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Unity in Diversity, Christ’s Body the Church

29 Nov

Unity in Diversity, Christ’s Body the Church

Christena Cleveland, a young woman consulting on diversity in the church, Christ’s Body, packs a wallop with this interview with Thabiti Anyabwile, a Baptist pastor and blogger.

Strawman Monday: Shouting each other down

26 Nov

II Timothy 2:24, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all [men], apt to teach, patient,”

Today’s strawman Monday will be brief and to the point, reflecting on this year’s just-concluded election cycle.

Wasn’t shouting each other down raised to a whole new level this year?

Wasn’t listening to each other relegated to the back burner, as an obvious “sign of weakness” in those who do it?

Is there any place in this morass for the servant of the Lord to live with integrity?

Yes, there is.  And it is in remaining steadfast and continuing to listen to others, regardless of how that is regarded.

To us, it is a very small thing if someone disparages us for the cause of Christ.  Disparagement is not eternal;  Christ’s cause is.

We must listen, and accurately represent the views of those with whom we differ.  In fact, there is no other way to hold a discussion–they give it their best shot, we give it our best shot, then we look at the two best shots and see which one is the closest to God’s truth, as expressed in His Word.

Constructing a strawman out of someone’s views so that we can laugh at their views is not ethical.

Our fellow humans are also made in the image of God.  As His image-bearers, they deserve to be heard, even when we disagree with them.  And if we engage them in discussion of our differences, they deserve to get that discussion in a normal speaking tone, without their views being twisted and misrepresented.

So let’s bring back civility to our culture.  Unsaved people may not understand, nor go along with us, but let’s bring it back anyway!  “As far as lies within us . . .”

Strawman Monday: If Not Total Depravity, then What?

5 Nov

Strawman Monday: If Not Total Depravity, then What?

Romans 7:19, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

Last week I wrote about my belief in total depravity, as put forth as the “T” in the Calvinist “TULIP” acronym.

This week, I thought to see what the contrasting part of Arminianism is.  Interestingly, the five points of Arminianism (down below and in the link) don’t deny total depravity head on. As their argument against total depravity, they insert the doctrine of “free will” which says that man is not so fallen that he cannot choose God of his own volition.

In future weeks (when I get back from a two week business trip), I plan to look at Ephesians 2 in both ways, the Calvinist one and the Arminian one.  Calvinists believe that the Holy Spirit not only makes a person aware of his need for salvation (through common grace) but actually provides the special grace needed to get him across the finish line to salvation before the person plays a role in the process at all, while Arminians believe common grace, available to all, draws the person to choose Christ, at which time the Holy Spirit begins working in his life via special grace.

Since I am still studying up on the contrasts here, I am going to leave the topic for now.

But what is interesting to me about the total depravity doctrine is that it provides us (at least me) with much less despair about the fact that, as Paul said in Romans 7, “the good I would do, I do not do.”  While fully intending to serve God and man, I fall so miserably short sometimes that, if I believed that all kinds of good was inherent to human nature, I would have a hard time not giving up on myself as a lost cause.

I would also have a hard time explaining why saved people around me can be so callous to other saved people around me.

If we didn’t have a pretty strong sin nature, how would we explain the strength of our self-interest, even after salvation?

You know what I mean, don’ t you?  You have seen this as often as I have.  The way that Christians pick on other blood bought Christians, separating themselves into groups of “us vs. them” over very minor issues that often have nothing to do with the Bible.  And then defend that behavior, from a very self-defensive posture, when they would not be able to defend it from the Word at all.

What is that all about?  Why are so many of us intent on holding ourselves up as paragons of virtue to other people instead of holding up Christ and His glory over us all?

To me, it is becoming natural to think, “If something glorifies Christ, I don’t mind if it diminishes me.”  It has been a long time coming, this attitude, but by God’s grace I am getting there.  I am starting to see things more in terms of me being created to bring Him glory and less in terms of me saving face before other human beings  Praise God for that–I am sure it is entirely His work in me.

I have told you all that I believe God has given us immense freedom and many choices in this world.  This is certainly the case after salvation takes place.  Before that, I had choices, too, but I was more enslaved to sin as well.

I am just not certain at the interplay of my choice with God’s grace in the salvation process.  It is indeed a great mystery.  It is a mystery I will look at more in future days.

Five Points of Arminianism

The five points of Arminianism (from Jacobus Arminius 1559-1609) are in contrast to the five points of Calvinism.  The Arminian five points are

  • Human Free Will – This states that though man is fallen, he is not incapacitated by the sinful nature and can freely choose God.  His will is not restricted and enslaved by his sinful nature.
  • Conditional Election – God chose people for salvation based on his foreknowledge where God looks into the future to see who would respond to the gospel message.
  • Universal Atonement – The position that Jesus bore the sin of everyone who ever lived.
  • Resistable Grace – The teaching that the grace of God can be resisted and finally beaten so as to reject salvation in Christ.
  • Fall from Grace – The Teaching that a person can fall from grace and lose his salvation.

Strawman Monday: Heads, I Win; Tails, You Lose

29 Oct

Ephesians 4:26, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:”

A particularly hostile type of strawman argument I have seen comes up when a person is, well, just plain in the throes of a grudge against another person so that nothing that other person could do would ever please her.

This type of strawman argument is often used against people in ministry, in my experience as an onlooker for 54 years so far.  Person A will have an invisible list of demands that she thinks a person in ministry should fulfill in her life and . . . the ministry person/people are, of course, blind to that invisible list of demands.  So they proceed, as human beings, loving Person A as best they can (but, of course, imperfectly, because they are human beings) and Person A goes off on them with a strawman argument that can’t be won because its terms are invisible!  And if, by any chance, the ministry person does make a valid point, Person A will turn the argument completely around so that it seems as if she expected something completely different anyway.

Sometimes Person A will argue both sides of an issue within the same discussion.

Like this (seeing as I am on the East Coast and we are in the midst of a hurricane today):

Person A:  I was really surprised you didn’t ask me to stay at your house during the hurricane.  You know I am a single woman, alone.

Pastor and his wife:  We did call you three times during the storm, but you didn’t seem to be picking up.

Person A:  I was leaving my line open for emergency updates from work.  But you could have texted.

Pastor and his wife:  Actually, when we couldn’t reach you, we did text.

Person A:  That text came in at 9:31 PM.  I don’t take texts after 9:30.

Pastor and his wife:  We weren’t sure what to think after we tried to contact you four times and couldn’t get you.

Person A:  Well, I am a very private person so you shouldn’t really keep me under a microscope like that!  (reminder:  this is the person who two minutes before had said she wanted to be under the same roof with them during the hurricane!!!).

Okay, that is a bit of hyperbole, but I have seen conversations take similar tacks many times when people have grudges and want to grind a mental ax.

Sheesh!  Sometimes people, especially ministry people, can’t catch a break no matter what they do!

Strawman Monday: Some Thoughts as a Baptist Looks at Calvinism

22 Oct

Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”


“Surely the five points of Calvinism (TULIP) are not all doctrines with which we disagree.  Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  Seems like we agree completely on total depravity, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  Unconditional election is pretty hard to dispute by anyone who believes Jeremiah 17:9 about the heart’s deceitfulness.  There is nothing to recommend us to salvation except the fact that God loves us.  So . . . we get stuck on the limited atonement issue.  And fight so fiercely about it that you might think that Calvinist doctrine was more of an obstacle to Baptists than are the cults, or the Eastern religions, or the atheists.”


The above quote is from my first post on Calvinism, several months ago (see the category “Calvinism” to pull it up).


Remembering that a strawman argument occurs when we write down what we think someone believes, and then argue against that, instead of taking the time to learn someone’s true beliefs and then say why we disagree with them, I am going to try to deconstruct the anti-Calvinist reaction that many of us Baptists have.


It does not really go back to Arminianism, I have found (and I will write about Arminianism later, just not now).  It really, truly goes back to the era when Baptists were known as “four-pointers” (General Baptists or those who believe in a general atonement) and “five-pointers” (Particular Baptists or those who believe in particular atonement or, as Calvinists say “limited atonement).


Baptists have pretty much never gone to the extremes of Arminianism that other denominations have.  And it’s a good thing.  You see, I have seen an extreme reaction to the election doctrine among some of my Episcopal/Anglican friends.  These particular friends are born again, I am sure of it.  But they are teaching that, since they don’t believe in election, God not only doesn’t elect anyone for salvation but He doesn’t even know yet who will and who will not be saved.


How do you make a case for God’s sovereignty if you believe that?  I believe the doctrine is called “the open-ended universe.”  In that belief system, God doesn’t determine a lot of the outcomes in His creation.  And He doesn’t know about them till after they happen, as though God could be constrained by time, as we humans are.


No, we Baptists are left, along with the Calvinists, to try to explain in our systematic theology how we can reconcile a God who is sovereign and knows everything before it happens with a world in which we have choices.

The Calvinists choose an explanation of that which we Baptists would consider extreme, saying that the Holy Spirit engages in the salvation process in a much stronger way than we Baptists traditionally believe.  We all agree that the Holy Spirit starts the salvation process.  If He didn’t woo us, then we would never come to Christ.  We differ on what happens after that.


That, my friends, seems to be the area where Calvinists and Baptists differ.  Right there.  The Holy Spirit’s role in the process of salvation.


We Baptists are not Arminians, at least not unless we are Free Will Baptists who believe that you can lose your salvation.  See, that doctrine is part of Arminianism, too.


So . . . if we are very close to being “four pointer” Calvinists or even “five pointer” Calvinists as Baptists, it is important for us to listen carefully to each other, so as not to make strawmen arguments out of each other’s doctrines.  We are talking fine points of doctrine here, not differences that are like chasms between us.  And it is hard to understand fine points of doctrine if we are in attack mode.


It is only meet and comely to listen and to treat each other with mutual respect.  After all, we will have to share heaven together for eternity.

Strawman Monday: Identifying an Entire Culture by its Best or Worst Aspects

15 Oct

Mark 9:50, “Salt [is] good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.”


There is a reason Jesus taught about salt being the seasoning for a culture and not about fresh chives or cilantro or a rosemary herbal mix.


For most of the centuries that this planet has been in existence, man has used salt to enhance flavors.  It was the cheapest item available in most places, and I mean to emphasize the word available.  It was not without cost.  In fact, the word “salary” arose from times when soldiers received their pay in salt.  But it was cheaper than the herbs and spices we now use.


You will recall that the exploration of the Western world originated as a contest between Spain, Portugal, and Italy (mostly) to find the cheapest route to Asia in order to purchase herbs and spices for Europe.  Asia had abundant herbs and spices available, but their preciousness put them out of reach of even the ordinary person in Asia.


The reason all of this was in my mind last night was because I ate a miniature Beef Wellington with Yorkshire pudding at a Downton Abbey party thrown by our local PBS affiliate for those people who contributed to them this year.


The Beef Wellington struck me as way too salty.  It used to be my favorite dish, but my tastes have shifted to herbs and spices these last few years, along with everyone else’s.  I suddenly realized why British cookery has been referred to as “stodgy” for centuries.  The dish was totally lacking in creative use of herbs and spices.  It featured heavy salt instead.   And it had been done by one of our great catering firms here, obviously with an old, cherished recipe.


In fact, I remarked that, had I made the Beef Wellington and Yorkshire pudding, I would have flavored it with herbs and spices and turned it into a totally different dish.  It would no longer be Beef Wellington.


Remember, Britain was not part of the great exploration of the Western world initially.  After the Spanish Armada was destroyed, yes.  And remember, too, that Britain is the country from which we took most of our customs.  And still do.  Despite our centuries of serving as the world’s melting pot, we still have a rather British default setting in the U.S.


What does that mean?  It means that we have many traditional British dishes, not just a few.  Probably most of our unembellished everyday recipes are British in origin.  We have the good, the bad, and the ugly from Britain.


By way of comparison, our dishes from other cultures are usually carefully selected to be the best that culture has to offer.  Ethnic restaurants featuring Ethiopian or Peruvian cooking do not, by definition, offer the food that the majority of the people in that country eat on an everyday basis.


See where I am going with this?  We have always judged British cookery as stodgy because we are most exposed to it, all of it.  It is easy to have familiarity breed contempt, especially for the motherland that we left behind.


And that leads to today’s strawman statement:  When we are comparing two cultures, we can do it three different ways:  1) compare all features of both cultures  2) compare the best of both cultures 3) compare the worst of both cultures.  But it will not do to take all aspects of one culture and pit them against only the best aspects of another.  It is not good logical reasoning to take a culture we know well and focus on its stodgy aspects in comparison to the best aspects of a culture we don’t know as well.


That is the essence of creating a strawman:  taking certain features of a person, culture, etc. and having them stand on their own to represent the entire being.   If we do that, we have to specify that we are doing it, and make it apply equally to every person or culture we are examining.


We constantly reduce people and cultures to only some of their traits.  We do it subconsciously.  That is why it is important to study logical reasoning.


If not, we will misrepresent more than just British cookery.  We will eventually misrepresent the gospel of Christ, by not understanding the cultures to which we take it.

Strawman Monday: Christopher Columbus as a Hero

8 Oct

This is the first of a series of posts dealing with characters whom we like to make into caricatures.  I will call these “strawman posts” because they will be profiling people who are more often presented as strawmen than they are presented as real people.

 It is easy for us to reduce other human beings to one or two of their characteristics, even sometimes characteristics that do not actually exist, then to argue against those characteristics as though we are arguing against the real person.  This has come to be known, in logic, as having a strawman argument.  It would be called winning an argument if such a person actually existed.  But he doesn’t.  Instead, we argue against a figment  of our own imagination.

Today is Columbus Day, a day revered by government employees because they get to stay home for pay (giggle, I am one of them).  Not quite what Columbus did.

It has become fashionable to denounce Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day.  He made four sea voyages to the Americas, beginning in 1492, as an agent of the government of Spain.  The Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, wanted to find and control a new trade route to Asia for spices.  Columbus primarily saw his purpose on the voyages as that of a missionary to people in lands not yet touched by the Christian gospel.  Those two, very disparate, missions merged in one voyage, then  in three more.

The Catholic Monarchs had just that year, in 1492, expelled the Jews from Spain (this was when many of them settled in England) and militarily overcome the last Moorish (Muslim) stronghold in Spain, which they had been more or less trying to do since the Muslims entered Spain back in the 700’s.

It has also become fashionable to say that Columbus was the first European to lead a mission that resulted in continued contact between the two civilizations, Europe and the Americas.  We don’t say a couple of things anymore that were said in my youth:

1)    “Columbus discovered America” (because it was already discovered by the native Americans living here) and

2)    “Columbus was the first European who actually left a written record of the Americas” (because, while Leif Ericson made his way to what is now Canada in about the year 1000, his exploration was never formally made a part of Viking history or any other subsequent history, and had to be reconstructed later, after the Americas were settled in the time of Columbus).  For some reason, this information is usually summed up as “led the exploration that resulted in permanent contact between Europe and the Americas.”  I guess it is not fashionable to point out that Vikings didn’t know how to write and only passed down oral history but that is exactly true.

We have an issue with history nowadays in that we want to paste our moral values onto historical figures.  We have a hard time allowing that they were regarded as moral in their own eras.  But in such areas as slavery, values were vastly different in 1492 than they are now and so, yes, Columbus allowed some of the natives in the Americas to be made to work without receiving wages.  Today we know that was wrong.  But we want to rebuke Columbus for that from our vantage point of 2012, without admitting that the authorities of his day would, in many cases, have regarded him as a deeply Christian man in every way.

He did care about his Christian faith and about bringing it to the Americas and to the other civilizations where his footprints trod.  That was not the only motivation for his voyage, nor even his only motivation as a person, but it did motivate him.

So, what do we know about Columbus, if we let him be a complex human being like the rest of us and not a strawman?  He was passionate and adventurous and brave.  He accomplished something that Europeans had long sought to accomplish, finding a westward route to treasure (if not the spices of Asia!).

It is okay to celebrate his day!

End Note:  the following, from the Encyclopedia Brittanica on-line, shows Columbus’s own words in regard to the propagation of the Christian faith overseas in his voyages: 


“…and I saw the Moorish king come out of the gates of the city and kiss the royal hands of Your Highnesses…and Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians…took thought to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said parts of India, to see those princes and peoples and lands…and the manner which should be used to bring about their conversion to our holy faith, and ordained that I should not go by land to the eastward, by which way it was the custom to go, but by way of the west, by which down to this day we do not know certainly that anyone has passed; therefore, having driven out all the Jews from your realms and lordships in the same month of January, Your Highnesses commanded me that, with a sufficient fleet, I should go to the said parts of India, and for this accorded me great rewards and ennobled me so that from that time henceforth I might style myself “Don” and be high admiral of the Ocean Sea and viceroy and perpetual Governor of the islands and continent which I should discover…and that my eldest son should succeed to the same position, and so on from generation to generation forever.”

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