Is it the person or is it the organization?

Any church can have a pastor or pastoral staff member who fails morally. This is simply a sad reality. But when a church or religious organization has person after person in leadership positions with moral failures (some of them repeated moral failures), you eventually have to ask, “What is it about this church or this organization that breeds this type of behavior?” At some point the problem is not personal but systemic and institutional and the church has to address it as such.

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We make idols when God has already given us images and symbols through which to know him

Men’s folly cannot restrain itself from falling headlong into superstitious rites. But even if so much danger were not threatening, when I ponder the intended use of churches, somehow or other it seems to me unworthy of their holiness for them to take on images other than those living and symbolical ones which the Lord has consecrated by his Word. I mean Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, together with other rites by which our eyes must be too intensely gripped and too sharply affected to seek other images forged by human ingenuity.[1]

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2 (ed. John T. McNeill; trans. Ford Lewis Battles; vol. 1; The Library of Christian Classics; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 113–114.

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Douglas Moo on Romans 8:31-39

(I added a couple of structural edits for better online reading.)

We may view this beautiful, hymn-like celebration of our security in Christ as a response to what Paul has just said (28–30, or 18–30 or even 1–30), but it is better to see it as a concluding reflection of chs. 5–8 as a whole. It falls into two parts.

In the first (31–34) Paul reminds us that God is for us: in giving his Son, he has at the same time secured for us all that we need to get through this life and attain final salvation. No-one, then, is able successfully to bring any charge against us, to cause us to be condemned in the judgment. For it is God who has chosen us and justified us and his own Son who answers any indictment brought against us.

The second part of the hymn (35–39) celebrates the love of God in Christ for us. It is as impossible to separate us from that love as it is to bring a charge against us. No earthly peril or disaster can do so (35b–36). Though such suffering can be expected, as Paul reminds us with his quotation of Ps. 44:22, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Nor can any spiritual power separate us from God’s love (angels, demons and powers in v 38). Indeed, there is nothing in all creation that can remove us from the new regime in which God’s love in Christ reigns over us.

Douglas J. Moo, “Romans,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (ed. D. A. Carson et al.; 4th ed.; Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1142.

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Michael Phelps (x2), Plagiarism and Bruce Metzger, Amazon Drones, the Millennium Falcon and more! Weekend Links (08/12/16)

Some links to save to Pocket (or your other favorite reading app) for your weekend reading:laptop-1031224_1920

Because it’s Olympic season:

Michael Phelps vs. Himself (NYT)

Comparing Phelps’ times over the course of his career

Michael Phelps Tied A 2,168-Year-Old Olympic Record (Deadspin)

Another two golds last night for Michael Phelps, the most decorated American Olympian ever: That makes 21 gold medals in his career, 25 medals overall, and with his win in the 200m butterfly—a particularly personal win, given his loss in that event four years ago—Phelps now has 12 individual wins to bring him into a tie with the late, great Leonidas of Rhodes.

Amazon keeps doing amazing things:
Think Amazon’s Drone Delivery Idea Is a Gimmick? Think Again

Amazon is the most obscure large company in the tech industry. It isn’t just secretive, the way Apple is, but in a deeper sense, Jeff Bezos’ e-commerce and cloud-storage giant is opaque. Amazon rarely explains either its near-term tactical aims or its long-term strategic vision. It values surprise.

The Despair of Poor White Americans

Sometime during the past few years, the country started talking differently about white Americans of modest means.

Plagiarism in Metzger

How far can a textbook go? The case of Metzger’s Text of the New Testament
This afternoon I was reading in Leonard Whibley, ed., A Companion to Greek Studies (Cambridge: University Press, 11905), and more in particular R. C. Jebb’s contribution, “Textual Criticism,” (pp. 610–623). When I came to p. 621, § 695, “Modern use of conjecture,” I was in for an unpleasant surprise, for parts of the text were already familiar to me.

It’s time to treat reading like a spiritual discipline

[M]y experience has been that people are reading more than ever, but we are reading differently than previous generations did: reading more online and reading shorter pieces (news articles, blog posts) rather than books.

These shifts, particularly toward reading on electronic devices, indicate that reading is becoming a private habit. I would suspect that the vast majority of reading that I do is for the private, self-oriented purpose of either entertaining myself or educating myself in some way (which would include keeping up with news, blogs, etc.). Although there’s nothing wrong with reading privately, I hope that we will not forget the many virtues of reading in community.

For my fellow Star Wars fans: So That’s How the Inside of the Millennium Falcon Is Laid Out

On the floor of San Diego Comic-Con, I happened to stumble upon this Cutaway Ship Replica of the Falcon at the QMx booth. Now, I’m sure plenty of people on the internet have drawn detailed maps of the Falcon but, having never searched them out before, I was in awe at this piece.



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“Grace to you and peace” – F. F. Bruce on Galatians 1:3

(Italics are mine)

 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη. The normal word of salutation at the beginning of a Greek letter was χαίρειν (‘rejoice’); the normal word of salutation at the beginning of a Jewish letter was šālôm, είρήνη (‘peace’). The amplified form of ‘mercy and peace’ (cf. 6:16) seems to have been current in some Jewish circles (cf. 2 Bar. 78:2). The form χάρις καὶ εἰρήνη is characteristically Pauline; both ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ have their full Christian force. Grace is God’s unconditioned good will toward mankind which is decisively expressed in the saving work of Christ (cf. v 6; 2:21); peace is the state of life—peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and peace with one another (Eph. 2:14–18)—enjoyed by those who have effectively experienced the divine grace (cf. 5:22; 6:16).

The Christian force of the grace and peace is emphasized by the added words ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. These added words appear, with minor variations, in most of Paul’s opening salutations (they are missing in 1 Thes. 1:1; καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ is missing in Col. 1:2). As in v 2 ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘God the Father’ are brought together under the common regimen of διά, so here ‘God our Father’ and ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ are brought together under the common regimen of ἀπό. Such language bespeaks the exalted place which the risen Christ occupies in Paul’s thinking. In resurrection he wears a heavenly humanity, as ‘a life-giving spirit’ (1 Cor. 15:45–49), and has been invested by God with the designation κύριος. ‘Lord’—’the name which is above every name’ (Phil. 2:9). God and Christ are completely at one in the bestowal of salvation: the grace which lies behind this salvation is indiscriminately called ‘the grace of God’ (2:21) and the grace of Christ’ (1:6),   p 75  and the peace which this salvation produces is indiscriminately called ‘the peace of God’ (Phil. 4:7) and ‘the peace of Christ’ (Col. 3:15).

-F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1982), 74–75.

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The tongue is a “world of evil” (James 3:6)

Why is it so hard to watch what you say? Why does it even matter? (Note that I’ve made some minor edits to structure to make it easier to read online.)

The tongue is “the world of evil.” In the ancient way of thinking, this is not a difficult phrase. The body was the microcosm of the universe. In all its complexity, the human being was a small, self-contained universe, thus the term “microcosmos.” There is a double sense of microcosm here: not only the body in relation to the universe of nature but also the tongue in relation to the universe of wickedness. Thus, contained within the tongue or speech are all the representations of wickedness in the world.

Is a representation of evil, in words that is, the same as the evil itself? Obviously not, but the power of verbal representation is not slight; this James knew full well. Words have the power to elicit action; indeed, the activity of speech itself interprets every other human action. There is no evil act that the tongue cannot tell, let alone initiate.

In the second half of the verse, the tongue is said to direct the body, and its effects are thorough and total. It perverts the whole body of the person when there is a bent toward evil. True religion keeps “oneself from being polluted by the world” (1:27), but evil speech makes this impossible. For each person the evil of the world has its motive force in the tongue.

The evil spreads, however, to all of a person’s outward relations. Just as the course of a rich man’s life proves to be all too fragile and unstable (cf. 1:11b), the individual’s way of life is all too susceptible to the qualities of his speech. The person, once self-perverted by evil speech, becomes part of the larger currents of wickedness in the world. As such, evil speech proves its true nature as an extension of hell itself.

In a most powerful image, the fire that is the little tongue, a little spark causing great fires, has another fire that causes it. Hell has outcroppings in this world, and one of them is evil speaking.

Three causative relations are laid out here: corrupt speech spawns corruption of the body; the corrupted body sets in motion the evil course of an entire life; the destructiveness of evil speech is derived from the destructiveness of hell.

Since the tongue is the world of evil, the person of perverse speech fails to distinguish between confessing faith and hypocrisy, respect and flattery, blessing and cursing (cf. v. 10). Whoever fails this way in speech certainly will fail in actions.

Evil desire (1:14–15) corrupts the body; and just as a parasite destroys a host organism, the evil tongue becomes parasitical upon the whole life of the individual and indeed the church itself. When it is bent on evil, the tongue is not only its own source of evil but derives some of its inspiration from the great demonic underground.

This connection should not be surprising since in the previous chapters to promote a profession of faith while rejecting active faith is comparable to the “faith” of demons (2:19). The destructive, lying ways of the devil were well known to the biblical writers.

The truth for James was that in the destructiveness of evil speech, the destructive end of that evil was present from the beginning. The destructive force of evil speaking is comparable to the destructive force of hell.

-from Kurt A. Richardson, James (vol. 36; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997), 153–154.

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Reinterpreting the Church’s Mission

Donald Bloesch points out that the rise of new theologies has brought about a drastic reinterpretation of the church’s mission:

Whereas traditional theology envisions the church’s mission as the proclamation of the good news of redemption through the cross and resurrection of Christ, the new theology views it in terms of humanization and social liberation.[1]

Bloesch lists four areas in which this reinterpretation has taken place.

1. Ministry

Instead of expounding scriptural truth, ministers now devote their energies to breaking down barriers that impede humanity’s progress toward peace and justice.[2]

Such endeavors, which is really little more than the old liberal social gospel of a hundred years ago, have noble intentions (and certainly evangelicals could do more in these areas than is often done), but abandoning the proclamation of scriptural truth bypasses the real problem which is the condition of the human heart.

Jesus works from the inside out so one cannot eradicate racism by passing a law making racism illegal. Changing someone’s heart by preaching the Good News of the One who breaks down racial barriers and makes all races One in himself will.

2. Preaching

The minister ceases to be the proclaimer of a definite message and now becomes a ‘nurturer of ecumenical and world openness.’[3]

Too much preaching today is therapeutic and motivational and focuses on what I must do to have the best life now. Preaching is supposed to be about what God has done through Jesus Christ to make me acceptable to God so that I have a place in the new heavens and new earth which Christ will usher in upon his return.

3. Apologetics

In the perspective of the new spirituality apologetics is no longer demonstrating the superiority of the Christian religion or the validity of Christian truth claims but arguing for the validity of a new religious vision that fulfills rather than negates the religious aspirations of the whole of humanity. […] Apologetics in the traditional sense is supplanted by dialogue in the quest for a more comprehensive religious vision. [4]

Apologetics is supposed to be about demonstrating the reasonableness of the Christian faith and the truthfulness of Christianity’s claims. Many times, however, we end up trying to make people more spiritual, as if that alone will cause people to believe the truth-claims of Christianity.

I understand that this shift has come about because of the claim that postmoderns are less concerned about truth than about meaning (a claim of which I am not entirely convinced) but in the end, even postmoderns will have to admit that historical truth is vital to the claims of Christianity. Sadly, by the time such postmodern nonsense is abandoned by the culture at large, many evangelicals will be too far behind to realize it.

4. Mission

[T]he church’s mission is privatized or spiritualized. The kingdom of God is …the transformation of religious consciousness…a call to turn inward and find peace through union with the all-encompassing spiritual presence. The church becomes a society of seekers for enlightenment as opposed to the company of the committed with a mission and message for the world.[5]

This is one of the biggest problems with evangelicalism in 21st century North America: We’ve made the Gospel all about us so that every sermon preached and every text interpreted is about me and how to have a better life. That’s why churches are now more concerned about teaching, preaching, evangelism, etc. and instead build huge monuments to self-gratification in the form of multi-million dollar facilities with foosball tables, basketball courts, coffee shops, etc. And if they can get someone else to begin coming to these Christian consumerist and entertainment centers, they consider that person evangelized and the Great Commission to have been completed as far as that person is concerned.

In the New Testament, however, it was about living the life of the Kingdom while still in the world, not living like the world while laying claim to the Kingdom.

What do we do?

What we need, however, is a drastic reevaluation of these four areas, not in light of culture but in light of the ministry of Jesus and the apostles as recorded in Scripture. Such a re-evaluation will reveal the weakness and lukewarmness of what passes for Christianity today.

As I noted on this blog before in a different but related context:

If you preach a Gospel that won’t get you arrested or killed somewhere in the world, you’re not preaching the same Gospel Jesus and his apostles preached.

Sadly, the kid of Christianity described above won’t even get you a sideways glance anymore, much less a beating or a cross.


[1] Donald Bloesch, The Church (InterVarsity Press: 2002) 32.

[2] Bloesch 33.

[3] Bloesch 33. The quote is from Peter Hodgson’s Revisioning the Church: Ecclesial Freedom in the New Paradigm, 101

[4] Bloesch 33.

[5] Bloesch 33-34.

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