Month: November 2014


You will never savor the Gospel until you exchange probability for paradox.

When it comes to our salvation we must deny and move past our senses, and instead depend and marvel at what God sez.

“Whenever the question relates to the origin, restoration, condition, and the whole safety of the Church, we must not consult our senses, but must honour the power of God by admiring His hidden work.” – J. Calvin

Not Cause.

Not Condition.

But Consequence.

Good work in us…

Not Complacent.

Not Crazy.




The Case for Idolatry: Why Evangelical Christians Can Worship Idols

By Andrew Wilson | Wednesday 12 November 2014

[I really hope it’s obvious that this is a parody, but if not: it is.]

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to worship idols. It’s not that my parents raised me that way, because they didn’t; I was brought up in a loving, secure, Christian home. But from childhood until today, my heart has been drawn to idolatry. In fact, if I’m honest, one of the defining features of my identity has been my desire to put something else – popularity, money, influence, sex, success – in place of God.

That’s just who I am.

For many years, I was taught that idolatry was sinful. As a good Christian, I fought the desire to commit idolatry, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire to worship idols never went away.

I wanted it to, but it didn’t.

So it has been such a blessing to discover that worshipping one God, and him alone, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of expressing worship both to God and to idols, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I have finally summoned the courage to admit that I am one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe that idolatry and Christianity are compatible.

I start with my own story, and the stories of many others like me. I am an evangelical, and I have a very high view of the Bible – I am currently studying for a PhD in biblical studies at King’s College London, which will be my third theology degree – as well as knowing both the ancient languages and the state of scholarly research. Yet, after much prayerful study, I have discovered the liberating truth that it is possible to be an idolatrous Christian. That, at least, is evidence that you can be an evangelical and an idolater.

Not only that, but a number of evangelical writers have been challenging the monolatrous narrative in a series of scholarly books. A number of these provide a powerful case for listening to the diversity of the ancient witnesses in their original contexts, and call for a Christlike approach of humility, openness and inclusion towards our idolatrous brothers and sisters.

Some, on hearing this, will of course want to rush straight to the “clobber passages” in Paul’s letters (which we will consider in a moment), in a bid to secure the fundamentalist ramparts and shut down future dialogue. But as we consider the scriptural material, two things stand out. Firstly, the vast majority of references to idols and idolatry in the Bible come in the Old Testament – the same Old Testament that tells us we can’t eat shellfish or gather sticks on Saturdays. When advocates of monolatry eat bacon sandwiches and drive cars at the weekend, they indicate that we should move beyond Old Testament commandments in the new covenant, and rightly so.

Secondly, and even more significantly, we need to read the whole Bible with reference to the approach of Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a Jesus-person: one whose life is based on his priorities, not on the priorities of subsequent theologians. And when we look at Jesus, we notice that he welcomed everyone who came to him, including those people that the (one-God worshipping) religious leaders rejected – and that Jesus said absolutely nothing about idols in any of the four Gospels. Conservative theologians, many of whom are friends of mine, often miss this point in the cut-and-thrust of debate, but for those who love Jesus, it should be at the very heart of the discussion.

Jesus had no problem with idolatry.

He included everyone, however many gods they worshipped.

If we want to be like him, then we should adopt the same inclusive approach.

We should also remember that, as we have discovered more about the human brain, we have found out all sorts of things about idolatry that the biblical writers simply did not know. The prophets and apostles knew nothing of cortexes and neurons, and had no idea that some people are pre-wired to commit idolatry, so they never talked about it. But as we have learned more about genetics, neural pathways, hormones and so on, we have come to realise that some tendencies – alcoholism, for example – scientifically result from the way we are made, and therefore cannot be the basis for moral disapproval or condemnation. To disregard the findings of science on this point is like continuing to insist that the world is flat.

With all of these preliminary ideas in place, we can finally turn to Paul, who has sadly been used as a judgmental battering ram by monolaters for centuries. When we do, what immediately strikes us is that in the ultimate “clobber passage”, namely Romans 1, the problem isn’t really idol-worship at all! The problem, as Paul puts it, is not that people worship idols, but that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (1:23). Paul isn’t talking about people who are idolatrous by nature. He is talking about people who were naturally worshippers of Israel’s God, and exchanged it for the worship of idols. What else could the word “exchange” here possibly mean?

Not only that, but none of his references apply to idolatry as we know it today: putting something above God in our affections. Paul, as a Hellenistic Roman citizen, simply would not have had a category for that kind of thing. In his world, idolatry meant physically bowing down to tribal or household deities – statues and images made of bronze or wood or stone – and as such, the worship of power or money or sex or popularity had nothing to do with his prohibitions. (Some see an exception in the way he talks about coveting as idolatry in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, but these obviously reflect his desire, as a first century Jew, to honour the Ten Commandments.)

In other words, when Paul talks about idolatry, he is not talking about the worship of idols as we know it today. As a Christ-follower, he would be just as horrified as Jesus if he saw the way his words have been twisted to exclude modern idolaters like me, and like many friends of mine. For centuries, the church has silenced the voice of idolaters (just like it has silenced the voice of slaves, and women), and it is about time we recognised that neither Jesus, nor Paul, had any problem with idolatry.

Obviously this is a contribution to an ongoing conversation, rather than the last word on the subject. But I hope you will all search the scriptures, search your hearts, and consider the evidence afresh – and avoid judging those who disagree in the meantime! Maybe, just maybe, we can make space in the church for those who, like me, have spent a lifetime wrestling with the challenge of idolatry.

Jesus & Draft Day

Consulting and consultants are “a thing” nowadays.  Let’s pretend Jesus encountered a consultant as He was putting together His team of disciples – – – >

C:  So who do you have your eye on?

J:  I really like this guy Simon.

C:  Simon …Simon …Simon …I’m not seeing this name on the list.

J:  Really!?  Lemme see it… [C hands the list to J.  J crumples up the list and throws it in the waste basket].

C:  Really!?

J:  {smiles}

C:  Okay, so who is this Simon guy?

J:  [slides a manilla folder across the table …the word “Classified” is stamped on the front of the folder and inside there’s germane data on one Simon Peter, and the other candidates J is seriously considering]

C: What!?  He’s a fisherman!?!? …and He’s a notorious braggart!

J:  I wanna build the team around this guy.

C:  You cannot be serious.  I advise against this. [C looks intently at J trying to discern whether or not He is actually serious about using His first-round pick on this guy. …J is hard to read, but it seems that He is committed to choosing Simon in round 1]  I strongly advise against this!  …This guy is an uneducated dim-wit from the sticks, and what’s worse is that he has an infamous track-record of making promises and not keeping them!  I guarantee that this guy will deny, disavow, and disown you if/when the going gets tough!

J:  The decision’s been made …he’s the front man [J has a profoundly winsome and affectionate look on His face].

C:  Seriously!?

J: {simply looks at C in a way that conveys an unmistakable resolution to follow through with the decision}

C:  Seriously!?

J:  I like his brother too.

C:  Cuss!  I don’t even know why I bother being here!

J:  Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Your talent is undeniable, but your paradigm is abominable.

C:  [wears an extremely frustrated expression on his face, and anyone within 78 yards could clearly see that he was on the brink of throwing a prodigious pity-party/pout-fest in honor of himself]

J:  Speaking of brothers …I’ve also decided to recruit the sons of Zebedee.

C:  [thumbs through the information in the folder…] You CANNOT be serious [the tone of voice is one of complete defeat].  These guys are belligerent!

J:  Yes!  We gotta have some intensity …you know – some GUSTO!  The team dynamic just won’t have the proportion and balance without a couple of bruisers like the Zebedee boys!

C:  [bites his lip …feeling a bit exasperated …things are NOT going the way he had planned …C had really hoped to feel validated during this meeting, but J doesn’t seem to be agreeing with any of his advice]

J:  Moving on.  I also like Philip, Batholomew, Thomas, James – the son of Alphaeus – and Thaddeus.

C:  Whatever.
J:  You know, you really should take this more seriously …you’re being downright lazy and childish!

C:  Are you kidding me right now!?  I’M not taking this seriously!?  This team your assembling is laughable …no, it’s worse than laughable – it’s a guaranteed train wreck!  I came in here to help you build a legit franchise, and you seem bound-determined to forfeit the season!  None of your recruits make any sense!  It’s like you have a death wish!  I’m trying to help you man!

J:  Okay, we have a few spots left – who would you recommend?

C:  [*deep sigh, demeanor ruffled & vexed, but every ounce of energy allocated toward attempting to maintain some semblance of composure] Alright – I know a guy – he’s a highly educated, solid reputation, in a position of authority …he’s a guy who could really give us some credibility with the aristocracy, and some traction in the polls; and I already know he respects you, and he’s willing to play on your team if the terms of the contract are savvy!  His name is Nicodemus.

J:  Ah yes, Nicky.  I’ve already spoken with him, and I’ve told him what is required if he wants to be one of my disciples.

C:  What did you tell him!?

J:  I told him the truth.

C:  So you offended him!

J:  The truth is oftentimes offensive.

C:  Come’on man!  How am I suppose to help you if you keep burning bridges!  Our leads are few and far between – especially amongst the higher-ups!  There’s hardly anyone amongst the haut monde who’s even remotely amenable toward you anymore!

J:  Have you been briefed on WHY I’m here?

C:  I’ve scanned the mission documents, it’s a bit long-winded if you ask me; and talk about cryptic!  …Look, we all know the end game, we’re all after the same thing  …why don’t you just let me do my job; I’m just trying to help you.  Do you want me to follow up with Nicodemus or not?

J:  Nicky’s not ready – he’s not needy enough.  I do however have my eye on Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot.

C:  [looks like he’s ready to punch J in the face].  Are you mocking me?

J:  This isn’t about you.  This is about Me.  This is about the expansion of My Kingdom.

C:  You don’t make any sense!  None of your decisions make any sense to me – not a single one!

J:  So you admit you need help. …you need help understanding who I am.

C:  I think you’re crazy!

J:  That’s not a bad start.

C:  You realize that Simon and Matthew will NEVER get along!  You realize that the team will be perpetually fractured, and it is doomed to disintegrate if you put both of these guys on the team.  Look, you’ve already committed to having a losing team, but if you draft both of these guys you won’t even have a team!  Their preferences and principles could not be more diametrically opposed – bipartisanship is IMPOSSIBLE between these two!  The cause will be lost before it starts …this mission of yours will never get off the ground!

J:  I agree!  Impossible! …have you not read what’s been published about Me and My being here?

C:  I need a drink.  This is absurd.  I don’t get you bro.

J:  For my 12th pick, I’ve decided to draft Judas Iscariot.

C:  [stares at the folder for 4 minutes and then unenthusiastically flips to the info. on Judas I.]  At least you have a shred of common sense in you …one guy out of 12 looks relatively promising, it says here that Judas has a degree in finance.

He Wouldn’t’ve If… [excuses, excuses & fraudulent justifications]

David’s Defense Attorney [Closing Statement]:

Did my client shirk his responsibility as king by lounging around the palace while his army was at war?

Let the record show that my client wouldn’t’ve stayed in Jerusalem had he not fought so many rigorous battles in the years and decades prior to this long-overdue, hard-earned, sabbatical scenario (any other king – especially one with such a heroic and unparalleled war record – woudn’t’ve had the humility to take such a sensible break, and unpretentiously allow his capable and accomplished general to lead the charge for a change).

Did my client coerce another man’s wife into having an adulterous affair?

Let the record show that my client wouldn’t’ve sent for Bathsheba if she weren’t such a bathing beautimus bombshell (i.e. there was no getting around this affair, it was completely unavoidable …if anyone is to be held accountable I suggest blame be cast upon Bathsheba – for indecent exposure and inadvertently seducing the king).

Did my client try to cover-up his reprehensibly heinous sin of adultery?

Let the record show that the king endeavored to arrange a romantic rendezvous for a dearly appreciated couple in his kingdom (…most citizens would be delighted to have such a thoughtful and mawkishly-minded king).

Did my client contrive the demise of one of his mighty men/the husband of the woman whom he had ravished?

Let the record show that my client wouldn’t’ve slaughtered Uriah if he had simply accepted the king’s invitation to go home and sleep with his wife.

Finally, I would simply like to point out that my client is the king, and therefore – amongst other things – we owe him our respect, and every effort must be made to excuse his bad behavior and overlook his heinous heart.

[Statement closed]

*How do we know that the Bible is the Word of God?  Because it refuses to put false fronts on our flaws.  We are terrified of our failures, and we wretchedly search – with the utmost desperation – for someone else to blame in order that we might bestow upon ourselves some superficial and fleeting sense of justification!  But the Bible reveals the truth – no matter how distressing and despicable – about even the most venerated and esteemed patricians; and instead of a flimsy defense of absolutely inexcusable/totally depraved choices and actions – we have the 51st Psalm:

Have mercy on me, O God,
		according to your steadfast love;
	according to your abundant mercy
		blot out my transgressions.
	Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
		and cleanse me from my sin!
	For I know my transgressions,
		and my sin is ever before me.
	Against you, you only, have I sinned
		and done what is evil in your sight,
	so that you may be justified in your words
		and blameless in your judgment.
	Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
		and in sin did my mother conceive me.
	Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
		and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
	Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
		wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
	Let me hear joy and gladness;
		let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
	Hide your face from my sins,
		and blot out all my iniquities.
	Create in me a clean heart, O God,
		and renew a right spirit within me.
	Cast me not away from your presence,
		and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
	Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
		and uphold me with a willing spirit.
	Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
		and sinners will return to you.
	Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
		O God of my salvation,
		and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
	O Lord, open my lips,
		and my mouth will declare your praise.
	For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
		you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
	The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
		a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
	Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
		build up the walls of Jerusalem;
	then will you delight in right sacrifices,
		in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
		then bulls will be offered on your altar.

(Psalm 51)

What’s The Problem?

Frando:  I am having an affair, but (a) my wife doesn’t know about it, and (b) my father had 4 affairs …so I’m fine.

Edward:  I see your point!  I’m an alcoholic, but only a few people suspect anything, and only 2 close friends have confronted me about it …and I’m not even sure it would be accurate to call it a “confrontation” …it my opinion they were acting a little over-dramatic about it, and it was really less like a confrontation and more like “sober questioning” (pun intended!).  At any rate, even if I WAS confronted about it – the problem wouldn’t be my alcoholism, the problem would be the fact that I have all these people BOTHERING me about it!

Chandler:  I beat my wife, but my parents beat me WAY WORSE, so it’s not a problem.

Urkle:  If I decide something – you know commit to something …really put my mind to something, but then someone threatens my plan (my precious agenda – my sacred decision) I get very angry, and my anger is justified because that’s just the way I am!

Pharaoh:  I am a slave owner, and there’s this annoying guy who comes into my office EVERY DAY demanding that I let the slaves go free.  Of course I tell’em that he’s ridiculous and to get the cuss out of my sight, but then some monumental affliction overtakes us and I “relent” and “agree” to let the slaves go free IF he somehow arranges to have the scourge abolished.  …But of course I feel no remorse for oppressing people, so once the dimwit gets gone the plague I say, “JK – leave me alone you pesky pastor, you have no authority over me, I will do what I want, I’m not depraved, I have no tumorous problems, slave-owning is just the way I am and everything is pretty good – fine & dandy!”

Cain:  I HATE my brother.  He thinks he’s better than me.  But he’s not!  I will prove it!  I’m good!  I’m not bad, I’m good!  I’m fine!  I’m not bad!  I’m a good boy!  …I kill my brother.  …there are [apparently] consequences when you act violently toward another human being.  I hadn’t really thought about THE CONSEQUENCES.  I don’t hate my sin (because I’m not really that bad to be honest).  But I do hate THE CONSEQUENCES!  My punishment is greater than I can bear!  My sin is not unbearable, but the consequences of my sin are unbearable.  I am not the problem, but anyone who imposes or upholds the consequences of my sin (even merely seeing and lamenting the seriousness of my sin) is THE PROBLEM!




Communicates WHAT?

Communicated by WHOM?

…to who?

  • Varsity or Rejects?
  • Favorites or Failures?
  • Healthy or Sick?
  • Righteous or Wretched?
  • Nice or Naughty?

To edify – – – to strengthen & increase faith – – – compel trust & obedience – – – SAVOR ^ >

To distinguish (קָדַשׁ qadash: to be set apart or consecrated)

[see WLC #162]

*Bonus – – – > [#67] What is effectual calling? Effectual calling is the work of God’s almighty power and grace, whereby (out of his free and special love to his elect, and from nothing in them moving him thereunto [Titus 3:5]) he doth, in his accepted time, invite and draw them to Jesus Christ, by his Word and Spirit; savingly enlightening their minds, renewing and powerfully determining their wills, so as they (although in themselves dead in sin) are hereby made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered and conveyed therein [Ephesians 2.5].

The Paradox of Courage

“He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying.”
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

What the WHAT!?

From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. Now then, return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”(Genesis 20:1-7)

Marrow Controversy?

"Oh my stars!  Turn-a'round!  I forgot to pay!"
"It's cool bro, I paid for the both of us."
"No way, I MUST pay!"
"But I picked up your tab, it's ALREADY been paid."
"NO! NO! NO!  I. I. I. MUST. MUST. MUST. PAY. PAY. PAY.  For myself."
"Why are you so obsessed with paying for yourself."
"Because I'm an egomaniac, and I only BELIEVE/TRUST/PLACE CONFIDENCE in myself."
"But I have the receipt.  ...I have proof that I have paid for you."
"Still ...just take me back, I MUST - for I shall suffocate and smother myself with guilt and shame and accusation upon accusation until I,MYSELF,ME ALONE Pay.


*Consequences of sin are one thing.  The guilt and shame of sin are a separate thing.  If a man wrongs, sins, screws up, etc. he will perhaps face the consequences of that transgression (certainly - invariably - someone will!), but wallowing in the guilt and shame of the sin is entirely contingent upon where that man is walking, standing, and sitting in relationship to Christ.

FREEDOM = THE RIGHT RESTRICTIONS (e.g. 5'1" lad aspiring to be an NFL lineman; a fish who endeavors to live on land ...these creatures are NOT free).

Basic human question #109:  "What are you going to do to me when I invariably hurt you?"

Basic human question #25:  "Are you a safe person to be honest with?"


In obeying his calling a person fulfils his essence, although he would never have been able to discover this, his own archetype and ideal within himself, in his nature, by descending into the center of his natural being, his superego, his subconscious or superconscious, by studying his predispositions, yearnings, talents, his potential. Simon the fisherman could have explored every region of his ego prior to his encounter with Christ, but he would not have found “Peter” there; for the present, the “form” summoned up in the name “Peter”, the particular mission reserved for him alone, is hidden in the mystery of Christ’s soul. Then Christ confronts him with it, unyielding, demanding obedience, and it will be the fulfillment of everything that, in Simon, vainly sought a “form” that would be ultimately valid before God and eternity. In the form of Peter, Simon will be able to understand Christ’s word, since the form itself proceeds out of the word and incorporates its addressee into the Word. Each time Simon follows the understanding native to “Simon” he will go dangerously astray, whereas he will always hit the mark when, refusing to “confer with flesh and blood”, he attends only to his commission, which reveals the Father’s will to him.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer (1955). My colleague David Yeago pointed me to this passage today. A fine meditation on Revelation 2:17, it seems to me.

“They who judge of Christ according to the feeling of their flesh are unfair judges; for they constantly deprive Him of His peculiar excellencies, and, on the other hand, ascribe, under the appearance of honour, what does not at all belong to Him.”

[John Calvin]

“…What is sought in opposition to the Word of God is not a remedy.”  [ – J. Calvin]