Friday, March 31, 2006

And His Name Shall Be Called...

My mom told me she'd know the name of my son was official when she saw it posted on my blog. Since Dawn and I have been calling him by name for the last few weeks, I think it's official. His name is Noah John Mihelis. We both like the sound of Noah, not to mention the biblical significance (minus the part of him getting drunk and... well you know). John, as you may have imagined, is primarily honoring John Piper who has impacted me through his writings and shaped my view of God more than any other individual in the world. I say primarily, because it was also intentional sensus plenior - John also honors John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards (who influenced Piper), John Murray, Owen, Bunyan, Flavel, of course the Apostle and every other John who was a great calvinist :-) Our prayer (and we hope that you will join us) is that our Noah too, will find grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Peccable or Impeccable: What do you think?

It's been a few days since I've blogged (posted or read). We're in the midst of Missions Conference and I'm running point for our pastoral staff here. Therefore, it's been absorbing most of my time. However, here's the my latest heresy from Senior Sem:

1. Peccability/Impeccability – It is necessary to clearly articulate that the discussion here revolves around Jesus ability to sin and not whether or not He actually sinned. All orthodox theologians maintain that Jesus never sinned - see 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Hebrews 4:15 cited above. The argument I have most frequently heard advanced is in favor of impeccability and normally proceeds along the following syllogistic lines: 1) Jesus is God 2) God cannot sin 3) Therefore, Jesus could not have sinned. Premise one is indisputable for all orthodox theologians. Premise two is as well, and is typically connected to James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” However, the problem with making such a connection is that this verse does not say that God is impeccable; it says that He can’t be tempted. If anything, this text only complicates matters, for Jesus clearly was tempted (cf. Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.) Besides this, this still fails to address the issue; for everyone agrees He was tempted, the question at hand is: Could He have yielded to the temptation (sinned)? While I am clearly in agreement with the second premise above (God cannot [is not able] to sin), I maintain that premise three is non-sequitar. There are multiple instances in which Jesus [by means of His human nature] did things that we would say God could not do. For example: Does God hunger? Does God thirst? Does God sleep? Is God able to die? We would answer no to all of these questions. However, they are all true of Christ. Jesus did hunger, thirst, sleep and die. So can God sin? NO! Could Jesus have? I am inclined to say “yes.” For me the issue hinges on Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” I fail to see how the logic of this verse can be maintained if Jesus was metaphysically unable to sin. To be sure, all things are determined by means of the eternal decree of God. Therefore, there is a sense in which I would agree Jesus couldn’t have sinned; namely, God decreed the plan of redemption. This plan could not have been accomplished if Jesus sinned and thus, at this level (viewed through the lens of foreordination) I concede He couldn’t have sinned. However, the peccability/impeccability debate normally centers on moral ability; that is, did He have the potential to sin. The issue is largely related to how one understands temptation. Though I have heard arguments to the contrary I remain unconvinced that temptation is genuine apart from the ability to yield to that temptation. I admit, this is purely a logical presupposition, but it seems inherent in the concept of temptation itself. When I say that I am tempted to do something, it presupposes that I can do it. Else where does the temptation reside? For example, it would be irrational for me to say that I am tempted to time travel; for time travel only exists in sci-fi fantasy. I cannot time travel; therefore it would be irrational to say that I am tempted to. Again, I appeal to Hebrews 4:15 and query how the logic of the verse can be maintained in the absence of His ability to sin.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

What I'm Reading: Justification: What's at Stake in the Current Debates

If there's one doctrine I can't get enough of, it's the doctrine of Justification. I love reading about it, I love (in Bridges' words) employing it to "preach the gospel to myself" and I am especially interested in keeping up with the current debates regarding what Justification is and how it takes place. Therefore, for Soteriology last week, I decided to read some of the material in Husbands and Treier's work. In reading through Carson's excellent essay The Vindication of Imputation: On Fields of Discourse and Semantic Fields (A carsonesque title if ever there was one -- absolutely obfuscating to the uninitiated, but tipping his hand to the rest. Oh, and don't miss the play on words with "vindication" - remember the topic here is justification), I came across an excellent statement on the nature of sin I thought I'd pass on:

"First, Paul does not think of sin and evil primarily in legal terms. The origin of evil is bound up with rebellion, with idolatry, with the de-godding of God (cf. Rom 1:18-3:20). What draws down God's wrath, above all things, is the obscenity of competition--for there is no other God."

D.A. Carson in Justification: What's at Stake in the Current Debates
p. 71 (Italics his, bold mine).

Describing sin as the "obscenity of competition" is an excellent summary of Paul's thrust in the latter half of Romans 1 and is powerful language for challenging both the body and our pomo world today.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Imago Dei

Well, it's about a week late, but here it is. One additional sentence of clarification that might prove helpful: One of the benefits (inmho) of this view is that it accounts for all of the others (hey, it works in textual criticism). In other words, I argue that the other views have an element of truth, but they are ultimately insufficient. This view accounts for all the others, but supercedes them in it's comprehensiveness.

1. The Imago Dei. While most theologians are in complete agreement regarding the fact that man is created in God’s image, there is far less agreement regarding exactly what that means. While the scriptures have a good deal to say about the topic, they do not give an explicit or exhaustive definition for what is meant by such a phrase. Some suggestions include:

1) The Image of God as Physical Resemblance – This is held by the Mormons

2) The Image of God as a Relational Being – Karl Barth’s view

3) The Image of God as Dominion – Genesis 1:26 “fill the earth, and subdue it and rule over…”

4) The Image of God as Personhood – God and Man both have a soul, moral judgment, personality, a spirit, etc. Animals don’t have these things.

Most of these views are fine (except #1), and they may be true to some extent. However, I would argue they are all insufficient in some sense. The best view I have come across for accounting for what constitutes the image of God is that man is God’s Physical Representative here on earth. In the Ancient Near East, rulers would often erect a statue in their image or appoint a prince to rule a region. This was so that when they were physically absent, the inhabitants of that region would have a physical reminder of the ruler. This symbol of their authority was referred to as an “Image” (Heb. Tselem). Sinclair Ferguson further clarifies:

The image expressed the presence of an absent Lord in the sphere of his own dominion [or kingdom]. In that contest the ‘image’ was to his context what the ‘god’ was to the entire sphere of his lordship. This suggests that it is man as man (not some element in his constitution) which constitutes the divine image.[1]

Therefore, man as the image of God, serves as God’s divine marker in the universe. Though God is a Spirit, man is his physical representative here in the universe declaring to the whole universe that the Creator exists. This accounts well for the fact that Jesus is said to be the ULTIMATE image of God. Colossians 1:15 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. Hebrews 1:1-3 “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Though the image of God in us has been marred because of sin, we are being renewed into the image of Christ (see 2 Corinthians 3:18 and Romans 8:28-30), that is, the express image of God. This is why it is such a serious thing to commit murder. Imagine that while an Ancient Near Eastern ruler was away, some of his subjects destroyed the statue of his image. How would he respond? How much more serious is it to destroy the image of the Creator of the Universe?

[1] Cited by Mike Windsor, Systematic 402 Class Syllabus, pg. 84, CBTS.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Beating the Machine

No, not the polygraph. Even better. Are you sick calling a comany (visa, office depot, etc) only to get phone recordings with endless combinations of number prompts that keep you on the phone for endless minutes before you finally speak to a human being? Somebody with entirely too much time on their hands composed a list of the combination of numbers you need to punch in for various companies in order to get directly to a human being. Now the likelyhood of getting decent customer service these days without talking to a manager is low, but talking to a human sure beats listening to recorded prompts (most of the time). You may not need this list now, but it's probably worth saving it under your favorites for when you do need it. Check it out here.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Christ, Christians, and Culture

As I've surfed around my buddies blogs this week, I notice that I'm not the only one delinquent in posting recently. It's nice to know I'm not the only one who's been swamped this week.

Here's some more overflow from Senionr Sem. Our topic this week was Anthropology and I thought I'd begin a conversation on Culture (mostly to sharpen my own thinking). So, once again, I have an excurses. I'd love your thoughts and I warn you ahead of time, mine still need some clearing up.

COMING SOON - the hot topic today was not culture, but rather the Imago Dei (did I spell that right?). I'm curious to hear some additional thoughts on what some of you think. I'll probably post my position tomorrow afternoon or Saturday. Though I thought I was advancing the view of Hoekema and Bavinck, it appears several of us may have accidently formulated a modification of it.

PS one more thing - I'd still like to continue the talk on Breaking fellowship. I'm planning on following up on my Italian Friend's comment (i.e. "Ciao Babe"), but I'm surprised no one else has yet. Check out his comments if you haven't read them yet.

XXVI. Excurses on Culture

1. Introduction. Similar to my excurses on breaking fellowship, this material is exploratory in nature. I have long been fascinated by the consideration of how Christ and Christians relate to Culture, but have never put any thoughts on paper. Therefore, this is not my final word on Culture, but rather a first step.

2. Niebuhr’s Definition and Distinctions. Though the existence of culture is an almost universally recognized reality, it is nonetheless difficult to define. The word culture does not appear in the scriptures, but the Bible is far from silent on the matter. Therefore, in order to evaluate any theological paradigm on the basis of Scripture, one must first articulate a paradigm. Richard Niebuhr’s work Christ and Culture[1] has proved to be one of the most influential books on the topic written from a “Christian” perspective and has in many ways shaped the parameters of the discussion in recent decades. He identifies the following elements with the concept of culture:

· It is social – It’s bound up with man’s life in society.

· It is human achievement – It can be distinguished from nature by observing the evidences of human “purposiveness” and effort.

· It is comprised of values – That for which effort is expended and is done with a purpose is likely designed to serve a perceived good.

· It is concerned with the temporal and material realization of these values.

· It is concerned with the conservation or preservation of such values – since the material and temporal perish, much energy is expended to preserve what is made and accomplished.

· It is pluralistic – Not in the relativistic sense, but rather the values that a culture seeks to realize at any given time are many in number.

Some of the wording above is paraphrased; much of it is Niebuhr’s own wording. See pages 29-44. Though this description is not exhaustive, I do not find anything to object to and therefore deem it a good starting point. Perhaps more familiar is his five-fold list of typical responses to culture:

· Opposition between Christ and Culture

· Agreement between Christ and Culture

· Christ above Culture

· Christ and Culture in Paradox

· Christ the Transformer of Culture

The first two are obviously polar opposites, while he argues the latter three are different attempts to reconcile the first two. Though he takes significant space to develop each of these options and identifies individuals in church history who have advanced them, there is a statement in his conclusion that is very telling:

Yet it must be evident that neither extension nor refinement of study could bring us to the conclusive result that would enable us to say, ‘This is the Christian answer.’ Reader as well as writer is doubtless tempted to essay such a conclusion; for it will have become as evident to the one as to the other that the types (his five possible responses) are by no means wholly exclusive of each other, and that there are possibilities of reconciliation at many points among the various positions.[2]

3. Conclusion. At this level, all of the observations seem satisfactory. While Niebuhr would certainly apply things differently, the structure of his paradigm is coherent. Some of his description of culture would overlap with what the New Testament writers refer to as the world (ko,smoj). The world, particularly in John, is frequently described as antagonistic to God and His agenda. Believers are instructed not to love the world - 1 John 2:15-17 15 “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever.” It is these wicked aspects of the world that the believer is to shun. However, there is also a sense in which some of Niebuhr’s description does not overlap with the “world”. There are ways in which some of these elements of culture reflect God’s creative intention and design. For example, the fact that man is social is not a product of circumstantial conditioning, but rather a reflection of the created order - Genesis 2:18 18 “Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." Likewise, in the community of the redeemed - 1 Peter 1:22 “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart.” The purification is eivj filadelfi,an. Again, values are good and important, though we would say they must be shaped by Scripture. We do desire to see the fruit of our values realized in time and we seek to preserve them through institutions (churches, seminaries, conferences, publications, etc.). However, it is imperative to recognize that Jesus RADICALLLY transforms all of these values and societies. Thus, in many ways secular culture is a parody of Christian culture. Therefore, at times we will need to oppose culture - Ephesians 5:11 “And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” At times we are to agree with our culture, in as much as it reflects common grace and the divine image. This includes things like the condemnation of wicked acts such as murder and genocide and the promotion of justice. While believers may not ever be transcendent (above) culture, without question God is (though He is also present in it) - Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, "I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” The forensic nature of justification unpacked in Romans 3-4 reflects the paradoxical nature of Christ and the Christian and culture (though this is leaning heavily on Niebuhr’s statements; I need more clarification here). Finally, as has been noted above, Christ (and His ambassadors) transform their culture -2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Though the point of this passage is that the individual is renewed, his renewal (which is brought about by Christ) bleeds over (or at least should) into his surroundings. Likewise, the church is a community of those whose culture has been radically transformed by the Gospel. However, since they are still “in the world” but not “of it” they will impact their surrounding culture. By way of conclusion: There is still more to be said and thought through; nevertheless at this point suffice it to say that Niebuhr’s paradigm is workable providing one recognizes that there is no easy answer to every question. Even the principles and conclusions outlined above are extremely general. Thus, the Christian can, should and will interact with and engage his culture one way or another. The need is for Scripture informed, Spirit led discernment.

[1] Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, (New York: Harper and Row, 1951).

[2] Ibid, 231.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts

I thought I'd post a few brief words (and links) on what the Lord's been teaching me lately. Though I already linked some info on Tim Keller, I want to redirect your attention to one of the messages on that page in particular. If you go to the link here and look at the fourth bullet point under "Messages" you'll see the link to a message entitled "All Things are Yours." I have made a habit of listening to it semi-regularly in the mornings lately as a means of grace and method of preaching the Gospel to myself (in Bridges vernacular). If you're wired at all like I am, this brief challenge will be a kick in the....pants :-), as well as be a blessing.

The second link is somewhat different. It's a sort of interview with Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus and professor of NT at UNC that appeared in the Washington Post. At best Ehrman is a self titled "agnostic," though realistically he sounds more like a blaspheming Christ-denier. What value is there in reading such an interview? It is both sad and sobering. Ehrman was "saved" in an evangelical (probably "fundy") background. He studied at Moody and Wheaton before doing a PhD (and "losing his faith") at Princeton. It is also a good idea to familiarize yourself with who he is and what he's saying, as he (and his works) appear to be pretty popular on university campuses. One of his courses at UNC bosts an enrollment of 350 plus students. Anyway, I think it's worth a read and would encourage you to check it out here. Props to Scot Mcknight at Jesus Creed where I first came across this link.

"Broken Fellowship"? Not with Jesus! TAKE TWO

Sorry, I tried to recover the original post but was not succesful. However, I am still interested in continuing the conversation. Therefore: 1) Again, I want to give props to Pat Griffiths for bringing this topic to my attention during my undergrad studies at NBBC. 2) I'm reposting my excurses which is what I am hoping to continue the dialouge on. I'm very interested on your thoughts.

XXII. EXCURSES: On Breaking Fellowship with God.

1. The Problem Articulated. Though Grudem comments on this idea, it is far more common in popular literature and preaching. The concept basically goes something like this: When an individual sins, though his legal standing is never brought into question the familial relationship is disrupted and “fellowship” with God is broken. This is a fairly common evangelical viewpoint and receives relatively broad acceptance.

2. Though I understand the sentiment of such an argument, I think it needs some significant clarification. First of all, I’m not convinced that such a strong disjunction can be made between our legal standing and our familial standing. After all, our Father is the Judge and the Judge is our Father. More disconcerting is the use of the term “fellowship”. If such language is to be used, it must be noted that one is not using the phrase “fellowship with God” the way the Scriptures do. Consider 1 John 1:3-7 What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. 5 And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. Fellowship with God here is virtually equivalent with having eternal life. Likewise, the metaphor of the vine and the branches in John 15, though using different language, communicates the same principle. One either abides in the vine or is cast into the fire (15:6). The same could be pressed with the “in Christ language.” One is either in Christ or he is not. In all of these metaphors, the breaking of fellowship, lack of abiding and not being in Christ all result in one thing: Eternal death. Thus, while fellowship can be broken with other believers, to break fellowship with God (in the biblical sense) is to not have the blood of Jesus cleansing us from our sin (1 John 1:7). To press the analogy further, when we turn our back on God, He does NOT turn His back on us. He is still wooing us back to Himself (Romans 2:4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?). If He were to turn His back on us, there would be no place for repentance, nor could we return to Him. So, though I understand what is trying to be communicated and think the idea has some biblical warrant, my point is simply to say the language is sloppy and needs to be sharpened.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Clarification: "On Broken Fellowship"

The faculty is NOT in agreement with what I defended in Senior Sem. Apparently I misunderstood their comments in class. Pastor Daniel (our seminary President) received word from someone who read the previous post and asked me to clarify. I can give more details if someone's curious, but it would be a bit lengthy to rehash all of our conversation here. The sum of the matter is that while those in class (Dr. Mike and DKD) agreed with my exegesis of 1 John 1, they did not agree with the extent of my conclusions and how they impact other passsages. I still stand by my conclusions (though as I mentioned I need to think them through further), but the clarification is that I misunderstood the profs in class. They do NOT agree with my conclusions. I tried to modify the original post and I think I may have accidently deleted the whole thing in the process. It is NOT censorship, just technological incompetence on my part. I'll see if I can salvage it.

Monday, March 06, 2006

It's a BOY!!!

We're having a manchild! I thought about posting a picture to prove it, but thought better of broadcasting my son's "equipment" across the Internet :-) Our tentative due date is Aug 6th. Here's a more modest pic: Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 02, 2006

More On Bultmann

As promised I thought I'd pass on a few more thoughts on Bultmann particularly as it pertains to Harmartiology. Please do not understand the following endorsements as promoting neo-orthodoxy (of course you have to have the disclaimer). However, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by some of what I read. Harmartiology is one of the few areas in which I feel like I have a decent grasp on much of the data. Therefore, rather than rereading some of the foundational material, I decided to branch out (pioneer into new territory, if you will) and read some neo-orthodox and liberal theologians. However, though I may strongly disagree with Bultmann in many areas, his treatment of sarx and sinfulness is not one of them. Sure, there are fine points over which we can always quibble, but much of what I read, I read with profit. First of all, his treatment of the semantic range of sarx is an excellent example of philology at it's best. And for those of you who know me well enough to know my thoughts on wordstudies (think of the baby and the bathwater) that's quite a concession. Furthermore, his section on sinfulness actually had a number of quotable quotes. For the sake of space and time, I'll provide only one example. The context of what he is discussing is the nature of fleshly living. He has been arguing that such living is often equated with immorality and wickedness; however he also groups moralism in this same category (i.e. fleshly living):

"Whether, then, it is a matter of giving one's self up to worldly enticements and pleasures, either in frivolitty or swept along by the storm of passion, or whether it is the zealous bustle of moral and religious activity that is iinvolved--life in all of these cases is apostasy from God--a turning away from Him to the creation and to one's own strength, and is, therefore, enmity toward God (Rom. 8:6) and disobedience to the will of God (Rom. 8:7; 10:3; II Cor. 10:5). All human wisdom, power, and greatness must come to naught in the presence of God (I Cor. 1:26-31)."

- Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the NT: Vol 1, p. 241

Way to go Rudy! Not bad for a pagan :-o

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Props to Bruno who beat me to the punch on ETC. I guess I should read all of my buddies blogs before posting :-)

Stuff on Textual Criticism

This is going to be brief. I have to finish my senior sem paper on harmartiology for tomorrow, but I haven't posted anything in a few days. Solution: link to a sweet blog that HAS a substantive post. If you're interested in textual criticism and you're not already frequenting the blog listed at the left (Evangelical Textual Criticism) you need to start such frequenting. On the other hand if you're like me and don't know squat about textual criticism, you may still be interested in this post on ineranncy and textual criticism. The original post is interesting, but don't miss the comment section; there is some lengthy dialogue. Tomorrow: More on Bultmann...specifically as it relates to harmartiology (surprise, surprise).