Friday, October 29, 2004

Religion and Liberty 

Dead Men's Voices comments on the reasons people trade away their liberty:
I have often wondered why the modern man is so quick to sacrifice his liberties to various luxuries, pleasures, fears, and mindless causes. I have wondered how a nation founded upon the principles of liberty and self-government through the pain and blood of its fathers could devolve to a welfare state and adopt as its guiding principle the most messianic, blatant statism. The courage of our fathers produced a powerful and resolute feeling of self-reliance firmly entrenched in the context of family, religion, and a decent society. Men who knew first hand the hypocrisy, uselessness, oppression, and pain of tyrannical rule were quite well aware that the messianic claims of the state were empty, daggers for the soul and chains for the mind. At what point did we begin to believe that the state should educate our children, care for our aging parents, direct our charitable efforts, make the lame walk, and, in short, cure our every ill and woe?

Read the rest for his answer.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Job and Theodicy 

Job 1:20
Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped.
21 And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD."
22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.

It is common for those suffering grief to become angry over their loss. That anger is ultimately directed at God because of our awareness of His rule over all things. Job himself became angry with God over the loss of his property, family and health but it is Job's wife which expresses this sentiment fully- "Curse God and die."

Job's friends deal with Job's anger by trying to blame Job for what happened. Their argument is that God's actions could only be just if Job was a sinner.
NKJ Job 11:1 Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said:
2 "Should not the multitude of words be answered? And should a man full of talk be vindicated?
3 Should your empty talk make men hold their peace? And when you mock, should no one rebuke you?
4 For you have said, 'My doctrine is pure, And I am clean in your eyes.'
5 But oh, that God would speak, And open His lips against you,
6 That He would show you the secrets of wisdom! For they would double your prudence. Know therefore that God exacts from you Less than your iniquity deserves.

God rebukes Job's friends for their words. It is not only insensitive, but false and wrong for us to declare that all suffering is the direct result of someone's sin, though of course all suffering is the result of the curse. Job's suffering was not the result of his sin, and Job's friends had no way of knowing one way or another.

But this is what is known as a "theodicy", an attempt to justify God. The friends believe that the only way to protect God from a charge of evil in Job's life is to make Job's own actions the cause of Job's sufferings. The disciples take a similar approach when asking Jesus in John 9 whether the man was born blind because of his sins, or because of his parent's sins.

There is another way open to justifying God against such a charge, however. And that is to say that God simply isn't responsible for what happened. Some other force caused the suffering. But the problem with that approach, all too common in the Christian church today, is that it undermines God's sovereignty. It is definitely not Job's approach to the problem, for he says, "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away." He acknowledges that God was responsible for what happened, and yet never "charges God with evil."

How could God be in control of what happened to Job, and yet not responsible for evil? Only if God, in doing it, was perfectly just. This is, in fact, the answer that the young man Elihu begins to elucidate in chapter 32. In Ch. 34 he says:
10 " Therefore listen to me, you men of understanding: Far be it from God to do wickedness, And from the Almighty to commit iniquity.
11 For He repays man according to his work, And makes man to find a reward according to his way.
12 Surely God will never do wickedly, Nor will the Almighty pervert justice.
13 Who gave Him charge over the earth? Or who appointed Him over the whole world?
14 If He should set His heart on it, If He should gather to Himself His Spirit and His breath,
15 All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust.
16 "If you have understanding, hear this; listen to the sound of my words:
17 Should one who hates justice govern? Will you condemn Him who is most just?

Elihu's argument here is that it is impossible for God to commit injustice, since He is the judge. That is, it is God who determines what is right and wrong. There is no superior standard to Him. There is no one who set God up as the judge of the universe, or who appointed him King. He is king and judge by His own right and authority. How can we talk about God doing injustice to us, when we only exist by His decree? At His desire we would all cease to exist, and He would have taken nothing from us that He did not give in the first place.

Therefore, it is not necessary to insist that Job's sins are the cause for Job's suffering. But it is also not acceptable for Job to question God's reasons for doing what He did. Job should have justified God instead of himself, and not because Job knew the reasons for what God did, but because Job knew the character of God, who is always perfectly holy.

But it is God Himself who provides the final answer for the controversy:
Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
2 "Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge?
3 Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
4 " Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone,
7 When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

God here questions Job's right to ask the question in the first place, as well as the sufficiency of Job's knowledge or power to understand the answer. Job is not the equal of God, and Job lacks the necessary perspective to judge God's behavior. God created all things for His own glory, and we can do nothing more than tremble in awe and worship.
Job 40:7 "Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me:
8 "Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?

This is the answer of Scripture everywhere. God is the definition of righteousness, and what He does is right because of who He is. He asks Job if Job would attempt to annul God's decision, as if Job believed that he were a superior authority to God. Job is properly humbled:
Job 42:1 Then Job answered the LORD and said:
2 "I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
3 You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, 'I will question you, and you shall answer Me.'
5 "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.
6 Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes."

He has learned that he simply lacks the capacity to even ask the question in the first place, and has repented. He has learned wisdom.

But note something very important: God never told Job why the suffering came on him. God never told him about the contest between Him and Satan in front of the angels. And God never told Job that He intended to restore his family and possessions to him. God defends Himself only in one way: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Job repents and realizes his great foolishness, even though he is no closer to understanding why God did what He did. The one thing he learned was that whatever God did, it must be righteous, not because it conforms to Job's ideas of righteousness, but because God is Himself the standard of righteousness.

Jesus answers the disciples in John 9 in a similar way. He says that the man was born blind not because of anyone's sins, but purely so that God could be glorified when Jesus healed the man. God had done the man no injustice by taking his sight, since it is God who gives every man his sight in the first place. All things come from God's hand, and if He takes them from us, they were His to begin with.

Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

How Saddam Could Win 

Check out the Belmont Club today, in case any of you aren't reading it already. He's got the Iraqi strategy down cold. The only way Saddam could beat us:
The major modern innovation of the Arab Way of War has been its radical new conception of defense in depth. The concept made its debut in Algeria; it was subsequently refined in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Checnya and the West Bank. Unlike Ushijima's Shuri Line with its tunnels in rock, the Arab redoubt was founded on establishing an underground of terror in the civilian populace. From the anonymity of crowds, they could emerge to attack the enemy from the rear as the Imperial Japanese Army once had done from tunnels. Faced with superior United States forces, this 21st century War Plan Orange was the natural choice of the Arab strategists. By denying the United States proof of its WMDs and grinding them down through occupation warfare -- the one mode of combat at which they excelled, they had a reasonable hope of holding America until a politician willing to treat with them was elected into office. There was no need for despair because, as James Lileks put it, "hope is on the way" -- a reference to the eventual actions of the antiwar Left. In Iraq the ultimate blitzkrieg force met the ultimate protracted war army and the protracted war army awaited events confidently.

The only way we can lose is if the antiwar left talks us into committing suicide.

Caught Again 

Check out Instapundit here, quoting the excellent kausfiles (who doesn't seem to have permalinks or I'd link him directly), quoting the somewhat less-than-excellent John F Kerry from October 2001:
I have no doubt, I've never had any doubt -- and I've said this publicly -- about our ability to be successful in Afghanistan. We are and we will be. The larger issue, John, is what happens afterwards. How do we now turn attention ultimately to Saddam Hussein? How do we deal with the larger Muslim world? What is our foreign policy going to be to drain the swamp of terrorism on a global basis?

Blowing with the wind, as always.

Monday, October 25, 2004

New Blog 

Take a look at Dead Men's Voices. Andy is an old buddy from seminary, and he just started the blog, but it sure looks promising so far, which is no surprise to me, knowing Andy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

That ol' Double Standard 

You know that show that Sinclair Broadcasting is airing that slams Kerry?

If that is an "in-kind contribution", how is Springsteen's Vote For Change tour not an in-kind contribution?

Don't get me wrong. I think they all ought to be legal. But this is just exactly the kind of gamemanship that people predicted when Campaign Finance was passed. I hope McCain has woken up- his bill is just being used as a way of shutting some people up (conservatives) while liberals still get to shout as loud as they want.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Stem Cell Research 

Along with my statement earlier on this subject, read this, by The Dawn Treader:
Most of my frustration with the stem-cell discussion in this country is the indifference and apathy toward stem cell therapy that is already at work delivering cures today.

That is right. I am not talking about research. I am talking about cures. From stem cells. Today. Already.

Why do we not hear about these cures?

Answer: human embryos were not destroyed to produce the cures. Adult stem cells were used. Inexplicably, this invalidates hope in the minds of some.

Instead, they would rather hurl invectives at Laura Bush and her husband for stealing their hope.

Ultimately, this is not about medical treatments for disease. This is about whether any moral or ethical restraint on "science" will be allowed.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

A Sense of Community 

There's a certain sense of community in a small town, I was always told when I lived in a bigger city. This was presented to me as one of the advantages, perhaps the big advantage, of small town life over city life.

Well, it's true. There is a certain sense of community here in Limon. I'll provide a couple of anecdotes as examples. Not proof, mind you, as these are just anecdotes and are therefore, well, anecdotal.

We're doing a lot of work on our house right now, including redoing the foundation walls of our cellar. This was necessary as said walls were beginning to cave in. I prefer my walls to be of the non-caving-in variety, and hence the work. For consideration of the two proffered anecdotes, it is necessary to understand two byproducts of this work: 1) my cellar for a period of time was open to the public in a very literal sense, and 2) there are large piles of dirt around my house.

Now, the anecdotes:

Anecdote the first:
We had left for a few days to go to South Dakota for my ordination examination. Upon my return, I discovered some beer cans and assorted other paraphernalia indicating that some of my neighbors had been taking advantage of the non-secured nature of the cellar for some carousing.

Talking to some neighbors about this state of affairs, my wife was told not to be too concerned about such nocturnal comings and goings. "People are curious", she was informed. People have a sense of community, you see, and so if they spend some time in your cellar while you're out of town, don't be too concerned. We're all family here.

Anecdote the second:
The other day I noticed a backhoe out my office window. Of itself, this was not to be wondered at, since backhoes and cement trucks and the like have been regular guests in the Powell family backyard of late. But this backhoe was smaller, and of a different color than the one that had been around. It looked familiar. As I watched it, I realized it belonged to one of my neighbors just down the road. The backhoe usually sat in his backyard (another charming aspect of small town life, the presence of heavy machinery in the yard). My neighbor was doing some landscaping and decided to help himself to some of my spare dirt.

Please don't misunderstand. I have dirt a-plenty right now. I am going to have to pay someone some amount of money to do something with all of this dirt. So I would not object to the neighbors helping themselves. But in the city one is more used to being asked by neighbors before they come onto your property and help themselves to whatever is lying about.

That is, of course, unless they're thieves. But thieves don't usually work in broad daylight under cover of backhoes that are usually parked just four houses down. No, these were not thieves. Just neighbors.

See, that's that sense of community again. Share and share alike.


I'm finishing up working on my sermon for tomorrow, which is from Acts 13, and I am once again confronted with a simple fact:

Every time thus far that any sermon is recorded in Acts, the preacher connects the coming of Christ to the Old Testament promises.

The dispensationalists say all of those promises of the kingdom of Israel and the seed of David and the promises of Abraham were only to the Jews, and yet Paul and Peter constantly connect them to Christ, and extend them to Jew and Gentile alike, after the nation of Israel had rejected Jesus. How can the dispensationalists put such an impenetrable wall of separation between Old and New, when the Apostles in Acts constantly connect the two?

Just wondering.

They Learn Fast 

Last night, in the fullness of time, I said, "Katie, it's time to go to bed!" And she put up the fight that she always does. She wants to watch Cinderella, she wants to play toys, she wants breakfast. It's always something. Last night, she tried a new trick- "I feel sick". She's sick, and that's why she can't go to bed and has to stay up and play toys instead.

Human nature rears its ugly head. We all learned early on that we got out of responsibility when we were sick. It took us about two seconds to make the next extrapolation, which is that if there's something I didn't want to do, I could pretend to be sick and get out of it.

Of course, there was always the guilt involved in doing such a thing. And that led to the next trick, which was to search myself for some little ache, some less-than-perfect feeling that could be the reason why I can't be expected to fulfill my obligations. And the weird thing was, lots of times when I engaged in that process of trying to find something wrong with me, I would start actually feeling worse. Hypochondria and psychosomatic illnesses are of course well-documented. What many people don't realize, though, is that a psychosomatic illness is not a faked illness. It is a symptom in the body that is generated in the mind. The mind is the source, but the feeling is real. It's just that it's impossible to treat effectively, since the mind is generating the symptoms.

As I get older of course, the body starts to work less well than it did when I was 18. There's always some ache, some little niggly feeling. And it would be a matter of some ease to amplify those feelings into a full-blown illness and thus be excused from meeting my obligations. But one of the most helpful pieces of advice I got from my mother as a child was when complaining of just such some minor ache. She said, "we all have aches and pains. But we still have to do what we have to do."

Our society seems to become increasingly therapeutic in its orientation. Every problem, every imperfection in the body must be treated by some medical technology, and failure to do so is some great catastrophe that all too frequently results in lawsuits. Or it results in the afflicted person opting out of any responsibility. They can't take care of their kids, they can't work, they can't do whatever it is they're supposed to be doing because they're sick.

One of the things that makes this problem so difficult to address is the fact that there is a great deal of genuinely debilitating illnesses and injuries that occur. Chronic pain or weakness can be such a burden on a person. You don't want to seem unsympathetic. But it's not sympathetic to encourage people to invent reasons to avoid responsibility.

If it really is a heart problem, then the cure must be to the heart as well. And as in all things, the answer is forgiveness of sins. I know that I would most often try to get out of school or work when there was some insurmountable problem there that I didn't feel like I could deal with. Some test or some deadline that I wasn't prepared for. People feel a great deal of guilt about their lives- their families, their jobs, their involvement with church, and one way of dealing with that guilt is just opting out. If I'm sick, or if I have some mental disorder or something like that, then I can't be expected to live up to my responsibilities.

But when we learn that all of us on our own are failures, that all of us fail our families, our churches, our jobs, because of our fallen natures, but that Jesus has removed the guilt of that and with His power we can get back on the horse and try again, then we can overcome that guilt. We can learn not to look for escape hatches or dodges, and that avoiding responsibility just makes the problems worse anyway.

The sluggard says, "There is a lion in the street!" Maybe, and maybe not. But there's always a reason not to do what we should do. Katie's already learned that. But by God's grace and forgiveness, we can learn to go face our lions and defeat them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Sunday's Sermon 

Sunday's sermon was on the topic of how the gospel frees you from all those in the world who would enslave you. Whether they wear religious garb, or have the degrees of a doctor or scientist, anyone who tries to take away the freedom of the Christian, who tries to use people's guilt and fear to enslave them to their program. The link's on the sidebar.

Christopher Reeve 

Rusty links to a statement by Patrick Reardon asking the question, why is the life of Christopher Reeve or Michael J. Fox worth more than the life of the embryos they would kill by the research they promote? A very good question.

I'd ask another question: Why are these men regarded as moral heroes when their only cause is to deny life to others for their own benefit? I am sorry for the family of Christopher Reeve, and I'm sorry for the suffering he went through. Likewise for Michael J. Fox. But I do not regard it as a great act of moral bravery that they agitate for a cause that they perceive will benefit them directly, whatever the moral value of the cause. Even if embryonic research was a morally neutral cause (which it is not), why is it an act of bravery and moral courage to promote research which will cure you of a disease you have? What would impress me would be someone who has one of those diseases and yet works against embryonic stem cell research. In other words, someone who promotes a cause that doesn't directly benefit them.

Maybe I'm wrong about these guys? Maybe they gave a lot of money to disabled causes before they themselves were disabled?


God be praised 

Andrea and I have just recently discovered that we will be having a baby, Lord willing. This will be our second, and we are very excited and thankful about it. #2 should be due in June.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Scrappleface wins again 

I've been trying to say this for ages, and then Scrappleface comes along, and says it with satire better than I ever have.
"Of course, we can't assert anything positively about Monsieur Derrida's recent failure to exist," said Mr. Chirac, "We can't even state that he ever did exist, since he may have been a mere metaphysical projection of our own prejudices against absolutes. However, in as much as we may categorically claim anything--Mr. Derrida will not likely be showing up for work tomorrow. Although, who is to say?"

Friday, October 08, 2004

Exposing the mask of "pro-choice" 

I stumbled across an article on a liberal site, bemoaning the fact that Rick Santorum ("our favorite bigot") got a law through Congress giving medical providers a right not to perform abortions or refer for abortions if their consciences were violated by abortion. Now I know this particular site is not what you'd call mainstream, but I think it represents a certain perspective out there.

What's so terrible about this law to a liberal? If they really are "pro-choice", shouldn't they be in favor of a law that gives that choice? They want to force doctors, nurses, hospitals and insurance providers to participate in something they find immoral? These are the people always saying that everyone should have the right to choose for themselves.

Of course then one remembers the women's rights conference held in Beijing, a country that performs forced abortions. I went to the National Organization of Women's site and tried to find articles critical of China's policy, and all I found was articles critical of Bush for being critical of China's policy. There were articles critical of the persecution of Falun Gong, but none critical of China for forcing women to abort their children.

It's just like the homosexual debate. It's not enough for them to be allowed to freely practice their lifestyle, which they've had for ages. They've got TV shows, for crying out loud. Try to find one about a conservative pastor, except to mock him. No, that's not enough. They want government to subsidize it and every voice raised in dissent to be silenced. They would force me to approve of it from my pulpit. If you doubt me, spend a little time looking at what's going on already in Europe and Canada on this front.

So, choice means choice for them. Choice for the amoral "progressive" to never ever be restricted in any decision they ever want to make, not even by someone else exercising their choice. The choice of the modern liberal makes every other man his slave. And they call us the fascists.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


A few stories that just must be mentioned.

First, remember the report that came out yesterday that was supposed to blow a big hole in Bush's rationale for war?

Check out Powerline's analysis:

Saddam was convinced that the UN sanctions - which stopped him acquiring weapons - were on the brink of collapse and he bankrolled several foreign activists who were campaigning for their abolition. He personally approved every one.
To keep America at bay, he focus[ed] on Russia, France and China - three of the five UN Security Council members with the power to veto war. Politicians, journalists and diplomats were all given lavish gifts and oil-for-food vouchers.
With Iraq's economy badly damaged and U.N. sanctions, Mr. Duelfer's report says, Saddam's plans for a skeletal weapons program that could be mobilized quickly led him to pursue the needed materials through illegal and indirect channels.

Starting in 1997 and peaking in 2001, he developed a giant smuggling operation that hinged on the establishment of "a network of Iraqi front companies, some with close relationships to high-ranking foreign-government officials," the report says.

Those officials, it says, "worked through their respective ministries, state-run companies and ministry-sponsored front companies to procure illicit goods, services and technologies for Iraq's WMD-related, conventional arms, and/or dual-use goods programs."

Also, the political violence is heating up- right here in America. Professor Bainbridge has a summary.

Both via Instapundit. This is why I don't blog politics all that much- Instapundit usually has the goods, and Powerline or LGF or NRO or Drudge or any number of other sites give all the substantial analysis you could ever want.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Whittle comes through again 

Read this. Especially if you're wondering whether or not this election really matters that much.

It's times like this that I thank God that He is in control.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Sola Scriptura in the Postmodern World 

In response to Jollyblogger's challenge:

Postmodernism is essentially an attempt to come to grips with the despair of Nihilism as the end point of Modernism. Nihilism forever stripped away any thought that morality or knowledge could exist in a purely naturalistic world, and with that loss went hope and significance. Postmodernism has at its roots a suspicion against all forms of authority, especially the authority of cognitive systems. Modernism posited the existence of rationalistic authoritarian systems of thought, and postmodernism attempted to assert itself against those authoritarian systems as being no better, ultimately, than the religiously authoritarian systems that modernism itself attempted to subvert and overthrow. Postmodernism tries to recover significance by destroying authority, so that the individual is free to construct his own significance as an act of pure will. In this way, postmodernism is closely related to existentialism.

Fundamental to the postmodernist attack on modernism is at the point of authority. In order for modernism to hold onto its claims of authority, a ‘metanarrative’ must be posited, that is, a way of talking about the universe that is seen as fundamental. Sometimes this metanarrative is described as the “text”, that is, the body of truth which is seen as being foundational to everything else that is thought. Postmodernism is an attempt to deconstruct all such “texts”, and posits that due to the great deal of information, wealth and personal freedom that the modern world affords the individual, each individual subconsciously subverts these metanarratives through consumerist choices of mass media, religious options and consumer goods thereby constructing their own personal narratives which to them become the truth, although that truth is in a constant state of flux. Rather than simply accepting anyone’s “metanarrative”, each individual consumer, in concert with whatever communities that consumer perceives himself as being connected to, constructs that narrative for themselves. All truth claims, beauty claims and moral claims are therefore understood as being fundamentally rooted in individual and group perceptions and constructions, rather than in any absolute or transcendental claims.

Certain Christian circles, known as Postmodern Christianity or the Emergent Church, have attempted to construct themselves along similar lines, and believe that this process was essentially what Jesus himself was doing. Such groups talk about “doing church” and the importance of the Christian community and the Christian narrative, but they mean different things by these statements than many Christians of a more traditional bent might expect. Instead, the local Christian community is invited to sample from the whole range of Christian experience both from their own history and from the history of other groups, as well as the experience of those outside Christianity to some degree, in order to construct their own narrative by which to experience Jesus. Absolutist statements about what Christianity ought to look like are viewed with the same suspicion as any other claim of absolute truth, as being the attempt of some group to enforce their perspective on another group.

Therefore, the concept of “Sola Scriptura” will have no authority for a consistent Postmodern Christian, insofar as postmodernism in any context can ever be described as consistent. “Sola Scriptura” is a statement about authority fundamentally, and not information. The adherent to Sola Scriptura does not claim that the Bible is the only source of information or revelation. Rather, he claims that the Bible is the only absolute authority to which the church must adhere. The postmodernist views the Bible as a rich and valuable source for selecting elements for his narrative, and perhaps even as the most valuable source. But he does not view the Bible as an authority, for fundamental to Postmodernism is the idea that there is no absolute authority except God Himself, and God is experienced individually and through the local community, not in a book.

Talk amongst yourselves… I’ll give you a topic… Postmodern Christianity then is ultimately neither really postmodern nor really Christian. Discuss.

Postmodern Christianity is not really Postmodern because the mere fact of calling itself Christianity binds it to a metanarrative whether it likes it or not. Postmodern Christianity cannot be about Allah, and it cannot be about the joys of torturing cats. There is an authoritative truth structure to which it must conform in some sense, in order for it to be meaningfully called church or Christianity. Postmodern Christianity tends to resemble evangelical Christianity, just with a much looser view of acceptable practice and a tendency to use a lot of postmodernist jargon.

At the same time, Christianity fundamentally is about submission to God, and to what Christ did for us. If Christ is not risen, then we are of all men most miserable. Postmodern Christianity, in attempting to detach from Christianity the importance of an authoritative text, attacks the very heart of Christianity, because Christianity in its most basic nature is a metanarrative. It is a story about something that happened that is fundamental to who we are. This is why the Apostles’ Creed, the most basic and universal creed of all branches of Christianity, describes historical events.

And fundamental to that metanarrative is the text which describes that metanarrative, the Scripture. If there is to be any truth, there must be an authority for that truth, and the historic Reformed teaching of Sola Scriptura is based on the idea that Scripture declares itself, in self-attesting terms, to be that authority. The only other option for a basis for truth is the human mind, and resort to the human mind as authority for anything always results in nihilistic despair. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura stands against, as it always has, the lie of Satan that man can be his own judge of good and evil.

We’ve been through this whole thing before. What the postmodernist church is saying today was said 150 years ago, and better, by Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard, and later, Barth. We already know where it ends- in relativism, irrelevance and the gutting of the church and the gospel. In this environment the declaration of the truth of the gospel and the authority of Scripture as the basis for that Gospel is as badly needed as it ever has been. The choice is and always has been between the absolute authority of God’s word or meaninglessness and despair. The first lie the devil ever told man was, “Has God really said?”

Monday, October 04, 2004

Prophecy and Miracles 

I received a question today about the existence of miracles and prophecy today. Always a fun topic. Here's my answer.
This is going to be kind of long, but it’s a little bit of a complicated question. Such issues often rise from a whole host of wrong ideas. To effectively answer such issues, you have to do some work to see what Scripture really says about these things. There’s no place in the Bible that says that these gifts will always be in the church, or that they definitely cease at a certain time. But by seeing what the Bible says that prophecy is and how to tell legitimate miracles from fake ones, we can see whether ‘miracles’ today fit the Biblical definition. Also, as we see what miracles were used for in the Scripture, we can see whether or not we should expect to see them today.

Prophecy occurs when someone has a message from God to give to other people. This message can involve predictions of the future, but they don’t need to. Anytime someone comes claiming to have the word of God, that person is claiming to be a prophet. In this sense, every time a Christian witnesses about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that person is acting as a prophet. We all have the Bible, and the Bible is the word of God. So I don’t have to have dreams or visions to be a prophet.

What you’re talking about, though, is making predictions about the future. I’ll lump that together with miraculous healings and speaking in tongues, and deal with it all together as “miracles”.

In the Bible, miracles do not occur uniformly. Many great men of the Bible have no recorded miracles. David worked no miracles. Abraham worked no miracles. Noah worked no miracles. In fact, what you see is three periods in the Bible when a lot of miracles occur: First, in the time of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt; Second, in the time of Elijah and Elisha and the beginning of the great Prophetic era; and third, the coming of Jesus and founding of the early church. In each case, the miracles were given to accompany a new giving of the word- first the Law of Moses, then the prophecies of the major and minor prophets (the history books, and the books of Isaiah through Malachi), and finally the New Testament and the Gospel of Jesus. Miracles have never occurred constantly and willy-nilly- just for the fun of it. Miracles occur to confirm the word of God. But we have the word of God complete now and it confirms itself, so there is no more need for miracles.

Even though Jesus worked many miracles, He said it was a “wicked and perverse generation” that looks for miracles (Matthew 16:1-4). In another place, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16), the rich man claims that he would have believed, and his brothers would believe, if only a miracle occurred. Abraham responds that they “have Moses and the prophets” (that is, they have the Bible). And if they do not believe because of the Bible, then they will not believe even if they see a miracle.

Therefore, miracles are given to confirm the word of God, but we should not look for them. Faith in the teaching of the Bible is what will save us, and if we do not believe in the Bible, then miracles won’t change anything. This includes healings, tongues and telling the future.

About the actual practice of future-telling: frequently, prophecy as it’s practiced in the church today is about the same as a fortune-cookie- you will find true love, God wants us to send missionaries to Africa, etc. Vague prophecies like that are no better than parlor tricks, and no evidence of a miracle. Any palm-reader can make vague generalizations about the future. Prophecy in the Bible was in very specific terms, naming people who would do things sometimes hundreds of years in the future, sometimes very shortly. Deuteronomy 28:20-22 says that if a man comes claiming to be a prophet, and made a prediction that didn’t happen, that they were to put that man to death because he wasn’t a real prophet. So ask your friends- do their prophecies make specific predictions about things to come and do those things happen 100% of the time? If not, it’s not real prophecy. (You don’t need to stone them, though!) The people who believe in prophecy have been making predictions about when Jesus was going to come back for a couple of hundred years now, and they’re always wrong, but they keep doing it, and their churches never get wise that they are not real prophets.

Also, Deuteronomy 13:1 says that men will come to the people of God, doing signs and wonders, and saying “Let us follow after other gods”. God says that He sent such men to the people to test them, to see if they will really follow Him or not. This means that if a man comes doing miracles then the people of God are also required to test the doctrine of the miracle worker. Is he teaching the truth about God? If not, it doesn’t matter what signs and wonders he does.

So, there is a twofold test. One, is the miracle real? Does the prophecy actually occur? And two, is the man’s doctrine true to Scripture? If the man fails either of these tests, then he is a fraud and a charlatan. On this basis, pretty much all of the miracle working that occurs today is not authentic.

Why do healers today do their healings in tent meetings and TV studios, in controlled environments? If they were healing like the Apostles healed, they’d be doing it in hospitals and shopping malls. Miracle working today looks the same as a magic show, and has as much reality.

About the passages you referred to specifically- Joel 2:28 is a prophecy about Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples after Jesus went back to heaven, and they performed many miraculous signs. In fact, Acts 2:16-17 (the other passage you gave me) specifically says that Pentecost fulfilled the prophecy in Joel. That prophecy has already been fulfilled, so we don’t need to look for it to be fulfilled today. 1 Cor 12:10 talks about the different kinds of gifts that people are given, both supernatural gifts and more natural gifts such as teaching, administration and so forth. It doesn’t tell us anything about whether we should expect to see those gifts today. They existed at the time, and Paul was telling them how to understand what those gifts were for and how they should be used. And note that in that section in 1 Corinthians, in 1 Cor 14, Paul says that prophecy, understood as teaching doctrine, not as telling the future, was better than miraculous signs, and that above all in church we should value teaching, and that everything is done in an orderly fashion. I haven’t been to too many Charismatic or Pentecostal churches that could be described as ‘orderly’, or that put a high value on teaching doctrine.

There’s a lot more that could be said on the subject, but hopefully this will get you started.

UPDATE: Rusty has a related post on New Covenant today.

New Sermon 

Sunday's sermon is posted. It's on the subject of ministry, understood broadly as service to God, and how we accomplish that both inside and outside of the church. The link is on the sidebar.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Vacation pics 

Babyblogging... Katie at Cocoa Beach in Florida Posted by Hello


I've been remiss in posting sermons, but I'm uploading the last five. They're on Acts 10-12, mostly about the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles. The link is on the sidebar.

Debate notes 

I didn't see the debate last night, but I read the transcript on Fox News. Joe at EO has a nice collection of thoughts, though. Everyone (almost) seems to be saying Kerry did better than expected, and better than Bush, but only slightly, and mostly just on style, not content.

Western Suicide 

Discoshaman has some interesting thoughts on Liberalism and Islam:

Liberals, and the 3rd World bigots they pander to, can't shut up about the Crusades. Listening to them, one would think Western Europe decided to annex the Holy Land on some sort of ecclesiastical lark.

Lost somehow is the fact that the Crusades, while not politely conducted, were only a minor counter-offensive in a 1400 year history of almost unbroken aggression against Christians by militant Islam. Do these idiots never stop and ask HOW there were Arabs in a former Roman colony to begin with?


The League of Reformed Bloggers 

I have joined the League of Reformed Bloggers. Their blogroll is on the sidebar, under the archives. They're worth a look. Note, of course, that I don't actually know if they're all reformed or not, although subscription to the 5 solas and one of the major Reformed confessions is required to join.

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