Monday, June 24, 2013

Romans and Homosexuality

In Romans 1, Paul speaks of God's wrath being revealed against the unrighteousness of all men. He says that although all men have not been given the Torah (the Old Testament), they are still without excuse because God's standards of righteousness have been revealed in nature itself. These Gentiles exchanged the true God for the gods of their own imagination and because of this God gave them over to desires which are contrary to nature. Paul uses rather graphic language and speaks of men doing the shameful deed in other men and of women having sexual relations with one another. Some have argued that Paul is only speaking against temple prostitution but this position does not seem defensible since the deed itself is regarded in the passage as unrighteousness that develops from the unrighteousness of idolatry. Interestingly enough, Paul does not appeal to the Torah to show that homosexuality is bad but points to natural law. For those of us who live in pluralist societies this should give us good reason to argue using natural law rather than appealing directly to the Scriptures when lawmaking is done with those who do not believe in the authority of the Scriptures.

The passage clearly speaks of homosexual acts as being acts of unrighteousness but that's not Paul's point. Paul assumes that his readers would agree that these acts are unrighteous. Paul's point is found in the chapters that follow. Remember, Romans was written as one sermon. One of the problems with some types of preaching that go verse by verse through the Scriptures is that the point can be completely lost. What Paul is doing here is similar to what Nathan does with the sins of David. Nathan gets David outraged at the sins of this man who turns out to be David. You can almost picture the Jewish Christians in the congregation that heard Romans being read nodding their heads in agreement and thanking God that they are not like these horrible Gentile sinners. But in chapter 2, Paul shows that they are just as guilty of unrighteousness as these sodomites. All men are guilty before the law. It is only through the blood of Christ that we can stand righteous before God. No one is righteous. No one seeks after God. But we receive an alien righteous through faith. We are justified through faith apart from the works of the Torah because of Christ's work.

Monday, June 17, 2013

I Am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare by Dr. Robert H. Bennett

I was browsing through books published by Concordia in the Kindle Store and came across I Am Not Afraid: Demon Possession and Spiritual Warfare by Dr. Robert H. Bennett. The book takes a serious look at exorcism in the Lutheran church in Madagascar and shows how it is very similar to the examples of exorcism we find in the Scriptures. It's not sensationalistic at all but provides lots of statistics as well as lots of interviews with those who have conducted exorcisms or been demon possessed. Many of the churches in Madagascar are syncretistic and those who convert to Christianity often return to the religion of their families at which point they become demon-possessed. Christ has driven out the demons from many of these people through His Word by the people in the Lutheran church in Madagascar. Dr. Bennett, I believe, successfully argues that the Lutheran church in Madagascar has something to teach us, especially as our culture becomes more and more fascinated with occult practices and other religions. Even if we don't admit it in our words, the tendency in many churches is to act as if the Devil does not exist. The Lutherans in Madagascar know that he is very real but also know that they do not need to be afraid because Jesus is the victor. Dr. Bennett provides some very good exegetical work as well as some helpful quotes from Lutheran theologians. His work challenges many commonly held beliefs by Christians about demon possession. Dr. Bennett also maintains a blog:

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Self-Donation of God: A Contemporary Lutheran approach to Christ and His Benefits by Jack Kilcrease

Wipf and Stock sent me a review copy of The Self-Donation of God: A Contemporary Lutheran approach to Christ and His Benefits by Dr. Jack Kilcrease. If you are a pastor, seminary student, or educated lay person I highly recommend it. The end result is a Biblical and Systematic Christology that is in harmony with the Book of Concord but the approach is unique. As the title suggests, Dr. Kilcrease views the incarnation as God's Self-Donation. Dr. Kilcrease begins in Genesis and brings us through the rest of Scripture, showing us how God gives Himself to us in His Word and promises and ultimately in the incarnation. He draws insights from a variety of scholars--ancient, modern, liberal, conservative, Calvinist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, etc. The book is written in an irenic tone and Kilcrease masterfully draws from the positive insights  in the different schools of scholarship while rejecting the negative. N.T. Wright, Scott Hahn, Luther, Chemnitz, Forde, Peter Leithart, Calvin, Barth, Thielicke, and a whole host of others all make appearances. There's a surprising number of lesser known Reformed theologians that work their way into the book. The book has an extensive bibliography and lots of footnotes. Dr. Kilcrease does not waste words and occasionally he left me wanting to read more on a topic and I always found a footnote that made it easy to find an article or book that covered that issue more thoroughly. I found the sections on the communication of the attribrutes extraordinarily helpful as well as the way he dealt with the hiddenness of God. I loved the section in which he explained that Christ became simul justus et peccator for us. I wasn't completely convinced by his argument against the perpetual virginity of Mary or against the harrowing of hell but I can't imagine a book such as this in which everyone is going to agree on every jot and tittle. However, his overall argument is well-supported and documented. I wish there were indexes in the back but this is a minor complaint and is only a problem for those of us who do not have amazing memory of Dr. Jack Kilcrease. It is very rare to come across a book written at the academic level such as this one that is just so full of wonderful Gospel. You can read portions of Dr. Kilcrease's book here.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Luke 22:36, Self-Defense, and Firearms

Luke 22:36 (ESV) He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.
I've seen this verse quoted quite a bit recently in debates over self-defense and firearms. But does the verse really have anything to do with these things at all? First of all, there's a textual variant in the verse. Most Greek manuscripts actually would be translated as, "And the one who has no sword will sell his cloak and buy one." If this reading is accepted, Jesus' words in verse 36b are descriptive rather than prescriptive.But more importantly, the context of the verse must be considered.

Luke 22:35-38 (ESV) And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
Jesus reminds the Apostles that while he remained with them, they had everything they needed. But the time is coming when they will be persecuted as depicted by the swords. Jesus knows that some of them are already carrying swords and do not trust him protect them. The presence of the swords also indicates that they are the transgressors that Jesus is numbered with. The Apostles are still hoping for some type of revolt. They produce two swords, but rather than saying, "But ten more," Jesus says, "That's enough." They don't understand what Jesus is saying and make the same mistake that some do today in thinking that Jesus is telling them to arm themselves. This is similar in some ways to the Matthew 16 passage where the disciples think Jesus is complaining that they didn't bring any bread. The fact that Jesus' Apostles misunderstood him is confirmed by what happens shortly after this. When Jesus is being arrested, Peter draws a sword and cuts off one of the servant's ears and in Matthew's account Jesus warns that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

The Apostolic confusion over many of Jesus' words are evident throughout the period prior to the resurrection. But especially after Pentecost, they seem to get what Jesus is saying. And we read of many examples of persecution, but none of the Apostles takes up arms against his persecutors. In order to interpret Jesus' words as being a lesson in self-defense we would have to conclude that Apostles actually did understand Jesus prior to the resurrection but misunderstood him after the resurrection. All but John were martyred and nobody takes up a sword to fight off the Romans or the Jews. This is also the case with the early Christians. During various periods the Christians suffered great persecution, but they didn't take up arms.

If someone breaks into a man's house to harm his family, it is well within the vocation of father to protect his family and stop the intruder by force, but there no Scriptural warrant for self-defense in the case of persecution. Jesus teaches to turn the other cheek and the Book of Revelation shows us that the Lamb conquers through the blood of the martyrs not through the blood of the persecutors.

And the Scriptures simply are not interested in giving us a list of weapons we may or may not own. Societies can decide what restrictions should be placed on weapon ownership based upon what they believe will best protect human life. It is the vocation of the President of the United States to uphold the Constitution and to protect the right to bear arms but if laws are passed that prohibit this right it is the vocation of the citizen to obey these laws. The citizen must only disobey when they are commanded to disobey God and God has not commanded anyone to own any weapon.