Is there an 'age of accountability'?

There is one theme which permeates the pages of Scripture from beginning to end. This theme is that of salvation. From the opening chapters of Genesis, the stage is set. God created everything, including man. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden and God Almighty was in relationship with them. Something happened though, all of that changed. There was one rule given to Adam and Eve—do not eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When this one rule was broken, so was the relationship between God and humanity. There was a punishment which had to be satisfied; for the rule also contained a consequence if broken. With the disobedience of Adam and Eve, sin entered the world and marred the relationship of the creation with the Creator.

Salvation is the plan of action God implemented in order to restore that relationship. Jesus Christ, God himself, put on the flesh of humanity and died upon the cross. His death paid the price for our sins and paved the way for the gift of salvation. The Scriptures make all of this plain. There is no person not stained from sin: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This creates a very real problem for us. Without forgiveness for our sins we are doomed to eternity in hell; we are unable to enter the presence of our Holy God in our present sinful state (1 Corinthians 6:9). The Bible further makes plain the way we receive this forgiveness is “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Therefore, salvation is a willful participation of one’s self with the death of Christ on the cross. In doing so, we are counted as righteous before God because Christ accomplished what we are unable to do.

Anyone reading the whole of Scripture cannot, in good conscience, come away with any other understanding of salvation. It is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8) found only in Jesus Christ (John 14:6, Acts 4:12) that grants salvation to any person that would accept him as Lord and Savior (Acts 2:38, Romans 10:13).

Even though this is clear, there is a point where this causes us trepidation. It causes us to question if this is how salvation always works. Tragedy is often the source of much questioning concerning God and the Bible. So it should be no surprise that tragedy is what brings about this question. The death of a child is a tragedy, which to the grieving parents, cannot be eclipsed by many others. During this time of loss, our hearts and minds often turn to the fate of that child—to his/her eternal destiny.

While this seems at first glance a simple question to answer, it is somewhat difficult. One reason for this is that Scripture does not explicitly address the eternal destiny of the unborn, infants, and young children. Another reason is that Scripture is clear the unborn, infants, and young children are not innocent either. For example, Psalm 51:5 explains that we are sinful from conception, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Psalm 58:3 also articulates this, “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.” Romans 3:23, quoted above, as well as many other Scriptures substantiate the clear teaching that humanity is in a state of sin from conception and as such, doomed to eternal punishment in hell unless one accepts Christ. I’m sure you are beginning to see the problem at this point. How can the unborn, infants, and young children accept Christ?—they cannot talk nor can they understand their need for salvation. This is where the point of contention lies.

The answer to this question and the teaching which surrounds it is often referred to as “the age of accountability.” This phrase refers to the belief that God does not hold us morally accountable for our sins until we reach a specific age. This is not uncommon though. For Jews, this is associated with Bar mitzvah. This is when Jewish children are held accountable to Torah. When Amish children reach sixteen they enter into “Rumspringa;” a time when they are allowed to decide if they are going to remain in the Amish church or leave for the world outside their community. Once the decision is made though, the children are held accountable.

The question remains though, does God grant a continuance per se? One method of answering this is to simply assert that they are in heaven. This answer, however, is simply a sentimental attempt at resolving the problem at hand. It is born out of what we want concerning these little ones; we want them to be in heaven. It completely ignores Scripture and lacks even an attempt at seeking an answer there. A second manner of answering this is that they are doomed to eternal punishment in hell. This answer is unsettling; although it attempts at drawing in the biblical understanding of our sinful state. A third vein claims that only those children who have been baptized will enter into heaven, but this answer places too much importance of the act of baptism. So what is the answer to this question?

Considering the understanding of how salvation normally works, it is important to first look at how it might be possible for the unborn, infants, and young children to be forgiven of their sins without cognitively accepting Christ. The atonement is of premier importance. Christ’s death on the cross was the atoning sacrifice sufficient for the forgiveness of sins for all of humanity. First John 2:2 describes this succinctly, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (cf. 1 Peter 3:18; Romans 5:15; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Heb 9:26; John 1:29, 12:32-33). In other words, Christ paid the price for all sins to be forgiven; however, that forgiveness is applied to us individually as we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior recognizing that we are unable to atone for our sins as he has.

While many believe the Scriptures do not have much to say on this topic, there is much to glean from the pages of the Bible. The starting point is Jeremiah 31:29-30, “In those days people will no longer say, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ Instead, everyone will die for his own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—his own teeth will be set on edge.” The prophet Jeremiah was writing about the new covenant. This is different from the old covenant God made with the Jews. In that covenant, the Law was the mediating factor in the relationship between God and his people. The new covenant is different because it was to be a law written on the hearts and minds of the people rather than stone tablets and parchment. It was to be a relationship. That our hearts desire is to please the God whom we love, not to follow a set of rules. We enjoy the new covenant and under this new covenant every individual is responsible for their actions before the Lord—whether that be for good or for bad. A lengthy passage in Ezekiel expounds upon this understanding, but ends with a clear point that is salient to the discussion at hand. “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” declares the Sovereign LORD. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23). God does not derive any pleasure from sending the wicked to hell; instead, he finds pleasure in people repenting and placing their trust in Jesus. The problem still remains though as this passage bolsters the position that there must be an acceptance of salvation, a willful repenting from one’s sins.

The Old Testament book of 2 Samuel contains much of David’s life as the king of Israel. It also contains one of David’s biggest failures as king. He commits adultery with Bathsheba and has her husband murdered to cover up the resulting pregnancy. Part of David’s punishment is the death of that child conceived by the adulterous relationship. When the child becomes ill and during the entire time of the child’s illness, David fasts, weeps, and prays for the child. However, when the child dies, he gets up and goes on with life. This bewilders his attendants and advisers. David explained his actions by stating,
“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23, emphasis added).
David clearly believed that he would be reunited with his child in the presence of the Lord. He doesn’t go into detail about why he believes this, there is just a simple trust in the Lord at this point.

Jesus, however, is not so silent on the matter. The parable contained in Matthew 18:10-14 is very illuminating:
“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost”
Immediately preceding this parable, Jesus has a young child come and stand among he and the disciples (as a visual aid if you will). In his words to the disciples he makes it clear that God does is not willing that any of these should be lost. A similar passage, Mark 10:13-16, explains that the disciples were actually attempting to prevent children from “bothering” Jesus. This upsets Jesus and prompts him to chastise the disciples with his statement in verses 14-15, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” So we have two statements by Jesus Christ. The first is that God is not willing for any child to be lost. The second is that the kingdom of God belongs to children. Combining these two statements by Jesus with David’s statement, it becomes clear that God makes a way for the unborn, infants, and young children to enter heaven.

This is clearly an act of God’s grace (Romans 5:15, Ephesians 2:1-10), because the child has not done anything to deserve it. What then does this mean in terms of judgment? That is an important question because Scripture is clear that mankind will face the judgment of God. It means that there has to come a point in one’s life where God does hold us accountable for our sin. Otherwise, we quickly fall into the heresy that everyone will eventually make it into heaven. This is a teaching that is refuted by an overwhelming tide of Scripture which explains there is an eternal punishment for the wicked and eternal life for the righteous.

Where does this point exists? At what age do we become accountable? The Bible does not establish a specific age. Rather, one’s ability to understand the basic problem of sin and the need for salvation determines accountability before God (Romans 1:19-20; Acts 28:23-31). Therefore, a specific age cannot be established. This is especially true considering that every person mentally matures at a different rate. Likewise, I think this gift of God’s grace also extends to the mentally handicapped (at least those unable to reach this stage of understanding). Since there is no specific age established in Scripture nor is there any passage which expounds upon this matter in depth, we must be careful not to make this a dogmatic doctrine upon which we judge one’s position to be heretical or orthodox. Rather, we must simply trust God. For as Abraham exclaimed, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Consider Psalm 116:5 as well, “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion.” The evidence from Scripture indicates that God extends his grace and mercy to the unborn, the infant, the young child, and the mentally handicap in order to bring them into eternal life—and we must trust God as the righteous judge, the Creator of the universe.
What'd you think? 


Placing the Bible on Indefinite Furlough

There was an article yesterday by Michael Coogan on CNN’s belief blog. The title of the article was “Bible has some shocking ‘family values’”. I was rather intrigued by this title and immediately recognized that it was meant to grab one’s attention and suggested that something about the Bible’s “true” family values would be revealed in the article that you wouldn’t hear any Christian professing as biblical family values. This simply wasn’t the case in the article. Yet, it was still a scintillating piece which I would like to address because the author got a few things out-and-out incorrect concerning the Bible and the principles contained therein.

He starts out with the statement: “When talking about so-called family values, pastors, popes, and politicians routinely quote the Bible as if it were an unassailable divine authority—after all, they assume, God wrote the Bible, and therefore it is absolutely and literally true.” There are a number of disturbing remarks contained in this sentence. First, he hints that family values are something that people don’t understand or which don’t truly exist by referring to them as “so-called.” The second major problem is his straw man tactic. He paints everyone that would call his/herself a Christian with one broad stroke. It is true that there are some Christians who would fall into the belief that the Bible is absolutely and literally true, but this does not characterize all or even most.

Let me explain. Most Christians are not complete bumbling idiots as he ever so slightly indicates by writing, “But that [God writing the Bible] is a misconception. As the Bible itself makes clear, its authors were human beings”. We know that the Bible was written by human beings. The doctrine concerning biblical inspiration does not revolve around God himself penning the Bible. We understand that it was penned at the hands of men. When most Christians speak of inspiration it is in terms of God inspiring those human authors. This, we believe, was accomplished by God in a fashion that was not God dictating what to write, nor was it God possessing the authors so as to remove their individuality and humanity from the process, nor was it free reign to write their own thoughts or opinions. Rather, it was a process where God used human authors to convey his message. This is expressed in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” So Mr. Coogan is completely off base in his statement that the biblical authors’ “writings reflect their own views and the values they shared with their contemporaries.” In fact, the authors’ own views regularly stood in stark contrast to their contemporaries.

The article continued down this road of biblical unfamiliarity by stating that Jews and Christians have traditionally agreed on the Bible’s authority in principle but not in practice. Citing as an example of this agreeing in principle but not practice, Mr. Coogan references slavery stating it is “a divinely sanctioned institution.” I’m not sure how he came to this conclusion. Perhaps it is because of the regulations the Bible places on slavery. Surely he does not take the Bible’s directives on how people should address slavery as its creation and/or stamp of approval upon it. Perhaps he misunderstands slavery allowing our American conception of it to skew his opinion. The most common form of slavery in ages past was indentured servitude. This occurred when someone sold themselves into slavery as a way to pay for a debt they otherwise had no other means of repaying. The other way slaves came about was through the conquering of another nation. These forms of slavery were around long before the Jews became a people or the biblical directives were given. The Jews understood slavery all too well being slaves in Egypt before becoming a sovereign nation. In fact, God reminds them of this fact as a means to understand the regulations placed upon them concerning slavery (Deut 24:22).

Furthermore, he suggests that the Bible addresses women as men’s property and upholding the practice of polygamy. Neither of these are accurate. The Bible does contain clear gender roles, but in no way does it place women in the position of property. Neither does the Bible condone polygamy. One could say that it condemns it (Deut 17:17). Even though this directive is aimed at the king, he was to be an example for the nation.

In short, he is advocating a discarding of the Bible’s “shocking” family values by recognizing “that the values of the biblical writers are no longer necessarily our own.” Instead, Mr. Coogan advocates that we “attempt to determine what its [the Bible] underlying values are.” What does he consider these to be? He pronounces that the Bible’s underlying message is: “Equal, even loving, treatment of all persons, regardless of their age, gender, socio-economic status, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.”

That sounds really good though. I don’t think any Christian would disagree with that statement on the surface; however, it is couched in an article that is clearly dismissive of the Bible and aimed at bringing Christians into compromising on their convictions. Not too mention this is not in hopes of bringing the two opposing views some honest common ground, but to get Christians to completely abandon their views to embrace those opposite their own using thoroughly deceptive, misinformed points and straw man tactics.
What'd you think? 


Cultural Clashes: Abortion

When one begins to survey those topics which polarize the public forum, there are few that have remained as charged as abortion. Likewise, I don’t think there is such a widely debated issue that is not fully understood by those on either side of the fence. Because neither side understands all of the intricacies involved, it quickly becomes oversimplified and the impact it has upon all those involved is understated. This, in my opinion, is where the greatest injustice has been done in regard to abortion. Abortion is a very complex topic. It involves mothers, fathers, children, uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc. Furthermore, it involves many complexities. Some of these are because options such as adoption are available. It also concerns the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the mother and father and those deeply connected and involved with the mother and father.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to address every subtlety due to the vast nature of this issue. Neither is it my goal in this post to argue for a specific position as being more right/wrong. I simply want to bring some awareness to the profound nature of this subject and spark some discussion that will lead to both sides better understanding one another. This is in the hope that we might be able to reach some common ground and quit treating those personally facing this in their life as though they are objective subject matter available to use as ammunition in the continued war which we have created.

How do pro-lifers oversimplify and understate?
This side of the fence is often characterized as the religious, right-wingers who protest and picket in front of abortion clinics. It is certainly true that a great many of those who hold to this position do so for religious reasons. Because this is the foundation for their view, they often make the mistake of painting this as simply a matter of “the sanctity of life.” The war cry was quickly stereo-typed as “abortion is murder.” When pressed about possible instances where abortion would be acceptable, the standard canned response seems to be, “There is never a time where it is ok to take a life—period.” This is a huge oversimplification when considering possible reasons for abortion.

When a woman is raped and then is impregnated by her attacker, it takes a callow individual to tell her she has no option but to carry the child to term and love the child with everything she has. A woman in this instance has gone through something which is emotionally traumatic on a level that those who have not experienced cannot fathom. Hear me out, I am not saying that this is a green-light instance for a woman to get an abortion, but I think those in the pro-life camp are displaying a callous heart when we don’t even consider the woman’s emotional state in a situation like this. Would it not be better to help her deal with the emotional trauma from which she is suffering? Doing so would bring more positive results (adoption?) as well as help her heal. All too often, what seems to be the prevailing story in this situation is those in the pro-life position simply state that she would be murdering this child and sinning if she has an abortion. Now some of you in the pro-life position are getting angry with me as you read this, but stop and take a breath for a moment. I write this because I used to be one of those who would have told her those very things. I would’ve heralded “abortion is not an option under any circumstance.”

I have since softened my approach. I still do not agree that abortion is okay, but I have been able to gain some understanding into the pro-choice position. For example, there are very rare instances where carrying a child to term would place the mothers life at risk. One of those instances is a condition known as a tubal or ectopic pregnancy.” This is where the fertilized egg becomes lodged in the fallopian tube. If left untreated, the embryo will continue to grow and eventually rupture the tube. When this occurs the woman is in serious danger of dying from the hemorrhage. Another condition which would place both the mother and the child at risk is preeclampsia. When a couple is faced with this, it is a hellacious decision. One that I know (as a parent) is not easily made. Why do I say this? Because it is a decision that results in the ending of a life. Either they decide to follow thru on the oversimplified pro-life position and not have an abortion and the mother dies (and possibly the child as well) or they end the child’s life saving the mother’s life. It is a no win situation for those parents and the public sector seems to forget this fact.

However, I also realize that not every person who could be categorized as pro-life hold to the extreme which has been painted. It still remains, however, that the vast majority of the pro-life camp does not give any consideration beyond that of preserving the life of the unborn. We must begin to move beyond seeing that as the only thing at stake here—it is much deeper than just the unborn child; it involves real people, facing real decisions, which affect more than just the unborn.

How do pro-choicers oversimplify and understate?
The biggest way in which those advocating this position have oversimplified the issue is by deeming it simply as a “woman’s choice.” This statement is naïve at best because it is not just the woman involved. There is, at least in the beginning, a man involved as well. It is ridiculous to me that when a child is born the father has rights to the child and the major decision which affect that child’s life, but when the child is in the womb a woman can abort the child even if the father wanted to keep the child. An even greater hypocrisy lies beneath the surface of the “woman’s choice” statement—partly because what is hailed as giving much support to the woman’s choice position is contained in two concurrent decrees from the Supreme Court. In the first of two decisions, Roe v. Wade determined that the fetus is not person and, therefore, not entitled to constitutional rights. This decision also determined that States cannot regulate an abortion during the first trimester for any reason, but could regulate the second trimester to protect the health of the mother and during the third trimester states could regulate/prohibit abortions to promote its interest in the potential life of the fetus (save threatening the health or life of the mother). The second decision by the Supreme Court in Doe v. Bolton outlined what constituted the “mother’s health”. It defined health as "all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age – relevant to the well-being of the patient." This expanded the “right to abortion” for almost any reason.

Consider this. A pregnant mother in her third trimester, one week away from her due date can go and receive an abortion because the fetus is not considered a person as defined in the above Supreme Court decision. However, if she were to wait one week and give birth to the child, she could no longer terminate that life because it is now considered a person. Does one week make that drastic of a difference in the development of the fetus? Of course not, that child could be born a week early and be completely healthy and survive outside of the mother. Here is the oversimplification. It is difficult by any means to try and define the point at which the developing embryo should be considered a person. My opinion is that the Supreme Court did not wish to delve deeply into the matter as they are supposed to interpret the law and not get into ethical considerations; so they simply took the plainest definition of personhood available to them—at birth. That, after all, is when we receive a certificate of live birth and are eligible for rights as citizens.

Even though we have made great advancements in the medical field, we are still learning a lot about the entire process of pregnancy. This is a difficult point, but one which is of extreme importance. We must begin open, honest discussions about when personhood begins. Why is that so important you might ask? Because history bears out that in order to oppress a group or mistreat them in any way, you must first deny them personhood. The slaves in America were not considered to be persons, but property. Native Americans were not considered persons, but savages. The Jews during World War II were denied personhood, leading to their horrific mistreatment. So the matter of personhood concerning the unborn is one to which we must give complete diligence because the unborn cannot plead their case. Before we can begin to move this discussion forward, however, we must remove all of the appeals to emotion, the politically charged language, and our own personal biases from the arena and begin to look at the issue honestly. Only then will we as a society be giving a fair handshake to the unborn. Always remember, you were a fetus at one time as well. Would you have wanted someone to plead your case openly, honestly, and fairly?

Likewise, those in this camp have understated the serious nature of the abortion procedure chalking it up to a routine medical procedure. As anyone who has undergone surgery knows, any invasive medical procedure brings risks with it regardless of how small the procedure. Abortion is no different. In fact, abortion is very invasive and traumatic on a woman’s reproductive organs. If you do not know what is involved in the abortion process during the three different trimesters, please take a look at this video. The video is produced by an OB/GYN to tactfully demonstrate what is truly involved in an abortion. This is also why the Supreme Court made the following statement:
“The State has a legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortion, like any other medical procedure, is performed under circumstances that insure maximum safety for the patient. This interest obviously extends at least to the performing physician and his staff, to the facilities involved, to the availability of after-care, and to adequate provision for any complication or emergency that might arise. The prevalence of high mortality rates at illegal "abortion mills" strengthens, rather than weakens, the State's interest in regulating the conditions under which abortions are performed.”

Both sides of the camp are guilty of making grievous errors when addressing abortion. I’m not claiming that I have the answer, but I am willing to talk about the issue with an open mind and to think through the issues surrounding it logically and reasonably. That is my hope for you after reading this—that you would be willing to modify your opinion as you learn more about abortion from engaging others in productive discussions.
What'd you think? 


1+1+1=1 The Trinity, Part 2

In my previous post I outlined the trinity in as basic and succinct fashion as possible. At the end of that post, however, I explained that I would tackle the big question—why is the trinity such a big deal? When one looks at the history of the Christian church, this is one of the subjects which have caused considerable debate and division among the ranks of Christendom. So why is everyone so vehement about their position concerning the trinity? It is important for a couple of reasons.

It is how God revealed himself
This may seem to be an understatement at first glance. This couldn’t be further from the truth though. It strikes at the very core of who God is—his very being. God is the creator of all things and made us with a purpose. He made us to be in relationship to him. So understanding God is not unimportant. When getting to know another person, it would be rather offensive to them for us to say, “Oh, I don’t need to know whether you are white, blue-eyed, or male.” These are all facts of who that person is—their very being. God has revealed his very nature to humanity and the picture with which one draws is important to how they will interact with him.

It serves as an example to us
There is a perfect love that exists between the members of the trinity, which is the example of how our relationships should be characterized between one another. Jesus speaks to this very point in John 15:9—“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” Several other Scriptures address this as well. 1 John 4:21 reads, “And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” Similarly, John 17:22-23explains that we are to be exhibiting the unity and love that exists among the Father, the Son, and (implicit in the passage) the Spirit—“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

What if any of these points are neglected or denied?
While some would attempt to state their agreement with one or two points, one cannot be a quasi-trinitarian. It is a doctrine where one must agree with all three points or else they come away with a greatly distorted image. For example, if someone denies the first point (there is one God), then they become polytheistic, pluralistic, or the like. It would be denying one of the foundational tenants of Christianity. It would be leaving the realm of monotheism and entering another.

The second point also must be maintained. When this is denied, it puts got in an awkward position as it then forces him to take on different “roles.” There are clearly three main characters when speaking to God in the Scriptures. When one denies that God is three persons, it follows that there is one person fulfilling three different roles. Does this mean that God left the throne room unattended while in the physical person of Jesus Christ? Was he performing one big magic trick at the baptism of Christ in order to make us think there is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? Lastly, what would God truly gain in having three different roles to fulfill? It seems that this only serves to complicate things. Would it not be easier for God to simply be God? Trying to balance three different “hats” unquestionably muddles up the picture God is trying to paint of himself to humanity. I imagine it would be like trying to have a relationship with someone who has a multiple personality disorder; you would constantly have to ask yourself with which personality you are currently relating before being able to proceed forward.

When denying the third point, it leads to having a hierarchy and essentially denies deity to one or members of the trinity. What do I mean by that? Viewing the members of the trinity as not being equal in deity inevitably leads to one member of the trinity being exalted over another. This is actually all too common among Christians. While they do not overtly or explicitly promote this position, they inadvertently advocate it by their actions. For example, the salvific work of Christ on the cross is certainly an important part of our daily life as Christians. However, this usually leads us to making all of our prayers about him, to him, and through him even though Romans 8:26 makes it clear that it is the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us and makes our prayers effective (especially when we are spiritually week). Likewise, there are groups who focus on being “led by the Spirit” and end up neglecting the very work which the Holy Spirit helped produce to guide men—it’s called the Bible.

All three points regarding the doctrine of the trinity are essential to the complete understanding of God and how we relate to him in our faith, both daily and for eternity. While I hope that I have been able to bring some clarity about this doctrine, I also want to remind you that it is a subject which is beyond our complete comprehension. So even after reading this post and even if you began an exhaustive theological study concerning this doctrine, you will always find yourself coming away confused and not concrete in your understanding.
What'd you think? 


1+1+1=1 The Trinity, Part 1

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” Isaiah 55:8-9

That is an appropriate verse to begin this discussion on the doctrine of the trinity. Why is that such an appropriate verse? Because it explains a very important point to remember when it comes to God and the study of him (theology). We can learn a lot about God and who he is, but we will never be able to fully comprehend him this side of eternity. Biblical scholars have been debating the doctrine of the trinity for centuries. This is because it is a difficult teaching to understand. Some would like to nail it down and put God in a box while others don’t even attempt to understand it all. I hope that after reading this post, you will be able to walk away with a much better grasp of what the doctrine of the trinity is. However, I also know you will still be left scratching your head. Just know that is okay—see Isaiah 55:8-9 above.

In general, the first objection people make against the trinity is that those who hold to this teaching are making something out of nothing because the word “trinity” is never used in the Bible. How should one respond to that? By stating that they are correct of course; the word trinity itself is never used in the Bible. The word was originally coined by a third century theologian, Tertullian, who used the Latin term trinitas, when translated to English becomes trinity. It was a compound word taken from the two root words trinus (meaning three-fold) and unus (meaning one); forming the understanding of a three in one or tri-unity. However, just because the word trinity is never found in the Scriptures does not automatically preclude the doctrine from being biblical. The understanding of the trinity is found throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.

What does the Bible teach about the Trinity?

The Bible presents three facts or points concerning the trinity. The first fact which the Bible presents is that there is only one God. A concept that few would claim is not made by the Scriptures. The second fact is that God is three persons. This idea is debated among differing sects of Christianity to exactly what that means. The final and third fact is that each person is fully God. Nearly every Christian would agree intellectually to this statement, but do not express it as such when living out their beliefs in everyday life.

Probably the most popular passage to use when talking of the oneness of God is Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This passage of Scripture is one of great importance to Jews and became known as the Shema (pronounced: sh•mā), which is translated to “hear” in English and begins this passage. As we know the rest of the story, it is clear that God wanted the Israelites to truly “listen up” and take to heart that he was the only God since they would spend much of their time as a nation worshiping other deities. There is a verse in the gospel of John that has been deemed as the New Testament Shema, if you will. It is John 10:30 when Jesus is debating with the Pharisees and makes the statement, “I and the Father are one.” Thus, indicating that he thought himself equal to God.

There is a vast range of Scriptures one could cite to demonstrate that God is one person. So in the interest of maximizing the limited nature of a blog post, I am not going to spend time going through the Scriptures on this point. Especially since this is not a huge point of debate concerning God. However, the next point is one which has brought about much debate.

The Bible teaches that God is in fact three persons. Genesis gives several instances of the plurality of God. In the opening verses of the Bible, it is clear that there are at least two persons in the Godhead. Genesis 1:1-2—“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” So right away we see “God” and the “Spirit of God.” Later in the opening chapter, God speaks of himself in the plural tense. Genesis 1:26—“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over…’” And again in Genesis 3:22—“The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.”

If that’s not enough from the Old Testament, even Deuteronomy 6:4-5 mentioned above speaks to the plurality of God. The Hebrew words have a meaning that is richer than the English translation exhibits. When we read, “the LORD our God, the LORD is one” there are very specific words used, which betray the strict understanding most take away from this verse. The "LORD" is the Hebrew word Yahweh. This is the covenant name of God used only to describe the Living God; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of the nation Israel; and the creator of the universe.

Elohim is the second major word used and is translated as "God" in English. This word is a less specific word to describe God. Where “LORD” was very specific as to whom it was referring, Elohim was a broader term that could have been used in reference to other gods as well. However, the important thing to note about this word is its conjugation. It is in the plural conjugation of the word. This is difficult for many people who only speak English because there is no equivalent construction when conjugating words. An example from Spanish may help some people to understand what I am talking about. When using a word in Spanish, such as caminar (to walk), it can be constructed in the first person singular—camino (I walk), second person singular—caminas (you walk), third person singular—camina (he/she walks), first person plural—caminamos (we walk), or third person plural—caminan (they walk). This word spoke directly to the plural nature of God, the LORD.

The third important word to make note of is “one.” In the Hebrew it is echad and it expresses the understanding of a plurality of things coming together as a singular unit. Let me give you an illustration of what this means. It is similar to using the word “automobile.” Anyone hearing that word understands the person to be speaking of a singular thing—a pickup truck, sedan, van, etc. However, an automobile is actually made up of thousands of parts: tires, rims, pistons, lights, seats, etc. No one would try to describe it in that fashion though—“I have four tires and rims, eight pistons, a windshield, two headlights, etc.” It is simply easier to tell someone you have an automobile and they know that you are talking about a singular item which has all of those individual parts as well. Deuteronomy 6:4 expresses that Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel and creator of the universe, is a plurality coming together as a singularity.

Genesis 18 contains an illusion to the Godhead being comprised of three persons. When the LORD visited Abraham at the great trees of Mamre, there were three visitors. In the New Testament, Jesus’ baptism marks the appearance of God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son at the same time (Matt. 3:16-17, Mark 1:10-11, Luke 3:21-22). Likewise, we find Trinitarian statements in the Scriptures as well (Matt. 28:18-20).

When it comes to the three person of the trinity, each is person 100% equal and 100% deity. What do I mean by that? Most Christians impose a hierarchy upon the trinity. They place God the Father at the top of the ladder, so to speak. Then the Son is the next on the totem pole followed by the Holy Spirit bringing up the rear. The Scriptures are clear on this point. The Father is called God throughout the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:17, Malachi 2:10). Not only does Jesus make the claim himself, but he is called God as well (Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 2:9). Scripture does not leave the Holy Spirit out of this line-up either. In Acts 5, the apostle Peter places the Holy Spirit on equal footing with God the Father in his statements to Ananias. John 16:8-11 also clearly places the Holy Spirit on par with the rest of the Godhead as it credits him with being able to perform things only reserved for the LORD.

The briefest way to explain the trinity is summed up in these three points:
  • There is one God
  • God is three persons
  • Each person is fully God
In the next post, I will begin to tackle the question of why the trinity is such a big deal? What does it truly matter? And what happens if any of these three points are neglected?
What'd you think? 


Cultural Clashes: Homosexuality

This is a subject of which has only grown in furor between those who support homosexuality and alternative lifestyles and those who oppose them. The battle lines have been drawn and you are either on one side or the other. It appears as though the middle ground has been ripped out from underneath the general public. Both sides have painted the other in the worst possible light, erected their straw men, and created an arsenal of red herrings. Where does this leave the average person who doesn’t necessarily feel a strong inclination to one view or the other? Often it leads to a rash and uninformed decision. So is there a way to a middle ground on this issue? To that we now turn.

The paint brush is broad when it comes to both sides, but I think that is truer of those who oppose homosexuality. They are often labeled as homophobes, oppressors, and religious zealots. While this is certainly true of some on this side of the fence, it is certainly my experience that this is not the case with the majority of those who oppose homosexuality. However, I don’t think Christians truly know how to appropriately respond to homosexuality in the culture. I think this is because they feel as though the homosexual community is cramming this lifestyle down their throats. Right, wrong, or somewhere in between doesn’t matter because that is the perception. So the Christian community in general responds in kind rather than being able to take a moderate approach to addressing this issue.

What are some ways Christians can better approach this topic? For one, I think we need to quit thinking that we have a right to tell homosexuals how they can or cannot live their life. What Christians are called to do is speak the truth in love. We are honor bound by the Scriptures to tell homosexuals that the life they are choosing to live goes against God’s Word and desire for their life, but we are not required to make them abide by it. However, I think Christians are completely justified in asking homosexuals to be sensible when expressing affection in public, just as I would like for heterosexual couples to do. I am not trying to advocate some sort of double standard. I find it extremely distasteful to see a heterosexual couple being overly affectionate by doing things like making out in public. In the same way, I don’t like to see homosexual couples doing this either. In my observations, it seems as though homosexual couples are more prone to these types of inappropriate displays of public affection. Again, that is just my opinion.

Many times, the homosexual community also feels put off by the religious side of the culture because they do not feel welcome. We as Christians are called to love homosexuals. What do I mean by this? If you are having a barbecue at your house, don’t be afraid to invite someone who is a homosexual. Their presence there is not going to cause you to sin by osmosis or anything. It allows you to demonstrate that you appreciate them as a person and care about them and, therefore, builds a relationship and a foundation for future discussions about their lifestyle without their feeling as though you are judging them.

This has been born out in past discussions I have had with homosexuals. They understand our religious convictions, but they see an incongruity with what we claim to be and how we live out those claims. Imagine Jesus for a moment. Think about the short glimpse we have into his life as recounted in the gospels. He regularly reached out to those who were considered to be on the fringe of society although he didn’t give approval of their sins either. For example, when Jesus encountered the woman at the well she was certainly a social outcast for many reasons. She had been with many men and was living with a man out of wedlock at that time. This was utterly and completely unacceptable in that society and often resulted in a type of shunning by the community. She was also a Samaritan while Jesus was a Jew. These were two groups diametrically opposed to one another and they didn’t acknowledge the other even when around each other. This is reflected in the woman’s question to Jesus after he asked her for a drink of water. She asked him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” Even though the social convention was such that he should have avoided her, Jesus used it as an opportunity to reach out to her with the truth.

I think this is where we are at as a society. Both sides have allowed the social convention shape the debate and prevent the two sides from engaging in a productive discussion to reach a middle ground where we can coexist with one another while respecting each others position.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this. However, do not use this as an opportunity to bash or advocate a position as this will result in your comment being deleted. I want a productive discussion and not more of the same rhetoric.

What are some other ways Christians can reach out in love without compromising on our own position? What are some things homosexuals can do to promote a healthier interaction?
What'd you think? 


Cultural Clashes: Where Christianity Meets the World

I am looking to begin a new series to help spur me back into the habit of more regular posting on my blog. So, with that goal in mind I began thinking of topics. After considering many different subjects on which to write, I decided to settle upon something a little different but still in line with the general goal of my blog.

There are a lot of issues that we as Christians face every day. Some of these issues seem to catch us by surprise and we don’t know how to respond. Other times, we don’t want to offend or seem as though we are pushing our views on others. As I began thinking of ways we can all better engage the culture around us and spread the Gospel faithfully and truthfully, it occurred to me that Christians frequently remain silent on these issues. This made me begin wondering why this is so often the case. One reason that came to mind was that I think we often lack some much needed clarity and perspective on these issues. So rather than speaking up because they don’t know the facts surrounding the issue, we choose remain silent.

I have several ideas already of topics to cover in the posts to come. But now I would like to get some input from all of you. What are some issues where Christianity clashes with the broader culture and you don’t really know much about either sides position?


Topics:
What'd you think? 


Freedom of Religious Expression in Jeopardy?

The Supreme Court handed down a ruling today that should interest religious groups operating on college campuses in particular and in a broader context as well. The Christian Legal Society was denied official recognition by the University of California’s law school in San Francisco.

What was the deciding factor in the Supreme Court’s ruling—the school’s policy concerning campus organizations. It essentially limits official recognition by the criteria that groups may not reject anyone because of sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or other criteria protected under federal and state law.

The main point of debate is whether or not it is discrimination to preclude individuals from membership based upon sexual orientation. This is a point on which the Supreme Court’s decision did not specifically address. The group is distinctly a Christian organization and therefore, should have no appeal to those of other religious beliefs or those with sexual orientations contrary to the groups expressed beliefs. My question is this, if this were a Muslim, Jewish, or etc. group, would the decision have been the same? I venture to think not.


I would like to hear your thoughts on two points:

(1) Do you think it is discrimination for this group to limit membership to those of like belief resulting in non-heterosexuals being precluded from membership?

(2) Do you think this a serious blow to religious expression?
What'd you think? 


Book Review: Too Soon to Say Goodbye

Susan Titus Osborn, Kosman, Karen L., and Gordon, Jeenie. Too Soon to Say Goodbye: Healing and Hope for Victims and Survivors of Suicide. Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2010, 205pp.

This book deals in depth with the many aspects of suicide. It dives into the tide of emotions which engulfs those who attempt and/or commit suicide as well as the emotions of those friends and loved ones involved in that persons life. The book contains twelve chapters that take you along the journey of understanding suicide to healing and living life freely once again.

As I read this book, I couldn’t help but be drawn into it because the authors use stories of persons who committed suicide and the stories of their loved ones living in the wake of such a great and tragic blow to their life. It captivated me as my heart ached for each person as they told their story. The book brings excellent understanding on how to minister to those who are dealing with the loss of a loved one by suicide—highlighting those things we often say that do more harm than good. Just as importantly, it explains how we move on and neglect to continue ministering even when they are still grieving and hurting. By far though, my favorite aspect of this book was the little sections titles “Words from Jeenie.” In these sections, Jeenie gives tidbits about possible motivations for suicide, stages of grief, and realities of life for those experiencing the loss. Even if someone didn’t want to read the entire book, much could be gained simply by thumbing through and reading these sections alone.

As great as this book is, I must warn you that it deals with a very depressing topic and you will most likely find yourself experiencing a lot of different emotions—from depression to sorrow to astonishment and down the line. If you are someone who has personally dealt with suicide or the loss of a loved one by suicide, this book will most certainly bring out all of those emotions you experienced when you first began dealing with your grief. For those who are not strong in their emotional stability, I would recommend that you plan to have something happy and uplifting planned for the times following your reading of this book.

All in all, this was a very well written book discussing a subject that has become taboo in American culture. However, it is a subject in desperate need of attention as this is something which affects such a large portion of our population.

You can purchase this book at Amazon.com or from the WMU Store.

I received this book free from New Hope Publishers as part of their New Hope Book Review Blogger program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
What'd you think? 


Are there really “lost books” of the Bible?

What are the “lost books”?

Over the last few years, there has been quite a bit of discussion regarding writings that have been deemed “the lost books of the Bible.” But is this really a good characterization of these books? What are the books? Were they ever included among the other writings of the Bible? These are all valid questions that surface when one begins to consider this discussion of whether or not these books hold a rightful place in the canon of Scripture.

There are really two categories into which the books fall—Old Testament and New Testament. No surprise there huh? Those books which would fall into the Old Testament are collectively known as the Apocrypha and those which would fall into the New Testament are known as the Gnostic Gospels.

The Apocrypha includes the following 15 books: 1 & 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Baruch, Letter of Jeremiah, Song of Three Youths, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 1 & 2 Maccabbees. These books were written during what is commonly known as the intertestamental period, which was roughly from 300 BC – 100 BC.

The Gnostic Gospels are a much broader group of books of which there is no standard list in the sense of a canon. However, some of the more popular books from this group include The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Mary, The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, and The Sophia of Jesus Christ. These books were written anywhere from 100 AD – 800 AD.

Were these books originally in the Bible and then lost?

Let me first introduce you to why many of these books are even considered to have been lost. For centuries, the only Scriptural writings known for the New Testament were the 27 which appear in the Bible today. It was not until the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts that anyone even wondered about “lost books” of the Bible. Why, you might ask? It is because this discovery contained many of the books which are now known as the Gnostic Gospels. Before this discovery, there was no real question about the canon of Scripture being purposefully altered.

In fact, the very names given to these two groups tell much about why they are not contained in the canon of Scripture. Apocrypha is a Greek word which translated to English would roughly mean “hidden” or “hard/difficult to understand.” This is very similar to what the word Gnostic or Gnosis means. Gnosis is also a Greek word which means “knowledge.” It came to describe a religious sect that viewed knowledge in a very peculiar manner. They viewed knowledge as a means to the supernatural. Basically, as they gained knowledge they would become more divine. This was not just any knowledge however; it had to be a special knowledge which was taught to you by those who already possessed the higher knowledge. The leaders held the special/higher knowledge and taught it to their initiates/disciples/students in little bits as the leaders deemed the students were ready and able to handle it.

The Apocrypha and the Gnostic Gospels were also never placed in the canon of Scripture because they failed to meet the criteria of which the rest of the books did meet. For the Old Testament, the number one criterion to be considered for inscripturation was prophetic authorship. Along with this was the question of whether or not the prophet was confirmed by an act of God. Furthermore, the Jews did not accept these books as canonical.

The case against the Gnostic Gospels is very similar. All of the Gnostic Gospels were written after the death of the apostles, which was the first criteria for acceptance into the canon—either direct apostolic authorship or apostolic approval. Another criterion was whether they were considered Scripture by the early church, which they were not. Furthermore, they contain teachings which are directly contrary to those books that are considered to be Scripture.

How should these books be characterized?

The books contained in the Apocrypha should not simply be discarded as useless simply because they are not Scripture. They contain some very valuable perspectives and information that add much to the understanding of Scripture. These books add much to understanding what happened during the intertestamental period in terms of Jewish history and religion. For example, 1 and 2 Maccabbees records the history of the Jewish revolt against Antiochus Epiphanies, which resulted in the Jews gaining their independence back for some time. The Apocryphal writings are a great source of information that is just not Scripture—much like a modern-day commentary on the Bible can be a great source of information but is not on par with the Bible.

The Gnostic Gospels, however, fall into a much different realm. In general, they do not contain historical information about Christianity or its development. Most attempt to demonstrate that Jesus was Divine but was not human. In doing this, they incorporate many strange teachings that are completely contrary to what the rest of the New Testament teaches. I still would not say that they need to be discarded because they add much to the understanding of the beliefs of the Gnostics.

In short, there are no lost books of the Bible, we are not missing critical parts of the Bible, nor was the canon of Scripture selected to meet the specific beliefs of a select few leaders of the church. The canon of 66 books we possess today is the same canon the early Christians possessed by 100 AD. So don’t worry about your Bible missing books, they’re all there!
What'd you think? 


Book Review: Free Book by Brian Tome

Brian Tome. Free Book. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009, 230 pp.

The title to this book might be somewhat deceptive. However, if you read the somewhat lengthy subtitle it becomes really clear what this book is all about. The author, Brian Tome, has a burning desire for freedom in the daily Christian life. After all, Brian points out in the very first chapter 2 Corinthians 3:17—Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Using fifteen chapters, he takes you on a journey to understand true Christian freedom and how to gain that freedom in your life.

The Free Book was definitely a very interesting read. I would not consider myself a fanatic about freedom, but I would most certainly say that I have a passion that Christians experience the freedom that God desires them to have in their lives. Brian brings out a lot of really great points in the book concerning Christian freedom. For example, he spends some time explaining how most Christians really don’t have freedom; rather, they have placed themselves under bondage in many areas of their lives. He explains how these areas can be identified followed by how to deal with them.

His writing style is very easy to read and understand. The chapters are short and lend well to those who might only have ten or twenty minutes at a time to read. However, there is really only one caution I would give you, the reader, when considering this book. If edgy language bothers you, then you may want to consider not reading this book. In the first chapter for example, he is explaining how trading in Christian freedom for bondage makes him angry and he wrote, “I hate the assumption that getting close to God means more rules and restrictions. I am also pissed that I’ll have to fight to keep the word pissed in this book because the publisher will want to cave to more conservative types who want to keep everyone boxed into a certain type of language.” I certainly wouldn’t characterize anything he says as cursing in the book, but I do realize that some people just don’t care for words like pissed off or the like. On the other hand, I think there are a great number of people who will find it easier to relate to his message because of his writing style and the way he expresses himself. It is only a point that everyone should be aware of before reading the book. Regardless of your position on the language, Brian Tome does an excellent job of explaining Christian freedom, what barriers we often face, and how to overcome those barriers and begin to experience true biblical freedom in our lives.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
What'd you think? 


Bible Reading Resolutions: Here's A Lifeline

What always comes with the New Year? Numerous resolutions and for many Christians, one of those resolutions will have something to do with the Bible. It might be to start reading the Bible more regularly, or to get more out of their reading time, or perhaps even to read the entire Bible over the next year.

I just wanted to take a moment and give you some resources that will help you accomplish your goal. Reading the Bible is an important aspect of the Christian faith that is too often neglected by those for whom it should take prominence. As a pastor, I see time after time where Christians don’t take the time to read their Bible and so they don’t even know something as simple as where the Ten Commandments are located. However, you ask them about the Chronicles of Narnia and they could draw a story board for you. That is not saying there is anything wrong with Narnia, but it is saying that Christians should be putting that much effort into reading their Bibles.

First, you can receive your daily reading in your email by visiting the ESV (English Standard Version) website. There you can choose from quite a number of different reading plans as well as different methods that you can read those plans such as: email, rss, mobile, print, etc.

Another help available to you is a website called YouVersion.com. This website is designed specifically to give people mobile access to the Bible from your iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, or web enabled smartphone. You can read 41 different translations in 22 different languages. With YouVersion, you’ll never be far from the Word.

For those of you who don’t think you can tough it out for an entire year in order to read the Bible from cover to cover, there is another reading plan I would like to offer you. It is the Bible in 90 Days reading plan. This is a very intense reading plan and requires a great deal of commitment in order to accomplish. The task itself is really not that difficult. You will spend about 45 minutes to an hour each day reading (less if you’re a fast reader) and at the end of three months you will have read the entire Bible. There is also a Bible designed specifically for this. It comes in the NIV thinline (New International Version) and has large print. With this Bible you read twelve pages a day, which are marked to help you keep track of where you are along your reading plan. If you are one who likes to study the Bible and make notes in your Bible, then I would encourage you to get this Bible. I am very much a person who writes notes in the margin of my Bible (that’s why I own a wide margin Bible), and this helps keep me from feeling the urge to write notes and stay on task to complete the reading.

For those of you who are not necessarily looking to read the Bible cover to cover but just to start getting more out of your time with the Bible, there are two resources to which I would like to point you. The first is a series of posts that are appearing on Fallen and Flawed about how to study the Bible, which are being guest authored by Jonathan Woodward who runs Sorting Beans. These will help you start to read the Bible and get more out of what you read. However, if you really want to dive deep into studying the Bible, then I would recommend you go and pick up a copy of Living by the Book. Howard Hendricks does an excellent job of explaining how to study the Bible in a way that is easy to understand. Short of going to Bible College or Seminary, this is the best resource out there to learn how to study the Bible.

So, for all of you who read this post and have those Bible reading resolutions, you have no excuse not to follow through and reach your goal. In fact, I would love to hear from those of you who have made a Bible reading resolution in the comments below; maybe even check back in through the year and let everyone know how you’ve been doing. Maybe this post will turn into a place everyone can hold themselves and each other accountable, who knows…
What'd you think?