Uncovering the Lie: Atheism as a Religious System

Recently, as I viewed an episode on the YouTube channel Rationality Rules, I observed an episode critiquing some of the work done by eminent Christian apologist William Lane Craig. This video was another attack on the Kalaam cosmological argument which, in recent days, seems to have become a whipping post for atheists of all kinds. While the channel tries to pretend that atheism is extremely rational and that science wins because it uses logic and observation, the individual who runs it is not particularly rational at all, nor are his assertions about science. What he is actually doing is smuggling a religious view in while denying that it is a religious view. 

Speaking rationally, the laws of logic cannot be proved with science yet science uses these laws to prove everything else. Since the atheistic materialistic view does not provide a mechanism for logic, it must steal the very basis of logic from the theistic worldview. This is also true with morality. If atheism posits that it is wrong to believe in God, then it must have a moral reason for stating that it is wrong. Why should a difference of opinion, whether educated or not, indicate that one side is wrong, and the other side is right? Again, since atheistic materialism cannot provide a basis for morality it must steal a basis of morality from theism. In other words, it is not rational to believe in rationality apart from God.

How does atheism try to justify this metaphysical theft from theism? It does so by using a philosophical or religious ideology called scientism. Scientism can be defined as: “an ideology that promotes science as the only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values. The term scientism is generally used critically, pointing to the cosmetic application of science in unwarranted situations not amenable to application of the scientific method or similar scientific standards (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientism).” Please note that while this definition was taken from Wikipedia, there are other philosophical sites that would provide a similar definition for scientism. It is not scientifically provable nor rational to believe that science is the only way to know something. In fact, it is not even logical to believe that science is the only way to know something. This is clearly a philosophical and religious prejudice on the part of atheists.

The next time you listen to a cleverly worded argument from an atheist or an atheistic website remember that he/she is borrowing metaphysical goods from theism, without which their system cannot explain or have a basis for its attacks on theism. This is intellectually dishonest and not terribly rational. It is always important to remember that it is not rational or morally good to believe in rationality or moral goodness apart from God. The atheist is on shaky ground as a beggar having to borrow from a worldview that it denies.


Theological Malpractice

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While Bible study, reading books and listening to videos of other great apologists is a good place to learn about apologetics, sometimes hitting the streets is a better way to learn about it through encounters with real people and their ideas. One of the great advantages of being out on the street is that you get to hear the more outlandish arguments and ideas held to by people. My recent trip out for First Fridays allowed me the encounter with a strange combination of theological assertions proposed by an individual. It was a blessing to be able to use the Greek text in my cell phone as well as the Hebrew text to confront him with the Scriptures in their original language and expose some of the fallacies he was expounding.

He made the assertion that since the phrase “tree of life” was used in Genesis and Revelation, Genesis was purely apocalyptic and not a literal historical account of the creation. This rather strange and foolish argument is predicated on certain false understandings related to the Scripture. Because the phrase is used in two different books under two different circumstances does not necessarily mean that the phrase means exactly the same thing both times. This is an important rule of thumb because the passages immediate context has a great deal of bearing on what a phrase means. The second foolish assertion that the gentleman had was that the genre of apocalyptic writing precludes anything within that writing from being actual fact and that all references within the writing must be symbolic. It is not necessarily true that everything in a piece of apocalyptic literature is not actual. Third, just because someone has done a little theological research or has a knowledge of the original languages that consists only of being able to read a few articles on a few words and try to make whole cases out of them makes an argument correct. It is always good to use commentaries and lexicons but oversimplification was at the heart of the fallacy of this gentleman’s reasoning.

Let’s discuss some counters to this gentleman’s rather outlandish way of looking at Genesis. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are Hebrew narrative this is indicated by the formal grammar of the passage. An analysis of the genre based on grammar is terribly important. There is a feature often translated “and” based on a Hebrew prefix which is indicative of Hebrew historical narrative and this specific feature appears throughout Genesis chapters one through eleven. The testimony of the Pentateuch itself we see Moses talking in chapters one through eleven. Since the testimony of the rest of the Pentateuch considers the creation story literal it cannot be regarded as apocalyptic because immediately surrounding this specific section of the Scriptures testimony is given that it is not to be treated as apocalyptic.

The gentleman’s counter accusation is while I understood Hebrew and Greek; I was guilty of putting a North American church gloss on my understanding of the Scriptures. As a Jewish person who came to faith through the Hebrew Scriptures, this charge was utterly ridiculous and was not even a good example of an ad hominem argument. Finally, in a fit of temper, he started stating that if God rested on the 7th day my God was a weak God. However, Jesus believed that God rested on the 7th day and took the creation story literally. Furthermore, the fact that God rested does not indicate that his ceasing from creating new things was related to any sort of physical tiredness at all but rather a voluntary choice. The voluntary choice of ceasing to create does not indicate any sort of weakness on God’s part at all but a choice the sovereign God made.

In short, this gentleman is an example of so much of what I see on the streets and in our society. I call it soundbite theology or individuals piece together parts of Scripture to create their own theology without regard to the proper method of interpretation and sound scholarship. Part of this ridiculousness is due to postmodern thinking that language and grammar are not grounded in objective truth. Our age also demonstrates a certain disdain for logic and scholarship which certainly will result in people being led to ridiculous positions and absurd theology. The Internet can teach us much, but we cannot piece together various Internet videos alone without a framework and decide that we are an expert in that field. The background is important, so is disciplined study and it behooves us to take the time to study the Scriptures and make ourselves accountable to sound individuals who may point out our missteps.

Discontinuity And Continuity How far is too Far?

The Christian faith’s connection with Judaism represents one of the hardest problems in theology. Two possible errors exist, both of which must be avoided. Several problems occur if we create too much of a discontinuity between Judaism and the Christian faith. One of these problems is that we decontextualize Jesus, who was regarded as a rabbi by His disciples, from the very milieu in which He ministered and taught - the environment of First Temple Judaism. But even the practice and testimony of the apostle Paul becomes, at best, ignorance of Judaism, or worse, deliberate deception on his part if we look at Paul’s own statement in Acts 23:6 (NKJV): “But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’” The Greek phrase “I am a Pharisee” renders the Greek word for “I am” in the present active indicative tense. In other words, Paul is not saying he WAS a Pharisee. Therefore, it is reasonable that Paul understood his Messianic faith clearly as being within Jewish pharisaic thought, that not in agreement with the majority view of the Pharisees, however.

 Furthermore, he continued to practice ceremonies connected with the Jewish religion, as we see in the following instructions to Paul. “But they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law (Acts 21:21–24, NKJV).” Paul would hardly have continued in Jewish ceremonial practices if he had regarded his faith in Jesus as being somehow entirely disconnected and entirely new from Judaism.

The error of creating too much discontinuity interferes with the bringing of the good news to the Jewish people, and logically so. It would not be honorable for a Jewish person to embrace something that is antithetical to all the revelation and the molding of Jewish culture which God did in times past. To expect a Jewish person to jettison a God-given identity and its underpinnings is not required by God and would not be consistent with the understanding of the first disciples or the early church. This is an error that too many make.

The other mistake would be to make faith in Jesus another form of Rabbinical Judaism. Clearly, Jesus made claims that connected to certain minority views and ideas in Judaism which were not accepted by the majority. Jesus also claimed an authority above the rabbis and the oral law later codified in the Mishnah, making Jesus and any of His followers distinct from other individuals of the Jewish faith. The purported view, however, reduces faith in Jesus to a mere, historically and theologically problematic, Judaism.

So how is Jesus distinct, and in what ways should we view Him as radically divergent from the majority of Jewish opinion in His day? The radical differentness of Jesus is found in His person and mission, not in separating Him from the Jewish context in which He ministered. One of these aspects would be the newness of the covenant He offers. This material can be clearly understood from Jeremiah 31:31-33. Even more essentially, He is new in His person as the God-man. No prophet or priest prior to Jesus could ever, would ever, dare to make such a claim. Yet John 1:1-3 (NKJV) states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” Finally, there is uniqueness in the atonement He offers which is far above and distinctly different than atonement under the Mosaic system. “But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore, He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24–25, NKJV).”

In conclusion, we must strive to keep Jesus’ uniqueness and distinctiveness on the proper grounds and not infer a total disjunction from the Judaism of His day. This is the path that matches biblical theology and avoids error. This is also the path that preserves God’s heartfelt intention to reach the Jewish people.

The Necessity of Listening in Evangelism

I have a unique privilege to spend time out and about witnessing to people in public venues. While I want to be careful with my words, I think it is important for us who would be apprentices of Jesus to deal with certain topics in balance. I recently had a blessed time doing outreach at a home game for the Arizona baseball team known as the Diamondbacks. I want to be perfectly clear that I enjoy very much working with some of the dear brothers and sisters who go out to share the good news of Messiah and believe them to be good and faithful warriors for God’s kingdom on the whole. I am not certain whether reformed theology and Calvinism are responsible for some of the things I see when we are out there. I see a tendency to feel that simply stridently and rudely ignoring the objections and opinions of those to whom they are witnessing is a complete, effective, and loving proclamation of the gospel. In other words, that winning the argument and bringing someone to faith involves riding roughshod over their concerns and objections related to the truth of the gospel being shared. I contend that this is neither biblical nor wise.

One of my favorite apologists, Ravi Zacharias, has often observed that the Christian apologist is to conduct oneself as a lady or gentleman. Often the very people who will ignore the opinions of others and not address them in a kind way are the very ones who proclaim on a street corner how much they love the individuals they’re trying to reach. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love is kind, so unkindness by its very nature is not love. Ignoring and not allowing people to tell their story and give their objections (to a limited level) diminishes their dignity and dishonors their creator.

Let’s demonstrate this from the word of God:

“Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands (Acts 17:22–24, NKJV).’”

First, Paul the Jew, who has an absolute natural hatred for idolatry, complements these men by stating that they are very religious. He does not state that the reason for their objects of worship is their total depravity. Second, while he makes use of the truth of the Word, he does not proof text them with a whole bunch of verses. In fact, he does not directly use Scripture at all. Third, he relates the altar to “the unknown god” to the one true God and states that their problem is ignorance, not a willful, knowledgeable rejection of God.

The apostle Paul is careful to distinguish between a deliberate, conscious, knowledgeable rejection of Jesus and an ignorant or unconscious rejection of God. He bears witness that his own kinsmen have a zeal for the one true God but are darkened in their understanding of him, having rejected the method of righteousness which God has prescribed. Concerning the Jews, he says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:1–2, NKJVK).” He does not believe for one moment that they are consciously and deliberately attempting not to worship the God of the universe. Nor does he assume that they cannot respond to some knowledge of God on some level.

We do not know people’s reason for rejecting Jesus if we do not give them the opportunity to explain their story and tell us their reasons, then we are not giving God a chance to get around their roadblocks. It is the height of unloving behavior to assume things about a person without seeking to lovingly communicate with that person. Yes, human beings do resist God. However, this in no way means that all human beings resist everything about God to the same extent in the same way, or that they cannot respond to what they know about God on some limited and non-saving level. Furthermore, God uses the responses of unsaved people, though in themselves non-saving, as part of His Providence to lead them to His Son.

We must be careful to balance the truth of man’s sinfulness with the equal truth of them being made in the image of God and thus having an ability to respond, however ineffectually, to the overtures of God. We must also acknowledge that God uses these imperfect responses as part of His plan in saving an individual. We must conduct ourselves in a way that is respectful and loving, not simply by stating we love people but by listening to their hearts and looking for the way God wants to reach them as we preach the gospel in outreach.

“My little children let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18, NKJV).”

 

Avoiding a Hypocritical Trap

I fully admit there are atheists who, for emotional or personal reasons, do not believe in God and that is their personal conviction. I have no problem with those individuals who merely have a personal distaste for faith in God. But I do have a problem with individuals who try to wear the façade of intellectualism and sound reasoning while engaging in intellectually dishonest practices.

There is an intellectually dishonest and hypocritical trick that neo-atheists are playing on theists and young Christians. It creates an uneven playing field and a disingenuous argument against the existence of God. It is important that those who engage in the area of apologetics, whether particularly Christian or theistic in general, learn to avoid this trap and help others to avoid it. The argument goes like this:

A: There is no God

B: Logical and empirical evidence must be provided to prove there is a God

C: There is not enough logical and empirical evidence to prove there is a God

D: Therefore, there is no God

Now, this is not always the exact structure this argument takes, but it usually takes a similar structure. The first problem with this argument which very few people are able to logically understand (because most people in our society are not trained to think) is that the lack of evidence doesn’t disprove anything. A mere lack of evidence does not prove something which could or could not be true. Let me give you an example. If I were unable to prove that a certain day was a certain day of the week it would not mean that it was not that day of the week. Let’s say it is Wednesday. If I could not prove it was Wednesday on any given Wednesday it would not cease to be Wednesday. What most people don’t understand is that evidence doesn’t make something true, it only verifies something which is already true. So my ability or inability to prove something doesn’t change the truth value of the statement which I am proposing.

Second, in using logic and morality in any argument against God the individual is making a truth claim of their own. They are claiming that logic and morality can exist apart from God. Therefore, there is a burden of proof on them to demonstrate that a mechanism exists under a naturalistic, materialistic worldview which accounts for both morality and the laws of logic - and this argument must be made without using the laws of logic or morality to demonstrate the existence of logic or morality. There is a burden of proof on the atheist to demonstrate that his system can account for the features which they are borrowing from theism in order to disapprove theism. Now the atheist’s own rules of engagement need to be used on him/her in order to point out the burden of evidence they bear in any conversation related to the existence of God. The atheist must be held to the same rules which they are forcing the theist to play. It is the height of intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy for an atheist to demand that the theist must play by rules that he or she is unwilling to subject themselves to.

If the atheist will not demonstrate a mechanism which accounts for the features of logic and morality in the universe, then any argument they raise must be considered self-defeating and be immediately tossed out. Specifically, and more importantly, Christian apologists must learn to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. This means unmasking the dishonest practices used simply to manipulate minds and to put forth an agenda without the intent for honest intellectual discussion.

The Apologetics cycle

I had the opportunity this week to present the idea of an apologetics training and outreach group to my adult Sunday school class. In preparing to do so and while presenting the idea to them, some interesting cognitive dissonances were brought to the forefront of my consciousness. Many in the class agreed that the training would be good but far less were willing to commit themselves to go out and interact with people about spiritual things. I heard that they already do that regularly in their lives, and while I was happy to hear that and am grateful for every opportunity they get to share the gospel, I also heard some things that disturbed me slightly. I heard that we shouldn’t dispute with people. Well, I agree with that statement, but do believe we should strongly reason with people.

Now, how is strongly reasoning different than disputing? I’m not sure that everybody in the room understood the difference between the two. I think Christians often have a desire to avoid uncomfortable situations and manage to do so by simply saying they “got training that said we shouldn’t really argue.” However, one can honestly disagree and present one’s case strongly without necessarily engaging in disputing. This exchange of ideas is called conversation. You had better be sure that Muslims have no trouble getting in people’s faces and encouraging them to embrace Islam, particularly in countries with a high Islamic population. Yet, the average North American Christian does not want to face opposition to his or her presentation of the gospel and will back away from confrontation thinking that they are following Jesus’s directions to wipe the dust off their feet when they leave the conversation. I contend that Jesus did not intend for us to be so milquetoast.

What struck me like a Mack Truck was the total disconnect between the need for training and the need to go out and use that training. In other words, folks say, “I think the training would be great, but don’t ask me to go out and use it.” I was struck by the disconnect in what I would call the apologetic circle, which I will present with a little diagram:

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Training is the beginning of the cycle but is not the end of our activity. The next step is often neglected. Many of the comments I heard indicated that because people engaged in life evangelism and friendship evangelism, they had met their quota. Now, it’s true that not everyone is called to go out and do street outreach and that people who are living their lives and raising their families do have limited time. But it doesn’t mean that regular, intentional opportunities shouldn’t be offered, and that individuals from all walks of life should not participate in those activities in engagement with the local church. Intentional opportunities lead to actual encounters with human beings who may not necessarily interact with Christians under any other circumstances.

When it comes to spiritual interactions, many North American Christians will opt out at the first sign of objections without considering the reason the Lord allows them to experience those objections. Often, the Lord allows objections as an opportunity for the believer to sharpen his or her knowledge of what they believe and why. After learning those answers, they are then able to use them in further encounters for the kingdom’s sake. Of course, the objections will come. Every unbeliever alive has an objection to Christ. Every believer needs be able to give some preliminary answers to the best of his or her ability which allows the believer to articulate what they understand and to uncover what they don’t yet understand and therefore must learn. The cycle repeats itself as the believer gets further training to better handle future encounters. This ongoing cycle with training and opportunity also gives more experienced apologists a chance to sharpen their skills as they help train less experienced believers and allows them to be used in the body of Christ in an ongoing way, either in the resources they create or in the direct training of believers. Please consider where you fit in the cycle of evangelism and apologetics.

The Deadly Power of Legalism

The Deadly Power of Legalism

The area of apologetics concerning law keeping is rather large, but there is one important thing to note. Even Judaism does not believe that all the commandments can be kept. Therefore, Judaism is admitting that the Law cannot be kept in the form in which it was originally given. The fiction the Jewish people today perpetuate of keeping the whole Torah is one kept alive by the rabbis and asserted by some in Judaism. The existence of the Talmud clearly speaks against this particular idea.

Synagogue shooting in Poway and Replacement Theology, ideas do have consequences

A recent event and its chronological closeness to Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, prompted this specific blog. The recent event was a synagogue shooting that occurred in Poway, California. A young man went into a synagogue and started firing on the people inside, killing and injuring individual Jews who had come to worship. Now, this isn’t the first time that a synagogue shooting has occurred here in the United States. In fact, incidents of synagogue shootings are up statistically from previous years. What was significant about this shooting was the background of the young man who did it - so significant that the Washington Post noted it in their article. He was in the tender of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. And he wrote a manifesto where he repeated elements of an anti-Semitic theology called “Replacement Theology.”

A few disclaimers need to be given here as many of my apologist friends are of a reformed theological persuasion and I believe to them to be godly proclaimers of the gospel of Jesus Christ and individuals with a love for the Bible. I also do not believe that every member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church desires to bomb synagogues or hurt Jewish people. In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that most of them would like to see Jewish people embrace Jesus.

However, to argue that there is no connection between Replacement Theology and the conduct of this young man is to ignore the fact that ideas in theology have consequences. I’m not sure that theologically or logically I can make the argument that there is no connection between theological ideas and the activity of individuals. So let us say that this is a moral act that had theological underpinnings which need to be discussed.

One of my concerns with some of the thinking that goes on in the reformed theology camp is its reliance upon systematic theology above and even against biblical theology. Biblical theology is very clear that the promises given to Israel were given specifically to Israel, not to the church, and it distinctly distinguishes between the Church and Israel. One way to look at this is that Israel and the Church are two aspects of the people of God; this view may give an option to my more reformed friends that will allow them to preserve a level of reformed thinking but still be biblically accurate.

Let me begin by illustrating a few of the distinctions made between Israel and the Church that indicate they cannot possibly be the same entity.

Israel Israel is a nation chosen by God and sustained by covenant promises (Deut. 7:6-9).2 In God’s program for Israel, His witnesses comprised a nation (Isaiah 43:10).
The Church The Church is a called-out assembly of believers who have been baptized into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). In God’s program for the Church, His witnesses are among all nations (Acts 1:8).

 

Since the composition of and programs for the Church and Israel are distinctly different, they cannot possibly be the same entity. My reformed friends need to come to grips with this basic reality in whatever way possible. I’m sure there must be a way that they can do this theological activity.

My second concern is an over-reliance upon the church fathers. My concern here is that the church fathers did carry with them the infection of anti-Antisemitism. An over-reliance upon their documents without critically applying biblical theology imports anti-Antisemitism into the church. Let’s look at a few quotes by some of the church fathers. One of the most influential church fathers was Augustine of Hippo. He states clearly, “How hateful to me are the enemies of your Scripture! How I wish that you would slay them (the Jews) with your two-edged sword, so that there should be none to oppose your word! Gladly would I have them die to themselves and live to you (Confessions 12.14)!” Of course, he’s not the only church father to make exceedingly anti-Semitic remarks. 

John Chrysostom is noted for his flaming anti-Antisemitism. In his work, Against Jews, he writes, “The synagogue is worse than a brothel…it is the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts…the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults…the refuge of brigands and dabauchees, and the cavern of devils. It is a criminal assembly of Jews…a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ… a house worse than a drinking shop…a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and a abyss of perdition… I would say the same things about their souls… As for me, I hate the synagogue…I hate the Jews for the same reason (Hay 28).”

You can see the problem with importing the theology of the church fathers wholesale without a critical ear. It would be an oversimplification to say that Replacement Theology in the anti-Semitic sentiments of the church fathers caused the synagogue shooting in Poway, California. But what we can say is that these anti-Semitic ideas are antithetical to a sound Biblical theology of Israel and the Church, and that some way must be found to steer clear of Replacement Theology. We must weigh the words of the church fathers on a different scale than the words of Scripture. I would urge all Christians, including my more reformed friends, to join me in this great enterprise.

 

Hay, Malcom. Thy brother’s blood: the roots of christian anti-semitism. Hart Publishing, 1975.

Where in the World Is Jeff and What Has He Been up to?

Rather than deal with a theological issue this time, I decided update you on some of the ministry that happened while I was on the road and since settling back in Phoenix. Sometimes it is a good idea to simply reflect on some of the opportunities I have had along the journey.

I had a marvelous tour up in the states of Washington, Idaho, and Montana. One of the interesting stories I remember happened while preaching at a church in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. They had a beautiful view of the mountain behind the pulpit. While I was facing the audience as I preached, a huge eagle came by and glided across the window right behind me. The folks in the audience said it was a beautiful thing to see.

The opportunity I had after a “Messiah in the Passover” at a different church was also a tremendous blessing. After the presentation three of the men from the church desired to come and have a second meeting with me which allowed us to converse about some questions that they had and about the word of God.

My time at home included the opportunity to teach a group from YWAM some apologetic material related to Islam and the Bible. This opportunity allowed me to spend at least an hour via Zoom teaching students in California while I was in my office in Phoenix, Arizona. Such opportunities for distance teaching present another avenue of ministry that does not require the complications involved in traveling to locations.

I hope to have musings of a more deeply reflective and theological nature in the upcoming blog. I trust that God will give me the ideas as they are needed.

Through a Time of Transition

I begin with a quote from the Screwtape letters by CS Lewis:

“He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles.”

I’ve never been one who enjoys transitions and yet have been driven to one of the biggest transitions of my life. In some ways this is terribly exciting, but in other ways it can be terribly frightening. On the exciting side, as you can see from the pictures included with this blog, I have had the joy of being ordained under the Southern Baptists to gospel ministry. This meant leaving something behind and I am not one to let go of past loyalties easily. Beyond this, I’m not one who enjoys uncertainty, but rather who enjoys having everything planned. And so, as they say, “everything old is new again.” The Lord has brought me back to the first verse I ever memorized and the exchanged-life principle found therein. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20, NKJV).”

This story we live, while filled with our choices, is never ours alone but part of a much larger story. And we, as characters in the story, are never fully in control of the storyline. Total freedom is a human illusion. This does not diminish us as image bearers but simply means that as His image bearers, we bear the image of one who is far greater than ourselves. Our choices are truly a part of our story but the landscape that we walk in, the scenes that we enter into, are guided by a hand which is not our own. Many of the changes and parts of my life story I did not plan but the great joy of the exchanged life principle - by which Christ lives in me and I live out my life in Him - is that there is a sensible story. The philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, stated that life must be lived forward but can only be understood backward. While I would not call myself a Christian Existentialist, I think Kierkegaard sees that which is vital for every believer. The question is not whether our lives turned out the way we planned but rather whether they turned out in a way that displayed the kingdom of God and the goodness of our God. Even more, did we end up living out our lives in a way that we became more and more the thing that God created us to be as we lived them?

This is a deeply personal blog filled with many musings during an incredible transition in our lives. But it’s in the day-to-day living, in the various connections, and in intersections that we face that the story gets told. Hopefully you will join me for the future blogs and watch this story unfold with me.

The Plot of The Story :What’s It All About?

What’s It All About?

 

In just a few weeks I will be doing the valley’s Ministry 2 Muslims conference in conjunction with a dear friend of mine, George Saiag. This is a fun time for me as I get to teach on subjects I am familiar with and do outreach sessions, which I love. One of the issues that comes up a lot is the centrality of blood atonement, or substitutionary atonement, to the plot of God’s big story. This cannot be underestimated - one could call it the spine of the book, with the book being God’s big metanarrative. Both modern Judaism and Islam entirely miss this point. You can’t have the story without having a plot and the plot revolves around God redeeming His creation through an act of sacrifice on His own part. When the basic foundational truth of substitutionary atonement is removed from the story,  it totally guts God’s big story. This omission takes away from God’s central desire to demonstrate His goodness and love. Judaism recognizes the 13 attributes of God’s mercy, as demonstrated in Scripture:

And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation (Exodus 34:6–7, NKJV).’

However, Judaism ignores the very way that God wants to demonstrate those truths in His universe and how His method of demonstrating His goodness solves the problem of evil.

Even before Sinai, vicarious atonement as God’s method of redemption is demonstrated as a key part of the Torah. The best example is contained in the passage known as the Akediah, or the Binding of Isaac:

“But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son (Genesis 22:7–13, NKJV).”

This passage clearly demonstrates that the ram substituted for Isaac, whose life was to be offered to God. Thus, Isaac’s life was spared by God who provided a substitute to take the place of Isaac. The rabbis connect this passage directly to the Exodus in the rabbinical writings. Exodus 12:13 states, “And when I see the blood, I will pass over you.” Mekhilta of Rabbi Ishmael, a third-century midrash (commentary) on Exodus 12:13, reads, “‘And I shall see the blood’:  I shall see the ‘blood’ of the binding of Isaac .”[1]

Much like Isaac, these firstborn sons of Israel in the Exodus are also saved through an act of substitutionary atonement, this time by a male lamb. In Exodus 12:5-7 we read the instructions for the institution of the Passover:

“Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it.”

All of this culminates with the prophets stating that Messiah would be the ultimate lamb. Isaiah 53:6 announces, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” That the blood of the first Passover lamb (in place of the first children of Israel) points back to the blood of the sacrificial ram (in place of Isaac, the first promised seed of Israel), and that both point forward to promised Messiah, the final Passover lamb (in our place) proves just how central atonement is to God’s big story, from beginning to end.

Many objections are given against blood atonement by Rabbinic Judaism. But the fact that these objections must be made at all is an indication that a Judaism which is Rabbinical Judaism is not Torah or biblical Judaism. If something is not new then no changes need to be made. The irony is that while Rabbinical Judaism makes the claim that Christianity is a new religion, this charge is equally true of Rabbinical Judaism. Islam, using totally different means, ducks the same issue and does tremendous violence to God’s big story. But, unlike Judaism, Islam also does violence to God’s character in the way it has described Allah having different attributes than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

In conclusion, both Rabbinical Judaism and Islam miss the main plot of the story - and when I was a young man seeking to worship the God of my forefathers in ignorance and sin, I also did not understand the big story. I had snatches of it and saw some of the truths of it, but it was obscured because of Judaism;  the way of truth was darkened by Judaism’s substitutions for the simple substitutionary atonement.


[1] Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael. Merged from Sefaria Community Translation, Mechilta, translated by Rabbi Shraga Silverstein. https://www.sefaria.org/Mekhilta_d'Rabbi_Yishmael.12.13?lang=bi

The Background of Ilhan Omar and the Basis of Her Comments

The Background of Ilhan Omar and the Basis of Her Comments

The anti-Semitic comments of Ilhan Omar have managed to embarrass even the Democratic Party. The reality is that the Democratic Party should be embarrassed by these comments, especially as they were made by someone who is on the Foreign Relations Committee. However, what the Democratic Party is missing is that, while democrats can through secular philosophy detach the moral ramifications of their personal worldviews from their official positions, Congresswoman Omar cannot separate her opinions from her Islam. This is the great ignorance and foolishness of the present Democratic Party. The wearing of a hijab indicates that Congresswoman Omar is more serious about Islam than the Democrats are about the moral ramifications of their own worldviews. Let’s examine whether Congresswoman Omar’s political positions are conditioned in any way by her Muslim beliefs.

The Minimalist Judaism of Rabbi Asher Meza: an Analysis  Part 1

To those who have been faithfully following my blog on zionsbanner, I am sorry for the lack of a post last week. I had an extremely important event - a meeting with pastors of the Southern Baptist Church to further work in cooperation with them. I was totally blessed by the outcome of this meeting and will give more details in an upcoming blog. In this blog, I thought I would discuss some issues related to an upcoming special show I am doing with my colleague, the Street Apologist, on a live YouTube video event.

My colleague had the opportunity on one of his live broadcasts to interview Rabbi Asher Meza. Now, the broadcast was supposed to be a discussion based on a past YouTube broadcast the Street Apologist did in which he asked Jews not to believe in Kabbalah. If the program had stayed on the topic of Kabbalah that would have been well and good. But Rabbi Asher made certain claims related to Christianity and Judaism that went beyond the pale of simply a discussion of Kabbalah and why it is best avoided. While I don’t doubt Rabbi Asher’s sincerity, the statements he made were ill-founded and inaccurate both from the standpoint of normative Orthodox Judaism, at least as my grandfather would have understood it, and Christianity as any sound student of theology who is conversant in Christianity could be certain. I will be dealing with these in the upcoming broadcast. Please tune in to listen at https://youtu.be/LaZfP81_dfQ or see below for embedded video linkon Saturday February 9th 2 PM Arizona time or Mountain Standard Time.

In the meantime, I would like to address the claim that Rabbi Asher makes. What he is proposing about Judaism is that it is a simple form of Torah Judaism. I look at Rabbi Asher’s Judaism as a minimalist Judaism, which is not Orthodox Judaism in the conventional sense. First, it must be noted that Rabbi Asher completely ignores the Oral Law and Talmud and their place in Judaism. The Talmud is considered authoritative and oral laws are believed to have been handed down when the written Law was handed down at Sinai. The term Torah does not simply refer to the Five Books of Moses, as Rabbi Asher would have us believe, but refers to the corpus of rabbinical literature (at least to the completion of both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds). Let’s look at a few comments that demonstrate this claim.

The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible is more than clear on the understanding of the necessity of Talmud: “With cessation of the postexilic prophets and with the continual development of the complexity of life in Israel and its relationships to the outer world, there arose a need for further elaboration of the laws of the Pentateuch.”[1] Of Course, one could level the complaint that this is a Gentile source of information, and thus already suspect. However, the authoritative nature of the Oral Law is testified to within the Talmud itself in Pirke Avot 1.1:

Moses received Torah from Sinai,  And passed it on to Joshua,  And Joshua to the elders,  And the elders to the prophets,  And the prophets passed it on to men of the Great Assembly. (1:1A).      משֶׁה קִבֵּל תֹּורָה מִסִּינַי וּמְסָרָהּ לִיהֹושֻׁעַ, וִיהוֹשֻׁעַ לִזְקֵנִים, וּזְקֵנִים לִנְביאִום, וּנְבִיאִים מְסָרוּהָ לְאַנְשֵׁי כְנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה..THIS INTRODUCTORY sentence describes the chain of tradition leading up to the sayings in Avot. It has two messages. The first is that tradition is a vitally important source of wisdom. Avot itself represents the culmination of 1500 years of continuous reflection on the nature of the good life. Each generation has made decisions about what was worthy to preserve from previous generations. The second message is a bold claim for the divine authority of the post-biblical “Oral Torah”—the record of the discussions and legal decisions that went beyond the Written Torah, the Five Books of Moses. Acceptance of the religious authority of both the Written and Oral Torah defined the Jewish religion for 1600 years following the compilation of Avot.[2]

Clearly Pirke Avot, which is a Talmud tractate, cannot be considered a mere biased Gentile source. The commentary which accompanies the English translation in Hebrew text is correct in pointing out that this chain of tradition is designed to establish the divine authority of the Oral Torah, or Oral Law. It is the very reason that the chain begins at Moses, indicating that both oral and written Torahs were received at Sinai.

Beyond this, Rabbi Asher Meza suggests that Judaism does not accept progressive revelation. What if by “progressive revelation,” he means outside of the canon? I would firmly agree with him in that case. However, Pirke Avot was written and codified with the rest of Talmud far after Sinai. Additionally, the prophets are mentioned as the receivers of Torah and the preservers of it, and they add additional revelation to what was already in Torah. There seems to be almost more progressive revelation in rabbinical Judaism - it allows continual information from God about His will up until the completion of the Babylonian Talmud - than in Christianity, which closes the canon at A.D. 90. Now, I know Judaism would claim that the entire Oral Law was given at Sinai, but there are real problems with this claim. It will take another blog to address those and to deal with his comments about Christianity. To sum up this blog: the idea of a simple Torah-only Judaism is not consistent with Judaism’s own theology within its classical literature. It has other serious problems which will be dealt with in subsequent blogs.

[1] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Talmud,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2032.

[2] William Berkson and Menachem Fisch, Pirke Avot: Timeless Wisdom for Modern Life, First edition. (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 2010), 10.

What is the essence in the cosmic war

I had the pleasure of reading a recent blog by Sean McDowell, a faculty member in the apologetics department of the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Dr. McDowell made some observations related to his reading of John C. Peckham’s book, Theodicy of Love. He states, “Recently I was reading Theodicy of Love by John C. Peckham and he made the astute observation that the conflict between God and Satan is not over power, but over the character of God. According to Peckham the conflict ‘cannot be won by the mere exercise of power but is met by an extended demonstration of character in a cosmic courtroom drama’ (p. 88).” 1  Given his comments, Theodicy of Love is a book that I am adding to my reading list because it presents an argument that resonates with my heart and touches on something that I have taught before. Since both McDowell and Peckham are brilliant, I will assume that they came across this concept, and that it made an impression on their souls, long before it did mine.

Long ago, I had the pleasure of giving a message entitled, “Why I Am A Christian,” as a Jewish believer at a Calvary Bible Chapel. The observations which McDowell made in his analysis of Peckham’s book were in line with the point that I made in my sermon that day. In this, blog I will reflect on how these lines of thought apply to the worldviews presented by rabbinical Judaism and Islam.

Certainly, Islam presents God as winning the battle against evil by sheer force. However, as Peckham noted in Theodicy of Love, the cosmic battle between God and Satan, or good and evil, is not a battle that is to be won by strength alone. As I consider this point, a line from J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings springs to mind, which points out that the Ring cannot be destroyed just by force of arms.2 Islam’s solution to the problem of evil is no solution at all since it ignores the very nature of the cosmic battle which is raging around us. The Islamic mentality deals with evil only on the grounds of mere force and does not deal with the fact that evil is a corruption of character, not simply a group of beings.

Therefore the Muslim can be challenged in this way: how does Allah intend to remove evil from the world, and how does this method of eliminating evil demonstrate his goodness? The best the Muslim can do is say that Allah’s justice is demonstrated in the removal and punishment of evil beings. But the other attributes of God’s goodness, such as His love, mercy, and patience, are not demonstrated through this solution. Some might argue that His patience would be demonstrated by mere force in waiting until the last minute to use it - but, certainly, love and mercy cannot be demonstrated by using force alone.

Rabbinical Judaism, on the other hand, does show God illustrating His love and mercy by providing atonement. However, this system falls short since it leaves out the part where God Himself takes evil upon Himself and provides the ultimate atonement by which evil will be overthrown once and for all. The system of atonement shows God’s goodness - but in a very incomplete way. Without redemption, it still fails to effectively address the corruption of the human condition. Rabbinical Judaism provides that the ultimate answer to evil is God imposing His kingdom apart from redeeming His subjects through His own work. In all fairness, it must be noted that there are certain ancient strains of rabbinical writings that appear to be close to the  biblical Judaic mentality of atonement, as opposed to the de-emphasis present in modern rabbinical Judaism.

Biblical Judaism, with the atonement system ultimately pointing to Messiah who will provide the ultimate atonement for Israel, stands in contrast to rabbinical Judaism (although rabbinical Judaism would not accept this distinction) and Islam. Biblical Judaism sees the work of redemption as the Lord’s alone, with the incredible need for atonement front and center and ultimately fulfilled in Messiah. By His work, instead of just meting out punishment or overlooking injustice, the problem of evil is indeed solved by a way being opened up for true change in the human condition.


1 Sean McDowell. (2019, January 8). How Can God and Satan Be in a Cosmic Struggle? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://seanmcdowell.org/blog/how-can-god-and-satan-be-in-a-cosmic-struggle? 2Jackson, P. (Director). (2001). Lord of the Rings [Motion picture]. New Zealand, United States: New Line Cinema, WingNut Films.

Blessing God or Answering Taskmasters?

One of the disciplines that I’ve been trying to be more consistent with has been the discipline of journaling combined with praying the scriptures. At Hillside Southern Baptist this past Sunday, the sermon covered Exodus 33: 12-22, which deals with God’s presence. While we don’t find ourselves in the same position as the individuals in that story, we can look at how God dealt with them and how they responded to Him.

As the pastor was preaching, I followed along and noticed a salient feature in the passage - Moses has no trouble pointing out to the Lord the impossibility of the task given to him. For instance, in verse 12 in the NKJV, we see the word ‘see.’ In the Hebrew, this is in the imperative form with a particle of entreaty. Moses is asking God to see the impossibility of attempting the task he has been given without God’s presence being there. Moses uses the phrase, “If I have found grace in your sight,” which in the Hebrew is really, “If I have found grace in your eyes.” I believe Moses has ample reasons for trusting that he’s found grace in God’s sight, but he’s still asking his request to be granted based on the grace he has before God.

Moses gives one of the specific reasons for his request in the second half of verse 13. When he says, “That I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight,” he uses the Hebrew word לְמַ֥עַן, which has the idea of ‘for the sake of’ or ‘in order that.’ The rest of the verse says, “And consider that this nation is Your people.” Moses requests God’s presence go with them in order that he may know God better and because the nation is God’s people. Moses ties in his desire to know God with his desire that God be made known in verse 16 when he states, “For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.”

Let’s put this into perspective in terms of Christian leadership - are we really leading like Moses, in a way that touches lives to make Christ known? Or are we seeking only to succeed by some external measurement placed upon us by taskmasters that we answer to (be they internal or external)? Any missionary, church planter, or pastor should not measure his ministry against the number of people saved or even the number of churches planted, but rather by the lives touched and by whether God has been made known. A church leader leads not by getting his parishioners to do stuff but by encouraging them to do the stuff God has given them to do, while making Him known and encouraging them in the doing. If the church leader can say that he is furthering the callings, ministries, and gifts of those who have been entrusted to him and equipping them to use their God-given resources, then he can say that he is doing his ministry.

Perhaps if we could tone down the voices of those internal and external taskmasters and know that God indeed is being made known to others and known to us, and that He indeed knows what He wants to accomplish, we may find peace in the task.

Systematic and Biblical Theology, some deeply personal reflections

Both my broadcasts and my blogs of late have been late in being posted, or Friday is the new Wednesday. I’ve been taking more time with the broadcasts lately as there have been some great questions which are being asked online during the broadcast. In fact, you are welcome to join in and join us for an incredible time of study of the Bible in relationship to apologetics on YouTube or our Facebook page Facebook/zionsbanner.

I was having a discussion with the dear fellow apologist and brother this morning. We got on the subject of the misuse of systematic theology. Before I go any further, let me state clearly that I am extremely sympathetic to several points under Calvinism. In fact I’ve been asked and teased about being less than the strict five-point Calvinist. I thought to be interesting this blog to discuss systematic theology and biblical theology and their relationship, however briefly. While I love the organization and structure that comes with systematic theology, both as an individual and as a Jew I have a great love for the story of Scripture and biblical theology resonates with my heart. I grew up with the context of the big story of the Old Testament, the story of my people Israel, being front and center. The receiving of God’s covenant of under Moses was replayed in synagogue every Shabbat morning as the Torah scroll was taken down and opened. I remember going out by a tree in our front yard and asking why God did not speak to people today because throughout the story that I knew God was always active in communicating with people his will and desire.

So, one might ask how does love of the great story of Scripture keep me from being a Calvinist, I mean an official card-carrying five-point Calvinist. Well let’s look at a verse that used a lot for proof texting briefly and examine this verse as an example as to why I have trouble with letting a mere system overshadow the rich story of Scripture. The background of Romans 9 is not about individuals and their position before God in isolation. The background is Paul demonstrating the position of the believer is not affected by Israel’s corporate rejection of the gospel even though Israel is elect of God. This is the passages place in the big story. However, we read in Romans 9:13, “As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”” Often this is used by those dear brothers in the Calvinistic camp as a proof of the unconditional election of the individual. While I agree with the doctrine of unconditional election. Is that the purpose that the author intends within the big story? Let us go back to the original intent of the passage where it is first stated, ““I have loved you,” says the LORD. “Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Says the LORD. “Yet Jacob I have loved;” (Malachi 1:2, NKJV) the you in this passage is in the plural and refers to corporate Israel, and the term Jacob refers to corporate Israel as a people. The original text is not about individuals and where this falls in Romans 9 is not simply about individuals but the relationship between God’s unconditional love and election and corporate Israel. Do I believe in unconditional election? Yes, however, am I willing to sacrifice the authorial intent of passages in order to prove a point. My answer has to be no. My love of the big story will not permit me to use passages in order to make a point if the point is not the authorial intent of the passage. Are there other places where I can find unconditional election without Romans 9? Ephesians 1 and other passages point to the election of believers. I am not required to proof text in order to prove a doctrine in a way that the author was not originally using the text to begin with. Can I say that Romans 9:13 can be applied to the individual believer? Certainly, I believe that. But I do not believe that this is a proper proof text to use. Buying into a strict five-point Calvinistic system might cause me to read the Scriptures through the system instead of through the authorial intent, this is a danger I simply do not want to face. For those dear brothers and sisters to feel that they can face this danger and avoid its pitfalls I welcome them to try.

God as the only source of salvation, a key understanding of the Hebrew Scripture

With the start of the new year comes the start of a whole new set of blogs. This one will be the first of many. I’ve been busy writing on my dissertation as well as keeping our weekly Facebook and YouTube Live teaching broadcasts going. I’m excited by what the Lord did with the reach of the last two teachings. I hope that you will consider joining us either on YouTube or by visiting our Facebook page at Facebook.com/zionsbanner. I’m grateful to those loyal folks who have been tuning in to our live broadcasts and viewing our videos.

In today’s blog I’d like to discuss Messianic prophecy in terms of the Biblical worldview and contrasted with something that has been lost in the transition from ancient Judaism to modern rabbinical Judaism. “In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (Jeremiah 23:6, NKJV).” The background of this passage is the promise of a future Davidic king that will restore and redeem Israel. As a side note, it is interesting that the prophecies of Jesus’ coming were connected on some level with the redemption of Israel so that replacement theology actually guts the authorial intent of Messianic prophecy. But this is not our focus here. What I want to focus on are the nature of the Messiah and His salvation.

Jeremiah 23:6 clearly shows Messiah being called by a title of God, “The LORD our Righteousness.” What is absolutely vital here is that this prophecy, as well as prophecies,  like Isaiah 9:6, teach the fact that God must be the one to redeem, save, and restore. This was a clear part of God’s teaching in the Torah when He provided blood atonement as the only system of atonement that He would accept. The biblical view recognizes that man cannot, through any action of his own, save or restore himself. This idea is not some Christian gloss on the Scriptures, but rather a keystone in the biblical worldview. We see this clearly in the Hebrew Scriptures: “But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9, NKJV).

Now, how does this concept of salvation compare with that held by rabbinical Judaism? It is important to note that rabbinical Judaism preserves a great deal of the truth and beauty of the Scriptures, but modern rabbinical Judaism still leaves one in the position of providing on some level for one’s own salvation and restoration. While the biblical view acknowledges the need for repentance, rabbinical Judaism sees the individual repenting as part of the process for one’s own restoration instead of repentance being the way one acknowledges that one cannot restore him or herself. More liberal reforms of rabbinical Judaism, such as Reform Judaism or even Reconstructionist Judaism, fail far worse in this area by literally making man his own savior or ignoring the need for personal salvation before a personal God.

If man cannot save himself then salvation must be provided by God, and the only way that this can really be accomplished fully is if God Himself comes and redeems man. In this new year as we face new challenges, which will be different for each of us, we must remember that the one who can restore and redeem this new year is none other than God Himself and we dare not look to ourselves. For more discussion of this prophecy, visit the broadcast that will be aired on Wednesday January 10th and hear more.

Messiah, an exception by nature and prophecy - Doctrine has a purpose

Without going into a lot of details, I have been having an interesting exchange with an Israeli about his objections to Jesus’ genealogy. I thought it might be wise to reflect upon the way doctrine in Scripture is always tied to divine purpose.

His specific objection to Jesus’ genealogy is that Jesus is not a physical son of Joseph and therefore cannot end up being counted within the lineage of David or of the tribe of Judah. There’s a lot to this objection, and it is a common one among more sophisticated anti-missionaries (those who officially oppose the gospel and engage in Jewish polemics). While it has left me a few nights pondering his arguments in my mind and losing a little sleep, it has been good training for me not only in terms of apologetics but also in terms of the intersection of apologetics and theology in general.

One of the questions I posed to him is: how can a child born to human parents be preexistent? One of them has to be more than human. You see, we know that Jesus’ mother was indeed human, so by process of elimination this means that for Jesus to be preexistent, His father must be more than human. After making such a statement I might be asked where I got the idea that Jesus was preexistent. I refer to the following Scriptures: “Now gather yourself in troops, O daughter of troops; He has laid siege against us; they will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek. ‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting (Micah 5:1–2, NKJV).’”

Yes, there is sometimes disagreement over the phrase miqedem mi-yemey ʿolam (מִקֶּ֖דֶם מִימֵ֥י עוֹלָֽם׃) 1. Yes, sometimes the term olam; does refer to an indefinite period of time and proper scholarship requires that we acknowledge this fact. However, the use of olam as eternity is well documented and unless the context dictates otherwise, olam should be translated as eternity. There are reasons for this fact. First, this term is used of God about His eternality, as in Psalm 90:2 where God’s existence is described as me ʿolam weʿadʿolam, “from eternity to eternity” (cf. NJPSV).2 Second, the phrase mi-yemey ʿolam (מִימֵ֥י עוֹלָֽם׃) is preceded by the term מִקֶּ֖דֶם (miqedem), best translated as “from of old.” This means a natural rending of olam in this particular section would be eternity, with “days of old” already indicated by miqedem.

 With that argument out of the way, let’s return to the key issue. If Jesus cannot have a physical father, because the father must be more than human and thus not merely a man, it follows that the virgin birth is the best explanation for how this unique exception could occur. Now, I realize that there are many other reasons why the virgin birth is necessary within the plan of God for salvation. However, my point here is that doctrine exists for a purpose, and in the case at hand, the doctrine of the virgin birth served the purpose of answering one of my Israeli friend’s objections to the gospel. God does not tell us truths with no reason, and there is always a purpose, or many, behind each doctrine. Doctrine is both logical and practical.

 

1 Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Messianic Prophecy Objections, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003),

2 all Hebrew text taken from Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: With Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit Morphology; Bible. O.T. Hebrew. Werkgroep Informatica, Vrije Universiteit. (Logos Bible Software, 2006), Mic 5:1.

 

Advent and Some Things to Think About

First, I need to begin with the admission that this indeed is one of my favorite times of the year. I love the beautiful contrast of the light piercing and penetrating the darkness which occurs during this time, through the combination of holiday lights and the decreased sunlight. It is also a time to recontact people with whom we have become disconnected within our stories. It is also a time when songs related to Messiah Jesus can be freely sung, and even the secular society allows for this expression of praise.

However, in the midst of the joyous season there is a darker side. It is easy for American

Christians to make the mistake of believing that the acceptance of Christmas carols and crèches, or nativity scenes, indicates a greater acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah and Lord. It must be remembered that while it is culturally cute and acceptable to acknowledge Jesus as a baby, it remains equally unacceptable to present him as the Savior of the world and the risen Lord. The spirituality of Christmas, for many, is just a superficial veneer for practicing the politeness that should be practiced all year, and merely about getting gifts of both food and material possessions. Don’t get me wrong - I enjoy seeing the spirit of kindness and receiving a few packages of my own during the Christmas season. But this is a far cry from the true glory that Jesus indeed deserves. Come January 1, the same dislike which existed before Christmas for those who take Jesus seriously and believe the worldview which the Bible presents will return to its normal level - which means that in our secular society, those who seek to follow Jesus and promote His worldview will still be considered: homophobic, anti-women, bigoted, and narrow minded. Society’s pause from its angst against biblical Christianity is just that; it’s “a pause” that will evaporate with the new year. Followers of Jesus must be prepared for and understand that this is a beautiful exhale during a beautiful season.

On another note, we must also remember that for some, this time of year is not as bright and cheery as is often expected. For those who are facing struggles in their lives the holiday can highlight the things lost during the year or the stresses that they experience. Some people enter this particular season with pain and scars and it behooves us to practice some of that Christmas cheer by being sensitive to those individuals, not by managing a “Ho Ho Ho” in the midst of their struggles. Better yet, maybe we could best serve Jesus by being a help in some small way to someone who is facing struggles during this happy holiday season. What we must not do is leave these people to face the struggles alone. We must find a practical way by which some of the joy of the season can spill over into their lives. Those who are heavenly minded are truly of earthly good. It is a fake spirituality that pontificates great concepts but does not practice their ethical content.

This season, let us remember that the baby Jesus is truly Lord and did not stay in that manger. Along with remembering Jesus is our Lord during this holiday season, let us remember to be a blessing to others by being his hands and feet.

Hanukkah: A Servant and A king

This blog will be shorter than usual since it is such a busy week in the ministry. Despite the busyness of the holidays, I could not help but write a blog related to Hanukkah and the Advent season. Sunday I was reflecting upon the lines that I will be reciting in an upcoming Advent play. I hope the irony of that sentence is not lost upon you - a Jewish kid playing a part in an advent play. I will be playing the role of Simeon. Hanukkah celebrates the dedication of the second temple in Jerusalem, and so it’s this repaired, renewed, and expanded version of the temple to which Simeon comes so many years later. He does not come without a purpose, but rather because he is awaiting a great and glorious event. Luke tells us of the incident: “And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: ‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel (Luke 2:25–32, NKJV).’”

As I consider these words which Simeon uttered I think about the particular consolation toward which he was looking. What consolation was on Simeon’s heart and mind which drove him to the temple  in the first place that morning, in obedience to the promise that God given him - that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s anointed? Israel was suffering under foreign oppression because of their own wandering from the ideals that God had for them as a people, but the consolation of Israel was not just simply a change in Israel’s condition. Rather, it was tied to a person. Yes, the comfort which Simeon so long waited for was the coming of a person. But what person could provide such a great consolation? This person was both a servant and a king.

Clearly the Scriptures teach that this person would be a servant and would offer himself or Israel. Is this not fitting, since the very candle by which the other candles of the menorah are lit is called the shamus, or servant? But one might ask where the Scriptures teach that the coming one must be a servant. One does not have to look far, for Isaiah 52:13 declares, “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and very high.” But a great paradox exists, for this servant shall also be a king. Micah 5:2 states, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” So this servant is to be king over Israel and, based on other prophecies, the whole world to establish God’s kingdom again upon the earth.

In my final ponderings, the question arises - why a servant AND a king? A servant because we needed something done for us which we could not do for ourselves. Hence Isaiah’s words, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the Lord is laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).” We needed someone to serve us by providing something which we could never attain for ourselves. But if a servant, why a king? A king because we needed somebody to lead us. A life without purpose leads nowhere and is aimless, and that is not the life we were created to live. Our purposeful God made us for a purpose, and He is the only one that can make clear that purpose. So we needed someone to lead us in that purpose, and thus we needed a king.

Yes, the servant represented by the shamus candle of the menorah is the king who leads us forward towards a life full of meaning and purpose. May your holiday be filled with blessing and purpose this year as you contemplate the One who is the servant and the king!

Making much of Messiah and season’s greetings,

Rev. Jeffrey Kran