The Latter Will Be Greater?

I was stuck on this song today. Ironically it has been within a week that my prayer theme has been ‘impossible’, meaning praying in all the areas of God doing the impossible. So the line of this song keeps ringing through my ears – “all things are possible”

I like Israel Houghton. I think he has an infectious heart of worship. Ever since his New Seasons release in 2001, he has had a growing presence in the gospel market.  Though I do not listen to much of this genre, I find that New Seasons is an album I come back to from time to time.

As I listened to the words of this song, I was both encouraged and skeptical. I plan on doing a longer piece on Israel and his music, what I like and lament. But suffice it say for now that I listen with a great deal of ambivalence.  Specific to this song, in relation to some long desired restoration I have hoped for, I am encouraged knowing that God can do the impossible.

You will be blessed, more than you can ask

Despite what has been done, the best is yet to come

And your latter will be greater

Your latter will be greater than the past

Take a listen to the whole presentation and you might pick up on why I’m skeptical. And by skeptical, I mean can we expect that our tomorrows will be better than the past? Continue reading

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Putting the Prodigal in His Place: A Lesson from the Faithful Son

Arrogant Man in SuitThe story of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-31 has to be one of the commonly preached passages. The story goes a man had two sons, each with an inheritance but one decides to abandon it and sow oats to his hearts content. But then he’s wasted his inheritance, finds himself wallowing with the pigs and recalls the goodness of his father’s home.  He comes back to a party, which his father gladly prepares for him. The passage is commonly used to provide comfort to those who were far off, who have lived in ways that might make them feel ashamed and underserving of the God’s goodness.

Surely the prodigal son’s rebellion, meandering journey and unconditional acceptance comforts those for whom have struggled to find acceptance in God’s eyes and those of his family. To the extent that the prodigal son’s story mirrors our own, it does warm us to know that through Christ, the Father accepts us.

But there’s just one problem…

The story of the prodigal son was not written for those who were far off, it was written for those who never left. Putting this story in it’s context, the Pharisees observed that outcasted tax collectors and sinners were hanging around Jesus. So in their typical Pharisee-ish snarkiness, the said (most likely with nose in air) “this man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (15:1-2).

So Jesus tells them three stories of what was lost being found: the sheep (vv 3-7); the coin (8-10) and finally the wayward son (vv 11-32). Now let’s understand what exactly Jesus is showing them with these stories, which is Gentile acceptance into the kingdom of God on equal footing with the Jews who had been the original recipients of covenant promises. It goes back to the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) and the fact that his seed would inherit the promises of God. Cross-referencing with Galatians 3:13-16, the descendents of Abraham were those found in Christ. Through his death, he brought in Gentiles into the fold on equal terms (see Ephesians 2:11-3:11; Galatians 3:28). Continue reading

Seedtime and Horror: The Prosperity Philosophy Built on Genesis 8:22

Genesis 8:22 has served as a foundational verse for prosperity teaching with the philosophy of seedtime and harvest.

As long as earth endures,

seedtime and harvest,

cold and heat,

summer and winter,

day and night,

will never cease

grain in bagThe idea is that our Christian life is about sowing seed to reap a harvest. So financial giving then becomes the indicator of our faith to make this happen.  An entire theology and numerous ministries have been built on this one verse.  If you don’t believe me, do a Google search. Now the promoters of seedtime harvest ministries will say that it’s biblical. But it is an egregious distortion of the Biblical text and the Christian faith.

1) The context: Putting this verse in it’s context shows that this prosperity philosophy has nothing to do with sowing or reaping. In fact, it has nothing to do with our activity at all. The entire chapter is about God remembering Noah and his family. Then he gives a promise to Noah after the flood that he would no longer destroy all living creatures as he had done in the flood (vs 21). Seedtime and harvest is another way of saying seasons and the verse as well as the entire chapter is telling of God’s control over them. In other words, the passage is saying that the earth will always experience seasons. It has nothing to do with Noah’s activity but God’s promise.

2) The canon: It is also significant to note that Genesis is a narrative. It’s telling of what happened as God progressively revealed himself to humanity. We have to examine any verse or passage according to the whole: the whole of what is going on in the OT and how that relates to the NT. To say that seedtime and harvest is central to what is being played out imposes something on the biblical narrative that isn’t there. But in context of God’s covenant promises to Abraham, his selection of a gathered people as a light to the nations, his provision for how these people would worship him through priestly activity, his rulership over them through selected kings and words spoken to them by the prophets, being ‘biblical’ points to this activity.

3) The Christ: All of this OT foreshadowed Christ. As God made promises and provisions, it was telling of the Messiah who would come and fulfill God’s promises made to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:16).  He is the one who perfectly fulfilled God’s requirements for perfection (Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:1-4) by fulfilling the offices of  prophet, priest and king foreshadowed in the OT. The book of Hebrews sums this up nicely. During his earthly ministry, his mentioning of seed and harvest were related to those who would put saving faith in him because it was an agrarian society and that’s what they could relate to. He is the central theme of scripture.  Our sowing and reaping for blessings is not the central theme of Scripture. Seedtime and harvest puts a corrupt twist on Christian teaching and robs it of its central theme, which is what God does through his Son for fulfillment of promises.

The sad reality is that the seedtime and harvest promoters have pretty much ignored the biblical context, the passages placement in the canon and the centrality of Christ. But this is the underpinnings of prosperity teaching that has spread like wildfire. It does go to what I said in my last post of the kinds of teachers that Paul was addressing in his letter to Timothy. It was those who would distort the meaning of OT activity and infuse speculations and novelty into the Christian faith.

Why does it matter? It matters because how we read the text is how we think about God. And how we think about him will motivate how we approach him. Seedtime and harvest is guaranteed to approach him in a way not befitting of his holiness.

I Am My Own Church: Not What Priesthood of the Believer Means

princess bride-that wordI think there is some confusion running loose with respect to the concept of the priesthood of the believer. The term was coined by the Reformers to distinguish the direct access believers have to Christ vs. their access to through clergy. This of course was in repudiation to the papists who claimed that they alone provided access contrary to Hebrews 4:14. Through this direct access, we serve as ministers of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:18) and minister to one another (Colossians 3:15-16).

Increasingly, I am encountering a definition of the concept to mean a rejection of structured leadership in the church. Because we are priests with direct access to God, we minister to each other and do not need special offices that separate clergy from the rest of Christians, aka lay people. In some cases, it has come to mean that I am my own priest and therefore don’t need leadership at all.

I’m going to suggest that this idea finds no support in scripture. First, the idea that we are disconnected from the body life of the local church is foreign to our position in Christ and his command that we operate as his body. I know that many have been hurt by the local church and finding one that is honest to Scripture can take time.

Second, if we think just gathering by itself is sufficient and reject the idea of structured leadership, consider Ephesians 4:4-16. There is one body who is to walk according to its purpose, growing up together in Christ through specific means – “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (vs 11)” Continue reading

Oden on Bible Gender Confusion

Oden_classic christianity coverOne of the books that we are critically reading through in my systematic theology colloquium class is Classic Christianity [Thomas Oden (2009) New York: Harper One Publishing] In the introductory section of Book 3 – Life in the Spirit, he takes a blow at modern revisions that want to eliminate masculine language in reference to God.

Grammatical heroics that attempt a complete withdrawal from masculine language are often rhetorically awkward, especially when nouns are repeated to avoid whatever gender pronoun might be regarded as offensive. Similar absurdities arise when verbs are preferred that require no object, where the odd repetition of the word ‘God’ is used to substitute for ‘he’, and direct address is shifted to ‘you’. The enthusiast is sorely tempted to rewrite scripture to gain a hearing with a particular audience.

But no one prays to an ‘it’, even if steeped in modernity. Liturgical ‘reforms’ that systematically expunge the name Father from all acts of Christian worship are unacceptable to most worshipping communities. The reason is deeper than egalitarian motivations, for Jesus repeatedly called God Father (Abba). This became a defining feature of his teaching (Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Augustine, Epis. to Gal. 31.1.4.6). Continue reading