Halloween, Another View



Halloween has become more Christian than Christmas.

Christians have long had issues with Halloween.  We’re not sure what to make of it, we’re not sure if it’s ok to celebrate it, if we’re celebrating demons, monsters, and evil things. Michael Jackson, at the beginning of the landmark video for “Thriller,” felt compelled to provide a disclaimer that this video, in which he turns into a werewolf and a zombie, did not endorse the occult. For the same reasons that many Christians have felt the need to speak out against Harry Potter and Spongebob Squarepants.

I myself have very mixed feelings about Halloween. I love chocolate, but I hate candy. Things like Jolly Ranchers, Gummi Worms, and Tootsie Rolls make my stomach turn. As far as I’m concerned, the ultimate Halloween prize is fun-sized Kit Kats.  You want to know how to get to heaven?  Eat a couple fun-sized Kit Kats, and in heaven you’ll be. Probably another reason for my apathy about Halloween is that I’m afraid I’ll get stuck in some strange neighborhood, far from my own, and have to go to the bathroom. You want to know what hell is like?  I’m probably about 10 years old, far from home, and am told at house after house that, no, I cannot use their bathroom. That frantic run home was hell on earth.

But consider the theological implications of Halloween. Halloween is the ultimate equal opportunity holiday. EVERYONE gets candy. On the surface, it’s the picture of the Gospel!  There is no checking of qualifications at the door. You come, you receive. Christmas, on the other hand… well, you know the song:  “He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.” Yikes! You’d better hope that you’re on the good list, or you’re not getting any presents! David Sedaris, an amazing humorist, writes in one of his essays that in Holland, if a child is bad, Saint Nicholas and his helpers beat the offending child with a switch. If a child is REALLY bad, they throw him into a sack and take him back to Spain (which, of course, is where St. Nicholas is from). Our punishment isn’t as harsh as the Dutch one, but it’s still based on judgment. If you’re good, presents. If you’re bad, lump of coal.

Think of what’s probably the most famous Christmas story of all time: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge is a bad guy, who won’t let his employee have Christmas off or put a single briquette of coal in the furnace. On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley’s ghost is dragging around a huge chain, which he says was forged by all the selfish and evil deeds he committed during his life.

Marley says to Scrooge, “You do not know the weight and length of strong chain you bear yourself! It was as full and as long as this seven Christmas eves ago and you have labored on it since. Ah, it is a ponderous chain!” This is what we believe…you will reap what you sow. We write books about why everything you do today matters forever. All too often, this has become the syntax of our Christian faith. But it doesn’t have to be.

In the opening lines to his letter to the Ephesians (a sinful people: see 4:1, 4:17, 5:3 etc), St. Paul makes clear what the foundation of the Christian faith actually is: the free gift of God in Jesus Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (1:3-10).

Paul doesn’t say “Shape up!”  He doesn’t say, as Marley does, “You do not know the weight and length of strong chain you bear yourself! It was as full and as long as this seven Christmas eves ago and you have labored on it since. Ah, it is a ponderous chain!” Instead, he says, “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you!” He doesn’t go all Christmas on them! He doesn’t check his naughty-and-nice list! He treats them like it’s Halloween.

According to Paul, the Christian life is based on the wonderful free gift of God: “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” “He predestined us for adoption.” “In him we have redemption.” And not only is this a gift, this one way love of God, it’s an incredibly generous one! “The riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us!”

This is what the Christian life is really like. We approach the throne of God.  We look awful. Maybe we even look like something that’s been dead for awhile…it’d be the most accurate costume we could wear! We have nothing to offer except our appearance, the sin from which we need to be saved.  But everyone gets the candy!  God’s grace is a free gift, offered lavishly to sinners.

The message of A Christmas Carol and too much of today’s Christianity is “You are a sinner, better become a saint.” The message of the Bible and of Jesus Christ is “You are a sinner, and yet you are a saint!

Why? How?

Listen again to Paul’s words as he opens his letter to the Ephesians: “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

How passive is this?   God is the actor at every moment! He is the gift-giver, we are the receiver. It’s incredible! We are adopted…according to his pleasure…with his grace…that he bestowed…on us in Christ. We are saints because God has decided to call us saints! He has taken the initiative in our lives, coming to us in our sinful state, and given us his free gift of righteousness.

We have each, like Jacob Marley, forged for ourselves a ponderous chain. But every single link of it is worn by our savior, Jesus Christ.

Merry Halloween.


Oct 31, 1517 Luther Nails His 95 theses on the Door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany

Is it any wonder some invented the pagan-influenced “Halloween” to counter Luther’s glorious stand on this date to the truths found in the Bible?

Happy Reformation Day!

Andy Naselli Interviews T.D.Alexander

Even though this interview is from 3 years ago, it is succinct and very informative. Dr. Alexander briefly explains some Big Picture items he has written about recently. Some of the things mentioned has dovetailed with some of my independent studies on Genesis 3.15 and the overall theme of the Bible.

Here is the interview:

Interview with Desi Alexander on Biblical Theology

Interviewed by Andy Naselli

T. Desmond Alexander is Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies and Director of Postgraduate Studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and an elder in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church.

Desi is an expert on the Pentateuch and biblical theology, and he kindly answered a few questions about the latter.

1. What is biblical theology? How does it compare to systematic theology?

For me biblical theology is about understanding how the Bible as a whole should be read so that we can appreciate its message as the Word of God. I’m still a learner as far as this is concerned. What I’ve found to be helpful is discovering themes that tie together the big picture of Scripture. I’ve tried to convey something of this, hopefully in an accessible way,  in my book, From Eden to the New Jerusalem. For me, it’s important that Christians grasp the grand story of what God is doing. Through the story, which I take to be historically true, we begin to understand something of ourselves and the world we live in.

It is this story dimension that sets biblical theology apart from systematic theology. While I think that there is an important place for a systematic understanding of what we believe, it is through Scripture that God speaks to people as they grasp the biblical metanarrative. Hopefully, good biblical theology sheds valuable light on how we should read the Bible. For this reason, I think biblical theology is exceptionally important.

2. Briefly sketch out an example of addressing a theme with a biblical theological approach (e.g., temple, throne of God, evil, lamb, tree of life, people of God, rest).

I’ve said something about most of the examples you list in my most recent book. So let me pick something that might not seem so obvious: the great city.

Fundamental to my understanding of biblical theology is the idea that God created this world with the intention that it should become his dwelling-place, a temple-city filled with people who love and serve him (as reflected in Rev. 20-21). This was the original creation plan. Adam and Eve’s betrayal of God threw the grand design into chaos. Created with the skills to be city-builders, humanity set about building god-less cities. Exhibit number one is obviously Babel. However, in Hebrew Babel is also the name for Babylon. Interestingly, the building of Babel/Babylon is associated with Nimrod in Genesis 10, who is also responsible for the building of Nineveh in Assyria. As a mighty hunter ‘against God’ (not ‘before God’) Nimrod is the founder of a city/kingdom that opposes God’s city/kingdom. Remarkably, the story in Genesis to Kings ends with what appears to be a victory for Nimrod’s descendants (the Assyrians and the Babylonians). The city of God, Jerusalem, is sacked, God’s house is destroyed, and the royal line through which the nations are to be saved is exiled.

Yet all is not lost, for the story does not end here. This big picture is important because it reveals how deep-seated aspirations to create human empires oppose what God desires. Obviously, the OT has lots to say about this (e.g., Habakkuk, Daniel). However, the NT picks up the same contrast. For example, the author of Hebrews has something important to say about the city of God, starting with Abraham. Likewise, the book of Revelation draws an important contrast between the here-and-now Babylon and the future New Jerusalem.

I hope that this very brief biblical-theological sketch of the city makes sense. We’re only scratching the surface. Yet it is a theme that pervades the whole of Scripture.

3. Briefly sketch out an example of addressing a book of the Bible with a biblical theological approach.

A good example might be John’s Gospel. John undoubtedly has the book of Exodus in view as he writes. His signs of hope to encourage belief in Jesus parallel the signs of Exodus (John calls them signs; Exodus calls them plagues): water to blood; water to wine; the death of the firstborn; the raising of Lazarus. John’s interest in the festivals and his ‘I am’ sayings are also connected to the exodus.

Most of all for John, Jesus is the Passover sacrifice—his bones are not broken. As the first Passover sacrifices brought life to the Israelites firstborn males, so the sacrificial death of Jesus brings life to those who trust in Jesus. Eternal or resurrection life is a major theme in John. For John, Jesus is the ‘lamb of God’ who bring about a new exodus. Hopefully, a biblical theology reading helps us understand more clearly John’s message.

4. What are some strengths and weaknesses of biblical theology?

There are various factors that would need to be mentioned to answer the question fully. Let me restrict myself to one of these. Biblical theology is largely neglected in most academic institutions because of the specialization that occurs in biblical studies. Most biblical scholars end up working in either the OT or the NT, and within these areas there is often further specialization. Too few scholars cross the divide between the Testaments, and those who do are sometimes viewed with suspicion. For example, you may be thought to be guilty of reading NT ideas into the OT. Or you may be considered to be less of a scholar because you don’t appear to appreciate the variety of theologies that are present in the Bible. While I understand the need for specialization, it means that there is less cross-fertilization than there ought to be. Working across the Testaments has certainly helped me to come to have a better and deeper understanding of the Pentateuch, my original area of specialization.


Love the Lord with all your mind

The historic Christian church has typically been a thinking church.  From Paul to Augustine to Bernard to Aquinas to Calvin to Owen (including many others), Christianity has had a robustly intellectual side to it.  Many Christians have taken seriously Jesus’ command to love God with our minds.

In the American church, however, there has been a strong strain of anti-intellectualism.  Even today, people still joke that seminary is like a cemetery where faith goes to die.  I’ve heard many Christians speak critically of higher theological learning.  Some Christian circles have a built-in disdain for academic theological and biblical studies.  With a critical tone they say, “You can’t learn such and such from any professor in seminary!”

J. P. Moreland noted that (generally speaking) Christianity in America started out with decent emphasis on theological/biblical education, but “in the middle 1800s… things began to change dramatically, though the seeds for the change had already been planted in the popularized, rhetorically powerful, and emotionally directed preaching of George Whitefield in the First Great Awakening in the United States from the 1730s to the 1750s.”

“During the middle 1800s, three awakenings broke out in the United States: the Second Great Awakening (1800-1820), the revivals of Charles Finney (1824-1837), and the Layman’s Prayer Revival (1856-1858).  Much good came from these movements, but their overall effect was to emphasize immediate personal conversion to Christ instead of a studied period of reflection and conviction; emotional, simple, popular preaching instead of intellectually careful and doctrinally precise sermons; and personal feelings and relationships to Christ instead of a deep grasp of the nature of Christian teaching and ideas.  Sadly, as historian George Marsden notes, ‘anti-intellectualism was a feature of American revivalism.’”

“Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the emphasis of those movements on personal conversion.  What was a problem, however, was the intellectually shallow, theologically illiterate form of Christianity that became part of the populist Christian religion that emerged.  One tragic result of this was what happened in the so-called Burned Over District in the state of New York.  Thousands of people were ‘converted’ to Christ by revivalist preaching, but they had no real intellectual grasp of Christian teaching.  As a result, two of the three major American cults began in the Burned Over District among the unstable, untaught ‘converts’: Mormonism (1830) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (1884).”

Those are some important observations to note.  It is no coincidence that today there are many cults/sects in the United States that came out of populist American Christianity.  One blessing of rigorous theological and biblical study is it helps combat error.  One Puritan put it something like this:

“Ignorance is not the mother of devotion but of heresy.”



Pliny Persecutes Christians – A.D. 112

A powerful witness to the work of the Spirit in transforming Roman society with its Greek culture to the seed of Abraham. Some things to note in Pliny’s letter:
1. Christians came from every strata of society and not only slaves as some would contend.
2. Significant numbers were involved that, for a time, pagan temples were abandoned. The 1-2% Christian population estimate by some is clearly suspect.
3. God graciously had many people from this region even though Paul was prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching to them earlier.
4. Pliny’s letter witnesses to the truth of the statement in Acts 17.6: “these men have turned the world upside down.”

The Nature of the Church: One Body

It is good for Christians to define their terms biblically so to better realize all we have in Christ. Eph. 4.4-6: There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Here, Paul lists the first singularity of the faith: “one body.” This is what some have called “the universal church.” I prefer the term: “the one body,” however, and seek to trace it in the New Testament to arrive at a definition.

In the context of the Ephesian letter, Paul urges many commands and practical applications to the believers that will glorify God and give the proper picture of Christ’s followers to the world. To help with a definition and to see the nature of the church clearly, however, I will use two sections from the gospels:

Mt.16.16-18: Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

Jn.7.6: I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word.

The Greek word used in our bibles for “church” is “eklesia,” a compound word using the verb “call” (kaleo) and the preposition “out” (ek). It refers to people assembled out from their ordinary places. So we see the John reference (7.6), which is the section that Christ prays to The Father for His disciples and future believers, a definition: “the men you gave me out of the world.” This is the original 11 true disciples. So it may be said that Christ prays for His church here. An element to notice is that The Father gave them (the original disciples and future believers) to Jesus. This agrees well with the Matthew passage which states that it was The Father who revealed the true personhood of Christ to the disciples. This is “the rock” upon which Christ builds “the church,” the one body He prays for in John 17.

Please read Mt.16, Jn.17, and Eph.4 for all the rights, privileges, protections, and obligations we have by being united with Christ. 

The canon (books included in the Bible) was not decided in a committee

Michael J. Kruger on the canon:

Note:  Full blog series can be found here.

For whatever set of reasons, there is a widespread belief out there (internet, popular books) that the New Testament canon was decided at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD—under the conspiratorial influence of Constantine.  The fact that this claim was made in Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code shows how widespread it really is.  Brown did not make up this belief; he simply used it in his book.

The problem with this belief, however, is that it is patently false.  The Council of Nicea had nothing to do with the formation of the New Testament canon (nor did Constantine).   Nicea was concerned with how Christians should articulate their beliefs about the divinity of Jesus.  Thus it was the birthplace of the Nicean creed.

When people discover that Nicea did not decide the canon, the follow up question is usually, “Which council did decide the canon?”   Surely we could not have a canon without some sort of authoritative, official act of the church by which it was decided. Surely we have a canon because some group of men somewhere voted on it. Right?

This whole line of reasoning reveals a fundamental assumption about the New Testament canon that needs to be corrected, namely that it was (or had to be) decided by a church council.  The fact of the matter is that when we look into early church history there is no such council.   Sure, there are regional church councils that made declarations about the canon (Laodicea, Hippo, Carthage).   But these regional councils did not just “pick” books they happened to like, but affirmed the books they believed had functioned as foundational documents for the Christian faith.  In other words, these councils were declaring the way things had been, not the way they wanted them to be.

Thus, these councils did not create, authorize, or determine the canon. They simply were part of the process of recognizing a canon that was already there. 

This raises an important fact about the New Testament canon that every Christian should know.  The shape of our New Testament canon was not determined by a vote or by a council, but by a broad and ancient consensus.  Here we can agree with Bart Ehrman, “The canon of the New Testament was ratified by widespread consensus rather than by official proclamation.”[1]    

This historical reality is a good reminder that the canon is not just a man-made construct.  It was not the result of a power play brokered by rich cultural elites in some smoke filled room.  It was the result of many years of God’s people reading, using, and responding to these books. 

The same was true for the Old Testament canon.  Jesus himself used and cited the Old Testament writings with no indication anywhere that there was uncertainty about which books belonged.  Indeed, he held his audience accountable for knowing these books.  But, in all of this, there was no Old Testament church council that officially picked them (not even Jamnia).  They too were the result of ancient and widespread consensus.

In the end, we can certainly acknowledge that humans played a role in the canonical process.  But, not the role that is so commonly attributed to them.  Humans did not determine the canon, they responded to it.  In this sense, we can say that the canon really chose itself.