Thursday, September 30, 2010

Romans 1:1-5 From Paul's Perspective

The Gospel and Redemptive History
Romans 1:1-51Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,2which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh,4who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake,
Sometimes the biggest obstacles to learning are the things we think we already know. If we think we understand someone else’s perspective, these preconceptions will cloud our ability to actually hear what is being said. When reading the bible or studying a book like the book of Romans, it is familiarity with the gospel and protestant teachings that can become the biggest obstacle to hearing what Paul is actually saying. 
We often interpret the book of Romans in light of the monumental debates of the protestant reformation. How is a person justified before God? What is the relationship between faith and works? How can a person be assured of their eternal salvation? These are important questions and these questions are clearly answered in the book of Romans, but are these really the primary concerns of Paul? Is Paul answering people’s questions about how to get to heaven or how to be right before God? Or instead, is Paul’s argument about justification through faith for both Jews and gentiles part of a deeper, more profound question? 
If we look at the opening verses and we think from the mindset of a Jewish apostle living in the 1st Century, if we look actually at the context in which Paul was living and preaching the Gospel, we hear these words with a fresh perspective. 
Paul, as a Jew, longed for God to vindicate His name, defeat evil, and bring liberation to His people. The question looming in the minds of 1st century Jews was how is God going to defeat pagan unrighteousness and bring glory to His name. In this light, Paul, then, is asking and answering the question, “How is God conquering evil and glorifying His name through the gospel of the cross?” Paul’s heart beats with the Jewish hope for the victory of God. But how could a defeated crucified Messiah be bringing about this conquering of evil? The weakness of the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews. How could the “defeated” Jesus be the promised Messiah? In light of this paradox of a crucified Messiah, Paul begins this majestic presentation of the gospel.  
Paul opens with these almost ecstatic words concerning the powerful Christ. 
Romans 1:1-51Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,2which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh,4who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name's sake, 
Paul lists the key characteristics of the Gospel, this Good Proclamation, that He is commissioned to preach.
  1. The Gospel was promised before hand by the prophets in the holy scriptures. 
  2. The Gospel is concerning God’s son who is of the Messianic lineage of David
  3. The Gospel proclaims Jesus the Son of God with power through the resurrection from the dead. 
  4. The gospel has a purpose to bring about the obedience of faith among ALL the gentiles. 
The gospel is the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah, Jesus, who is the Davidic king who is filled with the power of the Son of God and who is bringing about obedience amongst all the Gentiles. This gospel, which Paul preaches, fulfills the Jewish hope which centers on one thing and one thing only – the victory of God. The purpose of the Gospel is ultimately not to provide a way for individuals to be at peace with God. Surely, the gospel does this, but, to Paul, the Gospel must be understood as the answer to the problem of the oppression of God’s people and the ever-present evil of paganism on the earth. 
Before his conversion, Paul was violently opposed to the Christian idea of a crucified defeated Messiah. To the pre-christian Paul, the Christian message was anathema to the Old Testament promise of God’s victory over evil through the Messiah. If the Messiah is defeated, if the Messiah is powerless to defeat evil, then God does not get the victory in human history. So, the question which a Jew confronted with the Gospel of the cross must answer is “How is this message concerning this crucified Christ going to defeat evil and bring glory to God and therefore fulfill the prophetic promise of the victory of God and God’s people?”    
Well , the answer or at least the outline of  Paul’s answer is right here in these opening thematic verses. The gospel of the cross is the gospel of power and victory amongst both the Jews and gentiles in fulfillment of the words of the prophets. 
When a Jewish believer thought of David, it was David the conqueror. Paul is proclaiming Jesus the greater David, the greater conqueror. 
When a 1st century believer heard the term Son of God, he or she thought of Caesar. Paul is saying that one more powerful than Caesar has come and is alive. He is the Savior and the one we are to place our hope for victory.
When Paul speaks of the resurrection He is speaking to a people persecuted and fearful of death. Well, there is one stronger and mightier than even death, Jesus Christ our Lord. 
The Christ has come to destroy evil and exalt the name of God through faith in Him and obedience to His teachings. The gospel is winning and turning men and women around the world from rebellion to the obedience of faith. Through the Gospel, Christ is proclaimed as king and His teachings as the way of God’s kingdom. Through the cross both Gentiles and Jews are invited and converted, and the people of God are united, forgiven, free and powerful. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Orszag on Health Care and Higher Education

A Health Care Plan for Colleges -
Health Care is still a vital issue effecting America's ability to compete in the 21st Century global environment. In this moment when America's ability to compete is threatened so many roads point to our broken health care system. Orszag's editorial this morning, explains how America's wealth is being funneled into health care and out of the educational and technological infrastructure that will enable America to complete with the other developed countries for middle class jobs.
In this article, Peter Orszag shows the correlation between rising health care costs and the states ability to fund eduction. American health care costs account for 17% of GDP while the next closest competitor nation pays a cost of only 10% of GDP. America pays 70% higher costs for health care. Because health care costs have risen to such a level, during a downturn, these costs put excessive pressure on state budgets. In such downturn generated budget crisis, higher education is the first thing to go. States cut education to pay for the Medicare costs which have risen along with the spiraling health care costs in general. The tragedy is that, when the economy recovers, funding for higher education is not restored to its previous levels. The result is that as health care costs have funneled tax dollars from education to insurance companies America has fallen from 1st to 12th in the percentage of young adults entering the workforce with a college education.
Anyone who runs a business knows that if our costs are 70% higher than our competitors, we are going to lose the competition. In this case, the competition is for capital investment in our economy. Companies invest in the quality of the national workforce and as our educational levels fall skilled jobs will move elsewhere. While other countries invest their tax dollars in education, in America, we pour our precious tax dollars down a sink hole of rising health care costs. This explains why the decision to fix health care in order to solve the structural economic problems was the right decision to salvage he long term prospects of the American dream even if the result is a political nightmare.

Clinton explains rising health care costs on meet the press this morning.

peace, brad

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Matthew 6:19-34 and the Decision to Not Accumulate Wealth

One of the most profound errors in protestantism is the misinterpretation of Matthew 6:19-34. I have spoken concerning this topic many times. The bottom line is that when Jesus says "do not store up treasures on earth where moth or rust destroy but, instead, store up treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is their is your heart" He is calling the Christian to make a decision. This "not storing up treasures" is not a matter of the heart but is a call to not store up wealth in durable goods and money. Money is a form of a durable good like a house in that it can be stored without the value spoiling. This durability is the purpose for money. It is the durability of gold (gold doesn't rust) that led to gold being used as currency. Jesus is clearly playing with the idea of the seeming durability of money in light of more eternal and spiritual, i.e. kingdom, realities.

Many people interpret the passage "for where your treasure is their your heart is also" as saying "for where your heart is there is your treasure also" but that is not what the passage says. It is not where your heart is that determines where your treasure is but where your treasure is that determines where your heart is. If we have treasures on earth then that is where our heart is. If we have durable items stored on earth in the form of money and homes or land, then we must accept that our heart is worldly and carnal and void of the love of God. Therefore, the Christian, the follower of Jesus, is called to make a decision as to whether he or she will seek wealth.

The Problem of Wealth
The human ability to be selfish is manifested in the invention of a means to store up treasures beyond what is natural. This man made means was the invention of currency in the form of durable metals and money. This ability to quantify our wealth in currency has allowed us to "store up treasures on earth". This invention exasperated the problem of inequality. The problem of wealth and unnatural accumulation has been a human problem for a long time. Jesus is not a revolutionary. He is not calling on us to change this reality of the world as it is. Jesus is calling us to live differently and to make a decision.

John Locke was aware of the problem of unnatural accumulation but outside of religion he knew that the state couldn't and shouldn't try to solve this problem. It is just a fact of life that due to the existence of money people can horde wealth. This storing is the primary means that ALL humanity pursues happiness. This storing is ultimately a source of incalculable human suffering. Jesus is calling on Christians through our individual decisions to profoundly impact this most fundamental human problem. the problem of inequality and hoarding. Our response to this teaching of Jesus is central to the mission of the church and the witness of the church.

Jesus is calling the Christian to be different in a real and practical way. We are to make a concrete decision to not store up wealth. This concrete decision to give away our wealth and to refuse to store up money in accounts is the challenge of the passage.

The Decision and the Discipline of Mind
The Christian is called to forsake the accumulation of wealth through his or her labor. This decision is the most counter culture decision of all that the Christian makes. Because this passage is so counter culture and so contrary to all that is around us, precisely because of this affront to our worldview, this passage has been misinterpreted. The Christian must be a critical thinker in order to understand this passage. I have found in life that very few people have the discipline of mind to read the bible for what it actually says especially with respect to Jesus' teachings. The compliant mind assumes that what they have heard from other Christians or from the pulpit is true. This assumption that the church you are in is somewhat correct is the essence of compliant thinking. We must in all things be critical. Because the church is so wrong on this particular issue, we ought to wrestle with this and other hard passages of scripture in the privacy of our own devotional life. This wrestling alone with the text is the essence of being a critical thinker. This takes intellectual courage. What is needed is courageous thinking followed by courageous decisions.

Christians are called to be distinct. We are called to make difficult decisions. These decisions are made not out of fear or compulsion but out of love for God and His ways. We are called to walk by faith. We are called to be courageous. Of all the difficult and courageous decisions we are called to make, I believe this decisions to sell our durable goods and give to the poor is the biggest and hardest decision of all. This decision to empty out our bank accounts and give to the needs of others is a big decision and it is a decision that needs to be made many times over the course of our Christian life. This decision not to save for a retirement of leisure is a big decision, but is there any other way to read Matthew 6? I believe there is not.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Koran Burning, Civil Liberties and the Fallacy of Political Correctness

Coverage of Koran Case Stirs Questions on Media Role

Here is the bottom line. We live in a very very open society, and there is a price to pay for living in an open society. We have a dilemna becasue a man wants to burn the koran in Florida, and this act puts American service men in danger. Though everything in us tells us that this act has no up-side, we defend this misguided man's right to speak. The fact that, in America, we will not simply stop this man from doing this act of ignorance is a testament that we truly are a free society.

The idea that somehow our liberties are eroding away is quite frankly a bald face fallacy. We live under  the protection of quite possibly the most conservative electorate and the most conservative supreme court in US history. If the state in all its might cannot and will not stop an act of lunacy that puts American service men at harm during a time of war, we must conclude that the idea that our liberties are eroding is utter lunacy.

The reality is this. The American system of liberty is proving itself to be stronger even than the legitimate threat to the life of American service men. American might serves at the behest of the principle that although I disagree with what you say I will defend your right to say it. 
More news, BBC
God Bless America,

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Four Story House of Discipleship

One of the most striking deficiencies in the church today is our seeming inability to deliver the kingdom life to our community members. The gospel promises us that the kingdom of God is within our reach. The kingdom is a life that is striking in it's moral distinction. The beautiful and distinct life that is the kingdom is rarely experienced in our churches. Of course, there are numerous reasons for this deficiency including a stunning lack of understanding of the teachings of Jesus and the process through which Jesus leads us into the kingdom life. I call the teachings of Jesus, the wine.
While the teachings are the wine, the diagram above is an illustration of the wineskin. 
The wineskin is the system of institutionalized practices that enables the community to deliver the wine of the teachings of Jesus to the individual. The institutional practices described in this illustration accomplish the task of immersing the members in the words of Jesus and the presence of God. Thus, the foundational concept that this illustration rests on is the reality that the community member needs to be totally immersed in the word and spirit in order to be socialized into this new way of life. Needless to say, these practices are almost impossible to institutionalize in the context of 21st century life. 
The ground up process. 
The other key to this illustration is that the various practices are both synergistic and sequential. The lower layers are more foundational and fundamental than the upper layers (sequential), but in order to perfect the lower layers, we need the assistance of the upper layers (synergistic). The life of private devotion is most important in the life of the believer but the other modes of relationships are necessary to grow in these private disciplines. 

In this blog and in ministry in general, the ultimate goal is to build Morally Beautiful Community. To accomplish this task requires both institutional practices, the wine of the teachings of Jesus, and the power of the Gospel of grace. Hope against hope. One day at a time. 

Monday, September 06, 2010

Introduction to Karl Popper and Tolerance

One of the most important thinkers of the 20th Century was the philosopher Karl Popper. Though he is most recognized as a philosopher of science, I believe his work on the defense of the Open Society will become more relevant in the immediate future.

Popper labeled himself a "critical-rationalist". My read on this term is that knowledge is the product of reason and sensory input and not merely sensory experience alone (thus the rationalist part of the term) and, that all our reasonings are theory-laden and prone to perspective laden bias (thus the critical portion of the label). Because Popper accepted that all knowledge is theory laden, he rejected the Newtonian idea of pure objective knowledge. From this premise, Popper narrowed the category of knowledge that is actually scientific to that which is falsifiable. Falsifiability becomes the test as to whether our knowledge can be asserted as scientific.

Critical-rationalism is inherently humble. If one understands that all his knowledge is theory laden, he will be inherently self-critical. This orientation toward one's own knowledge amounts to intellectual humility. One important ramification of Popper's critical understanding of knowledge is his attack on totalitarianism and Marxist historicism. As a result of this application of his theory of knowledge, Popper has a legacy of being a staunch defender of liberty.

Popper's Philosophical Defense of Liberty
Popper explained that a predictive system like Marxism (Marxism claims to predict history), if it is scientific, must be revised when its predictions do not come to pass. Moreover, for a theory to be scientific, it must be possible to construct a test in which if something other than the prediction occurs, the hypothesis is rejected. Marxism, as a system, refuses this type of critic and therefore is non-falsifiable. Popper, therefore, determined that Marxism is a dogma and is inherently non-scientific. This train of thought connects Popper's philosophy of science and his critique of Marxist historicism.

Marxism has the following components that tend toward totalitarianism. First, Marxist historical ideology states explicitly that history is taking a particular path. Marxism makes a prediction. Secondly, as a system of thought, Marxism proves itself to be non-falsifiable because Marxism has resilience against it's own predictive errors. In practice, if a Marxist makes a prediction and the prediction does not come to pass, the Marxist can explain its predictive failure using some caveat of Marxist theory. Thus, Marxism is not scientific because it is not falsifiable, Therefore, Marxism is a dogma.

Such a dogma would be harmless, except that Marxism takes this dogma into the actual realm of politics. Popper's point is that applying a non-falsifiable view of history as the ideological foundation of one's political agenda tends towards totalitarianism. The antidote to this poisonous concoction is liberal democracy. By liberal democracy is meant a democratic system founded on civil rights (e.g. the Bill of Rights).

The conclusion is that to support an open society we must support democratic ideals as opposed to our historicism. All of us bring predictive beliefs about economics and society into the realm of politics, but we must temper our dogma with a commitment to liberty and democracy. In the realm of politics, these commitments must be above all else. For the Christian, this requires a theology which understands the current limited means by which we are allowed to implement the kingdom of God.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Mystery and Evidence - NYTimes

 I am doing a little series on how non-believers attempt to understand faith. In this article, Mystery and EvidenceCrane is making a few mistakes in his attempt to understand who he is criticizing (i.e. the believer). He seems to apply a criteria for understanding what is religious by a "majority rules" criteria of what defines authentic religious faith. Crane's method concludes that if most religious people experience religion as a way to inject meaning into things then this is what religion is about. But

Everybody Digs Bill Evans - Waltz For Debby

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Stephen Hawking's big bang gaps | Paul Davies

Stephen Hawking's big bang gaps
I think this idea of a God of the gaps is a straw man
(Update: God of the gaps is the idea that faith in God exists to fill in the gaps of our understanding of the universe. A trite view of a retreating God somehow intimidated by the progress of scientific knowledge).
No one who actually has faith has faith on the basis of a God of the gaps. People do not hold faith in order to answer a question of origins or to fill in some cosmological gap. People come to faith in response to a moral and spiritual sense of life. Others seek God to resolve a real life trial or to solve the problem of a character defect. People find resolution to a life problem and experience assistance from God. People who are arguing with this "God of the gaps faith" are arguing without any real living proponent of this position. This is a classic straw man.

Ben Bernanke's monetary policy - What's Next?

Next steps by Chris Payne
(This post has been slightly revised.)
This is a dire article. But the gist is as follows: Bernanke has very little policy left. The next actions are to prop up the bond prices up by buying moor securities. They then print money to pay for them. They also need to make a stronger statement that interest rates are going to stay real low for a real long time. This is really just a confidence builder. Really the last thing is to change the targets to desiring inflation. This means that their models change and they take more stimulative action.