Malarkey

Earlier this week news broke that Alex, a boy who was in a terrible car crash and subsequent coma, did not end up spending time in heaven as he claimed. The boy, who has the unfortunate last name of Malarkey, made the whole thing up. However, this should not be surprising. In the few places in Scriptures where we gain glimpses of heaven, it is not a comforting place. It is a place where awe and terror are so seamlessly one that it is hard to distinguish between the two.

In a story I saw later on in the week on this story, it appears the poor boy was taken advantage of. The above linked article has his mom claiming he has never been paid for the book. But while the substance of the book was malarkey, the boy did say something true when he recanted:

“When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

Wow. Now that is a remarkable statement. A few observations that I’d like to point out.  First and foremost, the nature of revelation.

Protestant Christians happen to believe that revelation came from God through the Holy Spirit and was made clear through the Holy Scriptures. That is to say, the Scriptures are the first, middle and last word of God. Any further revelation is not to be trusted, especially if it contradicts what is found in heaven. Even if a boy should die and go to heaven and have amazing visions or an angel should appear with a fantastic message–if it is different than what Scripture has already made clear we should not believe a word of it.  The apostle Paul made this clear when he wrote to the church in Galatia (1.8): “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

I don’t know if what Alex wrote contradicted Scripture or not: I haven’t read his book. I haven’t read any of those books. I don’t need to, I have this book called the Bible.

Now, not all Christians feel this way. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians believe in non-biblical revelation. This non-biblical revelation can be summed up with the word “Tradition.” That is, the teaching of the church. But their teaching is more in line with the historic faith because they still trust what the Bible says as being true.

However, there are major religions which “trust” the Bible while believing in non-biblical revelation. Specifically, heavenly or angelic revelation. These religions are Islam and the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints. Actually, if you study Mormonism and Islam, you’ll discover that they have quite a bit in common starting with how they were formed: Joseph Smith and Mohammed had an angel from heaven appear and let them know there was more to their faith than what the Bible had revealed.

This is why Galatians 1.8 is so important–a Protestant would not fall for Mormonism, Islam or any other teaching that adds to Scripture because we know that even if that teaching comes from an angel–it isn’t to be trusted.  So kudos to Alex for coming clean. Remember–if it doesn’t add up to Scripture don’t believe a word of it.

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Bad Santa

Well, Christmas is nearly upon us. The music has been playing in stores and on the radio for some time, Christmas specials and shopping sprees, Christmas cookie exchanges, the tree, presents….all of the things that go into making this holiday have become an integral part of our life. But the interesting thing about Christmas is it is a shared holiday. That is, two religions claim Christmas.

The first religion that claims Christmas are the Christians. The ones who celebrate the birth of their Savior on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. The other religion is that of the American secular society that celebrates Christmas Eve/Day as the day when Santa Claus delivers presents to children all over the world.

I’m not a fan of Santa. In fact, I’d prefer to not have Santa involved in the discussions of Christmas with our children. I lost that battle. But, nevertheless, I still think Christians make a mistake when they buy all-in to the Santa Claus story. You see Santa and his mythology, is the anti-gospel.

Don’t get me wrong: it is the perfect story. Somewhere in the frozen tundra, specifically somewhere in the North Pole, there lies a magical land inhabited by elves, flying reindeer and a Tolkien-like creature named Santa Claus who is ancient but frozen in time. This creature known as Santa is all powerful:

He sees you when you’re sleeping

He knows when you’re awake

He knows if you’ve been bad or good

So be good for goodness sake. 

Santa is, in effect, omniscient and omnipresent. He is a god. Not only does he know everything about everyone everywhere, but in one night he is able to visit every household on earth, enter, deliver toys and depart undetected. It is a fun story. One that I’d probably enjoy reading any other time of day.

But it has been turned into a religion. The religion now has hymns, poetry, movies, decorations, employees. The government endorses it; the media encourages, corporations push it and consumers joyfully buy into it.

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My problem is focused on the central story of Santa Claus, the theology of pseud0-Christmas. It is a works-based salvation. If you behave, you are rewarded by god. If you are bad, then you are punished by god. Parents encourage their children to be on their best behavior throughout the year, because if they don’t, they might get coal for Christmas. This is the antithesis of the gospel. And unfortunately, we celebrate this lie on the very night we are supposed to be celebrating the good news of great joy known as the gospel, which is inaugurated with the birth of Jesus Christ.

The gospel starts from a similar place. There is a God who exists, and this God is indeed omniscient and omnipresent. But instead of rewarding us for good works, he rewards us because of the work of His Son, Jesus Christ. Our reward is a free gift of grace, not something we can earn and not something we can lose. As Paul put it in Ephesians 2.8-10: For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

So this Christmas remember, there are two religions and they are in opposition to one another. One teaches a gospel of works, one teaches a gospel of grace.

Religion in a Secular Society

In 2007 I spent a brief period of time at L’Abri in Massachusetts. While there, I was introduced to the teaching of Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC. His teachings on grace, which I was there to study, changed my life. I have nothing but admiration for the work he has done and aspire to be like him. The Wall Street Journal has done a profile of him that is quite interesting. Stop on by their website and check it out.

A Theology of Idolatry

Andrew Wilson has written a wonderful satirical piece on why it is perfectly okay to be an evangelical Christian and idolatrous. Either you’ll get this piece or you won’t. But if you get it, and I mean if you really understand what he is critiquing, you’ll see this is absolutely brilliant. I’ve copied it here for your ease.

[I really hope it’s obvious that this is a parody, but if not: it is.]

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to worship idols. It’s not that my parents raised me that way, because they didn’t; I was brought up in a loving, secure, Christian home. But from childhood until today, my heart has been drawn to idolatry. In fact, if I’m honest, one of the defining features of my identity has been my desire to put something else – popularity, money, influence, sex, success – in place of God.

That’s just who I am.

For many years, I was taught that idolatry was sinful. As a good Christian, I fought the desire to commit idolatry, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire to worship idols never went away.

I wanted it to, but it didn’t.

So it has been such a blessing to discover that worshipping one God, and him alone, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of expressing worship both to God and to idols, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I have finally summoned the courage to admit that I am one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe that idolatry and Christianity are compatible.

I start with my own story, and the stories of many others like me. I am an evangelical, and I have a very high view of the Bible – I am currently studying for a PhD in biblical studies at King’s College London, which will be my third theology degree – as well as knowing both the ancient languages and the state of scholarly research. Yet, after much prayerful study, I have discovered the liberating truth that it is possible to be an idolatrous Christian. That, at least, is evidence that you can be an evangelical and an idolater.

Not only that, but a number of evangelical writers have been challenging the monolatrous narrative in a series of scholarly books. A number of these provide a powerful case for listening to the diversity of the ancient witnesses in their original contexts, and call for a Christlike approach of humility, openness and inclusion towards our idolatrous brothers and sisters.

Some, on hearing this, will of course want to rush straight to the “clobber passages” in Paul’s letters (which we will consider in a moment), in a bid to secure the fundamentalist ramparts and shut down future dialogue. But as we consider the scriptural material, two things stand out. Firstly, the vast majority of references to idols and idolatry in the Bible come in the Old Testament – the same Old Testament that tells us we can’t eat shellfish or gather sticks on Saturdays. When advocates of monolatry eat bacon sandwiches and drive cars at the weekend, they indicate that we should move beyond Old Testament commandments in the new covenant, and rightly so.

Secondly, and even more significantly, we need to read the whole Bible with reference to the approach of Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a Jesus-person: one whose life is based on his priorities, not on the priorities of subsequent theologians. And when we look at Jesus, we notice that he welcomed everyone who came to him, including those people that the (one-God worshipping) religious leaders rejected – and that Jesus said absolutely nothing about idols in any of the four Gospels. Conservative theologians, many of whom are friends of mine, often miss this point in the cut-and-thrust of debate, but for those who love Jesus, it should be at the very heart of the discussion.

Jesus had no problem with idolatry.

He included everyone, however many gods they worshipped.

If we want to be like him, then we should adopt the same inclusive approach.

We should also remember that, as we have discovered more about the human brain, we have found out all sorts of things about idolatry that the biblical writers simply did not know. The prophets and apostles knew nothing of cortexes and neurons, and had no idea that some people are pre-wired to commit idolatry, so they never talked about it. But as we have learned more about genetics, neural pathways, hormones and so on, we have come to realise that some tendencies – alcoholism, for example – scientifically result from the way we are made, and therefore cannot be the basis for moral disapproval or condemnation. To disregard the findings of science on this point is like continuing to insist that the world is flat.

With all of these preliminary ideas in place, we can finally turn to Paul, who has sadly been used as a judgmental battering ram by monolaters for centuries. When we do, what immediately strikes us is that in the ultimate “clobber passage”, namely Romans 1, the problem isn’t really idol-worship at all! The problem, as Paul puts it, is not that people worship idols, but that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (1:23). Paul isn’t talking about people who are idolatrous by nature. He is talking about people who were naturally worshippers of Israel’s God, and exchanged it for the worship of idols. What else could the word “exchange” here possibly mean?

Not only that, but none of his references apply to idolatry as we know it today: putting something above God in our affections. Paul, as a Hellenistic Roman citizen, simply would not have had a category for that kind of thing. In his world, idolatry meant physically bowing down to tribal or household deities – statues and images made of bronze or wood or stone – and as such, the worship of power or money or sex or popularity had nothing to do with his prohibitions. (Some see an exception in the way he talks about coveting as idolatry in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, but these obviously reflect his desire, as a first century Jew, to honour the Ten Commandments.)

In other words, when Paul talks about idolatry, he is not talking about the worship of idols as we know it today. As a Christ-follower, he would be just as horrified as Jesus if he saw the way his words have been twisted to exclude modern idolaters like me, and like many friends of mine. For centuries, the church has silenced the voice of idolaters (just like it has silenced the voice of slaves, and women), and it is about time we recognised that neither Jesus, nor Paul, had any problem with idolatry.

Obviously this is a contribution to an ongoing conversation, rather than the last word on the subject. But I hope you will all search the scriptures, search your hearts, and consider the evidence afresh – and avoid judging those who disagree in the meantime! Maybe, just maybe, we can make space in the church for those who, like me, have spent a lifetime wrestling with the challenge of idolatry.

Jesus was American aka Election Day

I’m sure you haven’t noticed the headlines or attack ads on TV and so you were not aware that today is election day.

So I guess I should encourage you to go vote. That’s what we do in churches: we celebrate Veterans, America, our voting privileges and oh yeah…occasionally show half the passion we have for Veterans in our worship of God.

So yeah, go vote.

I’ll probably vote. I think Mrs. Wine would like me to vote. I struggle with Philippians 3.12. So there’s that. And of course, my overwhelming biblical belief in Providence every now and then makes me succumb to simple determinism. And since Providence is not determinism, it is wrong to feel that way.. So yeah, I’ll probably vote. Probably.

While I think about it I’ll enjoy Five Iron Frenzy’s video that upset so many.

 

A cornucopia of updates!

It has been a while since I updated anyone on anything so here ya go.

The Drunken Emu Hard cider is gone. It turned out pretty good but I have other cider recipes I prefer far more and wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long. Oh well, that is part of the process.

The Dry-Hopped Cider is gone. Hallertau was an okay hop. I know how much I enjoy cascade hops but in the spirit of exploration, next time I will try centennial hops.

The Transfiguration IPA is nearly gone. I really enjoyed this brew. I like IPAs and I think IPAs are the easiest beer to brew in the gluten free style. The malt isn’t what matters; the hop is and in this beer man do the hops stand out and taste delicious!

The 1st Date Dunkel 2.0 is nearly gone as well. It is still a popular drink with “regular” beer drinkers. I will definitely make it again but I will most definitely not use oak chips again.

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Palmerston’s Solution is starting to mature and tasting better every time I sample it. My only fear is I have given too much of it away. How is that for selfishness? As Paul said, “Oh wretched man that I am!”

Black Jack Pershing is bubbling away as happy as a clam. I forgot to sample this one so I have no idea what it tastes like! I’m rethinking my classification of this, I think it may be more along the lines of a graff. Whatever.

Finally, my Fall Harvest Mind Crusher is….forgotten. I need to work harder at being intentional with my meads. It is still in the jug. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll bottle this when I bottle the Black Jack.

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Now on to my book shelf…

I am still working through D.A. Carson’s Call to Spiritual Reformation. I like it so much I’m thinking about starting over and taking better notes! I cannot recommend this one enough to someone who values prayer.

I am nearly finished with Andrew Murray’s Abide in Christ. It is an odd mixture of Arminianism and South African (Dutch) Reformed Calvinism but it has its merits.

I finished James S.A. Corey’s Abaddon’s Gate and it was awesome! I’m excited for the sequel which will be released in a few days.

I read Elizabeth Moon’s Trading in Danger in the hopes that I might have found something to satisfy the void that Lois McMaster’s Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga left. While the book had its good points and I will definitely read the next one…the main protagonist is no Mile’s Vorkosigan. But then again…who is? <sigh>

I am about 1/3 of the way through The Presbyterian Conflict by Edwin Rian. I feel a bit like Dr. Zoidberg, “Fellas, fellas…why didn’t anybody tell me about this stuff?” The Auburn Affirmation really explains why the PC(USA) (and other mainline Reformed denominations) are where they are theologically. Oh well. Praying the Lord opens a door to a more, eh hem, Orthodox denomination.

I put aside Jame’s Jordan’s commentary on Judges. I didn’t do that because it was bad–it was excellent. But mainly because I have some pressing subjects (see the book immediately above) which I need to master ASAP.

 

I think that is it for updates.