Friday, May 26, 2006

Back to John 15...Finally!

Back in March, I posted a comment regarding "broken fellowship" the essence of which was arguing that it is an unbiblical way to describe our relationship to God when we sin. If your interested in why, or what in the world I'm talking about, I'd encourage you to look in the archives under March (there's not that many posts for that month).

However, in the course of the post I was arguing that the Johannine usage of koinonia is virtually equivalent with 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. While this is all fine and good, someone raised an interesting question in the comments that I was anticipating others to comment on and planning on addressing myself. There were no takers, however, and one thing led to another and I never got around to addressing it. However, since at least one genteel reader has been eagerly anticipating the response (okay, "genteel" and "eagerly" might both be overstatments), I thought I would take a moment or two and share my thoughts. First, let me reproduce his comment verbatim:

Because 'fellowship with God' is 'virtually equivalent with having eternal life' and John 15 'communicates the same principle' and this is tantamount to 'in Christ'- I can safely say [read: look out for my bus!] that I have never seen such a tight (rather, 'virtually equivalent') argument for believers losing their eternal life.

I missed where John 15 is a discussion of the other vines and their fruitless branches all up and in the True Vine - the branches that were never 'in Christ' for the mere fact that they get burned? But then again, verse 2 sounds like those bound to be burned branches were indeed 'in Christ' v.2, no? Well, as you say, you're either 'in Christ' or you're not - and if you use to be ... your bad,

Ciao babe

It's an excellent observation, and I'm a bit surprised I'd never heard such an objection before. I thought it might be helpful to reproduce the text here as well:

John 15:1-6 "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. 3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

Since this post is already getting lengthy and I haven't said much yet, I'll cut to the chase. I think this is simply pushing the imagery too far. I admit, that's a rather anticlimactic resolution, and I'm certainly open to other input from any takers, but I think it's missing the point. The point of the imagery that Jesus is using is the nature of the relationship that He has with His genuine followers. As a branch draws sustenance and life from the vine, even so believers draw their life and sustenance from Jesus. Likewise, just as dead branches do not draw sustenance from the vine (even though they may still be attached for a while) they remain lifeless and are fit only for burning. Therefore, while the passage is not primarily intended to describe unbelievers, it still does, albeit secondarily. The fact that such "branches" were described as formerly "in Him" is incidental to the imagery and should not be pressed so as to make it "walk on all fours" as it were. Therefore, I would maintain that this passage reinforces the "two category" mentality (in Christ or not; saved or not; light or darkness etc.) without advocating that believers can lose their salvation. In fact, by maintaining the tension in a classic Schreiner and Caneday fashion, I would argue that this passage gives tremendous incentive for perseverance, thereby ensuring that true believers will not/cannot fall away (i.e. the promises and the warnings are the means God uses to accomplish the end).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Some Sweet Audio Resources

Some of you may be familiar with Ben Myers' blog from Euangelion. It looks like a great resource as he has regular substantive posts, but as I was checking it out, I noticed he has some fantastic Audio links in the right margin. For anyone interested in Contemporary Theology, he has audio links for guys like Pannenberg, Moltmann, Hauerwas, Vanhoozer, Grenz and Jungel. If you don't have a enough time to read some of these influential thinkers, it's often helpful to at least familiarize yourself with them by listening to some of their lectures. Myers' list of popular posts has some fantastic reads as well. Another great resource link that I also saw on his blog was online versions of early jewish writings. This is some sweet stuff!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Some Thoughts on Road Trips...

Following up on the previous post, I thought I'd pass on some of my personal musings regarding "Road Trips." First, let me point out that the quotes are significant. Just because one makes a long distant journey by car, it does not necessarily qualify as a "road trip." The criteria is varied and somewhat subjective I admit, but legitimate nonetheless. This train of thought can be traced back to my first road trip, which many of my friends know all too well. Since the story has been repeated and exagerated ad naseum (how's my latin spelling doing?), I'll just hit the highlights for the sake of the uninitiated. I roped several of my good friends (most of whom have commented on this blog in recent days) into driving from Dunbar, WI to Mecca...ah, I mean Greenville, SC one fine Easter Sunday. The goal was to make it by Monday morning in an attempt to encourage (and perhaps sit in on) one of our most esteemed professors who was defending his dissertation under less than favorable circumstances. The short of it is that we threw the trip together in less than 48 hours, made it in a car that never should have been driven that far (may the summit rest in peace), managed to get legitimate class cuts through less than ethical means, saw a WIERD looking moon that we eventually came to be recognized as a good omen from the Lord and has since come to be known as a "Road Trip Moon," watched Hayton eat an entire ice cream scoop of butter that was on his pancakes (he thought it was ice cream), and enjoyed the distinct pleasure of having yours truly halled before the dean of Grad studies at the aforeto alluded to institution to give an account of what in the world we were doing on their campus.

This trip set the bar high, to say the least. While not all of these circumstances are required to constitute a "road trip," extreme circumstances and crazy occurences DO make up the sine quo non. Perhaps another illustration will prove helpful:

I was given a Chevy Astro minivan and told that the transmission was in rough shape and could die any day. We drove it for over six months and never had a major problem, so why not take it on a "road trip" right? Last Christmas, me, my wife and the Baylors did just that, again heading from VA to NH with a midnight pitstop for sleep in Jersey. 1) We got lost on the eastern shore and ended up in downtown Philly making U turns in the ghetto around 1am which was not too disconcerting because 2) we were traveling with my .40 cal Glock and 12ga. pump in the back. 3) The van began to have issues 30 minutes into the trip. This may not sound to bad, nor necessarily qualify as a "road trip" but remember, that was just on the way up. While home my father in law's mechanic, checked out the tranny for us, but didn't get back with them until after we'd left for VA. 1 hour into our journey home, we got a call on the cell from my father in law who informed us that his mechanic said that the astro would never make it back to VA in one piece. We deciede to give it a shot anyway. 1 Hour later, it began to make groaning noises. The good news was that it wasn't the transmission; the bad news was that it was the heater. The heater core had frozen (though we didn't figure that out until the next day) and we drove for 6 hours with no heat (Think - New England in January). We stopped at Target and bought long johns. Dawn wrapped up in my coat, her coat, a blanket, my winter hat and the long johns, and still couldn't stop shivering. My feet were numb after the first hour. When we got to the Jersey turnpike we found out there was a two hour back up for traffic. The sun was down and the temp was dropping so we finally gave in and got a hotel room. During the night, the heater core thawed and we had heat; however, that was when the transmission started acting up. But just as we accessed Interstate 64 in VA, the moon began to rise and...sure enough it was that same "road trip moon!" I let out a whoop and told Dawn I was sure we were going to make it; the Lord had assured me. And we did, and the van lasted another several months. DEFINATELY a "road trip." Incidently, we traveled back with not only the 12 gauge and Glock, but had added an AK 47 to our arsenal (a xmas gift from my uncle and probably enough to send me to jail for a few decades).

Why do I bring all of this up? Remember my trip to NH (see previous post)? The time constraints alone would have caused me to categorize it as a road trip: 1) Trying to make it to a graduation 13 hours away when the drive should take 12 (ever see the traffic on 95? I hit gridlock in NYC at 3:30am, but more on that to follow). 2) I went up and back in 48 hours, 24 of which was spent on the road. 3) New England was experiencing flooding and it rained for the full 11 hours and 15 minutes I was on the road. However, all of that aside, my drive was a "road trip" because of what happened on the George Washington Memorial Bridge in the Bronx, NY. As I alluded to above, I was on this bridge from 3:15-3:45 am stuck in traffic. Everyone was jockying for position and I was locked to the bumper of the Tractor Trailer in front of me. The van and chevy suburban behind me were jockying for position so much so that I could hear metal scrapping on metal and the chevy busted out the window of the van. Shortly thereafter, the van ended up behind me with the chevy just ahead of and next to me when we came to a dead stop in gridlock traffic (at 3:30 in the morning? only in NYC). It wasn't long before I heard a van door slam and the guy behind me was out and pounding on the window of the chevy just a few yards from where I was sitting. He was screaming over an over "You broke my #@$!# window!" while pounding on the passenger side window of the chevy. When he realized he coundn't break it with his hand, he ran in front of me to the side of the road and grabbed a rock, came back and alternately pounded on the windshield and the passenger side window of the chevy with the rock! When that still failed to break it, he threw the rock down and attempted a flying karate kick to break it (I'm not lying!). He neglected to factor in the fact that it was raining and his shoes and the window were wet. Needless to say, he landed on his butt. Undaunted, he attempted another flying kick, this time aimed at the review mirror, which he suceeded in snapping off. With a few more fist pounds on the window and choice expletives, he returned to his van apparently satisfied with his handiwork. Believe me, I coundn't make this crap up if I tried!

Qualify as a "road trip"? Definately.

Yet another Grad in the family!

Here's one of the primary reasons I haven't been online lately...I was in New Hampshire this weekend for my Mom's graduation. It was sort of a whirlwind tour; I left VA Beach Thursday night at 9pm (after work) and her graduation was at 10am the next morning. I managed to make the trip in just over 11 hours (it's normally 12). I spent the day with them and partied with the fam in the afternoon and my folks and my Mom's fellow grads that evening. I finally went to sleep around 1opm Friday night, got up 9am Saturday and headed back to VA at 10 am. As a result I've been catching up on sleep...and life over the past few days.

The pic above is of me, my Dad and the grad on her special day. Not only did she go back to school after being out for over two decades, she graduated with her Associates degree in Nursing (RN) and with honors to boot! Though I've already expressed it to her personally, I wanted to publically express how proud of her I am! Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hats off to Dave Jaspers

Yes, I know you probably never thought you'd hear those words coming out of my mouth. Those of you who know me and who also know him, are aware that our soteriology does not exactly mesh, and that's a big deal to me. Likewise, I am gravely dissapointed at some of the ministry partners he has chosen in the past. Nevertheless, I recently discovered that he resigned as president of MBBC, you can read the entire letter over at Sharper Iron (No there's no hyperlink, find it yourself :-) It's not the fact that he resigned, so much as WHY he said he resigned. Part of his reasoning was, and I quote:

"I have also been greatly convicted about the kind of model I have been to a watching generation. For too long, the landscape of Fundamentalism has been dominated by workaholic leaders who have sacrificed their families for the success of their ministries."

My respect for the man went THROUGH THE ROOF when I read those statements. I know exactly what he is talking about and have observed the same landscape. I am thrilled to see that though he admits to making mistakes in the past, he is committed to rectifying those errors at any cost. I'm sure it was a painful, difficult decision, as it brings many consequences with it; nevertheless, it was the right one, and so for what it's worth from a young punk, Dr. Jaspers you've chosen wisely.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Righting Wrong Stories About Wright

The poor guy has been subjected to so many puns regarding his name, but somehow, having the warped sense of humor that I do, I can't help contributing to the abuse. He's probably numb to it by now anyway. I wanted to provide a heads up regarding a correction to an apocryphal Wright story that reflects poorly on him. You can read the correction in Tom's own words here. I came across this link on another blog (props to Bruno), and I normally don't repeat posts I assume you're already reading, but I felt some responsibility here. One of my first posts on this blog was a link to some audio lectures by Carson on the NPP. Though the lectures are good and a valuable introduction to the discussion, the apocryphal story alluded to here was propogated (at least in part), by those lectures. I wanted to set the record...straight (I was so tempted to say wright) both for accuracy sake, but also because of my appreciation of Tom's contributions.

Thoughts On Communion: The Post Behind the Post

Here's the consideration that was driving my thinking resulting in the digression that led to the previous post (that was a mouthful). I'll be simple and to the point, but I'm hoping to stimulate discussion or at least generate feedback.

When considering the Biblical data, must we do communion at "church" or it is appropriate to convene small gatherings of believing friends at someone's home?


1) Church is in quotes because I'm not fond of using it in this way. However, all of you are aware of the context I am speaking from (in case I'm wrong, 21st century America, evangelical or fundamental common conceptions). Don't get distracted as to whether or not this is how we should conceive of the church; it's not, but that's another post (a whole nuther post, if you will).

2) Please don't introduce an either/or fallacy. If you're in favor of both, that's fine, but what I'm driving at is the legitimacy of the second option.

3) I'll tip my hand by saying that I am currently in favor of both. Nothing in the Biblical data I've considered indicates that we are commanded to only practice it in formal, worship gatherings. In fact, the formal worship gatherings that are currently en vogue among western churches are imho more or less foreign to the NT. Whether that's good or bad is also another post. The biblical refrain, "Do this in remembrance of me" is somewhat ambiguous (probably intentionally) regarding frequency and manner. The multiple "whenevers" in 1 Corinthians 11 also seem to leave this open. In the book of Acts, there is an interesting pattern established:

Acts 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.

Here, they were meeting corporately (mass gathering) in the temple courts and privately to break bread in their homes. Now the case would have to be advanced that "breaking of bread" indicates what we would call communion (as opposed to just sharing meals, as I am inclined to take it), but at a popular level, this is often how I've heard this text preached. Of course, even still this would simply function at the level of description and not necessarily prescription.

The only exception I can think of is in 1 Corinthians 11, Paul sets off the discussion with the expression "when you come together." Especially significant is the fact that he says "when you come together as a church" (NIV) in verse 18. It seems he is using the term here as a local assembly. However, again, I would argue that this passage is also description rather than prescription. This does not preclude private meetings in homes.

4) The question behind the question is actually very practical in nature, rather than theoretical. This is a legitimate concern I have, since my new schedule will prevent me from attending PM services which is when CBC does communion. There are a few of my peers who are in the same situation. So do we A) forget about communion and go on with life (NO!) B) Petition our local assembly to modify their practice for the sake of a few individuals or C) As I am suggesting, get together on a Friday or Saturday and proclaim the Lord's death in somebody’s home?

What say ye?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Sucks to Be Judas: Prelude to a Post

Back when I was in High School and Jr. High school, there was a saying we commonly employed for addressing our peers when a circumstance of undesirable consequence occurred in their life: Sucks to be you! Probably not the most compassionate nor mature observation, but no one ever accused of such conduct (mature and compassionate, that is). In thinking through an upcoming post I was intending to do on some issues pertaining to the Lord's supper, I thought it would be profitable to read through the pertinent passages (hence the subtitle of this post).

Of course I started (albeit anachronistically) in 1 Corinthians 11 since it is so frequently read at communion services in the churches I have attended. I next moved to John 13 where my attention was drawn to Judas. I have often envisioned the Lord's identification of his betrayer at the last supper as a sort of vague ambiguous insinuation or innuendo, since the other eleven don't seem to pick up on what's going on. However, Jesus is ANYTHING but vague:

John 13:24-26
Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, "Ask him which one he means." 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" 26 Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.

I thought, "Wow, that's pretty clear." Then I read: John 13:27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him. At this point, Jesus shows him no compassion, but says, "Get it over with." Next I turned to Matthew only to read:

Matthew 26:23-25 Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you."

Here, Matthew records the manner in which Jesus says He will identify His betrayer. Though the scenario is not recorded identical to how John has it, I think the passages are complementary rather than contradictory. In fact, I would suggest that Matthew 26:25 probably occurs chronologically in the discussion between John 13:25 and 26. Jesus has indicated it is Judas; Judas, ever the hypocrite, feigns surprise (I would suggest to mask his terror at this point) and says, "who me?" to which Jesus responds, "Yes, you!" Now remember, this interchange was prefaced by the statement from the Lord that it would have been better for the one who betrayed Him if the betrayer had never been born (v.24)! Then He says, in effect, "Yes Judas, I'm talking about you!" I can't help but speculate (and it is nothing more than my speculation) that as He was rendering this indictment, Jesus may have been thinking something to the effect of It would have been better if you hadn't been born, because I am/will be your judge. You will answer to me and I will damn you for all eternity.

Needless to say, I had read enough for the day and I didn't make it to Luke or Mark (and if my memory serves me, neither of them identify this interchange anyway). But the first phrase to enter my mind was: Wow. Sucks to be Judas! Now please, don't be easily offended by my transparent admition of the inner workings of my twisted mind.

1) I apologize if the word "sucks" bothers you; my goal is not to offend. Though I don't consider it to be blogan (refer to the previous post if you don't know what that means), it is possible some do.

2) I am not trying to trivialize the seriousness of what took place that night almost 2000 years ago. To the contrary, I saw things through Judas' eyes for the first time this past Friday. Can you imagine hearing those words from the mouth of the Lord directed at you? Man, I don't even know what to say, except to praise God for His relentless grace in my life.

3) Even if the phrase above is a bit off color, I have no problem employing it on the son of perdition, the betrayer of the Christ. His fate is sealed; God is entirely sovereign and he is entirely responsible and accountable. I would have no problem spitting in his face and cheering in the face of his destruction on the day of Judgment, should the Lord allow. If that sounds harsh, know that it stems not from an arrogant spirit of judgment, but rather a passionate zeal for and delight in His glory.

Thus endeth the sermon. More to follow on communion.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Summer Reading Plan

Here's the reading list I promised about a week back (I know Julie, you could hardly wait). My plan for the next few months is to take it easy. My reasons for this are: 1) I think my brain has earned a deserved reduced reading break. 2) My schedule is in constant flux lately and will continue to be this way until sometime after Noah is born. I don't know what my schedule is going to be from week to week and probably will not know what it will be like from day to day once he's born. 3) I think I'm long overdue for some fun reading. So here's the plan.

First, I'm currently reading Wright's The New Testament and the People of God (I'm somewhere around pg 80). It's slow but delightful reading. In addition, I'm also about 80 pages into Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner.

Let me digress for a moment about the latter title pictured above. No, it's not a cuss word despite the fact that it has a BLOGAN ring to it. Let me digress even further on the term I just coined. You've probably heard of "Bennifer" (Ben Affleck and JLo), "Tomkat" (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes) and "Brangelina" (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). Let me introduce you to "Blogan." That's a combination of Tim Baylor (of Luther's Stein fame) and Scott Logan. Anything that's cussworthy or that smacks of the profane, shall heretoforth be known as being "blogan" or "bloganesque." I encourage you to adopt this new term into your vocabulary and employ it on your blogs (just remember you heard it here first!).

Returning to the first digression, Freakonomics is an attempt to wrestle with life's more interesting and odd questions from the vantage point of a brilliant young economist who teaches at the University of Chicago. He wrestles with questions like: "If drug dealers make so much money, why do they still live with their moms?" His major premise is something to the effect of: If morality describes how we wish the world was, economics describes how it really is. It was recommended to me by my good friend and fellow grad, Andy Davies. It's also #5 or 6 on the NY Times bestseller list and you can check out the web page here.

Next on the list are two devotional works. I just bought Bruce Waltke's Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? I started it on Sunday afternoon, and it's good so far. Tonight I was at Barnes and Nobles on my lunch/dinner break and read about 20 pages from Wild at Heart. Though I certainly disagreed with some of what I read, I was largely intrigued. I'm planning on picking it up tomorrow and continuing the read. Anybody out there read it? Any thoughts?

I conclude with some reference reading. I just bought the Dictionary for the Theological Interpretation of the Bible and am planning on page turning through it after it arrives and reading the essays that catch my interest. I also just purchased The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels and am planning on doing the same with this book later this summer/fall. However, this one will probably get a more rigorous or systematic reading since I am aware that I need to sharpen up my synoptics/historical Jesus studies and my interest was peaked by Michael Bird's recent post regarding the relative neglect of Luke/Acts studies especially among PhD students.

This should be sufficient to keep me occupied for the summer. If I finish NTPG and Freakonomics before Noah's born, I'll be happy. We'll see about the rest. Once he's born I'm sure life will be marked by craziness and sleeplessness for the first couple of weeks (months?). I have a more intensive plan for the fall, but that will have to wait for another day since this post is already a bit longer than I anticipated.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

On the Phones

Well, I was on the phones for my first time tonight, for about 45 minutes. I thought some of you might appreciate hearing how my first call went. There's good news and bad news. The good news: I collected check by phone on my first contact. That's the most valuabe form of payment from our company's perspective and one of the more difficult ones to accquire. Way to go Nate right? Don't forget, the bad news is still coming. The bad news: Not only did the man scream at me for several minutes (though he did clarify that he was not upset at me), he also was so disturbed by the fees that had accrued to his account that he forcefully requested that I close his account with us right there over the phone. Ooops. Score: 1 CBP for Nate, -1 Customer for my employer. I can only go up from here...I hope.

Monday, May 08, 2006

It is least for a few years

Well, it's finally official: I'm a grad! Sunday night I received my diploma and finished my M.Div. That's my Dad, wife, son (notice the bulging belly) and me above. For those who haven't heard, our plans are: 1) Dawn will finish working this Friday and stay home with Noah (resting and taking care of the home until he's born). 2) I will continue working at HSBC for the next 2-5 years in the attempt to "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" in order to pay for a PhD in NT (at the University of Aberdeen if the Lord allows). 3) Meanwhile, I'll be working as a grad assistant at CBTS for the next year (part time) and doing some preparatory reading in order to go Deep and Wide in NT studies (I bet you never thought you'd see a 50 Cent movie and Deep and Wide mentioned in the same paragraph).

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Technical Difficulties

Though I know I said I'd post last weekend since my work would be done, this is the first chance I've had. Yes, all of my graduation requirements are done (I walk on Sunday); however, I have been experiencing technical difficulties regarding my online connection (read: my neighbors moved). Unless our new neighbors have wireless, we may need to accquire it for ourselves (imagine that). In the meantime, I'm still trying to workout a schedule that gels with my HSBC schedule but still allows me to get someplace with free wireless without neglecting my wife (who is working days for the next week an a half while I'm working nights). I think I may have figured out how to make it work, so the posts should be more regular in the next day or two. In an attempt to hold (or obtain) your interest, Bruno's example inspired me to post my reading list for the next few months and open it up for suggestions and input, so that's probably what's coming in the next day or two.