Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chuuk Trip

Chuuk Trip (3)As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently returned from a trip to Chuuk. It was a very productive three days meeting with Iotaka Choram our Chuuk TF director, Yosta LodgeChuuk Trip (10) director of our partner school Faithwalk Christian College, our administrators from Chuuk High School and the Chuuk Department of Education, pastors from Berea Church and several alumni (right). It is an exciting time for us in Chuuk with PIU classes starting again at FCC and still more new applications coming in from there. It was also very gratifying to be able to speak to the church and thank God that we are operating again there. We also met and worked through an agreement with Berea Christian School to restart our Teaching Facility there and classes have begun. I am thankful for the church leaders there who have been very helpful to get things up and going again.

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I had the opportunity to talk about PIU in the Berea Church on Sunday and hear a couple youth choirs

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This was the view out my hotel room window. You can still see the damage from Typhoon Maysak

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Chuuk airport (at the top above) and Guam airport (right) where the trip began and ended. The full moon was pretty amazing but the picture doesn’t do it justice

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

We Have A New Baby!

DSC07351 (1280x1078)While I was in Chuuk (post about that coming soon) Joyce and I got a new grandchild. new babyThe baby was scheduled to come in a week or so after I got back but she decided to show up early. When I opened up my computer Saturday morning at the hotel restaurant, the first thing I saw was her picture posted by Mike. Yesterday I returned from Chuuk and had the opportunity to see her in person and take my first picture of her. We don’t know her name yet, but I have reason to believe we may hear a name today announced in chapel at PIU. Here is the picture I took and a few that Joyce took over the weekend.

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The kids love their new sister. Serenity told me yesterday that she is “really cute.”

Reading in Genesis This Week (25.19-36.43)

514zcWswk7L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_I am continuing my Old Testament reading, along with Walter Brueggemann’s, Genesis, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. The third section of the book, the story of Jacob and his family gets down into the dirt of family squabbles and power politics and shows how the faithful need to live (with both positive and negative examples) in a deceptive, oppressive, nasty world. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there.

The 3rd part of Genesis, the Jacob story is a "conflict story." Following the promise of God places Jacob in conflict with his family and with the world around him because he is a man who believes in God's promise for his life. Sometimes Jacob complicates this promise by trying to manipulate it and take hold of it by the wrong methods, but, in the end, when forced to yield to God he experiences blessing within the great difficulties of life. Brueggemann calls the story "scandalous" because it exposes the realities of human sin, even within the promised family, and sets the story of God's mission within the gritty world of ambition, sex, power and violence. Jacob stands as a story that God works through the weak and powerless "little brother" and overturns the conventions of society to accomplish his plan.

The God of Israel comes to and sojourns with the unworthy and unvalued until they are brought safely home (cf. 28:15). It is that scandalous God who finally settled on a Crucified One as the way to make all things new. Thus, this oracle of inversion is not simply a political program of preference for Israel over Edom or Aram, though it may be that as well. It is also a disclosure about this God. To be faithful to the call of such a God brings conflict because this God himself evokes and enters into conflict with the way the world is organized. Genesis 25-36, 209–210

The story shows that it is God's plan to cause conflict with the way things are normally done as he chooses the younger brother to continue the covenant mission. Jacob and Esau's actions are freely chosen but will continue God's plan. God will shape Jacob and bring about his plan through the conflict without failing to keep his promises to care for Esau too.

This narrative is indiscreet and at times scandalous. It shows God and his chosen younger one aligned against the older brother, against the father, and against the cultural presumptions of natural privilege. Jacob is announced as a visible expression of God’s remarkable graciousness in the face of conventional definitions of reality and prosperity. Jacob is a scandal from the beginning. The powerful grace of God is a scandal. It upsets the way we would organize life. Genesis 25.19-28, 217

Jacob, in contrast to Esau, believes in futures to which Esau is indifferent...Those who do not believe promises and want more immediate satisfactions will no doubt compromise the faith for the sake of easier gains: pottage. Esau becomes a type for those who do not trust the promise and accommodate themselves. Genesis 25.29-34, 219–220

Chapters 26-28 are concerned with the blessing. God gives the blessing according to his own plan and choice. The blessing brings great prosperity to Isaac and Jacob which overflows to the people around them, but at the same time brings conflict and difficulty. God's plan to overthrow culture and propriety by blessing the younger son messes up Isaac's plan for a "quiet retirement" and breaks the family apart as all attempt to secure the blessing by their own means. Yet, the "bad guy" in the story is the one who receives the promise and blessing as God appears to the exile. Jacob must now learn, often the hard way, how to maximize his experience of God's blessing. It is a great comfort to see how God blesses even stumbling, blind attempts to live faithfully.

The Isaac narrative invites reflection on a world teeming with generously given life. That abundant life is recognized as blessing to those who will receive and share it. The chapter presents a world-view in which affirmation of the world and gratitude to God are held integrally together. Genesis 26, 226

The narrative exemplifies what is generally true of Genesis. This is not a spiritual treatise on morality. It is, rather, a memory of how faith moves in the rawness of experience. We must leave it at that. Genesis 27, 229

Every parent wants to “fix it” and make it right for his/her precious child. But it is beyond the parent, always, because other things are at work that do not yield to us. And so the parent is a mixture of hurt and failure and sorrow. Precisely at the moment of deepest kinship comes this strange impotence. Genesis 27, 233

The difficult part for us is that this is not an incidental religious curiosity in the Bible. It is, rather, a persistent theme which runs toward that strange company gathered around Jesus. The scandal there is the same. The ones whom all partisans of “primogeniture” would reject as unqualified and unworthy are the very ones invited to the festival of blessing (Luke 5:30; 14:12–14, 21; 15:1–2; 19:7). Genesis 27, 235

God commits himself to the empty-handed fugitive. The fugitive has not been abandoned. This God will accompany him... It is the name finally assigned to Jesus of Nazareth (“Emmanuel, God with us,” Matt. 1:23), who was indeed God with his exiled people...And this same promise was his last word to the Matthean church (Matt. 28:20), “I am with you always.” Genesis 28, 245

Genesis 29-31 describes the interaction between Jacob and Laban as they try to outsmart each other in order to secure their futures. They resort to deceptions, manipulations and bullying which only complicate matters and damage relationships. Yet, in the middle of the whole thing God accomplishes his plan to bless Jacob and bless Laban's family through Jacob. Most importantly, in the center of the story, God secures the next generation of promise and raises up the family that will become the 12 tribes of Israel. Despite all the scheming and planning, it is God, as he remembers (acts on) covenant, that makes everything happen.

It is this earthy man through whom the resilient purposes of God are being worked out. The purpose of God is somehow operative in the places of scandal and deception. Even Luther tries too hard to explain away the sordidness of the narrative. One would expect Luther, especially, to affirm that God’s promises have no interest in moral rectitude. But the text is clear enough. Precisely in this doubtful character the promise of God is being fulfilled. Genesis 29-31, 252

That remembering is the heart of the gospel. It will not be explained. It can only be affirmed, celebrated, and relied upon. That is how it is with Rachel. That is how it also is with Leah (29:33; 30:17). The two mothers of Israel, the loved and not loved, the beautiful and not beautiful, discover together that barrenness is not a problem for human solution. New life is God’s gift. The seemingly incidental assertion of Leah in 29:32 is the claim of the entire narrative. God looks upon the affliction of his children (cf. 31:42). Genesis 29-31, 255–256

History may appear to be closed with the collapse of public institutions, with the shortage of energy, with the ways of technology which outstrip our humaneness. What is to come leaves us filled with a mixture of hope and dread. This narrative for the family of Jacob and for the listening community is subtle but sure. On the one hand, history is not closed because God has surprises yet to give. But on the other hand, the future will be shaped in God’s promised way. And no human scheme or device can do more than delay that sure future. Genesis 29-31, 260

Chapter 32 marks the return of Jacob to the land as God had promised when he fled the land. It also marks a return to face Esau and seek reconciliation. It is a scary experience but God responds with a bodyguard of angels to protect Jacob. However, as Jacob prepares to face Esau he also must face God, in this passage a shadowy wrestler, who allows Jacob to win and lose at the same time. Jacob emerges from the encounter with God blessed, but crippled and a changed man. He then is ready to face Esau and be reconciled.

On the one hand, Jacob/Israel soars to bold heights of a Promethean kind. But then, he is corrected by a limp, affirming that only God is God. On the other hand, Jacob is a cripple with a blessing. Israel must ponder how it is that blessings are given and at what cost. This same theology of weakness in power and power in weakness turns this text toward the New Testament and the gospel of the cross. Genesis 32-33, 270–271.

God will not be taken lightly or easily. There will be no cheap reconciliations. On the way to the affronted brother, Jacob must deal with the crippling (and blessing) God. The Israel that goes on to the reconciliation with the brother is not only buoyant and successful, he also limps. Genesis 32-33, 272

Even though Jacob is in the land, he is still not safe and must be a man of faith if he is to succeed. Threats come from the outside with people, like the Shechemites, who would pretend faithfulness for economic benefit. Threats also come from the inside, as Simeon and Levi respond to the outside threats with violence and vengeance. Jacob (Israel) fails both by allowing the corruption of compromise with the unfaithful and, at the same time, failing to be faithful blessings to the people around them. The answer to that is repentance and renouncing of the sins of the world around them and a new start.

Passion is often a strange mixture of religious fervor and animal craving. And passion is always in tension with cool pragmatism, seeking survival through planned action. Faith must live and move and decide within that tension. It is an issue which the community of Jacob must face whenever it comes to the prosperity and stability of the land. The land always comes with people who have another vision (cf. 12:6). They must be dealt with, whether passionately or pragmatically or, perhaps, faithfully. Genesis 34, 280

Exposition of this passage in our time may need to ask about the false powers and loyalties which must be rejected. And it will want to ask about the symbolic actions which might accomplish disengagement...Thus, we may discern continuity from the Israelite purification practice concerning foreign gods, to the baptismal renunciations in the early church, to the mandates for disengagement in our time. This community of faith is continually engaged in dramatic and genuine relinquishments of Canaanite alternatives. Genesis 35.1-15, 282

However, before the story moves on to the new start for the family with Joseph the story of Jacob ends with the genealogy of Esau. It is important to see that Genesis does not make the election of Jacob a rejection of Esau. He is not the bearer of promise but he does share in its blessings and mercies. God is concerned about Esau as well as Jacob.

It is a problem to affirm the election of Jacob and yet to assert the legitimacy of the others. But that is what this tradition does...This awareness has important implication for the faith community in the context of the human community. While God has a particular and precious relation to this chosen community, it is not the Lord’s only commitment. In other ways and on other grounds, these others are also held in his care and kept in his promise. Genesis 36, 287

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday Reading Salvation and Sovereignty #4

indexThis is the fourth post as we continue to read in Salvation and Sovereignty, by Ken Keathley, a faculty member at Southeastern Seminary. In the book, Ken introduces, explains and defends the Molinist view of the interaction between God’s sovereignty and human choice in salvation. I am reading chapters 5 to 7 today. Chapter 5 discusses the first “S” of the acronym “ROSES” (the Molinist response to TULIP) with a section on “Sovereign Election,”  chapter 6, “Eternal Life,” which refines “Perseverance of the Saints” and “Singular Redemption” the response to “Limited Atonement.” I found myself again pretty much in agreement with Ken in these three chapters, though I would counter that scriptures quoted may not really be answering exactly the questions we are asking. I would urge you to buy the book (I am reading the Kindle edition) and join the discussion on my Facebook page.

The issue in election is to have a balance between God’s sovereignty and his permission so that one does not make God the author of sin. Though the supralapsarian position talks about God’s permissive will it still makes God the cause of the reprobation of the unbeliever. Keathley maintains that the infralapsarian position is inconsistent logically. He proposes that the solution is to see election based on God’s knowledge rather than decree. That is God knew that the Fall would happen by human free will, yet still created the universe as it is. Now God elects from humans his people who will respond to him. The only issue I would have is that it still seems to leave God in the position of knowing what it would take to save someone and not doing it.

If God knows that a certain man will freely accept the gospel while that man’s brother freely will not, and yet God decides to create both of them anyway, then this is a mysterious, sovereign, and unconditional determination on the part of God.  154

The distinctive difference between Calvinism and Molinism is that Calvinism sees God accomplishing His will through His omnipotent power while Molinism understands God’s using His omniscient knowledge. 155

The issue of assurance of salvation has two components: 1) How do we know we are genuinely saved and 2) How can we be assured we will continue to be saved. Keathley answers the first question that salvation is based on justification, not sanctification and God declares the believer to be saved. The second question he answers with the “genuineness of salvation” view that the true believer continues to believe. This keeps assurance based on the person of Christ and encourages growth in sanctification. This avoids the excesses of “once saved always saved “ position.

A variant of the Evidence-of-Genuineness view: This position has four points: (1) the only basis for assurance is the objective work of Christ; (2) assurance is the essence of saving faith; (3) saving faith perseveres; and (4) God offers rewards available to the believer subsequent to salvation. 187.

In the end, assurance comes from depending on Christ alone. 190

The S in ROSES stands for singular redemption. Limited Atonement is the most rejected element of the TULIP acronym. In fact one can make the case that Calvin himself did not teach it. (actually when I read Calvin’s commentaries I see him contradicting unconditional election and irresistible grace too). The biblical text is full of statements that the scope of Christ’s death for sin was eternal, but the remedy is only applied when responded to in faith.

The singular redemption view, held by moderate Calvinists and Reformed Arminians, agrees with the limited view that Christ paid a propitiatory atonement but argues that this payment was made for all humanity. This view holds that the atonement was unlimited and universal. Christ provided salvation for all, but the benefits of the atonement are applied only to those who believe. 196

Christ provided a particular redemption that is universal in scope. 202 

Keathley concludes…

Two biblical principles come through clearly: certainty and contingency. This, in turn, respectively provides two great motivations: confidence and urgency. We have confidence because of the certainty of God accomplishing His sovereign plan (Rom 9). Human rebellion and wickedness cannot and does not thwart His will. We can have confidence “that He who started a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). At the same time, because of the genuine contingency of events and situations in our lives, we are to conduct our service for the Lord with real urgency. 209

Thursday, September 24, 2015

PIU Ministry Equipping Conference Coming

The annual PIU Ministry Equipping Conference is coming up next week October 1-3 at the Guam Reef Hotel. We are very pleased to have Dr. Baxter Kruger as our guest speaker.

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You can register for the conference by calling PIU at 734-1812 or on line at http://piu.edu/2015-ministry-equipping-conference-practical-trinitarian-theology. You can also register at the door. Cost for all three sessions is only $50.

The conference will run from 6pm to 9pm on Thursday and Friday nights and from 8am – 4pm on Saturday. Here is the schedule with session topics…

Thursday – October 1, 6:00pm-9:00 pm
6:00 PM – Registration / Light Refreshments
           Welcome & Opening Remarks
6:45 PM – Introduction – Dr. David Owen
7:00 PM – Lecture 1: The Heart of the Cosmos: The Relationship of the Father and Son as the Womb of all Things                       Speaker: Dr. C. Baxter Kruger
8:15 PM – Small Group Discussion
8:45 PM – Q & A, Wrap-up
9:00 PM – Closing Prayer
Friday – October 2, 6:00pm-9:00 pm
6:00 PM – Registration / Light Refreshments
                Welcome & Opening Remarks
6:45 PM – Introduction – Dr. James Sawyer
7:00 PM – Lecture 2: Can We Overestimate Jesus Christ: Jesus’ Union with the Human Race
                                Speaker: Dr. C. Baxter Kruger
8:15 PM – Small Group Discussion
8:45 PM – Q & A, Wrap-up
9:00 PM – Closing Prayer
Saturday – October 3, 8:00am-4:00 pm
8:00 AM – Registration / Light Refreshments
                Welcome & Opening Remarks
8:30 AM – Introduction – Mr. Peter Knapp
8:45 AM – Lecture 3: God in the Hands of Angry Sinners:
                The Redemptive Genius of the Triune God, Speaker: Dr. C. Baxter Kruger
9:45 AM – Break
10:00 AM – PIU Instructors Walk Participants through John 1, verses 1-18

· Michael Owen – Historical Context
· David Owen – Literary Context
· Peter Knapp – Linguistic Content
· James Sawyer – Systematic Content
· Iotaka Choram – Application

12:00 NN – Lunch Break
1:00 PM – Introduction – Mr. Michael Owen
1:15 PM – Lecture 4: The Light of the World: The Presence of Jesus in all Creation Speaker:    Dr.  C. Baxter Kruger
2:15 PM – Break
2:30 PM – Panel Discussion Q & A with full Panel of Speakers
3:45 PM – Closing Prayer

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

PIU Chapel and “Twins Day”

2015-09-22 11.35.38Today12019986_417204111810742_8043683727369366638_n was an exciting day. We began Spirit Week with “Twins’ Day” in which students dress to match. On the right is a picture of the prize winning “twins.” Today was also the PIU advisory board Fall meeting, and board member Felix Camacho was our chapel speaker. Felix talked about living life being more concerned with what God thinks about you than what other people think about you. He urged the students to “stand up for your convictions” and shared a little of how he learned to apply that idea in his life. We had a good meeting and chapel. Enjoy the chapel and the pictures of the different “sets of Twins.” I snatched a lot of these pictures off of student Facebook pages!

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We enjoyed the message and the music/worship

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Here are a few more sets of “twins”

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday Reading Salvation and Sovereignty #3

indexThis is the third post as we continue to read in Salvation and Sovereignty, by Ken Keathley, a faculty member at Southeastern Seminary. In the book, Ken introduces, explains and defends the Molinist view of the interaction between God’s sovereignty and human choice in salvation. I am reading chapters 3 and 4 today. Chapter 3 begins the discussion of the acronym “ROSES” (the Molinist response to TULIP) with a section on “Radical Depravity”  and chapter 4, “Overcoming “Grace,” provides a more balanced view than the “I” of Calvinism, “Irresistible Grace.” I found myself pretty much in agreement with Ken in these two chapters. I would urge you to buy the book (I am reading the Kindle edition) and join the discussion on my Facebook page.

“Radical Depravity” proposes a “soft libertarian” view of how depravity affects the human ability to make choices. It rejects determinism in both its “soft” and “hard” expressions but also rejects the “hard libertarianism” of open theism. It makes the person cause of his/her real choices with real alternative possibilities and thus also bear the responsibility for sinful choices. It distinguishes between freedom of responsibility and freedom of integrity (the ability to do the right thing). Even for regenerated people, wrong choices can impair one’s freedom of integrity. People are sinners and in need of God’s grace to restore freedom of integrity and the ability to respond to God but are not bound to  choose sin in any instance. I like this approach because it maintains the biblical picture of the image of God in humanity even while we are all bound in sin.

God created human beings with free moral agency, and He does not violate this even in the supernatural work of regeneration. Christ does not rudely bludgeon His way into the human heart. He does not abrogate our creaturely freedom. No, He beckons and woos, He pleads and pursues, He waits and wins. 94

Concurrence holds that humanity is condemned before God for its sinful unbelief. Humans are ultimately responsible for their moral decisions in a way the other creatures of the earth are not. This is because, as causal agents, they are in a limited, derived way, the originators of their respective choices. This ability is a gift bestowed by God and is a way in which humans reflect the divine image. At certain significant will-setting moments, persons possess the real ability to choose or refrain from choosing. However, even though we retain the freedom of responsibility as causal agents, our choices affect our freedom of integrity. 99

“Overcoming Grace” maintains the balance between salvation being entirely a work of God (monergism) while also maintaining the real need for the believer’s response of faith. It protects the character of a loving God who does not desire that anyone suffer for eternity apart from Him. It proposes an “ambulatory model” of how a sinner comes to faith. Grace is represented as an ambulance taking the injured patient to the hospital. The patient can reject the treatment (and die) but can do nothing to save him/herself. This also removes the objection of faith being a “work.” It also maintains a real universal offer of salvation and is more true to our experience of how people are saved.

The only solution that I can see is to hold that God’s grace is simultaneously monergistic and resistible. This way faith is entirely of God; unbelief is entirely of man…The overcoming grace model does not embrace determinism, but it does hold to monergism. Saving faith is indeed a virtue, but it is a quality and disposition given to us by the Holy Spirit. So the Christian cannot boast because he believes. However, this grace is resistible, so the unbeliever is justly damned for his unbelief. 125

The simplicity of the Calvinist paradigm of irresistible grace is its greatest attraction—and its flaw. It simply does not fit the testimony of Scripture or what we witness occurring in evangelistic work. The overcoming grace model posits that God’s convicting but resistible grace works mightily in every hearer, and therefore this model better accounts for the wide range of responses. 133

PIU Basketball Team Gets Second Win

bball19 (11)The PIU basketball team played our 6th game of the season and came out with our second win. Final score PIU 60 Life in the Son Church 47. I have been enjoying coaching the team and teaching some basketball fundamentals to the guys. We have been somewhat limited by the rainy weather with our outdoor court but we managed a good practice on Thursday. We have been competitive in most of our games and yesterday we were able to play our best game of the season and get a win. I especially appreciate the guys’ good attitudes as we work hard to win, but also to glorify the Lord with our attitudes. This has been true of the church league as a whole this year and I am thankful for that. The pictures were taken by Titus and Serenity. Their dad, Mike, hit a three-pointer and they did not get a picture of it.

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Jesse Hartt prepares to shoot a free throw. (right) Our defense sets up as we begin the 2nd half.

Friday Chapel at PIU

Chapel 18 (2)Chapel 18 (4)I missed chapels last week because I had meetings both days off-campus. I was glad to be able to be back in chapel this week. I enjoy the time with the students and faculty-staff who are on campus. Friday several of the residents of the women’s dormitory led the music and worship time and our speaker was PIU teacher, pastor of Faith Church, and PIU advisory board member, Tom Van Engen. Tom talked on the passage about Jesus walking on the water and how, like Peter, we can either experience Jesus as a “ghost” or as the Almighty God of the universe. It depends on our response.

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One more chapel picture. I especially enjoy it when the students lead singing with songs they have written

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This is not a picture of chapel. I took it on Wednesday. I like the way it shows students interacting in the pavilion at the center of the campus. I also like that my grand-daughter Serenity just joins in the group like she is a college student.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Reading in Genesis This Week (12.1-25.18)

514zcWswk7L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_I continue my Old Testament reading, along with Walter Brueggemann’s, Genesis, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. This week’s reading of the story of Abraham has been a great comfort to me as I navigate the difficulties of life and ministry while trying to keep my eyes on the promises of God. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there.

The story of Abraham is the story of God breaking back into the world to bless it through one family. It is the story of God's promise and Abraham's faith. The story is bounded by two tests: 1) Will Abraham leave behind his secure world to trust in God's promise to bless him and 2) Will Abraham relinquish the greatest blessing that God gave him - his son Isaac? Abraham passes both tests and becomes the pattern and example for the faith journey of Israel and for the church and a vehicle for God's blessing which is completed in Christ.

The promise is God’s power and will to create a new future sharply discontinuous with the past and the present. The promise is God’s resolve to form a new community wrought only by miracle and reliant only on God’s faithfulness. Faith as response is the capacity to embrace that announced future with such passion that the present can be relinquished for the sake of that future.  106

The call of Abraham moves him from the security of what has known to a pilgrimage in which he must trust God each step of the way. this is necessary because Sarah's barrenness shows that the family, and people in general, in their own power had reached a dead end. Abram's only hope was to trust in God's promise and give up temporal success to find blessing in God's promised future. Abraham exercised faith by living his life based on God's promise, not by what he could see in front of him. This brought blessing which he was to share with others. Abram's "job" was to live a blessed life which brought others into God's blessing.

The juxtaposition of the barrenness of Israel and the speech of God is definitional for Israel. “Barrenness” marks the deep futility of Israel. “Speech of God” asserts the freedom and power of God to work his will among the hopeless. The remainder of the text is simply the announcement that the speech of God overcomes and overpowers the barrenness of human reality. 11.30-12.9, 117

Well-being cannot be conjured by Abraham and Sarah. It can only be given. But the giving depends upon receiving, upon Israel’s conceding that the initiative for life is held by this other one. It requires a break with the ideology of modernity which assumes there is only us. There is no promise without a promise-maker. There is no real Genesis, no new beginning for barren people, apart from the reality of this God. 11.30-12.9, 119

Of course, Abraham was not a perfect example. When he got his eyes off of God and his promises, and was concerned more for his own temporal security, he brought the curse on those around him. In contrast, when he acted in faith all those around him were blessed. The two stories in 12 and 13 illustrate this from opposite sides. In chapter 12.10ff, Abram, concerned for his own skin, endangers Sarai and brings a curse to the Egyptians. In chapter 13-14, as he trusts God to provide he can afford to be generous to Lot, and even rescue him when Lot's bad decisions lead to him being taken captive. Through all of this, whether Abram is faithful or fearful, God continues to act based on His promise.

When Abraham acts faithlessly, as he has obviously done, curse is released in the world. The faith and/or faithlessness of Israel matters not only to Israel. It is decisive for the nations. In this strange way, Israel has the capacity to impact the affairs of nations. Genesis 12, 129

Whereas his inability to trust the promise had made him fearful in the preceding tale, here his trust of the promise makes him gracious and generous. His practice of the promise enables him to be a source of life for Lot (one of the nations, cf. 12:3b) and permits blessing to come upon both of them. Genesis 12-13, 131

The two together (and neither alone) present faith the way it really is. Like Abraham, we are strange mixtures of prudence and trust. But in both, the gospel is at work. In both narratives, the promise-making, blessing-giving God is at work. The trust of Abraham matters in these narratives. But it does not matter finally. What matters finally is the faithfulness of Yahweh to this family. Genesis 12-13, 134

Abraham refuses the invitation of the king to act in an acquisitive way (v. 23). Instead, he makes a faith affirmation. He will not rely on the king nor give the appearance of relying on him (cf. Judg. 7:2). He will rely only on the God whose name he knows and to whom he has sworn an oath (v. 22). The well-being and prosperity which Abraham already has and which he is yet to receive is not to be credited either to military or political machinations, but only to the free gift of God. Genesis 14.17-24, 138

Chapter 15 is the center and turning point of the Abraham story. Even though Abram has obeyed the voice of God nothing has really changed. He still has no heir and is still in danger. At this point God appears to him and promises an heir. The present situation has not visibly changed but God has made a promise for the future. Abram embraces that promise and agrees to live by it. That is the essence of faith throughout the scriptures.

The future of God’s goodness is open to those who trust themselves to that future, seeking neither to hold on to the present nor to conjure an alternative future of their own. But, Paul has also understood that finally it is not faith which makes the difference. Faith responds to an already given grace. This faith is not simply an embrace of the goodness which meets us in the world, but a reception of the goodness of God promised in spite of the way the world is. The faith of Abraham is not in anything he sees in the world, but in a word which will overcome the barrenness of the world. Faith is reliance on God’s promise of overcoming the present for a new life (cf. John 16:33).  Genesis 15, 146

Chapters 16-18 show that, although Abraham and Sarah have embraced the promise in theory and in a large sense, they do not fully believe it in terms of their daily lives. They still think that they can create an heir by normal means when God promises to do it through a miracle. When God tells them what he plans to do they both laugh and mock God. God's then asks them to make a commitment as to whether they believe God can do the impossible. This is the call in our daily lives. We need to live based on God's promise, not what is happening around us. Faith is living with the hope God promises in a seemingly hopeless world.

The Ishmael presence suggests two things. Seen vertically, with reference to God, it asserts that God has not exclusively committed himself to Abraham-Sarah. God’s concern is not confined to the elect line. There is passion and concern for the troubled ones who stand outside that line. Seen horizontally, from the agenda of Abraham-Sarah, Ishmael is a temptation not to trust the promise. The very child who discloses the passion of God for the outsider is no small threat to the insider. Genesis 16, 153.

Biblical faith is never cerebral. It is always lived and acted. Genesis 17, 155

Faith is not a reasonable act which fits into the normal scheme of life and perception. The promise of the gospel is not a conventional piece of wisdom that is easily accommodated to everything else. Embrace of this radical gospel requires shattering and discontinuity. Abraham and Sarah have by this time become accustomed to their barrenness. They are resigned to their closed future. They have accepted that hopelessness as “normal.” The gospel promise does not meet them in receptive hopefulness but in resistant hopelessness. This story embodies a statement of irony, for the total Abraham/Sarah story is about a call embraced. But in this central narrative, the call is not embraced. Genesis 18.1-15, 158–159

The exposition we have urged leaves itself open to misunderstanding, as though faith makes every desirable thing possible. But not everything is promised. What is “possible” is characterized only as everything promised by God. That is, only what corresponds to God’s good purposes is possible. He has promised a future in a new community, but not everything we would seek.  Genesis 18.1-15, 161

Bruegemman insists that chapters 18 and 19 must be taken together or the whole point is missed. He sees Chapter 19 as showing the simple principle of retributive justice that is a part of holiness, but not the whole thing (as with Job's friends). God is not determined to destroy sinners but tries to find a way to allow grace to operate through his chosen people. The key point in the passage is in 19.29 in which the salvation of Lot in the destruction of Sodom is seen as an answer to the prayer of Abraham. Abraham's negotiations with God are the key point: the faithful chosen person can act to save those who deserve judgment. Taken together the two stories show that God acts, through his chosen people, to provide grace to a world that does not deserve it. 

The righteousness and justice of Abraham are not simply moral obedience. They are also a passion for the well-being of the very ones who have violated God. Genesis 18.26-33, 169

God is not an indifferent or tyrannical distributor of rewards and punishments. Rather, God actively seeks a way out of death for us all...We are thrust into our vocation of caring obedience. It is the resource that can turn wrath and keep death at a distance. With Abraham, we must study the scene of destruction and know something urgent about God’s call to us. Genesis 18-19, 175–176

Job prayed only for himself in his presumed righteousness. Abraham prays for the others who are recognized by all as unrighteous. Abraham disputes with God about the meaning of his Godness. It is clear to both Abraham and to Yahweh (in that order) that God is not a tyrant but really God. And from that flows good news. Genesis 18-19, 176

Chapter 20 is an amazing story that works a little differently than the previous one. In this story God uses Abraham to save the world (Abimelech and the Philistines) despite his lack of faith. The saving factor is God's grace and promise, not Abraham's faith. Again, it breaks down the popular idea that God works on the basis of retributive justice. I think the whole passage is constructed as though God is using these situations as teaching modules for his chosen representative, Abraham.

As it stands, the text makes the claim that Abraham is the chosen of God, not by words (which are lacking), nor even by faith (which is feeble here), but only by God’s incredible grace...God’s grace overrules. It overrules with Abimelech in keeping him from a deathly sin (v. 6). It overrules even more completely with Abraham. Morally devious though he is, it is his prayer which is heard (vv. 7, 17)...It is even the case that Abraham is the father only by the promise. This man who nearly brought death to Abimelech by his scheming (v. 3) is still the means by which God gives life and blessing (vv. 17–18). Unworthy as he is, he is God’s chosen way of life to the nations. Genesis 20, 179

Genesis 21 and 22 provide the climax and main point to the story of Abraham. God is seen as the miraculous provider in the birth of Isaac despite the human lack of means. Then God turns around and tests Abraham by asking him to give up his son, the very reason he has been doing everything else and the essence of god's promise. The issues are will Abraham trust and will God provide. In both cases the "test" is passed. The shows the main point of the way Israel, and Christians, was/are to live: absolute, "all-in" trust in God's promises. It is a rejection of "doing it on my own." This is only "reasonable" because Yhwh is a God who can turn crucifixion into resurrection.

While Abraham is celebrated as a designated man of God, in the arena of human commerce he must fully pay his due as must all the others. No one interprets his designation by God as a proper means of securing economic advantage. Genesis 21.22-34, 179–180

It is clear that living in the world of skillful determining, planning and competence is problematic. Such a way easily crushes the spirit and consigns one to the world of compulsion, control, and alienation. Such a way tries to live “by bread alone” (cf. Deut. 8:3). Against that, Paul understood that to live in the arena of “wonder” is the way to freedom and joy. Genesis 21.1-21, 184

The word of God is scandalous. It never comes to fruition as we expect it. Some conclude it fails and they are driven back to their own seemingly adequate resources. Others conclude it fails but have no resources and so are driven to despair. Even father Abraham cannot release the child of the slave-woman (cf. 17:18). Even this father of faith flinches from the radicalness. Genesis 20.1-12, 181

The call to Abraham is a call to live in the presence of this God who moves both toward us and apart from us (cf. Jer. 23:23). Faithful people will be tempted to want only half of it. Most complacent religion will want a God who provides, not a God who tests. Some in bitterness will want a God who tests but refuse the generous providing. Some in cynical modernity will regard both affirmations as silly, presuming we must answer to none and rely upon none, for we are both free and competent. But father Abraham confessed himself not free of the testing and not competent for his own provision. Genesis 22, 192–193

The resurrection is the miracle by which God provides new life in a situation where only death is anticipated. The dialectic of testing/providing in our narrative becomes the dialectic of crucifixion/resurrection in the faith of the church...It is the same God who tempts and provides. The connection is that God is faithful. In the end, our narrative is perhaps not about Abraham being found faithful. It is about God being found faithful. Genesis 22, 194

Chapters 23-25 tie up the loose ends of the story and bring it to its conclusion. The older generation dies, as the text says "full and blessed," and they prepare the next generation to continue God's mission. Because, the promise is "seed" an heir to carry on is critical and the steady faith in the promise of God by Abraham, the servant, Isaac and Rebekah are examples of how we are to live out our mission. Abraham was blessed because he lived his day-to-day life based on the promise of God and used his blessings to bless others.

In a culture which grasps for visible signs of faith, which is driven toward scientism, and which falls for too many religious quackeries, this story stands as a foil against easy and mistaken faith. The workings of God are not spectacular, not magical, not oddities. Disclosure of God comes by steady discernment and by readiness to trust the resilience that is present in the course of daily affairs. Genesis 24, 201

The faith offered here is for those who are willing to be led. The mandate of Abraham (v. 7) looks back to 12:1 and sets such faith precisely where it must be lived, between the old place abandoned and the new place not yet received. Genesis 24, 202

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bible Translation Chapel at PIU

 

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2015-09-15 11.29.05Tuesday was Bible translation chapel day at PIU. 2015-04-07 10.40.59After some worship in music and prayer, PIU faculty member and Isles of the Sea missionary Peter Knapp talked with the PIU family about the importance of Bible translation and the tremendous need worldwide, and especially in our region, for Bible translators. This is why PIU has an emphasis in Bible translation as one option in our Biblical Studies program. In addition, students with the needed language skills can perform their required three hours of community service working with the Wycliffe missionaries on some of the translation work being done on campus. My dream is that biblically and theologically trained PIU graduates from the various islands would be the main translators for new island translations and for the needed updates and revisions of the local translations we already have. Peter showed us the recently completed Kapingli translation which is the 2nd smallest language group to have a whole Bible translation.

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Here is a picture of Peter and I with Nico Daams, taken in April, when he brought by the newly published Kapingli translation of the whole Bible.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday Reading Salvation and Sovereignty

indexFor Sunday reading this week we are continuing to read in Salvation and Sovereignty, by Ken Keathley, a faculty member at Southeastern Seminary. In the book, Ken introduces, explains and defends the Molinist view of the interaction between God’s sovereignty and human choice in salvation. I am reading the first two chapters today. Chapters 1 deals with the idea of “middle knowledge” and chapter 2 discusses the nature of the will of God to savee. I do think there is a need for a mediating view in this controversy. Again, I appreciate Ken’s spirit in the book as he seeks a better understanding of God’s word and brotherly connection with those who disagree and I wish all theological discussions were so irenic. I am still not so convinced of meticulous sovereignty from the reading today but I am giving it some thought. I still prefer to “live with the tension.” You can join the discussion on my Facebook page.

MOLINISTS ARGUE THAT God perfectly accomplishes His will in the lives of genuinely free creatures through the use of His omniscience. The model they propose presents God’s infinite knowledge as a series of three logical moments: God’s natural knowledge, middle knowledge, and free knowledge. 16

Natural knowledge means that God knows everything that could possibly happen. Middle knowledge means that God knows which possibilities are feasible for his plan. And finally God chooses the particular world that exists from the feasible possibilities. I appreciate the attempt to remove God from ordaining sin and the clear statement of human freedom to choose but I still struggle a bit with God’s meticulous sovereignty and that it still necessitates sin. Ken is right that there needs to be some mystery left here as to how God can fully enter into relationship with human beings and yet still be entirely sovereign and free.

Employing this three-moment model, Molinism fully affirms both God’s foreordination and His foreknowledge, and fully affirms both divine sovereignty and human freedom. Molinists understand everything to occur either by God’s will or by His permission. God directly wills and accomplishes all that is good by His grace but permissively allows the evil that occurs. 40

Chapter 2 deals with the question of God’s will: Does God desire the salvation of all, and, does God have one or two wills? If God has only one will then one must see God, on one hand, does not desire the salvation of the condemned or that, eventually, all will be saved. The two main proposals in the 2-will view would be that God has a “revealed and hidden will” or that God has an “antecedent and consequent will.” I think it is very difficult to reconcile scripture with the “one-will” view. Reformed theologians who take the two-will view tend to see a “hidden and revealed” will of God. The problem with this view is the one I have when I read Calvin: his theology does not match the exegesis in his commentaries (especially Genesis). As Keathley says “one might be forgiven for wondering if Calvin the theologian ever met Calvin the exegete.” 53  This view also makes Calvinists vulnerable to the objection that the God who tells us to love our enemies does not love his enemies.

If God loves only the elect, desires salvation only for His chosen, and has provided atonement only for the objects of His love, then a third corollary is inevitable: there is no genuine universal offer of the gospel.  50

The Molinist view of the two wills…

God antecedently wills all to be saved. But for those who refuse to repent and believe, He consequently wills that they should be condemned. In this way God is understood to be like a just judge who desires all to live but who reluctantly orders the execution of a murderer. The antecedent and consequent desires are different, but they are not in conflict. 58

I think this is a better option, but I am a little concerned that we see all of this as the expression of the will of the one God who is committed to relationship with his people who has made in his image, which means with real creative choices. We all have holes in our theology and discrepancies between our theology and our exegesis, so I am enjoying the thinking process the book is taking me through.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Work We Do At PIU

2015-08-31 09.59.37You may know that one of the core values of PIU is accessibility. Part of this is making a PIU education financially accessible. One way we did this in the past was by hiring students in our “We-work” program to help them pay for school. Well, this year we just lowered the tuition by about $100 a credit. However, the work still needs to be done. So 2015-08-31 09.59.00this year we instituted the “clean and green” program in which students and staff take care of campus cleaning, beautification and some maintenance. So each Monday morning for a couple hours all the dorm students participate in “clean and green.” Joyce is our clean and green coordinator and the pictures here are of her organizing the opening day.

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And the work begins….

Reading Through Revelation

indexThis post is the conclusion to my read through of the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott for 2014-15. (Sorry for the posting delay, I have been busy) This post quotes from the book The Message of Revelation: I Saw Heaven Opened, by Michael Wilcock. My comments on the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John are in black below. I welcome discussion on this post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

The interpretation of Revelation has always been a source of controversy in the church. It is an apocalyptic book and thus its extensive use of symbolism, code-words, and cryptic language must be taken into account. Almost unanimous early tradition would see the Apostle John who also wrote the Gospel of John and 1, 2, 3 John as the author of the letter. John was a Palestinian Jew well versed in the Old Testament who knew the churches of Asia Minor to whom the latter was addressed. I would tend to lean toward the late date for writing of 95-96 AD.

The book was written during a time of great persecution, so John wrote to encourage the readers to endure. We will win in the end. Thus, John wrote to reveal the events of the end and complete the themes of Old Testament prophecy with the present purpose to promote godly living and commitment to Christ despite persecution and spiritual battle. The theme of the letter is THE VICTORY OF JESUS CHRIST AND HIS KINGDOM: Jesus will defeat Satan and all the world's evil systems and bring in His promised kingdom. Therefore, unbelievers should take warning that God's judgment is coming and seek redemption. Believers should take encouragement in coming victory and justice and prepare for God's kingdom by godly living now. We see the end and Jesus and His people win!)

Revelation is no mere appendix to the collection of letters which makes up the bulk of the New Testament. It is in fact the last and grandest of those letters. As comprehensive as Romans, as lofty as Ephesians, as practical as James or Philemon, this ‘Letter to the Asians’ is as relevant to the modern world as any of them. 1.1-8, 28

If Christ is going to win the battle (and he is) people need to make sure they are on the right side in the battle, doing what will count for eternity, and doing what will please the one who will judge our deeds. The letters to the churches try to focus the church on the revelation of who Jesus is and their corresponding response.

Perhaps we are meant to see in (the lampstands) the church as she appears in the world, congregations located here and there, which can be isolated and indeed destroyed (2:5). But on the heavenly level, the church is united and indestructible, for she is centred on Christ. The lampstands are scattered across the earth; but the stars are held together in the hand of Christ. 1.9-20, 41–42

It is noteworthy that only in the first and last of the seven Letters is a church threatened with actual destruction, and in each case the reason is the unnerving, purely negative one, that it lacks fervent devotion... Let the loveless church beware. 2.1-7, 44

If one great lesson is that suffering is certain, the other is that it is limited...The message therefore is that Smyrna must be not fearful, but faithful—to look not at the suffering, but beyond it to the all-controlling God. 2.8-11, 46

Against beleaguered Christians like those at Pergamum, Satan uses the pressures of the world to ‘squeeze’ them ‘into its own mould’ (Rom. 12:2, JBP); but where the church is noted for its growth and vigour (verse 19), he knows that he can do most damage not by pressure without but by poison within. 2.18-29, 50

The final result of his loving care for them will be that this church of ‘little power’ will be established as an immovable pillar in the temple of the heavenly Jerusalem (verse 12). She will be thrice sealed, as belonging to God, belonging to God’s city, and belonging to God’s Son. His tender promise to those who are painfully aware of weakness and insecurity is that they shall finally belong...Christ who nullifies the opposition also magnifies the opportunity. 3.7-13, 55–56

God is transcendent. The perspective is of Revelation is God's throne room and we must live life now from the perspective with the eyes of faith. Apocalyptic literature is usually very pessimistic about man's efforts to overcome evil. God must intervene. The good news is that He does and He will.

John must have seen their inner meanings: the majesty, mercy, glory, purity, and power of God. The picture is in fact a merging of many Old Testament images of divine truth, and presents God the Creator as worthy of universal praise (4:11). All that exists is under his sovereign sway; that is why the divine throne is the central and primary feature in the vision (4:2). 4-5, 68

The setting in chapters 4 and 5, therefore, is intended to impress on John’s mind, and through him on ours also, where the true power lies. Not only in the church’s internal affairs (Scene 1) but in the world as a whole, Christ stands at the centre. It is he who is finally in control. God is still on the throne. 4-6, 77

It is mostly agreed that the seal, trumpet and bowl judgments take us to the 2nd coming of Christ. The beginning point and the “how” of this are disputed. I lean toward seeing these judgments as being in parallel, going over the same material from different perspectives. Here the major themes of prophecy are explained and consummated: The kingdom of God, The Day of the LORD, the plan of redemption, the covenants, the inheritance of Christ and believers.

The New Testament explanation of it is given by Paul in Ephesians 1:13 f. We were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit when we first put our faith in Christ. From that moment forward, our ultimate safety was guaranteed. So when the searing winds begin to blow, the servant of God is found to have been sealed already against their power. The horsemen ride out on their career of destruction; but the church has been made indestructible. 7, 79.

The Seals showed the suffering church pleading for justice to be done. But the Trumpets show the wicked world being offered mercy. The offer is not accepted, and the world will not in fact repent (9:20 f.); but let it never be said that God has not done all in his power, even to the devastation of his own once perfect earth, in order to bring men to their senses. 8, 95.

They hear of pollution, of inflation, of dwindling resources, of blind politicians, and will not admit that the first four Trumpets of God are sounding. In the end they themselves are affected by these troubles, and for one reason or another life becomes a torment: the locusts are out, Trumpet 5 is sounding, but they will not repent. Not even when the angels of the Euphrates rise to the summons of Trumpet 6, and the cavalry rides out to slay—by any kind of destruction, not necessarily war—a friend or a relative, a husband or a wife: not even in bereavement will they repent. ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.’ If we will not hear the tremendous voice of the pains of bereavement, there can be no hope for us. 9, 99–100.

There is a limit to the patience of God. Six trumpet blasts represent every possible chance for repentance which he can offer to man. Even then it is not his patience, but man’s ability to respond, which is exhausted. The stage is reached at which there is no point in offering further opportunities, for man has hardened himself beyond the possibility of repenting. It is then that the angel swears that Trumpet 7 shall be no longer delayed. 10, 102

With Trumpet 7 the parousia has arrived. Although Scripture mentions some aspects of the victory of Christ in connection with his first coming, there is no doubt that the language here describes the total triumph of his second. 11.1-18, 107

The “seven signs” section shows us that Believers should not be alarmed or fooled by the seeming power and strength of evil because Christ and his followers will ultimately triumph and justice will be done. The age-old battle will be won by Jesus Christ. Though evil will continue almost until the end it will not triumph.

The conflict between the two archangels, the good and the evil, is the conflict between Eve and the serpent, and between her offspring and its offspring, through the whole history of Israel, until the day when the offspring should come (Gal. 3:16; 4:4). Then the child is born; and his triumphant progress from nativity to ascension, unscathed by the dragon (for even his death is his own free choice), spells the dragon’s defeat. It is at the time of Christ’s incarnation that the downfall of Satan, and the coming of the kingdom of God and of the authority of Christ, take place. From that time on, the people of the new Israel have been able to claim victory over the dragon, because of the Lamb’s death and their witness to their own experience of its power. 12, 121

It is God’s will that there should be law and order. It is the devil’s achievement that there should so often be bad law and tyrannical order...But neither will (the saints) worship at its shrine, and be swayed by its talk of ‘patriotism’, and give it ‘the clerical blessing it so much desires’. They reserve the right to criticize, and to discern continually between the state functioning properly under divine authority, and the state acting illegitimately as divine authority. 13.1-10, 124

The true Lamb also offers a sign to lead men to embrace salvation. That is why the false lamb’s Satanic message is so deceiving. But the true sign is himself, Christ’s own miraculous life embodied in his church today, and the true salvation to which it points is also himself, the living Christ. All other signs and systems are the voice of the beast. 13.11-17, 128

The virginity of the 144,000 has caused needless questioning...But we know what he means. Love for parents, which he himself commands, is to be so far surpassed by love for him that it will seem in comparison like hatred. In the same way, he lays down, as an essential part of marriage, total commitment to one’s partner (Mt. 19:3–6); and then says here in verse 4 that to follow the Lamb means a commitment on the spiritual plane so total that in comparison with it no other ties exist. 14.1-5, 132–133

Through the centuries that signal deliverance is recalled by the annual death of the Passover lamb; and in the fullness of time, following the death of a greater Lamb, the real Israel is rescued and the real Egypt destroyed. The song of Moses and the song of the Lamb are one and the same. It would be wrong to say that the exodus was the ‘real’ deliverance while the cross and resurrection were ‘only the spiritual’ one. It would be truer to say that the spiritual deliverance by Christ is the real one, while the exodus was ‘only historical’. 15.2-4, 138

God is grimly vindicated when godless society, which rose so proudly against him and his church, and claimed to provide a viable alternative, is shown to be unequal to the task. 16.10, 147

The battle between good and evil which has been going on throughout history will end with the victory of Jesus Christ. (Genesis 3:1-Revelation 12:9, 20, Genesis 11-Revelation 17-18) As Jesus said in the Beatitudes, the age to come will be an overturning of society. Those that laugh and prosper now will be the on the bottom and those poor that mourn now because they seek God’s righteousness will be on the top.

The ‘world’ in a spiritual sense, meaning human society organized independently of God, and represented in Scene 4 by the beasts and here in Scene 6 by Babylon and her beast, is as impermanent as anything in the physical ‘world’...But John shows us finally how repulsive she is; what has made her drunk is her apparent victory over those who witness to the Christian truth she hates (verse 6), and for that she will be shunned by all who hold truth dear. 17.1-6, 159–160

Just as Christ lived, died, rose again, and now lives for evermore, so the beast was, is not, will rise again from the pit, and will go to perdition. Those whose names are ‘written in the book of life’ are aware of this. They know that however well the powers of evil, like Pharaoh’s magicians, succeed in aping the power of God, in the end he will be the victor. 17.7-18, 162

Whether it is totalitarian repression or decadent capitalism which Christians have to cope with, they need to be reminded that neither the beast nor the woman is permanently in power, despite all the symbolism of the ‘everlasting hills’, and that one day their universal dominion will be in retrospect no more than a nightmare from which one has awakened. Revelation 18, 167

The bottom line in Revelation is that Jesus wins. He will judge evil and his righteous standards will prevail. The plan of God to make the entire earth a “garden” in which humans reflect God in their character and care for creation will finally be realized. Jesus the God-Man is the one who must step back into his creation to make this happen.

The mouthpiece of this Satanic gospel is Babylon the whore. Through her he sets about his twofold project of destroying the servants of God, the inner circle, and corrupting the earth, the outer circle. But from above God reaches down, with salvation both for his church and for his world, and glory and power which more than equal Babylon’s. His voice speaks judgment; Babylon the destroyer is finally herself destroyed; and church and world are safe for ever. 19.1-5, 171

There is not even a verb in the future tense anywhere in these verses. They describe not what Christ is going to do but what he is: conquering King, righteous Judge, Captain of the armies of heaven. It will only be at his parousia that ‘every eye will see him’ like that (1:7); but at no time, not even on the cross, has he ever been anything other than that.  19.11-16, 183

The name of Ezekiel’s Gog is extended to cover all ‘who do not know God and … who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus’ (2 Thes. 1:8). This is how things are in the last analysis. In the end there is only Christ or Satan: Christ who lives for ever, and those with him, and Satan who dies for ever, and those with him; between whom men are choosing daily—while they may. 20.4-10, 193–194.

The judgment is still according to works; the question is, whose works? The book of life belongs to the Lamb (13:8), and all whose names are in it belong to him; his obedience covers their sin, and his power within them produces holiness. They are therefore accounted righteous because of his righteousness, both imputed and imparted to them. Those however who have not accepted the shame of sin and the glory of salvation, and have never had their names written in the book of life, have nothing to plead but their own righteousness; and that is woefully inadequate to exempt them from the ‘second death’, the death of the soul. 20.11-15, 196–197

The seventh day proclaimed the end of the law, the end of the entire Old Testament system based upon it, and the end of the reign of sin which drew its strength from it. But the Sunday, the eighth day, did more. It proclaimed Christ to be ‘Son of God in power … by his resurrection from the dead’ (Rom. 1:4). The first day of a new week was in fact the first day of a new age. 21.1-9, 202

Well would it be for the church in her present unlovely state if she could recapture first a sense of awe appropriate to a vision of such splendour; then a sense of amazement that she, unworthy as she is, should be raised to the place of honour by her beloved Husband in the wedding feast of heaven; and finally a sense of determination that so far as in her lies, she will be worthy. Since she thus hopes in him, she will purify herself as he is pure (1 Jn. 3:3). 21.9, 205

The first chapter of the Bible describes how God made the world; the last one shows how he will remake it. The creation as it was, and as it will be, is an immense organism alive with the life of God, for the stream flows ‘from the throne of God and of the Lamb’, and thence ‘through the middle of the street of the city’. Notice here that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and the Son’s power not only creates but also sustains the whole thing. 22.1-5, 212

The final state is directly related to this present life: it will be a repayment to every man for what he has done here. And it is Christ’s recompense, since ‘what he has done’ means really ‘what he has done with Christ’ and ‘what he has allowed Christ to do through him’. 22.11-15, 216.

Revelation is a ‘pledge of his love’. We could do without it; it tells us nothing we could not learn elsewhere in Scripture. But Jesus has given it to us as a sacrament of the imagination, to quicken the pulse and set the soul aflame over the gospel which all too often we take for granted. 22.20, 222

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Reading in Genesis This Week (1-11)

514zcWswk7L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Over the next two years, as I read through the Old Testament, I plan to do it with accompanied by commentaries from several different perspectives and traditions. I am starting in Genesis (I will follow the Hebrew Bible’s order) and will begin with Walter Brueggemann’s, Genesis, Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. I am already finding that what he is saying as he exposits Genesis is challenging me to a deeper faith and more radical allegiance to God and His promises and I hope it will do the same for you. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there.

Brueggemann's approach in this commentary is homiletical; he is concerned with how to preach and teach the text. While he will deal with critical and hermeneutical issues, he does it to bring out the message of the canonical text we have. He sees the text as Israel's theological statement. I would agree with him that the text of the early chapters of Genesis is neither bare history nor myth (though I would see a lot more history in the text than he does). It is more a theological statement about who God is and how he relates to His creation stated in terms that the people of the ancient world would understand. The focus of the first section (1.1-2.4) of Genesis is God's love and care for his wonderful creation. God creates a world, and especially people in that world, who reflect his image as creator by themselves creating. God is in charge of this world that is brimming with life.

God does not create in the sense of a manufacturer. He does not “make” so that an object is simply “there.” Rather, he creates by speaking in ways that finally will be heard. His word has the authority of suffering compassion. The creation, then, is not an object built by a carpenter. It is a vulnerable partner whose life is impacted by the voice of one who cares in tender but firm ways. Genesis 1, 18

Israel is concerned with God’s lordly intent, not his technique. Conversely, the text does not present us with what has always been and will always be: an unchanging structure of world. Rather, the text proclaims a newness which places the world in a situation which did not previously exist. Genesis 1.1-2.4, 26

The creator is “humanized” as the one who cares in costly ways for the world. The creature is seen as the one who is entrusted with power and authority to rule. The text is revolutionary. It presents an inverted view of God, not as the one who reigns by fiat and remoteness, but as the one who governs by gracious self-giving. Genesis 1:26–29, 33

The idea of the “image of God” in Gen. 1:26–29 and in Jesus of Nazareth is not an idea which lives in a cosmological vacuum. It is an explicit call to form a new kind of human community in which the members, after the manner of the gracious God, are attentive in calling each other to full being in fellowship. Genesis 1:26–29, 34–35

The second section deals mainly with how to live in a world of death and anxiety that does not measure up to God's intent of an orderly, beautiful, productive world. Human beings tend to "grasp" for knowledge and power that will allow them to dominate others instead of serve them. This way always leads to death, though it appears seductively attractive. The way to life is not through self-grasping but through trust in God and staying within the boundaries he has established for his creation. Life is found within relationship with God and with each other.

Like the people in this narrative, our concern is not finally the danger of sex, the origin of evil, the appearance of death, or the power of the fall. It is, rather, the summons of this calling God for us to be his creatures, to live in his world on his terms...Our text leaves us with the hope that the creator is at work renewing every day. The text requires us to ask about the reality of God and his resolve for life in a world on its way to death. Genesis 2.4-3.24, 44

The serpent is the first in the Bible to seem knowing and critical about God and to practice theology in the place of obedience. Genesis 2.4-3.24, 48

Our mistake is to pursue autonomous freedom. Freedom which does not discern the boundaries of human life leaves us anxious. The attempts to resolve anxiety in our culture are largely psychological, economic, cosmetic. They are bound to fail because they do not approach the causes. Our public life is largely premised on an exploitation of our common anxiety. Genesis 2.4-3.24, 54

This evil grasping for one's self works itself out into chaos and death. And yet even in the midst of that God continues to offer grace even to the murderer, Cain, and finds a way to continue offering grace and gospel to the world through men like Enoch and Noah. God provides common grace as people, even the selfish ones, create societies that provide wealth and even music.

Biblical faith is clear: Violation of the brother is a deathly act. Yet, God’s will for life is at work with the one under death sentence. By verse 11, Cain is a dead man. The protective mark of verse 15 is less than resurrection for this dead man. But it is an anticipation of resurrection. It announces that God has not lost interest in the murderer nor given up on him. Genesis 4.1-16, 63

This chapter provides links between the hopes of creation and the reality of human sin. Noah holds promise of a new beginning in which the hopes of creation are not qualified by the realities of human choice. The words of Lamech are good news, daring to hope for a break in the sequence. That break comes, by the power of God, in human form. Genesis 5, 70

The narrative must not be pressed too far because we do not understand it. But it seems to assert that in heaven and on earth, in good order and in disorder, God still is the only giver of life. He gives life to all his creatures. Only by his gift do they live. No attempted usurpation changes that. Genesis 6.1-4, 72–73

However, there comes a point where God is so grieved because the creation has veered away so far from His purpose that He must take radical action to destroy it and start over. But even here God is gracious to provide hope for the future. The narrative turns as God "remembers" Noah and provides for the human race and creation to continue. Humanity has not changed in their rebellious attitudes but God has a plan to redeem.

With amazing boldness the narrative invites the listening community to penetrate into the heart of God (vv. 6–7). What we find there is not an angry tyrant, but a troubled parent who grieves over the alienation. Genesis 6.5-17, 77

Humankind is hopeless. Creation has not changed. It is deeply set against God’s purposes. The imagination of the heart first recognized as evil in 6:5 is still imagination of the heart which is evil in 8:21. All the terror of the waters has not changed that. Hope for the future is not premised on possibility thinking or human actualization. Hope will depend on a move from God. Genesis 8, 80–81

The covenant with Noah shows that, though the flood make it appear that God does not care for human life, God places high value on it and continues his desire to serve his creation through the human beings he has made. Chapters 9-11 provide the end of the introduction to the story of Israel and place it among the nations. Brueggemann points out that Israel was not one of the ancient nations and is a special, later, creation of God through which he will accomplish his creation purpose among the nations. Israel is chosen, basically without qualifications, to show what God could do with people who trust and obey him.

God unqualifiedly aligns himself with every human person as of ultimate value to him (cf. Matt. 6:32). The heavenly father is faithful. The ultimate valuing of every human person is echoed in the statement of Jesus, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7)...God makes an irreversible commitment that the post-flood, post-chaos situation is decisively different. In extraordinary resolve, God now says, “never again” (v. 11). What has changed is not anything about humankind or creation or waters or floods. What has changed is God. God has made a decision about the grief and trouble of his own heart. Genesis 9, 83

Chaos is not the last word. The last word is retained by the One who stands outside of and presides over the flood. Genesis 6-9, 88

The “map” offers an unparalleled ecumenical vision of human reality. In a sweeping scope, the text insists that there is a network of interrelatedness among all peoples. They belong to each other. As ecumenists are fond of saying, we have to do not with a unity to be achieved, but with a unity already given among us...The ecumenical and political reality of this text affirms that all nations derive their historical existence from the lifegiving power of God and are called to be responsive to him. Genesis 10, 93

With Israel as its goal, this genealogy affirms that creation cannot be understood in the Old Testament as an act that stands unto itself. It is always an expectation, awaiting the appearance of the full, faithful creation of God (1 John 3:2). The call to and existence of Israel keeps creation from having notions of autonomy and from being understood either mythologically, naturalistically, or scientifically. Genesis 11.10-29, 95

The section ends with the nations scattered and in rebellion, but there is hope as God begins his work with the people who will become the nation of Israel. God is about to reach out to the world to fill it with his creation purpose to fill, rule and bless the world through an old man and a barren woman.

Our Genesis text ends with a scattering. There is not listening. But there is a populating of the earth, as God willed from the beginning (1:28). And then there is a waiting—a waiting for a new word, a new call which will evoke a new community. The whole creation waits to see if Abraham will listen and trust, if Sarah (cf. 11:30) will laugh, if Isaac will be born. Genesis 11, 104