Book Review: Destroyer of the gods – By Larry Hurtado

Hurtado Destroyer of the Gods
Letter TTwo-thousand years after the birth of Christ, the missionary work of Paul, and a small movement within Judaism spreading throughout the Roman Empire, it can be easy to forget that during the years of its inception Christianity was a radically new and unheard of approach to religion, to ethics, and to the question of gods and God in general.

In his book Destroyer of the gods Larry Hurtado highlights some of the features that made early Christianity so distinctive, unprecedented, and indeed, nearly inconceivable for many at the time. These are features that are widely assumed as part and parcel to religion by many today, yet which at the time caused Christians to be viewed by outsiders as impious, irreligious, and a threat to social order. As Hurtado says, “This book addresses our cultural amnesia.”

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Book Review: Homosexuality – The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate; By Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse

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Letter TThe topic of homosexuality has been discussed from a variety of angles from within the Christian context. Some scholars seek to address the ancient near-Eastern and Greco-Roman contexts in which the Scriptures were written to best understand their injunctions, others attempt to deal directly with and exegete the Biblical texts.

The goal of Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse in their book here is to analyze how the most recent scientific research effects the Christian moral debate around homosexuality. To be clear, the book is not written to answer the question of whether homosexual actions are immoral in light of science, the authors begin from the assumption that it is. The goal is rather to show that “while science provides us with many interesting and useful perspectives on sexual orientation and behavior, the best science of this day fails to persuade the thoughtful Christian to change his or her moral stance.”(p.13) The goal is to answer the question of how research on homosexuality should inform the Christian understanding of homosexuality.

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The Christian and Submission to Civil Government

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letter-aAGeorge Weigel reported in First Things, the past one-hundred years have been “the greatest era of persecution in Christian history,” so much so that “more Christians died for the faith in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries of Christian history combined.

More and more often in the world there is an slowly increasing antagonism between the secular governments and the people of God. This antagonism has manifested itself even in the United States: Christian bakers and photographers being sued and driven out of business for refusing homosexual weddings; Christians-run businesses being forced to support programs that fund abortion; an overall increasing belief nationwide that person’s belief should be kept private.

As this antagonism continues and strengthens Christians are forced to ask the question: how are Christians to relate to government? Should they submit? Obey? Resist? Rebel? To what degree can Christians engage in civil disobedience while still being faithful to Peter’s command to “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” and Paul’s command to “let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”

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Exploring The Uniqueness of the Bible [In Its Ancient Near Eastern Context]

bible-and-coffeeLetter TThe ancient world was one filled with myths and stories of all types, stories about gods and about prophets and oracles who spoke with those gods. In secular society the Bible is often seen as just another one of these ancient myths.

The Bible is not just another myth, but it is in the context of these myths that the Bible was written. They provide the background against which we are to interpret the text; it was often these sorts of myths which the Biblical narrative was responding to. Thus, it is important for Christians to analyze the Scriptures in light of their ancient Near Eastern literary and cultural contexts.

So just what are the similarities and differences were between the Scriptures and those other myths which seem to bear some resemblance to it? It is by answering this question that we may determine whether or not the Bible is indeed unique in its content.

Some areas in which the Christian might compare the Scriptures to similar texts in the Near East include (1) how they present their creation accounts, (2) their understandings of morality, and (3) their understandings of prophecy and revelation.

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Martin Luther on Faith & Works

Martin Luther 1.pngLetter IIn his Preface to Romans, Martin Luther makes the statement that “If we do not choose goodness freely, we do not keep God’s law from the heart… Granted that, in appearance and conduct, you observe the law, owing to your fear of punishment or hope of reward, yet you do nothing from free choice and out of love for the law, but unwillingly and under compulsion; were there no law, you would rather do something else. The logical conclusion is that, in the depths of your heart, you hate the law.” 

In this passage Luther sums up what is one of the key points of Christ’s teachings, that is, that it is the heart that is of pivotal importance in matters of the law, not the outward actions; thus, it is faith, not works, for it is faith that brings about a love of the law.

This position as laid out stands in contradistinction to the approach of the Pharisees, who (because they focused merely on outward action) were seen as “whitewashed tombs”.

One of the key things that Luther wishes to explain is the relationship between faith and works (or the law), to show the true purpose of the law, and how it relates to faith.

In doing so, Luther makes the keeping of the law a matter of the heart. If you keep the law outwardly, doing the law under compulsion, then your heart is still bad; if you do the law under compulsion then in truth you despise the law.

In opposition to this, one who is truly changed will come to love the law, and thus when they do the works of the law it will be because they want to do those things, not because they are afraid of the fear of punishment or the hope of reward that may result.

This basis of the heart of faith being one that wants to do the works of the law feeds into Luther’s later discussion of just what part works play in the Christian life. Thus he ends up asserting: “It is impossible, indeed, to separate works from faith, just as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire.”

This statement fits perfectly into Luther’s structure of faith/law. The heart of faith wants to do the works of the law; because the heart of faith wants to do the works of the law, it cannot help but do them.

The person with a true faith will perform the works of the law because the works of the law will be what they desire to do; the works are thus an outworking and a result of the faith, in the same way that heat is an outworking and a result of the fire.

One of the more interesting relevancies that Luther’s formulation has here for ethics is in refuting the ideas of those such as Immanuel Kant, who argued that it is when we do the works of the law unwillingly that we are truly being ethical – for, as Kant argued, not liking what you’re doing but doing it anyway shows a higher reverence of the law itself.

To this sort of idea Luther answers “no”, because the person who does the law under compulsion – while they may have some reverence for the law – are still in their hearts corrupt.

It is better to do the works of the law because you have a changed heart that desires to do them than it is to do them under compulsion.

Book Review: Biblical Economics – By R.C. Sproul Jr.

 

SproulJr Biblical Economics.pngletter-bBiblical Economics is, just as the title would lead you to believe, an explanation of just what Scripture puts forth as a guide for the economic process. The author notes that the Bible is not an economics textbook, yet the truths set forth therein still have some applicability to that realm of study. As the author states “Where ethics touches economics, the Bible is relevant.”

The first idea introduced is the Biblical mandate set forth in Genesis for the stewardship of the earth, that man is set as a steward, that work was originally not a negative thing, and that there is a precedent for such a thing as private property.

Sproul next gives rationale for caring about the workings of economics through a contrast between materialism and spiritualism, and the medium which Scripture offers between them. – warning against the philosophy of Marx on the one hand and of the Social Gospel on the other. Sproul then goes on to discuss prosperity and the conditions needed to create it, relying on the philosophies of Adam Smith and the Austrian school of Mises, and arguing against the system put forth by Keynes. He gives a discussion on the way in which money came about, of inflation and what it is, of debt, of poverty, of equity and it’s contrast with equality, of the government’s role in all of this, and finally concluding with what we might do about it.

The central tenant being put forth is one of economic liberalism, of capitalism, of small government in relation to economic matters, while offering a moral and practical argument against the seeds of socialism and the school of Keynes.

In light of our many problems today Sproul offers the beginning of a solution: to stop government growth by not using their services, especially for our own profit by not accepting government money, something which can only be accomplished through education of why this shouldn’t be done, along with a push for the government to be forced into keeping a balanced budget.

All in all Sproul offers a very good introduction to the basics structure and pitfalls of the economic system and gives some good advice about what we might do to help fix the system. Sproul thinks that this can be accomplished without revolution, but rather by pushing the government back into its constitutional position, where the government is not seen as the parent taking care of all the ills of society: “As long as the government is seen as the solution to all of our problems, the government will continue to be the source of many of our problems. We do not need to reinvent government, but to rethink government. We need to tam the monster, to coax it back into it’s constitutional cage. We need to rethink how we see government.” (p200)

On the downside, perhaps the biggest problem with Sproul Jr’s view is that he has an over-simplistic understanding of what capitalism is (understanding it as little more than private property and free trade) and he completely glosses over the more damaging aspects of capitalism. On the whole, it reads as if Sproul is trying to finagle capitalism back into Scripture, as if he is so predisposed to capitalism that he will cling to any justification for it that he can. He seems entirely too eagEer to force Scripture to give it’s stamp of approval to the capitalist system, and while he does manage to affirm some aspects of the capitalist system, these are just aspects of the system and not the system itself.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The biblical view of assigns value to the body and the soul, to evangelism and social concern, to the spiritual and the material. Redemption is for the whole man.”(p37)

-“Freedom is the key to profit, as only voluntary exchange enables mutual profit.”(p63)

-“There is a subtle but paramount distinction between equality and equity. Equality is likeness, evenness, and uniformity. Equity is justice, impartiality, and fairness. Socialism calls for equality; the Scriptures call for equity.”(p154)

-“Government can only give that which it first takes.”(p205)

Specific Criticisms

The main criticism is that Sproul Jr. is abit of an idealist when it comes to liberal economics. He says that the free wage earner is free to choose where he wants to work and live, and to quit if he wants, and later states that “Under capitalism, the rich get richer and the poor get richer.”(p166) This seems a highly idealized view. Sure, if system goes off without a hitch, then capitalism will work very well, the problem is exploitation. Sproul spends all of about a paragraph on exploitation, noting that it is one of the potential causes of poverty. Yet is is exploitation which is the greatest danger in capitalism, a fact which Sproul doesn’t spend much time at all pointing out. In an ideal world, unbridled capitalism would be perfect, the problem comes when sinful man enters the picture and seeks his own selfish ends. Perhaps Sproul desires that the government work to help stop this kind of exploitation, though he doesn’t make it readily apparent that this is the case.

There also seems to be abit of an inconsistency in his view of money in relation to gold and paper money. Sproul makes the point that money in and of itself has no real value, it is only valuable in terms of what you can get for it. Yet he later makes the comment that now that we’ve switched from a gold backed currency to a paper currency, that now our money is backed by nothing more than a government force. Yet, even on the gold standard, money is backed by nothing more than the force of government. Gold in and of itself has no value apart from what either the people or the government decide to attribute to it, neither does the paper dollar. In this sense, both gold and paper money are backed by nothing more than government force and a shared consensus of their value. Gold has the advantage only in that it is a limited resource, which stops the government from being able to print dollars ad infinitum, thereby making gold more stable.

Book Review: Found: God’s Will – By John MacArthur

Found Gods WillLetter TThe will of God is not a thing that is lost, in need of finding; in fact, it is quite an easy thing to discover. This is the opening point of John MacArthur‘s book Found: God’s Will which – as the subtitle asserts – aims to help the reader find the direction and purpose God wants for their life.

In this straightforward little text, MacArthur works to reorient the reader’s understanding of what it means to find or be in God’s will. The popular conception is that one must work to discover what that specific thing is God wants you to do with your life through great self-reflection and a healthy amount of wise discernment, with maybe a little mysticism thrown in for good measure. MacArthur’s point is that figuring out what God’s will for your life is is much simpler than it has been made out to be.

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Working through the vice of not seeing color

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The idea of contending with racism in the present day can seem somewhat paradoxical. Growing up we were taught that everybody was equal, that black people and white people and Hispanic people were all the same, and that the racists were the people who said that they weren’t the same. Our generation grew up with the mindset “so long as we act as if black people are not different than white people, so long as we treat them equally, then we’re doing our part of not being racist.”

We call this ‘colorblindness’, and we think it’s a great thing. “I don’t see color”/”I don’t see race” is our slogan; if you see color it must mean you’re a racist.

Because of this, when we hear people wanting us to acknowledge how black people have it different than white people, when they say we need special laws to help African Americans or Hispanics, some of us are confused. Isn’t it racist to say that? Isn’t that ‘seeing color’? But aren’t we not supposed to see color? Aren’t we supposed to be acting on the assumption that they have it the same? Rather than thinking about ‘race’, shouldn’t the ultimate goal be to think of humanity as just that, humanity? And so some of us don’t understand how making things a race issue instead of an humanity issue is productive to anything but more racism, to treating one group as if it’s different than the other.

Understand, we were raised to think this ‘colorblindness’ to be a virtue, and that is probably the biggest obstacle those of us raised this way have to overcome.

We don’t realize that claiming to be colorblind is ultimately a cop-out. It’s not that we want to avoid doing the hard work of examining our own internal schema and racial identity, it’s not that we would rather lazily look outward and pronounce others as “without color.” It’s not primarily out of avoidance or lazyness, it’s out of misplaced virtue – we’ve been trained to think it’s the proper way to beat racism.

We have no comprehension that in claiming this ‘colorblindness’ we are stripping others of their racial identity and making it match our own; we think we’re offering dignity, and we’re too unaware to realize that we’re doing so through the prideful motive of making them the same us, as if we are of a higher quality.

We were raised to see this ‘colorblindness’ as a virtue, and breaking that misconception is one of the biggest obstacle we face in educating people about racism. We have to learn that equating black with white is not the goal, that it in fact impedes the goal.

We have to learn that no matter how much we may act as if all people are the same, that they aren’t being treated the same, as equal. One group is being treated as a lesser group, and unless we acknowledge that they are being treated differently we’ll never work toward the goal of them being treated the same.

What we have to acknowledge is that seeing color does not degrade the color being seen, but that it frees it to be itself, frees it to not be defined by your own limitations. We have to learn that what we should want isn’t for black people to be white or to be seen as if they were white; we want them to be seen with dignity for who they are, without being defined by us.

And we have to learn that our entire concept of race and racism is faulty. This is a massive shift, because nobody is ever ready to learn that everything they know about something, that everything they were raised to believe about something, is actually wrong from the ground up.

So don’t hate them, don’t think they’re lazy or don’t want to change or just don’t want to learn how to fight against racism. They may very well want all of that, but they are hopelessly lost if nobody comes alongside them and shows them that they’ve been seeing the world through tinted glasses (and not for the better).

The Problem of War — Herman Bavinck

soldiersIt is surely worth the effort to try and answer the following questions: What attitude is Christian ethics going to adopt towards war? Does war have a place in the Christian world-and-life view? Or must war at all times and in all places be condemned and opposed as a crime? Does war make any ‘sense’, or is it never anything but gruesome injustice, brute force and a work of the devil?

In this investigation the Old Testament need not detain us for very long. For no one can deny that in it war is again and again referred to as a divine right. Throughout the centuries, from the time of the Exodus in the fifteenth or fourteenth century B.C. up until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Israel was involved in strife with the surrounding nations. This strife was looked upon religiously and ethically as a war waged by the God of Israel against heathen gods.

Yahweh, the God of Israel, is the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel [1 Sam 17.45], a warrior [Ex 15.3], mighty in battle [Ps 24.8], who goes to war with His people [Judges 4.14], equips the judges by his Spirit [Judges 3.10], teaches David the art of war, girds his loins with strength and delivers his enemies to him for destruction [2 Sam 22.35f]. Just as he sometimes ordains the defeat of His people for their chastisement and humiliation, so He also grants victory in battle by divine aid. In many a psalm or hymn, therefore, such help is invoked, or gratitude is expressed for victory [Ex 15; Judges 5; 2 Sam 22; Ps 3, 27, 46, 68, etc.]. This is not only the people’s view of war, but also that of the prophets. Abraham took part in the battle against the despots of Sodom and Gomorrah [Gen 14]. Moses and Joshua, the judges and the kings led Israel in battle against her enemies in and around Canaan. Deborah stirs up her countrymen for battle against Sisera, the Canaanite general [Judges 4.6, 14]. Samuel musters the children of Israel against the Philistines [1 Sam 7.5f]. An unnamed prophet encourages Ahab to wage war against Benhadad of Syria [1 Kings 20.13f]. From Amos onwards the later prophets repeatedly proclaim that the great and terrible Day of the Lord shall be preceded by awful wars [Amos 5-7; Is 13.6-18; Joel 3.9-17, etc.]. But after that, the kingdom of peace shall come—to Israel and to all the nations of the earth. Then they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Peace shall be so rich and abundant that even the animal world and nature will participate in it. The wolf shall lie down with the lamb and the lion shall eat straw like an ox [Is 2.1-4; 9.2-7; 11.6-9, etc.]. All such peace shall accrue from the Messiah, who is the Prince of Peace [Is 9.5; Mic 5.5; Zech 6.13], and to whose kingdom of justice and peace there shall be no end [Ps 72.17; Is 9.6].

Now ancient Israel lived in circumstances completely different from those of the Christian community in the days of the New Testament. Hence its history cannot simply be our directing principle or example. Nevertheless, the Old Testament propagates the view that war is not of itself unjust and unlawful in every case. Moreover, in God’s hands it can serve as a means toward higher goals, towards the coming of the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, war is temporary and at the coming of the Messiah it shall immediately make way for the kingdom of eternal peace.

Now it is at this point that the New Testament picks up the thread. For it is the Messiah, who by this time has appeared in the person of Jesus, who brings peace on earth [Luke 2.14], guides our feet into the way of peace [Luke 1.79], and establishes a kingdom which consists of righteousness, peace and joy [Luke 19.38; Rom 14.17], This peace is, of course, primarily religious in nature. Objectively it is the relationship of peace which Christ has established between God and man [Eph 2.17]. Subjectively it reveals itself in the blessed knowledge that we are reconciled to God and that no guilt will ever remove us from fellowship with Him [Rom 5.1]. This peace is bestowed on the community by the Father, who is the God of peace [Rom 1.7; 15.33]. It forms the content of the Gospel which is called the Gospel of peace [Acts 10.36; Eph 6.15], and even now believers enjoy peace as a fruit of the Spirit [Gal 5.22]. However, this religious peace also has ethical results. For by his sacrifice Christ not only brought  reconciliation and peace between God and man, but also between the various nations and peoples [Eph 2.14f], no that there is no longer Greek or Jew, barbarian or Scythian, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ Jesus [Gal 3.28]. Thus Jesus declares that not only the poor in spirit and pure in heart are blessed but also the peaceful or the peacemakers. He says that these shall be called sons of God [Matt 5.9]. In the Sermon on the Mount he exhorts his disciples not to be contentious, but to be kindly disposed to their opponents; not to resist him who is evil [Man 5.39]; to love their enemies; to forgive until seventy times seven, etc. In the same spirit the apostles exhort us to pursue peace, and, as far as possible, to live at peace with all men [Rom 12.18; Heb 12.14].

The New Testament ethical standard is so high that in practice it seems to be in no way applicable. These words of peace and the gruesome reality of war stand in such sharp contrast that reconciling them seems to be impossible. Christ commands us not to resist him who is evil and to love our enemy, but in war the very opposite is required: murder, burning, plunder, destruction and everything that contributes to the enemy’s ruin and downfall. The antinomy has been felt in the Christian church since ancient times and has led to varying attempts to solve the problem. Some have dismissed the world as the domain of Satan and have, either in isolation or in small groups, sought to apply the fundamentals of Jesus’ teaching. Others have reversed this and have rejected his teaching as thoroughly impractical and—at least in public life—have denied its value completely. Still others have struck a compromise by distinguishing between higher and lower ethics, between counsels and commands, between clergy and laity.

Neither of these sentiments, however, can be harmonized with Christianity. The champions of peace do indeed at all costs like to appeal to Jesus’ utterances in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet by so doing they forget other truths which also find expression in the Gospel. The Sermon on the Mount is not to be equated with Christianity, and the problem of war is not so simple that it can be resolved by an appeal to a single text. It is much rather part of a wider issue which touches on the relationship of Christianity to natural life as a whole, to the entire sinful world and all it contains.

At this point it must immediately be said that although passive morality is in the foreground in the New Testament, an active and positive element is by no means lacking. The virtues which were then recommended to the Christians (vis. patience, longsuffering, forbearance, meekness, submissiveness) all played a large part. What else could be expected at a time when Jesus’ disciples were few in number, small by the world’s standards and without any influence on public life? But it is all the more striking that Christianity is devoid of all asceticism and from its very beginning took on a positive relationship to the world at large. This fact is principally found in the statement that God loved the world and that Christ came not to destroy the world but to save it. From this focal point lines are drawn in all directions to indicate the place Christians are to occupy and the attitudes they are to have in this sinful world. They must not withdraw from the world, but being in the world they are to keep themselves from the evil one. Nothing is unclean of itself. All God’s creation is good and nothing is to be rejected if it be accepted with thanksgiving. Marriage is honorable among all. The government is God’s servant and is entitled to obedience and respect. Whoever becomes a Christian is to remain in the calling to which he was called. The prayer of Jesus’ disciples is that God’s name be hallowed, that His kingdom come, that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. All this points, not to an avoidance, but to a sanctification of the world.

In this connection it is significant that the New Testament never disapproves the military profession as such. The soldiers who came to John the Baptist did receive an order not to take money by force, etc., but not an order to leave the service [Luke 3.14]. Jesus expressed his amazement at the great faith of the centurion at Capernaum and healed his servant [Matt 8.5f]. Later the centurion Cornelius and his whole household were baptized and admitted to the church [Acts 10]. Without having any scruples about it, Jesus, in one of his parables, speaks about a king who before going to war sits down and considers whether he with ten thousand men is able to meet his opponent who has twenty thousand [Luke 14.31]. Similarly Paul takes pleasure in using military imagery to describe the life of the Christian [Rom 6.13; 1 Cor 9.7; Eph 6.10-18; 2 Tim 2.3, etc.]. Even more striking is the fact that Jesus explicitly forbids the use of the sword for his defense, as the weapons of believers’ warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God [Matt 26.52; 2 Cor 10.4]. Yet he is just as definite in affirming that he has not come to bring peace on earth but a sword, that is, to cause discord between people, even between the members of one family [Matt 10.34,35]. Therefore, when the disciples are presently to go out into the world to preach the Gospel, they are to expect persecution and hate from the world. Then they will not only need a purse and a bag but also a sword, i.e., they must be completely ready to engage in spiritual warfare against the world [Luke 22.36].

These utterances of Christ clearly imply that there are spiritual possessions which are of much greater value than prosperity and peace. The commands of the moral law are not all on the same level, but occupy a different rank. God comes before man. Love for Him is the great and foremost commandment [Matt 22.38]. We must obey Him rather than men [Acts 5.29]. His kingdom and his righteousness must therefore be sought above all things [Matt 6.33]. For the kingdom of heaven is a treasure and a pearl of great price [Matt 13.44-46]. Thus a man is worth more than the whole world [Matt 16.26], the soul more than the body, life more than food, the body more than clothing [Matt 6.25]. These spiritual and material goods are not necessarily mutually exclusive. They can be possessed and enjoyed together. Yet in this present world they may clash and collide with one another again and again. Hence we are placed in a position where we must choose one or the other. The teaching of Christ and the apostles, then, instructs us that we should without hesitation abandon the lesser in order to partake of and preserve the greater. For the sake of Christ and the Gospel the right eye must be torn out and the right hand cut off [Matt 5.29, 30]. Father and mother, son and daughter must be left, life lost and the cross taken up [Matt 10.37-39; 16.24-26; etc.]. Christian morality includes absolute self-denial. Life, prosperity and peace are not the highest possessions. There are cases where what is dearest must be forsaken, abandoned and opposed. The martyrs have left us an example of this. Even Christ did not please himself, but for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame [Rom 15.3; Heb 12.2].

The same idea may yet be elucidated from another perspective. Our response to the moral law is love, which is the fulfillment of the law and the perfect bond of unity [Rom 13.10; Col 3.14]. By this definition Christian love is essentially distinguished on the one hand from Buddhist pity and on the other from so-called free love. According to Buddhism the cause of all misery lies in being. All creation, especially creation that is alive, is thus lamentable and the object of pity. We must exercise that pity mainly for our own sake in order to achieve our deliverance and to kill within ourselves the desire for life. Schopenhauer unjustly identified this pity with Christian love—unjustly because the latter is richer and stands on a higher plane. The mercy of Christianity goes much deeper than pity; it is not the single, dominant virtue, but the disposition and expression of love in a particular direction with a view to the need and misery in the world. Love goes back much further, love extends much further. To begin with, it has God and all His virtues as its object.

Moreover, it also directs itself to all His works and creatures, not because they are lamentable, but because it is in God that they live and move and have their being. Likewise, Christian love is basically different from the free love whose praises are nowadays so frequently sung. This free love is really nothing but lack of discipline
and the emancipation of sentiment and passion. Christian love is rather the fulfilling of the law, is decreed by God’s will and is man’s duty which binds him by conscience. This love is neither arbitrary nor a matter of personal choice. It does not lie within us to determine whom or what we should love. We must love God as He reveals Himself and not as we imagine Him to be. We must love the neighbor whom God places next to us, and not the one we choose. We must love the man, woman, parents and children God gives us and not another man or woman. We must love all that is true, righteous and pure. We must hate sin and avoid it, no matter how beautifully it may present itself.

There is therefore a true, but also a false, unreal and counterfeit love. Likewise there is a good peace for which we must strive and seek to maintain with all men, but there is also a false, sinful peace which should be broken. If with lies and injustice— by way of concession and for the sake of peace—we make a treaty or quietly permit what is wrong, then we are being spineless and denying truth and virtue. Over against such false peace [cf. Jer 6.14] Jesus placed the claim that he had come to cast fire upon the earth [Luke 12.49]. There are powers in this world with which we can never live on peaceful terms. There are truths and rights, spiritual possessions and invisible treasures for which we must be willing to sacrifice everything—peace, quiet, respectability and reputation, yea even love for our family and our own life. Conditions in this incomprehensible world may be so serious and complicated that love itself may compel us to break peace and engage in battle. Prophets such as Jeremiah would much rather have remained silent and spent their days in peace and tranquility, but they could not, nor were they allowed to. They spoke because they believed and they struggled against their nation because they loved it. By his great love for God and man Jesus himself was moved to resist all evil forces even unto death.

This morality, of course, primarily refers to individual persons, but it also has significance for world powers. A nation is certainly not a mass of souls brought together by men within an arbitrary piece of land but a living organism which has its roots far back in the past and which is animated with a living patriotism in its every bone. Some people take pleasure in splitting the threads of this love into factors such as climate, soil, history, custom, etc., and then displaying it in its foolishness. But so superficial an undertaking is self-condemning and is completely powerless in the face of the reality of this love. Love—even for one’s country—always has a mysterious character. It comes up out of the depths and is fed by hidden springs. For a time it may slumber and sleep, but then it reawakes with such irresistible power that even the coolest cosmopolitan is carried along with it. It then shows itself to be so enthusiastic, lofty and disinterested that it renders one prepared for and capable of making the most demanding sacrifices.

This points to the fact that when the Most High separated the sons of man, He gave the nations their inheritance and set the boundaries of the peoples [Deut 32.8], He ‘determined their appointed times, and the boundaries of their habitation’ [Acts 17.26], and gave each of them a place and a task in the history of humanity. In this respect it makes no essential difference whether a nation be great or small. Lloyd George and James Bryce have rightly reminded us that relatively small nations have contributed to the increase of the most noble cultural traits as much as—if not more than—the larger nations. Therefore it is no arbitrary matter, but rather one’s calling and duty to defend these characteristics, sword in hand if need be. It is true that in the Sermon on the Mount, namely in Matthew 5.38-42, Jesus calls his disciples to a spirit of forgiveness which, we would do well to recall, stands in direct contrast to the demand of retribution, and is not susceptible to any quantitative computation [cf. Matt 18.22].

It is equally certain that Jesus is here speaking to those who understand, and not formulating a law that has to be observed to the letter; he is merely stating a spiritual principle which demands a different application in accord with the differing circumstances of life. Jesus himself acted in this way [John 18.22, 23], and Paul who preached the same spirit of forgiveness [Rom 12.17-21; 1 Thess 5.15; cf. 1 Peter 3.9] appeals to his rights as a Roman citizen [Acts 22.25]. Personal insults can and must be forgiven, but when truth or justice is assaulted in one’s person, then, according to Christian principles, which place the Kingdom of God and His righteousness above all else, it is one’s duty to defend and give evidence. This obligation is contained even within the Christian virtue of self-denial. For when the latter demands that for the sake of Christ and the Gospel we should forsake everything, at the same time it presupposes that all the things which we must abandon have value in and of themselves, even though it be a subordinate one. For whatever is worth nothing and does not cost us anything requires no self-denial when we have to forego it. For example, life is a possession that may and must be defended if it is not in conflict with higher concerns. In case of need every man has the right and the duty to defend his life, weapons in hand. An intruder into any house may be withstood with violence. Similarly the authorities which are called to maintain justice do not bear the sword, even the sword of war, in vain. If necessary, in the case of an emergency, they must use the sword both at home and abroad. Truth and justice are worth more for a man, for a nation and for humanity as a whole than are life, peace, prosperity and tranquility.

It is thus noteworthy that the Christian church in all its divisions has never condemned the warrior and war. The church herself of course may never go beyond preaching the Gospel of peace and fighting with spiritual weapons. A ‘holy war’ for the propagation of truth has been forbidden her by what Christ said to Peter. Yet she has never disputed the authorities’ right to wage war in case of need. Pacifists have resented her for this, but they would probably have reproached the church more strongly had she taken the liberty to mingle in state affairs and, without further ado, denied war its raison d’être in this dispensation. The church may and must not do so. It is her calling, according to the word of Christ, to render to God the things that are God’s and also to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Christian ethics therefore allows no other conclusion than that there can be good and just wars. Perhaps they are very few in number, and even much fewer than we think. In every war, even the most just, many things take place which both Christianity and humanity very strongly condemn. Yet neither the Scriptures nor history give sufficient grounds to censure every war unconditionally. A war can be good and just provided that it comply with the demands of higher principles, serve the maintenance of justice and only then be undertaken in the case of most dire necessity. Its justification then does not lie in the right of might nor in the virtues of patriotism, heroism, patience, steadfastness, unity, readiness to make sacrifices, etc., which it may engender; even less in the consequences liable to be brought about by victory such as a broadening perspective, an expansion of culture or even of Christianity; and least of all in the philosophical conviction that all that exists is reasonable and that war constitutes an indispensable and precious moment in the development of the human race. If a war is to be defended it must itself pass the strict test of justice. Even then it resembles the disasters and adversities of life in that it remains an evil [malum physicum] which may in God’s holy hands nevertheless be used for the edification of the human race. The end and purpose thus remains peace, the eternal peace of the Kingdom of God.

By Herman Bavinck

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?

deyoungFor those who hold the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, one of the more relevant questions of the day is “What does the Bible really teach about homosexuality?”

As his title clearly displays, this is the question that pastor – and newly appointed Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at RTS – takes up in this book.

DeYoung begins his book in a somewhat surprising way, in that before jumping in to discussing individual passages of Scripture and how to interpret them, he first takes some time to lay out the basic assumptions of the discussion for the reason that “As is so often the case with controversial matters, we will never agree on the smaller subplots if it turns out we aren’t even telling the same story” (p9). Thus DeYoung spends his introduction making sure we’re all on the same page in regards to the basic outline of Scripture, discussing who he is writing to, and defining some of his terms and how he will approach the topic. That is to say, DeYoung first sets out to correct and/or provide a big picture view of Scripture, from which he will then proceed to dip down and analyze certain vital points.

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