Friday, July 26, 2013

A Theology of Food: Why We Eat: Food Symbolism and Redemptive History (Part 3)

Author's Note: This post is written by Karolina Beveridge, who holds a BA in Liberal Arts from Providence Christian College. She runs her own food health blog.  This is the third section of a five section series. To read the first section, click here. To read the second section click here. The next post will be uploaded Wednesday of next week.

At this time, the theology of food in Scripture will be traced because understanding it will show that its Redemptive history is exhibited when the symbolism and its true meaning is understood.
Beginning at creation Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, and were instructed to eat fruit from any tree except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2:7-9, 15, 16). At the Fall, Eve ate of the forbidden fruit despite God’s command, then gave it to Adam who ate as well (Gen. 3:6) (Vamosh, 3). As punishment for the first sin, Eve was told she would bear children in great pain (Gen. 3:16). In contrast, later in Deuteronomy children are portrayed as a sign of God’s blessing, alongside of food; the reward for faithful obedience (Deut. 28:1, 4-5). Yet at the time the bearing of children was promised difficult. God then cursed the ground from which food would grow so that Adam would work it in anguish (Gen 3:17-19, cf. Romans 5:12- 21). Man’s striving for food would only succeed in complete dependence on God’s grace. Further in Redemptive History at the Noahic Covenant, God gave Noah and his sons permission to eat meat saying, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.” (Gen 9:1-6) This was just after he had anhiliated all the rest of humanity, and was here promising never to do so by way of the flood again.

Another occurrence of food theology happened at the first Passover, when God instructed Moses of the slaughtering and roasting whole of the lamb, and the eating of it in haste (Ex. 12:3, 5, 7, 11). The bread eaten with the lamb could only be the unleavened bread for the entire seven day duration of Passover (Ex. 12:15). If an Israelite ate of leavened bread during this time, they would be cut off from Israel, and they were forbidden to allow any foreigner to eat of it (Ex. 12:19, 43-49)

At Mt. Sinai God gave Moses the Law which included Sabbath, feast, and food laws (Ex. 23). The strict food regulations began here such as not mixing meat with milk (Ex. 23:19) A description of the strict food restrictions is elaborated in Leviticus which is a parallel or continuation to Exodus (Leviticus 11). There were clean and unclean animals because as mentioned earlier, food symbolized the distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles which had been established in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 17:1-14). The sacrificial animals, taking their places for the death their sin deserved, was symbolic of their identity (Winner, 113). They could not eat the unclean food, the “Gentiles”, the same way they could not live the life indulgent in sin as a Gentile. In the New Covenant of course, the distinction between Jew and Gentile was made null (Acts 10:9-33). In Acts 10, Peter received the vision of the great sheet with all the variety of animals on it for his taking and eating. Liberty to eat any plants or animals represents the present reality that the people of God are gathered from among all nations across the earth (Acts 10:34-35, 44-48; Winner, 114).

During the Diaspora, the Jews were spread throughout the Middle East and animal sacrifices became impossible since they were torn away from the Temple. The symbolically rich, unleavened bread became the replacement as a type for the sacrificial lamb. In the context, bread historically had far greater eternal and initial meaning sociologically and culturally than it does to Western civilization today (Schmemann, 205; Jung). A plentiful provision of bread relied upon a successful harvest of wheat. It also required time to grind the wheat, and allow for the imagination, practice, to learn by trial and error, form the recipe, knead the dough, let it rise, and at last let it bake. As mentioned above with Song of Solomon, in the Old Testament the wealth of societies was determined by the abundance of food, in the form of harvest, farm lands, water,
rich soil, animals that were well fed, and so.

As will be shown below, in the New Testament, Redemptive history is seen in the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Eschatologically, we still await the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, at the culmination of God’s ultimate plan.

To read the next installment click here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Emergent Church (Part 2)

Author's Note: This is the second portion of a four section series. To read the first installment, click here.         

         “Few things are so universally criticized in the emerging church as propositions” (Deyoung, Kluck 71). This is evidently true for many Emergent writers. “Christians,” writes McLaren, “do not build cathedrals of stone and glass as in the Middle Ages, but rather conceptual cathedrals of proposition and argument” (151). Just as cathedrals today are looked at as historical artifacts, so too, in McLaren’s mind, the systematic theologies of the present day will become obsolete in time (152). Rob Bell, in his book Velvet Elvis, compares doctrines to the springs of a trampoline. The springs of the trampoline are not the point of Christianity, but rather the things that propel us higher into an experience of God (Bell 22). He goes on to say that the trinity is one such spring in the trampoline. “It is a spring,” writes Bell, and people jumped for thousands of years without it. It was added later. We can take it out and examine it. Discuss it, probe it, question it” (22). According to Kester Brewin, “God waits, holds moments, and refuses to fix interpretations or draw hard lines” (67). Spencer Burke even writes that Martin Luther believed that assenting to specific doctrines was beside the point (88). While this is true in part, Luther held an immense respect for doctrinal statements! Burke’s statement is an obvious falsification of what the Reformer actually believed, for example, about justification by faith alone. In any case, it is apparent in reading emergent literature that no statement of propositional truth should be taken for granted.

            The problem is that the Bible is full of propositions and propositional truth that readers are called to either accept or reject. Certainly there is poetry and mystery and portions of Scripture that are difficult to understand. But when Psalm 5.4 says, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you,” certainly this is something understandable and something Christians are called to believe in. It seems the real issue with Emergent leaders is not propositional truth, for they employ it themselves consistently. Saying that propositional truth is ambiguous at best because language is symbolic is itself a proposition. The statement becomes self-referentially incoherent. For Bell, “The Bible has the authority it does only because it contains stories about people interacting with the God who has all authority” (65). This sounds like a proposition. The Emergent idea of truth and knowledge simply crumbles on itself.
             Tomlinson, however, qualifies propositions in this way:
“God does reveal himself through the literal meaning of verbal propositions, words and sentences, semantics or syntax, but through their symbolic meaning. The fact that the Bible is filled with propositions, and that we legitimately continue to struggle to formulate words that express divine truth, whether in creeds, systematic theology, or sermons, should not fool us into thinking these words are in and of themselves that truth” (114, emphasis mine).

It is here that the orthodox Christian must strongly disagree. The written Word is not God, and yet one must distinguish that there is no separation between himself and his word. If the Bible is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16) and one believes that God is perfect, his word must also be indelibly perfect. The orthodox view is that God is perfectly capable of communicating to his people, which is the primary issue. Tomlinson writes, “Our primary attention, and our faith-response to the Bible, is not merely to words, but to the One who is sacramentally revealed through the words” (115). Tomlinson has set his stage to define language as indefinite and imprecise when he writes next, “Being symbolic, however, the truth in the words must also be understood as ambiguous and in need of constant reinterpretation” (115). But Acts 4:12 states, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” This is a straightforward proposition. Salvation can be found in none other than Jesus Christ. That is, he is the narrow gate, “…the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). No one can come to know the Father save through him. Why must these statements be constantly reinterpreted when the meaning is clear? The Bible’s teaching is that God’s word is truth (John 17:17). The Spirit works through the word so it never returns empty, meaning that it always accomplishes all its purposes.

            Since many Emergent leaders desire to be more compassionate and loving like Christ (a very good and respectable thing!), perhaps they should also utilize propositional truth in the way that Jesus did. Only a cursory reading of the gospels shows that Jesus used many propositions. In John 4, when Jesus is speaking to the serial divorcee of Samaria, she tells him that she knows the Messiah is coming. Jesus tells her that he is that the one speaking to her is that one (John 4:26). This is a proposition. Jesus is clearly saying that he is the Messiah. The fact that Jesus is the Messiah is not argued in Emergent church circles. A legitimate question arises: Why not? If all truth statements and propositions are ambiguous, then Jesus saying that he is the Messiah should also be ambiguous. So the problem for Emergents is not propositional truth but rather the propositional truth they dislike. While many Emergent leaders desire to be more like Christ, they say contradictory statements like this one: “We do not possess truth or seek to correct the truths of others, but we seek to live faithfully in light of the truth of God in Jesus Christ” (Ward 179). Here lies another contradiction. Some Emergents, though desiring to be like Christ, do not intend to correct the truths of others. But Jesus was constantly doing this in the Scriptures with the Pharisees and the disciples alike. The “truths of others” may have nothing to do with the truth of Jesus Christ. Paul commissioned Timothy to “…preach the word; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Rebuking implies the idea of correcting error.

            The Emergent idea of the Christian faith is different than that of the Scriptures. One can sense the anxiety in Jude’s voice when he writes in the third verse of his little letter, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (emphasis mine). Paul warned Timothy that people, “…[would] not always endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they [would] accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and [would] turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). For Paul, there was such a thing as sound teaching and there would be no doubt that people would turn from listening to the truth. Paul elsewhere warns Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).  Timothy would save his hearers by keeping watch on himself and on the teaching. Rollins idea offers quite the opposite when he writes, “…the emerging community is in a unique place to embrace a type of communication that opens up thought by asking questions and celebrating complexity” (43). Instead of the proliferation of the teaching of the gospel, the church is left with only questions. Instead of the church of the living God being “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), Rollins says, “For too long the church has been seen as an oasis in the desert – offering water to those who are thirsty. In contrast, the emerging community appears more as a desert in the oasis of life, offering silence, space and desolation amidst the sickly nourishment of Western capitalism” (44-45). Rollins poses this as true nourishment, as opposed to the Jesus of lifeless propositionalism found in evangelical churches. But a friendship with an earthly friend cannot be boiled down into relationship without proposition. In order to build a friendship, there are many things one must know about that person. Perhaps they get uncomfortable in crowds, perhaps they like golf, and perhaps they believe that Jesus is the Son of God. All these things are inherent to knowing who a person is. And Jesus is a person, so the same applies to him. In order to truly love him, one must also love what he said. Propositions are the fuel of love.

            But Jesus sought to do the opposite of what Rollins is proclaiming. Jesus had to go to Samaria (John 4:4). He had to tell the woman of Samaria that he offered something no one else could offer. “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). Jesus was interested not in questioning or celebrating complexity. Rather, he was interested in giving the truth, himself, away. Those who believe in Jesus will never thirst (John 6:35). 

        When Jesus feeds the five thousand in the gospel of Mark, he tells the disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:30). So the disciples leave in a boat and go to the desolate place. When they get ashore, Jesus sees a crowd and has compassion on them, seeing that they are “…like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). It is in this desolate place that he feeds them. In the next section the disciples are caught in a storm, and Jesus sees them from the land. He walks towards them on the water. “And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mark 6:51-52). Rollins seems to be struggling in the same way the disciples were. He does not understand about Jesus who said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger…” (John 6:35). “Whoever has seen [Jesus] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Emergents seek to provide the Jesus unfettered from the current state of Christianity in the west, but ride the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. Rollins has swung down the path to the point of least common denominator—love. The problem is, in the Emergent description, we have no grounds for knowing what that love means. 

Read the next installment here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Theology of Food: Why We Eat: The Feasts of Judaism (Part 2)

Author's Note: This is the second installment of a series on the theology of food by Karolina Branson, who holds a BA in Liberal Arts from Providence Christian College and runs her own food health blog. To read the first installment of this series, click here. The third installment will be posted Friday.

            Next, the feasts of Judaism will be surveyed in order to provide contextual understanding for their meaning to the people at the time, and grasp a piece of the awe which was inspired in the original hearers of the New Testament.

            The way that eating happens in Judaism results in a profound attentiveness toward their food (Winner 111). This happens even today with Jews who practice kosher laws. Two sets of utensils are needed for everything to avoid mixing meat and dairy under any circumstances (based on Deut. 14:21) (Schramm 649, 650; Winner 113). This practice is costly in both time and money. Labels are constantly read on packaging, and higher prices paid for kosher meat (Winner 113). These extensive regulations are the “laws of kashrut”, meaning literally, “correctness” or “appropriateness”, originated from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and elaborated upon by the Rabbis in the Talmud (Jenks 251, Schramm 648, Winner 112). These laws are far from arbitrary, underpinned by deep theological beliefs and customs with far reaching implications in ethics and civil society (Jenks 251). These laws taught Israel their distinctiveness from other nations as God’s people (Acts 10). Food practices, such as animal sacrifice were originally given as the substitute of atonement symbolism for Israel.

            Sacrifices had strict regulations for procedure. A clean slit across the jugular vein was required for the slaughter and no bones were to be broken (Schramm 649, Winner, 112). An animal which died of natural causes was never appropriate for sacrifice (Schramm 649). Whether a sacrificial animal or not, the carcass had to be examined for any malformation before and after its death (Schramm 649). The largest section of the kashrut laws, Leviticus 11, is on kosher animal laws (Schramm 649).What they ate symbolized their identity and their history. Eating the “unclean foods” was abolished because to do so would be to share identity with the unclean Gentiles and deny status as people of God (Schramm 650. Such was the extent of this symbolism of sanctity that among the kashrut are bans on wine made by a non-Jew (Schramm 650). When seen in light of the role of wine in Scripture, the importance of this law is made evident. The Judaic feasts coincide with their agricultural practices. In Judaism, there were no “secular” holidays. Undergirded by religious beliefs, ceremonies and practices from the feasts to every day eating had biblical symbolism (Burge, 24). The festivals were celebrated at spring, the harvest, and so on, paralleling the picture of agricultural abundance for life and redemptive provision. The feasts added to the time of thankfulness and recitation of the faithful covenant provision in the present and the past (Burge, 25). The three great festivals in Judaism were: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Burge, 29).

            The Passover event was instituted by God as a statute, to be observed forever (Ex. 12:14,
24, 43). It occurred in the spring when the emergence of life in the plants and animals would typify eternal life to come (Burge, 26). Passover was unique and held a significant place among the Jewish rituals, for it was both a sacrifice and a sacrament (Jenks 254). In Exodus, Israel sought freedom from the Egyptians. At the tenth plague, they followed the instruction of God so as to be exempt from its terror. The first Passover demonstrated sacrifice (Jenks 253). Though it was a food sacrifice, it was not offered to God to provide food for God the way food sacrifices as was thought in the cultic practices of surrounding nations (Jenks 253). The opposite is true. The blood of the one year old, unblemished lamb was slaughtered by the male of the household to provide atonement (Bavinck 542). God did not “need” the food sacrifice, but he did require the purity that came only through bloodshed. No one can come before God in communion without redemption. The Angel of Death passed over the bloody doorposts of Israel, not because they were less deserving of the death that came to the Egyptians, but because the lamb was propitiation as the perfect sacrifice and the people were led from the land (Ex. 12:13, 23. 27, 29-32; 13:21). The Passover as well as daily sacrifice rituals of Judaism marked the ongoing participation in the blood of atonement which was required for the actualization of the peace that the gathering at a table undoubtedly symbolized (Clowney, 271).The grace and mercy which allowed this substitution to be made to appease the wrath of God showed that Passover was also a sacrament (Bavinck 542). The act of making a sacrament is a holy covenant between God and his people. He released them from bondage and promised them life. Later when the Passover was celebrated in Canaan the lamb was slaughtered by the Levitical priesthood rather than the father of each family further emphasizing the holiness of this celebration (2 Chron. 30:16; 35:11; Ezra 6:19). Instead of being sprinkled on the doorposts, the blood of the lamb also was sprinkled on the altar and the meal eaten at the Temple (Deut. 16:2). To share in this meal was the sacrament, to have communion with God (Bavinck, 543). The liberation from Egypt remembered in Passover simultaneously pointed forward tothe eschatological promise of liberation from sin (Bavinck, 543). The Jewish community anticipated this state of fulfillment every time they practiced Passover, awaiting the covenant in hope, through a celebratory occasion. They recognized life of each spring season, as the first of their harvest just began. With great expectation they rejoiced in the plentiful harvest it would become. They praised God for his bountiful blessings of the present and remembered the lifegiving liberation from Egypt of the past. These symbols, integral to the festal practices in Judaism such as Passover, held profound theological truths.

          Seven weeks after the end of the Passover feast, the second great festival of Judaism occurred. This was Pentecost in the Hellenistic world of the New Testament and in the Old Testament, called the Feast of Weeks (Burge 28). Again, it is significant that it was seven weeks after Passover, because Israel was laboring and waiting for the complete allotted time and then the next festival began. For this feast, Israelites would travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer the first-fruits of the harvest as thanks to God (Burge28). Thanks were given after the time of hopeful waiting, framing the agricultural time of bringing the seeds to harvest. This framework provides symbolism which importantly applies to Christians today. During this age between the resurrection of Christ and the eschaton, believers are the salt and light, gathering the harvest of
the earth through the witness of the indwelling, Holy Spirit. When Christ comes, God will gather his people, the harvest, in their complete, perfect number and they will gather for the feast of ultimate fulfillment, just as was typified in the feast of Pentecost.

            The third feast occurred in the autumn during the seventh month of the Jewish year, again, the number of completion.This was the Feast of Booths. It referred to God’s provision such as manna and the water from the rock in the wilderness, when Israel lived in traveling dwelling places. It was celebrated at the time when the Jewish people would live in shelter tents, or booths, in the fields as they protected and gathered the harvest. These dwelling places were deeply symbolic because of the wilderness wanderings and would bring the significance all to mind. The shelters were made out of branches, a parallel pointing to Christ’s vine and branches discourse (John 15). In John 15, Christ promised the Holy Spirit who now abides in us similar to that of the Israelites abiding in the booths. With the finished work of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the symbolism and typology of this festival was fulfilled (Kostenberger). The meals and festivals of Judaism were always presupposed as communal events.

            Sharing a meal was an act of closeness and trust between the partakers (Jenks 252, Fujimara 149). If one did not wish to express this closeness, then that person would not share the meal (Gen. 43:32, Jenks 252). Meals were shared within the community and extended to travelers, strangers, and the poor (Jenks 251). The superb hospitality in Israel was a distinguishing factor among the nations of the ancient world (Edersheim 47). In fact, among the Rabbis there was a saying that declared, “The entertainment of travelers is as great a matter as the reception of the Shechinah.” (Edersheim, 48) The Talmud includes hospitality among the things that one is eternally rewarded for in the life to come (Shab. 127 a, Edersheim, 48). As image bearers of God, the Talmud also taught that the four ways to imitate God were to clothe the naked (Gen. 3:21), visit the sick (Gen 15:1), comfort those who mourn (Gen. 25:11), and burry to dead (Deut. 34:6) (Edersheim, 48). Such writings of the Talmud are reinforced by Scriptural passages as well. Hebrews 13:1-2 states “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” As has been touched upon, these festivals for the Jews were not merely to celebrate the food they had been given, but to also celebrate the salvation history they had experienced up to that point. Passover told the story of the Exodus, and the elements of the Passover such as the unleavened bread and the bitter horseradish symbolized the events of their escape from Pharaoh and enhanced their experience of this recollection (Burge, 29). Pentecost reminded them of the covenant God gave to Moses at Mt. Sinai (Burge 29). Lastly, the Feast of Booths, represented the time in the Wilderness when the Israelites wandered from place to place and were sustained by God as they waited for the Promised Land (Burge 29).

The next section will deal with food symbolism and redemptive history. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Nine Tips for Public Prayer from the Prince of Preachers

Charles Spurgeon had a lot of opinions about public prayer (some I heartily agree with, and others I do not). Here are nine tips for public prayer from his Lectures to My Students:

1.      “Our prayers must never grovel, they must soar and mount. We need a heavenly frame of mind. Our addresses to the throne of grace must be solemn and humble, not flippant and loud, or formal and careless. The colloquial form of speech is out of place before the Lord; we must bow reverently and with deepest awe. We may speak boldly with God, but still he is in heaven and we are on earth, and we are to avoid presumption” (55).

2.     “Let the Lord alone be the object of your prayers. Beware of having an eye to the auditors; beware of becoming rhetorical to please the listeners. Prayer must not be transformed into “an oblique sermon.” It is a little short of blasphemy to make devotion an occasion for display. Fine prayers are generally wicked prayers” (55).

3.     “Another Fault to be avoided in prayer is an unhallowed and sickening superabundance of endearing words. When “Dear Lord,” and “Blessed Lord,” and “Sweet Lord,” come over and over again as vain repetitions, they are among the worst of blots” (56-57).

4.     “Avoid the kind of prayer which may be called…a sort of preemptory demanding of God. It is delightful to hear a man wrestle with God, and say, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me,” but that must be said softly, and not in a hectoring spirit, as though we could command and exact blessings from the Lord of all” (57).

5.     “Pray when you profess to pray, and don’t talk about it…Disquisitions upon our need of help in prayer are not prayer. Why do not men go at once to prayer—why stand beating around the bush; instead of saying what they ought to do and want to do, why not set to work in God’s name and do it” (57-58)?

6.     “As a rule, if called upon to preach, conduct the prayer yourself; and if you should be highly esteemed in the ministry…resist the practice of choosing men to pray with the idea of honouring them by giving them something to do. Our public devotions ought never to be degraded into opportunities for compliment” (58).

7.     “I have noticed a habit among some—I hope you have not fallen into it—of praying with their eyes open. It is unnatural, unbecoming, and disgusting. Occasionally the opened eye uplifted to heaven may be suitable and impressive, but to be gazing about while professing to address the unseen God is detestable” (66).

8.     “Vary the length of your public prayers in intercession. There are many topics which require your attention; the church in its weakness, its backslidings, its sorrows, and its comforts; the outside world, the neighbourhood, unconverted hearers, the young people, the nation. Do not pray for all these every time, or otherwise your prayers will be long and probably uninteresting” (67).

9.     “Keep from all attempts to work up spurious fervor in public devotion. Do not labour to seem earnest. Pray as your heart dictates, under the leading of the Spirit of God, and if you are dull and heavy tell the Lord so. It will be no ill thing to confess your deadness, and bewail it, and cry for quickening; it will be real and acceptable prayer; but stimulated ardour is a shameful form of lying” (68).

Friday, July 19, 2013

Are You Holding Someone Up to an Unrealistic Standard?

It has come to my attention that I hold people up to an unrealistic standard. Really, I hold them up to my own personal law. When people offend or hurt me, I have a difficult time forgiving and not holding a grudge.

Why do I do this? It’s because, as so many theologians have noted over the centuries, we humans are addicted to law keeping. And we want others to live up to the law as well. 

As Christians we know that God holds the whole world up to his standard, his law. That is, he requires that we be holy as he is holy. And he, as the ultimate measure of justice and holiness, is required to hold us up to this standard because of his perfect nature.

But we also know that God has forgiven us of all our sins “…by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).

Through Christ, we are no longer under the cruel task master of the law. Rather, we debtors to grace because of Christ, to serve in the newness of life because of our righteous-ification, and walk in the good works God prepared in advance for us to do (through his Spirit).

But practically, I have a really hard time actually showing God’s grace to others. I like to keep other people in the very place I was before I was saved--under the law. This was difficult for the Disciples too.

On one occasion, Peter asked Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother who sinned against him. And Jesus responded: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Basically, forgive your brother ALWAYS.

Jesus launches into a parable about two men. One man owes 10,000 talents to his king. A talent was worth about 20 years wages. If a year’s wage is $50,000, ONE talent would equal $1,000,000!

This man pleads mercy to the king and the king forgives the whole debt. But the second man owes the first man 100 denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage. Even after being forgiven his monstrous debt, the first man will not forgive the second, and tries to throw him into prison.

What does this show us about the first man?

I think it obviously shows us that he doesn’t treasure the king’s exoneration of his debt! If we have been forgiven so much, shall we not forgive others?

The people who hurt and offend us do so in such little fashion to how we hurt and offend our maker. This all comes down to our understanding of grace. How much do we believe God has forgiven us? How great was the debt paid for our sin on the cross?

For our sinful natures, forgiveness and bearing with others is a tough pill to swallow. But with God, all things are possible.

Do we hold people up to an unrealistic standard? Do we expect them to be perfect, or at least nearly perfect? Do we expect them to do all we want them too? Are we annoyed when they fail? Can we not forgive when they hurt us?

This is not how we learned Christ!

Let’s remember to forgive our brother seventy-seven times seven. Because God’s done that with us. In our flesh we could never do this, but the Spirit has set us free! Let’s use that freedom not for evil, but for good! 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Theology of Food: Why We Eat (Fulfillment, Enjoyment, and Symbolism)

Authors Note: This is a guest post by Karolina Beveridge, who holds a BA in Liberal Arts from Providence Christian College. She runs her own gluten/dairy/soy/refined sugar free blog. There will be five more posts in this series. 


          God created a world whose inhabitants must eat in order to live (Schaeffer 114, Jenks
251). No one can be unconcerned with food (Schaeffer 113). So intense is the need for food that Scripture records the hungry man longing so strongly for food such that it enters his dreams (Jenks 251, Isaiah 29:8). To recognize this evokes humility. We are not self sustaining gods. Life is sustained in complete dependence on God’s grace-gifts of plants, sunlight, food, water, earth, imagination, cooking, community, and so on (Wirzba 1, 111; Jenks 251, 252). Furthermore, to eat is to participate, whether consciously or unconsciously, in a vast network of social, biological, ecological, and global systems (Wirzba 4). Food is and always has been relational (Schaeffer 126). Food also demonstrates both symbolically and literally in the most basic way, the fact that the cost of life is death. Creatures die for the nourishment of the next generation, just as the cost of our eternal living was death (Wirzba 53). Fertile soil requires death and decomposition in order to be replenished (Wirzba 1, 53). While food also sustains life, eating simultaneously shows mortality. No matter how healthy humans attempt to eat, all are mortal and will eventually die (Wirzba xi). To understand this reality reminds us that, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19, Wirzba 53) This earth is not yet the place where our promised eternal life has seen the consummation of its anticipated fruition.

            In order to have a scripturally informed understanding of food, one must turn to the meditation of the Word of God. The Old Testament and Judaism are the background of New Testament theology so both must be consulted in order to understand the biblical theology of food for our time today(Burge, 26). A hermeneutical principle states that the Old Testament and New Testament work concentrically, one shedding light upon the other. The New Covenant finds its basis upon the Old Covenant promises which it fulfilled, and vice versa (Edersheim 7; McCartney/Clayton 10).

            Another principle of hermeneutics states that for proper interpretation readers must be knowledgeable of the past and present cultural makeup (Burge 11). When something is done or said in a culture, the values of that time and place are always presupposed. To understand the philosophies, lifestyle, and expectations of Judaism is an important step in the right direction for having a basic understanding of truth. It sets a framework for accurately interpreting the work of Christ because the way he worked was done in relevance to his own Judaic culture (Edersheim 7). The subtle symbolism within their traditions would not be noteworthy to an outsider (Burge15). When readers are unaware of presuppositions in Scripture, oblivion to the nuances and subtleties that make up large parts of the message is not uncommon (Burge 11). All of life is framed within a particular cultural context. Understanding the cultural differences between one
historical point in Scripture and another is necessary to truly understand the teachings (Burge 10). This study will employ these steps towards a right interpretation of the biblical theology of food and conclude with implications for faithful, Christian life today.

The Theology of Food in the Old Testament
            Beginning with the teachings of the preacher in Ecclesiastes is appropriate for it gives one of the most explicit accounts of biblical food theology. The book of Ecclesiastes states that man is to enjoy life wholeheartedly, for that is the will of God and his gift to man (Whybray, 87). Ecclesiastes uses the literary tool of repetition seven times, in rising degrees of emphasis. Moreover, seven is one of the biblical numbers of completion, so the preacher-writer uses this fact along with the tool of repetition, heightening the effect, depth, and actuality of the truth being expressed (Whybray, 95). Juxtaposed between the seven joy-statements are seven passages of despairing lamentation in which the preacher-writer, Qoheleth, expresses the vanity of life (Eccl. 4:1-3). He begins with an objective statement of vanity, and again uses emphatically
rising repetition, culminating finally, in the paradoxal statement of final lamentation at which he becomes personally broken, in 4:2-3 (Whybray, 93). However, the seeming brokenness of the Qoheleth is ironic, because it is told in the same text as the final joy statement. It is not a contradiction; rather it is expressing the state of all man, upon the realization that death is the unavoidable end, apart from trust in God. The greater one understands the joy of the gift of life, the greater one realizes how truly hopeless humanity apart from him is. There are other such paradoxal parallels in Job 3 and Jeremiah 20:13-18. To live life apart from receiving joy from God is vanity (Eccl. 2:18-23, Whybray 90). Trust in God, enables recipients of his grace to have
the gift, joy, in eating and drinking. It is the will of God; therefore he gives us that joy. For this reason, the problems are framed in the book in such a way as to direct the audience to the seven answers. Framed adjacent to the deepest expressions of despair is the paradoxal and exquisite contrast of God’s magnificent plan.

            The first of the seven passages with the answer of eating and drinking in joy, begins in the indicative tense. “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment…” (2:24) This is followed by four more, emphatic declarations of the indicative (3:12, 3:22, 5:18-20, 8:15), concluding upon two imperative statements (9:7-9. 11:7-12:1). The indicative is a state of being. From the first of the seven, it is clear that the gift comes from “the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Eccl. 2:24b-25). This is the indicative enables the imperative command of the sixth and seventh (Eccl. 9:7a-9a, 11:9a, 10a, 12a) (Whybray 88). It is significant, and perhaps even surprising to some, that the seven solutions have to do with joy in food. The significance of food is often forgotten, as the abuse or neglect of food is the norm in society, and eating just an every-day task. Yet this entire book in Scripture indicates that it is the gift of God, delight in which the Preacher of Ecclesiastes presents as the answer for the overwhelming vanity of life. Not only is it good, but nothing is better than to have joy in our eating and drinking.

            Ecclesiastes makes it incredibly clear food is a good, creational gift of sustenance, even within the depths of the soul due to the reality of its symbolism in spiritual and eternal life. That points to creaturely dependence on God, holistically upon every realm of life. Throughout Scripture, food symbolism matters. It is metaphorical for our salvation showing the destitution of the soul apart from God, just as the state of the body apart from food.

            The book of Song of Solomon, a metaphor for Christ and the church, expresses this gift in its exquisite value. The groom here describes his bride, in a way that is often baffling to those unaware of the food significance of that cultural context. He compares her eyes to doves (1:15), her hair to a flock of goats (4:1), her cheeks as pomegranate halves (4:3). Her lips like nectar and her tongue like milk and honey (3:11). This is because the livestock one owned was wealth itself in a predominately agricultural society. Alongside this livestock and the best of the harvest served sacrificial purposes in Judaism. The best of the firstfruits were incense to God, and doves were temple for sacrifices (i.e. Joseph and Mary when they brought Christ to the temple for his naming and circumcision). Milk and honey were the signs of the Promised Land the Israelites in the wilderness yearned for, was “the land flowing with milk and honey.” Food products signified of blessings and assurance of promise-fulfillment. The groom describes the love of his bride as better than wine (1:2). Psalm 104, amidst celebrating the gift of food to all creatures, declares
that God has given wine to make the heart glad (3:10) (Jenks 251). This reiterates the message of Ecclesiastes, that the gift of God to man is to eat and drink and take pleasure in it (Ecc. 3:12-13). Throughout the Psalms there are worshipful praises to God, for food. Psalm 63 states, “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips…” (Ps. 63:5). In the context, the Psalmist is in desperation, crying out for provision in a land where there is no water. In the sanctuary of God he lifts up his hands to God with praises because the steadfast hesed of God is better than life (vs. 3,4). He praises God for the confidence of his hope in a time that will come of abundance of food. In Hebrew poetry, parallel lines express similar ideas with intensification. In the first line of this stanza, he expresses his soul being satisfied with food, and the second stanza takes this statement further to the soul being in the
ultimate state of glorifying God with praise. The first line is presuming the typology of food with God’s spiritual blessing that is in the second line.

            When God’s people do not find joy in his gift of food to us, it is to go against the will of God. Psalm 78 speaks of God’s wrath against the Israelites because they do not recognize his provision of manna and water from the rock in the wilderness. They demanded more food from him testing him sinfully. God displayed wonders for them yet they did not believe in his power to continue to sustain them (vss. 21-22). He fed them with the grain from heaven, manna which was the bread of angels, and meat fell on them like rain, and yet they still did not remember his grace (vss. 24-25, 27). On a surface level this Psalm teaches the vital importance of recognizing with thankfulness, God’s marvelous provision that he bestows on a daily bases in the form of food. Yet, it was eschatological, looking forward to the fulfillment in Christ. Later this paper will discuss the commentary that Christ himself gave in John 6.

Author's Note: To read the next installment, click here.

The Emergent Church (Part One)

              Author's Note: This is the first section of a four section series on the Emergent Church. Emergent thought is still prevalent in many churches across the U.S. and is quite popular among people my age. Though the popularity of the Emergent Church has seemed to wane, it is still necessary to write and respond to problems we see in these movements, as they continue to thrive in many places in our nation.
            In his book The Post-Evangelical, Dave Tomlinson writes a fictional story of Jesus telling a parable to a gathering of evangelicals in the present day:

I thought this was funny.
            “An evangelical speaker and a liberal bishop each sat down to read the Bible. The evangelical speaker thanked God for the precious gift of the Holy Scriptures and pledged himself once again to proclaim them faithfully. ‘Thank you God,’ he prayed, ‘that I am not like this poor bishop who doesn’t believe your word and seems unable to make his mind up whether or not Christ rose from the dead.’ The bishop looked puzzled as he flicked through the pages of the Bible and said, ‘Virgin birth, water into wine, physical resurrection. These things are hard to believe in, Lord. In fact, I’m not even sure I’m in touch with you in a personal way. But I’m going to keep on searching.’ I tell you” said Jesus, “that this liberal bishop, rather than the other man, went home justified before God” (Tomlinson 69-70).

            This story provides an excellent example of how many leaders in the Emergent church think. They value the journey rather than the destination. They want to leave no proverbial rock unturned, but they do not want to find what treasures lay under the rock. They think that asserting what one must believe to be a Christian is always an exceedingly prideful thing—even pharisaical.

            The confusing thing about this fictional parable is that the bishop says he will keep searching. Searching for what? He apparently found the virgin birth, miracles, and physical resurrection in the Bible. The answers as to why Jesus did these things are found in the Bible as well. What is there left to search for? Why was the bishop justified when he would not affirm anything other than a search? This seems in complete contradiction to what Paul says in Romans 10:9: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

            Tomlinson’s book was written in 2003 but signals major shifts in the way that waves of people have begun to think about Christianity and the Church. Some of the shifts include trading in propositional expressions of Christian faith for stories that involve the personal journeys people are going through, from a desire for dogmatic truth to searching out spiritual experiences, and from defending the faith to using alternate words like dance, song, and evolving faith. 

            The problem with talking about the emergent church is that it’s elusive. There are both conservative and more progressive voices in the movement. Dan Kimball, for example, believes that the Bible is inspired and we can be bold about what Scripture is clear about (Kimball 99). Others are not sold on the idea of the Bible’s inspiration, and a major portion of the emerging church has adopted Tomlinson’s flexible view of the Christianity that disdains the strict borders of evangelicalism.

            Most in the Emerging conversation (conversation being used interchangeably with church) do not share Kimball’s desire for a theology that arises directly from Scripture. In fact, most major voices in the movement are very skeptical of it, being in favor of a process theology. Theology must always be emerging, because it arises out of an emerging culture (Pagitt 124). “We consult our big [theological] cookbooks as needed, yet most of our theology is made fresh daily, around our community values and spiritual practices” (Ward 178). Many in the Emergent church crave a theology that is in en route, with no destination on the horizon. “Christians have never been intended to be a people only of a book, but a people who are led by the ever present God, active in our lives, communities, and world” (Pagitt 126). The implication, of course, is that people who desire to have a theology that proceeds from the Scriptures (i.e. unchanging) do not believe that God is active in their lives. Those who look for the foundations of truth laid down in Scripture do not believe that God is ever present. Instead of worshipping the true God, Tomlinson writes that evangelicals “…tend to make an idol out of the Bible” (74).

            When theology is taken to be ever-developing, many other beliefs that evangelicals have taken for granted are placed on a shaky foundation. Firstly, a theology containing propositional truth is deemed unnecessary. Tomlinson writes, “…post-evangelicals are less inclined to look for truth in propositional statements… and more likely to seek it in symbols, ambiguities, and situational judgments” (94). What is being rejected by many in the Emerging conversation is “…the idea that human beings could grasp this objective world in an objective manner” (Rollins 11). 

            Secondly, because many Emergents believe that objective truth is practically unreachable, they imply that people cannot know God truly. Since propositional truth is ambiguous, we can only know God mystically Many Emergent church leaders appeal to mystery as the thing they can rely on most securely. As Kevin Deyoung points out in his book Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be (written with Ted Kluck), “The Christian faith is mysterious. But when we talk about Christianity, we don’t start with mystery. It’s some combination of pious confusion and intellectual laziness to claim that living in mystery is at the heart of Christianity” (Deyoung, Kluck 38). Christianity begins with a God who acts, as seen in the creation account of Genesis. “In the beginning was the Word,” says John 1:1, “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That Word speaks today through the Scriptures. The Spirit convicts hearts by the word of God. 

            Thirdly, supposed process of theology leads many in the Emergent church to claim that what we believe about God is not as important as how we live. “…Orthodoxy is no longer (mis)understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world” (Rollins 3). Interestingly enough, Rollins boils everything down to love; love “…as knowledge of God” (Rollins 3). One would think that in order to love correctly it would also be necessary have to have some type of understanding of what God’s love is and how God acts in love. The ideas about what this love is or how this love acts could properly be called doctrine, as arising directly from Scripture and the picture it presents of Jesus Christ. If ideas about love do not proceed from the Bible, that one’s idea of love is simply a reflection of the self. Doctrine, then, would seem quite important! But Rollins does not see the contradiction and believes that traditional orthodoxy will not cost us anything (Rollins 3). One wonders if Rollins could say the same thing to the Church persecuted all over the world, or to Athanasius, Gresham Machen, and John Bunyan, all who suffered for what they believed.

            This essay will explore whether the ideas of many in the Emergent church are biblical; whether they are in line with biblical authors’ ideas about propositional truth, the knowability of God, and whether orthopraxy should take precedence over orthodoxy. The belief of the author is that the Emergent church strays from the biblical portrait of Christianity as it deemphasizes propositional truth, takes a stance that paints God more as a mystery than anything else, and stresses orthopraxy at the expense of orthodoxy. 

Author's Note: Next Thursday the second installment will be posted on the blog. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Philippians (previous posts)

Christian Joy Leads to Christian Agreement

Contentment and Joy in Every Circumstance

The Bible (previous posts)

Two Excuses: Why Don't We Read Our Bibles?

The Supremacy of Scripture

The Hunger Games (previous posts)

I Hated the Hunger Games

A Response to Feedback: Different Senses of “Hate”: Mere Entertainment

Doctrine (previous posts)

(Real, Deep, Passionate, Honest, Truthful, Heartfelt) Communion With God

The Gospel (previous posts)

A (short) Pauline Theology of the Gospel

The Gospel as Foolishness

Ephesians (previous posts)

The Decisive Meaning of Ephesians 2:8

Partakers of the Promise in Christ Jesus (and all that means)

Engaging Arminianism (previous posts)

Total Depravity

Unconditional Election

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Macklemore and Man's Immutable Nature? (Macklemore's Same Love: A Response Part II)

Author's Note: This is a guest post by my good friend Jacob Fisher, who holds a BA in History from Providence Christian College. Any thoughts contained in this article do not necessarily align with my own. That being said, this is a thought provoking piece, one that reminds us that we so easily forget our history, and the consequences of ideas that people have held in the past. 

I am writing this article as an add-on to the blog post Mark Hogan has already written on the song “Same Love” by Macklemore. Because of his post, I will not deal with many of the religious aspects that he has discussed unless it directly relates to the arguments I make.

I first want to commend Mr. Ben Haggerty and the other contributors of the song for writing some powerful lyrics. Despite all the problems found within the song, it is still powerful and emotionally charged. It is important for people to recognize the prejudice in our culture against homosexuality. This nation screams freedom, liberty, and equality with one hand, and then discriminates and segregates with the other hand. Furthermore, as Christians, we need to remember the principle of love. Our greatest commands are to love our God, and then to love our neighbor. This even includes our perceived enemies. The command to love is not lightly given, and Christians have a very serious mandate. In all things, we are to represent our Lord with honor and to show to all men the love we have received, which was given to us so undeserved. All that being said, I want to look into the song and at some pretty significant falsities and dangers it is presenting and supporting, as well as the faulty logic that it promotes.

Mr. Haggerty, as with many people, seems to equate right-wing conservatives with Christians. While many conservatives are Christians, not all are. There are Christians on both sides of the aisle, and that needs to be recognized. Furthermore, conservative politics are not Christian fundamentals. For instance, closed borders and capitalism are conservative promoted policies, but are not ideals shared in scripture. By in large, scripture does not hold an opinion on many specific issues dealt with in politics. It is the heart that scripture changes, and so these policies are affected by such a change, but scripture does not lay out a political strategy. Mr. Haggerty seems to criticize Christians with many of the same criticisms he has for conservatives without specifics; this implies a misunderstanding of the separate spheres.

My primary frustration with the song is the implication that people are not able to change. Mr. Haggerty and Ms. Mary Lambert both support the idea of people who cannot change from certain predispositions. The line “I can’t change, even if I wanted to” is repeated several times during the song. Haggerty says, “The right wing conservatives think it's a decision and you can be cured with some treatment and religion.” As Christians, we know and recognize that change is an inherent part of human nature. This recognition, however, is not useful for those who do not believe, so it is necessary to examine this from another perspective. I’d like to put those concepts into context.

In the early 20th century, people in the U.S. were being forcibly sterilized because of the pseudo-scientific concepts of man’s immutable nature (unchangeable nature). With the recognition of a predisposition to specific actions a person could be condemned at birth, and certain people were. For example, these concepts led powerful people to believe that if a person had committed a crime, such as theft, then theft was clearly an inherent part of their nature, even their genetic makeup, and so those predispositions would be hereditarily passed down through the generations. The logical way to deal with crime, then, was to stamp it out. Sterilize any criminal and the world could be free of crime. Hitler fully enjoyed these so called facts. It enabled him, with greater ease, to commit the holocaust.

To be sure, I am not implying that Mr. Haggerty is genocidal, or comparable to Hitler in any way. I am not saying that Mr. Haggerty is going to lead a mass sterilization movement in the U.S. Nor am I saying that sterilization movements will erupt because of this song, or a holocaust will occur. This is not a doomsday article. What I want to explain is how this simple concept of immutable nature has been used in the past, and the danger with accepting nature as such. Ideas definitely have consequences.

Discrimination against homosexuality is a terrible thing. It has no place in this nation so long as we uphold the concepts of freedom that we claim. It has no place in Christianity if we follow the commands to love our neighbors and to work for the peace of Babylon.