Category Archives: Modern Issues

Look before you… Entertainment

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There is something about physical harm and pain that reminds us to look before we… leap. Why? Because we leaped one too many times without looking and our brain has trained us not to do that again. That’s the way our brains work. And our brains work well. That is, at least, for a lot of things. However, our brains may work against us when it comes to others things.

We sit down and watch a cute, funny dog video on YouTube and that’s fine; no pain. Actually, we quite enjoy it. Our brains do not tell us: Look before you… watch. So, we don’t. We don’t consider what we watch or how often we watch because, after all, we like it.

Plus, entertainment is everything.[1] But, is it? Or, should it be? We would do well to consider this question as (likely) the most entertained people in all of history.[2]

What is “entertainment”? What does that word mean? It has been defined in this way: “the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.” So, entertainment gives us pleasure, enjoyment, and diversion; especially by a performance of some kind. For instance, I was entertained at NitroCircus when Travis Pastrana did a double backflip on a dirt bike.

To quote someone from a different arena, it would have been fitting for Pastrana to scream out:

“Are you not entertained?! Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?!”

There is a danger that people will die in entertaining us but is there also a danger for us as we are endlessly entertained?

Neil Postman wrote in 1985 about the danger of, as his book title says, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and that was before public internet, let alone social media and the smart phone. It is not an understatement to say that we are likely to amuse ourselves to death. There are serious health risks for us when all we care about is entertainment. There is the further danger that we’re not living and loving as we should. We’re liable to amuse ourselves until death, and never do anything worthwhile with the time we’ve been given.

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Marijuana and Me?

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What should we think about marijuana use?

What we think about marijuana and its use will be determined by the commitments that we hold or what is often referred to as a worldview. I am not a relativist, I believe in objective truth, yet the way we see the world (our worldview) will determine the way we think about marijuana. So, it’s important to understand that the way we come to the question will make a difference in the way that we answer the question.

Marijuana And America

It’s reported that George Washington grew marijuana and employed it along with other Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson.[1] And a few Presidents have admitted to smoking marijuana.[2] News sources say that support for legalization is at an all-time high (no pun intended).[3]

Marijuana, whatever we think about it, is all over the place. It’s legal in some places and in most places people are living like it’s legal. And very soon it may be legal all across the country (my issue here is not to discuss whether or not it should be legalized). The question for the Christian is more than a question of legalization and cultural acceptance. The issue has to do with whether or not we believe God would be pleased with our use of marijuana.

This question will need to take into account legalization and even cultural acceptance but is not ultimately based on either of those considerations. That’s why I said the way we come to the question is really important. What is guiding us as we look at the question of marijuana use? If it is just our feelings and the surrounding culture then that will lead to one set of conclusions. If it is the Word of God, however, it will likely lead to a different set of conclusions.

So, let’s look at what the Bible says.

Marijuana And The Bible

I have talked to a lot of people that boast about marijuana’s many benefits in recreational use. Some will even bring up Genesis 1:29 that says that God made every plant on the earth that produces seed and then says we “shall have them for food.” So, people ask, “Doesn’t that count for marijuana?! Didn’t God make it to be enjoyed? Shouldn’t we just receive it with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:3-5)?”

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Drinking and Smoking

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Jesus turned water into wine and drank wine Himself (Jn. 2:1-12; Matt. 26:27). Jesus the perfect Son of God drank, so can we drink wine, beer, whiskey, vodka, rum, and what not, as we like? Here are some things to consider:

  • Romans 13:1 says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God.” So first, do not drink if you are under the legal age. Do not smoke if you are under the legal age. Do not smoke things if they are illegal.
  • Romans 13:13-14 says, “Let us walk properly…not in…drunkenness…but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Second, we are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, we are to be like Him and not be alcoholics. Exciplity we are told to not get drunk (Eph. 5:18). This text applies to more than just alcohol. It also applies other things such as pot, even legalized pot (though see here for my views on psychoactive medication). However, realize you don’t find a command for complete abstinence from alcohol.
  • Galatians 5:19-21 says, “Now the works of the flesh are evident… drunkenness… and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (see also 1 Cor. 6:9-11). We need to, third, cultivate the works of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, and patience, not the works of the flesh. However, that does not make having a drink wrong for everyone, though drunkenness is wrong for everyone.
  • Proverbs 31:4b-5 says, “It is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to drink strong wine, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” Fourth, we see that it is a good principle for those who are in places of authority to not drink. This is so they do not mess everything up by being drunken and foolish. In the Bible priests (Lev. 10:8-10 ), Nazarites (Num. 6:3-4 ), and John the Baptizer (Lk. 1:15 ) were not to drink. They were likely not permitted to drink for the same reason kings and rulers shouldn’t drink, so they won’t “drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of the afflicted.”

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Ecclesiastes: Necessary Destruction

depression-94808__480A treatise on vanity. This is basically the book of Ecclesiastes. What a depressing book. How is a book like that ever to be read and enjoyed, especially with our modern sensibilities? We need stuff that will make us feel good even if it is not the truth, right? Isn’t that what we need? That, at any rate, is what much of society would have us believe.

At first glance, it seems that the book of Ecclesiastes is a book that would throw you into nihilistic depression just short of suicidal. So what use has it in Scripture? Or, what, at least, use do we have for it today?

Well, it does no good to build upon a shoddy and cracked foundation. We can build all we want but all we do is for naught if the building will never truly stand. If we are to truly build something that is worth anything we must start anew. We must strip it down to the bedrock. To say that all is vanity is to say that all is cracked, you cannot build upon it. That is not to say that these things are inherently bad, they are not. But for us to understand these things, whatever they may be for you, we must first know they are desperately cracked. They can never hold anything of substance. They can truly never be built upon. They can’t hold the weight. Thus, if we experience discomfort from Ecclesiastes it is the doctor’s scalpel. It is the necessary pain for the healing of our life.

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The Crash of the American Church?

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Research shows that the “evangelical church” lost around 10 percent of her people in the last decade. There are many factors that are involved that have resulted in this decline. Further, most churches that are growing are just taking people from other churches, not converting people. The Great Evangelical Recession explores the factors involved in the decline of the church and offers suggestions for the future. I found the book helpful and thought-provoking. 

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Tools for Effectiveness

Below I list out resources that I have sought to leverage for optimal efficiency and effectiveness. We have amazing resources and also unprecedented distractions. Here are some things I have used to try to make the most of my time:

evernote Evernote

I have found Evernote very helpful. It allows you to create shelves, notebooks, and pages so that you can keep various lists and thoughts on any number of topics. It also allows you to tag everything. It has helped me be more organized and it has been very helpful because it is always with me and accessible. Actually, the first draft of this post was written on Evernote over the course of a few days. [free]

Advice: Use Evernote. And take the time to learn from the tutorials. It will be worth it to organize your notes and be able to find and track your thoughts. 

unnamed Pocket

I have found this app very helpful. You can save articles in Pocket, tag them for quick recall, and even share on social media. My favorite thing about this app is that it will read to me! I can now drive and “read” articles. [free]

Advice: Don’t spend all your time pocketing things, actually read stuff. Second, there’s no way to underline or make notes so screenshot the parts you want to capture and add them Evernote. 

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Let’s question “the best use of the time”

Paul, in the book of Ephesians says, 

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16). 

We are told to make the “best use of the time.” So, let’s be intentional about our time (“look carefully”). Let’s question “the best use of the time.” Let’s use technology as an aid and not a distraction and hindrance to accomplishing the things we have been given to do. 

Jonathan Edwards points out that

“If men were as lavish of their money as they are of their time, if it were as common a thing for them to throw away their money, as it is for them to throw away their time, we should think them beside themselves, and not in the possession of their right minds. Yet time is a thousand times more precious than money; and when it is gone, cannot be purchased for money, cannot be redeemed by silver or gold.”[1]

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Jesus and Jihad (part one)

 

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Introduction

Islam has many expressions. It is not monolithic. We are wrong if we think we understand Muslims because we have met one or read the Qur’an. That is a simplistic and false understanding. “Islam is a dynamic and varied religious tradition.”[1] In the same way, if you have met a Christian and read the New Testament, for example, that does not mean that you understand Christianity. “The range of contemporary Muslim religiosity varies tremendously. One of the reasons for this is that people understand and ‘use’ religion in a variety of ways; that is true whether we are dealing with Islam or Christianity or any other religion.”[2]

As Christians have different beliefs regarding certain doctrines, Muslims have different beliefs as well. Christianity has many expressions, liberal and fundamental and various particular denominations. In this post (and in part two), we will explore the Islamic understanding of jihad and contrast it with Christianity. Our first observation is to realize the multifaceted nature of our exploration.

Many Expressions of Islam

As we have briefly seen, not all Muslims are the same and not all Muslims understand jihad in the same way. So, some Muslims emphasize the more peaceful passages (e.g. surah 5:32; 2:256; Allah is also repeatedly said to be “most gracious, most merciful”) and that the Qur’an seems to teach to not begin the fight (2:190; 22:39). However, others believe that those who have not confessed Allah and his prophet have already essentially made war with Muslims and should be subjugated.[3] Some Muslims are strict adherents to Islam and some are secular. Muslims are not homogeneous. (For example, we see two very different narrative accounts in Nabeel Qureshi’s, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and Mosab Hassan Yousef’s, Son of Hamas). In fact, “not all Muslims believe that the Qurʾān is the literal and inerrant word of God, nor do all of them believe that Islam requires strict conformity to all the religious and moral precepts in the Qurʾān.”[4] We could group Muslims into three broad groups: secular Muslims, traditional Muslims, and fundamentalist Muslims.

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Texts Espoused to Teach Universalism

The goal here is not to give an exhaustive commentary on each passage but merely to show that there are very viable interpretations that are faithful to the whole of Scripture and do not lead to universalism.

Is. 45:22-23

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. [23] By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’”

In the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) απιστραϕητε is an imperative and means “turn around.” It has to do with changing ones beliefs and ways. It translates the Hebrew word (פָּנָה) meaning “turn” which is also in the imperative. So God here is not asking people to turn to Him, He’s commanding it. And it says that all people (from the farthest stretches of the earth) who turn to Him will be saved. But it implies that all who don’t turn to Him (in space in time before the Judgment) will not be saved. So we see precedence for “all” being saved here, that is, if any turn to the Lord from all over the earth they will be saved. Whosoever believes will be saved, Jew or Gentile. It was (in the OT and NT) an amazing thing for Paul for example that Gentiles can now be welcomed in (he called it a mystery). All the uncircumcised, the Egyptians that enslaved Israel, the Babylonians, all people that turn to the Lord (in space in time before the Judgment) will be saved. They will be saved from the terror of the Messiah’s Second Coming and the Final Destruction.

In the context, this passage would strike fear into the hearers, not comfort. This passage is saying, “repent and turn or else!” Further, v. 25 says “all the offspring of Israel shall be justified,” i.e. all those who have faith (see e.g. Rom. 2:28-29; 4:1-16; 9:6), not all without exception. “Yahweh’s speech ends with a prediction of destructive fire for those who do not submit to his reality and reign (Isa 47:14-15)… There is voluntary submission for some and involuntary submission for others.”[1]

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The Importance of Correct Hermeneutics

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If we don’t understand things in their proper context there will be grave results. Let’s look at a few verses as an example and apply a skewed hermeneutical approach and see what the result is.

John 3:16 says, “God sent His Son” and we see that Jesus as God’s son is confirmed in other Scriptures. Take for example Romans 8:32. Or Hebrews 5:8 tells us that although Jesus “was a son, He learned obedience.” Luke 2:42 says that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.”

So, it could be argued that Jesus, as God’s Son, was created and had to learn. After all, doesn’t “son” mean “son”?! Isn’t that the clear reading of the text? If the Bible says that Jesus is a “son” and “the firstborn of all creation” does that mean that Jesus is not eternal? Does it mean that He is a created being?

If we just look at the word “son” and extrapolate its meaning without understanding the context and the sense in which the author is using the word we can make very dangerous and false conclusions. Is Jesus a son in the sense of being a created being? No! That is the Arian heresy. We must understand what the author meant and we must use clear texts to help us interpret the less clear. A bad hermeneutical approach will lead to all sorts of false and destructive doctrines.

When looking at any doctrine it is important to understand a number of things. When looking at the sonship of Jesus for example, it is important to know the Old Testament and cultural importance of sonship. It is also important that other Scriptures are factored in. For example, John 1:1-14 and Colossians 1:15-17 show us that Jesus is not created but instead Creator.

So, “the obscure passage must yield to the clear passage. That is, on a given doctrine we should take our primary guidance from those passages which are clear rather from those which are obscure.”[1] Charles Hodge said in his Systematic Theology that

“If the Scriptures be what they claim to be, the word of God, they are the work of one mind, and that mind divine. From this it follows that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. God cannot teach in one place anything which is inconsistent with what He teaches in another. Hence Scripture must explain Scripture. If a passage admits of different interpretations, that only can be the true one which agrees with what the Bible teaches elsewhere on the same subject.”[2]

Here are some important affirmations for biblical hermeneutics: 

  1. We should affirm the unity, harmony, and consistency of Scripture and declare that it is its own best interpreter.[3]
  2. We should affirm that any preunderstandings which the interpreter brings to Scripture should be in harmony with scriptural teaching and subject to correction by it.[4]
  3. We should affirm that our personal zeal and experiences should never be elevated above Scripture (see Rom. 10:2-3).
  4. We should affirm that texts of Scripture must be interpreted in context (both the immediate and broad context).
  5. We should affirm that we must only base normative theological doctrine on clear didactic passages that deal with a particular doctrine explicitly. So, we should affirm that we must never use implicit teaching to contradict explicit teaching.

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[1] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 37.

[2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Introduction, Chapter VI, The Protestant Rule of Faith.

[3] See “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics,” Article XVII.

[4] See Ibid., Article XIX.


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