Monday, December 04, 2006
My new blog is simply David Bird. You'll find the same stuff there that you found here and a lot more.
Thanks. Its been fun.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Monday, November 27, 2006
When I do set it up, I will post a link here and keep this blog up for a while before deleting it.
Now I just need a name. Sadly, Birdopedia and Birdology are the front runners. Any thoughts?
Some day James Dobson's calls won't get answered and incidents like this are why.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
I am shutting off the e-mail and other options as they aren't currently correct, either.
Friday, October 20, 2006
1:18-25: Jesus’ Birth
The story of Jesus’ birth is told in five parts, each centered around the fulfillment of a prophecy. The first part completes chapter one, and is the fullfilment of Isaiah 7:14-15, in which Isaiah is told by the Lord to reassure Ahaz, king of Judah. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Syria had allied together and laid seige to Jerusalem. God assured Ahaz that they would not succeed, and that the Northern Kingdom would fall. God even offered to give Ahaz a sign that it would come to pass, but Ahaz deferred, saying he didn’t want to tempt the Lord. God was unimpressed. He then gave Isaiah prophecies of God’s judgements, but also promises of His mercy, including a saviour:
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
Isaiah 7: 14-15
Immanuel means, as Matthew says, ‘God with us’, but Joseph is also instructed to actually name the child Jesus, because “he shall save his people from their sins.” The name Jesus means, 'Jehovah is salvation.' God is our source of salvation. It is a transliteration of the name Yeshua into Greek. Translated into English it is Joshua. The Greek language had dominated the eastern Mediterranean for three centuries by the time Jesus was born. While we assume his name actually was Yeshua, or an Aramaic version of the same, by the time of His birth it wasn’t uncommon for Jews to actually use the Greek version and it is the only version of His name found in scripture.
The angel speaks to Joseph. Throughout this account in Matthew the angel speaks only to Joseph, which reinforces the idea that this account, and its genealogy, are from his side of the family. The angel isn’t named, but, according to Luke, Gabriel spoke to Mary and its believed he spoke to Joseph too.
The account given by Matthew is very simple: Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, sexually, she was pregnant. Joseph decided to break the engagement, but before he did an angel came to assure him that Mary’s pregnancy was not what it appeared. God himself was the father. Though these scriptures don’t speak of ‘God the father’, rather, it’s the Holy Ghost. Throughout the Old Testament, when God acted in this world, it was said that His Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord, came, acted, or inspired. The same thing happened here. In fulfillment of the prophecy God had given Ahaz a virgin was pregnant and the messiah was about to be born. And we believe this because we know Him. We know the Risen Saviour.
And Mary believed because the angel Gabriel told her. She would have known she was pregnant and that she was a virgin, but not how such a thing could be. Joseph knew because an angel told him. But what of the people around them? An engagement was not a trivial matter; everyone knew that Mary was Joseph’s. And not only was she pregnant, it wasn’t his child. I don’t know if it’s possible for us today, at least in the West, to appreciate what that meant, but it links her to the four women already mentioned in this chapter. Like them, her life knew shame and humiliation. Yet, unlike them, hers came as a result of God’s blessing. How often do we despise the blessings of the Lord, taking our measure from the world?
What has always stood out to me in this passage was Joseph’s reaction, before the angel spoke to him, to the news of her pregnancy:
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
My copy of Vine’s tells me that the word ‘just’ “denotes righteousness, a state of being right, or right conduct, judged by the Divine standard, or according to human standards of what is right.” And how does a just man repsond to this news? He didn’t want to marry her, it wasn’t his child, but he didn’t want to shame her either. By the day’s standards she was his and her pregnancy was a mark against his honour as much as hers, but he was happy to let that go. He didn’t see any value in humiliating her. People would talk. Both their reputations would be forever linked to this scandal. But because he was a righteous man, he didn’t see any need to strike out. To show the world that he was blameless; that the situation was not his fault. And when he received instructions on the matter from the Lord, he believed and he acted. He wed Mary, ignoring what others might say, he didn’t touch her until the baby was born, and then he named the child Jesus.
Much is made of Christ’s humility, and rightly so, but he had more than a heavenly Father to turn to for guidance. He had two earthly examples.
Friday, October 06, 2006
My Hezbollah article is up. Next month I am planning to write one on cosmological terminology. Seriously. I am at work on the Matthew study, but I am not in a hurry. I am sure I could paste together an entry a week if I had to, but I am not trying to rush through this. I hope to be well into the Sermon on the Mount by the end of the year. That is as much of a timeline as I have. Right now I am looking at Mt 1:18-2:23 (the rest of chapter one and all of chapter two). These verses tell of Jesus' childhood and come in five similarly structured parts.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Thursday, September 14, 2006
The other thing is an article on Hezbollah. I am writing it for a webzine called subter, which is relaunching if October. I will list it in my links once it’s up. In school my area of study was political science, but this is the first time I’ve written anything like this in years. For November I am thinking of writing a piece on dispensationalism and America’s support for Israel. That one should also tie up some points here as well.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Written by the disciple Matthew, a former publican (Matt 9:9), this was believed by the Church Fathers to be the first account of Jesus’ life – which is why it is placed first in the New Testament. This gospel was written for a Jewish audience and was often called The Gospel of the Hebrews in the early Church.
1:1-17: The Genealogy of Jesus
In the genealogy that begins this book, three things are emphasized.
The first is Jesus’ relationship to Abraham and to David. Abraham, of course, was the forefather of the Jews, but he was more than that. Every Jew, Christian, and Muslim is riding on the coattails of his relationship with God. There is no bigger forefather in the history of mankind’s religious and spiritual development. One of the promises God made to Abraham was that in him all the nations of the world would be blessed (Gen 18:18). Through Jesus this was about to happen. David was Israel’s greatest king, and it was through his lineage that God promised a messiah would come (Jer 33:15). Jesus is a part of that lineage – however humble his personal circumstances — and through Joseph’s bloodline, making him, legally at least, a direct male descendant of the royal household.
The next thing Matthew emphasizes is that there are three sets of fourteen people in the genealogy, from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian captivity, and from the Babylonian captivity to Jesus. Why he makes this threefold division isn’t clear. To do it he had to abridge the list of kings, a practice that does have scriptural precedence. And the last group, strangely, has only thirteen names. Many have speculated about this, but we have no clear answer. Dismissing it as a mistake doesn’t work. Clearly Matthew could count to fourteen. And so could the many scholars and scribes who followed him. A common explanation for the number fourteen draws on Jewish numerological studies, in which the name David has the value fourteen. According to this approach, emphasizing fourteen is another way of emphasizing His relationship with David.
The third thing emphasized is four of the women named. They serve as a bridge to the story of His birth. The first woman mentioned is Tamar. She was married to Judah’s first son Er, and was probably a Canaanite. Even though the Law was centuries away, the practice of Levirate marriage was already an established custom. Accordingly, if a man died without children, his widow would be married to his brother and any children this second marriage produced would be considered the children of the diseased husband. That way his name would be preserved. When Er died Tamar was given to the second brother, Onan. Onan, however, refused to honour his brother and God slew him. Judah then promised Tamar could marry the next brother, but he didn’t keep that promise. Desperate, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and took her father-in-law as a customer, and accepting his signet and staff as payment. When Judah learned that Tamar was pregnant, he ordered her killed as a punishment for her fornication; but when she produced his signet and staff he admitted that he was wrong not to keep his promise. Two children were born, and one, Pharez, is an ancestor of Jesus.
The next woman was Rahab. She was a prostitute, living in Jericho when the Israelites attacked the city. She hid their spies and in return was saved when Jericho was destroyed. She was given in marriage to Salmon and was the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite woman, the widow of a Judean from Bethlehem. She travelled with her mother-in-law to that city and married Boaz, a kinsman of her late husband.
Tamar had to prostitute herself. Rahab was a prostitute. Ruth was a respectable widow, but when she threw himself on the mercy of Boaz she was taking a real chance. Boaz was an honourable man, but she didn’t know that. Like the others she was a gentile. A serious strike against her in the eyes of the Jewish community Jesus was raised in. The last woman mentioned was not only a gentile, Bathsheba is one of history’s most famous adultresses. Yet of all the wives and mothers that could have been listed, these are the ones honoured here. Each was subject to shame and humiliation in the eyes of those around them, and that was something they shared with the next woman named.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Friday, August 18, 2006
I am thinking of concentrating on the New Testament.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Why? Because it implies a denial of the Father and Holy Ghost. We don't deny the Father, Son, or Holy Ghost. We simply don't believe they exist as individual "persons". They are each a role, a manifestation, through which God has revealed Himself to us.
But… now I finally have the time to log on to the entry and attempt to do something about it, others have already been at work. Wouldn’t it be great if all the things we should have done were done in our absence?
Saturday, August 05, 2006
The last couple of years have been marked with a lot of health emergencies. Sometimes my back would act up so badly I couldn't work. I developed a hernia. My right knee has twice swollen so badly I couldn't walk. Now this. I've had a full physical. There's no connection. In fact, my overall health is excellent. In each case something specific would go seriously wrong and then recover. Other than my appendix bursting about eight years ago and my tonsils when a was a pre-schooler, I think a twisted ankle is the worse thing I'd had to deal with before now. I suppose I could mark it down to age, but I'm 43, not 63.
Personally, I tend to look at life as being full of events that, if they aren't random per se, are often just the consequence of too many things impacting you for there to really be any kind of pattern or plan at work. Yes, I understand and believe in providence, but looking for a reason for everything is also a sign of paranoia. Still, I am starting to wonder. Maybe there is a reason. Maybe I am being taught empathy. If I am, I certainly hope I recognize the lesson when it comes. I'd hate to go through this all and fail.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Israel is fighting in the south (Gaza) and the north (Lebanon). Events began when an Israeli artillery shell struck a Gaza beach and killed eight members of a family. At that point Hamas militants renounced their cease-fire and kidnapped an Israeli soldier. Their aim was to arrange a prisoner swap. They wanted to free one to two hundred women and minors in Israeli custody. Tel Aviv’s response was a massive military invasion, which destroyed much of the Gaza’s infrastructure. Soon there was another kidnapping. This time from the north, where Hezbollah kidnapped more Israeli soldiers. Those who support a hardline position, and think its crazy that either group of militants could think to win anything through kidnappings, should remember that such prisoner exchanging have happened, and have even been sought out by hardliners like Sharon.
So why has Israeli responded as violently this time? “Enough is enough” hardly makes a credible answer when most of the insurgent’s reactions are a response to Israel’s actions – which have been condemned from the left and right. But not by Washington. The Bush administration is following its Israel at all costs policy. One that is strongly informed by the President’s religious views. A great book on this subject is On the Road to Armageddon, which goes into some depth in discussing the links with dispensational theology, and the political ties that exist between the state of Israel and the American Evangelical community. Many liberals, who have long distained even thinking about America’s religious right, simply have no idea how closely tied it is to the power brokers of Israel, and the Israeli right in particular.
Anyway. I have more to say on this subject and, I am afraid, there will be a lot of time yet to say it.
Monday, July 24, 2006
LONG before seat belts or common sense were particularly widespread, my family made annual trips to New York in our 1963 Valiant station wagon. Mom and Dad took the front seat, my infant sister sat in my mother’s lap and my brother and I had what we called “the wayback” all to ourselves.
In the wayback, we’d lounge around doing puzzles, reading comics and counting license plates. Eventually we’d fight. When our fight had finally escalated to the point of tears, our mother would turn around to chastise us, and my brother and I would start to plead our cases. “But he hit me first,” one of us would say, to which the other would inevitably add, “But he hit me harder.”
It turns out that my brother and I were not alone in believing that these two claims can get a puncher off the hook. In virtually every human society, “He hit me first” provides an acceptable rationale for doing that which is otherwise forbidden. Both civil and religious law provide long lists of behaviors that are illegal or immoral — unless they are responses in kind, in which case they are perfectly fine.
After all, it is wrong to punch anyone except a puncher, and our language even has special words — like “retaliation” and “retribution” and “revenge” — whose common prefix is meant to remind us that a punch thrown second is legally and morally different than a punch thrown first.
That’s why participants in every one of the globe’s intractable conflicts — from Ireland to the Middle East — offer the even-numberedness of their punches as grounds for exculpation.
The problem with the principle of even-numberedness is that people count differently. Every action has a cause and a consequence: something that led to it and something that followed from it. But research shows that while people think of their own actions as the consequences of what came before, they think of other people’s actions as the causes of what came later.
In a study conducted by William Swann and colleagues at the University of Texas, pairs of volunteers played the roles of world leaders who were trying to decide whether to initiate a nuclear strike. The first volunteer was asked to make an opening statement, the second volunteer was asked to respond, the first volunteer was asked to respond to the second, and so on. At the end of the conversation, the volunteers were shown several of the statements that had been made and were asked to recall what had been said just before and just after each of them.
The results revealed an intriguing asymmetry: When volunteers were shown one of their own statements, they naturally remembered what had led them to say it. But when they were shown one of their conversation partner’s statements, they naturally remembered how they had responded to it. In other words, volunteers remembered the causes of their own statements and the consequences of their partner’s statements.
What seems like a grossly self-serving pattern of remembering is actually the product of two innocent facts. First, because our senses point outward, we can observe other people’s actions but not our own. Second, because mental life is a private affair, we can observe our own thoughts but not the thoughts of others. Together, these facts suggest that our reasons for punching will always be more salient to us than the punches themselves — but that the opposite will be true of other people’s reasons and other people’s punches.
Examples aren’t hard to come by. Shiites seek revenge on Sunnis for the revenge they sought on Shiites; Irish Catholics retaliate against the Protestants who retaliated against them; and since 1948, it’s hard to think of any partisan in the Middle East who has done anything but play defense. In each of these instances, people on one side claim that they are merely responding to provocation and dismiss the other side’s identical claim as disingenuous spin. But research suggests that these claims reflect genuinely different perceptions of the same bloody conversation.
If the first principle of legitimate punching is that punches must be even-numbered, the second principle is that an even-numbered punch may be no more forceful than the odd-numbered punch that preceded it. Legitimate retribution is meant to restore balance, and thus an eye for an eye is fair, but an eye for an eyelash is not. When the European Union condemned Israel for bombing Lebanon in retaliation for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, it did not question Israel’s right to respond, but rather, its “disproportionate use of force.” It is O.K. to hit back, just not too hard.
Research shows that people have as much trouble applying the second principle as the first. In a study conducted by Sukhwinder Shergill and colleagues at University College London, pairs of volunteers were hooked up to a mechanical device that allowed each of them to exert pressure on the other volunteer’s fingers.
The researcher began the game by exerting a fixed amount of pressure on the first volunteer’s finger. The first volunteer was then asked to exert precisely the same amount of pressure on the second volunteer’s finger. The second volunteer was then asked to exert the same amount of pressure on the first volunteer’s finger. And so on. The two volunteers took turns applying equal amounts of pressure to each other’s fingers while the researchers measured the actual amount of pressure they applied.
The results were striking. Although volunteers tried to respond to each other’s touches with equal force, they typically responded with about 40 percent more force than they had just experienced. Each time a volunteer was touched, he touched back harder, which led the other volunteer to touch back even harder. What began as a game of soft touches quickly became a game of moderate pokes and then hard prods, even though both volunteers were doing their level best to respond in kind.
Each volunteer was convinced that he was responding with equal force and that for some reason the other volunteer was escalating. Neither realized that the escalation was the natural byproduct of a neurological quirk that causes the pain we receive to seem more painful than the pain we produce, so we usually give more pain than we have received.
Research teaches us that our reasons and our pains are more palpable, more obvious and real, than are the reasons and pains of others. This leads to the escalation of mutual harm, to the illusion that others are solely responsible for it and to the belief that our actions are justifiable responses to theirs.
None of this is to deny the roles that hatred, intolerance, avarice and deceit play in human conflict. It is simply to say that basic principles of human psychology are important ingredients in this miserable stew. Until we learn to stop trusting everything our brains tell us about others — and to start trusting others themselves — there will continue to be tears and recriminations in the wayback.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
The Oxford Science Dictionary defines weight as “the force by which a body is attached to the earth.” It means that being weighted to the earth keeps us from being flung into space, but I think that it has interesting spiritual implications. And I went on to discuss the weight of daily routine.
I want to do more. I know that I can’t bring about something different by dong the same thing, but I find myself governed by routine and my good intentions remain good intentions. This hit home when I considered the January message and asked myself, have I thrived outside my comfort zone? The truth is, I don’t know. Over a long enough period of time everything evens out. Unless you’ve marked your path you won’t see it.
Daily routines are the habits that build the walls of our comfort zones. They keep us looking inward and prevent us from being open to new things. Its our natural inclination to stay within the walls. Of course, there are good and bad periods. On good days we think “this is how it should be” and don’t appreciate them for the blessings they are. On bad days we need to remember that Jesus is with us. Those who don’t have Christ go through the same trials we do, but we have a God who will keep us and use our trials to bring us closer to Him. But the good and bad pass and we return to our routines and we forget all about them. When the good times return, we take them for granted again. When the bad times return, we forget that the Lord has brought us through them before.
Over time everything evens out, and in the end it all comes down to inertia. We are the same today as we were yesterday and we’ll be the same tomorrow unless we can bring change. I have a lot of good intentions. There are a lot of things I can think of that I want to do for the Lord. But unless I push out, they will only ever be intentions.
When I spoke about Thriving Outside Your Comfort Zone I was talking about what to do when you found yourself outside your comfort zone. I didn’t realize that until now. We do find ourselves there, but we can’t plan of happenstance to be an engine for change. Particularly when we have somewhere we want to go. Its like being in a strange city and getting on a random bus, yet still expecting that we’ll get where we intend. We have to figure out where we are and where we want to go. We all want to do great things in the Lord. We want to see our families saved. We want to see our churches full. We want to live with all the potential that He has in store for us. But if we do nothing, we’ll get nothing. If we do the same thing we’ve always done, we’ll stay attached to the same piece of earth we’ve always been attached to.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
II Peter 3: 5-10 tells us that God will destroy this world – and the heavens – with fire and create a new heaven and a new earth. I have heard many Christians say that the planet we’re living on it irrelevant to the big picture. God’s going to destroy and replace it with an uncorrupted one. But is that what Peter is saying?
It might be easier to answer these questions by pointing out when this is happening:
II Peter 3:10:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
The ‘day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night’ refers to the return of Jesus. What Peter is describing doesn’t happen after the millennial reign, but as a part of its establishment!
John the Baptist said of Jesus:
Luke 3: 16 – 17:
John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
And throughout the Bible God’s judgement and His anger are described as a fire. Hell, where the condemned are forever suffering the wrath of God, is described as a place of everlasting fire. What we are reading in II Peter is not a description of the destruction of the planet, but rather God’s judgement and the establishment of the millennial kingdom, a world where sin doesn’t reign.
II Peter 3: 5-10:
For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
II Thessalonians 1: 7-9:
Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
When Jesus returns, it will be with a fiery judgement on those who rejected the Truth and who persecuted His church. These two passages describe the same event, one that happens prior to the millennium and not after it.
The fire in these passages is not metaphorical. Again, it is the judgement of God against those who spurned the gospel – a very real and everlasting fire to those who are judged, but to those who are under grace, our world will be renewed. For the first time since the fall, it will be a world in which sin doesn’t reign. Satan will be bound throughout this time and with him no longer prince of this world, the heavens – or spiritual realms – will also know the fire of judgement.
I am addressing this in the context of dispensationalism because it is taught as a part of the broader picture painted by dispensationalist teachings, but I think it can be argued that this interpretation doesn’t ultimately conflict with dispensationalism. Its importance, rather, is in directing us back to out stewardship of the earth. God gave us dominion over it, and God doesn’t give us blessings or responsibilities (Genesis 1:28) so that we can waste them.
Monday, June 12, 2006
It took place at a camp ground outside Hope, BC. There are some beautiful mountains out there, but it poured most of the time. The main speaker was a minister from Ohio name Ellis; though there were also several speakers from around BC, as well, including my pastor. It started Thursday evening, went all day Friday, and concluded Saturday morning. The message, in one form or another, was that men needed to develop a sense of urgency about their role in the work of God. Too often we concede everything to the women, they’re the spiritually sensitive ones, perhaps, but God wants us to be leaders in our homes and churches. And to be spiritual men we have to be spiritually mature. Probably the best point made was by Brother Ellis. He said that our destinies are not determined by God’s will – its His will that none should perish, after all, but many do – rather, our destinies are determined by the choices we make.
Besides the teaching, I met some guys I hadn’t seen in a long time. One, Wayne Patchett, received the infilling of the Holy Ghost in the same service I did twenty five years ago. I also received prayer for my back, which I am believing God for. I don’t usually go to these meetings and I don’t know when I’ll next go, but it was a good time and I’m glad I went.
Monday, May 29, 2006
I'll let you know how it goes.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
The site also has an interesting item about the expulsion of a priest from Saudi Arabia.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
I have had a hard time getting back into my usual work patterns in the two months since the move, so I have decided to stop trying. Instead I am going to try and use whatever time I have available. Eventually, I am sure, new patterns will develop and I everything will be fine.
With that in mind, I intend to go back and develop some of the thoughts I mentioned in my posts about dispensationalism. I haven't adopted another perspective, or formulated one of my own, but there are themes and ideas I would like to go back to. I don't feel I'm quite done with them yet. I also intend to take another shot at developing my thoughts on faith and science. And there are some new topics -- new to this blog, anyway -- that I want to go into. These will be the sort of things you will be reading here. I started it six months ago and hoped to average about a couple of posts a month. Six months and 31 posts later I am well above that goal.
Sunday, April 30, 2006
It was really no choice at all. His calling came first. Now he is working anonymously to promote a better informed opinion of the medium. As anyone who has read my profile or checked out my links knows, I also write about comics. I haven't been faced with such a choice and don't really expect to be. Still, I can't help but sympathize with him. And I don't just mean as a comics reader. Christians have a tendency to seemingly condemn all popular culture. I say seemingly because we make a lot of exceptions. Christian women read a lot of romance novels. Sure they're sex free, but honestly, how can you be said to feeding spiritual self and not your carnal self when you live on a diet of junk food. I am not even going to started on Contemporary Christian music! (I really could go on and on, but that’s not where I want to go.)
A friend was telling me about a problem that he foresaw with computers. Not wanting anything of the world's influence in his life, he didn't watch TV or go to the movies, but with technologies and media converging the way they are, soon the computer would bring all that into his home anyway. He realized something, though, that rather than get rid of his computer, he needed to foster a greater sense of personal ethics and moral judgment. A need to think critically (in the best sense) about popular culture. Sure, there are a lot of unchristian elements in popular culture. Even anti-Christian. But instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we need to learn to practice greater discernment.
I know, its a slippery slope. First you let one thing slip in and then another and soon you can't tell saint from sinner. But one thing I've learned as a Christian is that those who want to walk the path of the hypocrite will, and they'll do it with great determination. Instead, you have to teach meaningful values to those who honestly want them.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Pentecostalism had its beginnings six years previous, in Topeka, Kansas, but it wasn't until Azusa that it became a worldwide phenomena. During its three year revival people came in from all walks of life and went out into all the world. Many scholars now believe that there could be as many as 500 million Pentecostals by 2020. Thats quite a heritage for its minister, a black Baptist who had been removed from his previous job for teaching that tongues were evidence of the Holy Ghost.
Friday, April 14, 2006
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.I hope you’re having a great Easter weekend and I hope this time is more than just another long weekend. This is when we remember the event that is the center of God’s plan for humanity: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15: 14-22
Saturday, April 08, 2006
I don't see it as having the qualities of a religion, in terms of obeisance to a supreme being or of an urge to proselytize.He obviously hasn’t met Dr. Dennett. Dennett is one of those sceptics who can’t help but take whatever opportunity at hand to take a shot at religion. He certainly does proselytize. In this particular interview it really sounds as though he were being spoon fed talking points, rather than actually being questioned. He claims that “every major problem we have interacts with religion.” The very same claim could be made about science, but he doesn’t go there. He does go on to make an utterly ridiculous claim that religion has been protected from scientific inquiry for too long, that its time to breach the moat that protects it from real, scientific understanding. Where has this man been for the last century?
Like Dennett many seem to confuse faith with hoping, or even wishing. A limited view at best. And sometimes, I suspect, a biased or disingenuous one. By keeping the argument simplistic, you get to keep your responses simplistic as well. But faith is so much more than he is willingly to consider. It isn’t simply wishing something to be so. Our faith incorporates and expresses our beliefs and practices. The word is sometimes used to describe a credo, because, like a credo our faith is what shapes our view of the world and how we act in it. When we step out in faith, we strengthen it because the experience gained from our action encourages our faith. It starts with a realization that there is a God and that we can approach Him. Through prayer and worship, through the study of His Word and fellowship with others that know Him, we gain the knowledge, experience, and spiritual understanding that constitute our faith.
Once you understand that faith encompasses our beliefs, behaviour – our view of the world, it is easy to see how the word can be applied to other views, political as well as materialistic. A communist puts his faith in Marx, a neo-conservative in the Market, and certain dogmatic cynics in Scientism.
Friday, March 31, 2006
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
I have decided that in the future I will post similar stories. They don't always invlove Afghanistan or Islam, but they usually get an odd mention on a slow news day and are gone. I'll also try to link to the BBC when possible, because they tend to keep an extensive archive of stories. That way I won't have to worry about dead links.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Monday, March 27, 2006
Friday, March 24, 2006
There are reports that the President of Afghanistan is giving assurances that the man will not die, but I haven't seen any official announcements. Mr. Rahman converted to Christianity sixteen years ago.
"The Prophet Muhammad has said several times that those who convert from Islam should be killed if they refuse to come back," says Ansarullah Mawlafizada, the trial judge.
"Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, kindness and integrity. That is why we have told him if he regrets what he did, then we will forgive him," he told the BBC News website.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
I don't know if this story would have peaked my interest if they weren't Canadians or if they weren't always being described as Christians. Apparently over 400 foreigners have been kidnaped and about 55 killed. About 43 are still being held. Still as both a Canadian and a Christian, I identified with these guys. I'm glad their stories have ended well.
Friday, March 17, 2006
Most things are unpacked or stored away. The place is looking livable, but somehow I haven't quite picked up my old routines. Not yet, anyway.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick tells of an experience Dick, an American writer, had in 1974. He spent the rest of his life trying to explain it. It has been adapted by R. Crumb. In My Mom Was A Schizophrenic Chester Brown questions the validity of much of what modern society says about this mental illness.
I thought I'd post these links, because our society really isn't comfortable with too much religion. When Jews said to Jesus "Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?" (John 8:48), we can look back and wonder how they could be so blind, but when the guy next to us pushes the spiritual envelope we're all to quick to say he's being legalistic or maybe just nuts.
I also think they are good examples of using the graphic medium to discuss important issues.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Moreover, my internet connection, which was supposed to be hooked up on Feb 27th, probably won't be up until March 6th. My provider is trying to figure out why the connection isn't working, and would like to come over. But no one can be home in the daytime until the 6th. I know what you're thinking: No internet means more time to unpack! But I actually use the 'net for things like banking and I don't want to do that at the library or work.
Saturday, February 18, 2006
Jude verses 14-15 (the book has only one chapter):
And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”I Enoch 1:9
And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones To execute judgement upon all, And to destroy all the ungodly: And to convict all flesh Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed, And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.Modern scholars believe that I Enoch was written somewhere between one and two hundred years before the New Testament. Actually, many of early Christians thought it was written a lot earlier than that. Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origin, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Augustine all believed Enoch was the author. Tertullian, reflecting a popular view, argued it should be included in scripture – indeed, the Coptics of Ethiopia agreed with that position and made it a part of their official canon. But The Council of Laodicea (364 AD) banned it, and about 40 other books. I may be wrong, but I believe it was banned because of doubts over its authorship. The book quickly disappeared and was lost to the West until British explorers travelled to Ethiopia and discovered it preserved by the Copts.
It is called the “First” Enoch to distinguish it from a couple of other texts that have been attributed to Enoch.
I just thought this was interesting, so I’m sharing.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
How this plays out will be interesting. We Canadians have an image of ourselves as bastions of tolerance, true its one that is built on a understanding of our history that can be described as selective at best, but its become a part of our national identity. At the same time the culture of our political elite is secularized, and tends to treat anyone with conservative religious values with derision and suspicion. As a threat to the body politic.
The Council wants to use our anti-hate laws to try and punish the publishers. If it was about hateful or insulting images of Christ or Christians I doubt the courts would even consider looking at it. Nor would the media be sympathetic, or even give their precious air time or page space to a serious consideration of the complainants. I've seen these images. Some are offensive, others aren't. One is simply of a frightened cartoonist drawing a man in Arab head dress. The argument being made by Islamic groups is that any image of Mohammed is offensive to them and a violation of their religious laws.
Where do I stand on this? I think peoples' religious beliefs should be treated with respect, but why should we be made subject to Islamic law? This is not an Islamic nation. I do understand how aggravating it is to see your religious beliefs being mistreated and misrepresented. As a Christian I can't listen to a week of CBC radio without some idiot saying something insulting or derogatory. But why should one religion be allowed to dictate the behaviour of everyone else. If Christians were doing this, they would not be treated with any measure of respect. Why grant it to another group? As a display of tolerance? Or are we being intimidated by the threat of another 9-11?
(And before any one criticizes that last comment, I have seen protesters making just that point.)
Thursday, February 09, 2006
Ths is a link to the Evangelical Climate Initiative, the group that is spearheading the drive to do something about global warming.
And this is a link to a Salon article about the group and their recent actions. Ususally, Salon requires you to view a short ad before allowing you to read articles in full.
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Interestingly, when I googled the item, most news sources emphasized the fact that the evangelicals could not reach a consensus and so did not as a body take a formal stand. This was the work of conservative (read Republican) evangelicals like James Dobson, who argued that the lack of unanimity in opinions within the organization meant that The National Association of Evangelicals could not take an official position. I wonder if a moderate minority could derail an initiative they didn't support.
Anyway, its good to see this stewartship is being taken seriously. True, things weren't turned around today, but that doesn't mean they never will be. As I said in an earlier post, God doesn't give us blessings so that we can exploit and discard them.
Monday, January 30, 2006
Thriving Outside Your Comfort ZoneWell, that’s it. I concluded by encouraging people to do what they need to in order to see what they want to see accomplished this year. January may have gone by quickly, but we’re less than a tenth of the way through 2006. We’ve still a lot of time to accomplish something new. I was encouraged afterwards to keep working on it. To maybe find steps six and seven. And I don’t think that’s a bad idea. Throughout the year, as I try to be that light, I’ll evaluate my progress and develop this further. Push out the boundaries of my comfort zone!
We all know that its important to step outside your comfort zone. If you want to reach out, to grow, to gain what you haven’t gained before, you have to be ready to go where you haven’t been before. As Christians, if we want more from life, we have to be ready to get outside our comfort zones. This isn’t new. We all know this. If you haven’t been taught it, I am sure it strikes you as obvious. Common sense.
And God has no qualms about putting you outside your comfort zone. He has always been perfectly happy to challenge His people. In fact, simply by choosing to be raised in Galilee He was challenging people’s preconceptions. When you read the gospels the contempt Judeans had for Galileans jumps off the page. Galilee had a large gentile population, even in the Old Testament it is called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ and the religious of Jerusalem refused any fellowship with gentiles. Those Jews who did live and worked among gentiles were unclean. It didn’t matter how religiously observant a Galilean Jew kept himself, he was always suspect. Whenever Jesus spoke the accent people heard was a Galilean’s, and people being people you can be sure many stopped listening the moment they heard it.
This year we have a theme, Light Your World (text: Matthew 5:14). But we aren’t being challenged by others, we need to challenge ourselves. If we are to go where we haven’t gone, if we are to get what we haven’t got, we need to step outside of where we are and into a new place. Now, as a bookseller I am always seeing books – in self-help, business, even in religion – that promise X steps to the new you! So I thought I would come up with ‘7 Steps To Thriving Outside Your Comfort Zone!’ But I only came up with five. Give me time!
Five Steps To Thriving Outside Your Comfort Zone:
1. Think Before You Run
The first thing we do when we’re outside our comfort zone is to run right back into it. It’s a normal, knee jerk reaction, but it doesn’t help. So, when you find yourself in new territory, pause and remind yourself that, even if it isn’t going the way you want it to, it may be going the way He wants it to.
2. Remember WHAT You Are
We are cities built on a hilltop. We are meant to be out there, for all to see. After all, we are saved for His purpose. If what we find ourselves in is a new experience, then we have a great chance at making a first impression. But much of the time we’re not having new experiences. Same job, same neighbours, same friends, same church. We need to look for new answers to old situations; to create new opportunities to make an impression.
3. Remember WHO You Are
What we are is our role in the bigger picture, who we are is someone with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s important. And not only to us. Out of our bellies should flow rivers of living water. We have to remember that we are not limited by what others think we are, or by what we might fear we are. We are who the Bible says we are.
Our faith is made real when we act. We believe God is with us. We know it intellectually. We need to behave as though we believe it. We need to trust God when we find ourselves outside our comfort zones.
5. Focus On The Lord
When we are out there building for His Kingdom, we have to keep our focus on Him and not on the program we are using. Sure the “journey” is important, but the real measure of a journey’s success is whether or not it takes you where you intend to go. Once you’re out there, working outside your comfort zone, don’t be distracted by the details. Our purpose is to be a light in our world.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
As for the two edits I made, one was about the baptism of the Spirit. Someone had written that no one teaches that the baptism of the Spirit included additional gifts, such as speaking in tongues. Thats simply not true. Many Pentecostals believe the initial infilling of the Holy Ghost is accompanied by speaking in tongues. So I pointed that out. The question is, why would whoever made the post make a point of denying this teaching unless they had heard of it?
The other edit was much smaller. It said that Mennonites and Pentecostals share the Baptist teaching that baptism is not a necessary part of salvation (that it is, rather, an outward sign or testimony). Here I only added the word "some" to Pentecostals, because not all of us share in this Baptist interpretation. Myself included. I am saying "Baptist" interpretation both because the Wikipedia article identifies it as Baptist in origin and because many of those that I know to hold it are baptists. Actually, I think one of the strengths of the article is that it talks of the many understandings of this important rite and only lists the Baptist's as one of many. The Baptist interpretation has become predominant among North America's evangelical/nondenominational Christians and all too often those of us who don't share it find ourselves on the defensive. The Church historically, and most churchs even today, teach that baptism is a necessary part of salvation. The Wikipedia article has a nice quote from Martin Luthor on this subject:
To put it most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save. No one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, to 'be saved.' To be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil and to enter into the kingdom of Christ and live with him forever.One thing that has always confused me about those who believe that baptism isn't a necessary part of salvation is that so many of them boast of the literal nature of their exegeses of the Bible. But shouldn't someone who promotes such conservatism start with the most obvious understanding of scripture? I mean "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." (Acts 2:38) And "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." (Acts 22:16) What is baptism for in these verses? The cleansing from sin!
Don't worry! I am not going to spend the next month on baptism! Though if any Baptists -- or others -- want to discuss this subject, I think it could be an interesting discussion topic.
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
So, I'm thinking, how should I light my world? I am pretty sure that everyone I know is already aware that I am a committed Christian. First impressions are behind me. I guess, then, that its all about increasing the wattage. How to do that will be the year's project.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
With this entry I am going to wrap things up with a few points about Dispensationalism. I may come back to it, or a related topic, someday, but I have to admit, when I started I had no idea how long it would go. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it was a surprise.
From Historicism To Dispensationalism:
There are still people who use the Historicist model in understanding the end times, but there is no doubt that its teachings have been displaced as the predominant one among Protestants. Looking at the two, though, I can’t help but notice similarities in their methods. Both provide believers with complex schemas that explain everything, if only you take the time to lay all the facts out ‘correctly.’ Dispensationalism simply replaces the history books with newspapers. I haven’t seen any studies to confirm this, but I suspect that generations of Historicist teachings were in some way important in creating the intellectual climate necessary to make Dispensationalism possible.
In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul taught that all scripture is inspired by God and ‘is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.’ But Futurists, including Dispensationalists, teach that Revelations, chapters 4 to 22, is only applicable to the end times. How can these two assertions be reconciled? If we were living in 1537 would any of the book matter? Believing that this is now the end times, Dispensationalists might deny there is a problem, but what does that say about the book’s relevancy for the last two thousand years?
A teaching of Dispensationalists – and a central part of the Left Behind novel series – is that you can still be saved if you miss the Rapture. As far as I can tell, this teaching has its origins in Dispensationalism’s problem of in explaining scriptures that describe a Church on earth during the Tribulation, but the whole idea of becoming a Christian after Jesus comes for His Church runs counter to the teachings of so much of the New Testament that I don’t know where to being! The Parable of the Ten Virgins. The analogy comparing His coming to that of a thief in the night. We are taught to be ready, because when He comes it will be too late to say, ‘Oh, I guess its time to repent!’
Previously I said I would discuss Dispensationalism’s pessimism. Here are three examples.
History Of Failure:
Dispensationalist history is one of continuous failure. God makes a covenant with man and man fails to honour it. God makes another covenant and, again, man fails to honour it. The pattern of failure continues, literally, until the end of time. Why don’t we instead read the Bible as God’s effort to bring man into a closer and deeper walk with Him? Then each covenant would make God a more intimate part of our lives.
Pessimism And Government:
Dispensationalism has been tied to a conservative and distrusting view of government, but at the same time Dispensationalists often advocate stronger and stronger policing and security policies. I have never been able to make any sense of this. Why would people who fear a coming One World Government want to give that government the tools to control and monitor their lives? Presumably, they expect to be Raptured out of here before they face the consequences of their actions.
Pessimism And The Environment:
First off, let me acknowledge that I am not going to win an environmental award any time soon. In fact, I am only now learning to drive, after 42 years of doing without. Nevertheless, another puzzling thing about Dispensationalists is how little regard they have for the earth. Why? Because the Lord will someday destroy the earth with fire, anyway, before He makes make a new heaven and earth (1 Peter 3:10-13). So, why worry? But ask them about money, time or their family and they’ll tell you that God wants them to be good stewards of His blessings, even though they are temporal. But didn’t He also give us a responsibility for the earth (Genesis 1:28)? Can you think of one aspect of your life that God has given you authority over in order for you to exploit it and discard it?
(Interestingly, not everyone believes that Peter is referring to the end of time. Many believe the passage refers to the second coming, with the fire representing God's judgement. Notice when this is supposed to happen: ‘the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night’ [verse 10]. This is a phrase Dispensationalists understand to mean the Rapture! There is more to it than this one phrase, but that would mean a much lengthier study than I have time for right now. Perhaps I can return to it after I move.)
Wars And Rumours Of Wars:
Finally, since I don’t really know when I will be coming back to this subject, I thought I’d add this point as well. Everyone has some pet peeve. And often they are about trivial things. For example, I hate it when people say ‘nauseous’ when they mean they feel ‘nauseated.’ I have an end times pet peeve, too. How often have you heard the phrase ‘wars and rumours of wars’ when discussing prophecy? It comes from Matthew 24:6, when Jesus was asked by His disciples about the end times.
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.
Notice what he says? ‘[B]ut the end is not yet’? Remember that. Jesus starts by telling His disciples to ignore false prophets and rumours of war and other disasters. He then goes on to describe the end times, beginning with apostasy in, and persecution of, the Church. And how can the Church be prosecuted if it has been Raptured out of here?
Thursday, January 12, 2006
At the heart of Dispensationlism is the teaching that there have been seven dispensations throughout human history. In my January 1st entry I mentioned some of the problems with this idea, but here I want to go into a little more detail. Each dispensation is initiated by the creation of a covenant between man and God. And each ends with the man failing to honour that covenant, and God judging us.
Dispensations one through four occur within the first twelve chapters of Genesis. The first, Innocence, finds us free of sin and in direct contact with God. We live in paradise and eat of the Tree of Life. The only stipulation is that we not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We do it anyway. God’s judgement is to expel us from paradise, make man to work for his living and to put woman in subjection to her husband. Sin and death reign.
The second, Conscience, finds us having to choose between good and evil. No longer living in innocency, we are now responsible for our own choices. We choose badly, and evil and violence are the result. In judgement God destroys all but eight people in a flood that covers the world.
The third, called the Noahic Covenant, or Human Government, follows the flood. God makes a covenant with Noah that provides the foundations for human government, including initiating capital punishment, and requires that the survivors repopulate the whole earth. Instead they settle together on the plains of Shinar and determine to build a tower to heaven. In judgement God brings division by creating a multitude of languages.
The fourth dispensation, Promise, is the call of Abraham. He is told that if he leaves his family and goes into the land of Canaan, God will “make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee and curse them that curseth thee: and in thee shall all the nations of the world be blessed.” (Genesis 12: 2-3) This dispensation is said to end with Abraham’s descendants being enslaved in Egypt.
The fifth and sixth dispensations are those of the Law and of Grace. Really, the rest of the Old Testament, beginning with Moses on Mount Sinai, and the New Testament, respectively. While the beginning of the dispensation of Law is clear, its ending isn’t – however, since the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost ushers in the dispensation of Grace, we should be able to mark it closed by then. The dispensation of Grace ends with the rapture, which gathers all true Christians to Jesus and leaves everyone else to suffer through a terrible tribulation. (Of course, some Dispensationalists don’t believe in a pretribulation rapture, but I am generalizing.)
The final dispensation is the Millennial Reign of Christ on earth. It lasts for a thousand years and ends with Satan being loosed again to try men’s hearts.
The idea that different covenants have governed our relationship with God at different times in history is nothing new. The idea is pretty much implicit in the Christian idea of a New Testament (or New Covenant!). Dispensationalism is defined both by the extent to which it works to break down history into little subcategories and the pessimism that it brings to our understanding of it.
The outline seems to hold up pretty well at the start. Everyone agrees that we began in a state of innocence, blew that and were forced to except responsibility for our actions. Still, we were given a lot of latitude. The rules set out for us were few. Adam was told to work for his living. Eve that she would have pain in childbirth and that she’d have to listen to her husband. One generation later Cain learned that murder was not going to go down to well. But apart from that, God seemed to have confidence we’d work things out. It turned out to be a confidence we didn’t deserve and things ended very badly. God decided to make a fresh start, saving only Noah and his next of kin.
From the time of Noah until Abraham, the Bible doesn’t tell of any new covenants. Dispensationalism says that the judgement at Babel marks the end of one, but it was years before Abram, the son of Terah, was even born. A better reading is that, rather than marking the end of a covenant, it simply shows God punishing disobedience and creating circumstances that would require man to act out His will.
When Abraham is finally called, the promises made are made specifically to him and his descendants. The Promise dispensation does not represent a covenant between God and man, but between God and one man. God promised Abraham that he would be a great nation, that his name would be great, and that “in thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” This covenant will be a blessing to all, but it wasn’t made with all of mankind. If you’re a Christian, this blessing is the gospel, which implies that God’s covenant with Abraham is alive today. Dispensationalists teach that it ended in judgement, with Abraham’s descendents being enslaved in Egypt. God told Abraham that this would happen. In Genesis 15:13-16 Abraham was told that they would be enslaved for four hundred years, but would then return to Canaan. The only explanation given being that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” If it was meant to be a judgement, why would God punish the Israelites for the sins of the Amorites?
No one disputes the next covenant, the Law, though there is some dispute about its application. Jews still believe that the Noahic Covenant continues to hold for Gentiles, and that a non-Jew can still find favour in God’s eyes by honouring it. Also, while the beginnings of the Law can be found at Sinai, when did this dispensation end? Most studies I have seen use the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple to mark its end. But that would mean that it continued past the beginnings of the Church!
Actually, there are a lot of gaps and overlaps when it comes to charting out the dispensations, between Babel and Abraham, between enslavement and Sinai, but these are only problems if you accept the doctrine in the first place. If you’re not a Dispensationalist, then the Law ended when the Church began. You needn’t look for a judgement to finish it off.
Another problem in dating the Law and Grace stems from an important, but less publicized Dispensationalist teaching: that God’s plan still lies primarily with the Jews and that the Church represents an interruption, an “intercalation” or “parenthesis” in God’s scheme. Many dispensationalists believe that once Jesus sets up his earthly kingdom, we will see a return to the Mosaic Law – blood sacrifices included! All this stems from a reading of a prophecy in Daniel, 9: 24-27. There are a lot interpretations of this passage, the most traditional being that it tells of the coming of Jesus and the destruction of the temple, but Dispensationalists teach that the weeks are periods of seven years, except for the seventieth, which represents the entire Church Age. To go into this in much detail would require a great deal of space. Maybe after I have moved in March I’ll give it a shot, but for the time being I just want to note that this idea plays further havoc with this outline. Why would God turn the clock back and re-establish the Law in the seventh dispensation, the Millennium? Some say that temple sacrifices will return as a memorial, but for what? In the Millennium Jesus will be right there! This idea represents a misunderstanding of grace.
Paul described the Law as a schoolmaster, Galatians 3:24, which brought us to grace and was now no longer needed. The writer of Hebrews taught – in fact, the whole message of Hebrews is – that we now have a better Covenant. The Old is now done away. Not abolished, but fulfilled, completed (Matthew 5:17). The Law was a shadow of something to come, and that something is the Gospel. It is hard to believe that anyone who reads the New Testament would think that it represented a pause in a greater plan – rather, it is the culmination of God’s plan.
That pretty much outlines the Dispensations and flags some important weaknesses. Next I will finish up by looking at the pessimism I have referred to and making a few personal observations.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Back to Dispensationalism. I am hoping to finish this off with weekly entries, but if it takes a little longer, then it will just take a little longer.
Leaving Dispensationalism Behind III
A great book I’ve found, though I have only just started it, is Revelations: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary. Written by Steve Gregg, it gives four parallel commentaries: Historicist, Preterist, Futurist, and Spiritualist. Gregg tells that when he first taught about the End Times, it was easy. He knew all about Dispensationalism and he could teach it easily. But as he learned there were other views, it became harder. He now sees strengths in all of them. His introduction contains a great quote from Justin Martyr, circa 100-165 AD. A premillennialist, Martyr describes others who did not share his views as also being “true Christians.”
I think it is important to understand the flaws of Dispensationalism, and that it leads to some wrongheaded thinking, but I also think it is important to appreciate that this is not a salvation doctrine. In other words, no one’s salvation is tied to any given view on the matter. Instead, we should read Jesus’ comments on the end times in Matthew 24 and 25. Having described many things that will happen, He then teaches a series of parables that all have the same moral: be ready! If we live for Christ each day, then we will be ready when He comes, whatever doctrine is correct. I know some great men and women in the Lord who are Dispensationalists. What I want to do is help them, as they say, learn things “more perfectly.”
In this entry I want to concentrate on what certain terms mean. You hear these terms a lot and I thought spending a little time going over them would probably help in the long run.
Revelations 20 tells of Christ reigning a thousand years. Historically there are three different schools of thoughts on the matter.
Premillennialists believe that Jesus will return and set up a thousand year reign on earth. This will follow the many tribulations foretold in Revelations. This belief is sometimes called Chiliasm. Premillennialism is a view is held by many, including the early Church, Dispensationalists, and myself. Premillennialists who are not also Dispensationalists are called Historical Premillennialists in recognition of the fact that the position was held by the Apostolic Church – which was Premillennial, but not Dispensationalist.
Postmillennialists believe that the millennium will be brought about by the Church’s evangelical work. That is, the gospel will be spread throughout the world, resulting in a thousand years of peace, which ends with the return of Christ. But not all Postmillennialists believe it will necessarily be a literal one thousand years. The number one thousand represents fullness and completion. Postmillennialists include Calvin and Jonathon Edwards. It was the dominant view on the matter in the US until the rise of Dispensationalism.
Amillennialists believe the Millennium refers to the Church Age. There will be no earthly rule by Christ, except via His Spirit filled Church. Amillennialists believe it began with Christ’s first coming and will end with His second. The millennium is not a literal period of one thousand years; rather, the number represents fullness and completion. The last two groups differ in that Postmillennialists believe the Great Commission will usher in the Millennium and Amillennialists believe, essentially, that it is already here. A great many prominent theologians, from Augustine to Martin Luther have been Amillennialists and it is the official position of the Catholic Church.
The Bible talks of a great many terrible things coming to pass before the Lord’s return. In Matthew Jesus describes them as a “great tribulation.” Most Dispensationalists believe that before any of it happens, Jesus will take all his followers from the earth, saving them from any distress. This will happen suddenly, with no one outside the Church even knowing He has come. Because it happens before the tribulation, this teaching is called the Pretribulation position. There are two others. The Midtribulation position holds that Jesus will take all his followers from the earth half way through the tribulation. They point to scriptures describing His followers being on earth still, while the tribulation is happening, but believe Jesus will save them before things get too terrible. The third position, Posttribulation, teaches just what the name suggests: that Jesus gathers up his saints following the tribulation, at the same time he returns to establish his thousand year reign. I was a Posttribulationist before giving up on Dispensationalism, and I still, essentially, hold the same view. I just don’t frame it in terms of Dispensationalism. I believe the Church has gone through terrible trials in the past, that it is doing so right now in many parts of the world, and that it will continue to until Jesus comes. God never promised to spare us pain, just to help us endure it.
Rapture and Parousia
The term “rapture” is a transliteration of the Latin word raptus, meaning carried off, snatched (even abducted!). It is used to refer to the sudden, secret, coming of Jesus taught by Pre- and Midtribulationists. They, and only they, believe this will be a separate event from the Second Coming itself. The term “parousia” is a bit of old fashion religious jargon meaning the Second Coming, when Jesus comes to set up an earthly reign. I have never seen it used outside of some religious texts.
One thing I think is clear from looking at what these term mean is that there is more to being a Dispensationalist than views on the Millennium, the Tribulation, or the Rapture. How these things are framed in Dispensationalist teachings reflects a broader understanding of history and the role of God in working His will throughout it. I will look at what the Dispensations actually are in my next post. I have mentioned some of the problems will them in my first post on the subject. I will develop that further too.
Last point: In calling this Leaving Dispensationalism Behind I never made the connection with the Left Behind series until I had made my second post! Funny that.
Monday, January 02, 2006
What peaked my interest, and led me away from Dispensationalism was the discovery of just how recent a doctrine it is – and that there are rival methods of interpretation! Those who already knew this may well be amused at my surprise, but I have gone to church and actively participated in Bible Studies, etc, for almost twenty-five years and it was all news to me!
And I know I am not alone here. I know people who are unfamiliar with the name Dispensationalism, even though they are very familiar with its teachings, because they have never heard it discussed as a school of thought. To them it is simply how one interprets Bible prophecy. Everyone knows that!
But before John Darby and the Plymouth Brethren – in the 19th century – no one believed or taught it! I know some have tried to disprove that fact, but their “proofs” don’t stand up to investigation. Some try to argue that because the early church was Premillennialist it was also Dispensationalist, but there is no necessary link between the two teachings. Being a Premillenialist does not imply you’re also a Dispensationalist. I am very much a Premillennialist. (Maybe I’ll get into those differences in another post.) Others try to link it to Futurism and the 16th century – read on for more about that – but while Dispensationalism is a form of Futurism, its teachings include a lot more than Francisco Ribera, the founder of Futurism, taught. Others have looked for a precedent in the writings of an 18th century American Baptist named Morgan Edwards, but his writings only lend support to the idea that there will be a tribulation lasting three and a half years.
Some critics of Dispensationalism have taught that its origins can be found in the teachings of a Scottish teen named Margaret McDonald. She did teach that the church would be “raptured” out before the tribulation, and Darby did meet with her before he began teaching Dispensationalism, but if he was influenced by her, it was only in that one teaching. There is a lot more to it than that.
What other forms of interpretation are there?
The Spiritualist method, which relates the book of Revelations to symbolism and typology, is the oldest formalized way of understanding it, and dates at least as far back as the second century. This has been the predominant way reading prophecy for the last two thousand years. The Historicist method dates back to Martin Luthor and the Protestant Reformation. It views the Book of Revelations as a panoramic overview of church history, and links the Beast, Anti-Christ, etc, with Catholicism.
While the Spiritualist approach pre-dates Constantine and Nicea, you could generalize and say that it has historically been seen as the Catholic interpretation and Historicism as the Protestant. But these are generalizations. There are Protestant Spiritualists.
Some Catholics responded to the criticism contained in the Historicist approach by proposing alternative ways of interpreting prophecy. One is the Preterist approach. First formalized by Luis de Alcazar (1554-1613), it views the events described in Revelations as referring to things that happened in the first century, such as the fall of Jerusalem and the Church’s persecution by Rome. In other words, the prophecies were directed to the Apostolic Church, and should be read today much as you would read Isaiah or another Old Testament prophet. This method has some historical merit. We know, for example that many Church Fathers did see the pagan Rome in the Beast, etc. There are also many Protestant Preterists.
A second response is the Futurist approach. First proposed by Francisco Ribera (1537-1591), it teaches that everything following the letters to the churches refers only to events at the end of history, and to no other time. Dispensationalism is a form of futurism, making this teaching, originally created to rebut the Protestant teaching of Historicism, the most popular form of interpretation today! Interestingly, Seventh Day Adventists, who are Historicists, condemn Dispensationalism as a Catholic doctrine.
Well, I suspect I’ll be making at least a couple more posts before I am done with this subject!
Sunday, January 01, 2006
Blogs aren’t very conducive to long pieces, so I’ll probably make this into more than one entry, but the reasons for my initial doubts include the dispensationalist habit of trying to link every news article to the Second Coming, an often poor understanding of geopolitics, even on a simplistic level, and aspects of the teaching that didn’t hold up to scrutiny. Those are all generalizations, I know. Specific examples of each?
I came to the Lord in 1981. One of the first prophecy books I’d been given suggested that Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader who had just made peace with Israel, might be the Anti-Christ. He was a peace-maker, after all. I wish I could remember the title, but I do recall that the fact that he had just been murdered took something away from the author’s argument. For me, anyway. Just one incident, I know, but a good example of something that happens in dispensationalism all the time. Everything is made to fit neatly together into a schema, but the schema is being remade all the time. Nobody steps back and looks at the big picture, and the horrible record it shows.
Examples of the poor geopolitics can be found in the Cold War mentality that permeates books and teachings. Until the end of the Cold War dispensationalists were always talking of the upcoming nuclear holocaust, seemingly unaware that such a war would destroy America and Israel as well. I’m not talking about a river of blood; I am talking about rendering the nations deserts of molten glass. Moreover, many are still entranced by the threat of Russian Communism, apparently unable to pick up a newspaper and realise that that threat is over, and that if Russia is going to still play that role Jesus is going to have to put off his return for a generation while Putin and his cronies rebuild their country.
This is going to take more than one entry. A quick example of teachings that don’t hold up to scrutiny? The dispensations themselves. Each is a period in which God dealt with humanity through a different covenant, and each ended with a judgement. The first few work fine. Innocence, Conscience, Human Government (or the Noahic Covenant). But once you get to Abraham it all falls apart. It applied to one family only, not all mankind – and would not apply to all until Jesus came (when all the nations would be blessed through God’s promise to Abraham). And it did not end with judgement. Actually, it hasn’t ended at all. God’s promise to Abraham is still true. But all the lessons I know use Israel’s slavery in Egypt to mark its end. If you took the time to read Genesis chapter 15, you’ll learn that their slavery was not a judgement at all.
In my next entry I’ll go into the discoveries that led to my parting with this doctrine, but a last point for now. A great many Christians do, of course, turn their backs of this teaching. After years of expecting, they grow disillusioned and doubtful. But rather than learning of other teachings, they either decide to continue churchgoing as a tradition – its something they’ve always done – or they stop going all together. Many would be shocked to learn how new this teaching really is.