“Saint John the Baptist Preaching” by Mattia Preti, circa 1665
This is the first in a series of essays on the topic of baptism as outlined in scripture.
Hello friends and thank you for taking the time to visit and read this first article addressing the subject of baptism. In my introductory letter, I hinted that there are at least three and possibly four different forms of baptism described in scripture. Today, I would like to start by examining the first such form: the baptism of John. I will first give some background on who John was and the significance of the baptisms that he administered, then I will differentiate this form of baptism from those that occur under the New Covenant. Continue reading
I am about to begin a series of blog posts on the topic of baptism as it appears in scripture. This is a subject that has provoked not a little controversy among Christians over the years. My purpose in addressing this topic is not to stoke more controversy, but perhaps to get back to basics. So much has been written about baptism, and I am loath to waste words on something that not only was said already, but was probably said better than I could manage.
Therefore, it is my primary intention to focus on an exegesis of those biblical passages that deal with the subject of baptism. I do not intend to carry out an exhaustive examination of how the theology surrounding baptism has developed over the years or how traditions were handed down. Perhaps this will cause some to accuse me of Biblicism, which I assure you would not be a compliment coming from them. However, please rest assured that I mean no disrespect to the many eminent theologians over the centuries who have wrestled with these issues and whose interpretations of the text have no doubt influenced my own. I am not suggesting that we should ignore all of that when considering baptism. I simply cannot do everything, and in any case, my only academic training that is at all pertinent is in the field of biblical literature, not historic theology. I will thus attempt to do what it is I do best, or at least what I should do best. Continue reading
A knight prepares to do battle with the seven deadly sins in the “Treatise on the Vices” by William Peraldus, circa 13th century
In order to understand the world, it is essential to understand sin. Without a proper appreciation of sin, all anthropology is destined to fail.
Let me start out by establishing two very important truths. First, sin is not a theological buzzword. It is not something that exists merely in the realm of theory – an abstract concept latched onto by those seeking to comprehend the world around them. It is not just some word that religious fundamentalists use to describe people unlike themselves, things that scare them, and actions they find distasteful. This is not the true meaning of sin, however much some individuals might attempt to co-opt the concept. Sin is the deadly enemy of the human race. It is killing us every day – claiming us for its own.
Second, sin is not just a single action or series of actions. From a human perspective, it can certainly seem so, and that is how we usually address the topic. You tell a lie, you sin. You steal something, you sin. You punch someone in the face, you sin. All of this is true, but if that is the only way we think about sin, then we are missing the point. We are underestimating the problem in a way that is bound to lead us into all kinds of difficulties. It is more useful to think about sin as a state of being, a worldview, or a modus operandi. Sin is not just what a person does: it is part of their essence. The Bible calls this the sinful nature.
I recently heard a very interesting idea: the most effective prison is one where the prisoner actually wants to stay. How could such a situation occur? When the prisoner comes to believe that black is white and night is day – that is, rather than being the source of their torment, the prison is in fact their source of protection and even liberation. Through a series of lies, they become convinced that leaving the prison is too risky and what they need is in the hands of those who hold them captive. It’s not so much that they lose the desire to be free, but rather that they are mistaken as to where true freedom can be found. Sin is completely this way. Continue reading
Jane saying her evening prayers, from an 1847 illustration by F.H. Townsend
I love Jane Eyre. It’s one of the few novels that I have revisited after completing the final pages. Whether it is a landmark achievement in the history of feminism or a subtle attempt to reinforce Victorian marital ideals, I cannot say, though I am more inclined toward the former. In any case, what I find most interesting about Charlotte Brontë’s lone novel of note is its spiritual content. This is ironic, since many of the critics in her own day called it an affront to religion. Yet while it may have been an affront to bad religion, I do not think we can say that about religion in general.
There are important lessons to be drawn from the pages of Jane Eyre in regard to personal guilt, sexual morality, forgiveness, and cultural Christianity vs. true Christianity. It is not a book that simply condemns religion or trumpets it unthinkingly. There are four main villains in this work, if you don’t count the crazy woman in the attic, who in any case couldn’t really help herself. The first is Jane’s aunt, Mrs. Reed, whose religion is nominal at best. Then there is Mr. Brocklehurst, a fervently religious man who is all law and no gospel. Next, we have Blanche Ingraham, Jane’s romantic rival, who worships nothing but herself. The last villain is often not seen as a villain: St. John Rivers, the cleric who is hell-bent on saving souls but has walled off his own emotions to the point that he could hardly know much about Christ.
The heroes of Jane Eyre also have a variety of religious beliefs. The most obviously good person in the story is Jane’s childhood friend, Helen, who is raised up as a model of true Christianity, showing compassion to those around her while also treasuring the Bible. Jane herself has a strong moral core, no doubt influenced by her Christian upbringing. Even so, you are unlikely to hear her spouting complex doctrines. She is more interested to see how those around her, who nearly all espouse Christian beliefs, actually put those beliefs into practice. Then there is the anti-hero Mr. Rochester, who has committed numerous sins and yet acknowledges his sinfulness and longs for redemption. In this, the novel seems to suggest that he is more Christian than many of the “Christians”. Continue reading
Welcome to the 21st century, when it is entirely possible to take seminary classes without paying any money, writing any papers, taking any tests, or indeed registering for said classes. The only thing holding you back from a seminary education is the amount of time you are able or willing to commit. As the Apostle Paul would say, “You are without excuse.”
I first began listening to seminary courses through the iTunesU app. If you have an Apple device, you can watch or listen to a wide variety of courses for free from the following institutions, just to name a few: Biola University, Concordia Seminary (St. Louis), Covenant Theological Seminary, Dallas Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Knox Theological Seminary, Liberty University, Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster Seminary California, and Westminster Theological Seminary.
In addition, certain seminaries have posted videos of their courses on YouTube. You can watch a number of full courses from schools like Dallas Theological Seminary, The Master’s Seminary, and Puritan Theological Seminary in this manner. I will now mention a few particular courses that you may wish to view on YouTube. Continue reading
Photo by Laurin Guadiana
A couple days ago, I talked about the biblical basis for defining a person as both body and soul, and how our ultimate hope is not to become a disembodied spirit, but rather to spend eternity in a glorified body. We are not only our bodies, but our bodies are certainly an integral part of who we are. Having laid down that scriptural foundation, I would like to now discuss how human relationships can break apart when we fail to properly apply these principles.
If the ancient Greeks tended to view people as souls trapped in a shell, the modern world has a tendency to view everything as material. If you are a true materialist (in the philosophical sense), you do not believe that souls exist. Therefore, a human being really is nothing more than their body, and all of their thoughts and feelings are the result of electrical signals that they cannot truly control. This has led some atheists, such as Sam Harris, to write treatises declaring that free will does not exist.
This is not the Christian view. We believe that the human will is under the influence of the sinful nature, and that without the power of the Spirit, humans are unable to perform true acts of righteousness or choose to follow God. However, we certainly do believe that all humans have a soul…even if that soul is dead in sin. No human being is only a body. We affirm the real nature of the physical world while also acknowledging the existence of the supernatural.
Despite this belief, many Christians join right in with non-Christians in acting as if people do not have souls. What do I mean by this? Just look at how we tend to treat people whom we look down on for any number of reasons: we often deemphasize their mental and spiritual nature and view them only in terms of their body. Continue reading
“Proportions of the Head” by Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1488-89
Are you your body? Is your body you? Are you only your body? Are you more than your body? Do you have a soul? Does your soul go where your body cannot? Why do we have bodies anyway?
Questions like this have puzzled even the brightest philosophers since the beginning of time. As a Christian, I believe that every human being certainly has a soul: a part of them that is not visible. Yet there is no denying that from the perspective of other humans, and often from our own perspective, we are our bodies. This is how we interact with the world around us. It is how we reach out and touch one another. And when our bodies finally give out, we can no longer remain in this life.
The way a person feels about their body, along with the opinions of others, has a major effect on how that person views him or herself. While we certainly tend to view ourselves as more than our bodies, we by no means consider that our bodies are not a part of us. No one would ever say, “My body’s leg is broken. My body hurts.” They would say, “My leg is broken and it hurts!” Things that take place in our bodies have a major impact on our mental state and even our emotional and spiritual welfare. Continue reading
Image by Wikipedia user Ibrahim.ID
Although I have had a Twitter account for years, I only started using it in earnest a few months ago. I quickly connected with other people in the Christian blogosphere, particularly those in the Reformed tradition. Some of what I saw encouraged me. People were making use of this social media platform to communicate gospel truth. Yet, a good percentage of what I saw also discouraged me.
Twitter has confirmed what I already suspected about the human condition: people are often more drawn to the negative than the positive, regardless of what they claim. I was aware of this phenomenon, having a background in political science and knowing full well that the same voters who claim to hate negative campaign ads are heavily influenced by them. This principle seems to hold true with social media. A criticism, however legitimate, attracts more attention than, for instance, a kindly reminder to love your neighbor as yourself. To give an example, of all the articles I have posted in recent months proclaiming the virtues of reconciliation and redeemed suffering, the ones that received the most page views by far were the two that criticized Donald Trump and a third that leveled a very mild criticism (if you could even call it that) at two individuals connected with The Gospel Coalition.
The negative is certainly attracting a lot of attention in our world today, even among Christians. I have been disappointed (though once again not at all surprised) to see many people using their social media accounts not so much to build up the body of Christ, but simply to critique any little thing in that body that annoys them. Now, I am not stuck in some utopian fantasy. There are a lot of things wrong in this world, and there is a lot of stupid out there! We need to confront the stupid. However, my problem is not so much with the fact that people are using social media to criticize, but rather that they seem to be focusing on criticism almost exclusively or going about it in an unnecessarily offensive or careless manner. Continue reading
“Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem” by Horace Vernet, circa 1844
When we think of a suffering prophet, we tend to think of Jeremiah, and not without good reason. His message was consistently rejected by the people he was trying to help. He was thrown into a cistern. (Jeremiah ch. 38) He was treated as a criminal. At one point, his manuscript was destroyed and he had to start from scratch (Jeremiah ch. 36), which any writer knows is a devastating blow. He lived to see all the dreadful things he predicted come to pass. The city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah were destroyed. Many people were killed, and those who survived were sent into exile. Yes, if there was anything that characterized the life of Jeremiah, it was pain and suffering.
In addition to the long book that bears his name, Jeremiah is also held to be the author of the short work titled Lamentations. This is not a book to which Christians typically gravitate, for it is admittedly a downer. Yet, within those pages, there is much we can learn about suffering in the lives of God’s people, and how God Himself redeems it. Continue reading
An old Baptist Sunday School class in the 1940s. National Archive photo
As it turns out, Twitter is an excellent source of inspiration for my blog. Why, a couple weeks back, I couldn’t help but notice someone commenting that the New Testament applauds churches for many things, but children’s ministry is not one of them. I think I understand where they were coming from, but I do not like the implication of this statement.
The person in question, who I am not going to name because I have no wish to demean them, belongs to the Reformed tradition. There is a great emphasis within this sphere on the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. If I understand correctly, these means of grace are the focus of our corporate worship in church. In some quarters (though certainly not all), this can lead to a de-emphasis or even suspicion of anything that is not a part of that Ministry of Word and Sacrament. Once again, this is how I understand it: I did not grow up in a Reformed church.
I assume that this was the genesis for the comment that scripture did not applaud (i.e. institute) the other “ministries” that are commonly part of church life in this country and others. I do not fully disagree with this, but if we are using such a point of view to diminish children’s ministry or say that it is not important, then I think we have made a grave mistake. Let me explain why I believe this to be the case. Continue reading