Tag Archives: Evangelical Christianity

Politics, Religion, and Other Dirty Words You Shouldn’t Use in Public

danger
Image: Clipart Panda

Disclaimer: I want to state for the record that this blog post is about as politically incorrect as you can get, so if you’re easily offended, don’t read it. Remember, you have been warned.

Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne recently published an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled, “The Evangelicalism of Old White Men Is Dead.” They write that evangelicalism (or at least its reputation) is a “casualty” of the recent presidential election. They believe it is time to bury evangelicalism and replace it with a more authentic expression of Christian faith.

-Shayne Looper
“Red Letter Christianity” And The Bible
The Huffington Post

If the recent presidential election proves anything, it’s that we — as individuals, organizations and a country — need to evolve the tech industry’s approach to diversity and inclusion.

-Nichole Burton and Aubrey Blanche
Why white men are diversity’s missing stakeholders
TechCrunch.com

In the days that followed Donald Trump’s election victory, liberal assessments about what went wrong and prescriptions for how the Left can move forward were in short supply. There were, however, exceptions. Notable among those was Mark Lilla’s piece in the New York Times ten days after Hillary Clinton’s loss describing the need to bring about an end to the “age of identity liberalism.”

-Noah Rothman
The Left’s Toxic Identity Obsession
Commentary Magazine

As Donald Trump’s inauguration day rapidly approaches, the news media continues to scramble for some understanding of what went wrong, as in “How could Hillary Clinton have possibly lost to Donald Trump?” kind of wrong.

Their answer, and I’m grossly simplifying it here to make a point, is “White Men Bad!”

More specifically, the Huff Post article states in part:

Campolo and Claiborne regard the fact that 80 percent of white evangelical Christians voted for Mr. Trump as evidence that evangelicalism has been poisoned by self-interest. Its reputation “has been clouded over.”

clinton voters
Image: Business Insider — AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Actually, I find the statement hilarious. Does Shayne Looper imagine for one split second that everyone who voted for Clinton wasn’t voting out of self-interest? Everyone voted for the candidate they thought would best represent their interests, or at least they voted for the candidate they found less objectionable (and some people  were so revolted by the both of them, they voted for neither).

But to that point, Looper goes on:

How, they wonder, could people who take Jesus seriously ever vote for a man whose campaign was marked by “racism, sexism, xenophobia,” and “hypocrisy”?

From Shayne’s point of view, the problem isn’t just white men, but white, male Evangelical Christians. I’m not a huge fan of Evangelical Christianity, in part because it really can be rigid about doctrine and the whole “God, guns, and guts” routine, but they’re Americans too, and they have the right to vote for the candidate of their choice.

I do agree with Shayne that we have to take the Bible as a holistic, unified document rather than emphasize some areas (such as putting everything Jesus said in red letters) and de-emphasizing or completely disregarding others (and it should be said that Jesus was almost universally teaching Jews, not Gentile Christians…if Christians want to understand their own theology better, they need to read Paul).

The “solution,” from Looper’s point of view, is to replace Evangelical Christianity with a more universal form that presents as more compassionate, charitable, and inclusive (my words, not his).

This is somewhat different from the solution proposed by Nichole Burton and Aubrey Blanche at TechCrunch, who believe that instead of ejecting white men in favor of something different, they should be recruited as “allies”.

The Silicon Valley tech community is about as liberal and progressive as you can get, but they’re still struggling with their own “diversity crisis,” probably because like a number of other professions, it’s been historically dominated by white males.

According to Burton and Blanche:

In the election, the majority of white people voted for Trump, whose campaign was characterized by division rather than inclusion. And white men voted for the president-elect by at least a 10 percent margin over other groups.

blm protest
Image: ABC News

I also found this statement hilariously funny, not because it isn’t true, but because it describes the Obama Presidency to a “T”. Racial and ethnic relations have reached (or so it seems to me) an all-time low in the eight years since Barack and Michelle first walked into the White House.

But they go on:

White men (and other allies) must learn how to be inclusive and use their own privilege constructively. All of us are capable of prejudice and biased behavior, but changing it is more difficult the further a person is from being the subject of discrimination.

I have to be thankful that Burton and Blanche at least acknowledge that it’s possible for people besides white males to be “capable of prejudice and biased behavior,” but of course, it’s worse when whites do it.

They do want to extend a carrot instead of a stick by creating “safe spaces” for “unconverted” whites to hear minority points of view, and to use whites who are already allies to invite non-ally whites into the fold.

So the Huff Post writer wants to trash can Evangelical Christianity for a version that would be more likely to vote for Clinton, while the TechCrunch writers want to solve the same problem by recruiting conservative white males into progressivism as allies, people who also would be more likely to vote for Clinton.

However, according to Noah Rothman at Commentary, the left has a problem:

Notable among those was Mark Lilla’s piece in the New York Times ten days after Hillary Clinton’s loss describing the need to bring about an end to the “age of identity liberalism.” Lilla’s case in favor of a “pre-identity liberalism” is a convincing one, but he doesn’t propose a method to bring about a return to this providential status quo ante. There’s a reason for that: there isn’t one—at least, not an easy one. Political movements are not party committees. They don’t radically redefine their mission at the drop of a white paper. The modern activist left was reared on toxic identity politics, and it seems disinclined to abandon this addictive poison without a struggle.

women's march
Photo: Women’s March on Washington/Facebook

The idea here is that modern liberalism is hardly united. It’s been fractured into multiple units, some running in parallel to others while some are actually standing in opposition to particular liberal factions.

They have no central rallying point, and thus, no specific focus other than #NotMyPresident.

Rothman goes on:

Take, for example, the so-called “Women’s March” that will descend on Washington D.C. to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump on January 21. The masses gathered in opposition to Trump will create the appearance of unity, but a closer examination of the coalition united by their antipathy for the incoming administration paints a portrait of a movement at war with itself.

The Women’s March will be short at least one formerly eager participant who told the New York Times she canceled her trip to Washington D.C. after reading a volunteer organizer’s Facebook post who “advised ‘white allies’ to listen more and talk less.” The Times noted that racial tensions within the organization extend to the organizational level. A Louisiana coordinator resigned her volunteer role due to a lack of diversity in leadership positions. The decision to change the name of a satellite march based in Nashville yielded to a caustic debate over whether the event had become hostile to white participants.

I read about this in another online venue, and basically what was being said was “white women aren’t victim enough”. I consider this yet another of President Obama’s legacies. Leftist progressives are inhibited from uniting by identity politics. How are they going to accomplish anything if they can’t unify, even over how much they hate Donald Trump?

Google “Democratic party crisis” and the search results will produce quite a number of articles, usually published sometime last November, including this one from Fox News.

They’ve probably recovered from the shock of Clinton losing the election by now, but they’ve got an uphill battle in dealing with a Trump Presidency and a Republican majority in the House and the Senate.

So what does that mean for the rest of us?

white males
Image: imgur

If Hillary Clinton had won, then white males who were not self-avowed “allies” would have continued to be relentlessly attacked by the majority liberal left, basically with us being called racist simply because we were born white and male (and we received further demerits if we happened to be Christians or religious Jews). The majority social and political power in the United States would have kept on flattening us with their juggernaut steamroller just as they have for the past eight years.

As the character Howard Beale (Peter Finch) ranted in the film Network (1976) “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

And that’s the real reason Donald Trump won the Presidency. The marginalized rose up against the monolithic system and gave it a taste of its own medicine.

They sure don’t like that taste, not at all.

The result is that in a week, Donald Trump will be sworn in as President of the United States.

I wish that actually meant good things, but every time I hear the man speak, I’m astonished that he managed to build an empire worth billions. At least Clinton could (most of the time) fake being a sane and reasonable human being.

What it really means for us is that instead of a steamroller continuing to mash us flat, the left will either play the victim card hoping we’ll feel guilty enough to succumb to being their allies, or that they’ll put on sheep’s clothing and pretend they don’t think that all white males are “deplorables,” as Clinton declared us, hoping we can be convinced to turn over our free will and self-determination to the collective.

I know all this sounds cynical, and it probably is. Trump isn’t going to help, and in fact, every time he opens his mouth or puts out a tweet, he just pours more gasoline over the inferno.

Because Donald Trump won and Hillary Clinton lost, and because Donald Trump is such as big, white, rich, narcissistic, loudmouth, all white males, and especially conservative and religious white males (along with conservative, religious white woman) will be painted with the same broad brush, and one strategy or another will be employed to either turn us to the “light side of the Force” (in their eyes, not mine) or they will attempt to maintain a “Rebel alliance” which will limp along for the next four years due to factionalized identity politics.

trump
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier/Newsday.com

Bottom line is no one is going to have a good time. We’ll all suffer, not only because Trump is a total loose cannon, but the only solution the left has to fix its problem and the problem of white men, is to reframe capitulation  as cooperation. They will continue to try to remake us into their drones, and failing that,  “demonize” us as the enemy to resist.

May the Messiah come soon and in our day or, continuing my Star Wars references, “Help us Yeshua HaMoshiach, you’re our only hope.”

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What Would You Do If Your Child Was Gay?

John MacArthur was recently asked by a reader how they should respond to an adult child who has acknowledged they are gay. His parenting advice?

Alienate them.

Separate them.

Isolate them.

Refuse to have a meal with them.

Turn them over to Satan.

-Benjamin L. Corey
“John MacArthur on Having Gay Children: Alienate Them & Turn Them Over to Satan”
from “Formerly Fundie: The Official Blog of Benjamin L. Corey”
patheos.com

“Formerly Fundie” is listed as a “Progressive Christian Channel” at Patheos, so chances are Corey and I don’t have a lot in common, since I’m pretty socially and politically conservative. I don’t know who this gentleman is or why he needs an “official blog” for himself and his name (and based on many of the comments on his blog, I’m glad I don’t have his readership), but a link to his blog post was inserted into Facebook by a Facebook “friend” who is about as progressive as it gets (I have a wide variety of friends, virtual and otherwise).

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I almost universally disagree with just about everything Pastor MacArthur teaches, preaches, writes, and broadcasts. I found his treatment of Pentecostals at his Strange Fire conference to be typical of his highly confrontational style, and his perspectives on both ancient and modern Judaism, including Messianic Judaism, show, in my opinion, an extremely poor insight into the actual late second temple Jewish and apostolic cultural, religious, educational, and spiritual environment. He “Christianizes” every bit of scripture he touches as if he imagines Jesus and the twelve were good Baptist Preachers from the church right across the street in “Hometown, U.S.A.”

OK, that last bit might be something of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

There’s a YouTube video of MacArthur that goes along with Corey’s article. I’ll post it at the bottom of today’s “meditation” so you can actually hear what MacArthur says. I was surprised that the tone of his voice was calm, soft, and almost friendly. MacArthur isn’t quite as harsh in his language (and possibly intent) as Corey makes him out to be. But that doesn’t disguise the massive disconnect I think MacArthur is trying to sell to Christian parents of gay children.

Matthew Vines
Matthew Vines

In case you haven’t read them, I’ve written numerous posts on the LGBT community within both Christianity and Judaism, the latest (before this one) missive being my review of Matthew Vines’ recent book God and the Gay Christian. I also commented on Dennis Prager’s understanding on why Judaism rejected homosexuality as well as on a number of other related topics.

Am I advocating for marriage equality in the church? No, I don’t think there’s a Biblical presupposition for it. But there’s a lot going on in this dialogue that we simply cannot ignore or dismiss.

Many of you may have read about Danny Cortez, a Pastor of a Southern Baptist church in La Mirada, California, who, after his fifteen year old son came out, decided to change his theological stance on homosexuality and became gay affirming, leading his church to officially become affirming of gays within their community as well.

Naturally, Christians on both sides of the issue made highly emotional pronouncements either supporting Pastor Cortez and his church or condemning them.

But what do you do when it’s your child? What happens if you’re a Christian and it’s your son or daughter who tearfully, painfully, comes out to you because he or she can’t stand holding it inside anymore, can’t stand lying, can’t stand hiding their feelings? What happens after they tell you and then they just stand there looking at you expectantly, fearing your anger but praying for your acceptance?

One of my sons has two male friends who came out within the last several years, and one of those young men comes from an Evangelical family.

What do you do?

At the church I attend, in Sunday school probably a year or more ago, the question came up of what the church would do if two lesbians came in and wanted to worship. A fellow, who is a member of the Board of Elders, responded, “Love ’em and learn ’em.” I don’t think that was overall support for acceptance of lesbian relationships in the church. He was likely communicating the idea that by welcoming them into the church community, over time, they would be influenced and understand the nature of homosexuality related to the expectations of God, as this church understands God and expectations.

women holding handsThe understanding, and I’m projecting my own conclusions into this scenario, is if this hypothetical lesbian couple chose not to accept the church’s interpretation of scripture in terms of their relationship and their lives, they’d be free to leave and seek a more accepting church or other house of worship.

But you can’t exactly do that with your kids…or can you? The quote from MacArthur above says that’s exactly what you have to do. If your gay kid won’t repent and continues to sin (presumably by just being gay), then you must do the whole Matthew 18:15-18 thing with them, confronting your child individually, and then with two or three other witnesses, and then finally in front of the whole church (I’ve heard of one set of parents who really did this). This is actually bad exegesis on MacArthur’s part, since the child, by being gay, doesn’t directly sin against his or her parents.

I don’t think I could stand to do that with any of my kids. Maybe I’m just a bad Christian. I’m sure John MacArthur would think so.

Of course, none of my children are religious let alone Christians, and from MacArthur’s point of view, if any of them were gay, they’d be sinners just like the rest of the secular world.

A church can make whatever official, doctrinal statement it wants relative to homosexuality in the covenant community and they’re within their rights to do so. I draw the line at being compelled to accept John MacArthur’s advice on how I should relate to my children and I imagine a lot of Christian parents feel similarly.

No, none of my kids are gay, but I’ve run that scenario through my head more than a few times. What if…

MacArthur made the video supposedly in response to a parent whose adult offspring did come out, and asked MacArthur what they should do, so in this case, MacArthur is responding to a real request for information. However, he felt it necessary to make a video and then to put it on YouTube, so his opinion entered the public realm and became fodder for response and reaction.

I can’t render a theological opinion but I can give you one based on my being a father and grandfather. I can’t “unlove” my children. Sure, they’ve each done things to make me pretty unhappy at different times over the years, but none of that made me want to stop being their Dad, to stop loving them, and certainly I never had any desire to “turn them over to Satan.”

in-the-dark2-blueResponding to a gay child by alienating them, separating from them, isolating them from family, and refusing even to eat with them won’t motivate them to “repent,” it will motivate them to never have a relationship with you again and to take their own course absent of your love, caring, compassion, and consultation. MacArthur’s advice is an iron-clad guarantee that even if the child somehow desired to “repent of being gay,” they would never do so. What’s their motivation? The (so called) love of Christ according to the “gospel” of MacArthur?

Even when Israel sinned grievously against God, God may have turned His face away for an instant, but He always, always took them back and He never, ever permanently abandoned or forsake them.

I know MacArthur feels he’s giving sound doctrinal advice based on scripture, but somehow he never factored in his own experience as a parent (and I imagine a grandparent, given his age) and how he would face his own children. Sadly, my experience (such as it is) with MacArthur is that he is so dogmatic and rigid, he very well could and would take his own advice and feed any child of his who came out as gay to the (proverbial) wolves.

If any of my kids (or my grandson someday) came out as gay, I’d end up having a very long talk with God about what this was supposed to mean for my relationship with the Almighty. What does God expect me to do, reject the very child He created to be a joy in my life? I couldn’t do that. Does that make me a bad Christian? I imagine a lot of people reading this will think so. Some of you may even condemn me (even if it’s within the privacy of your own hearts) for merely entertaining such an attitude.

But what would you do if it were your own son or daughter. Imagine your little boy or girl telling you they’re gay, scared to death of what it will mean, and wondering if you’ll stop loving them in the next ten seconds or so. Imagine that this is really happening. What would you do, not just your immediate reaction, but for the long run? How’s your moral certitude doing now?

I know I said in Is It For His Glory to avoid needless arguments (though I also quoted Pastor Michael Hidalgo as saying Christians need to get out of their protected enclaves and into the real world…perhaps good advice for John MacArthur), but I also said there are times to take a stand. I believe this is one of those times.

Here’s the video of MacArthur’s response to the Christian parent who asked what to do now that their child has come out as gay:

Believe in people and you will influence them to believe in themselves.

Your belief needs to be based on reality — so develop an eye for noticing sparks of potential in others. Be enthusiastic in selling a person to himself.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Believe in People”
Aish.com

Addendum: June 19, 2013: Today I received an email from a person named Dennis who informed me of an error I made regarding my mention of Pastor Danny Cortez. According to Dennis, the news article states that Pastor Cortez changed his theological stance to be affirming of gays in the Church before his son came out. This change in Pastor Cortez allowed his son to feel safer in coming out to his father. I apologize for misreading the news article and hope this correction clears things up.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Repentance from Dead Works, Part 2

More thoughts on repentance from dead works as an essential part of the gospel and one of the elementary teachings of Yeshua. Evangelism is not like making toast. Discipleship and evangelism entails an ongoing process. Includes excerpts from a blog in which an Evangelical pastor explains why he does not preach repentance. Does repentance mean to “change your mind” or to “turn from sin”?

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Nineteen: Repentance from Dead Works, Part 2
Originally presented on June 8, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Initially, Lancaster took a detour from delving into the deep meaning of the Epistle to the Hebrews to take a closer look at the six elemental principles of our faith as outlined in Hebrews 6:1-3. Since teaching the first principle last week, repentance from dead works, he takes a further detour, traveling a greater distance away from his source material in order to illustrate how far the Evangelical Church has drifted away from the essentials of the Bible.

After his recap of “the milk,” the very, very first thing the Hebrews writer thought that any person needed to know when starting out as a wet-behind-the-ears disciple of Yeshua (Jesus), that is, repentance from sin and turning to God, he tells his audience how difficult the journey of becoming a disciple actually is:

Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.”

Matthew 8:19-22 (NASB)

Notice how Jesus doesn’t make it so easy for someone just to follow him? He seems to push people away. Maybe that’s because being a disciple of the Master is a difficult thing to do. It has many advantages and God wants all people to turn away from sin and return to Him, but it’s not like taking a walk in the park.

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Luke 9:23 (NASB)

Repentance and salvation isn’t as simple as “Come as you are, believe in me, and you’ll go to Heaven when you die.” Rather, it’s as if Jesus is saying, “Come as you are, pick up your cross, follow me, and prepare to be persecuted.”

This isn’t a terribly popular message in Evangelical Christianity which is why, according to Lancaster, it isn’t preached very much in churches. How does Lancaster know this? He Googled it. No kidding, that’s what he said.

He came across a blog (the link is at the top but I’ll present it again) called EscapeToReality.org owned and operated by someone named Pastor Paul Ellis.

Pastor Paul Ellis
Pastor Paul Ellis

Lancaster said that Pastor Ellis’ blog just came up in the search results and Lancaster doesn’t know a thing about this person except he’s a blogger. Lancaster’s opinion is that if you blog and your material is available on the web, you’re just “asking for it” (which is why Lancaster doesn’t blog and isn’t even on Facebook).

I guess I must be asking for it, too. I’m not sure I’d ever want to have Lancaster comment on my blog given the following, but then again, I hope my content is more doctrinally sound. Lancaster referenced a blog post written by Pastor Ellis in November of 2011 called 3 Reasons Why I Don’t Preach on Repentance (“Turn from Sin”).

Religious people often complain that we grace preachers don’t emphasize repentance sufficiently. It’s true. I hardly emphasize it at all. But then neither did the Apostle John. You’d think if salvation hinged on our repentance then it would be in the gospels but John says nothing about it. Not one word. Neither does he mention repentance in any of his three letters. I guess John must’ve been a grace preacher.

I’d never heard of a category of preachers called “grace preachers” but I guess they stand in opposition to people like Lancaster who do indeed preach repentance.

Lancaster pointed out a couple of things about Ellis’s quote. First, he only draws from the Gospel of John and ignores Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Second, he’s wrong about John.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:34-36 (NASB)

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:4-10 (NASB)

Apparently, Pastor Ellis missed a few key portions of John’s writings.

And just in case you missed it (as perhaps Ellis has), Jesus really did preach on repentance. It was his central theme:

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15

You may have to return to Lancaster’s previous definitions of sin and repentance or look at my own series on Teshuva for the following to truly make an impact:

  1. Repentance means to turn from sin
  2. Repentance means to change your mind

Ellis also says:

It (repentance) means different things to different people. But Biblical repentance simply means “change your mind.” You can change your mind about anything, but Jesus called us to change our mind and believe the good news (Mk 1:15).

Your definition of repentance will reveal whether you are living under grace or works. In the Old Testament, sinners repented by bringing a sacrifice of penance and confessing their sins (Num 5:7). But in the new we bring a sacrifice of praise and confess His name (Heb 13:15). We don’t do anything to deal with our sins for Jesus has done it all.

In other words, just sitting around in church is good enough and you don’t even do that. Jesus does it all and we’re saved. No personal accountability is required.

Oh, the three reasons Ellis doesn’t preach repentance. I’ll give you the raw list, but you’ll have to go to his blog to read the full content:

  1. It puts people under the law
  2. It doesn’t lead people to salvation
  3. We’re called to preach the gospel, not repentance

It’s hard to believe Pastor Ellis has even read the whole Bible. He’s saying that repentance just puts people “under the law,” repentance doesn’t lead to salvation, and we are only supposed to preach the gospel as if the message of repentance isn’t at the gospel’s core.

I’m sorry if this sounds snarky or arrogant on my part (and I’ve had a problem with arrogance from time to time), but Ellis’ blog should be named “EscapeFromReality.org.”

Lancaster also has three points, but in this case, they’re three points on why he does preach repentance:

  1. The gospel message calls us to repent (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15)
  2. Repentance is defined by the Bible as turning away from sin and turning (or returning) to God
  3. Sin is defined by the Bible as a violation of the commandments of God

under the lawI could add a fourth point and I think Lancaster would agree: The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

But how do you preach this message? Actually, Lancaster’s question reminded me of one I asked myself about a month ago. How do you evangelize from a Messianic Jewish point of view?

Lancaster drew a somewhat humorous example to prove his point. Imagine a couple of people from his congregation going door-to-door in the neighborhood:

“Excuse us. We’re from Beth Immanuel just down the street. Can we have a few minutes of your time? Are you a sinner? Do you practice sexual immorality? If so, we have good news for you?”

I don’t think anyone with a message like that would be invited inside for coffee and cookies.

Actually, Lancaster answered his own question, citing a series of teachings he recorded called What About Evangelism (also available in MP3 format), discussing how to evangelize from a Messianic Jewish perspective (and I’ve definitely missed that one).

He made a point that it’s not just the lost who need this message, but the saved. How many “Christians” in churches think they are saved, think they are walking the path of righteousness, but who don’t have a clue about the actual gospel message of the Bible and who, if they’ve repented at all, did so only once when they first came to faith in Christ?

For some people, that could be years or even decades ago.

Lancaster used a “toast” metaphor, but for the sake of time and the length of this blog post, I’ll suggest you read about it in his book Elementary Principles.

Lancaster, by the end of his sermon, seemed satisfied that everyone listening to him had “gotten down” this first foundational principle of faith, this first glass of “milk,” so we can move on to the second one next week.

What Did I Learn?

I learned (I guess it should be obvious) that in some ways, Lancaster remains very Evangelical. He’s a passionate believer in missions and evangelizing the lost. He wants to get the message out to everyone because “God so loved the world.” The fact that he took one additional sermon just to emphasize the desperate importance of continual, ongoing, daily, repentance, constantly picking up our crosses, and following our Master, seems proof of that.

I also wondered, thinking about recent events, if this is one of the reasons for the whole Tent of David mission, which is not just to illuminate Evangelical Christianity on the merits of a Messianic Jewish view of the Bible, but to witness to the “found,” so to speak, who may never have heard the message of repentance of sins before.

what about evangelismLancaster cited something Boaz Michael mentioned to him once about a broadcast interview of the famous megachurch Pastor Joel Osteen (in an earlier version of this blog post, I misquoted Lancaster as saying “Rick Warren”). According to what Lancaster said Boaz told him, Pastor Osteen was asked about the secret of his success, to which Osteen replied, ”The secret to my success is that I never preach about sin.”

But if you don’t preach about sin and repentance, and Lancaster made this very clear, you are misleading your flock and probably condemning them as well. Is that grace?

I thought I’d share some of the comments on Pastor Ellis’ blog post about not preaching repentance, just to emphasize the problem:

Repentance does not save a sinner. If you believe repentance does save, but after seeing the truth and you change your mind, because you realized that it is the blood of Jesus that saves, * then you have repented

Repentance does not forgive sins. If you believe repentance does forgive sins, but after experiencing true forgiveness and you change your mind,because you realized that you have been forgiven and “the blood of Jesus cleanses (continuously)” you of all sin * then you have repented grace and peace

savedbygrace

Thank you! Contemporaries who believe man is dead until regenerated still want to preach repentance to him.

Dean O’Bryan

You know what is interesting is that when I used to preach repentance as a turning from all of your sins was to have another thought nagging me, “How can you say that salvation is apart from works when you are asking man to do something to be saved?”

You rightly pointed out that John never preached repentance, but neither did Paul in the entire book of Romans that had much to say about salvation.

I used to preach Luke 13:5 as proof that one must turn to be saved, but when I read the context was when I realized that being saved from sin was nowhere in the context at all. It was addressing a nation, and not some death, burial and resurrection gospel to be believed. Does not matter what angle you approach Luke 13 from as nothing there is about stopping sins to be saved.

What is sad is how religion will preach the verse that says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” and will change the meaning into, “Believe on the ((((((LORD)))))) Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” They will always shout the word “Lord” and then pause a moment before reading the rest of the verse. They want you to think that Paul was stressing a surrender to the sovereign Lordship of Christ to be saved, as they will claim that Jesus cannot be your Lord until you give up your every sin first.

Dave

In response to one comment, Pastor Ellis said in part:

It starts off in innocence but before you know it you’re listening to talking snakes. Choose life. If saying sorry and making amends brings life and healing, do it (Jas 5:16). If reviewing your sins brings death, suffering and condemnation, don’t.

despairThere are many more such statements but I think you get the point.

I learned that as much as I can experience frustration in the church I currently attend, Pastor does indeed preach repentance of sins and returning to God. If I attended Pastor Ellis’ church, I don’t think I’d do very well there at all.

How many churches out there are preaching “grace” and avoiding “sin” and “repentance” at all costs, including the costs of the souls of their members? Out of some misplaced since of “mercy,” how many “grace preachers” are preventing the people in their churches from repenting and actually returning to God? How many of these believers are still suffering needlessly in their sins or worse, believing that they’re just fine and don’t need to repent at all?

Addendum: I re-read all of Pastor Ellis’ blog post plus a good many of the comments (there are tons of them), particularly comments Ellis wrote. It’s not that he opposes repentance as such, and he even praises repentance, but he gives a rather (in my opinion) simplistic view of what repentance means in terms of our relationship with God through Messiah.

While I believe he is sincere, caring, compassionate, and loves Jesus, I think that like so many Evangelicals, he tends to be “works-phobic” and sees obedience to God by performing the mitzvot (including repentance) and God’s grace as polar opposites rather than co-existing elements in a life of faith.

The comments on that one blog post stretched for over a two year span and they were comments similar to those I’ve experienced on other religious blogs, that is, plenty of strife and theological posturing to go around.

Having read the many opinions expressed in the blog’s comments section, in the end, I don’t believe we’re mere robots who sit around having faith in Jesus and being saved and that’s the extent of our lives as Christians. I believe God wants us to be active participants in our relationship with Him and with each other, including being accountable for our behavior. I don’t think that once we come to faith, it is impossible for us to ever sin again and that we can just “change our minds,” which is a gross over simplification of the concept of Teshuvah (turning from sin and turning to God), and then it’s all good.

God is gracious and He always has been. It wasn’t an invention of Jesus, it’s been God’s nature forever and He’s always been gracious and compassionate to human beings.

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin…”

Exodus 34:6-7 (NASB)

Did Paul Know Jesus was the Second Person in the Trinity?

First, a quote: “The Church cannot indefinitely continue to believe about Jesus what he did not know to be true about himself,” J. W. Bowman, The Intention of Jesus (London: SCM, 1945), p. 108.

This is not really a historical claim but a theological one, and it reflects a common assumption: The assumption that the theological/religious validity of claims about Jesus rest upon what Jesus believed and taught about himself. In my book, Lord Jesus Christ (pp. 5-9), I’ve noted the irony of how this assumption has been shared by critics and advocates of Christian faith, and also how it has worked mischief in the historical investigation of Christian origins.

-Dr. Larry Hurtado
“Questioning a Common Assumption,” May 13, 2014
Larry Hurtado’s Blog

Dr. Larry Hurtado has been prolifically writing on something rather compelling over the past few days. Did Jesus know he was Divine during his “earthly ministry?” Did Jesus know he was to be an object of worship?

I think most Evangelicals would assume the answer to those questions is a resounding “yes,” but here we have one of the most preeminent New Testament scholars in the world drawing that assumption into question. I think Hurtado’s comments deserve further scrutiny.

(NOTE: I should mention here that I have no intention of matching my meager brain power and limited knowledge of New Testament scholarship with Dr. Hurtado’s. I merely want to bring this issue to my readership in order to explore what he presents on his own blog and to see what responses his viewpoints elicit here.)

Looking at the evidence in the New Testament, Hurtado concludes that the “high” view of Jesus as Divine Messiah didn’t emerge until what he calls “post-Easter.”

But I’d like to make two observations. First, the earliest extant Christian texts themselves make it perfectly clear that the “high” notions about Jesus sharing in divine glory, exalted to heavenly status, worthy of worship, etc., all erupted after Jesus’ ministry, not during it, and that the crucial impetus for these notions was what earliest believers saw as God’s actions, particularly their belief that God had raised Jesus from death to heavenly glory. (See, e.g., Philippians 2:9-11; Acts 2:36).

To underscore the point, the remarkable escalation in the status/significance of Jesus to the “right hand” of God, to sharing the divine name and glory, and to the central and programmatic place he held in earliest Christian devotional practice all rested on the fundamental conviction that God has exalted him and now required that Jesus’ exalted status be recognized, and that he should be reverenced accordingly.

My second observation is this: Why should this be taken as some kind of threat to the theological legitimacy of traditional Christian faith?

-Hurtado, ibid

Larry Hurtado
Larry Hurtado

This sounds like it was only after the resurrection that it was known to anyone else including Jesus that he was indeed the Divine Son of God the Father.

I think a lot of people would find that startling, but as Hurtado says above, why should that be a threat? And yet on the aforementioned blog post and two others, many, many comments were generated, some of them rather “impassioned.”

Indeed, more explicitly than any of the other Gospels, GJohn makes it clear that the author saw and accepted a distinction between what he regarded as the level of understanding of Jesus among his followers during his earthly life and the subsequently enhanced level of understanding in the “post-Easter” period.

But my point here is that even GJohn doesn’t make the high Christological claims affirmed by the author rest simply (or even particularly) on demands and teaching of the earthly Jesus. Instead, the text fully affirms that the realization of Jesus’ glorified/glorious status came subsequently, through the revelations of the Spirit.

-Hurtado, Jesus and Christology: The Gospel of John as a Case Study, May 14, 2014

Hurtado wrote this as a follow-up to his prior missive, which continued to inspire passionate discourse, and based on those comments, he wrote a third blog post, Jesus, “Pre-existence,” etc: Responding to Questions on May 15th.

He breaks his response down into four points to which he comments on his blog at length:

  1. His response to his emphasis that the NT makes God’s actions (esp. in raising Jesus from death and giving him glory) the basis for the “high” Christological claims and the remarkable devotional practice in which Jesus was included with God.
  2. His position about texts such as John 1:1-2, where, of the “Logos” (here, the “pre-incarnate” identity/form of the incarnate Jesus), we read: “he was with God and he was God”.
  3. What we are supposed to make of statements ascribing “pre-existence” to Jesus (to use the typical theological buzzword). If you entertain these, how could Jesus not have known this and spoken of it?
  4. What about subsequent creedal controversies and formulations? E.g., the three “persons” (or “hypostases”) that comprise the “Trinity,” etc.?

I don’t want to re-create the full content from Hurtado’s blog and reader comments, but I do want to draw attention to one particular paragraph (for full context, please use the links I provided and read all three of Hurtado’s posts):

But I suspect that if Paul were asked whether Jesus was the “second person of the Trinity,” he would likely have responded with a quizzical look, and asked for some explanation of what it meant! Were the patristic texts and creedal statements saying something beyond or distinguishable from what the NT texts say? Certainly. Does that invalidate those later creedal discussions and formulations? Well, if you recognize the necessity of the continuing theological task (of intelligently attempting to articulate Christian faith meaningfully in terms appropriate and understandable in particular times and cultures), then probably you’ll see the classic creedal statements as an appropriate such effort. But that’s a historical judgement about that later period, and/or a theological judgement. And my emphasis is on the historical question of what the NT texts say and how to understand them in their own historical context.

-Hurtado, Jesus, “Pre-existence,” etc: Responding to Questions

This goes not only to what Jesus thought of himself prior to his crucifixion and resurrection, but what Paul and the Jesus-believing Jews (and Gentiles) believed about the nature of Christ relative to God during the Biblical period.

The Jewish PaulDid Paul believe in the Trinity? Again, an Evangelical wouldn’t miss a beat in saying, “Yes, of course,” but again, we have Hurtado, who we have every reason to believe is presenting a credible case from current NT research, saying that Paul wouldn’t have a clue about the Trinity.

I should mention that Derek Leman at Messianic Jewish Musings has been writing a great deal about the Divinity of Jesus lately, and a lot of his perspectives are based on Hurtado. His own research and conclusions will be presented in his forthcoming book Divine Messiah, which should be available for digital download from Amazon as early as May 23rd, so maybe Leman’s text will offer some insights.

In addition to my recent commentary on Zetterholm and the implications of his research on our view of the Church, I’ve recently read an article at Bible History Daily called The Origin of Christianity by Noah Wiener, which is a review of Geza Vermes’ work, From Jewish to Gentile: How the Jesus Movement Became Christianity (November/December 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review).

By contrast, the early second century Epistle of Barnabas shows a distinctly gentile Christianity in its presentation of the Hebrew Bible as allegory instead of covenantal fact. The clearly divinized Jesus in this document is distanced from the Jewish Christians and the divide between the Christian communities continued to widen over time. Geza Vermes writes that after Hadrian’s suppression of the Second Jewish Revolt, the Jewish Christians quickly became a minority group in the newly established church. At this point we can see the origin of Christianity as a distinctly non-Jewish religion; late in the second century, the Jewish Christians either rejoined their Jewish peers or become part of the newly gentile Christian church.

-Wiener

The implication here, as I’m reading it, is that many of the Biblical truths we hold onto as Christians were conceptualized and codified after the Gentiles formed the Christian Church and left Jesus-worship within the Jewish context. In other words, the Jewish apostles and disciples wouldn’t have imagined many of the theologies developed later by the Gentiles in relation to their own understanding of scripture (the Tanakh/Old Testament) and of the teachings of Messiah. In fact, Jesus himself, even “post-Easter,” may not have seen/see himself as “the second person of the Trinity,” at least not using that particular language.

This isn’t to deny the Divine nature of Messiah, the profound mystery of him being “the visible image of the invisible God,” (Colossians 1:15) or his sitting at the right hand of the Father in all exalted honor and glory, but exactly how we see the nature of Jesus may be based more on Evangelical assumptions and long-cherished traditions than how the original authors of the Gospels and Epistles actually understood the nature and character of Messiah.

It seems clear then, that the origin and development of Christianity as a completely separate entity from the ekklesia we see recorded in the Bible, departed from the original theological and doctrinal template taught by the apostles, and I imagine Paul, witnessing the Evangelical Church of the twenty-first century CE, would find little if anything to relate to or even recognize as devotion to Messiah, Son of David.

Any thoughts?

Review: John MacArthur on Judaism, Part 1

Coming to the 18th chapter of Acts, I’ve entitled this particular message, “From Judaism to Jesus.” The story of the book of Acts has proven to us to be a study in transitions. I want to belabor the point for a moment, because I think it’s important for you to understand that.

The book of Acts, written by Luke, describing the early years of the church after its beginning, is really a book of transitions. It’s a book of beginnings. In a sense, it’s the genesis of the New Covenant. It’s all of the beginnings as the church begins to find itself and form itself and sever itself from Judaism. It was particularly a time of transition for the Jews of the early church. The old things of Judaism faded out very slowly, slowly, and the new gradually phased in.

The writer of the book of Hebrews gives us the theology of the transition, or the theology of the change from Judaism to Jesus. He very clearly lays it out. He says, for example, that Moses and David and Joshua and Aaron and all of the priests and all of those great characters of Judaism have all been replaced, as it were, by Jesus. He goes beyond that, and he says that the laws and the ceremonies and the rituals and the patterns of the Old Testament have given way to a whole grace kind of life. No longer are you ruled by externals but you’re ruled by the Spirit within.

God’s people, Israel, have given way to God’s people, the church. The system of multiple sacrifices has given way to the one final sacrifice. All the way through Hebrews, as we studied it some months ago, we saw the tremendous viewpoint of the New Covenant as it means the old is set aside. The writer of the book of Hebrews even says, “The old decays and fades away.”

John MacArthur
“From Judaism to Jesus, Part 1: Paul in Transition”
Commentary on Acts 18:18-23, January 13, 1974
GTY.org

As Borowsky has already said, Christian scholars, educational organizations, and other groups are already changing their own assumptions which previously provided for the continuation of supersessionism and attempting to pass down their knowledge to the church. But how well is that knowledge being passed down to the families who worship in their churches every Sunday?

The answer is, not very well. This may not be the fault of church leaders and scholars but of the individual Christian. Human nature tends to lead us on the path of least resistance in whatever activities we may find ourselves, including how we understand God and the Bible. While believers may go to church diligently, attend Sunday school classes, participate in mid-week Bible studies and the like, most won’t “go the extra mile” and actively pursue the latest research in New Testament studies, fresh understanding of Scripture, and become involved in interfaith activities. Most people get to a certain level in their lives, whether it is in marriage, at work, or in their faith, and then they’ll plateau and just stay there.

James Pyles
“Origin of Supersessionism in the Church:
Part 4: “Leaving Supersessionism Behind”
Messiah Journal, December 2012/Issue 112
First Fruits of Zion

When I wrote, “This may not be the fault of church leaders and scholars but of the individual Christian,” perhaps I should have clarified that this can include the individual Christian Pastors and teachers, particularly those who either don’t keep up with the latest developments in Biblical scholarship or who choose to discard them in favor of centuries old Christian tradition.

I’ve been encouraged to take a look at some of the sermons of various Christian Pastors including John MacArthur. But where to start? In terms of MacArthur’s recorded messages, at the Grace to You website, if you go to the Sermons page, you’ll see a list of sermons that goes all the way back to 1969. Assuming that MacArthur’s messages were recorded for every Sunday spanning from 1969 to today, that’s a lot of material. How should I choose something representative?

I decided to do a search on a topic that is of particular interest to me. What is John MacArthur’s opinion of Messianic Judaism?

I don’t know. The search didn’t turn up any sermons that specific, but I did come across a three-part series called “From Judaism to Jesus.”

The title alone is provocative because it full-out states that Judaism has nothing to do with the Jewish Messiah, as if Judaism and the Messiah are mutually exclusive terms. That seems not only inaccurate but a little crazy. The Jewish people from ancient days have been longing for the coming of the Messiah as the savior and deliverer of Israel, as the King of the Jewish nation, and as the Monarch who would place Israel at the head of all the nations and inaugurate an age of world-wide peace.

So how could there be a “transition” from Judaism to Jesus as if Jesus was an entirely new and unanticipated “thing” in the plan of God?

John MacArthurAccording to John MacArthur, Jesus replaced Judaism. This is classic supersessionism, also known as fulfillment theology and replacement theology. I’ve been assured that MacArthur is not anti-Semitic, but I don’t know what else to call someone who advocates a theology that in part has resulted in every persecution and pogrom that has ever victimized the Jewish people, culminating in the worst of all atrocities, the Holocaust.

In part one of MacArthur’s sermon series, he invokes the Epistle to the Hebrews to support his position. The primary reason I’m reviewing D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews is to see an alternate interpretation of this book of the New Testament, one that more accurately portrays the intent of the anonymous author toward his Jewish audience and that flows more evenly with the letters of Paul, which I believe also have been misunderstood, and which I believe, when correctly interpreted, offer messages of hope and good news to the Jewish people and to the normative Judaisms of his day (and for Judaism today) and only then also offer good news to the people of the nations as well.

MacArthur and other supersessionists like him, have put the cart before the horse and say that Paul, as well as the writer of the Book of Hebrews, offered “good news” to the Gentiles that grace had replaced the Law, and that if the Jews wanted a piece of it, they had to dismantle Judaism and leave its broken pieces behind them in the dirt, boarding the train to Heaven with Jesus in their new identities as goyishe Christians.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the victims of certain interpretations of Paul’s voice, especially those who have suffered the Shoah. Their suffering cannot be separated from the prejudices resulting from those interpretations any more than it can be wholly attributed to them. To them I dedicate the effort represented in this book.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the Acknowledgments, pg ix
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

You may remember this quote from my blog post Prologue to the Irony of Galatians. The traditional view of Paul and the mainstream historical interpretation of the message of the New Testament may seem totally benign and all but unquestionable to the Church, both across time and in the present, but the damage it has done to collective Jewry over the last twenty centuries has been incalculable.

Of course, men like MacArthur would counter that consequence aside, if how he preaches the “good news” is an accurate interpretation of the scriptures, he can only tell the truth of the Word of God. He can’t help how it’s been misused.

But he fails to ask himself the question (and frankly, I understand why) if he and the Church’s traditions and “ritual” interpretations of scripture are accurate. After all, these traditional interpretations of the Bible are based on the earliest writings of the “Church fathers” in the first few centuries of the common era, who unswervingly sought to distance the newly minted Gentile Christian “Church” from anything related to Jewish people, Judaism, and the Jewish nation that had been razed by the Romans and left wandering the diaspora without King, Temple, or Priesthood.

mj112The basic understanding of the writings of the Epistles has changed only somewhat for many Christians since the time of the Church fathers and the later Councils such as Nicaea, and for many Protestants, the core of Biblical interpretation has changed hardly at all in the five hundred years since the Reformation.

In the last part of my “Origin of Supersessionism in the Church” series for Messiah Journal, I wrote an optimistic message of how the Church was leaving behind this dark set of chapters from its past. Shocked out of apathy by Shoah, Christianity was seeking a way to reconcile with the Jewish people, and even in some cases, embracing the Jewish Roots of the faith. But that optimism may have been misplaced. I wrote it long before I read John MacArthur’s opinion on what Judaism means to Christianity today:

It was ordained of God. It’s a way of life, a point of pride, a divine institution, and it doesn’t die easily. We see that even today. Jewish people who come to Jesus Christ, if they’ve been involved in any depth of Judaism, and certainly Orthodox Judaism or Conservative Judaism in some cases, they become Christians, but it’s very difficult for them to break with all of those traditions. They very often hang on to those things.

Dr. Feinberg himself expressed to me that this is one of the tragedies or one of the problems the church has to deal with, and that is allowing the Jews to become a full part of the body of Christ. Very often, they themselves resist that. The statistics are staggering when you think that in LA there are multiple tens of thousands of Jewish believers and a few hundred of them are involved in local churches.

So it’s very difficult for the transition from Judaism to Jesus. The church needs to do everything it can to stretch out its arms of love to incorporate them in every way and at the same time allow those old institutions to die out.

It amazes me that MacArthur, in the same breath, can complain about how most believing Jews don’t join the local church and also make “from Judaism to Jesus” the key phrase of his diatribe.

Am I being too harsh in calling MacArthur’s sermon a diatribe, “a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something”? Maybe. I don’t think (I’m trying to be fair) that MacArthur meant to attack the Jewish people in general and Jewish believers in particular, but imagine how all this sounds to Jewish people.

How does this sound?

In the character of the book of Acts, the church is born, and Judaism in God’s eyes is a dead issue…

I personally know Jewish people who are deeply involved in religious and cultural Judaism who are also disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah and not only do they not see Judaism and faith in Moshiach as mutually exclusive, they see their devotion to the Messiah as the logical and ultimate extension of their Jewish faith and Jewish identity.

John MacArthur would take that all away and replace it with a pale shadow of the richness of a Jew kneeling before the King of Israel in homage, devotion, and in celebration that Messiah, Son of David, has come and will one day return to restore all that has been lost, bringing the world to perfection in the coming Messianic Age.

It’s funny, because MacArthur saw this vision as well, he simply rejected it out of hand.

It indicates the difficulty in his mind of seeing Christianity as a unit all its own composed of Jew and Gentile, but rather, they saw it as an extension of Judaism. It’s understandable, right, because Jesus was their Messiah? He was the fulfillment of Judaism.

burning-the-talmudMacArthur couldn’t have mapped out his theology more openly (and notice that he said Jesus was – past tense – the Jewish Messiah, not is). Instead of seeing Biblical history extending forward across the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings into the Apostolic scriptures and up through history to today, an extension of the original promises of God to Israel culminated in Messiah, he sees a total break in Biblical prophesy. The “extension” shatters at the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, and by the time Luke records the Acts of the Apostles, those promises have reformed into an entirely new and unanticipated entity. Jews are absorbed into the new thing called “the Church” where Jews and Gentiles are rendered as a completely homogenous mass, something like mixing the different ingredients for “Wonder Bread” into a bowl and baking it up in an oven. Once it’s fully baked, take out the loaf, slice it up, and each piece is pretty much like any other piece…

…anonymous and nutritionally deficient. Everything important has been bleached out.

You have to remember, then, that there was flux in the book of Acts, and that many of these Jewish people who are coming to Christ are finding it hard to get all the way over to the features of Christianity. Not only because of the strength of Judaism but watch this— Secondly, because all of the features of Christianity hadn’t been revealed yet. They really didn’t know what to substitute for it.

Christianity is a substitute for Judaism or rather, a replacement. As the missus would say, “Oy!”

In fact, the Romans considered Christianity a sect of Judaism. As they stood apart and looked at it, they just figured it’s a sect of Judaism. That’s how tightly tied it was.

I apologize, but there’s only one response to that last quote: Oh, duh!

To give you an idea of how entrenched he (the apostle Paul) was in Judaism, Galatians 1:13. He says, “You heard of my manner of life in time past in Judaism. Beyond measure I persecuted the church and wasted it. I profited in the Jews’ religion above many of my equals in my own nation. More exceedingly zealous in the traditions of my fathers.” He says, “I was a Jew in every sense, even beyond the normal pattern of my fellows.”

Philippians 3:5. “Circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, touching the law, a Pharisee.” He was a superlegalist. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church. Touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless.” He carried through every little nitpicking iota of the ceremonial legalist system. He was a Jew at the limit of Judaism’s capacities.

Yet he became a Christian. When he became a Christian, you can’t make a change even though the man’s heart was changed, and he was a new creation, the transformation of his person took time. I’ve always said, “You take a person with a rotten temper and a stinking disposition and get him saved, and you’ve got a Christian with a rotten temper and a stinking disposition.”

MacArthur says that Paul was “entrenched” in Jewish tradition, but in reading MacArthur’s sermon, it’s more than abundantly clear that his own entrenchment in Christian interpretive tradition has blinded him to what the Bible is actually saying. MacArthur’s shooting all around the target but even after decades, he’s still missing it.

In the quote above, MacArthur unfavorably compares Judaism to having “a rotten temper and a stinking disposition.” He had to know how this would sound. I guess his audience didn’t mind. I know I would have, though. In fact, I do mind it right now.

So what am I supposed to learn from reading the sermons of Christian Pastors? What am I supposed to learn from reading John MacArthur’s sermons? Granted, he delivered this sermon over forty years ago, but based on his more recent sermons and commentaries, I have no reason to believe he’s changed his viewpoints on Jews and Judaism one bit.

If I’m being offered a choice between MacArthur’s version of Christianity and a more Judaic and Messianic perspective, based on part one of “From Judaism to Jesus,” I know which direction to go in.

The road

Addendum: In his sermon, MacArthur said that by Acts 2, God considered Judaism to be a dead issue. I just read that in 1942, Adolf Hitler said something quite similar and planned to create “a Museum of Judaism, to remember the dead Jewish religion, culture and people.” Go to the small article at Aish.com and find out how Hitler’s intent completely backfired and ended up “as a living testimony to the indestructibility of the Jewish people.” I think that speaks to Christian assumptions about the “death” of Judaism as well.

For more, go to Part 2 of my review.

Christianity Today and Why Paul is Not Anti-Judaism

paul-on-the-road-to-damascusThe misconception about Paul with the longest historical pedigree is that he was anti-Jewish. Many imagine that after his Damascus Road experience, Paul immediately rejected Judaism and embraced Christianity. They assume that in the first century these were two clearly distinguishable religions. Before his encounter with Christ, the thinking goes, Paul was wrapped up in a legalistic pursuit of salvation and was teaching others a similar philosophy. So great was his passion that he persecuted the Christians who taught salvation by grace through faith. After his conversion, everything changed. He embraced God’s gracious salvation by faith in Christ and rejected the system of dead rituals bound up in Judaism. Paul left Judaism, therefore, and turned to Christianity.

-Timothy Gombis
“The Paul We Think We Know” (originally published 7-22-2011)
Christianity Today

Someone posted this on Facebook today and as I was reading it, I wanted to jump up out of my chair and scream YES! YES! Someone finally GETS IT!

OK, I’m not really that emphatic in my behavior but it does excite me that someone writing for a traditional Christian publication understands what I understand and what I’ve been trying to communicate in the church I attend for nearly a year.

Let’s cut to the chase. What does Gombis really think about Paul and more importantly, Paul’s struggle to integrate non-Jewish disciples into a Jewish religious stream?

The problem in the early church, therefore, was not the temptation toward legalistic works righteousness. They faced the communal challenge of incorporating non-Jewish converts into the historically Jewish people of God. First-century Judaism didn’t have a legalism problem; it had an ethnocentrism problem. The first followers of Jesus were all Jewish, and had difficulty imagining that the God of Israel who sent Jesus Christ as their Savior could possibly save non-Jews without requiring them to convert to Judaism. This is the issue in Acts 15, when Christian Jews from Judea urged the Gentiles in Antioch, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).

While the early church leaders decided in theory that non-Jewish believers in Jesus were not required to become Jews (Acts 15:13-21), many churches struggled with the practical challenges of becoming healthy multiethnic communities. Paul, as pastor and theologian, addresses these challenges by claiming that “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Rom. 3:20). This is not a condemnation of Judaism as inherently legalistic, but an affirmation that God does not justify a person merely because he is ethnically Jewish. Jews and non-Jews approach God on equal terms when it comes to salvation (emph. mine). All have sinned and all stand in need of God’s redeeming grace in Christ (Rom. 3:23-24). Therefore all who are in Christ are equal siblings in God’s new family (Gal. 3:26-28).

The “in theory” comment seems to relate to the ongoing struggle to integrate, with anything approaching seamlessness, Jewish and Gentile disciples within a single religious and social framework, but I’ll return to that issue in a moment. The main point here is that Paul did not reject Judaism for Christianity, supported continued Judaism and Torah observance for Jews, and identified the primary problem among Jewish believers and their difficulty in accepting Gentle disciples not as legalism but ethnocentrism. Many of the believing and non-believing Jews could not accept Gentiles as equal participants of a Jewish religious branch without requiring that they convert to Judaism. After all, whoever heard of Jews and Goyim being equal in the sight of God? Gombis already quoted this verse, but it should be repeated.

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Acts 15:1 (NASB)

PaulThis was the core problem Paul faced in his mission to the Gentiles and it would always haunt him. It was the cause of most of his major problems with the various Jewish communities in Israel and the diaspora. He would never see a day when this conflict was ultimately resolved and the echo of his struggle still rings in our ears. That is, if we’ll actually let ourselves listen.

But what about Paul, Judaism, and his relationship with Jewish disciples?

A second reason why we cannot envision Paul as anti-Jewish is that even after his conversion, Paul remained a Jew. He did not imagine that he was inventing a new religion, nor did he leave Judaism to join the Christian church. At the end of his third missionary journey, Paul arrived in Jerusalem and, at the suggestion of James, went through purification rituals at the temple (Acts 21:23-26). Paul saw no contradiction at all between his commitment to Christ and his faithful participation in Jewish practices. Explaining his ministry before a variety of audiences, Paul emphasized his Jewish identity and claimed to be acting in faithfulness to the God of Israel. Before the Jewish Council in Jerusalem, he declared, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead!” (Acts 23:6, emphasis added). And to King Agrippa, he again claims to be a Pharisee whose hope is in the promises of God to Israel (Acts 26:4-6).

Third, Paul never calls upon Jews to reject Judaism. Instead, he exhorts them to recognize Jesus as their Messiah and welcome his non-Jewish followers as siblings in God’s new family. We get a glimpse of his preaching to Jews in Acts 17:1-3: “When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,’ he said.”

The Paul of the New Testament, therefore, is not anti-Jewish. He was faithful both to the Scriptures and to his Jewish heritage. He preached Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel, but was insistent that salvation in Christ was not limited to ethnic Jews. According to his gospel, all Jews needed to receive Jesus as Messiah, and all followers of Jesus—Jewish and non-Jewish—needed to embrace one another as siblings in God’s global family in Christ.

I’m stunned that this is being published in an online Christian venue. I’m absolutely shocked. I’m pleased beyond wonder. Paul never stopped being a Jew, never stopped Jewish observances, and absolutely never, ever encouraged any Jew to abandon Jewish practice, lifestyle, and faith. Turning to Messiah is a completely Jewish act and does not require the slightest deviation from Jewish Torah observance.

But what about “in theory?”

Gombis isn’t suggesting that in theory, the Gentiles became Jews either by formal conversation (which Paul opposed) or in action but not name by observing the mitzvot in a manner identical to the Jewish disciples. The author is only acknowledging what I have been saying all along: that in principle, the requirement was to unite Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master within a multiethnic, multinational framework where all could share in the grace and salvation of God without anyone being compelled to surrender their unique and individual national and ethnic identity.  In practice, this was never accomplished and ultimately, both populations pursued wildly different trajectories. Their struggles are what we see in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements today.

walking_discipleEarlier, I posted my review of the First Fruits of Zion television series episode Raising Disciples. This is particularly relevant to today’s “extra meditation” because we encounter the topic of disciples as imitators. What did Paul say to the Gentile disciples he was raising up about imitating their Master?

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he told them to “be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” but we don’t know what they are supposed to imitate. My suggestion is that the manner of Jewish and Gentile imitation is not identical across the board, since it would obliterate Jewish and Gentile distinction in the body of disciples and thus eliminate the problem of Gentile integration. If Jewish and Gentile disciples were identical and homogenous, the basis for schism would have been severely blunted if not done away with entirely.

However, it was a given that Jewish disciples were intended to continue Jewish practice according to Gombis and the legal decision rendered by James and the Council was that the Gentiles had no identical obligation. By common association, the Gentile disciples might have acted very similarly to their Jewish counterparts, at least to an outside observer, but there remained a difference in obligation between the Jewish and non-Jewish disciples within the body of Messiah.

That probably isn’t a very satisfying answer, but I’m still thrilled that a Christian online magazine is promoting a view of Paul that is so close to my own. Now if I could just send this link to every church Pastor in the country with a note saying “READ THIS!” and if they’d keep an open mind while doing so, I’d consider it a step forward.

Interestingly enough, today is Hoshana Rabbah, the traditional day of judgment for the nations of the world. How will God and Israel judge us if we do not learn to see Paul and the Messiah in the manner Timothy Gombis suggests?