This Blog is Moving!

14 06 2008

Hey everyone- as I said in my last post, I am moving to a new blog. The blog is now live and can be found here:
I would greatly appreciate it if you updated your rss feeds and links :)

I tried importing everything from this blog on over- but it kept timing out, which means I’ll probably have to copy and past all the entries I want to keep over there. This blog will stay up with everything in tact.
If you follow this blog via RSS, here is my new feed:

If you follow this blog via email subscription, just wait a day or two and I’ll roll your subscription to the new blog automatically. If I am unable to do so, I will post a new entry here saying that you’ll have to sign back up again.

If you have linked to this site- I apologize in advance, because I know its a pain to update links sometimes (I know, because I had to redo everyone’s link by hand. Apparently theres no import links option), but I also thank you.

Hopefully I won’t lose to many of you all who continue to read this blog and offer great insight and comments. See you over at the new blog!

[Tony K – Do I need to re-enter my blog on said at southern, or can you fix it for me? -thanks]

Question about New Blog

13 06 2008

I’m preparing to move my blog to a new url. Should I just start afresh and leave this one up here? Or should I import all my posts and comments? To be honest, theres a lot of stuff I don’t want to move over- but there are a few that I do. Should I move them all for the sake of the few?

I’ll give you all the url when it’s moved over. Links will take awhile to add since I can’t export them to a file with wordpress.

Oh, and I know I did a post about the blog title not too long ago. The new blog will have a new name however- this way when people link to it, they’ll have no problem knowing what the title of the blog is. Sorry for those who just added me- but it will make it easier for those who follow your steps! :)

Hope in Freedom- What We Can Take from a Slave’s Tale

13 06 2008

“Life is So Good” is an autobiographical account of George Dawson, which contains the by-line “One man’s extraordinary journey through the 20th century and how he learned to read at age 98.”  I’m only into the second chapter, and it has already been an incredible story of George, a black child growing up at the turn of the 20th century in Texas.  He relates this story:

[After hearing his Great-Grandmother and Grandmother recount the story of the day that they were freed from slavery, long quote.]

“‘People was talking about the new freedom and what they gonna do.’

‘That’s so,’ Sylvie said. ‘But for Charity and me, our course was set. We would stay and wait for my man to come back. He had escaped two years earlier and gone off to join the Union Army to fight for freedom. News moved slow but we would wait. I had faith.

I always listened. It was a story that was told and retold. But each telling only made it better. Every time I heard, I had more questions.

‘What did you do while you waited?” I asked.

Both grandmas laughed and gave me hugs.

Charity picked me up in her arms and Grandma Sylvie put her hands on my shoulders as she talked. ‘Only one thing to do,’ she said. ‘We worked.’

‘But that’s what you did before there was freedom, ‘ I said in confusion.

‘That be so,’ Charity said, ‘but with freedom we had hope. Hope is what kept us going then. We worked from sunrise till dark, and in the moonlight we tended our own garden patches. It was two years before we learned that he died in battle. Colored was on the move in the South then. A field hand that just arrived, Tom Dawson, told us the story as we chopped cane.

“Your man,” Tom said, “he be like a father to me. I was young and so green then. I had escaped from the plantation, but I didn’t know nothing about fighting. We was in the same unit, a colored unit. I was in front of Reggie when we got our uniforms…[Tom continues his story]… I stayed right with your father and was next to him when he took a bullet. He was hit in the chest. I pulled him down in a ravine with me. He was breathing hard and I gave him water and told him not to die on me. He nodded and I leaned close to listen to him as his voice had become weak. ‘Master Lester’s plantation, Mississippi, go there and tell my wife, Sylvie, and daughter, Charity, that I died in the fight for freedom'”

“When the war was over I walked from Delaware down to Mississippi. Seemed like it took forever. Of course, I had to stop and work the fields sometimes to get some food for the body. But I made a promise and I kept it!”

Grandma Sylvie said, ‘Don’t you ever forget that your great-grandfater died for us to be free.’

‘That’s right,’ Grandma Charity said. ‘We learned how much freedom cost.'”

I apologize for such a long quote, but at the same time I apologize that it was also abridged.

To the point- a few things in this story jumped out at me. The first is that the very idea of freedom changed Sylvie and Charity’s view of “work.” George’s confusion is easily understood by us- “work? why would you work? That’s what you were freed from!”

The reply was essentially this- “yes, we worked when we were under enslavement, but now that we are free, working was different. It was different because we had hope.” This second issue is something I will briefly touch on later. George’s reaction is analogous to the reaction of Christians when they consider their own freedom. As Paul states: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3.17). But what does this freedom look-like? What does it mean to be free?

A lot of us, before we were saved, were trying to get by on good works. Whether we believed it would save us, or we believed in some karmic cycle, or if we didn’t believe in anything at all. When we were saved, we realized just how futile those works were- they were Isaiah’s “filthy rags,” “impossible to please God” for they were done “without faith” (Hebrews 11.6). We found out we were free- free from the law. Unfortunately, that resulted in an idea that we can now do what we want. There’s no condemnation (Romans 8), and grace abounds in sin (Romans 6). Yet, this is not what Paul means when he says that we are free (see, especially, Paul’s response in Romans 6). Paul’s freedom is something entirely different.

If we continue looking at Romans 6, we will read that we have been set free from sin- yet we are now slaves to righteousness. This is Paul’s way of saying simply- you are now free, free to obey God when you never could before. We were enslaved to sin, to disobeying God. Now we are free in such a sense that we can finally obey God. What once seemed to be a heavy burden of works, was heavy because we were enslaved by it. Now, through grace, we are freed from that enslavement and are free to finally and actually obey God. It is not freedom to do what we want, but freedom from doing only what we could as dead men and women, enslaved by sin. It is what Paul and Jesus mean when they say we will bear fruit. It is what James means when he says that he will show you his faith by his works. Like Sylvie and Charity’s perception of work, our perception of God’s commands have gone through a fundamental change because of our new found freedom.

What is it, then, about this freedom that so changes our view (which itself, stems from a change in our nature)? It is hope. Charity says, “but with freedom we had hope.” What reason does Paul have to declare, “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3.17), if it isn’t to give believers a hope? See the very next verse: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

This is our hope- the transformation of ourselves from sinful people, deserving of God’s wrath into the image of Christ Himself, a transformation that comes in its finality at the resurrection. Above this, our hope is Christ Himself, the One who frees us so that we may obey God with joy. With Sylvie and Charity, we see that freedom indeed does have a cost. First, it cost Jesus His very life upon the cross as an atoning sacrifice. Second, it costs us our very lives, as He beckons us to pick up our crosses and to follow Him down the path of dying to self and sacrificial love.

“I Believe in God. I mean, I’m Not an Atheist…”

11 06 2008

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve either heard or said something along the lines of the following:

“I still believe in God. I mean, I’m not becoming an atheist or anything. I know God exists.”

Let’s unpack this a little, shall we? That little bit at the end is usually the kicker. “I know God exists.” Well, of course you do. Paul tells us this much in Romans 1. Everyone is without excuse, because they know God exists- yet they suppress this truth. This reality is the reason that Alvin Plantinga can say that belief in God is “properly basic.” This means that, although evidence exists in nature for the existence of God (again, cf. Romans 1), it is not necessary to have evidence to believe in God. It is an innate knowledge, a knowledge that we are born with. The Reformer John Calvin called this the sensus divinitatis– a sense of God, implanted within us. The question is never whether you know God exists or not. The question is whether you are suppressing that truth. What then is the outcome of such knowledge? If we follow the trajectory of Romans 1, we see that it is not at all what we expect. Though innately born with a knowledge of God, and with the testimony of creation (theologians call this “general revelation”), the outcome of Romans 1 is a twisting of the natural order- the worship of creation over its creator. Why is this so? Well, Paul unpacks this in the next few chapters- this suppression is due to our sinful nature. Because we are sinful, all general revelation will lead us to is idolatry. Knowing that God exists is not sufficient- we all know he exists, and yet we suppress that truth.

“Well, it’s more than that. I really do believe.”

Ah. Well, we are definitely getting into the deeper issue. The problem with belief is that there are a lot of things you can believe. It’s not enough to simply say “I believe,” and leave it at that- belief always has an object. What is it that you believe? If it’s simply that God exists, that takes us back to the issue of the knowledge of God. What is the object of your belief? Is it just some vague spiritual notion, (which is more new age than Christian)? Is it that God exists but is not personal, (which is deism)?

“No, not at all. I believe in Jesus Christ. That he was the messiah.”

Well, that’s definitely Christian content. It’s also necessary for true salvation. But what about James 2.19- “You believe that there is one God… Good! Yet even the demons believe this- and shudder!” A quick glance through the Gospels will show that the demons knew who Jesus Christ was- the messiah, the son of God, etc. Yet, they shudder. Certainly, someone can realize the facts of the Gospel- essentially that God reigns, and this would cause them to shudder also. This can be seen in those who feel that their sin is somehow bigger than God- that God cannot forgive them. What then, is the fundamental difference?


Theology is never meant to simply be an issue of knowledge, but a practical outpouring and application of that knowledge. The person terrified of God’s judgment because his sins are “too much” for God’s grace doesn’t truly know grace. They have some head knowledge- but certainly no experiential understanding. By experiential, I don’t mean believing in an experience over and against Scriptural authority- I mean actually experiencing the grace of God and the knowledge that it puts forth. There is a disconnect somewhere between their thoughts, and Romans 8.1- “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” You may say that you know God exists- even the pagans do that. You may say that you believe- but what are you believing in? You may say that you believe Christ is the Son of God- so do the demons.

What are you trusting in?

Is it the fact that the good things you’ve done outweighs the bad? “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3.20).

Is it simply because you know God exists? “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2.18).

Or is it by trusting only in the finished work of the cross- a belief with an object, a trust that flows from a change of nature?

Plantinga Quote on Positivist view of Theology

11 06 2008

While reading an article by Alvin Plantinga on “Advice to Christian Philosophers,” I ran across this quote.

Some [Logical] positivists conceded that metaphysics and theology, though strictly meaningless, might still have a certain limited value. Carnap, for example, thought they might be a kind of music. It isn’t known whether he expected theology and metaphysics to supplant Bach and Mozart, or even Wagner; I myself, however, think they could nicely supersede rock. Hegel could take the place of The Talking Heads; Immanuel Kant could replace The Beach Boys; and instead of The Grateful Dead we could have, say, Arthur Schopenhauer.”

Yes. This will be much funnier to some of you than others. If you don’t think of this as funny- rejoice! You’re not a dork.

Isaiah Allusion in Colossians 1.12?

9 06 2008

While reading through Isaiah 53, probably the most well known of the “servant songs,” I couldn’t help but notice a very familiar idea in verse 12a-
“Therefore, I will allot him a portion with the great…” (NRSV)

Paul, in Colossians 1.12, says this of the saints:
“[the Father], who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”

In both verses, we have God actively conferring upon someone a share/allotment of an inheritance. In Isaiah’s passage, the one who recieves the inheritance is the coming Messiah, while in Paul’s writings it is the Colossians (and us by extension).  Having just translated through Colossians 1 not too long ago, I went to look up the Isaiah passage in the Septuagint:

διὰ τοῦτο αὐτὸς κληρονομήσει πολλοὺς καὶ τῶν ἰσχυρῶν μεριεῖ

Now here is the Greek for Colossians 1.12

εὐχαριστοῦντες τῷ πατρὶ τῷ ἱκανώσαντι ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν μερίδα τοῦ κλήρου τῶν ἁγίων ἐν τῷ φωτί

Notice the words in bold? Each of the three are cognates- that is verbs and nouns that come from the same root. Here are the comparisons:

Isaiah Paul
κληρονομήσει – verb kλήρου – noun
μεριεῖ – verb μερίδα – noun

So what do you guys think? Did Paul have this in mind as he penned his letter to the Colossians? It seems to fit his theology- that as adopted sons and daughters, we share in Christ’s inheritance who is the true Heir (cf Romans 8.17)

Acts 13:48 – “Appointed” or “Disposed?”

8 06 2008

In a recent blog entry, Elshaddai comments on Acts 13:48. He quotes the TNIV:

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

He then asks:

“Can anyone comment on the Greek verb form of “were appointed”? Is this an instance where the plenary meaning is “all who were [and who continue to be] appointed for eternal life…”? Certainly the translation at hand suggests predestination as a present reality for those who heard and believed.”

This verse was the exact verse that shocked me from my arminian understanding of election to a reformed view, that is, whether salvation is a divine initiative or a human initiative. There is some debate on this verse as to whether it should say “were disposed” (which leads to an arminian understanding) versus “were appointed” (which leads to a reformed understanding). As I look at the text, I will bring out some points on whether we should translate it as “disposed” or not.

In answer to Elshaddai’s question, the phrase isn’t just a verb, but a construction that is called a “periphrastic.” Basically this is just a big term that means a phrase that includes a “to be” linking verb with a participle. In this case, the phrase in question is ἦσαν τεταγμένοι (hesan tetagmenoi). Grammatically, a periphrastic (to be + participle) is to be taken as a single unit. The breakdown of the construction is as follows:

ἦσαν = εἰμί (eimi) – “to be” -3rd person, imperfect, active, indicative, plural.

τεταγμένοι = τάσσω (tassw) – “To bring about an order of things by arranging; to determine, appoint, etc.” – Perfect, Passive, Participle, Nominative, Masculine, Plural

If some of that makes no sense to you, that’s ok. I’ll bring out the meaning of the important issues.

τεταγμένοι, as I said above, is a form of the word τάσσω. It is in the “perfect” tense, which means that it is a completed past action that has ongoing significance. The word τάσσω is at the center of the debate- it is said that it should be translated as “disposition” instead of “appointed.” However, there are some problems with this rendering:

1. Very few lexicons list this as a possible meaning. It is not included in the BDAG, Liddle-Scott, Louw-Nida, or Thayer’s.

2. The verb is passive, which means that the subject is being acted upon. Even if we should take it as “disposed,” that would mean that the subject (the Gentiles) were being made disposed to accepting the Gospel- not disposing themselves as arminian theologians would take it. There is a possibility that the verb is instead a “middle” tensed verb, which would have the subject acting on itself- but this use of the middle tense is rare in the NT. Most middle tense verbs simply draw attention to the subject.

3. As a logical outcome of (2), if we were to take the verb as “dispose,” that doesn’t solve the problem, it only adds an extra step to solve. For example, since the verb is passive, we must ask ourselves then, “who is making them disposed?” that is, “who is making them so inclined to believe?” Which takes us back to the original issue.

It seems much more likely that we should understand this phrase in terms of being appointed. In fact, this is exactly how the vast majority of translations take it- the only translation that I’m aware of that translates it as “disposed” is the New World Translation, which is the Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible. Elshaddai gives quotes from many translations, all of which render it in terms of appointment, including: NRSV, NASB, HCSB, ESV, NLTse, NJB, REB, Lattimore.

So, then, taking the periphrastic phrase as “were appointed,” what can we understand from this verse?

1. As I noted earlier, the word “appointed” is in the perfect tense. This means that the action of appointing was completed in the past, but has on-going significance. What on-going significance you might ask? The most obvious significance is the belief exhibited by the Gentiles. It is not an appointment in the abstract, but concrete. In other words, the appointing has an object or goal. They were appointed “to believe.”

2. The reformed doctrine of election does not destroy human responsibility or action. As I said in (1) election is not actualized salvation, but election to salvation. Some might think that what I just said is a matter of semantics, but it is not. They were appointed to believe. The result is that they did believe – human action. Some people think that election means that if we are “on the list” we are in- whether we believe or not. They ask, “what is the point of evangelism?” Acts 13.48 is a clear picture of how election, evangelism, and human responsibility play out. God has appointed them to believe. A necessary condition for belief is hearing the Gospel (Romans 10.14-15). They heard the Gospel, and believed.

There is also an implied question that can be asked of this text. If those who were appointed believed, why didn’t the others believe? The implied answer is that they were not appointed. This leads us to Elshaddai’s next question:

“My biggest problem with those translations that use “as many as” (NRSV, NASB, ESV) is that it opens the ambiguity that predestination is a quota system – it’s not so much “who” believes, but “how many” believe.”

First of all, let me start by saying that I don’t think this is an either/or problem. I think the “who” question is asked and answered- “those who were appointed.” The Bible also talks elsewhere about the “who.” However, on to the use of “as many as.”

The question revolves around the phrase “all who” (cf. TNIV) or “as many as” (cf. ESV). If we stop and think about this for a bit, we can see that the two different phrases aren’t really different at all. They are just two ways of saying the same thing: “as many as were appointed” is equal to “all who were appointed.” For example if I were to say “As many as were named Bryan are incredibly good looking” I would be lying (with myself being a falsifying proof). However, even as big of a lie as it is, it is the same as saying “All who were named Bryan are incredibly good looking,” or “Everyone who was named ‘Bryan’ is incredibly good looking.” The Greek in question is not actually a phrase, but a word: ὅσοι (hosoi). This word is defined in the BDAG as:

“Pertaining to a comparative quantity or number of objects or events; how much (many), as much (many) as” (BDAG, hosos, 2,pg 729).

This word is used to answer the “how many” question by modifying the “who” phrase- “as many as were appointed.”

I think the best way to understand the phrase “ἦσαν τεταγμένοι” is as a “divine passive.” This means that it is God who is acting upon the subject of the verb, or in this case, the periphrastic phrase. It is God who has appointed these Gentiles to belief, the result of which is their believing the Gospel message which was preached to them.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.