Archive for the 'Kingdom' Category

The Humanity of Jesus and the Spirit of God

Every time we open the pages of the gospels we are confronted with Jesus. In fact, since 1st century gnosticism to the ecumenical councils to present day, there is no shortage of debate regarding his person. As I studied the first few chapters of the Gospel of Luke, I was blind-sided by something: Jesus’s humanity.

I have often heard it said that the miracles that Jesus performed evidenced his deity. For instance, in Grudem’s Systematic Theology he attributes stilling the storm (Mt. 8.26-27) and multiplying the loaves and fish (Mt. 14.19)  to Jesus’s omnipotence, knowing others’ thoughts (Mk. 2.8) and seeing Nathaniel under the fig tree (Jn. 1.48) to his omniscience, and so on (pp. 547-548). This seems typical, though, of topically surveying the Bible, instead of taking a biblical theological approach. It wasn’t, I believe, Jesus demonstrating his divinity, but Jesus acting out his spirit-filled humanity as God’s anointed prophet. Grudem argues against this by saying:

…the contextual explanations of these events often point not to what they demonstrate about the power of the Holy Spirit but to what they demonstrate about Jesus himself. For instance, after Jesus turned water into wine, John tells us, ‘This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him’ (Jn 2.11). It was not the glory of the Holy Spirit that was manifested but the glory of Jesus himself, as his divine power worked to change water into wine. Similarly, after Jesus stills the storm on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples did not say, ‘How great is the power of the Holy Spirit working through this prophet,’ but rather, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him (Mt. 8.27). It was the authority of Jesus himself to which the winds and the waves were subject, and this could only be the authority of God who rules over the seas and has power to still the waves (cf. Ps. 65.7; 89.9; 107.29). (pp. 547-548 his emphasis).

There are a few things to be said about Grudem’s quote: (1) Would these passages look differently if Jesus was doing these deeds in the Power of the Spirit? Certainly the spirit would work to exalt Jesus in John 2.11 and certainly the disciples would still have said, ‘What sort of man is this…’ (2) Grudem says ‘this could only be the authority of God who rules over the seas…’ However, isn’t the Holy Spirit God? So, even if Jesus was acting in the Power of the Spirit, God is the one doing it. Therefore, I think that this position isn’t a result of reading and obtaining something from the text, but from reading something into the text. Was Jesus divine? According to the testimony of the scriptures, yes. Was he relying on his divine nature to produce miracles? According to the testimony of the scriptures, no.

Let’s look at Luke. According to this Gospel account (and the others), the man Jesus started his ministry after his baptism. This means, that Jesus was not performing miracles until post baptism. This is the series of events. It was in Jesus’s baptism that the Father anointed his ‘beloved Son’ with the Holy Spirit (Lk 3.21). Chapter 4 begins with “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness…” Jesus is tempted and a the new section begins (4.14) with “And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit…” Then Luke gives us a specific instance of teaching in Galilee: Jesus claims to be the servant of Isaiah 61 by reading “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel…” So, all of the things Jesus is about to do, preach the gospel to the poor, release the captive, set free the oppressed, give sight to the blind, etc., is the result of being anointed by the Holy Spirit. It is after Jesus claims this that Luke records for us Jesus carrying out such acts of power: casting out demons, preaching in synagogues, and healing the sick. Jesus continues to perform miraculous signs and in 5.17 Luke says, “On one of those days, he was teaching Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem. And” -here it is- “the power of the Lord was with him to heal.” What else could this mean than that the Lord had anointed Jesus with the Power of the Spirit?

If the signs of Jesus had been intended to point to his divinity, why would Jesus tell the apostles that they would do greater things than he (Jn 14.12)? Were they, too, divine? Peter preached at Pentecost and 3,000 were converted (Acts 2), people longed to fall under Peter’s shadow as he walked by in hopes of being healed (Acts 5.15), and handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul’s skin were healing people (Acts 19.12). No, the apostles were not divine, however, like Jesus, they performed powerful signs after having received the spirit at Pentacost.

So, then, the things Jesus did were done in his spirit filled humanity. If we want to see the divinity of Jesus demonstrated we should look less at the signs themselves and more at what they verify, such as claims to be able to forgive sins (Mt 5.20-25) and that ‘before Abraham was, I am’ (Jn 8.58).


The Kingdom of God Part III

In the first two posts on the Kingdom of God, we saw the initiation of God’s kingdom over Israel, its few kings, sin, corruption, exile, and the need for two things: a new king and forgiveness from sin (since this is why the Jews were in exile). We also saw that Jesus came declaring himself to be the needed ‘messiah’, or as the New Testament puts it, ‘Christ’.

The Kingdom of God was The Message of Jesus

In Luke 4 Jesus enters a synagogue and reads the scroll of Isaiah (61):

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And, the pinnacle of his message is found in verse 21: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

So, Jesus says, you know I’m God’s anointed because ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me’ so listen and hear God’s message to you: the year of the Lord’s favor has arrived! When the Jews, that is, the poor, the captives of exile, the blind, and those oppressed by the Romans hear that it is the year of the Lord’s favor, it didn’t just mean that God was happy with them. The Jews understood this to mean a great change of fortune: the Savior had arrived to bring about a great reversal of events by destroying their enemies and firmly establishing the kingdom again, just as David had done when he took the throne. However, there is a twist, through the example of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and from many of Jesus’ teachings, he made something clear: I, the anointed, have come to declare the year of the Lord’s favor, not just to you, but to your enemy also.

So, we see two things: from the last post we see (1) A different kind of kingdom. This kingdom isn’t of this world and is revealed as God’s reign and authority manifested through his people. And, (2) this reign isn’t just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles (everyone else) as well.

The term, ‘the kingdom’ is used over 100 times throughout the gospels. It is impossible to read the gospels and not see the kingdom as incredibly important. A select few instances:

John the Baptist acted as the forerunner of Jesus by declaring this message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mat 3:2)
Mar 1:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Luk 4:43 but he [Jesus] said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”
After Jesus’ resurrection: Acts 1:3: ‘He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.’
And, before he left: Mat 24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

The Kingdom of God was The Message of the Apostles

This preaching of the gospel of the kingdom that Matthew speaks of was started by the apostles:
(Act 8:12) But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
(Act 14:22) strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
(Act 19:8) And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.
(Act 20:25) And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.
(Act 28:23) When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.
(Act 28:31) proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

The Kingdom of God is Already but Not Yet

When Jesus came he brought the Kingdom of God. We see that in his message, the message he commanded us to preach, and the message the apostles preached. However, in Jesus’ message it seems that there are times when he says that the Kingdom is here and yet it isn’t. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he proclaims that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. What does that mean? It means you can reach out and grab it. And yet, he also says things like, “Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” as if the kingdom is some future event. So what do we do with this message?

Jesus will return to literally and physically rule his people. Upon his return everyone will bow to him and confess his ruler-ship by calling him ‘Lord’ (Phil 2.11). When that time comes, under Jesus’ reign, sickness, death, and all kinds of evil will be eradicated. This is the ‘not yet’ part of the Kingdom message. However, Jesus has ‘already’ firmly established a kingdom whereby the blessings of that future kingdom can be experienced now. That is to say, the blessings of God’s reign can now be experienced by submitting to Jesus as King. When Jesus came and proclaimed his kingdom he did so with his words and deeds, that is to say, by bringing signs of the kingdom: giving sight to the blind, raising the dead, making wine from water, freedom to the captive, and liberty to the oppressed (to mention a few). However, these blessings won’t be experienced in full until Jesus returns. So, in this sense, the kingdom is ‘already, but not yet’.

The Kingdom of God is For You

Jesus made a relationship with God possible. The story of the Bible is one of redemption. Man rebels against God, thus man and God are enemies, and yet God sent his son Jesus to take the punishment for His enemy. It killed Jesus, but God raised him from the dead and, as stated above, he’s coming back. If we trust Jesus to take our punishment and turn from whatever it is that rules us now to the rule of Jesus we can experience true life with Jesus as our King.

The Kingdom of God Part II

In the previous entry on the Kingdom of God, we took a very quick look at Israel’s history, it’s rise, developing monarchy, divide, and fall. This sets the context for Jesus’ life. Jesus was born in a time when many zealous Jews (the people of Israel, God’s chosen people) were attempting to overthrow their enemies (the Romans), in an attempt to take the land and re-establish God’s Kingdom (like the Maccabean Revolt, for instance). Thus, it was very common for boys to be named ‘Jesus’ -Ιησους was the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word ישוע -‘Yeshua’ which means ‘he will save’ or ‘salvation’. And this is why the Angel explains to Mary why Jesus’ name is ‘Jesus’ “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1.21).

The Jews were expecting a King

It is plain to see, then, that the Jews were expecting a king to come and overthrow the Romans, to stop the oppression, and to set up God’s Kingdom on earth as it had been ruled by David. The Gospels testify to this:

Mat 20:21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”
Mar 11:10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Mar 15:43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
Luk 17:20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed,
Luk 19:11 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately.
Act 1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus’ (and the Bible’s) message is that Jesus is the King

Not only were the Jews anxiously awaiting a King and a Kingdom, but the Gospels declare that Jesus was and claimed to be that King:

Mat 1:6 and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah… and Joseph father of Jesus. [Notice: Jesus is in the kingly line of David, to whom the promise was made]
Luk 1:31-33 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Mat 2:1-2 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
Mat 21:5 [Jesus says] “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” [quoting Zechariah 9:9]
Mat 27:11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.”
(See also Luk 23:2; Luk 23:3; Joh 18:37; Joh 19:12; Mat 27:29; Mat 27:37; Mar 15:2; Mar 15:18; Mar 15:32; Mar 15:12; Mar 15:26; Mar 15:9; Luk 23:37; Joh 18:33; Joh 18:39; Joh 19:3; Joh 19:14; Joh 19:15; Joh 19:19)

Jesus declared King

There is a specific time in scripture when God the Father declares Jesus as his king on earth. It is often missed, but best seen in Matthew 3.16 – 17:

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him. and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Why, you might ask, is this a kingly declaration? Notice that two things happen: (1) God’s Spirit falls on Jesus – this is what happens when God anoints his servant (Saul – 1 Kings 11; David – asks that God not take his spirit from him Ps 50, etc.). And, (2) the Father declares that Jesus is his son as he did with David. In Ps 2.7 David says, “The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” and in 2 Sam 7, God says of David, “I will establish the throne of his Kingdom forever. I will be to him a father and he shall be to me a son.” If this doesn’t make it clear enough, looking forward, the author of Hebrews relates Jesus’ sonship to his kingship in Heb 1.

It isn’t until Jesus’ baptism that Christ begins his ministry and after giving a short survey of Jesus’ ministry Luke records Jesus saying in 4.44 that the purpose of this ministry to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.

A different kind of Kingdom

If all of this is true, why don’t we read in the Gospels that Jesus led a Maccabean-type revolt, overthrew the government, and established the throne of his father David? It is because though Jesus brought a kingdom, it didn’t look like what the Jews or anyone else thought it would look like:

Joh 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” [Notice: Jesus did not say ‘my kingdom is not in this world’ but said, ‘it is is not of this world]
Mat 12:28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Luk 10:9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

We see, then, that Jesus’ kingdom is here and advancing, but not as expected. We see two things throughout the Gospels, which are typified in these verses. First, Jesus’ kingdom has no geographical location, rather it is a kind of reign. In other words, as demonstrated in the verses above, Jesus’ kingdom is a manifestation of God’s rule on earth. We see that as the kingdom is advanced, God’s rule is demonstrated. Second, the manifestation of God’s rule is not the same thing as God’s general control of all things (providence). Christians believe that God is in complete control of all things, but the term ‘the kingdom of God’ in the Bible is a particular reference to the way God reveals his power and reign in and throughout the lives of his followers (those who are kingdom citizens). It is this kingdom that Jesus brought.

But, what happened to the Kingdom? What does it have to do with us? Was it something restricted to Jesus’ time and ministry? That is the question for the third and final post on the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God Part I

What is “The Kingdom of God”? Is it simply a metaphor for all of God’s stuff and people? Is it an outdated phrase for waging war? Isn’t it just the church? This topic used to be so confusing for me. And, the more I study it and the more I hear people use the phrase “The Kingdom” the more I’m convinced that there is a lot of confusion surrounding this issue. It also seems that most people believe that the concept of the Kingdom springs up in the New Testament with little, if any, background. So, in an attempt to bring a little clarity, this is the first of a few posts on The Kingdom of God. This post deals with the background of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom (i.e. the Old Testament). Not understanding this will result in not understanding Jesus’ message.

In Genesis We See Creation, Fall, and a Promise

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. On the sixth day God created Adam. This newly created man was to be God’s ruler on earth. He was to have dominion and authority (some theologians say that Adam was God’s ‘vice regent’ -more on this in a later post). However, Adam and Eve rebelled against God and were kicked out of their garden paradise (Genesis 3). From this point forward sin corrupted everything. God destroyed the earth with a flood, save Noah, his family and the animal kingdom. This didn’t wipe out the problem (sin), but it did allow a restart with a righteous lineage. In Genesis 11 we see nations formed at the Tower of Babel with the division of language and from one of these nations is the man Abram (Abraham).

God says to Abraham in Genesis 12:2 “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” And 18:18: “seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him…” There seems to be two ways in which Abraham will be great: (1) numerically and (2) as a blessing to all nations.

In Exodus God Establishes Himself as Israel’s Ruler

6:7 “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” And after God delivered the Israelites: 20:1-3 “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me…’” Thus, the Lord was to be their God. In Exodus chapters 21-23 God establishes the rules of this theocracy (theos– God; kratein– to rule).

God was to be the King of Israel

God had set himself up as king over Israel but, in 1 Samuel 8:5b, the Israelites said, “…appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 1 Samuel 8:1-8 Makes the point that while God remained faithful since the time of Egypt, the Israelites were continually unfaithful. He was a good king and they were unfaithful subjects. God says in 1 Samuel 12:12-17:

“And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the LORD your God was your king. And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the LORD has set a king over you. If you will fear the LORD and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king. Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the LORD, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king.”

However, in spite of their wickedness, God had a plan- He knew this would happen -in Deuteronomy 17 God gave instructions for how a king was to act if there ever was one and in Deuteronomy 28 He predicted Israel and her king’s wickedness. However, the Bible is clear that God is the one who appointed them a king (Acts 13:20-23).

Saul the King

1 Samuel 11 tells us that the Ammorites were opressing Israel, but when Saul heard this “the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul” and he gathered the people of Israel and destroyed the Ammorites. And the Israelites made Saul their King. 1 Samuel, however, ends with Israel’s enemies persecuting them on all sides, King Saul committing suicide on the battlefield, and all of his sons being killed in battle. Thus, the kingdom was left in utter disarray and under oppression from its enemies (1 Samuel 31).

David the King

David is appointed King and, for the first several chapters of 2 Samuel, we see that David defeats his enemies and changes the course of history for Israel. Then God makes a promise to David. 2 Sam 7:11-17:

“From the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.‘” In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

[take special note of “I will be a father, and he shall be to me a son” and “Your throne shall be established forever”]

Solomon the King

1 Kings 2: 10-12 says: “Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years. He reigned seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established.”

The first 10 chapters of 1 Kings sing Solomon’s praises. He builds and consecrates a temple unto the Lord and the Kingdom is having success like none other. 1 Kings 10:14-29 demonstrates the amount of wealth Solomon’s kingdom had obtained. It was completely unparalleled. Can you imagine what the Israelites are thinking about God’s promise to establish David’s throne forever as well has his promise to Abraham to be a blessing to all nations?

A Divided Kingdom: The Kingdom of Israel and The Kingdom of Judah

1 Kings 11:29-33 a shocking thing happens: the prediction of the separation of the Kingdom:

And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had dressed himself in a new garment, and the two of them were alone in the open country. Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel),because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and they have not walked in my ways, doing what is right in my sight and keeping my statutes and my rules, as David his father did.”

The History of the Divide

The Kingdom of Israel (Northern Kingdom) was obliterated in 720(s) BC, by the Assyrians who, after conquering the land, destroyed Samaria, its capital, and, according to the Bible, deported most of the occupants into exile, with the southernmost tribe, Benjamin, managing to survive by joining the Kingdom of Judah.

The Kingdom of Judah (Southern Kingdom) survived until 586 BC when it was conquered by Babylon, who ransacked Jerusalem, killed the heirs of the King of Judah before his eyes, gouged out the king’s eyes ensuring that would be the last thing he saw, and then deported the population into the Babylonian Captivity.

Hope of a Messiah King

Daniel 2:44 And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever…

Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

So, the Jews or Israelites, then, need another drastic change of events like when David became King, one to destroy their enemies and establish their Kingdom. The Jews need a ‘new David.’

Christians, Voting, and Immorality

Does requiring Christians to vote mean requiring them to be pragmatists or even immoral? This seems to fall back to the question, is it possible to be in politics and maintain an ethic (as far as Christians are concerned, a Kingdom ethic)? In most people’s minds the word ‘politician’ seems to connote something similar to ‘used car salesman’, and for good reason. On a practical level it seems that a Christian that runs for office must do 1 of 2 things. Either view Christianity and politics as two separate spheres that co-exist, pursuing the latter and living the former privately (even though religion can’t actually be successfully dropped from politics). Or, view the two as indistinct in life/practice and run for office accordingly.

It seems to me that in a democratic society where, by definition, the populous is represented by individuals, the populous’ ethic is too. In this case, it seems as though the second of our two options above will always be in opposition to the populous’ belief. If this is true, and it seems to be, then requiring Christians to vote is pushing them into a dilemma: choosing one of the two populous representatives, one of the two populous’ ethic. So, what must a Christian do, choose the lesser of two evils? Should a Christian take part in placing someone in office that is, more than likely, less than morally reputable? It seems then that the Christian is stuck choosing a candidate because he will most closely achieve some end that Christians see as ideal. Isn’t this pragmatism? Is this immoral?

Let’s put this more straightforwardly:

  1. Being a politician means being dishonest
  2. Dishonesty should not be supported by Christians
  3. Therefore, Christians should not vote for (that is, support) politicians

Now, of course I would never say that there is a necessary, logical connection in premise 1 between being a politician and being dishonest, it’s just the way it is (and in a democratic society, the way things have to be). When I say ‘dishonest’ I don’t necessarily mean a tax-evading, stealing, cheating person, I mean someone who uses his words to intentionally not tell the whole truth or to mislead in order to gain popularity among the people.

So, maybe Christians shouldn’t vote. What do you think? Let’s lay aside what might happen if Christians didn’t vote and, for now, discuss the argument.

“The Christian and Alcohol” A Response to Land & Duke

The topic of the Spring edition of the Criswell Theological Review (CTR) was ‘Christians and Alcohol.” The opinions expressed in the journal demonstrated the gamut of beliefs surrounding the ‘controversial’ subject of alcohol consumption.

In the Journal was an article written by Richard Land (president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) and Barrett Duke The Christian and Alcohol. Land and Duke take the traditional prohibitionist stance, arguing their case from scripture, society, and a good witness. Essentially the authors establish 3 things and nothing more.

  1. The abuse of alcohol in America has had terrible effects (financially, socially, etc.)

  2. Prohibition is the historic stance of the Southern Baptist Convention, and

  3. The Bible forbids the abuse of alcohol

In fact, throughout the article, Land and Duke seem to make a terrible mistake in reasoning, namely equivocating the Bible’s message by muddling the distinction between alcohol use and alcohol abuse. The author’s seem to transfer the condemnation of one act to the other. As I read the article I couldn’t help but wonder whether the two were clear about whether they were trying to convince the reader about the Bible’s message of being drunk or the Bible’s message about drinking at all.

Here is one such example: “Solomon compares alcohol to a snake. A snake can be nearly mesmerizing with its slow, graceful movements. Its true nature can be completely overlooked. Yet, if one fails to respect its nature, that snake will surprise the unwary person with a bite that could possibly be deadly (v. 32)…” Based on the author’s judgement, the warning here is in respecting the drink’s nature, in the same way we should respect a snake’s (i.e. not carelessly- don’t abuse it!). However, they continue, “Solomon says the user of this snake-like substance will experience visual and mental impairment (v. 33) and severe physical instability (v. 34). It can even make one so unaware of his environment that he cannot even respond to physical danger and attacks (v. 35).” (my emphasis- p. 24)

See the sleight of hand? The author’s jump from Solomon’s warning to those that abuse the drink to any ‘user of this snake-like substance…’ I have to assume that neither Land nor Duke have ever ‘kissed this snake’ since, if at communion or a wedding or anywhere else, they had (i.e. had become ‘a user’) they would be shocked by the fact that they didn’t immediately experience ‘visual and mental impairment’ or ‘severe physical instability’, etc.

The article continues by showing the different Hebrew words used to indicate drinks with alcohol in them and their various uses (Noah, proverbs, certain sacrifices, etc.) and then moves on to the New Testament to conclude that “except for the handful of references in the Gospels that speak of wine… one encounters only negative statements in the NT about the non-medicinal use of wine.” (p. 28). After all, Jesus may have made the wine at the wedding feast in Cana, but he didn’t necessarily drink it (footnote 8). And furthermore, Jesus may have drank wine (Matthew 11:18-19), but he was certainly never drunk, as his enemies accused him of being. (p. 31)

Land and Duke point out that according to the passages outside of the gospels we can’t say that drinking is inherently sinful, but that it was really probably used more for medicinal purposes than anything else (so, don’t worry if you need to take some cough syrup. Rest assured, it does have alcohol, but you are not sinning). The authors go on to say “In fact, there appears to be a clear movement in Scripture toward a rejection of alcohol use. We pointed out earlier that the OT had more positive references to alcohol use than the NT. This could be evidence that the Bible‘s principles were gradually undermining the practice of alcohol consumption…” They continue on to cite a few passages, of which a full explanation of each was beyond the scope of their article as well as my response, but a look at what they said is worth noting:

Romans 14:21 counsels Christians not to engage in any behavior, including drinking wine that would cause a fellow believer to stumble in his spiritual life. Ephesians 5:18 is a command to the Christian not to get drunk… In 1 Tim 3:3, 8 and Titus 1:7, Paul gives instructions about the role of alcohol among church leaders, whether pastors (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7) or deacons (1 Tim 3:8). While the Greek phrases differ in these two passages, Seesemann concurs that both constructions warn against over-indulgence” (p. 28 )

If it is true, and it seems to be, that the Old Testament has more positive references to alcohol than the New Testament, why would that be? If we think about the nature of the Old and New Testament scriptures there is one fundamental difference. The majority of the Old Testament is narrative, while the majority of the New Testament is comprised of epistles written to churches. Now, an epistle was written usually because the author was prompted by a controversy or an occasion needing correcting in the church. In light of this, it wouldn’t make any sense for, say, Paul to write a letter commending the church on their appropriate use of alcohol. Rather, if Paul were going to write to a church regarding their drinking habits, it was usually provoked by the fact that they were in need of correction.

The passages cited above shows, again, nothing new, that over-indulgence is wrong and that if drinking causes your brother to sin (the meaning of which can be debated elsewhere), then one ought to abstain.

Land and Duke go on to say, “Those who cannot find chapter and verse to justify consuming alcohol still argue that their freedom in Christ enables them to imbibe. It is certainly true that Christians are no longer under the bondage of the Law. However, the freedom that Christians enjoy is not to be confused with license.” (p. 33) However, it seems clear that the confusion is on the part of the authors, not their audience. I have never met a committed Christian that has argued for the right (or license) to get drunk. If that is who this article is addressing, the authors are wasting their time by addressing an audience that doesn’t exist (‘you don’t have the license to sin!’) or is, at least, the extreme minority. Otherwise, Land and Duke are saying that Christians don’t have a license to do things that they have admitted that Jesus did. It seems that Jesus’ critics would have accused him of gluttony and a chronic tummy-ache if the reason Jesus was drinking alcohol was for medicinal purposes!

The authors use the last few pages of their article to show that abstaining from alcohol is a great Christian witness. They illustrate this point with a recent situation that Dr. Land was in. Land and his wife were on a trip with other evangelical leaders (‘non-SBC’). It became apparent that Land and his wife were the only ones not drinking alcohol. When approached and asked by another leader why that was, Land informed him that he was of the abolitionist persuasion. The non-SBCer told Land that he also used to abstain ‘but had now come to a place where he enjoyed his liberty in Christ.’ Land responded “with a summary of the arguments contained in this article and shared with him that if the greatest sacrifice Jesus ever required of him was not to drink alcohol and be considered odd as a result, he would be fortunate indeed.” (underlying premise: Jesus commanded Land not to drink alcohol. Really? Where?) After this, Land noted that the other leader did not drink for the remainder of the trip. Land and Duke considered this a successful witness.

Was it successful? The man may have indeed not drank because he felt convicted or guilty, or maybe it was because he thought he was ‘making his brother stumble’ but regardless of why the man chose to stop drinking, the point is, it doesn’t change the fact that he had the freedom to do so. Moreover, I wonder how many such encounters Land has had with people who aren’t Christians? Is this really a way of attracting people to Christ, reciting ‘a summary of the arguments found in this article’? Give me a break.

If there is an argument for Christians abstaining from alcohol it isn’t found in this article. Land and Duke continually confuse the issues. If the majority of America abuse alcohol it doesn’t mean that Christians do. If the Bible condemns the abuse of alcohol, it doesn’t mean that it condemns the use of it (Jesus drank, the authors admitted this). If not drinking can cause a non-SBC evangelical leader to feel bad about drinking, it doesn’t mean that unbelievers are going to act the same way (since they don’t recognize the same authority) and repent to enter the Kingdom of God.

This is the kind of thing that Derek Webb is addressing in his song ‘A New Law.’ I think he sums it up when he says, “what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep for one you can that cannot get you anything?”

The New York Times on A Growing interest in Philosophy

See what the New York Times has to say about the increase of students’ interest in philosohpy.

In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined

(Thanks to Brian Leiter for posting this on his site)