When Sin Pays: How We’re Making a Mistress a Star

March 16, 2008

Eliot Spitzer is getting eclipsed by his mistress. I find the media’s treatment the entire sex scandal to be contradictory and strange.

On the one hand there is apparent, and I say only apparent, outrage over Spitzer’s escapades with a high-priced prostitute. And on the other hand there is a bit of hand-rubbing glee that he’s been caught breaking the very laws that famously propelled him to legal superstar as New York’s top enforcer. Many are glad he’s been caught with his hand in the cookie jar that he rigidly patrolled.

There is a degree of gloating over him being caught in his crimes. Maybe it’s fueled by the dislike he seemed to spawn in the hearts of his opponents. He has a reputation for being quite arrogant, and there’s something delicious about seeing an arrogant man having to eat the dirt he dished out to others. It appears as if this is the sentiment that is pulsating in the public response to Spitzer, even more than apparent outrage over his sexual infidelity.

Yet for Ashley Dupre, no such outrage seems to exist. Instead of being appalled at this girl for engaging in not only illegal, but immoral acts with a married man, there is actually a level of curious interest in her life that has propelled her into a celebrity. Have we forgotten that she is no fair maiden, but a prostitute?

The larger percentage of the news about this scandal keeps showing photos of her in candid and posed settings, reporting about the number of music downloads and the accompanying money she’s made since the firestorm ensued, interviewing friends and co-workers to get more of an inside scoop on who she is and what she’s like. Why is all of this so interesting?

Well, media coverage as a whole seems strangely ambivalent about her. We are reminded that she’s was involved in the “sex scandal” with the governor, but what used to be shameful for being a prostitute is now soon overpassed for eager interest into the real life of an aspiring singer, who, mind you, if not for her sexual involvement with a public figure, would be of no interest whatsoever otherwise. No one would know about her if she hadn’t slept with the governor.

But that’s just it. She has become the main focus of interest in this story. People can’t get enough of her videos, songs, news stories showing her pictures and giving the latest tidbit of discovery about her. It’s as if there is an eager hope that we’ll catch a glimpse of something forbidden. We know we shouldn’t be so interested in the behind-the-scenes life of a prostitute, but we are.

It’s like the ambivilence people have toward a fatal car accident. Passers by don’t want to look for fear of the sight of blood or dead bodies, but who can resist looking after all? We want to look, but know we really shouldn’t.

Spitzer deserves worse than he’s gotten so far, but so does Dupre. Our society should not let getting paid to sleep with someone be a fast track to becoming a star. We shouldn’t be so interested. We should feel shame for her. I keep wondering if she does.


Obama and His Pastor: Hypocritical Abuse of Scripture

March 15, 2008

obama_wright.jpg

Barack Obama is in damage control mode this week as he is trying very hard to distance himself from his former pastor’s statements that America should be damned, among other things. But Obama himself has recently been guilty of mishandling Scripture in quite an egregious way.

Let me make clear here that my aim here in this post is decidedly un-political. Politics is the least of my concerns here. As a conservative, reformed, evangelical, Christian pastor, my concern is that someone who happens to be a political figure running for public office is publicly condemning statements made by his own pastor, while he himself is at the same time guilty of an egregious misuse of Scripture during a speech on the campaign trail. It’s the hypocrisy and the misuse of Scripture that I’m bothered by here, not the politics. If a Republican candidate had done this, then I still would have posted this.

Fist, here’s part of what his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. said in April 2003, which Obama is now condemning:

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes three-strike laws and wants them to sing God Bless America.

“No! No No!

“God damn America … for killing innocent people.

“God damn America for threatening citizens as less than humans.

“God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and supreme.”

Regarding the terrorists attacks on 9/11 he said:

“We bombed Hiroshima. We bombed Nagasaki. And we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye,”

“We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because of stuff we have done overseas is now brought back into our own backyard. America is chickens coming home to roost.”

Incendary? Sure. Ridiculous conspiracy theories? No question. Irresponsible? I think so. Totally wrong? Not quite (I’ll explain below).

But is it worse than what Obama himself told a college crowd in Ohio last week?

“I don’t think it [a same-sex union] should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state,” said Obama. “If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans.

There’s something in the Sermon on the Mount that condones homosexuality? One passage of Scripture is more central than another?

Let me translate that. In Romans 1:26-27, Paul, in keeping with several Old Testament passages, clearly and unequivocally condemns homosexuality as a sin, but somehow Barack (and many others) think that Jesus’ remarks in The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 actually contradict what Paul says. Even though Jesus never mentions homosexuality in His Sermon, somehow Barack, and those like him, think that something Jesus said in that Sermon condones homosexuality.

Usually passages like: “Do to others what you would have them do to you,” or “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” are appealed to as the Sermon’s basis for the acceptance of homosexuality. Somehow these passages are given greater weight than the clear statements in passages like Romans 1 that categorize homosexuality as a sin in the same list as murder, deceit, violence against others, etc.

These same people think murder and stealing is wrong, and have no shame in saying so, and yet they absolutely cannot accept the clear Biblical teaching that homosexuality is wrong as well. So, since homosexuality has become more culturally acceptable and defended as an acceptable and even moral (!) way to live, any statements in the Bible that appear to condemn homosexuality must be ignored, explained away, relegated as “obscure,” or somehow made “less central” (whatever that means). They therefore put the clear statements of Paul about homosexuality in direct contradiction to statements of Jesus that don’t even address the issue directly!

But Jesus’ statements DON’T contradict Paul. Jesus Himself repeatedly taught that marriage is between a man and a woman. In fact, He’s the One who instituted marriage in Genesis 2! Nowhere, I repeat, nowhere will you find support for homosexuality or any other sin in the words of Jesus, just like you will not find it in Paul or any other part of Scripture. You will only find clear condemnation of it as a sin.

But here are a few of the ironies with Barack and his pastor:

  • Barack is condemning his pastor’s remarks as wrong, but he uses Scripture to support something that is patently wrong.
  • Barack disagrees with Wright who says America should be damned for killing innocent people. He seems to be referring to his belief that America was the cause of 9/11, but isn’t it true that a nation who aborts millions of children each year is in danger of God’s judgment? Yet Barack supports killing of innocent people through abortion and defends himself by saying: “I certainly don’t think it makes me less Christian.”
  • Wright is being condemned as a bad man for making remarks against the greatness and integrity of the United States. Obama is being hailed as an almost messianic figure, and his remarks against the unity and integrity of the Holy Scripture are ignored as unimportant.
  • Remarks that condemn America’s goodness are condemned, but remarks that condone America’s evil are not condemned.

Sure, I think Wright is terribly wrong about his views. But what is being overlooked here, is that so is Obama and his views. Everyone is appalled at the pastor’s views (and rightly so), but no one is even questioning Obama’s! They’re assumed to be uncontroversial, completely mainstream, and unoffensive to most. I disagree. I really don’t believe that his views are mainstream, as much as the media would love for them to be, and they are unquestionably offensive to a good number of people, including me. I find them completely untenable with Biblical Christianity.

Here’s the issue as I see it. The attitude of our culture is this: Whatever is intolerant of anything anyone wants to do is evil. Whatever is tolerant of anything anyone wants to do, even if it is evil, is good. Do or say whatever you want, just don’t tell me that what I want to do or say is bad. That makes you bad, not me. And if I want to call myself a Christian and reject parts of the Bible and even justify certain sins as acceptable, who are you to tell me that I’m wrong?

Our culture’s self-consumed, hedonistic, authority-rejecting, deification of self is a curse on society, not a blessing. When a society rejects God’s ways for their own, it’s a recipe not only for anarchy, but judgment. Just ask the ancient Jews. (But since you can’t, you can read about it. Start in Judges and read through 2 Kings. Oh, and please make the effort to do that before you rip me in the comments.) 🙂


Beauty’s Attraction: Like Irresistible Grace

March 12, 2008

“I just think beauty is irresistible. It disarms us. It takes away our arguments. …I think that beauty, which is more related in my mind to the sublime, is what we can not resist.” – Stephen Dunn, poet

This is what Calvinists mean when we talk about irresistible grace. By His grace, the Spirit awakens us to the breathtaking beauty of Jesus Christ, and all our resistance to Him is disarmed, so we run to him in faith, for we cannot resist the desire to embrace Him.

It’s funny how even a non-Christian poet can give us beautiful ways of seeing the world and even accidentally simplify oft-complicated theology.

(Source: “Provisional Conclusions, A conversation with poet Stephen Dunn,” Books and Culture, March/April 2008, p. 27)


First Look at the Personal Size ESV

March 7, 2008

I received mine in the mail this week, took a few pics of it, and then sent them to my friend Mark Bertrand to post on his Bible Design and Binding Blog. He’s promised to give a fuller review of it when his copy arrives next week, so stay tuned to his blog for more, but if you’ve been interested in obtaining a handy-sized single-column paragraphed ESV, head on over to the post on Mark’s site for a first glance.

If you are wondering what the big deal is about Bible publishers offering a single-columned paragraphed style layout, then read these articles Mark wrote about it in order to understand why this new Bible is a greatly-welcomed edition. Bottom line: it’s all about readability – the ease of actually reading the Bible as a book, not just using it as a reference tool. Now there’s a thought.

Single Column Setting?

Making Single Column Settings Work

Design Case Study: NEB New Testament Paperback

Mixed Message: What Publishers Can Learn from The Message Remix (see section 3a)


Sola Fide?

March 6, 2008

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I saw this church sign only a few miles from where our church meets. We teach that salvation is by faith alone, but this sign seems to be a fairly clear indication that these folks teach the opposite.

I suspect that Martin Luther would advise that people take greater heed to the second sign in the photo, and not cross the street to attend this church!

THE ERROR

While Scripture teaches that genuine saving faith will invariably produce the fruit of works, that’s not what this sign is saying. These folks are taking a single verse and missing the point of it, and it’s context.

Here’s what James 2:24 says: “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”

If you take that verse by itself, you can certainly be led to think that salvation requires works. But to take it by itself is to commit a gross error, especially since the context of the verse makes it quite clear that that is NOT what this verse is intended to teach.

Quoting it alone ike this amounts to the same error journalists make when they quote only a portion of a sentence that someone spoke, making it sound like they are saying the opposite of what they actually said. We call that misquoting.

James 2:14-16 is not a text intended to teach the basis of salvation, but to teach the marks of true salvation. In fact, the theme of entire epistle of James could be characterized as marks of genuine faith, much like the epistle of 1 John.

This church’s sign is a good example of how often James 2:14-26 is misquoted, misinterpreted and misunderstood in such a way that a defective view of grace is taught. Some good, basic hermeneutics (principles of interpretation) will help in avoiding this all-too-common error in reading this passage.

THE ISSUE

The root question in interpreting this passage is to determine what James means by “justified.”

The first thing that needs to be realized is that the terms “justify” or “justified” are used in several different ways in the New Testament, but there are really only two ways to understand this passage and justification. Your understanding of justification is the dividing line between understanding the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone (sola fide), or the false gospels of salvation based on good works.

In other words, properly understanding justification is absolutely crucial to the Christian faith. It’s that important. So, if you misinterpret this passage, you get the Gospel wrong. Now, let’s consider the two options of the meaning of “justified” that are most relevant to this passage.

1. “Justified” can be defined as “a legal declaration that you are righteous before God.”

This is the most common way “justify” (Greek: dikaioō) is used in the New Testament.

For example, this is the meaning of the term when we read Luke 7:29, “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John.” Of course, the people did not make God righteous, they simply declared that He is. This is the sense in which “justified” is used in passages where the New Testament says that those who believe on Christ for salvation are declared righteous by God (Rom. 3:20, 26, 28; 5:1; 8:30; 10:4, 10; Gal. 2:16; 3:24; etc.).

This meaning is particularly evident in Rom. 4:5: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Here, God legally declares the ungodly to be righteous in His sight, not on the basis of their good works, but in response to their faith.

The issue at stake here is whether you believe you are justified by faith alone or by faith and works. Paul teaches that when God declares sinners to be righteous, he is not lying about them being righteous when they aren’t, but that He is declaring that they are righteous because He has graciously imputed (transferred) Christ’s righteousness to them (see 2 Cor. 5:21).

Therefore, when a person believes on Christ by faith, God applies the merits of Christ’s righteousness (His works) to them and then declares them to be righteous. It is not that person’s own righteousness, it is Christ’s righteousness that is freely given to them.

This is why Paul says in Phil. 3:9 that his goal is “that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;”

This legal declaration is not based on the person’s righteousness, but on the merits of Christ’s righteousness. In other words, when God declares someone righteous on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, there is no remaining room for, nor even any need for, any additional righteous works contributed by man. This is why Paul says in Eph. 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

So what does James mean when he says we are justified by works?

2. “Justified” can mean “to demonstrate or show that you are righteous.”

For instance, Jesus said to the Pharisees in Luke 16:15, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.” Clearly the point here is not that the Pharisees made legal declarations that they were “not guilty” before God, but that they were constantly attempting to show others that they were righteous by their outward acts.

Luke 10:28-29 shows us the same usage of the term. “And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live. But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” His goal was “to show himself to be righteous” to those who were listening. Other examples of this use of “justify” can be found in Matt. 11:19, Luke 7:35, and Rom. 3:4.

This is also the way James is using the term “justified.” James 2:18 clearly shows this to the case. “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

James is telling his readers that a so-called faith that does not produce the fruit of works is not true faith at all, it is a dead faith. Works are the demonstration to others that our faith is living, or genuine, faith in Christ. Works are not the basis of being declared righteous before God. Rather, they are the proof that we’ve already been justified by God.

Works are a sign of salvation, not a means to salvation. True faith will bear the proof of good works. That’s James’ point.

James 2:21 goes on to say, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” James is referring to something later in Abraham’s life, when he sacrificed Isaac in obedience to God’s command in Genesis 22. This is long after God’s declaration of Abraham being righteous by faith alone in Genesis 15:6: “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.”

Genesis 15 was when Abraham was justified once for all, and he was declared such on the basis of faith alone. Paul repeatedly makes this point in Romans 4 and Galatians 3.

Genesis 22 was when Abraham was “shown to be righteous” by his works. And in that sense James says Abraham was “justified by works.”

THE CONCLUSION

How can we know if we or someone else has genuine saving faith? Their works will demonstrate it. Their works will justify their claim to be a Christian. In other words, their sanctification will demonstrate their justification.

So, the most relevant question to ask when we come to James 2 is, Who is justifying whom? Is James talking about God declaring people righteous, or is he talking about people demonstrating their righteousness?

The message of this church sign confuses justification with sanctification, and in so doing perverts the Gospel at its center, for it communicates the notion that saving faith only “works” when it is accompanied by good works, which is to add our righteousness to Christ’s righteousness in order to qualify for saving faith, which is a heresy zealously and conclusively condemned throughout the New Testament. This amounts to “another Gospel,” and as such, garners Paul’s strongest condemnation: “accursed” (Gal. 1:6-9).


Moses Was High On Drugs?

March 5, 2008

The story has been in the news lately that some Israeli professor is now saying that Moses was actually high on drugs when he was on Mt. Sinai.

I think it’s always an amazing feat of arrogance to think you can psychoanalyze someone 4000 years after they’ve lived!

Why do people think they can do this? Why does he think Moses was high? Here’s his answer:

“As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don’t believe, or a legend, which I don’t believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics,” Shanon told Israeli public radio on Tuesday.”

Very probable?

Isn’t it amazing the lengths people will go when they simply refuse to believe that the Biblical text just might actually be true? They’ll invent the most cockamamie theories (evolution anyone?) and convince themselves that their theories are the most likely scenario.

Anything but believe the Bible. Anything.

The story went on to say:

Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the “burning bush,” suggested Shanon, who said he himself has dabbled with such substances.

“The Bible says people see sounds, and that is a clasic [sic] phenomenon,” he said citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to “see music.”

He mentioned his own experience when he used ayahuasca, a powerful psychotropic plant, during a religious ceremony in Brazil’s Amazon forest in 1991. “I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations,” Shanon said.

Ah, now it’s becoming clearer. He took drugs and had a “spiritual-religious” experience. So, his drug-induced experience has given him the hermeneutical key to the Biblical text? That is arrogance indeed! Or pure idiocy.

No, it’s both.

Who has more credibility here? The thousands of years of unchanging Biblical witness to the events, or a drug-taking professor who is already operating from a perspective that precludes belief in the Biblical text, but gives credence to the most ridiculous theories to explain it away?

Give me a break. I’ll keep believing the Bible, thank you.


Fundamentalism and Reformed Theology

March 5, 2008

I recently had a conversation with a friend with whom I attended church when I was a teen and in college. We both come from a fundamentalist background and we both have come to embrace Reformed theology.

As we were discussing our respective journeys, I commented that it was amazing that we had both come from fundamentalism and had separately come to a Reformed worldview. Mark then said to me that it really isn’t that surprising that we, and a number of others that went to that church, had made the journey to where we are.

I agreed with him that there’s much to be grateful for in our fundamentalistic upbringing, particularly, the emphasis on believing what the Bible says. Unfortunately, fundamentalists tend  to make more of emphasizing the necessity of belief in what the Bible says than they actually do in actually believing what it says. Yet it was this very emphasis on believing what the Bible says that eventually led me to the doctrines of election and those that attend it.

Being trained to believe what the Bible says led me to simply read Paul and Peter and Jesus and actually believe what they said, without trying to explain away what they were plainly teaching. It’s hard to avoid the clear teaching in Ephesians 1 and Romans 9 and John 6 and 1 Peter 1. Sure I had had heard those passages taught in church, but usually with a goal to make sure we didn’t think they taught Calvinism. Typically, though those passages merely got avoided.

I thought about that conversation when I read this quote from Mike Hess today:

Regarding the Reformed movement I would submit that many of us who lean in this direction appreciate the substance that we get from this movement that frankly, for the most part we did not get in fundamentalism. Reformed writers have ignited a passion for God and His glory in young fundamentalists. Not that we did not have that before, but the emphasis was different. Instead of having a God who will judge us or condemn us for not meeting our traditional precedents, we now have a God who we can find ultimate satisfaction and pleasure in alone.

Embracing the sovereignty of God over all things (including salvation), the centrality of God, and the satisfaction that is to be found in God, which are so clearly and frequently taught in Scripture is what has led me to a reformed soteriology (the theology of salvation). But it was fundamentalism’s emphasis on believing the Bible that prepared me for it. So in the end, it was fundamentalism’s own emphasis on the Bible that has led me away from fundamentalism.