Reflections From 1 Corinthians 7:6-11_MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST Part 1

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Paul continues to develop his thought on marriage and singleness and considers: whether one is married to an unbelieving spouse or not, whether one came to Christ from Jewish or Gentile roots, whether they are redeemed being a slave or a freedman, whether they are a virgin or not, he considers when one is permitted to remarry and by implication when remarriage is prohibited.

Whatever state in life the believer finds themselves in, they are to primarily concern themselves with pleasing the Lord.  Paul aims to encourage Christians to let the eternal kingdom of God be the governing factor in their lives instead of the temporal situations in which they find themselves.  He starts off by saying:

But this I say by way of concession, not of command.”   

What’s the difference between these two terms?  A concession is permission to do something, or being allowed to act a certain way (L&N §13.141), whereas a command here does not infer the giving of detailed instruction but of having the right and authority to command subjects to obedience (L&N § 37.42).  Paul is making it clear that if what he refers to (the forthcoming concession), the Corinthian believers do not obey, they are not violating God’s decree which the apostles have been distinctly charged to dispense as Christ’s authoritative ambassadors.

Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.”    

The term “wish” is a way of describing desire which is a state of affairs that does not necessarily exist, one which may even be impossible, but nevertheless it is felt.  When Paul says, “I wish that all men were even as I myself am”, I don’t think he is referring to his apostleship, nor to his character traits, but to him being unmarried where his devotion to Christ is less distracted.

Paul reveals that he is not married (we are not sure if he was married, a widower, abandoned by his spouse because of his conversion to Christ, etc.) and desires that the Corinthian church not only be single but also self-controlled.

It is not unreasonable to think that Paul was previously married and abandoned because of his conversion to Christ Jesus.  Being a Hebrew of Hebrews, zealous for the Jewish traditions unlike any of his contemporaries, he would have been an amazing “catch” in that culture, the pride of family, wife and nation.  Yet this monotheistic zealot was converted on that appointed day and his world was turned “up-side down”.

If that was the case and more, then may the weightiness of his words not escape us where elsewhere he declares, “I have counted all things as rubbish for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ…”, “to live is Christ and to die is gain…” etc.  Paul’s supreme treasure above all else was truly Christ; above status, possessions and human relationships.

This is who is speaking and we do well to carefully consider what he is saying and what he means.  Thus, while Paul discloses his personal desire, he understands that not everyone is like him because God (the infinite self-existent one and source of all life) gifts us all with varying talents and abilities.  He now addresses the unmarried and widows:

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.  But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion

Note that in verse 1 Paul affirms that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” (i.e., not commit sexual immorality), and uses the same phrase “it is good” for the unmarried to remain single.  Paul is not disparaging marriage but rather accentuating something that seems to be counter-intuitive—in an age of sexual immorality, if you are single believer, then stay single.

While it’s good to abstain from fornication and adultery God has nevertheless given the human race sexual desire that longs to express itself.  Is Paul encouraging abstinence at all costs?  No.

While it is good to remain single, if there’s a lack of self-control, Paul says get married.  It’s better than burning in passions and falling into sexual expression that is outside the confines of marriage.  Now Paul addresses those married:

10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

Several items stand out here.  First, Paul here makes a distinction between the Lords instruction and his.  This could be understood to mean that the former is to be obeyed, and the latter can be dismissed.  The problem with that interpretation is that Paul is clearly God’s called apostle, his authoritative spokesman in a way the rest of us are not.  So to think that Paul’s views are a “take it or leave it” proposition does not logically fit.

Second, one could see verse 6 linked to this where Paul distinguished between a command and a concession, between what must be obeyed and what may be obeyed.  The problem though is that the Lord’s instructions, as Paul’s instructions, come with authoritative force which a concession does not possess.

Third, many understand this distinction between the Lord and Paul to mean that Jesus himself previously addresses the issue and thus taught on it (e.g., Mt.5:32; 19:3-9; Lk.16:18, etc.) and thus Paul gives the Master’s instructions on said topic.  Yet, when the Lord Jesus does not give instruction on a particular topic Paul says, “I not the Lord”.
That is, the distinction is not one of authority but one of subject.  This third option seems to make the best sense.

Moving on Paul discourages the immoral act of abandoning one’s husband, and the husband is also commanded not to divorce his own wife.  Both husband and wife are in a position to act immorally by severing the union and both are in a position to honor Christ in their marital union.

Marriage is an amazing gift that like others requires maintenance, care, nurture and sometimes restoration. When the required care and understanding (here time must be invested) are not practiced, like a car needing an oil change before the engine blows, so too the marriage union when it’s neglected the immorality of desertion and divorce seem to follow.

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Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD Augustine, On Nature and Grace[1]

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            Augustine’s treatise On Nature and Grace was a response to the pernicious views of Pelagius’ concerning the grace of Christ.  He addresses the letter to Timasius and Jacobus, whom he calls ‘my beloved sons’.  Augustine’s manner in confronting the heresy is done graciously, not vehemently, for he does not judge the motives of his zealous rival, but rather his writings.

God’s Righteousness through Christ Alone

He begins by speaking of God’s righteousness, which comes not through the law, but only through Christ Jesus.  This righteousness makes one a Christian, that is, if he needs it.  But if one, by virtue of his own righteousness, needs not Christ’s righteousness, then the death of Jesus was in vain.  But if Christ’s death is not in vain then human nature cannot of its own merit, escape the wrath of God.  Said escape can only be realized by faith in Christ.

Our Corrupted Natures

Although our nature was created whole and sound, it was corrupted by original sin, which was committed by free will, and now requires Divine rescue from it’s fallen state.  This rescue is gratis, not merited, it’s a justification freely given by God through Christ’s sacrifice.   For because of original sin, all mankind is justly under God’s wrath, and as such needs a Savior, so that they can be ‘vessels of mercy.’

Pelagius’ View of Man’s Ability to not Sin

Pelagius advanced the argument that actually all men sin, but its possible that they can abstain from it.  Augustine responds that just because something is possible, it does not follow that it can actually happen.  Moreover, one is not unrighteous because of his own choice [Pelagius], but rather because of his inability to choose to be righteous.  To affirm the former, rather than the latter, would make the cross of Christ of none effect and prove one to be a liar (1 Jn.1:8).  Pelagius corrupts (Jam.3:8) to support the above notion by making an interrogative note: “Can no man, then, tame the tongue?” as opposed to “No man can tame the tongue.”  James wrote this of the tongue, emphatically, not interrogatively, so that we would petition God for his mercy and grace.  Augustine rightly points to (Jam.3: 10) to support his conclusion of our need for God’s grace to tame our tongue.  Furthermore, Augustine points out that in the Lord’s Prayer, we are commanded to ask for pardon from past sins, and to be kept from future transgression.  But, if we do not need divine assistance in the matter, why then are we commanded to ask for help?  It seems foolish therefore, to ask for something we have.

Pelagius’ View Concerning Our Corrupt Human Nature

Pelagius denies that human nature has been corrupted by sin, for if sin is not a substance, then how can it corrupt human nature?  Augustine responds by first pointing out, that such a view opposes the Jesus who said, “they that are whole, need no physician, but they that are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mt.9: 12-13)  Second, even though sin is not a substance, it does not prevent our nature from becoming corrupt.  Augustine continues and explains that we humans are sufficient of ourselves to commit sins, but insufficient of ourselves to be healed from it.  For the penalty of sin is death, and as such we need to choose to stop sinning, but we need to be revived from the grave, before being able to do that.  We need a Vivifier!   Until our souls are revived by Christ’s grace, we are unable to respond to God in righteousness.  To think we need no such assistance reveals our pride and restricts the humble petition for divine grace from being offered.

Augustins’ God-Centeredness for Man’s Healing

Augustine further points out that although God’s purpose in acting is to heal all things, He does not follow the sick patients prescription for its accomplishment.  For in His purpose to endow the Apostle Paul with power, God made sure that Paul was weak because “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor.12: 7-8).  In fact Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ was given to keep him humble because of the multitude of revelations that God gave him, so that he would not be prideful, and that in the ‘right’ thing.  By doing this to Paul, God is preventing the apostle from boasting in gifts he has received, not earned, and as such, he is being protected from eternal peril.  Now, God in a certain sense forsakes the proud, so that such a one may learn that he has a Master, and thus learns to renounce the pride.

Pelagius’ View of Man’s Equality to God

Pelagius also equals man’s sinless to be equal to God, but Augustine responds by noting that the creature can never in substance become equal to God.  Moreover, Pelagius honors God as Creator but dishonors him as Savior when he holds that Jesus heals us of our past sins, but not the future ones.  Unwittingly, Pelagius is not encouraging that believers be watchful and pray, “lead us not into temptation”; instead he is advancing an independent attitude between the creature and the Creator.  Another argument Pelagius raises is that Abel was sinless on the heels of asserting that not all people’s sins in the Bible were recorded.  Augustine responds, by noting that Adam, Eve, and Cain’s sin are recorded, but to conclude and even ‘add’ that Abel did not sin because it’s not in the text, is a wicked act for the text also is silent on that.

Augustine addresses many other issues concerning how only by God’s grace one can be sinless, that what He commands is not impossible but in no wise removes the need for petitioning his divine help.  He also tackles the issue of free will and its ramifications to the believer’s life.  Toward the end of the letter, Augustine uses other authorities to combat Pelagius’ views, he demonstrates how to exhort men to godly living, and ends the treatise by accentuating the need for the Holy Spirit to help believers walk holiness.

[1] Augustin, Aurelius, Bishop of Hippo, “Treatise on Nature and Grace: Against Pelagius,” The Nicene and

Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume V, Pp.121-151, (T & T Clark Edinburgh: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1997)

Selected Book Summaries from the PATRISTIC & MEDIEVAL PERIOD: Athanasius “Defense of the Nicene Definition”[1]

 

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Athanasius Defense of the Nicene Definition[1]

In his letter defending the Nicene Definition, Athanasius concerns himself with several charges laid against the Nicene Council.

Defining Begotten

The term begotten is the springboard from which the Arians viewed Christ not as the Creator, but rather as a creature of the Father.  The first begotten Son, after being created, became the means by which the Father created all other things.  Hence, this creature cannot be the same essence as the Father, and as such is not True God.  Athanasius responds with several arguments.  Two considerations follow.

Man’s Contingency & God’s Necessity

First, he considers man’s contingency and God’s necessity and relates it to our natures.  He points out that in order for man to create there must already exist material, whereas for God to create, he only has to speak the word ex-nihilo.  He continues and points out that man’s generation is in one way, and the Son’s from the Father is another.  Man’s offspring by nature is compounded in begetting children, but God who by nature is uncompounded, is Father of the One Only Son.  That is to say, that the Son is eternally generated from the Father, for in that God ever is, He is ever the Father of the Son.  Athanasius follows this argument and supports it with Scriptures (Mt.9: 27; Heb.1: 3; Ps.36: 9; Jn.14: 9).

Confronting the Arian’s Misinterpretation of Scripture

Second, Athanasius is aware of how the Arians misinterpret Scripture.  They argue for the creation of Christ from Proverbs 8:22 “The Lord created me a beginning of His ways unto His works” and his response is that it does refer to the Son in his humanity, for creation belongs to man.  Moreover, just as we do not lose our proper substance when we receive the Spirit, so Christ did not lose his substance of deity when he became man, but rather he deified and rendered it immortal.  Athansius then continues explaining the Catholic sense of the word Son, and asserts that his name implies eternal.

 The Phrases “From the Essence” and “One in Essence.” 

The Arian’s complain that the terms, “Of the essence” and “One in essence” is not Scriptural.  Athanasius quickly exposes their hypocrisy by asking “why do they [Arians] use phrases like ‘He was not before His generation,’ and ‘once he was not,’ and ‘out of nothing,’ and ‘pre-existence,’ which are clearly not Scriptural.”  He then indicts them of making up fables and mocking the Lord.  He then explains the reason for the usage of these phrases and their meaning.

 “From God”

The phrase ‘from God’ was understood by the Arians to mean that Christ, like men, is the offspring of God.  To combat the heterodoxy, they chose the phrase ‘from the essence of God’ so that the Son would not be seen as a creature, but rather as the Word, which is from the Father, who is the originator of all things, truly from God.  This phrase was installed to prevent any deception from the Arians.

 “One in Essence”

The phrase ‘one in essence’ describes the indivisibility of the Father and the Son, and it was written by the Council to defeat the twisted heretics, and to show that the Word is not a mutable creature, but rather the Creator of all creatures, of all things.  Moreover, the Council anathematized the Arian doctrine, and Athanasius then challenges the Arians to refute the Council’s position.  If they can, then “anathematize” the anathema of the Council.  If there are those who think the phrase is strange, Athanasius affirms that this is so because they are not understood with the intended meaning of the Council.  Hence, Athanasius is essentially telling the Arians to “put up or shut up.”

Athanasius continues and sites several authorities that agree with the Council on the phraseology, and finishes the letter by grappling with the unscriptural term unoriginate that the Arian’s borrowed from the Greeks.

[1] Athanasius,  “Defense of the Nicene Definition,” The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series,

Volume IV, Pp.150-172, (T & T Clark Edinburgh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted in 1996)

 

Summary of “THE MARK OF THE CHRISTIAN” by Francis Schaeffer

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In his book The Mark of the Christian Schaeffer points out the great Commandment to love God and neighbor is at the core of our message and it must be lived out if two things are to occur.  First, if men are to know that we are Christ’s disciples, there must be the humble preference toward one another that Jesus demonstrated to the disciples when he washed their feet in (John 13).  Love among the brothers lets the watching world see if we actually belong to Jesus or not.

We may very well be his, but if our actions are contradictory then the unbeliever has the right given by God to judge us.  This kind of life is costly, painful and accompanied by great loss, but our love for the Savior and for the lost must be what motivates us.

Second, we must be unified with believers so that our evangelistic endeavors are not hindered and the world may know that the Father sent the Son (John 17).  This unity must be evident in word and in deed.  Even when there are differences among us, and there will be, it’s critical that forgiveness, repentance, humility and kindness be evident when we part ways with our brothers and sisters.

This unity, according to Schaeffer, is not organizational, nor our mystical union with Him, it’s not our positional unity in Christ, not even a legal unity before Him.  But it’s a real, observable, practical unity that practices both God’s holiness and love.  Schaeffer rightly accentuates that this unity is never to be separated from His propositional truth (scripture) for it is these propositions that believers are called to live out before the world.

Summary of “THE CHURCH BEFORE THE WATCHING WORLD” by Francis Schaeffer

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In his book The Church before the Watching World, Schaeffer makes as some very penetrating observations concerning the Christian in this world.  First, in the chapter Adultery and Apostasy: The Bride and Bridegroom Theme he insists that we remember our union to the Bridegroom and consider how we live in light of our loyalty to our husband—Christ Jesus.  To commit apostasy is equal to spiritual adultery, which is to be whoring around, and this grieves God, it saddens Him and often dooms us forever.

Second, in the chapter Practicing Purity in the Visible Church, he holds that to practice purity in the visible church, three things are essential which if removed, then the practice of purity can’t be realized.  First, there must be church discipline for those who hold not to historic Scriptural orthodoxy and the creeds.  Second, exiting the church or the denomination has its place (Mic.6:8) and third, we must remember that the world is under God’s judgment—on fire!  So, we must exemplify a commitment to scriptural historic Christianity, a commitment to courageous loving discipline, a commitment to a winsome departure when necessary, and a commitment to a lost and dying world.

Third there are Absolute Limits that must be maintained if our witness will remain faithful to Christ.   There are again three essential pillars that must be upheld for our view to be truly Christian.  They come under the pre-fall and post-fall categories and can be stated as Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.

Pre-Fall: First, The truth of the Trinitarian God who is there, who is the ultimate Creator and sustainer of everything that exists.  Post-Fall: Second, Human rebellion is real and consequently needs genuine rescueThird, the God/Man is the Redeemer of man by virtue of his life, death, and resurrection and his work secures the believers hope.  Lastly, final judgment is assured.  For believers this means life, for non-believers eternal torment.

To jettison absolute truth is to dispose of the Historic Christian faith as a system of thought.  Hence while disagreements obtain among true believers, there still remains a circle of orthodoxy that has boundaries.  These lines must be clearly maintained so that the essence of Christianity is not lost.

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 3: THE PREACHER ON TIME & ETERNITY

“There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven__” (3:1).  This chapter doesn’t feel as gloomy as the first two but he considers the issue of “time”.  What is time in this context?  According to the Preacher, time is a successive series of events which begin and end (e.g., a time to give birth, a time to die 3:2).  There are several aspects I want to consider.

First, there once was a “time” I did not exist, then came the time of my birth, and a day awaits when I will finally die.  One day, life as we experience it and know it will no longer be.  But will “I” or “we” cease to exist?  There are some who would concur that eventually we go out of existence.  However, according to the Scriptures and especially in the Gospel accounts (i.e., Mathew, Mark, Luke and John) you and I will either live forever in the blessed presence of Christ or in the eternal wrathful presence of God called hell.

Second, the Preacher acknowledges that God has made all things appropriate in their time (v.11) and He has also set eternity in the hearts of men (v.11b).  What’s interesting to me is that God, “in” time, which will never end, has placed eternity into men’s hearts.  I’m not altogether certain why that is but the purpose seems, “so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end” (v.11c).

This beginning and end seems to refer to “everything under heaven or the creation”.  Eternity here can very well be the state in time where man will forever gaze into the works of God, eternally beholding the Master’s handiwork in order to marvel at the immensity and the intricacies of His glory.

Third, the preacher knows that rejoicing and, doing good in one’s lifetime is the ultimate goal for existence (v.12).  This after all is in the contexts of eating, drinking, and laboring.  The one who recognizes that these activities are good must then acknowledge that they come from God.  This is not luck, fate, karma, nor destiny.  Instead, it’s the kindness of the Creator toward the creature who too often does not give honor nor give thanks to Him.

It’s been my experience even as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, that I have not found any delight in work but rather loathed it.  I often have not been thankful nor appreciated the skills for earning wealth I possess.  Perhaps you can relate friend to this kind of experience.  We need to pray that these three activities are seen for what they are—good.

This is important because too often, we tend to miss the splendor of the mundane by longing for the splendor filled day.  According to the Preacher, (v.22) “…nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities because that is man’s lot….For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?” The three activities (of eating, drinking, and laboring,) apportioned to us (by God) are our lot.  Enjoying them now is all that we are assured.  For when we die these activities, like our lives will cease.

What a challenge to be in the moment and maximize our joy in these activities, rather than squander the opportunity “in the time” allotted to us.  These are all gifts from God.  Today LORD God, give us your people the wisdom to live in light of eternity in this present fleeting life.  Teach us LORD to be happy in the lot you have determined for us to experience by keeping us from forfeiting said delight through actions and thoughts that dishonor your name.

(SDG)

 

 

WHAT’S SO “GOOD” ABOUT GOOD FRIDAY? Perspectives on the Work of Christ

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What’s so good about Good Friday?  This question deals with what Jesus of Nazareth accomplished over 2000 thousand years ago on Calvary’s bloody cross.  On that hill far away, the Son of righteousness fully satisfied God’s justice and love.  Since its inception, the Church has celebrated the grueling, horrific death of an innocent man who by virtue of his ontological status (His nature as the God/Man) secured rescue from God’s just white hot wrath toward rebels born of Adam.

But how can this be good?  One could argue, and many have, that this act was unjust, cruel, and an act of child abuse (i.e., the heavenly Father sent his one unique Son to die for those who hate God).  Who would ever treat their own sons and daughters in such a way by ordaining them to be brutally murdered by the Jews and the Romans on Calvary’s cross?

God did.  He’s the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who makes covenant with His chosen ones and does nothing wrong.  He’s the God who sets the standards of what is true, beautiful and good.  He’s the God of creation who spoke the worlds into existence out of nothing, sustains its order, and is taking history into a glorious reality never before known or imagined.  To read the full article, click on What’s so good about Good Friday?

EMMANUEL MEANS GOD WITH US—BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

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It’s the season once again to celebrate the birth of Christ the King.  To countless others, it’s an opportunity to give and receive gifts.  For still others, this season is cause for depression—a holiday reminding them of broken families and shattered dreams.  Again, to others the meaning of Christmas is not important, what’s vital is getting together with friends and loved ones, to enjoy a warm meal, pound down a few cold ones, and take the inebriation experience to the next level.

Last Thursday night I went to see my nephew Kai, perform before a live audience of proud parents, relatives, and friends.  The spectacle was celebrating the birth of Jesus with children’s voices filling the auditorium.  Through song and “sermonette”, emphasis was given to the name “Emmanuel” which translated means “God with us”.  The way it was emphasized perhaps missed the gravity of the reality.  Here’s what I mean.

When the emphasis is made that God is with “us”, with “me”, in “my heart”, through Jesus, while true, it can often miss the deeper, more basic reality of what it means for “Emmanuel” to be with us.

For God to be with us, implies that He is present, He is there; He is here.  It’s one of God’s attributes that no other creature can share.  Unlike His holiness which he promises to share with His people, God’s omnipresence is peculiar only to Him.  It means that God is everywhere, at all times, in all places, and simultaneously being non-spatially extended, incapable of being circumscribed because He is not physical, but immaterial.  God is spirit.

For God to be with us, also implies that He is present to lavish divine kindness toward His creatures.   This He does in many ways ultimately by rescuing God haters and transforming them into lovers of the Creator.

For God to be with us also means that he is present to punish the wicked.  Unwittingly, many think that Hell (i.e., the punishment awaiting the unrighteous who reject Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah and only Savior of humanity from sins and death’s grip) is the absence of God’s presence, but that’s impossible in light of God’s omnipresence.  My understanding is that what makes Hell, Hell, is God’s wrathful presence equitably distributed to each individual.

Theologically, this term is pregnant with meaning.  It speaks of the incarnation (i.e., the orthodox doctrine that Jesus is Fully God and Fully Man) which is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, but to the called, Christ Jesus is both the wisdom of God and the power of God.  What makes Jesus different from all other figures of history (philosophers, educators, statesmen, “religious” figures, builders, etc.) is that he claimed to be the self-existent, uncreated Creator who upholds all of creation by the word of his power.  That’s who Emmanuel is.

The mystery of the babe in the manger who became a real human being without relinquishing his divine nature is the mystery being proclaimed through Christmas Carols, Children’s Choirs and this Holiday season.  Does Emmanuel mean that Jesus is in my heart?  Yes, but in this shallow theological era which we are presently experiencing in the history of the church, opportunities come once a year where the wonder of Emmanuel can be explained in a way that brings out the nuances explained above.

Why “go so deep” one may opine.  Keep it simple stupid.  I think there’s a place for that, but when we keep it so simple that we help people remain stupid about our amazing Savior, I don’t see Jesus honored, but belittled.  May Emmanuel, God with us, never become dull, but may the wonder of the Incarnation (Jesus Fully God/Man) ever be the hope of the church, and the rescue for clueless rebels who are a vapor away from eternity.

Summaries__CHAPTER 1: APOLOGETICS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT    [Pgs.1-21] 

 

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Apologetics and specifically apologists have had a bad rap among modern Christians for various reasons.  Some have been known to be arrogant, pushy, snobbish, graceless, prayer-less people who ironically have diluted the gospel message. But a few bad apples “don’t spoil the whole bunch”.  There have been many who have been faithful to the cause of Christ and the kingdom of God and have paid the price for it as a result.

The church has been graced with many apologists since the inception of the primitive church who were marked by: prayer, erudition, genius, talent, and true piety.  In this book Avery Dulles aims to reveal how the heroes from the past understood and lived out what it meant to fulfill the mandate of 1 Peter 3:15.

Although nothing “new” can be said, recurring issues from the past resurface with “new” garb, which at the core are the same old problems.  Dulles gives special attention to both Catholic and Protestant contributors.  This text is a historical must read for those would learn from those who have gone before us.          

APOLOGETIC MOTIFS IN THE EARLY TRADITION

Christianity was a message before being an apologetic.  Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, crucified, buried, and Risen from the dead was at the story’s core [pp.2-3].  The Earliest Preaching focused on Christ’s Lordship (Acts 2:14-40; 3:12-26); backed up the claims of his Messiahship through fulfilled prophecy (Ps.2:7-8; 110:1; Acts 2:26; Heb. 1:5; 5:5); emphasized his resurrection as the core of the apostolic proclamation (Dan.7:13; acts 2:25-28); and Jesus’ passion was seen as the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s account (Is.53):

Who has believed our message?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. 
He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.  But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.  By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But he Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.  11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.

APOLOGETIC DEVELOPMENT:  [Pgs.3-9]

The early believers confronted and answered their objectors with amazing precision, penetration and practicality.  One objection was explaining: “the Ascension of Christ—where is He now?”  He’s presently in heaven (Ps.16: 11; 110:1); he will return as the judge of the living and the dead (Acts 3:21); and his dominion is presently exercised through the Spirit’s outpouring (Acts 2:16-21).

When it came to the Passion of Christ, Jesus was seen to be cursed by God through the crucifixion (Dt.21:23), but this humiliation was part of God’s redemptive plan (Is. 52-53, see 53:5) in order to justify many from the curse of the Law through faith in Jesus (Gal. 3:10-14).  Moreover, the blindness of the Jews was predicted by the prophet (Is.9-10; Acts 28:26-27); and was caused by God even though God has not forgotten them (Rom.9-11).

Another issue that had to be addressed was the betrayal of Judas.  How could Jesus have miscalculated the treachery of this disciple?  This betrayal was also predicted in scripture (Jn.13:18; cf., Ps.41:9) and points to the sovereignty of God in all things even when our choices are significant and we’re culpable.

Then there’s the issue of Jesus’ Origin being from Nazareth.  He’s in the line of David (Ps.89:3-4; Jn.1:45-46; Mic.5:1; Mt.2:5; Jn.7:42) seen by his birthplace to be in Bethlehem.

Again, there’s the issue of Jesus’ Public Life: where he never claimed to be the Messiah.  Nevertheless, God pointed to Jesus as his beloved Son (Ps.2: 7; Is.42:1; Lk. 3:22; 9:35; Acts 10:38; 2 Pet.1:17); the writers of the New Testament later understood that Jesus’ Messiahship was to be secret (Mk.1:34; 3:12; 5:42) perhaps because the Jews could not conceive of the type of Messiah Jesus was, or maybe because of Jesus’ ambivalent attitude toward the messianic appellations, or possibly because their hearts were hardened (Mk.6:52; 8:17; Jer.5:21).

When it came to the Miracles of Jesus they had a specific purpose.  Miracles were aids to faith, evoking wonder and amazement; they are seen (especially in the casting out of demons) as Satan being overthrown by the inauguration of the Kingdom of God; and they authenticate Jesus’ message because they blend in with the Good news of salvation.

CHANGING CONTEXTS: ACTS, PAUL, AND HEBREWS [Pgs.9-13]

In The Book Acts [pp. 9-11] we see Stephens defense of Christ and the gospel (Acts 7) by pointing to Old Testament redemptive history, where God is to be sought through the prophets, who ultimately point to the exclusivity of Jesus as the only means of salvation (Is.6:9-10).  Then there’s Peter’s address to the uncircumcised (Acts 10) where he undergoes a major paradigm shift of who can be saved and explains that Jesus is the healer, wonder worker, and risen Lord from the dead.

We also observe the Gentile world addressed through the agency of Natural Theology employed by Paul (Acts11…).  This apostle is seen contradicting polytheism (14:15-17); on the Areopagus address to the Athenians (17:23) Paul confronts their worship, explains God’s necessity and his transcendence.  Moreover, because Paul knew their authorities he could speak more forcefully to the gospel truth of coming judgment and Christ’s resurrection.

The Apostle Paul [Pgs.11-13]

This converted Pharisee who once persecuted the church was now its most influential spokesmen especially to the Gentile world.  When Paul addressed the Corinthian church he tackled the issue of Faith and Reason; refused to capitulate to their love of human wisdom (1 Cor.3: 6); would not ground his preaching on the hot philosophic views of the age, but instead rested his proclamation on the Spirit’s power so that their faith (the Corinthians) be not based on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

When Paul addressed the Romans, he focused on the hindrance to worship (Rom. 1).  This was the classic case against idolatry (vv18-23) that’s inexcusable, self-delusional, self-exalting, self-destructive, and is the reason for why God’s judgment obtains.

The Book of Hebrews [Pg.13]

We don’t really know who wrote the book of Hebrews but it’s the first apology to the Hebrew Christian Community where Christianity is seen as the perfect religion which eclipses the religion of Israel because of who Jesus of Nazareth is.  Here, the Old Covenant is compared to the New Covenant, Moses is compared to Jesus, the Levites are compared to Jesus’ Priesthood, the constant sacrifices are compared to Christ’s final sacrifice and Christ’s supremacy is placarded throughout the letter.

THE FOUR EVANGELISTS AS APOLOGISTS [Pgs.13-19]

The gospel accounts come from four different perspectives concerning the life and teachings of Christ.  At the core their message is identical, yet due to their audience, each biography has a different emphasis.   For example, Mark’s Gospel focuses on [p.14]; the edification of converts, the explanation for why Christianity began, the supply of preaching material for missionary preachers, an armory of apologetic arguments for Jewish and heathen opposition, with the view always to remember that Christ is risen indeed.

Matthew’s Gospel intentions [p.15] focused more on the believing community where apologetically the writer was concerned with fulfilled prophecy—as a summary of Jesus’ career (Is.14:1-4), with ecclesiastical hierarchy (Mt.16:19), with combating Rabbinic thought (Mt.23), and finally with unfolding the Passion narrative (Mt.27-28).

Luke-Acts intentions [Pgs.16-17] focused on demonstrating the accurate historical account of the life of Jesus (to know the truth of all Theophilus had heard (Lk.1:1-4), it was geared toward the Roman ruler it was focused on redemptive history, and the need to establish a harmonious relationship between the Church and the supreme secular powers.

John’s Gospel intentions [Pgs.17-19] are for people to come to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the goal of which is eternal life.  This would be realized through; the Signs of the miracles, emphasis on Jesus as the Light of the world to a Hellenistic audience.  John’s aim in all of this is to sustain and intensify the life of believers.  As such, it has apologetic affinities.

CONCLUSION

The Resurrection of Jesus was indubitably the centerpiece of early Christian apostolic preaching.  Since the majority of audiences held the OT Scriptures as authoritative, it was the sacred text used apologetically to demonstrate Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and Redeemer of all mankind.  However, when ignorance of such literature obtained, preachers like Paul would employ natural theology to proclaim the Gospel.

This brief outline is packed with Gospel truth that you believer would do well to meditate on, understand and impart to those God has called you to disciple.

Available Now: Reflections From Romans!

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Working through the book of  Romans for me in the manner in which I’m encouraging you friend to do, has been an amazing plunge into the simplicity and complexity of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

Now available in its entirety is what for me is Paul’s “Gospel Himalayas” in (click) Reflections from Romans 

Take up and read, pass it along to others, let it become part of your daily walk Christian and treasure this Gospel like no other possession.  For nothing else compares to its splendor, beauty, majesty and power.  As the apostle Paul stated in Romans 1:16-17:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

May you and I dear friend also not be ashamed of this good news which alone can save through the risen Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  Instead, may we make it our life’s goal to know it, love it, and live before a broken world that desperately needs true and real hope.

(SDG)