Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jordan River Confessional (Mark)

If God sent a letter to you, bursting into flame as it shot down from the sky, explaining His intention to come in 6 weeks and judge the earth, how would you handle that? I mean, besides panicking. Maybe you would go nuts and stand in traffic and try to turn people from their sins as motercyclists drove menacingly too close to you. Maybe you would spend a lot of time confronting yourself in front of the mirror. Maybe you'd be excited, or afraid, or sad, or hopeful, or confused, and maybe you would cry and maybe you would laugh. You would do all sorts of illogical things that made sense because the world is ending in 6 weeks. I think about these kinds of things when I think about John the Baptist. How would it feel to open a letter from heaven and read, "prepare the people for God's arrival upon the Earth"? How would you prepare them? Or yourself?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Some Changes In These Here Parts

Once you've worked through the first stages of confusion ("Is this The Voice? What happened? Who's the old guy in the robe? People actually comment on this thing?"), you might have noticed one or two small changes to the blog. And more of them are coming. Most of these changes are meant to help conversation happen, to give feedback to the bloggers (me, and on the rare sabbath full moons, Seth or Ryan), and to help us make this blog into a place where we can actually learn about God together. It's part of an ongoing effort to move from "blog" to community.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mondays With Matt: Thinking Made Easy

It is the great duty of all young people to be sober-minded. I shall endeavor to show you, (1) what this sober-mindedness is; (2) what considerations should engage you to be sober-minded, and; (3) how to make such applications in your life. So, to begin, let us see what it is to be sober-minded. This exhortation is proper for both sexes, and all that are within hearing; I beseech you suffer this word and receive it at your peril, for if it come from God, it is at your utmost peril to refuse it. Give this exhortation* its full latitude:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Questions for Everyday Missionaries (CT)

Collin Hansen writes for Christianity Today, and has penned two superior articles on local missions (Love Where You Live) and Biblical literacy (Why Johnny Can't Read the Bible). Choosing which one to comment on is like choosing between U2's Joshua Tree or Green Day's American Idiot--which, for me, is a hard decision to make. The tip in the balance, though, came in the form of Tom Steers' article Needed: More Monocultural Ministries. It's about ministries specializing to reach just one ethnic group. "You know," I thought, "this would go well with Collin's article on local missions; I could comment on them together." And so I shall. The question is, how could working on just one group of people (Steers) play out in the worksites, schools, parks, and streets of our own neighbourhoods (Hansen)?

Review of "Doctrine": Revelation

God disciplines those he loves; so sometimes I rip apart my favorite authors. I'm experiencing that this week. And here's my real dilemma: I don't hate this chapter of Doctrine. In fact, I'm finding it readily accessible and usable for group study. I'm ripping apart this chapter, not because it is useless or unclear, but because it could so obviously have been much, much better. On pure content alone, I would say this is the best practical chapter on the Bible that I've ever read out of a Systematic Theology text; but when I look at the verbosity and ill-organized layout of the subject matter, and the dry writing (the authors decided not to use humor or many personal stories), I'm left suggesting Paul Little's Know What You Believe--which, as a bonus, comes in pocket size.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When God Wore Sandals (Mark)

Last year, I spent a few months hanging out with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Most of our conversations never got around to whether or not Jesus is God; but when they did, my strongest arguments inevitably zeroed in on how the Apostles quoted Old Testament Scriptures about Yahweh (God) and then applied them to Jesus. In Mark 1:2-3, especially when paired up with Mark 1:7-9, I found one of my key texts for these discussions. Mark's words were some of the strongest proof I had about the divinity of Jesus Christ. It is, then, with some really good memories that I come back to this passage in the process of blogging through the Gospel of Mark.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Matthew Henry on the Consequences of Sin

Matthew Henry is, in my mind, one of the best dead mentors* that anybody could have. His style is lucid; his commitment to the Bible is firm; he makes his points with warmth, honesty, and wisdom. Although his major Commentary on the Whole Bible was written 300 years ago, his voice is still relevant today, calling out from the historical wilderness to prepare a multitude of modern readers for service to Jesus Christ. I hope and pray that you will find Matt as encouraging and beneficial to read as I have found him. -Sean Rice

Matthew Henry on 1 Chronicles 10:1-7

Now the Philistines fought against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, "Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and mistreat me." But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died. Thus Saul died; he and his three sons and all his house died together. And when all the men of Israel who were in the valley saw that the army had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled, and the Philistines came and lived in them.
-1 Chronicles 10:1-7

This account of Saul's death is the same with that which we had in 1 Samuel 31:1, etc. We need not repeat the exposition of it. Only let us observe,

Leaders Sin and the People Suffer
I. Princes sin and the people suffer for it. It was a bad time with Israel when they fled before the Philistines and fell down slain (1Chronicles 10:1), when they quitted their cities, and the Philistines came and dwelt in them (1 Chronicles 10:7). We do not find that they were at this time guilty of idolatry, as they had been before, in the days of the judges, and were afterwards, in the days of the kings. Samuel had reformed them, and they were reformed: and yet they are thus given to the spoil and to the robbers. No doubt there was enough in them to deserve this judgment; but that which divine Justice had chiefly an eye to was the sin of Saul. Note, Princes and great men should in a special manner take heed of provoking God's wrath; for, if they kindle that fire, they know not how many may be consumed by it for their sakes.

Parents Sin and the Children Suffer
II. Parents sin and the children suffer for it. When the measure of Saul's iniquity was full, and his day came to fall (which David foresaw in 1 Samuel 26:10), he not only descended into battle and perished himself, but his sons (all but Ishbosheth) perished with him, and Jonathan among the rest, that gracious, generous man; for all things come alike to all. Thus was the iniquity of the fathers visited upon the children, and they fell as parts of the condemned father. Note, Those that love their seed must leave their sins, lest they perish not alone in their iniquity, but bring ruin on their families with themselves, or entail a curse upon them when they are gone.

Sinners At Length Suffer Themselves
III. Sinners sin and at length suffer for it themselves, though they be long reprieved; for, although sentence be not executed speedily, it will be executed. It was so upon Saul; and the manner of his fall was such as, in various particulars, answered to his sin.
  • He had thrown a javelin more than once at David, and missed him; but the archers hit him, and he was wounded of the archers.
  • He had commanded Doeg to slay the priests of the Lord; and now, in despair, he commands his armour-bearer to draw his sword and thrust him through.
  • He had disobeyed the command of God in not destroying the Amalekites, and his armour-bearer disobeys him in not destroying him.
  • He that was the murderer of the priests is justly left to himself to be his own murderer; and his family is cut off who cut off the city of the priests.
See, and say, The Lord is righteous.
*Dead Mentors are those who, historically beyond the reach of our own culture's customs and assumptions, can teach us through the writings that they have left behind.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

We Are Villains, All (TULIP)

The worst part of summer has been confronting all of the evil things that I'm finding within myself: my anger; my hypocrisy; the lust of my eyes; the disgusting and prevalent pride that underlies all the rest of my sin. To be constantly confronted by my sinfulness in everything I do, and to realize that when I think critically and bitterly about another person that that criticism is driven by my own pride, and to think about what pride is -the implicit belief that my glory is more important than God's- is humbling and frankly humiliating. It makes me see God's grace for what it is. It is with this admission that I'm finding myself writing about the first point of common Reformed/Calvinist doctrine: total depravity.

Friday, July 16, 2010

RE: "The Search for Other Earths" (NG)

After spending some time over at the National Geographic website, looking for something interesting to post on, I finally found this article called The Search for Other Earths. I thought it was awesome. It's written about the efforts of modern scientists to find other earth-like planets that could support life. For people like me, people who grew up as kids dreaming of dinosaurs, the origin of earth, and Star Trek-inspired colonies on other planets (Mars was always a pretty fun candidate), the idea of 'other earths' just seems... well, really cool. On my part, I hope that these scientists find what they are looking for. (Although, some scientists think that planets like Gliese 581 D might have the right stuff already.) To science!

Theologically, though, what would the ramifications be if this National Geographic-reported team found what they were looking for? Conservative Evangelicals might have a variety of objections when it comes to discussing the topic. I thought I would list five.

Objection #1: "If there are other earths, wouldn't that disprove an Intelligent Designer?" Much of the ID movement's arguments are based around the unlikeliness of life happening by random chance (and it's a good argument, too: it influenced Atheist philosopher Antony Flew to convert to Deism before his recent death). If another inhabited planet was found, that might be good evidence that randomly-forming life is more common than we think. The Atheists would have a field day with the news. But look at it this way: the universe is big. Lots and lots of material out there. In addition, it seems almost unbelievable that our Creator -who has, as a basic part of His nature, His own drive to create things- that He would just do nothing with the rest of His universe. It actually makes more sense that He would create life elsewhere in the universe, rather than doing nothing at all. As for the Intelligent Design argument, about life being an impossibility if left to random chance, it is still valid even if we find scores of 'other earths'. That life exists at all is miraculous and unexplainable, and warrants acknowledgment of a Higher Power, no matter how many times and how many places we might find it, however unexpectedly.

Objection #2: If the life we found was sentient, it would mean God did not uniquely love humanity. First, contextually, on the earth God has uniquely loved humanity: He has chosen us; He has revealed Himself to us; and He has called us to a relationship with Him which no other creature on our planet has or can have. Second, beyond the realm of Earth, the Bible already speaks of non-humanoid beings who invoke God's name and follow Him. These are the Cherubim and Seraphim, which we call spirits, messengers from God, and angelic beings. St. Paul even wrote that these beings are among the elect (1 Timothy 5:21). Third and finally, we just need to recognize that God does not owe us the sole affection of His love. Even if sentient life were found on another planet, we would just have to suck it up and come to terms with the fact that Yahweh is the God of the black and the white; the slave and the free; the Jew and the Gentile; the man and the woman; the human and the weird, newly-discovered sentient phenomenon of Really Cool Science. Don't be hatin'.

Objection #3: What would alien life mean for salvation? It depends on the kind of life we're talking about. Organic molecules have already been found in comets; that kind of 'alien' life doesn't trouble me at all. If we are talking about lifeforms as in wildlife on another planet, that would be pretty easy, too. After all, we don't try to evangelize cheetahs or dolphins, do we? But the real question is sentient life. That isn't something that's on the horizon right now. Even the alien wildlife thing is a massive stretch from "habitable planet" to "inhabited planet". To ask about such a planet with sentient life is unreasonable at this point. And, even if it were true, the theological implications would vary depending on a number of other factors. I'm just saying.

Objection #4: What about ethical issues arising from foreign species? Are we talking about imposing monogamy on an alien race that has three sexes? Or about imposing sanctions against pre-natural death for a race that blows up and releases poisonous chemicals upon age-related expiration? That stuff is for the science-fiction authors and screenwriters, my friend. Theological concern though it may be, we just don't have any reasonable basis on which to ask that question yet.

Objection #5: Wouldn't an inhabited -or habitable- planet outside our solar system disprove Creationism? That all depends on your particular Creationist preference. A young-earth, literal seven day creationist would probably become as extinct as the dinosaurs.* An old-earth Creationist of the gap theory variety would probably emerge from the discovery relatively unscathed. My own view is that Genesis 1 is a poem, needs to be read and interpreted accordingly, and renders me nigh-invulnerable to scientific concerns about the origin of species or the existence of other intelligent life. But the real answer is that it comes down to how you interpret those first few chapters in Genesis. And it also depends on your persistence. A Six Day Creationist tradition which can bounce back from repeated fossil discoveries of intermediate-looking lifeforms can bounce back from anything.

For all two of you who might have wanted an article on the topic, you're welcome. 'Till next time, this has been Sean Rice, Captain's Log, star date 7/16/2010.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

RE: "The Crowd Is Untruth"

If you kindly take a peek at Reformation21, author and academic Carl Trueman has a blog up reflecting on Sǿren Kierkegaard's essay, "The Crowd is Untruth". Without having (yet) read Sǿren's essay -which can be found online here, at CCEL, for free- I can't comment on the original work, but I think we could stand to learn from some of Carl Trueman's reflections upon it. In his blog post, Trueman observes "[Sǿren Kierkegaard's] The Crowd is Untruth is both profound and prophetic... he captures brilliantly both the power and anonymity of the crowd, where personal responsibility, accountability, and identity is surrendered to a larger group." Soon after, Trueman laments "the ease with which a talented person can manipulate a crowd into doing the most terrible things." He continues his observation of the Power of the Crowd:

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review of "Doctrine": The Trinity

I'm very excited to be blogging through Doctrine by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. When the Mars Hill Church sermon series started in 2008, I was a first-year college student running a Bible study for new Christians at a local youth center. One of most-asked questions that the students had was "what's the deal with the Trinity?" In my struggle to put together a handout for these youth, Mark Driscoll's sermon and notes on the subject -which, at that time, were less than a week old- were invaluable. I have been waiting for the material to come out in expanded book form ever since, keeping tabs on the development of Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe for the last two years. So once again, it is with great excitement that I am beginning a 13-week series of blog posts to examine the new book in depth. I have already skimmed over the chapters that lay ahead, and I can assure you that there is some fun stuff to cover. If you also have a copy of the book, I would love to steal your superior analysis of this book interact with your take on Doctrine in the comments section!

Mark: The Foundation of Freedom

Mark 1:1 is the title of the whole book, not just an introduction to the ministry of John the Baptist. No other part of Mark's Gospel has a heading like this one. So if "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God" is a book title, what difference does that make? How could you or I possibly benefit from a little thing like that? The answer lies in the word beginning: if our good news has its beginning (or foundation) in Jesus' earthly actions and His identity -if all of our hope is built on who He is and what He has done- then the rest of our journey through this book will be an exercise in asking ourselves "If this is who Jesus is and what He has done, what must I do about it?" That's what Mark wants us to do anyway.