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Bible, Culture, Politics

Before You Vote: Remember the True King

October 13, 2020

In the last few months, several members of Coram Deo (the church I pastor) have asked me about what they should do regarding this upcoming political election. For some, this is the most important political election they have ever witnessed; for others, they are discouraged and weary of the political division. Given that election day is three weeks away, I hope to write a series of articles that are primarily directed at the members of Coram Deo, while also applying to the broader Christian circle in which I am a part of.

A quick disclaimer: my approach to politics comes primarily from the perspective of Reformed Christianity, particularly in the realm of Kuyperianism in relation to culture. For those unaware, Kuyper was a 19th century theologian, politician, journalist, and a prolific writer of how the church should engage not only in the area of biblical theology but of culture and politics. I am aware that some of you may disagree with my perspectives, which is totally in your right to do so. My plea to you as you read and engage with other people in this season: extend the same grace that has been given to you in Christ.


Around this time of the year, I yearn for election season to be over, primarily so that the endless number of billboards and commercials will cease. Every four years, there seems to be endless promises, half-told stories of particular candidates, and the potential for doom if one candidate looses (particularly, the candidate that is NOT your candidate). Yet, something feels different this year. There is more angst, more animosity, more fear, and the Christian camp is not immune to this. Fear and anxiety have gripped the people of God concerning who will get elected in a few weeks.

While I do believe that Christians should be actively involved in the cultural and political moments of their time, I would caution us to remember that fixing our hopes and identity upon a political party or candidate will always lead to disappoint and angst, whereas fixing our eyes on Jesus, the True King, will always lead to rest and security. In other words, in this election season, church, remember Whose you are. Remember the first question of the New City Catechism: what is your only hope in life and death? That you are not your own but belong to God.

This means that regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, your eternal security and present comfort is found in God’s covenantal love for you in Christ and God’s preserving of the church for the ages to come. Rather than being a cheesy, cliche statement that Christians hold on to, you seriously need to remember that through all things, Jesus is still King. As King, Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Nothing can thwart God’s agenda in this world—and yes, not even your worst political nightmare.

EVERY SQUARE INCH

Even though Abraham Kuyper was Prime Minister of the Netherlands, he nevertheless retained his theological bent, believing that the state is a necessary good, while at the same time believing that the Kingship of Jesus reigns as supreme over all things. Make no mistake: the state is absolutely a necessary good in a world governed by corruption, but the state is limited. Government has been instituted by God (Romans 13:1) and have been instituted to restrain evil in society (Romans 13:3). In the throes of governing and politics, Kuyper never abandoned his chief concern in life:

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’

Abraham Kuyper – Sphere Sovereignty

Kuyper believed, and we believe in his stead, that Christ, not the state, is the rightful ruler and king over all creation. There is nothing outside of his jurisdiction or control. There is never a moment of stress or angst in God’s heart as he governs and sustains the world right now. And the good news? God will never be dethroned. Your political candidate may win or loose in a few weeks but Jesus the King will remain King forever. Lest we get tunnel vision in our political vision, let us remember the end of history: all of the nations gathered together, bowing before Christ the Lamb, celebrating the victory of Jesus over all kings and rulers (Revelation 7:9).

So, Christian, go to the ballot box on November 3 with complete assurance and confidence, not in your political party or candidate, but in the fact that Jesus is the reigning and ruling King over all creation. Go in confidence to vote remembering that God has sustained his church through far more wicked governments. Go in hope to the ballot box, not in the promises of Trump or Biden, but in the promises of God found in the Scriptures.

Bible

Why Should You Study 1 Peter?

August 26, 2020

Starting in September, I will begin to preach through 1 Peter at Coram Deo. Why should we care about 1 Peter and how is it relevant to the life of a Christian today? My hope and prayer is that the people of Coram Deo may learn not just information but be transformed by the renewing work of God found in 1 Peter. So then, why should we study 1 Peter now in the 21st century?

PETER IN A TIME SUCH AS THIS

Many Christians are familiar with the Pauline epistles, the Psalms, Proverbs, and the Gospel stories; very few people spend significant time in 1 and 2 Peter. In fact, I have rarely, if ever, heard a Christian say that 1 Peter is one of their favorite books, even though the book has so much relevance to the life of a Christian in the 21st century. Even though thousands of years apart, we would discover that Peter’s world and our world are really not that different.

For one, depending upon when you believe Peter wrote 1 Peter, the persecution that Peter warns against is very similar to the persecution that Western Christians are now facing or will begin to face very soon. For Peter, the majority of persecution was verbal and cultural, meaning that perhaps a Christian would be verbally shamed or ridiculed for their belief in Christ while not enduring physical punishment. As Western culture continues to push further from Christianity, we will continue to see verbal and cultural persecution. For many of us, this type of aggression will be foreign to us and sadly, many of us will respond more from an American mindset than a biblical mindset. We will want to defend our honor, retaliate, and protect our rights. Rather, Peter would admonish us, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called.” (1 Peter 3:9)

Peter will help refocus our priorities and fix our hope firmly on our Covenant God. Many of us have been accustomed to being in a place of cultural power, which is now shifting, and without the help of the Scriptures, we will be left confused at best and angry at worst. This, personally, leads me to the most important reason to study 1 Peter in the 21st century.

AN EXILIC IDENTITY

In the introduction, Peter identifies his audience as “elect exiles,” which, for our current cultural situation, is incredibly relevant. The average American Christian probably does not feel like an exile but the reality is that we progressively feel more like an exile as the years progress. An exile is a resident of one country while being a citizen of another. In this case, the people of God have always been exiles in this world—members of the Kingdom of God while living in the world. Yet, for many of us who grew up in Christendom, we have not felt like exiles. Times are changing, folks.

Peter wants to ground our identity in two facts—that we are elected and chosen by God and we currently reside as exiles and aliens in a foreign world. We recognize that we primarily belong to a world that is not here, to a Kingdom that is unshakeable, and to a King that is unimpeachable. Rather than grasping for cultural straws, it allows us to rest in and for the Kingdom of God that is breaking in right now.

A KINGDOM-SHAPED ETHIC

Because we are living in times where it is evident that Christians are exiles, it is more important than ever to have lives that are modeled after the Kingdom. Perhaps for many growing up in Christendom, morality was regulated via the government or the neighborhood that you grew up in. With the rise of postmodernism, morality is no longer enforceable outside the individual realm and thus, the people of God must be shaped by an ethic outside of themselves, namely through the Scriptures and the Kingdom of God.

1 Peter will not only teach us but shape us as a people to live as exiles in God’s kingdom. We will learn what it means to honor governors (even ones that are evil and commit evil acts), how to live as a godly family, how to serve in our vocations, and how to minister to those that are different than us. Rather than taking our cues from culture, 1 Peter invites us to be shaped around a Kingdom ethic.

JOIN US IN SEPTEMBER

I hope that you will join us as we learn from 1 Peter in the Fall. Perhaps you are new to Las Cruces and are looking for a church home, I invite you to join us on Sunday mornings at 10 am (you can also join us online as well). For those of you who already attend a church in Las Cruces, we invite you to journey with us and mine the riches of Peter’s epistle that is more relevant now than ever.

Bible, Catechism

Question #5: What Else Did God Create?

August 25, 2020

What else did God create?

God created all things by his powerful Word, and all his creation was very good; everything flourished under his loving rule

In my last post, we discussed New City Catechism’s question #4, which deals with the purpose of humanities creation: to know and love God. Now, after dealing with humanity, the catechism turns to the rest of the world. What else did God create? There are three points of interest that the catechism offers us.

GOD CREATED ALL THINGS

A simple reading of Genesis 1 and 2 would make God’s creation of all things a known fact. Birds, reptiles, trees, fish, and a host of other animals were created by God. But God did not only create what can be seen, but also the unseen: he created emotions, desire, will, relational and familial systems. Think about the vast sum of objects that you enjoy in this life. Marriage? Friendship? A ribeye medium-rare? A perfectly pulled shot of espresso? The Rocky Mountains? All of this, and more, comes from the hand and mind of God.

CREATED BY HIS POWERFUL WORD

You may be thinking, what is so special about God creating? We create all the time. We create tables, iPhones, cultural systems. We create all the time. For you and I, we are entirely dependent upon raw materials to create. In order to design and create a table, we must purchase a saw, screws, and wood. What is unique about the work of God is that He creates without any raw materials. In other words, Genesis 1 and 2 tell a story of a God who simply speaks and creates. God says, “Let there be light” and light appears.

God creates with no strain or stress, whereas we create with incredible stress and strain. Mankind has created some of the most fascinating inventions, yet most of the time through arduous work. God, on the other hand, never tires or worries about what he is creating. He never has a rough draft. God creates all things perfectly and painlessly. Here is the unique and inviting aspect of Christianity: God is immensely powerful while being highly relational at the same time. The same God who spoke the universe into being longs to be in relationship with you.

EVERYTHING CREATED VERY GOOD

We were originally created to live in a world that flourished, rather than the world that we live in now that has been corrupted by sin. Every single person, whether they are religious or not, recognizes that there is something wrong with the world. There is something inside of our bones that cries out, “This is not the way it’s supposed to be.” That is because something in our soul recognizes that there was a moment when everything was perfect.

Because God is perfect in himself, God created everything perfectly, or as the catechism notes, everything was created to flourish. This is what we all desperately long for: flourishing relationships, businesses, and friendships. We were designed to live in a world that flourishes under God’s loving rule, where everything works in perfect harmony together. Our hope lies in the fact that one day, God will return to earth to renew and restore all things, so that our heart gets what its longing for: to be in relationship with God and then world in perfect harmony.

Bible, Catechism

Question #4: How and why did God create us?

August 17, 2020

How and why did God create us?

God created us male and female in his own image to know him, love him, live with him, and glorify him. And it is right that we who were created by God should live to his glory.

New City Catechism #4

Deep inside humanities’ bones, everyone is asking: Why do I exist? What am I here for? Tired, anxious mothers question their existence and calling in sleepless nights; ambitious college-students seek to find their niche in the world; children wonder what their eventual purpose will be in the world. Simply put, wondering why we exist is simply human. Thankfully, Christianity and the catechism are not devoid of engagement with some of life’s most prominent questions. Here we have our answer, though some may not like it: we were created to know God, love God, live with God, and glorify God.

First, before we jump into the four reasons we were created, the catechism distinguishes how God created us. In the opening pages of the Bible, God is described as a Creator, who creates all things, including mankind. God first creates mankind in his image, noting that there is something amiss in the good creation, namely, a helper suitable for Adam. Now, lest we read our sin-filled world into Genesis 1 and 2, Eve being a “helper” for Adam is not derogatory or demeaning. A helper is someone who is strong, able to help, and fully competent (as I help my children with their homework, I cannot be the weaker party because then I could not help).

Everything in God’s good world was just that, good. Man and woman existed in perfect harmony with one another, with creation, with their vocation, and with their God. They existed together in a state in which we all long to be in. God created the first human pair to complement one another in relational harmony, as the catechism notes, we are created as male and female. We were created for vocational stewardship in this world, marital union, and relationship with God.

CREATED TO KNOW HIM

Our highest aim is to know God, more than as intellectual subject, but as an actual person. Of course we must know things about God but what is of utmost importance is that we know him like we know a good friend, rather than how we know how divide complex numbers. We were created to know God, as Adam and Eve were, walking in the garden with God in the cool of the day. Above everything else in life, you must ask yourself, “Do I truly want to know God? Am I fulfilling my ultimate purpose?”

CREATED TO LOVE HIM

More than just know God, we were created to love him, to have our affections stirred by him, and to have our delights infatuated by him. Men in the West have a difficult time understanding the concept of loving God, but the call is the same to both males and females: we are created to love God. We were created to know God and love God in a such a way that we exchange the best conversation around a fire with friends and think, “There’s no place I’d rather be!” In every moment of every day, we were created to love him.

CREATED TO LIVE WITH HIM

While some sectors of Christianity have espoused a monastic life, the vast swath of Christians in history have chosen to live with God in their day-to-day routines. This, frankly, is one of the most compelling things about Christianity. Rather than a cloistered religion, only known by the holiest of holy’s, Christianity is a rugged and personal religion, one in where God walks with you in the day-to-day affairs of your life. While certain sections of our life can be devoted more specifically to God (think, worshipping on Sunday morning), God is just as interested and involved in your business endeavors, your relational woes, and your fluctuating hobbies. God cares and wants you to live with him in every facet of your life.

CREATED TO GLORIFY HIM

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks this fundamental question, “Why were you created?” The answer: to glorify and enjoy God forever. The reason you exist is not to make a name for yourself, to accomplish great tasks, or to build a great empire—but to glorify a great King. From work, to play, to rest, to parenthood, to marriage—all things are for the glory of God. You’re highest aim in life is to worship, adore, and glorify the Creator God.

Culture

The One Thing You Need To Look At If You Want To Change

August 12, 2020

Everyone wants some form of change in their life. They would like to be more fit, more generous, more patient, less angry, and the list goes on and on. How is that change accomplished? Outside of discipline and pure grit, how does one become more generous? More kind? In some ways, changing externals is easy (losing weight, budgeting, etc); changing internals is extremely difficult. There is not a single person on the planet that doesn’t want to change at least one thing—how is it done?

The majority of us think that the way to accomplish change is to learn more. Growing up in Western cultures, many of us believe that we are primarily thinking creatures. In other words, the problem lies in a lack of knowledge. This is because we are creatures of the Enlightenment, where rationality, knowledge, and logic are king. But what if there were more factors in play when we consider how to change?

YOU ARE WHAT YOU ______

Finish the sentence and the primary drive for motivation will be revealed. For some, it’s our thoughts; for others, it’s our actions. Following in the school of James K.A. Smith, I would argue that you are fundamentally what you love. Speaking of education (and this sense, change), Smith says, “What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but what we love?” When you want to change something, do not primarily assume that what you need to do is learn more information or content. You may need to go a layer deeper and examine what you love, or perhaps easier for us to understand, what you desire.

But then we have to ask, how do we change our loves and desires? It seems that we are still stuck in the same spot. This is where James K.A. Smith’s work is so helpful (particularly his three-part cultural liturgies series or You Are What You Love) because he helps name how to change your loves and desires: liturgical rhythms. What does that even mean?

Smith would argue that everything in life is playing a role in our formation, from the shopping mall to Sunday morning church services. Every magazine, shopping advertisement, cultural story is an invitation to discover the “good life,” a life full of flourishing. In other words, nothing is irreligious because everything is fundamentally about worship (essentially, love and desire are synonyms for worship). Most people are completely unaware of what is shaping and forming them into a type of person. If we want to change, we must look at what is forming our loves.

This is what Smith means by liturgical rhythms or simply put, liturgies. Liturgies are formative habits that we encounter daily, most of the time without even thinking about them. Western culture is constantly shaping us around the values of individualism and consumerism. What if God was inviting us to discover the sham of the Western liturgies and discover a better picture of the “good life,” found within the biblical storyline?

WE ALL WANT FLOURISHING

Every single human wants a life full of flourishing and abundance—rich relationships, a satisfying career, purpose, children, food, etc. Everyone wants to be happy; you love and desire that which you think will make you happy. To be human means to long for flourishing. Yet, many of us find it entirely elusive.

The Bible is actually telling a story of human flourishing, now corrupted through darkness and despair, and able to make right through the True Flourishing One. You see, all of us were originally created to have fullness of joy and life, found in both this world and in God. Because of sin, all of us experience a gap between what we desire and what we experience. God though does not hate this world or the things of this world, rather, he redeems it. He has sent his Son to restore and renew a new community that are now formed around a new set of liturgies that paint a picture of the good life.

So, do you want change? Examine what you love and desire. How do you do that? Examine what daily habits you engage in that are forming you into a certain type of person. Do you want to find flourishing, satisfaction, and ultimate love? Look in the Bible until you come face to face with the representative of a new flourishing humanity—Jesus Christ himself.

Bible, Catechism

Question #3: How many persons are there in God?

August 11, 2020

Question #3 – How many persons are there in God?

There are three persons in the one true and living God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

One of the most distinct and confusing doctrines of Christianity is the Trinity. Those who are new to the Christian faith or are outside the Christian faith may find the doctrine complex. How are we monotheists (believing in one God) while also believing in the Trinity (three persons in one God)? In order to fully understand the distinction, a helpful diagram has been drawn:

There are six fundamental truths that are communicated in this simple diagram that are crucial to the doctrine of the Trinity:

  1. The Father is God
  2. The Son is God
  3. The Holy Spirit is God
  4. The Father is not the Son nor the Spirit
  5. The Son is not the Father nor the Spirit
  6. The Spirit is not the Son nor the Father

How then do we believe in three persons but only one God? Through the language of substance, meaning that they share the same divinity. They are entirely equal in power, glory, and dominion, yet distinct in their roles and how they execute such substance. In one way, you can speak of the Trinity as three persons, meaning that each person of the Trinity plays a different role in the history of redemption. In another way, it is impossible to speak about God without speaking about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is essentially who God is. The four affirmations from the ESV Study Bible summarize it well:

  1. There is one and only one true and living God.
  2. This one God eternally exists in three persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  3. These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature.
  4. While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical. The differences among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are found in the way they relate to one another and the role each plays in accomplishing their unified purpose.

Rather than being an insignificant doctrine, church history would prove that the doctrine of the Trinity stands as one of the fundamental pillars of the faith. Early debates and controversies almost always surrounded the Trinity, which was clarified more fully as time progressed in the early church. For years, Jews regarded Yahweh as kurios (Greek for Lord, a translation of the Hebrew name of Yahweh), but now Jesus arrives and is declared as kurios. Early Christians had to wrestle with the identification with Jesus as Lord alongside Yahweh of the Old Testament.

Early Christians then debated on how to understand the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit. In the 4th century, debates surrounded whether or not Jesus was homousias or homoiuasis. For the uninformed, the two look identical but the difference is significant. The former conveying that Jesus is fully divine, of the same substance with God, while the latter affirming that Jesus is in someway supernatural, but in no way divine. The Holy Spirit was later defined as divine in the latter half of the 4th century at the Council of Constantinople.

The Trinity and the Christian Life

While the doctrine of the Trinity can become heady and stuffy, we should not detract its importance away from the Christian life. What then is the practical significance of the Trinity in the life of the Christian?

  1. God is a Triune God, meaning that He has existed in relationship for eternity. This forms the basis of our relational need, as we have been made to reflect and image a relational God.
  2. The Trinity serves as the foundation for further theological implications. For example, how would we know what it means to be adopted by God if He were not a Father?
  3. The Trinity brings comfort as each member of the Trinity ministers and intercedes in different ways.
Catechism, Ministry

Question #2 – What is God?

July 30, 2020

Question #2 – What is God?

God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. He is eternal, infinite, and unchangeable in his power and perfection, goodness and glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. Nothing happens except through him and by his will.

For every human living on earth, question #2 from the New City Catechism may be one of the most important questions you could ever ask. What is God like? How does he act? Who is he? These are some of the most fundamental questions that will require a lifetime to ponder. A.W. Tozer once wisely said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Fortunately, the catechism provides us with a beautiful picture of what God is like.

CREATOR AND SUSTAINER

God is first and foremost the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything. Genesis 1 and 2 show that God is the ultimate creator of everything, speaking creation into existence by the word of his power. There is nothing that exists that God did not create (John 1:1-3). As the creator, God has the right over all creation, meaning, that he is king over all.

Not only is God the creator but he is the sustainer of everyone and everything. Not a single person or animal takes a breath without God’s sustaining power; a blade of grass will not grow without God’s permission. All things are sustained and held together through him (Colossians 1:17). This means that God is actively working and present not only in our lives, but in the entire world. Notice the comprehensive statement of the catechism: God is the creator and sustainer of everyone and everything.

THE CHARACTER OF GOD

If God is the creator and sustainer of all things, would it not be helpful to know what he is like? In ancient history, many cultures believed that some form of deity created the world but primarily through violence, chaos, and conflict. Is this God the same? The Catechism will proclaim that the God of the Bible is nothing like the gods of the nations. So then, who he is?

First, God is eternal, meaning that he always has been, or, to put it another way, God is self-existent. God is self-existent in the sense that his existence is not tied to anyone or anything but rather in himself. Therefore, there has never been a time in which God has not been—he always was, is, and will be. “God is self-existent, that is, He has the ground of His existence in Himself.”1 God is the uncaused being—one who exists wholly by himself by no causation. “All that God is, he is of himself.”2

Second, God is infinite, meaning that he is free from all limitations or hindrances. There is nothing too difficult or straining for him; he never gets tired or weary. God is also not confined to space, meaning that God is everywhere—no one can hide from him. The Lord alone is the creator, the possessor of heaven and earth, the Lord of all creation, in whom we all live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

Third, God is unchangeable, meaning that God will always be who he is; he does not decrease in his power; he does not weaken in his perfections; he does not sin. Another way to say this is that God is constant and consistent—he will never change! The catechism mentions several characteristics that God will never change in, namely, his power, perfection, goodness, glory, wisdom, justice, and truth. God will always be wholly consistent in all of these attributes.

To take it a step further, not only will God not alter from these attributes, he himself is the source and the definition of these attributes. What is goodness? It is the goodness of God. What is truth? It is the truth of God. This is to say that truth is not something that God has but something that he is. Therefore, he is the source and author of all goodness, truth, justice, and goodness. Any goodness, truth, justice, etc on earth is simply an imitation and deviation from God’s attributes.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

  1. How is the eternality and infinity of God bring you comfort?
  2. What attribute of God brings you the most encouragement?
Bible, Theology

Why Don’t We Use The Apocrypha?

July 29, 2020

One of the dividing lines between Protestants and Roman Catholics is their view regarding the Apocrypha, primarily the OT Apocrypha books. For those that are unfamiliar with the debate, the Apocrypha is a collection of books that were written between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament (around 4th century BC to 1st century AD). There are also New Testament Apocrphyal books, such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Apocalypse of Peter, but both Roman Catholics and Protestants reject these are canonical.

For Christians, books of the Bible are canonical in the sense that they are regarded as sacred, written by human authors, but breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). In this regard, both Protestants and Roman Catholics view the 66 books of the Protestant Bible as Scripture, while the Roman Catholics include the Old Testament Apocryphal books as well (such as 1 & 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, Judith, Tobit, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, as well as some smaller works and even some additions to existing canonical books). Why then do Protestants (we) not regard the Apocrypha as Scriptural or canonical?

No Historical Attestation

If the Old Testament apocryphal books were regarded as Scripturally and canonically valid, we would assume that contemporaries of their writings would regard them as such. Historically, this is simply not the case. As Michael Kruger notes:

Although these books were known and used among the Jews of this time period, there is little evidence to suggest they were regarded as Scripture. Neither Josephus nor Philo—key sources for our understanding of the scope of the OT canon—used them as Scripture. In addition, no NT author (most of whom were Jews) cites even a single book from the Apocrypha as Scripture. And later rabbinic writers do not receive the Apocrypha, affirming only the Hebrew Scriptures as part of the Jewish canon (b. Baba Bathra 14–15).

Michael Kruger

Even after the early Jews rejected the Apocrphyal books as canonical, early Christians in the 1st and 2nd century did not regard the Apocrypha as canonical. In fact, it wasn’t until the 6th century that Augustine argued for its inclusion, which was later confirmed in the 16th century at the Council of Trent. Therefore, for the first 1500 years of Christian Church History, they were not included as Scriptural or canonical.

No New Testament Attestation

Can you guess how many times an Old Testament verse is quoted in the New Testament? 855. In all of these hundreds of cases, not a single one is quoted from the Apocrypha. If the early Christians, many of whom were previous Jews, relied upon the Apocrypha as Scriptural, would it not be fair to assume that they would use and refer to the Apocrypha in their New Testament writings? There is not a single instance of an Apocryphal text being cited as Scriptural according to New Testament authors.

Helpful But Not Scriptural

This is not to say that the OT Apocrypha is not helpful in any regard; I simply wish to communicate that it is not Scriptural or canonical. The Apocrypha gives us a view into the world of the inter-testamental period (the time between the Old and New Testaments). It helps us, like a good history textbook, to understand what was going on in the current political, social, and culturally moments of the time. It also helps us understanding the 1st century Jewish context more, as there were 400 years of historical development between the last writing of the Old Testament and when Jesus was born.

So, can we learn from the Apocrypha? Absolutely. Should we treat it as equal to the rest of the 66 books of the Bible? No. Early Jews, Christians, and Church Fathers did not regard these books are canonical and we would be unwise to reject their conclusions. Again, Michael Kruger is helpful:

The story of the OT and NT canon is a story that also involves “other” books. These other books have been a point of contention and controversy at various points within the history of Christianity. Moreover, these other books can raise concerns for modern day Christians who might wonder whether they’ve been improperly left out.But the historical evidence suggests we can have confidence in the content of both the OT and NT canon. Despite many years of wrangling over the OT Apocrypha, the Hebrew canon handed down by the Jews still stands as the Bible known by Jesus and the apostles and therefore is properly regarded as Scripture. Likewise, even though there has been much talk about “lost gospels,” these texts were written much later than our canonical ones and have little claim to historical authenticity. Thus, our biblical canon is complete. As Origen declared, “The net of the law and the prophets had to be completed . . . And the texture of the net has been completed in the Gospels, and in the words of Christ through the Apostles” (Comm. Matt. 10.12).

Michael Kruger
Bible, Culture

A Call To Civility In An Age of Hostility

July 28, 2020

If you were to describe the current cultural climate of the United States right now, what words would you use? For some, our country embodies hope, creativity, and exploration. For many, though, our country, at least right now, embodies an air of hostility, division, and a general spirit of unkindness towards one another. Perhaps this has been amplified by the rise of digital technology, allowing men and women to express what has always been inside their hearts, now with little to no consequences. If I were to select a few words to describe the current cultural climate, it would be hostility and division.

Perhaps in no other time in America history (outside possibly the Civil War era) has our nation been so divided. Before us is constantly a binary choice, forcing us to choose sides, dig our heels in, and vilify our opponents. Rather than approaching one another with dignity and respect, we assume the worst of one another, painting each other in negative lights, and use derogatory language about one another. A prime example of this is our current President, who should be the representative of a nation (perhaps, he is, after all), continuously mocking his political opponent with the nickname “Corrupt Joe Biden.” We can do better than this.

DISAGREEMENTS ARE HEALTHY

Contrary to what most people assume, disagreement and conflict are actually incredibly healthy for individuals, teams, and marriages. The ability to resolve conflict demonstrates a healthy system, rather than a family or team that never fights. A system devoid of conflict is not healthy, quite the opposite. The same is true for cultural systems and countries—our ability to resolve or not resolve conflict and disagreement is a barometer of our health. Ecclesiastes 7:5 notes, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.” In some arena of life, there are those that are smarter and wiser, and thus, it would be wise for us to heed the rebuke rather than pick a fight.

What is required to be able to resolve conflict in a healthy way? Both parties must possess charity, kindness, and grace for one another while at the same time possessing incredible self-awareness.

Beginning with the latter, understanding our true selves as we approach a conflict is very important. What biases do I bring to the table? What presuppositions am I assuming (all Republicans value ____, all Southerners are ____)? How has my story shaped my beliefs? How can that be driving my desires at the present moment? In the former, leading with charity, kindness, and grace can entirely change the tone of the conversation. If there is a heated disagreement, we should first seek to listen and understand before we lecture.

This sort of demeanor is present not primarily in words but in our attitudes towards one another. Do I really see the person on the opposing side as someone made in the image of God, worthy of my dignity and respect, even if they disagree with me on fundamental issues? Do I believe that regardless of what a person believes, they are not worthy of my berating comments? Do I seek to follow the golden rule, of speaking to others as I would like to be spoken to? Words of kindness and charity flow from a heart that is full of kindness and charity for others; a lack of such words reveals that our heart is perhaps far darker than we dare even realize.

THE CHURCH AS AN EMBODIED KINGDOM ETHIC

Sadly, in the last few years, I have noticed that the broader American church has not followed the way of Christ in servanthood, kindness, and grace, but instead, has taken up the cultural vernacular of unkindness, bashing, and shaming. Rather than understand and show compassion to those we disagree with, we vilify and demoralize our opponents. What if the church embodied a Kingdom ethic, that was demonstrated in the character of God that is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness?

What if, as a church, we realized that every hill is not worth dying on, and that perhaps our kindness speaks more than our ability to argue? What if the world was drawn into our community by our affection, love, and kindness rather than our division and incivility? Dear Christian, remember, this world is not your home, you belong to the King and to the Kingdom. Rather than making every argument high stakes, remember that the Bible calls us to live at peace with all people (Romans 12:18).

Will you then, live counter-culturally, not by abdicating from certain immoral behaviors, but by embodying a speech ethic that is shaped by the Kingdom? Will you lay down your weapons, pull up a chair, and invite conservation that is charitable and profitable? Will you seek to serve your enemies rather than slay them with your words? Church, God is inviting us into a live of civility and kindness for the sake of a watching world.

Bible, Theology, Uncategorized

Why Are There Missing Verses In My Bible?

July 27, 2020

In last few months, several members of Coram Deo (the church I pastor) have asked me about a Facebook post that has been floating around. The post accuses various modern translations and their publishers for removing verses from the Bible. If you haven’t seen it, I have attached a picture of the post, which has been shared 26,000 times:

On the surface, it is shocking. Would Zondervan and Crossway really remove Bible verses because it does not fit their agenda? Should we stop reading the ESV/NIV translations because of this? Is it even true? Many questions such as this have been asked of me of late and I thought I would explain what is going in the textual differences.

TEXTUAL CRITICISM

Textual criticism is not a phrase that gets thrown around in common Christian circles very often but it is incredibly important when understanding the textual differences that we see in different translations of the Bible. As Christians, we believe the Bible is God’s word, literally, breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16). At the same time, the Bible was written by human authors and then transmitted through human copyists. As humans, we are fallible and prone to error, even when our intentions are correct.

In order to preserve the accuracy of the original text, copyists took painstaking efforts to keep the text as pure as possible. But with any human effort, errors are a natural occurrence. For example, in grade school, we used to copy definitions from the back of textbooks onto sheets of paper. From time to time, we would either skip a line, repeat a word, or miss a punctuation mark. This is natural as our eyes glance from the textbook to the notebook. You probably also remember copying large chunks of text and accidentally repeating words or entire lines, forgetting key words, or misspelling difficult words.

The same is true in copying texts of Scripture. At times, a copyist would be transcribing a text like we would with a textbook open, glancing back and forth between the text and the writing. Other times, someone would be reading the text out loud and they would copying down what they heard. In both cases, small textual errors would develop as people would spell words wrong, repeat words or lines, or omit punctuation marks. Contrary to what secular theologians would assert, the number of key errors in the biblical text is incredibly small, less than 1%.

It is the job of a translation committee to gather these various manuscripts (which are dated from various time periods) and assess which ones display the most accuracy. This is done through multiple ways, such as finding the most difficult translation, finding the oldest manuscripts, and a host of other complex solutions. When we read this Facebook post then, is it right to claim that Zondervan and Crossway are leading a crusade against the Bible they publish?

MISSING VERSES AND UPDATED MANUSCRIPTS

Again, one of the ways translators choose the most accurate text is by date. For example, we all would intuitively understand that a copy of a text written in the 3rd century is probably far more accurate than one copied in the 13th century because there is a larger gap between when the original text was written and when it was copied. In other words, the more time that elapses in the copied manuscript, the more likely it is prone to error (a bit simplified but lets work with it for now). How does this impact the Facebook post in question?

The author of the Facebook quote claims that the KJV is superior to the ESV and NIV in accuracy because it has not removed the verses in question. In order to understand why these verses were removed, one has to understand the previous statements regarding textual criticism. You see, the KJV was translated and built off an outdated manuscript system, namely, the Textus Receptus. This manuscript system was developed by Erasmus in the 16th century, which was a Greek translation of the Latin Vulgate. At the time, these were the most updated manuscripts they possessed.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, we now have over 25,000 manuscripts (comprised of various Greek, Latin, and Syriac/Coptic translations). Simply put, the more data, the more accuracy. Furthermore, we now have manuscripts that date very early in comparison to its publication, compared to the Textus Receptus that used relatively outdated manuscripts (in today’s standards). Because of simply the amount of data now available through the thousands of manuscripts, translators have seen that previous translations did not provide the most accurate translation due to the manuscript deficiency that they possessed.

WHAT ABOUT THE MISSING VERSES?

This leads us to finally deal with the problem at hand: where are the missing verses? If you were to open up the ESV or NIV translation to Matthew 18, you will notice that there is no verse 11, it simply goes from verse 10 to 12. You will also notice that every modern translation provides footnotes where verse 11 should be. Most translations will indicate that due to a lack of manuscript accuracy, these verses have been removed. The verses are missing because they were most likely not included in the original writing at all, which is demonstrated by textual criticism with updated manuscripts. The verses are still included in the KJV because it is still built on an outdated manuscript system.

Be not afraid, there is no coverup or theological conspiracy to undermine the accuracy of the Bible. On the contrary, the men and women who sit on translation committees for the majority of modern translations are godly, wise, and Bible-loving people that want to translate the Bible into vernacular English in the most faithful way possible. So for those questioning whether or not you should be using the ESV or NIV, you can have all confidence that God’s word is being preserved and sustained through the diligent and faithful work of translators in the 21st century.