Housekeeping (another non-post post)

Ok, I’ve been a little bit more quiet than usual, apologies to those waiting (particularly since I left the science and religion Friday on a bit of a cliff hanger). It’s been a particularly crazy week last week. This week is looking no better as I have numerous application packets that need to be sent off tomorrow and Thursday. Since that is the case, I will try to get back on track with tomorrow’s post, but it may not be until Thursday or Friday that the regular posts resume. Apologies for those left in the middle of multi-part series.

Other than that, I’d like to bring up two things to your attention.

1) Remember to be in prayer for those who live on the East Coast as the massive storm bears down on them.

2) A friend asked to publicize a story about an American student who went missing during or after a trip she made to Germany (without telling anyone). The full story is here. If you are in Germany or have contacts in Germany, please click the link and look at the photo to see if you might have seen her. There is contact information at the bottom of the story if you have.

Again sorry for the non-post posts, remember to my US readers to vote week or (if you haven’t already) by absentee/early voting if you will be away from your county. No I won’t tell you who to vote for, nor will I say you even have to pick a major candidate. But you should exercise your civic duty (be a good citizen Paul says) especially with local elections, where you probably have a lot more influence (unless you live in Ohio).


Foundational Doctrines: Doctrine of Sin, part 2

So in investigating the first of the “foundations” described in Hebrews 6, I suggested that we can’t understand it (repentance of acts that lead to death), until we understand that second part: what are the acts that lead to death. Last week, I talked about what sin means in the context of creation and Sabbath, God’s purpose for us. This week I’d like to examine the actually episode of the fall in Genesis 3.

After having created the world and making it good, and after preparing the garden and placing the man and woman there to tend for as part of the Sabbath, God himself rested and communed with them. The Sabbath is interrupted, however, by Genesis 3.

The narrative begins with Satan asking the question about God’s command in a negative context. In Genesis 2 God phrased the command as “you may eat freely of every tree,” except the one in the middle of the garden. Satan, though, asks in a more restrictive sense “Did God say ‘you must not eat of any tree.” Immediately this begins to frame the conversation between the woman and the serpent in terms of what God is withholding, rather than what God has provided.

Next, the woman’s response is noteworthy for the absence of the “surely” or “certainly.” She says that eating from the tree results in death, but assurance of this action is gone from her telling. It should be noted that we have no record of God telling the woman this command. The command was given to Adam prior to the creation of the woman in Genesis 2. It may be the case that Adam failed to relay the command correctly or that the woman lacked the recall, in either case, though, the presence of Adam described at the end of the sinful episode (“She also gave some to the man who was with her“) indicates that both are at fault.
The serpent picks up on this lack of certainty, and uses it in his refutation of God’s command by saying (I’ve altered the translation to highlight the parallel visible in the Hebrew) “It is certainly not the case that you will die.”

We have not yet arrived at the actual sin, but it is important to note the things that led up to the sin: 1) thinking in terms of what God is keeping us from rather than his provision, 2) Being uncertain about God’s command regarding sin and so believing someone else who sounds more certain (even though, as the reader knows, they are not certain because they are lying). Now we come to the final element which leads to the actual sin. The serpent tells them that eating from the tree will make them “like God.”

Here’s the first problem with that statement: remember the end of Genesis 1? The man and woman are created how? In the image of God. They are already like God in the important sense. So the temptation offered by the serpent is layered. It is a denial of the goodness of God’s creation (the serpent suggests they are lacking in their nature). It is an unhealthy and selfish desire for more than what God has provided. It is a denial of their central task to act as God’s image. It is a desire not to be just like God, but to be God. It is idolatry or the denial of God’s authority, or prideful lust. Whatever the case it is rebellion against God to the extreme.

Following the act, the man and the woman are now naked and feel they must hide their nakedness. This is in stark contrast to the end of Genesis 2: “The man and the woman were naked and felt no shame.” Before they can begin the act of repentance, though, they must expose their nakedness before God. They are aware that appearing before God he will see everything about them, and so they attempt to flee God. This is the opposite of repentance. And their nakedness can only be adequately covered once they own up to their sin before God.

However, they don’t actually die. Eventually they do, but does that mean they would automatically had lived forever without sin? The mere existence of a tree of life in the garden seems to indicate that is not the case. So why don’t they die? What makes sin an act “that leads to death” as the author of Hebrews describes it or something that earns death as a “wage” as Paul describes it in Romans?

In Genesis 1 and 2 the picture we see of God is that he is the source of life. One thing I have been suggesting is that sin disrupts our fellowship (i.e. the Sabbath) with God, who is the source of life. In a very real sense, we die at that moment, as detailed in the cursings of Genesis 3. Following the sin, the result is the death of Sabbath. There is death in the joy of our labors as it becomes labor, one that many have described as something eating away or slowly killing them. Joy with children and bringing them up is now intermixed with pain and suffering and strife (the “pain of childbirth” refers not only to the act of giving birth, but the entire process of raising a child. I’m sure those with teenagers can attest to that pain on some level). There is now marital strife. The closest human relationship we have on earth (wife and husband) is now mixed with striving and difficulty. The fact that things are not worse, however, is God’s act of mercy. Even in the midst of our sin, as we are being punished, God stays his hand. God continues to sustain, and rather than wiping out these relationships completely, he allows us to retain a measure of their joy. This is instructive to us, it reminds us of the dangers of our sin (through the strife) and the joys that come from God. They are intermixed to help train us. Even God’s guardian over the tree of life is not meant as a punishment, but as a saving grace. We are now in a sinful state, slowly killing ourselves by our sin. If God allowed us to eat from the tree of life as we presently are, it would not be wonderful, but horrific. We would continue to live forever as we also continue to die. A continual process of dying without ever actually completing the process is not paradise, it is hell. God needs to transform our being, from our sinful core, out. Only once we are transformed can we enjoy the tree of life. Only then can we be saved. The first step in this transformation, then, is repentance, which I’ll address next week.

What do you think? Add your thoughts below

Church History Minute: John Duns Scotus

Who was he? A high (late) middle ages philosopher and theologian, who was referred to as “the subtle doctor.” He may have been born in Scotland (in Duns) and certainly studied in France and likely lectured at both Oxford and Cambridge. Little is known about him personally, though he was born around 1266 and died in 1308. He is also the apparent founder of scholasticism as a school of thought (something Martin Luther liked to mock).

Why was he important? John Duns Scotus pioneered rigorous philosophical thought in the West before it was a thing. He followed largely the thought of Aristotle (as became common among Scholastics) and developed Aristotle’s ideas further. In particular, Scotus reinvigorated the idea of formal distinctions and univocity of being. While these are very complex terms, for the sake of ease, they are ways in which we can talk about and discuss God as being in himself and as Trinity, as well as other metaphysical things. Further he emphasized both human freedom and divine will through developing the Aristotelian concept of contingency to its current usage. In this way, Scotus may have indirectly influenced the way science is done and the language used to describe scientific methodology. For Roman Catholics, he also developed the idea of the immaculate conception of Mary. While I don’t personally believe in such an event, if one has a very strong view of both Original Sin (and Guilt) coupled with baptismal regeneration of infants, as the Roman Catholic Church does, it seems all but required that some account of the sinlessness of Mary be made because of the sinlessness of Christ (however, it seems this might lead to a infinite regress). Despite my personal dislike of this, it is part of Duns Scotus’s heritage.

Fun Fact: John Duns Scotus’s name is the source of the word “dunce,” which was a title given to someone in school in the US who had either not completed assignments, or had made some other major failure. The “dunce cap” that the child was made to wear is modeled after the hat Duns Scotus is seen wearing in the above picture.

Where might I have heard of him? The reason for this negative association is because of the Protestant Reformation, but Martin Luther in particular. Luther sought to deride the predominant Roman Catholic Theology of the day and so targeted he Scholastics, whom he referred often as “some learnèd men”. He sought to ridicule their focus on speculative philosophy that went beyond biblical interpretation (not realizing that he himself often did the same) and so suggested that they argued about “how many angels can dance upon the head of a pin” which is not something the Scholastics were ever seriously concerned with. It was more rhetorical than factual, unfortunately next to Aquinas, Duns Scotus’s reputation seems to have been hit the worst. The reason “dunce” was so popular in the US is likely due to our Puritan heritage.

Getting (sorta) political

Well last night was the final US presidential debate (no I didn’t watch it I’m out of the country voting absentee). And roughly 2% of the US population is still undecided. During this election time, I think it would be helpful for us to keep some things in mind about the role our faith plays. I’ve indicated before that I believe a separation of church in state is admirable, perhaps even biblically  and philosophically necessary in a republic like the US, but is not genuinely possible in the most absolute sense (i.e. you can’t exclude someone’s personal religious beliefs from every decision they make, even if you limit it). As people begin to “unfriend” or “hide” “friends” on facebook over politics, as vitriol begins to be poured out on both sides, as others simply refuse to vote for one of the major candidates because they vehemently disagree with both, and as everyone gets called an idiot by everyone else, remember this: you are a Christian first and eternally, you are a US citizen second and temporarily.

That means several things

  1. The US is not the kingdom of God (and if you think otherwise we’ve got some serious issues).
  2. Your duty is first to your brothers and sisters in Christ. This encompasses the universal church, regardless of whether you share all the same theology. You are to care for and love other Christians as brothers and sisters regardless of who they do or do not vote for.
  3. Your duty is next to those marginalized by society. The poor, the immigrant (alien), the lonely (widowed), those who have no voice or only their own voice. This duty is not primarily political, but personal. You don’t get out of it by voting a certain way.
  4. Your duty is also to the unity of the church before it is to any political party or nation. You have a stricter allegiance to Christians of another denomination on another continent than you do to a secular political party.
  5. You should not assume ill of people unless you have very good reason to do so. If you do have good reason to assume ill of them, you should pray for them, serve them and demonstrate overflowing love to them. It was Christ who did the same for you while been murdered in the most horrific fashion possible because of your ill actions.
  6. If you are genuinely trying to fulfill all of these duties, you cannot vilify those of a different political orientation. People don’t tend to vote a particular way or run for office because they are out to destroy a country. Such a position would be ridiculous. People tend to believe they are doing what is best for a country by their political actions (I acknowledge some people may vote for purely selfish reasons, but people don’t tend to run for office for entirely selfish reasons). We should be able to see things from the perspective of someone else. A Christian who votes for a Republican does not automatically support disregard for the environment or militaristic intervention. Likewise a Christian who votes for a Democrat does not automatically support the carrying out of abortions. Remember, these are your eternal brothers and sisters, not your enemies.

It may be good, even necessary, for Christians to engage with politics from time to time. However, when we do so, we need to be careful not to be dragged under by political rhetoric. Both sides will seek to do so, all of it should be resisted. You are a Christian first, and secular citizen second. God is ultimately sovereign, not you or me, and He knows what He’s doing, even when we don’t. Let’s keep our focus on Christ and his Church, not on the US and its flag. In doing so, let’s remember the words of that hymn “they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”


Difficult Passages 1 Samuel 28

This past week the people over at The Gospel Coalition asked Dale Ralph Martin some hard questions about 1 Samuel 28 the episode involving the witch of Endor (the non-George Lucas one), Saul, and Samuel. As I would expect, Martin does an excellent job with the three questions and you can read his response here. He is asked three questions about the passage:

  1. Is the spirit the witch summons actually Samuel? Or a demon acting like Samuel (1 Sam. 28:14-15)?
  2. Where is Samuel coming from—especially since he says Saul and his sons “shall be with me” (1 Sam. 28:19)?
  3. The Bible paints very different pictures of Samuel, Saul, and Jonathan. Yet Samuel seems to say they will all be in the same place (Sheol?). Should we assume anything about Saul’s salvation from this? (1 Sam. 28:19)

He lays out the various options, and does a good job explaining question three and two, for the most part. However, Martin is a bit more cautious (surprisingly) than I’d suggest, particularly with the first question. He simply lays out the options and doesn’t give an argument for any one of them in particular. I think we can afford a little bit more specificity than that. Here’s my attempt to do so. In other words, while I don’t disagree with Martin, I think a little bit of elaboration might be in order.

First, Martin notes the various options, which I repeat here for the sake of ease. It could be the case that either the witch actually summons Samuel through the forbidden act of necromancy, the witch summons a demon who merely looks and acts like Samuel, God allows this forbidden means to work so Samuel can appear to convey a message, or the witch is a fraud and is shocked when Samuel actually shows up.

I think we can begin by eliminating some of these options. While it might be possible that this is merely a demon who acts like Samuel, this seems very problematic and should probably be rejected. The message given by what appears to be Samuel seems to very clearly come from God. While it is certainly true that God could use the demons, since he has absolute sovereignty, to convey his message, such a position is not very attractive for two reasons. First, there is the idea of God using an entity with its own distinct will against that will. The very idea that demons were able to rebel in the first place suggests that they have some sort of free will. Likewise, if we are to assume that God is not responsible in any way for our sin we should argue that we have a free will and are not unwilling tools. Thus the idea of God using a creature, even a demon, against its will places in jeopardy all of freedom, including human freedom. Besides, most ethical codes note that it is immoral to use a free person without respect for the ends of the person. This does not mean we cannot stop someone from doing exactly what they want, but to compel them, not through convincing or negative consequences, seems somehow immoral, and I don’t think God ever changes what morality is to fit his purpose (rather he somehow uses and integrates our freely arrived at decisions in his greater plan). It is difficult to see how a demon would willingly convey God’s message considering that everything about their actions is geared towards rebellion against God. However, if this is not convincing, the second reason should be. Even if it is not a moral violation to use a demon in this way, ultimately by making Saul believe Samuel is speaking to him, if it were not Samuel it would be deceptive. Do we really want to say that God engages in deception? Even if God does not directly engage in it in this scenario, if he is allowing a demon to be deceptive in order to convey his own message, this still seems counter to the way in which God acts. Thus I would be inclined to say this is not and cannot have been a demon, but is instead Samuel himself.

This brings us to the second issue. How does Samuel get there? Is he summoned via necromancy? Does God permit it to work? Again, I think it a bit dangerous to assume that God would work through a forbidden and sinful act to directly convey his message (i.e. his message being conveyed is entirely contingent upon a willful sinful act taking place). Besides, we have the bewilderment of the witch herself. Regardless of whether the witch was genuine or a fake, I think we have to accept that Samuel appeared to Saul in order give this message, but that this appearance was independent of the witch’s actions.

Now this presents another problem, particularly for those who have been reading my Tuesday speculative posts. If I maintain that there isn’t an immaterial soul that is entirely separate from our bodies, then what is going on here? The text does not say it was an immaterial spirit that appeared. Instead, it seems that something was seen, which would run counter to the idea of immateriality. Further, the word could mean spirit, figure, object, any number of words that suggest a visible something that can’t necessarily be defined (it could be a body, but needn’t be one). But how would Samuel be seen at that time? There is a term for this that has been taken up and applied theologically called “prolepsis.” It is literally talking about appearance, but it has been elaborated to its more basic sense of seeing ahead of time. In other words, it is a vision, or appearance, of the future. In this instance, on my view, it is seeing the future day when the dead are alive again, and it is this Samuel who speaks to Saul. In other words, the medium is seeing, and Saul is hearing, through time. This is a possibility because of the nature of eternity. When Christ returns and we are transformed, this world remains (though is likewise transformed), but we are no longer bound by only our current space-time. In fact, it seems we exist in a much broader space-time where time as we know it begins to lose or shift in meaning. In this way, the future persons can convey messages with us (by God’s sovereignty) today.

What do you think? Any other problems with this passage? Any other passages you’d like to see covered here?

Science and Religion Friday: Christianity does have objective criteria

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent some time running through some of the critiques of religion generally, but Christianity more specifically, that are offered by atheists today, especially those who would fall into the category of the New Atheists.
I first examined the primary historical evidence they use to say that Christianity and Science, which they claim always leads to truth, are diametrically opposed: the Galileo Affair. I demonstrated that while religion was used as a tool against Galileo, the actual source of the conflict was something else entirely and theology had been co-opted in a way that violates its purpose (you can read parts 1, 2, and 3).

Then I explored one of the other primary critiques, namely that religion isn’t even intelligible and so should be ridiculed at worst, or excluded from public discourse at least. This position, actually, is not new. I traced it back to logical positivism and demonstrated how that movement, ultimately, failed (here are parts 1 and 2 of that).
Now I’d like to revisit that critique and take it in a new direction. The argument is that Christianity can’t approach truth in the same way that empirical investigations, like science or history, can. They claim that since belief in God is necessarily the belief in something outside of nature and natural occurrence, then we can’t really know about God, because we have no way of knowing, and so we should be either atheist or agnostic because “God hasn’t provided the evidence.” Setting aside the bias for empiricism as a the sole source of authoritative knowledge (keep in mind logical positivism tried to make that claim and failed), it’s also simply not true.

Seeking Objective Criteria

For the sake of argument, let’s take this claim at face value: all human knowledge must be verifiable through objective means and is attainable through natural phenomena and interpretations of them that seem to be the simplest and, therefore, most likely. Very well then. History fits this criteria very well. The thing about Christianity that one needs to keep in mind, provided one does fall into the liberal theology of the kerygmatic theologians that dominated most of the 20th century, is that it is fundamentally historical. The bible is not a collection of things that God dictated to writers or that fell out of the sky (the Koran makes that claim, the bible does not). The bible is, rather, a record of the historical actions of God mixed with interpretations of those actions.

Let’s take the interpretations presented in the bible out of the equation, because the critic may argue that these interpretations are fundamentally biased by a priori beliefs (beliefs assumed not proven). Alright, let’s just focus on the history. Now, if we do that, it may very well be true that many of the events, perhaps even most of the events in the bible that are interpreted as miraculous could be interpreted by appeals to coincidental natural phenomena (incredibly unlikely, but not impossible). So let’s, for the sake of argument, take those off the table as well. Even if we apply this liberally and remove most of the miraculous events, there is still one event for which a purely natural interpretation is not possible: the resurrection.

Here’s the thing about the resurrection of Jesus. According to the biblical witness, prior to his death Jesus a) predicted that he would die b) claimed to be God c) stated that the primary proof of this would be his resurrection. This is certainly how John’s Gospel interprets it. The seventh, and most important sign, for John is the resurrection. Let’s also look at the things specific to the resurrection that are historical in nature (beyond what Jesus said) as the bible tells them. The bible states that a) Jesus really did live b) Jesus was genuinely dead and c) More than 24 hours later (actually 3 Jewish days later) Jesus was suddenly not dead again, but alive in his physical body. The physicality of the claim is important. If it had been merely a “spiritual resurrection” then it would not be an objectively observable event. Jesus had to physically die and physically come alive a long period later in order to meet the criteria.

If this second set (that Jesus was a person who died and then much later was alive again) is true, then the only plausible interpretation is that there is a supernatural force. If it is the person of Jesus to whom this happened, and given the claims he made (predicting his death and resurrection while also claiming to be God), then we don’t just have good reason to accept the existence of a God somewhere, but specifically the Christian message of God as recorded in the gospels.

In sum, the resurrection provides an objective historical event that can be analyzed through historical methodology. If the non-supernatural causes of the event are true, they are objectively so. If they are objectively true then the supernatural interpretation and presumed causes are the simplest way to make sense of them and thus it is true. So there you have it: the resurrection event occurred in history involving the physical person of Jesus and as such provides an objective criteria by which to judge it. As Wolfhart Pannenberg puts it “the truth of the Christian faith rises or falls with the veracity of the resurrection of Jesus.” As I’ve heard many times in various settings, but I don’t know where the origin is from “we put all our eggs in the Easter basket.”

Next week, I’ll talk about why not only the resurrection is an objective historical event, but why we have good reason to believe it is true rather than not.

Foundational Doctrines: Sin, Part 1

I’m beginning an examination of foundational doctrines today, in what will be a weekly series (on Thursdays). We might think of it as catechesis, but it is might hope that we go beyond where most catechisms and creeds go and really explore the meaning of these ideas. As a jumping off point, I’m going to take Hebrews 6 and the six things listed there. The first one is “repentance from acts that lead to death.” Already we’ve got a lot to unpack. Clearly the focus is on repentance, but within repentance there are a lot of things tied up. Before we can talk about repentance, we need to talk about these “acts that lead to death.” In other words, we need to arrive at an understanding of what sin is (yay, fun times!). I’m not even going to be able to unpack sin, I don’t think, unless we go back to the beginning of the story of the world, before sin even entered the picture. In other words, in order to talk about repentance, we need to talk about sin, but before we can really understand what sin is, we need to understand what creation is really about. So let’s go back to Genesis 1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

There are a few things we can notice right away from this account of creation. First, the creation is fundamentally good. We should never talk about the created world as if it is merely to be used for our pleasure only (that’s not stewardship as God lays it out). We are to take care of the earth because it is good. God is not only the creator of everything, but he is the caretaker as well, the divine gardener. As his image and likeness, then, we are to take care of this creation in the manner that God would.

Rather than a laborious task, however, this is meant to be a wonderful occurrence. This is gardening as relaxation and worship, not heavy labor. This can be seen from the conclusion to the first creation account, given at the start of chapter 2, the Sabbath rest. Creation, at least the first account of creation, is not only about God being the origin of the world (and thus creation is good), but is about this Sabbath rest. There is a poetic nature to God’s acts as Genesis 1 gives them.

day and night – Day 1

sea and sky – Day 2

land – Day 3

sun and moon (to fill Day and Night)– Day 4

fish and birds (to fill Sea and Sky) – Day 5

land animals and people (to fill the land)– Day 6

This poetic parallel set up by God’s own actions conveys a message in itself: the creation is ordered. It also draws focus to the day that interrupts the parallel: the Sabbath. The Sabbath breaks into this action, movement, work and brings rest, community, and enjoyment. The focus on creation is at least as much upon the Sabbath as it is upon the work of creation (I would argue moreso). There is no indication that the Sabbath was meant to be a single day either. It seems, rather, that the Sabbath was established as the original order of things. The Sabbath is how the world is supposed to be. This is why the author of Hebrews is obsessed with the idea of the Sabbath rest that “still remains” for those in the covenant with God. Incidentally, Sabbath is also what sin interrupts. After the two creation accounts, the very next episode is the fall of humanity. Sin enters the world. The Sabbath is interrupted not by the next day, but by sin. Martin Luther suggests the first man and woman only made it a few hours before they sinned. I think it’s possible Luther gives humanity too much credit.

I’ll get to the specifics of the fall of humanity next week. Today I’d just like to focus on this specific aspect of sin. Sin is the interruption of Sabbath. Sin is opposed to creation, to God’s goodness. Sin brings restlessness to rest and labor to relaxation. Sin breaks community, destroys enjoyment, and seeks goodness outside of God.

Question: What does thinking about sin in the context of Sabbath mean for you?

Church History Minute: Martin Luther

Who was he? Really? You don’t know? How’d you make it to this blog? Ok, uh, he’s the founder of Protestantism.

No, but who was he really? Oh well let’s a bit more valid. Let’s cover that in the next question

Why was he important? Really let’s just do the history. Martin Luther did not set out initially to separate from Rome. He was an Augustinian monk and Augustine’s theology was heavily influential upon him. The son of a wealthy copper miner, he initially studied law, but after pleading for his life in a lightening storm, he fulfilled his hasty promise to become a monk. As a monk, he showed himself to be very apt intellectually and so was sent to study theology where he read the New Testament, and later the entire bible, in its entirety. Having been also influenced by the Christian humanists as well, he focused on Paul’s quotation, in Romans 1, of Habakkuk: “The Just will live by faith.” Again, having been trained a lawyer (and an Augustinian), he set this in a strongly legal context. We are declared just, argued Luther, in the heavenly courtroom by virtue of our faith in Christ alone.

Once Johann Tetzel began aggressively selling indulgences of grace to those with money to pay, funds that were used either for the building of St Peter’s Basilica or for the loans that were taken out for said Basilica, Martin Luther became enraged. On October 31, 1517 (yes 500 years is coming up) he nailed 95 theses to Castle Church in Wittenburg.

His work was taken and reprinted on the still fairly recent printing press. Eventually, the notoriety of Luther, primarily from these 95 theses, but also other pamphlets, led to a trial of sorts at Augsburg. Luther did not recant but escaped.

Luther was excommunicated via Papal Bull and he became more stubborn. Eventually (and I’m skipping) this culminated in the Diet of Worms (another trial) where he also refused to recant giving his famous “Here I stand” speech. Although Tetzel had been stopped by this point, Luther was pushing against what he saw as other abuses in a very derogatory manner. It was no longer about indulgences.

Luther went into hiding at this point, during which he focused on translating the bible into German, laying the foundation for much of modern German in the process. During this time some radical reformation took place, which in Germany led to a massive peasants war, which Luther deplored. Once he sided with the kings and the revolt died down he married a former nun (solidifying his separation), worked to organize a new church with his translation and a new confession was drawn up: the Augsburg Confession.

He was no stranger to controversy, but I’m running out of words.

Fun Fact: The tunes for many of his hymns were based upon German drinking songs. Luther thought they’d be more memorable that way.

Where might I have heard of him? Seriously? I… I don’t even know what to do with this.

Where is heaven

Ok, keep in mind that on Tuesdays I’m not trying to be just informative, but really trying to delve into some questions that are difficult, or look at certain aspects of the Christian faith in a different perspective. While I hold the opinions I give in these posts, I recognize that I could be very, very wrong and that I’d consider these beliefs outside the core of Christianity (that doesn’t mean they aren’t important, it just means they are the essential things).

Today I’d like to explore a simple question that could potentially lead to a lot of discussion. The question is this: where is heaven?

If you recall, the last two weeks I had suggested that its possible we are not body and separate soul, but instead one unified entity. Further, I went on to argue that this is closer to the biblical view of the human person than the idea of an immaterial soul, which I suggested comes from Platonism. This leads to an interesting problem, though. If we are raised bodily at the end, then we need to ask where is heaven?

Heaven is a place on earth

No I’m not singing late ’80s ballads, and I’m not talking about it in the cheesy Hollywood sense, I’m suggesting that, at least at the end of history, heaven has a physical location, and that location is here on earth. The new Jerusalem is not somewhere else, but is upon the earth; it is not just a “new heaven” but the “new heavens and new earth” that are mentioned in Revelation. This is the language of the creation, but it is also different in that we don’t dwell in “new Eden” but “new Jerusalem”. In other words, the end of the world isn’t met with the undoing of human history, but the redemption of it (and in some ways the affirmation of parts of it). In this sense, then, it’s not about getting there (heaven as somewhere else), but about bringing about the Kingdom of God here (which will then become the new heavens and earth). So, in a very real sense, then heave is on earth, just not yet.

However, this doesn’t entirely solve the problem. We still might ask, then, where is God now? We might say that since God is spirit that a physical location is not necessary (indeed God is both in heaven and upon the earth). At this point, those who want to affirm the existence of a separate immaterial soul might think it would be good to avoid thinking of heaven as a place somewhere because immaterial things don’t need physical space to be in heaven. However, there’s a problem. Neither the one who believes in the immaterial soul nor the person who believes in an eschatological resurrection of the dead without an intervening “disembodied” period can avoid. The trouble is, Jesus was raised as a physical body, one that could be touched, held and seen; a body that cooked and ate and spoke with people; yet also a body that could move through walls or disappear from sight. And Paul makes the clear connection in 1 Corinthians 15 that Christ’s physical bodily resurrection is vitally important. This isn’t a spiritual resurrection that contemporary religious cults might have talked about, but the physical body of Jesus. That body was the one who ascended to heaven. Another way we might ask this question, then is

Where is Jesus now?

At this point, we are left with a few options:

1) We could say that Jesus’ body transformed again to a non-physical one and it is this immaterial self is heaven.* There are a few problems with that, though, besides the total lack of scriptural support. First, if Jesus got rid of his physical self, then it seems the power of the incarnation is somehow diminished. Part of the remarkable nature of the incarnation is that it resulted in a permanent change in God, now one person of the trinity was human. Also Jesus was not human for a limited time, but remained human (albeit a radically different kind of human than we are, but a human nonetheless, and so our “elder brother” as Scripture says). If Jesus could have been transformed at any point following the incarnation, then the resurrection is that much less transformative of our world. I think I may need to reserve my fuller comments about the incarnation for another post (because it’s pretty in depth, and must be approached cautiously, for while Jesus is human like us, he is also presently almost nothing like us). Finally, if Jesus is spirit now, then why is there a need for the Holy Spirit at all? Jesus only left us and then came back as the Spirit. If that is the case, then we should be modalists (I’m not a modalist, which is a heresy that has experienced a bit of revival and denies the Trinity as three different persons).

2) Jesus is in heaven, which exists as a physical place in spatial (and possibly temporal) dimensions that are not observable by humans. This option is viable because there is nothing mathematically or physically, preventing there from being multiple other spatial dimensions outside of the four that we can experience (three spatial, one temporal). We can even predict what higher dimensional objects might look like to us were they to intersect our observable space-time. In fact, if Jesus was able to move between these various dimensions that would explain how he physically could go through walls or disappear from sight. While this is all very interesting, and may be a viable option, it has problems too. First, it is highly speculative and also has no scriptural support (though, honestly, it doesn’t seem like it could have scriptural support considering these are relatively recent hypotheses). Second, if Jesus is simply in different spatial dimensions that nevertheless occupy the same space as us (which this seems to indicate), then why does he remain there? It would not be difficult for him to come in and out, back and forth between the two. Why is he there rather than here? (although, again, this may be behind the general longing for Christ’s return seen in Scripture and most Christians’ lives).

3) (Yes I tend to reserve my views for last) The question is wrong. It’s not “where is Jesus” but “when is Jesus”? Hang on, because things may get a little weird. The Resurrection event was an eschatological (end of the world) event. It had been acknowledged by many Jewish theologians prior to Jesus’ birth that at the end of the world everyone would be raised from the dead. This is the only time that sustained resurrection (not temporary resuscitation) would occur. In this way, Jesus’ Resurrection was an end of the world event. This may also explain why Matthew tells us that at Jesus’ death, many dead people in Jerusalem rose form their tombs. It really was an end of the world type of thing and the end of history breaking into the midst of it at the crucifixion and resurrection had such a huge ripple effect that it became eschatological for other dead persons as well. The early church seems to have understood the resurrection of Jesus in these eschatological terms because they are waiting for the eminent end of the world. Yet it wasn’t the end of the world, instead it was the end of the world occurring in the midst of that history, localized to the person of Jesus. In this sense, Jesus’ time “jumped” to the end of history while he was still in the midst of it. Given the generally accept understanding of eternality as holding all times in unison, this is not a contradiction. Jesus continued to act and function from his eternal perspective in the midst of our temporal one. In the same way, then, we can continue to pray to him (or to the Father through him) by the Holy Spirit because his eternity includes our present, past, and future. So he is in heaven now, with all those Christians who have died (and in one sense with us who are Christians as well) waiting for history to catch up, and when it does, his return will be the new heavens and the new earth upon this time and space right now. So I guess I am saying heaven really is a place on earth.


* I’ve discussed this position before in the context of Transformation Theology at Kings, and why, ultimately, I can’t agree with the project because it begins with the assumption that the present Christ is somehow distinct from the resurrected Christ.

Difficult Passages: 2 Samuel 24 vs 1 Chronicles 21

And we’re back to looking at difficult passages in the bible. This week, I’d like to look at the instance of David taking the census as recorded in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21.

Right of the bat, we have a bit of a discrepancy in these parallel passages that are otherwise in agreement (sometimes word for word agreement). 2 Samuel 24:1 says:

Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

While 1 Chronicles 21:1 says:

Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

So, first question:

Who incited David?

Short answer: Satan did. Today in theology we often talk about the “active” and “passive” or more frequently “active” and “permissive” will of God. To say God allows something to take place, we recognize, is not the same thing as saying God is the one who directly causes it to occur. God actively redeems his people because he permitted them to sin of their own volition. The Ancient Hebrew mindset, it seems, did not account for such a strong distinction. It seems they would have been able to recognize the difference if they talked about it (hence the distinction that was made by the (later) writer of Chronicles), but nothing in their language could directly account for this. In either case, it remains that the two passages in juxtaposition make clear that Satan directly tempted David, David freely chose to give into this temptation, and that God allowed it all to come about because he was sovereign over the entire situation. The difference in the two passages, though, brings out a different emphasis in both. While in the Chronicles passage the idea is that David had gone so low as to succumb to the temptation of the devil, in the Samuel passage, the main idea is that God did not abandon Israel nor was God’s sovereignty ever in question. Given the themes of both books this makes sense. Chronicles seems heavily “David focused” and Samuel seems heavily focused on the relationship of God to the rulers of Israel (and how their rule is paralleled or not by God’s rule). This brings us to the next question:

What’s so bad about a census?

It is true that nothing specifically forbids a census in the Hebrew bible (per se), despite the incredibly popular rabbinical tradition that seems to be based upon this. So what’s the big deal? Well there are a few things: first, in Numbers the precedent is set that the census is done at the request of the LORD (YHWH), not by personal ambition. Lest we think this is a bit too shaky, we should note that the primary instruction for how a census should be conducted is Exodus 30: 11-16; which is place directly in the middle of instructions for building the tabernacle (and worship). This places the census completely within the context of divine relations to people, not secular ambition.

Still, even if we grant that David was not doing anything wrong by doing the census in itself, it appears he did not conduct it according to the way set out in Exodus 30. Specifically, it states that a small offering (half a shekel) was required of every person who was counted in order to act as a “ransom” for their lives to make a symbolic atonement (so taking a census was a very serious thing). This money would then be used or set aside specifically for worship to God. There is no indication that this was done (in fact it is strongly implied that God was the furthest thing from David’s mind when he did this). This brings us to the final question

Why was everyone else punished for what David did?

There are actually two things at play here. First, Israel was collectively redeemed as a family. Thus their fate was held together for all of them. When one sinned they all were held accountable. That may be at play, and certainly there are other passages have this idea in them, in which case the punishments are actually redemptive not punitive (they save the person punished, in the next life, lest they be destroyed for their actions now and forever). However, there may be a more individual accountability also.

Again, referring to the Exodus 30 passage, it was required by the law that when a census occurred an offering to God be collected from every person who was counted. That was not David’s responsibility only (even if he should have asked for it), but the responsibility of every person counted. Keep in mind that, at least concerning the Torah, these laws were drilled into every person from an early age. Everyone was thus fully responsible for the law and adherence to it once they were old enough to have learned it (this is what the contemporary Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah are intended to represent: adulthood comes about once the law has been thoroughly studied). Thus each person was responsible and God’s anger was with all of Israel. Also, considering it was only half a shekel, this was a relatively insignificant amount of money.

What do you think? Other questions? Also, please suggest future passages to be covered below.