Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Icons and Incense

An anonymous poster commented on Why I am Not Eastern Orthodox:

It is kind of odd to suggest that there was some kind of consensus view of the early Fathers opposed to incense and icons: that is a bit of a surprise to me. Scripture records the use of both as a part of worship in the Hebrew context.

The following is simply a matter of historical record that I believe disproves the Eastern Orthodox claim to continuity in worship. None of the following is meant to suggest that we should not have icons or incense. I do believe that continuity in worship is important but I am not a restorationist. What may have been healthy in one age may be a danger to another and vice versa. I believe that currently the use of crucifixes, icons, and incense in the Lutheran church is a very healthy thing. But I think the historical record pretty clearly shows that the earliest Christians were opposed to these things. The Roman Catholic professor Leo Donald Davis wrote in The First Seven Ecumenical Councils (pp. 291-292):

In the early Church, Christians had ringing in their ears the denunciation of graven images in the Old Testament...Only by about 200 did Christian art make its appearance and by the fourth century were churches filled with cycles of Christian painting. Only by the second half of the fourth century did Christian authors begin to speak in positive terms about pictorial art.

The following quotations are taken from A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David W. Bercot which is handy dandy book that catalogues quotations from the early church fathers on a wide variety of topics. I will only list those which specifically address icons and incense. The book itself has references so you can look up the quotations in their original context.

They call themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material. They maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. -Irenaeus

It is with a different kind of spell that art deludes you...It leads you to pay religious honor and worship to images and pictures.-Clement of Alexandria

We are not to draw the faces of idols, for we are prohibited to cling to them. -Clement of Alexandria

The Law itself exhibits justice. It teaches abstinence from visible images and by inviting us to the Maker and Father of the universe. Clement of Alexandria

Ages before, Moses expressly commanded that neither a carved, nor molten, nor molded, nor painted likeness should be made. This was so that we would not cling to things of sense, but pass to spiritual objects. For familiarity with the sense of sight disparages reverence of what is divine. -Clement of Alexandria

Those golden figures, each of them with six wings, signify either the two bears (as some would have it) or rather the two hemispheres. For the name cherubim meant "much knowledge."...For He who prohibited the making of a graven image would never Himself have made an image in the likeness of holy things. -Clement of Alexandria

Works of art cannot be sacred and divine. -Clement of Alexandria

In a word, if we refuse our homage to statues and frigid images,...does it not merit praise instead of penalty that we have rejected what we have come to see is error? -Tertullian

We know that the names of the dead are nothing, as are their images. But when images are set up we know well enough, too, who carry on their wicked work under these names. We know who exult in the homage rendered to the images. We know who pretend to be divine. It is none other than accursed spirits. -Tertullian

Demons have their abode in the images of the dead. -Tertullian

[Hermogenes the heretic] despises God's law in his painting, and he maintains repeated marriages. Although he purports to follow the law of God in defense of his lust, he despises it in respect of his art. -Tertullian

[The disciples of Carpocrates] make counterfeit images of Christ, alleging that these were in existence at the time...and were fashioned by Pilate. -Hippolytus

Nevertheless, these very individuals, in imagining that the hands of lowly artisans can frame representations of divinity, are uneducated, servile, and ignorant. -Origen

[CELSUS, THE PAGAN CRITIC:] "They cannot tolerate temples, altars, or images. In this, they are like Scythians."...[ORIGEN:] To this our answer is that if the Scythians...cannot bear the sight of temples, altars, and images, it does not follow that our reason for objecting to these things is the same as theirs--even though we cannot tolerate them anymore than they can...It is not possible at the same time to know God to address prayers to images. -Origen

Without a doubt, there is no religion wherever there is an image. For religion consists of divine things, and there is nothing divine except in heavenly things. So it follows that images are without religion. For there can be nothing heavenly in something that is made from the earth. -Lactantius

While it was yet hardly light, the prefect, together with chief commanders...came to the church in Nicomedia. The gates having been forced open, they searched everywher for an image of the Divinity. However the books of the Holy Scriptures were found, and they were committed to the flames. -Lactantius

It has been sufficiently vain it is to form images. -Arnobius

There are also plenty of quotes from Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Lactantius, and Arnobius opposing the use of incense.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sermon Reviews

I plan to start reviewing sermons on my blog. I will some of the same methods of evaluation as found on Issues Etc. My goal is to make the review process as objective as possible and be able to assign a numeric score to each sermon. I hope to review sermons from a wide variety of denominations and pastors. I would appreciate any suggestions. Sermons in some kind of written format would be ideal. I think it would be interesting to review sermons from different pastors on the same Biblical text. I will probably use Rev. Cwirla's sermons for the Lutheran pastor. He has both audio and written versions of his sermons and a pretty nice selection. He is also a good example of Lutheran preaching.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Waking the Dead, John Eldredge, and Cardiolatry

In recent years there have been an enormous number of books written by former evangelicals. Most of these books identify real problems in evangelicalism that need to be dealt with. Unfortunately most of these books offer solutions that are as bad as the problems they are trying to solve. They want to replace the velvet painting of Jesus with some kind of iPod Jesus or text message Jesus. I get frustrated because if the authors looked out of their evangelical bubbles and down the rich landscape of historic Christianity, he would find a Biblical Jesus that transcends time and culture and that will not need to be replaced in ten years when iPod Jesus starts looking out of date and gets traded in during the cash for clunker-Jesus program. The author replaces one form of subjective, experience-based Christianity with another.

Recently, some friends of mine have been listening to the Waking the Dead audio book by John Eldredge. I like to keep up on popular Christianity, so I agreed to listen as well. Unfortunately, I believe the book falls into the trade your velvet Jesus in for a twitter Jesus category.

The book is clearly trying to teach a certain type of theology. The question is, "What is the authoritative source (or formal principle) of John Eldredge's theology?" For Eastern Orthodoxy it is the Bible and sacred tradition. For Roman Catholics it is the Bible, tradition, and reason. For Lutherans like myself and others, it is the Bible alone (not to be confused with the Bible in my closet position of some evangelicals). Eldredge quotes the Scriptures, movies, and books but it appears that the authoritative source of John Eldredge's theology is John Eldredge's heart. When dealing with a theological issue, John Eldredge will first tell a story about something that happened in his life and the conclusion that the experience led him to. Then he will start quoting some movies that agree with the position that he already reached (or in some cases perhaps the movie even led him to the position). Finally, John Eldredge will start quoting Scripture to try to show that the Bible is saying the same thing. I have no problem with someone showing what a certain passage of Scripture means by carefully explaining the passage in context and then illustrating what that means by some quotes from a movie or book or life experience but when a person's heart becomes the authoritative source of doctrine then the number of possible interpretations is only limited by the number of people in the room and that might even change depending upon what they ate that day. Eldredge quotes John 16:12-13a to support his belief that the Holy Spirit is continuing to reveal new things to us.

John 16:12-13 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth

What Jesus is talking about is more clearly revealed when the rest of the verse and the following verse is read.

John 16:12-15 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.

The Holy Spirit is not bringing a separate revelation but an understanding of the revelation already given. The Holy Spirit does not testify of Himself or hearts or any other thing. The Holy Spirit is always testifying about Christ.

John 15:26 But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.

Jesus did not say that all the Scriptures are about MY NEW HEART as Eldredge would have it. Jesus said that all of the Scriptures testify about HIM.

John 5:39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.

Luke 24:27 And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

Eldredge is convinced that Christianity is all about healing your heart. In support of this notion he quotes all kinds of random passages that speak about the heart and then plays a shell game with Isaiah 61:1.

Isaiah 61:1 "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

Eldredge then paraphrases the verse to make it all about healing hearts. Then he says that this is the verse that Jesus used to introduce his ministry (Luke 4:18) and therefore Jesus' ministry was all about healing broken hearts. What's interesting is that Eldredge ordinarily quotes from the NIV and the NIV does not even contain the phrase about healing the broken hearted in Luke.

Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,

Other manuscripts do contain the phrase (and I prefer those manuscripts) but the NIV does not follow those manuscripts. And we're talking about a passage that only occurs in the Gospel of Luke. Do you really believe that the central message of all of Scripture is only contained in one of the Gospels and even in that case only certain regional manuscripts of that one Gospel? This is what Jesus actually said and did.

Luke 4:18-21 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD." Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Some of those who were there with Him were at His baptism and saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Him. Jesus points to the descent of the Holy Spirit and the miracles and forgiveness of sins that He would perform as objective signs that He was the Messiah and fulfillment of Scripture. He was not saying that all the Bible is about people's hearts. He was saying HE is the fulfillment of all of Scripture.

Eldredge is convinced that he can trust his heart and whatever it tells him because he believes that the heart of a Christian is good. Strangely, most of the critiques that I've seen on the internet of Waking the Dead deal exclusively with this teaching of Eldredge and say that Eldredge is absolutely wrong because the heart is wicked. Reading Eldredge and his critics is like watching two one-legged men in a butt-kicking contest. Scripture uses both types of language to speak of the believer. Eldredge rightly points to Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26 to show that God gives us a new heart. We are also told that the heart is wicked in Jeremiah 17:9. Eldredge seems to be using the heart to speak of a person's desires and James 1 tells us that sin is the result of us being drawn away by our own desires. We have been given a new heart but our heart can be turned to wickedness and sin. The book of Psalms was the hymnbook of both the Old Testament and New Testament church. In Psalm 51 which is also part of the historic Christian liturgy, believers pray that God would create a clean heart within them. Much like the man who said to Jesus, "I believe, Lord; help my unbelief!" we acknowledge that God has created a new heart within us but ask Him to create a clean one within us because we recognize our own sin. Eldredge's position would be somewhat coherent if he held to some type of Christian perfectionism but he doesn't. He rightly acknowledges that we sin daily but tries to detach that sin from having anything to do with the heart by ignoring certain passages of Scripture.

Eldridge thinks that the big lie in the church is that our heart is wicked. I really think the opposite is true. Even the secular culture around us keeps telling us to follow our dreams and believe in ourselves which assumes we have a good heart that can do no wrong. American evangelicalism tends to ignore or even deny teachings like original sin. Sermons are generally not filled with stern preaching of the law but with principles for godly living. Eldredge says that pastors should stop using the Bible to teach principles but that is exactly what he is doing in his book. He even uses Jesus' retreat into the desert as a principle for how the Christian should conduct his life. Eldredge says that beginners should start by studying the Bible to gain "wisdom." The Bible does contain wisdom but that is not the main purpose of the Bible and if you are going to view it as a wisdom-book then you are going to end up using it as a book of principles and miss what the Bible is really about--JESUS.

If Eldredge were correct that the heart of the believer is good and not wicked in any sense and if I am a believer then we have some real problems. If I am a believer and my heart is telling me that Eldredge is wrong then I have to be right because my heart is good and can't be wrong. Of course Eldridge could claim that I'm not a real believer, but Scripture defines a believer as someone who believes what Christ has done for them, not as someone who believes they have a new heart. Even if Eldredge and Joe the plumber both agree that they have good hearts, if they talk long enough I'm sure they'll disagree on something. When they disagree then who is right? Does mutual excommunication take place and they damn one another to hell because they know one of them must have a wicked heart and not be a true believer? If my heart is the final authority on all matters, how can disputes between believers be settled? If my heart leads me to commit adultery with another man's wife how can that be wrong? It can't be wrong when it feels so right...

I think this is the problem with the book. It encourages what I will call "cardiolatry." This is the first time I know of that "cardiolatry" will be used in this context so pay attention if you study the history of words. Cardia is the Greek word for heart so in this case the person would be making a false god by worshiping the heart. Cardiolatry has been used in reference to those who are obsessed with cardio exercises. It has also been used to speak of those who were devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I'm really not sure where I stand on the whole devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus thing or what it all entails (if someone out there does please let me know). But regardless of how good or bad devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus may be, devotion to your own heart is much, much worse.

In one form or another cardiolatry has existed throughout the history of Christianity. But the form that it takes Eldredge's book probably finds its roots in 17th Century pietism where everything depended upon the conversion experience. People were directed away from the objective work of what Christ did for them on the cross and told to look inward to see if they could really feel what Christ did and prove they were a Christian. This eventually led to the "new methods" of Charles Finney where emotional music and altar calls were used to manipulate emotions and create revivals. Eldredge says in the interview at the end of the audio book that he judges whether or not church is conducting its mission properly by how many people are "healed." This a pragmatic approach that ignores the foolishness of preaching that God has promised to use to bring true healing. During the revivals and Billy Graham crusades there were tons and tons of people who made some kind of decision for Christ but the vast majority of them abandoned Christianity within a year. I suspect the same will be true with this book. Doubtless, many will talk about what a big impact the book had on their lives but few will continue because it's all based on a person's subjective emotions and not the objective work of Christ.

Eldredge finds the most bizarre ways to read the "heart" into just about everything.

Matthew 5:20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

Eldredge says that Jesus was saying that the scribes and Pharisees did not have pure hearts and that was the problem. But that misses the point entirely. Jesus was pointing to the most righteous people of his day and saying that if you want to enter the kingdom of heaven you have to be more righteous than them. He was showing them that there was absolutely no possibility that they could enter the kingdom of God by their own righteousness. They needed to realize how sinful they were. They needed somebody else's righteousness. They needed to realize that they needed the righteousness of Christ imputed to them if they were ever going to enter the kingdom of heaven. They needed to turn away from trusting in the purity of their own hearts to trusting in the work of Christ.

Eldredge rightly criticizes the common evangelical interpretation of Revelation 3:20 where it is said that Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart and wants you to say some sort of sinner's prayer but replaces it with his own interpretation that still involves a heart that is not found in the actual passage.

Revelation 3:14-20 And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were cold or hot. So, since you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing--and do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked-- I advise you to buy gold from me refined by fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, and the shame of your nakedness may not be uncovered; and eye salve so that you may anoint your eyes, in order that you may see. As many as I love, I reprove and discipline. Be zealous therefore and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone should hear my voice and open the door, then I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me.

Jesus is not standing at the door of any one's heart. Jesus is standing at the door of an apostate church. They've essentially kicked out Jesus and Jesus is knocking at the door to remind them that Christianity is all about Jesus and he uses sacramental language referring to the Lord's Supper saying He will eat with them.

Eldredge claims that early Christianity was centered upon the resurrection but that modern Christianity has become too obsessed with the crucifixion. The exact opposite is true. There are fewer and fewer crosses in churches and most of them are bare. It is absolutely true that if Jesus was not resurrected then Christianity is pointless and it is an extremely important teaching. But central to the Christian faith from the very beginning has been the crucifixion.

1 Corinthians 2:2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?

1 Corinthians 1:22-24 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The sign of the cross was made from the very beginning as part of the baptismal rite and in various blessings.

We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross. -Tertullian 200 AD

Jesus did not die of a broken-heart as Eldredge claims. Jesus died because of our sins. He objectively bore the wrath of God for our sins.

1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

Eldredge says that pastors should stop using the Bible to teach principles but that is exactly what he is doing in his book. He talks about how people should be more concerned with having an "intimate" relationship with God than with theology but makes all kinds of theological statements about God throughout the book. The emphasis on "intimacy" with God is one of the symptoms of the feminization of Jesus and the church that Eldridge seems to object to in other parts of the book. Churches have replaced the Psalms and masculine, deep, theological hymns with songs that could be sung to a girlfriend (I've heard that there is an episode of South Park where they actually write Christian songs by replacing "baby" with "Jesus"). Jesus is not my bearded girlfriend. We are brought into communion with the Triune God but "intimacy" does not seem to be an appropriate way to view our relationship with God.

Eldredge says that the Scriptures are all about battles and war. He laments the disappearing of the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers." I sang it recently at church and sort of groaned through it. I agree with Eldredge that many Christians wrongly live as if the devil and his demons do not exist. However, I believe that Eldredge is wrong in taking an offensive stance in spiritual warfare. Scripture is always calling us to "stand." We are in a defensive position, holding fast to God's Word. In Ephesians 6 the image of a Roman sentry is used to tell us how to put on the full armor of God. A Roman sentry could be put to death for two reasons. He could fall asleep at his post and be put to death. Or he could leave his post by rushing out to attack and be put to death for leaving his post. Christ attacks and fights the battle for us. We are called to a defensive position. "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" which is based on Psalm 46 is a much more Biblical depiction of spiritual warfare than "Onward Christian Soldiers." There is great danger in rushing out in attack against the devil. "People start finding the devil under every rock and their eyes are taken off of Christ. Throughout the book Eldredge seems to find the devil attacking him everywhere and seems to be on an emotional roller-coaster. He lacks the sober-mindedness and self-control that God calls teachers to have. (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6) Young men in general are instructed to be sober-minded (Titus 2:6) and Eldredge seems to frown on people who live this way.

Eldridge is rightly critical of the elaborate discipleship program that some mega-churches have but he wants to replace it with an equally unbiblical model. Eldredge says his model is based on Genesis 2:10-14 and some general observations of the methods of Jesus.

Genesis 2:10-14 Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Hiddekel; it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates.

Eldredge says the four streams are discipleship, counseling, healing, and warfare. Now, I challenge anyone to produce a coherent argument that will convince me that the above passage is talking about anything like that. If we want to know what discipleship is all about, shouldn't we just read the simple words of Jesus?

Matthew 28:19 - 20 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen.

The only actual command in the Greek in the above passage is "make disciples." The participles following the command show how disciples are made. Disciples are made by baptizing and teaching people.

Eldredge creates a false dichotomy between the intellect and the heart. Eldredge is specifically targeting the importance of the heart and by heart he seems to be speaking of emotionalism but this only leads to temporary positive reactions. God has created man in such a way that when just the heart is addressed such as in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book a person might get all teary eyed but forget about it the next day. When the intellect is addressed and we really understand what God has done that will create a deeper and more meaningful emotional experience. Emotions are not bad but the goal of emotionalism is.

Eldredge is just replacing one form of subectivity with another. Even the prayer at the end of the book is all about "I" and what "I" am doing. Contrast this with the historic prayers of the church such as:

O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day, defend us in the same with Thy mighty power, and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings, being ordered by Thy governance, may be righteous in They sight; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

Or even the very short Jesus Prayer used by many especially in the Eastern Church for spiritual warfare.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

A far more powerful and meaningful change in evangelicalism would be to turn away from subjectivity to the objective work of Christ accomplished for us on the cross. It's all about Jesus. The crucified Christ is where we find true healing for our broken hearts and where we find true life.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer by Per-Olof Sjogren is a short book on the history and meaning of the prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." The book is out of print but is available used from a number of places. It was written by a Swedish Lutheran pastor and is the only book on the Jesus Prayer that I have seen written by a Lutheran. It's full of good insights and very balanced. There is some mild pietism in one section but I would highly recommend the book to anyone who is interested in developing their prayer life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

John Eldredge and Irenaeus

Some friends of mine have been listening to an audio book titled Waking the Dead by John Eldredge. So far I've only listened to a few chapters. I have a general idea of the main argument that the book is trying to make but I will wait to evaluate the message until I've listened to the entire book. But I did come across one section that I found particularly odd. Eldredge writes:

The glory of God is man fully alive. (Saint Irenaeus)

When I first stumbled across this quite, my initial reaction was...You're kidding me. Really? I mean, is that what you've been told? That the purpose of God-the very thing he's staked his reputation on-is your coming fully alive?

The first thought that came into my head is, "That does not sound like Irenaeus." I did some research and tracked down the original quote. It's from Against Heresies. Against Heresies was originally written in Greek but much of the work in Greek is no longer extant and is preserved in a Latin translation including this particular quote. This site has a Latin-English parallel edition of the relevant passage. My Latin is not as good as my Greek but I was having difficulty figuring out why the translator would go with "The glory of God is a man fully alive" when the Latin seemed to be saying "The glory of God is a living man." Eldredge did not invent the translation found in his book. I've seen it all over the Internet. I just don't know exactly who you get there from "Gloria enim Dei vivens homo."

But a bigger problem than how this particular phrase is translated is that the second half of the sentence is not quoted. The whole sentence is:

For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God.

This puts an entirely different spin on things. Irenaeus is not just speaking of some generic idea of being "fully alive" (whatever that means). Irenaeus says specifically that to be a living man means to behold God. J. Robert Wright paraphrased the sentence as "God is the glory of humanity" and that comes a bit closer to the original meaning. The main idea of the entirechapter written by Irenaeus is that God has revealed Himself both in creation and even more so in Jesus, the incarnate Word. Here's the section that this quote comes from:

Therefore the Son of the Father declares [Him] from the beginning, inasmuch as He was with the Father from the beginning, who did also show to the human race prophetic visions, and diversities of gifts, and His own ministrations, and the glory of the Father, in regular order and connection, at the fitting time for the benefit [of mankind]. For where there is a regular succession, there is also fixedness; and where fixedness, there suitability to the period; and where suitability, there also utility. And for this reason did the Word become the dispenser of the paternal grace for the benefit of men, for whom He made such great dispensations, revealing God indeed to men, but presenting man to God, and preserving at the same time the invisibility of the Father, lest man should at any time become a despiser of God, and that he should always possess something towards which he might advance; but, on the other hand, revealing God to men through many dispensations, lest man, falling away from God altogether, should cease to exist. For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God which is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father which comes through the Word, give life to those who see God.

The purpose of the passage is not to tell us about ourselves, but to tell us about God.

The Sign of the Cross

The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer by Bert Ghezzi is about various ways in which the sign of the cross can be used as a prayer. The sign of the cross can be used to confess our faith in the Triune God and remind ourselves of who the true God is and keep us from idolatry. The sign of the cross can be used as a reminder of our baptism and who owns us. The sign of the cross can be used to allow us to accept suffering and prepare us to give our lives for Christ. These ideas and others are well-explained in this short book. The author is Roman Catholic and accepts the unbiblical teaching that we receive infused baptismal grace by making the sign of the cross as well as some other Roman Catholic teachings. But the author does an overall excellent job of providing an easy to read defense and guide for making the sign of the cross.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Way of a Pilgrim

The Way of a Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way is the story of a nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox peasant who struggles with the problem of "how to pray without ceasing" after hearing a sermon. The author of the book is unknown and it is unclear whether the book is fiction or non-fiction. The peasant goes on a journey and has conversations with a number of people. Early on he learns of the Jesus Prayer and that becomes the theme of the book. The Jesus Prayer is a very simple prayer that is very popular in Eastern Christianity and becoming more popular in the West. It is an expansion of the prayer of the tax collector (Luke 18:10-14). The prayer is:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner.

Or translated more literally from the Greek:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, the sinner.

There are also some slightly shorter versions of this prayer. The pilgrim is told to repeat this prayer many times throughout the day. Some might object to this repetitive form of prayer because of what Jesus says in Matthew 6:7 but I believe that those who do so misinterpret the passage and I deal with that here. The pilgrim is instructed to sit in a quite dimly lit room to avoid distractions. He is told to focus upon his heart, inhale while saying "Lord Jesus Christ," and exhale while saying "have mercy on me." He is told to also try to say the words to the rhythm of his heartbeat. After a great deal of repetition the prayer can be said in the mind continuously throughout the day and night and even while working and sleeping. The main idea is to be constantly calling upon the name of Jesus and that's certainly a good thing. If we spend our time calling upon the name of Jesus we will be less likely to fall into sin.

The book was pretty balanced. I expected it to promote mysticism and it does sometimes but warns against extreme forms. It speaks of a period in which people after praying the Jesus Prayer tend to experience visions. The book warns against trusting in these visions and instructs the pilgrim to block them out. There are miracles associated with the Jesus Prayer but no promises of wealth. Some people are said to be set free from their alcoholism, some are able to endure torture, some are cured of diseases, and some are simply able to die peacefully.

Portions of the book do encourage the reader to ascend a mystical ladder to God and so I wouldn't recommend the book to a new believer. The prayer could also be abused and emphasis could be taken off of Christ and put on maximum recitation of the Jesus Prayer. However, if someone is firmly grounded in the truth, I think this book could be very beneficial to their prayer life.

Monday, September 14, 2009


He that winneth souls is wise.

The above fragment of a verse (Prov. 11:30b) is the driving force behind many evangelical programs. But what does it mean? It seems odd to take a fragment of a verse in the book of Proverbs and turn that into the main mission of the church or of every Christian. In the LCMS there are committees set up to determine which churches are the most successful at soul-winning. Success is determined by number of adult baptisms, adult confirmations, and professions of faith. In other church circles, success is determined by how many people are coerced into saying a sinner's prayer or even simply visiting the church. The term "soul-winning" seems to be an excuse used to support whatever programs the organization has already determined to carry out. What does it mean that the person who wins souls is wise? Does it simply mean that winning souls is a smart thing to do? Or does it mean that if someone is able to win souls that means they are a smart cookie?

The translation presented by the KJV seems to form the basis for these soul-winning programs but even a footnote in the KJV acknowledges that the Hebrew says "He that taketh souls is wise." Also this verse is part of a larger context. Following is a pretty literal translation of vss. 28-31 found in Bruce Waltke's commentary:

As for the one who relies on his wealth, he will fall.
but like foliage the righteous sprout.
The one who ruins his household inherits wind,
and a fool is a slave to the wise in heart.
The fruit of a righteous person is a tree of life,
and the one who "takes lives" is wise.
If the righteous person is repaid in the earth,
how much more the wicked and the sinner.

I think it's clear from the above that vs. 30 is not intended to be instruction on how to start some new program in your church. What the exact meaning is of the second half of vs. 30 is a bit of a mystery. The phrase "takes lives" is used in every other instance in Scripture to speak of killing someone.

1 Samuel 24:11 "Moreover, my father, see! Yes, see the corner of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the corner of your robe, and did not kill you, know and see that there is neither evil nor rebellion in my hand, and I have not sinned against you. Yet you hunt my life to take it.

1 Kings 19:10 So he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."

1 Kings 19:14 And he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life."

Psalm 31:13 For I hear the slander of many; Fear is on every side; While they take counsel together against me, They scheme to take away my life.

Proverbs 1:19 So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; It takes away the life of its owners.

Ezekiel 33:6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.'

Waltke says that in Proverbs 11:30 the phrase is an intentional irony and should be understood as "to take away to life." The majority of commentators follow this or some other route to avoid saying "the one who kills people is wise." I will continue to study this passage, but at this point it seems much better to understand the passage for what it actually says rather than for the opposite of what it says. It is difficult to understand why the book of Proverbs would be telling us that the one who takes lives is wise. But it's also difficult to understand a variety of statements in Proverbs. Verse 29 of the same chapter says that "a fool is a slave to the wise in heart." Verse 29 is not a command for the wise and righteous man to enslave idiots but speaks to the reality of what happens when people are unwise and destroy their household. In certain situations it may be necessary for the wise man to take the lives of foolish men to keep them from destroying everyone else. Or perhaps God is the wise One spoken of in verse 30 who takes lives. Either one of these explanations would be in general harmony with Septuagint. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Old Testament based on a different textual tradition from the current standard Hebrew Bible and standard Old Testament text used by early Christians. The Hebrew reads:

The one who takes lives is wise.

The Septuagint reads:

The lives of transgressors are taken away untimely.

It seems better to find an interpretation that harmonizes the meaning of these two versions of the proverb rather than opt for an interpretation to use as a proof-text for an evangelism program.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Toxoplasmosis and Intelligent Design

Radiolab is one of my favorite podcasts. It probes various scientific and philosophical questions in a very interesting way. Recently they did an episode on parasites. There was some fascinating stuff about hookworms that supported some of my own theories about the dangers of living in an overly sterile environment. There was also a segment on Toxoplasmosis.

Most people speak of toxoplasmosis in the context of pregnancy. Pregnant women are told to stay away from cat feces to avoid contracting toxoplasmosis so that the baby is not infected. Toxoplasmosis is caused by Toxoplasma gondii. Various types of animals can carry this infection but it can only breed inside of a cat.

If a mouse or rat contracts toxoplasmosis, the parasite will affect its brain so that the mouse becomes sexually attracted to cat urine. Being in close contact with cat urine results in being eaten by a cat. When the mouse is digested, the toxoplasma gondii finds fertile breeding ground in the belly of the cat. Some believe that toxoplasmosis may have a similar affect on some humans and might help explain the crazy cat lady, schizophrenia, and other neurological disorders. Studies have shown that infected people get in six times as many car accidents.

The producers of Radiolab have a Darwinian worldview. But a Darwinian explanation of the survivial of Toxoplasma gondii seems highly unlikely. It has to keep getting back inside of cats in order to breed and it does this by drugging the mouse into being sexually attracted to cat urine. An Intelligent Designer seems far more plausible than spontaneous mutation or gradual change over time resulting in a parasite that can do all this. If you don't get grossed out easily you should check out this video:

Sunday, September 6, 2009


The charge is often made that anyone who opposes same-sex marriage is homophobic. But this is silly for several reasons. First of all, the term "Homophobia" doesn't make any sense. A phobia is an irrational fear. The fear being spoken of is not the fear of homsexuals, which would be homosexualphobia but homophobia. Homophobia could mean one of two things. If we were to go with the Latin meaning of "homo" then homophobia would be fear of human beings. It would be entirely irrational to suppose that someone who was opposed to same-sex marriage was afraid of human beings. The better solution is to go with the Greek meaning of "homo." The Greek meaning is the same meaning we find in the word homosexual. In Greek "homo" means same. So a homosexual is someone who commits sexual acts with someone of the same gender. Obviously they are not people who simply commit sexual acts with other humans. But this still leaves us in the land of nonsense because then "homophobic" would refer to someone who was afraid of things that are the same. Perhaps a homophobic could be identified by the fact that he always wore two different sized and colored shoes. If we stretched this meaning into the same-sex marriage debate then the person promoting same-sex marriage could actually be homophobic because they are afraid of policies remaining the same.

Even if the term "homosexualphobia" were used to speak of those who oppose same-sex marriage the accusation would still be silly. Just because I don't think that people should be allowed to marry trees doesn't mean that I have an irrational fear of people who mate with trees. I don't suddenly become a phytosexualphobic and definitely not phytophobic. I oppose same-sex marriage because I believe that is dangerous both for those who are engaging in it and society as a whole. Traditionally marriage has been viewed primarily as an institution designed to protect children. Already, society has moved away from this position into viewing marriage as basically some sort of agreement to love the other person as long as they feel like it, without considering children at all. Children are generally best raised by their natural parents and society protects children by writing marriage and divorce laws and making it economically advantageous for the two natural parents to stay married. Just because someone believes that marriage should be understood primarily as an institution to protect children does not mean that they are homosexualphobic.

I believe that people who have homosexual inclinations should legally be completely free to marry within the same paramaters as heterosexuals are allowed to marry. If they want to marry someone of the opposite sex of legal age and other qualifications they should be completely free to do so. But they should not be given special privileges and allowed to marry someone of the same sex.

Laws in most states are already set up to give the same rights to homosexual partners as are given to married heterosexual partners. But this isn't enough for the advocates of same-sex marriage. It isn't hospital visits they are after but recognition and legitimization by society. They feel the burden of their sins and so they need society to tell them that they are okay. There is a much higher rate of mental illness and suicide among homosexuals than there is among heterosexuals. They need the affirmation. This can be seen even in the church-world where homosexual ministers are not content to be accepted as ministers in their respective denominations--they want to be celebrated for being homosexuals. They feel the burden of their sin upon them and they want affirmation from someone.

Although those who oppose homosexual ordination are often accused of doing so because of hate, nothing could be further from the truth. If I refuse to let my kids eat candy every day even though they really want to eat candy every day, it's because I love them. If I see someone destroying their life and their relationship with God because of some activity they are engaging in and I tell them to stop, it's because I love them. To give them affirmation would be to demonstrate hatred towards them.

Throughout my life I have gotten to know people who were homosexuals and they all shared something in common--they were all sexually abused as children. I'm sure that there are exceptions but I would guess that many who are engaging in homosexuals behavior were abused in one way or another when they were growing up. The loving way to speak to such people is to tell them how horrible the abuse that they suffered when they were growing up was and to urge them to stop destroying themselves with this sinful behavior and to turn in repentance to Christ. Christ died for people who have committed homosexual acts. I had one friend who was abused as a child and suffering from depression as an adult and a psychologist tried to convince my friend that he was a homosexual and that is why he was suffering from depression because he was repressing his homosexual desires. I praise God that my friend did not listen to this guy but I'm sure many have listened to people like this.