Response To O’Reilly’s “Truth” by Thabiti Anyabwile

“Don’t Be Talkin’ About My Mama”: The Black Family in Politically Conservative Discourse

Today I’m writing about something I did not expect to write about early this week. Once again it’s something that’s captured my attention in the wake of the Martin/Zimmerman situation, specifically in a couple of conservative responses to the trial and the protests that followed. A couple persons have either tweeted or left in the comments thread video reaction from conservatives responding to what they see as “race baiting” in the Zimmerman affair and offering what they believe to be the unvarnished truth about Black America’s problems. I’m speaking of a Bill O’Reilly “Talking Points” video and a video from Bill Whittle called “Afterburner: The Lynching.” The videos both use a newsroom backdrop and feature a monologue from the hosts. Though there were some differences in what was presented and some details, both videos narrowed their focus at one crucial point: the African-American family.

Essentially, both conservative hosts pinned all the problems of African America on the breakdown of the Black family. In a pretty typical conservative point of view, they emphasized personal responsibility in things like sexual behavior, marriage, and so on. That, we’re told, is really the problem in the African-American community. And both guests wonder, “Why isn’t anyone talking about that?” Civil Rights leaders are castigated for ignoring the real problems and instead bottom-feeding on the country’s “racial” weaknesses. They’re presented as opportunists of the worst sort, unable or unwilling to face “the truth.”

After getting this comment a couple times in comments threads and seeing it passed along in social media, I grew concerned at two basic weaknesses or fallacies in the argument. Let’s look at them in turn.

Is Marriage and Family Structure the Solution to the Black Community’s Problems?

O’Reilly and Whittle get some things correct. One is that there is a near social science consensus (an extremely rare thing–like dodo birds!) on the relationship between family structure and the well-being of every member of the family. You can state this scientific truth in a number of ways. It’s been tested over many years, in many settings, across the researchers’ own ideological perspective with the same result. Children raised by married biological parents are significantly better off compared to children raised in every other family structure. The families that tend to face the poorest outcomes are children raised in single-parent (usually a mother, sometimes a grandmother) poor households. Marriage provides stability in multiple ways, and that decrease in family turbulence leads to better outcomes for children, mothers, and fathers.

As stated, this is a research consensus that, apart from a few important caveats about the quality of the marriage (absence of abuse, etc.), holds across ethnicity and across time. So why the fuss in this blog post?

Well, a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth is a complete untruth. There’s significantly more to consider than just family structure. Reducing the discussion to personal responsibility and family structure, while necessary, doesn’t begin to account for where the story of the African-American family begins in the U.S. It’s rarely said, but single parenthood was not a feature of Black family life until the Transatlantic slave trade. It won’t be popular to say in politically conservative circles, but instability in family structure in the Black community is a direct result of enslavement. And we don’t have to go all the way back to 1619, though the effects of slavery on the African-American family is undeniable. In addition to slavery, the African-American community still feels the long history of personal and systemic discrimination in this country, against African-American men in particular. To jump into a discussion of family structure without at least acknowledging either the long or recent historical context that first created family instability is at least irresponsible and at worst dangerously misleading. There’s much more to the story.

The story of family structure occurs in a broader social and economic context that currently circumscribes the ability to form healthy families in the first place. As we tout marriage for all its worth–and we should–we need to also tell the many other well-researched stories that are relevant. Take, for instance, the story of employability and job availability. The last forty years has seen entry-level jobs simultaneously decline in number and  move from inner-cities to suburbs and in many cases other countries. Consequently, there are fewer jobs in the city and less accessibility to the jobs that around the city. This decline in entry-level employment opportunity disproportionately affects African Americans who have a higher rate of low-skilled workers compared to other ethnic groups because of the history of unequal education and discrimination. Employability affects marriageability.

And so does education and criminal history. Here’s the cycle: Boys grow up in sub-par schools whose federal support (already a smaller percentage of support) was cut significantly in the last two decades and whose local support is often times funded by property taxes (which, concentrates resources in the most affluent areas, or, to put it negatively, discriminates against the schools and children who most need resources). The substandard education many receive leaves them ill-prepared for a competitive and tight job market. Many students in this cycle get involved in petty crimes, for which they receive stiffer penalties than their white  counterparts committing the same crime. That criminal history now makes it even more difficult to find employment and pushes individuals deeper into underground and criminal economies. Which, again, makes such a man less likely to marry and less desirable as a marriage partner.

I could go on with other marco-economic and policy issues that have significant deleterious effects on the African-American family. Many of those policies have nothing to do with “race” on the face of it. But they do end up affecting weak families and communities more drastically. If you’re interested to think more about these kinds of issues and their effects on the African-American family, along with a discussion of how some cultural attitudes play into this, I can’t think of a better research-based yet smooth reading work than William Julius Wilson’s More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner-City. If you want to be “fair and balanced” in your understanding of these things, I’d recommend Wilson’s internationally acclaimed work over the likes of a ten-minute sensationalized and snarling “journalism” segment.

I should say one other thing before I leave this section. The above story is the story of my family. My mother is a never-married single mother of eight children. She raised us with the kinds of values we describe as “middle class” or even “conservative.” Turns out, according to research on African-American attitudes toward family and personal responsibility, she’s not an exception. She’s just like most African Americans in the country, even in the toughest neighborhoods facing the toughest social problems. And my family follows the research pattern on family structure. Three of the four males are divorced. Two of the three sisters married late in life. Only one of the three sisters married before having children. Their children replay the research patterns so far. So, when the O’Reilly’s of the world rail against “the family,” they’re talking about my mama, my brothers and sisters, my nieces and nephews, real people with real lives. What people need is the hope that only Christ can give. What they don’t need is another kick by people who clearly haven’t taken a second to enter their lives.

Is It True That African-American Leaders Aren’t Doing Anything about Black Family Issues?

The second thing I want to respond to briefly is the assertion that today’s leaders aren’t doing anything in the African-American community to turn the tide on the destruction of the African-American family. To be frank, anytime you hear someone say that you should automatically conclude that (a) they have no knowledge of the African-American community and/or (b) they’re politically motivated. They’re not expressing a sincere interest in the community or knowledge of the community. If they had any honest knowledge of intra-community conversation, they would know that concern for the family, for African-American boys, crime, education and so on are at the top of everyday community concerns and conversations. They would know that actually what makes you a leader in the community would be your interest in and involvement on these issues.

Off the top of my head, here is the long but very partial list of people and movements that address African-American family concerns:

We could start with Jupiter Hammon’s “Address to the Negroes in the State of New York.” Hammon fills his address with exhortations to honesty and faithfulness, and warnings against profaneness. Despite the vicious onslaught of slavery against the family and human dignity, that’s just what Hammon commends. And he is but one in a long line of antebellum writers and speakers to do so. That’s the 1700s folks.

Or, we could call to mind Dr. Francis J. Grimke (1850-1937), for over 50 years the pastor of Washington, D.C.’s 15th Avenue Presbyterian Church and one of the founders of the Niagara Movement, which subsequently became the NAACP. Peruse the contents of volume 1 of Grimke’s 4-volume collected works and you’ll find a variety of sermons and addresses focused, in part, on the  development of African-American families and character. To Francis Grimke we  could add Daniel A. Payne, W.E.B. DuBois and nearly every other African-American leader of their era.

To cite more recent things, in no particular order, we might name the Boston Ten Point Coalition, the Stop the Violence movement headed by rap artist KRS-1 and others, 100 Black Men of America with its chapters across the country, or the volunteers and staff at Boys and Girls Clubs. Most of these are grassroots movements led by everyday people. In other words, this partial list says nothing about the legions of African-American elites who work on and talk about family issues, like social scientists who focus  on the African-American family, or local politicians who trumpet these issues, or businessmen who sponsor sports teams or the Denzel Washingtons and other prominent entertainers who support mainstream programs like Big Brother/Big Sister and so on.

People think the ruckus involving Bill Cosby and folks like Michael Eric Dyson was some conspiracy to keep the importance of marriage and family structure off the table. To be certain there are ideological differences that surfaced in that exchange. But everyone in the community knows that Cosby didn’t say anything that hasn’t been said in the community for two centuries. What really angered some people was that Cosby, given his stature and the national public platform of the event, took the conversation outside the community where it often has been used against the community by people who have no interest in the community or the entire story of struggle against overwhelming odds.

Which brings me back to Bill O’Reilly and Bill Whittle and other conservatives who speak on these issues. I’m reminded of that powerful phrase inEphesians 4:15, “speaking the truth in love.” Particularly as Christian people, we should have a dual concern for both truth and love, or to use the words of John 1 we should, like our Savior, seek to be full of both grace and truth. When I watched those videos, it was evident that these men were only concerned about “the truth” as they saw it and very little concerned about love or grace. We can all cite the statistics of out-of-wedlock birth in the African-American community and feel good that “we told the truth”–and that only partially. But unless we cite statistics like that with tears and weeping, we’re not likely doing so with grace and love. If we’re going to speak about these things publicly, we should do so the way the gospel preacher ought to speak of hell: With tears and groaning, not with steely coldness and a “to hell with you” attitude. We should know the difference between self-righteousness pretending to be truth, and truth stooping to love.

So, if you care about these things, use one of the many reputable and scholarly resources. Let’s not be entangled with the civilian affairs and approaches that marry a few facts with political ideology. Let us not fail to distinguish conservative politics from conservativetheologyespecially where they appear to have some common interest. There’s where we’re most likely to drift toward the world and away from the Bible. Above all, let’s be biblical–which is to say, let’s be loving in all our speech and let’s be slow to speak in the first place and let’s not wrongly regard me according to the flesh or “racial” stereotype.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2013/07/26/dont-be-talkin-about-my-mama-the-black-family-in-conservative-discourse/

Professional, Spectacular, Fleshly Music

A Particular Baptist Blog

A. W. Pink (1886-1952)Is a choir needed to ‘lead’ worship? What choir was needed to aid the Savior and His apostles as they sung that hymn in the upper room, ere going forth into the Garden? (Matthew 26:30). What choir was needed to assist the apostles, as with bleeding backs they sang praises to God in the Philippian dungeon? Singing to be acceptable to God must come from the heart. And to whom do the choirs sing — to God, or to the people?

The attractiveness of singing has been substituted for “the foolishness of preaching.” The place which music now holds in many of our public services is a solemn “sign of the times” to those who have eyes to see. But is music wrong? Has not God Himself bestowed the gift? Surely, but what we are now complaining about is church-singing that is professional and spectacular, that which is of the…

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Common self-refuting statements of truth-cheaters

OneDaring Jew

From Greg Koukl’s “Tactics: A game plan for defending your Christian faith,” p. 118.

. “There is no truth.” (Is this statement true?)
. “There are no absolutes.” (Is this an absolute?)
. “No one can know any truth about religion.” (And how,
precisely, did you come to know that truth about
religion?)
. “You can’t know anything for sure.” (Are you sure about
that?)
. “Talking about God is meaningless.” (What does this
statement about God mean?)
. “You can only know truth through experience.” (What
experience taught you that truth?)
. “Never take anyone’s advice on that issue.” (Should I take
your advice on that?)

I like this one (p. 118), which reminds me of Richard Dawkins:

“I don’t believe in religion.”
“Why not?”
“There is no scientific evidence for it.”
“Then you shouldn’t believe in science either.”
“Why not?”
“Because there is no scientific evidence for it.”

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If you improve your naturals, is God bound to give you spirituals? Fiddling with free will

OneDaring Jew

Definitions: A “free-willer” is someone who believes he can use his natural ability to come to faith in Christ. We call such a person an Arminian – after Jacobus Arminius. Most professing Christians are Arminians. “Things of the spirit” refers to the Christian message as a fulfilment of the “Old” Testament.

I try to answer the question, “Can Christ bring sinners to himself against their will.”

One can be forced to practice a religion but, owing to the fact that no one can read your heart, no one can force you to believe a religion. Therefore you are free to believe what you want. What does the natural man want? Not Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural man (born with a sin nature) receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Human beings believe…

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Pat Robertson Says God Will Smite the US…

Zwinglius Redivivus

If it forces Israel to give up land to the Palestinians…. Quick question Pat- why does the god you imagine hate the Palestinians so much and only love the Jews?

It’s Pat Robertson again: This time it’s a warning to the US, and specifically Secretary of State John Kerry, that should the US pressure Israel to give up occupied territories in the Mid-East peace plan, God will smite America with natural disasters.

On his latest 700 Club program (see video), the televangelist issued a warning to the Obama administration not to continue on the path of folly by forcing God’s “chosen nation,” Israel, to withdraw from the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem.

According to Robertson “from a prophetic stands point, every time the United States gets involved in some kind of a pressure on Israel to split their land there’s some natural disaster that happens here in America.”

Read more:…

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The Historical Ignorance of Christian Zionists

Zwinglius Redivivus

Last night, Glenn Beck traveled to Washington, DC to address John Hagee’s annual Christians United for Israel conference where he delivered remarks that were predictably filled with Bible prophecy, doom and gloom, and dire warnings about the need to turn this nation back to God.

During his speech, Beck boldly declared that the United States was “established for the establishment of Israel,” meaning that the United States was established by God specifically for the purpose of re-establishing the nation of Israel.

And, as proof that our Founding Fathers were well aware of this, Beck pointed out that even our dollar bill contains a Star of David, as well as representations of the cloud and fire that led the Israelites while they wandered in the desert.

It’s not true, of course, but that is what happens when you get your history from people like David Barton

– See more…

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More Proof That the Huffington Post is Just Stupid

Zwinglius Redivivus

The royal prince is barely a day old, but already lefties are crossing their fingers in hopes that he’s gay.

Huffington Post hyped what may be the dumbest polling ever this morning – a survey claiming that a majority of Brits would react favorably if the son born yesterday to Prince William and Kate Middleton would come out as a homosexual in the future. The survey was conducted by the “lesbian, gay, and bisexual advocacy group Stonewall” (because, of course, they’d have an unbiased and objective viewpoint).

Yet even the results of the survey are questionable if used to tout supposed public sentiment towards gays. The survey reported that 83 percent of those interviewed would be “very comfortable, comfortable, or neutral” if the little prince was gay; but neutral is a far cry from “overwhelmingly supportive” or even “happy.”

Meanwhile, no one seemed to notice that, if he’s gay, then…

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Joyce Meyer is a Biblical Illiterate and A Theological Dilettante

Zwinglius Redivivus

She evidently has never read that little passage which calls on the people of God to love him with their whole MIND too…

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She prefers ignorance to reasoned intelligence because the minute her followers start to think, her money tree will dry up and wither.  Reasoning and confusion go together as much as love and Westboro NOT Baptist NOT Church do.  Or water and oil.  Or fire and ice.  They are mutually exclusive.  Confused people aren’t reasoning and reasoning people aren’t confused.

God told her no such thing, she made it up in her fertilized mind.

[HT Francesca S. on the FB]

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Did You Notice that the Royal Baby Was Never Called a ‘Fetus’?

Zwinglius Redivivus

It was always called a baby.  Unlike all of those babies subject to the butchery of abortion, this baby was never even considered eligible to fall under that sword so it was never dehumanized by being called a ‘fetus’.

The Atlantic has a telling report on precisely that, here.  It notes

This week, as the U.K.’s Prince William and Kate Middleton were expecting their child at any moment, the impending birth received a galaxy’s worth of media coverage. That the child would be heir to the throne was a motivating factor in all this attention, to be sure. I was interested not only for this reason but for a less-noticed one: Countless media reports bore news about the “royal baby.”

Why was this noteworthy? Because this term, to get exegetical for a moment, was not used to describe the future state of the child—once born and outside of the womb…

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Don Carson on Paul’s Conversion

WHAT WAS PAUL’S PERSPECTIVE before he was converted (Acts 9)? Elsewhere (Acts 22:2; Acts 23:6; Phil. 3:4-6) he tells us that he was a strict Pharisee, brought up (apparently) in Jerusalem, taught by one of the most renowned rabbis of the day. For him, the notion of a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. Messiahs rule, they triumph, they win. The LAW insists that those who hang on a tree are cursed by God. Surely, therefore, the insistence that Jesus is the Messiah is not only stupid, but verges on the blasphemous. It might lead to political insurrection: the fledgling church was growing, and might become a dangerous block. It had to be stopped; indeed, what was needed was a man of courage like Saul, a man like Phinehas who averted the wrath of God by his decisive action against the perverters of truth and probity (Num. 25), someone who really understood the implications of these wretched delusions and who saw there they would lead.

But now on the Damascus Road Saul meets the resurrected, glorified Jesus. Whether he had seen him before we cannot be sure; that he sees him now, Saul cannot doubt. And a great deal of his theology, worked out and displayed in his letters, stems from that brute fact.

If Jesus were alive and glorified, then somehow his death on the cross did not prove he was damned. Far from it: the claim of believers that God had raised him from the dead, and that they had seen him, must be true — and that could only mean that God had vindicated Jesus. Then what on earth did his death mean?

From that vantage point, everything looked different. If Jesus was under the curse of God when he died, yet was vindicated by God himself, he must have died for others. Somehow his death absorbed the righteous curse of God that was due others and canceled it out. In that light, the entire history of the Hebrew Scriptures looked different.

Was it not written that a Suffering Servant (see yesterday’s meditation) would be wounded for our transgressions and chastised for our iniquities? Does the death of countless lambs and bulls really take away human sin? Or do we need, as it were, a human “lamb of God,” a human “Passover Lamb”? If the tabernacle and temple rituals are read as pointing to the final solution, what does scriptural texts that promise a new covenant, a great outpouring of the Spirit in the last days (Acts 2:17-21; see Joel 2:28-32)? What place does the promise to Abraham have in the scheme of things, that in Abraham’s offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3)?

Grant that Jesus is alive and vindicated, and everything changes.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/loveofgod/

Dead Fish Swim Downstream

Insights from Thomas Watson:

A Particular Baptist Blog

WatsonTo be holiest in evil times, is an indication of the truth of grace. To profess religion when the times favor it, is no great matter. Almost all will court the Gospel Queen when she is hung with jewels. But to own the ways of God when they are decried and maligned, to love a persecuted truth–this evidences a vital principle of goodness. Dead fish swim down the stream–living fish swim against it. To swim against the common stream of evil, shows grace to be alive.

Thomas Watson (1620 -1686)

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Simcha Didn’t Want the Journalist to Cover the Trial of Joe Zias

Zwinglius Redivivus

Daniel Estrin is covering the trial of Joe Zias, who is being sued by Simcha Jacobovici, and Daniel writes (emphasis mine)

There’s a dark underbelly to the world of biblical archaeology in Israel. The latest saga involves an Israeli-Canadian filmmaker, host of a TV series called the Naked Archaeologist, who believes he may have found the tomb of Jesus, the nails of the cross, and a smattering of other finds.  A retired curator in Israel’s government antiquities department says the filmmaker’s claims and his methods are one big moneymaking scam. The filmmaker says that’s libel, and he’s suing him for $1 million.  The filmmaker did not want me at his trial.  After I met him outside the courtroom last week and told him I would be covering the case, his lawyer filed a motion to hold the hearing behind closed doors. The judge overruled the motion…

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The Ladder or the Cross?

Pastor Tullian offers good insights from the Tower of Babel incident. Just as then, so people’s aspirations  today reflect the same desires: to make a name for themselves, but without God. It is better to be a nobody in the world’s viewpoint and yet to be known of God than for God to ultimately judge those who defiantly follow their own desires in the world, God’s creation.

Here is the link: http://liberatenet.org/2013/07/18/is-your-life-defined-by-a-ladder-or-a-cross/

 

Here is the text:

DubaiTower

In a deleted scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) tells Vincent Vega (John Travolta) that she needs to find out what kind of person he is before she’ll go to dinner with him. Here’s what she says:

My theory is that when it comes to important subjects, there’s only two ways a person can answer. For instance, there’s two kinds of people in this world, Elvis people and Beatles people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis. And Elvis people can like the Beatles. But nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice. And that choice tells me who you are.

There are other important things in life that can tell us what kind of person you are: chunky peanut butter, or smooth? Regular cola, or diet? It seems to me that the same is true when it comes to reading the Bible. Do you read the Bible as a helpful tool in your climb up toward moral betterment or as the story of God coming down to broken, sinful people?

In a very real way, our lives are defined by how we answer that question. Specifically, our lives are defined either by a cross or by a ladder. The ladder symbolizes our ascension—our effort to “go up.” The cross symbolizes God’s descension—his coming down.

There is no better story in the Old Testament, or perhaps the whole Bible, for depicting the difference between the ladder-defined life and the cross-defined life than that of the Tower of Babel.

In Genesis 11:4, the people make a decision. “Come, let us build ourselves a city,” they said, “with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.” This is humanity in a nutshell. We want desperately to be known, appreciated, lauded, and extolled. We want to secure our own meaning, significance, and worth. We give our all to these objectives.

But then something funny happens.

After the people go to work to build this tower that reaches “to the heavens,” v.5 says, “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.” I find this verse to be a great and sobering picture of our futile attempts to “make a name for ourselves,” to do something great in our own power. The momentous achievement that the builders are so proud of is so small and insignificant to God that he has to “come down from heaven” to even see what they’re up to. All their efforts, all their hard work, have resulted in a tower that not only doesn’t reach the heavens, but that can’t even be seen from them!

None of our best attempts and none of our self-righteous strivings (and make no mistake, that is exactly what they are) can get us up to God.

We are like the tower-builders: addicted to a ladder-defined life. We think that a life of ladder-climbing is a life of freedom: free to move at our own pace, up or down depending on our decisions, responsible for our own progress. We climb our ladders for the same reasons that the people of the world built their tower: to make a name for ourselves, to ensure our own legacy, to secure our own value. We love to imagine that we’re on a higher rung than someone else, a better father than someone else, a more accomplished follower of Christ than someone else. But ladder-climbing actually and inevitably leads to slavery. Paul Zahl, in his great book Who Will Deliver Us, describes the ladder-defined life like this:

If I can do enough of the right things, I will have established my worth. My identity is the sum of my achievements. Hence, if I can satisfy the boss, meet the needs of my spouse and children, and still do justice to my inner aspirations, then I will have proven my worth…conversely…if I do not perform, I will be judged unworthy. To myself I will cease to exist.

The life of slavery happens when we try to “do it ourselves.” We become imprisoned by our failures (often real, sometimes perceived) and to ourselves, we cease to exist. This isn’t freedom, it’s bondage.

But there is good news: our towers of Babel don’t remain standing.

God loves us too much to leave us in the hell of unhappiness that comes from trying to do his job. Into the slavish misery of our ladder-defined lives, God condescends.

His first act is an act of judgment. He scatters them—he dis-organizes them, literally. God takes away their faith in themselves, the very misplaced faith that enslaves them. When everyone in the world spoke the same language, God came down in judgment, breaking the world apart. But at just the right time, he came down again, this time to reconcile that sinful world to himself. He replaces our ladder with his cross. His final descent was to save us, and to set us free.

So how do you read the Bible? Is the Bible a manual for living the ladder-defined life? Or is it the announcement of the one who came down and hung on a cross in order to rescue us from our efforts to make it on our own?

God is not at the top of a ladder shouting, “Climb.” He is at the bottom on a cross whispering, “It is finished.”

Don Carson on Ananias and Sapphira

THE ACCOUNT OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA, whose names are recorded in the earliest Christian records because of their deceit (Acts 5:1-11), is disturbing on several grounds. Certainly the early church thought so (Acts 5:5, 11). Four observations focus the issues:

First, revival does not guarantee the absence of sin in a community. When many people are converted and genuinely transformed, when many are renewed and truly learn to hate sin, others find it more attractive to be thought holy than to be holy. Revival offers many temptations to hypocrisy that would be less potent when the temper of the age is secularistic or pagan.

Second, the issue is not so much the disposition of the money that Ananias and Sapphira obtained when they sold a piece of property as the lie they told. Apparently there were some members who were selling properties and donating all of the proceeds to the church to help in its varied ministries, not least the relief of the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ. Indeed, the man called Barnabas was exemplary in this respect (Acts 4:36-37), and serves as a foil to Ananias and Sapphira. But these two sold their property, kept some of the proceeds for themselves, and pretended that they were giving everything.

It was this claim to sanctity and self-denial, this pretense of generosity and piety, that was so offensive. Left unchecked, it might well multiply. It would certainly place into positions of honor people whose conduct did not deserve it. But worse, it was a blatant lie against the Holy Spirit — as if the Spirit of God could not know the truth, or would not care. In this sense it was a supremely presumptuous act, betraying a stance so removed from the God-centeredness of genuine faith that it was idolatrous.

Third, another element of the issue was conspiracy. It was not enough that Ananias pulled this wicked stunt himself. He acted “with his wife’s full knowledge” (Acts 5:2); indeed, her lying was not only passive but active (Acts 5:8), betraying a shared commitment to deceive believers and defy God.

Fourth, in times of genuine revival, judgment may be more immediate than in times of decay. When God walks away from the church and lets the multiplying sin take its course, that is the worst judgment of all; it will inevitably end in irretrievable disaster. But when God responds to sin with prompt severity, lessons are learned, and the church is spared a worse drift. In this case, great fear fell not only on the church but also on all who heard of these events (Acts 5:5, 11).

It is written: “He whose walk is upright fears the LORD; but he in whose ways are devious despises him” (Prov. 14:2).

 

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/loveofgod/2013/07/18/judges-1-acts-5-jeremiah-14-matthew-28/

What Is Tell Qeiyafa? David’s Palace? Or…

Archeological News

Zwinglius Redivivus

Israel Finkelstein writes

There are several options regarding its territorial affiliation: Judah according to Garfinkel; a late Canaanite entity in the Shephelah (Naaman, Koch) ;or a north Israelite entity which had its hub in the highlands to the north of Jerusalem (Finkelstein and Fantalkini). This is a true dispute, with many interesting possibilities for historical reconstruction.

The notion that it must be David’s Palace is just one possibility among many, and the least convincing so far as the evidence of the site itself offers.

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Rome Never Changes: Salvation By Works Through Indulgences

Dr. Jim West rightly observes the unchanging stance of the Institutional Roman Church.

When Christ stated to Peter that He would build His church on the rock of The Father’s revelation to him, Peter, Christ spoke of a spiritual body of Christians composing an organism. Christ did not authorize setting up an institutional hierarchy to control entrance into heaven or less time in an non-existing purgatory. Paul tells the Corinthians that there is “One Body”. This “One Body” is all believers known by Christ from His crucifiction until now. So according to the authoritative Scriptures, its better to think of the church not as an organization, but an organism. This definition of the church pictured as and organism is true both on the local level and universally. Paul wrote to a church and said they were members of one another. On the universal level the church is called a body.

Jim West’s post concerns false practice, my comments show that no warrant exists to their (Rome) supposed authority.

Zwinglius Redivivus

In its latest attempt to keep up with the times the Vatican has married one of its oldest traditions to the world of social media by offering “indulgences” to followers of Pope Francis‘ tweets.  The church’s granted indulgences reduce the time Catholics believe they will have to spend in purgatory after they have confessed and been absolved of their sins.  The remissions got a bad name in the Middle Ages because unscrupulous churchmen sold them for large sums of money. But now indulgences are being applied to the 21st century.

But a senior Vatican official warned web-surfing Catholics that indulgences still required a dose of old-fashioned faith, and that paradise was not just a few mouse clicks away.  “You can’t obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine,” Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the pontifical council for social communication, told the Italian daily…

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Sola Gratia

Tullian examines grace to Noah at Liberate:

http://liberatenet.org/2013/07/11/we-dont-find-grace-grace-finds-us/

 

We Don’t Find Grace, Grace Finds Us

 

Noah

I love the introduction to Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible.  A piece of it goes like this:

“Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but…most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves.”

She’s right. I think that most people, when they read the Bible (and especially when they read the Old Testament), read it as a catalog of heroes (on the one hand) and cautionary tales (on the other). For instance, don’t be like Cain — he killed his brother in a fit of jealousy – but do be like Noah: God asked him to do something crazy, and he had the faith to follow through.

Running counter to this idea of Bible-as-hero-catalog, I find that some of the best news in the Bible is that God incessantly comes to the down-trodden, broken, and non-heroic characters. It’s good news because it means he comes to people like me — and like you. It’s very interesting to note that even the characters we think have spotless records (like Noah) need the direct intervention of the true “lamb without blemish.”

Noah is often presented to us as the first character in the Bible really worthy of emulation. Adam? Sinner. Eve? Sinner. Cain? Big sinner! But Noah? Finally, someone we can set our sights on, someone we can shape our lives after, right? This is why so many Sunday School lessons handle the story of Noah like this: “Remember, you can believe what God says! Just like Noah! You too can stand up to unrighteousness and wickedness in our world like Noah did. Don’t be like the bad people who mocked Noah. Be like Noah.”

I understand why many would read this account in this way. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that Noah “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9)? Pretty incontrovertible, right?

Not so fast.

Let’s take a closer look. You can’t understand verse 9 properly unless you understand its context.  Here’s the whole section, verses 5-7:

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’”

Now that’s a little different, isn’t it? Look at all the superlatives: every inclination, only evil, all the time! That kind of language doesn’t leave a lot of room for exceptions…and “exception” is just the way Noah has always been described to me. “Well,” I hear, “Everyone was sinful except Noah. He was able to be a righteous man in a sinful world…it’s what we’re all called to be.” But that’s not at all what God says! He says, simply and bluntly, that he “will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created.” No exceptions. No exclusions.

So what happens? How do we get from verse 7 (“I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created…for I regret that I have made them.”) to verse 9 (“Noah was a righteous man.”)?  We get from here to there – from sin to righteousness — by the glory of verse 8, which highlights the glory of God’s initiating grace.

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8).

Some read this and make it sound like God is scouring the earth to find someone—anyone—who is righteous. And then one day, while searching high and low, God sees Noah and breathes a Divine sigh of relief. “Phew…there’s at least one.” But that’s not what it says.

“Favor” here is the same word that is translated elsewhere as “grace.” In other words, as is the case with all of us who know God, it was God who found us—we didn’t find God. We are where we are today, not because we found grace, but because grace found us. In his book Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis recounts his own conversion with these memorable words:

“You must picture me alone in my room, night after night, feeling the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had come upon me. In the fall term of 1929 I gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most reluctant convert in all England. Modern people cheerfully talk about the search for God. To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat.”

It took the grace of God to move Noah from the ranks of the all-encompassing unrighteous onto the rolls of the redeemed. Pay special attention to the order of things: 1) Noah is a sinner, 2) God’s grace comes to Noah, and 3) Noah is righteous. Noah’s righteousness is not a precondition for his receiving favor (though we are wired to read it this way)…his righteousness is a result of his having already received favor!

The Gospel is not a story of God meeting sinners half-way, of God desperately hoping to find that one righteous man on whom he can bestow his favor. The news is so much better than that. The Gospel is that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Sinners like Noah, like you, and like me are recipients of a descending, one-way love that changes everything, breathes new life into dead people, and has the power to carry us from unrighteousness to righteousness without an ounce of help.

So, even in the story of Noah, we see that the Bible is a not a record of the blessed good, but rather the blessed bad. The Bible is not a witness to the best people making it up to God; it’s a witness to God making it down to the worst people. Far from being a book full of moral heroes whom we are commanded to emulate, what we discover is that the so-called heroes in the Bible are not really heroes at all. They fall and fail; they make huge mistakes; they get afraid; they’re selfish, deceptive, egotistical, and unreliable. The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue, our sin with His salvation, our guilt with His grace, our badness with His goodness.

Yes, God is the hero of every story—even the story of Noah.

Lessons from Patched Wineskins and Old Bread

Don Carson identifies several insightful lessons that can be drawn from the account in Joshua 9 when the Gibeonites deceived Israel’s leaders in making a treaty with them. Carson’s words are very timely especially today when, in general, Christians are biblically illiterate. As Dt. 29.29 states: “Secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those that are revealed belong to us and our descendants forever, so that we might obey all the words of this law.” It should be noted that  God’s word is for our benefit both individually and for the community. We don’t fulfill God’s law because it affects God somehow (except his grieving over our self-hurt), no, God is our helper and His words are a help us too. Here are Dr. Carson’s words (link appears at the end):

 

THE ACCOUNT OF THE GIBEONITE DECEPTION (Josh. 9) has its slightly amusing elements, as well as its serious point. There are the Israelites, poking around in moldy bread and holding serious conversations about the distance these emissaries must have traveled. Yet the sad fact is that they were snookered. What lessons should we learn from this?

First, many believers who have the courage to withstand direct assault do not have the sense to withstand deception. That is why in Revelation 13 the dragon has two beasts — one whose opposition is overt and cruel, and the other who is identified as the false prophet (see the meditation for December 22). That is also why in Acts 20 Paul warns the Ephesian elders not only of rapacious wolves that will try to ravage the flock of God, but also of the fact that from among their own number men will arise who will “distort the truth” (Acts 20:30). Such people never announce what they are doing: “We are now going to distort the truth!” The danger they represent lies in the fact that they are viewed as “safe,” and then from this secure vantage they advocate “progressive” positions that distort the Gospel. The deceptive power may be tied to such overt tricks as flattery — the very device used by the Gibeonites (Josh. 9:9-10). In our day, deception becomes all the easier to arrange because so many Christians are no longer greatly shaped by Scripture. It is difficult to unmask subtle error when it aligns with the culture, deploys spiritual God-talk, piously cites a passage or two, and “works.”

Second, the failure depicted in 9:14 has haunted many believers, and not only the ancient Israelites: “the men of Israel sampled their [the Gibeonites’] provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.” Doubtless their inquiring of the Lord would have been direct; perhaps the priests would have resorted to Urim and Thummim (see meditation for March 17). We shall never know, because the people felt they did not need the Lord’s guidance. Perhaps the flattery had made them cocksure. The fact that their decision was based on their estimate of how far these Gibeonites had come makes it obvious that they were aware of the danger of treaties with the Canaanites. The failure must therefore not be taken as a mere breach of devotions that day, a hastiness that forgot a magic step. The problem is deeper: there is an unseemly negligence that betrays an overconfidence that does not think it needs God in this case. Many a Christian leader has made disastrous mistakes when he or she has not taken time to seek God’s perspective, probing Scripture and asking him for the wisdom he has promised to give (James 1:5).

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/loveofgod/

Independence Day (by Kevin DeYoung)

Kevin DeYoung shares his thoughts about the founding concepts of the U.S. He rightly notes our hypocrisy too in the point about 3/5 personhood that African Americans had to endure at one point in this nation’s history. The writings of Frederick Douglass, especially the parts relating to how Christian slaveholders were the worst masters, should be studied by all Christians. Perversion of the truth of the Bible happened all through Israel’s history and culminated in the punctiliousness self-righteousness and synagoge control of the Pharisees. The Institutional Church and Christian groups reflected Israel’s failures as well in denying justice to others throughout history. The link appears at the end:

 

These Self-Evident Truths

It has often been said that America was founded upon an idea. The country was not formed mainly for power or privilege but in adherence to a set of principles. Granted, these ideals have been, at various times in our history, less than ideally maintained. But the ideals remain. The idea persists.

If one sentence captures the quintessential idea of America, surely it the famous assertion contained in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Almost every word of this remarkable sentence, 236 years old today, is pregnant with meaning and strikingly relevant.

The United States of America began with the conviction that a nation should be founded upon truth. Not simply values or preferences, but upon truths. Self-evident truths that were true, are true, and will remain true no matter the time, the place, or the culture.

And central among these truths is the belief that all men are created equal. No one possesses more intrinsic worth for being born rich or poor, male or female, artisan or aristocracy. Of course, this truth, as much as any, unmasks our history of hypocrisy, for 3/5 of a person is an eternity from equality. But truth is still true. We all come into the world with the same rights and the same dignity-whether “gated community” in the world’s estimation or “trailer trash.”

These unalienable rights, we must note, are not granted by the Declaration of Independence. Our rights do not depend upon government for their existence. They are not owing to the largesse of the state or the beneficence of any institution. The rights of man are the gifts of God. The Creator endows; the state exists to protect. These unalienable rights can be suppressed or denied. But they cannot be annulled. We possess them-no matter what kings or parliaments say or presidents and congress decree-by virtue of being created in the image of our Creator.

And what are these rights? The Declaration mentions three: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Obviously, these rights are not untethered from all other considerations. Life should not be lived in a way that means death for others. Our pursuit of happiness should not make others miserable. The Declaration is not calling for anarchy. It believes in government, good limited government rightly construed and properly constrained. But the rights enumerated here are still surprisingly radical. No matter how young, how old, how tiny, how in utero, or how ill, every person deserves a chance at life. Every one deserves a chance at self-governing. Everyone has the right to pursue his self-interest. There’s a reason the Founding Fathers did not wax eloquent about safety and security. It’s because they believed freedom and liberty to be better ideals, loftier goals, and more conducive to the common good.

I understand the dangers of an unthinking “God and country” mentality, let alone a gospel-less civil religion. But I also think love of country-like love of family or love of work-is a proximate good. Patriotism is not beneath the Christian, even for citizens of a superpower.

So on this Independence Day I’m thankful most of all for the cross of Christ and the freedom we have from the world, the flesh, and the devil. But I’m also thankful for the United States. I’m thankful for the big drops of biblical truth which seeped into the blood stream of Thomas Jefferson and shaped our Founding Fathers. I’m thankful for our imperfect ideals. I’m thankful for God-given rights and hard-fought liberty. I’m thankful for the idea of America.

 

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2013/07/04/these-self-evident-truths/

Perspective

Caption translation (roughly): We don’t see things as they are, we see matters from our point of view.

Another way to express the same point when it comes to reading God’s word is to read the revealed text in the setting of the Bible as a whole. The Bible was given as a gracious gift to help us (all humanity). To read the revelation anachronistically (wrenched out of its historical context) ignores the part of humanity to whom it was originally intended. It then becomes all about us currently instead of the love towards us from God to recreate us in the image of Jesus the Messiah.

Zwinglius Redivivus

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Rachel Held Evans Confused

http://mereorthodoxy.com/beliefs-are-not-set-in-stone-except-for-when-theyre-on-tablets/

 

Derek Rishmawy examines classifications (faulty in this instance) Evans uses to justify acceptance to what the Bible clearly prohibits. Derek labels her analysis as eisegesis (I agree with Derek). We must carefully study the Bible and make valid inferences and be willing to reexamine our positions without clinging to biases. Here are Derek’s words:

 

Beliefs Are Not Set in Stone, Except for When They’re on Tablets

Rachel Held Evans believes we shouldn’t be too scared about changing our minds on religious questions, as these things aren’t always “set in stone.” Addressing religious believers in light of the SCOTUS decisions on gay marriage, she encourages us to realize it’s possible to shift your beliefs without being a culturally-accommodating flip-flopper. Her biblical paradigm for this? Peter and Cornelius.

Breaking through years of religious training regarding Gentiles, the Apostle Peter included the Roman centurion Cornelius when he encountered his sincere faith, learning to not call impure what God names as clean. Just as the theological conversions of Paul, Augustine, and Luther have been a blessing to church history, Evans encourages us to model Peter’s example of open-mindedness and inclusion–especially as we think about same-sex attraction.  ”A person of conviction is not one who is unyielding to change, but one whose beliefs evolve based on new information, new movements of the Spirit, new biblical insights and, yes, new friends.”

In reading Evans’ piece last week, I was grateful for the basic point she made that Christians ought to be ready to have their beliefs challenged and corrected at some point. As we seek Christ, who is the Truth, pilgrims with fallen and finite minds must be open to theological correction; we are still in via, still on the way. As such, shifts shouldn’t simply be chalked up to mere accommodation or calcification. To think you’ve got it nailed when it comes to God at 25, 45, or even 85 is simply hubris.

You’re Not Peter

That said, I’m not convinced Peter’s encounter with Cornelius is an adequate model for Christians reconsidering their position on same-sex relationships within the Christian body. Ironically enough, it highlights a number of reasons for caution against breaking with 2,000 years of the Church’s scriptural teaching on this point:Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius by Fra...

1. No New Revelation – One clear distinction between the two situations is that no special revelation has happened with respect to same-sex relationships. Peter wasn’t transformed by a mere experience of the “sincere faith” of the Other he had despised, but was given a supernatural revelation and confirmation in the form of a vision and the Spirit empowering Cornelius with visible, supernatural signs, so that as an authoritative apostle, he could testify to God’s acceptance of the Gentiles by faith. As far as I know there aren’t any apostles, witnesses of the risen Christ, walking around having experienced new, authoritative revelation on this issue. We should be careful not to act is if there has been.

2. Sexual Attraction is Not Race – Without fully elaborating on this point, the analogy problematically presumes a Biblical equivalence or adequate similarity between sexual attraction and race or ethnicity. I’ll just say that even when inborn, sexual attraction is not equivalent to race or ethnicity. My Arabness is not something I act on in the same fashion as my sexual and romantic inclinations. That is an increasingly common category mistake that does injustice to the complexity of both race and sexuality, especially within a Biblical framework.

3. There Was a Plan For Cornelius 

What’s more, the Scriptures have always testified to the future-inclusion of the Gentiles as Gentiles within the covenant people of God. Passages could be multiplied ad nauseum, but Isaiah presents us with a vision of God’s plans for the nations:

It shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2-3)

Being a Gentile was never sinful per se, but only as it was connected to idolatrous practices that inevitably went along with being outside the covenant. In other words, the Israelites were commanded to be holy, different from the Gentiles because of election and the unrighteousness of Gentile actions, not because non-Jewishness was inherently unrighteous.

Peter’s experiences with Cornelius then, are a personal, experiential confirmation of a movement already foreshadowed in Scripture. They are a pointer to revelation, not a contradiction or modification of it, but only of the extra-biblical traditions that had grown up alongside it. As difficult as it is to accept, there is no such prophecy, foreshadowing, or hinting that homosexual behavior is something that will one day be sanctioned and blessed for God’s children.

4. The 1970s Were Not Eschatological – Following this is an insight from Katherine Greene-McCreight: the Sexual Revolution is not a new eschatological event. Cornelius’ inclusion, along with the rest of the Gentiles, was brought about by the eschatological turning of the ages. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the particular covenant with national Israel was fulfilled, pouring forth into the always-intended blessing of Gentiles joining Jews in being built up into Christ. (Rom. 4; 15:8-12; Gal. 3; Eph. 2:11-22) Nothing similarly climactic has happened in salvation history to suggest a new administration of God’s covenant is in place, which includes behaviors clearly forbidden to God’s people in both Old and New Testaments. In that sense, unlike Peter, we’re not standing in a eschatologically-new situation calling for a radical revision of Christian theological ethics. The 1970s were a big deal, but not that big.

5.  About Those Conversions… –  Which brings me to the theological repentance of Paul, Augustine, and Luther. Paul’s conversion of attitude towards the Gentiles was, as with Peter, the result of scales falling from his eyes in light of the Risen Christ, to see past his own religious nationalism. It was an authoritative revelation that shifted his perspective, not a new experience of diversity. Augustine changed his mind on a number of issues, but in his Retractions you see that it’s constantly a process of going back to the Word and letting it correct his earlier Manichaeism and Neo-Platonism. Luther’s theological reformation was an attempt to recover what he believed had actually already been revealed, but was covered over by years of scholastic teaching.

While Paul’s conversion was qualitatively different from Luther’s and Augustine’s, all were transforming encounters with God’s Word, Incarnate, written, or both. Paul’s was inspiration, and we could say Augustine and Luther’s experiences were illumination of what had already been said. We need to make sure that when we change our minds about something on the basis of “new biblical insights, movements of the Spirit, and new friends” we don’t turn God into a confused deity who contradicts himself because he’s changed his mind.

6. Already Included–In Christ – Finally, and this one is probably the most crucial to understand, the New Testament already includes those with same-sex attractions on the same grounds as it does everybody else–union by faith with Christ whose shed blood purchases forgiveness and whose Holy Spirit sanctifies us from all uncleanliness. The Gospel is for everyone. Really. God’s family is open, adopting new sons and daughters with all sorts of struggles and backgrounds. I too shudder at the idea of calling impure that which Christ calls clean. I too think the grace of God extends far and wide–if it didn’t, I wouldn’t stand a chance.

What I also don’t want to do, though, is blunt the Gospel and its promise of new Creation that says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) I would hate to look at my brother struggling with same-sex attraction and say, “Yeah, that’s true of everything except your sexuality.” No, the Gospel gives us a better, if not always easier, hope than that.

Sometimes God Hands Out Tablets 

Evans quotes Rob Bell from his book Velvet Elvis:

“Times change. God doesn’t, but times do. We learn and grow, and the world around us shifts, and the Christian faith is alive only when it is listening, morphing, innovating, letting go of whatever has gotten in the way of Jesus and embracing whatever will help us be more and more the people God wants us to be.”

 

The times might change, but God does not. Amen to that.

We need to be careful about who we listen to though, and be a bit wary of too much “morphing [and] innovating” with the times. People trying to hold on to “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) in order that they might not be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Eph. 4:14), need to discern whether it is God’s Spirit speaking through his already-revealed Word, or another spirit that needs to be tested.

While not all religious beliefs are set in stone, God put plenty in print. I recall that some of them were even on tablets.

 

Jesus Paid it All

Another insightful analysis of the wonders of grace and of the gospel at Liberate: http://liberatenet.org/2013/07/02/god-points-a-finger/

 

Just as when God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, He stated that He was their God and had delivered them from Egypt, now here are laws to live and thrive by their keeping. It was the same with the woman caught in a sin that Jesus tells her to sin no more. Here are Tullian’s thoughts:

 

God Threw a Stone

 

WomanInAdultery

As I’ve said before, God speaks two words to the world. People have called them many things: Law and Gospel, Judgment and Love, Critique and Grace, and so on. In essence, though, it’s pretty simple: first, God gives us bad news (about us), and then, God gives us Good News (about Jesus).

This is perhaps most clearly seen in another incredibly well-known (and incredibly misunderstood) passage of Scripture: Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in the act of adultery.

The scribes and Pharisees catch a woman in the act of adultery, and drag her before Jesus. Can you imagine a woman who ever felt more shame than this one? Literally caught in the act of adultery? Unfathomable. They tell Jesus of her infraction, and remind him that the law of Moses says such women should be stoned. Then they issue a challenge: “What do you say?” They’re trying to trick Jesus into admitting what they suspect: that he’s “soft” on the Law.

Boy, were they wrong.

Confronted by this test, Jesus bends down and writes in the sand with his finger. Now, we aren’t told what he writes, but I think it’s instructive to look at the only other instances in the Bible where God writes with his finger. The first is obvious: The inscription of the 10 Commandments on the stone tablets. The second, though, is less well-known.

In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar is having a huge party, at which “they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (v. 4). Suddenly, a hand appears and begins writing on the wall. When Daniel is called in to translate the writing, this is what it is revealed to say: “Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” There can be no doubt that these are three words of judgment—i.e. Law. “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” Has a more chilling word of judgment ever been uttered?

So the two other times God wrote with his finger, he wrote law. I don’t think, therefore, it’s a stretch to think that when Jesus writes in the sand with his finger, he’s writing law. I like to think that perhaps Jesus wrote, “Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Certainly, whatever he wrote, the function of his writing is clear: it serves to reveal the sin of those gathered.

Far from being “soft” on the Law, Jesus shows just how high the bar of the law is. How do we know? Because the scribes and Pharisees respond the same way that all of us respond when we are confronted with depth of God’s inflexible demands—they scattered. Beginning with the oldest ones, they all, like the rich young ruler, walked away defeated.

When Jesus and the woman are left alone, and she acknowledges that no one remains to condemn her, Jesus speaks his final word to her: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). This is where the story gets misunderstood.

“Aha!” we cry. “See! Jesus tells her to shape up! He leaves her with an exhortation!” But look at the order of Jesus’ words:First, he tells the woman that he does not condemn her. Only then does he instruct her to sin no more. This is enormous. He does not make his love conditional on her behavior. He does not say, “Go, sin no more, and check back with me in six months. If you’ve been good, I won’t condemn you.”

No. Our Savior does so much better than that.

Jesus creates new life in the woman by loving her unconditionally, with no-strings-attached. By forgiving her profound shame, he impacts her profoundly. By refusing to condemn her, he sets her free to do what she has no doubt already pledged to do on her own: leave her old life behind.

Like the adulterous woman, we are all caught in the act—discovered in a shameful breach of God’s law. Though no one on earth can throw the first stone, God can. And he did. The wonder of all wonders is that the rock of condemnation that we justly deserved was hurled by the Father onto the Son. The law-maker became the law-keeper and died for us, the law-breakers. “In my place condemned He stood; and sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah, what a Savior.”