Monday, April 29, 2013

Dialog in Heaven

Below is one of my favorite scenes from Milton’s Paradise Lost.  It’s known as the “dialog in Heaven.” It comes from book 3, almost immediately after the first two books expound a major dialog in Hell between Satan and other demons who were cast there as punishment for their rebellion after their defeat in battle against Almighty God. Just before this dialog in Heaven begins, Satan and the other demons agree to exact revenge upon God by finding a way to entice Adam and Eve to rebel against God as well, and Satan freely offers to lead that rebellion. Satan then embarks on a cosmic voyage from Hell to Earth in order to exact his revenge.

In the heavenly dialog which follows, there are five distinctive sections. First, the narrator speaks, introducing the Heavenly Council in a glorious manner. Second, the Almighty Father speaks to His Son, followed by the narrator again. Third, the Only Begotten Son speaks in return to His Father, followed by a brief comment of the narrator again. Fourth, the Father replies to His Son, followed by an expression of silence among the angelic hosts (for the Father asks who, in all of heaven, would love mortal man and Divine justice enough to become moral themselves and satisfy man’s mortal crime with redeeming death). 

Last of all, the Son speaks in response to the Father, offering Himself as the redemption of the human race. Below is Milton’s sketch of that epic dialog in Heaven:

Now had the Almighty Father from above,
From the pure Empyrean where he sits
High Thron'd above all highth, bent down his eye,
His own works and their works at once to view:
About him all the Sanctities of Heaven
Stood thick as Starrs, and from his sight receiv'd
Beatitude past utterance; on his right
The radiant image of his Glory sat,
His onely Son; On Earth he first beheld
Our two first Parents, yet the onely two
Of mankind, in the happie Garden plac't,
Reaping immortal fruits of joy and love,
Uninterrupted joy, unrivald love
In blissful solitude; he then survey'd
Hell and the Gulf between, and Satan there
Coasting the wall of Heav'n on this side Night
In the dun Air sublime, and ready now
To stoop with wearied wings, and willing feet
On the bare outside of this World, that seem'd
Firm land imbosom'd without Firmament,
Uncertain which, in Ocean or in Air.
Him God beholding from his prospect high,
Wherein past, present, future he beholds,
Thus to his onely Son foreseeing spake:

Onely begotten Son, seest thou what rage
Transports our adversarie, whom no bounds
Prescrib'd, no barrs of Hell, nor all the chains
Heapt on him there, nor yet the main Abyss
Wide interrupt can hold; so bent he seems
On desparate reveng, that shall redound
Upon his own rebellious head. And now
Through all restraint broke loose he wings his way
Not farr off Heav'n, in the Precincts of light,
Directly towards the new created World,
And Man there plac't, with purpose to assay
If him by force he can destroy, or worse,
By some false guile pervert; and shall pervert
For man will heark'n to his glozing lyes,
And easily transgress the sole Command,
Sole pledge of his obedience: So will fall,
Hee and his faithless Progenie: whose fault?
Whose but his own? ingrate, he had of mee
All he could have; I made him just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.
Such I created all th' Ethereal Powers
And Spirits, both them who stood and them who faild;
Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.
Not free, what proof could they have givn sincere
Of true allegiance, constant Faith or Love,
Where onely what they needs must do, appeard,
Not what they would? what praise could they receive?
What pleasure I from such obedience paid,
When Will and Reason (Reason also is choice)
Useless and vain, of freedom both despoild,
Made passive both, had servd necessitie,
Not mee. They therefore as to right belongd,
So were created, nor can justly accuse
Thir maker, or thir making, or thir Fate,
As if predestination over-rul'd
Thir will, dispos'd by absolute Decree
Or high foreknowledge; they themselves decreed
Thir own revolt, not I: if I foreknew,
Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault,
Which had no less prov'd certain unforeknown.
So without least impulse or shadow of Fate,
Or aught by me immutablie foreseen,
They trespass, Authors to themselves in all
Both what they judge and what they choose; for so
I formd them free, and free they must remain,
Till they enthrall themselves: I else must change
Thir nature, and revoke the high Decree
Unchangeable, Eternal, which ordain'd
Thir freedom, they themselves ordain'd thir fall.
The first sort by thir own suggestion fell,
Self-tempted, self-deprav'd: Man falls deceiv'd
By the other first: Man therefore shall find grace,
The other none: in Mercy and Justice both,
Through Heav'n and Earth, so shall my glorie excel,
But Mercy first and last shall brightest shine.

Thus while God spake, ambrosial fragrance fill'd
All Heav'n, and in the blessed Spirits elect
Sense of new joy ineffable diffus'd:
Beyond compare the Son of God was seen
Most glorious, in him all his Father shon
Substantially express'd, and in his face
Divine compassion visibly appeerd,
Love without end, and without measure Grace,
Which uttering thus he to his Father spake:

O Father, gracious was that word which clos'd
Thy sovran sentence, that Man should find grace;
For which both Heav'n and Earth shall high extoll
Thy praises, with th' innumerable sound
Of Hymns and sacred Songs, wherewith thy Throne
Encompass'd shall resound thee ever blest.
For should Man finally be lost, should Man
Thy creature late so lov'd, thy youngest Son
Fall circumvented thus by fraud, though joynd
With his own folly? that be from thee farr,
That farr be from thee, Father, who art Judg
Of all things made, and judgest onely right.
Or shall the Adversarie thus obtain
His end, and frustrate thine, shall he fulfill
His malice, and thy goodness bring to naught,
Or proud return though to his heavier doom,
Yet with revenge accomplish't and to Hell
Draw after him the whole Race of mankind,
By him corrupted? or wilt thou thy self
Abolish thy Creation, and unmake,
For him, what for thy glorie thou hast made?
So should thy goodness and thy greatness both
Be questiond and blaspheam'd without defence.

To whom the great Creatour thus reply'd:

O Son, in whom my Soul hath chief delight,
Son of my bosom, Son who art alone
My word, my wisdom, and effectual might,
All hast thou spok'n as my thoughts are, all
As my Eternal purpose hath decreed:
Man shall not quite be lost, but sav'd who will,
Yet not of will in him, but grace in me
Freely voutsaft; once more I will renew
His lapsed powers, though forfeit and enthrall'd
By sin to foul exorbitant desires;
Upheld by me, yet once more he shall stand
On even ground against his mortal foe,
By me upheld, that he may know how frail
His fall'n condition is, and to me ow
All his deliv'rance, and to none but me.
Some I have chosen of peculiar grace
Elect above the rest; so is my will:
The rest shall hear me call, and oft be warnd
Thir sinful state, and to appease betimes
Th' incensed Deitie while offerd grace
Invites; for I will cleer thir senses dark,
What may suffice, and soft'n stonie hearts
To pray, repent, and bring obedience due.
To Prayer, repentance, and obedience due,
Though but endevord with sincere intent,
Mine ear shall not be slow, mine eye not shut.
And I will place within them as a guide
My Umpire Conscience, whom if they will hear,
Light after light well us'd they shall attain,
And to the end persisting, safe arrive.
This my long sufferance and my day of grace
They who neglect and scorn, shall never taste;
But hard be hard'nd, blind be blinded more,
That they may stumble on, and deeper fall;
And none but such from mercy I exclude.
But yet all is not don; Man disobeying,
Disloyal breaks his fealtie, and sinns
Against the high Supremacie of Heav'n,
Affecting God-head, and so loosing all,
To expiate his Treason hath naught left,
But to destruction sacred and devote,
He with his whole posteritie must dye,
Dye hee or Justice must; unless for him
Som other able, and as willing, pay
The rigid satisfaction, death for death.
Say Heav'nly Powers, where shall we find such love,
Which of ye will be mortal to redeem
Mans mortal crime, and just th' unjust to save,
Dwels in all Heaven charitie so deare?

He ask'd, but all the Heav'nly Quire stood mute,
And silence was in Heav'n: on mans behalf
Patron or Intercessor none appeerd,
Much less that durst upon his own head draw
The deadly forfeiture, and ransom set.
And now without redemption all mankind
Must have bin lost, adjudg'd to Death and Hell
By doom severe, had not the Son of God,
In whom the fulness dwells of love divine,
His dearest mediation thus renewed:

Father, thy word is past, man shall find grace;
And shall grace not find means, that finds her way,
The speediest of thy winged messengers,
To visit all thy creatures, and to all
Comes unprevented, unimplor'd, unsought,
Happie for man, so coming; he her aide
Can never seek, once dead in sins and lost;
Attonement for himself or offering meet,
Indebted and undon, hath none to bring:
Behold mee then, mee for him, life for life
I offer, on mee let thine anger fall;
Account mee man; I for his sake will leave
Thy bosom, and this glorie next to thee
Freely put off, and for him lastly dye
Well pleas'd, on me let Death wreck all his rage;
Under his gloomie power I shall not long
Lie vanquisht; thou hast givn me to possess
Life in my self for ever, by thee I live,
Though now to Death I yield, and am his due
All that of me can die, yet that debt paid,
Thou wilt not leave me in the loathsom grave
His prey, nor suffer my unspotted Soule
For ever with corruption there to dwell;
But I shall rise Victorious, and subdue
My Vanquisher, spoild of his vanted spoile;
Death his deaths wound shall then receive, and stoop
Inglorious, of his mortal sting disarm'd.
I through the ample Air in Triumph high
Shall lead Hell Captive maugre Hell, and show
The powers of darkness bound. Thou at the sight
Pleas'd, out of Heaven shalt look down and smile,
While by thee rais'd I ruin all my Foes,
Death last, and with his Carcass glut the Grave:
Then with the multitude of my redeemd
Shall enter Heaven long absent, and returne,
Father, to see thy face, wherein no cloud
Of anger shall remain, but peace assur'd,
And reconcilement; wrauth shall be no more
Thenceforth, but in thy presence Joy entire.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Book Review of Tim Gallant's "These Are Two Covenants"

These Are Two CovenantsThese Are Two Covenants by Tim Gallant
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Tim Gallant's first book, "Feed My Lambs," was a fantastic book, filled with great historical and exegetical insights. This second book of his, "These Are Two Covenants," however, was not as good as I was hoping. Here are some major pros and cons for why I gave his second book only two stars.

1) Gallant addresses (in brief) the traditional Protestant Reformed & Evangelical perspectives and the NPP/N.T. Wright perspectives of law within the book of Galatians and Romans, and he seriously considers the best of both worlds. And so, because he does not limit his exegesis to any particular tradition, he offers some fresh insights on disputed passages within those two books. These fresh insights of his are definitely worthy of consideration as long as students of Scripture keep dabbling in "Pauline studies," looking for some balance between classical protestant interpretations and various nuances from (and similar to) the "New Perspective on Paul."

2) Gallant keeps all of his theological jargon to a minimum, which makes the dense theological content very accessible to the student of Scripture as long as they have an English Bible and Greek translation in hand.

3) Gallant very clearly affirms the doctrine of Justification by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as well as the Christian's necessity to faithfully obey God's law through the lens of Jesus Christ (i.e. his life & teaching). And so, he remains a very clear protestant in the classical sense of the term, and he also clearly opposes antinomianism.

4) Gallant also clearly disagrees with and criticizes some of the views of Sanders and Dunn (explicit views among the NPP, e.g. pp. 53,58), as well as some overlooked views of NPP critics (particularly John Piper, e.g. p. 57).

5) Gallant highlights (what I believe to be) a very important aspect of Galatians, namely that "the law" can be, and very likely was, understood and viewed in terms of a "covenant" with the people of Israel and not just a set of rules for believers in Yahweh. And also, along with this conceptual continuity of viewing the Mosaic Law as a covenant, Gallant also highlights the importance of viewing life under the Mosaic Covenant as life under an eschatological age which was (back then) fading away and becoming obsolete because it explicitly pointed to the coming Messiah and a new age under which all of the Christian life would be placed.

6) Gallant also presents a brief, but solid argument, that the notion of "meriting salvation" within Galatians is not at all Paul's concern (and I agree).

1) Even though this book is filled with fresh insights, select "chunks" of it appear to be a condensed version of N.T. Wright's commentary on Romans (which I found tremendously confusing), and either James Dunn's or Ben Witherington's commentary on Galatians. I don't have any life-altering or dramatic disagreements with any of those commentators, but I just don't find them to harmonize very well with each other, which left me feeling that Galllant was attempting to offer his own harmonization of those three men's views about the "Law" -- a feeling which smacked of trying to be novel in one's approach to Romans and Galatians.

2) Gallant seems to view both Romans and Galatians with a very strict typology of Jesus as the New Covenant and Israel as the Old Covenant -- which, in and of itself, is fine -- but this affects every one of his interpretations of nomos (i.e. "law") within Romans and Galatians, leaving in some instances a very arbitrary interpretation of what Paul meant by "law" when (allegedly) he's not referring to "keeping" or "fulfilling" the law in a strict typological sense.

3) Gallant seems to stress something which is not very obvious from the text of Galatians itself. His argument appears as though Paul is more concerned about Gentile Christians who revert back to life under the old aeon (i.e. the "age" of life under Old Covenant Mosaic Law) instead of life under the new aeon (the age of life under Christ). In other words, Paul's concern is more with one's public identification with the new aeon. This, according to Gallant, means that Paul's concern is more "cosmic" than the traditional Protestant understanding of Galatians. Instead of discussing what is most obvious about the concerns explicitly addressed by Paul, namely that some "Judaizers" were seditiously and insidiously dividing the gentiles among the Christian church by means of Judaizing dogma which rejected faith in Jesus alone as the ground of their justification in God's sight (as seen through the enforcement of circumcision as one's entrance into covenant with God), Gallant shifts the emphasis to be one's public placement within this New Covenant aeon which brings life through the Spirit, as opposed to the Old Covenant aeon which piles up transgressions and brings death. 
   It's as though, according to Gallant, Paul's typology was the driving force behind the entire letter to Galatians, and therefore he was more concerned with keeping Gentiles focused upon the New Covenant aeon (not the Old aeon), than the way in which Gentiles and Jews alike share in the New Covenant through faith in Jesus Christ, and how that was being jeopardized by the Christian Judaizers (i.e. false brethren) among them.

4) Gallant attempts to show that Jesus "becomes the Abrahamic covenant" and "the covenant to the nations," and he even says that this is the point of the "two covenant schema" in Galatians 4:24 (Gallant, p. 68), but I just don't think he invests enough time to clarify what he means by this. Although I agree with his general typological understanding of Jesus fulfilling Torah, I don't think Paul's allegory in Gal. 4:24 was supposed to illustrate Jesus "becoming" the Abrahamic covenant (or any covenant for that matter). Gallant's approach to these two covenants seem very strained (and unnecessarily so).

5) Gallant spends an awful lot of time towards the end of his book trying to explain the sense in which Christians under the new aeon "fulfill" God's Law (Rom. 13:8; Gal. 5:14), but virtually all of the law's objectivity as a standard for Christian ethics gets obscured by his own muddied language and over-emphasized typology. On the one hand he says that the word "fulfill... takes on an eschatological longer simply straightforward Torah-keeping," yet elsewhere he quotes Paul in first Corinthians 7:19 and defends his statement that "keeping the commandments is what matters." Gallant says that under the New Covenant there has come to be "a radical reordering of what we can now call the commandments of God." (p. 73).
   From this bold conclusion, and perhaps most embarrassingly of all, Gallant proposes that "Torah remains normative Scripture, but not a normative covenant, and the way in which it functions ethically is determined by God's act of redemption and new creation in Christ, with all that attends it." (p. 74) Now, when I first read this, I was hoping that Gallant would provide some objective standard (or even some "proof-texts") by which Christian ethics should function under this "radically reordered" New Covenant aeon, but he doesn't. As we just saw, he simply states dogmatically that the Torah "functions ethically," and then moves on. Elsewhere within the same page of his book, he follows up that claim by arguing that the Torah has been "transformed." However, even that argument of his falls short. In a weak attempt to clarify what objective standard determines the ethical function of Torah under this new aeon, he lists three very general picturesque aspects of God's act of redemption: A) the climactic satisfaction of God's justice upon the cross, B) the gift of the Spirit, and C) the ingathering of the Gentiles.
   These three "determinative" aspects hardly scratch the surface of providing a clearly objective standard for normative Christian ethics, nor does it show the way in which this "transformed Torah" remains valid in its present law-format for Christian ethics (other than the general notion that it remains "Scripture" but not a "covenant"). I think I understand the goal of what his hermeneutic is trying to achieve (i.e. that narrative of Scripture becomes this newly "transformed" standard for normative ethics); but still, in my eyes, nothing could be more vague and open to scholarly scrutiny than this explanation of "transformed Torah" and how it functions ethically.

6) Furthermore, Gallant provides an open challenge against Greg Bahsnen in particular, and "Theonomy" in general. From reading his very clear opinions against Greg Bahnsen (which he, virtually, criticizes exclusively, even though many other "Theonomists" could have been legitimately criticized), one would get the impression that Gallant has studied enough of Greg Bahnsen's literature and audio teaching on the subject of Theonomy to definitively present Bahnsen's views (and the views of "Theonomy" in general) as worthy of such stern criticisms. But, for those who have studied Greg Bahnsen's views of Biblical Law, Theonomy, and the "Theonomic movement" of the 80's (of which I am one), it does not take long to recognize Gallant's fallacious straw-man arguments. If, in fact, Gallant has studied Greg Bahnsen's books and audio lectures concerning Biblical Law, he most definitely misunderstood the most basic emphasis of Greg Bahnsen himself. For example, Gallant provides the childishly stereotypical caricature of Greg Bahnsen's view of Theonomy by claiming that "even the most insignificant details of the law remain binding (unless overturned specifically by new covenant revelation)." (Gallant, p. 77). However, this is Gallant's own spin on what he thinks Bahnsen meant, and not actually what Bahnsen ever taught comprehensively.
   Bahnsen's careful and detailed position is that all of God's revelation, including Mosaic Law, is morally binding, and that God's revelation in Jesus Christ and the teaching of his apostles abrogates all "restorative laws" (Bahnsen's words, not mine), and that all of the "civil" and "judicial" laws have expired, leaving the general equity thereof to be morally binding. And what Bahnsen meant by "general equity" is that all of God's laws, including God's "civil" or "judicial" laws, illustrate something about God's unchangeable moral character, and hence, God's moral law. And so, for Gallant to claim that Bahnsen thought and taught that "even the most insignificant details of the law" remain morally binding unless the writings of the New Testament authors "specifically overturn" them, is simply an distortion of the facts. One could reference Greg Bahnsen's numerous audio lectures on "Theonomy in Christian Ethics 1 & 2," "Theonomy and its critics," and "Theonomy vs. Autonomy" as but four very accessible audio resources to help clarify Gallant's misunderstanding of Bahnsen (which can be found here: )
   Gallant also outlines four specific points of critique against Greg Bahnsen's views proposed in his book, "Theonomy in Christian Ethics" (Gallant, p. 77), but he fails to acknowledge that Greg Bahnsen actually refuted all four of his claims in his follow-up book, "No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics." Moreoever, Gallant adds a footnote to one of his own articles about the subject of "fulfillment" in Scripture ("Fulfillment in the Gospel of Mathew", footnote 119, Gallant p. 78), which has its main objective of critiquing Greg Bahsnen's opening chapter of "Theonomy in Christian Ethics" concerning Matthew 5:17 and the theonomic interpretation of the word "fulfill" in that passage. Again, every single one of Gallant's misunderstandings of Greg Bahsnen's position have been addressed in his book, "No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics", and it can also be found in his audio lectures concerning theonomic ethics (as I referenced above). Gallant also appeals to Vern Poythress' critique of Bahnsen's position concerning the word "fulfill" in Matthew 5:17, but Gallant fails to address the fact that Bahsnen addressed Poythress' concerns in both writing and in his Biblical Hermeneutics & Exegesis lectures. Bahnsen even clarifies the benefits of Poythress' research, while still showing his (Poythress') misrepresentation of his (Bahnsen's) own theonomic thesis.
   Furthermore, later on in Gallant's book, he claims that this Theonomic view (and by implication, Bahnsen's theonomic thesis especially, because Bahnsen had been his main focus of critique over the previous six pages) provides "a neat severing of 'moral' law from 'ceremonial' and 'civil' law, as if he former simply carries forward and the other two are abolished." (Gallant, p. 81). This kind of clumsy exaggeration is flat-out embarrassing for those who have studied Greg Bahnsen's scholarly contributions toward on Theonomic ethics. NOWHERE in Greg Bahnsen's literature does he "sever" moral from ceremonial or civil law. Bahnsen distinguishes them, but he does not "sever" or separate them. Bahnsen views the Mosaic Law (and covenant) as a whole unit. And interestingly, even though Gallant attempts to critique this theonomic "severing" of moral law from other aspects of the Mosaic Covenant-Law (which Bahnsen does not do), Gallant himself (accidentally?) distinguishes between Mosaic Law and God's moral law (as Bahnsen does) when he mentions Paul's written list of "the fruit of the Spirit" as being morally binding, treating them in passing as moral codes of conduct which Paul even says: "against which there is no law." (Gallant, p. 73). In other words, Gallant, very naturally, distinguishes between Mosaic Law and moral laws of God in some sense, which is fundamental to Bahnsen's theonomic thesis. 

7) And last of all, during Gallant's critique of Greg Bahnsen's theonomic views of Christian ethics, Gallant proposes solutions in opposition to Greg Bahnsen's views which actually are (embarrassingly, for Gallant) endorsed by Bahnsen explicitly. For example, Gallant says that, contrary to Greg Bahnsen's views which allegedly "repeat" Torah, "The whole Torah (and not simply the 'moral law') is validated and established in Christ, and the whole Torah (and not simply the 'ceremonial law') is transformed into something new in Christ" (Gallant, p. 78). Greg Bahnsen agrees with this general statement in his audio commentary on Galatians: (which can be found here: ).

In the end, Gallant proposes that his view of the "Law" or "Torah" in Romans and Galatians (which allegedly is Paul's too) regarding its application for Christian ethics today is "a more robust holiness" (p. 81), but he fails to explain even one jot or tittle from an objective standard among God's own revelation to qualify what that "robust holiness" looks like for every Christian. Is it the life-style of Jesus? Is it the narrative of Scripture as a whole? Is it the narrative of this "transformed Torah" alone? He doesn't say. In other words, his explanation of the way in which this "transformed Law" functions is extremely vague, even though he says that Paul appeals to it, and Christians should too. These and other arguments of Gallant ultimately end up appearing more nebulous than cosmic, which is extremely disappointing for such a talented mind and faithful Christian man. My own opinion is that even if someone disagrees with "Theonomic ethics" in general, Greg Bahnsen's audio commentary on Galatians (a verse-by-verse exposition with 28 lectures total) is better than Gallant's attempt at clarifying Paul's letter to the Galatians. Bahsnen's audio commentary can be found here:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Christian Political Witness: Peter Leithart's Lecture on "Violence"

Ask and you shall receive. Wheaton College has posted all of the audio and video from their 2013 Theology Conference, "Christian Political Witness." You can check out all of the audio and video from that conference here

The audio from Peter Leithart's lecture on "Violence" can be found here

The video recording of that same lecture can be found here

A link to the audio and video of a separate panel discussion with Peter Leithart, George Kalantzis, Mark Noll, David Gushee, and Jana Bennett can be found here and here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review: A Free People's Suicide

A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American FutureA Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Os Guinness is a superb artist with words. His knowledge of world history, both modern and ancient, is impressive as well. This book contains a lot of unique insights concerning America and its developing history as an empire, all of which illuminate many basic problems which keep it's traces of "true freedom" from being sustained in its present form. He sheds light on problems which have been around since the founding of the nation, some which have evolved since then, and some which are entirely new to the 21st century. All in all, I have read other books which touch upon this subject, and in a limited sense are like this one, but none which have focused entirely upon "freedom" in principle and sustaining that which is true concerning the traditional multi-faceted American views about it. Guinness does not bring in any childish name-calling or rhetorical invectives. As always, his thoughts are well-balanced and considerate of opposing viewpoints.

The weakness of this book, in my mind, is that he presents no absolute, objective standard for virtue, morality, and ethics other than repeating general references to the virtuous Christian religion and Christians within that religion. This is the book's weakest link. For all of his colorful artistic expressions of truth, virtue, and character, this book merely explains how America got to where it is today as an empire of "freedom" and why America needs to sustain "true freedom" (and not just its notion of "true freedom") according to Christian principles. Guinness does not attempt to explain how those principles (specifically) can or should be applied. Every outlined solution is at best general in its description. And so, at best, this book is extremely readable and great for convincing people of America's dire circumstances as an empire promoting true freedom, and is also a fantastic reference for pungent quotes and ideas concerning America's past and future. At worst, it is explicitly standard-less, which irritates my literary tastebuds somewhat. That's why I only gave it three stars.

View all my reviews

Great Adventures of Missing the Point

As I was preparing to teach Matthew chapter ten at a local bible study, I realized that there are numerous statements within it which Christians frequently use as "proof-texts" for their faith and faithfulness. For example, some Christians will quote Jesus' words, "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons," and they will conclude that this commission applies to Christians today as well (pentecostal christians and other charismatics come to mind). Also, when Jesus tells his disciples to "acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey," some Christians interpret this as being applicable for their efforts of evangelism today (St. Francis of Assisi first comes to mind, and other christians who encourage the ascetic lifestyle). Numerous others could be cited, but I'm sure a handful of others will suffice (and these aren't even all of them from chapter ten alone):

  • "If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet."
  • "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."
  • "You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them."
  • "Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."
  • "You will be hated by all for my name's sake."
  • "Truly I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."
  • "Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven."
  • "A person's enemies will be those of his own household."

My concern is this: Are well intentioned, faith-filled Christians today interpreting Matthew's gospel as he intended his words to be interpreted in his day by his Jewish audience? Wouldn't the proper perspective of interpreting these statements of Matthew chapter ten be to interpret these passages as they were originally received, instead of personalizing and modernizing the meaning of a 2,000 year old message as though it were directed to us?

If the primary meaning of this message by Jesus (as recorded by Matthew) was intended as a single coherent message, and not just a spattering of important eternal truths for Christians of every age, one would certainly hope that this would be a bit more obvious to us. (It should be obvious, but unfortunately it's not.) Instead, much of modern Christianity doesn't see this chapter as one coherent historical message limited to it's very close historical context and to Jesus' Jewish audience. Instead, many christians today want to believe (and indeed are often trained by eloquent pastors and teachers to believe) that  Jesus equates unbelievers with "wolves," and that his message to us is to view  all unbelievers as such. But is that really what Jesus meant when he said, "I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves"?

Some Christians take another verse from chapter ten as meaning that they aren't being faithful to King Jesus if they're not being patriotic to the point of receiving persecution for their public behavior. Forget about how obnoxious, excessive, or obtuse Christians may appear to be during their expression of faithful patriotic zeal. The real important truth to remember is that there will be persecution as a result of faithful patriotism. They "will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them." Never forget that Jesus embraced the patriotic zeal of Americanism in Matthew chapter ten. 

Some Christians also don't think they need to be equipped with knowledge, systematic doctrine, or any other type of detailed information in order to "witness" or evangelize because, allegedly, the Holy Spirit will give them the right words to say "in that hour." Others insist that the most important doctrine to remember while evangelizing is that Jesus is returning bodily any day now because we're living in the days which Jesus prophesied would come upon us once America finishes their work of evangelizing all the Jews. That's what Jesus meant when he said "you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes." We all know that the "Son of Man" visiting Israel can only mean the physical bodily return of Jesus on a white horse on the Mount of Olives at the end of the world, right?  That passage (and others like it) couldn't possibly mean anything else, right?

And of course, a Christian should always keep in mind that the token virtue of being faithful until Jesus returns bodily is to have those of your own household become your enemies. This doctrine of Jesus is abundantly clear and impossible to misunderstand. Don't compromise by being friendly, patient, compassionate, or (heaven forbid) silent when others of your own household don't believe the truth revealed to you by God's Word and they express what they believe to the contrary. Instead, stick to your guns, stand up for what's "right," and focus all of your attention upon being faithful, even if that means those of your own family will become your enemies by hardening their hearts against God's truth which you have been commissioned to proclaim in their faces. Jesus taught Christians to think this way and behave these ways in Matthew chapter ten, right?

Literary Structure of Matthew 10

A)  Instructions to the twelve apostles  (10:5-15)
   B)  Persecution and family division  (10:16-23)
      C)  Enemies of the Master’s household  (10:24-25)
         D)  Consolation of the twelve apostles  (10:26-33)
      C’)  Enemies of the Master’s household  (10:34-36)
   B’)  Persecution and family division  (10:37-39)
A’)  Reception of the twelve apostles  (10:40-42)

Some things worth noting are:
  • This whole chapter is directly addressed to "the twelve" apostles, not to 21st century Americans. 
  • There are various repeated words, phrases, and themes throughout the discourse which make the structure much more obvious upon a second glance: 
    • "Sent" is mentioned twice (vv. 5 & 40) and “receive” is mentioned twice (vv. 14 & 40-42), both of which are found in sections A & A' 
    • Parents and children are mentioned twice (vv. 21 & 37; sections B & B') 
    • “household” is mentioned twice (vv. 25 & 36; sections C & C')
  • In the central section of this chasm (section "D") there are three negative statements about "fear" and one positive statement. 
    • D1) “Do not fear them...”  (v.26)
    • D2) “Do not fear those who… but fear Him who can…”  (v. 28)
    • D3) “Do not fear, therefore…”  (v.31)

Another way of viewing the literary structure of chapter ten is as follows:
A)  Instructions to the twelve apostles  (10:5-15)
   B)  Persecution and family division  (10:16-23)
      C)  Enemies of the Master’s household  (10:24-25)
         D1)  "Do not fear them..." (10:26-27)
            D2)  "Do not fear those who... but Fear Him who can..." (10:28-30)
         D3)  "Do not fear, therefore..." (10:31-33)
      C’)  Enemies of the Master’s household  (10:34-36)
   B’)  Persecution and family division  (10:37-39)
A’)  Reception of the twelve apostles  (10:40-42)