Tag Archives: ethics

Divisions, Divisions, Divisions!!!

Some years ago I picked up a couple of books, one put out by Randall L. Frame and Alan Tharpe entitled, “How Right is the Right?” and one by Ronald Nash, entitled, “Why the Left is Not Right”

Even in today’s political climate these books are still a relevant read as they both critically expound on the positions of their opponents views (as well as their own) which have not changed since the time they were written (though some political situations have changed). One may try to package things differently and or say it slightly afresh today (we see this with regard to Marxist class theory from the working class to “identity politics” ie., the working class based butt hurt has shifted towards the sexual arena or racism) and yes, in some cases, the intent to do this is to deceive those who are not aware that these ideas have been around for quite some time now (the younger folk). Why they would do so has to do with political power. That is, they would like to get their way enshrined not only in law but the minds of the aforementioned un-informed or the gullible (which can impact law).

For me, one of the most important ideas that I understood, prior to ever reading it in Nash’s book, was that it is not that both Left and Right wing Christians don’t love their neighbour but that they both have different solutions or answers to social and political problems that exist in society. It really is a sad state of affairs that uncivilized national discourse has crept into the Christian community as a whole where one or both sides is either claiming who is loving as Jesus did or claims God’s answer to a particular social ill is “the Christian response.” One use to see this from the right back in the day but now one sees it from the left. This is not to make a judgment on the rightness or wrongness of left/right policy positions but rather to mention the bad faith between Christian brothers and sisters.

So politics divides Christians.

(As an aside, I’m OK with that, for I’ve usually been comfortable with tribalism. Tribalism in the Church, in politics and in society. I’m not completely against openness to other people, groups, nations, churches, etc, as long as others are open to each other “naturally,” (James Kalb) where the feeling is mutual and it is not forced whether by government or one another and where the goal is not to change the other. End of aside)

But to the point above, let me be a little more precise about the civil discourse (not so much the uncivilized aspect as much as the argument itself).

Basically it goes something like this:

Progressive Christian: Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

Me: This is a broad neutral statement. For me the important question is, “What does this look like in the concrete reality of life?” If, say, we wanted to improve the economic standing of the poor (which is a loving thing to do), how would we do that? Would we do that via a socialist scheme or a free market capitalist one? The answer doesn’t reside in the raw theology of the Bible for the Bible is not a comprehensive economic guide. Like science. It doesn’t tell us which way to go on these things. It only gives us the raw data, broad neutral statement of “loving our neighbour.” We need to go “beyond the Bible” if you will to economic theory.

(As an aside, what I mean when I say the above concerns “full fledge” free-market capitalism as opposed to a simple base line one. That is, I believe the Bible does provide the “seeds” of a capitalist economic system, ie., ownership of property, free buying and selling of goods, etc, and not the seeds of a socialist one. For me, socialist interpretations of scripture are rather strained. End of aside)

That alone should be enough for us to bring up our level of discourse. The problem is not in theology. The problem is in reality. The “facts” if you will. What we have is basically two parties wedding economic theory to the Bible. Even if you wanted to say that the Bible supported a democratic socialism or socialism or communism (as we understand them today) one would still have to contend with the individual economic theories. Here is a quote by Ronald Nash on all of this:

Is There a Religious Left?

Why Should We Care

Years ago, I supposed conservative Christians would have been surprised—even shocked—that self-professed evangelicals were supporting and even actively promoting liberal causes But those were the days when evangelicals—better known as fundamentalists—separated themselves from societal affairs at large. On still encounters people like this. But most evangelicals themselves care deeply about what is happening in America’s schools, government, and abortion clinics. They also care about racial justice, the environment, the poor, the elderly, and the homeless. As indicated by the charities they support, they also care about poor, sick, and starving people in other nations. For most of my lifetime, liberals have been telling this nation that caring in these ways **must translate**into voting for liberal politicians and supporting liberal social policies. The evangelical liberals have been part of this liberal establishment. But I contend that liberalism is an exercise in fraud and deceit. The more than five trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money the federal government spent in the vain hope that it would put an end to poverty in America did not simply fall short of the goal. It actually made the situation worse. We now have more poor people in the United States than there were before the start of the War on Poverty pr-grams in the mid-sixties—and they are also worse off today. Some in the evangelical Left now tell us they no longer support the liberal welfare state. They admit that it has failed, and they propose to provide new leadership and direction in the next decade. The past record of these people needs to be known so we can better judge their claims about the present and their promises for the future. Why do they attack evangelical conservatives? What do they believe? Are they really centrists, and if not, why do they claim they are.

A WORD ABOUT RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES

The secular and religious Left find it convenient to demonize politically conservative Christians. It is true that many evangelicals were unconscionably inattentive thirty or forty years ago; of course, the world was a different place back then.

Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., observes:

It is strange that twentieth-century evangelical Christian, would have ever needed to be convinced that they should be concerned about social problems. Many of their spiritual forebears always were. Their compassion and fervor animated the campaigns against the slave trade and child labor in England and, one could argue, was the basis of most reform initiatives of the early nineteenth century. The claims that the faith of American Christians should always be an intensely private affair between the individual and Cod would have been news to such diverse persons as the Pilgrims, from John Winthrop to Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists of slavery.

Whatever their shortcomings may have been back then, Michael Cromartie observes, “Evangelicals of every perspective no longer need convincing that political and social concern is an important part of Christian discipleship. It is a settled issue that `the least of these’ among us should be treated with both charity and justice. The debates now revolve around prudential questions regarding which policies are in fact the most effective in meeting the normative standards of justice.” The members of the evangelical Left are wrong to claim that they hold the monopoly on concern for peace and justice. The more central issue for evangelicals today is what those terms mean. The evangelical Left has appeared to some to have simply assumed the standard liberal understanding of the words and then discredited anyone (including their politically conservative brethren) who understood the terms differently and who pursued the objectives of peace and justice in a different way. There is no evidence to support liberal insinuations that being a conservative entails opposition to racial and social justice means being unconcerned about unjust social structures. What the Left does is simply assume, for example, that concern for poverty **must manifest itself in unqualified support for misguided liberal social programs.** They simply take it for granted that concern for racial justice **must translate into support for so-called Affirmative Action programs** that turn out to be exercises in reverse discrimination. It is time to strip away the false front that the evangelical Left has hidden behind and see what they really stand for.”

This is a most important point that colours everything you read in these volumes and for me personally, it colours my view of politics as a whole. Even if one were to disagree, why the name calling or ad hominem, especially from Christians is beyond me. For all they are really doing, it seems to me, is arguing over political philosophy not theology. And it is the theology that holds them together as brothers and sisters.


Bringing Christian Ethics and Theology to Bear on Culture, Politics or Otherwise

Was talking with my buddy Dwayne Polk (he used to work at Greg Boyd’s church in St. Paul MN, Woodland Hills) privately about politics on Facebook Messenger. He wanted me to put forth my BEST argument for voting for Trump.

“I want to truly go at the best BIBLICAL and THEOLOGICAL grounds for supporting Trump for 2021 President. I mean the best.”

For D, everything hinges on the “Great Commandments”—loving God and your neighbour. I told him that we would need to look at individual issues and then I picked one—abortion. So he asks,

“Lets start right here:

Are the GCs *ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY* for being a disciple of Jesus? Yes or no?”

After a little finagling I said, that they were. Then I asked him, “How the GC (Great Commandments) would work out CONCRETELY with regard to Roe v Wade. He went into the abortion issue at which point I said that I had asked him a specific question about Roe v Wade and not abortion. I was asking about the LEGAL judgment of RvW and not all the arguments or ethics surrounding abortion.

Essentially, my argument was, it is not loving God or your neighbour by forcing a sweeping claim on everyone in a country that says, “No state can determine their own abortion laws”—some across the board, “right to privacy” that is not found in the US Constitution. The Great Commandments don’t allow a federal branch to strike down laws of individual states in which legal tradition for over 200 YEARS was just swept under the carpet JUST. LIKE. THAT. (snaps fingers). While that isn’t full blown communism, it is the federal government exceeding it’s authority. Could you imagine if a federal court said, “You shall not grow cucumbers?” Or “People cannot ride tricycles?” If it’s not mentioned in the Constitution then each state should decide these things. The reason why you never hear about states making laws against the things mentioned above is because, well, they would be so unpopular. Actually, they ARE unpopular.

Well, the same thing applies to same sex marriage. The high court makes a law legalizing SSM in all states. There is absolutely NOTHING loving here about the Court striking all laws down by fiat in all states. This isn’t loving God or your neighbour—ruling over others in such a way. Think about all those churches that don’t believe in SSM. Across the board, if you are against SSM or you don’t support SSM, then you are discriminating and if you are discriminating, you should lose your non-profit status and/or whatever other penalty they can throw on you with the eventuality of non-existence. Relatedly, if you don’t believe in gay priests, you are discriminating and thus you should lose your non-profit status and/or whatever other penalty they throw on you as well as, ultimately, non-existence. THAT’S THE GOAL. In both cases (abortion and SSM), freedom of religion is at risk.

Let’s turn this around a bit. If a church said, we don’t believe in heterosexual marriage (as strange as that seems because even the most liberal of churches insist on both homosexual and heterosexual marriages which they think is the middle/neutral ground, (it’s all about the love man!) while conservative churches (said they) believe in heterosexual marriages, both should be allowed to practice what they believe. They should be allowed to practice and exist without governmental interference ie., blessing or having their own “weddings” or “marriages.” They should be able to hire the gay priests they want instead of heterosexual ones. That is TRULY following the GC of loving God and neighbour. It’s pluralistic. It’s truly the neutral ground. I’ll put up a part two hopefully this weekend because Dwayne then responded with what he thought was the problem of States rights: Racism.

For me, the truly problematic issue with liberals, progressive Christians or the radical left is their inept understanding when it comes to legal and Constitution questions. I get that they want to bring what Jesus or the Bible has to say to bear on the issues of the day, (obviously the Great Commandments was of concern to my progressive Christian brother) but in order to do that you have to understand “the facts” of the issue (the actual Constitutional and political issues) in order to integrate your Christian ethics or theology in it. For example, it would not help (to use an example that John Stott used so many years ago) to bring the GC to bear on the law for people being attacked on the side of the road (the Good Samaritan story) if in fact it is not the case that people are NOT being attacked. Dwayne and I can agree that love is the ultimate standard to be brought to bear on the culture, legal and otherwise, but it is justice that helps with discerning how that might be so. And that requires looking at the facts of the issue or reality first (not meant chronologically).

So far, the question about legal abortion is not the “best” argument (as if that isn’t a category mistake—how is one question on one issue supposed to be the best reason to vote for a candidate? The word “best” doesn’t seem appropriate here. If I was only allowed to vote on ONE AND ONLY ONE issue in voting for Trump and that was abortion, then I would bring forth one of the strongest arguments for voting for him: the Constitutionality of RvW.


Some Thoughts On Absolute Moral Principles

Ever since I can remember, probably as far back as when I was 10 years old I was interested in moral quandaries. When I made a commitment to Christ at the age of 13 years of age, even I though I had thought about graded absolutism, I didn’t really know what it was called nor did I have enough resources at my disposal to work through it ie., how to deal with objections to it. Even at that point, people were more into a Christian pious religion as opposed to thinking intellectually about faith.

Essentially, when I think of graded absolutes I think of a moral law that can be trumpeted over a higher moral law. So for example, in Matt 12:1-8 Jesus and his disciples are doing something unlawful on the sabbath and he appeals to a higher law such that that higher law overrides the lesser law. If such is the case then the question of moral absolutes is called into question. BTW, by absolute, I mean a law that transcends all times and cultures. Though many theologians take issue with the “objective” and “absolute” in the “objective moral absolutes” equation the fact that Jesus appeals to a “higher principle” or law is to say that there is something else to appeal to that IS absolute which is to say that the law that Jesus was over-riding was NOT absolute–“Loving God And man”–and that the caring for his fellow human beings was/is.

Still, there are other objections to moral absolutes. This was brought into perspective when Kevin Vanhoozer brought up objections to Walter Kaiser’s essay in, “Beyond the Bible” by talking about “principlizing.” In doing so, he spoke of David Clark’s book, “To Know and Love God: Method For Theology (Foundations of Evangelical Theology).”

Clark brings up other problems to the issue. For example, let’s say we have an absolute principle, that is, a principle which cannot be broken or should not be broken. It transcends all times and place. It is universal. The problem with looking for principles are:

1. Determining what the principle is in the first place.
2. The principles to be discovered are heavily influenced by the, “tacit plausibility structures of the interpreter’s culture.”
3. How do decide what dimension of a particular Scripture pas-sage counts as the transcultural principle and what does not?
4 Can every cultural element be extracted from scripture such that we have a transcultural eternal word that is left? If so, would this say that those principles are better than the Bible? Unless your head is buried in the sand and you’ve not known what has been going on in academic circles for the last seven to ten years then you wouldn’t be aware that if anything, postmodernism has taught us that this really can’t be done.
5. What are we left with when we attempt to remove all cultural elements? Can we “do” all theology through a model of principlizing?
6. Are the principles more important than the culturally mediated expressions of the Bible?

In the end, Clark isn’t so much against the idea of principlizing but against the idea of naive principlizing for he says, “Clearly, drawing out principles from the total teachings of Scripture is one of the important tasks of theology. But using this model only—seeing all theology as principlizing the Bible—is inadequate.” In doing so, one really doesn’t recognize that other communities ie., countries, races don’t have the see our principles in the same way as we do.

In the next post, what I want to do is discuss this last paragraph in the next post and try to clear up what I think could lead to some confusion which ultimately leads to saying there are no absolutes.


Ethics: Attempting To Sort Through The Maze

Three of my favorite areas of study are: religion (theology), politics and ethics. I’ve read a number of good books on ethics. Mouw’s, “The God Who Commands” while it is not an applicable piece, he does approach ethics from a theological, philosophical angle. “Readings in Christian Ethics” Volumes 1 and 2 (one is theory the other is practical). “The Moral Quest” by Stan Grenz. “Ethics,” by Arthur Holmes. Wyndy Corbin Reuschling,”Reviving Evangelical Ethics.” Richard Longenecker’s short book on Christian social ethics and a few others.

I’ve ALWAYS thought that there was no such thing as an “ethical-less” Christianity. With W.D. Davies and Longnecker I came to the conclusion that Jesus wasn’t only the Saviour but that he was also a Rabbi and a teacher. Being that Rabbi and teacher he also gave us ethical imperatives to follow. On the other hand, on Greg Boyd’s Open Theism boards years ago and with the reading of Vanhoozer and his quote from David Clark, the idea of being guided by “principles” was brought into question with the this: “What happens when one principle “tops” another? Are they no longer absolute?” And of course, we see this sort of questioning going on with the whole picking and choosing of ethical principles and scripture and whatnot that progressives consistently point to. This, seemingly, goes the route of relativism.

Now, there is an area of ethics in which ethics are situational. I don’t doubt that. But there are areas in which ethics are, no matter how much one may claim otherwise, “absolute.” They are for all times and all places. It is on that broad strand that ethical principles do not cross or “top” the other. On the situational level, yes. On the broad categories, no. And let’s remember something, to live ethically is to live in loving relationship with God and others. It is to love God AND my neighbour.

David Gill’s book, “Doing Right” has been very instrumental in helping to put this all together right in the beginning of the book. The failure to understand what he means by “cover principles” and “area principles” is, I submit one of the reasons for mass confusion about hermeneutics (why we pick and choose this scripture over that) and in ethical deliberation within evangelical and progressive circles. I’ll have more to say in the future.


Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect Pt. 4

As a prerequisite most of the information on pneumatic direction that I will be sourcing is from the Gospels and Pauline thought. Having said that…

Some Christians think that what separates a/the Christian ethic from legalism is pneumatic direction. That is, the Christian life is neither established nor guided by human wisdom (those who lean towards a pneumatically directed ethic see almost all forms of external criteria as legalistic, though I would argue that they intuitively work out of a external criteria on many levels) 1 Cor 1:18-2:5, but revealed to us through the Spirit 1 Cor 2:10 (along with the idea of assessing what the most loving thing to do in any given situation would be). This pneumatic direction, for Paul, he designates as “the mind of Christ” 1 Cor 2:16. That is, the mind of Christ is applied by the Spirit. Thus, the Christian is one who lives not by the letter of the Law but is controlled by the Spirit. The “flesh” is the distinguishing feature which controls the unbeliever, but the Spirit is the distinguishing feature in the believer’s guidance and life. This is the “new Covenant.”

What the exact relation between Christ and the Spirit in terms of immediate and direct guidance is not explicit in Paul. It could be that the “mind of Christ” became operative in the life of the Christian THROUGH the activity of the Spirit (this is how I’d usually think of it personally) as in 1 Cor 2:16. However, in II Cor 3:17 Paul seems to equate the two when he says, “the Lord is the Spirit.” Either way, the Christian, it seems, has a knowledge which no human wisdom can approximate or even test. Indeed, life in the Spirit (having the mind of Christ) seems to lie implicit in Paul’s whole conception of the Christian life and of his own apostolic ministry.

However, the question to be raised is this: While there is an emphasis on pneumatic direction, does this EXCLUDE ANY TYPE OF EXTERNAL CRITERIA? Or to put it another way, is there a “morality beyond rules?” (which, by the way, seems somewhat characteristic of Kierkegaard’s “suspension of the ethical”). Well, there have been exegetical issues raised against seeing this as decidedly one sided.

First Exegetical Problem: New Lawgiver and Torah in Messianic Thought
First, in Judaism there was the EXPECTATION of a new Torah. For example, Jer 31:31-34 speaks of a new covenant wherein God’s law would be written on the heart. What should be noted is that these verses do not automatically exclude the thought of external type of direction as well. Though this passage goes beyond others in speaking of a “new covenant” it can be paralleled by Ps 37:31, 40:8, Deut 30:14, 6:6 and 11:18 in its reference to the law contained in the heart with none of these passages ruling out the presence of the external Law. Indeed, there were many expectations in both the Old Testament and Jewish literature that some type of external and divine teaching would continue to be valid in “the latter days.” In the discoveries of Qumran there is evidence that the expectation of a new lawgiver and Torah was a part of the common Messianic thought of Judaism. For example, it has been long known that the Qumran community was awaiting “him who will teach righteousness.” (Dead Sea Scrolls).

Thus, while this thought may have been contained within Judaism and influenced Paul, it is more probable, according to some scholars, that the Church was probably more influential than Judaism at this point. Secondly, we see in Peter’s sermon on Solomon’s porch and Stephen’s defence before the elders that there is some sort of providential continuity between Moses and Christ via the quote of Deut 18:15: “A prophet shall (the Lord) God raise up unto you from among your brethren like unto me.”

Lastly, we see in the gospels a new law, new lawgiver, prophet, rabbi (written under the influence of a “high” Christology) where Jesus is seen as a TEACHER with his school of disciples teaching them to keep his COMMANDMENTS and where his person is in some sense a new Torah.

Second Exegetical Problem: Law of Christ
Paul presents the “law of Christ” in two passages:
Gal 6:2 where bearing one another’s burdens the Christian is fulfilling “the law of Christ.” In 1 Cor 9:21 Paul speaks of himself as not being without law before God but as being “under the law of Christ” or “in-lawed to Christ.” So the question to be asked is this: Does the “law of Christ” exclude any thought of a standard in the Christian life which possesses an external significance and validity?

Well, there are two interpretations. One is that the “law” is understood as the old pre-Christian mode that Paul understood unintentionally and the other interpretation is referring to a law where the “law of the Spirit” refers to an inward non-propositional guidance. However, there are problems with this because there is evidence that Paul understood “law of Christ” as more than acting in a Christian spirit and to be different in some respects from “law of the Spirit” Rom 8:2.

So it seems that “the law of Christ” has to have some external validity to it. Now, some scholars have pointed out that Paul was not opposed to “tradition” (paradosis) for the instruction and teaching of Christ and the Church even though:
1. It carried the idea of external authority within Judaism and
2. Jesus strongly denounced the “tradition of the elders” as being the “tradition of men” and
3. Paul had abandoned “the tradition of the fathers.”

In Paul’s day however, pious Jews were told to “hold fast” the traditions” and Paul exhorted his converts to “hold fast the traditions which you were taught” and praised them when they did hold fast the traditions though he opposed what he called “the traditions of men.” Thus, for Paul, it does not follow that he also opposed the external validity of all traditions and principles.

C.H. Dodd said: “…maxims which formed part of the tradition of sayings of Jesus are treated as if they were in some sort elements of a new Torah.

And we see this when Paul, in discussing marriage in 1 Cor 7 claimed for his own view the direction of the Spirit and contrasts it favourably with what Christ said on the subject. Yet, it appeared that what Christ said remains uniquely authoritative.

This also occurs with regard to the maintenance of the Christian preacher 1 Cor 9:14, Matt 10:10, Lu 10:7 the institution of the Lord’s Supper 1 Cor 11:23-25, Matt 26:26-29 and the blessedness of giving, Acs 20:35 and Lu 14:12-14 as though such words of Jesus carried a decisive validity. Lastly, in Romans, there are at least eight passages where Paul is clearly dependent upon the words of Jesus and uses them as external guidance for the Christian life–for example, Rom 12:14, 17, 21

Though Luther insisted that Christ is “no Moses, no exactor, no giver of laws, but a giver of grace, a saviour, and one that is full of mercy” that statement should be understood in its context of justification by faith alone and as a reaction to the “schoolmen” and “merit-mongers” who commercialized righteousness. So the idea that “Christ is the end of the law” for those who believe should not be understood that we receive our guidance ONLY from the Holy Spirit. Though Paul’s usage of the word “law” should not be understood as identical with Judaic usage, it is not accidental. It would be a mistake to understand “the law of Christ” as equivalent of the rabbinic Halakah or to even confine it to the teachings of Jesus. For Paul, immediate Spirit guidance for the Church (no small institution) though valid, did not exclude that which the Lord commanded and ordained.

Bringing The Two Elements Together
So let’s bringing the two apparent polar opposites together. For Paul it seems that he views the teaching of Christ as the embodiment and one true interpretation of the Old Testament, ie. 1 Cor 15:3 where the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies came about in the first instance through the instruction of Jesus. It was not only through this though but also through Jesus’ tangible portrayal and instruction of the divine standard. For Paul, “The Law of Christ” must be understood as both Christ’s teaching and the example of the person of Christ.

So Paul brings both to the table in ethical reflection–Law of Christ and Mind of Christ. However and THIS is an important point, HE NEVER REPRESENTS THE NEW TORAH AS BEING A DETAILED CODE WHICH HAS A READY MADE ANSWER FOR EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE (something my buddy Randy was questioning as he was thinking way ahead of the game. Right on Randy! Tracking me perfectly!). Paul never exchanges the Halakah of the rabbis for the Halakah of Christ. Even where Paul has a definite command of the Lord with regard to marriage (as noted above), we should not understand Paul to be speaking about “law” in the sense of a detailed code covering every conceivable exigency. Instead, this command partakes of the nature of PRINCIPLE. A principle is something that POINTS THE WAY to the solution in a particular circumstance but which must be applied anew to differing situations. And we see this with regard to marriage. Christ establishes marriage as permanent from the beginning. However, he says nothing specific about ascetic separation within the married state or how this works out when one party becomes a Christian. 1Cor 7:10, 1Cor 7:3-6, 1Cor 7:12-16.

Thus, in a negative sense, these principles will objectively pass judgement on the self-assertion and waywardness of the Christian. In their positive sense, they will give authoritative guidance. E.F. Scott is appropriate to quote at this juncture:

“Instead of framing laws he stated principles, and made them so few and broad and simple that no one could overlook them…It is true that he enounced a large number of precepts which appear to bear directly on given questions of conduct…But when we look more closely into the precepts we find that they are not so much rules as illustrations. In every instance they involve a principle on which all the stress is laid; but it is applied to a concrete example, so that we may not only grasp it as a principle but judge for ourselves how it works.”

Let me use a few examples of what I mean. Think of when Jesus tells us to “forgive seventy times seven.” Matt 18:22. This should not be interpreted so precisely such that once we reach that number then we don’t have to forgive anymore. Or the example of prayer in Matt 6:9-13 and Lu 11:2-4 . This does not mean that such a prayer was binding on us in its order and phraseology for a truly proper intercession. What about when Jesus was on trial? Did he literally turn the other cheek?” No, though we believe he was true to the principle in Matt 5:39. The fact that Jesus spoke so much in parables is evidence of the fact that principles were the vital elements while the concrete situations in which those principles were encased were meant to be only illustrative. In Eph 5:2, 25 we read, “…walk in love, even as Christ loved us and gave himself for us” or in his praise of the Thessalonians that they “become…imitators of the Lord.” Are these to mean that we should actually repeat the sacrifice of Christ or that we should punctiliously conform to the external activity of the Lord’s ministry?

Personally, I don’t think Paul, who insisted that “the written code killeth” was prepared to view the Law of Christ as more than authoritative principles set in concrete illustrations.

So, going back to Dodd, the ethical precepts of the gospels “…serve two purposes. On the one hand they help towards an intelligent and realistic act of ‘repentance,’ because they offer an objective standard of judgement on our conduct, so that we know precisely where we stand in the sight of God, and are in a position to accept His judgement upon us and thereby to partake of His forgiveness. On the other hand, they are intended to offer positive moral guidance for action, to those who have, in the words of the gospels, received the Kingdom of God.”

Paul, it seems viewed the Law of Christ as both propositional principles and personal example that stood as valid external signposts all of which are bounds for the operation of liberty and are concerned with the quality of direction of Christian liberty.

Now, up until this point, I have not mentioned anything about pneumatic guidance of the “Mind of Christ.” So what do we mean by the “Mind of Christ.” Because we have the Law of Christ, does this mean then that we don’t need ANY guidance via the Holy Spirit? It would seem that if we were to rely solely on the Law of Christ there would be nothing distinctly Christian about it. As a matter of fact, to do so would be more in line with Stocism. While, the Law of Christ is A DEFINITIVE factor in the direction of Christian liberty, it is not the most DISTINCTIVE factor which ACTUALLY produces the CHRISTIAN ethic. What is the most distinctive factor is the “Mind of Christ” through the activity of the Spirit at work in the believer without whom the principles of the Law of Christ remain remote and unattainable. If all we needed was the principles, then it would seem that all we have is religion. Thus, the Christian is ultimately guided by the Spirit if guidance and Christian life is to be truly Christian, John 16:12-15

Paul uses the word dokimazo–testing, determining, proving. Of this, Cullmann says:

“The working of the Holy Spirit shows itself chiefly in the “testing” (dokimazein), that is in the capacity of forming the correct Christian ethical judgment at each given moment, and specifically of forming it in connection with the knowledge of the redemptive process, in which indeed, the Holy Spirit is a decisive figure. This “testing” is the key to all New Testament ethics….Certainty of moral judgment in the concrete sense is in the last analysis the one great fruit that the Holy Spirit, this factor in redemptive history, produces in the individual man.”

Under the Old Covenant the individual was to “DETERMINE the things which are best being instructed out of the law” Rom 2:8, however, in the New Covenant the Christian is to “TEST all things” and “DETERMINE the things which are best” Phil 1:10 by reference to the working of the Holy Spirit in his life.” (Side note: There is a close proximity of the exhortations “test all things” 1 Thess. 5:21 and “quench not the Spirit” 1 Thess 5:19 End side note). Thus, Paul will exhort, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may DETERMINE what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

So guidance for Paul, will involve both “the Law of Christ” and “the Mind of Christ.” It is not productive of the Christian life if one is to stand alone. It is significant that both the Law of Christ and Spirit directed testing are joined together in the opening verses of Gal 6 and are subsumed under the broader heading of “walking in the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians stresses the Mind of Christ, but it also contains the reference to being “in-lawed” to Christ.” Thus, the “spiritual man” ie. the man who not only notes the principles and example of the Law of Christ but who also allows the Mind of Christ to make application to his ethical judgment at each given moment, “judges all things” 1 Cor 2:15. Such a person realizes that as he is guided by both the Law of Christ and the Mind of Christ” he need not worry about what men say for it is the “Lord who judges” 1 Cor 4:3-4, 1 Cor 2:15, 2 Cor 10:7, Col 2:16. At the same time he will allow the same freedom of ethical decision for his fellow Christian. He may see his brother taking a different course of action, but as his brother so desires to act within the bounds of the Law of Christ and be guided by the Mind of Christ, he ultimately recognizes that it is “before his own Lord that he stands or falls” Rom 14:4, Rom 14 1Cor 2:5 and 2 Cor 5:10.

So. All of this, it seems, goes to show that we are not totally without guidance when it comes to ethical decision making. We have SOME EXTERNAL CRITERIA in helping to guide us in these things. This does not mean that we have to have complete exhaustive knowledge to cover every possible situation. But neither should it mean that those who hold to a “more principled” Christian ethic should be seen as either claiming exhaustive knowledge or being legalistic. What I’m seeking to do is to counter the pendulum swinging in the OTHER, OPPOSITE direction of merely Spirit guidance (along with an ethic of love) which can lead (though not necessarily so) into ethical relativism. Given this, I hope it is starting to shape up as to how one could be a Pharisee with a genuine heartfelt faith and in turn how Christians can follow a new Torah with a genuine heartfelt faith as well.


Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect Pt 3

I want to begin where I left off from the last post. Essentially, the idea that I was trying to convey there was that one could be a Pharisee, attending to the law out of a heart felt and genuine faith-that not everything was formalism and externalism–that there could be a genuine love and “trust in” AND “obedience to God.”

Now, my point was not to say that one could be made righteous upon doing such works and therefore there is no need for a Messiah. The Messiah has come and for our BEING MADE RIGHTEOUS, the works of the law no longer apply.

However, in much recent theological literature what this has translated into is that because we have no need for the law in our being made right with God all we have to do is follow the Spirit (listening to that “still small voice”) in whatever situation we are in without ANY external criteria to follow. In other words, freedom in Christ means freedom from the domination of the Law which is to say that the Christian lives a life no longer under a detailed code which regulates each particular action but in the new life of the Spirit (a point that my buddy Randy was attempting to get across in one of his responses to my first post where he says that the Pharisees always asked “Why” to have perfect knowledge in order to know how to respond [live for God] in any given situation).

However, before commencing any further (I will deal with following the Spirit within the next couple of posts) I think it is needful that we recognize two strains in Pauline thought. As indicated above, one is the “indicative.” That is, the indicative is that we are “free ‘in’ Christ”–Christian liberty and the other is, the imperative–our part. Such that it would look something like this:

Indicative: “God is at work in the Christian’s life.”
Imperative: “Work out your own salvation.” Phil 2:12
Indicative: “You are ‘in’ Christ.”
Imperative: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Rom 13:14
Indicative: “dead to sin and alive to God ”
Imperative: “…consider yourself so to be…” Rom 6:11
Indicative: “Sin will have no dominion over you.”
Imperative: “…so do not permit sin to have dominion over you.” Rom 6:12-14
Indicative: “You are free from the law.”
Imperative: “…so stand fast.” Gal 5:1
Indicative: “You live by the Spirit.”
Imperative: “Walk by the Spirit.” Gal 5:25

It seems that one cannot separate the two for to do so, is a “satanic parody” as one scholar put it. And the question then arises as to what the relationship of the imperatives to the indicative are. Two points come to the fore. One is that the they are based in the fact of a new nature and the other is that they are motivated by love.

New Nature–In Romans 6 Paul says the Christian has become “a new creation” and out of this capacity Christians are exhorted to PRESENT THEMSELVES “as those alive from the dead.” (out of the actuality–‘hosei’ Rom 6). That is, Paul declares the very fact of the believer’s death to the old nature and his resurrection to the new ought to settle the question of his allegiance.

The same can be said of the “fruit of the Spirit” in Gal 5:19-24 where the contrast between the “works of the flesh” and the “fruits of the Spirit” points out the same emphasis of the changed nature as the basis for the acceptance and fulfillment of the Gospel imperatives. The word, “fruit” seems to have been deliberately chosen to suggest that the good deeds of the believer are characterized by a certainty spontaneity. That is, they are the natural outcome of a transformed nature rather than the laborious attempt to conform to an external code ie. again, not mere gruelling formalism or externalism.

Also, Luther’s translation of Rom 6 “presenting their bodies IN ORDER that you become holy” is probably more appropriately read in light of Rom 12 where Paul again urges his readers to present their bodies WITHOUT the idea that by so doing they gain a further degree of holiness but rather, that they thereby but respond to the mercies of God. Again, here, not a mere formalism but rather arising out of a “trust in” and “obedience to” dichotomy.

Motivated by Love-The imperatives find their motivation in the indicatives of the Gospel. That is, that Christian ethics is motivated by love and not impelled by the desire to gain righteous. In other words, Christian ethics has the character of works which doesn’t establish the relation of man to the Transcendental but rather it takes the form of OBEDIENCE to the One who has already established that relationship. For Paul, righteousness was already realized in Christ such that New Testament ethics–Gospel ethics is a “therefore-wherefore” ethic.

This should be a reminder to Christians who so many times, quote Philippians 2:12 which exhorts us to “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” but what they often neglect is that this verse starts off saying, “…as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now MUCH MORE in my absence…” assumes that the works of the Christian is to be under the caption obedience.

So there is a distinction between works in order to gain righteousness and works taking the form of obedience based on righteousness which ultimately lead Martin Luther to declare: “Our faith in Christ does not free us from works, but from false opinions about works.”


Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect Pt. 2

Under King Solomon there was a mastery and unity over the land of Palestine. After his death, around 722 B.C., that unity was broken. The Northern Kingdom of Israel in which 10 of the 12 tribes consisted was conquered by Assyria and it is probable that those Hebrew people went into exile and/or became absorbed into the people with whom they dwelt. Essentially, they ceased being Jews.

In 586 B.C. the Southern Kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon. The Temple was destroyed, the rituals brought to an end and most of its inhabitants were taken into captivity. Questions that had befallen the Northern Kingdom would now be the same for the Southern Kingdom. Would Judah give way to the seductions of the surrounding alien culture? Would she become assimilated and absorbed into it? However they survived, one thing seems sure, the people maintained their identity through the Law.

The religious leaders of Jewry by and large realized that Israel could attain a separate entity and keep it that way only on a religious basis. As a result, the synagogue, the place where the Law would be read and studied came into being and the scribe or the instructor came to the fore in the community. And it is over against this background that Pharisaism is to be understood. That is, out of the fires of exile, a people were pledged to a life of conformity to the revealed will of their God made known in Law.

Definitions
Most scholars derive the term Pharisee from the Hebrew word, “parush” meaning “separated” or “isolated.” The question then arises, “Separated from whom or from what?” One theory says, that this separation is from the nations based on Ezra 6:21–“So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbours in order to seek the LORD, the God of Israel.” However, the term Pharisee does not appear at all in Ezra and though the idea of Pharisaism is beginning to come into being, it is not fully explicit.

A second more acceptable theory is that separation was from the later period of the second century B.C. in which Jewry was in a struggle against Greek culture that was being forcefully imposed on it by Antiochus Epiphanes

However, though the idea of separation is prominent among scholars, the question as noted above arose as to whom this applied too. Was it to the whole community, the people of Israel or was it applied to a separate group?

Though some scholars have pointed out that it applied to the whole community, the reason this was so was because it was thought that the whole community itself struggled against the priests who claimed to be the SOLE interpreters of the law they (the community) thought that ALL who obeyed the law could interpret it as well. The bottom-line though for most scholars is that the term referred to a group or sect and that it is probable, that the separation was from some furious political nationalism which marked the emergence of the Pharisees as a distinct party.

Now, though Pharisaism connoted the idea of separation, that is only the negative side to it. The positive side was that Pharisaical saintliness demanded obedience to the commandments–a submission to the yoke of the Law. As noted in my comments in the previous post (and I will say more about this later) this was not always some mere formalism or externalism and at this point one should begin to wonder about not only the caricature of the Pharisee as has been portrayed throughout most of Christendom, but should also cause us to pause and reflect upon our own spirituality–about our own “walk with the Lord”—about our own separation, consecration and obedience to the God. Jesus tell his disciples that their obedience should out do the righteousness of the Pharisees, but one has to wonder if the Pharisees obedience is out doing ours. If God has told us not to bear false witness against our neighbour, should we not be OBLIGATED to reconsider the witness that we have assented to and scrape the barnacles off?


Law and Spirit: How They Interconnect

Just over three years ago now, Scot McKnight wrote a series on being liberated from legalism. You can actually find almost everything Scot wrote about, in this book by Longenecker several years earlier: Paul the Apostle of Liberty

I’ll link you to McKnight’s posts and then put in summarized form what Longenecker wrote about. But before I do that I just want to say how important I think this issue is.

First, what McKnight and Longenecker clear up are questions concerning the nominism/anti-nominism debate. Basically, as Christians, are we suppose to follow rules, imperatives, law, principles, etc? You will find that both authors agree that there are indeed divine imperatives that we should follow.

Second, because of this, then, the next thorny question to be raised has to do with the Holy Spirit. If we know that there are imperatives that should be followed, then what need is there for the Holy Spirit and faith if things are so clear?

But there is another related question as well. For example, what about, as I heard a “Christian atheist” say one time about Christianity, following Paul, has become a system of belief and not doing. Well, that is put to rest by addressing Christian ethics, especially within this context of Law and Spirit as spoken of by McKnight and Longenecker.

Anyhoo, without further a due, I will put up the first of what Longenecker wrote about and then over the next few days put up the rest. But before that, here are the links to McKnight’s thoughts on the matter.

Liberated from Legalism 1, Liberated From Legalism 2, Liberated from Legalism 3, Liberated From Legalism 4, Liberated From Legalism 5, Liberated From Legalism 6

From Longenecker (my title though)

It’s A Bad Day To Be A Pharisee…Or Is It??? Hmmm…

When you hear or read the word, “Pharisee” or “Pharisees” what automatically comes to mind? In part because of unfavourable connotations attached to this word through constant usage and taking that usage for granted such as to not see something from a different perspective, most Christians over time have tended to perceive of the Pharisee or Pharisees as something negative or derogatory such as, “hypocrite” or “holier than thou.”

As Kenneth Bailey points out in his book, “Jacob &The Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel’s Story” in the history of interpretation of Scripture, there is the tendency that “the more familiar a passage becomes, and the more central it is to the life and faith of the church, the more interpretive ‘barnacles’ it acquires.” Barnacles are marine crustaceans that attach themselves to rocks or the hulls of ships, that, in the case of ships need to be removed or else they become a detriment to the ocean or seafaring vessel. In other words, there are ways of seeing the story that become fused with the text itself such that the given interpretation does an injustice to the story or in our case here, to the character of the Pharisee (which in turn does an injustice to the story).

Right off the bat, one might object to this and say that the Pharisees have a negative connotation because that is the way the Gospels actually portray them. But that is exactly the point and this is where some of the human element comes into the picture. According to some scholars, the Pharisees appeared as rivals and opponents of the early Christians AFTER the lifetime of Jesus on into the first century. Thus, a confrontation with Pharisaic Judaism that characterized this early situation as well as the portrayal in the Gospels will be of some importance in assessing the picture of the Pharisees in the Gospels. That is, it is plausible that to those who authored the Gospels, a Pharisee, as an opponent, would have loomed larger than some of the actual opponents from the lifetime of Jesus and a opposition party which stood against their lord as well as continued to stand against them might get more play or blackballed than a group that would have dropped out of the picture after Jesus day.

Having said that, I want to take another look at the Pharisees and hopefully reorient our view not only of the Pharisees themselves but also of the radicalism of what Jesus had to say to them. It might have been that Jesus does not so much focus his attack on hypocrisy (as Matt 23 alleges) but against the desire within EVERY human being (and not just the Pharisees) to attain righteousness by self and works. In other words, the conflict and antithesis between Jesus and the Pharisees is more so against “extravagant legalism” (extreme righteous?) which is sustained not only by his words but also by his life.

Much of modern theology is prone toward the kerygmatic (pronouncement, preaching–something less formalized) as opposed to didache (commandment). But we need to be reminded that though there is a danger with focusing some attention on law, Jesus did say, “these words of mine” yes, Torah, “the law of Christ” is part of the New Testament Word of God as well. Could it be that “Law” is an expression of Grace?


To Support or Not Support: That is The Question

My Facebook bud, Eric Reitan, makes some poignant observations about giving to an organization that you don’t morally agree with on an issue. In this excellent post, he talks about giving to an organization such as the Salvation Army even though he disagrees with their stance on homosexuality. You can read that here (please copy and paste as I am having issues posting a link):

http://thepietythatliesbetween.blogspot.ca/2012/12/the-salvation-army-homosexuality-and.html#comment-form

What I really like is his clear demarcation between a hate group whose CLEAR AIM is to discriminate and oppress and something like the Salvation Army who clearly has another goal in mind such that what we would say is that comparing the Salvation Army to the KKK seems to be a little on the extreme side.

As an aside, as bad as the KKK are, I’m sure they would not see their own actions as being oppressive or discriminatory. That is, whatever this or any group does, it seems to me they do it out of a sense of how they see “the good life”–as we all do. Ultimately though, we’re going to need some basis for our understanding of the good life, which is ultimately found in God’s story. And so, discrimination and oppression are going to be in antithesis of that story and thus, we may have to correct a brother out of love. I say “brother” in the sense that we are all children of God. That is, that God loves each and everyone of us with infinite love and so God loves the KKK [as persons whose image they are made in ] as much as he loves the Christian. The Gospel (and God’s love) seems to relativize our sin, and agendas and relationships in this regard. Not only by not scaling our sin (one sin is worse than another) but even when, in our sin, harm is done to us, this is not of ultimate importance. As a matter of fact, my take on God’s relation to the world is such that what happens here doesn’t have the same sort of impact on God as it does on his creatures. The world and its happens are of relative importance to God. god is not “shocked” as it were. God remains aesthetically satisfied within Godself. But that’s for another discussion.

Either way, given that Reitan draws a distinction between hate groups and those that are not hate groups, I wonder if there is not something slightly askew here. Let’s look at this in another context ie., slavery. What if, say, the Salvation Army in a round about way, that is in an indirect way knowingly supported slavery? Yes, we still would not label them a hate group, in the way Reitan means it, but we certainly wouldn’t support such an organization with our resources.

Now, I’m wondering if something akin to this is what is going on here only in the case of homosexuality, it would seem to be a little more than indirectly (they would actually never support laws or policies and would seek to overturn them if they conflicted with their religious conscience) not supporting homosexuality (“civil rights”) and or homosexual “lifestyle” for lack of a better word. That is, in the basic humane ness of everything else ie., shelter, food, clothing they’ll support LGBT persons, but not those aspects which include homosexuality especially as they conflict with their own policies.

If the reluctance of throwing any spare change in the bucket is an indication of anything, though it isn’t an indication that the Salvation Army is a hate group it certainly seems to come pretty close in his mind, though not as directly as the KKK but indirectly to some large extent. At the end of the day, I wonder if the best thing to do would simply be for Reitan to not support the Salvation Army and support some other charity of his choosing. A charity where he would not have the internal conflict.