This is part 3 of a series. Here are parts 1 and 2.

[2:1] My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. [2] He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. [3] And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. [4] Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, [5] but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: [6] whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:1-6 ESV)


So far John has told us that the life of God was manifested in the incarnation of the Son - the one whom the apostles saw and heard and touched. It is this life-giving Son of God with whom John invites his readers to have fellowship (and thereby have fellowship also with the Father and the apostles themselves), and the message that this same Son of God and font of life proclaims through his apostles is the message that God is light. Fellowship with God through the life giving Son brings a life lived in the light, no longer hiding in the shadows, no longer needing to pretend at sinless perfection. Life in the light through fellowship with the Son (which is nothing less than participation in the very life of the Triune God) frees us up to confess our own sins with the assurance that the the Son will cleanse us with the fiery light of his presence.

But John has more to say. He is no encourager of sin. While it is true that to deny our sins is to deceive ourselves and to make God a liar, nevertheless, John has written in order that those who here his message may not sin. St. John’s writings thrive on these tensions.

Here at the beginning of chapter 2 the apostle tells us that his goal in speaking about the light and life and fellowship and forgiveness that has appeared in the manifestation, the incarnation, of the Son of God has been to keep us from sin. But ever mindful of his goal of encouragement he tells us almost in the same breath that if we do sin not only are we forgiven, but we are forgiven because Jesus Christ the righteous, the bringer of life, is our advocate. He stands in heaven not to plead with a harsh and uncompromising Father, but as the bridge between fallen humanity and divinity, the divine-human Son of God who in his death for sins by which he became a propitiation (that is one who bears wrath in our stead) has brought our human lives into the fellowship of the Godhead. And as if that weren’t enough, John then tells us that Jesus propitiatory death was no mere parochialism, it wasn’t the death of one man for a few friends, or a tribal God for a tribal people, but it was the world shaking death of the Son of God which is able to accomplish redemption for the whole world.

And how will we know that we stand covered under such a propitiation? (For we know that while Christ died as a propitiation for the sins of the whole world, there are those in the world who will reject such benevolence and refuse the fellowship offered.) We will know it by our actions. Now at this point we may start to get a little queasy; at times calvinistic Christians can seem almost allergic to talk about good works, righteous actions, or commandment keeping. Unfortunately this makes us allergic to parts of the Bible. While it is absolutely true that we can never put God in our debt by anything we do or don’t do, it is equally true that God cares deeply about our behavior and our behavior manifests the kind of relationship we have with God.

And so John says that we can know that we know this life giving Son, this God of light, this one who has become a propitiation for our sins by noting that we keep his commandments. This means no worm theology. This means it will not do to adopt the modern reformed asceticism that wallows in the mire of total depravity and radical grace, never recognizing that the life of one who has been put into the light is a life transformed and characterized by obedience, which is the harbinger of confidence that we do in fact know God. Knowing God manifests itself in a growing family resemblance. God made us in his image, and as we come to know him and to have fellowship with him that image, which has been marred by sin, begins to shine through brighter and brighter.

But John’s language gets even starker. He says that just as one who denies sin and the need for forgiveness, the need for a propitiation, deceives himself and calls God a liar, so the one who claims to know God but does not keep his commandments is himself a liar. For to know God is to be in the light because God himself is light, and no one who is in the light can continue to walk in darkness. Again, as we’ve said before this is not a call to doubt our standing with God any time we disobey. John has covered that. We have an advocate. Rather, John’s point is that my confidence in that propitiation, and my confidence that it covers my sins is to be found in my obedience to his command, which is the evidence that I am in the light.

Again, the images swirl back on themselves. If I have life it is because I have heard the proclamation that God is light and been brought into the light and if I am in the light I will not walk as one in the darkness but according to light, just as He who is light walked among us (v.6), and thus I will keep his commandments. It’s a package deal: life, light, forgiveness and obedience. You can’t have any without having all.

 
 
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From an article entitled, "Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father," published in the Atlantic.

On Screaming

Do not scream; for it is as if you scream all the time. If you are given a plate on which two foods you do not wish to touch each other are touching each other, your voice rises up even to the ceiling, while you point to the offense with the finger of your right hand; but I say to you, scream not, only remonstrate gently with the server, that the server may correct the fault. Likewise if you receive a portion of fish from which every piece of herbal seasoning has not been scraped off, and the herbal seasoning is loathsome to you, and steeped in vileness, again I say, refrain from screaming. Though the vileness overwhelm you, and cause you a faint unto death, make not that sound from within your throat, neither cover your face, nor press your fingers to your nose. For even now I have made the fish as it should be; behold, I eat of it myself, yet do not die.


Concerning Face and Hands

Cast your countenance upward to the light, and lift your eyes to the hills, that I may more easily wash you off. For the stains are upon you; even to the very back of your head, there is rice thereon. And in the breast pocket of your garment, and upon the tie of your shoe, rice and other fragments are distributed in a manner wonderful to see. Only hold yourself still; hold still, I say. Give each finger in its turn for my examination thereof, and also each thumb. Lo, how iniquitous they appear. What I do is as it must be; and you shall not go hence until I have done.

Read the rest here.  It's a hoot.


 
 
I'm cross-posting this excellent article by my wife Alicia from her blog, The Old Mill.

'"The “Fall” (= original sin) is simple no explanation for this, because God was either not able to prevent the fall from happening…or, he did want this to happen, in which case he couldn’t be called “good”."

via The Immorality of Theodicies.

This is from a pretty shoddy article, but it does capture the essence of the overly-ambitious claims of the atheist’s version of the Problem of Evil.

We affirm that God did not want the Fall to happen.  It was against His will and desire for His creation, esp. mankind.  (Hence, He warned Adam and Eve against it.)  He did not want it in the simple sense.  In the simple sense, He was (and is) against it.

And that is the only sense in which we really know Him.  His moral character is against such things as the Fall, unjustified suffering, rape, murder, adultery, etc.  He is able to allow to happen things which displease Him.  We do not need to go beyond this.  In the spirit of theodicy some observe analogies with parents who allow their children to experience some pain because they know this pain is better than some worse pain/evil that would come if this present pain were avoided.  They are not pleased with the pain, but they are desirous of the result: the avoidance of greater evil.

God may be like this in some cases.  I would not know.  But if He is, it is beside the point.  If He allows things which displease Him, we need not speculate for reasons why.  We need not search for another thing that pleases Him more which would rationalize the allowance of the displeasure.  There is great mystery here, and we need not try to penetrate it.  Indeed, we cannot.

We need only recognize that allowing things which displease Him does not make Him “not good.”  That simply does not follow.  There is nothing in the definition of goodness (what definition could there be besides God’s character, a definition that is self-referential in any event?) that requires that a good God never allow things which displease him.  There is nothing that requires He have a greater pleasure or higher pleasure in mind if He does.  How could there be?  The atheists usually define goodness this way, but this is where we must cry foul.  There is no justification for a definition of goodness that excludes the possibility of allowing evil to happen.  That premise is invalid.

If a good person allows that which displeases him (esp. displeases his goodness), what is that to us?  Perhaps in a human case, we might ask questions.  We might put our fellow man in the dock, because we are competent to and are charged with the responsibility of judging our fellow men and their motives in cases where evil occurs.  But we judge them as participants, not as overseers or authors of a story.  When they enter that role, we withhold judgment.

So we have no grounds at all for judging God (!) if He allows that which displeases Him.  There is no logical violation of His goodness if we grant that He did not allow it because it pleased Him.  And by definition it doesn’t.  The atheist wants to create a situation where God cannot allow anything without pleasure on His part.  He wants to define the situation such that the very act of allowing something means God has pleasure in it.  But this is a non sequitur and the fallacy of the entire argument.  We know it is a non sequitur because we do not apply the same standard to human authors of stories or directors of movies.  This should be a large clue.

Otherwise, if the atheist is right, if goodness entails never allowing that which displeases Him, then we have a Stoic God.  We have a God who cannot feel sorrow or anger or displeasure.  We have a God who must always and everywhere be identified with the events of His creation, and identified positively.  That situation is nonsensical. It does not exist with respect to human authors of stories, so why should it exist with respect to God and His creation?  Scripture is full of accounts of God’s displeasure, God’s looking on at the things occurring in this world and in human history and feeling anger, displeasure, sorrow, and indignation at them.  The atheist would make the Christian God a less than human God, one who never experiences displeasure, anger, indignation, or sorrow.  We attribute these emotions to our limited potency.  If we were omnipotent, we tell ourselves, we would never experience displeasure, anger, or the rest. Wewould act to prevent anything which displeases or disturbs us.

Perhaps we would, but that does not mean the same is true of God.  It is also manifestly not true even of us.  We write stories and direct movies and write plays that contain things which, in themselves, displease or disturb us.  Playwrights and authors and directors are living proof that the atheist’s Problem of Evil is false.

God does not need justification for things which in themselves displease Him.  All He needs is the intention and the ability to make them right.  This is not a theodicy in the classic sense.  It does not justify evil’s existence.  It reminds us that even the worst evil can be reversed and undone by an omnipotent God.  And if this is so, then where is the Problem of Evil?  God takes no pleasure in evil, and He does not justify it.  Instead, He reverses, abolishes, and overcomes it.  He undoes it.

Evil is a challenge to God’s goodness, but not in the atheist’s understanding of that.  It is not a logical challenge, but an emotional and ethical one.  The atheist understands it as a decisive challenge — more than a challenge, “evidence against” God, or in the strongest formulations, proof against God’s existence. But it is none of those in itself.

Evil raises a challenge to God.  It introduces tension.  It demands that God act.  It calls for God to ride into battle and defeat it and heal His creation.  The Problem of Evil and all theodicy is really captured in God’s response to evil (or lack thereof).  If God never responds to the challenge, then evil has indeed finally contradicted Him, and He has conceded to it.

But He has shown us the end.  We know how it turns out.  We know He does act.  He answers the challenge of evil.  He destroys it.

The atheist wants the definition of goodness to require that God prevent all evil.  But it does not require this.  Goodness rather means that God undoes all evil.  He reverses it.  He makes it as though it never happened — more, He makes things better than if evil never happened.  He restores what was lost a hundredfold.  That is not a justification for evil.  That is evil’s abolition and destruction.  

If the existence of evil magnifies God’s triumph over it, what then?  Does this justify evil?  No, that is impossible.  Does it justify God?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But what really matters is that it cures evil, overturns it, heals it.  When evil has been utterly nullified and all its effects completely reversed (and then some!), there is no more Problem of Evil.  Evil has been swallowed up in good.  Death has been swallowed up in victory.  And that swallowing is complete.  No lingering doubt, no remaining regret, no old scars still nagging.

Good as new.

No.  Better.

 
 
In the following I provide some interaction with Evans' article "How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation" in which the author takes on the issue of homosexuality through the lens of recent legislative action.  Rachel's article is here.

Oddly enough, my blog host doesn't have a simple format for block quotes, so my comments are interspersed below in italics.  I have done this as a kind of point-by-point response.  I realized in process this might not have been the best format given the length and nature of my reply, but I just didn't have it in me to start fresh.  Maybe at some point I'll summarize my concerns.


When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. (The next most common negative images? : “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics.”)

In the book that documents these findings, titled unChristian, David Kinnaman writes:

“The gay issue has become the ‘big one, the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. It is also the dimensions that most clearly demonstrates the unchristian faith to young people today, surfacing in a spate of negative perceptions: judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocritical, insincere, and uncaring. Outsiders say [Christian] hostility toward gays...has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.”

Later research, documented in Kinnaman’s You Lost Me, reveals that one of the top reasons 59 percent of young adults with a Christian background have left the church is because they perceive the church to be too exclusive, particularly regarding their LGBT friends. Eight million twenty-somethings have left the church, and this is one reason why.

Let’s start here. There’s not much to say about this except that if you’re going to reference statistics, you really need to give some specific citation. She mentions the book, but the way she presents the numbers in the first paragraph is less than clear. Based on the USA today article that cites the same numbers, it appears that rather than being the first word that spontaneously popped into 91% of non-Christians’ minds, "antihomosexual" was one choice among several. It might help to know that and to know what the other options were. Regardless, I don’t want to get bogged down here except to say that this sets a tone that is not very helpful and seems all too quick to marshal uncharitable accusations in service of the author's perspective.

In my experience, all the anecdotal evidence backs up the research.

When I speak at Christian colleges, I often take time to chat with students in the cafeteria. When I ask them what issues are most important to them, they consistently report that they are frustrated by how the Church has treated their gay and lesbian friends. Some of these students would say they most identify with what groups like the Gay Christian Network term “Side A” (they believe homosexual relationships have the same value as heterosexual relations in the sight of God). Others better identify with “Side B” (they believe only male/female relationship in marriage is God’s intent for sexuality). But every single student I have spoken with believes that the Church has mishandled its response to homosexuality.

What church? Who? The Westboro Baptists? The Episcopalian Church? The Catholics? The PCUSA? This is the kind of vague anti-establishment criticism that is typical of youth culture in all generations, but it really tells us very little.

Most have close gay and lesbian friends.

Most feel that the Church’s response to homosexuality is partly responsible for high rates of depression and suicide among their gay and lesbian friends, particularly those who are gay and Christian.

Most are highly suspicious of “ex-gay” ministries that encourage men and women with same-sex attractions to marry members of the opposite sex in spite of their feelings.

These kinds of statements, particularly this last one, come across as veiled accusations.  The author seems to take as a given that what young people are suspicious of is in fact what “ex-gay” ministries  are in the business of.  But, without protesting the rather pejorative terminology, what ministries do this?  I have known at least two ministers who worked with ministries for men struggling with homosexual desires, and this is certainly not what they did.  Further, consider this statement from the website of Exodus International, one of the most prominent ministries to homosexuals:

"Some may change their sexual behavior to align with biblical teaching on sexuality and may experience a shift in sexual attractions or orientation; others may not. We are motivated not by a shift in attraction or orientation, but by the desire to live a life consistent with our faith."

This statement, along with their claim that they are explicitly against conversion or reparative therapy, makes it unlikely that they would encourage people to marry the opposite sex if they were still experiencing significant homosexual attractions.

Or consider the first of the five goals of the Roman Catholic ministry Courage (five goals which were formulated by the founding members): “To live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality.”  No suggestion of marriage to overcome homosexual attraction here.

NARTH, an institution that does favor reparative/conversion therapy, is unaffiliated with any Christian ministry, though it is headquartered at the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in California.  But even they do not appear to favor marriage as a form of reparative therapy, focusing instead on psychoanalytical methods.  

So here we have three prominent organizations likely to be labeled "ex-gay," and it turns out that none of the three are likely to endorse marriage as therapy to change sexual orientation.  Yet, based on what those whom the author speaks to are suspicious of, we are led to believe that this is typical of such ministries, or at least that is the implication.

Most feel that the church is complicit, at least at some level, in anti-gay bullying.

Again, which church? Who? Are there churches and groups of people that call themselves churches that bully? Surely.  Is it characteristic of the church? I hardly think so, and I’m not really inclined to accept such a claim without some evidence or explanation, given that it seems to besmirch the reputation of the bride of Christ on the basis of the feelings of students that this author has spoken with.  But that is the problem:  Evans doesn’t exactly say that the church is complicit in bullying, just that lots of young people “feel” that “at some level” the church is complicit.  What does this mean?  And if it’s true, what should we do about it?  Those are questions worth exploring.    But alas, they are left dangling.  Does support for a marriage amendment constitute such complicity in these young people’s minds?  In the author’s mind?  We don’t know, and we are left feeling a little like someone who has had a pebble thrown at the back of our head, but we aren’t sure by whom, and we aren’t sure why.

And most...I daresay all...have expressed to me passionate opposition to legislative action against gays and lesbians.

“When evangelicals turn their anti-gay sentiments into a political campaign,” one college senior on her way to graduate school told me, “all it does is confirm to my gay friends that they will never be welcome in the church. It makes them bitter, and it makes me mad too. This is why I never refer to myself as an evangelical. Ugh. I’m embarrassed to be part of that group.”

I can relate.

I see at least three factors at work here which concern me, two philosophical/political/theological and one ethical.  The first is what seems to be an implicit assumption that Christians should keep their faith out of politics.  But this is neither possible nor desirable, and the idea of doing so points to a deep philosophical divide between those who would separate life into the sacred and the secular and those who would call for all of our actions, both public and private, to be informed by Scripture and a careful application of it to the various situations to which we are called.  Obviously, I am inclined to the latter; I think that Jesus wants to redeem the whole world, including social and political structures, not just individual souls.  (That’s why I think Christians were right to have fought political battles over things like slavery.)  Further, the state is instituted by and answerable to God for administering justice (cf Rom. 13).  This means that it will necessarily operate with some vision of what justice is, either a Biblically informed Christian vision of justice, or some rival vision that takes something other than the glory of God and obedience to him to be its highest end.  All this is simply to say that if Christians are to be involved in the political realm at all (surely we will all accept they have the right if not the obligation to be), they likewise have the right, and even the obligation, to do so as Christians. They cannot and should not leave their religion at the door.  We are not dualists.  Public life is every bit as inherently religious as private, and to act otherwise is to serve two (or more) masters.

But this brings us to the second political point: whether or not the specific types of political moves being discussed here are appropriate or acceptable.  My guess is that there are more than a few that would agree with what I’ve said above and yet feel that the specific instance of legislation either banning or (as in the case of the North Carolina) constitutionally strengthening the existing prohibition on the civil sanctioning of homosexual marriages or unions is inappropriate.  While our Christian faith may be a factor in our support for laws against murder, theft, and child abuse, certainly there are things which we as Christians would agree are sins but not crimes.  My goal here is not to defend the specific strategy of the North Carolina bill, or any other particular piece of legislation, but to argue that the basic stated goals of such legislation are not inappropriate.  While one could hardly call our governments (federal or state) "Christian" at this point in history, there is some value in not going from bad to worse.  What the pieces of legislation discussed over the past few weeks all have in common is a goal of not having the civil authorities sanction--that is, put their imprimatur on--sexually immoral relationships.  These laws do not take action against homosexuals; in fact, they attempt to secure inaction.  They are aimed at ensuring the continuance of the status quo, as opposed to moving toward a situation in which our government, which represents us and is accountable to God for administering justice, gives a positive statement of legitimacy and sanction to behavior which Scripture describes as an abomination (Lev 18.22), and which St. Paul describes as keeping one from the Kingdom of God apart from repentance (I Cor. 6.9-10; I Tim. 1.9-10).  This is extremely important to note.  This is not legislation outlawing homosexual acts, or even outlawing homosexual marriage which has never been legally recognized.  It simply reiterates and attempts to strengthen the current practice of the state, which is to only sanction marriage between one man and one woman.  It seems patently understandable that Christians would not want the government to give to a behavior that the Bible says is wrong, and thus ultimately destructive to human flourishing, a status which would encourage it and provide financial and social incentives to pursue it. 

Finally, the third issue, the ethical one, has to do with charity and what we assume about other Christians.  For instance, the friend that Evans cites sets the tone by referring to evangelicals as harboring anti-gay sentiments.  On the one hand, if she simply means believing that homosexual behavior and lifestyles are sinful, then I guess the label fits, but then that has been the position of the church for 2,000 years.  But the connotation is clear, and it suggests that evangelicals actually have a bigoted disdain for homosexuals.  This is evident in the embarrassment that Evans’ friend feels, and with which Evans sympathizes, at being associated with evangelicals.  But is there not a lack of charity here?  Should we not feel a certain loyalty to our brothers and sisters that means that we assume that they are seeking to be obedient to Scripture and yet loving of others unless we see specific evidence otherwise?  On what grounds is it legitimate to assume the worst about those who push for legislative action?  On what basis would you assume that they are doing so out of anti-gay sentiment rather than out of a desire to avoid institutionalizing sin?  You may disagree with the method, but that’s no excuse for assuming the worst about a group of people whose very self-identification as evangelicals tells you that they want to be associated with fidelity to Scripture and the God of Scripture. 

Moreover, as to the student’s point about homosexuals “never [being] welcome in the church, ” are we really at a place where we can’t abide the idea that perhaps one should feel a sense of unwelcome in the Church if one is unwilling to repent? The Church is the bride of Christ. It is a place to receive grace, but grace goes hand in hand with repentance (Acts 2.37-38). What makes homosexuality unique, as it manifests itself in contemporary culture and in these debates, is not that it is a sin. Indeed, sinners are welcomed into the Church, where they can repent and find forgiveness. Rather, the homosexuality that is at issue in these debates is often a lifestyle and an identity, and what is being asked by its proponents is that it be accepted. Alcoholics are welcomed into the Church, but they are called to repent of alcoholism.  Liars are welcomed into the Church, but they are called to repent and stop lying.  And this is not to say that we ask people to shape up before they come in, or that the Church demands perfection.  We all come in to the Church as sinners in need of grace.  And we all continue to need grace throughout our lives in the Church.  But it is true that when we come in, Christ through his Bride bids us repent.  And if we are unwilling to do so, or are unwilling to accept that we even need to repent, then it is true: we will not feel welcome.  We will be constantly confronted with the cognitive dissonance of the fact that what we are embracing is what this Body is calling us to turn from.  So yes, those who engage in homosexual behavior are welcomed into the Church, but they are called to repent of sexual immorality.  The call to repent does not equal a closed door, else no one would be a member of the church. The call to repent is universal. All who enter must repent.

When Tennessee added an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage (even though it was already illegal in the state), members of my church at the time put signs in the yard declaring support for the initiative. From my perspective, the message this sent to the entire community was simple: EVERYONE BUT GAYS WELCOME.

Dan and I left the church soon afterwards.

I think I addressed this above. Would supporting a law against any other action that Scripture calls sin (murder, pedophilia, theft, etc.) be to say: EVERYONE BUT _____ WELCOME? Of course not. It would be to say that the Church is a place that calls for the repentance of sin, and thus opposes civil sanctioning of said sin. It is an act of love to oppose the sanctioning of violations of God’s law. This is not to say that all sins must be outlawed, but we are not here talking about providing penal judgment for sin. We are talking about not sanctioning it, or putting a civil imprimatur on it as a society. Obviously we cannot outlaw lying or lust, but we can refuse to recognize lies as truth or lust as marriage at a civil level.

Which brings me to North Carolina and Amendment One.

Despite the fact that the North Carolina law already holds that marriage in the eyes of state is only between a man and a woman, an amendment was put on the ballot to permanently ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution. The initiative doesn’t appear to change anything on a practical level, (though some are saying it may have unintended negative consequences on heterosexual relationships), but seems to serve primarily as an ideological statement

....an expensive, destructive, and impractical ideological statement.

Conservatives in the state—who you would think would be more opposed to tampering with constitutions—supported the amendment, and last night it passed. Religious leaders led the charge in support of the amendment, with 93-year-old Billy Graham taking out multiple ads in publications across the state supporting the measure. 

As I watched my Facebook and Twitter feeds last night, the reaction among my friends fell into an imperfect but highly predictable pattern. Christians over 40 were celebrating. Christians under 40 were mourning. Reading through the comments, the same thought kept returning to my mind as occurred to me when I first saw that Billy Graham ad: You’re losing us.

What does she mean? Will she leave the Church over this, the Bride of Christ outside of which there is ordinarily no hope of salvation? Why? Is she so sure that her generation has it all figured out? Is she so sure that the millennia of generations of Christians who have read Scripture to absolutely forbid the acceptance of homosexual behavior, seen it as a sin, and thus never dreamed of giving it sanctioned status under the law, were utterly wrong and that she is willing to leave over it?

It seems to me that in addition to the political and ethical problems addressed above, these kinds of statements make up the other core of what I find so distasteful about this article, and indeed much of what is coming from the younger evangelicals. There is a pervasive sense that the perspective of the young is to be privileged, heeded, and given deference.  On what grounds does anyone think it Biblically defensible for the young to sit in judgment over their elders, living and dead, and presume to offer such ultimatums as “You’re losing us”?  Why would you not assume it more likely that your generation is young and immature and more than likely blinded by certain contemporary cultural norms and biases that you have not lived long enough or thought critically enough to recognize?  Why would you assume that everyone before you has gotten it wrong?  Why would you not defer to the wisdom of the ages, and seek to sit patiently under the teaching of elder, wiser, Christians before asserting your own perspective and throwing down the gauntlet?  Scripture is very clear on these issues.  Deference always goes to our elders, and that means to history as well.  Reformation and rethinking happen, but not because young people insist on asserting their perspective and threaten what by all appearances is abandonment of the Bride. (But hey, maybe not, this is America, so we can just pick another or start our own).

Ultimatums do not suite the young.

I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again...(though I’m starting to think that no one is listening):

My generation is tired of the culture wars.

Abraham Kuyper would weep over such a statement. Granted, the military imagery can go too far, but the church militant is an important and historically significant perspective.

We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for.

I’m glad William Wilberforce wasn’t so easily tired.

And when it comes to homosexuality, we no longer think in the black-at-white categories of the generations before ours. We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen. And Amendment One hurts like hell.

Perhaps this is right, and perhaps those who have gone before have just been too dim and cruel and narrow-minded to notice. But perhaps, just perhaps, this represents just a hint of elitism. Or was St. Paul just too wrapped up in black and white thinking? (1 Cor 6.9-10, 1 Tim. 1.10).

Regardless of whether you identify most with Side A or Side B, (or with one of the many variations within those two broad categories), it should be clear that amendments like these needlessly offend gays and lesbians, damage the reputation of Christians, and further alienate young adults—both Christians and non-Christian—from the Church.

But the problem is, it is not clear.  Again, this privileging of one’s perspective, even at the expense of the good name of other Christians, is inappropriate.  Good Christians, thoughtful Christians, sincere and humble Christians not motivated by bigotry, disagree on the issue.  If you are against state level marriage amendments, it's alright to say so, but you should not be implicating your Christian brethren with bigotry, anti-gay sentiments, or any other ugly accusation just because they happen to think there is value in such amendments (or in other political actions we might discuss).  What you believe to be a “needless offense” others see as a worthwhile and even necessary political act.

So my question for those evangelicals leading the charge in the culture wars is this: Is it worth it?

Is a political “victory” really worth losing millions more young people to cynicism regarding the Church?

The proper question is: is it worth leaving the bride of Christ and the hope of salvation because at a young age you disagree with something the Church has always taught and in some instances is seeking to promote in society via civil legislation?

Is a political “victory” worth further alienating people who identify as LGBT?

Is a political “victory” worth perpetuating the idea that evangelical Christians are at war with gays and lesbians?

And is a political “victory” worth drowning out that quiet but persistent internal voice that asks—what if we get this wrong?

Too many Christian leaders seem to think the answer to that question is “yes,” and it's costing them.

Here it seems that perhaps Evans is shifting from the general questions about faith and politics and “culture wars” to the specifics of the marriage amendment issue.  Is this particular issue the hill on which to die?  Is this the most effective way for Christians to fight for more Christian and biblically informed social structures and institutions under which humans can thrive?  I don’t know.  I kind of doubt it.  But on the other hand, it might be a necessary stop-gap measure to prevent our political leaders from doing one more foolish and wrath-incurring thing (in the vein of legalized abortion, etc.) by officially giving civil sanction to sexually immoral relationships.  Again, while Christians can differ on the wisdom of this particular means of “fighting the culture wars,” the culture wars will always have to be fought if we believe that Jesus wants our faith and our redemption to have an effect on the world around us.  And there is no justification for assuming that it is bigotry, callousness, or any other un-Christian attitude that motivates Christians who disagree with you on the particulars.

Make no mistake: as I said before, the civil government exists to promote a vision of justice. It will either serve a Biblical vision of justice or some other vision. As Christians, how can we hope for anything less than a civil government that promotes a vision of justice that is Christian and thus oriented toward human flourishing? Part of such justice means not calling good evil, or evil good. To recognize and sanction two people living in a sinful sexual relationship as married would be to call evil good, and the prophets have strong words for such sophistry.

Because young Christians are ready for peace.

This is tough to know how to respond to.  On the one hand, the Church is called to be at peace with one another as Christians, and articles like this seem to me to promote division, not peace.  Disregarding and making uncharitable judgments about your elders in the Church is not peaceable behavior. 

But on the other hand, if the call is to peace with those outside the Church, then things get even more complicated.  In a way I sympathize.  I have little patience for those who use Christianity as a pretense for being arrogant and spiteful, the television and radio personalities who use the faith like a cruel weapon.  But on the other hand, the antithesis stands, and while we pursue the spread of the gospel by loving engagement and the proclamation of good news, we also stand against sin and oppression and the destruction of the image of God in our midst.  So simply being ready for peace is not enough.  Christ has called us to be willing to fight for peace and to sacrifice our comfort and our individual peace to bring about the lasting peace of redemption of both individual sinners and the world we inhabit.

We are ready to lay down our arms.

We are ready to start washing feet instead of waging war.

Scripture calls us to both ( John 13.14, 1 Tim. 6.12, Ephesians 6.10-17, James 4.4, etc.). We may not choose one over the other.

And if we cannot find that sort of peace within the Church, I fear we will look for it elsewhere.

I can only say that I plead with Christians not to be so arrogant as to think that they are too good for the Church God has chosen and is redeeming for Himself.  She is your Mother, and if God loves her, so should you.

A final thought: Let’s be honest here: it may seem plausible to be 'above it all' and to always search for the tertium quid, the third way. And often this is right.  But we are at an impasse.  Scripture speaks clearly on homosexual behavior, and it is not nearly so delicate as many of us seem to think necessary.  On the other hand, Scripture also speaks with the utmost eloquence of the grace and peace and joy offered to those who will repent and trust Jesus to help them become the kind of humans he made them to be.  We do no favors to our homosexual friends by softening Scripture's rebuke, any more than we would do a favor to a friend who committed adultery by hushing it up.  The fact is that sin kills. It destroys.  It debases humans.  So if we love our brothers and sisters, we should speak straightforwardly on this issue.  We can be kind, we can be winsome, but we cannot be cowardly.  It is not love to hide behind modern notions of tolerance to avoid pain.  And it is certainly not love to insist that any time other Christians speak to questions about homosexuality (whether via legislation regarding sanctioning homosexual unions or otherwise) that they are acting out of bigotry or self-interest.

 
 
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So I’m having some fun with Alicia’s Mother’s Day dinner. Here’s the plan.


Appetizer: Cheese plate of Brie and Gorgonzola served with various types of pears, dehydrated cranberries, walnuts, almonds, kalamata olives, and tomato slices. Triscuits serve as the delivery mechanism. (Those new dill, sea salt, and olive oil ones are highly addictive.)

Fruit Salad: Nothing fancy, just threw together some mango, raspberries, blackberries, and bananas, and topped with a little lime juice to reduce oxidation.

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Side: I haven’t decided whether I’m going to roast or steam/boil, but I’m going to make some asparagus (a favorite in our house), but this time I’m going to top it with salt and a hollandaise sauce. I’m borrowing the sauce recipe from here

Entre: Chicken breasts stuffed with a cream cheese, green onion, garlic, and red bell pepper mixture, then wrapped in bacon and baked. I’m pretty excited about the use of bacon.

LibationsFlirt California red wine, 2009--we cheated and started on this one last night, and Belleruche Cotes du Rhone, 2009.

 
 
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Obama said in an interview:

“You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and, frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”



So, rather than training up his children in the way they should go his ethical evolution is following the course of the natural ignorance and immaturity of small children.  Lack of ethical awareness is no vice in children, they must be taught.  It probably wouldn't occur to his daughters to share or eat vegetables either if someone didn't teach them.  Should that lead to some profound conversion to selfishness and a junk food diet?  This kind of abdication of moral responsibility is scary enough when we see it among the masses, but to have a man attempting to lead a nation who doesn't even know what it means to lead and teach his children moral standards is disastrous.  And the fact that so many will see this statement as sage wisdom bodes poorly for our future as a culture. 

 
 
This is the second in what I hope to be a series of reflections on 1 John.  I don't intend this to be a technical or exhaustive commentary, but rather a series of short meditations working through the book.  My experience has been that it is a hard book to work through, especially for those who spend most of their NT time in the Paulines, and that many of the study Bible notes and Bible studies dedicated to it focus on technical questions, apologetic points, and/or alleviating the pressure that some of John's starker claims put on our sense of theological precision.  My goal here is to avoid those tendencies, not because it is wrong to ask technical questions, note the apologetic force of John's claims, or ponder over the theological coherence of various NT perspectives, but simply because it seems that above all else what John's letter calls for is theological meditation.  This is not first and foremost a dogmatic, or even a polemical work, but a theological one which calls for us to note its symphonic dimensions (stating a theme and then drawing back only to develop it further or differently later on, HT: ESV Study Bible Notes), its use of metaphor and symbol, and it's ethical challenge.  Theology is always necessarily ethical.

[5] This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. [6] If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. [7] But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. [8] If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [9] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [10] If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  (1 John 1:5-10 ESV)
What we saw in verses 1-4 is that St. John is very interested in speaking to his hearers/readers about the life-- the Word of Life, eternal life. But as we saw, the life itself that he refers to is embodied in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Word of Life and the wellspring of eternal life. Indeed, the life was "made manifest" and was "seen and touched" by John and the apostles in the person of Jesus Christ (v. 2).

Now, going a step further John tells us what it is that this Word of Life made manifest has spoken and has given them to proclaim. For the one who is to have fellowship with God and with those who have been brought into the divine life of the Trinity, those who have seen and touched the life incarnate, namely Jesus, must hear the message that this incarnate Word of life proclaims and live by it. That is, they must live the life that they receive. And what is that message?

Here we must recognize that John is not going to scratch our modern itch for simple, 'straightforward' answers. He has not spoken metaphorically in order to pique our interest so that now he can give us the straight dope. Rather, John speaks in the language of Scripture (which is the language of symbol) to a greater degree than perhaps any other New Testament author. And so the message that he speaks of is yet again a picture. Jesus has been pictured as a Word and as Life itself, indeed as the Word of Life, and now the message of this one who is the Word of Life comes to us: God is light, and in him is no darkness at all! The Word made visible speaks a visible word.

But this is no cryptic puzzle. This is not a Delphic oracle (a mysterious saying from one of the hidden ‘gods’ of the ancients). In this case, a picture truly is worth a thousand words. Indeed how could John have said this apart from using such pictorial language? God is light!

This brings us back to the Word of Life made manifest. Jesus Christ is the Word and the Life and having been made manifest to John and the holy apostles he is made manifest to us (by this proclamation) as we are brought into his life, because his life is light. It is by his life, which we share in if we have fellowship with Him and His Father and His children, that we see, because his life is light. Notice how these images swirl back upon themselves. The Word of Life (Jesus Christ) was manifested because the Word of Life is the Word and Life of God, and the Word and the Life are visible precisely because God is light.

Thus to have fellowship with God is to walk in the light; that is, to see clearly and to see things as they are, illuminated by the life of God and his Word with which we have fellowship. Perhaps that is why later John will tell us that we “have no need that anyone should teach [us]” (2.27)

But there is a flip-side to this good news. Namely that if we walk in darkness, if we walk as those who do not see, or who turn their eyes away from the light of God’s good will and walk in darkness, it is only through lies and deception that we claim fellowship with him. At this point it is important for us to remember one of the chief burdens of John’s letter. He is writing to give assurance to believers that they are, in fact, children of God (1.12-14, 3.1-3, etc.). Indeed, we see in the next few verses that John is quick to remind us of the forgiveness that we have when we sin. Thus, his point is not that if we dabble in darkness we do not have fellowship with God; for indeed we all do dabble, but “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (v. 7b). In fact, John will tell us almost immediately that if we deny that we have sin, that is if we deny dabbling in darkness at times, we are deceiving ourselves.  This is no contradiction, and in fact it is a tension that we will need to hang on to in order to navigate the rest of John’s letter. 

 Further, if we are well schooled in our Old Testament we will not be surprised by such a distinction. In the law (contrary to some popular modern reformed authors) there are many provisions for dealing with ‘sins of wandering,’ or what is sometimes translated ‘accidental’ or ‘inadvertent’ sin. However, it is clear that these are not just sins done by mistake, but sins done apart from high-handed rebellion. These are the sins committed by all faithful Christians in the course of life which the blood of Christ covers. However, to walk in darkness, and thus give the lie to one’s fellowship with God, is akin to sinning with a high hand in the language of the Law, for which there was no forgiveness, and for which one was cut off from one's people (i.e. excommunicated). It is the sin of one in rebellion against God; it is sin that does not seek forgiveness.  Indeed the one who commits it lies and says it is no sin, or worse, that he has no sin at all. To put it simply, John’s warning, just as the Old Covenant Law’s is against apostasy, or false faith. If one claims to trust in God but has no repentance he lies: to God, to others, and perhaps even to himself if he persist such that he hardens his heart. That is what it is to walk in darkness while claiming to be in the light. On the other hand, if we walk in the light of faith and repentance “we have fellowship with one another, and rthe blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (v. 7b).

So walk in the light!

 
 
Below I've cited a number of verses, which are not cherry picked after much searching, but simply came out of my devotional reading today.  Granted, I don't always read an entire epistle (I don't always read anything!), but tonight I did as well as a few other things.  As I was reading I just started noting verses that stood out in light of a lot of the recent back and forth over grace, sanctification, the role of good works, etc.  And I couldn't help but be struck by how far our discussions have moved from Biblical language.  I dare say that many of the statements posted below would be sent up on reformed blogs in record time if they were spoken or written by a PCA/OPC pastor rather than being the words of Asaph or St. John.  This is a problem.  If we so fear the specter of "works righteousness" that we recoil at the thought that we can please God by keeping his commandments (1 John 3.22), or that a condidtional if can be placed before statements of God's blessing (1 John 4.12), both notions I've seen lambasted by contemporary reformed writers, we have swung the pendulum too far.  God is our Father, as John is at pains to make clear, and just as a good earthly Father is gracious and forgiving, yet pleased by the intentional obedience of his children and willing to chastise disobedience (indeed to prevent complete dissolution of the familial relationship if rebellion is allowed to go unchecked), so our heavenly Father accepts and even demands our obedience as his godly (i.e. following in his footsteps) children.

“Mark this, then, you who forget God,
  lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
  to one who orders his way rightly
  I will show the salvation of God!
”(Psalm 50:22-23 ESV)

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.(1 John 2:3-6 ESV)

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.(1 John 2:29 ESV)

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.(1 John 3:7-11 ESV)

...and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.(1 John 3:22 ESV)

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.(1 John 3:15 ESV)

...if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12b ESV)

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.(1 John 5:3 ESV)
 
 
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

-The First Epistle of St. John, chapter 3 verses 16-18
 
 
This is the first in what I hope to be a series of reflections on 1 John.  I don't intend this to be a technical or exhaustive commentary, but rather a series of short meditations working through the book.  My experience has been that it is a hard book to work through, especially for those who spend most of their NT time in the Paulines, and that many of the study Bible notes and Bible studies dedicated to it focus on technical questions, apologetic points, and/or alleviating the pressure that some of John's starker claims put on our sense of theological precision.  My goal here is to avoid those tendencies, not because it is wrong to ask technical questions, note the apologetic force of John's claims, or ponder over the theological coherence of various NT perspectives, but simply because it seems that above all else what John's letter calls for is theological meditation.  This is not first and foremost a dogmatic, or even a polemical work, but a theological one which calls for us to note its symphonic dimensions (stating a theme and then drawing back only to develop it further or differently later on, HT: ESV Study Bible Notes), its use of metaphor and symbol, and it's ethical challenge.  Theology is always necessarily ethical.

[1:1] That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—[2] the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—[3] that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. [4] And we are writing these things so that our (or your) joy may be complete.  (1 John 1:1-4 ESV) 

In this opening paragraph St. John clues us in to several key themes of his epistle, but the special burden seems to be that of life.  And at this early point it is wise to consider what it is that John has in mind when he speaks of life, and particularly eternal life, as he will a number of times throughout his letter.  His first reference is to the Word of Life, which is a clue.  Jesus Christ is himself the eternal Word who came offering life (John 1.1), and life abundantly.  Immediately in verse 2 we are told that the Life was made manifest, confirming our suspicion that the Life/Word of Life referred to is in fact Jesus himself and the life that spills out of him like living water. It is Jesus and his overflow of life (in contrast to the spreading death that has been with us since the fall) that John and his compatriots have heard, seen and touched.  

But this leads us to the more specific issue of "eternal life," (v. 2b) a term which will turn up numerous times in John's epistle.  It deserves some reflection at the outset.  My guess, based on my own experience, is that most Christians tend to kind of read over this quickly assuming that it basically refers to something like living forever with God after we die.  However, I think we need to slow down a little and consider what John may have meant.  In the first place there is the general problem with the common conception of salvation in evangelical circles which tends to say something like this: when we die we go up to heaven and take on an ethereal life of disembodied worship of God for eternity.  Suffice it to say that while there is no time to refute such a view here, that is not a Biblical picture.  Eternal life is embodied life, resurrected life after the pattern of our savior and elder brother, Jesus Christ who was raised bodily and ascended into heaven bodily, and sits at the right hand of the Father bodily to this day and forevermore.  (There is a man in heaven.)  But I believe there is an even more specific nuance here.  As John uses and develops the notion of eternal life it seems to me that he is hinting at quality as much or more than he is at quantity; that is, his point is as much about the inheritance of a fulness of life as it is about unending life simpliciter.  And this is very much within the lexical/semantic range of the word we typically render 'eternal' in English.  

I don't want to be too pedantic here, but what I am suggesting is that John's primary point when he talks about eternal life is that as the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, came into the world he brought with him the very life of God, the life of the Trinity, which is itself eternal; that is, both everlasting in a temporal sense, and full and complete in a qualitative sense.  It is this full and rich and abiding life that John and his fellow apostles have experienced right here in this embodied life (heard, seen, and touched) and that they now proclaim, and in doing so share with their hearers.  And the motive for such proclamation is to bring his readers/hearers in.  By having experienced this fullness of life, the very life of God manifested in the incarnate Son, John and his co-laborers have been taken up into the life of the Triune God and indeed function as extensions of that life.  Thus, to bring others into fellowship with themselves is to bring those same into the divine life of the Trinity.  (Wonder of wonders this is true for us too, and ought to serve as a prime motivator for evangelism: we are united to Christ and thus bound up in the wellspring of life, the life of God, and as we share the gospel we invite other into that very life.)

It is this conviction: that because of our acceptance and love for the living, loving, incarnate Son of God we are bound up in the everlasting life and love of the Holy Trinity, that I think shapes the whole of St. John's first epistle.