activism falls into the category of “social good.” Moreover, many, such as Steve Hays argue that the Mosaic Law “ought” to serve as the basis for civil law in American culture. Finally, Steve has asserted that the Scriptures belong not only to the Church, the Christian community, but also to the unregenerate as well and they serve more than one purpose.

“The most subtle of all misapplications of Scripture concerns those who interpret passages in their correct literary and historical contexts but then bring them to bear on situations where they simply do not apply.” [Klein, Bloomberg, Hubbard: Introduction to Biblical Interpretation] I think there is something involving this error bound up in the idea that Christ’s mandate for social good involves political activism.

The argument asserts that political activism is a logical inference derived from the general principle that Scripture mandates that Christians should engage in social good. Some go so far as to say that this is what Jesus meant when He said we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Is this an accurate understanding of the meaning of that text? Would Christ’s audience have understood Jesus' words this way? Is this even remotely close to how they would have applied it to their lives? The first step of application in the hermeneutical process is to understand not only what the text meant to the original audiences, but also what application looked like for them. To determine the answer to this, we have to move to exegesis.

Located in the Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s statement and command, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” What does it mean to be the light of the world? To what can we compare this? Do we have an example? In John 9:5, Jesus said while he was in the world, He is the light of the world. It stands to reason that the Church should engage in the same works that Christ engaged in if she is to be the light of the world in the same way Christ was. Was Christ aiming for a more moral culture? Was it the goal of Jesus to reshape Roman government in any way shape or form? Was Jesus after religious reform of the Jewish system during His day?

In the preceding verse, Jesus informed the disciples that they are the salt of the earth. We are both salt and light in a world that is dark and decaying spiritually. Notice that this statements refer to what we are! By nature, our new nature of course, we are salt and light. Jesus then says that doing good works is akin to letting our light shine before men. What are these good works? Do we have any idea what Christ was talking about? What does Jesus mean by good works, and how would his audience have understood and applied these words? One must not lose sight of the salt covenant as we read this text. To share salt with someone was to share fellowship and even to have a covenant relationship with someone. One interpretation of this passage hints at the possibility that the Church represents the salt of the food shared between God and his covenant relationship with creation. The focus is not on the overall covenant with creation, but rather the significance of the role of the disciples now in that covenant. If there is no salt, there is no flavor, and no preservative.

 The question is an important one because it is apparently by these good works that the Church shines her light and is quite possibly a passive preservative against moral decay. In order to understand the meaning of the text, it is important that we look at the grammar as well as the context. Most commentators focus on the historical use of salt and what it meant in that culture and unfortunately, they stop there. I suggest we look a little closer at the grammar. Ὑμεῖς ἐστε is a Greek emphatic. In other words, this construction would be like Jesus saying “YOU” are the salt of the earth. The focus is on the disciples. The same is true when He says you are the light of the world. Jesus’ focus is not on what follows the personal pronoun. It is on the personal pronoun. Jesus’ audience would have understood the salt and light analogy easy enough. They knew full well the significance of salt and light. Jesus is saying that Christians, by the nature of who and what they are in community with one another and in unity with Christ, are as significant to the present world order as salt is to food and light is to darkness.

Jesus then points out that He has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets but rather to fulfill them. He then emphasizes how significant it is for anyone to manipulate the commandments. Finally, Jesus says that unless the righteousness of His audience exceeds that of the religious of His day, they will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ concern in Matt. 5:13-20 is clearly the personal holiness and the unique nature of His disciples. The emphasis is on the conduct of the disciples and why that conduct is important. Christian values do have an effect on the world. That much is absolutely clear. However, is that effect the result of political activism determined by radically pragmatic goals? Jesus Himself was the light of the world while He was in the world. How much more moral did the Jewish culture become while He was here? Did He come to make a more moral culture or to save His people from their sins? Secondly, should our concern be on our personal holiness and sanctification or should it be on being salt and light? In other words, is it right to focus on our own behavior or the impact that God causes from that behavior? Grammatically, it seems that Christ is emphasizing personal righteousness or sanctification and then graciously disclosing how God uses that behavior in the world. History demonstrates very well how devastating it is when the Church focuses on results rather than pure obedience. Scripture reveals two basic truths in Matt. 5:13-20: first, that Christians being Christians are salt and light in this world. Second, being salt and light requires that we take personal holiness very seriously because if our righteousness fails to exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees we will be like saltless salt and lightless light; good for nothing. The general principle is that good works serve as a preservative perhaps to the world and as light in a dark, sinful place. However, the suggestion that good works includes modern political activism is an anachronistic imposition on the text that is unwarranted.

How often are we commanded to be united together, to love one another, and to do good to one another and to malign no one in the Scriptures? Christian unity, love, service, and charity all serve as the good works, or deeds Christ mentions here. It is these deeds that would have come to the mind of Christ’s audience at the time. They would have understood this very well. They would not have thought about including overthrowing the Roman Government as a “good deed,” even if many of them would have wanted to do just that. Jesus said in Jn. 13:35 that all men would know that we are His disciples by the love we have for one another. Love is visible. The world can see the Christian community’s love or lack thereof. "For these poor wretches persuade themselves that they shall be immortal, and live for everlasting; so that they despise death, and some of them offer themselves to it voluntarily. Again, their first lawgiver taught them that they were all brothers, when once they had committed themselves so far as to renounce the gods of the Greeks, and worship that crucified sophist, and live according to his laws. So they hold all things alike in contempt, and consider all property common, trusting each other in such matters without any valid security." (Lucian, from The Death of Peregrinus, quoted p. 257, A Treasury of Early Christianity, Anne Fremantle).

"They asserted, however, that the amount of their fault or error was this: that they had been accustomed to assemble on a fixed day before daylight and sing by turns a hymn to Christ as a god; and that they bound themselves with an oath, nor for any crime, but to commit neither theft, nor robbery, nor adultery, not to break their word and not to deny a deposit when demanded..." (Pliny the Younger, To Trajan, p. 254, A Treasury of Early Christianity, Anne Fremantle).

These are a sampling of good works observed by the world in the early period of the Church. In part 2, I will continue to discuss the arguments made by modern evangelicals in democratic societies that burden Christians with the imperative to be politically active.



[1] Winfried Corduan, Handmaid to Theology (Baker Book House, 1981), 1.
[2] Grant R. Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Rev. and expanded, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 23.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Evangelical Christians and Political Activism


Understanding the First-Century Church’s View of Civil Government

Unless you live in complete isolation, you have likely heard at least two fundamental arguments around how the Christian Church ought to approach the subject of American politics. At one end of the spectrum, most evangelicals argue that being politically active is our God-given right and that we actually have a duty, art least in democratic societies, to use the political system to do as much social good as we can. Those who fail to honor this duty, these people assert, are in essence, sinning against God or, at the very least, not helping our cause. At the other end of the spectrum, a minority of evangelicals argue just the opposite. They contend we should not have anything whatever to do with politics and this includes voting. Unless we can vote for a man who is close enough to biblical Christianity in his views, we should not vote at all. Finally, there is a mediating position, which is where I fall. Unfortunately, even a smaller minority of evangelicals subscribe to this position. The goal of this blog is to spend considerable time conducting an exegetical analysis of Romans 13:1-7 in order to understand the longest passage of Scripture that addresses the relationship of believers in the Christian community with their respective civil governments.

"The first question in understanding any text is what it meant in its original context as determined through philology, cultural analysis, questions of literary form, style, intent, and transmission." [Rodney Petersen in Continuity and Discontinuity]
In order to understand Paul’s instructions and commands to the Romans Christians in this era rightly, it will be helpful for us to understand the political background in which his audience lived. The Roman political system was under the control of an emperor during NT times. This control emerged from a republic, as a result of the civil war between Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompey. Under the republic, the senate had been the main body of power. However, membership in the Roman senate was much different than it is under our system, well, sort of. A member of the senate had to have property valued at somewhere between 40,000 to 48,000 denarius. A denarius, in case you did not know, was equal to one day’s earnings in this culture. How much is this is today’s dollars? Suppose the average American earns $50,000 a year and works six days a week. That would be equal to somewhere between 6.4 million and 7.7 million dollars in property value. You are correct if you concluded that one had to be extremely wealthy in order to sit on the senate. The people had no say in the political system, and this is especially true for the poor.

There were three upper-classes in Greco-Roman culture. These aristocratic classes were established by law and were called honestiores (“possessors of honor”). They were quite wealthy. They despised manual labor and upheld the leisurely lifestyle as lending itself to virtue. They had the preferential seats at productions and banquets, were served better food, and were even treated differently in the courts. There was no real middle class in Greco-Roman culture. The gap between the highest of the poor class and the lowest of the upper class quite large.

The city of Rome was a large city of about 1 million people. The ethnic of Rome was extremely diverse, having drawn a variety of ethnic groups since about the third-century B.C. The Jewish population represented only about 4% at this time, or 40,000 in number. The Jewish population was due in part to Pompey bringing captive Jews to Rome as slaves in 62 B.C. Religion and politics were bound closely together in Rome. Emperor worship was an expression of political loyalty. The priests of the state religion served as guides to the senate. They discerned the divine will through signs, set calendars, and established religious laws. In fact, by the end of the republic, these priests were organized as a priestly college. Its members were trained to discern the divine will from the entrails of sacrificial animals.[1]

Any study of church-state relations not only must begin with the state religion of Rome but also must include the reception Rome gave to the foreign religions that antedated Christianity, since foreign religions could not be introduced in Rome without official approval from the senate and Romans viewed religion as a concern of the state. Since the late republic, Rome looked at all foreign religions with much suspicion. “At the same time, it was ready to attempt the introduction of a foreign religion when it perceived that cults offered a solution to an unmet need in Rome.”[2]

Thomas Schreiner outlines Romans as follows:
I. The gospel as the revelation of God’s righteousness in 1:1-1:17
II. Deals with God’s righteousness in His wrath toward sinners in 1:18-3:20
III. Concerns the saving righteousness of God in 3:21-4:25
IV. Treats hope as a result of righteousness by faith 5:1-8:39
V. Addresses God’s righteousness to Israel and the Gentiles in 9:1-11:36
VI. God righteousness in everyday life 12:1-15:13
VII. The extension of God’s righteousness through the Pauline mission in 15:14-16:23
VIII. Final summary of the gospel of God’s righteousness in 16:25-27

It does not take long to recognize that the first eleven chapters of Romans were primarily doctrinal in nature. When we arrive at chapter twelve, the concern moves to praxis, as is so often the case with Pauline literature. In 12:1-2, Paul makes an impassioned plea for the Roman Christians to present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God. He urges these Christians not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of their minds. It is no mistake that Paul begins with mind as the place of life-transformation. As the thought world goes, so goes the will and the emotions. “Sacrifice was one of the most important aspects of Roman religion, both public and private. One invariable rule was that male animals were offered to male deities and female animals to female deities. It was considered a good sign if animals went willingly to their slaughter.”[3]
How much better is it that the Roman Christian sacrifice their very bodies than animals. This would have resonated well with the Roman Christians who were no doubt used to the emphasis on sacrifices having grown up with it in the Roman religious system.

Immediately after issuing this plea for entire transformation, Paul addresses the selfless execution of service within the framework of the spiritual gifts. The idea is to benefit the group. The group thought of Greco-Roman culture is quite distant from the hyper-individualism that makes up modern American and western thought. Bruce Malina writes, “Instead of individualism, what we find in the first-century Mediterranean world is what might be called collectivism. The dyadic person is essentially a group-embedded and group-oriented person.”[4]
The body of Christ, the Church, and the multitude of “one-anothers” throughout the NT writings should understood through this grid.
After his brief discussion on the gifts of the Spirit operating within the body of Christ, Paul launches into a litany of commands that seem entirely concerned with group values. He commands unfeigned love, hating evil and clinging to good, brotherly devotion, selflessness in showing honor, being diligent, passionate, serving the Lord, rejoicing, devotion to prayer, benevolence, and hospitality. He continues with this list of virtues and values up to 13:1 when he says that every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.

This is the context for the longest text of Scripture in the NT that addresses the Christian’s relationship with the governing, or civil authorities. It is written to Roman Christians who live in a system that is anything but fair by any stretch of the imagination. The political system in Rome makes the American system look exceptionally virtuous by comparison.
The first issue is straightforward. To whom is Paul issuing commandments and instructions? Romans 1:7 says Paul is addressing “all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints. He is not addressing unbelievers in Rome. He wrote the letter to those who are beloved of God, called as saints. Paul is not addressing civil authorities or secular governments. He is writing the Church of Jesus Christ that is located in the city of ancient Rome. Paul’s first command is that every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. The Greek word hupotasso appears 38 times in the NT. It is used quite widely, being employed by Luke, Paul, the author of Hebrews, James, and Peter. Every writer uses the word in the same way. It means to submit to the orders or directives of someone. The meaning is unambiguous and without controversy. Every person is to submit to civil authorities. Paul tells us why this is the case. With his employment of the epexegetical gar, he explains that we must submit to civil authorities because they are established by God. He goes on to say that anyone who resists the authority also resists God. Christians are not to create an environment where they are perceived to be subversive to the governing authorities. Christianity is not a political threat to the secular system.

Paul’s theology informs him that God has a role for government the same as He has for the institutional Church. These two roles are distinct. He sets the submissive disposition of the Church over against the ruling authority of civil authorities. Paul says the person who resists civil authorities also resists God in v 2. Of course, there is even a more narrow context in Paul’s meaning here. The idea here is one of civil obedience, law-keeping if you will. The context of this passage has to do with Christian citizens being good, law-abiding citizens and not being arrested for law-breaking. This is not to say that Christians will not be arrested for their religious practices. In the Roman system that was very possible.
Paul goes on to say that it is necessary to be in subjection to the civil authorities because of conscience sake. The civil law serves the purpose of God to maintain law and order in society. Moreover, Christians are instructed not only to see the civil authorities as God’s servant, and not only to be law-abiding citizens, but also good tax-paying citizens.  Some civil authorities are due taxes, others custom, others fear, and still others, honor. Christians, for conscience sake are to render to each of these roles their just due because they are the servants of God for that end.

Paul is not addressing civil authorities in this verse. He is addressing the behavior of Roman Christians. His expectations of these Christians are clear. He expects them to submit to the governing authorities. Paul is also not outlining a list of imperatives for the civil authorities in Rome. He is not even addressing Roman authorities. He is addressing the Church. He is speaking to the elect of God. Romans 1:7 tells us this very clearly. Paul is deeply concerned with values of the Christian group. Nowhere in the text does Paul issue divine imperatives for the Roman Christians to order or even influence the Roman system. If such a thought every crossed Paul’s mind, he didn’t mention it in his writings. Given the situation of his day, it is unlikely that Paul would have thought along these lines. His concern was for the young Christian groups that were being called by God out of this dark world into the kingdom of God’s light. This concern was more than enough work for Paul and the rest of the apostles and leaders of the young struggling Christian communities.

 



[1] Stanley E. Porter and Craig A. Evans, Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
[2] Stanley E. Porter and Craig A. Evans, Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
[3] Stanley E. Porter and Craig A. Evans, Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
[4] Bruce J. Malina, The New Testament World (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 62.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Divine Satisfaction: The Scandal and Glory of the Christian Religion

But the Lord was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief

וַיהוה חָפֵץ דַּכְּאוֹ

According to Ronald Williams, “The conjunction w+ can be used as the beginning of a clause that is in some way opposed to what precedes it. When w+ is used in this way, it can often be translated ‘but.’[1]
 The NIV translates this conjunction ‘yet’ while the NAS renders it ‘but.’ Both of these English words convey similar aspects of the conjunction but it seems that NAS is slightly more forceful. The disparity from the last clause in v 9 to this clause in v 10 is nothing short of glaring. The servant never engaged in any violence and there was no deceit of any kind found in his mouth. And yet God is pleased to crush Him. Grogan remarks quite simply, “The Servant’s gentle ingenuousness is asserted at the close of the stanza.”[2]

Despite the character of the servant, which, by the way, is impeccable, God takes great pleasure in crushing him. The Hebrew word hps is the word translated ‘pleasure.’ When used of God it can mean to delight in, have pleasure in, or pleased to do a thing.[3]
It is used in Numbers 14:8 when Joshua gives his speech about the Children of Israel taking the land, “if the Lord is pleased with us.” David uses this same word in II Sam. 22:20 in his psalm of deliverance. He says that God rescued him because God delighted in David. Closer to Isaiah’s use, we see Manoah’s wife, the mother of Samson telling him that “if God wanted to kill us…” Quite literally, “if God was pleased to kill us He would not have accepted our offering. Eli’s sons are facing God’s judgment and the last clause of I Sam. 2:25 literally states, “for it pleased the Lord to kill them.” Of course, the meaning is that the Lord wanted to kill them because of their rebellion and rejection of His law. It appears that in the same way the Lord was pleased to crush His righteous servant.

The Hebrew word for crush is dk’. This word is in the piel stem. Waltke-O’Connor comments on the significance of the use of the piel stem in Hebrew, “The piel is associated with causation: the piel causes a state rather than an action (as the Hiphil, for which we reserve the term causative, does). Since the object of causation is in a state of suffering the effects of an action, it is inherently passive in part.”[4]

Because of the use of the piel stem, emphasis is on the crushed state of the righteous servant and on his passive role in arriving at that state. This tells us that the focus is on the state, and role of the righteous servant. It seems harsh that God would direct such wrath toward His righteous servant without good cause. What is the basis of this punishment? Is not God just? How then can He justify punishing His servant who has done nothing wrong? Geoffrey Grogan comments, “Verse 10a is almost shocking in its apparent presentation of arbitrary disregard for personal righteousness, but then the reader recalls the substitutionary nature of those sufferings, already declared in vv. 4-6 and to be referred to again later in this stanza. At once God is seen not to be harsh but astonishingly gracious.”[5]
An answer to these questions begins to come into view when we read Grogan’s comments as he reminds us of Isaiah’s words just a few sentences earlier.

Edward J. Young makes this observation on the idea that God took pleasure in bringing His servant to a crushed state: “In the Lord’s pleasure there was neither caprice, nor does the language mean that the Lord took pleasure in the servant’s being bruised on the part of others, but rather that it was the Lord’s pleasure Himself to bruise the servant.”[6]

That is to say, it was not in the crushing that God was pleased, nor was it even in the crushed state that God was actually pleased, but it was in the results that pleased God. God is pleased when justice prevails and because of the crushed state of His servant, God is able to dispense grace with prevailing justice.

Such a state brings great pleasure to God according to Scripture. How was God able to pull this off? I have heard many people say that if justice were done, they would be in hell. However, is this really the case? To make such a statement, as innocent as it sounds, not to mention pious, actually accuses God of injustice. To argue that God should have sent me to hell is quite different from saying I did not deserve God’s kindness. Should involves ought. Ought involves moral imperative. God has not violated any moral imperatives in dispensing grace. Christ’s suffering freed God to dispense grace while at the same time remaining holy and just. Because of the crushed servant, we can experience God’s grace and justice at the same time. It is here that we see the concept of satisfaction distinctly emerging in the atonement of Christ. There are two facets of this divine satisfaction. The first concerns how this satisfaction made by Christ turns away God’s wrath. By standing in our place, bearing the guilt of our sin, Christ successfully turned God’s wrath from us. God’s wrath is hot against sin. Churches today seem to have abandoned any doctrine of wrath in their language about God and His relationship with His creation. In his book, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, Leon Morris comments, “Above everything else, the concept of the wrath of God stresses the seriousness of sin. On the Old Testament view sin is not just a mere peccadillo which a kindly, benevolent God will regard as of no great consequence. On the contrary, the God of the Old Testament is One who loves righteousness (Pss. 33:5; 48:10; etc), and whose attitude to unrighteousness can be described as hatred.”[7]

Those who reject God along with His message, preferring to live in a state of unrighteousness have hanging over them at this very moment, the divine wrath of a God who will see justice served.

The second facet under consideration in the idea of satisfaction is that of divine favor. One can turn to the word propitiation to capture both sides of this idea of divine satisfaction. The word propitiation is a very interesting word. The word appears seven times in the LXX. One of those occurrences is outside the canonical books, in II Macc. 3:33. The sense of use ranges from guilt offering, atonement, and restitution. In Lev. 25:9 and Numbers 5:8 it is translated atonement from the Hebrew kpr. This word means to wipe off or smear on. Richard Averbeck tells us that the noun forms are attested in Akkadian, meaning purification, and Arabic meaning, penance, expiation, and atonement. In late Hebrew, the noun also could mean ransom or even fine. [Dictionary of Old Testament Exegesis] In this sense the word means to wipe something away, to remove something, or to smear on, to cover a surface. It is not difficult to see the concept of sin being removed and the righteousness of Christ being applied. Hence, the God removes His wrath and in its place, and adds divine favor. As for the suffering servant of Is. 53 just the opposite occurs. God removes His favor, and in its place, adds divine wrath.
This word is translated forgiveness in Ps. 129:4 in the LXX and Dan. 9:9. The Hebrew word Ps. 129:4 (130:4) is slh. It means to practice forbearance, pardon, fogive. J.P.J. Oliver comments, "Considering the fundamental theological importance and frequent occurrence of the subject matter it address, slh is used sparingly in the OT literature, and then primarily in cultic contexts. In all instances, however, God is the subj. of the vb. and its derivative forms (TWAT 5:861). Hence the denotation of slh is an act of pardon by God alone.
The word hilasmos is used only twice in the NT and both times it occurs in I John. The idea is that Christ has turned God’s wrath away from us resulting in God directing His favor, or as we so often call it, grace, toward us. Paul has this in clear view as he writes to the church at Corinth, where is says that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. The purpose of the cross was not only to bear God’s punishment for sin, but it was also to remove the obstacle which stood in the way of a right relationship between God and man. Paul went on to say that the reason that God made Christ to be sin on our behalf was so that we might become the righteousness of God. Clearly, by removing the guilt of sin, the whole purpose was to turn God’s favor toward us once more. Contrary to neo-evanglicals who seem to think they can dismiss historic Christian orthodoxy, the doctrine of divine satisfaction within the framework of the atonement of Christ is essential to the Christian system of thought. Without it, you might have some sort of a religious system, but make no mistake about it, it isn't Christian in any sense of the word.

In conclusion then, any view that is dismissive of sin or that fails to take the fallen, depraved nature of humanity seriously also fails to take the God that is, seriously. The low view of sin that permeates Christianity in our modern era and especially in western culture unavoidably produces a low view of God and an optimistic view of man. This paradigm creates a distorted and cheap view of the gospel. This view unavoidably debases the sufferings of Christ. The cross loses its replete, and deep display of the justice and mercy of God. It is only when man remains the wretched sinner, worthless, vile, and wicked, that grace retains its unfathomable position that mystifies the human mind on the one hand and justifies the sinner on the other. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, that is something to be thankful for.



[1]. Williams, Ronald J, Williams' Hebrew Syntax, 3d ed. (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 2007), 153.
[2]. Grogan, Geoffrey W, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelien, Frank E, vol. 6 of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1986), 304.
[3]. Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “Delight,” in BDB, 1906 ed., 342.
[4]. Bruce K Waltke, and M O'Connor, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, In: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 400.
[5]. Grogan, Geoffrey W, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelien, Frank E, vol. 6 of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1986), 304.
[6]. Young, Edward J, The Book of Isaiah: A Commentary By Edward J. Young (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman's Publishing Co., 1972), 354.
[7]. Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of The Cross (3rd Revised; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdrman Publishing, 1965), 174-75.

The Bully Pulpit and a Culture of Intimidation

On the one side, we have the Christian community, and on the other side, we have the pagan community. The Christian community is made...