Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Love another Christian just because of the fellowship of the gospel

I was studying Philippians yesterday with the lady I am mentoring in apologetics. Philippians is my favorite book of the Bible. We studied Philippians 1, and used D. A. Carson’s “Basics for Believers” commentary.

Here is the part I want to talk about today:

Philippians 1:1-11:

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,

in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,

10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;

11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Now just read that and reflect on how passionate, and even unstable and emotional Paul sounds about this love he has for this church. Ask yourself this: what is the basis for these feelings? Read it again, and write your answer down. I’ll tell you mine in a minute.

Now here is D. A. Carson.

He writes:

As often in his letters, Paul begins with a warm expression of thanks to God for something in the lives of his readers. Here the grounds of his thanksgiving to God are three in number, though all three are tied to the same theme.

The first is their faithful memory of him. The NIV reads, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (1: 3). But others suggest “I thank my God every time you remember me,” or something similar. The original is ambiguous. For reasons I shall not go into, I think Paul is referring to their remembrance of him. Later on he will thank the Philippians for remembering him so warmly that they sent funds to support him in his ministry. But here the vision is broader: he perceives that their interest in him is a reflection of their continued commitment to the gospel, and that is why he thanks God for them.

The point becomes explicit in the second cause of his thanksgiving: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . .” (1: 4– 5). Their “partnership in the gospel” injects joy into Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving: “I always pray with joy,” he writes. The word rendered “partnership” is more commonly translated “fellowship” in the New Testament. What precisely does the word mean? In common use “fellowship” has become somewhat debased. If you invite a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.

In the first century, however, the word commonly had commercial overtones. If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15: 26).

The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. Both John and Harry put their savings into the fishing boat. Now they share the vision that will put the fledgling company on its feet. Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel” or “fellowship in the gospel,” he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ— from the moment of their conversion (“ from the first day until now,” Paul writes)— rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. They continued their witness in Philippi, they persevered in their prayers for Paul, they sent money to support him in his ministry— all testifying to their shared vision of the importance and priority of the gospel. That is more than enough reason for thanking God.

[..]Implicitly, such an apostolic stance asks us what gives us our greatest joy. Is it personal success? Some victory for our children? Acquisition of material things? “I have no greater joy,” John writes, “than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Paul reflects exactly the same attitude. Paul adds, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart . . .” (Phil. 1: 7). Probably this was written against the background of Stoic influence that was cautious about whole-life commitments, especially if they involved the “passions.” Be cool; do not be vulnerable; do not get hurt. But that was not Paul’s way. “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you,” Paul insists, regardless of what the contemporary culture says. “I have you in my heart”: my whole life and thought are bound up with you.

More:

So strongly does he want the Philippians to recognize his devotion to them that Paul puts himself under an oath: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1: 8). The significance of the oath is not that without it he might lie. Rather, he puts himself under an oath so that the Philippians might feel the passion of his truthfulness, in exactly the same way that God puts himself under an oath in the Epistle to the Hebrews. There the point is not that otherwise God might lie, but that God wants to be believed (Heb. 7: 20– 25). So Paul: God is my witness “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Here is no mere professionalism. Nor is this an act, a bit of showmanship to “turn them on” to the apostle. Rather, it is something that repeatedly bubbles through Paul’s arguments. It recurs, for example, in chapter 4: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (4: 1).

Both from Paul’s example and from that of the Philippians, then, we must learn this first point: the fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers. That is the burden of these opening verses. Paul does not commend them for the fine times they had shared watching games in the arena. He doesn’t mention their literature discussion groups or the excellent meals they had, although undoubtedly they had enjoyed some fine times together. What lies at the center of all his ties with them, doubtless including meals and discussion, is this passion for the gospel, this partnership in the gospel.

What ties us together? What do we talk about when we meet, even after a church service? Mere civilities? The weather? Sports? Our careers and our children? Our aches and pains? None of these topics should be excluded from the conversation of Christians, of course. In sharing all of life, these things will inevitably come up. But what must tie us together as Christians is this passion for the gospel, this fellowship in the gospel. On the face of it, nothing else is strong enough to hold together the extraordinary diversity of people who constitute many churches: men and women, young and old, blue collar and white, healthy and ill, fit and flabby, different races, different incomes, different levels of education, different personalities. What holds us together? It is the gospel, the good news that in Jesus, God himself has reconciled us to himself. This brings about a precious God-centeredness that we share with other believers.

Does what Carson writes make you think of the Lord of the Rings book 1? (“The Fellowship of the Ring”) It sounds like Christians are supposed to band together in common purpose in order to complete a quest. They are not supposed to just be hanging out to pass the time. There is planning. There is cooperation. There is danger. There is achievement. There is adventure. I think that he loves the church in Philippi because they have entered into this fellowship of the gospel with him.

More:

Already in verse 4 Paul has insisted that whenever he prays for the Philippians, he does so with joy and thanksgiving. Now he gives us the content of his prayers for them: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— to the glory and praise of God” (1: 9– 11).

[...]Second, what Paul has in mind is not mere sentimentalism or the rush of pleasure spawned, for example, by a large conference. “I pray,” Paul writes, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” The kind of love that Paul has in mind is the love that becomes more knowledgeable. Of course, Paul is not thinking of just any kind of knowledge. He is not hoping they will learn more and more about nuclear physics or sea turtles. He has in mind the knowledge of God; he wants them to enjoy insight into God’s words and ways, and thus to know how to live in light of them.

[...]Third, for Paul this prayer has a further end in view. He lifts these petitions to God, he tells the Philippians, “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (1: 10). Clearly, Paul does not want the Philippian believers to be satisfied with mediocrity. He cannot be satisfied, in a fallen world, with the status quo. He wants these believers to move on, to become more and more discerning, proving in their own experience “what is best.” He wants them to pursue what is best in the knowledge of God, what is best in their relationships with other believers, what is best in joyful obedience. For ultimately what he wants from them is perfection: he prays that they “may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”

Now for my thoughts.

I want all of you reading this to do one thing for me. I want you to completely abandon the criteria you are currently using for who you will be friends with and adopt Paul’s criteria. I want you to put your gospel-related activities at the center of your life. Do not neglect your other practical duties like making money and saving money and so on, but when it comes to your passion, where you take risks, where your long-term goals are – I want you to put the gospel at the center. And I do not mean mere proclamation of simple statements, I mean apologetics and Christian worldview – including politics, economics, etc.

Now, that’s not my main point. My main point is that I further want you to stop choosing who you will associate with based on worldly criteria. I want you to think about the people around you who are the most willing to put the gospel first and I want you to take up those people as friends. I want you to talk to them, to share with them, to encourage them, to confide in them, to listen to their confessions and to generally love them in the traditional ways that Christians love, e.g. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. You need to fellowship with them – invest in their enterprises, and let them invest in yours, too. This is real love according to the Bible.

We need to stop looking at other people on the surface level – age, skin color, wealth, clothes, etc. – and start to dig deeper underneath to find out where each person stands with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our criteria should not be present ability. We should choose those with desire, intensity, and willingness to learn hard things. The first person you should invest in is the person who wants to learn to defend their faith to non-Christians using the best available evidence. If that person can demonstrate their desire to do grow in knowledge and depth of insight, you should be spending your time, money and effort with that person first.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Can a person be a committed Christian while ignoring apologetics?

I would like to describe a situation that arises frequently that concerns me. The situation I describe below brings out a flaw I see in the way that rank-and-file Christians respond to criticisms of Christianity in the public square.

Here is the situation

Eve is busy programming away at her desk, rushing to check in her unit tests so she can spend her lunch hour reading the latest Stephenie Meyer novel, or check on the schedule for her local sports team, “the Vicariouses” (she has tickets for Thursday). Suddenly Eve hears Alice talking to Bob on the other side of her cubicle. She stops typing to listen to the following unencrypted conversation.

Alice: I was watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel last night that said that the universe has always existed, so there is no God!

Bob: I was watching a documentary on PBS last night showing simulations of how the first life started on Earth! God didn’t do it!

Alice: I saw “Inherit the Spin” on the weekend! The only reason people oppose evolution is because of the Bible! Not because of science!

Bob: I’m going to see “The Va Dinci Code” this weekend! It says that the Gospels are unreliable and that Jesus didn’t even die on the cross!

Alice: I just bought the latest Dichard Rawkins book “Christians Should Be Fed to Lions and the Bible Should Be Burned”!

Bob: I will read that as soon as I finish Histopher Chritchens’ book “Why God is the Evilest, Stupidest Person in the World”!

Eve double-majored in business and computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology, and has an MBA from the London School of Economics. She has spent a ton of time, effort and money studying very difficult subjects for her job, and she even publishes research papers. She works full-time and runs her own business part-time, and teaches night classes for a well-known university. She earns about 200K per year. She lives in a huge house, drives an expensive car, and goes on vacation abroad to all the best vacation spots.

Eve thinks she is a Christian. She has attended church since childhood, her husband is a church elder and she sings in the church choir. She reads the Bible and prays every night, because it helps her to get sleepy before bed. She gives lots of money to the poor. She teaches Sunday school to very small children.  She has even read all of the Narnia novels five times! She even has a calendar filled with nature scenes and itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny Bible verses posted on her office wall at work! Judging from all of these facts, you might expect Eve to get in on that conversation with Alice and Bob, and set them straight.

But she won’t. Why not?

Why won’t Eve stand?

I am wondering if anyone can explain to me why it is that most church Christians are not able or not willing to make a public defense when God’s reputation is called into question. It seems to me that there are two bad effects that follow from Eve’s unwillingness to stand up and invite Alice and Bob to lunch so that she can address their questions and concerns.

  1. God’s reputation is being trashed by Alice and Bob on the basis of lies they’ve swallowed from pop culture. These lies about God’s existence and character could be easily corrected with a minimal amount of study, which Eve is capable of – she is a genius and has amazing entrepreneurial skills.  If someone said similar lies about her husband or children, she would speak up, but she won’t speak up for God.
  2. Alice and Bob are bound for Hell unless someone cares enough to correct their mistaken beliefs, which, along with their sinfulness, is what is keeping them from a relationship with God that would go on in Heaven. If Eve’s husband or children were mistakenly about to drink poison thinking it was Aspirin, then Eve would speak up. But to save her co-workers from Hell, she won’t speak up.

Eve is capable of studying to defend the faith, because of her great success in other areas where so much time and effort were required to master difficult material. So why has she not applied herself to answering public challenges to her Christian faith from her professors, teachers, actors, the media, politicians, scientists, historians, etc.? She’s heard these questions about God’s existence and character all through high school and into university and then now in her career. Doesn’t she believe the Bible when it says to prepare a defense? Doesn’t she believe the Bible when it says to acknowledge God before men? Doesn’t she believe the Bible when it says that all authentic believers in Jesus will suffer a little for their faith?

It seems to me that if she did spend some time studying, and then made her defense to her co-workers, then two good things would follow:

  1. Eve would be demonstrating her love for God and her friendship with God by protecting his reputation when it is called into question by unbelievers in public settings. That’s what friends do – if Eve wanted to be God’s friend, she would care that no one believed lies about him and told lies about him in public settings.
  2. Eve would be demonstrating her love for her neighbor if she was able to correct some of these false beliefs, such as that the universe is eternal, or that a historical case cannot be made for the resurrection, or that evil is not compatible with theism. It’s important for Alice and Bob to know that Christianity is not stupid.

So why is it that Eve is able to go to church for 20 years, sing in the choir, read the Bible, read the Narnia stories, pray on her knees, and yet still be unwilling to do the best thing for God and the best thing for her neighbor?

Questions for my readers

Can anyone help me to understand why Christians are willing to accept this? Why is this not being addressed by churches?

Do you have an experience where a Christian group stifled apologetics? Tell me about that, and why do you think they would do that, in view of the situation I outlined above? My experience is that atheists (as much as I tease them) are FAR more interested in apologetics than church Christians – they are the ones who borrow books and debates, and try to get their atheist wives to go to church after they becomes interested in going to church. Why is that?

I’m not saying we all have to be geniuses. I am just saying that we should put as much effort into learning apologetics as we put into learning school stuff and work stuff.

Note: I picked these names because there is a running gag in computer network security where these names are used to describe the actors. Eve is the eavesdropping hacker, get it?

I’m not the only one who is concerned

Christopher Copan Scott commiserates on Facebook:

On several occasions while bringing up the importance of apologetics for not only the individual believer, but the church as a whole, I am instantly responded with an improper definition of faith that somehow excludes reason, and thus apologetics should not be used.

Or, some may respond that the use of apologetics shows that we (those who advocate for the use of apologetics) value man’s word over God’s (that’s probably the funniest claim out of the bunch).

Few do express a spark of interest, yet seldom act upon it. These people respond enthusiastically initially, but never attempt to involve themselves in reading, listening to debates, or actually downloading the podcasts I recommend, etc.

Lastly, I do find myself enjoying dialogue, at times, with atheists more than Christians. This is especially true when it comes to philosophical matters, since most Christians I converse with simply don’t care for philosophy.

Now, why is this so?

The reasons are manifold.

For one, (as Moreland talks about) the church is filled with empty selves. Christians desire that which entertains them, and have difficulty being able to reflect deeply on abstract ideas. So they would readily delve into sensational books, then read something that challenges them and takes careful thought.

Also, I think Christians often equate disagreement with hostility. It’s almost as if once one disagrees about a certain proposition, then you are therefore cantankerous and want to break the unity. Thus, in order to preserve this (facade of) unity, Christians wont allow rational disagreement.

For these reasons and many more, I’m genuinely anxious about how the different bible studies at my future college will be. In spite of my attempts to kindly and respectfully disagree on certain points during dialogue with Christians, my motives are often misinterpreted and Im labeled as the argumentative kid who thinks too much.

Okay, Im done.

I’m not the only one who is suffering with these experience, it seems.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Baby elephant in China cries for 5 hours after being stomped by his mom

Baby elephant rejected by his mother

Baby elephant cries after being attacked by his own mother

From the New York Daily News. (Printable version linked)

Excerpt:

Little Zhuangzhuang, a newborn elephant at a wildlife refuge in China, was inconsolable after his mother rejected him and then tried to stomp him to death.

Tears streamed down his gray trunk for five hours as zookeepers struggled to comfort the baby elephant.

They initially thought it was an accident when the mom stepped on him after giving birth, according to theCentral European News agency.

Employees removed him, cleaned him up and treated his injuries, then reunited the baby with his momma.

But she was having none of it, and began stomping him again.

So the game keepers stepped in once more and permanently separated the two.

“We don’t know why the mother turned on her calf but we couldn’t take a chance,” an employee told CEN.

“The calf was very upset and he was crying for five hours before he could be consoled,” he said.

“He couldn’t bear to be parted from his mother and it was his mother who was trying to kill him.”

The petite pachyderm, born in August, is now doing well. The zookeeper who rescued him from his violent mother adopted him and helped him thrive at the Shendiaoshan wild animal reserve in Rong-cheng, China.

I found another photo of the baby elephant here:

Baby elephant's birthday is supposed to be happy

A baby elephant’s birthday is supposed to be happy

And Sun News added this:

Elephants rejecting their young is not uncommon, either in captivity or in the wild. In 2004, baby elephant Keemaya died at the Calgary Zoo after its mother refused to care for it.

I am posting this because of the abortion issue (human abortion). I thought that by feeling sad for this baby elephant, it would remind us what abortion is really about. To me, abortion is about men and women having sex before they are able to take care of a child. When the child comes along “unexpectedly”, then the child is viewed as an enemy who needs to be killed before she can interfere with the happiness of her parents. Yes, they are the child’s parents. And yes, they are treating sex as recreational.

I guess a lot of my views on ethics are rooted in the obvious needs that children have. When I look at an unborn baby, I can tell what it needs. So, I am careful not to cause a pregnancy before I can supply its needs. The needs of the little unborn creature are driving these moral boundaries on me. And the same with born children. I oppose gay marriage because when I look at little children, I want them to have a stable environment to grow up in with a mother and father who are biologically related to them (in the best case). I permit lots of arrangements, but I promote one arrangement over the others because that’s what’s best for children. Anyone can look at unborn and born children and see that, just like anyone can look at a crying baby elephant and understand – “I have to govern my behavior so that I don’t hurt you”. If that means cutting off the premarital sex and making decisions that are likely to produce a stable marriage, then that’s what we should do.

Children cry too, you know. They cry when we hurt them. They cry when we make bad decisions and then they don’t get what they need. Children need mothers and fathers who care about them. Making a safe environment for a child isn’t an accident. It isn’t random and unpredictable. We have to control our desires before we have children, so that we provide children with what they need. It would be nice if men and women were more thoughtful and unselfish about children and marriage before they started in with sex.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What did early church fathers think about abortion and infanticide?

Unborn baby scheming about early church traditions

Unborn baby scheming about early church traditions

This is from Birds of the Air. (H/T Neil Simpson)

Summary:

Recently I came across a reading of the Didache. “The what?” you may ask. The Didache is a book written somewhere in the first or second century. For a long time it was up for consideration as Scripture. It was believed to be the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Eventually it was agreed that the book was an excellent book, but not inspired Scripture. So I was pleased to be able to download this admirable book containing good teachings from the early Church fathers.

The book seemed to be largely a lot of quotes from Scripture. You’ll learn the basic rules of Christianity — “First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself.” You’ll learn that “grave sins” are forbidden, like adultery, murder, fornication, and so on. (They specifically include pederasty in the list.) There are instructions regarding teachers, prophets, Christian assembly, and so on. Lots of the normal, good stuff. But, since this was written sometime prior to 200 AD, I was somewhat surprised at this instruction: “You shall not murder a child by abortion” (Didache, Ch 2).

Honestly, there is no real factual disagreement on abortion. People justify killing the weak the same way as they always do – because the weak are in their way and they are stronger and can get away with it. The politically correct jibber-jabber about “choice” is just to make them (the man and the woman) feel good afterward. Really, abortion is just selfishness taken to the nth degree – you create another human being by recreational sex (fun) and then you kill them in order to avoid have to take responsibility for that new life that you made through your own free choices.

It’s like going out and getting drunk then getting behind the wheel of a car and killing someone with the car. It may not be what they intended to do, but it was their decisions that led up to it. They’re responsible. But they don’t want to face the natural consequences of their own actions, and they are willing to do the most heinous crime imaginable in order to do so. Sex makes babies. If you can’t welcome a baby into the world, don’t have sex. I don’t. And the chance of getting a woman pregnant is of the reasons why. (One of the others is that I don’t want to hurt a woman by leaving her after sex – which is why I believe in married sex. I don’t want to hurt anyone, most of all babies.

Given the pro-life practices of the early church, I find it hard to understand how people can think that fornicating (pre-marital sex) and abortion are OK. We were not like that then, and we shouldn’t be like that now. Sex outside of marriage was not a recreational activity then, and it is not a recreational activity now.

Learn about the pro-life case

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New study: grieving husbands are 30% more likely to have an early death

I saw that Dina tweeted this UK Daily Mail article which I think is important because it shows how sensitive married men really are about their wives.

Excerpt:

Male widows are more likely to die shortly after losing their wife than vice versa, new research suggests

Researchers from the Rochester Institute of Technology in America found that grieving husbands were 30 per cent more likely to die after being recently widowed, compared with their normal risk of mortality.

Women, however, did not have any increased risk of dying – perhaps due to them being more  independent and prepared, the researchers suggested.

Professor Javier Espinosa, who led the study said: ‘When a wife dies, men are often unprepared.

‘They have often lost their caregiver, someone who cares for them physically and emotionally, and the loss directly impacts the husband’s health.

[...]Prof Espinosa’s study, co-written by William Evans from the University of Notre Dame, was published in the Economics and Human Biology journal.

I think that it’s important not to be deceived into thinking that all men are brutes and have no feelings. Men do have feelings, and they bond to their spouses quite tightly. Women provide men with many things that they need in marriage. Not just sex and submission to leadership, but care, nurturing, attention and approval.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wintery Tweets

RSS Intelligent Design podcast

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Evolution News

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.
Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 4,529,288 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,173 other followers

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,173 other followers

%d bloggers like this: