IMG_1397.JPGThe First Council of Nicea from the public domain

“Early Christians recognized the authority contained in these writings already; they did not arbitrarily pick which ones would become authoritative for the Church. The early Christians were very careful and thoughtful about which books would get the label ‘Scripture’ alongside the Old Testament. It is simply a fact of history that by the end of the 2nd century (before Constantine), the four Gospels, Acts, and the letters of Paul are already recognized as authoritative and being used that way in house churches. Now some discussion about a handful of books continued on through the centuries between the Eastern and Western churches. But, while there was no universal declaration concerning the final list, it is safe to say that the canon was effectively closed by the time of the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D.”

- See more at: http://www.thinkchristianly.org/who-chose-the-books-of-the-bible-and-why/#sthash.iQwoKOve.dpuf

Most of our New Testament was accepted as Scripture long before the Council of Nicea.

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric

Quote  —  Posted: August 21, 2014 in Apologetics
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IMG_1391.JPG Me handing out hot chocolate in Chattanooga, TN

“A theology of glory almost always, inevitably, comes down to something YOU can do to help improve your situation. “God’s got a plan” nearly always segues into, “…and you just need to…” Pray more. Believe more strongly. Learn to accept it. Focus on others. Be more satisfied with God. I propose that we do not have as much influence over our life as we often like to think. Sometimes a solution may come from our own striving and the assistance of others, as with cases of addiction. But when the cure is beyond the reach of human effort, were only hurting people to point them there, because now their ongoing pain is also a consequence of their failure. Let’s add some guilt to the equation, shall we?”
– Miguel Ruiz, via http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/miguel-ruiz-god-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-death

When I was involved in Evangelism at the church we attended, the Pastor brought in a famous Evangelist to train people to do personal Evangelism. You memorized a script. It’s a good thing to have a memorized script to fall back on in the beginning, but this one always bothered me. It started out “God has a wonderful plan for your life”.

Now please understand, from Gods point of view, His plan is wonderful because…it’s His plan and He is wonderful.

As I reflect back on those days, I groan a little. I spent a year or more leading teams into the homeless district in Chattanooga, handing out sack lunches, lemonade, and hot chocolate. That’s not what makes me groan. Neither is it the sharing of the glorious Good News of the Gospel.

No, what makes me cringe is that opening line “God has a wonderful plan for your life”. Consider the context. We were ministering to people who had nothing. Most had either lost everything they owned through a series of terrible occurrences, substance abuse, or psychological problems. From their point of view, God’s plan was not so wonderful for them at the moment. I’m actually surprised someone didn’t give that reply, but most folk in the south still retain a crumb of nicety.

I like what this article says about the Theology of Glory, and the Theology of the Cross.

“You see, when pointing a person who is suffering to God’s “plan,” you are appealing to His sovereignty for good news at a time when it seems most responsible for bad news. This is what Lutherans call a “theology of glory.” God is good, God is all powerful, cling to this and know that His benevolence will win out in the end. However, pointing to God’s sovereignty as a source of comfort places His goodness on trial. He allowed this into my life. The world is cursed by Him because of sin.”

It’s a question of theodicy, or why a good God would allow suffering and evil. It was Joh Stuart Mills who proposed the difficult question:

“If God is omnipotent and allows all this suffering, then he is not benevolent, he is not a kindhearted God, he is not loving. And if he’s loving to the whole world and allows all this suffering, then he’s certainly not omnipotent. And given the fact of evil, or the fact of suffering, we can never conclude that God is both omnipotent and benevolent.”

Now that’s a question for another post. What I’m trying to point out is that when we point out God’s sovereignty to people in the midst of their suffering, without emphasizing that He is good, and that He suffers along with us, then our God comes across cruel and aloof from people’s suffering.

Ruiz continues “What then can we say? How do we comfort the broken? I suggest that the encouragement Christians give be something that can only come from Christian faith. I’m talking about the “theology of the cross.”
Martin Luther, in the Heidleburg Disputation, said: “He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” A potentially benevolent Almighty is simply not a Christian encouragement. A Muslim could say that. It is Christ-less, it is cross-less.”

Talk is cheap. Only Christ, as second Person of the Trinity, took on flesh and walked as one of us miserable humans. Only Christianity can say that.

“When the troubles of life threaten to undo us, Christians can cling with hope to the cross of Christ. Here, and here alone, we see who God truly is for us. And this sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, God-forsaken man is Emmanuel: God with us.”

God with us. No promises of a great “plan”, that if you follow, and cross all of your t’s and dot your i’s, that it will will bring you health, wealth, and 2.3 kids in this life. No burden of “if you have enough faith, success and happiness can be yours.” Those are the false hopes of a theology of glory.

Would you have felt good telling Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane “Don’t worry, it’s just three days, you’ll be back and it’ll all be better.” Somehow, I just don’t think that makes the pain of Calvary any less significant. Jesus knew He was rising again. He still felt forsaken. By God. He cried out in anguish. “Hang in there, Jesus!” Uh-huh.”

Just remember, it is in weakness and suffering that Christ comes to us. Yes, He is Sovereign, and at another time that would be an appropriate setting for that conversation. But not when someone is in the midst of suffering.

As Ruiz puts it “I understand that for many, a pat on the back and a reminder that God is bigger than their problems is all the encouragement they need to soldier on. But if these problems don’t then go away soon, the silent sovereignty of God looms over them like a threat. It is not in His power (glory) that God comes to save us: It is His weakness (the cross) – where He identifies with our frailty and mortality – that is our salvation, strength, and comfort. We cannot truly see the goodness of God and His love for us apart from the cross, and our hope must not be set on any pretense of positive payoff in this life. Christ does not promise us the instant resolution answers we so often seek; rather, by His death He has won for all believers forgiveness, life, and salvation; a peace that the world cannot give or understand. May these be ever with us as we plod through this vale of tears.”

Remember that when you’re with people in the midst of suffering and you catch yourself about to say “but God has a wonderful plan for your life”.

Speak of the love of Christ in the midst of suffering. That’s the theology of the Cross.

The quotes and inspiration of this post come from http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/miguel-ruiz-god-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-death

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric

IMG_1383.JPG Photo titled Pile on top of Grandma used through a CC License

Years ago, I remember listening to a Bill Cosby record. One of his bits was about a game called “Buck-Buck”. One person would get down on all fours, and people would pile on, one at a time, until the bottom man buckled. It was quite a competitive ordeal, with each neighborhood having their own team. No one could beat Bill’s team, though…they had a ringer. His name was Fat Albert. Whenever they heard the famous “hey, hey, hey”, the other team surrendered and ran back home.

I’ve noticed a very bad trend on Twitter. Someone makes a rational argument, and then those who oppose it simply ridicule it. They make what they think is a 140 character-or-less ringer statement, and suppose the argument is over. One clever, snide remark and they declare themselves victor. They don’t engage the argument. They don’t thoughtfully ponder or explore the implications or even consider the possibility that the opposing view could be true. They just type a zinger and take a victory lap.

Then those who agree with them retweet the crushing defeat, adding their own ridicule. Pretty soon it’s a Twitter pile-on.

Only it’s a farce. It’s Don Quixote-ish. It’s some combination of a Strawman and Ad Hominem fallacy.

There is no Twitter equivalent to Fat Albert in this type of exchange.

I’ve experienced this scenario frequently on Twitter. In my experience, it is usually (not always), an atheist who is guilty of this maneuver.

In my naivety, I assume everyone is searching for ultimate truth, and that honest engagement and intellectual authenticity is practiced by all. Yet that is not always the case.

For some, adding another notch in their zinger belt is more important than thoughtfully considering an opposing view.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of this, in some ways, myself. We all enter into a conversation with a lot of presuppositions, biases, and baggage. Thoughtful people recognize this, and attempt to curtail as much of it as possible. I won’t be baited this way again, hopefully. Sometimes you just let your statements stand, and walk out of the conversation.

It’s not just atheists who practice this underhanded tactic. I see Christians using the same technique on non-believers and other Christians. Scoring Twitter points is not a worthy goal. We should seek truth together, and really listen to the other side.

Look, I’m a smart alec, and giving someone else the last word is not in my nature…just ask my wife. However, I’m learning that no one wins an argument by shadowboxing. I’m a big boy, and I can take my lumps. Resorting to intellectual hair-pulling and hand-biting is a very unmanly display I’m going to try and avoid.

Please don’t be guilty of the twitter pile-on. It will not make you the Buck-Buck champion of the world. It will only make you an arrogant blowhard.

simul iustus et peccator,

Eric

IMG_1395.JPGPhoto by Gwydion M. Williams Accessed through a CC License. No changes were made to this photo

There was a time in my Christian walk when I had an existential crisis of faith. I was raised in a Christian home, and accepted the belief system of my parents. I thank God for allowing me to be raised in a godly home.

Biblical Christianity is an extremely personal religion. You don’t get grandfathered in just because you were raised by Christian parents and attended church all of your life. Its an advantage, to be sure, assuming the home you were raised in exemplified the Gospel message of faith and repentance. It can be a real disadvantage if you were raised in a works righteousness atmosphere.

My faith was real, but I had little foundation in the actual Gospel. I got caught up in the “name it and claim it” movement, which has a dangerous and intellectually stunted theology.

There came a time when my life experience and my worldview came to a head-on collision. Reality and my beliefs didn’t jive.

I was faced with rejecting Christianity altogether, or finding a better Christian foundation than the one I knew.

Thankfully, I knew enough about Scripture to begin an honest and earnest exploration of “the Faith once for all delivered to the saints”.

There are some basic questions every worldview, (either theistic or atheistic), must answer to be coherent. All of us ask these questions, at some point in our lives, if we are thoughtful, and live an examined existence.

Some of my own questions during this time were:

What is the meaning of life?
Where did everything come from?
Who am I?
Why am I here?
How do I know what is right or wrong?
Why is life so hard, and why is there suffering?
What happens to a person when they die?
Is there a God, and if so, who is he?

I’m sure you have asked many of these questions. Fortunately, I had the intellectual and theological foundations to work through many of these questions.

Oddly enough, it was while I was in a theologically liberal Methodist college that I settled many of these questions, since every course I took pertaining to science, theology, or philosophy completely conflicted with my belief system. The things they were telling me didn’t ring true with Scripture, so I worked through these conflicts, and found a renewed and strengthened faith. Not every one in that situation is so fortunate.

On a side note, many of our kids lose their faith when they reach college level, mainly because they have little understanding of their faith, and lack the skills to answer intellectual and emotional challenges to their beliefs.

It is ironic that I went to this school for the purpose of entering Christian ministry, but it (said college) was busy trying to tear down my belief in Scripture and the historic Christian faith. It had the opposite effect. Not all questioning of your faith is a bad thing. It is resistance that builds strength, both physically, mentally, and spiritually.

It was later in life that the big question of suffering challenged me. Because of the influence of the Word of Faith movement, I had a faulty view of the existence, cause, purpose, and ultimate end of suffering. When suffering touched me personally, I faltered, and the book of Job became very real to me.

Why did the Lord let my father die, when we prayed so hard for his healing? Is it because we just didn’t have enough faith? Am I to blame?

Why am I in such excruciating pain all of the time?

What did I do to deserve this?

Why doesn’t positive confession work like they said it does?

Why can’t I stop sinning? Why does “letting go and letting God” not work for me? Why can’t I just exercise mind over matter and live a perfectly holy life?

I had, for better or worse, developed a real skepticism of the leading voices of my own generation, theologically speaking. I no longer trusted the theology of many of the big names in pop Christianity.

I had sense enough to know that Christianity had a rich and long history in this world, so I began to read. I spent a lot of time devouring the words of dusty old dead guys, especially the magisterial Reformers of the 15th and 16th centuries, and the Puritans. I felt some camaraderie with the reformers, because they faced a similar situation with the Ronan Catholic Church. Indulgences, corrupt leadership, aberrant theology, Biblical illiteracy (even and especially in the clergy), and human tradition that had replaced God-breathed revelation.

The reformers had a view of the world, the Church, and the believer that made sense to me. It was coherent with reality, and Scripture.

It used strange phrases, like simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously righteous and sinful), and emphasized Original Sin, the centrality of the Gospel, Justification by Faith Alone through Grace Alone by Christ Alone according to Scripture Alone, the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, the Economic Trinity, the Sovereignty of God, and the Means of Grace (the Word and Sacraments).

They, and the Puritans who followed, used a lot of ink to explore suffering in the life of the believer, and the reality of the pervasiveness of sin, as well as the distinction (but not separation) between Justification (Monergistic, all one-sided, from God alone), and Sanctification (synergistic-still God-sided and controlled, but allowing cooperation from the Christian).

It was the theological and philosophical grounding I needed. I won’t lie and tell you that I have everything figured out. “Aslan isn’t a tame Lion”. There is is Mystery and exhaustive Incomprehensibility in the nature of God. We can’t know everything about God exhaustively, since we are finite, and He is Infinite. We can however, know what He has chosen to reveal about Himself through Scripture, and we can know it truly.

We can also know the Biblical Historic Christian faith by studying history, and the theological works of giants who were a lot smarter, and wiser than ourselves. To see where we need to go, we stand on the shoulders of these giants, like Merry and Pippin stood on the shoulder of the Ent Treebeard.

You have to overcome chronological snobbery, though. It also helps to distrust the theology of your own generation, since it is still in flux, and doesn’t have the benefit of hindsight. Just like fish, we can’t always see the philosophical water we swim in.

Be at peace, little Hobbits.

Simul iustus et peccator,

Eric Adams
Rossville, Georgia

20140805-093752-34672680.jpgStrasbourg Cathedral – Stained glass windows – Jesus calming a storm, used through a CC License.

“It is not entirely unreasonable for those who want to be followers of Jesus to think that because he is in the boat suffering will not arise. But suffering does come, and the wind roars around and the sky turns black, and the storm of all storms appears to envelop all in darkness and terror. Jesus, don’t you care that we are perishing becomes an incredulous for all who would wish for immunity from the troubles of life. But Jesus’s answer reminds us that faith does not insulate us from life’s storms. Indeed, as noted author Craig Barnes has written “Faith…has little to do with our doctrines or even with our belief that Jesus could come up with a miracle if he would only pay attention. Faith has everything to do with seeing that…the Savior [is] on board“
– Ravi Zacharias

via http://www.rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/questions-in-the-boat/

We all have those questions…you know, the ones that basically begin with “why God…?”. The difficult thing is that He doesn’t ever clearly answer the “why” question. When Job asks it The Lord answers with “were you there when I created the universe?”. He simply refers Job to His Eternality and Omnipotence.

When the disciples ask Jesus about the killing of priests by Roman soldiers, Jesus replies with “unless you repent you will all likewise perish”, referring to the fact that the universal problem is not the fact that people die, but that they die in their sins. No clear answer to the why question.

In the boat story, Jesus doesn’t answer the disciples questioning of His not caring. He simply stills the storm, and rebukes the disciples for their lack of Faith.

There will always be questions about theodicy (the theist’s response to the problem of evil). It is an emotional, as well as rational conundrum.

Why doesn’t God answer the question straightforwardly?

If you’ll allow some sanctified musings, (my own personal opinions), I propose a couple of possible reasons.

1. It could be that this side of resurrection, we are too dain bramaged to understand the answer.

2. It could be that The Lord knows no answer that He gives to people in the midst of suffering will ever fully answer emotions or reason.

3. It could be that The Lord doesn’t need to justify His Ways to us, so we had just better trust Him, and seek His face while suffering.

None of these answers will ever satisfy the suffering. Perhaps we’d better stop trying to give intellectual reasons, or isolated Scriptures taken out of context, and just sit with the suffering, and cry with them.

After all, the real troubles for Job began when his friends decided to chime in on the theodicy question. Before that, they sat quietly and mourned and comforted Job for several days.

Maybe we should keep our mouths shut, and our tear ducts open.

I’m just sayin’…

20140716-182134-66094254.jpgphoto titled Playing safe by Brett Jordan through a CC License

“Without God, a perfect, objective, supernatural being to create people with purpose and meaning, then purpose and meaning are self-derived from the minds of men. Men who are purposeless and without meaning. The truth is, God exists and He created everything with a purpose and meaning. God created mankind which has inherit value, derived from Himself as we’re all created in His image. If anyone needs a crutch, it is undoubtedly those who reject God, attempting to prop themselves up all on their own.”
– Terrence Covin, from the post “A Life Without God Is A Life Of Fantasy”

via http://jeticsleague.org/a-life-without-god-is-a-life-of-fantasy/

EPH 2:11-13 ESV

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-
12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Accusing theists of needing a crutch is a little hypocritical.

Life without God is meaningless and absurd. You don’t know where you came from, why you are here, or where you are going- and yet you create these things from yourself out of thin air…and how paltry they are without an Eternal Being to give them substance and meaning. Your only honest philosophy would be nihilism, and yet you don’t have the courage for that.

Truly Solomon was speaking of this worldview when he wrote:

2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.
8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

- ECCLESIASTES 1:2-11 ESV

Simul iustus et peccator,

Eric Adams

20140708-175126-64286055.jpgimage title: Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem by Dennis Jarvis, used through a CC 2.0 Liscense

“I can sit here all day and write poems about the beloved walrus or the hallowed dolphin, but my pro-animal stance will likely never require anything of me. I don’t have to do anything. I’ll never be forced to sacrifice for the spotted owl or the gray wolf. A humpback whale will never show up at my door and ask me to take care of it for the next 18 years. A Siberian tiger probably won’t come to my house one day and demand that I change my entire life to accommodate it. I might go out and adopt a pet, but that is always a deliberate act. Babies, on the other hand, happen when we have sex. But sex is fun, and babies are hard work. Babies intrude on our fun. They ruin it. This, and only this, is the reason why we defend the slaughter of children while weeping over the remains of a murdered leopard.”
– Matt Walsh, from the post “Just pretend this dead lion is a human baby, and then you won’t be so upset”,

- Matt Walsh

via http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/07/03/just-pretend-this-dead-lion-is-a-human-baby-and-then-you-wont-be-so-upset/

It really is a surreal world we now live in. Hedonism and narcissism prevail. We call what is right wrong, and what is wrong we call right. We threaten death to those who simply want to protect the innocent unborn from murder, yet it is pro-lifers who are called the barbarians. We seek to preserve the primary pillar of society- the traditional family, (meaning a husband and wife, who have children, thus allowing mankind to flourish)-and we are called bigots and homophobes. We wish to not be participants in abortifacient birth control, and ironically, we are called “woman-haters”.

Yet we continue to say what God says, and take our lumps when we must. We are the prophetic voice to our culture, and while there is breath, we will cry out “Repent, and receive forgiveness for you sins through Christ’s blood”.

We know how Jeremiah must have felt.