Thursday, January 26, 2012

Quick Thoughts about T.D. Jakes and Trinitarianism

No time to blog well here. I'm just going with a laundry-list

  1. Jakes's statement satisfies me that he is a Trinitarian. I read him differentiating his present view from his previous view of the Godhead. He affirmed not only "three persons" but also the concept that the three persons are to be distinguished from one another. The Father is not The Son is not The Holy Spirit, although all three are the One True God. In his first reply to Driscoll, Jakes seems to have affirmed that these attributes are eternal, not just matters of assignment or appearance.

    It is certainly possible that I am just not qualified enough to see the nuance that is missing here. I do not claim to be an expert in theology. And yet, I would count what Jakes has affirmed as Trinitarianism.

  2. Jakes's statement makes it perfectly clear that he used to be a modalist. He himself characterizes his embrace of Trinitarianism as a movement away from something else. Driscoll characterized it similarly, with no rebuttal from Jakes. When did the change take place? We don't have data on that, but we do know that Jakes has never clearly articulated Trinitarianism in public before yesterday.

  3. This is something for all of us to celebrate. When Jakes became a Trinitarian, he became a Christian. His eternal destiny changed at that moment. Now he needs to be baptized. Again, this is something to celebrate.

  4. This is a complete vindication of those who criticized Jakes's earlier theology. As noted above, Jakes himself has now acknowledged that he used to be a modalist (not that that's news to anybody who has paid attention). There will be people who will perform a lot of self-congratulatory chest-thumping over this—people who have been defending Jakes—along the lines of "See, we were right all along, you muck-raking, ruckus-loving, slander-throwing watchbloggers!" If you're somebody who has held Jakes's feet to the fire on this issue in the past, it's really important for you not to pay attention to the minions of atheology on this question and to become defensive. Close their blog and open your Bible to James 5:20. Rejoice.

  5. The Trinity is a big, big deal. It's a heaven-or-hell deal. Minimizing the doctrine of God is not helpful. Anyone who has pretended that this is not important is hurting, not helping. Jakes is certainly one of those people. Although he has espoused Trinitarianism, he certainly is minimizing the importance of that, both by trying to avoid specifically Trinitarian language where he can and by calling for unity between Trinitarians and modalists. Unity between us and Oneness folks would be wrong. It would be sinful for us to be one with them. Jakes must be rebutted at this point.

    But I would not say that it is the same level of sin to fail to condemn modalism as it is to espouse modalism and reject Trinitarianism. Both are wrongful, but only one is heretical, I think. If a failure to condemn modalism is damnable heresy, then T. D. Jakes isn't the only person we have to worry about. If you say that T. D. Jakes has to have condemned modalism as heresy in order to be a Trinitarian, then we have good grounds to question the Trinitarianism of every other participant in the Elephant Room. From what I've seen in transcripts, none of the people there condemned modalism. Perhaps some of them would, in some other context, but with the topic right up there on the table, nobody said a single word of condemnation against modalism.

    This makes them all wrong, and embarrassingly so, not only in my book but also along the lines of everything that historic orthodox Christianity has stood for. But it doesn't make them people who are going to Hell. I think, if you're going to condemn Jakes on the basis of his desire for greater unity between Trinitarians and modalists, you're going to have to condemn every other person on that platform (unless you believe that they all really do condemn modalism and are just cowards).

  6. This is no complete vindication of T. D. Jakes. Yes, there are still massive theological problems with Jakes. He's a prosperity preacher. He's one who still desires ecumenity with modalists, even if he no longer is one. He's a terrible expositor. I wouldn't say that he's qualified to serve as a pastor. I certainly wouldn't support his presence preaching at anything at my church, anything in my denomination, or anything I was at all associated with.

    But all of that, serious as it is, can take a back seat for at least a moment. He's not presently being proposed to preach at my church, at anything in my denomination, or at anything I'm associated with. I don't even have to think about that right now, and there's something better to think about in its place. A man who has preached heresy has, on a worldwide stage, recanted from it and has espoused Trinitarianism. He has become a Christian. Surely, whatever other problems are attendant, THAT is something worthy of rejoicing in and of itself.

Or maybe I'm just being naïve.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is an Insistence upon Heart-Languages Biblical?

The New Testament was written in Greek. You've probably read some speculation that one or two New Testament books may have been written first in Aramaic, but it is clear that the preponderance of New Testament books were written originally in Greek and that all of them existed almost exclusively in the Greek language relatively quickly in the history of Christianity. Although it was, at that time, the ROMAN Empire, the apostles did not, as far as I can tell, make any effort to write in Latin. Although Asia Minor was polyglot and the gospel was spreading into Africa and across all of the diversity of the Mediterranean Basin, the apostles were entirely content to evangelize and disciple in Greek.

Greek was the "heart-language" of Thessalonica and Corinth, but apart from them, I'm not sure that it could be considered the "heart-language" of any of the recipients of the other New Testament epistles or books.

I'm presuming that we've all heard sermons and lectures extolling this attribute of the Greco-Roman world—the availability of Greek as a common language throughout the empire—as one attribute of the "fulness of time" that God exploited in revealing the gospel at just the time that He did. And yet, people who affirm that idea and preach that kind of sermon, we will turn right around and say with regard to this day and time that the gospel has not been proclaimed somewhere and the Great Commission has not been obeyed somewhere until we have proclaimed it in the "heart-language" of that people-group. Is it OK for me to wonder aloud whether that insistence is biblical?

Let me make some things clear:

First, I'm not saying that I'm AGAINST the translation of the Bible and the propagation of the gospel into every language known to man. I'm IN FAVOR of that. I'm contributing to make it happen. I'm a fan and a supporter. I'm in favor of a lot of things that are advantageous to the Great Commission. The question is whether translation into "heart-language" is ESSENTIAL to the Great Commission—that until you've done that, you cannot have fulfilled the Great Commission among a people-group.

Second, I'm not denying that there are people in the world who speak and understand no language whatsoever in which the gospel is available. There are people like that. For them, we must provide gospel resources in their languages or we have not obeyed the Great Commission until we do so.

So, what I'm asking is none of those questions, but this: Suppose there is a tribe of people in Central America somewhere, living in a country for which the official language is Spanish. They also have a tribal language that is, compared to Spanish, obscure. The preponderance of people in that tribe speak BOTH their tribal language AND Spanish. One might accurately describe the tribal language as their "heart-language," but they are entirely functional in Spanish, conducting their lives and business in it with regularity. About such a people-group, I ask:

  1. If Spanish Bibles are available for this people-group, is it accurate to say that they have no Christian literature available to reach them?
  2. If a Spanish-speaking evangelical congregation is in their vicinity, is it accurate to say that they have no Christian churches?
  3. If Christians have carried the gospel to these people in Spanish, has the Great Commission been carried out and has the gospel been proclaimed to them?
  4. How are they different from, for example, the Galatians, whom the apostles were content to evangelize and disciple in Greek?
  5. How are they different from, for example, a tribe of Sioux in North Dakota who might have received English Bibles, may have professed faith in Christ in English, and might attend English-speaking churches?

I'm not shooting at ANYBODY with this post. It's just that, our church having embarked upon this Embrace initiative, I as a pastor am in a position to need to have thought more carefully and to greater depth about my own understandings of Biblical missiology. I'm trying to work that out, and I'd appreciate constructive dialogue.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Condemnations of Last Saturday's Political Conclave of Evangelical Leaders Are Dangerous

In the "Magazine of Evangelical…" um…something (Christianity Today), David Neff has taken Paul & Nancy Pressler and around 150 other evangelical leaders to task for holding a meeting last Saturday at the Pressler ranch in an effort to unite behind a single conservative GOP candidate in this year's primary elections. The title of Neff's essay was "Why Last Saturday's Political Conclave of Evangelical Leaders Was Dangerous."

Neff's piece represents well a rising sentiment among a new generation of those who attend Evangelical churches. Popularity, however, does not always correlate well with sound thinking.

Here are, as best as I can discern them, the major points of Neff's attack:

  1. The meeting somehow went beyond "political action" to address "the social, economic, and moral threats to a healthy society" (which Neff affirms as something he would support) and transgressed instead into "playing kingmaker and powerbroker." The people at the meeting apparently did this by "conspiring to throw their weight behind a single evangelical-friendly candidate."
  2. This is a bad thing, according to Neff, because it feeds "the widespread perception that evangelicalism's main identifying feature is right-wing political activism focused on abortion and homosexuality."
  3. Please note a key facet of Neff's argument: It isn't that these brothers and sisters went about doing these things wrongly (selecting the wrong candidate, following the wrong procedure, inviting the wrong people, etc.), but that they did it at all.

I submit to you that Neff's essay represents a nonsensical halfway covenant of sorts, the main appeal of which is its vague feeling of protest, essentially against the personalities involved.

Before engaging in point-by-point analysis, we ought to take a moment to ask ourselves what really happened at the ranch in Brenham (and I was not in attendance). A group of Christians (not a church) gathered. They share a common viewpoint about what are "the social, economic, and moral threats to a healthy society." They believe that the outcome of this year's presidential election will be relevant to those concerns. Having that belief, they found themselves motivated toward "political action." Strategically, they determined that the wisest political action to address their concerns would be to select a candidate whom they could support in the primary elections. Their process for deciding which candidate to support was to conduct a ballot vote. Everyone who came to the meeting came voluntarily. No one in the meeting is in any position to coerce anyone else at the meeting to abide by the decision.

OK, so somewhere in that preceding paragraph, we have to find something that makes it all "dangerous" in the manner that Neff has alleged.

Neff's first allegation is that the meeting went beyond "political action" and transgressed into the realm of "playing kingmaker and powerbroker." How, I wonder? The substance and procedure of the meeting was no different—not one iota different—from what happened at the Iowa Caucuses or the New Hampshire Primaries. A group of likeminded people (in the case of Iowa or New Hampshire, Republicans), believing that they should, for strategic reasons, consolidate their support behind a single candidate for an upcoming election (in this case, the general election in November), hold a vote (or a series of votes, in the case of Iowa) to decide which candidate will be the one for which they will campaign and vote in the days leading up to the general election.

I suppose there is a way in which the Iowa caucuses are, indeed, instances of kingmaking and powerbrokering. The only political processes that would not run afoul of this characterization would be, I guess, political processes that never result in decisions.

Neff must LOVE Congress.

Is this process something beneath Christian individuals? Does it soil them to engage in it? If so, then we need to disavow politics altogether, and certainly we need to refrain from going to our individual polling places and casting our ballots whenever the primary elections take place in our respective states. The substance of what happened in Iowa and what happened in Brenham is absolutely indistinguishable, except for size. And if such strategic politicking is out-of-bounds for Christians, what "political action" is left over for Neff to use in his "urgent" endeavors to address the "threats" that bother him?

There's nothing out of the ordinary about the process of this political meeting, or even about the role it plays in the larger process. Neff's argument against this particular political process can hardly be anything other than an attack on political strategy in general. Neff's argument is an Anabaptist one. He should go the whole way, for the sake of consistency, and abandon secular politics altogether. I admire the Anabaptists. Although I am not convinced of their position, it is internally coherent, makes a good argument, can make some biblical case for itself, and has a certain winsome appeal to this sometimes-idealist. Neff's position is remarkable for having none of those things. His halfway covenant—that Christians should join the rest of the nation in the political process, but must do so in a more foolish, less organized fashion than everybody else—is untenable.

Or, perhaps Neff isn't opposed to such political strategy and organization, per se (and I suspect that this is the case), but is simply reacting negatively toward the particular people involved in this meeting. If so, then he should have made it clear that he was writing a personal attack rather than an attempt at a reasonable philosophy of Christian political involvement. I think we're all at the place where we have to ask ourselves, if Rick Warren had hosted this meeting at his home in California to consolidate evangelical support behind a candidate promising to wipe out AIDS, would Neff have written a demeaning attack piece or would he have asked for time off to attend?

The second grievance in the article is that such meetings (or the existence of such people?) feed what is, in Neff's estimation, a bad perception of evangelicalism: "that evangelicalism's main identifying feature is right-wing political activism focused on abortion and homosexuality." We don't have any reliable indication that abortion and homosexuality were the only items on the agenda in Brenham. Indeed, another critique from a more widely respected press organ flatly asserted the opposite today: That the reason for this meeting was explicitly to go beyond abortion and homosexuality and to meddle in economics and foreign policy and the like.

French's analysis has to be accurate. If the question were simply about abortion and homosexuality, then there would be no need for a Brenham meeting. The people who went to Brenham are all in agreement already about abortion and homosexuality. They had no need to confer about that. This was a meeting to choose WHICH pro-life, pro-marriage candidate (among several) would be the better candidate based upon their differences in OTHER areas.

So, Neff is attacking a meeting that was about neither abortion nor homosexuality, claiming that the mere existence of such a meeting reinforces a perception that evangelicals are concerned, above all else, about abortion and homosexuality. Let's ask ourselves, is this "perception" something that we might categorize as a reasoned observation or an unthinking prejudice? The question matters a great deal. If it is the former, then the fault lies with evangelicals. If it is the latter, then the fault lies with those who hold the prejudice.

I submit to you that it is the latter. By any reasonable measure (where evangelical money goes, where evangelical time goes, what evangelical children wind up doing with their lives, etc.), political engagement is far from the main identifying feature of evangelicalism. The idea that this is the primary feature of evangelicalism is nothing more than a prejudice. The funny thing about prejudices is that they require very little in the way of evidence in order to survive. Neff's speculation that evangelicals would not suffer from such humiliations if Paul Pressler would discontinue such meetings is simply that—speculation. I think it is naïve speculation at that.

In point of fact, the grave embarrassment for evangelicalism these days is Rob Bell and Mike Licona, not Paul Pressler. It is the fact that the word "evangelical" has come to mean nothing substantive. It is the fact that so many rank-and-file evangelicals have very little idea what the Bible says, have only the vaguest notions of what they believe, and have very little firm intention of living according to any of it should it become uncomfortable to them. It is the fact that most evangelicals, if they encountered the rich young ruler today, would commission a self-study immediately after the encounter to try to determine why they weren't reaching the leaders of the next generation. To suggest that evangelicalism's public-relations ills are the fault of Paul Pressler et al is wishful thinking.

Christians need not apologize for being involved in the political process. Christians need not apologize for trying to do so wisely, so long as they are doing so honestly. Churches shouldn't be endorsing particular candidates in this primary election, in my opinion, but individual Christians citizens will be, for a few seconds on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the sovereign rulers of this nation. As such, they are responsible before the Lord for everything the Bible teaches us about being good, godly rulers, so far as their influence reaches. I'm thankful that there are people who take that responsibility seriously. If a Christian can honorably vote, there's nothing wrong with campaigning. If you're going to campaign, there's nothing wrong with campaigning in an organized fashion. To pretend otherwise is to demand that Christians participate in the electoral process, but always in a passive fashion. David Neff's opinion notwithstanding, I think THAT is a dangerous outcome.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Grace, the Gospel, and Role Expectations in Titus 2

One of the erroneous assertions made about biblical prescriptions for gender roles, workplace roles, and age-related roles is the appeal to grace and the gospel as the rationale for abandoning these distinctions. The line of argumentation begins with the presumption, without scriptural foundation, that role differences are inherently enslaving and negative (rather than merely that sinful people often work sinful things through roles). It then proceeds to evaluate the gospel as entailing the obliteration of these negative roles and the liberation of those enslaved by them. And so, whether the roles be attributed to the ancient culture in which God chose to bring forth the Bible or to the prior domain of the Old Testament, gender roles, age roles, and occupational roles become "the Rules" that Grace has set aside.

And then there's Titus 2. It's a remarkably pristine piece of text, with no textual difficulties appearing at all in the apparatus. There's really no question what this chapter says, and there's no question that this entire chapter fits together as a unified pericope.

An inclusio marks the boundaries of the pericope here, bracketed by injunctions to Titus to speak clearly and forcefully in the churches, transmitting these Pauline directives:

Σὺ δὲ λάλει ἃ πρέπει τῇ ὑγιαινούσῃ διδασκαλίᾳ….

….Ταῦτα λάλει καὶ παρακάλει καὶ ἕλεγχε μετὰ πάσης ἐπιταγῆς· μηδείς σου περιφρονείτω.

In English (NASB)

But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine….

….These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Besides the inclusio, another indication that all of chapter 2 belongs together rhetorically is the presence of the particle γὰρ ("for") in the first sentence of the second paragraph (2:11). The word γὰρ is generally one of the earlier particles that students of the Greek language learn. It occurs regularly throughout the New Testament. It is rhetorically important. According to the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, this particle simply "[introduces] the reason or cause for what precedes." Thus, in persuasive texts that frequently present lines of reasoning for things (like New Testament epistles), the word γὰρ was a handy tool for the authors and is an important key marker for the task of interpretation.

The function of this word in Titus 2 is no mystery: The second paragraph (2:11-15) provides the "reason or cause for" the first paragraph (2:1-10).

And so, we're thankful that, in this case, Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton (c1150-1228), when assigning the New Testament into chapters, listened carefully to the Holy Spirit and got Titus 2 precisely right. These two paragraphs clearly belong together in this pericope.

So, these paragraphs say something together. But what do they say?

The first paragraph consists entirely of what many must regard as a set of stern, inflexible prescriptions of biblical roles according to gender, age, and economic condition. Older men must put aside any youthful problems they had with alcoholic beverages, undignified behavior, foolishness, or fickleness and instead become temperate, dignified, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and perseverance. Older women, similarly, are to put aside their problems with alcoholic beverages, gossip, and irreverence, positioning themselves as the teachers of younger women. Those younger women, by the way, are assigned to the love of husband and children, work at home, and subjection to their husbands, among other things. Younger men simply receive the command to be sensible. Slaves are to be subject to their masters. It says something about the spread of Christianity mostly among the poor that there was no need in Crete for instructions to masters.

Along the way, several reasons appear in the first paragraph to justify the need for believers to adhere closely to these roles. Younger women must remain within these biblical boundaries of behavior "so that the word of God will not be dishonored." (2:5) Titus receives a set of instructions for his own behavior (and he, I presume, was one who belonged in the category of "younger men" although he was, by office and calling, an "elder" in the church), "so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us." (2:8) In both of these cases, some argument can be made that there is room for these behavioral norms to have been conditioned by culture, although neither one really makes a good case for that as the only way to understand the passage.

The statement to Titus in 2:8 clearly has in mind the church's reputation among outside opponents. Opponents would be able to revile the church and the gospel if Titus, as the church's key missionary-leader, were, say, an example of bad deeds rather than an example of good deeds, as Paul instructed. The opinion of opponents was definitely in mind, and yet so was the matter of biblical truth. The important fact here is that the opponents, if they were to criticize Titus for bad deeds that he had wrought, would have been right! If the cultural-conditioning of this passage were the dominant factor in interpretation, one would have to conclude that, in some hypothetical culture in which the opponents valued bad deeds and criticized good deeds, Titus would have been commanded to be an example in bad deeds in order to protect the reputation of the church. Of course, that would be preposterous. The intent here is not to chase the culture wherever it goes, but to deny the culture any VALID reason to demean Christians and dishonor Christ's church.

The statement about younger women in 2:5 dishonoring the word of God when they are not workers at home who love their children and love and subject themselves to their husbands and are sensible, pure, and kind, actually uses the word "blaspheme." It is a passive construction (βλασφημῆται) that does not clearly state whether Christian women who do not live in this way are themselves, by their own behavior, blaspheming the word of God, or whether they are simply causing other people (Those who see their behavior and are scandalized by it? Their children and husbands who suffer on account of their refusal to abide by these biblical roles?) to blaspheme the word of God. And so, if this verse is considered all alone without the benefit of context, it might be equally possible that the key concern of this passage is that contrary behavior by Christian women is inherently wrong, or that there is simply a fear that other people will react wrongly to contrary behavior. In simpler words, one can, if he ignores the context, legitimately ask whether it is God or other people who are offended by young women who don't act according to these role expectations.

There is also in this first paragraph a promise to slaves that their honesty and fidelity in service will "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect."

So, just in the first paragraph, we see that adhering to these roles prevents blasphemy against the word of God, denies opponents any legitimate criticisms to hurl against churches, and attractively accessorizes (in the fashion sense) good Christian doctrine. All of these reasons appear as asides in this first paragraph spelling out the role expectations of these early Christians, and that before we even reach the paragraph written to give the major reason for the prescription of these roles for Christian believers!

When we get to verse 11 and reach that second paragraph, we discover that the major reason for adhering to these role expectations is neither the culture nor the Law, but grace and the gospel. As we saw above, the particle γὰρ clearly, indisputably, establishes the role of this second paragraph as a delineation of the major reason for the teachings of the preceding paragraph. Indeed, it functions as the thematic rationale for the majority of the third chapter of this letter as well, which resumes the theme of submission to authority and adherence to biblical role expectations, expanding it to discuss some aspects of the role of members in the congregation.

And what does this second paragraph say? What is the reason for older men, older women, younger women, younger men, slaves and (in other places in the New Testament) masters to adhere strictly to expectations bound up to their respective roles?

Ἐπεφάνη φὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ σωτήριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις παιδεύσα ἡμας, ἵνα ἀρνησἀμενοι τὴν ἀσέβειαν καὶ τὰς κοσμικὰς ἐπιθυμἰας σωφρὀνως καὶ δικαίως καὶ εὐσεβῶς ζήσωμεν ἐν τῷ νῦν αἰῶνι, προσδεχὀμενοι τὴν μακαρίαν ἐλπίδα καὶ ἐπιφάνειαν τῆς δόξης τοῦ μεγάλου θεοῦ καὶ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ,…

In English (NASB)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,…

So, there you go. According to the New Testament in Titus 2, why should older men, older women, younger women, and younger men live according to these role expectations? Because of the appearing of the grace of God and because of the gospel of salvation that it brings.

Titus 2 is really a remarkable passage to teach us about what the New Testament means when it speaks of the grace of God. We hear a lot about grace these days. It's awfully easy to reduce the New Testament doctrine of grace down to one's own political or anthropological theory or theological presuppositions. But here are a few of the things that God teaches us about His grace in Titus 2:

  1. God's salvation-bringing grace has appeared and has come to all men.
  2. Grace has very much to do with prescribing rules of behavior for people and for empowering them to live according to those standards. Indeed, to preach instructing people to deny ungodliness in their behavior, to deny worldly desires in their behavior, and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in their behavior is, according to Titus 2, at least a part of what it means to preach the salvation-bringing grace of God.
  3. Christ's purpose of grace on the cross was not only to redeem me from Hell or from Satan, but to redeem us from every lawless deed in our behavior.
  4. Additionally, Christ's purpose was our purification, not merely ceremonially, but in the reform of our behavior.
  5. Christ purposed through grace to own us…to possess us, and to make us people whose internal nature and outward behavior were fitting for those who would be possessed by Christ.
  6. It is the purpose of Christ in grace and the consequence of grace that we should possess a zeal about good deeds in our behavior.

And so, to live within these roles is an example, in Titus 2, of the good behavior that was the very design of the grace of God envisioned by Christ in His giving of Himself on the cross.

Of course, all of this will pose very little obstacle for a great many of the egalitarians in the world, for a great many of them do not believe that Paul wrote Titus (and wouldn't even feel all that constrained by it if he did). And yet, for inerrantists, the complementarian implications of Titus 2 would seem difficult to escape. Certainly, even if one were to argue that times have changed and the church ought to change with them, it would be absurd to deduce that the New Testament teaches that the gospel abolishes role expectations according to gender, age, or station in life when, in Titus 2, the New Testament clearly and forcefully required at least one group of people to toe the line of gender and age distinctions explicitly because of grace and the gospel.

In discussions of gender roles, 1 Timothy 2:11-15 gets a lot of attention, and rightfully so. Nevertheless, we ought to save some attention for Titus 2:11-15 in the discussion, as well.