Month: October 2006

Being versus Becoming

Before I begin delving into this topic, let me first clearly communicate that one of Scriptures’ greatest truths to me personally is “union with Christ” (see Ephesians). To strip away this truth is to bar me from my greatest treasure. Apart from Christ, I am nothing. Only as I am “in the Lord” does my life have any temporal meaning and then stretching into eternity, any real significance. In fact, I become invincible, relying upon Him. The Lord is my panoplia (full armor), rendering ineffective any methodeias

(wiles) of Satan.

But saying that, I will never be like Christ in the fullness that He is. Whereas, I need daily augmentation of His fullness, Christ never did and never will need the creaturely process. Of course, atheists mock the idea of a mysterious Triune God beyond the grasp of mankind’s intellect. Here is a textbook case, Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion (2006). He writes, “Rivers of medieval ink, not to mention blood, have been squandered over the ‘mystery’ of the Trinity, and in supressing deviation such as the Arian heresy. Arius of Alexandria, in the fourth century AD, denied that Jesus was consubstantial (i.e. of the same substance or essence) with God. What on earth could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What ‘substance’? What exactly do you mean by ‘essence’? ‘Very little’ seems the only reasonable reply” (p. 33) . . . “Most of my readers will have been reared in one or another of today’s three ‘great’ monotheistic religions (four if you count Mormonism), all of which trace themselves back to the mythological patriarch Abraham . . . ” (p. 36). “Thomas Jefferson, as so often, got it right when he said, ‘Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus’ ” (p. 34).

Surely, I can’t wrap my limited intellect around all the pregnant monosyllables bursting with meaning in John 1; but that doesn’t mean I can just simply erase them from the pages of Scripture. They stand yet for the marveling, intellectual gaze of all.

The first chapter of John contrasts in vivid, full color two people, the Christos (Jesus) and the forerunner (John) who came in the spirit of Elias. If we don’t understand this foundational distinction between the two in John 1, the rest of the book and quotes appearing in any other text will be altered in interpretation.

John 1:29 is a staggering job description for a man. Can John fulfill this? Absolutely not. He explains the difference between Jesus and him. “This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me” (John 1:30).

Wait a minute. Have we heard that before? Yes. Back in verse 27, and also a third time in verse 15. Did we catch this? When the Spirit of God has the author write something three times within the space of sixteen verses, we need to halt our rushed reading, camp out, and meditate. This is something big . . . one of those fundamental truths about God.

John was naturally born into this world, so was Jesus (six months later). But though the Logos has always existed, John hasn’t. And this is where the preference to Jesus is clear–Jesus, always being in contrast to John, becoming. The only time we see Jesus becoming, is when He became flesh. Don’t you see that contrast between those Greek verbs?

John, the greatest man ever born to a woman up to that point (Matthew 11:11) saw the huge chasm between himself and Jesus at the baptismal event, the Lord’s Messianic annointing (Isa. 61:1). And it is the heart attitude of any transformed creature in the process of becoming to be forever positioned just like the mighty forerunner, John the Baptist before the Christ, who is the eternal being. We are not even worthy to unloose the straps of His sandals. This truth is immutable.

I am well aware that Scripture does not contain any words like hypostases, persona, homoousios, or Trinitas. So I carry no passion for a discourse in Greek metaphysics. My heart’s desire is one of an onward, upward move for discussions in soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), but the truths of John 1:29 are inseparable connected with something even greater, the nature of Jesus and how John contrasts himself with the Christ. Friends, are we seeing, eye to eye, over what is written in John 1, the very first chapter, reminiscent of Genesis 1.

Your thoughts?

The Ezekiel sticks of chapter 37 – Deja vu!

I remember almost 20 years ago when the LDS seminary would have a designated missionary week at Skyline High School in Idaho Falls, Idaho. My good buddies would always give me a marked up, color-coded Book of Mormon. Often, they would have personally penned letters in the front or back cover.

One of those particular days after school, a basketball teammate, a great friend, called me up in order to sincerely share his testimony. And then he began talking about the two sticks. Before I knew it, his big brother jumped on the phone, referencing me to an obscure passage that I really had no clue about in high school, Ezekiel 37:15-19.

If you were to ask me last year what I knew of Ezekiel, I still wouldn’t have much of a clue. I was a complete major-prophet-Ezekiel illiterate. But this all changed as I began this year to personally study Ezekiel, line upon line, precept upon precept, tracing particular Hebrew expressions in all their vivid context month after month. The unfolding story is one of the most riveting, wild, mind-boggling, gut-wrenching, and heart-rejoicing books that I have ever read, scrutinized, and prayed over. And the journey is still not over. I begin chapter 40 this Wednesday night. I would love for any of you to join me in the study. Are there any other words written 2500 years ago that are packed with such relevance for today? Have you checked out those prophecies yet to be fulfilled?

Dennis L. Largey recently wrote in the Sperry Symposium Classics: The New Testament (2006), “Ezekiel prophesied that the stick of Judah and the stick of Joseph are to become one (see Ezekiel 37:15-19). We have seen them become one under one cover in our editions of the scriptures. The challenge now is to use them as one” (p. 65).

My first reply is “Deja vu.” My second reply is more of a plethora of questions that tumble forth as I live alongside you all in the LDS corridor. 1. Is this the standard interpretation of the Church, today? The true, official, exegetical stance? 2. Does this reflect normal, literal, historical, grammatical hermeneutics? 3. Is Largey’s interpretation giving priority to the overall message of Ezekiel? 4. Aren’t there any objective, Scriptural data right within chapter 37 that provides a contrary interpretation to Largey on Ezekiel’s powerful prophecy enactment?

Thinking of heart issues . . .

Church Ball

church-ball-1.jpg

Who living in Southeastern Idaho or Utah has never experienced church ball? Clear back as a teenager, I use to connect with friends; and we would battle it out at one of the local ward gyms, bones crushing against bones, sweat flying everywhere, chests heaving from full exertion. During these moments of nostalgia, I recall those events of bygone days as fantastic. With the delusion of age, I only remember my LDS friends and me as the invincible team from Glory Road.

But even now as a dad with four kids of my own, my spine still tingles with excitement when I step onto the hardwood floor of a ward gym. Now it is my ten-year old who diligently practices with other boys in hopes of being the mighty Hoosiers.

With all my background of being on a church gym floor, I rented the DVD, Church Ball. It might be a surprise to some but I have enjoyed some of the LDS flicks. They don’t carry the smut of Hollywood, like brutal and gory violence, crude sexual content, nudity, explicit sexual situations, crude language, cursing, strong profanity, graphic vulgarity, explicit drug use, and every other kind of foul nuance that can be dreamed up under the sun.

And hooray for those who designed ClearPlay!

But the humor of Church Ball seemed bizarre, extremely out of character for the LDS film industry. The script of this film tried to achieve the famed corkiness of Napoleon Dynamite but failed because of the flippancy over spiritual concepts. But maybe that was the whole point – frontload the presentation of religion with satire. That sounds like Hollywood.

I don’t think a movie like this helps LDS or evangelicals among pockets of community in Southeastern Idaho that are completely skeptical of religion.

Yet despite the movie, you can still pass me one of those basketballs dubbed with the title. I am ready to play.

Rick Davis, blacks, Rexburg (nation’s most conservative region)

John Miller did a short story in today’s Post Register in Idaho Falls on BYU prof, Rick Davis. Here are a few highlights.

“An eastern Idaho history professor who appears to link what he described as his region’s low welfare recipient rate with the fact that ‘we don’t have blacks in this area to speak of’ is drawing irate reactions . . .

‘Rexburg Mormons’–‘so red that you bleed,’ Davis said – ‘aren’t to be confused with Boston Mormons,’ his description of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints members from outside the Rocky Mountain West who may be more liberal. Rexburg’s population has ‘a very high education level . . . a very high income level,’ Davis told salon.com.

‘That equates with being conservatives,’ he said. ‘We’re fiscally aware of where the money comes from, and that it is doesn’t grow on the great tree in Washington. We don’t have any welfare state in this area at all. We don’t have blacks in this area to speak of. We’ve had them, and they’ve come and gone. Not to say they were driven out; they’ve just felt uncomfortable because there aren’t enough of them — like you and me moving to Montgomery, Ala.’ “

Now, guys, I love Rexburg. Do you know where I took my wife on our last wedding anniversary? We stayed overnight in Rexburg, Idaho at one of the new motels! Had some good food in a new restaurant. And I like going to BYU-Idaho concerts. (I know, some of you Boston Mormons are thinking this guy is really lame.) But how am I suppose to get my black buddies over here to Eastern Idaho and do some skiing at Targhee (of all things) when Rick is cracking comments like this?

Calvinism – a hot topic

The other day, I purchased Sperry Symposium Classics: The New Testament (SLC: Deseret Book, 2006) edited by Frank F. Judd Jr. and Gaye Strathearn. I have only read two chapters so far – chapter 6, “The Book of Mormon As An Interpretive Guide To The New Testament” by Dennis L. Largey and chapter 19, “Walking In Newness Of Life: Doctrinal Themes Of The Apostle Paul,” by Robert L. Millet.

Dennis has a section of his paper entitled, “The Book of Mormon Confounds False Doctrine.” In the conclusion of this particular section, a number of doctrines are exposed for their falseness: “those who preach only for money (see Alma 1:3, 20; 2 Nephi 26:31); infant baptism (see Moroni 8); systems of religion that deny miracles, revelation, and prophecy (see 2 Nephi 28:4-6; 3 Nephi 29:5-6); systems that preach that salvation comes exclusively through obedience to the law (see Mosiah 13:27-32); being saved by grace alone and supposing that discipleship is not necessary (see 2 Nephi 25:23); and the philosophy that mercy can rob justice (see 2 Nephi 28:7-8). The Book of Mormon also offers a sober warning to those who refuse to receive additional revelation and scripture to that which they have already received (see Nephi 28:27-29)” (p. 72).

But what fascinates me is the preceeding paragraph by Dennis. Let me first include the BoM verse to preface his thought. “After describing the corruption of latter-day churches, Moroni spoke directly to his latter-day audience: ‘Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing’ (Mormon 8:35). The implication is that those responsible for the major work of compilation saw our day and, thus aided, selected what was needed based upon what they saw. With this thought in mind, it is interesting to ask ourselves why certain parts of the Book of Mormon were included. For example, why would the abridger give us Alma 31, a story about an apostate people who would go to a particular spot once a week to offer up a repetitious creedal prayer which proclaimed God to be a spirit forever? The Zoramites believed they were ‘elected’ to be saved, while others were ‘elected’ to be damned. The Zoramites’ belief in predestination to heaven or hell predates Calvin and exposes this belief as a false doctrine” (p. 72).

Now, I know Joseph Smith didn’t like the Calvinism of his day (in fact, there seems to be a little bit of caricature in one of the first Work and Glory DVDs); but is Dennis actually saying that Alma saw our day to warn us of the sweeping resurgence of Calvinism in America (see one of the recent front covers of Christianity Today – “Reformed and Restless”). Are such men as John Piper, John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, and C.J. Mahaney leading Zoramites in 2006? If they are such culprits, why does Robert Millet warmly, appreciatively quote rather than warn of John MacArthur (an internationally known, conservative Calvinist) in chapter 19? This seems to be a reoccuring theme that I simply don’t understand. What reasons are there that I should not interpret this as only outreach chrestologia?

And for those concerned that Christians might be promoting a gospel of salvation by grace alone to the exclusion of discipleship, please read John Piper’s new book, What Jesus Demands From The World (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006).

Behold the Lamb – John 1:29

I told Jacob over at his blog, New Cool Thang, that I would get back with him on penal-substitutionary atonement. In the commenting section, please notice the exchange between Jacob and me.

I don’t fault Jacob’s response to me on John 1:29. Listen to the words of the evangelical scholar, Leon Morris in his commentary on The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971): “The expression ‘the Lamb of God’ has passed into the general Christian vocabulary. But for all that it is very difficult to know exactly what it means. It is not found elsewhere in the New Testament (though Jesus is sometimes spoken as ‘the Lamb’, especially in Revelation), nor in any previous writing known to us” (pp. 143-144).

In the next several pages, Morris suggests nine meanings behind the title: (i) The Passover Lamb (John 19:36), (ii) The “lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7), (iii) The Servant of the Lord, another way of seeing the origin of the expression in Isa. 53, (iv) The lamb of the daily sacrifices offered morning and evening in the Temple, (v) The “gentle lamb” of Jer. 11:19, (vi) The scapegoat, (vii) The triumphant Lamb of the apocalypses, (viii) The God-provided Lamb of Gen. 22:8, and (ix) A guilt-offering, since sometimes this was a lamb (passages suggested are Lev. 14:24) (pp. 144-147).

Twenty years later, D.A. Carson’s The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991) echoes all the suggestions put forth by Morris but differs from Morris in his final conclusion (Carson does distinguish his interpretation from another evangelical, George R. Beasley-Murray). “When the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, he probably had in mind the apocalyptic lamb, the warrior lamb, found in some Jewish texts (I Enoch 90:9-12; Testament of Joseph 19:8; Testament of Benjamin 3:8 – the latter passages probably, but not certainly, pre-Christian) and picked up in the Apocalypse (Rev. 5:6, 12; 7:17; 13:8; 17:14; 19:7,9; 21:22-23; 22:1-3).”

Colin G. Kruse in John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003) from The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries series (an update from R.V.G.Tasker) welds together Carson’s interpretation with traditional thought. “In light of all this [his preceeding exegesis on John 1:29] we are probably correct to say that the evangelist would be happy if his readers took John’s witness to Jesus as ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ to have a double meaning. He was both the apocalyptic lamb who judges unrepentant sinners, and the atoning sacrifice for the sins of those who believe” (pp. 79-80).

Craig Keener wrote in his work, The Gospel of John, A Commentary, Volume One (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003), “The primary background must be that of the (sacrificial) Passover lamb, as many scholars have contended, although combinations with other sources like the Suffering Servant remain feasible . . . John’s emphasis may be on Jesus dying ‘on behalf of’ others (10:11, 15; 11:50; 18:14) rather than ‘propiatory’ sacrifice, but the ideas fit together comfortably and are in no way mutually exclusive (I John 2:2; 3:16; 4:10) . . . That the Fourth Gospel later portrays Jesus’ death in terms of the Passover lamb (18:28; 19:36) and writes in the context of a new exodus and a new redemption (1:23) expected by Judaism indicates that this is the sense of ‘lamb’ in view in the Fourth Gospel” (p. 454).

I can’t get away from the O.T. symbolism of the lamb as the substitute slain in penalty for man’s sin. The only way you can get rid of sin is through bloody sacrifice (Heb. 11:22), which I realize is highly offensive to our modern society. But neither do many highly regard the Scriptures.

In the recent commentary, John 1-11 (Chicago: Moody, 2006), John MacArthur seeks to remove all the cobwebs from John 1:29. “The concept of a sacrificial Lamb was a familiar one to the Jewish people . . . Though Israel sought a Messiah who would be a prophet, king, and conqueror, God had to send them a Lamb. And He did. The title Lamb of God foreshadows Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross for the sin of the world. With this brief statement, the prophet John made it clear that the Messiah had come to deal with sin. The Old Testament is filled with the reality that the problem is sin and it is at the very heart of every person (Jer. 17:9). All men, even those who received the revelation of God in Scripture (the Jews), were sinful and incapable of changing the future or the present, or of repaying God for the sins of the past” (pp. 55-56).

I am deeply thankful for the Lamb.

More questions on pieces – 3 Nephi 9:15-18 with John 1:11-12

If Nephi 9 is to be dated A.D. 34, this predates the writing of the Gospel of John. So why didn’t the Holy Spirit communicate to the author of the Gospel that John 1:11-12 is a direct statement of the Lord Jesus Christ?

And did John’s Gospel recover the word, “power,” that apparently seems absent in 3 Nephi 9:17?

The KJV published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has footnotes connected to John 1:12. For example with the word “power,” you may follow in the corresponding footnote – “GR authority, right, privilege.” This is excellent because in any KJV Bible retaining the translators’ marginal notes, you will find “power: or, the right, or, the privilege.” Are we on the same page that “exousian” (power in the KJV) does not mean that we have some personal, special, inwardly-derived ability or power to become children of God. Do we agree that the privilege is freely given to us by grace as we fully believe in the Logos?