Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Intellectual Pugilism and Christian Apologetics

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Each of us, being sinners by nature, have our sinful proclivities. One person may have a proclivity for arrogance, another may struggle with sexual lusts, be they adulterous or same-sex attractions. Still, others are stubborn, having a difficult time submitting to anyone, while some seem to be more tempted than others with deceit. We all have our sinful proclivities. The sooner we acknowledge that they are there, admit it, and begin to face them head-on, the better off we will be. I have numerous sinful proclivities with which I have to deal day in and day out. I have the usual make temptation to look a little longer than I should at the attractive young lady. I am tempted to be impatient when I drive in Charlotte traffic. There are others, but there is one in particular I want to talk about today that I think has plagued me for years. That is the sin of looking for a good fight. I have a sinful proclivity to go at it. Now, I am not talking about a physical fight. I am talking about an intellectual temptation. I have wrestled with the sin of intellectual pugilism for most of my adult life. It has been one of those sinful behaviors that I think at times that I am doing pretty well disciplining only to find out that my relapses come far too often. Still, I believe that grace has moved along in the right direction even if I am still very far from where I need to be. My goal is to continue to remind myself and be aware of that wicked desire in me to engage in constant debate, to fight the fight. Far too often I have used the excuse of the condition of the church to fuel and satisfy my sinful desire to just hit the ground swinging. God forgive me and help me always to search my heart so that my behavior reflects a sincere desire to defend God’s truth rather than my own natural desire to engage in the intellectual battle simply for the sake of engaging in a battle.

As I look around at the modern state of Christian apologetics, so-called anyways, I cannot help but notice the subjects that Christian apologists talk about. For instance, attempting to employ Bayes’ theorem in the defense of the resurrection of Christ is just one example of Christian apologetics run amuck. Exactly who are we trying to impress? Look around at some of these apologetics sites and you see all sorts of arguments being made. There is even one very popular blog on ufology. I have no earthly idea why a Christian blogger would invest time in something as mundane as UFOs. It seems to me that some people think the intellect ought to be free to pursue whatever it fancies. And if you dare challenge them on the problems of sheer speculation, you better do so with full body armor in place. Otherwise, all that Christian love and charity that you had expected to be on display is dismissed faster than a good idea in Washington DC.

The intellectual pugilist is always looking for a good fight. Any hint that there may be an opportunity to flaunt his/her intellectual, ninja-like skills, is seized at a moments notice. The opportunity to pummel one’s opponent is simply irresistible. What is odd is that the intellectual pugilist is typically very well-informed. He reads the Scripture. But he very likely reads philosophy and logic texts far more. He is not nearly as interesting in the dull behavior of exhibiting Christian charity and patience as he is in framing the perfect argument so that all who dare to disagree with him receive the intellectual beat-down they deserve regardless of spiritual damage that it produces. For the intellectual pugilist, the content of Scripture is another opportunity to prove that he is right and his opponent is wrong. The intellectual pugilist is not at all interested in your spiritual well-being, your spiritual growth, or your sanctification. He is far more likely to humiliate you than he is to pray for you. I have had Christian apologists put up entire web pages devoted entirely to slandering me. One very popular site that I used to visit regularly did not like my point of view and put up a pic of me, calling me a troll. These tactics are not only hurtful; they are downright ungodly.

Peter’s imperative was not just to defend the Christian faith using any strategy or tactic you please. Peter was just as concerned with how we defend the faith. We are to do so with gentleness and respect. Christian apologetics is no place for anyone with an unbridled, undisciplined lust for intellectual pugilism. I hate to say it but many Christian apologists are simply in this field because it satisfies an evil within, not because they are sincerely interested in helping others. Go disagree with them and see how they react to being told that you think they are wrong. Many of them will not hesitate to engage in insults, slander, and will not for a moment consider your spiritual state as they bring all the rational and philosophical tools to bear on you, their opponent, their enemy.

Have you ever noticed how so many Christian apologists even treat other Christians like they are the enemy? The aim is not to open up the discussion for learning, for sharing, for knowledge transfer, or for deeper discovery. Nope! Not at all. The fear of having to admit one is wrong drives most modern apologists to dig in and do whatever they can, even in the name of Christian love, to defend their position.

Paul commanded Timothy not to pay attention to myths or endless genealogies. They produce useless speculations or investigations. What is the goal of our instruction? Put simply, it is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Paul says that some men, have strayed from these things and as a result, they have turned aside to fruitless discussion. Fruitless discussion is talk that brings with it nothing of any value. If you were to take a poll of most Christian apologists, you would find that for them, the idea that there are subjects and discussions that are completely useless is completely foreign. Nothing is out of bounds and every subject and discussion can be beneficial, no matter what; even ufology.

It is a waste of time for Christian apologists to invest hundreds of hours in the study of philosophy and logic only to walk out into the culture and even with their own community, and begin to beat people over the head with their knowledge and debating skills. Yet, for many, if not most modern Christian apologists, that is precisely the state of affairs that has obtained. Few things are as shockingly ugly than when the intellectually equipped Christian abandons most, if not all civil conduct where Christian ethics is concerned, in an apparent attempt to use their very own brothers and sisters in Christ, to satisfy their own lust for intellectual pugilism. God forbid!

Monday, March 28, 2016

What Did Jesus Do?

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matt. 1:21

Far too often, Christians fail to consider the project of the biblical writer within his context as they set out to study or understand the content of his work. One of the best questions we should be asking ourselves as we study the bible is, what was the author doing? This is always a very good question to ask of the immediate, larger, and overall context of every book we study. And here, in Matthew, just a very short way into the document, we should be asking this question of this text. Why record this incident of Joseph’s dream? What is the point? Matthew wrote his book for a very specific purpose. As he wrote it, he was attempting to do something very specific. Thinking about Matthew (and every other document that makes up Scripture) in this way will only help us better understand, not only the overall thrust of the document, but the smaller portions as well, like this one for example.

What is Matthew doing? First and foremost, one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent theological theme running through Matthew is the view that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Matthew repeatedly calls on OT prophecy as proof of this fact, again and again. However, we should note that due care should be exercised as we attempt to establish the main themes in Matthew. Carson writes, Matthew’s dominant themes are several, complex, and to some extend disputed. [An Introduction to The New Testament] However, the claim that one of Matthew’s themes is to present Jesus as the promised Messiah is far less controversial than most others. Other themes that seem to surface in Matthew are: the sinful refusal of the Jewish leaders to recognize their Messiah, the promised eschatological kingdom, among others. It is telling that the announcement of the Messiah would center around the Messianic Mission itself; to save His People from their sins. The Messiah is coming to save His people from their sins.

What is in a name? The angel tells Joseph that he will call the child’s name, Jesus. Zerwick informs us that this could be a categorical imperative. In other words, it is not beyond reason to see the angel’s instruction as a command rather than as simply a prophecy. Who among us would here such a statement and ignore it? Jesus is a Greek transliteration for the name יְהוֹשׁוּעַ, or Joshua. Heb. 4:8 uses the Greek Ἰησοῦς, normally rendered Jesus, for Joshua. The name literally means, “Yahweh is salvation.” It is literally the oldest known Hebrew name that contains the tetragrammaton יהוה, YHWH. Matthew, from the very start attaches the name of Jesus with YHWH of the Hebrew Scriptures. Immediately we are seeing that Matthew has a keen interest in depicting Jesus as divine. This was no ordinary man as far as Matthew was concerned. “More than simply explaining the etymology of Jesus’s name, the angelic announcement indicates that the salvation which Jesus will accomplish is specifically for his people. The remainder of Matthew fleshes out the identity of “his people,” often with surprising results.” [From Heaven He Came and Sought Her – Gibson & Gibson]

The Mission of Jesus, as Matthew portrays it, was to save “his people” from their sins. The Greek phrase, ton laon autou, is a possessive genitive, the people of (belonging to) him. The mission of Jesus, according to Matthew then, was very narrow. Jesus came to save his people from their sin. We see this concept emerge in Matthew in two other places, 20:28 and 26:28. In Matt. 20:28, Jesus said that the Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many. It is best to see this text in light of Isaiah 53 where the suffering servant is said to “justify the many.” He is also said to have borne the sin of many. “The many” points to a specific number whose identity is already known prior to the mission itself. Another factor, pointed out by Matthew Harmon, is the use of the word “ransom.” This indicates that a specific payment has been made and a payment is always made for something specific. Finally, the Greek preposition anti is a very telling little preposition. Louw-Nida says, (with the genitive): a marker of a participant who is benefited by an event, usually with the implication of some type of exchange or substitution involved—‘for, on behalf of. This preposition naturally came to denote three categories:

equivalence, where one entity is set over against another as its equivalent
exchange, where one object, opposing or distinct from another, is given or taken in return for the other
substitution, where one object, that is distinguishable from another, is given or taken instead of the other
[Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament: An Essential Reference Resource for Exegesis]

Harmon points out, “These texts emphasize Jesus dying for a particular group of people rather than for humanity in general.” The new covenant language of Jeremiah 31 requires such a state of affairs, not to mention the language in Ezekiel regarding the “heart of flesh.” As one surveys Isaiah 53, Jeremiah 31, and Ezekiel 36, it seems clear enough that a specific price was going to be paid for a specific item. And that item would be the covenant people of God who were determined by God in eternity past for lack of a better term.

Jesus did not make salvation possible for all men without exception. Jesus actually came with the intention of saving a very specific number of people. And what Jesus intends to do, He does. The idea that Jesus just unlocked the gate to salvation and now the rest is up to men and women who are willing to believe, simply does not reflect the teachings of Scripture. Jesus is not standing around literally begging and pleading with men and women to just give him a chance and let him show them what he can do. This sort of thinking reflects very poor theology top to bottom. It is a reflection of a very poor understanding of God, Christ, Sin, and Man. When Jesus died and rose again, “the many” were pardoned and justified. All that was left was for the Holy Spirit to apply that work in time to those whom God has chosen. Amen! Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Fascist Left, their ISIS Cousins, & The Recent NC Law

Let me state right up front that I am not a political blogger. I am not the sort of Christian, at least not any longer, that cares to get embroiled in the political nonsense that has come to shape American culture. I don’t know what percentage of the population in NC, or here in Charlotte classifies themselves as transgender and insists that they should be able to use whatever bathroom they please, but I can guess that the number is pretty darn small. In fact, that number has to be infinitesimally small. Some estimate that number to be around .2 to .3% of the population. So, lets say that applies to the state of NC. Let’s say that .3% of the people living in NC are transgender. The population in NC was at 9.9 million in 2014. That means that 29,700 people in NC are transgender. The population of Charlotte NC, which is where I live and where this controversy started is around 800k. That means there are 2400 people living in Charlotte NC who are transgender. On the flip side there are 400,000 women and girls in Charlotte alone who would stand to be negatively impacted by this law. And that number moves to nearly 5 million in the state of NC. Those are some interesting statistics. Now, let’s pretend that this law negatively affects every transgender person in Charlotte or even in NC. Even if that were true, the numbers are so small that it just doesn’t matter. Yes, I said it. It just doesn’t matter. Just how many people have to be negatively impacted by a law in order for us to be compelled to change it? One? Five? Ten? It just seems impracticable to me for us to shape laws specifically aimed at making sure that .3% of the population are supposedly psychologically comfortable and that is a huge conditional if ever there was one.

Now, let’s add one more point. I don’t believe the claim that transgender people somehow ought to be allowed to use the bathroom of their chosen gender. Science tells us that these people are men if they have a penis and women if they have a vagina. Seems like we want to go by science for most issues until it becomes inconvenient. What is so harmful if a person who wants to be called a “woman” is required to use the bathroom that most closely suits that sexual gender scientifically? I think the entire claim is bogus and the argument is completely lacking top to bottom. Scientifically speaking, those with a penis should be required to relieve themselves in the same restroom and those with a vagina should have to relieve themselves in the same restroom. Scientifically, it really is that easy. They have been doing this all their lives. What changed? Why now should they be allowed to switch? Is it damaging? Is it harmful for a transgender man to use a male restroom? Of course not! So what is the problem? The problem is imagined at best. There is no good reason to allow perverted men, who want to claim that they are women, to use women’s restrooms. Not one. And there are plenty of reasons to insist that they continue to use the men’s room like every other human with a penis has to do. So, if the city of Charlotte, NC had not been so insane in their insistence on allowing transgender men the ability to use women’s public restrooms, I would likely not be blogging about this issue today. If municipalities are going to be that idiotic, then the state has no recourse but to step in and restore some sanity at the local level.

But there is something more sinister going on as a result of the NC law. One prominent Hollywood director is threatening to punish NC because it did something that dares to disagree with his belief on this subject. Rob Reiner says he won’t film in NC until the state bows down and kisses his feet and agrees to see things the way he does. That’s not all. The NBA is considering whether or not it will move the 2017 All-Star game as a result of the move. And, in addition to this, the NCAA is reviewing tournaments in NC going forward to determine how it will react to the new law. The mayor of San Francisco has even banned travel to NC because he does not like the state’s new law. I never thought that America would be destroyed during my lifetime, but I must confess, she is all but dead. If the old America has not breathed her last breath, she is surely on the verge at this point. I am sure there will be more piling on to come.

It is the nature of fascism to forcibly suppress opposition and criticism. If you disagree with the belief that transgender people ought to be allowed to use the restroom of their choice, and instead, hold to the view that science should dictate where they relieve themselves, you are immediately classified as a hater, and dismissed as an oppressive bigot. Now, we are moving from sticks and stones to something far worse. Corporations are jumping in and deciding that unless you submit to their philosophies, they will punish you financially. In other words, if you want to buy and sell and eat, then you must agree with their view of the world. If you dare to disagree with their philosophies, then they will punish you severely until you do. What I would like to know is how this behavior is even a smidgen different from what ISIS is doing on the other side of the Atlantic and around the world. What is the difference between cutting a person’s head off if they don’t like your ideology or slowly starving them to death? It seems to me that Rob Reiner, the NBA, and the NCAA, and the NFL are much closer in their views to ISIS than they really care to admit. Both groups adopt the very same totalitarianism regarding their philosophies: their way or no way. We all know that it’s just a matter of time before Churches are forced to marry and employ gay people regardless of their deeply held religious beliefs or lose their tax exempt status. Such laws will surely create an underground church in American and perhaps we will be better off for it. Who knows?

As a Christian, what is one to do? Well, we are Christians, not American Christians. We are Christians. Peter informed us, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” We are our own nation in Christ. We are a people for God’s possession. Why? So that we may proclaim His excellencies. He has called us out of darkness into His light. Oh wait....wrong; His marvelous light. So what should we do? Start a petition? Elect Trump? Protest? Get involved in politics? No, no, and are you kidding me! We should go into all the world and make disciples. We should baptize those who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We should preach the gospel to every creature. We should always be ready to give an answer to those who ask us for the reason of the hope that is in us. We should warn all men of the wrath to come. We should love one another in front of the whole world so that all would see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven. We should rejoice when we are scorned and threatened and persecuted and called haters and bigots and racists for the name of Christ. That’s what we should do. And we should do it with our entire being, holding back nothing! We must hold each others hands tighter than ever. We must be more firmly knit together than we ever have! And we must start doing these things yesterday! If you think we are getting America back, I have news for you...we never really had her. It was an illusion. Although I admit it was a pretty good one. Stop trying to get America back. Start preaching the gospel, witnessing, sharing your faith, denouncing wickedness, insisting that your brothers and sisters who name Christ ACT LIKE IT. And, suck it up and get tough. Get used to being hated, mocked, marginalized, and rejected. After all, doesn't that all sound familiar? If it doesn't, then you haven't read the gospels or any of the NT and if you did, you paid it no attention. Welcome to Christianity!

Does Ephesians Five Really Tell Wives to Submit to their Husbands? Responding to DTS Professor, Darrell Bock and Sandra Gahn

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