2 John 7-13

2_John_Title2 John

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. 12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 13 The children of your elect sister greet you.

The great theologian Thomas Oden died a couple of months ago. His passing is a great loss. One of the interesting things about Oden is his testimony, a testimony I first heard when he came to lecture at Southwestern Seminary when I was a student there in 1997. Oden’s story was one that saw him go from a Christian upbringing to becoming a radically liberal and skeptical movement theologian to coming back to orthodox, biblical Christianity. As a result, Oden had a deep understanding of the seductive power of heresy and how otherwise faithful Christians can be pulled into it. One of the observations that he made was the perceptive point that modern theological liberalism has simply gotten rid of heresy as a category. In other words, it is impossible to be called a heretic in the modern leftist seminary or university because heresy is simply not seen to exist in that world. Here is how Oden put it:

It seems worth noting that the liberated seminary at its zenith has finally achieved a condition that has never before prevailed in Christian history: Heresy simply does not exist. Christian doctrine and catechesis after long centuries of struggle against heresy, have finally found a way of overcoming heterodoxy altogether, by banishing it as a concept legitimately teachable within the hallowed walls of the inclusive multicultural, doctrinally experimental institution. This is an unexcelled accomplishment in all the annals of Christian history. It seems to give final expression to the quest for the flawless community.

            No heresy of any kind any longer exists. You cannot find one anywhere in the liberated seminary – unless, perhaps, you might consider offenses against inclusivism. There is absolutely no corruption of Christian teaching if under the present rules all notions of corruption are radically relativized. Not only is there no concept of heresy, but also there is no way even to raise the question of where the boundaries of legitimate Christian belief lie, when absolute relativism holds sway.

            It is like trying to have a baseball game with no rules, no umpire, and no connection with historic baseball. Yet we insist on calling it baseball, because a game by that name is what most people still want to see played.”[1]

Continue reading

The Four Canons – “Authentic Family (Part 2)”

4canonsgears2016John 13

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Kent Hughes has told the fascinating story of Johanne Lukasse’s efforts to get Christians on the mission field to love one another.

            A number of years ago Johanne Lukasse of the Belgian Evangelical Mission came to the realization that evangelism in Belgium was getting nowhere. The nation’s long history of traditional Catholicism, the subsequent disillusionment resulting from Vatican II, and the aggression of the cults had left the land seemingly impervious to the gospel. Driven to the Scriptures, he read John 13 and devised a plan. First, he gathered together a heterogeneous group – Belgian, Dutch, American – whoever would come. Second, he had them rent a house and live together for seven months. As is natural, frictions developed as the believers rubbed against one another. This, in turn, sent them to prayer for love and victory. Finally, they went out to witness to others, and they began to see amazing fruit. Outsiders called them “the people who love each other.”[1]

Continue reading

The Four Canons – “Authentic Family (Part 1)”

4canonsgears2016Romans 8

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Some years ago an article appeared in the British paper The Mirror about a family that had so terrorized the village in which they lived that they had been essentially banned from the entire village. They are called the “Terrible Thompsons.” They are accused of harassing the village, intimidating its other inhabitants, assaulting their neighbors, and, in general, being a family of complete nuisances and menaces.

I thought about the Terrible Thompsons recently and went online to see what the latest was. Sure enough, there they were, in an article from last year, still causing trouble, now banished yet again and living on the streets. They have been hauled before the authorities constantly over the years for the same old things: fighting, public disturbances, threatening their neighbors, cursing, and, in general, demonstrating a continuing inability to function in society.

Continue reading

Mark 8:31-38

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 8

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

In Pat Conroy’s novel, The Prince of Tides, Tom Wingo describes his grandfather’s strange ritual that he would perform every Friday in their little town.

I grew up loathing Good Fridays. It was a seasonal aversion that had little to do with theology but everything to do with the rites of worship and the odd slant my grandfather brought to his overenthusiastic commemoration of Christ’s passion.

Good Friday was the day when Amos Wingo each year walked to the shed behind his house in Colleton proper and dusted off the ninety-pound wooden cross he had made in a violent seizure of religious extravagance when he was a boy of fourteen. From noon to three on that commemorative day he would walk up and down the length of the Street of Tides to remind the backsliding, sinful citizenry of my hometown of the unimaginable suffering of Jesus Christ on that melancholy hill above Jerusalem so long ago. It was the summit and the Grand Guignol of my grandfather’s liturgical year; it embodied characteristics of both the saints and the asylum. There was always a lunatic beauty to his walk.

Continue reading

Karl Josef Friedrich’s Rachoff

8bd596620fc0be671918eada2daff0a3It was only recently that I heard the name “Rachoff.”  Rachoff was a Russian Christian who had a powerful vision of Jesus that led him to make a radical break with the comfortable life he had previously known.  In its place, he devoted himself to the cause of Christ with complete abandon.  There are lots of similarities here with the story of Francis of Assisi.  Both made a radical and controversial break with their past lives.  Both took the words of Jesus very literally.  Both were beloved by the poor and despised by many of the wealthy and powerful.  Both rejected efforts by well-meaning disciples to adore or exalt them.  Both saw themselves as utterly dependent upon Jesus.

I was thrilled to see that Plough Publishing offers for free Karl Josef Friedrich’s little biography of Rachoff as an ebook.  If you would like to read something that is very inspiring and that will challenge you where you are in your walk with Jesus, download the book and read it.  It’s a truly amazing story.

1 John 5:16-21

1john_title1 John 5

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. 18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

Are all sins equal? Some say they are. Others say they are not. Perhaps, for instance, you have heard of the Roman Catholic idea of “mortal” and “venial” sins. Here is how The Catechism of the Catholic Church delineates these two concepts of sin:

THE GRAVITY OF SIN: MORTAL AND VENIAL SIN

1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.

1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

1856 Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation:

When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery. . . . But when the sinner’s will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”…

1862 One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.

1863 Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.”

While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call “light”: if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession.[1]

Many Protestants have tended to reject such notions and to suggest that all sins are equal in the eyes of God. But is this so? And if it is not so, must we hold to some idea of mortal/venial sins? Or is possible to reject both the Roman Catholic concept of mortal/venial sin on the one hand and the idea that all sins are equal on the other?

Continue reading

Mark 8:22-30

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 8

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.” 27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

One of the most well known allegories ever told was told by Plato in Book VII of The Republic. Plato depicts the story as a conversation between Socrates and Glaucon.

And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: –Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

I see.

Continue reading

Some Thoughts on the Passing of Tom Oden, Hastily Written With a Heavy but Thankful Heart Upon the News of His Death

510rufbnvdl-_ux250_I have just learned that Methodist theologian Dr. Thomas C. Oden has passed away.  I only met Dr. Oden once, at a conference at the Beeson Divinity School on Evangelicals and the Nicene Creed.  We had exchanged emails five or six years prior when I wrote to him asking him how credobaptism fit or did not fit into his Paleo-orthodoxy proposal.  But while my personal interactions with Tom Oden were limited, the news of his passing has hit me hard and the lump I feel in my throat right now is but one of the many evidences in my own life of the amazing impact he and his story and work have had and will continue to have on me.

I had never heard the name Tom Oden until he came to deliver a lecture at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where I was a student.  This would probably have been in 1997.  I remember that on the first day of the lectures Thomas Long, then the professor of homiletics at Princeton, delivered one of the most dazzling lectures I had ever encountered in my life.  It was on the gospel writers as artists and it challenged me to think in ways I had never thought before about the gospels and the writings of the New Testament.  Long was witty, charming, funny, and a very polished speaker.

Understandably, then, when Tom Oden, the next day, began to lecture, I was profoundly unimpressed, especially as the words of Thomas Long and the effect they had on me from the day before were still ringing in my ears.  Oden was dry.  He was obviously brilliant, but, as he began to talk, I thought, “This is going to be a rough one.”  So I settled into my seat in the balcony of the old chapel and tried to listen.  Little did I know that that lecture would become a life changing and ministry changing moment for me.

As Oden talked, he unfolded his personal journey from being a 60’s leftist radical movement theologian to his eventual embrace of orthodoxy, what he called Paleo-orthodoxy which, in short, is the classical Christian consensus he saw fleshed out in the patristic and conciliar witness of the Church.  He recounted his rediscovery of the church fathers and of the Bible.  He told how he came to see that he was enslaved to the conceits of modernity and its manifold trends and fads.  He told how he found in orthodoxy theological riches and beauty than he had never found in the arid fields of his own liberalism.

By the time he finished, I was dumbfounded.

Oden’s proposal of Paleo-orthodoxy hit me like a lightning bolt.  For reasons too many and varied to outline here, I had been moving toward and looking for something in this direction for a few years but had not been able to articulate it.  The fundamentalism of my youth – a fundamentalism that was, I was coming to see, but the other side of the coin of modernity – was profoundly unsatisfying.  Even so, the arrogance and vacuity of liberalism held no appeal.  I had already begun to see from C.S. Lewis that what Oden would call neophilia, the love of the new, was an intoxicating arrogance that kept us from the riches of the past.  And I came to see that, within Christianity, neophilia was really evidence of a staggeringly depleted pneumatology, an almost heretical notion that the Spirit had been largely silent during the earliest ages of the post-apostolic church.

I yearned for what Oden was laying out, and, through his proposal, I saw that one could indeed hold to the best of Protestantism and Evangelicalism yet draw deeply and satisfyingly from the well of classical Christianity.  All of this precipitated something of a theological, ecclesiological, ministerial, and psychological crisis in my own life, but that was a journey I needed to take.  It is also a journey I am still unpacking in my own life.  Regardless, without lapsing into fawning hyperbole, Oden’s lecture opened a door for me. I finally saw it.  I was in complete agreement.  I saw the way forward.  I gladly became what he called “a young fogey.”

So the death of Oden is, for me, the death of one whose works came to hold inestimable value to me.  Behind my desk right now I see the many volumes of his Ancient Christian Commentaries on the Scripture, for which he served as general editor, the many volumes of IVP’s Ancient Christian Texts, for which he was series editor, and the five volumes of Ancient Christian Doctrine, for which he was series editor.

His memoir, A Change of Heart, is absolutely fantastic and should be read.  His systematic theology, now in a one-volume format, is a brilliant summary of patristic thought on the categories of systematic theology.  His various works on Paleo-orthodoxy, his works on Wesley, his work on pastoral ministry, his work on early Christianity in Africa, etc. etc. etc.  All of these need to be read.

Tom Oden has died.

Yet Tom Oden lives.

He is with the Savior he rediscovered and with the Groom of the Church he so faithfully served.

Rest in peace, Tom Oden.

And thank you.

Exodus 30:11-16

census-friezeExodus 30

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. 13 Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. 14 Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord’s offering. 15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord’s offering to make atonement for your lives. 16 You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your lives.”

When I was a kid a good buddy of mine named Justin came over to spend the night. The next morning I got up and went to my part-time job keeping the grounds at the local children’s home. My mother and oldest brother were in Italy on a school trip. Condy, the middle brother, was in Charleston, South Carolina, at Boy’s State, an academic honors camp. My father was at work traveling and selling hardware. So Justin was left there in our house alone the next morning. I told him to leave whenever he wanted to and lock the door behind him.

It just so happened that that morning a census worker for the U.S. Census Bureau showed up at the front door. A census was being taken at the time.

“Is this the Richardson residence?”

“It is, but they’re not in.”

“Where are they?”

“Mr. Richardson is traveling.”

“Where is Mrs. Richardson?”

“Mrs. Richardson is in Italy.”

“They have an oldest son, David. Is he here?”

“David is in Italy with his mother.”

“They have a middle son, Condy. Is he here?”

“Condy is in Charleston at Boy’s State.”

“They have a youngest son, Wyman. Is he here?”

“Wyman is at the orphanage.”

At this, the census worker paused. “And who are you?” she asked.

“I’m just a neighbor.”

The worker stood perplexed and then left. My father especially laughs about this to this day wondering what the poor lady must have thought of my friend’s odd answers!

Continue reading

Mark 8:1-21

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 8

1 In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, 2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” 4 And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” 5 And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. 7 And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. 8 And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. 11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. 14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. 17 And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

One morning this past week I opened my email and saw an email from a friend of mine that contained only one line. It read: “Feed the white dog.”

I suspect many of you will know immediately what that refers to. It is alluding to an old story that many attribute to an elderly Cherokee elder. There are a number of different versions but that does not matter right now. In this version, an old Cherokee elder was telling some children in the village about his life. “There is within me,” he said, “two dog: a white dog and a black dog. The white dog is good and kind and virtuous. The black dog is wicked and mean and cruel. And all day every day the two dogs fight within me.”

“Which one wins?” asked one of the Cherokee children.

“Whichever one I feed,” answered the elder.

Continue reading