Monthly Archives: December 2009

Can all freely choose, or are we totally depraved?

Earlier I posted a portion of a conversation I recently had with a friend (Mike) regarding salvation’s availability. Here is the continuation of that conversation (reposted with premission) where our conversation logically turns to whether everyone has the ability to accept the offer of salvation if it were freely offered.

Mike:

I see your questions1, and wanted to ask a few others for my clarification before progressing any further.

You stated, “the question rather is whether everyone has within their power (given, obviously by God) the ability to choose Christ in the first place”, then cited 2 Peter 3:9 in order to answer yes to your question.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but you most likely would assert that God grants a special grace to everyone that would enable them to choose salvation in Christ?  My questions back would be: What does this special grace (that everyone has) help man with?  What causes one to choose Christ and not the other, especially if they were both made by God and were placed in their times and circumstances by Him?

You also mentioned, “I simply question, however, the notion that God’s foreknowledge is logically tied to a causal decree. In other words, I don’t see how God’s foreknowledge is inextricably tied to the causally deterministic notion that God also causes those he foreknew to accept the grace he has offered.”  Based on thisquestion, and highlighting what I mentioned above, do you then believe that God’s sovereign election is a reaction to one’s decision to follow Christ?

Me:

No, I don’t think that special grace is given in order for anyone to accept the gift of salvation. I do think that special grace is given once that gift has been accepted in the form of salvation. What causes one man to choose Christ while another rejects while both have been through the same circumstances is the men themselves.
This is another mischaractarization of Molinism that James White propagated in his presentation where he mistakenly asserts that in Molinism it is presumed that people will act in a given way depending wholly on the circumstances.
People are unique and while we may not know who will and who won’t accept Christ given any circumstances, Jesus’s comments in Luke 10:3 assure us that God knows.
As to your second question I’ll simply say “no” because the decision of which logically possible world to actualize was made far before any of God’s creatures existed in order to be said that God reacted to them. This is another variation on the grounding objection which assumes that there are only two options to the question of who elected whom unto salvation.
God, in knowing (through his middle-knowledge of possible worlds rooted/grounded in His omniscience) who would choose given any possible set of circumstances chose to actualize a world (the one we find ourselves in currently) which necessarily closed the door to some people in terms of salvation because they, like Tyre and Sidon, were not given the signs and wonders that would have caused (or persuaded them rather) to repent in sackcloth and ashes and believe. Conversely, Chorazin and Bethsaida were given, by God’s good pleasure and soverign descision and decree, more evidence and Jesus condemned them all the same because any evidence of God is enough to convict us for failing to take Him at his word. This is, coincidentally, the same argument Paul uses in the first chapter of Romans to convict the pagans who did not have the specific revelation of the law or Jesus but who only had the natural revelation that comes from the world God created which points to himself.
A good question in relation to causal determinism would be: If God is the causal agent who chooses who will and who won’t be saved, then how does He choose? Specifically, in light of the overriding principle of Scripture that God loves all of his creation and is willing that none should perish (something also affirmed by Jonah and the other prophets as they called people to repentance for multiple years in some cases); How can we  claim God loves the world and desires the salvation of all men at the same time we affirm a doctrine that explicitly states that He doesn’t?
It seems that we have far more philosophical and theological reason to reject the notion of a God who causally determines every single thing that happens (including sin and subsequent repentance) than we do to question a system which attempts to answer the entire body of evidence (including God’s holiness and man’s responsibility for his own actions).

No, I don’t think that special grace is given in order for anyone to accept the gift of salvation. I do think that special grace is given once that gift has been accepted in the form of salvation. What causes one man to choose Christ while another rejects while both have been through the same circumstances is the men themselves.

This is another mischaracterization of Molinism that James White propagated in his presentation where he mistakenly asserts that in Molinism it is presumed that people will act in a given way depending wholly on the circumstances.

People are unique and while we may not know who will and who won’t accept Christ given any circumstances, Jesus’s comments in Luke 10:3 assure us that God knows.

As to your second question I’ll simply say “no” because the decision of which logically possible world to actualize was made far before any of God’s creatures existed in order to be said that God reacted to them. This is another variation on the grounding objection which assumes that there are only two options to the question of who elected whom unto salvation.

God, in knowing (through his middle-knowledge of possible worlds rooted/grounded in His omniscience) who would choose given any possible set of circumstances chose to actualize a world (the one we find ourselves in currently) which necessarily closed the door to some people in terms of salvation because they, like Tyre and Sidon, were not given the signs and wonders that would have caused (or persuaded them rather) to repent in sackcloth and ashes and believe. Conversely, Chorazin and Bethsaida were given, by God’s good pleasure and sovereign decision and decree, more evidence and Jesus condemned them all the same because any evidence of God is enough to convict us for failing to take Him at his word. This is, coincidentally, the same argument Paul uses in the first chapter of Romans to convict the pagans who did not have the specific revelation of the law or Jesus but who only had the natural revelation that comes from the world God created which points to himself.

A good question in relation to causal determinism would be: If God is the causal agent who chooses who will and who won’t be saved, then how does He choose? Specifically, in light of the overriding principle of Scripture that God loves all of his creation and is willing that none should perish (something also affirmed by Jonah and the other prophets as they called people to repentance for multiple years in some cases); How can we  claim God loves the world and desires the salvation of all men at the same time we affirm a doctrine that explicitly states that He doesn’t?

It seems that we have far more philosophical and theological reason to reject the notion of a God who causally determines every single thing that happens (including sin and subsequent repentance) than we do to question a system which attempts to answer the entire body of evidence (including God’s holiness and man’s responsibility for his own actions).

Mike:

While I’d like to address your response point-by-point, I think for the sake of limited time and for focus I will hone in on your specific questions.  I think they do a good job at hitting the heart of the issue, and they are ones I wrestled with for a long time myself.

You asked, “If God is the causal agent who chooses who will and who won’t be saved, then how does He choose?

I would answer that in a couple of ways.  First, the reason why He chooses one person over another is not specifically explained in Scripture.  We don’t fully understand the mind of God (Deut 29:29), but we know that He is trustworthy and He always does what is right, and that all that comes to pass will be for the sake of bringing glory to Himself.  This is where our ideas of justice and righteousness must be in submission to God’s revealed word.

We do see, however, that God chooses who are saved in such a way that none can boast (1 Cor 1:25-31), not even in their “decision for Christ”, since this too is a gift extended to the elect (Eph 2:8,9).  It is also not because of anything special about any of us (John 1:13, Rom 9:16), especially we are by nature children of the devil and objects of His wrath (Eph 2:3).  If God were to choose someone based on foreseen faith or some virtuous decision, then He would be contradicting His character since this is showing partiality (Rom 2:11).

You also asked, “How can we claim God loves the world and desires the salvation of all men at the same time we affirm a doctrine that explicitly states that He doesn’t?

To say that “God loves the world and desires all to be saved, but He doesn’t save everyone” is in no way a contradiction.  Here’s a meager example: a judge shouldn’t want to send anyone to jail because he wants to see people obey the law, yet he is charged with upholding justice so he must punish criminals.  One thing we haven’t touched on yet in our conversation is the difference between God’s “revealed will” (that which reflects His character and desires) and God’s “decretive will” (what He decrees will come to pass, either as a direct cause or not).  God obviously does desire all men to obey Him and not to sin.  Does this mean everyone obeys and nobody sins?  Well, of course not, as evidenced by the fall.  God’s desire for all to obey is his “revealed will” for all mankind.  I would argue His desire for all to be saved (2 Pet 3:9, 1 Tim 2:4) is part of His “revealed will” as well.

As far as God loving the world, He does love the world in a general sense by extending common grace to all (e.g., breath in everyone’s lungs, the restraint of people from being as evil as they can potentially be, the rain falling on the just and the unjust, patience with the wicked).

Additionally, I think it’s important to note that what we “should do” does not necessarily imply what we “can do” in and of ourselves.  Even though He desires for us to obey perfectly, we don’t have the moral ability to do so, since we are by nature dead in trespasses and sins (Ps 51:5-6, 58:3, Col 2:13)—morally in bondage to sin as a result of the fall.  Because it is a moral inability, this is why we’re still culpable for our disobedience and rejection of Christ.  And, like you mentioned, we can’t claim ignorance of the law (Rom 1:20, 2:12-16).  Because we absolutely won’t accept Christ because our wills are in such bondage to sin, this is why scripture says in Romans 8:7 that we’re unable.  For example, think of a bad marriage where a wife may scream: “I can’t forgive my husband because I hate him so much!!!”

So, the call goes out for everyone to obey perfectly, though nobody can or will.  Similarly, the call to salvation goes out to all, though nobody can or will (Rom 3:10-18).  That is, except, unless God graciously and mercifully intervenes, regenerates the sinner’s heart, and grants them repentance and faith (Acts 11:18, 2 Tim 2:25).

These evidences from Scripture are why, I argue, that God must be the causal agent for salvation.  Mankind is utterly at His total mercy, and He doesn’t owe salvation to anyone.  All the more reason for all credit to go to His Name alone for the salvation of men.

I hope my answers—though far from exhaustive—were helpful to at least some degree.

Me:

I think one of the problems we are having is that we define “faith” in fundamentally different ways. I read Eph 2:8,9 to mean that the gift of salvation is what is not of ourselves and that we merely obtain it via faith. In other words, you seem to view faith as a work whereas I do not since faith by itself saves no one but rather the object thereof.

The reason I ask how God chooses is to expose the rather curious loophole left intentionally by Calvin and modern proponents of reformed doctrine (like James White) where, after claiming that God grants us even the faith required to fulfill the command to repent and believe we are told “God grants to them the gifts of faith and repentance, which they then exercise by believing in Christ and turning from their sins in love for God.” This begs the obvious question of: If these people were foreordained unto salvation from eternity past, and if God has to grant the even the ability to accept him, why mention their exercising that gift? Why doesn’t God just do it for them?

The point is that while we both agree that God is the author and originator of faith, I maintain that humans have the ability to exercise that faith in positive (though not wholly salvific in itself) ways or not. I also don’t see where such a claim about faith makes it any more meritorious than, say, choosing to believe in the giver of a gift somehow merits the gift unto myself.

This leads to the other reformed doctrine you bring up above (which I also maintain is logically linked to the others once you take a causally deterministic view of sovereignty) which is the doctrine of total depravity.

While the Bible does clearly teach that we are, by nature, on death-row heading for an eternity separated from God I don’t think it’s fair or proper to compare our spiritual and, baring salvation, inevitable state with that of a dead man. Several issues arise if we take the analogy laid forth in certain passages about our being spiritually dead too far.

Primarily we are faced with the fact that while dead things can do no good, they can do no evil either. I like to use the analogy that if my son or daughter were to drop dead right before bedtime I wouldn’t beat them for refusing to put on their pajamas before bedtime. That would be far from just (or rational!). Similarly I don’t see how we can claim that God issues decrees we are unable to uphold, whether it be in our power or power we are to co-opt from some other source (but that is still in our power to go ask for and receive said power per Luke 19:21).

Another issue with taking the “we are dead in our trespasses” too far out of the limited scope of spiritual deadness intended in the original use is that death releases the dead person from obligation to the law. If our death is a complete inability to choose anything other than death at all, then why do you suppose we are still “under the law” and not released by it per Romans 7:2?

I think the major problem with the doctrine of total depravity lies in how low of a view it puts forth of man and the inherent damage such a view does to the imago dei or image of God we bear. I think this doctrine also fails to account for the fact that if we were all sinners and enemies of God (and, by nature children of wrath) then how were we saved at all if, according to reformed theology, the elect are predestined unto salvation apart from anything they do or decide?

In closing, I apologize for not addressing each of the verses you mentioned individually but suffice to say that I believe that it is far easier to harmonize them with a view of man’s libertarian freedom than it is to harmonize the rest of scripture with the competing notion of complete bondage that was set forth by Luther and Calvin (though not to the degree that Beza took it).

If you’ve read this far I hope you find this conversation as fruitful as Mike and I did. Feel free to join in below!

  1. He is referring to the questions I raised towards the end of my previous correspondence which can be found here. []
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Wordy Wednesday: ekklēsia

What it means

Greek

ἐκκλησία

Transliteration/Pronunciation

ekklēsia/ek-klā-sē’-ä

Strong’s

G1577

Definition

This word is generally rendered “Church” in the New Testament and pastors like to make a big deal about part of this word’s meaning as “the called out ones” but few go further and point out that the “called out ones” referred to a political assembly that met primarily to make decisions (which sheds more light on Jesus’s comment about agreeing with one another in Matthew 18:19).

Ekklesia is a curious choice of words for Christ’s body given it’s political connotations, makes me wonder what impact it would have on our civic duties if we were to truely consider our citizenship in the Body of Christ to be of utmost importance.

Would that make us un-American? Would we be willing to risk the label?

Where it’s found1

Deuteronomy 4:10, Deuteronomy 9:10, Deuteronomy 18:16, Deuteronomy 23:1, Deuteronomy 23:2, Deuteronomy 23:3, Deuteronomy 23:8, Deuteronomy 31:30, Joshua 8:35, Judges 20:2, Judges 21:5, Judges 21:8, 1 Samuel 17:47, 1 Samuel 19:20, 1 Kings 8:14, 1 Kings 8:22, 1 Kings 8:55, 1 Kings 8:65, 1 Chronicles 13:2, 1 Chronicles 13:4, 1 Chronicles 28:2, 1 Chronicles 28:8, 1 Chronicles 29:1, 1 Chronicles 29:10, 1 Chronicles 29:20, 2 Chronicles 1:3, 2 Chronicles 1:5, 2 Chronicles 6:3, 2 Chronicles 6:12, 2 Chronicles 6:13, 2 Chronicles 7:8, 2 Chronicles 10:3, 2 Chronicles 20:5, 2 Chronicles 20:14, 2 Chronicles 23:3, 2 Chronicles 28:14, 2 Chronicles 29:23, 2 Chronicles 29:28, 2 Chronicles 29:31, 2 Chronicles 29:32, 2 Chronicles 30:2, 2 Chronicles 30:4, 2 Chronicles 30:13, 2 Chronicles 30:17, 2 Chronicles 30:23, 2 Chronicles 30:24, 2 Chronicles 30:25, Ezra 2:64, Ezra 10:1, Ezra 10:8, Ezra 10:12, Ezra 10:14, Nehemiah 5:7, Nehemiah 5:13, Nehemiah 7:66, Nehemiah 8:2, Nehemiah 8:17, Nehemiah 13:1, Job 30:28, Psalms 22:22, Psalms 22:25, Psalms 26:5, Psalms 26:12, Psalms 35:18, Psalms 40:9, Psalms 68:26, Psalms 89:5, Psalms 107:32, Psalms 149:1, Proverbs 5:14, Lamentations 1:10, Joel 2:16, Micah 2:5, Matthew 16:18, Matthew 18:17, Acts 5:11, Acts 7:38, Acts 8:1, Acts 8:3, Acts 9:31, Acts 11:22, Acts 11:26, Acts 12:1, Acts 12:5, Acts 13:1, Acts 14:23, Acts 14:27, Acts 15:3, Acts 15:4, Acts 15:22, Acts 15:41, Acts 16:5, Acts 18:22, Acts 19:32, Acts 19:39, Acts 19:41, Acts 20:17, Acts 20:28, Romans 16:1, Romans 16:4, Romans 16:5, Romans 16:16, Romans 16:23, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Corinthians 6:4, 1 Corinthians 7:17, 1 Corinthians 10:32, 1 Corinthians 11:16, 1 Corinthians 11:18, 1 Corinthians 11:22, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Corinthians 14:4, 1 Corinthians 14:5, 1 Corinthians 14:12, 1 Corinthians 14:19, 1 Corinthians 14:23, 1 Corinthians 14:28, 1 Corinthians 14:33, 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Corinthians 14:35, 1 Corinthians 15:9, 1 Corinthians 16:1, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 8:1, 2 Corinthians 8:18, 2 Corinthians 8:19, 2 Corinthians 8:23, 2 Corinthians 8:24, 2 Corinthians 11:8, 2 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 1:2, Galatians 1:13, Galatians 1:22, Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 3:21, Ephesians 5:23, Ephesians 5:24, Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:27, Ephesians 5:29, Ephesians 5:32, Philippians 3:6, Philippians 4:15, Colossians 1:18, Colossians 1:24, Colossians 4:15, Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:4, 1 Timothy 3:5, 1 Timothy 3:15, 1 Timothy 5:16, Philemon 1:2, Hebrews 2:12, Hebrews 12:23, James 5:14, 3 John 1:6, 3 John 1:9, 3 John 1:10, Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:20, Revelation 2:1, Revelation 2:7, Revelation 2:8, Revelation 2:11, Revelation 2:12, Revelation 2:17, Revelation 2:18, Revelation 2:23, Revelation 2:29, Revelation 3:1, Revelation 3:6, Revelation 3:7, Revelation 3:13, Revelation 3:14, Revelation 3:22, Revelation 22:16

  1. If anyone is curious how I am citing Greek words in the Hebrew Old Testament, I am using the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint which we have good evidence that Jesus himself used and quoted from. []
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What it means to place your faith in something, and why you can’t do it

I love the field of study known as epistemology or the study of knowledge. Basically answering the question, “How do you know what you think you know?” Especially in a culture that tends to deny objective reality, particularly as it pertains to non-material objects/ideas, I find it helpful to be able to answer the skeptic’s critique of faith in metaphysical realities as being intellectually vacuous or as many like to claim, a “leap of faith”.

What is faith?

In Bruce Little’s lecture What is faith? Does belief require Warrant?, he asserts that faith is, in a nutshell, a conclusion one makes based on reason and evidence. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that:

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Notice this verse tells us that faith is the certainty of things we do not see, not the things not known. The difference between the two is a rather large leap. Consequently we are told in Romans 10:14-15:

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Faith, then, requires knowledge. Or, to put it the way Paul did in the preceding verse: “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?”

How are beliefs formed?

One of the most common misconceptions today is the notion that we can directly and causally will ourselves to believe something. A favorite thought experiment I like to use is this: Imagine I offered you a suitcase with a million dollars if you would believe that the moon were made of cheese. You would certainly have the incentive and desire to believe that the moon is made of cheese but until you were able to amass enough evidence1 you would not be able to form the belief that the moon were made of cheese.

The point is this: We can’t directly control our beliefs.

So then, how are beliefs actually formed?

Drawing sources

In another lecture by Bruce Little titled The Formation of Belief, he argues that beliefs, while not formed directly as we’ve seen above, are formed indirectly by what we choose to accept as credible evidence. This lends itself to the wisdom found in Proverbs where we read that wisdom is gained through a plurality of counselors2. While we cannot directly control our beliefs, we can choose what we will and won’t allow ourselves to be persuaded by. What we allow ourselves to be persuaded by indirectly determines what we place our faith in and shows what we value the most.

This also lends itself to the repeated assertion in Scripture that what one feeds on (that is, information and influences) is what one will eventually start resembling. This is also why Proverbs again warns us that those around us have a profound influence on us either for good or for ill.

Conclusion: The nature of faith

Faith is built on evidence, real or imagined.

Faith is not an object, it is a conclusion drawn given evidence.

Faith is only as strong as the evidence it is built on.

Faith is only valid insofar as the conclusion is true.

In short, everyone has faith.  And while we cannot directly will ourselves to believe anything, we can choose what we will and won’t accept as evidence which indirectly determines what we will and won’t have a foundation to place future beliefs on.

Consequently, most people are afraid of questioning certain central beliefs they hold out of fear that if their prior beliefs are shown to be invalid their subsequent beliefs will change. Regardless of this danger, if we are honest in our pursuit of truth we ought to be willing to objectively3 examine all forms of evidence, both physical as well as metaphysical. We also ought to fight to maintain consistency among the beliefs we hold as we grow which means we must constantly be willing to re-examine our beliefs from time to time.

Further reading

For more resources regarding the epistomoligical warrant for belief in God in general and the God of the Hebrew Scriptures in particular, I highly recommend William Lane Craig’s lecture on Religious epistemology and Alvin Plantinga‘s 3-volume “Warrant” set which includes: Warrant: the Current Debate, Warrant and Proper Function, and Warranted Christian Belief.

  1. Notice that the evidence here does not necessarily have to be valid and true in order for the belief to be formed. []
  2. Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 11:14 []
  3. That is, use the same high standard of measurement for all evidences that present themselves. []
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A real old-fashioned Christmas

It’s all too common this time of year to hear people bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas and how “the reason for the season” is being forgotten. Wrapped up in our rampant consumerism. People getting upset at department stores selling “Holiday Trees” as opposed to “Christmas Trees” or the State Department’s insistence that the tree on the White House lawn be known as a Holiday Tree.

Such skirmishes like these have led to major initiates within the Christian community to curb what they see as a rising tide of secularization that threatens to destroy “the true meaning of Christmas”.

However in all the commotion an underlying question is rarely asked and almost never answered..

What are the real historical roots of Christmas?

Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas By: Ace Collins

Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas By: Ace Collins

In his wonderful book “Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas“, Ace Collins lays out the grim reality that Christmas for centuries was no where near the festive, family-friendly, children-focused event we’ve come to know it as.

For centuries Christmas was known as the most rowdy and lawless time of the year. From many accounts our modern celebration of Mardi Gras in all of its decadent, bead-wearing, chest-flashing splendor doesn’t compare with the debauchery displayed in the average Christmas celebration of ages past.

The banning of Christmas

The celebrations held during Christmas were so bad that Christmas was officially banned both in England and in the United States. Women would lock their children inside just to escape the rowdy mobs.

Remember the classic Christmas song “We Wish you a Merry Christmas“? Ever wonder about the ominous line “we won’t go until we get some”?

This song is just one of the reminders of the past of the lawlessness inherent in the “old fashioned” celebrations of Christmas. As the song implies, bands of young men would roam from house to house, singing to the occupants. The demand in the song to bring “figgy pudding” and a “cup of good cheer” aren’t mere suggestions as these mobs would often break in and loot the homes of anyone foolish enough to refuse.

For this and many other examples of lawlessness, many regarded this time of year to be completely hopeless and irredeemable until a series of events in the early to mid 18th century helped pull Christmas celebrations from a focus on drunken excess to a focus on family and charity.

ion 1843" src="http://reasontostand.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/200px-Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Cloth-First_Edition_1843.jpg" alt="Cover of the first edition (1843)" width="160" height="244" />

Cover of the first edition (1843)

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’s classic tale, first published in 1843, is known by many for it’s sobering critique on materialism but many don’t understand the Cultural climate where Charles Dickens famous work was borne.

With the rise of industrialization it suddenly became possible to make money nearly around the clock. Consequently many became work-a-holics like Mr Scrooge. Not so much because they were obsessed with money (though that certainly played a part) but because they had become obsessed with working in itself.

It was out of this cultural climate that A Christmas Carol was written to expose and critique the fact that while industrialization had certainly brought unprecedented wealth and riches. It also managed to rob the average worker of anything worth working for.

Namely their families.

Dickens’ tale was a clear call for workers to at least take one holiday a year, particularly Christmas, off and celebrate and enjoy those around them.

We would like to think that we are unique in our modern age of computers and “work at all hours” pace of the information age. A Christmas Carol serves to remind us that work-a-holism is not a recent invention and Christmas serves as a reminder that the cure still remains the same.

Merry Old SantaSanta Clause: Twas a night before Christmas

A Visit From St. Nicholas

Even though most of protestantism had given up on Christmas as a hopelessly pagan holiday, the Roman Catholic Church doggedly maintained their observance of the beleaguered holiday by holding a special mass (Christ-mas) on December 25th, caroling1, and by passing down Christmas stories of good cheer to eager pupils.

In 1823 a poem entitled “A visit from St. Nicholas” was published anonymously and helped to spread the classic tale of a jolly old elf whose mission in life was to spread cheer and good tidings (not to mention a few presents) once a year.

Eventually an Anglican bishop by the name of Clement Clark Moore was credited for the poem. A man whom we can thank for bringing us Santa Clause and the myriad of stories about him that have arisen ever since.

Though we may loathe the jolly old man these days for his work in malls across the country encouraging buyers to come, shop, and have their picture taken after an excruciatingly long delay in a line that seemingly goes on forever. We ought to keep in mind that it is the character of Santa Clause who gave children everywhere a reason to get excited about what otherwise was merely yet another excuse for adults to get drunk (now that occasion has been delayed by 7 days).

Victorian Christmas TreeThe royal treatment

In 1846, the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree.((The History of Christmas))

In addition to the Roman Catholic Church’s steadfast support of the holiday, the German people had managed to turn the holiday into a family affair for many years. This when Prince Albert married Queen Victoria he brought with him the family customs he grew up with.

It was this royal couple, particularly the German prince Albert, who helped make Christmas more of a family holiday as their subjects naturally copied them and stopped their rabble rousing.

The past isn’t what it used to be

For years we’ve been told about “the good old days” of Christmases long long ago. Unfortunately we weren’t told that “long ago” stopped somewhere around the mid-18th century and that past that we wouldn’t recognize anything we now cherish as hallmarks of the Christmas celebration.

So this year, when you hear someone bemoaning Santa Clause or the other “unimportant” vestiges of the Christmas season such as the Christmas tree. Gently remind them that the past isn’t as rosy as it may seem through the tinsel of our nostalgia.

We may wish to pretend that Christ was always at the center of Christmas, but the truth is that for centuries he was only barely a part of what was otherwise a pagan orgy. That we enjoy Christmas they way we do is a testimony to the power of the influences mentioned above.

Does Christmas have room for improvement? Sure. Is it overly materialistic in our current culture? Absolutely! But it’s certainly come a long way and is still a time of good tidings and great cheer. We need to remember not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, though we might need another Charles Dickens to come along with another sobering reminder that possessions are far less important than goodwill and holiday cheer.

And with that I bid you,

Merry Christmas!

  1. Consequently, caroling was originally frowned upon by the Church as it was seen as frivolous. But when it became apparent the power of songs, the Church quickly rushed to guide and direct the music and lyrics. Ace Collins also has an excellent book on the Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas []
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Wordy Wednesday: timē

What it means

Greek

τιμή

Transliteration/Pronunciation

timē/tē-mā’

Strong’s

G5092

Definition

This word has two distinct categories of meanings. 1.) a “valueing by which the price is affixed” or 2.) honor due someone.

The range of this word is best seen in Paul’s first letter to Timothy where Paul tells Timothy that elders who labor in preaching and teaching are worthy of a “double honor” which is commonly taken as a proof-text for paid clergy positions within the body of Christ. However the word Paul uses is “timē” which Paul also uses in 1 Timothy 6:1.1.

Where it’s found

Genesis 20:16; Genesis 44:2; Exodus 28:2; Exodus 28:40; Exodus 34:20; Leviticus 5:15; Leviticus 5:18; Leviticus 6:6; Leviticus 27:2; Leviticus 27:3; Leviticus 27:5; Leviticus 27:6; Leviticus 27:7; Leviticus 27:8; Leviticus 27:13; Leviticus 27:15; Leviticus 27:16; Leviticus 27:17; Leviticus 27:19; Leviticus 27:23; Leviticus 27:25; Leviticus 27:27; Numbers 20:19; 2 Chronicles 1:16; 2 Chronicles 32:33; Esther 1:20; Job 31:39; Job 34:19; Job 37:22; Job 40:10; Psalms 8:5; Psalms 29:1; Psalms 44:12; Psalms 45:9; Psalms 49:8; Psalms 49:12; Psalms 49:20; Psalms 62:4; Psalms 96:7; Psalms 99:4; Proverbs 6:26; Proverbs 12:9; Proverbs 22:9; Proverbs 26:1; Isaiah 10:16; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 14:18; Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 55:1; Ezekiel 22:25; Daniel 2:6; Daniel 4:30; Daniel 4:36; Daniel 5:18; Daniel 5:20; Daniel 7:14; Matthew 27:6; Matthew 27:9; John 4:44; Acts 4:34; Acts 5:2; Acts 5:3; Acts 7:16; Acts 19:19; Acts 28:10; Romans 2:7; Romans 2:10; Romans 9:21; Romans 12:10; Romans 13:7; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Corinthians 12:23; 1 Corinthians 12:24; Colossians 2:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:4; 1Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Timothy 6:1; I Timothy 6:16; 2 Timothy 2:20; 2Timothy 2:21; Hebrews 2:7; Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 3:3; Hebrews 5:4; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 2:7; 1Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 1:17; Revelation of John 4:9; Revelation of John 4:11; Revelation of John 5:12; Revelation of John 5:13; Revelation of John 7:12; Revelation of John 21:26

  1. Incidentally, the Greek word for “pay” (misthos) is used in 1 Timothy 5:18 []
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An unexpected critique of the church in Disney’s Christmas Carol

Disney's A Christmas Carol My wife and I recently  got a chance to see Disney’s remake of Charles DickensChristmas Carol. We opted not to take the kids since we were warned that this version was a lot more true to Dicken’s original intent, which was largely to expose the brutal cruelty industrialization coupled with mindless material obsession. Such a warning was certainly much deserved as the storytellers don’t hesitate to portray the harsh realities of life and the ugliness of man’s greed through Jim Carey’s character, Scrooge, with frightening (literally at points) clarity.

Most of us have grown up hearing the timeless tale of mean old Mr. Scrooge and his eventual repentance and transformation and I’m sure this reality is what prompted the writers to add a little more to the story in this latest remake.

The one scene that stuck out to my wife as deliberate and a bit out of place (in flow of thought as well as the context of the story in general)was where the ghost of Christmas present stops his whirlwind tour of London and focus on a random bakery with people queued up, all the way out of the door, seeking to bake or buy bread.

The people, who were visibly poor and hungry, were being turned away by the baker. Upon seeing this Scrooge makes a remark to the tune of “look at the hypocrisy and oppression perpetuated in the name of religion” as if he is attempting to justify his greediness by appealing to the apparent cold-heartedness being displayed.

To this, the spirit of Christmas present yanks Scrooge around and thunders that while many men who claim to be stewards of righteousness have done much harm in the name of misguided religion, their faults are their own and ought not to be charged to Christmas’s account.

An interesting scene to say the least as I don’t recall Dickens ever dealing with the issue of business being closed on Sundays (or holidays) and how incoherent and legalistic such a requirement ends up being.

While the rest of the story offers the expected (and much needed) critique of materialism, I hope those of us in the church pay particular attention to this scene. I hope we don’t rush out with pitchforks and torches before asking ourselves, particularly those of us who live in “the Bible belt”, “How are those who are not Christians perceiving my actions?”

Far too often, I fear we are loosing ground in culture not because the world is opposed to the hope we are supposed to represent, but because we fail to practice what we preach because we get far more caught up in our preaching than we do our practicing.

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How to speak to an atheist

dinesh dsouzaI recently listened to a great lecture by Dinesh D’Souza1 on how we can reach a common ground with our atheist friends. I highly recommend it to anyone who interacts with atheists or who are intimidated by the “new atheists“.

HT: Apologetics315

  1. Who recently debated Christopher Hitchens. []
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Why I signed the Manhattan Declaration

MHDLRecently a number of prominent evangelical figures have made waves by signing the Manhattan Declaration, an ecumenical1and rather terse (in scope anyway) statement consisting of three points:

  1. the sanctity of human life
  2. the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife
  3. the rights of conscience and religious liberty.

While these may seem pretty vague and readily agreeable to by a wide range of people (in fact, the deceleration is implicitly inclusive of even non-theists) and rightly so. The goal of this declaration is not to form yet another creed or charter  or statement of faith. The goal is simply to come together with others of like mind over a very limited set of issues. It’s an old and wise tactic, pool resources and efforts in order to accomplish a common goal. In this case it’s the cessation of threats (real or imagined, you be the judge) to religious liberties by government encroachment, combating abortion, and combating the constant assaults to the traditional family prevalent in our times.

However, as simple as all this sounds, the amazing thing is that some evangelicals, or fundamentalists rather, are staunchly opposed to even the notion of this declaration. It’s as if the notion that a Christian would forge an alliance with anyone that doesn’t hold their exact level of legalism is somehow being “unequally yoked”2.

In my opinion those who hold such views are not only out to lunch on this issue, but are also poor strategists when it comes to the culture war we are engaged in.

Sadly, however, such narrow and sectarian thinking is not new. In fact, not too long ago Os Guinness set out to form a new (or reclaimed) public square where fruitful discussions and debates could be had in our nation3. The Williamsburg Charter was his attempt to forge a healthy platform from which opinions could be expressed rationally. Where debates could be had that were productive more than they were divisive.

His greatest opposition ended upcoming not from the secularists or atheists. But from his fellow Christians. In fact, his only death threat came from a supposedly Christian group that valued their hatred of others more than their love of their fellow man.

My fear is that the Manhattan Declaration will end up being remembered more for those who opposed it (and mistakenly called for the repentance of those like myself who signed it) than for what it truly represents, a concerted effort to rid the world of at least a few evils.

  1. On a side note; one of the signers, Peter Kreeft has an excellent sermon titled, Ecumenism Without Compromise. []
  2. Which ends up being a thinly veiled attempt at legalistic control. []
  3. Much more about his vision of public discourse can be found in his excellent work The Case for Civility []
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John Piper: Why the Tsunami?

I ran across this video recently and it reminded me about why answering the question of evil is absolutely critical if we are to uphold God as holy.

BTW: God doesn’t judge in this age. Judgement has been suspended until the end of time.

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How to properly beat your wife if you’re a Muslim

I ran across this video recently wherein a panel of muslims discusses the proper way to go about beating your wife.

As surprising as this revelation may be to those of us who are instructed to love our wives as Christ loved his Church it shouldn’t be considering that Muhammad prescribed the beating of disobedient wives in the Koran.

Another reason why theology matters, as it often shapes what we believe is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in order to obtain “the ideal world”. In this case, Muslim (which ironically means ‘submit’) men who dominate everyone else. And how can you dominate the world if you can’t even dominate your own wife(s)?

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