Connection between Law and Gospel

I love this quote of Hermann Sasse (HatTip: Paul of CyberBrethren)

Whenever the Law and the Gospel are separated from each other, wherever the connection between the Law and the Gospel is lost, then what Luther said proves itself to be true: Where either the Law or the Gospel is lost, then the other is also thoroughly destroyed. Every form of antinomianism necessarily destroys the Gospel. Where the preaching of the Law does not work the recognition of sins, how is it possible to experience or understand the forgiveness of sins [Gospel]?

This is something I’ve learn to apply in my preaching.  It’s part of old-fashioned preaching but it’s what makes the gospel effective in the penitent sinner.

What will the next evangelicalism look like?

I’ve finished reading  The Next Evangelicalism (InterVarsity Press, 2009), authored by Dr. Soong-Chan Rah.  As an Asian Christian reading a book written by another Asian Christian, I can say that I’ve been having a very tough time digesting it. I was almost scared to keep reading because Rah goes direct and head-on, no holds-barred, with the issue that drives the thesis of his book. Yep, there’s no beating around the bush with him.  By the time I got to chapter five, things got so warm I had to remove my sweater, unbutton my shirt, and turn on the fan.

As I read, I have wondered if Rah’s methodology might be considered racist by some, and if he is using the race card in order to compensate for injustices?  Or is he making a legitimate argument about the injustices that the evangelical church needs to deal with?  If his arguments are legitimate, it may be a difficult pill to swallow for many evangelicals because we tend to think that we hold the moral high ground.  This is a book that brings out tough controversial issues concerning the greater evangelical church and it is extremely challenging.    In chapter 5, Rah also addresses the emerging church, in stating:

“I personally find the use of the term “emerging church” to be offensive. I believe that the real emerging church is the church in Africa, Asia and Latin America that continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I believe that the real emerging church is the hip-hop church, the English-speaking Latino congregation, the second-generation Asian American church, the Haitian immigrant church, the Spanish-speaking store-front churches and so forth. For the small group of white Americans to usurp the term “emerging” reflects the significant arrogance. Is there recognition of the reality of the changing demographics of American Christianity? Is there a willingness to move beyond the Western, white captivity of the church to a more multiethnic leadership?” (p. 124)

Wait, but there’s more. Rah states:

“The Babylon that must fall is not merely modernity (as the “emerging” church might contend), but rather, the Babylon that must fall is white cultural captivity. The fall of Babylon, therefore, requires the tearing down of the white dominance of American evangelicalism.”

Ouch!!  This may sound demeaning to white evangelicals but it’s actually not as harsh as it sounds…I hope.  Upon reading this, one’s first inclination might be to label him as an angry liberal but the thing is that  I don’t think he is a liberal, just fed up… that’s all.  He hold conservative theology and knows the greater evangelical church very well. I believe he is a well-meaning evangelical who desires to see change within the church.  I don’t think Rah’s arguments are based only on subjective feelings, but he does offer some examples of the state of the evangelical church’s spiritual condition.  If what he says is correct, then what may be on the line is the unity of the evangelical church. Rah asks a potentially and very poignant question:

“Is the white dominant emergent community willing to lay down their power for the sake of unity that needs to emerge out of the diversity in the next evangelicalism?”

Here are some questions that we could address:

A loaded question here: Rah feels that the evangelical church in the west need to be set free from western cultural captivity?  Does Rah’s question itself imply there is racism in the evangelical church?

Should the evangelical church be dealing with social justice issues, or is that just political activism?  Are the two terms “social justice” and “evangelicals” misnomers, or can they go together?

Is the entire evangelical church united, or in disunity?

Original Sinners by John R. Coats

Original Sinners: A New Interpretation of Genesis
Author: John R. Coats
Publisher: New York, NY: Free Press, 2009.
ISBN: 9781439102091

Are we any different from the biblical characters of Cain, Noah or Jacob? I would say “no.” We’re no different from them. We are all equal offenders just the same. The purpose of this book is to show how the biblical characters of Genesis are not any different from us. Their lives mirror our own. If I may borrow this term, we are all “original sinners”, just like the biblical characters of Genesis were. Some may not find comfort in this fact, but I find comfort in that I am no different from Cain, Abraham, Noah, Jacob or Joseph. Not that I would use their sins to justify my own sins—not at all. The point of it all is that God’s grace shown to them is also shown to us sinners too. That is where the comfort of grace comes in this book.

The author of Original Sinners is John R. Coats, a former Episcopal priest who was raised a Southern Baptist. All though the book may be about his interpretation of Genesis, I have found his stories sometimes more engaging and interesting than his interpretation of the biblical characters. For me personally, the author’s interpretations of Genesis are secondary; moreover, it is meant for the non-theological reader. If you are looking for an academic-like interpretation of Genesis, I would suggest looking elsewhere because this book almost reads like a story book or a compendium of his life’s challenging moments. Coat’s personal stories place his interpretation of Genesis into context, or vice versa. Actually, I think his interpretations of Genesis also function to place his life’s stories into context as well.

My criticism of this book is that, at times, I have found it difficult to follow his account of the biblical characters because he jumps back and forth between his personal stories about life and the biblical characters of Genesis. The book’s methodology of organization requires the reader to already be fully in-tune with the psyche of the biblical character at hand; otherwise, the reader may have to read twice in order to see the connection between the two. My other criticism with this approach is that the author may try hard to make a connection with his life and the biblical character. Sometimes, there is a strong connection, and sometimes, the connection may not be as strong as it could be. This way of organization, and therefore, of reading, may be more time-consuming but it does add an element of real-life context to each of the characters.

Anyway, the stories in the book are interesting. In one example, he shares some very personal stories like his tiff with his daughter about her use of the cell phone and his shock when he got the bill. He felt their relationship was breaking apart. Coats relates this story with Yahweh’s confrontation with Cain and the sin of murdering his brother Abel. At first, I had trouble making the connection, but I finally got it. He was making the comparison between Yahweh’s fight-ending knockout punch, and his heated fight with his daughter in the car.

All in all, this was an interesting read about one’s bouts with life’s challenges, which has helped me to reflect upon my own challenges of life. It has helped me to see that I’m not much different from the biblical characters myself. I also wish to thank Free Press (Simon & Schuster) for sending me this review copy.

Free M.A. in biblical studies

Charles Halton at put a list of free open courses available through iTunes U and university web pages (HT: Joel W).  Actually, if you search around the internet, you can find a load of free lectures from many seminaries and universities.  It’s not for those who want a real theological education with the whole sha-bang of tests, papers, discussions and thesis.  If you’re looking for continuing education but you’re on a tight pastor’s budget and you don’t have any other choice, this might be an alternative.  But if you’re the indolent slug-type who wants an education, and has the money and the time, but not the discipline of walking into a real classroom, this may seem like a cakewalk, but it still requires a measure of discipline because you still have to listen to all the long lectures night after night.

Were the tongues “distributed” or “divided” in Acts 2:3?

When I first read in Acts 2:3 about how the early Christians received the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues (or glossolalia), I learned it from the KJV’s rendering of “cloven tongues”.  However, this is not necessarily an accurate picture of what may have happened in Acts 2:3.  Different translations differ in how they portray the appearance of the flame of Pentecost. This may also impact our theology of the charismata.

How is it rendered in the original Greek?  It uses διαμερίζω (“diamerizō”, divide, part, cloven). The word diamerizō may be defined in several ways: literally in distribution or in appearance, and also, figuratively in dissension.  We can rule out the third: dissension. This leaves us with either distribution or appearance.

Greek: καὶ ὤφθησαν αὐτοῖς διαμεριζόμεναι γλῶσσαι ὡσεὶ πυρὸς καὶ ἐκάθισεν ἐφ᾽ ἕνα ἕκαστον αὐτῶν,

The NRSV, ESV, CSB and KJV all seem to portray flames (or tongues of fire) being “divided” (in the sense of being split in half), and resting over their heads. (Notice first picture below on the left with the divided flames).  The NRSV/ESV/CSB renderings interpret diamerizō in such a way that it leads the readers to view the flame as the object of the matter.  As a result, the reader will focus on the physical appearance of the flame, rather than, the action of the flame.

ESV: And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.
CSB: And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them.

NRSV: Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

When I read the New English Translation (NET), I noticed that the flame is not “divided” (in the sense of not being split in half), but rather, it is “distributed” and “spread out” amongst the people.   Notice NET’s rendering of “spreading out”  projects an action of distribution, rather than, a static image of physical appearance. The word diamerizō may be interpreted as being distributary or dispersionary, which is also in line with the Spirit’s nature of distributing gifts or charismata. This helps the reader to perceive tongues in a more active sense (like fire in a raging forest fire).

NET:  And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them.

The Revised English Bible (REB) use of the word “distributed” also portrays an image of tongues of flames being distributed in the  dispersionary sense.  This rendering of diamerizō is dynamic too.

REB: And there appeared to them flames like tongues of fire distributed among them and coming to rest on each one.

The NLT, however, completely avoids making any interpretation regarding the appearance or distribution of the flame, all though it tends to focus on its appearance rather than action. Perhaps its translators didn’t know how to properly render diamerizō.

NLT  :  Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them.

The TNIV could be interpreted either way.

TNIV: They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.

I tend to prefer the NET bible’s rendering because it allows for γλῶσσα (“glōssa”) to be interpreted as a language that is dynamic and is actively spread out or distributed to others, rather than a tongue of flame being a static object.   The REB is my second choice.

Pentecost: Festival of Harvest (Weeks)

Mexican Pentecost icon
Mexican Pentecost icon

This coming Sunday, May 23rd, marks a very special day in the church calendar: Pentecost Sunday.  The term “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word pentekostos, meaning fiftieth. Fifty days after Passover, Jewish people celebrated Shavuot (also called Festival of  Weeks or Harvest/Reaping (Hebrew: חג השבועות, Ḥag ha-Shavuot) as found in Lev. 23:15–21; Exo. 23:16. Jewish Pentecost became one of the great pilgrimage feasts for the post-exilic Jews.  Diaspora Jews made pilgrimages back to Jerusalem.

For Christians, this celebration of Pentecost has been a long tradition.  It is one of the most important celebrations after Christmas and Easter.  Since about the 2nd century, Christians have since celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost.  This was witnessed or testified by the charisms/charismata being endowed up0n followers of Christ during the Festival of Weeks in Jerusalem.  This day marks the birth of the universal church of Christ on earth and many churches will be celebrating Pentecost Sunday.

Pentecostal and charismatic Christians regard the word “Pentecost” with greater relevance for today because they claim that the gifts (“charismata”) of the Holy Spirit are still being practiced today, and to a greater extent in Asia, Africa, and South America.

Testimonies and claims concerning the charismata (gifts of the Holy Spirit, e.g., Acts 2; 1 Cor. 12) being exercised in the church seem to be less frequent in the northern hemisphere (i.e., North America, Europe) and more frequent in the southern hemisphere.  Why?

On charismata: cessationism vs continuationism

Over at Parchment and Pen, Michael Patton has a post on “Why I am not Charismatic“. Blogger, TC Robinson at New Leaven has also posted his reaction on Patton’s post, and on Augustine here too.

Patton, President of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, calls himself a de facto (soft) cessationist. However, he is open to the spiritual gifts. I personally have friends who were raised as cessationist but became continuationist due to evidence that the charismata (gifts) are still in existence today. Personally, I don’t think the cessationist view has strong biblical footing. Its claims tend to be weak and seem to be based on narrow interpretations and man-centered theology that isn’t scripturally-based.  The continuationist view, on the other hand, has a very strong position based on scripture and theology and is backed by the history of many early church fathers. But enough about my personal view…Read Patton’s post linked above.

A new blog on continuationism that I’ve just come across is (“To Be Continued…”) whose authors are Scott Lencke, a Reformed charismatic, and Marvin Cotten who has been a bible translator with Wycliffe [edited]. Check it out.

Experiences in ministry, part 2

This post is a continuation from a previous post in which I want to share my experiences in ministry. As a pastor in my church, I may have this persona of being close with God like as if God and I were tight. The truth is that I am also in search of a greater understanding of God myself, along with many others.

I confess that at times, I may come across as appearing like I know something deeper about God, but I actually feel pressured to at times—just because I’m a pastor, and some, or many of my parishioners expect that from their pastor. But with those who don’t have that expectation, I actually feel a sense of freedom to not have to appear like I know everything about God.  I sometimes tell them that I just don`t know.  Don`t worry, this is something I willingly and openly share with the people in my congregations.

Sure we read lots of theological-biblical books, and try to read lots of scripture, perhaps more than most people, but that doesn’t make us closer to God than a regular “Joe or Jane Christian”. As pastors, we put on this professional image and become conveyors of truth, at least, what we think we know to be true. I don’t want to portray myself a spiritual authority figure who claims to know all truth. Most people today would not buy it. And neither do I. As Christian leaders in the post-Christian era, we need to be more real to ourselves and to other people. We need to stay real.

And as a pastor, I hope and pray that our generations of young and older people, may begin to find some truth for themselves–at least a proportion of some things in the Christian faith. If I may be more humble, perhaps we have less truth that what we like to claim to have. I believe there is no church, no denominations, no religion, and no educated clergy person or theologian even with 2 or 3 doctorate degrees can even claim to have the full or nearly full truth about God. We are all merely in search of the truth because we desire to know who God is, and who God is in us as a person, or people, and what the will of God is for our lives. And even if I don’t have all the complete truth, which I would never claim to have as a clergy person, I have trust and with full confidence that God would one day reveal all truth to all of us when we meet the LORD God in heaven.

To be continued in future posts…

Read: Experiences in ministry, part 1

I like this recent one from ASBO Jesus.

First Nations meet at National Forgiven Summit, June 11-13 in Ottawa

In Canada, what’s a hot social issue is the reconciliation between red and white–Christian Canadians and the First Nations/Aboriginal peoples.  Two years ago, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Conservative) apologized on behalf of Canada for the mistreatment of aboriginal people in the residential church-run schools (i.e., Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, and Presbyterian. This kick-started a response from First Nations people to organize the National Forgiven Summit–Watch video

Last month, we had one visitor come through town who making a long journey to Ottawa, Canada for the National Forgiven Summit (heaving an 80 pound backpack).  Mr. Dale Smith stopped in to our place and stayed for a couple nights.  Our relationship started out as strangers but as we got to know each other, we now receive each other as friends and brothers in the Lord. He explained how his father experienced physical-sexual abuse in the Indian residential school system.  He is currently on the “Journey of Freedom” in the hopes of releasing forgiveness from his generation that will spread all over Canada, and hopefully, to future generations. The hope is to come to a place where First Nations people, and all Canadians, may celebrate freedom through forgiveness.  This, in essence, is what the gospel of Jesus Christ brings. Dale hopes that all aboriginal people may be able to come to forgive Canada for what happened in the residential schools.  I really admire him for wanting to make this journey of freedom.  First Nations who experience freedom in the gospel do not wish to lay blame for the injustices but they wish and pray that Christian Canadians of red and white ancestry may come to a place of mutual forgiveness in Christ. I believe this is a God-thing, and a work of the Holy Spirit. I am encouraged by this, and hope that many First Nations brothers and sisters in the Lord may be able to go on this Journey of Freedom, which convenes and gathers at the National Forgiven Summit that will meet in Ottawa, Canada on June 11-13. [Hey brother Dale: “run forrest, run!” :)]

[ Meet three young First Nations  people who are also attending this National Forgiven Summit. They were interviewed on Click here to watch >> 100 Huntley St.. ]