Friday, December 7, 2018

OUR PRESUPPOSITIONS AND BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION





Our basic beliefs (presuppositions) affect the way we interpret the Bible. If we believe that the Bible is merely the disparate words of various authors, we will find various “contradictions” to validate our belief that the Bible cannot be the Word of God. However, if we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we will regard these same “contradictions” as invitations to dig deeper. Let me try to demonstrate this by addressing the question, “Who decides who goes to heaven or hell.”

On the one hand, the Father has committed all judgment to the Son: John 5:22 (ESV) “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (also Acts 17:31). On the other hand, Jesus stated that He doesn’t judge (John 8:15):

·       If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. (John 12:47-48)

Well, who then decides the final judgment – The Father, the Son, or the Word? If we are convinced that the Bible is the Word of God and is, therefore, without contradiction, then we will seek to reconcile these disparate messages. Is it possible that the Father and the Son will judge through the Word (His Light and Truth) implanted within the human conscience?

This is where the Biblical evidence seems to point us (Hebrews 4:12). His implanted truths will determine our direction. It will accuse us of wrongdoing and cause us to rationalize and deny them:

·       For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. Romans 2:14-16 (ESV)

The Light of God’s implanted Word will also cause us to hate the Light which exposes our sin and causes us to run from it, as Jesus had claimed:

·       “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:17-20)

According to Jesus, humanity is SELF-condemned because they have rejected Jesus and His Light in favor of the darkness. They know the Truth (the implanted Word) and therefore hide from the Truth, because the Truth exposes them. Paul also explained humanity’s hatred of the Light:

·       The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10)

Why can’t the world simply laugh at the Light of Christ as they would a clown or a raving madman? Because the Light of Jesus corresponds to what has been written within! Consequently, they know that the Light is the Truth (Romans 1:32). Therefore, they will not be able to stand in the presence of the Light but flee, even if it takes them to a place of torment:

·       But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. (Malachi 3:2-3; Psalms 1:5; 24:3-4; Deuteronomy 5:25; Isaiah 2:20-22; Revelation 6:15-16; 20:11)

The implanted Word will judge the world by causing them to flee from the Light.

Perhaps my resolution is mistaken. However, I just wanted to illustrate how my presupposition that the Bible is the Word of God has led me to come up with this interpretation.

Besides, we have many hidden presuppositions that affect interpretation. As we grow in Christ and the knowledge of His Word, these presuppositions will be exposed, giving us an opportunity to examine them in the Light of Scripture.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

WAS JAMES PREACHING A DIFFERENT THEOLOGY THAN PAUL?





Martin Luther had charged that James taught a different doctrine of “justification” than did Paul, who taught that we are justified by grace through faith alone (Genesis 15:6; Romans 3:23-28; 4:1-9; Ephesians 2:8-9). Instead it might seem that James had taught justification by faith plus good deeds. However, I don’t think that this is true. James also taught that salvation comes as a gift of God through the Gospel:

·       Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:16-18)

However, James did teach that we are “justified by works and not by faith alone”:

·       Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:21-24)

However, I don’t think that James was teaching a different doctrine but a different usage of the word “Justified.” He acknowledged that Abraham had been justified by believing God (Genesis 15:6). However, James understood “justification” as an ongoing process, a demonstration, of which the mechanics (methods) of salvation also played a role. Abraham’s obedience was part of the “justification” process, without denying that salvation is a free gift coming down from above (James 1:16-18). Salvation was a “done deal” even though it had to be worked out.

However, Paul’s teaching paralleled James’ in this matter:

·       …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Also, for Paul salvation was an ongoing process as well as an accomplished fact through the free gift of God:

·       For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:8-9; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

If we have the faith of God, we will be motivated to obey. These are the fruits of the Spirit and of salvation. If we trust Christ, we will do what He tells us to do, however imperfect our efforts might be. Peter described this process as the confirmation of our faith (as James had described it as “justification):

·       For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall [away]. (2 Peter 1:9-10)

A true faith will practice obedience, in contrast with the devil who “believes” with a dead faith (James 2:17-19). Jesus also taught that a true living and saving faith will be accompanied by obedience:

·       And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13:23-24)

James taught that when Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice to His God, this was part of the process of justification. However, Jesus and His Apostles merely described it as the process of salvation. But it seems that they were each referring to the same process – Through faith and obedience the Spirit will produce the fruit of the free gift of life.

It seems that Martin Luther finally made his peace with the Epistle of James. His biographer, Roland Bainton, had written:

·       “Faith, [Luther had written] is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.” [Here I Stand, 259]

Faith produces obedience as the sun produces heat.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

THE APPEAL OF PAGANISM (SPIRITISM)




Spiritism is about managing the rewards and punishments of the Spirit world. Spiritists enjoy the fact that the benefits of the spirits often come immediately. In The Secret Ways of the Lakota, Black Elk, a Sioux Shaman, had written:

·       You don’t have to wait for five years…The spirit comes and takes me somewhere…They’re all relations: Grandfather, Grandmother…We’ve drifted away for thousand years. Now we have to return to our Grandmother and Grandfather.

Since Spiritism is about the benefits, each group swears by their own ways of deriving the benefits. Besides, since they are not locked into one holy book or even a series of books, they are free to pursue the benefits wherever the spirits might lead them. Sometimes, this requires a blind leap of faith. In Mama Lola; A Voodou Priestess in Brooklyn, anthropologist and ethnologist, Karen McCarthy Brown, decided that she had to take such a leap to truly investigate voodouism:

·       I realized that if I brought less to this Vodou world, I would come away with less. If I persisted in studying Vodou objectively, the heart of the system, its ability to heal, would remain closed to me. The only way I could hope to understand the psychodrama of Vodou was to open my own life to the ministrations of Alourdes [the priestess]. (10)

However, leaps are not without their costs. It seems that her leap had blinded her judgment:

·       Although the Iwa [spirits] who possess Alourdes are often called sen-yo (saints), they are not saintly types in the traditional Christian sense. For example, in stories about the soldier spirit Ogou/Saint James, he not only liberates his people but also betrays them. Ezili Danto/Mater Salvatoris, the mother, cradles and cares for her children but also sometimes lashes out at them in rage. The Vodou spirits are not models of the well-lived life; rather, they mirror the full range of possibilities inherent in the particular slice of life over which they preside. Failure to understand this has led observers to portray the Voodou spirits as demonic or even to conclude that Vodou is a religion without morality—a serious misconception. (6)

Is this a misconception? To entrust ourselves into the hands of “saints” who “lash out…in rage” is to accept deficient moral standards. If our “saints” act in destructive ways, it is arrogance to try to outdo them! It might also be taken as an affront to our “saints.”

What then did Brown find in Voodou that had enabled her to tolerate such inconsistencies? She explained:

·       No Haitian—certainly not Alourdes—has ever asked me if I ‘believe’ in Vodou or if I have set aside the religious commitments and understandings that come from my childhood and culture. Alourdes’s approach is, instead, pragmatic: “You just got to try. See if it works for you.” The choice of relinquishing my worldview or adopting another in its entirety has therefore never been at issue.

Voodou did not require Brown to compromise her beliefs or lifestyle. Instead, Voodou is all about the pragmatic benefits and not at all about inspiring the follower to live according to a higher moral standard. Instead, “You just got to try. See if it works for you.” It leaves us the comforting belief that we remain in charge. However, this requires that we close our minds.

In Soul Retrieval, Sandra Ingerman, a shaman, reaffirms that Spiritism demands us to pack away our critical faculties in favor of experience:

·       As you read this book and wonder whether or not what I am talking about is real, I ask you not to enter into a battle between the right brain [reason] and left brain [intuition]. Simply read the material and experience it!...Does the information that comes from the shamanic journey work? Does the information make positive changes in a person’s life? If so, who cares if we are making it up? (3)

However, the costs might not be apparent until much later, after we have become committed to the spirits and are no longer amenable to contrary evidences.

In Bringing Down the Moon, the late spiritist, Margo Adler, was explicit about spiritism’s rejection of truth. She affirmatively quotes a priestess:

·       It seems like a contradiction to say that I have a certain subjective [personal]  truth; I have experienced the Goddess, and this is my total reality. And yet I do not believe that I have the one, true, right, and only way. Many people cannot understand how I find Her a part of my reality and accept the fact that your reality might be something else. But for me, this is in no way a contradiction, because I am aware that my reality and my conclusions are a result of my unique genetic structure, my life experience and my subjective feelings…This recognition that everyone has different experiences is a fundamental keystone to Paganism; it’s the fundamental premise that whatever is going on out there is infinitely more complex than I can ever understand. And that makes me feel very good.

Why does personal “truth,” rather than objective truth (like gravity which pertains to everyone) make her “feel very good?” If there is no objective truth, then there is nothing to judge the priestess or to tell her that she is wrong. Paganism represents the freedom to do whatever “feels good.” Adler explained:

·       They had become Pagans because they could be themselves and act as they chose, without what they felt were medieval notions of sin and guilt. Others wanted to participate in rituals rather than observe themselves.

But perhaps our feelings of sin and guilt are our internal eyes that enable us to see and avoid what will harm us. They are a defense against the pursuit of immediate gratification, like eating 30 chocolate bars or sleeping with our neighbor’s wife, and even self-alienation.

While living in harmony with nature has many benefits, it will not heal our alienation from our own moral nature. However, Adler wrote:

·       Most Neo-Pagans sense an aliveness and “presence” in nature. They are usually polytheists or animists or pantheists, or two or three of these things at once. They share the goal of living in harmony with nature and they tend to view humanity’s “advancement” and separation from nature as the prime source of alienation. They see ritual as a tool to end that alienation.

Adler revealingly explained why pagans hate Christianity:

·       Polytheism [Spiritism] is…characterized by plurality…and is eternally in unresolvable conflict with social monotheism, which in its worst form is fascism and in its less destructive forms is imperialism, capitalism, feudalism and monarchy.

Why did Adler characterize Christian monotheism as imperialistic? The Bible claims to possess the truths of God. The truth, however, imposes restrictions on our thoughts, goals, and behaviors. It limits our choices and imposes feelings of guilt and shame, which is unacceptable to modern paganism. To explain, Adler quoted Lynn White:

·       “Christianity in absolute contrast to ancient paganism…not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends…In antiquity every tree, every spring, every stream, every hill had its own…guardian spirit…By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feeling of natural objects.”

While the Bible does teach that humanity is God’s crowning creation, it certainly does not teach the exploitation of nation but the care of nature. Even animals were to be granted a day of rest (Exodus 20:8-11). Besides, the narrative that pagans had a greater respect and care for nature has been shown to be a myth. In “Whence the “Noble Savage,” Patrick Frank had written:

·       Scholars previously maintained that “European influence…shattered a delicate social balance that had previously existed, resulting in widespread violence.”

·       However, analysis of ancient burial cites demonstrate that the death rates of British Columbian Native Americans (27-33%) far exceeded even the violent death rate of 20th century Europe and the US (1%). (Skeptic Mag. Vol 9, #1, 2001, 54-60)

·       The Southwest is dotted with finds of people killed en masse…These indications of war, violent deaths, mutilations and cannibalism are form tribal societies that experienced no European or modern contact, thus contradicting the idea that peoples who were free from European influence lived relatively peaceful lives.

Spiritism is near-sighted. It is willing to sign a contract with their own blood. Since it values the immediacy of feelings over the broad contours perceived by the eye of wisdom, it falls into the first ditch.




THE HOPE OF ATHEISM




Philosopher and atheist, Alain de Botton, believes that atheism is suffering from a lack that religion can satisfy. However, in a Ted Talk, he assured his listeners that they could have the benefits of religion without adopting their beliefs. De Botton identified three things that the atheists should adopt: Repetition, Ritual, and Integration. https://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_atheism_2_0/transcript#t-727563

REPETITION: De Botton believes that the key to religions’ successes is their sermon as opposed to a mere lecture. He advocates that the atheist needs to drive home their points as a preacher does in the sermon. However, it seems that atheists are already well-trained in the art of the sermonic.

RITUAL: The Church is able to reinforce their talking-points through the use of rituals, like baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Likewise, de Botton believes that atheism can profit from their own rituals. However, reinforcement doesn’t seem to be a problem for the atheist. They already have many spokemen who have become idols and who are reinforcing each others’ sermons. Therefore the problem doesn’t seem to be one of ritual and reinforcement but content, where the atheist has taken a radically different road from the Church.

INTEGRATION: De Botton laments the way that art and meaning have become divorced in secular West. He contrasts this with religions’ use of art to complement their beliefs.

However, Christians will be puzzled by de Botton’s recommendations, as would a passenger on the Titanic watching the crew reordering the deck-chairs as their ship was going down. Why? They are drawn to Jesus because they have become convinced that He has forgiven their sins and has received them as beloved children. But this is doctrine, the very thing that the atheist rejects. However, to believe in this is to find peace and joy. Without this belief, the atheist is left alone to struggle to achieve self-forgiveness and meaning in the context of a “meaningless” existence.

The Christian will also mention their hope based upon their belief in a Person who actually died for them and will return to bring them to a place of everlasting joy. What can the atheist offer that will compete with this hope? Instead, since the atheist will not trust in a superior Being, he derives his hope from trusting in his superiority. How? By believing that he is a “freethinker!” However, atheism cannot even support a belief in freewill.

Here is my suggestion to de Botton. Talk to some Christians to understand what they get out of their religion. I am sure they will not name “Repetition, Ritual, and Integration.” Instead, they will probably answer, “What good are these reinforcements if you don’t believe in what they are reinforcing and if these beliefs are not validated by real-life-experiences and a God who answers prayer?”