Taking a Break to Study Covenant Theology

Friends,

As you might have noticed, I have been writing a lot about baptism recently. I have approached the issue from a number of angles. The last one I intend to tackle is how New Covenant baptism fits in with the other covenants mentioned in scripture. It has become apparent to me that I need to do a lot more studying before I can write about this topic. I am currently tearing apart several passages, conducting word studies, looking for links, etc. I am evaluating and reevaluating. This is a complicated puzzle that is not easy to put together – at least, not for me. Therefore, please grant me the luxury of some time to try and tie this all together with a pretty bow. People have been fighting over this for hundreds of years. I shall reach some conclusions and present them to you.

Blessings,

Amy Mantravadi

Council of Google Plus Podcast on Suffering

I was honored this week to appear on the Council of Google Plus podcast, which is part of the Bible Thumping Wingnut Network. We discussed the issue of suffering in the life of the Christian, and I talked about what I have been learning in the midst of my health issues this year. We also had a special guest drop by: Coleen Sharp from the Theology Gals podcast! Drop on by and have a listen. I also recommend that you read Coleen’s recent blog post about her own experience of suffering.

The Ascent of Trump and the Impact on Evangelical Ethics

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit the Sistine Chapel in this official White House photo by Andrea Hanks

Yesterday, I saw something in my Twitter feed that made me cringe: a story in The New York Times titled “Trump Says Jump. His Supporters Ask, How High?” What I objected to had nothing to do with the fact that Trump was elected, although I have previously shared my concerns on that score. It was not even anything particularly new. What caused me to cringe was the article’s mention of a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution last October, the month before Trump was elected. I seem to recall seeing it when it initially appeared, but being exposed to it again seemed to double the effect.

The issue considered in this poll was whether “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life”. I understand that this is a complex issue. Even in scripture, we see examples of people who did something terrible at one point or another (e.g. Moses or David) and yet were described as godly leaders (though somewhat compromised by their sins). Therefore, I would be willing to accept a certain variety of responses to this question, but what I am not willing to accept is the result of this poll. Continue reading

The Sight of God

“Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness” by Francesco Cozza, circa 1665

One Bible story that has resonated with me for some time is the account of Hagar, the maid of Abram’s wife Sarai through whom he became the father of Ishmael. The story tends to receive attention these days for political reasons, but I see it as a shining example of God’s grace in reaching out to a woman who was in great distress.

Hagar enters the story of Abram (later Abraham) when he and Sarai (later Sarah) are unable to conceive…even after receiving God’s promise that they would have a child. The custom at the time was evidently for the patriarch of the family take on a concubine and raise up heirs through her. Thus, Sarai gave her maid, Hagar, to her husband. The two of them slept together, and Hagar indeed became pregnant. Predictably, Sarai had a change of heart about the whole situation. She complained that Hagar now despised her. Abram allowed Sarai to deal with his pregnant concubine however she pleased. When she began to be treated harshly, Hagar ran away. That is where we pick up the story. Continue reading

What I Think About When I Think About Immigration

An acquaintance of mine on Twitter asked if I would be addressing the current controversy over DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and illegal immigration here in the United States. My initial reaction was, “Are you trying to get me in even more trouble?” This is a touchy subject to say the least, and I have no intention of offering a firm solution to something so complex and nebulous. Instead, I will briefly mention some of the factors that I tend to weigh when considering such issues, in no particular order. This is not going to be based on in-depth research, but rather the kinds of things I would say to you if you put the question to me on the spot. Therefore, you should take all of this with a shaker of salt. It is just one person’s opinion. It is not the gospel. Continue reading

Critiquing my Critiques

This year, I have written a few articles that are critical of certain people, organizations, or trends in the evangelical Christian community. While these comments have not necessarily been out of character for me, they have proved to be more significant than some of my previous blog posts, for I now have more people paying attention to what I write. My recent tendency to stir the pot has done nothing to help my mother’s digestion, and quite frankly, I myself have questioned my actions at times.

This has led me to meditate on what it means to criticize in a Christian context. Scripture lays out principles for how we should evaluate one another. I must ask myself, have I been abiding by these principles? Reconciliation within the church is very important to me. Am I really helping to bring about reconciliation when I criticize? Is it ever appropriate for me to call into question the words or actions of someone I have never met? Continue reading

The Nashville Statement, Procreation, and the Purpose of Marriage

Friends, I hesitated to write this, but I believe what I have to say needs to be said. Please know that the criticisms in this article are not aimed at every person associated with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood or all the signers of the Nashville Statement. More to the point, I consider the signers to be my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love them, and I welcome a respectful dialogue between us.

Two days ago, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released the Nashville Statement, a document composed “in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture”. It presents a series of affirmations and denials that touch on such issues as marriage, gender roles, homosexuality, and transgenderism. Having reviewed this document, I would say that those final two issues seem to be creating most of the concern on the part of the authors. Consider this portion of the preamble.

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.

It seems like every day we hear news reports about children sent to the principal’s office for failing to call a classmate by his or her desired gender pronoun, bathroom laws being changed and then changed again, Christian leaders vacillating on the issue of gay marriage, or liberal politicians labeling traditional Christian teachings as hateful bigotry. That is the era in which we live, and it has come at us at a dizzying pace. There is an urgent need for the church to declare the truths of biblical orthodoxy regarding human sexuality. We cannot possibly expect the world to obey God’s commands when it has forsaken the God who gave them, but we must nevertheless refuse to live as the world lives and believe the lies that they believe. If we forsake the Word of God, we forsake God Himself.

Therefore, I should begin by saying that I broadly agree with the content of the Nashville Statement. I am not even opposed to the concept of an ecumenical group of Christian leaders getting together to draft a new confessional document. I am by no means suggesting that we forsake our historic confessions, which are of utmost importance. Nevertheless, every confession was new at some point in history, and every generation of Christians has been forced to rise to new challenges. The Westminster Assembly of 1643-1653 did not address the issue of transgenderism, for it simply wasn’t a real issue at that time. Science had not advanced to the point where one could safely undergo gender reassignment surgery. We live in a different age, and it is vital that we address the challenges of that age.

The question is, has the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (hereafter CBMW) gone about this the right way? Indeed, are they even the best organization to be putting out such a statement? That may seem like an odd question to ask, given that manhood and womanhood are in their very name, but given some of the things this organization has promoted over the years, it is a question that we must ask. Several prominent Christian voices have already been raised in response to the Nashville Statement. They have pointed out the fact that it discusses God-designed gender roles but is ambiguous as to what those include. This has raised suspicions in the minds of some. They have also noted that some of the initial signatories have taught a doctrine of the Trinity that is not in line with the traditional Reformed confessions or even the Nicene Creed. (Here I refer to the doctrine known as the Eternal Subordination of the Son.) I am sure that other authors will develop these issues in greater depth, but I am choosing today to focus on something that might be missed by others who are not as sensitive to the pain it can cause. Continue reading

Baptism and Union with Christ

“Baptism of the Neophytes” by Masaccio, circa 1426-27

This is the latest in a series of essays on baptism. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

In this series, I have already discussed the baptism of John, the rather unique baptism of Jesus Christ, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am sure that most people are eager for me to jump ahead and say conclusively whether we should be giving New Covenant baptism to infants. Not yet, my friends! There is a specific reason for my manner of proceeding. Everyone wants to start at that place which is really the end of the theological road. It is better for us to consider other factors before we make a final determination about whether we should dunk or sprinkle…or something else entirely.

There is one place in the Gospel of Luke where Christ talks about baptism in a way that seems rather different from anything else we have discussed. Let’s take a moment to consider His words on that occasion.

I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Luke 12:49-53 (emphasis added)

What did Jesus mean when He said that he had a “baptism to undergo”? He made this comment in the middle of His earthly ministry. That allows us to rule out the possibility that He was talking about the water baptism of John, which He had already received. It also allows us to rule out the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit had already descended on Him visibly in the form of a dove. We can furthermore rule out the possibility that Jesus is talking about a water baptism identical to what Christians receive today, for He never had one. No, I believe that the baptism Christ is describing here is more metaphorical: it is a baptism of suffering. Continue reading

My Good, Bad, Ugly Year

Friends,

I wanted to take a moment to update you on what has been going on in my life this year and to explain why you may not see so much of my writing in the near future. Beginning last September, I was frequently hit with various infections, none of which seemed particularly serious. This made life frustrating, but it would always pass. Then around the beginning of March, I woke up one night in terrible pain. It seemed to be an intestinal virus of some sort. Unfortunately, I have never fully recovered.

As the months have worn on, my symptoms have become more and less severe depending on the day or week. The one thing that has been nearly constant is aches and pains. Other symptoms presented themselves as well. Early on, I was tested for a wide variety of typical viruses, all of which came back negative. I have now had examinations or consultations with eight different doctors: my primary care physician, two osteopathic doctors, two immunologists/allergists, two rheumatologists, and one neurologist. I am currently being referred to yet another neurologist.

My condition has severely limited my functioning at times. I was forced to cancel three planned trips last spring. I have backed out of all my volunteer duties at church. I have only occasionally been able to make it to Bible studies. I attend Sunday services whenever it seems physically possible. I normally spend much of the summer outside gardening, but not this year. I normally take a lengthy walk every day, but not this year.

I am thankful to God that I have often been able to continue writing through all of this, but I have only done so with great difficulty. Anything you have read by me this year was most likely written when I was feeling unwell. Even as I long to study theology more deeply, I am often prevented from doing so because it is just so hard to maintain the necessary energy and concentration. Continue reading

Theology Gals Podcast

I was recently honored to appear on an episode of the Theology Gals podcast, which is on the awesomely named Bible Thumping Wingnut network. We discussed my recent articles about Tim Keller. You can listen to the podcast here. I really enjoyed speaking with Coleen and Ashley about these important issues, and I would encourage my readers to take a listen to some of the other episodes of this podcast as well. They have a Facebook page specifically for women, but the things they have to say are useful for all Christians to hear. Keep it up, ladies!

The articles about Keller can be found here and here.