Category: Bible and Theology

Blog author: rjmoeller
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
By

Picking up where we left off last time (in verse 9 of I Samuel 8), the prophet Samuel’s sons have given God’s system of judges a black eye with their corrupt behavior. Not wishing to be upstaged in the “Let’s Disappoint God” department, the people of Israel decide they want to up-the-sin-ante by rejecting God’s order and demanding a monarchy.

It’s now time for Samuel to share with the people what is in store for them should they refuse to course-correct.

In verse 9, at the behest of God himself, Samuel offers a “solemn” warning to his people. I note this at the start because I am of the opinion that it is always a worthwhile endeavor to give someone headed off of a cliff a fair warning. Even if you know they won’t listen, it’s always worth a shot. God knew the people had turned their hearts from Him, and He knew they would reject the council of His appointed mediator, but He told that mediator to warn them anyway.

Samuel’s task was to walk rightly with his God and obediently speak truth to his countrymen. The rest was in Yahweh’s hands. (more…)

burden-bearingOver the past year, public discussion about the Affordable Care Act has led many Christians to question the proper roles of government and business in providing healthcare. Too often, though, the question left unexamined is what role the church should have in responding to the medical needs of the community.

Throughout the history of the church, Christians have been actively involved in the provision and funding of health and medical resources. But for the past 50 years, these functions have been treated as political problems reserved for the state rather than matters to be addressed by the church.

Some Christians though, are beginning to reassert this biblically mandated role by participating in health care sharing ministries (HCSM). HCSMs are not insurance companies, but nonprofit religious organizations that help members pay for medical treatments.

As the Alliance of Health Care Sharing Ministries explains, “A health care sharing ministry (HCSM) provides a health care cost sharing arrangement among persons of similar and sincerely held beliefs. HCSMs are not-for-profit religious organizations acting as a clearinghouse for those who have medical expenses and those who desire to share the burden of those medical expenses.”
(more…)

One of the profound realities of theology and ecclesiastical enclaves in which American Christians live is each tribal subculture views the world as if Christianity begins and ends with their tribe. Evangelicals are a great example of this trend. Some evangelicals write as if they are the only Christians doing God’s work in the world.

For example, Joy Allmond recently wrote a perplexing article about New York City asking “Is New York City on the Brink of a Great Awakening?” Allmond, a web writer for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, lives in Charlotte, NC, and after reading her article one is left wondering if Ms. Allmond is at all familiar with the religious and Christian landscape of New York City. The narrative she constructs for readers is that change is coming to New York City because evangelicals have arrived. The article begins with a factual impossibility:

20 years ago, Eric Metaxas knew practically every born again believer in Manhattan. “It was like a spiritual ghost town,” the cultural commentator, thought leader and author recalled. Yet, over the recent decades—particularly this last one—New York has seen a surge in evangelicalism. Some cultural experts believe the Big Apple to be on the brink of another ‘Great Awakening.’

I am not writing as an expert on Christianity in New York City, but there is no way Metaxas “practically” knew the thousands of “born again” believers in the Manhattan, especially among the black churches in Harlem and the Dominican churches in Washington Heights, and so on, in 1993. It is unclear why Allmond would make such a fanciful claim but it speaks to the tribal blind spot that some evangelicals have about their own importance. Allmond mentions several evidences of this hoped-for awakening, including the presence of Socrates In The City, The King’s College (where I’m employed), Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and Brooklyn Tabernacle, to name a few. While these do signal increased institutional movements in recent years among evangelicals, they do not suggest that anything spectacular is happening in America’s largest city. Are evangelicals really that important? Here’s why I say this: there have been Christians in this city faithfully preaching the Truth in word and deed for centuries before any church or institution named in Allmond’s article arrived.
(more…)

I recently posted some thoughts at The Power Blog on “God’s Problem With Centralized Power”, which took a macro view of what I believe to be God’s clear disdain for mankind pursuing their own ends instead of His articulated purposes when it comes to how we organize ourselves communally. This time I want to highlight a specific, micro-level example of that same general idea.

The story of Israel’s demand for a king in I Samuel 8 contains so many relevant, interesting nuggets of insight that I’ve broken it into two parts. This first post will cover verses 1-9; the second one (on Monday) will explore verses 10-22.

When the elders of Israel come to Samuel on behalf of their people to ask for a king to lead them, the decentralized governing system of “judges” had largely been in place since the Hebrew people’s return from exile in Egypt (some 400 years). What the people were asking for was a massive break with a God-ordained system and time-tested tradition. It marks a major shift in the history of God’s chosen people and, truly, the history of God’s plan for salvation. (more…)

Peter Robinson, host of the Hoover Institution’s Uncommon Knowledge program, interviews playwright David Mamet about his book The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture and his conversion to conservatism. The blurb on the video notes that, “Mamet explains how, by studying Jewish and Christian texts such as the Talmud and the Bible, he came to approach arguments from a new perspective that aligned itself with conservative politics.” Throughout the interview, which runs about 35 minutes, “Mamet discusses his newly found conservative position on several issues, including social justice and civil rights, the decline of the family and the sexual revolution, affirmative action and race, and domestic politics and foreign policy.”

lincolnOver at the Liberty Law Blog, Daniel Dreisbach looks at Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and how it “reverberates with biblical rhythms, phrases, and themes.” He writes that Lincoln was “well acquainted with the English Bible – specifically the King James Bible. Those who knew him best reported that Lincoln had an intimate and thorough knowledge of the sacred text and was known to commit lengthy passages to memory.” Excerpt from Dreisbach’s essay:

No political figure in American history was more fluent in biblical language or adept in appropriating the distinct cadences and vernacular of the King James Bible than Abraham Lincoln. He routinely incorporated into his political prose direct quotations from and allusions to the Bible, as well as a diction resembling the distinctive language of the Jacobean Bible. He often appropriated the Bible and bible-like rhetoric to give authority, moral gravity, and solemnity to his political statements. The Gettysburg Address, perhaps better than any other example of political rhetoric, illustrates how a gifted communicator borrowed language merely resembling the King James Bible to great rhetorical effect. The address contains no direct biblical quotations; however, there are few clauses that do not echo the cadences, phrases, and themes of the King James Bible.

The address begins: “Four score and seven years ago.” Although not an actual biblical quotation, this formulation resembles the psalmist’s familiar calculation, as rendered in the King James Bible, for a man’s “threescore and ten” years of life on earth (Psalm 90:10). From the opening phrase, Lincoln put his audience in a biblical frame of mind.

(more…)

Painting of 'Render Unto Caesar' by Peter Paul Rubens.

Painting of ‘Render Unto Caesar’ by Peter Paul Rubens.

Richard Weaver, one of the great intellectuals of the 20th Century, and author of Ideas Have Consequences, published an essay in the early 1960s on Lord Acton (pdf only). Much of Weaver’s essay is worth highlighting, but one excerpt in particular reminds us of the central significance of Christianity in the battle for freedom. It reminds us too of the dangers of secularism and where our indifference to God is inevitably leading us.

It was inevitable that, lacking one vital element, the ancient governments should have collapsed into despotism. That vital element was introduced by Christianity. This was belief in the sacredness of the person and thus in a center of power distinct from the state. What the pagan philosophers in all their brilliance had not been able to do, that is, set effective barriers to the power of the state, was done in response to that injuction: ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.’ This instituted a basis of freedom upon which the world since that time has been able to build.

In Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of our Time, published in 1964, Weaver noted the cure for the ailment of the decline of Western Culture,

But the road away from idolatry remains the same as before; it lies in respect for the struggling dignity of man for his orientation toward something higher than himself which he has not created.

The Apostle Peter and Cornelius the centurion

The most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality (16.1) features an updated translation of “The Moral Organization of Humanity as a Whole,” the last chapter of the Russian Orthodox philosopher Vladimir Soloviev’s major work on moral philosophy The Justification of the Good. Writing in 1899, Soloviev offers an insightful reflection on the centurion Cornelius, the first Gentile convert to Christianity (Acts 10), regarding the military vocation and the kingdom of God, appropriate to consider as we celebrate Veterans Day today:

Neither the angel of God nor the apostle Peter, the messenger of the peace of Christ, nor the voice of the Holy Spirit himself suddenly revealed in the ones converted, told the centurion of the Italian cohort that which was, according to the latest notions about Christianity, the most important and urgently necessary thing for this Roman warrior. They did not tell him that in becoming a Christian he must first of all cast away his weapons and without fail renounce military service. There is neither word nor allusion about this ostensibly indispensable condition of Christianity in the whole story, even though the point is precisely about a representative of the army. Renunciation of military service does not at all enter into the New Testament concept of what is required of a secular warrior in order that he become a citizen enjoying full rights in the kingdom of God.

While this may appear to be an argument from silence, Soloviev notes,

When Peter came, Cornelius said to him, “Now, therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things … commanded you by God” [10:33]. But in this all that God commands the apostle to communicate to the Roman warrior for his salvation, there is nothing about military service.

Taking seriously that the Apostle Peter did not leave anything out when he told Cornelius everything he needed to begin the Christian life, the omission of any command to renounce military service is a significant silence. (more…)

‘Unbroken’ is a must read book about the survival, suffering, and redemption of World War II veteran Louis Zamperini. Zamperini, a former Olympic runner, served as a bombardier in the Pacific Theatre of the war. During a search and rescue mission, his B-24 crashed in the Pacific. Zamperini, battling starvation, sharks, and Japanese Zeroes, drifted in a life raft with two others for thousands of miles. But that was just the beginning of his epic battle for survival. He was picked up by the Japanese and made a prisoner of war. After his liberation from the camp at the end of the war, Zamperini’s life spiraled out of control from alcoholism, his only coping mechanism for his horrific wartime experience and the torture he suffered.

While I was reading this book by Laura Hillenbrand, it became clear to me that Christ was the only thing that could redeem Zamperini’s life. A few years after the war, Zamperini was transformed by the power of the Gospel at a Billy Graham Crusade in Southern California. Zamperini not only forgave his Japanese tormentors but worked a lifetime in ministry mentoring the young. Zamperini, born in 1917, currently lives in Hollywood, Calif.

One of the problems in evangelicalism today is the lack of leadership. There is a lack of uncompromising voices like a Billy Graham who is pointing the country to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It’s folly to believe this country can be salvaged or reformed without a strong vibrant faith in the people. For the Christian, the remedy for sin is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not all of the substitutes for the Gospel that has flooded our culture. Even big government now promises to treat so many of the symptoms of sin by trying and failing to build a heaven on earth.

Below is a short profile of Louis Zamperini introduced by Brett Baier at Fox News. His story represents so well the courage of many of our veterans and also points to the transformation of so many lives through the crusades of Billy Graham.

Creation Heart ManBeginning today, Acton is offering its first monograph on Eastern Orthodox Christian social thought at no cost through Amazon Kindle. Through Tues., Nov. 12, you can get your free digital copy of Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism (Acton Institute, 2013). The print edition, which runs 91 pages, will be available later this month through the Acton Book Shop for $6. When the free eBook offer expires, Creation and the Heart of Man will be priced at $2.99 for the Kindle reader and free reading apps.

A summary of Creation and the Heart of Man:

Rooted in the Tradition of the Orthodox Church and its teaching on the relationship between God, humanity, and all creation, Fr. Michael Butler and Prof. Andrew Morriss offer a new contribution to Orthodox environmental theology. Too often policy recommendations from theologians and Church authorities have taken the form of pontifications, obscuring many important economic and public policy realities. The authors establish a framework for responsible engagement with environmental issues undergirded not only by Church teaching but also by sound economic analysis. Creation and the Heart of Man uniquely takes the discussion of Orthodox environmental ethics from abstract principles to thoughtful interaction with the concrete, sensitive to the inviolability of human dignity, the plight of the poor, and our common destiny of communion with God.

(more…)