Saturday, August 08, 2020

2020 Strikes Again...

2020 has reached epic meme status in our culture, and it’s affecting not just our secular world but even Christianity itself.  So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me too much that after spending a portion of this evening laying some careful groundwork in evangelizing a friend, that after we were finished with our conversation I would discover that Jerry Falwell, Jr. has taken an indefinite leave of absence from Liberty University. 

That’s not too unusual.  People take leaves of absences all the time and—

Wait, this was actually demanded of him by the board of trustees?  Why would they…. Oh.


Falwell posted a picture on his Instagram—a picture that I cannot repost here.  It’s not overly graphic from the world’s standards.  It would barely get a PG rating. But there’s just something distasteful enough about it that I wish I hadn’t seen it.  To provide the bare minimum explanation needed, it involved Falwell with his pants unzipped and open to show his underpants while he is standing next to a woman—who is not his wife—similarly dressed with unzipped pants.

Set aside, for the moment, the strict rules that Liberty University has for their students.  This is something that Falwell decided to publish of his own accord on his own Instagram account, thinking that it would not raise eyebrows that he is taking such a suggestive picture with a woman who, again, is not his wife.  While all of us are sinners and I can easily foresee Christians falling into bad behaviors, I cannot understand how someone of Falwell’s experience with the media could have possibly thought for even a second that this was a good idea.  Someone would almost literally have to be drunk to think tha—

What’s that?  Oh, Falwell called into a radio station and “explained” what the picture was, saying that the woman was pregnant and couldn’t snap her pants, so “in good fun” he decided to join her.  And while providing this explanation, he was slurring his words and speaking with all the mannerisms of someone three sheets to the wind.

So 2020 strikes again.  And this leaves me with the realization that a bunch of the groundwork I just laid in presenting the gospel to a friend may have been obliterated by this news story coming out.  Because one thing I’m sure of is that it will get shared to all the skeptics out there.

Now obviously Christianity is not a religion that is predicated on perfect people never sinning.  I’ve had to go through this in the past with other failures of high profile Christians, and certainly we will all have to do so anew in the future.  For all I know, it might even involve me falling in some future calamity.  There but for the grace of God go I.

But even knowing that intellectually, and knowing that this does provide an opportunity for us to point to Christ as the necessary sinlessly perfect sacrifice, I cannot deny that there is a lot about this that is disheartening.  Not because it involves Liberty University or Jerry Falwell, neither topic of which has much relevance to my own beliefs and, in fact, whom I’ve had many disagreements with before.  But rather it’s the fact of knowing that once again we are going to have to put up with the flaming slings and arrows of people who will be launching this at us again, and a large part of me just wants to throw in the towel and be done with it.  Let the flames cleanse the Earth.

But then I remember my friend.  And the groundwork that has been built.  The hope that Christ will use it to bring another soul to Himself.  And yes, maybe our next conversation is going to be uncomfortable, annoying, aggravating, and completely frustrating because I’m going to have to go through all the reasons why Jerry Falwell isn’t Christianity.  But maybe my friend will be saved because of that conversation.  Only God knows what will happen, and there’s no reason for me to give up when only God knows.

Not even 2020 can disobey the will of God.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Soteriology As Evidence For The Gospels

A neglected line of evidence for the harmony and historicity of the gospels is their agreement on soteriological issues. I'll cite several examples.

They all approach salvation from a first-century Jewish perspective, as a matter of needing to be reconciled to the God of Israel because of our sin. In all four gospels, Jesus doesn't just lead people to God the Father, but also calls them to himself to an extent unprecedented among the prophets, priests, kings, and other earlier leaders and later church leaders: come to him, believe in him, follow him, he forgives sins, etc. Salvation is framed in terms of being Abraham's children in a spiritual rather than physical sense (Matthew 3:9, Luke 19:9, John 8:39). The redeemed are referred to as children in a broader sense as well, without the connection to Abraham, and as young children in particular (Matthew 18:3, Mark 10:14, Luke 11:13, John 13:33). Salvation involves entrance into the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:20, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:24, John 3:5). All of the gospels portray Jesus' crucifixion as salvific, as illustrated by the Last Supper and Jesus' comments in John 6, for example. There's a common theme of Jesus as the shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (Matthew 26:31, Mark 14:27, Luke 15:4, John 10:11). All of the gospels agree on the freeness of salvation, in the sense that it's received through faith alone, as illustrated in my recent post on justification apart from baptism. All four gospels portray repentance as implied by faith, so that repentance will sometimes be mentioned alongside faith to emphasize it, whereas only one or the other will be mentioned on other occasions. They agree in having faith accompanied by regeneration and sanctification, so that saving faith is evidenced by improved behavior. Matthew 11:28-30 has Jesus offering rest and a yoke simultaneously. John 5:24 lays out justification through faith alone, then follows it with a reference to judgment according to works in 5:29. And the gospels agree about the general parameters of the connection between faith and works. Jesus demands perfection (Matthew 5:48, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 6:36, John 15:12), and there are comments about how "difficult", "impossible", etc. his demands are (Matthew 25:24-26, Mark 10:17-27, Luke 18:18-27, John 6:60), yet those demands are accompanied by his acceptance of individuals who fall well short of what he's demanding. Men like Peter and John are portrayed as redeemed individuals and different than the average person (having faith, associating closely with Jesus, etc.), but they still sin to a significant degree. There's also agreement that individuals like Judas were never saved to begin with. People often associate the thinking behind 1 John 2:19 with the fourth gospel, but some of the same concepts are found in Matthew 7:21-23.

To appreciate the importance of agreements like these, consider how easily the gospels could have disagreed, even disagreed radically, on these matters. Think of the wide variety of views of salvation of one sort or another found in Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, etc. To cite an example I discussed in another recent post, think about the role of baptism in the gospels. Given the tendency in Christian circles to make baptism more prominent in later centuries, it would have been easy for one or more of the gospels to have given baptism a much more prominent role if the gospels had been written later and were less historical.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Justification Apart From Baptism: Not Just The Thief On The Cross

I recently had an email exchange with somebody asking me for Biblical examples of justification apart from baptism. He had cited the thief on the cross in a discussion with somebody, and that person responded by dismissing the thief as an exception to the rule. So, he was interested in other Biblical passages to bring up.

Here's my response:

Here are some passages illustrating justification prior to or without baptism, aside from the thief on the cross:

Mark 2:5
Mark 5:34
Mark 10:52
Luke 7:50
Luke 17:19
Luke 18:10-14
Luke 19:9
Acts 10:44-48
Acts 19:2
Galatians 3:2
Ephesians 1:13-14

I can provide an explanation of why I've included each of those passages, if you need me to explain any of them.

Some of them can be shown to be in normative contexts, so they can't be dismissed as exceptions to a rule (e.g., what happened in Acts 10 is referred to as if it's normative in 11:17-18 and 15:7-11). The cumulative effect of the passages also suggests that what they're illustrating is normative. Why would so many people across so many contexts be justified in the same allegedly non-normative way while nobody is portrayed as being justified in the way that supposedly is normative? Nobody is referred to as not being justified until after baptism.

Galatians 3 probably is the best passage you can cite (the whole chapter, though the verse I've highlighted is central). The chapter provides a good combination of didactic material and historical illustrations. The Galatians and Abraham are referred to as being justified in contexts that can't involve baptism (the Galatians while hearing the gospel being proclaimed rather than during a baptismal ceremony; Abraham before baptism existed). And the didactic portions of the chapter exclude all systems of work as a means of justification, not just the Mosaic law or some other aspect of Judaism, as the references to "a law" and "a tutor" in verses 21-25 show. Furthermore, Galatians was written well after the time of Jesus' resurrection, so what the passage says can't be dismissed as only addressing an earlier timeframe before justification through baptism went into effect. People sometimes claim that the requirement for baptism didn't go into effect until after passages like the ones cited above in the gospels, such as after the resurrection. The evidence is against that claim, and it isn't even relevant to a passage like Galatians 3.

The passages discussed above aren't exhaustive. They're just examples. I've written more about passages like these elsewhere, such as here, here, and here. You can search the archives for many other relevant threads. The second and third ones just linked include discussions of an important passage in Josephus. For more about the patristic evidence, see here and here.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Growing Stronger With Age

John Chrysostom makes some good points about aging, against the excuses people often make for doing less as they get older:

There is need of running, and of running vehemently. He that runneth [a race] seeth none of those that meet him; whether he be passing through meadows, or through dry places: he that runneth looketh not at the spectators, but at the prize. Whether they be rich or whether they be poor, whether one mock at him, or praise him, whether one insult, or cast stones at him, or plunder his house, whether he see children, or wife, or anything whatever. He is occupied in one thing alone, in running, in gaining the prize. He that runneth, never standeth still, since even if he slacken a little, he has lost the whole. He that runneth, not only slackens nothing before the end, but then even especially straineth his speed.

This have I spoken for those who say; In our younger days we used discipline, in our younger days we fasted, now we are grown old. Now most of all it behooves you to make your carefulness more intense. Do not count up to me the old things especially done well: be now youthful and vigorous. For he that runneth this bodily race, when gray hairs have overtaken him, probably is not able to run as he did before: for the whole contest depends on the body; but thou—wherefore dost thou lessen thy speed? For in this race there is need of a soul, a soul thoroughly awakened: and the soul is rather strengthened in old age; then it is in its full vigor, then is it in its pride.

For as the body, so long as it is oppressed by fevers and by one sickness after another, even if it be strong, is exhausted, but when it is freed from this attack, it recovers its proper force, so also the soul in youth is feverish, and is chiefly possessed by the love of glory, and luxurious living, and sensual lusts, and many other imaginations; but old age, when it comes on, drives away all these passions, some through satiety, some through philosophy. For old age relaxes the powers of the body, and does not permit the soul to make use of them even if it wish, but repressing them as enemies of various kinds, it sets her in a place free from troubles and produces a great calm, and brings in a greater fear.

For if none else does, it is said, yet they who are grown old know, that they are drawing to their end, and that they certainly stand near to death. When therefore the desires of this life are withdrawing, and the expectation of the judgment-seat is coming on, softening the stubbornness of the soul, does it not become more attentive, if one be willing?...

For how can what is done be otherwise than unreasonable, and beyond pardon? An old man sits in taverns. An old man hurries to horse-races—an old man goes up into theaters, running with the crowd like children. Truly it is a shame and a mockery, to be adorned outside with gray hairs, but within to have the mind of a child.

And indeed if a young man insult [him], he immediately puts forward his gray hairs. Reverence them first thyself; if however thou dost not reverence thy own even when old, how canst thou demand of the young to reverence them? Thou dost not reverence the gray hairs, but puttest them to shame. God hath honored thee with whiteness of hairs: He hath given thee high dignity. Why dost thou betray the honor?...

For we honor the gray hair, not because we esteem the white color above the black, but because it is a proof of a virtuous life; and when we see them we conjecture therefrom the inward hoariness. But if men continue to do what is inconsistent with the hoary head, they will on that account become the more ridiculous. Since we also honor the Emperor, and the purple and the diadem, because they are symbols of his office. But if we should see him, with the purple, spitted on, trodden under foot by the guards, seized by the throat, cast into prison, torn to pieces, shall we then reverence the purple or the diadem, and not rather weep over the pomp itself? Claim not then to be honored for thy hoary head, when thou thyself wrongest it. For it ought indeed itself to receive satisfaction from thee, because thou bringest disgrace on a form so noble and so honorable.

We say not these things against all [old persons], nor is our discourse against old age simply (I am not so mad as that), but against a youthful spirit bringing dishonor on old age. Nor is it concerning those who are grown old that we sorrowfully say these things, but concerning those who disgrace the hoary head. (Homilies On Hebrews, 7:7-9)