Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Provocative Description of Love and hate

I recognize that the ensuing discussion will be provocative, but not for provocation’s sake. Rather because the subject matter, and my statements are sure to provoke much emotional and intellectual action. So why discuss something? Why mention something that will cause you to question my sanity and belief in a good God? First because the explicit issue came up in conversation with a dear friend recently, second because there are numerous issues related to this one, and third because I believe that wrestling with these thoughts will shine forth the glory of God and stretch your capacity to stand in wonder of our Triune God.


Something you agree with

God is love. And God loves. Love is not God, but God is love and actively loves himself; God is love and actively loves his creation.

D.A. Carson has written an extraordinarily helpful book entitled The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. It can be downloaded for free from The Gospel Coalition (book #40). In his book Carson outlines five of the ways “the Bible Speaks of the Love of God”; he declares it is not an exhaustive list (p.16) but proceeds to explain (1) “The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father,” (2) “God’s providential love over all that he has made,” (3) “God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world,” (4) “God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect,” and that (5) “God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way—conditioned, that is, on obedience” (p.16-19). And I should hope that, even if you do not agree with those statements yet, you will agree with his biblical defense of them. Carson wants us to recognize the nuance Scripture applies to the word “Love.” It’s not a flat synonym for “kindness” or “tolerance” or “pleasure”; it is a sophisticated term with varied applications.


Something you might agree with

One of the applications of love takes an unappreciated form in our cultural context. That form is wrath and judgment. If you are an evangelical Christian, you must believe in the wrath of God. Without the wrath of God, your entire system of Christianity falls apart—it is voiced poignantly and succinctly in Niebuhr’s famous quote: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Niebuhr was critiquing the social gospel, but the logic follows through the wrath of God: if there is no wrath of God, there is no need for salvation… if there is no need for salvation then there is no need for the passion of Christ. What then was the death and resurrection of Jesus? But atonement theories are not the subject of our discussion. The Christian faith believes in a God who is wrathful toward sin and sinners… because of his love.

This thought appears in the last chapter of Carson’s book, but it also appears in the thought, preaching, teaching, and writings of countless leaders of the church. God is wrathful toward sin because he pursues the perpetual glory of the distinctive persons of the Trinity while sin seeks to diminish that glory; what’s more, sin diminishes the joy and goodness of his creation. Therefore, God hates sin because it takes what is good and contorts it into something ‘ungood.’  This is commonly termed the justice and/or holiness of God.

Theologians relate the holiness, justice, righteousness, and love of God with the term “unity.” They do so in differing ways, each with its own merits. Philosophers, on the other hand, prefer the term “simplicity.” By which they mean that anything which God is, is of God fully and completely. In other words, not only does the love of God “not contradict” his justice, but his love is his justice. All well and good, but aren’t we just splitting hairs at this point? Yes and no. Is it precise? Yes. Does it even matter? Also yes… for several reasons, most immediately because of


Something I hope you’ll one day agree with

even if it takes a couple nights’ hauntings to do so. Not only is God’s wrath an expression of his love toward his Triune self, nor even also toward his children who are affected by it, nor even also toward the earth ‘subjected to futility.’ The wrath of God is an expression of his love… toward the one upon whom his wrath his set. Put simply: God hates the sinner because he loves the sinner.

Am I crazy? I hope not, so let me explain. Hatred is not the opposite of love. Indifference is. St. Anselm explains in Proslogion that love demands wrath, and I believe this is what he means. Hatred is not the opposite of love; indifference is. Hate is an active sentiment toward an object. Indifference is an inactive nothing toward an object. Genuine indifference would not even acknowledge the object in question, it would simply be. Without it. Hate is incited when an object of love becomes what it ought not be. But let’s put it in the context of a relational analogy:


If my father left my family, I would feel a semblance of hatred toward him because he has denied his identity as father and become something else. He has become what he ought not be. I have hatred because I want him in the right way. By contrast, if I did not care whether or not my father was a father to me—if I was indifferent toward him—could you really say that I love him?

—or again

If my girlfriend cheated on me, I would feel a semblance of hatred toward her because I love. If I was indifferent toward her chastity then you could not say I have loved her.

—or again

If your hero ignored and neglected you in that great opportunity, who has loved? You despite your anger have loved; your hero because of his indifference cannot be said to have loved you.


So this: any recognition is a greater act of love than no recognition.

Indifference does not even recognize the existence of an object, let alone have any passions toward it. Hatred, though, recognizes the object, and that recognition is at the very least greater than indifference. Hatred then is upon the continuum of love… or perhaps better: hatred is a webbed expression of love.






Is it at least possible?

If God is love, and if any action of God is qualitatively love, then his wrath and hatred must also be qualitatively love.


The simple statement of a friend

God is not indifferent toward anything which is because being indifferent would mean that he does not acknowledge that object. However, God—the Creator and Sustainer of all—must give mind to all things which are in existence, else they would not exist. “The only things which God is indifferent toward,” Kyle said, “are those things which aren’t created.” And he is precisely right: if God created something, he created it with intent, and if there is intent for that object then God is not indifferent toward it—rather that object has been purposed; God loves that object, and when it is good (as it was created) then he loves it with joy; when it has become less (that is evil) then he loves it by conviction, judgment, wrath, etc. according to his wisdom. “Then what is hell?” Hell is described analogously in Scripture as fire, absence of the presence of God, presence of the wrath of God, endless torment, et cetera. But one thing hell is not is indifference or ambivalence. In the Lake of Fire, all sin and sinners will be retributed justly. And this is an act of love toward the redeemed and toward the damned.


God hates because God loves.
God can truly be said to love because God hates.


Praise be to our loving God, and praise deeper and fuller because he has chosen to love his elect in incomprehensible ways. Praise be to God that he hates my sin and cleanses me from it. Praise be that he repays evil because he loves his creation. Praise be that God is not indifferent but that he is passionately involved in his creation.




But perhaps I’ve missed something. Perhaps you see a hole somewhere. Perhaps hate also needs to be distinguished into ‘types’ before enter this discussion. What say you?

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Related:


Friday, December 13, 2013

Video Games and Christ Exalting Christianitty

The Christian community can be unjustly prejudiced against things like living at home, alcohol, and video games. But is there a sense in which God honoring, Christ exalting Christianity can utilize and even encourage such things? Is it possible that more of God’s glory is revealed in the creation and propagation of video games?

There’s a word group in theological and philosophical circles based upon ‘telos’… it forms words like “teleological” and indicates the end—purpose, goal, perfect-completion, et cetera. And I propose that a teleological perspective (that is a ‘purpose-focused’ perspective) can help open up avenues of enjoying the creative glory of God. Put more simply: let’s ask, “What are video games used for?”

The answers to this question are messy, inconsistent, and likely reveal a bias which is possibly based on ignorance. Here’s why: video games have developed immensely from the first game of Pong. Today there are countless types of games, and exponentially more particular games themselves. They range from brain-teaser games and puzzles, to math based or science based games, language games, narrative games, racing and combat games, and those were simply the ones at the front of my head.

One thing a teleological perspective on games does, is to recognize its type (genre) and to be aware of that type’s tendencies. For example racing games tempt you to ‘go again’ and see if you can beat your previous time. But racing games are also more enjoyable when you are racing against a friend. Therefore, they can tend toward compulsory perfectionism, but they can also tend toward camaraderie, friendship, and connection. Notice though, that even the habit of pursuing perfection, of pulling out all the stops and striving on toward the goal is a good life maxim… even a biblical one!

There are certainly mindless games… the ones that often find their way onto your phone. Games like Angry Birds, or one of the myriad zombie ones. But a teleological perspective doesn’t drown them before consideration: what if your mind processes while doing mindless things like grocery shopping or doodling? Perhaps a mindless game can be used, to a certain extent to encourage the same thing.

Some of the most redeemable (and redemptive) video games are the ones that get the most flack: at least the men who play them do. (They get the most flack because they take the most time.) It’s those narrative games. A broad category certainly, but it’s the games that are built upon a story. The fighting, shooting, puzzles, racing against the clock are typically additives. The reason men are drawn to these games isn’t because you can climb up a wall and kill a guy—the reason they’re drawn is because it’s a story of a man who coincidentally climbs up a wall and kills a guy. Let me explain further.

Narrative-based games incorporate an in-depth, complex storyline that develop the personhood of a character in a world not-quite-like our own. They create worlds to inhabit. They create people to influence. They create skillsets to develop. In other words: they are parallel realities that invite you to vicariously experience what might be. Sure your name may be Altair or Master Chief or Prince or Link or “Enter Name Here,” but as that character lives and moves and breathes, you travel with them to experience something like what they do. But before you get up in arms and exclaim that this is precisely what is wrong, that it encourages escapism or fictional reality, I ask you to consider movies and novels. Movies and novels are enticing precisely because they invite you into another world to experience things through the lens of another. Is that ungodly? Far from it. In the creation of fictional worlds we can see with new eyes truths God has intricately woven into the fabric of our own.

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are particularly adamant about the creative efforts of narrative; of the great honor they do to a creative God; of the ways in which looking to something other enables us to look at this more appropriately; of the ways in which timeless principles find legs and feet in an alternate universe and encourage us to live more like Christ here and now. “Oh, but Lewis and Tolkien were talking about books, hardly as time-consuming as a video game.” That’s not true: they were talking about story, not books. Have you ever enjoyed a novel so much that at its bookend, you felt a little sad; as the characters you grew so fond of became entombed on a wooden shelf? That was a good story. And even if playing a video game takes more time… have you considered that they become more involved in the world, see and experience its realities for longer, and as a result are more influenced by its creative ploys?

Which is a good thing if it enjoins a partial biblical worldview. And a bad thing if it does not. You will not likely come across a well-developed game that is thoroughly biblical. But you can come across games that have a sacrificial hero, a warrior nature (requiring you to equip armor), a pursuit of justice, a defeat of evil, a desire for community. These games shed light on biblical truth in ways nothing else could. A teleological perspective examines video games with a view to their end: will this enable me to know and love God more? And sometimes, by the way, that can happen simply by enjoying the creative talents of a person made in the image of God. Or else… why museums? Sometimes simply recognizing the loving hand of our joyous God in preparing the minds of humans to create programming languages, digital-visual technology, sound effects, plotlines, etc. can be a Christ-exalting way of spending a few hours of your week. There’s something amazing about creation creating after the likeness of the Creator.

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Related:
In Praise of Mult-Generational Homes, P1, P2, P3, P4
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Related, by others:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Natural Law Ethics?

Are ethics natural to us?
Are ethics intrinsic or imbibed?
Realized or revealed?
Natured or nurtured?

I believe that there are natural, rational reasons to avoid wrong and to do what is right… mostly. I believe that we do have an innate sense of ‘ought,’ even while we deny doing what we ought much of the time. There is a natural law… or a guiding code of ethics which God has instilled into the very being of men. This is why sociopaths and psychopaths, why depression and suicidal individuals are considered ill—they are behaving against the natural order of life and living. And yet, I believe there are primarily two ‘ethical standards’ that are unnatural to fallen man. (There may be more, but I’m still developing this line of reasoning.)


Before the two unnatural ethics… let’s take the most well-known code of ethical conduct: the Ten Commandments (Decalogue).


Commandment 10: You shall not covet.

                Envy is an undesirable quality in those we befriend; interacting with someone who is jealous for your assets is exhausting. Even our own desires are checked by the recognition that we ought not desire and feel entitled to things we have not. Consider such proverbs as “The grass is always greener on the other side” or “Be thankful for what you have.”

                Coveting will make you dissatisfied with life; it will suck the joy and peace out of you, causing you to live a life of regret, unfulfillment, and bitterness. Psychiatrists warn about this frequently.


Commandment 9: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

                Deceit and insidious testimony is likewise unenjoyable in a friend; since when has Benedict Arnold been treated as a complimentary nickname? True, there have been cultures when sly betrayal is looked at with honor, but even such instances had bounds. And our consciences bear witness that we are to behave with integrity toward our covenanted friendships: “BFFs”; “I got your back.”

                But if you bring yourself to betray your friend with false witness and deceit, you will no longer have that friend. And you will likely not have the friends with whom he was connected. The rumor weed gets plucked; the little birdy gets shot. Gossip and falsehood may be fun or empower you for a moment, but eventually you will be alone in the world.


Commandment 8: You shall not steal.

                This one seems to be like #10 acted out (given that some believe #10 is actually a summary of all of them), and as such seems obvious: don’t steal… you wouldn’t want your things being taken by another. Don’t take somebody else’s things. Even writing that sentence feels clunky and pointless… and yet thieving is common: but with each illegitimate gain comes a sense of shame.

                Stealing brings threat of imprisonment and punitive retribution whether from a legal system or from the affected party. The more you steal, the more likely you are to get caught, and the more you steal, the more obvious it becomes to those around you with a similar paygrade who cannot accumulate the wealth you have. Can you imagine a world in which everything you own was stolen from another—never having the satisfaction of a wage or payoff?


Commandment 7: You shall not commit adultery.

                Where to go with this commandment? It’s easy to play the ‘imagine’ game with this one. We could discuss how it’s a direct jettison of covenant vows. We could discuss how much you attempt to keep the act secret because it’s shameful, you know it’s wrong, and you don’t want to deal with the repercussions.

                Committing adultery causes distanciation in marriage, lack of intimacy, mistrust, distrust, anger, self-hatred, broken families, fatherless/motherless children, broken property, thousands in court costs. There is absolutely nothing good which comes from adultery.


Commandment 6: You shall not murder.

                Life is sacred, and everybody knows this to an extent… particularly those in a Western world influenced by the Bible. Remember again that suicidal thoughts are treated as an illness. Or simply consider the many school and public shootings that shock and shatter the world. Murder is evil.

                If you do murder, you will be imprisoned. You will serve a life sentence or be executed. You will be reviled by countless people whom you have never met; but who associate your name with hell itself. A choice to murder is the end of your life as you know it. “Live, laugh, love.”


Commandment 5: Honor your father and mother.

                While you are young, your parents are the source of income, food, and everything else you need to survive. You ought to respect them. The Ten Commandments were primarily given to adults, though, and even adult children should honor their parents. Most simply it is an appropriate response for their previous care of you. In the Hebrew culture, age is determinant of influence and honor: disregarding your parents would be to incite the wrath of the community. In our modern day, youth is king, but we can easily assent to the idea of honoring parents. Very simply: if you respect your parents even in your adult years, it will go well with you: simply turn on a sit-com to see this played out.

                Some common parental proverbs: “Because I said so”; “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”



Now this is where things become difficult. In the Ancient Near East, recognizing a Sabbath day made no sense. That is commandment 4. Today we say, “everybody needs rest.” But is that what Exodus 20 is saying? Probably not. So how do I reconcile this commandment with my prior statement that there are primarily two ethical codes which are unnatural? The easy way is to say Sabbath is not a matter of ethics. But I don’t think that’s true. The second is to say that Sabbath is one of the two, but (perhaps simply for arrogance’ sake) I don’t want to do that. I believe that Commandment 4 fits into a larger ethical code: Commandment 1: “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” In fact, the first four commandments are all tied together under proper covenant worship of YHWH. And sure, you can say that number 3 (name of God in vain) makes sense as long as you recognize deity, but then such is the case with all four.

Worshiping YHWH and loving him alone is unnatural to man. Is it rational… is there a sense in which it is natural to man’s being? Yes, I believe so. Hence Augustine’s “Know thyself,” etc. and even Descartes’ unconvincing cogito ergo sum with its conclusion of divine existence. And yet! At the same time it is most unnatural. We cannot bring ourselves to worship the one and only supreme God simply by means of considering what is natural to us and our desires. Did philosopher reason unto a singular being? Yes. But did they do so by what examining what is natural to us? I’m willing to be educated, but I think they did not.

Are ethics natural? Kind of… we can reason to them, and yet they do not naturally flow into our daily actions. Covet… that might as well be our surname. But even more than this… it is unnatural to love God. We are by nature haters of God. The love of God as ethical compulsion must be revealed to us. That’s why God speaks with redemptive-history as the backdrop: “I am YHWH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

So what’s the other unnatural ethic?

Forgiveness.


There is no rational reason, logical explanation, pragmatic payoff,  or anything of the like which demands that we forgive. Justice would caution and advise against it. Would we want others to forgive us? Sure, but beyond that we have no human urge toward forgiving others: it is unnatural to the natural man. But it is the primary ethical command of those who worship the Triune God who has loved us in Christ.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Complex Ethics: When You're Invisible


What would you do if you were invisible?
Would you spy on people?
Would you do something illegal?
Would you save it for extreme occurrences?
Would you live life invisible as often as possible?

Invisibility has been a common literary plot device since before Christ. Plato writes of the Ring of Gyges which makes its bearer invisible. There have been stories of magicians and superheroes, soldiers and average Joes who miraculously become invisible. From The Hobbit to Halo, invisibility plays our imagination. So what would you do? In The Hobbit Bilbo decides to use his invisibility for grace, but by the time The Fellowship of the Ring rolls around, he uses it for vanity.

But while the history and literary criticism involved in invisibility is extremely interesting, there are countless times when you are invisible—practically speaking. When you shower, when you drive late at night, when you’re walking through the grocery store. Are there people around? Sometimes. Do they pay you note? Sometimes. But what do you do during those seconds, minutes, and hours?

Ethics is usually understood as relational… Whereas morality describes your personal value system and integrity, ethics denotes the lived out standard of relationships: ethics involves ”The Other.” (I recognize the many ethicists who would change the particulars and argue between ‘alterity,’ ‘mitsein,’ ‘dasein,’ and other things, but please remember that I am amateurspeaking to amateur.) But where is the relationship when you are sole in the world, swallowed by the deep sky and looming moon? Does it matter if you sin in those moments?

Oh, sure, any believer would say it’s never right to sin. That God always sees you even when the Elf on the Shelf doesn’t. But there’s more to it than that.

You are an eternal soul being built up by the Spirit of God to indwell eternity even while existing with one foot in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven now. There are significant consequences to the things you do when you’re invisible. But I’m not even talking about the Last Day; I’m talking about here and now. Anything and everything you do is to your benefit and growth or degradation and stunting.

But let’s take a step back. Relational living is something like a carnival of bumper cars: every interaction you have with others bumps and pushes them somewhere—for good or bad; toward Christ or Gehenna. So Paul commands the church to “Make the most of every opportunity” and take part in the eternal care of souls (Col.4.5, Eph.5.16, Phil.2.12ff.).  There is no neutrality in morality, nor are there impotent relations. When you interact passively or actively, you nudge the souls of individuals toward or away from grace and faith in the knowledge of God revealed through Christ. And you are responsible for the way your creek’s current pushes others’ rivers. Some people have more water, and even small streams can carry poison: so you have more influence than you realize. The point of the invisibility discussion: when you’re weaving through the forest, your direction and speed will change what happens when you flow into another.


While you are invisible, you are yet living and shaping your being for good or evil. If you choose evil, you will be less the woman or less the man than you might have been. The next time to you speak, act, emote, avoid, or otherwise engage another, you will love less than you could have loved if you had loved God when transparent.

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Related:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Lesson from the Green Guys

Many stories have that supporting character who 'steals the show' or becomes the hook for the popular audience. In Ice Age it's that little rat-squirrel [thing]. In Catching Fire it's that girl, Joanna, or the Capitol's host. Some stories have so many well-developed, multi-layered characters, that you can't choose a favorite. But when I say "Toy Story," you know exactly who I'm talking about. Probably even without the title of this post. The little green aliens, for better or for worse, become the fluff and sprinkles that color the movie posters--they're the ones that make your 4-year old nephew giggle and quote. As annoying as anyone thinks they are... they can teach us a valuable lesson. After being rescued from "the Claw" ("ooooooh"), they follow their redeemer to world's end echoing,

"You have saved our lives! We are eternally grateful!" 

They begin to worship Mr. Potato Head, revering him even more than his changeable-body can satisfy. And the worship continues on beyond the single movie. They are absolutely devoted, and remain so... eternally. The creators intended the aliens to be viewed as religious as noted in Woody's reaction to them when he first finds them, including calling them "Zealots." And yet our gratitude pales in comparison to these guys. You and I were so utterly gone and have been so magnificently returned, and yet we remain nowhere near as persistent as these guys in gratitude. We are recovering God-haters, and it takes persistent work to praise God for what he has done. We are not as grateful as we ought to be... in other words: we fall short (a.k.a. we sin). But there is grace for that too.

Today's post isn't an extended philosophical argument, nor theological diatribe... It's just a reminder of grace. It's a reminder that even being transferred into the kingdom of the Son of his love, we are bleeding out the kingdom of wickedness. His work isn't done yet. Be grateful for that. But one day it will be full and you will be perfect. Be grateful for that. And along the way, know that his grace is sufficient for you, even when you fail to be grateful.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Good beneath the Temptation


I had a philosophy professor who asked, “When Adam chose the fruit, did he choose good or evil?” and “When Satan chose himself, did he choose good or evil?” [Here’s a hint for your next philosophy class: every question is a trick question.] “Adam chose good; Satan chose good,” he explained, “since God created everything, and everything which God creates is good, they chose a good thing, but not the appropriate thing.” He went on to explain Augustine’s theory of evil as privation (which we’ve mentioned on here before [Evil is a lack of good]) and the theory of ordered loves (things are loved most fully when they are loved in relation to their intended existence).

It’s true: God creates, and creates goods. Anything which you and I choose, is the choice of a good, but not necessarily the good—or the best particularly for the situation [see the post “Complex Ethics”]. In fact, that’s why sin is tempting: because it is a good… in part. Sin is the twisting of a good toward unintended purposes. There is good beneath—cloaked—in every sin that you commit. That’s partly why its pull is so strong! (The other part is because we are recovering God-haters.) What is your most recent sin? And what did you think it would provide or satisfy?

  • Was it lust? Perhaps you desire companionship…
    • or beauty
    • or pleasure
  • Was it pride? Perhaps you desire honor
    • or friendship
    • or intelligence
    • or peace
    • or righteousness
    • or truth
  • Was it covetousness? Perhaps you desire well-being
    • or security
    • or pleasure
    • or activity
  • Was it anger? Perhaps you desire righteousness
    • or peace

  • Was it anxiousness? Perhaps you desire security
  • Was it busyness? Perhaps you desire influence
  • Was it lawlessness? Perhaps you desire freedom
  • Was it financial foolishness? Perhaps you desire experience
  • Was it gluttony? Perhaps you desire pleasure
  • Was it unforgiveness? Perhaps you desire justice
  • Was it asceticism? Perhaps you desire holiness
  • Was it tardiness? Perhaps you desire rest
  • Was it falsehood? Perhaps you desire love
  • Was it abortion? Perhaps you desire trust
  • Was it moralism? Perhaps you desire righteousness
  • Was it lovelessness? Perhaps you desire safety
  • Was it _________________? Perhaps you desire God.


I couldn’t possibly list all the nuances of sin, nor the core good which their husk encompasses. But perhaps you need to stop worrying about denying the distortion, and start worrying about pursuing the reality. Take that sin, and determine why you fell into it. Temptation isn’t easy to deny… that’s why it’s called tempting. But it’s tempting because there’s something beneath it all that is actually good and desirable—something which shows you the love of God; something which shows you that he has created you with desires and tastes which only he can satisfy.

Jesus was crucified and killed sin with him. But he resurrected and brought you to life too: destroy sin, but don’t forget to live.

Rid yourself of the bad, for the sake of the better: of the good used appropriately.

And remember… that even when you fail, Jesus has already fulfilled it all for you. He is truth, righteousness, security, peace, love, justice, pleasure, influence, freedom, beauty; and you are in Christ. You have everything you need—you are freed to forego sin and enjoy good.
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If you’re looking for extended resources on sin & temptation, the two best resources I’ve read are

Tempted andTried by Russell D. Moore (which I recommend to everyone)
Of theMortification of Sin in Believers by John Owen (which I recommend to anyone who is willing to read English of another century)


I’d also recommend…

Holiness by J.C. Ryle

Fallen edited by Christopher Morgan & Robert Peterson


Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Prayer for Your Sunday Evening Worship: Psalm 111

(Based on Psalm 111, the first evening psalm for the first Sunday of Advent)


Eternally faithful covenant God,

            Praise is certainly due your name! Has anything been more sure in the history of mankind? For surely as long as we have lived, you have ever remained faithful, and deserving of honor and praise—so tonight we honor you in our hearts and praise you with our lips. Your works have been many, great, and mighty: so much so that they are incredible—the people who surround us disbelieve that you could accomplish such things as parting a sea and destroying a pharaoh; as crushing a city by parade; as sending fire from heaven; as raising from death. Your works are myriad, and to the unbelieving they remain mythical, but we who have known your love see them as wonderful; and they give us cause to remember you even this night. You have brought them to mind for us because recalling your deeds in the past gives us comfort in the presence.


Always have you acted in faithfulness, righteousness, truth and purity; love and glory—mercy and gracious compassion. Eternally.faithful.covenant.God. You have provided us with food and nourishment, but not solely that of flesh and body: we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from you. It is by you that we live: from the first breath breathed into the first man to the sustaining power of your breath every morning and every word breathed out into holy writ and by holy men. We depend on you and your covenant.


In Christ you have come to us, offering us that blessed transaction; transaction alone? No, but in declaring us righteous and him sin, you have given us the firstfruits of peace that you are still outworking in us. Daily through your dynamic interaction we come to perceive deeper what your grace and love toward us is. Daily we are shaped and nurtured by your pedagogy that is covenant. And all the while it is characterized by love and holiness. You have given us the inheritance of the nations, namely Christ—that seed of the woman who crushed the serpent; that seed of Abraham who has brought blessing; that seed of David who sits enthroned forever.


In Christ you have shown the supreme power of your works—through yourself the Son you have accomplished redemption for your people. And it is his incarnation that we begin to look back to, even as we look forward to its celebration later this month. We stand in fear of your awesome might, knowing that we are deserving of Pharaoh’s destruction, Jericho’s fall, Baal’s incineration, and death’s vice. But we also know that because you have approached us with your covenant, we stand not only in fear but in awe and praise, even joy. Teach us to live out the incarnate wisdom of Christ, and when we fail, faithful Lord, remind us still of your mighty work: forgiveness.

Amen.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Dangers of Depending on Logic


Christians have been accused, (unfortunately [often]) rightly, as being anti-intellectual. That is to say it is common to hear people mock Christian beliefs as nonsensical. David Hume takes it so far as to say that the only ‘miracle’ in the world is that people can believe Christian doctrine. Of course, our own brothers and sisters don’t help matters when they say, “Doctrine divides; just love people” and “Science is wrong because the Bible is true” or “It doesn’t have to make sense; that’s why it’s called faith.” Such well-intentioned statements are exceedingly common but drastically flawed. Doctrine simply means ‘teaching,’ and everybody believes doctrine of a kind—we had better hope ours is sourced from Scripture, taught by the Church! Science and the Bible are not incompatible. And actually, it has to make some kind of sense, otherwise we would apparently be serving a God of whim and fancy, emotion and random. Yet we don’t. We love the God who created physics, biology, etymology, mathematics, music and everything  that is ordered… including the seemingly disordered: from the food chain to topography.


It is unfortunate that there such a de-emphasize on educating church leaders, of reading the authors of previous centuries, and of knowing the original languages; it is unfortunate that there is such commonness of deciding not to study theology, of rejecting the sciences a priori, and of finding comfort in illogical silliness and calling it faith instead of folly. These bring with them dangers: falling sway to heresy and false teaching, becoming a chronological snob, being unable to evaluate arguments in the language which they were made, failing to recognize the beauty and supremacy of Christ—pantocrator and Cosmic King, foolishness and sin. And yet there is another set of dangers that come from depending on logic.


When you depend on logic, you are declaring that your ability to reason is supreme—if God does not conform to your definition of logic, then you run the heavy risk of denying him as he is. We see this frequently all over the map: “I could never believe in a God who…” Oftentimes it’s an ethical issue like genocide in the Old Testament, tsunamis today, hell for eternity. But other times, you just redefine God: “I know what the Bible says, but God wouldn’t do that.” And sometimes you even redefine the language of Scripture confusing everyone who hears you—making them think you are a Christian when you have actually denied its essence: “Jesus is the Son of God which means that Jesus is divine [read not-the-same-as-the-Father-but-still-better-than-us].”


Hear some examples of logic taken awry:

  • If God commands us to do something, it must be possible to do, otherwise God would be unjust. Since God commands us to be perfect, it must be possible to be perfect without Christ. (the logic of Pelagius [“Pelagianism”], deemed heretical and anathematized by the Church)
  • That which is ‘begotten’ was at one time naught. Since the Father begets the Son, there was a time when he was naught—a time without the Son. Therefore the Son of God at one time did not exist, but came into existence, that is to say “he was begotten of the Father.” (the logic of Arius [“Arianism”], deemed heretical and anathematized by the Church)
  • God is spirit, not matter. Therefore, it is more holy to be spirit than to be matter. God, who is perfectly holy, cannot become less holy, and thus he cannot become matter. Therefore, although it seemed that Christ was human (that is to say ‘matter’), he only appeared thus, but never actually become united to matter. It was not he that died on the cross, but another who was mistaken for him—Christ was never upon the cross, but only ascended to the Father. (the logic of the Gnostics [“Gnosticism”], deemed heretical and anathematized by the Church)


These are only three of the many ways logic has misled well-intentioned humans into false belief resulting in their condemnation. Not because they were mistaken on a simple issue, but because they were mistaken of the essential person: God revealed through Jesus Christ. They trusted in something other than God and what he had revealed to them. They made their reason the determiner of truth, and came to worship something other than Yahweh, our Triune God. I don’t wish to write with a ‘matter-of-fact’ tone, if that’s what comes across. I want to write with sobriety recognizing that we all straddle the threshold of truth and error—worship and idolatry. We are constantly in danger, and we are all too frequently idolaters. And we are in constant need… constant dependence upon Yahweh who acts in grace toward us.


Logic and rationality are a gift of God unto mankind to help us understand him and the world he created. But we are still finite, and not just finite but fallen and created—there may indeed be times that things seem illogical or random, but they only seem so in the scope of dynamic, time-bound, existence as a finite human considers things of eternity, infinity, and divinity. Without his grace we would be destitute and destined for damnation, but with it we sit as sons and daughters upon his throne, heirs of the eschatological rational world. To that we look forward, when we will eternally be able to plumb the depths of him and his creation: always satisfied, never satiated; constantly deepening in love, holiness, righteousness, and joy. When we will study the physics of this world and others, the chemistry of things our minds haven’t begun to comprehend, they languages of nations throughout history—present there. And we will do so without idolatry. Recognizing the limits of our mind, and depending on its Creator to expand them further.



Does God’s choice of grace toward you make sense? Apparently not. But his mind is not yours, nor his thoughts. And there are reasons for which you have been recreated of which you have not the slightest clue—which may not come to fruition until two thousand years hence.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Parable for your Sunday Evening Meditation (Based on Luke 17.20-18.8)

Tonight's parable is based on Luke 17.20-18.8

The drifter wandered through the crowded park and curious heads turned his way. He’d become the town phenomenon: a homeless man whom people would willingly feed; whom women were pleased to follow; whom rich men were glad to invite home. And now here he was: grass between his feet, the breeze blowing through his matted hair, and deep-set eyes swallowing the park and its inhabitants. He found a shaded knoll and kneeled to pick a dandelion. Thirty were now surrounding him. Standing up, he looked half-surprised and three-quarters pleased to see the crowd amass. Just then, he blew upon the dandelion, and with his breath flew the breeze carrying each strand of floral fur into the air.

“So shall they be taken away,” he calmly muttered.

“Who?!” came a shout from the crowd, now fifty. He had shattered the calm, but the drifter didn’t seem to mind—
He simply smiled.

Then he spoke again: “Do not lose heart, my friends. The day will come in which the King plucks up the weeds of the field and scatters them to the wind: only the grass will be left, adorned by tulips and lilies… not dandelions. The child plays with the weeds for the excitement they offer, but the woman adores the bouquet for the beauty it shows. How much more a living garden?”

Nonsense, or so it seemed to many. But that was the way the drifter spoke.


“There was a negligent gardener,” he continued, “who had charge of the royal garden. In this garden, a lily had made its home. But so did many weeds. Daily the weeds choked the water from this lily and stole its sun. And the lily cried out with all its meek voice might muster, begging for the gardener to tend justly, but the negligent gardener went about things the way he always had: splashing water over the entirety and never getting his hands dirty. The lily continued to cry out, and the gardener hearing the cries became greatly annoyed. One day he became so disturbed and aggravated that he knelt into soil and pulled the weeds at their roots, leaving the lily to full food and joy.”


Then the drifter whispered, “The pantocrator of earth is no negligent gardener. And yet,” his voice continued to drift, “among the weeds…how many lilies truly live?”

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For others in this series, click the tag "parables for your sunday evening"

Friday, November 22, 2013

Selfish Love

Ah, love. December is the most popular month for wedding engagements—at least that’s what I’ve been told. Because I’m not yet married, you might find my theology of love to be discredited. Lack of experience and knowledge, etc. But I think C.S. Lewis would beg to differ. Today marks 50 years of celebrating his life because it is on this day 50 years prior that he was welcomed by Love himself into an eternity of self-forgetful loving, living amongst friends whom he loved, and alongside a woman he loved on earth—and surely loves more fully now. C.S. Lewis authored a well-known (less-read) book entitled The Four Loves. In his book he discusses different relationships humans have and the love revealed in them:

  • AFFECTION: family, take-for-granted, have-to-love-them, can’t-be-rid-of-them, -type of love.
  • EROTICISM: spousal, romantic, erotic, reciprocal, physical, face-to-face, -type of love.
  • FRIENDSHIP: un-biological, goal-focused, dialogical, shoulder-to-shoulder, -type of love.
  • CHARITY: self-giving, un-demanding, elected, -type of love.


A summary, though tempting is not my intent today. Nor a list of the most insightful things he says. Instead, read the book yourself. Rather, I want to propose a correction of my own view of love, and maybe yours as well—of the four, I have experience in three (and a half).


Common (mis)Understandings of Love
There are two common misunderstandings of what love is—one by the loved of God and one by lovers of others.

False Love of Others. “Do what makes you happy,” “Comment on this post if you love me,” “I loved you until you stabbed me in the back, [profanity],” “Sometimes it’s just the memories you miss, not the person,” “Let them go, if they love you, they’ll come back,” and on… and on… and on… One benefit social media brings is the recognition of maturity: back when we were teenagers, we were social thespians and our world was as small as high school grounds; but we are no longer there—hopefully. The sad reality is that the drama doesn’t end when the digits reach 20: it won’t take long listening to popular radio before the artist cries about how their love has betrayed them, about the way their lover makes them feel, about revenge, regret, despair, anger, happiness, one night, a whole life, or a thousand years. And of course there’s the new track with some of the worst lyrics I’ve ever heard including, “But last night I feel like probably ended all that/ Cause by now she woulda sent a text in all caps/ Then another one tryna take it all back/ Saying f*** you, I miss you or I hate you so much/ Cause girls only say ‘hate you’ to the guys that they love’ and 'I never cheated (I mean, maybe once, twice).'"

It doesn’t take a sociologist to recognize that expectations of love aren’t being met. It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand the expectations are for undemanding, unremitting pleasure. It doesn’t take a pessimist to see its impossibility in a fallen world with depraved humans.

False Love by the Loved of God. On the face, this false conception is multitudes more admirable: instead of being entirely focused on what the other person can give me. It sources its definition in the love of God for humanity: entirely undeserved, continually loving—even when wronged. In essence, it’s exactly what the former persons long for—as evidenced in once-CCM artist become pop star Katy Perry’s  song “Unconditionally.” It is common for Christians to define love as ‘pursuing the good of another at my own expense.’ It is common to imply and explain that ‘love hurts’ and ‘true love sacrifices all of my desires for the good of another.’

Sometimes! But not always. And if it was always, we’re in for a distressing sort of eternity: when and where our desire is out of joint with the good of another. Christian, do you mean to tell me that my desires cannot be for the good of another? Do you mean to tell me that love isn’t pleasurable? I would say you’ve forgotten there is something greater than grace. I’d say you’ve forgotten God’s intra-trinitarian love. I’d say you’ve forgotten what the new creation will be like.

Back to Lewis… and Others
C.S. Lewis recognizes that to love at all is to tempt pain; if you fear pain, wrap your heart safe and secure and hide it from everyone at all costs. Lewis experienced that pain deeply. But he also recognized the temporary threat and sensation of pain is worth the joy that comes before, after, and all through it. You see, love is only self-denial when our selves are contrary to love. “Deny yourself, and take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus spoke. But what if your self already had the beam on your back, walking to Golgotha? What if your desire was for the glory of God and the good of others—would love then be not doing what you want? That makes no sense. John Piper collapses desire and worship when he says, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.” Is love madness? Shakespeare seems think that love without prodigality is not love at all, and that love should not be tempered—only received by another. Love accepts the grace of God, and offers it to others… but one day, in the eternal day, will there be need for grace? Or will you be loved perfectly and love perfectly? Will you have selfish desires or selfless desires or self-forgetful desires? The point of this post is to say that one day they will all be the same…

Without regard to yourself [self-forgetful] you will give of yourself [selfless] and experience the greatest joy [selfish.]

As you prepare for eternity today, may your affective love find joy in desiring good for family, and having the good realized; may your erotic love find joy in desiring good for your lover, and having the good realized; may your friendly love find joy in desiring good for your friend, and having the good realized; may your charitable love find joy in desiring good for your recipient, and having the good realized.


Blend desire with perfection.


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Related posts:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Complex Ethics

Is lying always wrong?

Think of the last movie you saw. Who was the good guy? Who was the bad guy?

Which is greater: to kill or to let live? And what if killing results in saving the lives of your family; to let live results in their rape and death? And what if killing results in the lives of your family but the loss of the lives of thirty others?

Feel the Tension
I bet that you answered question 1 with ‘yes,’ and then questioned yourself: remembering the last time you told a ‘white lie,’ or more seriously remembering people who hid Jews during the Nazi regime.

I bet that the last movie you saw had a good guy with severe flaws—probably a criminal past too—who rebels against the laws; and I bet the bad guy was the one who followed all the rules, was clean and kempt, and probably told a lot of truth.

And I bet that in the final questions you answered, “Let live! Kill! Ugh!—why does there even have to be this possibility?! Why can’t everything be good?”

Ethics are complex. Immanuel Kant, many years ago, came up with a theory of ethics called the “Categorical Imperative.” In the theory he states that lying is always wrong 100% of the time. Many commentator and ethicists have noted that Kant has no way of resolving conflict between competing moral imperatives. Of course, Kant isn’t the only one who has composed a theory of ethics, and he isn’t the only one who has problems in his theory. Consider William James’ pragmatism: the right thing is the one which achieves the greatest good for the greatest number of people. And yet what is “good”? Aristotle’s theory of ethics has much to commend it, particularly in his view of discipleship to be taught the good, and in his attempt to bring pleasure and good to convergence; but what of his “Golden Mean” where the good is to find the happy medium between two extremes—is an extreme never to be preferred?

There is Augustinian Ethics aptly summarized in “Love God, and do what you will.” But that has been hijacked by moral relativists to sanction illicit sexuality, fraudulence, and other sinful actions. And it is somewhat abstract regardless. So what are we to do with these blurred lines—the grayscale of heroes, conflict of interest, and insatiable desire for the good, beautiful, and true?

Inherent Justice
The only reason we struggle with these questions, from a Christian worldview, is because we have an inherent sense of justice. We have a desire for shalom—peace absolute and unfettered; perfect and eternal. Why? Because we were created in the image of God for perfect and eternal communion with him in a community of love with others. You and I have a sense of ‘ought’ and ‘ought not.’ The difficulty arises by our own hand on account of the fall which we partook of with our first father and mother—you and I live in a sin-ridden world with things out of joint.

Sometimes the right answer is the hard one.
Sometimes the easy thing is the right thing to do.
Sometimes the right thing isn’t even an option.
Sometimes it’s because our previous choices limit our current ones.
Sometimes our current choices promise only to further a hole—even if they’re the right thing.
And yet… even at this our hearts know this itself is not the way it ought to be.

We ought to be able to choose and to choose rightly—for the good choice to always be clear, and for nobody to get hurt in the process. But that’s not the way things are. And that’s not right. And we’re the ones to blame.

But there has to be a way forward. We can’t simply wallow and call, “Woe is me; woe is us.” We can't simply sit in disillusionment and be content to live a nihilism not fit for humanity—that’s not living: it’s simply existing.

The Way Forward
Cornelius Plantinga Jr. proposes the seed of an ethics system in describing sin as “culpable shalom breaking.” He goes on to pose a question, and it is only a question: which act breaks shalom: telling your friend/spouse the dress is unflattering, or extolling their beauty? I’ve paraphrased his actual question for two reasons: one—to recognize that sometimes ‘beating around the bush’ may avoid shalom-breaking while achieving the greater end; and two—to build upon Plantinga’s thought and show that ethics is not actually about what not to do.

Let me explain. Should you eat pizza or salad? Don’t feel guilty for wanting the pizza. A salad may not be possible, or you may be allergic to raw tomatoes (but not sauce); and in fact pizza has been shown to provide a lot of nutrients (provided it’s the right kind of pizza). Regardless of your choice, you must eat to survive. And both choices are a good choice.  Is one better than another? Most likely. But a marathon runner won’t survive on a salad for lunch and dinner. So maybe the pizza is actually better. Calories, after all, aren’t a bad thing—no matter what that magazine at the checkout stand tells you. By now, you think I’m sidetracked, and that pizza has nothing to do with ethics. I dare say you’re wrong. For two reasons.

Reason 1: Food directly affects your body. Your body is a gift of God. Ethics is about relating in shalom toward others. Shalom finds its primary reference point in Yahweh. The things that you eat have implications on your perspective of God’s creation of your body. What’s more, God has designed our bodies to work a certain way. Undernourish, malnourish, or overnourish your body, and there will be physical complications which may lead to your inability to care for family members, to engage in disaster relief, to be an example of health to children. Your food choice directly and indirectly determine your ability to ethically live.

Reason 2: Food reminds us that there are several good options. Chicken or beef? Chicken is healthier, unless you suffer from iron deficiency. Soymilk or Almond Milk? Both have calcium, both are tasty… both are good for you… unless you have an estrogen surplus. And what about 2% milk and 1% milk? Or whole milk? Or coconut milk? Just milk leaves us with numerous choices (but don’t forget about how finances plays into these choices). All of these choices are good, and some are better than others for certain reasons: finances, health, cows. But let’s say you can choose any of them, which do you choose and why? I hope that the ultimate reason is “because I want to” or “because I like the taste.” In other words, “It brings me pleasure.”

I’m not a hedonist. I’m not an Epicurean. I’m a God-loving, eschaton-pursuing human. And ethics isn’t always about a right and a wrong. Sometimes it’s about a good and a better. You woke up in the middle of the night, what do you do?
Option 1: Pray
Option 2: Go back to sleep, enjoying the rest your creator has given you

Why is it that we think God is always waiting for us to choose the wrong thing? Why is it that we so often tend to think of ethics and choices in a 2D plane—you can only go left or you can go right? When will we stop creating false dichotomies, and start living in a 3-dimensional world—where choices abound… many bad ones tempting us, and many good ones calling our name? What will you do tomorrow evening? Bible study? Dinner with old friends? Fasting? A romantic date? Reading that new book? Writing that one that’s been on your mind? Which one is right/ which one is good? All of them! Which one will you do? That’s for you to decide—not a decision overshadowed with guilt and uncertainty: it’s one for you to decide with rejoicing that God has given you the opportunity to choose and that whichever you choose will help in preparing you for eternity with him.

Stop looking at things as left and right; start looking at things as good things, better things, and best things. Start viewing the world you live in and the choices you make with an eye to the glory of God in anticipation of an eternity living and loving him and his people.

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Soon to come:
Complex Ethics Part 2: When You're Invisible
Complex Ethics Part 3: Pleasure
Complex Ethics Part 4: Ethics in Eternity
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Related:
Water, Wine, and Whiskey
Exaggeration as Truth

Monday, November 18, 2013

Finite Perspectives: War

When you awake in the morning, view the world as war.

You are a soldier. You are an infantryman trained in combat, deployed on a lifelong battle, ever straddling the precipice of death. You are a warrior. You are not a civilian. You are not to be distracted by civilian affairs—entangled in the frivolous pleasantries that confuse your identity: this is not your home, this is not your land; you are behind enemy lines, and the enemy is out to kill you.

This is not a war waged with weapons of steel and iron, blade and ammunition; no Kevlar will protect you from the tactics of the adversary. In fact, you don’t have to go looking for the firefight…it will knock on your door—from the inside. You have spent too long in this land, and the shrapnel from your bloody life remains lodged in your organs, threatening your very being from the inside out. Post-traumatic stress? No. Post-lapsarian sinfulness. At one time, you were an agent of the enemy: trained in his tactics and comfortable in his barracks. Unless you stay sober-minded, constantly aware of the attacks from without and within, you will defect. An AWOL soldier is always welcomed back, but he carries with him the increased bloodlust the enemy has him given. So stay alert.

You are at war.
Your enemy prowls around—the expert of guerrilla warfare. He will spot you in the open, when none surround you; he will sneak behind you, as you go about your way, with a dagger in his hand, or a bomb upon his chest. But solitude isn’t his only ally. He can blend in with your friends, and garner trust until the opportune moment. He can lurk in the halls of past memories and stand ominously above future hopes. Your enemy is at large. He prowls around like a lion, he skulks like a dragon, he slithers like an eel, and takes to flight like a raven. He is seeking you. That he may devour—that he might snap his jowls upon your neck, and remove your trachea; that he might poison your heart and cause a slow, painful death. His tactics are many, his encumbrances few.

You are engaged in battle.

Pray for your life, soldier, for he—the supreme commander—will come to your aid. He has armies of angels at his every beck and call; his jurisdiction runs from East to West, and he moves with speed upon the wind. A sword protrudes from his mouth, and he will fight for you. For he has recruited you into his army. The ones who hate you for allegiance to him are his enemies more than yours. The battle is not against flesh and blood; the battle is against everything dark which threatens light, life, and love—the battle is against wickedness which derides beauty, truth, and mercy—the battle is against death, and death will receive death itself.

Take heart, fellow soldier. You are not in this war alone. Stand side by side, sheath by shield with your brothers who war alongside you. Together, at the command of the supreme general, fight against sin and death wherever it is found—even within your own selves. Look back to D-Day when Christ defeated death and sin in his birth, life, death, and resurrection. Look forward to VE-Day when Christ will use the sword of his mouth to restore peace to the earth. In that day, the war will cease, the peace will ensue, and you will have rest with celebration.


Pray for strength to survive the trench today.

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Others in this series:

Water, Wine, and Whiskey

In light of CT's recent article on alcoholic drinks, and the recent boom in craft beer (also noted in the former article), I thought it might be helpful to bring an historical perspective into the fray. (The following text was an historical-ethical-devotional written for a small audience in early 2013.)

            I know we’re touching on a touchy subject when we mention alcohol. It’s touchy because some like to have a beer or whisky, some enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, and some have been left without a father either mentally or physically because of alcohol. The spectrum is wide and the consequences varying. What’s more, most have already made up their mind concerning alcohol, and will not be convinced one way or another. [While I was pastoring a Conservative Baptist Church, I preached upon John 2. I was expecting quite a bit of dialogue post-sermon concerning the wine--I even encouraged the congregation to speak with me about any questions they had. I was quite surprised to note the expressions of the congregation as I preached about the wine, and how it was a sign of blessing and enjoyment--not a face looked smug or disgruntled; and nobody approached me afterwards to confront me or ask me questions. It was at that point that I realized, this congregation lives in a military city with 85% of the men having been involved in some military role. The occupational culture had overridden (or tempered) any Conservative Baptist culture concerning alcohol consumption.]

            What many are not aware of, however, are the historical engagements and abstinences of alcohol. It would surprise some to know that monks and friars were the primary distillers, brewers, and sellers of alcohol in the Middle Ages. They needed wine for the Eucharist, and made much of it. They brewed beer to drink, which was particularly helpful for their otherwise scant diet. And they sold the excess to help fund affairs of the church. Alcohol had a large role in the church for quite some time.

            The United States prohibition movement in the 1800s and 1900s sought to put an end to alcohol abuse and its consequences. Some have tied the zeal of the prohibitionists to the recently successful push for gender equality [that the recent ethical success RE: gender left the people wanting another challenge to surmount]. This is likely true, but this doesn’t mean that prohibition is invalid. What does the Bible say about alcohol use? The certain truth is that drunkenness is sinful—believers are to be controlled by the spirit, not by the effects of alcohol. There are many regulations concerning wine and “strong drink.” Most of these are warnings about overuse; there are some occurrences where full abstinence is required, as in the making of a vow, or the entering into the Holy Place. But there are also places in Scripture where alcohol is encouraged: Paul encourages Timothy to drink some wine, Jesus commands his disciples to remember him every time they partake of his supper (which includes wine), Jesus turned water into the best wine.

            Some have claimed that the wine in the Bible was heavily diluted with water and that ‘strong drink’ was always outlawed; they go on to say that any alcoholic beverage today would be considered ‘strong’ by biblical standards. Is this true? Difficult to say. We do know that alcoholism is a problem in our society today, and that it can lead to abuse, divorce, death, dependency, and other things. But computers lead to pornography, adultery, divorce, gambling, dependency, covetousness, laziness, and other things as well. We could do this with most things: guns, food, cars, medicine, cinema, etc. But we can also point to the good in all these things: computers enable more efficient work, connections to the church at large, and many other things. Alcohol allows people to enjoy the creativity of God in creating drinks of varying flavors and complexities while allowing the drinker to relax.


            So what about you? The reality is that we live in such a world that those around you have been harmed by alcohol abuse; maybe you yourself have. If you enjoy an occasional drink, do so to the glory of God—admire him and his providential hand, but do so in an environment that won’t harm those around you; and don’t look down on those who don’t. If you have an aversion to alcohol, for whatever reason, then stick to water, but don’t look down on those who take some wine. Love God and love others, and do it with wisdom and humility, considering others better than yourself.

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Additional articles, not written by me:
"How Monks Revolutionized Beer and Evangelization" shown me by Riayn Guinan
"The Story of God and Guinness"

"The Philanthropists: Arthur Guinness"
"Dealing with Alcoholism" by Ed Stetzer