Theologically Driven

Theologically Driven

Theologically Driven features insight on Scripture, the church, and contemporary culture from faculty and staff at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. DBTS has faithfully prepared men for gospel ministry since its founding in 1976. As a ministry of the Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan, it provides graduate level training with a balance between strong academics and a heart for local church ministry.

Contributors to the blog include:

John Aloisi, Assistant Professor of Church History

Bill Combs, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament

Bruce Compton, Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition

Jared Compton, Assistant Professor of New Testament

Sam Dawson, Professor of Systematic Theology

Dave Doran, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology

Pearson Johnson, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology

Bob McCabe, Professor of Old Testament

Mark Snoeberger, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology

To find out more, visit Theologically Driven.

Abortion and the Early Church

In this post, I’m going to address two misconceptions that people often hold concerning abortion. First, many people assume that elective abortions are a fairly recent phenomenon—something made possible only by modern medicine. And second, oftentimes people view abortion as primarily a political issue. In both cases, nothing could be further from the truth. For several thousand years people have used various means to induce the abortion of unwanted children. And thoughtful people have engaged in discussions about the ethical implications of abortion long before they had any ability to change public policy.

One of the earliest references to abortion is found in an Egyptian papyrus that was written more than a millennium before the time of Christ. Dated about 1550 B.C., the Ebers Papyrus is a medical document that describes ancient remedies for a wide variety of ailments. It contains advice on how to cure everything from asthma to tape worms. Among such remedies, the document includes several herbal recipes for causing the abortion of an unwanted child. Writing a few centuries before the time of Christ, both Plato and Aristotle recommended abortion under certain circumstances for the “good” of society (Republic 5 [460], Politics 7.16 [1335b]). And in the first century, Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23–79) listed various substances which were commonly used in his day as abortifacients (Natural History, passim).

Abortion is not a new issue. It wasn’t even particularly novel in the first century. In fact, various ways of causing an abortion had been in use for a long time before Christ walked the earth. But what did the earliest Christians think of such practices? Were they ambivalent or did they express definite opinions about the morality of abortion?

A number of early Christian documents specifically mention the practice of abortion. Two of the earliest such documents are usually classed among the Apostolic Fathers. Dated fairly close to A.D. 100 and sometimes referred to as The Teaching of the Twelve, the Didache claims to preserve both oral and written teachings of the twelve apostles. The Didache begins with the following statement: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways” (1.1). The text then goes on to give instructions about how to live in the “way of life”. After exhorting readers with the dual command to love both God and neighbor, the document gives some specific instructions about the implications of loving one’s neighbor. Among these instructions, we find the following command:

You shall not murder…you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide (2.2).

In this context, the Didache seemingly equates abortion with murder and infanticide, and it commands God’s people not to engage in such activities. Just a few paragraphs later, the text describes the way of death as being followed by those who are “murderers of children” (5.2). The Didache speaks rather clearly to the moral status of abortion.

The Epistle of Barnabas was almost certainly not written by Paul’s companion of the same name. Nevertheless, internal evidence suggests that it was produced around the beginning of the second century. Like the Didache, it provides another example of early Christian teaching about the Two Ways. In his description of the way of light, Barnabas speaks about the practice of abortion. He writes,

You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide (19.5).

In place of such behavior the author exhorts his readers to fulfill their responsibilities to care for their children and to bring them up in the way of the Lord (19.5, cf. Didache 4.9).

Numerous biblical passages give principles that lead modern-day Christians to view abortion as the sinful taking of an innocent human life (e.g., Job 31:15; Psalms 22:9-10; Psalms 139:13-16; Luke 1:15). As seen above, the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas also provide evidence of a very early Christian conviction that abortion is morally wrong and is comparable to infanticide. Such documents demonstrate that Christians strongly opposed the practice of abortion many centuries before the development of modern political parties. A biblical understanding of abortion certainly has implications for how one exercises his or her right to vote in twenty-first century America, but biblical and historical evidence also indicate that abortion is first and foremost a moral issue—and one about which the Scriptures and the writings of early Christians are quite clear.

Relevant Resources:

Bakke, O. M. When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.

Gorman, Michael. Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish, & Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982.

Holmes, Michael, trans. and ed. The Apostolic Fathers in English. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.

Riddle, John. Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Riddle, John. Eve’s Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.

What King David Said about Judas Iscariot

by Jared Compton

In Acts 1:12-26 Peter says that Judas Iscariot had to be replaced (see Acts 1:16, 21). The vacancy his defection (and suicide) created could not be left open, otherwise Scripture would be broken. After all, what Judas had done and what, then, the remaining apostles had to do was prophesied, according to Peter, by David in the psalms, specifically in Pss 69:25 and 109:8 (see Acts 1:20). The problem with all this, however, is that on a first reading, at least, neither of these psalms is obviously prophetic, much less “spoke[n]... concerning Judas” (see Acts 1:16), which raises the question: Why did Peter think—and his hearers agree!—that these psalms warranted his claims and, therefore, called the early Christians to action?

The solution to this puzzle lies along the following two lines: (1) The early Christians read Pss 69, 109, and other psalms of lament messianically. They did this principally, I suspect, because this is the way Jesus read these psalms (see, e.g., John 13:18 [Ps 41:9], John 15:25 [Ps 35:19; 69:4]; John 19:24 [Ps 22:18]). Alongside of this, the early Christians elsewhere applied to Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation psalms originally describing David’s enthronement (see, e.g., Ps 2:7 in Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; and Heb 5:5), suggesting they thought of Jesus as the greater and, indeed, true Davidic king. The psalms of lament were then likely drawn into this davidic ideology, this davidic typology, precisely because so many were already linked with David (i.e., “a psalm of David”) and, as well, because so many contained “forward-looking” elements—eschatological elements. (These forward-looking elements, moreover, probably explain the smattering of evidence suggesting that some of the laments were already read eschatologically—if not messianically—in the pre-Christian era. See, e.g., the interpretation of Ps 22 in 4Q88 or Ps 37 in 4QpPs37.) (2) If the early Christians read these laments typologically—that is, as prophesying about another, ultimate sufferer—then it’s not at all unlikely that they treated the enemies described in these psalms in a similar fashion. This indeed may explain why Peter changes “their place” in Ps 69:25 to “his place” (and, thus, “their tents” to “it”) in Acts 1:20a. Peter saw in the psalm’s description of betrayal the actions of the messiah’s ultimate betrayer, Judas Iscariot.

In short, Peter and the early Christians read Pss 69 and 109 messianically and, therefore, saw in them a description of Judas’ betrayal and a description of what should be done about his vacant post.

How to Read a Psalm

When I have preached on a psalm in a church, some people have mentioned to me that they were familiar with a verse from the psalm but they had not thought about the passage’s overall message. I have often wondered if believers have a good reading strategy for getting the most out of a psalm. With this post, I will point out a reading strategy that focuses on the three-part structure of a psalm (this post is adapted from Ryken’s Words of Delight, 197–201).

First,  the subject is generally contained in the first few verses of a psalm. A psalmist may be responding to a thought, emotion, or a situation. The theme may be stated in different ways. In Psalms 1 the theme is found in the first two verses. The psalmist presents his thoughts from the Law about the blessedness of a godly man. In Psalms 23:1 David’s theme is his theological thoughts about God’s rich provisions for him. InPsalms 11:1-2 David’s theme involves a situation where his trust in the LORD helped him through an apparent assassination attempt. In Psalms 124:1-2 the psalmist presents a situation reflecting God’s deliverance of Israel from an enemy. The controlling themes in lyric poems are found in the early verses.

Second, the development of the subject is the major part of the poem’s structure. The various authors of the psalms generally develop their subject in four ways. The first way is by using contrast. In Psalms 1 the psalmist sets up a contrast between the righteous and the wicked. This contrast emphasizes the blessedness of the godly. David’s trust in the LORD to handle his trial in Psalms 11 is contrasted with the advice to flee from Jerusalem. The second method of developing the subject is through listing items that are associated with the subject. Praise hymns generally catalog God’s characteristics and actions. Another example of this is found in a psalm of confidence, Psalms 23.  In this familiar example, David’s subject of God’s rich provisions for him (Psalms 23:1) is itemized by a number of God’s provisions such as rest, restoration, moral direction, and protection (Psalms 23:2-6). The third manner is by the use of relationship. The subject in Psalms 19 is the majesty of God (Psalms 19:1). David initially shows how nature reflects God’s majesty and then moves to a related item, God’s majesty as reflected in His Word (Psalms 19:7-14). The fourth way is through repetition. The theme in Psalms 133 is the blessedness of Israelites who are united in worship. The psalmist uses various images to develop his theme.

Third, a  psalm is rounded off by its conclusion. This may be in the form of a summation as in Psalms 1:6, “For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” It may also be in the form of prayer as in Psalms 19:14 or an exhortation as in Psalms 32:11.

Reading a psalm in light of its threefold structure gives us a strategy to better understand a psalm’s overall message. And, as we comprehend each psalm’s overall message, may God grant that they guide us in our worship of him.

Not All “Love” is Truly Love

by Ben Edwards

“Love is love.” That slogan has popped up countless times in our nation’s dialogue in recent days. It’s part of an effort to shape the hearts and minds of Americans on social issues. It’s simple, succinct, and catchy. It has some appeal, especially to people who value “love” as a supreme good, a sentiment that trumps all other considerations. The problem is it’s just not true.

Our society is confused about love, and this slogan does nothing to minimize this confusion. What exactly does it mean to say “love is love”? On its face it is a statement of identity, equating two things, e.g., a car is an automobile. So, it might mean that all loves are the same. I love my wife. I also love pizza. If “love is love,” then I would be saying that my relationship to my wife is identical to my relationship to pizza. I may not be the most romantic person in the world, but even I could guess that my wife would not be pleased if I told her, “You know that I love you because I act, think, and feel toward you in the same way that I do toward pizza.” (I haven’t seen that sentiment portrayed in a Hallmark card either!) My love for my wife may have a few similarities with my love for pizza, but they are nowhere close to identical. One love is not like the other.

Most of us recognize that the slogan is not trying to communicate that all loves are identical—even if it is what it says. It’s at least narrowed down to people. Love for different people is ultimately the same. But even here there are distinctions in loves. I love my friends, but I do not love them exactly like I love my sons. And my love for my sons is different from my love for my wife.

Most people seem to be using the phrase to refer to a kind of love that is sexual in nature. The phrase is stating that no kind of sexual love is any different from another. People are wrong to view some sexual love as inappropriate, for who are we to say one kind is better than another? “Love is love.”

But almost all the people trumpeting this slogan do not really believe it. Some people love their siblings sexually. Is that love identical to other loves? Suppose a man sexually loves his wife and he sexually loves his mistress. Should his wife say “who am I to condemn him, because ‘love is love’”? Some 40-year-old men sexually love 12-year-old boys. Is that love the same as every other? Love is love?

You may be upset that I would mention some of the above examples. “Those are not the same thing, and it’s wrong to compare them.” But if they are not the same thing, and it is not legitimate to compare them, then not all love is love. “But those examples are not examples of love.” In making that objection, you have done exactly what our slogan “love is love” is telling us we cannot do. You have made a judgment about a sexual love that says it does not belong in the same category as others. You have said “this love is not love.” The moment you begin to limit love in some way—by saying it needs to be non-incestuous, or between only two people, or only between consenting adults—you have set up a definition by which we are now forced to determine that some loves are love and others are not.

So, who gets to decide what loves are in bounds and what loves are not? I certainly would not claim to be a proper judge for these matters. Who could have the wisdom, compassion, knowledge, and insight to distinguish legitimate loves from illegitimate ones? Only God can do that.

What is love? The Bible consistently points to God’s love for humans as the supreme example of love (e.g., 1 Jn 4:10). One particularly relevant passage is in Ephesians 5:25–27.

 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Here, Paul holds up Christ’s love for the church as the greatest example of the kind of love husbands are to have for their wives. I’d like to highlight one aspect of that love: true love is a holy love. Christ died for the church to make her holy.

Any love that wants to make a valid claim to be love must be holy. If a love does not move the other person toward holiness, it is not love. So, a young man who pressures a young lady to sleep with him before they are married does not really love her. He may say that he does, and both of them may think that he does, but he is ultimately more concerned for his own gratification than he is for her well-being. The man who loves his wife and mistress may think he really loves them both, but he actually loves neither. True love will never violate God’s standards. No matter how much someone thinks they love a person, if they are helping them down a path contrary to what is holy they do not really love them.

Why does all of this matter? What business is it of anyone’s to care about anyone else’s love? First, as I already noted, almost everyone cares to some degree, or we would be working to abolish laws against pedophilia. But it also matters because true love is far better than any false loves.

Suppose you had a friend who told you he found some great steak that he wants to enjoy. He takes you behind some restaurant and pulls some rancid, rotting hunk of meat out of the dumpster. You tell him, “Don’t eat that! Let’s go inside the restaurant and get some real steak.” He replies sharply, “Who are you to tell me what steak to eat. Steak is steak!” Would you say, “Well, it’s not hurting me for him to eat that meat, so I shouldn’t say anything”? Wouldn’t you want to see your friend give up the supposed steak that very well could poison him and instead experience the satisfaction and nourishment of a nice, well-cooked steak?

In reality, we have all gone after the rotten piece of steak. We have acted as if bad things were good things and good things were ultimate things. Our loves are twisted, and we have run down a path that leads to our own destruction. God has graciously warned us, but we have all rejected His warnings. Because we have pursued our own wrong desires, we are incurably sick, spiritually dead, and hopelessly lost.

But God really loves us. He came to us when we were completely unlovable and gave of Himself to save us. He sucked the poison into Himself and offered us real nourishment in its place. He died for what we did so that we might live for Him. He calls us to turn from our path of destruction and trust in Him for life.

God loves us enough that He wants what is really best for us. He knows which loves are real and which are counterfeit. He does not want us to settle for something that seems like love when it is really not. His love moves us to holiness, where we find eternal pleasure in Him. There is no greater joy and satisfaction than knowing and experiencing His love, and loving others in the way He has called us to love. How do we know which love is love? God’s love is love!

Celebrity and Gospel Witness

by Dave Doran

American culture is fascinated with celebrities. American evangelicalism, as a subset of American culture, is too. For some reason, there remains a persistent belief that the public testimony of a well known athlete or entertainer will be more effective than that of a regular Joe.

I’ll concede that for the value of gaining attention, a high profile name works better than an unknown. People will watch, for example, Mark Driscoll interview Russell Wilson because he is a pro quarterback who won a Super Bowl. I get that. And whenever a clear word of testimony about Jesus Christ is given, I rejoice.

What concerns me is the tendency to think that having someone like Russell Wilson give his testimony is more powerful than a regular Joe. The thought seems to be that since Russell Wilson, or some other big name personality, has more influence, his testimony will be more likely to convert people. Without even recognizing it, we shift the power away from the message (the gospel) to the messenger, from what is being said to who is saying it.

This is the Corinthian problem repackaged for the 21st century. They were about big names and making the good news look more attractive. And the biggest names in our culture belong to athletes and entertainers, so evangelicals seem to be in love with these high profile testimonies. The slightest sign of “faith” becomes an instant point of celebration.

Please don’t misunderstand my point. I sincerely rejoice in anybody’s testimony of saving faith in Jesus Christ, and I have no desire to minimize the genuine faith and testimony of celebrities. The ground, though, at the foot of the Cross is level, so I have no desire to elevate them either. The salvation of any person is cause for great rejoicing in Jesus Christ, not the popularity of the one saved.

While it is true that the credibility of the messenger has an impact on the message, being popular or well known isn’t the same as being credible. High profile testimonies are more like celebrity endorsements in a commercial than they are expert testimonies in a court room. How does playing football or being a former child actor make you any more credible on the claims of the gospel?

Celebrity draws attention, and I suppose there is something to be gained by getting attention to an important message. As long as the method used to gain attention doesn’t obscure the message. Sometimes the practical outcome looks more like, “You should become a Christian because [insert celebrity name] is a Christian!” The content of the gospel is muted because the packaging gets all of the attention.

We need to hear and heed the words of Paul:

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Cor 1:26-31)

Let’s not try to outsmart God. It is the message of the Cross that saves and God’s chief means of glorifying Himself is through simple, common believers who have been graciously redeemed by Him.

Why You Can’t Make a Deal with God

by Ben Edwards

We’ve all heard it, and most of us have either thought it or even prayed it. “God, if You [do this thing I currently want], then I’ll [do something I probably should do but haven’t].” We find ourselves in a situation we don’t like or lacking something we crave, yet we feel incapable of attaining our desire. Thus, we turn to someone we believe is capable of accomplishing what we want and hope God will show us favor.

But we understand how life works. People don’t just give away favors. They want something in return. So we begin to barter with others when we are seeking their favors. We started doing this when we were young (e.g., trading your sandwich for your friend’s crackers). The other person has something we want—either an item (good) or the ability to accomplish something (service)—so we offer him something we think he wants. In our society the most common bartering item is money—you give me something and I give you money in exchange. But we occasionally offer other goods or services (e.g., housing and food in exchange for childcare; use of vehicles in exchange for professional work, etc.). In each situation, the offer is successful only if both parties have something the other lacks or needs.

But there’s a problem when we try to barter with God. He doesn’t lack or need anything! The truth that God does not need anything is part of a larger truth of God’s self-sufficiency or aseity. This means that God’s existence comes from Himself, thus He is not dependent on anyone or anything else. We as humans derive our existence from God and live continually in dependence on Him (Col 1:17), but God exists in Himself and needs nothing (Exod 3:14; Acts 17:24-25).

Most pagan gods respond to the barter system. You offer sacrifices to a god, and he responds to help you in the way that he can. Thus, you worship the god of travel, and he in return gives you safe travel; you bring a sacrifice to the god of fertility, and he makes you fruitful; or you give to the god of war to make your army successful.

The Christian God is nothing like these pagan gods, which means we have nothing to offer God that would make Him respond by giving us a favor.

  • “God, if you give me this raise than I’ll give you 15% of it.” God is not sitting in heaven wondering how he will be able to finance His work and hoping someone steps up to foot the bill. The whole world is His! (Ps 50:9-12)
  • “God, if you heal me of this sickness, I’ll go to church every Sunday.” God does not struggle through the week waiting for Sunday to come and hoping more people show up this time to lift His spirits. God takes pleasure in true worship, but He does not need it.
  • “God, if you get me out of this difficult situation, then I’ll [stop doing something wrong or start doing something right].” God is not fretting over whether or not people do what is wrong or right. He has commanded us to do right and will justly punish us for doing wrong (either we bear the punishment or Christ does). So God is pleased with our obedience, but does not need it.

Why does it matter whether or not we can barter with God? Because if we can’t barter with Him, that means we have to accept His terms. We can’t entice Him with our offers. We can only accept His offers. He is not impressed by our promises of service or obedience and will not respond to them. But He, of His own will, determined to offer us a relationship with Him as a gift on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. We must submit ourselves fully to Him, offering our lives to Jesus as Lord. And He promises to give us eternal life—a relationship with Him.

God is the one who establishes what He will do and what we will do, and we either accept or reject those terms. But we can’t try to change the terms to something we prefer—you can’t barter with God.

Can We be “Good without God”?

by Ben Edwards

Atheists are fond of boasting that they can be perfectly good people without God—that is, without needing the threat of some all-powerful Being punishing them for wrong-doing. Their argument can have two purposes. One is to counter the oft-quoted sentiment: “Without God, everything is permitted.” Rather, they claim, they are morally upstanding citizens even without a belief in God. Thus, atheism does not lead to anarchy. The second point is to demonstrate their moral superiority—unlike Christians, they have the inner fortitude to control their own behavior. They do not need some external threat to keep them from stealing or killing. They do not need God to be good.

Christians who understand the gospel are actually willing to agree in one sense. Belief in God does not guarantee that a person will be morally superior to those who do not believe in God. It should not surprise Christians to find atheists, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, or people from any number of religious persuasions who are honest, hard-working, generally good people. After all, people do not become Christians by their moral effort but by their trust in God’s gracious work on their behalf.

Yet Christians should be better than they were or could be. Their trust in God may not make them better than others, but it should make them better than their old selves. When God saves someone, he makes them new. So, people may be good without God, but they would be even better with Him.

There are, however, two ways in which we must answer the original question in the negative—we cannot be good without God. First, there could be no foundation for goodness without God. On what grounds do we determine whether or not something is good? Who has the authority to determine what is good or what is bad if not God?

Let’s briefly consider two possible alternatives. The first is that the sense of morality—the idea that all people have that certain things are right or wrong—is simply a result of natural selection in evolution. The thinking goes like this: those who were altruistic (unselfish and cooperative) were better equipped for survival and, thus, passed altruistic gene on to their descendents. That’s why we feel that unselfish behavior is “right.” That feeling helped us survive.

However, this theory is flawed. Altruism within your “group” may lead to greater survival, but hostility toward those outside would also lead to greater survival. But we believe that sacrificing for those outside your “group” is good and right (e.g., jumping in a river to save a stranger), whereas evolutionary theory would mean we would need to believe it was wrong. Nor does this theory explain why people display altruistic behavior when no one else will know about it. They would get no direct benefit from that behavior. Finally, this only explains why we think certain behaviors are right, but does nothing to explain whether or not our sense of morality is correct. It fails to move from is to ought. It tells us that this is how people think, but it cannot tell us whether or not we should think that way. I may think it is good to be kind to others, but is it really good? Evolution cannot explain that. Thus, we are left without a ground for goodness.

The second alternative is that morality is socially determined. It is not given by God, but is created by people in a given culture. However, this theory also fails to solve the problem of moral grounding. If there is no God, then we are simply left with subjective and arbitrary feelings. Why should these be imposed on others? If you say, “The majority should get to decide what is right or wrong,” then does the majority get to decide to exterminate the minority? If not, then why? Who gets to determine what the majority can or cannot do? When one child begins telling another what to do, the second child often responds with some statement like this: “Says who?” In other words, you do not have the authority to tell me how to live. You cannot serve as an adequate grounding for morality in my life. The question is, who can? No one on earth possesses the right to tell everyone else how to live. That’s because only God has the ultimate right to do that.

There has been no satisfactory answer for the grounds of objective moral values without appeal to divine authority. So, people do not need to believe that God exists to be good people, but without God existing there would be no such thing as goodness.

There is another truth that forces us to state that people cannot be good without God. Even those who do not believe in God could not be good without God’s common grace. God is at work in the world restraining evil. He may often work through secondary means, like governments and positive peer pressure, but He also works through His moral law written on people’s hearts and their God-given consciences. People may not be conscious of His working, but they benefit from it. Left to ourselves, we would all be purely wicked. We get glimpses of this truth from time to time when we hear of the horrific acts that people are capable of committing, such as mass killings, brutal tortures, and extreme forms of abuse. The reason not everyone commits those horrific crimes is that God is at work to keep our depravity in check. Part of what makes hell such a horrible reality is that God will no longer restrain evil. All of our worst tendencies will be indulged completely, with no hint of goodness mixed in.

We cannot really be good without God. Praise God that He works so that people will be good now!

How to Live in the Face of Death

by Bob McCabe

Can you imagine the shock when an usher escorts you out of a church service to be told that your mother had just died? Because my mother was forty-four years old at that time and had become a Christian a few years earlier, I was emotionally devastated when I was greeted with this news. I was twenty-two and in my first year of seminary. For the first time in my life I faced the reality that someone who was intimately connected to me had unexpectedly died. Though I knew a few other people who had died, none had been as close to me as my mother, and this news affected me in such a way that I ached for many days. I was faced with a reality that death is no respecter of persons. We all face the reality of death many times in our lives. We see our loved ones die, people in our community, those we work with, and fellow believers. And, we will die! This is the type of context where Solomon commands his audience to joyfully make the most of God’s basic gifts. In Ecclesiastes 9:7–10 he gives a series of commands that not only applied to his generation but also to all other generations, including ours. Notice his advice:

[7] Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. [8] Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. [9] Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. [10] Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. (ESV)

Though Solomon has previously treated the subject of death on other occasions in Ecclesiastes, he devotes more space to this in 9:1–6 and 11–12. Verses 7–10 are the core of a pericope that extends from 9:1 through 9:12. The regenerate and unregenerate alike, in vv. 2–6, inevitably face death. Like fish and birds, people, in vv. 11–12, cannot predict when they will die. In the context of vv. 7–10, Solomon gives his advice by using a series of imperatives: three commands in v. 7 focus on food and drink; three in vv. 8–9 on nice clothes, oil, and one’s wife; and one in v. 10 on living wholeheartedly.

The first imperative in v. 7, “go,” is an interjectory use that focuses on the two following imperatives “eat” and “drink.” Finding satisfaction in what one eats and drinks was previously commended in four earlier passages: 2:24, 3:13, 5:18–19 (Heb. vv. 17–18), and 8:15. In this context two objects are added: “bread,” lehem, with eating and “wine,” yayin, with drinking. In this verse the prepositional phrases that qualify the commands to eat bread and to drink wine, “with joy” and “with a merry heart,” reflect the celebratory nature of both imperatives. The theocentric nature of this verse should also be noted: “for God has already approved what you do.”

Solomon gives three other commands in vv. 8–9: “let [your garments] be white,” “let [not oil] be lacking,” and “enjoy.” While the third command is an imperative, the first two are jussive forms used as commands. Each of these commands extols the enjoyment of new elements in Ecclesiastes (for a listing of the other gifts to enjoy, see the other carpe diem, or enjoyment-of-life, passages: 2:24–26; 3:12–13, 22; 5:18–20 [Heb. 5:17–19]; 8:15; 9:7–10; 11:9–12:1): garments being white, no deficiency of oil, and enjoying life with one’s wife.

The first command is a command to wear white clothes. In contrast to the black robes of mourning, the white garments reflect a celebratory mood. The second one highlights the regularity of anointing one’s head with oil. Like Psalm 45:7, this is associated with joy. The commands in this verse about white clothing and oil, like other carpe diem passages in Ecclesiastes, presuppose that Solomon derives his theology from the early chapters of Genesis. The final command is a call to enjoy life with one’s beloved wife. However, the ESV’s translation of hebel as “vain” is unfortunate. It is preferable to translate this Hebrew term as “enigmatic,” or an equivalent (though the nature of this blog post does not permit a justification of this rendering, I would recommend two sources that give solid defenses of this translation value: Graham Ogden’s “‘Vanity’ It Certainly Is Not,” The Bible Translator 38 [July 1987]: 301–7; and Jason DeRouchie’s “Shepherding Wind and One Wise Shepherd: Grasping for Breath in Ecclesiastes,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 15 [Fall 2011]: 4–25). With this understanding, Solomon commands men to enjoy life with their beloved wives during their enigmatic days on earth. Solomon’s use of hebel as “enigmatic” reinforces the book’s focus on the puzzling nature of life.

In addition to the commands in vv. 7–9, Solomon has one more in v. 10: “do.” More specifically, this command is to accomplish “whatever your hand finds to do… with your might.” In other words, one should wholeheartedly pursue, as God enables, the specifics of what is detailed in the carpe diem passages (eating, drinking, working along with the benefits from it, wisdom, adorning nice clothes, lavishly using oil, enjoying one’s wife, and living wholeheartedly) with intelligence and wisdom, as the last half of v. 10 implies.

By Solomon using a series of imperatives in vv. 7–10, he authoritatively calls us to judiciously enjoy life. When these verses are set in the immediate context of 9:1–12, this passage reflects the contrast between life and death. This tension is not only reflective of this unit of verses but also the overall design of Ecclesiastes with its dialectical scheme. Solomon’s overall sketch in this book mirrors the paradoxical nature of this world that was cursed at the Fall with unsolvable conflicts and disjointedness, yet it also affirms that God is renewing creation and man. Solomon uses vv. 7–10, as well as the other carpe diem passages, to affirm this renewal.

As Ecclesiastes describes, we will also face issues with death as well as other results of the curse, such as suffering. And, as we work through these issues, may we return to Solomon’s advice by embracing our God and enjoying the gifts he has bestowed on us.

Summer Plans for Seminarians (and Others)

by Pearson Johnson

Students in seminary are busy people. They often work, study, take care of their family, and sleep (occasionally). There is a subtle temptation in the midst of this busyness to become too guarded with the use of one’s time and energies. The summer break is a welcome respite from due dates and required reading. Since most seminarians (if not all in some sense) are headed toward pastoral ministry, let me encourage those of you in this stage of life to purposefully make room for people in your life this summer. You may find that this type of education is every bit as valuable as sitting in the classroom. I want to recommend a few ways to do that as we approach the summer.

1. Since you are preparing for pastoral ministry, engage purposefully in opportunities to “rejoice when others rejoice” and “weep when others weep” (Rom 12:15). Be involved in “church family”-type events. Funerals, baby showers, weddings and other events like this will give you great opportunities to interact with people in all different stages of life. After all, the shepherds of these people must rejoice and weep with their flock, and the congregation you are a part of will soon give their approval of you as gifted and fit for pastoral ministry. If you wonder if visiting a family at the funeral home is more important than getting extra reading done or taking a hike or watching a movie, I will just tell you that it is. Your wife’s attendance at baby showers, funerals, and other events will help her immensely as she grows in interacting with a variety of ladies in the church.

2. Get to know “normal” people in your church. Be careful about spending most of your time with other seminary families talking theology, doing activities, or commiserating about your challenges. Without regular and time-consuming interaction with average church members your theology will become idealistic and antiseptic. You may finish seminary and find yourself practically aloof from the average church member. Spend time listening to people and asking them questions about their lives. Don’t be quick to give textbook answers, though certainly be ready to share how the Scriptures have changed you personally.

3. Finally, talk to lost people in your neighborhood. Make it your goal to get to know three or four people that live around you–people who see you around all the time. You will (or should) spend the rest of your pastoral life doing this, so get started now. Don’t depend on church programs to help you “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5) but do the work yourself.

Overall, have a great summer being refreshed!

Are You a Hypocrite?

by Dave Doran

I had the privilege of preaching in seminary chapel yesterday. One of the great blessings of my current ministry is that I get to teach seminarians each week and preach in the chapel regularly. I often try to preach from texts of Scripture that I think will help shape the ministry mindset of future pastors and missionaries. Yesterday, I chose to preach from Matthew 7:1-5 and urge the men to guard themselves against the hypocritical mindset which the Lord confronts there.

The first part of verse 1 is perhaps one of the most often quoted and misused texts of Scripture. “Do not judge” is an oft-abused trump card in debates. It seems clear that Jesus is not against judgment, but against a certain kind of judgment. The context makes that clear–just a few verses later He tells them to watch out for false prophets and that they can know them by their fruits, something which obviously requires the exercise of judgment. John 7:24 is helpful in differentiating the two kinds of judgment, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Jesus is confronting a wrong kind of judging in Matthew 7:1-5, not all judgment.

Specifically, the reason that our Lord points out the hypocrisy of the judges in Matthew 7 is because they are not genuinely concerned about sin or about helping other people. If they were concerned about sin, they would deal with their own first. The fact that the person ignores the beam in his own eye while worrying about the speck in his brother’s eye shows that. If he really cared about sin, he wouldn’t ignore his own. If he really was concerned about the other person, he would take care of his own sin so that he could see clearly to help him. By ignoring his vision-impairing beam, he makes it clear that he really isn’t trying to help the speck-afflicted brother, but thinks himself better than him.

The righteousness that Jesus expects of His followers is evidenced by a genuine concern about sin that looks first at ourselves, then outward to help others. Phony, hypocritical concern about sin doesn’t deal with our own first, it focuses on the sins of others. My charge to the future pastors and missionaries was simply to not allow that phony spirit to invade their lives or ministries. If we, as leaders, are going to be genuinely serious about sin, then that starts by looking at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word.

It is much easier to point out where others are falling short than to admit and address our own errors. As leaders, though, refusing to acknowledge and act to correct our failures not only reveals a flaw in our character, it undermines the credibility of our claims to be concerned about wrong. How can anybody take the claim that we want to do what is right (by dealing with other people’s problems) when it is obvious that we don’t (by not dealing with our own)?

Few things, from my vantage point, undermine the leadership of parents, pastors, or ministries more than this kind of hypocrisy. The parent who quickly and strongly rebukes a child for wrong, while ignoring his or her own failures as a parent eventually loses the trust of the child. A pastor who confronts sin in the lives of church members, but fails to confront it in himself undermines his own spiritual leadership. A ministry or organization, for example, that exists chiefly to point out the disobedience of other people and ministries, but refuses to correct its own failures as aggressively loses its credibility by demonstrating that obedience isn’t really the controlling principle which governs it.

Jesus answer for judgmentalism is not to reject proper judgment, but to exercise it first with regard to ourselves. If we really care about sin, we’ll deal with the beams before we talk about specks. We’ll start in the mirror, not in somebody else’s eye.

3 Important Reasons Why the Lottery is a Bad Bet

by John Aloisi

I heard it on the radio again the other day—a slick sounding ad depicting happy sounding people talking about how much fun it is to win “the big one.” It was an ad for the Michigan Lottery, and it left one with the impression that most people who play the lottery actually win. When such ads come on, I typically turn the radio off. But from time to time I listen out of morbid curiosity not unlike that which causes people to watch crash videos on YouTube. Advertising executives are nothing if not brazen about taking something that is foolish and making it sound like great fun.

There are many reasons why people should not play the lottery and several more why it should be viewed as poor public policy. Here are three reasons why Christians should not spend their money on the lottery:

1. The lottery promotes greed while simultaneously discouraging a good work ethic.

If the ads are any indication, people play the lottery in hopes of winning large sums of money. Most of us have a tendency to want more things or to want nicer things than we currently own. The lottery suggests that one can easily get such things, not by working hard, but by buying little paper tickets which, truth be told, generally have the inherent value of confetti. The book of Proverbs suggests a better method: “whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow” (Prov 13:11b).

I’ve heard people say something like, “I only play the lottery because it supports public education, and that’s a good cause.” If someone is really interested in supporting public education, I suspect there are more effective ways to do so. And say such a person were to beat the odds and actually win a lottery drawing, would that person then be taking money away from public education? Win or lose, the “helping fund a good cause” argument doesn’t make much sense. Which leads me to a second reason why playing the lottery is a bad idea.

2. The lottery promotes poor stewardship of personal finances.

Statistically, playing the lottery doesn’t make good financial sense. The lottery is designed to be a money-making tool for government coffers. In fact, state governments make quite a bit of money via various state and regional lotteries, and all of that money ultimately comes from people who had hoped to defy the laws of mathematics. The lottery can rightly be viewed as a tax on people who are bad at math. And unfortunately, oftentimes those who spend the most money on the lottery are those who can least afford to spend money on non-essentials. Which leads me to a final reason why the lottery is an all-around bad idea.

3. The lottery promotes a predatory relationship between the state and its citizens.

Lotteries are a means for state governments to trick citizens into giving them money in exchange for nothing by preying on human greed. It is a way for states to raise revenues without the unpopular process of raising tax rates. But if playing the lottery is poor stewardship of one’s resources, then government promotion of the lottery is de facto promotion of poor financial stewardship among its citizens. It is bad enough that governments typically provide large-scale examples of poor stewardship, but encouraging individual citizens to squander their resources seems to put government in the position of seeking the ill-being of those whom it should serve and protect. Christians should have no part in encouraging the government in such an endeavor.

Perhaps you’ve read this far in the post and are now thinking, “I’ve never considered buying a lottery ticket, so this really isn’t very relevant to me.” Let me challenge you with two additional thoughts. First, unfortunately people in your community and quite possibly your church have been harmed by the lottery. Granted, they have been willingly harmed, but that doesn’t lessen the impact. People with limited resources have been lured into wasting some of those resources on a government shell game. Just because the lotteries have been with us for decades doesn’t mean we should begin to view them as harmless. Second, the underlying reason why lotteries exist and are very profitable is lodged within all of our hearts to some degree or another. Innate selfishness causes us to want what we have not earned, and it causes us to want more than God has given us through the ordinary means of hard work and careful stewardship. Writing to believers, Paul warned about such an outlook when he wrote,

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim 6:9–10).

6 Major Problems with Today’s “Tolerance”

by Ben Edwards

There have been two subtle but significant developments in our society in recent years in our response to people and ideas. The first is a growing inability to distinguish between ideas and the people who espouse them. Rather, debates about the merits of a particular position in public discussion quickly move to discussions of the persons who espouse those positions. One potential reason is the growing confusion, aided by public education, about objective facts. If there are no objective truths, then ideas are not truly distinct from persons but are instead vitally connected to the person or community that holds to a position—that is what subjective truths are.

The second development concerns how we react to ideas/persons. Some ideas/persons are viewed as valuable and praiseworthy. We want to celebrate these ideas/persons, setting them forth as models for others to embrace. Other ideas/persons are recognized as being different from a position we might hold but are still seen as good positions. We may not celebrate or promote them, but we can certainly affirm the person/idea. It’s not for you, but it’s still good. But what if we encounter a bad idea/person? Our response in these situations is to reject them. We point out that there is no place in a modern society—in this day and age—for people/ideas like that. We shake our heads in disdain. “How could someone still think that?” “Shocked that this could still happen today.” We don’t want to allow these wrong ideas/people in society. This new development means that if you hold a position deemed wrong by society, people now work to exclude you from society.

Perhaps you might notice that a reaction that has historically marked Western society is missing from the previous paragraph: tolerance. People still talk about tolerance, but their understanding of tolerance is indistinguishable from the response of affirmation mentioned earlier. Today, tolerance means to accept or approve different opinions.

Historically, though, tolerance included disapproving something. In fact, the very term implied that something was disagreeable or abhorrent. (E.g., if I invited you to an opera and you replied “I guess I could tolerate it,” I wouldn’t conclude that you would enjoy it.) If you didn’t think an idea was wrong you couldn’t tolerate it. Tolerance meant you disagreed—even strongly—with something, but you would not use coercion to suppress the idea or the person who held the idea. Though you may find the idea completely foolish, you think a healthy society must not stamp out all ideas you believe to be wrong. As the saying often (improperly) attributed to Voltaire goes: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

But today we no longer seem to have the option to agree to disagree—we either have to agree or reject. People can’t be wrong, unless they are so wrong they must be rejected. What are some of the negative consequences of this approach?

No Basis for Evaluating Ideas. Even under the historic understanding of tolerance, there were limitations to what might be tolerated. Some ideas should be rejected, or at least never promoted or acted upon (e.g., genocide). But how do we decide which ideas should be rejected? Since our society largely rejects objective truth, what is the standard for determining whether an idea is acceptable or not? Currently, it seems that popular opinion has become the standard. Once an idea is no longer held by the majority, it should no longer be allowed in society (and woe to those who do not change their stance quickly enough!).

Another potential candidate for evaluation seems to be people’s feelings. Positions are considered wrong if they offend someone. It doesn’t matter whether or not something is true (because how could anything be true), it only matters whether or not it bothers someone (except, of course, WASPs. Since they already enjoy the privilege of a favored status it is no problem to offend them).

Condemns People Rather than Ideas. When we are able to distinguish ideas from people, we can reject ideas without rejecting the person. For example, two people might disagree about whether or not the minimum wage should be raised without claiming the other either hates the poor or wants to promote sloth. But today disagreements quickly move from evaluation of ideas to labels of the opponent. People who disagree on an issue are now labeled as bigots, intolerant, narrow-minded, judgmental, etc. Now the merits of particular positions can be conveniently ignored, since the person who espouses the view is seen as unloving.

Trivializes Everything. This new approach trivializes issues in one of two ways. We could add a fourth category to the responses of celebration, affirmation, and rejection—indifference. It’s ok to be wrong on a position that doesn’t matter. So, while you might think that cats are better than dogs, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t care that you are wrong, since it’s not an important issue. Thus, in order for differing opinions to be allowed in this society, the opinion must be about insignificant matters.

But if there is no objective truth, does anything really matter? That’s why I can affirm your position if it is different from mine. I don’t have to see it as wrong because nothing is wrong. Which means nothing is right. Which means nothing should really matter. (As a side note, perhaps one of the reasons people are so virulent in their rejection of “wrong” ideas/people is they are trying to convince themselves that something matters, even though their worldview does not allow anything to matter).

Harms Every Position. Because contrary opinions are so quickly stamped out in our society, people are dissuaded from offering an idea or an opinion that might not fit with the current status quo. In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill points to a significant benefit of tolerance (and conversely, the significant danger of suppressing contrary opinions).

The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion, is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

It Promotes Intolerance. Since we have lost the ability to believe people should be allowed to be wrong, we no longer have a real category for tolerance. That means that those who are wrong are threats to society and should be punished. Unfortunately, we don’t need government to enact that punishment. We now have social media mobs that can destroy people who transgress the court of popular opinion. We have become skilled at stamping out diverse opinions in the name of diversity.

Leads to Totalitarianism. Since there is no objective standard to evaluate things, those with power are able to set the standards. The position with the most backing gets to stomp out the other positions. Unfortunately, that rarely stops with the positions with which you currently disagree. As George Orwell said in his proposed preface to Animal Farm: “If you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you. Make a habit of imprisoning Fascists without trial, and perhaps the process won’t stop at Fascists.” Or make a habit of destroying those who are “wrong,” and perhaps the process won’t stop with those who are currently considered “wrong.”