Friday, July 27, 2007

Indeed, Has God Really Said? Part IV

Update – This series was published in book form by the title: Indeed, has Paul Really Said?

In the last post we saw how Mr. Wright argued that Paul was a Shammaite Pharisee, thus making his emphasis on "the righteousness of God" and "justification" an eschatological concept more than anything else.  By this infusion, the reader is expected to think anew about the concept of justification.  No longer is justification seen as the process by which God saves sinners through the imputed righteousness of His Son; instead, justification is seen as an expression that speaks of God's covenant faithfulness in vindicating Israel before the nations.  To say that a person is justified means

that they are vindicated as being the people of God, or as Wright puts it:

"'Justfication' in the first century was not about how someone might establish a relationship with God.  It was about God's eschatological definition, both future and present, of who was, in fact, a member of his people." p. 119.

According to Wright, this aforementioned definition represents Paul's real meaning of justification

in view of his "Jewish context" p. 118.  This "Jewish context" was the focus of our last post in the series:

1. Justification & God's Courtroom:  Wright's presentation of God's courtroom, as it relates to the term justification, is indeed new and calls into question the lexical/historical background of the term - dikaios, righteous.  This will be our first layer of study.

2. Wright's view of the Apostle Paul:  Wright's redaction of those Pauline texts, which deal with justification, are approached with a "new perspective" of Paul himself.  Wright offers a transformed understanding of Paul's background which is then used in order to advance a new Pauline connotation of justification and the righteousness of God.

3.  Wright's View of the Bible:  Wright's treatment of extra-biblical history and Scripture itself calls into question his understanding of the relative authority of each.  This will be the last installment of the review since it covers all other dimensions of the book itself.

Now we will proceed to the culmination of this series by considering Wright's own view of the Bible.  What Wright does to the doctrine of justification is certainly bad enough.  Frankly speaking, Wright's theological redactions reduce the blazing glory of Christ's salvation to a strange fire that pales in comparison.  But how he gets to these troubling conclusions should raise the question of his view of the Bible itself.  It is at this point that I can feel the complaints coming right away.  There are many zealous defenders of Wright who would quickly shriek at the notion that anyone should dare to question the man's commitment to Holy Writ, but Wright's treatment of the Bible is in fact troubling.  It is much like the many experiences that I have had in visiting churches.  Many churches will herald the doctrine of inerrancy in their doctrinal statements, and yet there are many of these same churches that fall short of applying and preaching core church doctrines:  the gospel itself, church discipline, or the biblical roles of men and women.  To say that the Bible is authoritative is one thing, but how one treats the Bible becomes the moment of truth.  It is here that I would suggest that Wright's moment of truth has come, especially in the way that he treats God's Word in What Saint Paul Really Said…

For more information on the publication and release of Indeed, Has Paul Really Said? go here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Indeed, Has God Really Said? Part III

Update – This series was published in book form by the title: Indeed, has Paul Really Said?

In the last post, we raised the question regarding Wright's redaction of the word justification by revealing his contrived courtroom scene.  This we did in keeping with our outline of study:

1. Wright's View on The Doctrine of Justification & God's Courtroom.

2.  Wright's view of the Apostle Paul.

3.  Wright's View of the Bible.

But now we must move to our second point of analysis which will deal with N.T. Wright's view of the Apostle Paul.   It is here that we will examine how Wright seeks to transform the beliefs of Paul so that the reader is forced to retool his lexical understanding of the Apostle's every mention of terms like righteousness and justification.  Wright's argument is quite lengthy and convoluted, so I will try to spare the reader all of his twisted sophistry.  In short, Wright seeks to revise the language of Paul by making some gargantuan changes to Paul's past:

"Where does Saul of Tarsus belong on this map of first-century Pharisaic belief and activity?  In one of the speeches in Acts (22:3) he claims that Gamaliel had been one of his teachers.  This, coupled with other evidence from the epistles, has led some scholars to suppose that he was a Hillelite before his conversion.  This simply cannot the be case - unless all the evidence of his persecuting activity is a later fabrication, which seems highly unlikely.  The Gamaliel of Acts 5 would not have approved of the stoning of Stephen.  He would never have dreamed of riding off to Damascus to haul Christians into prison and to death."  pp. 29-30

"Saul's persecution of the church, and the word 'zeal' with which he describes it, puts him firmly on the map of a certain type of first-century Judaism...it reveals Saul of Tarsus not just as a Jew, but as a Pharisee; not just as a Pharisee, but as a Shammaite Pharisee; not just, perhaps, as a Shammaite Pharisee, but as one of the strictest of the sect." p. 26.

It is by this paragraph, and others like it, that Wright concludes that Paul has been misunderstood in terms of his pharisaical upbringing.  But is his evaluation of Paul’s history true, and if so, how would this effect the Apostle Paul in his life and writings?  These questions are addressed in Indeed, Has Paul Really Said? -  For more information on the publication and release of Indeed, Has Paul Really Said? go here.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Indeed, Has God Really Said? Part II

Update – This series was published in book form by the title: Indeed, has Paul Really Said?

Before you read another word of this post, please remember that it was Martin Luther who critiqued the teachings of Erasmus in the following manner:

"What shall I say here, Erasmus?  You ooze Lucian from every pore; you swill Epicurus by the gallon.  If you do not think this topic a necessary concern for Christians, kindly withdraw from the lists; we have no common ground; I think it vital...this is weak stuff, Erasmus; it is too much.  It is hard to put it down to ignorance on your part, for you are no longer young, you have lived among Christians, and you have long studied the sacred writings; you leave me no room to make excuses for you or to think well of you."  Luther, The Bondage of the Will, p. 74.

By beginning with Luther's rebuke of Erasmus, it is my hope that you will view my critique of N.T. Wright in a kinder light.  After all, at no point do I accuse Wright of swilling Epicurus by the gallon.  In this day of hyper-genteelism, most people expect the gentler form of banter which is less alarming to the senses.  Many today have no desire to be startled by controversy, but I would submit that much of the modern church is a sleeping church, and she needs to be alarmed and startled concerning those who are creeping in unnoticed - in droves.  So I will dispense with the formalities that normally attend the book reviews that I write.  Most of you know who N.T. Wright is; and many are enamored with his reputation within academia, notwithstanding his doctorate degrees from Merton College, Oxford University and his several honorary doctorate degrees from other institutions.  Yet despite his renown as the Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey, I must sadly report that many of his core convictions are in fact non-canonical, especially when it comes to his teaching concerning the doctrine of justification as revealed in his book:  What Saint Paul Really Said [Eerdmans Publishing Company].

These posts, tailored for The Armoury, are based upon a series that I taught recently at Pilgrim Bible Church.  What I have discovered through my studies is that the process of unpacking Wright's theology is a rather difficult thing to do.  After all, his own arguments are rather convoluted and complex, and the process of breaking it all down could be likened to the matter of unscrambling an omelette.  But as stated in the previous post, my focus will be to address Wright's doctrine of justification by examining the following:

1.  Wright's View on The Doctrine of Justification & God's Courtroom.

2.  Wright's view of the Apostle Paul.

3.  Wright's View of the Bible.

In this post, we present the query regarding Wright’s presentation of the doctrine of justification as it relates to his view of the Jewish courtroom.  We'll begin with Wright's own words on page 97 of his book.  It is here that he posits an unsubstantiated proposal:

"Part of the particular flavour of the term (righteousness of God), however, comes from the metaphor which it contains.  'Righteousness' is a forensic term, that is, taken from the law court.  This needs to be unpacked just a bit. 

In the (biblical) Jewish law court there are three parties:  the judge, the plaintiff and the defendant.  There is no 'director of public prosecutions'; all cases take the form of one party versus the other party, with the judge deciding the issue."

I certainly agree with Wright when he speaks of righteousness as being a forensic term, and that it incorporates concepts that relate to God's role as judge.  It is for this reason that the O.T. courtroom does provide an important context with which to understand the meaning of righteousness.  But this is as far as my agreement goes with Mr. Wright.  To the casual reader, Wright's summary of the Hebrew law court may seem to be acceptable, but it is not.  A careful examination of Scripture shows that Wright failed to "unpack" all of its components…

For more information on the publication and release of Indeed, Has Paul Really Said? go here.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Indeed, Has God Really Said? Part I

Update – This series was published in book form by the title: Indeed, has Paul Really Said?

In the weeks to come I will outline Wright's treatment of the doctrine of justification, focusing on just a few of Wright's central arguments - arguments that are foundational to his entire system of thought.  All of these outlines will be made available in my book Indeed, Has Paul Really Said?:

1. Justification & God's Courtroom:  Wright's presentation of God's courtroom, as it relates to the term justification, is indeed new and calls into question the lexical/historical background of the term - dikaios, righteous.  This will be our first layer of study.

2. Wright's view of the Apostle Paul:  Wright's redaction of those Pauline texts, which deal with justification, are approached with a "new perspective" of Paul himself.  Wright offers a transformed understanding of Paul's background which is then used in order to advance a new Pauline connotation of justification and the righteousness of God.

3. Wright's View of the Bible:  Wright's treatment of extrabiblical history and Scripture itself calls into question his understanding of the relative authority of each.  This will be the last installment of the review since it covers all other dimensions of the book itself.

Appendix [Introduction, Part I, II, III, IV, V]: An analysis of Wright’s five critical comments regarding my own Critique of his Teaching on Justification

All in all, I have to say that the popularity that surrounds Wright, along with his teachings themselves, have driven me to offer a public review.  The impact that this man is having on the church cannot be ignored - it is already affecting how people think about the doctrines of justification and imputation.

For more information on the publication and release of - Indeed, Has Paul Really Said? go here.

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, July 13, 2007

A Warm, Fuzzy Thought for the Day

Recently, the Beasley clan packed into the Beasley van and headed over to Raleigh North Carolina in order to visit the city's science museum.  We decided to go there, rather than the new Creation Museum, because of the time and distance that would be involved.  However, we are looking forward to making the trip to the new museum very soon.  Anyway, our trip to Raleigh was just right.  With our 6th addition to the family (Josiah) we stayed just one night in Raleigh in order to secure enough time to enjoy the sights.  On the morning of our final day there, we did something that we rarely do - we went to a place called Starbucks (they sell coffee and other hot beverages like that).   I have to say that since we are 8 people in total, going to quaint little coffee shops can feel a bit overpowering.  If anything, it can feel like a complete takeover.    So Sandra and the six were quietly sitting down at three tables that were joined together, and I must remind you that there would be no reason for anyone to notice them, except possibly for their number.  I was standing in line waiting to order some beverages, when along came a woman who was gawking at my family as she entered the store.  I tried not to notice her, but it was hard to avoid.  She had a slight scowl on her face as she inched up behind me in line.  Leaning towards me, this sixty-something lady covertly whispered into my ear:  "Ugh!"  "Do you think that all those children belong to that poor lady over there?!"

(Yes, she really said that)

It's in moments like these that I find myself quietly sorting through an exhaustive list of things to say, holding back facial expressions as I do.  Within a very short span of time my mind yielded a cornucopia of options - some more sanctified than others.  With reciprocal stealth, I whispered back: 

"No...THEY ARE MINE." 

I made sure to smile at the end so that she would know that I was having fun wither her while adding: "...AND they're hers too."   What happened next was a bit surprising, although I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised at all.  Without any sense of embarrassment whatsoever, she then proceeded to bark about the one child that she had, complaining that "he was just too much!" 

I am finding these days that people no longer seem to have even the common grace with which to speak of children affectionately - if even with a family member.   It would provide for an easier adjustment if these people would just wear a t-shirt that lets us know about their attitude in advance - but I suppose that this would be asking for too much.  I must say that I was tempted to give up on the matter and let it stand - culturally speaking, most people are expected to offer an obligatory complaint, echoing the rants of the parents and thus affirming the meddlesome nature of children. 

But how could I?

I looked right at the woman, and with a warm smile retorted:  "You know, children are a gift from the Lord."  After launching that politically incorrect response, I wondered if there might be a retaliation of some sort.  Surprisingly, the woman conceded by saying "yes they are..." but then began a descent into another round of whining: "...until they grow up and have all their problems...and then they have children of their own!" 

And as if this weren't enough, she topped it off with this one:  "Oh the difficult times that we have had with that grandchild!" 

It was sad to hear this woman speak of her own offspring in this manner - but this is what we are all about - apart from the grace of God.  In former years, I would get frustrated by such an experience.  Now I look at people and realize that I am looking in an anthropological mirror - and the only thing that distinguishes me from a woman like this is the sovereign grace of Almighty God.  Thus, with that thought in mind I responded once again:  "It is difficult, but even the trials are for our good - they show us how much we need the Lord..." 

By now, it seemed that I had bypassed her every cultural-cue to join in her complaint - all that I seemed to be doing was colliding with her attempt to commiserate with someone.  By now the line moved forward, and our brief encounter dissolved as quickly as it began.  It was just a brief encounter, but it stirred my thoughts about a number of things:

In today's culture, children are treated as a nuisance - things that get in the way of our careers and our retirement plans.  The women's liberation movement has spawned an entire generation that sees motherhood as a disease that is suitable for those who can't do much better with their lives; and children are merely proof of their lowly existence.   But to all the moms out there let me say - do not give an ear to this satanic message - ironically, it is the woman who rejects her God-ordained calling who is guilty of blaspheming the Word of God (Titus 2:3-5), not the faithful mother and housewife.  Yours is a noble calling - enjoy it in Christ!

I was once again convicted over the fact that any experience in life can be made into an opportunity to speak of the Lord to others - even in a 60 second exchange while standing in line.  I find that it is too easy to run errands without considering the brief exchanges that I have with others - whether at a restaurant or a grocery store - lost people are all around us and we need to be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us - even when it doesn't fit the cultural-cues that are so predominant in our society.

Speaking to others about the Lord should always be a humbling experience for us.  Whenever we tell others about the Savior, we do so as the bondslaves of Jesus who have nothing to boast in, save Christ and Him crucified.  What I know, for myself, is that when I am broken and humbled in heart, then I have a deeper affection and compassion for the lost.  It's too easy to get frustrated with the people of this world - but when we get that way, we lose sight of the grace of God by which we ourselves have been redeemed.

Finally - if you have children, and you aren't thanking the Lord for them as you should, understanding that they are blessed gifts from His hands, then you are sinning.  Confess it, give thanks, and disciple your children with greater joy in Christ.

Oh yes, as for the warm fuzzy thought for the day - the coffee was great!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Intelligent Design: A Two-edged Sword

I sensed the Lord's calling in my life to pastoral ministry while I was completing my last year in college for a degree in physics.  In fact, it was a rather odd time because while I was taking a quantum mechanics class, during my senior year, I was also taking a seminary class on Romans.  In each class I was overwhelmed with the reality of God's glory as revealed in His general revelation (via quantum mechanics) as well as in His special revelation (via Romans).  It was during this time of transition that the Lord began to make it evident to me that He didn't need me to prove to the world, through scientific analysis, that He exists; or that He is the Creator of all things; or that Darwinism is a religion of fools.  What I began to realize is that even if men could be given a mountain of evidence, they would still suppress the truth in unrighteousness until the Lord sovereignly opened their hearts to accept what the Apostle Paul calls self-evident truth (Romans 1:19).  To state the matter empirically - God is - and His existence and attributes are clearly seen through what has been made (Romans 1:20).  Clearly, from day to day the Universe preaches, empirically, the evidence of God (Psalm 19:1-2) whether men recognize that evidence or not.  From quark to quasar - all things are from Him and through Him and to Him - to Him be the glory forever, Amen (Romans 11:36).  

I began to realize, as I transitioned from Physics to pastoral ministry, that the Lord was showing me, through His Word, what is the proper place and use of scientific evidentialism.  The most important thing that was being impressed upon my heart was that the sword of scientific evidentialism was only of secondary importance to the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.   We could say that my methods of apologetics were becoming transformed to such an extent that I began to realize that I had placed too high of a priority to science in my defense of creationism and Christianity.  While it is true that genuine science (the empirical observation of God's creation) does yield wonderful evidences of God's glory and attributes, yet such revelation pales in comparison to the special revelation of God's Word, which alone has the power to save the lost, for the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).  On the other hand, there are many today who think that scientific evidentialism should be abandoned by Christians altogether - this too is a useless extreme.  It would seem that Christians have accepted the false charge of the secularist who says that science and religion do not mix - therefore real science is the venture of the secularist and no one else.  This false charge has been adopted by many in the church and it has produced a number of errors in the modern day while placing many Christians in a defensive posture regarding the subject of science.  Avoiding these extremes, the Christian must recognize that God's special revelation (Scripture) is the principal weapon that He has given to us in order to wage the needed warfare of truth; and that, secondarily, God's general revelation (creation) is a helpful source of evidence that is designed to point men back to the revelation of God in His Word (Isaiah 40:26).  I am convinced that a right order and balance in these things is needful for genuine Christian apologetics.

I mention my own journey of apologetical discovery in order to point out the value and dangers of what is presently called Intelligent Design (ID).  The concept of Intelligent Design goes back to the late eighties when its advocates sought to include an alternative to biological evolutionism in school textbooks through the concept of Intelligent Design.  In its primitive form, Intelligent Design is a fairly stripped down concept: it argues that naturalism does not account for the presence of order in biology and cosmology.  It is in this absence of evidence through naturalism that Intelligent Design posits the argument for an intelligent designer.  ID has become more visible recently, as in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in 2005, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III opined that intelligent design is not science and that it "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."  By this opinion he concluded that a school district's promotion of ID would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (Thus, it was by this judgment that Darwinian Atheism became the formally recognized religion of the United States - so much for the Establishment Clause).

I call Intelligent Design a two edged sword because it can cut both ways, depending on how a person uses it.  Overall, ID is a strange mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly:

The Good:  The greatest benefit of Intelligent Design is the science that it yields.  This is not to say that it is all good, but I would suggest that most of the people in ID are laboring as genuine scientists.  As a science type myself, I am weary of the pseudo-science that has been passed off as the real thing.  Darwinists proudly proclaim their nobility as such, but fail to yield the empiricism which real science demands.  From cosmology to biology, too much of what passes off as science is nothing more than theoretical speculation and hand-waving.  Darwinism has proven itself to be a religious cash-cow of which the scientific community is unwilling to let go.  Truth doesn't make the modern-day world of science go round; research grant money does.  Thus, I would say that the most honest scientists, among secular scientists* today, are those who come from the ID community - plain and simple. (*I refer to ID scientists as secular, not in view of their conclusions, but in view of their methodology:  They approach science, not with the premise of Scripture, but with an entirely non-religious premise of scientific analysis).

The Bad:  ID is not a biblical/theological movement.  It is a scientific movement that is vastly ecumenical.  For example, I recently reviewed Michael Behe's book: Darwin's Black Box and will be reviewing Michael Denton's work - Evolution, A Theory in Crisis soon.  Both of these men come from the ID community.  Behe is a Roman Catholic and Denton is a theist.  If you read these books with the expectation of getting a defense of young-earth creationism, then you'll be sorely disappointed.  What you get is good science - not perfect science, but science that is much better than everything else that is out there in the world of secular-evolutionary cosmology and biology.  My fear concerning ID is that it can be given too high of a regard among Christians.  What these scientists are producing is very good, but it is not without its problems.  I would advise that you consume ID literature like you would eat a roasted chicken: be sure to pick out the bones as you do.

The Ugly:  Though the adherents of ID believe in a creator, of some sort, there is no real convergence regarding the question of who that creator is.  In fact, it would not be beyond some definitions of Intelligent Design to include those who believe that life on earth was somehow planted by aliens from another planet.  Thus the design of our own lives would be attributable to an alien designer - who came into existence by some unknown process.  With such a broad definition as this, even Christopher Hitchens could be included into the ID community - savor the thought:  "My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilization, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either."  

Don't let that last meditation ruin your 4th of July holiday! 

As Christians, we do not have the right (I believe) to stick our heads in the sand when it comes to scientific research.  On the contrary, I would argue that it is only the Christian who can ascertain scientific data for its genuine purpose - to disclose the absolute glory and supremacy of the One who created all things for His glory.  Though it may not be evident at this point, I must say that I do encourage brethren to read ID materials - but you need to do so with great caution and balance.  My prayer is that the Lord will call more believers to the fields of science that have been dominated by secularism for too long.  Because of this recent secular domination, the scientific community has become a vast mission field, filled with people who need to be challenged with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Therefore I do pray that the Lord will send forth His laborers in the name of the Word of God incarnate - through Whom all things were made (John 1:3).

Happy 3rd of July!

No, the title isn't a typo -

I mean it when I say happy third of July!  For me it's the best day of the year! 

By the way, I certainly don't mean to take anything away from our nation's independence-day celebration so, happy fourth of July as well!  

There is no doubt that the fourth of July is a great day of celebration concerning our freedom as citizens of this great nation.  Much blood has been shed in order to procure our American liberty, and for this we ought to be very grateful.  As we take time to reflect on the significance of our national blessings, we can thank the Lord that we live in a land where we still have the freedom to worship and proclaim Christ to the masses who need to hear the Gospel message.  But I have to say, for myself, that the 3rd trumps the 4th immeasurably.  I'm not being unpatriotic when I say this - I'm just being realistic.  You see it was on the third of July 1981, while I was serving in the Air Force, in Okinawa Japan, that I heard the Gospel message and trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I'll never forget that day.  The unbearable burden of my sin had been taken away and for the first time in my life I became, by God's sovereign and precious grace, a truly free man.

July third 1981 fell on a Friday that year.  I have vivid memories of that day as I went about in a kind of heavenly daze.  The world around me seemed to fade into the background of this great truth that I was forgiven; that I was a child of God and there was therefore no condemnation on me because I was Christ's possession forevermore! 

Now I do recall being invited by my supervisor and his family to go see a fireworks display on base the very next day, and I gladly accepted their offer.  While I can say that the fireworks display was spectacular, it seemed to be a faint light compared to the explosion of joy that the Lord granted me just the day before.  Ever since then I have spent my subsequent July 4ths celebrating a day early - by remembering that moment when I was granted freedom in Christ, by His shed blood.  This is real freedom, one that no one can take away!

If you remain uncertain concerning the state of your own soul, please consider the following:

The Word of God teaches us that the God and Creator of the universe deserves all of our love and obedience: "Worthy are You [God] to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things" (Revelation 4:11)

But sadly, all of mankind has sinned and rebelled against this worthy God and because of that sin, all men stand condemned in His sight - Romans 3:23 "..all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." "..the wages of sin is death.." Rom 6:23.

Therefore, man is eternally separated from God and faces the severe consequences of eternal death - though man deserves this death (because of sin) something must be understood - " ..God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8.

Christ paid the debt that men owe by living a perfect life and then dying on a cross in the sinner's stead. He was raised from the dead on the third day and will return again in order to judge the living and the dead (Acts 17:24-31). Jesus said "..God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16). This is the great expectation of every Christian. The Lord has commissioned His children to share this good news with all men! But how does one receive this wonderful pardon and life in Christ? - "..if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved;" Romans 10:9. Please do not underestimate the importance of these truths, for Jesus also said - "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" John 3:18.

Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin (John 8:34); but when a person places their faith and trust in Christ they will be free indeed (John 8:36).  True freedom comes not from the governmental institutions established by men; instead it comes from the only One who has the power to set men from from the bondage of sin and death - the Lord Jesus Christ.