Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

James 1:1-12

I preached this sermon on James 1:1-12 while serving as interim pastor at First Baptist Church of Madisonville, TX. And here is a custom song by Philip paralleling the message of the passage.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

My Biggest Problems with the Evangelical Manifesto

First, whatever it does, it does not manifest. Read it. It is a document riddled not even simply with visions and revisions, but with direction changes which serve no purpose greater than either obfuscating or ameliorating the sting of direct criticisms of the evangelical right. What purpose is there to adding “Although we cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, including those unborn, nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman…” to the call for “an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as
abortion and marriage, and a fuller recognition of the comprehensive causes and concerns of the Gospel, and of all the human issues that must be engaged in public life” if not simply to avoid sounding as if equating issues of poverty with abortion would reduce abortion’s significance as an issue—which it would do, of course, since part of abortion’s significance (as an issue, not an act) is that it is held uniquely significant as a fully consummated step toward becoming (or being) a culture of death. This document is twenty pages long in order to cloud what could have been a clear call for Evangelicals to embrace the morality of Leftists in American politics.
Second, as indicated in the previous sentence, the “Manifesto” is an effort to make Leftist moral claims more acceptable as Evangelical causes of the day. Whether it is because some signatories or contributors actually hold those positions, such as the Environmentalist’s disdain for capitalism and the free market, or simply because they wish to create a better bridge to a generation which responds negatively to the message of the right, there is little doubt that it is the desire to put alternative moral issues on the table which puts this document on the table. The contest between the free market and socialism in U.S. politics is not just pragmatic. The value of the free market is as surely rooted in Christian respect for the individual (played out in this case as negative rights) as is the call in the "Manifesto" for a Civil Public Square.
Third, and almost inevitably apparent from the call for the Civil Public Square, the document is hypocritical. The claim of the document is that “Evangelicalism must be defined theologically and not politically; confessionally and not culturally.” Now, there is no reason to assume that defining Evangelicalism, especially in terms non-Christians can understand, must be theological rather than political, and certainly no reason to hold the two as exclusive—not in a world where non-Christians are present and where they play just as great or greater a role in defining terms as believers do. But that is not the problem with this claim. The problem is that this “Manifesto” does exactly what it proscribes. It defines part of what Evangelicals stand for as a call for the Civil Public Square. It is a call for a uniquely Western, indeed, American form of political state. It is not French, where the square is “naked”; and it is not Muslim, where the square is “sacred”, using “Manifesto” terms. It is blatantly American. So the “Manifesto” identifies Evangelicals with the value of a Civil Public Square and promotes that cause univocally--a distinctly political position--while berating the identification of Evangelicals with a moral value of no less significance, the recognition that the law’s discounting of unborn children is morally untenable.
If the framer’s of the “Manifesto” wish other causes could find the same moral imperative in Christian values that abortion and family issues have found, then they should work to attach not just a generic issue, like environmentalism, to Christian values, but a specific solution to that issue. It is not enough to say the doctrine of Creation requires good stewardship. The political issues are about whether it is better to promote environmentalism with nuclear power or with vegetable oil, and so forth; not about whether to promote the environment at all. And it is ridiculous--yes, ridicule-worthy--to compare an argument between nuclear power and vegetable oil with the issue of discounting the lives of the unborn, or of the elderly for that matter.
Hopefully, this opinion is now manifest.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Romans 5:12

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.
The propositional components of this verse are:
(1) Just as
(2) through one man sin entered into the world
(3) and death through sin
(4) and so
(5) death spread to all men because all sinned
The broad flow of the verse is governed by (1) and (4). The words indicated by (1) are important to isolate because they anticipate a parallel or a comparison through (4). (2) and (3) together will be the content joined to (5) by (1) and (4). In other words, there will be a parallel between the intent of “through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin” and the intent of “death spread to all men because all sinned.”
Defining the terms: The flow of (2), (3), and (5) hinges on identifying some generic terms which will indicate where Paul is expecting an identifiable (if not fully equivalent) relationship between terms or phrases. So, in (2), “through one man” refers to the act of one man, which will be labeled “A”, for “Adam sinned”. Also in (2), “sin entered into the world” will be “S” for “sin is present”. In (3), “death” will be “D”, for “death is present”, since Paul is borrowing the predicate “entered into the world” from the previous phrase. Those terms are all that is needed to clarify the passage. In order, the terms are:
A = Adam sinned;
S = Sin is present;
D = Death is present.
Now for the argument: The relationship in (2) amounts to “sin entered the world because of one man’s sin”. The relationship in (3) amounts to “death entered the world because sin entered the world”. And the relationship in (5) amounts to “death spread through the whole world because (of) men’s sin(fullness)”. Whether the parenthetical “of” and “fullness” ought to be the reading of the last phrase is indeterminate from the passage. It makes a difference doctrinally, but the difference does not affect how this argument flows at this point—an advantage for interpreting the verse in this case.
Using implication (-->) as an expression of causation, (2) and (3) create the premises of a straightforward syllogism.
(2) A --> S
(3) S --> D.
Now there is no doubt that the verse is chiastic—sin produces death and death comes from sin. But that rhetorical order in no way undermines the syllogism. Paul’s enthymematic conclusion is that Adam’s sin has lead to death’s presence in the world. That it is enthymematic means that while he does not write the words, it is assumed readers will supply the meaning. So the conclusion of the syllogism is:
A --> D.
The question to be resolved is about (5). What does Paul mean by “death spread to all men because all sinned”? It is a very simple statement taken in the context of the argument as described here—in fact, nothing more than a repetition of (3), which is to be expected in the chiasm. So (5) simply repeats the idea that
S --> D.
In the arrangement of the verse in natural language, that repetition makes sense as a substitute for stating the obvious conclusion, since the term “S” is the middle term providing a means for taking the step from one man’s sin, “A”, to death’s presence throughout the world, “D”. Of course, sin is more present as more people appear on the earth, but that increase is not significant regarding the flow of argument in the verse. Similarly, of course, death grows in its numerical impact from its first entrance into the world when there is only one man to die and its count now when there are so many, but that change has no impact on the flow of the argument either.
The point of verse 12 then, has nothing (or relatively little) to do with men facing immediate judgment because of Adam’s sin. Rather, it has adamantly to do with the fact that every man sins as a result of Adam’s sin, and that because of that (sin’s) pernicious presence, death also follows.
Those who care about the doctrinal significance of the difference in those two meanings most likely already understand the weight of this interpretation.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Genesis 1:2b

וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהֹום

and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

darkness: The parallelism ubiquitous in Hebrew thought and literature continues in this verse. "Without form and void" synonymously parallels "darkness on the face of the deep" as "darkness on the face of the deep" antithetically parallels 'the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters."

the face of the deep: In Psalm 36:5-7, a passage which appeals to the merism from heaven to the deep, the heavens relate to the covenantal mercy of God while the deep relates to His judgments. And, by the way, the same image of hovering (which governs the last phrase of this verse) is present in verse 7 of that Psalm. Of course, the literal void of darkness is replaced by the literal light of the next verse. But the more significant void of darkness is replaced by the active presence and judgment of God throughout the creation (creation both as a specific act and as the whole of existence). Darkness is not evil in this verse, but it does evidence to readers the need for God's presence and judgment.

Expanded Paraphrase:
And the empty darkness penetrated all the way to the bottom of the earth, the depths of the waters.