March 31, 2009

The Humanness of the Unborn

I would just like to quickly point out this post by Ben Witherington. If you have any comments, please make them there.


In lieu of a some discussions happening over at New Ways Forward (What Is Unity Worth and Rule of Faith) and continued over at Dan Martin's site, I wanted to just add to the discussion to some degree. This will consist of two posts: one talking about the essential doctrines of Christendom, and this one regarding the concept of "right" Christianity.

The Orthos

The Greek word orthos means right, straight, or correct (which is used only once in Scripture, where Paul tells a crippled man to "stand straight"). For the sake of simplicity, we'll go with correct. So when I am discussing the orthos, what I mean is the right faith, or what is truly Christian.

Throughout Scripture we get a sense that there are many that claim to be Christian that are not. Jesus said:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
-Matthew 7:21-23

and John teaches us:

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
-I John 2:3-6

And so we know that tests of Christian faith are appropriate, for the claim of Christ is not the same as being a follower of Christ. Therefore, the question is how should we test a person's orthos?


Orthodoxy means "right doctrine" or "correct teaching". To test a person's orthodoxy is to test a person's beliefs. Indeed, out of all the ways to test a person's orthos, this is the one we hear of the most, and is assumed within Protestant circles as the best way.

Naturally the best judge of orthodoxy is Scripture. I agree with the concept of Sola Scriptura as articulated by the magisterial reformers. In this view, Scripture is viewed as the only infallible teaching on the faith, though other teachers may be viewed as authoritative. What is known as the Rule of Faith, or the standard core of Christian testimony, character, and world-view, as articulated through the historical teachers of the Church acts as a guide to interpreting Scriptures. In defining this, Thomas Oden helps:

By orthodoxy I mean integrated biblical teaching as interpreted in its most consensual classic period. More simply put, orthodoxy is ancient consensual
scriptural teaching.
{Thomas Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, (New York, New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003) 29}
Like Dr. Oden, I am what has come to be known as paleo-orthodox, meaning that we seek orthodox understanding by examining the full breadth of Christian historical teaching, focusing on those areas which are held in consensus and are consistent with Scripture.

However, it is important to note that orthodoxy, even in its best form, cannot tell us who is truly Christian. All it can do is tell us who is not. Thus, orthodoxy, by its very nature, is more divisive than anything else. This isn't necessarily bad, for we need to separate out the good teaching from the bad teaching to protect the flock. But a focus on orthodoxy as the test for orthos will result in more and more division (as we can see within Protestantism).

Additionally, an overemphasis on it can lead to a form of gnosticism, where one begins to believe that someone can be saved by affirming a certain set of ideas. But we are not saved by our assent to Christ's existence and activities, but by our faith and trust in Him personally. The gnosticism that is sweeping so much of evangelicalism must be undone.

Thus there needs to be a better way.


Orthopraxy means "right practice" or "correct behavior". This is not the same thing as moral living, though it includes moral living. It also includes the rites of the church, such as baptism, marriage, Eucharist, ordination, etc. It is looking at the full lifestyle, as in the pattern by which you live your life.

A Christian is expected to live like a Christian. This is the standard which is maintained by the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the Eastern Orthodox Church (despite the name). And there is something higher and more biblical (IMO) by judging a person by orthopraxy over orthodoxy.

However, there are two problems that are associated with focusing on orthopraxy. The first is recognising that, like orthodoxy, it does not guarantee that a person is a Christian. One could just be going through the motions. So, once again, orthopraxy becomes more divisive than anything else. This is especially true since certain practices are culturally bound, and can become more than that if we are not careful. We see this today in the "worship wars" that are going on.

Additionally, because orthopraxy includes moral living, an overemphasis can lead to legalism. This has occurred in many places within the Catholic Church's history (though I will insist that the RCC isn't legalistic in doctrine). Legalism can confuse the matter in terms of what causes salvation. Orthopraxy is the results of salvation, not the cause, and those caught up in legalism can often forget that. Our good works are but filthy rags in the eyes of God, unless washed by the blood of Christ. It is the blood that saves us, nothing else.


Orthopathy means "right pathos" or "correct attitude". It is my belief that the true measure of a person's orthos, is one's orthopathy. Do you have the attitude that Christ teaches us we are to have? When you look at the Sermon of the mount, you see Christ attempting to shift our focus from the earthly realms and the earthly tests, toward the heavenly ones. It is by orthopathy we will ultimately judged.

This does not mean that orthodoxy and orthopraxy are unimportant. Indeed, it makes them more important, for it is orthodoxy and orthopraxy that shape your attitude, it is is by your attitude that your actions and beliefs will continue to be shaped.

As a human being, I cannot truly see what your attitude is, but I can see what your beliefs are, and what your actions are. Because I can see these things, it is primarily by these things that I judge you. But God sees the heart, and it is by your pathos that He judges you.

But if we cannot see each other's attitudes, then isn't considering orthopathy somewhat moot? Not really. If you judge a person purely by doctrines or actions, then we are likely to condemn based on a certain set of actions or beliefs. But if you know in your mind that you are attempted to gauge a person's attitude through their doctrines and actions, then you can temper legalism and gnosticism on focus on the person. This is the hallmark of Christian faith that values loving a person over anything else. They will know we are Christians by our love.

Thus, I will encourage each of you to focus on orthopathy. Attempt to shape it in your own walk in Christ, and judge one another by this before anything else. This is our calling from Scripture, and it is higher and more heavenly than simply judging the things we can see.

March 26, 2009

Dealing with the End of the World

Yesterday and today I attended a seminar at my church dealing with the end times. Indeed, my pastor is doing a full series which is likely to last a few months, though this seminar itself was only the two days. It is very clear that my pastor is a dispensational, and though I have a great deal of respect for him, this is one area that I disagree.


For those who don't know, dispensationalism is the teaching that God has made a particular number of covenants with the people of the earth, and with these covenants He dispenses certain graces, laws, and powers. Thus the time periods within which these covenants are in "operation" can be defined by what graces are dispensed with it, often called dispensations.

Within the movement of dispensationalism there has developed a unique and currently popular eschatological view, which is a form of premillennialism, which takes the various apocalyptic texts in Scripture allegorically. This means that the various symbols and images are taken as simple symbols that each point to a singular identifiable and describable reality. This view then takes that base assumption, as well as a view that Revelation is a chronological historical account of the eschaton, and construct a precise, linear, and propositional reimaging of the book of revelation interlaced with other eschatological biblical texts. However, I cannot agree with this view.

My Issues

Now there are many things about the premillennial view that I do agree with. Essentially, I am a chilialist, mostly because I think it is the most natural reading of the text. The primary problem that I have with dispensational eschatology isn't so much it's eschatological views, but its hermeneutics, as well as its ecclesiology.

Ecclesiology: The Relationship Between Israel and the Church

My essential ecclesiology is what is know as the corporate election view of the church (I highly recommend the work of Brian Abasciano).

According to dispensationalism, God made a covenant with Abraham and Moses, and through those covenants He dispensed certain graces to the particular nationality of the Hebrews. When Christ came, God made a new covenant with Christ to replace the old covenant, and under this covenant, God is now, for a time, working with the church instead of Israel, until the "full number of the Gentiles has been saved". After that, during the Great Tribulation, God will return His attention to the Hebrews.

However, I don't think this jives with what the epistles say about the relation between the church and Israel, and I don't think it jives with Revelation either. Often, dispensationalists will call any theology that believes that the church has received the full promises of Israel as "Replacement Theology" (i.e. the church has replaced Israel). Well, I cannot say that such a theology does not exist, but this is not the corporate election view.

My primary understanding of the relation between the Church and Israel is derived from the metaphor found in Romans chapter 11. There, Paul takes up the analogy of a olive tree, which represents Israel, and says that the Gentiles have been grafted into the vine. Additionally, the Jews are referred to as "natural branches" even after they are cut off.

I do not think that the church is separate from Israel, and I do not believe that the Church has replaced Israel (or is the "true Israel"), but the Church is an extension Israel in that Israel includes the Church. Those who were elect through Abraham are still elect, but those of us who are elect through Christ are grafted onto the vine of Jacob. As Paul says, the Jews are enemies in terms of the gospel, but they are still loved in election, for we are both part of the body of Israel, and God's covenants are ever lasting (Romans 11:28).

Hermeneutics: Appreciating Apocalyptic Literature

One of the basic problems with dispensational eschatology it that it treats Revelation and Daniel as if they were written in a vacuum. In reality, this style of literature was blossoming before the coming of Christ (IV Ezra 3-14, Enoch, and more) and was taking up by the church afterwards (the Shepherd of Hermas, the Apocalypse of Peter, and more). What this means is that we can discern the manner in which these texts are meant to be understood by considering other examples.

In my present understanding, which was gathered mostly from the tutelage of Dr. Timothy Dwyer (though I do not assume I remember it perfectly, so don't judge him too much for my memory), the assumption of apocalyptic literature is that there is a earthly plane, and a spiritual plane, and that the events in one influence the other. Indeed, the events in one are the same as the other, for it is not really dualistic, as much as it sees spiritual realities as an aspect of the tangible. As such, the prophet is given visions of what is going on in the spiritual realm, which he then records.

Already we see a divergence away from the dispensational allegorical view where every image or thought merely represents a physical (or literal) reality. Instead, it is a different way of viewing the world that sees the forces beyond what our eyes perceive. In such a construction, one cannot expect that every image as an exact physical counterpart, but that the spiritual and its physical manifestation constitutes a complex relationship. It is viewing things as a one-to-one relationship that is often the problem.

Indeed, apocalyptic literature is not historical in mode, but rather expository, as it attempts to explain the realities behind historical events, rather than merely record the events themselves in an artistic manner. I am sure many preterists are loving me so far.

However, just as the text explains the realities behind historical events, those historical events are not necessarily past or present. The one thing that I do agree with dispensationists about is that the events that we read about, or at least their physical manifestations, are future events. To say otherwise, in my opinion, is to deny the validity of much of the message. Whenever Revelation is read by a group under similar calamities as the original audience, it is always understood as a great "tribulation" which ushers in the physical and final return of Christ. This is the most natural reading of the text and must be maintained.

But the doggedly exact interpretation of the dispensationalists defies practicality and almost always results in a form of dogmatism. Additionally, such interpretations are continually refined as history progresses and past assumptions become impossibilities.

My View

As I said before, my view is a form of chilaism, or many of you may prefer millennialism. Dispensationalism itself is merely a form of chilaism, and despite what many have argued, chilaism is a very old view of Revelation (see Justin Martyr and Irenaeus). However, I take up a number of preterist sensibilities in terms of hermeneutics and understanding Revelation through the eyes of general apocalyptic literature.

As such, here is a brief outline of some of my current thoughts in this area (You may notice that some of these thoughts are more specific, while others are more broad. Additionally, most of these thoughts are still very new and therefore up for debate within my own mind):
  1. The 7 churches of the first three chapters were seven literal churches from John's time to whom John was writing this book for encouragement
  2. The principal themes of the book are not defining the end times, but addressing the issues of the 7 churches as described in chapters 2-3.
  3. The 3 sets of 7 judgements are not chronological. Instead, they are a retelling of the same stretch of time.
  4. Indeed, they are probably not chronological within themselves either, but instead represent a thematic progression.
  5. The 144,000 witnesses are the exact same body as the Great Multitude mentioned right afterward. The same literary device is used here as used with the lion and the lamb in chapter 5.
  6. I do believe in the concept of a single global leader that could be called an antichrist, and that he is represented as the beast out of the sea.
  7. I believe that Christ will reign in a millennial kingdom sometime in the future, though the actual number 1,000 may not be literal.
  8. I have a theory, though I cannot validate it with any sources yet, that the white horse from the first scroll represents captivity and slavery. The idea of taking slaves is often associated with the idea of conquering in the Old Testament.
  9. The events described after chapter 3 all take place in the future.
  10. That the primary points of the book are:
    1. Remaining loyal to Christ in the face of persecution.
    2. Remaining separate from the world and the world's values. Especially depending on earthly wealth.
    3. Remaining vigilant in your passion for Christ for the end is near.
    4. That despite the power of the world around us, God will ultimately win.
These are currently my thoughts. Naturally I have more, but this is the stuff that swims through my head. I figure, though, that many of my eschatological thoughts will change in the upcoming years.

March 17, 2009

How Christianity Came to Ireland

Erin Go Braugh! May the blessings of St. Patrick be upon you all on this fine day. As I'm sure many of you noticed from my overtness, I am of Irish heritage and very proud of it. Indeed, there is nothing grander than the pride in one's heritage, especially if that heritage is Irish. The pride of the Irish is pride in their character. We are a people who love life, and love it unapologetically. Yet we love all aspects of life, including death, and have a joy and a sadness which is mixed better than a black and tan. Well, I guess that's not too hard... but anyway, it is well mixed.

Today is St. Patrick's Day, which is not a day for drinking and wearing green. In Ireland, to which I have never been but desperately wish to go, there is no drinking, for it is a holy day. Here in America, it has become a day to celebrate Irishness, but since I do that all year round, today I celebrate the salvation of the Irish.

The Tale of St. Patrick1

Patrick was born a Briton (one of the Celtic tribes of what is now England) in the fifth century A.D. (not C.E.!) At this time, Christianized Rome had captured England and most of the Britons had converted to Christianity. Indeed, Patrick's grandfather was a priest. However, Patrick wanted no part of it.

When he was sixteen, he was kidnapped by Celtic Pirates and enslaved in Ireland. During his enslavement, he came to love and understand the Irish people. Additionally, he found God Himself, recognizing His hand in nature.

After 6 years, in a vision, God provided a way for Patrick to escape, which he did. He eventually made his way back to England and served as a priest there for many years.

When he was 48, he received a vision which he interpreted to be a missionary call to Ireland. He made an appeal to Rome, who ordained him as a bishop. Along with an entourage of priests, seminarians and others, he arrived in Ireland in 432 A.D.

Patrick's method was very different from what we are used to. He established Christian communities with his entourage, and invited the Irish to join them. Often these communities were called "monasteries", but that's not entirely accurate. They were self-governed villages essentially, where the inhabits worshiped God together. This was a rather original idea, and was done to target Irish culture, which Patrick knew intimately.

Through Patrick's methodology, these communities spread across the island, where the Irish could find peace and rest from tribal life. Conversion mostly came from immersion, rather than cerebral discussion, or emotional experientialism. Ireland developed a distinct look into the Christian faith with was loving, kind, natural, communal, and deep. I'm not claiming that Christianity is perfectly represented in the Irish. Of course not. But Christianity suited the Irish very well, and vice versa.

A Prayer

In this post, I hope to educate some of you into the importance of this day. Let us not celebrate by drinking to a stupor, but instead let us celebrate on the sacrifices and passion of St. Patrick. He is one of the greatest evangelists the church has ever produced, and a fine example of what it takes to spread the faith.

I conclude by offering a prayer developed in one of the celtic communities which derived from his designs:
I lie down this night with God,
And God will lie down with me,
I lie down this night with Christ,
And Christ will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with the Spirit;
And the Spirit will lie down with me;
God and Christ and the Spirit
Be lying down with me.
1. George G. Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, (Nashville, TN: Abindon Press, 200), chapter 1.
2. Ibid, 34.

March 14, 2009

Jeremy O' Toole

In anticipation for St. Patrick's Day, I offer to you the riveting tale of Jeremy O'Toole, as written and performed by my little brother Ryan last year.

[DISCLAIMER: Any points of view or cynical attitude represents the family of this blogger, not the blogger himself. I express any apologies to any elderly, dwarves, or dust mites that find the content offensive. This is not intended by myself or Ryan]

March 10, 2009

Who's Really Holding the Daisy

Kangaroodort (Arminian Perspectives) has an interesting series regarding Craig Brown's book The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism. I haven't read the book myself, so I cannot give say whether or not it is an accurate report (though from the quotes and from what I know about Ben, I trust it).

However, in this post I wanted to point out his most recent entry in this series: Who's Really Holding the Daisy? I had to identify the doctrine that seems to be the most important to Calvinists, it would be Perseverance of the Saints: that those who have been elected unto salvation are guaranteed by God's gracious deterministic providence to persevere to the end. Calvinists hold to this for both a biblical reason (that we are to be assured of our salvation) and for a personal one (the personal comfort in knowing that one cannot fall away).

But many Arminians have pointed out that this assurance is not real assurance. The observation that there are those who have been devoted to Christ in deed and word sometimes turn their back to God, never to return. This reality stands in stark contrast to the promise of the Calvinist doctrine.

To deal with this reality, all Calvinists that I am aware of have stated that though there are some that seem to fall away, those people were never truly saved to begin with. This does tremendous damage to assurance, for what assurance do you have that you are truly saved? Maybe you are one of the reprobate who simply think that they are saved.

In Arminianism, (well at least most Arminians. There are Arminians who accept Perseverance of the Saints) it is possible for one to lose their salvation, so there is always an evaluation that takes place. But at least we can evaluate. The Calvinist can simply hope that they are really saved. Most Calvinists simply believe that they (and those around them) are saved, and only employ their "never saved" theology when faced with an example of apostasy. This seems like an inconsistency to me.

I believe that the "Arminian" viewpoint better gives the kind of assurance the Bible talks about. This is mostly clearly shown in the book of I John, where over and over again John tells us that we can know that we are indeed saved by examining our works. Our works do not save us, but they do tell us what is going on inside. The logical result of Calvinist theology says that our behavior does not tell us what is really going on inside, something which we cannot even know about ourselves. Where is the assurance of that?

I do not believe that Calvinists are assured because of their theology, but in spite of it. Many of my Arminian brothers have said that a Calvinist cannot being assured of their salvation, but I must interject and say that they are. But, their present salvation must be accepted without referring to what their theology says, for their theology makes no promises there. Instead it is accepted in the same way that Arminians accept theirs, but acknowledging the manifestation of God's grace in our lives. This assurance is in contradiction to their theology, but in compliance with Scripture, and for that, they have my respect.

March 4, 2009

More Thoughts on Lyrics

[This post is basically some thoughts that I took out of my last one because they didn't really fit with what was being said. However, I still think they are worth saying, so here is me rambling about lyrics:]
To this day, I primarily judge a song by two qualities: intent and lyrics. Intent simply means: what is the author trying to accomplish through the song? What is he/she trying to say? How well is this achieved?

I also judge it by the content of the lyrics. This does not mean that I think deep is better than shallow. I rather enjoy some shallow songs. But the depth of the song should be reflective of the intent of the song.

For instance, praise choruses are not for the purpose of teaching doctrine or thoughtful reflection. They are emotional or experiential inducers. One may also say mood setters. They shape one's mood or emotional state to induce a particular attitude towards God. Now I am not saying that all one feels while musically worshiping God is a product of the music. I believe that a real encounter with God can and usually takes place. But the purpose of the music is as a tool to allow one to approach God in a particular way to better enable that encounter.

As such, lyrical simplicity is better, since difficult lyrics require attention. Since the purpose is to focus on God, focusing on the lyrics is a counter-productive.

Still, that doesn't mean the lyrics are to be ignored. The lyrics still act as a guide to shaping one's attitude towards God. Thus the lyrics should still be critiqued. For instance, should I be singing about dancing as I just stand here? Is this statement actually accurate?

Lyrical analysis is more important, of course, in music which is designed for didactic, instructional or reflective purposes. This is true of hymns, but is also true of most alternative Christian music (by this, I mean Christian music which is based on secular forms), as well as much of secular music.

Lyrical analysis is also quite important with secular music. I dislike it when people say that we shouldn't listen to secular music at all. We are supposed to reach the people around us. The most important thing to reaching a people is to understand that people. The primary way to understand a people is to engage with their information media. Throughout history, this has mostly been through literature and song, though it has greatly expanded today. By scorning popular media (especially the simple form of music), we are rejecting the most effective tools in reaching the people around us.

However, I do agree that what you take in when engaging with media affects you far more than you are often aware. Therefore, discernment is needed. In music, on what basis can we discern the goodness of a song? The lyrics.

March 2, 2009

Why I Exegete Songs

After the long winded Sara Groves post, I thought it might be a good idea of why I do exegesis of new Christian music.

Pathfinder Lodge

When I was a kid, I went to an American Baptist camp named Pathfinder. I absolutely loved it there. One year, one of the counselors, John Malone, told us to write down our top ten favorite songs and turn the lists in. From those, he chose the top 2 songs listed, researched the lyrics, got the CDs, and the next day took us through the lyrics. The two songs that were picked were Gangster's Paradise by Coolio and Um Bop by Hansen (neither of these was on my list). I was surprised by the depth of the Coolio song, and the irony of the lyrics to Um Bop (which are really depressing). This lesson still sticks with me today, for it taught me the importance of lyrics.

Many of the kids (we were 15 and 16) there could sing along with the song, but couldn't tell you what the song was about. It was interesting how well they knew the songs without knowing them at all. Indeed, Um Bop was mostly added as a joke, but we all got a deeper lesson out of it because the ironic lyrics.

But Why Be So Exegetical About It?

I'll tell you why. Primarily because I am enough of a dork to find it fun. Ever since that first lyrical exegetical experience at camp, I have been fascinated by lyrics.

However, to that, I think there is a great advantage to exegeting songs for a Christian. This is because Christianity, especially Protestantism, is a religon of the book. Because so much of our understanding of who we are and who God is comes from how we understand Scripture, much of our epistemology and general philosophy is based upon how well we can read a text. Thus, learning how to exegete in general can help us in exegeting Scripture itself.

In other words, exegeting songs makes good practice. The reason for using modern songs is that they are an excellent thing to practice on. First of all, they are modern, which means that they are written in our language and our dialect. We are not dealing with a translation, and we are not dealing with any obsolete or archaic word usages.

The second is that a song, or any kind of poem for that matter, is a very small and self-contained literary work. Let's face it, it is easier to deal with 4 paragraphs than it is to deal with than even a two page article.

The third is that songs use stricter and more identifiable structures. This isn't just the tendency in American music to use a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, but also just the overall use of stanzas in general. The song has very identifiable units, with a rhythm and, usually, a clear connection to the whole. The main theme is usually most succinctly or emotionally expressed in the chorus. The verses usually taking the most time to treat the subject serving as either emotional set up or thematic elucidation. In either case, our exposure to not only this basic structure, but other common structures gives us a good sense of where to look for the theme of the song.

Thus, exegeting modern songs is much easier than Scripture itself. It therefore makes an excellent training tool, and, like I said, good practice. I hope to teach hermeneutics one day using song, and this practice is not only is hermeneutics in general but all in explaining how analysis works. So please enjoy my former exegeses, as well as any future ones, and I encourage for you to do this yourself. I believe you will find it quite beneficial.