Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Blogging Our Europe Trip: Days Three and Four -- Cotswolds, Bath, and to London

Part One

Before I return to the story of our trip, first driving a car in Britain again -- so far, so good, or at least as good as could be expected, which to me means no tickets and no accidents.  One word explains the experience better than any, roundabouts.  Yes, I'm driving a stick with my left hand on the right side of the car on the left side of the road, but more difficult than any other is what I called a "turnabout" in part one, which is a roundabout actually.

The U.S. has roundabouts, but they are very infrequent and easier, more like four way stops.  I've been driving now three days here and the drill has sharpened me, because you've got these unique features of British driving about every three miles, it seems, stacked one upon another.  They are very often and basically an uncontrolled intersection, that seem like the middle of what I remember from my youth as the demolition derby.  Everyone, of course, enters on the left, giving right away to those on the right, but based on a judgment call -- three to six entrance and exit points transected through a circle.  Look to your right to see if that oncoming traffic will keep coming roundabout or exit to your right.  Diddly-dee and diddly-do, make sure that he doesn't crash into you.  Someone behind you is in serious judgment of your decision if it isn't quick, expect a blast from his horn.  Every success brings a fresh cleansing breath, a sigh of relief and onto the next, sometimes merely a half a mile away.

Why does Europe drive small cars?  Global warming?  Nope.  Very narrow two way roads that are actually one lane roads, built for two, like the bi-seat bicycle.  You are an island after all, and last time I checked, no one's making any new property.  Crazy and maybe surpassing roundabouts are the alley-width paths you drive in England. All the time you come to a car and only one shall pass, requiring the pull over, over meaning into dirt or other subtle indentations.  Just do it.  It's all  that will work, and if you do, you usually get a hand wave.  I mean it.  You get a reward on earth, the wave of a hand.  Some of the roads are so narrow -- without exaggeration -- that someone is going to have to back up to the nearest possible turn out to allow for the other to pass.

I'll do a separate airbnb evaluation, but our first two nights we slept in a barn, a converted one, and a stone one.  Many houses are stone in Western England, even the roofs.  Walls for fences, very long ones that go for miles, are made out of rocks, not bricks, stacked up very carefully and sometimes mortared in between, sometimes not.  You see deep green valleys with rolling hills dotted by puffy, fluffy white sheep, grazing.  The birds sing like I've never heard in England, something close to which you might hear at the Masters golf tournament in the May in Georgia.

Our four ate a nice self-served breakfast at the airbnb in Circencester, pronounced Siren-sester, actually an even smaller Perrot's Brook.  We drove to Bibury fifteen minutes away to rows of aged stone cottages as old as anything in England, still inhabited, stream passing through the middle with old mill, water wheel, walking bridges, and miniature shops with front doors shorter than six feet.

Next was Bourton-on-the-Water, yes, with the hyphens provided, fancying itself the Venice of the Cotswolds because of its series of stone bridges connecting two sides of a peaceful river with fowl straight out of central casting.  The town has a model town duplicating the entire town all of stone with workers maintaining the model fastidiously on hands and knees.  Each little shop has a character with the English accent.

We four then drove through the renowned both Lower and then Upper Slaughter to Stow-on-the-Wold, where we saw the oldest functioning Inn in the nation and ate lunch at Lucy's Tea Room, partaking in the traditional British custom with a pot of hot tea and various baked goods, scones and cakes and the like.  We walked the narrow lanes and alleys, popping into the small businesses, and visited the large Cathedral in center of town to see aspects of historical significance.  Inside the building and in the yard are the graves and tombs holding remains of centuries old important figures of that town.  Other markers memorialize all the men who died from that congregation in the Great War.

Next my family traveled forty-five minutes to Gloucester, pronounced Glauster.  Sea gulls circle this coastal city, much more gritty and urban.  We traveled here to look at the Gloucester Cathedral, the oldest Norman building in England.  It's worth reading about here (along with the pictures).  It contains monumental, tennis-court sized stained glass windows, which tell numbers of stories, some to advocate its religious false doctrine.  We got in on a free tour from an older Gloucestrian volunteer, full of knowledge.  You have these people all over England.

This Cathedral has an abbey, where monks practiced their Catholic rituals, living in adverse poverty, hoping their asceticism might merit favor with God.  The cloisters are amazing, enough to attract the Harry Potter films to use in the making of that series.  Gloucester Cathedral and the abbey survived because a Plantaganet king of England, Edward II, was buried there after having been murdered.  He was an ancestor of Henry VIII, who stood at the very place where we had on the very stones of that Cathedral.  Also William the Conqueror's son, Robert, is buried there, a very important figure in that time.

As an aside, we learned two interest facts about the Cathedral.  An American is buried in the building, a diplomatic emissary of Thomas Jefferson, William Lyman, who happened to die in the area hot springs, so they just deposited and then marked his remains there.  You've heard of Francis Scott Key.  Well, a British and American flag hang at the Cathedral, because the author of the music, yes, the music of our national anthem, was written by someone raised in town from that church, John Stafford Smith, who is also interred there.

As we were ready to leave the Cathedral, a nun puffed up to where we were, begging me to please stop talking because my voice bounced everywhere in the entire building, carrying into her class.  She was the very head lady of the entire organization.  I barely talked except to ask questions or to laugh at our guide's humor.  Still my voice reverberated to the extent that it stopped all business there.

Tuesday night we drove back home and then ate at The Falcon Inn, and I ordered the fish pie.  Good stuff eaten on a heavy wooden table with heavy wooden beams above.

The next morning we packed and rose to drive to Lacock, one of the oldest, best preserved old and still inhabited villages in England.  Just driving into the town is a sight.  All over England are these national trust properties, taken care by the British people through taxes, donations, entrance fees, and sales.  We paid to visit the Lacock Abby where is amazing Gothic architecture and where lived the inventor of the photograph, William Henry Fox Talbot.  The abbey was preserved from destruction in part because it was purchased by Sir William Harrington, who converted it to a residence.  In my opinion, he did a poor job, but deserved an A for effort.

The Talbot name became prominent through a female descendant married into that name, followed by family who continued to live there until 2009.  My wife liked the kitchen downstairs, still in mid 19th century condition, telling the tale of a bygone era of household.  The abbey is a mixture of ancient Catholic, ascending Protestantism with the destruction of Catholic images, and the combination of the latest British aristocracy and scientists.  Talbot was an early member of the British scientific society, hosting many prestigious guests.

The cloisters of the Lacock Abbey rival Gloucester's, again attracting the Potter producers also to use for their film.  The village of Lacock inspired the settings for several British made films, because of the authenticity of its appearance.  Next we set off for Bath.

Bath is as different as anything we saw.  Jane Austen lived in Bath and incorporated it into several of her stories.  The Avon River of Stafford on Avon, Shakespeare's hometown, winds through Bath down to the Atlantic, under the Putney Bridge, a stone structure with the businesses still in operation.  Bath is pronounced Bawth and is named for the Roman Baths, back to the imperial period on the island.  The hot springs attracted for hygiene and medicinal purposes.  They are from the Roman era, which is still seen all over Britain.

Also in Bath is the Georgian architecture of the famous Royal Crescent, a half circle of amazing stone houses in inimitable splendor, and with an original cobble stone street in front.  We ate a Sally Lunn bun from an 18th century bakery.  Bath is built on a hill similar to San Francisco but with much narrower and winding streets, very challenging to drive.  We succeeded at arriving and then departing in time to attend a strict Baptist church in Kensington at 7:30pm, coming back to a flat in West London.

More to Come.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Blogging Our Europe Trip: Days One and Two -- Travel and Arrival

For the next three weeks or so, I will write about the trip my wife, two youngest daughters, and I have taken to Europe.  People who know us and others can keep up this way.  It will also stand as a sort of diary or journal.  You might find it interesting.

I write this in an area of the UK, called the Cotswolds, in the countryside around Cirencester.  It's 5:55am, and I noticed my tablet says 9:56pm, California time.  This is the first time I've been overseas and the time difference does wreak havoc with sleep. Keep that in mind.  It's just the way it is.  I slept from 11pm to about 3:30am, UK time, and woke very awake.  The body just doesn't cooperate.  I ran into my youngest daughter in the hall way here at our airbnb and she couldn't sleep either, so maybe it isn't age.

Our church scheduled an early evening service like we often do this time of the year -- from 2:15pm to 3:20pm after a church potluck.  We were packed, but we quickly changed at home and left there at 4pm, arriving at SFO at about 5pm.  Our flight was supposed to leave at 7:35pm.

We traveled light for the first time of any trip in my memory.  We put nothing underneath.  This prepares us for two other short flights in Europe and some train rides:  four very small suitcases for overhead and then a little under seat bag each.

After entering the airport, we walked straight to security.  If you haven't done it before, it's worse than domestic.  They look at your passport and they opened three of our suitcases to check what was in them.  It took us at least an hour even with skipping the check-in process.  Check-in online is more involved, because the airline asks passport related questions.

When you walk into a British plane, and we flew Virgin Atlantic, it is like you have already entered the UK.  The flight attendants are British, the instructions are British, a lot of the people are British, the language is British, and the food is British.  The pilot is British.  I envisioned former RAF.

I'm just reporting, but Britain is diverse in ethnicity.  A lot of them on the plane were Indian, some kind of Middle Eastern, and African.  British colonies were all over the world.  It's white people are different.  We're all human beings, but they're not the same as Americans.

My family and I, all four of us, sat in a middle row about 3/4 back.  We were next to two bathrooms either side, which is not a good seating situation, I'm telling you, for an overnight flight.  People use the bathroom and the door opens and closes and the toilet flushes a lot.  The good news is you can get right there if you need it and I was so tired that it didn't affect that much.

I'd never taken a ten hour flight.  The most was cross country many times.  It is a significant time difference.  You feel like you missed a day.  I watched The Darkest Hour, the film on Churchill.  It's not something I would normally mention, but it was free on the backseat entertainment screen with Virgin Atlantic.   It was very well done and a representative British film.  I teared up a few times with his speeches during the darkest hours of World War II.

When we landed, we walked quite a ways at Heathrow to the passport area.  It's a huge area, gigantic room, split between the UK and EU travelers and everyone else. Everyone else is a lot slower.  It's like waiting for a popular ride at an amusement park, moving through a maze.  In Britain, you have to fill out a card with your passport with even more info, that perhaps helps the process.  I thought we got through fast.  What is actually customs is nothing.  You can walk right through that area and then you are on to whatever transportation.

For us, transportation was the underground.  That's what they call it there.  Some call it the tube.  It's not the subway.  The underground around London is very complex. In addition, you have a giant train scene there.  There are options at Heathrow, but we bought four oyster cards with 30 pounds apiece on it, and took the Picadelly line to the Circle line to the Central line, which got us to where we got a rental car at a shopping center.

Getting around, you have the police in a kind of traditional British outfit with the unique hat.   Everyone who talks to you is entertaining because it's coming in brand new accents and unique personalities.  When we left the underground, I stopped at a bank and used an atm to get British pounds.  I have a bank account for the trip with no foreign transaction fees.  The pound is worth more than a dollar, something like 10 to 8 or so, and the money looks a lot different.

We rented a car nearer to our airbnb in London in order to drive out to the Cotswolds and Bath before returning on Wednesday.  Getting the car wasn't a problem.  I have a credit card that has no foreign fees.

One of the major issues is driving.  The cars are different.  You drive on the right of the car and on the left of the road.  I had a manual transmission, so the stick was on the left too.  I happen to drive on the left for the first time in a busy area with narrow roads and an amazing number of turnabouts.  I don't think there is anything that you can do to get yourself ready for this right away.

Before we left, I downloaded on my phone an offline map, and that was a lifesaver, because our phone gps doesn't work there without cell phone.  We've planned to get a sim card, and didn't because the store, a Tesco, closed early on what was a bank holiday, something British.

It is freaky to drive on the left.  You can't get out of your mind that you are not going to run into ongoing traffic.  You've got to tell yourself you are OK.  The tendency is to drift left away from the middle line.  Don't do that.  You are next to the line on the right as a driver and just stay close to it.  Numbers of times my left tire was hitting curbs on these narrow country roads.

The drivers are unhappy in England.  The do not suffer bad driving.  They honk and they give you gestures.  Since you travel on the left, if you've got multiple lanes, the right lane is fast, just the opposite than the U. S.  Many times I found myself stopping the speedy traffic in the slow lane that was really the fast lane.  Don't do that either.  Keep that right lane open for speed.

I can't tell what the speed limit is in the UK.  It's not posted, at least not on M4, which I found they call the motorway.  Rental places are car hires.  The toilet is the lou, or something like that.

The roads in the countryside off the main road are narrow, not for two cars.  We left the motorway for supper at about 6:30pm.  In these villages, there are a lot of little quaint local restaurants.  I had fish and chips at one, and it was amazing.  Fantastic.  We talked to locals.  One older lady had just visited London for the first time in her life the previous week.

In these little places to eat, the people are very friendly and some are talkative.  Others just stare.  We told the owner that it was the best English fish and chips ever in our lives, which isn't much of a compliment, because it was the only in our lives.  That got laughs from customers.  They laugh.

We got to our airbnb and it is a cottage in the country.  Perhaps I'll have more to say about these airbnb later.  This is a first for me, and I do like it so far.  It's staying with people you don't know with more for your buck.  You also get local flavor.  These people a really, really British.

Today we're going out into the Cotswolds, and I'll tell you what that's like, Lord willing.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Get 2% or More Back On (Almost) All Expenses, Including Tithing, Giving, Business & Personal Bills, etc.

You can get 2% cash back or more on almost all your personal, business, and charitable expenses in the manner described below if you act fast.  Let's say you give $20,000 a year to your church, pay $10,000 a year on your mortgage, and have other bills of $20,000.  That would be $1,000 back for following the simple directions below.  Let's say you have a business and spend $1,000,000 a year.  With a little more hassle you could save $20,000 a year, or more, by following the directions below.  However, this opportunity will dry up on 5/31, so you need to act quickly.

A service called Plastiq allows one to pay almost all bills with a credit card, including everything from rent to one's plumber that one may not normally be able to pay with credit.  Normally they charge 2.5% for this service.  If you have a credit card like the Citi Double Cash, you get 2% cash back, but you still are out 0.5% for the fee.  That is not a good deal.  However, for payments on a Mastercard through Masterpass, Plastiq is offering a deal of no credit card fee at all for payments up to $500 per day per card through the end of September, as long as you pay them within Plastiq through Masterpass and schedule the payments before 5/31.  That is, you could schedule $500 a day on as many Mastercard credit cards as you have and get 2% back on all of them, every day, between now and the end of September, as long as you schedule the payments by the end of May.  They do not need to charge your card now, only have the payments scheduled now; they charge the card when they send the payment out.  If someone has multiple Mastercards, and can afford to pre-pay his giving, utility bills, mortgage, etc., a very large amount of money could be made. I am going to try to take advantage of this to get 2% back in free money on as much as possible, and I would commend the deal to you as well.  If you get 2% cash back on your credit card, you are saving $10 on every single $500 bill you schedule.  A charity like a church or Christian school could do this as well and save a very large amount of money if they have multiple Mastercards.  They could, for example, send checks for missionaries that they support out through Plastiq and save 2% for every one.

I have paid many bills through Plastiq and the service has been reliable, and using them has been financially profitable through various promotions they have.

If you use my referral code, 283357, when you sign up for Plastiq, you will get $500 "fee free" dollars as well which you can use at any time, and I will get some as well.  (Thanks in advance.  You do not need to use my referral code to take advantage of the promotion.)

If you do not pay your credit card bills in full each month but run high interest rate balances, you should NOT take advantage of this deal but should pay off your cards as soon as possible.  For those who do pay credit cards off in full each month, I believe this is genuinely a very good deal.  For more information on how it works, please see the article here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Evangelicals Move the Goalposts on Adiaphora

Adiaphora is not a biblical word.  It is a transliteration of a Greek word not found in the New Testament. It's more of a philosophical word that has now become a theological, practical category.  It means, "indifferent things," and in technical language, "disputable matters," and refers to what some might call, "Romans 14 issues," speaking of "doubtful disputations" (KJV) in Romans 14:1.  Someone isn't to judge another believer in disputable matters.  What matters though are disputable?

Evangelicals, compared to fundamentalists or separatists, categorize more matters as disputable.  This list is growing too.  More beliefs and practices are disputable than ever.  How does this happen?  Aren't scriptural teachings and practices set in stone?  The Bible means what it means and it doesn't change in its meaning?  Isn't that liberalism, a sort of loose construction of scripture, or progressivism?

Evangelicals move the goalposts on adiaphora, and it's no wonder, if you read one of the more prominent evangelicals in the world, D. A. Carson in the very first sentence of his journal article in 2015, named "On Disputable Matters":
Every generation of Christians faces the need to decide just what beliefs and behavior are morally mandated of all believers, and what beliefs and behavior may be left to the individual believer’s conscience.
That sentence alone could open a can of worms.  Does every generation of believers need to decide what beliefs and practices are mandated, or has that already been settled?  Do these things change?

Todd Friel deals with adiaphora in a recent session of his Wretched TV, titled, "Principles of Christian Liberty."  In a recent weekly interview with Phil Johnson, Friel says that Phil Johnson greatly influenced what he says in this presentation (maybe speaking of this program with Phil).  Two points stood out to me from Friel that reminded me of the subjectivity or relativism of evangelical Christian liberty, what they believe Christians are still allowed or now allowed to do, that at one time they were not.

First, Friel said that Christians have liberty in "non-essentials."  This is where evangelicals move the goalposts on adiaphora.  They are not telling the truth on this.  It seems like they are lying.  I don't think Friel himself is lying.  He's not a theological heavyweight and he's now heard this mantra of non-essentials long enough that he thinks it's actually in the Bible without providing a single reference for it.  There isn't a solitary reference in scripture that categorizes adiaphora as non-essentials.  Christians don't have liberty to disobey anything in God's Word.

Evangelicals have, like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, ranked doctrines on matter of importance, which justifies unbelief and sin.  I say this is moving the goalpost.  Adiaphora is about disputable matters, which in other words is something not a clear application of scripture.  A common example in the New Testament is eating meat offered unto idols (cf. 1 Corinthians 8-10).

Second, Friel uses the example of "musical styles" as adiaphora.  He's saying that Christians have liberty in musical styles, that musical styles are disputable, so one cannot judge them as wrong or sinful.  This is where evangelicals have voided about every possible application of scripture, allowing them to have liberty in almost everywhere to live how they want.  As a result, they are worldly, fleshly, and sensual, all of which are forbidden.  They are unwilling to make application of scripture in almost every possible way.

As an irony, as I wrote this post, I looked at Phil Johnson's twitter feed and noticed his retweet of an article on an interview of Wynton Marsalis, who berates rap music to Jonathan Capeheart of the Washington Post.  He appreciates the Marsalis judgment of what seems a disputable matter to Friel.  It isn't a consistent position.  Of course we have to judge music.  Of course not all musical styles can be used in worship.  God can't be worshiped with something sensual, fleshly, worldly, or profane.  Using pop music to worship God does more damage to the knowledge of God among men than most false doctrinal statements.

In the Christian Liberty session with Friel, done at the G3 conference, Friel asks Johnson for an example of a Christian liberty, and he says, "Dancing."  Is dancing a liberty?  I would judge that as a poor example by Phil, because Christians don't have liberty in just any kind of dancing, actually in most kinds Christians don't have liberty.  Earlier Jesus said that the truth shall set you free (John 8:32), and He was saying "freedom from sin."  How many forms of dancing are sin?  No one is require to be circumcised or observe dietary restrictions anymore, so Johnson's usage of Galatians 5 doesn't work.  What people today know to be dancing involves numbers of different ways to sin.  Liberty is being set free from sin, not liberty to sin.  This is a major error of most of evangelicalism, including the conservative evangelicals, like Phil Johnson.

It has become almost impossible in evangelicalism to disobey many passages of scripture, because they make it impossible to apply those passages to anything in the real world.  Almost all applications are disputable to them, especially where it steps on their own toes.  Same sex marriage has become disputable in much of evangelicalism because of this very practice.  Friel and Johnson both feed this practice in order to protect this convenient view in evangelicalism.

The Bible does not teach a doctrine of non-essentials.  We don't have liberty in non-essentials.  The doctrine of non-essentials proceeds from postmodern uncertainty.  When Christians have established for centuries certain doctrine and practice, it can't suddenly come into play, just because of a slide in the culture.  It doesn't become disputable, and, therefore, permissible, just as a matter of convenience.

I notice that women wear something worse than long underwear in public now.  Now evangelicals wear leggings, what was once hosiery worn under the outer garments, in public.  That's a disputable matter.  What was once nudity is now accepted and on what basis?  Adiaphora.  This is moving the goalpost, friends.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Convenient Repudiation of Fundamentalists by Evangelical Leaders Now Less Convenient

When I look at the spectrum of evangelicalism (not the book), and I've been watching it the over 35 years of my entire adult life, I see what seems to be a new fondness of especially conservative evangelicals for fundamentalism.  I even hear them calling themselves fundamentalists like they never would before.  You can now read something like the following from evangelicals (from a series about fundamentalism---parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine):
Fundamentalism was never conceived as an outlet for Christian hardliners and extremists. It’s not a dirty word, or at least it shouldn’t be. There are fundamental biblical truths that must be defended and contended for (Philippians 1:16; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). And defending those precious truths is just as vital today as it was a century ago.
Even though the series to which I linked is 2015, believe me when I say this is new.  You would hear dozens of bad things about fundamentalists and fundamentalism before this recent new penchant from conservative evangelicals.  If you did a search, you would find yourself reading or hearing nothing good about fundamentalism.  It would be mocked.  Evangelicalism, however, has reached a tipping point, to where some evangelicals have begun to rethink evangelicalism and whether they want to be fundamentalists.

Even John Piper recently has been positive about fundamentalism, where he would not have been in his formative years and later (here one, two).  With Billy Graham's death, I was fascinated to read about his dad's split with Bob Jones University over Billy Graham's New York City crusade.  By the world and by moderate to left evangelicals, John MacArthur more so (for instance, here) and John Piper (he says, here) some are both called fundamentalists.  C. S. Lewis was called a fundamentalist:
I have been suspected of being what is called a Fundamentalist. That is because I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous.
I don't think Macarthur, Piper, or Lewis were or are fundamentalists.  To be, even a historic fundamentalist, someone must believe, teach, and practice a doctrine of separation.  Even if it is not a biblical belief and practice of separation, to be a fundamentalist you've got to separate over the fundamentals.  I still don't read separation from these men.  For that reason, I don't know where they and men like them would and will end.  Perhaps they are preparing to be fundamentalists.

On the other hand, fundamentalism itself is shrinking.  MacArthur leans toward fundamentalism and fundamentalists slide toward MacArthur.  Fundamentalists are less fundamental than ever.  I understand both.

Conservative evangelicals believe the fundamentals and see the value of protecting them.  They aren't separating yet, but they see that's what will be necessary.  Fundamentalists can't defend fundamentalism, so they pitch toward evangelicalism.  The convergence of these evangelicals and fundamentalists has been described as a third way.  I don't believe there is a hopeful future for either of them or their third group, if it emerges.

If evangelicals see themselves as fundamentalists now, then why did they repudiate fundamentalism?  Evangelicals in part built their churches, attracted their numbers, by distinguishing themselves from fundamentalists.  They would have explained it as an evangelistic advantage, but it was a success and numbers advantage, even luring the new additions of the Jesus movement.  It was a convenient repudiation to grow a coalition of worldly Christians.  At that juncture in the history of the United States, worldliness was worldly, but, you know, acceptably worldly.  It's grown unacceptably worldly, and so now it's convenient again to be a fundamentalist.

The moderate or former fundamentalists headed toward evangelicalism are where MacArthur was when he repudiated fundamentalism.  Conservative evangelicals have a successful blend of Christianity with worldliness.  Worldliness itself looks smart, not too stupid to the world.  It's a modern Finneyesque new measure, to make Christianity explainable, less a bunch of losers.  This is combined with an appropriate intellectualism, embracing an acceptable degree of historicism and rationalism.  Modern education stresses diversity and the former fundamentalists push theological and practical diversity, accenting unity over unanimity, allowing for divergence in their convergence in matters eschatological and ecclesiological and methodological.  The adherents are comfortable with the other's lack of dogmatism and consequential non-judgmentalism.  Chalk up the differences to uncertainty, coalescing around willing admission of ignorance, however or whatever they want to call it.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Our Last Recital

Through the years as parents, my wife and I have watched many piano, violin, and trombone recitals and orchestra performances of our children.  The last ever of these occurred yesterday, when our youngest child, our daughter Gabi, played her final violin recital.  She has taken piano, violin, and voice for many years.  She played three numbers, two of which were a surprise.  She played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35: 2nd and 3rd Movements.  We surprised her teacher when all three of my daughters played for him, whom we refer to as Papa Chukhlov, the Allegro of Vivaldi's Concerto in F Major for Three Violins and Piano.  Gabi and Papa Chukhlov surprised us with a violin duet of Dmitri Shostakovich's Romance (from The Gadfly).  Here is the latter.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Initial thoughts on my debate with Shabir Ally at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater

I praise the true God that my recent debate with Shabir Ally went well, for the glory of His great name and in answer to the prayers of His people.  As you may recall if you read What is Truth, and are even more likely to recall if you prayed for the debate (for which I am very thankful), I debated Dr. Ally on the topic "The New Testament Picture of Jesus: Is it Accurate?"  The debate is not yet live--part of the delay has been that the person who is supposed to process the debate had his computer break, but that has been fixed, so, Lord willing, we will be getting it live in the relatively near future.



I believe that the debate went well, and am glad that it worked out.  It appears that unknown parties were taking down our posters about the debate, as I found out after the fact, but we still had a reasonable number of people in attendance, and having that happen was a learning experience that we can plan about for, Lord willing, debates in the future.  Furthermore, both Dr. Ally and I were interviewed by the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater newspaper, and after the debate there was a front-page article about the event in the paper, allowing information about the Mukwonago Baptist student organization, Set Free, and about both of the speakers and their websites, to be broadcast to all 12,000 or so students who attend Whitewater.

Here is the article from the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater newspaper on the debate:


and here is a link to their newspaper article on the Internet.  The article has some value, although it did not really deal too much with the specific content of the debate arguments. 

Shabir Ally is an intelligent defender of Islam, and, as I expected, it was pleasant to not have to deal with the sort of nasty vitriol and mere appeals to emotion that characterized too much of the argumentation of Dan Barker, President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in my debates with him.  Furthermore, Dr. Ally denied the accuracy of the New Testament picture of Jesus in the manner in which a scholarly theological liberal would, instead of attacking the Bible by following the crazy mythicism of Dorothy Murdock with her dependence upon Wikipedia for her case, as Dan Barker did.

While Shabir Ally made a reasonable presentation of the theologically liberal argument, he suffered from the severe handicap that there simply is no ancient evidence of any kind for what modern theological liberalism affirms about the New Testament.  Not just the majority, but the totality of all ancient sources and ancient evidence supports the traditional authorship of the New Testament books, and the extant historical data also are strongly in favor of dates too early for the picture of Christ to be corrupted.  When one needs to make a historical case for something for which there is no historical evidence, things are going to be difficult, no matter how good of a debater or how good a scholar one is.

Of course, that is my take on what happened--you can read further about it in my brief summary of the debate on my website here.  I will plan to inform What is Truth readers when the debate goes live as well, Lord willing, and will post it both on my website and on YouTube.  Muslims or atheists who saw the debate, and Dr. Ally himself, might have a rather different take on events.  I suppose you will just have to watch the debate and make your own decision.  I have more on the archaeological and historical evidence for the New Testament here, as well as, for our Muslim friends, the work The Testimony of the Quran to the Bible here. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Biblical Evangelism and an Approach to the Possible Success of Bill AB 2943 in California

News from California travels around the country, so perhaps you have heard about Bill AB 2943 here in the state legislature and its relationship to religious liberty.  People like me don't want it to pass.  We oppose it, but I think it probably will become law no matter how many people in California are against it.  Here is the exact wording of the crux of the California bill:
Existing law prohibits mental health providers, as defined, from performing sexual orientation change efforts, as specified, with a patient under 18 years of age. Existing law requires a violation of this provision to be considered unprofessional conduct and subjects the provider to discipline by the provider’s licensing entity. 
This bill would include, as an unlawful practice prohibited under the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, advertising, offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual. The bill would also declare the intent of the Legislature in this regard.
The bill continues by also arguing the following:
Contemporary science recognizes that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender [lgbt] is part of the natural spectrum of human identity and is not a disease, disorder, or illness. . . . [S]exual orientation change efforts can pose critical health risks to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, including confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.
Of course, true Christians, those who follow biblical teaching and practice, don't agree.  They want conversion of the above, "lgbtq,"  ("q" means questioning, that is, someone who is uncertain of his sexual orientation) because they believe that those lifestyles are not congruent with a scriptural doctrine of salvation.  They also deny that those are natural behaviors or that those people were born those ways.  God's Word calls for repentance from those because they are sins or perversions of right or God designed behavior.

Another angle on the bill is first amendment rights for Christians:  freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  Do the secular theories of psychiatry prevail over the beliefs of Christians?  Christians would think they could speak and practice biblical truth, the latter under the free exercise clause, but not if the state rules that this causes psychological and even physical harm to "lgbtq."  Some of this might enter into parental rights too.  If a child grows up with homosexual interests and a parent doesn't like it, can he "attempt to convert" his own child.  Churches and church leaders see these confrontations just over the horizon, perhaps generating a constitutional crisis.

For the rest of this post, I'm going to call "lgbtq," sodomites, not as an offense to them, but because I believe and think that it is a more accurate title.  I don't believe there is actually such a thing as "lgbtq."  I like the designation "q" because those people are uncertain, like a lot of people are about a lot of things.  Their uncertainty fuels their perversion.  They are perverse acts and no science has proven they are natural.

Are the authors and supporters of this bill attempting to protect children?  Is that really their agenda?  The bill will do just the opposite of protecting children.  For instance, you have a little boy, who likes dressing up like a girl.  If passed, this will make that easier for him.  Sodomites can confuse, convert, and push their adherents all the way to sexual reassignment surgery without charge.  The authors and advocates are conspiring to legislate the acceptance of Christians or at least gloat in their power to subjugate them.  They don't care about the kids.

In a technical sense, one might argue that Bill AB 2943 doesn't prohibit churches from evangelizing sodomites.  However, based on past history, these types of laws are very often applied later in court to people who "attempt to convert."  The Federalist says that the bill, if passed, could ban Bibles.  My main purpose for writing this post is to contend that the new law won't stop biblical evangelism of sodomites.  A biblical theology of evangelism will not either stop evangelism of sodomites or break whatever interpretation of the new law its advocates might make.

THE ANSWER:  FREE OFFER OF THE GOSPEL

In the history of Christian theology, you read the technical language, "free offer of the gospel."  Not everyone will want to listen to the gospel, but you can offer it to them.  You offer sodomites the gospel.  If they don't want it, you don't have to do more.  Churches offer them the opportunity.  You see in scripture the language of the free offer.
Psalm 34:8, "O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him."
Proverbs 1:24, "I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded."
Isaiah 55:1, "Come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price."
Isaiah 65:1-2, "I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people."
Matthew 22:2-3, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come."
Matthew 23:37, "How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"
Luke 14:16-18, "A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse."
The teaching of a free offer originates from scripture.  It is implied in Jesus' teaching and practice of shaking the dust from ones feet, which appears four times in the gospels, including Matthew 10:14, "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet."

Not everyone is going to listen to the gospel, nor do they always want it.  Believers not only have no responsibility to preach to people who don't want to hear it, but Jesus commands believers not to preach to them.  Whenever I approach sodomites with the gospel, which is all the time out of love for God and the sodomites, if they don't want it, I don't give it to them.  I try, but if they are unwilling, as many times they are not, I move on.

Whatever bad AB 2943 will do in California, it won't stop biblical evangelism with anyone.  Conversion comes through biblical evangelism.  If a sodomite doesn't want conversion, then we don't have to give it to him.  It's not our responsibility as Christians to preach the gospel to those who don't want to hear it, and since conversion comes by preaching the gospel, sodomites will only be converted if they will listen.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Churches and their Popular Inclusion of Dress Information on their Websites

Our church doesn't advertise a dress code for our services, contrary to the recent fad where churches address it on their websites.  It's very popular.  It now seems like vital, almost required, information for churches, which would likely sneer at churches that teach on dress or even have scriptural dress standards.  Almost exclusively they want you to know that when you come to their church services, you can dress like you want.

My wife, two of our daughters, and I travel to Europe in two weeks.  Today I read an evangelical tweet that mentioned a church in London, called Gracelife, so I clicked on the website and of the very few words on its front page are these two sentences:
We're content-driven in our choice of songs, and choose a range of music that allows us to express our worship joyfully and respectfully as 21st Century worshippers. There is no particular dress code, and children are very welcome in the service. 
Unmitigated musical style and dress stand as essential information at Gracelife, an ideology elevated to a sacramental status in evangelical churches today.

Usually you will see similar language in a section churches title, What To Expect.  When I searched that phrase with "Baptist" and "dress," I got 379,000 results.  The top site on the first page included, What Should I Wear?  "There is not a strict dress code at Grace Baptist Church for our members or guests."  Next:  "We invite you to come as you are!"  Third:  "There is not a dress code at Pacific Baptist Church for members or guests."  After that:  "At Stockton Baptist Church we don't have a dress code."

If you replace "dress" with "dress code," you still get 117,000 results.  That many church web pages use the words "dress code" in their materials. I haven't looked, but I don't think it is likely that any of those 117,000 say they have a dress code.  I'm not going to try, but  I don't think I'll find one.

I've got two main points I want to confront regarding the no dress code mantra repeated on numerous contemporary church websites.

UNCOVERING UNBIBLICAL PHILOSOPHY OF MINISTRY

Speaking in general of evangelism and discipleship, the highlight of no dress code uncovers an unbiblical philosophy of ministry.  You've heard, "Nothing is sacred anymore."  Church very often isn't sacred either.  Church is supposed to be about God.  It can be treated as sacred by how someone dresses in a gathering to worship God.

I think we should assume that the dress information on these websites targets unbelievers, attempting to attract them or lure them with something they would prefer about church, that the path really is strewn with roses.  The Jews seek after signs and the Greeks after wisdom.  Churches aren't to adapt their methods to signs and wisdom.  They are to depend on God, which is to depend on the truth.  Love is in the truth. The change is supernatural.  It doesn't make sense.  It's approached by faith.  The problem isn't intellect; it's rebellion.  The truth isn't the enemy of biblical evangelism.

Methods depending on human means glorify man.  It's not tolerable for believers, since the point of the church is to glorify Christ.  Christ isn't welcoming people into comfort.  All of these offers that clash with the biblical message won't help someone to receive a biblical message.  They are a form of bait and switch.  Unless someone is changing the gospel, the message of the gospel isn't congruent with comfort.

Pragmatic church growth methodology baits with comfort and then switches to surrender.  It makes salvation about you, like a form of therapy, hoping to later see it become about God.  It must start with God and then keep going about God.

Jesus put deny self, take up your cross, and count the cost up front.  The road is a narrow road.  You don't encourage salvation by offering present comfort.

God is seeking for true worshipers.  Worship is sacrifice.  Sacrifice gives something up.  What you want becomes what God wants, not what you want.  Redemption isn't redeeming the outcome of your desires, but redeeming your desires.  Since worship is giving something up, an understanding of worship isn't aided by turning it into what you get.

Comforts of the flesh tend toward the flesh.  You can't and won't flesh people into the kingdom.  Paul calls it carnal weaponry.

Receiving God must be receiving the God, the one and only God.  Receiving God isn't receiving a god that is attractive to us.  People should expect dress that honors God.  God is of the highest value.  He shouldn't be lowered in men's estimation as a means of attraction.  God saves us not by diminishing Himself, but by elevating us.   Men are elevated by having God be of the highest value.

SCRIPTURE TEACHES ABOUT DRESS, SO IT CONTAINS A DRESS CODE

Genesis 3 and several times hence, including with some great detail in the New Testament, teach about dress.  It matters.  Church is about conforming to God.  Unbelievers shouldn't be given the impression that church is about conforming to men.  Churches shouldn't be ashamed of the truth.  If dress means something, which scripture says it does, the world should be told the truth about dress.  It's not acceptable to misrepresent dress to attract unbelievers.

When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, He wasn't saying, your worship doesn't matter.   Blowing through four husbands and shacking up with a fifth was confronted, not avoided because a marriage code would turn her off.  Jesus confronted her with boundaries of God's law.  A right relationship with God doesn't start with concessions to the flesh, as if this is a negotiation.  There is nothing to apologize for.  God has something to say about dress.  We're happy with everything He says, and you should be too.  If you're not, that's on you, not on God, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Christianity shouldn't present a Christianity the world will like.  It should present Christianity.  It's all good.  True Christians aren't ashamed or embarrassed about any of it.  Christians should like Christianity and not be unwelcome to any of it.  It's all good.

True Christians also understand meaning.  They know what dress means.  Very often, the world knows what dress means too.  Exhibiting a lack of discernment or wisdom about dress doesn't speak better of Christianity.

Love is in the truth.  We are not loving unbelievers by masking the truth.  Love isn't offering something other than the truth.  Love isn't allowing for unbiblical behavior as a means of showing unbelievers how generous believers can be.

Christianity isn't picking and choosing what people will follow and what they won't.  It's changing man into the image of God.  It's not just purifying hearts, but cleansing hands.  The church is the church and it shouldn't be presented otherwise.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Evan Roberts & the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905: Supernatural Spirits & Sleep, Part 6 of 22


             
Although Scripture states that the knowledge of men’s hearts is restricted to the omniscient God (1 Kings 8:39), Roberts could see into men’s hearts and “discern souls in conflict,” so that although “some called it telepathy,” his supernatural powers were “accepted as one more sign that Evan Roberts was being led continually by the Spirit.”[1]  Charges that “the revival depended on his hypnotic skills and magnetism”[2] were rejected.  After all, “in the midst of another mass meeting in [a] 6,000 seat [auditorium], Evan detected that a hypnotist had entered the meeting and was trying secretly to control him. . . . [T]he man confessed to a theatre audience that this was the truth,”[3] so Roberts was not using hypnotism himself but had clear power from the spirit world.  Roberts knew “when anyone g[ot] up unmoved by the Spirit”[4] in one of his meetings and could “see . . . insincerity and hypocrisy.”[5]  He “kn[ew]” when “people . . . [were] prompted by false motives . . . in their prayers” and would consequently interrupt them and stop them from praying.[6]  He recognized when people had been truly converted, so that at times he would announce that someone had “decided” for Christ and the person would then reveal himself; for example, “at Saron, Evan predicted a dozen individual decisions to turn to Christ,” and “[e]ach time someone surrendered,” validating “his strange new powers.”[7]  He “displayed a remarkable gift of detecting those souls who were secretly trying to come to Jesus.”[8]  In another meeting, “he began to cry out:  ‘There is a soul lost because someone has been disobedient to the promptings of the Spirit. . . . Too late! Too late!’ . . . Oh!  Dear people, it is too late! . . . [H]e explained that he was prohibited from praying for the soul that was lost.”[9]  In a different meeting, at the “peak moment, Evan stopped the meeting and announced that there was someone in the congregation who wouldn’t speak to his brother.  He called for that person to confess his sin, threatening him with divine judgment and ordering him to leave.  Because no one admitted this fault, the people had to remain on their feet a very long time. . . . Some accepted this kind of rebuke from a man whom they took to be a prophet; others felt it was a mistaken act done by an overtired young man,”[10] since Roberts continued “months . . . of serial meetings, all-night sessions, and crises.”[11]  Others called Roberts “an unbalanced crow stirrer, an exhibitionist, a hypnotist, and even an occultist . . . a prophet of Baal calling down false fire by his incantations.”[12]
Roberts, however, had an answer for those who said he lacked sleep.  Such a lack was not a problem for him.  He said:  “God has made me strong and manly. . . . My body is full of electricity day and night and I have no sleep before I am back in meetings again.”[13]  For months, as the holiness revival progressed in 1904 and 1905, “he ate and slept little,”[14] getting “two or three hours of sleep each night,”[15] but the electricity that filled his body kept him going—at least until he experienced one his several serious nervous breakdowns.[16]  In meetings he would often have “nervous collapses” from which, however, he would usually “recover suddenly”[17] and continue the meeting in most cases—at least until he came to the point in 1906 where he was “unable to stand or walk for almost a twelvemonth,” remaining in “convalescence” in the Penn-Lewis household.[18]
Allegedly empowered to see men’s hearts and live without sleep, Roberts “called to a man to confess his sin” and said, “The Spirit has given me that man’s name and age.”  This fact was, Roberts said, to lead those who were “skeptical of the reality of this manifestation” to have “no doubt about it.”[19]  On a different occasion “Evan Roberts became visibly upset and started to threaten someone with divine punishment for ‘making a mockery of what was so divine . . . [m]ocking what has cost God his life-blood.’ . . . After carefully scanning the congregation, again he urged someone to ask for forgiveness and then declared that the meeting could not proceed until the obstacle had been removed. . . . The remonstration went on for another ten minutes, but no one owned up.”[20]  Later in a meeting he “lay a limp, inert mass on the reading desk, with outstretched arms as if pleading.  Suddenly he straightened up . . . pointed to the gallery and declared that some person there possessed a heart full of scorn, skepticism, and sarcasm.  That was an obstacle to the path of the Spirit, and the cause must be removed.  He tearfully appealed to him to repent or quit the building,” and “continue[d] to sob, with his face buried in his hands,” but “[n]o response was made from the gallery.”[21]  He would “place his hand on his neck, as if pressing something down.  There was a jerking back of the head . . . as in persons whose nervous systems are somewhat deranged. . . . [T]hese . . . tremors . . . [are] attribute[d] . . . to Divine influence.”[22]  Roberts also had a time when he was told to “remain in the house for six days in a silence which had been commanded by the Spirit” and “cancelled all mission engagements,”[23] after a fashion similar to what had taken place with the prophet Ezekiel.[24]  On various occasions he would “walk out of meetings after five minutes because he claimed to have discovered [spiritual] obstacles there.”[25]  Surely such actions, and such abilities to see men’s hearts, were evidence of the powerful supernatural forces that were at work in Evan Roberts.




[1]              Pg. 47, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[2]              Pg. 49, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[3]              Pg. 126, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[4]              Pg. 70, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[5]              Pg. 77, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[6]              Pg. 60, The Welsh Religious Revival, Morgan.
[7]              Pgs. 82-83, An Instrument of Revival, Jones; the pages record substantial numbers of situations where Roberts exercised his powers to recognize true conversions in a great variety of settings.
[8]              Pg. 89, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[9]              Pgs. 90-91, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[10]            Pg. 88, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[11]            Pg. 91, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[12]            Pg. 98, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[13]            Pg. 41, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[14]            Pg. 41, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[15]            Pg. 51, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[16]            By September 1906 he had already had four.  See pg. 161, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.  His breakdowns were “a divine plan to equip [Roberts] to do battle against Satanic powers and to train others for battle,” resulting in the teachings of War on the Saints (pg. 174, Ibid).
[17]            Pgs. 113-114, Psychological Aspects of the Welsh Revival, A. T. Fryer.   Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 19 (December 1905).
[18]            Pgs. 165-167, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.  It appears that Jessie Penn-Lewis’s doctrine that “on the basis of Romans Six you may put in your claim for the healing of any bodily disease” (pg. 134, Overcomer, 1914) failed to heal Evan Roberts.
[19]            Pg. 120, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[20]            Pg. 90, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[21]            Pg. 119, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[22]            Pg. 89, “Psychological Aspects of the Welsh Revival,” A. T. Fryer.   Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 19 (December 1905).
[23]            Pg. 91, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.  cf. pgs. 89-90, 114-115, Psychological Aspects of the Welsh Revival, A. T. Fryer.   Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 19 (December 1905).  Roberts broke his silence on the seventh day.
[24]            Pgs. 110-112, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[25]            Pg. 100, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Paul Obliterates Pandering in Galatians: His Antidote to Pandering

Part One

The Judaizers at Galatia pandered to the Jews in the region.  They wanted to make a "fair show" to their ethnicity and they wished to avoid persecution.  Circumcision was a convenient emphasis over the cross of Christ, even though it nullified grace and the work of Christ became no effect unto them.  The Jews of Galatia didn't have the same effect on Paul and he tells why in the next to last verse of the entire epistle (6:17):
From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
Persecution was a threat to professing Christians, so a motivating factor to pander (6:12).  Paul, however, wasn't doing any handwringing  over that possibility.  Anything that they could have done to Paul, he had already experienced.  His body was his biography and an anatomical masterpiece of perseverance.  His kryptonite to Jewish intimidation was the scars of his personal suffering for Jesus.  There was no pain that Paul had not already experienced.  If he was going to fold under pressure, he would have already.

Paul's marks were actual marks.  He could place an index finger on spots all over himself as the evidence of ugly wounds, each with an accompanying story.  No one could trouble him.

On the other hand, men can be trouble to other men.  You read this all over the Bible.  It was a concern of Solomon about young men in the first chapter of Proverbs.  Sinners would entice.  They would be trouble.  Something they were offering in the short term would look better than what God could give.  It's never true, but it merited a serious warning from Solomon.  The prospect of missing out on a fun time or not getting to look impressive to the appropriate people seem like enough trouble.  Something far worse wouldn't be trouble for Paul.

The Galatian churches shouldn't be trouble for Paul either.  They should have welcomed some marks to match his.  If they were saved, they were, like Paul, crucified to the world.  The cross of Christ was how they received justification before God.  Their salvation came because of the Savior's suffering, because of His marks.  Paul bore them too. Joining Him outside the camp.  Pandering comes with the proposal of a better time in this world and glory received for a fair showing.  It's not about the truth, but what will work on a momentary basis.

Doctrines and practices, once believed and lived in churches for over a thousand years, have disappeared like they never existed in a majority of churches today.  They are difficult teachings, unacceptable to this world, although required by the next.  Rather than preach and live those teachings, the majority of churches pander like the Judaizers did.

If the Judaizers really cared about circumcision, they would keep the rest of the law too.  Circumcision was a convenience though.  It would provide the most acceptance at the least possible cost.

For Paul, it was preaching only the cross of Christ.  Today, like then, that message isn't good enough.  The Judaizers were ancient advocates of contextualization, making the cross more appetizing to their context with a circumcision sugar-coat.  A spoonful of circumcision might make the cross of Christ go down.

Churches today impress a different context, one obsessed with creature comfort.  They have a Jesus who might slide down easier with the right mix of worldly and fleshly entertainment or amusement.  Not only do you make it through unscathed, mark-free, but with a slightly Christianized version of almost everything the world has and does.  That is trouble everywhere in Christianity today.

When even the Apostle Peter pandered to the James gang, as recounted in Galatians 2, Paul, the least of all apostles, confronted him to his face in harsh terms, not uncertain ones.  Peter was becoming an accessory, even if he didn't accept the perversion himself.  This is the case of a lot of professing Christian leaders today.  They see the damage, but they don't want to hurt their numbers or coalitions, so they sign-off on the pandering that makes up such a big part of evangelical and fundamentalist churches today.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Paul Obliterates Pandering in Galatians: Social Justice Panderers

Other Posts on Pandering from the Past (One, Two, Three, Four, not necessarily in order)

Paul summarizes the issue he has addressed with the Galatian churches in the last little segment of his letter in Galatians 6:11-18.  In the midst of that finale, he writes in verses 12-14:
12 As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13 For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. 14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
Paul described men who were pandering to achieve short-term, temporal success.  They (1) made "a fair show in the flesh," (2) "lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ," and (3) "desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in the flesh."  They didn't constrain others to circumcision because they loved God's law or else they would have kept it all (v. 13).  What motivated their push for circumcision?

The message of the cross of Christ brought persecution from fellow Jews and circumcision was a way to avoid that persecution.  They weaponized circumcision against potential persecution.  They could pull the circumcision card as a sufficient credential of their Jewishness.  Support of the cross of Christ brought castigation, the antidote of which was circumcision.  See, you weren't giving up Jewishness -- you talk about circumcision all the time.

The circumcision message fit the culture of Galatia.  Preaching the cross, you were out.  Preaching circumcision and you were in again.  You could find acceptance in a wider group with circumcision that would be closed to cross of Christ preaching.  Again, it was cultural.  The significance was merely cultural.  Paul says that in verse 15:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.
In reality, aside from what it meant to a Jewish culture in the world, either circumcision or uncircumcision was nothing.  Paul was crucified to the world, so what mattered in the world, he was crucified to (v. 14).  Circumcision was just cultural, irrelevant as to eternity, so Paul was crucified to it too.  He wasn't preaching something that was of temporal and only cultural significance.  It had to mean more, and it didn't.

Because circumcision was acceptable and fashionable in the culture, it was an easy way to "make a fair show in the flesh" (v. 12).  You could get some mileage in the Jewish community by parking on circumcision.  Let that be the subject matter and you could find short term success.  It wasn't doing anything.  Earlier in the chapter (v. 8a), Paul said, "he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption."  The show had no long term benefit, meaning eternal benefit, like "he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (v. 8b).  Circumcision was working with something that had no shelf-life, which future was corruption.  It would get you a lot in the short term though, which is the nature of pandering -- it sacrifices eternal success for the short term variety.

Glorying in the flesh hawks short term benefits.  "Lookee at what you're doing. . . . wow, it's working!"  Circumcision at the historical juncture Paul was living in Galatia was targeting racial identity.  As a cause, circumcision surpassed the cross of Christ, the latter a non-starter for the Galatian world.  Worldly mileage was gained with circumcision as a cause, unlike the cross of Christ.  Easily, those mixing the cross with circumcision could view the latter as furthering the former, which was more of a stumbling block.  Circumcision was a gospel tool with a particular ethnic group.

As we zoom forward to the late 20th and early 21st centuries across the western world, especially in the United States, "social justice" issues work the same as circumcision in Paul's day.  You would do better, the message, at least to mix the two together.  Social justice causes elevate personal stature, especially with certain ethnicity.  If you've crucified this world, there won't be much hope for you, because this one is where you've got to aim your attention.

Neither Jesus nor the Apostle Paul at all devoted themselves to causes of social justice.  Neither attempted to stop Roman slavery or gender inequality.  "In Christ Jesus" was none of these, "but a new creature" (v. 15).  The Lord and Paul sowed to the Spirit, reaping life eternal and new creatures.  Life was too short for temporal preoccupations.  They were irrelevant in light of eternity.  However, they succeed as pandering.

The spotlight of churches on racial reconciliation, breaking the glass ceiling, orphans, rebuilding Haiti, or community soup kitchens make "a fair show in the flesh" (v. 12).  Today it is moving toward the inclusion of gender neutrality and same sex marriage.  They neutralize the offense of the cross of Christ and other objectionable aspects of the gospel message.  They put the emphasis right where the world wants it -- on its self.  You can justify to your worldly friends the latest cause celeb of your church.  That makes sense.  You'll make sense.  You'll feel good about yourself and ward away the disapproval of the world.  You're more like them than they even thought.

The gospel will make this world better, but it isn't about making this world better.  Even when we pray for those in authority, the point is the gospel, not giving us better living condition (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-2).  The gospel is about the next world.  The time in this life is so short and the time in the next so long, an emphasis on this world misrepresents what our time in this world is all about.  The world needs to know that it will not save the planet, that God is mad at them, and if they don't get right with Him, they're going to be destroyed too, except worse than what will happen to earth.

In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul argues union with Christ is compatible with any social status:  single, married, widowed, divorced, slave, free, Jew, Gentile, man, or woman.  Live in any kind of society -- democracy, total anarchy, a dictatorship, anywhere from America to Cuba to Red China -- and actual Christianity works.  The gospel is not an immediate revolutionizing, disorganizing element in society.  When social changes occur as the result of the gospel, it soaks and penetrates society's roots to modify its trajectory long term, not as a purposeful maneuver.

In one sense, Paul says, don't worry about riding in the back of the bus.  You're going to rule with Christ in the kingdom.  I know, that's easy for me to say.  In reality, it's harder to say something like that than it is to take on social justice advocacy. Actually, living in California, being a Christian singles me out for bad treatment, when I'm living it like I read in scripture.  Racial reconciliation is an easy message today.  The gospel, the true gospel, is hard.  Circumcision was easy in Galatia.  The cross of Christ wasn't.

Thirty years ago when I came to California, I spent some time camped out at Golden Gate Seminary library reading the multi-volume complete writings of Martin Luther King, Jr., where by his own testimony, he rejected the fundamentals of the faith, essentials for a true gospel or salvation.  As a child, by his own testimony, he went forward at a church invitation after a sermon by his father, later conceding that he just went along with his sister without really believing it.  Don't get me wrong, King is a meaningful historical figure in the United States.  Evangelical's lying to transmogrify him into a saint is a tool in the social justice pandering toolbox.

Just preaching the gospel will not bring you fame.  It does not guarantee worldly success. At least posing for social justice can and does bring both.  It doesn't advance the cross of Christ and it won't even result in justice.  It grandstands for the purpose of at least perceived benefits that won't last.  It appears enlightened to the deceived and wards away accusations of "structural racism" or institutional racism.  It doesn't assuage any actual guilt over anything and in addition does not fulfill the scriptural mission of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Judaizers wouldn't let Galatian believers just preach the cross.  They had to include circumcision.  In particular ethnic communities, you can't just preach the pie in the sky.  The gospel alone isn't enough.  Every gospel needed a heaping helping of social justice along with it.  You will suffer if you exclude it.  Your credentials are taken away.

The world has so changed, knit together by a socialized education system and universal social network, that most outside of particular ethnic communities will also benefit from that emphasis.  They'll at least find acceptance in very wide circles and be included in many bigger opportunities.  Everyone can pander with social justice.

Pandering doesn't glorify Christ.  It glories in your flesh.  It doesn't even make you smarter.  You just look that way.  It's actually foolish.  This is the paradox of the gospel.  The foolishness of preaching glorifies God.  Pandering glorifies you through its show of your flesh.