What Will You Do With Jesus?

March 29, 2013

The scene was DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The occasion was a public discussion on the resurrection of Jesus. The participants were N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg. Borg is a member of the Jesus Seminar, which questions whether many of the gospel sayings are actually from Jesus. He stated during the presentation that he believes Jesus of Nazareth is mouldering in the grave, but he still believes in the Christ of faith. Wright is known for his massive three volumes: The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God. Wright believes that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and his work emphasizes the importance of world view in the study of Jesus.

Borg is educated and eloquent. He passionately believes that his approach to Jesus salvages the church for the modern world. He doesn’t believe that the modern mind can believe in miracles. How can people today believe in someone rising from the dead? Borg believes that the dead simply do not rise.

Borg has adopted the world view of naturalism. Such a world view says the physical world is a closed system. There is no possibility that God can intervene in human affairs, so miracles are ruled out by definition. But we have to back up and ask whether this world view is true. Naturalism tends to be reductionistic to everything human. Are my emotions, thoughts, and morals simply biochemical reactions? Even for the person who would say yes to this question, it is a difficult proposition to live with consistently. We tend to behave in such a way that these very human traits are viewed as of a different order from indigestion.

Science does not necessarily lead to naturalism. Science developed within the Christian world view, and today, many scientists hold a Christian or theist world view. It is not logically inconsistent to say the natural world operates in an orderly and understandable way (that we can discover by the scientific method), and the creator of the natural order can intervene when he desires.

The scientific method is also not the only way of evaluating truth. You can’t put historical evidence in a test tube or replicate an experiment with it. In both philosophy and history, we must reason correctly and weigh the evidence. We must look for consistency of thought and preponderance of evidence. We may never arrive at absolute certitude, but we also can’t remain neutral.

So what will we do with Jesus? As C.F.D. Moule has said, “If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole of the size and shape of Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with?”

Listening to Borg made me wish the audience could have stood up and recited, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:17–20, ESV).

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Sent Not to Baptize?

March 22, 2013

I’ve had people object to the importance of baptism by saying, “Paul wasn’t sent to baptize.” Are we really supposed to understand baptism as optional by this quotation from Paul in 1 Corinthians 1? We must investigate the immediate and broader contexts to answer our question.

Paul is dealing with a worldly, party spirit within the church at Corinth. Some are saying, “I am of Paul.” Others are saying, “I am of Apollos.” And others still are saying, “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” For this reason, Paul is glad that he hasn’t baptized many of them, for fear they would have claimed to be baptized into the name of Paul. He had, however, baptized Crispus, Gaius, the household of Stephanas, and he wasn’t certain who all else. Baptism is clearly a part of the ministry of Paul. It is within this context that Paul states, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

First, we need to examine what Paul says about baptism. Within 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13, ESV). Baptism is linked to one’s incorporation into the body, that is the church, and regeneration (that’s what the language of “made to drink of one Spirit” is about). We cannot imagine a Christian not in the church or not having the Spirit. Baptism does not appear from this teaching to be optional. But consider also the following passages from Paul.

  • Romans 6:3-4 — union with Christ and regeneration.
  • Galatians 3:27-29 — put on Christ and become heirs
  • Ephesians 4:5-6 — one of the important ones of Christianity.
  • Colossians 2:12 — buried and raised with Christ

If baptism is important in Paul’s teaching, what explains his statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17. The answer to that question also is found in 1 Corinthians. It is Paul’s view of ministry: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (1 Corinthians 12:4–6, ESV).

Clearly Paul sees his function within the church as to preach and teach the gospel. If we take seriously what Paul writes, this teaching will result in baptisms. But Paul’s view of ministry is such that he doesn’t have to be the one who actually performs the baptism. He does at times, but others do too. Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17 doesn’t make baptism optional. It reflects the fact there may be a division of labor between the one who does the teaching and the one who administers the baptism.


More Than Animals?

March 15, 2013

The Copenhagen Zoo’s exhibit of homo sapiens lasted only a few weeks in 1996. In a glass-walled cage located in the primate house, a pair of homo sapiens were on display. The zookeeper touted the exhibit as a way of forcing people to “confront their origins” and accept that “we are all primates.”

Humans and apes share 98.5 percent of the same chromosomes. Are we merely animals—the end of an evolutionary chain that began in the primordial soup and is merely the product of chance? Or are humans created in the image of God—are we more than animals?

The test of any worldview is how does it work in the real world, which brings us back to the homo sapien exhibit. The other inhabitants of the primate house, swung from bars, eliminated waste, and mated in full view of visitors. The homo sapiens needed privacy, and when asked if they would engage in intimate behavior in public, protested “That’s not interesting.” As the monkeys picked lice off each other’s pelts, the homo sapiens read books, checked their email, and worked on a motorcycle. They could adjust the air conditioning in their quarters or go out for a movie and dinner.1

Did the exhibit prove the zookeepers contention that we should just accept that we are merely primates, or did the exhibit’s failure suggest that homo sapiens are more than animals?

Genesis chapter one gives an explanation of why we are like the animals yet different. We are like the animals because we have the same Designer and are made from the same kind of material. We are different because “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27, NASB). Millard Erickson observes, “The image is the powers of personality which make man, like God, a being capable of interacting with other persons, of thinking and reflecting, and of willing freely.”2

This view sanctifies human life. It rules as out of bounds abortion and euthanasia. It also teaches that all people should be treated with dignity. Properly understood, it eliminates all forms of elitism because we are all subject to the same Lord. It also suggests that there is meaning beyond the material world. Our greatest purpose is to be in a relationship with our Creator. As Augustine observed centuries ago, “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.” Humanity’s freedom of will grants the capacity for great nobility and extreme cruelty. The result often depends on whether we think we are “merely animals” or “created in the image of God.”

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1Steve Weizman, “Copenhagen Zoo Displays the Most Dangerous Animals,” 12 September 1996, on-line Reuters North American Wire as cited in Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live?, pp. 129-130.

2Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 513.


Three Killers

March 8, 2013

He thought no one was around—no one would see. No doubt he felt anger over the injustice of the situation. Maybe that was justification for killing the man. He had lashed out at an oppressive system, but that didn’t stop him from hiding the body. Prosecutors would label that as an indication of guilt. When it became clear that other people knew, he fled the country as a wanted man.

It was a wartime indiscretion, yet the unwanted pregnancy was about to make his dirty little secret public. He had too much to loose—too much at stake. Her husband was a soldier under his command. If he could just order him to the right place at the wrong time, her husband would be a casualty of war. It wouldn’t really be murder, would it? The enemy would solve the problem.

The mention of his name caused fear among many. He had acquired power and authority to deal with this problem, and he had the courage of his convictions to wield it. If that meant some martyrs along the way, so be it. His nation and its way of life were threatened.

Have you guessed the identity of the three killers? They were Moses, David, and Paul. Of course that is not the way we are accustomed to labeling them. They were men of faith—men that God used in a powerful way. Yet each needed grace—needed forgiveness.

Moses heard God proclaim: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6, ESV). David exclaimed: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity…” (Psalm 32:1-2a, ESV). And Paul confessed: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15, ESV).

If Moses, David, and Paul needed to claim God’s mercy, how much more do we. If each of these men had their character flaws, it’s no surprise that we do too. We must claim God’s forgiveness, and at times, we must also humble ourselves before others and ask their forgiveness too. We are works in progress. God is not through with us yet.

God took three killers and did great works. These three men found mercy and the transformation of walking with God. In the final analysis the great accomplishments were not because of who they were, but because of whose they were.*

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*Thanks to Duane Stuart for sharing this sermon idea.


The Weaker Vessel

March 1, 2013

Theodore Dalrymple is a British essayist. His work as a psychiatrist and medical doctor in a prison and hospital gave him a unique perspective on society. Although not Christian, his essays reflect conservative and traditional values. This is his encounter with a young girl who was the victim of domestic violence.

“I can look after myself,” said my seventeen-year-old.

“But men are stronger than women,” I said. “When it comes to violence, they are at an advantage.”

“That’s a sexist thing to say,” she replied.

A girl who had absorbed nothing at school had nevertheless absorbed the shibboleths of political correctness in general and of feminism in particular.

“But it’s a plain, straightforward, and inescapable fact,” I said.

“It’s sexist,” she reiterated firmly.

A stubborn refusal to face inconvenient facts, no matter how obvious, now pervades our attitude towards relations between the sexes. An ideological filter of wishful thinking strains out anything we’d prefer not to acknowledge about these eternally difficult and contested relations, with predictably disastrous results.1

This provides a good lead in to consider Peter’s language in 1 Peter 3:7: “living with the wife according to knowledge as the weaker vessel.” By the way, “vessel” is not a disparaging word. Paul was a “chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15), and Christians are “vessels of clay” (traditionally “jars of clay”) that contain the great treasure of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:7). But what does Peter mean by weaker?

Since Christian wives are fellow heirs of the gospel with their Christian husbands, it is clear that they are of equal worth. Since wives may be Christians and their husbands not (3:1), it cannot mean that they are weaker morally or intellectually. The only thing that makes sense is that they are weaker physically.

The above statement is a generalization. We might easily find a woman who could beat the tar out of some man. But admitting to exceptions, there is wisdom in telling men, who are frequently more aggressive, to use knowledge in living with their wives. The knowledge or understanding Peter is after is the awareness of a woman’s vulnerability and our common Christian hope. In ministry, I’ve seen the great damage that occurs when a woman becomes fearful of her husband.

Peter’s message may offend modern ears, but we live in a world where domestic violence is a reality. We still need his message about living according to understanding and honoring our wives.

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1Theodore Dalrymple, Life at the Bottom, p. 37.