Asian Christian Parents Criticize God the Father For Not Pushing Jesus Into a Respectable Career

LOS ANGELES, CA – Several parents of Asian descent at local churches were surveyed and interviewed in the Los Angeles area concerning the parenting of one of the highest profile parents that they know, God the Father.  Surveys showed that 64% of them strongly disapproved, moderately disapproved, or slightly disapproved of the Father’s parenting skills and of how Jesus his Son turned out.  An additional 13% did not necessarily disapprove but chose the option of “Kind condescension.”

“Look, Jesus was a nice guy, but his Father obviously never pushed him in school and to get good grades,” said Dae Jung Cho, ruling elder of Korean Presbyterian Church of Koreanness.  “Now look at his Son, Jesus.  He did not become a lawyer or a doctor.  He didn’t even become an engineer or an accountant.  He became a carpenter, a carpenter, like his step-dad… and that’s not even mentioning how shady that is.”

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Faith, Works, and an Elusive Quotation in James 2:14-26

One of the major reasons why there was the Protestant split with the Catholic church was over the nature of justification.  Luther and others argued for justification by faith alone, while the Catholic Church reiterated its commitment to justification by faith and works.  I affirm justification by faith alone, though I know that Catholics understand justification a little differently (they do not make a sharp distinction between justification and sanctification), so it is an oversimplification to accuse the Catholic Church of teaching a gross works-righteousness.

Protestants are armed with many texts, such as Eph. 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (NASB).  However, while the Reformers harped on passages like this, the Catholic Church had James 2:14-26, which includes the famous phrase, “Faith without works is dead” (2:26b).  Due to this and other issues, Luther had doubts about the book of James and is famous for calling it “an epistle of straw.”  While he seems to have retracted that statement and eventually accepted a harmonization between it and the Pauline epistles, he clearly favored the latter.

Protestants have since readily explained that while salvation is by faith alone, a true faith will always produce good works if given the time.  This is often stated, “Salvation is by faith alone, but faith is never alone.”  This is why Paul states after Eph. 2:8-9 in v. 10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”  However, while this seems straightforward, it turns out that this is not so easy to see in James 2:14-26 on face value.  James says in 2:24: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone,” which a Catholic might say is about as clear a repudiation of justification by faith alone as you can ask for.  Thus, Protestants should give a careful account of this passage, just as Catholics need to deal carefully with passages like Ephesians 2.  I hope to do so below, though I will neglect giving background information for space considerations.

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Navigating Romans 9 Exegetically and Theologically: Part 2

In part one, I laid out my methodology and analyzed the argument that 9:30-33 is discontinuous with the first 29 verses of chapter 9.  I looked at the usages of the phrase “What shall we say then” and concluded that it does not in fact signal a major shift in perspective but rather a smooth transition that readily connects with what comes before.  I think this preliminary analysis tips the scales towards a non-Calvinistic interpretation of Romans 9 because 9:30-33 clearly emphasizes faith, so Calvinists like Thomas Schreiner are not justified in trying to make a big point that Paul neglects to mention faith before this.

We now get to the meat of chapter 9.  Again, to prevent this from being even longer than it is, I will not address every single issue in absolute detail, but I do hope to give a textually-driven interpretation of this chapter that shows that a non-Calvinistic view is not only plausible and responsible, such that Christians who hold to some similar interpretation are not obviously flouting good interpretive principles, but may also be superior to the Reformed case.  This is also a good time to reiterate that I respect my Calvinist brothers and have read several of their commentaries and listened to a few of their sermons on this (I’ll repeat that Schreiner’s work is especially very good).  This is just disagreement within the body of Christ.

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Navigating Romans 9 Exegetically and Theologically: Part 1

I and a partner are currently teaching through a series on Romans for our church’s Sunday School, and we have recently gone through Romans 9-11.  All of these chapters can be challenging, but Romans 9 in particular is notorious for being one of the most difficult and debated chapters in the Bible.  It is also one of the most, if not the most, important prooftexts for the Calvinist position, and that makes it a hotbed for a lot of disagreement (some Arminians, in turn, claim that Romans 9 proves their position).  I hope to address the chapter here succinctly, carefully, yet civilly, though it will not be possible to address every single issue fully without making these posts absurdly long.

Tackling a chapter like this in an efficient manner is challenging, but I’ll try to lay out my methodology:

-It is widely accepted that 9-11 is one unit, but for space considerations my focus will be on chapter 9.  The other two chapters will be mentioned in passing when helpful.  This will no doubt be a deficiency in these posts, but it is practical.

-Paul uses several Old Testament references that cause a lot of interpretive issues.  My working assumption will be that the original contexts of those references will be helpful to look at because while NT writers may do some new things with OT texts, I don’t think we can say that they changed what they meant to their original audience without seriously jeopardizing the trustworthiness of God’s Word.

-I will focus on what Paul wants to answer and largely assume that he avoids wild tangents.  To see his argument, I think it will be particularly helpful to first focus on both his introduction and his conclusion, similar to how one might get the gist of an academic paper by reading its introduction, scanning its body, and then reading its conclusion.  This helps one see where the author starts and where he plans to end up.  Granted, not all academic papers are written well and coherently, but in this case, I think it is fair to expect the inspired writer Paul to make sense.

-This post will focus on issues regarding the introduction and conclusion, and the next will address the body.

With these things in mind, I’ll begin.

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Girl Apparently Breaks Up With Jesus to Date Guy She Actually Likes

AUSTIN, TX:  A local Christian college student has seemingly ended her longstanding relationship with Jesus to start dating a guy she finds attractive.

Miranda Cho, a junior at the University of Texas, has been part of a Christian fellowship for her entire time at school.  During this time, she has received numerous requests from male peers to go out to coffee, to have lunch, and to generally be their girlfriend.  In all cases, she has turned them down because she claimed that Jesus was her true love.

“Miranda would always say, ‘Sorry, but I’m dating Jesus, and there’s no room for another guy,'” says Ashley Lee, her friend.  “That would often confuse Christian guys, but it would also make them like her more for being so spiritual.”  Ashley then started to pout.  “Frankly, I don’t understand why so many guys go for her.”  When asked if she felt forgotten due to the attention her friend received, Ashley abruptly turned defensive and walked off.

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On the Trigger-Happy Use of the “Heretic” Label

Though I’ve written several articles criticizing Calvinism, one may notice that there is one thing I have not done: I have never called Calvinism a heresy or any particular Calvinist a heretic.  In fact, I’ve made clear that even if I disagree with Calvinists, I still respect many of them as preachers of the Gospel and consider them brothers in Christ.  The use of the word “heresy” is very serious, and because of that, I tend to have little patience for those who use it quickly and carelessly.

Uncharitable Immaturity

For example, several years ago I was listening to a Mark Driscoll podcast as a passenger in a car (back in his heyday of popularity), and he mentioned the story of Noah.  Unfortunately, the clip is no longer up on Youtube, though you can still find many references to his message online.  You can also still download the original sermon (date: April 5, 2009), though the relevant quote is this:

What do we do with Noah? Hi Noah! Genesis 6. Let me tell you the story of Noah. Here’s the deal. If you grew up in church you probably don’t know the story because it gets butchered! It freaks me out; there is this long of things that freak me out and this is way up on the list. Every children’s Bible I get, I get white-out and I fix this part and I get a sharpy, and my kids all know that dad freaks out on the Noah story. Dad does freak out on the Noah story, because every kids Bible I’ve ever seen preaches a false gospel in the story of Noah. I don’t want my kids to be heretics, so I white it out and fix it. (emphasis added)

And the story in every kids Bible is told like this: Noah was a righteous man, he was a good guy. Everybody else was bad, Noah was good, Noah got a boat, everybody else swam for a little while. Moral of the story is be a good guy, you get a boat named Jesus, don’t be a bad guy, you’re going to have to swim for it. It’s ridiculous! Alright Genesis 6, Noah, verse 5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” We call that total depravity. Who was bad?  Everyone. How bad? Totally. When? All the time. That’s pretty all inclusive. Now this is a heart-breaking statement, “And the Lord was sorry that he made man on the earth and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man from the face of the land. Man and animals and creeping things and birds of heaven for I’m sorry that I made them.’ But, here’s the big idea. Noah found what? Favor; it’s the Hebrew word for grace. Noah found grace or favor in the eyes of the Lord. God looked at the earth, everyone’s only bad all the time, including Noah. And God looked a Noah and said, “I’m going to love that guy.”

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The Distinction Between Government Compulsion and Christian Duty

Recently, the Washington Supreme Court ruled against the Christian florist who refused to sell flowers to a gay wedding.  I skimmed over their decision, and it contained many of the same tired assertions that have yet to receive any sort of extended logical argument: The conflation of desire and behavior, of race and sexual orientation, and of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and now.  These are all dubious presumptions and there are good arguments against them, but I won’t rehash them here.  Instead, I will address a common argument which states that Christians who are fighting for religious liberty in these cases are being hypocritical because they should be nice, “nondiscriminatory,” “loving,” “like Jesus,” or whatever.  This same argument is used when Christians oppose the expansion of government programs or actions such as welfare, the minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, amnesty for illegal immigrants, etc.  Both so-called “progressive” Christians and non-Christians (amusingly enough) often yell that such Christians are disobeying the Bible’s teachings about taking care of the poor.

While common, these arguments are very confused, and unsurprisingly, their proponents betray their extreme lack of knowledge of Scripture when they presume to cite it.  They also betray an inability to make clear distinctions and argue logically and instead rely on emotional rhetoric and catchphrases that ultimately argue nothing.  In reality, there is a distinction between believing that a Christian has a duty through Scripture and that a Christian (or anyone) should be compelled to do that same thing by the government.

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Reviewing Donald Trump’s First Month and How Christians Can Respond

I was busy in January and didn’t pay much attention to Trump’s first couple of weeks, but I’m getting slightly caught up (only slightly), and boy, isn’t this a circus.  It seems like if he were to cough in a certain way, people would freak out and call him an evil man while his defenders would come out and say that this cough is a tough cough that will be good for America.  It is a fascinating, if not disheartening, environment.

So how has Trump done so far?  On the one hand, he’s only been in office for less than a month, and I’m sure he’s doing a lot of learning on the job that everyone goes through when they tackle a new occupation (most of which aren’t nearly as difficult as the presidency).  On the other hand, he’s actually already done quite a few things, and it is absolutely fair to critique his actions and words.  The early returns here are not terribly encouraging, as Trump and his team are acting in the sort of ham-handed, egotistical, and abrasive way that I worried they might if he won.  I’ve said time and again that he’s not a true conservative, but unfortunately, he is the public representative of conservatives, and at this rate he is going to do some long-term damage that will be difficult to rectify.  I’m not a big fan of protests that consists of mindless chanting and shouting down people from talking, so I feel no need to defend the maturity of the recent protests at various town hall meetings; at the same time, it’s not like I feel that sorry for the politicians either, and these protests are an indication that many people, some of who were Trump voters, are already pretty ticked off at Trump and the Republican Party.

Trump supporters may object that he has a lot of haters who never intended to give him a chance: Fake-outrage liberals, the mainstream media, bandwagonning celebrities, etc.  They will say these groups have often exaggerated, mischaracterized, and even lied about Trump’s words and actions.  I will grant that much of this is true; such people clearly have an ax to grind and rarely scrutinized Obama in the same manner, and their commitment to thought-policing is hitting new levels of immaturity and stupidity.  However, even so, that doesn’t mean everything that they have said isn’t true.  It can still be true that Trump is making mistakes that can really submarine the effectiveness of his presidency (and make it likely that there will be a massive backlash against the Republican Party) if he doesn’t get certain things under control.

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“That’s not biblical.” What does that even mean?

One common response you may hear in theological discussions, either among professional theologians or laypeople, is, “That’s not biblical” or something similar.  I’m not going to pretend I’ve never said that before either.  This is often used to dismiss or refute positions quickly, and it also often paints the other side as not caring about what the Bible says.  At face value, it seems like the easiest test to administer: If a belief or action doesn’t square with the Bible, then it should be abandoned.  Any faithful Christian will agree with that, right?

Unfortunately, the phrase and others like it are often used very ambiguously and even in a self-serving and inconsistent manner.  One example of this is how some Christians have objected to the use of written covenants for church membership or leadership as “not biblical.”  When pressed what that means, they’ll often say that there is no explicit mention of written covenants in the New Testament.  It can be somewhat amusing to see their reaction when you ask them things like, “Having background checks for potential children’s ministry workers is required at many churches but isn’t explicitly in the Bible.  Are you okay with that?”  Clearly, there needs to be less ambiguous usage of what it means to be “not biblical,” or at least its varying usages need to be clarified in each context so Christians aren’t guilty of inconsistency or equivocation.

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“Alternative Facts,” “Fake News,” and the Rhetoric of the Emotional and Close-minded

I expected Donald Trump’s presidency to be… eventful, and in his short time in office, this has proven true.  I was pretty swamped with things the past couple of weeks, but it was impossible not to notice the social media meltdowns over Trump’s executive orders and policy decisions concerning the wall, the refugee crisis, and global warming.  My Facebook feed exploded this past week with all sorts of hashtags, drawings, pictures, and articles which shouted particular positions especially on the so called “Muslim ban.”  Trying to find nuanced and sober analysis within that sea of nonsense was close to impossible.

In this jolly environment, accusations of “fake news” and “alternative facts” are getting thrown around to go along with personal attacks that the opposing side is full of idiots and/or immoral monsters.  Basically, if someone cites or links an article that disputes one’s position, a quick way to dismiss that article or point is to mock it as “fake news” or an “alternative fact.”  It is this rhetoric that I want to address right now more than specific issues because such memes threaten to make an already toxic political environment even worse.  Essentially, while we should of course not want news out there that says straight up falsehoods, this kind of rhetoric fails to realize that evidence selection is a very important part of any discussion, and it is the foolish, the immature, and the close-minded who refuse to consider facts that may not fit their preferred narrative.

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