Friday, February 29, 2008

The Wisdom of Children in Sunday School-- Or Fractured Bible Tales

The Sunday school teacher was carefully explaining
the story of Elijah the Prophet and the false prophets of Baal. She explained
how Elijah built the altar, put wood upon it, cut the steer in pieces, and laid
it upon the altar. And then, Elijah commanded the people of God to fill
four barrels of water and pour it over the altar. He had them do this four
times "Now, said the teacher, "can anyone in the class tell me why
the Lord would have Elijah pour water over the steer on the altar?"

A little girl in the back of the room started
waving her hand, "I know! I know!" she said, "To make the gravy!!"

The Sunday School teacher was describing how
Lot's wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt, when little Jason
interrupted, "My Mummy looked back once, while she was driving," he
announced triumphantly, "and she turned into a telephone pole!"


A Sunday school teacher was telling her class
the story of the Good Samaritan, in which a man was beaten, robbed and left for dead. She described the situation in vivid detail so her students would catch the drama. Then, she asked the class, "If you saw a person lying on the
roadside, all wounded and bleeding, what would you do?" A thoughtful
little girl broke the hushed silence, "I think I'd throw up."

A Sunday school teacher asked, "Johnny, do
you think Noah did a lot of fishing when he was on the Ark?" "No", replied little David, 'cause he only had two worms!"


A Sunday school teacher said to her children,
" We have been learning how powerful kings and queens were in Bible times.
But, there is a higher power. Can anybody tell me what it is?"
One child blurted out, "Aces!"


There was a very gracious lady who was mailing an
old family Bible to her brother in another part of the country "Is
there anything breakable in here?" asked the postal clerk. "Only the
Ten Commandments," answered the lady



While driving in
west Pennsylvania

, a family caught up to an
Amish carriage. The owner of the carriage obviously had a sense of humor,
because attached to the back of the carriage was a hand printed sign....
"Energy efficient vehicle: Runs on oats and grass. Caution: Do
not step in exhaust."


Sunday after church, a Mom asked her very young
daughter what the lesson was about. The daughter answered, "Don't be
scared, you'll get your quilt." Needless to say, the Mom was perplexed.
Later in the day, the pastor stopped by for tea and the Mom asked him
what that morning's Sunday school lesson was about. He said "Be not
afraid, thy comforter is coming."


Nine-year-old Joey, was asked by his mother
what he had learned in Sunday school. "Well, Mom, our teacher told us how
God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites
out of Egypt
.. When he got to the Red Sea , he had his
army build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then, he
radioed headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the
bridge and all the Israelites were saved." "Now, Joey, is that
really what your teacher taught you?" his mother asked. "Well, no,
Mom. But, if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe


A Sunday School teacher decided to have her young
class memorize one of the most quoted passages in the Bible; Psalm 23. She gave
the youngsters a month to learn the verse. Little Rick was excited about the
task -- but, he just couldn't remember the Psalm. After much practice, he could
barely get past the first line. On the day that the kids were scheduled
to recite Psalm 23 in front of the congregation, Ricky was so
nervous. When it was his turn, he stepped up to the microphone and said
proudly, "The Lord is my Shepherd, and that's all I need to know."


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Shifting Religious Affiliations in America

On a day when we learned of the death of one of the first and best true Christian rockers, Larry Norman (at 60-- rest in his arms), comes the full Pew study of shifting allegiances in religious America. Here is the link to the story---

Among the notable trends are the following:

1) More than a quarter of all Americans have left the faith of their childhood for either another religion, or no religion at all. If you count shifts between one Protestant Church and another over 44% of all Americans have changed faiths just in the last ten years or so. What this reflects is the erosion of brand name/denomination loyalties.

2) The Roman Catholic Church has shown the sharpest decline in membership in terms of people leaving that church, BUT this decline has been masked by the large influx of Hispanic population into America over the last fifteen years, the vast majority of whom are Catholic in affiliation, at least nominally.

3) Only 16% of all Americans say they have no religious affiliation at all (up from 5-8% in the 80s), and while this number is up over previous surveys, it shows just how very religious a country America is compared to European countries. The claims that America has a precipitous rise in the number of atheists is false. In fact, most of those who claimed they were unaffiliated, simply meant they were not aligned with 'any religion in particular', but most did not reject religion either.

4) One of the major conclusions of the study is that religion is the single most important factor shaping peoples beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes in this country.

5) If you want to see the original survey which was done in 2007, it is here---

6) The decline of Protestantism is especially notable. In the 1970 Protestants accounted for two thirds of all Americans, now it is close to 50%.

7) Evangelical Protestants now account for the majority of Protestants, but only slightly. What this reflects is the defection of mainline Protestants to more Evangelical Protestant denominations and individual churches.

8) Catholics now as before make up about 25% of all Christians in America.

9) the majority of all immigrants from any country are Christians of some sort.

10) Moslems and Mormons have the largest families of any of the religious groups in America.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Seeing Life thru the Mind's Eye

This morning in chapel we had an excellent sermon by Rev. Fleming Rutledge on John 9. It talked about various ways of seeing and being seen, and most especially being seen by God. It also talked about various forms of blindness. My friend Meltem from Turkey recently sent me a link to a most amazing story about a man not only born blind, but born without eyeballs, who is a remarkable painter of three dimensional landscapes which he has never seen in his entire life. The scientists are of course baffled by all of this as the man never has 'seen' things by means of his eyes, but only through his mind's eye, his mental imagination of how it must look. Of course he has heightened senses of tactile feeling, and perhaps his other senses as well, but Ezraf from Ankara in Turkey is a reminder of how 'fearfully and wonderfully' we are made and frankly how little we actually understand about all of our composition. Ezraf to me is a reminder of how, despite all normal expectations, God can use our disabilities even for his glory, as John 9 says. Check out his story here---
As it turns out, there is far more to 'seeing' than just having eyeballs, as both Ezraf's story and the story of the man in John 9 attest.

Monday, February 25, 2008

God's 'Harmonic' Convergences

Over the weekend I was at Kokomo Indiana doing an event for Grace UM Church, and Pastor Steve and his wife told me the following remarkable story.

In the 90s, Steve was helping lead an E.O. tour in Israel with his Bishop, and they had gotten permission to have the Garden Tomb locale closed off to serve communion to the several hundred ministers and lay people on this tour. Little did Steve expect what his Bishop was going to ask him to do, once the gates had been closed and the service commenced.

Meanwhile, back in Indiana his wife was at home in bed. She was awoken at about 2 in the morning by a strong sense that God wanted her to get up and sing. She was not best pleased with this order from headquarters and questioned it, but finally was obedient to that strong sense she needed to do it. So, as she told me, she got up, sat in her chair, and started by singing Amazing Grace and then went through a repertoire of familiar hymns and choruses she knew by heart. She had no idea why she was doing this, but doing it in the middle of night sitting in her chair she was.

There is an eight hour time difference between Jerusalem and Indiana, and at the very hour Steve's wife was singing away it was 10 a.m. in Jerusalem. It was at that very hour Steve's bishop made an odd request--- "Steve, get the service started by leading them in singing". This request was odd because Steve has a difficult time remembering even names, but remembering lyrics to hymns? Forget about it-- he admits himself he can't do that at all. Naturally the bishop's demand must have frightened Steve, but he got up there prepared to get things started with the singing-- beginning with 'Amazing Grace'. To his own amazement he not only suddenly remembered the words to that hymn, but a whole series of other ones whose lyrics he had not memorized. And so all was well at the Garden tomb and communion went off as planned.

Only later, did Steve and his wife realize what was happening. Steve was singing the very hymns his wife was singing at the same time half way around the world--- no lie! When they compared notes, yep, you could say Steve was channeling his wife's 2 a.m. songfest! One little footnote. Methodism was born in song, and to this day its theology is best and most frequently conveyed in song as well. It is only natural for Methodists to 'connect' through the music of the Wesleys, Newton, Watts and the other classic hymn writers. But on that day, there was a very special and unconscious divine connection between a husband and wife. You know it is often said that once 'the two become one' the only question is--- Which One? On that day Steve needed his better half to take over in his hour of 'lead'-- and she did!

This whole marvelous story reminds me of the John Muir dictum, which I will paraphrase here from memory--- 'We look at life from the back side of the tapestry and mostly what we see is the loose threads, the knots, the dangling cords. But occasionally light shines through the tapestry of life, and we get a glimpse of how the divine hand has woven the darks and lights altogether into a beautiful larger design'.

On that day, a 'harmonic convergence' happened in the life and ministry of the Beutlers, and as his wife said to me at lunch yesterday, it has served as a good reassurance and confirmation of God's hand in their lives when rough times have come along since that day.

"God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to (their) choice/purpose." --- Rom. 8.28

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Music of North Carolina

The music of North Carolina, or better said North Carolinians is both fascinating and diverse. I learned this at an early age growing up in a house full of music, as my mother was a pianist and piano teacher and I grew up singing, playing stringed instruments (guitar and violin, and piano-- yes it is a stringed instrument).

One of the things that impressed me immediately was the incredible diversity of the music that came out of the soul of North Carolinians. On the jazz end of the spectrum there was the unequaled excellence of John Coltrane, probably the greatest saxaphone player ever, and I am proud to say he grew up in my home town-- High Point. But there were so many other great jazz musicians from N.C.-- Theolonius Monk, Nina Simone, Dizzy Gillespie and we could go on. This music of course was grounded and founded in the experience of black Africans most of whom came to this country against their own will as part of the shameful practice of slavery. But in the case of Coltrane in particular, who learned to play the clarinet whilst in the William Penn High School Marching Band, his approach to jazz was deeply spiritual and indebted to the Christian faith of his Baptist relatives who raised him. You can see this in much of his work, but especially in his classic albums such as 'Ballads' and 'A Love Supreme'. There has been in San Francisco, and may still be a church whose hymn tunes are taken from Coltrane's many soulful numbers.

On the white side of the ledger the music that was brought to North Carolina, already beginning in the 17th century was the ballads and folk tunes of English, Irish, and Scots persons. It is this music which is the ancestor of both 'mountain' music, and bluegrass music to some extent, and the modern pop ballad, more particularly the folk pop ballad. It was the inspiration of troubadours like James and Livingston Taylor from Chapel Hill N.C. (yes James and his family are also from Boston, but they grew up in N.C. and that is where their musical roots come from).

When I was at UNC Chapel Hill James' dad was still involved with the med school there, and James and Livingston would regularly show up at this or that venue to play, as would other members of their family (Kate and Alex for example). The haunting and beautiful ballads of James Taylor owed much to the English, Irish, Scottish folk tunes brought over to the New World and played on make-shift instruments. And in truth there had been a long tradition of such lilting music in the Carolinas and Virgina where most people knew by heart songs like 'Shenandoah', or 'The River is Wide' or 'The First of May' and other classics. I knew immediately when I first heard 'Fire and Rain' by James Taylor what well he had been drinking from-- and it was a deep one, full of pure and clear water.

North Carolinians were forward enough looking people educationally that they realized that a land's culture is carried forward in large measure by its music, and so we were taught this diverse heritage from an early age in public schools and were expected to sing and play instruments. This was not usually optional but rather required. I began to play in the orchestra in the third grade and stayed with it through the twelfth grade and on into my beginning college years in the N.C. Chamber orchestra, even though my first love was the folk and rock music of my generation. In those days Beethoven had some stiff competition from some southerners like the Allman Brothers of Georgia and the Marshall Tucker Band from S.C. and Charlie Daniels and James Taylor from N.C. on my turn table, and of course from the British invasion. It seemed that we needed another infusion in N.C. of good music from the motherland.

Music is the sound of the soul of a person, a group, a culture, and it tells us a lot about what's going on in those souls if we would but listen. Still to this day, I cannot listen to John Coltrane's lament 'Alabama' without thinking of the horrors of the violence of the turbulent years of the rise of the civil rights movement. One of the things most people do not realize about the Barack Obama phenomenon, whatever you think of his politics, is that he represents a great symbol and sign to most African Americans and many others as well, especially young people, that perhaps we have finally, finally turned the page on that sort of racism that prevented African Americans from being all they could be in our land. Perhaps the 21rst century could be a new day in race relations in our country.

But as for the music of James Taylor, it also reaches me in places that are hard to articulate. Listen for example to 'Copperline" or 'It's Enough to be On Your Way' or 'Country Road' or 'First of May' or 'Shower the People' and so many more. It is that combination of the lilting and pensive voice combined with joy and sorrow and ringing strings that speaks to so many of us from North Carolina.

So I must ask you--- what sort of music is your 'soul music' the music which resonates with who you are? I have deliberately left out whole other fields of music like classical and Christian music and rock and roll which have also been so much a part of my life because in this little discussion I am talking about the music of the land of one's birth and early childhood, the music that rings from the local culture that has spoken to you from out of its depths and has left a lasting and positive impression for good.

For those of you unfamiliar with music from North Carolina titans like John Coltrane and James Taylor, here is a brief discography to get you started:

John Coltrane-- the greatest ensemble jazz lp ever was his collaboration with Miles Davis and Bill Evans on 'Kind of Blue'. Also the best selling jazz lp ever. I would also commend starting with 'Ballads' and the CD entitled 'Spiritual'. 'A Love Supreme' is a much more complex jazz classic and requires repeated listenings to understand what is happening as Coltrane goes into doxological mode reminding us that we need the love of God to fill and stir our souls. I love the old classics like the lps entitled 'Lush Life' and 'Stardust' as well.

Like with Coltrane, there are simply too many good songs and lps to mention but here is a short list of first rate ones: 1) Fire and Rain: 2) Mexico; 3) the Shower the People lp; 4) Never Die Young; 5) Hourglass (the latest of his to win the Grammy for best lp of the year.

I leave you with a famous line from John Donne--

"Since I am come to that holy room
Where with thy choir of saints for evermore
I shall be made thy music; As I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before."

How are you tuning up for the heavenly choir?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Coming UnDonne

COMING UNDONNE--- Janis and John

Janis said--

‘Freedom’s just another word,

For nothing left to lose’.

But then she overdosed,

Her life the lived out blues.

Freedom isn’t sinning,

For when you linger there,

It’s only the beginning,

But you are unaware.

You find yourself trapped,

Like a man in a maize

Like a ship out to sea

Like an unquenchable blaze

Freedom’s not freedom

When it leaves you bound

Bound to succumb

Bound to fall down.

The pleasure’s momentary,

And there is no release,

You find yourself craving it,

But it gives you no peace.

Remorse and regret

And infinite sadness,

Downward spiral

Into the madness.

Donne was right when he said---

“Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you

As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend

Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.

I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,

Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end,

Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,

But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.

Yet dearely' I love you,'and would be loved faine,

But am betroth'd unto your enemie:

Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe;

Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I

Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”

BW3 Feb. 21, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Theology of Sovereignty and Apostasy in Revelation

The following is a brief excerpt of the exposition on the theological ethics of Revelation in my forthcoming book-- The Indelible Image. The excerpt below follows the detailed exegesis of Rev. 2-3 with some reflections on what Revelation is actually saying about issues like justice, love, perseverance, divine sovereignty and the like.


While Revelation is certainly a book that emphasizes God’s sovereignty over human history perhaps more than any other in the NT, it can be said that it also emphasizes human responsibility for human behavior, including Christian responsibility for Christian behavior, as much or more than any other book in the NT. Warnings in Rev. 2-3 against committing moral or intellectual apostasy and warnings that a Christian’s name can even be blotted out of the Book of everlasting Life are not mere idle threats, since the author believes that disaster could happen to true Christians. They could, under pressure and persecution commit some sort of apostasy. It would be pointless to talk about having one’s name blotted out of the Lamb’s Book of everlasting Life, if one’s name was never in there in the first place. By this vivid metaphor in Rev. 3 our author indicates that the believer must be faithful in belief and behavior even unto death if they are to ‘conquer’ and gain the ‘crown’ of life everlasting.

Note that there is the reassurance in these same texts that Christ can protect the believer from danger from outside sources (temptations, persecutions and the like), but notice as well that with the backsliding Laodiceans we hear about Christ coming and knocking on their door, requesting entrance again into their lives. The phrase “if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them” suggests an ongoing relationship where the believer must once more actively allow Christ in to do his renovating and healing work. It doesn’t happen automatically just because one has been converted to Christ. Thus both the reality of God’s sovereignty and ability to protect the believer from outside foe, and at the same time the human responsibility of the believer to keep on believing and behaving lest they give way to some sort of apostasy is affirmed at the same time, in the same breath.

If one were to extend a detailed ethical analysis forward into Rev. 6-19 one would discover the same dynamic tension in play, but in another way. Rev. 6-19 serves not only as one long answer to the cry of the saints “how long O Lord” (before the wicked will be judged and the righteous redeemed), but also as a persistent and insistent reminder that “vengeance is mine, I will repay”. In other words the seven seals, the seven bowls, the seven trumpets beat the drum of the theme that justice and judgment, whether disciplinary or punitive, whether temporal or final, should be left in the hands of God in Christ.

The saints are not to take up weapons against their oppressors, but rather be prepared to endure and even, if need be, be martyred, following the pattern of Christ’s life. Rightly understood, the book of Revelation becomes a strong appeal to non-retaliation and non-violence when it comes to Christians reacting to abuse, pressure, persecution, prosecution, or even execution. The author John urges that they must be prepared to go the whole way even unto death without responding in kind to their tormentors. It is remarkable and sad that the book of Revelation has so often been misused to encourage Christians to participate in militaristic solutions to mundane problems.

This ignores the whole thrust of Rev. 6-19 which reminds us again and again that only the all seeing, all knowing, infinitely just and fair, all powerful Christ is worthy to unseal the seals of judgment and loose the hounds of heaven on human wickedness. The foolish use of the Armageddon material in Revelation to urge human preparation for a clash of the titans completely misses the point that our author, in Rev. 19-20, is telling us that only the rider of the White horse and his heavenly host is fit to fight that battle, and when it comes to the very end, there will be no battle, simply fire from heaven and the armies of heaven destroying the destroyers.

There is no battle of Armageddon between human armies in the book of Revelation, merely an execution (cf. Rev. 19.11-21 to Rev. 20.7-9). The message of the book is clear on the key theological and ethical point from first to last-- Vengeance must be God’s lest it be something less than justice, and something more like revenge. The cry of Lamech has been replaced in the Gospel by the call of Christ to forgive, even seven times seventy (see Mt. 18).
The demand for justice must be replaced by the call to love, to find again one’s first love for fellow believers and human beings, to share the unconditional, unexpected, self-sacrificial love of Christ with the world. This may seem a hard Gospel, but it is in the end Christ’s Gospel, the slain but triumphant lamb who is also the lion. It is no accident that in Revelation the slain but triumphant lamb becomes the overwhelmingly dominant theological image for Christ. This, and not the lion image, is the one used to inculcate a certain approach to discipleship. There is nothing passive about the pacifism of our author and his call for endurance in the faith to the end. Rather it involves the active pursuit of Christ-likeness, following the Master’s path to Golgotha, despite all opposition.

G.K. Chesterton said it best: “OrthodoxyYis like walking along a narrow ridge, almost like a knife-edge. One step to either side was a step to disaster. Jesus is God and man; God is love and holiness; Christianity is grace and morality; the Christian lives in this world and in the world of eternity. Overstress either side of these great truths, and at once destructive heresy emerges.@1

1 As quoted in Green, 2 Peter, Jude (1987), p. 160 without citing the source (which I assume is the classic Orthodoxy).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Trouble in Middle Earth-- the Tolkien family sues New Line Cinema

It appears after all that Frodo didn't quite manage to throw the ring all the way into the fires of Mordor. It's lure must still be plaguing Middle Earth. The latest evidence that the lure of the ring is still in our midst is that the Tolkien heirs are suing New Line Cinema for a cool 150 million dollars. It is reported that the three movies all in all made some 6 billion dollars world wide! In the NY Times article by Michael Cieply we hear that:

"The Tolkien suit may prove to be especially troublesome for New Line, if only because it has the earmarks of a public relations nightmare. The plaintiffs include a charitable trust that is overseen by family members of the author, who died in 1973, and includes among its beneficiaries worthy organizations like the Darfur Appeal and the World Cancer Research Foundation.

In a complaint filed on Monday in the Los Angeles Superior Court, the trustees and others say they have never received a penny from a 39-year-old agreement that they say promises 7.5 percent of the gross revenue from any films based on Tolkien’s famous novels. New Line, whose spokeswoman declined to comment on the suit, is accused, among other things, of defrauding the Tolkiens by improperly deducting more than $100 million per film in payments to the Zaentz company and Miramax from the pool from which the trust and others would be paid."

The full article can be read at

Now it must be said that the Tolkien heirs, being proper British folk, waited a long time to see if New Line Cinema would do what it was obligated to do. The first movie after all came out in 2001. There have been various nasty lawsuits including the one recently settled by Peter Jackson with the Cinema company in question. This last suit seems to have cleared the air and the way for Jackson to get on with filming 'the Hobbit' (yeah). The Tolkiens themselves were leery of the films, and some boycotted the premieres. At this point however they seem to be concerned that their charitable trust, which does good work in Darfur be properly payed its share of the loot. The Golum figure in all this clutching the ring and yelling 'its my precious' is not the Tolkiens, it would seem but rather the Cinema Company which made a fortune not just off the films but from the spin offs as well which is a major part of the bone of contention.

Stay tuned for future episodes when we will no doubt hear about Gandalf the wizard lawyer who unties the gordian knot of the problem and returns the ring to its rightful owner, to thoroughly mix my metaphors.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

George Carlin's New Rules for 2008

George Carlin's New Rules for 2008

[N.B. I have edited various of these in a PG kind of way :)]

New Rule:
Stop giving me that pop-up ad for ! There's a reason
you don't talk to people for 25 years. Because you don't particularly
like them! Besides, I already know what the captain of the football
team is doing these days . . mowing my lawn.

New Rule:
Don't eat anything that's served to you out a window unless you're a
seagull. People are acting all shocked that a human finger was found
in a bowl of Wendy's chili. Hey, it cost less than a dollar. What did
you expect it to contain? Trout?

New Rule:
Ladies, leave your eyebrows alone. Here's how much men care about your
eyebrows: do you have two of them? Okay, we're done.

New Rule:
There's no such thing as flavored water. There's a whole aisle of this
stuff at the supermarket, water, but without that watery taste. Sorry,
but flavored water is called a soft drink. You want flavored water?
Drink some of that salinized water at the beach that comes out of your faucet there!

New Rule:
Stop messing with old people. Target is introducing a redesigned pill
bottle that's square, with a bigger label. And the top is now the bottom.
And by the time grandpa figures out how to open it, he will be in the morgue.
Congratulations, Target, you just solved the Social Security crisis.

New Rule:
The more complicated the Starbucks order, the more annoying the drinker. If
you walk into a Starbucks and order a "decaf grande half-soy, half-low
fat, iced vanilla, double-shot, gingerbread cappuccino, extra dry,
light ice, with one Sweet-n'-Low, and one NutraSweet," boy are you messed up.

New Rule:
I'm not the cashier! By the time I look up from sliding my card,
entering my PIN number, pressing "Enter," verifying the amount,
deciding, no, I don't want cash back, and pressing "Enter" again, the
kid who is supposed to be ringing me up is standing there eating my
Almond Joy.

New Rule:
Just because your tattoo has Chinese characters in it doesn't make you
spiritual. It's right above your least flattering feature, and it translates
to "beef with broccoli." The last time you did anything spiritual, you
were praying to God you weren't pregnant. You're not spiritual.
You're just high.

New Rule:
Competitive eating isn't a sport. It's one of the seven deadly sins.
ESPN recently televised the U.S. Open of Competitive Eating, because
watching those 'athletes' at the poker table was just too darned

New Rule:
I don't need a bigger mega M&Ms If I'm extra hungry for M&Ms,
I'll go nuts and eat two.

New Rule:
If you're going to insist on making movies based on crappy, old
television shows, then you have to give everyone in the Cineplex a
remote so we can see what's playing on the other screens. Let's
remember the reason something was a television show in the first place
is that the idea wasn't good enough to be a movie.

New Rule:
No more gift registries. You know, it used to be just for weddings.
Now it's for babies and new homes and graduations from rehab. Picking
out the stuff you want and having other people buy it for you isn't
gift giving, it's the white people version of looting.

New Rule: and this one is long overdue:
No more bathroom attendants. After I zip up, some guy is offering me a
towel and a mint. I can't even tell if he's supposed to be there,
or just some freak with a fetish. I don't want to be on your web cam, dude.
I just want to wash my hands.

New Rule:
When I ask how old your toddler is, I don't need to know in months.
"27 Months" is way over the top. "He's two," will do just fine. He's not a cheese.

New Rule:
If you ever hope to be a credible adult and want a job that pays
better than minimum wage, then for God's sake don't pierce or tattoo
every available piece of flesh. If you do, then plan your future around
saying" Do you want fries with that?"

Friday, February 15, 2008

Oprah's New Age Jesus XM Religion Course

James Foster sent me this article written by a man named Warren Smith (not to be confused with my friend Dr. Warren Smith who teaches Patristics at Duke Divinity School), who was a previous devotee of Williamson's 'Course in Miracles' sponsored and supported by Oprah. This summary is quite revealing, and what it reveals is a pantheistic religion offering self-salvation by following this course and repudiating what the Bible teaches. Note I have simply copied the following article, and I do not know why there are lines through some of the main unBiblical tenets listed towards the end of the article. See what you think about the article and its links


Oprah and Friends" to teach course on New Age Christ
By Warren Smith
November 2007

Oprah Winfrey will be letting out all the stops on her XM Satellite Radio program this coming year. Beginning January 1, 2008, "Oprah & Friends" will offer a year-long course on the New Age teachings of A Course in Miracles. 1 A lesson a day throughout the year will completely cover the 365 lessons from the Course in Miracles "Workbook."
For example, Lesson #29 asks you to go through your day affirming that "God is in everything I see."2 Lesson #61 tells each person to repeat the affirmation "I am the light of the world." 3 Lesson #70 teaches the student to say and believe "My salvation comes from me." 4

By the end of the year, "Oprah & Friends" listeners will have completed all of the lessons laid out in the Course in Miracles Workbook. Those who finish the Course will have a wholly redefined spiritual mindset—a New Age worldview that includes the belief that there is no sin, no evil, no devil, and that God is "in" everyone and everything. A Course in Miracles teaches its students to rethink everything they believe about God and life. The Course Workbook bluntly states: "This is a course in mind training"
5 and is dedicated to "thought reversal." 6

Teaching A Course in Miracles will be Oprah's longtime friend and special XM Satellite Radio reporter Marianne Williamson—who also happens to be one of today's premier New Age leaders. She and Conversations with God author Neale Donald Walsch co-founded the American Renaissance Alliance in 1997, that later became the Global Renaissance Alliance of New Age leaders, that changed its name again in 2005 to the Peace Alliance. This Peace Alliance seeks to usher in an era of global peace founded on the principles of a New Age/New Spirituality that they are now referring to as a "civil rights movement for the soul."
7 They all agree that the principles of this New Age/New Spirituality are clearly articulated in A Course in Miracles—which is fast becoming the New Age Bible. So what is A Course in Miracles and what does it teach?

A Course in Miracles is allegedly "new revelation" from "Jesus" to help humanity work through these troubled times. This "Jesus"—who bears no doctrinal resemblance to the Bible's Jesus Christ—began delivering his channeled teachings in 1965 to a Columbia University Professor of Medical Psychology by the name of Helen Schucman.

One day Schucman heard an "inner voice" stating, "This is a course in miracles. Please take notes." 8 For seven years she diligently took spiritual dictation from this inner voice that described himself as "Jesus." A Course in Miracles was quietly published in 1975 by the Foundation for Inner Peace. For many years "the Course" was an underground cult classic for New Age seekers who studied "the Course" individually, with frie nds, or in small study groups.

As a former New Age follower and devoted student of A Course in Miracles, I eventually discovered that the Course in Miracles was—in reality—the truth of the Bible turned upside down. Not having a true understanding of the Bible at the time of my involvement, I was led to believe that A Course in Miracles was "a gift from God" to help everyone understand the "real" meaning of the Bible and to help bring peace to the world. Little did I know that the New Age "Christ" and the New Age teachings of A Course in Miracles were everything the real Jesus Christ warned us to watch out for. In Matthew 24 Jesus warned about false teachers, false teachings and the false "Christs" who would pretend to be Him.

When I left the New Age "Christ" to follow the Bible's Jesus Christ, I had come to understand that the "Jesus" of A Course in Miracles was a false "Christ," and that his Course in Miracles was dangerously deceptive. Here are some quotes from the "Jesus" of A Course in Miracles:
  • "There is no sin. . . " 9 [ See note]
  • A "slain Christ has no meaning ."10
  • "The journey to the cross should be the last ' useless journey."11
  • "Do not make the pathetic error of 'clinging to the old rugged cross.'" 12
  • "The Name of Jesus Christ as such is but a symbol... It is a symbol that is safely used as a replacement for the many names of all the gods to which you pray."13
  • "God is in everything I see." 14
  • "The recognition of God is the recognition of yourself ."15
  • "The oneness of the Creator and the creation is your wholenes s, your sanity and your limitless power." 16
  • "The Atonement is the final lesson he [man] need learn, for it teaches him that, never having sinned, he has no need of salvation." 17
Most Christians recognize that these teachings are the opposite of what the Bible teaches . In the Bible, Jesus Christ's atoning death on the cross of Calvary was hardly a "useless journey." His triumph on the cross provides salvation to all those who confess their sin, accept Him and follow Him as their Lord and Saviour. His victory on the cross rings throughout the New Testament. It has been gloriously sung about in beloved hymns through the ages and is at the heart of our Christian testimony.
I found the Jesus of the Bible to be wholly believable as He taught God's truth and warned about the spiritual deception that would come in His name. The "Jesus" of A Course in Miracles reveals himself to be an imposter when he blasphemes the true Jesus Christ by saying that a "slain Christ has no meaning" and that we are all "God" and that we are all "Christ." It was by reading the Bible's true teachings of Jesus Christ that I came to understand how deceived I had been by A Course in Miracles and my other New Age teachings.

I was introduced to A Course in Miracles by Dr. Gerald Jampolsky's book Love is Letting Go of Fear . Jampolsky declared in his easy-to-read book how the teachings of A Course in Miracles had changed his life. As an ambassador for A Course in Miracles over the years, Jampolsky has been featured not only in New Age circles but at least twice on Robert Schuller's Hour of Power. While Schulle r introduced Jampolsky and his "fabulous"
18 Course in Miracles-based books to his worldwide television audience, it was Marianne Williamson's appearance on a 1992 Oprah Winfrey Show that really shook the rafters.

On that program, Oprah enthusiastically endorsed Williamson's book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. Oprah told her television audience that Williamson's book about A Course in Miracles was one of her favorite books, and that she had already bought a thousand copies and would be handing them out to everyone in her studio audience. Oprah's endorsement skyrocketed Williamson's book about A C ourse in Miracles to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Ironically, all of this was happening after I had left the Course and the New Age. In fact, I was doing the final editing on my book The Light That Was Dark that warned about the dangers of the New Age—and in particular A Course in Miracles.

After being introduced to the world on Oprah, Marianne Williamson has continued to grow in popularity and, as previously mentioned, has become one of today's foremost New Age leaders. Williamson credits Winfrey for bringing her book about A Course in Miracles before the world: "For that, my deepest thanks to Oprah Winfrey. Her enthusiasm and generosity have given the book, and me, an audience we would never otherwise have had."
19 In her 2004 book, The Gift of Change, Williamson wrote:
"Twenty years ago, I saw the guidance of the Course as key to changing one's personal life; today, I see its guidance as key to changing the world. More than anything else, I see how deeply the two are connected." 20
Thus the New Age teachings of A Course in Miracles are about to be taught by Marianne Williamson to millions of listeners on Oprah's XM Satellite Radio program. Listeners are encouraged to buy A Course in Miracles for the year-long course. An audio version of A Course in Miracles recited by Richard (John Boy Walton) Thomas is also available on compact disc.
Popular author Wayne Dyer told his PBS television audience that the "brilliant writing" of A Course in Miracles would produce more peace in the world. 21 Williamson's New Age colleague, Neale Donald Walsch, said his "God" stated that " the era of the Single Saviour is over"22 and that he ("God") was respo nsible for authoring the teachings of A Course in Miracles. 23
Meanwhile, Gerald Jampolsky's Course in Miracles-based book, Forgiveness, continues to be sold in Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral bookstore as Schuller prepares to host a January 17-19, 2008, "Rethink Conference" at his Crystal Cathedral.24

At this critical time in the history of the world, the New Gospel/New Spirituality is coming right at the world and the church with its New Age teachings and its New Age Peace Plan. But this New Age Peace Plan has at its deceptive core the bottom-line teaching from A Course in Miracles that "we are all one" because God is "in" everyone and everything. But the Bible is clear that we are not God (Ezekiel 28:2; Hosea 11:9). And per Galatians 3:26-28, our only oneness is in Jesus Christ—not in ourselves as "God" and "Christ." What Oprah and Marianne Williamson and the world will learn one day is that humanity's only real and lasting peace is with the true Jesus Christ who is described and quoted in the Holy Bible (Romans 5:1).

Oprah Winfrey's misplaced faith in Marianne Williamson and the New Age teachings of A Course in Miracles is a sure sign of the times. But an even surer sign of the times is that most Christians are not taking heed to what is happening in the world and in the church. We are not contending for the faith as the Bible admonishes us to do (Jude 3).

It is time for all of our Purpose-Driven and Emerging church pastors to address the real issue of the day. Our true Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is being reinvented, redefined, and blasphemed right in front of our eyes and hardly anyone seems to notice or care . If we want the world to know who Jesus Christ is, we need to a lso warn them about who He is not. There is a false New Age "Christ" making huge inroads into the world and into the church. The Apostle Paul said that "it is a shame" we have to even talk about these things, but talk about them we must (Ephesians 5:12-16).

If people want to follow Oprah Winfrey and the New Age "Christ" of A Course in Miracles they certainly have that right. But let them be warned that the New Age "Christ" they are following is not the same Jesus Christ who is so clearly and authoritatively presented in the pages of the Bible.

Warren Smith is a former New Age follower who at one time was deeply involved in the New Age teachings of A Course in Miracles. He is the author of these insightful books:
Reinventing Jesus Christ (2nd edition which is posted online):

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Christian Apostasy and Hebrews 6

Certainly one of the most controversial issues in theological study of the NT is whether or not there are texts in the NT which speak of the fact that genuine Christians are capable of committing apostasy. There are numerous texts one could examine on this issue (e.g. 1 John 5; the Pastoral Epistles discussion about those who have defected and made shipwreck of their Christian faith; the discussion in Rev. 2-3 about Christians bailing out under pressure or persecution) but the locus classicus of such debates is Hebrews 6. The following is an excerpt from one of the chapters in my forthcoming NT theology and ethics volumes entitled The Indelible Image.


Apostasy’s Possibility

One of the issues that many commentators misunderstand, because of failure to read the rhetorical signals, is that our author to some degree is being ironic at the end of Heb.5 and the beginning of Heb. 6, and engaging in a pre-emptive strike. By this I mean that we should not read this text as if it is a literal description of the present spiritual condition of the audience. Were it really true that most of the audience were all dullards or sluggards or laggards, then our author had no business going on to give them the >meat= in Heb. 7-10. That would have been exceedingly inept.

And if it were really true that various members of the audience had already committed apostasy, then on his own showing, this exhortation about apostasy would be a day late and a dollar short. No, our author is simply trying to shame an audience that is shook up into getting beyond the elementary and embracing the mature faith and its substance rather than considering defecting under pressure. He is trying to head off any of them committing apostasy. The most one can say is that the audience is believed to be teetering on the brink of disaster, is weary and considering other options rather than going and growing forward in their Christian faith. Our author=s tactic will be to unveil a more appealing spiritual path to follow which will be both intellectually stimulating and help them to maturity, while painting the course of action he sees as defection in as black a terms as possibleCit would be apostasy, not merely a return to an earlier and simpler form of religion.

If we ask the question why the subject of apostasy is addressed, when the audience is assumed to be (at least in large measure) saved Christians, the answer is that our author has an already and not yet view of salvation, and indeed, as we have seen his emphasis is on final salvation, not conversion, though that is mentioned as well in what follows in Heb. 6. Here perhaps it is well to mention just how important sanctification, both the inward work of God and the human response thereto, is to final salvation in our author’s view. Heb. 12.14 puts it succinctly—without internal sanctification, no one shall see the Lord. F.F. Bruce was right in saying a long time ago that sanctification which involves both divine and human action is no optional extra in the Christian life but something which involves its very essence, and without which, final salvation will not be obtained.[1] Sanctification and perseverance to the end, as it turns out, is not purely engineered either by divine fiat, or by the internal workings of the Holy Spirit, as if the believer were placed on a holy escalator to heaven from which he could never jump off. Thus, the subject of apostasy is addressed here not as a merely hypothetical possibility, but as a real danger for Christians in the audience.

We have arrived here at perhaps the most controverted part of the whole discourse, especially when it came to the medieval debate about post-baptismal sin and whether one could be restored after abandoning the Christian faith. Of course this text is actually about apostasy, a very specific grave sin, not about sins in general that might be committed after baptism. One of the key factors in analyzing this section is realizing that indeed our author is trying to put the ‘fear of God= into his audience by some of the rhetoric here, to prevent defections and so one is not sure how far one ought to press the specifics here, since it is possible to argue that some of this involves dramatic hyperbole. More clearly, our author sees his audience as those who have been Christians for a while who need to be moving on to more mature level of Christian teaching and reflection and living.

Instead, they had become stagnant or sluggish in their progress towards full maturity[2], and so to some extent the rhetoric here serves as an intended stimulus so they will persevere and press on to the goal, and our author gives a passing reference to the fact that he himself believes and hopes for better things from them than apostasy. We must see a good deal of this section as a kind of honor challenge, meant to force the audience to wake up and be prepared to grapple with harder concepts about Jesus= priesthood, but it is also a moral wake up call as well, reminding the audience that those who are not busily moving forward are instead treading water at best, and falling back or defecting altogether at worst. The Christian life is not a static thing, not least because it is based in faith which is either increasing or in a process of diminution. Our author=s rhetorical strategy here can be called stick and carrot, or heavy and light, or shock and reassurance, for we find confrontation followed by encouragement in 5.11-14 and 6.1-3, and in 6.4-8 and 6.9-12 (cf. 10.26-31 and 10.32-39).

At 5.11 at the outset of this exhortation our author accuses the audience of being sluggish or dull in their hearing, or as we might put it, being hard of hearing. Notice the oral and aural character of the teaching in this setting. It is much the same as when Jesus repeatedly exhorted his audience Alet those with two good ears, hear@. Our author nevertheless is going to plow ahead and give them more advancing teaching about Christ the heavenly high priest, beginning in the latter part of Heb. 6. But here he starts with a reminder that the ‘word= has much to say to his audience, but that doesn=t mean it is either easy to explain or easy to understand, especially if one is spiritually deaf, or there are obstacles to one hearing clearly and grasping the implications of what has been heard. We have heard all along that our audience had such hearing deficiencies (see 2.1; 3.7-8,15; 4.2,7). Of course the clarity of the Word is one thing, the acuteness of the hearer quite another. The word nothros is found only here and at Heb. 6.12 in the whole NT, and it is the notion which sets off this unit from what follows. Our author in fact may be thinking of the striking passage in Is.50.4-5 which says literally “the Lord God dug out my ear@ or as we might say cleaned the wax out of my ear. When this term is not used of a physical attribute it refers to being dull-witted, timid, negligent (see Polybius, Hist. 3.63.7; 4.8.5; 4.60.2). Epictetus for example rebukes the sluggish who refuse to discipline themselves by using their reason (Disc. 1.7.30). To be sluggish in this case is to be slow to hear, it does not quite connote the idea of hardness of heart, though the author fears they may be headed in that direction, perhaps due to outside pressure.

Vs. 12 makes the interesting remark that by now the audience ought themselves to be teachers rather than needing to be taught. Seneca complains in a similar way AHow long will you be a learner? From now on be a teacher as well.@(Epist. 33.8-9). This suggests a situation where we are dealing with a congregation of persons who have been Christians for a considerable period of time, hence the exasperation of the author with the audience. It=s time for them to grow up and get on with it. In this verse we see the use of the term stoicheia in fact we have the phrase Astoicheia tes arches@ which has caused a good deal of debate. The word stoicheia by itself means rudiments, or parts and can refer to a part of a word (a letter, a syllable--- hence the alphabet) or a part of the universe (i.e. an element i.e. an original component). This second possibility is its meaning in Wisd. 7.17,19.18. There is much debate as to what the stoicheia tou kosmou mean in Gal. 4.3,9 and Col. 2.8,20 but probably it means elementary teaching.1 This last meaning especially seems to suit Col. 2.8. In any case stocheia linked with arches surely means first principles or elementary rudiments of teaching that they had already heard from the beginning of their Christian pilgrimage.

There are parallels where clearly enough it refers to the elementary teaching or principles, not to some elemental spirits or beings (cf. Xenephon, Mem. 2.1.1; Quintilian Inst. Or. 1.1.1). In this context the >elementary principles= are the beginnings of instruction in the art of persuasion, presumably some of the elements of the ‘progymnasmata= program. That our author is trying to shame his audience into learning more is clear enough from the fact that ‘milk= is for infants, and his audience is adults, or put another way elementary education was for those between seven and fourteen. It was never flattering to suggest adults were acting like that age of child.

One may wish to ask about vs. 13-- What is the word of righteousness, or the teaching about righteousness? One may presume that it has to do with the teaching about apostasy which he will dole out a significant dose of in a moment. However, in Greco-Roman settings instruction in righteousness meant being trained in discerning the difference between good and evil (Xenephon, Cyropaedia 1.630-31). Vs. 14 identifies Christian maturity with the capacity to distinguish moral good from moral evil, which in turn means being able to continue to pursue the course of righteous action and avoid apostasy.

At 6.1 we have the interesting verb pherometha which can be translated ‘move along= but it can also mean ‘be carried along=. Both things are actually part of the process of maturing in Christ, and moving toward the goal of moral and intellectual excellence. Our author does not want his audience to forget what they learned at the earlier stages, for example, forgetting to repent when necessary, these things are foundational. Rather he wants them to move along to more advanced subjects building on top of the original elementary learning. We have here the term teleiotes which can be translated maturity, but unlike that English word has the connotation of arriving a goal or the completion of something one was striving towards, which is why it is sometimes translated perfection/completion. In this case, the author has in mind an intended eschatological goal and state. The “mature Christian is expected not only to ‘ingest= the solid food but also to follow Christ on the path to final perfection, whatever the cost@.2 We should compare Heb. 3.14 and 6.11.

There is debate as to what we should make of the phrase ‘the word about the beginning of Christ=. This could of course refer to what our author was talking about in Heb.1.1-4 but that does not seem to suit this context. It could also refer to the basic moral teaching of Christ, which according to the summary in Mk.1.15 was Arepent and believe the good news@. That comports rather nicely with the content of the rest of vs. 1. Our author has assumed before now in the discourse a knowledge of the historical Jesus= life on the part of the audience (5.7-8), and presumably this would include some knowledge about his teachings. But is this ‘beginning= material to be seen as synonymous with ‘the elementary principles/teachings of the oracles of God= referred to in 5.12?

All the terms that follow didaches are likely seen as the content of this teaching. Our author must stress that becoming a Christian back then involved not only activities, but also involved believing certain things. There were early catechisms that talked about such matters, and we know that early on there was a sort of probationary period for the catechists. As has been pointed out, there appears to be nothing particularly Christian about these matters. Any good Pharisee could have made up this list, but it is worth noting that Christianity, though it taught about many of the same subjects as the Pharisees, did not take the same view about them. Faith in God for instance meant faith in God through Christ, for the Christian. Resurrection, meant not just at the end of history, but already in Christ. Imposition of hands in early Judaism which usually would have been for blessing, or later for ordination of rabbis, in Christianity was connected with receiving the Spirit and/or taking on a work of ministry.

Most commentators have assumed that the list in 6.1-2 refers to the subject matter of elementary Christian teaching, and there can be little doubt that this is correct since our author is stressing that his audience has heard such teaching before and needs to move on to the more advanced teaching. However, something should be said for the generic character of this list of paired opposites here which could well have been said to be the substance of Jesus= own teaching.

Repentance from past dead works--- faith towards God

Instructions about baptisms--- laying on of hands

Resurrection of the deadCeternal judgment.

There is nothing here that Jesus could not have commented on, especially if we take the reference to baptisms plural to refer either to ritual ablutions or more likely to John=s baptism as opposed to that practiced by Jesus= own disciples (see Jn. 3.22; 4.2). The observation that all these topics could have arisen in synagogue teaching is accurate, and some of the audience may have heard of these things in that context first, and even have been tending in a retrograde motion to focus on such things as they sought to move back under the umbrella of early Judaism. There is a certain progression in this list from repentance at the beginning of the Christian life to final judgment at the end and after the resurrection of the dead.3

But this is all the more reason to suggest that Jesus commented on and taught about these topics as well. Jesus of course engaged in laying on of hands as well a practice that could have to do with blessing, healing or even setting apart for some service or task, and he certainly spoke about coming judgment as well as the coming resurrection of the dead. What we could then have here is a short-hand of the elementary teaching of Jesus that was taken over into the elementary teaching of the church and called --- ‘the beginning of the word/teaching of Jesus=. While scholars have often puzzled over the reference to instructions about baptisms (plural) in vs. 2 this conundrum is solved if the suggestion just made is accepted, especially if the author of this document is one Apollos, who had to be instructed about the difference between Christian baptism and John=s baptism (see Acts 18.24-26), a lesson then he applied in his own teaching thereafter, passing on his own ‘elementary education=. It could be objected to this view that another form of the word baptismon would have been used if Christian baptism was in view (i.e.baptisma), but this is overlooking not only the plural here but also that the Jewish Christian audience being addressed would know of various different sorts of ritual ablutions (cf. the use in Heb. 9.10 and Mk. 7.4). We may wish to contrast what we find in 10.22 where clearly enough it is not the water ritual that cleanses the conscience, but rather the internal application of grace by the Spirit resulting from the shed blood of Christ. Whether we see this elementary teaching as essentially Jewish or essentially Christian or both, it is something our author wants the audience to move on beyond as they grow towards maturity. To make sense of vss. 4-8 we must realize from the start that if our author believed that any of the immediate audience had already committed irrevocable apostasy and were irretrievable, there would be no point in this warning, at least for those particular listeners, and vs. 9 makes clear he is not responding to already extant and known cases of apostasy in the audience, he is just warning against it. However, one must take absolutely seriously the word that stands at the outset of vs. 4 like a sentinel at the door--- adunaton which means impossible, or completely unable, without power to accomplish the end in view. Hermas Sim. 9.26.6, perhaps dependent on this usage, seems to take the word to mean impossible, not just incapable. Compare for example the other places where the author uses this Greek word, and it quickly becomes apparent that by ‘impossible= our author doesn=t merely mean ‘improbable=.

6.18C”it is impossible that God would prove false@

9.9--- “impossible for gifts and sacrifices to perfect the conscience@ (cf. 10.1)

10.4C”it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins@

10.11C”it is impossible for the same sacrifices offered againY to take away sin@

11.16C”it is impossible to please God without faith@.

There has of course been debate amongst commentators as to wherein lies the impossibility. Does the author mean it becomes psychologically impossible for an apostate to repent? Is it the case that a person who has rejected the saving death of Jesus has repudiated the only basis upon which repentance can be extended? The problem with this view is that it does not say it is impossible to repent, but rather it is impossible to restore a person who commits apostasy. That leaves one to consider whether what is meant is human efforts to restore them, or divine efforts. Koester suggests it is the latter, not meaning that God doesn=t have the power, but that God would refuse to do so if someone ‘crucified Christ afresh=.4 This may be correct, but we must bear in mind that our author is deliberately engaging in dramatic rhetorical statements for the purpose of waking up the audience. The function is not to comment on something that is impossible for God, and some commentators have reminded us of Jesus= remark that what is humanly impossible is not impossible for God, for all things are possible with God (Mk. 10.27).

The description of the person who is impossible to restore is said to be one who has: 1) once (hapax)5 been enlightened; 2) has tasted of the heavenly gift; 3) has become a sharer of the Holy Spirit; and 4) has tasted the goodness of God=s word and the powers of the age to come. A more fulsome description of a Christian would be hard to find in the NT. In the first place the term enlightened is regularly used in the NT for those who have come out of darkness into the light, and so have gone through the necessary conversion of the imagination and intellect (cf. Jn. 1.9; 2 Cor. 4.4-6; Ephes. 1.18; 2 Tim. 1.10; 1 Pet. 2.9). In the second place, the verb ‘tasted= means genuinely experienced as we have already seen in Heb. 2.9 which speaks of Christ experiencing death. In the third place the term metoxous has already been used in this discourse in relationship to the heavenly calling of Christians (3.1) and to Christians being sharers or partners with Christ. Having >shared in= the Holy Spirit is the hallmark of being a Christian as Heb. 2.4 stresses along with numerous other NT witnesses, particularly Paul (see 1 Cor 12), and Luke (see e.g. Acts 2 and 10). The phrase means to have taken the Spirit into one=s own being.6 If it were not perfectly clear that our author is describing someone with the divine presence and power of God in their life our author goes on to add that this person has experienced the goodness of God=s Word and also the eschatological power of the age to come. Paul it will be remembered called such experiences the foretaste of glory divine that only Christians experienced (2 Cor. 1.22; Ephes. 1.14). AIn this and the three preceding participles, the writer withholds nothing in reminding the addressees of the abundance of God=s investment in them. Upon them God has poured out more than they could ever have asked or imagined.@7

There is some debate as to whether we ought to match up what our author says in vss. 4ff about some of the initial things one has experienced in Christ, with the elementary elements mentioned a few verses before. That is, enlightenment could refer to baptism, partaking of the Holy Spirit would correlate with the laying on of hands, tasting of the goodness of God=s word and the power of the age to come would correlate with the teaching about resurrection of the dead which in this case would have to mean something like spiritual resurrection at the new birth, which is unlikely, and renew unto repentance would correlate with the initial repentance of faith. There may be some force in this argument, but it should not be over-pressed.

De Silva tries to cut the Gordian knot of this problematic text here by stressing that for the author of Hebrews salvation is a (purely) future and eschatological matter.8 This however is not quite correct. While the clear emphasis in Hebrews is on ‘final= or ‘eschatological salvation= (see 1.14; 9.28) and de Silva is quite right in his criticism of those who try to read Ephes. 2.6 into the discussion which speaks of initial salvation through faith, as though that text refers to eternal security, when it does not (rather the subject there is conversion)9 it is false to say that the author of Hebrews only thinks of salvation as something future. At the very least one must give the last clause of Heb. 6.5 its due--- he speaks of those who have already tasted the powers of the age to come. They are working retroactively. In other words, future salvation and its benefits have broken into the present and one can presently begin to experience its benefits--- in the form of enlightenment, life in the Spirit, empowerment with the power of the eschatological age, and so forth. This is surely a description of a person who is saved and converted in the initial sense of the term saved. It is then a distinction without a difference to argue that our author agrees he is speaking about a Christian who has every advantage presently available through God=s grace and characteristic of a Christian, but then to insist our author doesn=t prefer to say they are saved. They have partaken of the heavenly giftCthis is surely the same thing as saying they are saved at least in the sense that they have been genuinely converted and are Christians at present.10

And then our author says what seems almost unthinkableChe uses the verb parapipt├┤ (a verb found nowhere else in the NT) to speak of falling away, not in the sense of accidentally or carelessly falling down, but in the sense of deliberately stepping into a black hole. In the LXX this verb is used to describe acting faithlessly or treacherously especially in regard to the covenant (Ezek. 14.13; 20.27; 2 Chron. 26.18; Wis. Sol. 6.9; 12.2). “The act of falling away is not so much against a dogma as against a person, at 3.12 against God, at 6.6 against the Son of God. The remainder of v. 6, crucifying again the Son of God and holding him up to ridicule, makes this abundantly clear. Apostasy, yesYthe sin of abandoning God, Christ, and the fellowship of believers (10.25).”11 It is possible that our author means by ‘crucifying the Son to themselves= that they have cut themselves off from the Son, or have killed off his presence in their lives. They have thereby ended their relationship with Christ. He is dead to them.

But the two clauses are related because ‘to make a public spectacle/paradigm= of someone was one of the functions of public crucifixion on public roads (see Quintilian, Declamations 274). Our author is then suggesting that to commit apostasy is to publicly shame Jesus as well as snuff out one=s personal relationship with him. Heb. 10.26-29 suggests that we should not try to alleviate the severity of the judgment spoken of here in regard to the apostate for it says that for such a person there no longer remains a sacrifice for their sins, but rather a terrifying prospect of judgment. Koester says that we should read the stern remarks here in the light of equally stern ones in the OT, which served as a warning against apostasy and tried to prevent it rather than being definitive statements about perdition (so Philo, Rewards 163). In other words these words were intended to have a specific emotional effect, not comment in the abstract about what is impossible.12 We may also note that it would appear that the wilderness wandering generation and their fate lie in the background here (see Heb. 3.7-19), and the argument here is very similar to the one found in 1 Cor. 10.1-4 where the fate of the wilderness wandering generation is used to warn Corinthian Christians against assuming apostasy was impossible for them since they have been converted and had various divine benefits and rituals. 13 As Johnson stresses however, it is not just from rituals that our author says they are in danger of falling away, it is from actual Christian experience itself—“the enormity of apostasy is measured by the greatness of the experience of God it abandons. That is why it is impossible ‘to renew to repentance= people who have proven capable of turning away from their own most powerful and transforming experience.@14 It is right to note how Heb. 12.17 will use Esau as the model of the apostate who sold his birthright for a single meal and “even though he sought it with tears, he was rejected, for he found no opportunity to repent@.

Our author chooses then to describe apostasy in horrific termsCto abandon one=s loyalty to Christ is the same as crucifying him all over again or standing and ridiculing and deriding him as he dies on the cross. In an honor and shame culture this is intended to be shocking language about the most shameful behavior imaginable for one who has been so richly blessed by God in Christ. We must of course compare the similar language about defection that crops up throughout the discourse (cf. 2.2C>turn away=; 10.38-39---‘shrinking back=; 12.15—‘falling short of God=s gift=; 12.17--->selling one=s birthright=). It will be well if we take very seriously the word ‘impossible= in this text, without suggesting that anything is totally impossible for a sovereign God. Our author does seem to believe that one can go too far, past the point of no return and of restoration. This text then cuts both ways, against either a facile notion that forgiveness is always possible no matter how severe the sin in question is, but it equally must count against the ‘eternal security= sort of argument as well. Our author clearly emphasizes the future and eschatological dimension of the pilgrimage to being fully and completely saved, and short of that climax one is not viewed as eternally secure, for one is not yet securely in eternity. But at the same time he is perfectly capable of talking about initial salvation in the terms we find here in Heb. 6.[3]. As Howard Marshall succinctly puts it in regard to Christians committing apostasy: “The writer is dealing with a real, if remote, possibility.”[4]

What then is the alternative to apostasy? Clearly it is perseverance all the way to death or the eschatological finish line whichever comes first. This leads us to discuss the climax of our author=s arguments in Heb. 11-12. First however by way of emphasis it will be wise to sum up the distinctive teaching of our author about Christ as high priest and say something of how it is related to this whole discourse.

The one truly unique concept in this document which makes it stand out from all other NT documents is our author=s vision of Christ as the heavenly high priest. If one has an understanding of this major issue most of the rest of the homily falls into place rather readily. It is difficult to say what sparked our author to write about Christ in this way. It may have been his penetrating study of the OT and its institutions. He may have been looking for a way to say that Christ fulfilled their intention and indeed eclipsed and replaced them. But it is also possible that he was familiar with the varieties of Messianic speculation in early Judaism, which at Qumran and perhaps elsewhere included the idea of a priestly Messiah.1

Whatever his state of knowledge of the speculation about a priestly messiah our author certainly goes beyond what we know of these concepts from these other sources, for he is going to insist not only that Messiah died, but that he was both perfect high priest and unblemished sacrifice offered by the priest. There was also of course a Melchizedek speculation before the time of Jesus as the Qumran documents show clearly enough. There was then certainly a Jewish speculation about Messiah being a priest before our author wrote.

When our wishes to describe Jesus as high priest he uses as his basis the messianic interpretation of Gen 14 and Ps 110. Now it must be understood that the whole idea of priesthood in the OT is dependent on the idea of covenant. The shape that a priesthood takes depends on the shape and stipulations of the covenant or treaty that God's people are called upon to live by. The way our author is going to show that the Levitical priesthood is obsolescent is by showing: 1) there was a higher and prior priesthood in the case of Melchizedek and Jesus is connected to that sort of priesthood which is an eternal one; 2) the very fact that the Levitical priesthood is linked to heredity (and thus is dependent on death and descendents to determine who will next be priest) is in our author's mind a clear sign of the inadequacy of the Levitical priesthood; 3) the inferiority of the Levitical priesthood is also shown by the fact that Abraham the forebear of Levi was blessed by and tithed to Melchizedek. In all of this our author, like Jesus before him operates with the idea that the earlier idea or institution has precedence and thus higher claim to authority. But a text like Heb.7.27, or 9.28 makes quite clear that our author is no slave to previous concepts, for he goes on to talk of Jesus voluntarily offering himself up as sacrifice. Heb. 9.28 seems to refer to Is 53.12, and perhaps more than any other NT writer, except perhaps the author of 1 Peter, our author has been affected by reflection on Is 53.

Now it is quite true also that from texts like 4 Macc. 6.29 there was the idea that a martyr such as a Maccabee could offer an atoning sacrifice, and in the case of Eleazar he was a priest. Yet there is a difference here for a death as atonement, is not quite the same as a deliberate sacrifice of atonement, and more to the point the Maccabean concept is tied up with the idea of the suffering of the righteous, which doesn't seem to be in the foreground here. Our author operates out of the concept of cultic sacrifice, not martyrdom for a cause, per se.

One of the essential elements in understanding the high priestly concept in Hebrews is that the Son of God had to be a human being to be a priest. In other words, all of this reflection on Christ as high priest tells us a lot about his perfect humanity and his human roles, but very little if anything about his divinity. The latter ideas are bound up with our author's presentation of Jesus as also God's unique and pre-existent Son and Word. Jesus is the perfect human being, and thus is the perfect candidate to be a perfect sacrifice. But he is also a perfect high priest and thus is the perfect one to freely offer such a sacrifice, and when he does so he is perfected in his intended vocation. It is not that his going to heaven perfects him in any moral sense, but what is meant is that he completes his vocation to perfection. The language of perfection in application to Christ is sometimes thought to be cultic (i.e. in terms of consecration rather than moral sanctification) but I am not at all convinced on this score. Yet is also true that in this homily we learn of Jesus= moral perfection as well, for he was tempted like all humans in every regard save without sin. This resistance to sin is conceived of as part of the way he fulfilled his vocation and so could be both perfect high priest and sacrifice.

But there is more to this that one might imagine for in fact Christ is able to

forgive sins and be the perfector/completer of faithfulness for believers leading them on

to maturity/completion in their vocation only because he was in a position both to have

compassion knowing their temptations, but also successfully passing such tests so he is in a position to judge sin and offer forgiveness, which he himself did not need to receive.

Now the claim that Jesus was sinless is not very meaningful unless it means he voluntarily and willingly resisted temptation (i.e. it was possible for him to have done otherwise). By definition temptation is not tempting unless one is actually inclined and could attempt to do what one is tempted to do. Thus we must take seriously statements like we find in Heb 2.17 or 4.15 and assume that Jesus was subject to all the common temptations including sexual ones that we are, yet he had the victory over them.

We are also told at Heb. 5.8 that Jesus learned obedience. This of course means he

learned through experience, and it may be that he knew it prior to that conceptually, but the point is that Jesus as a human learned things through experience just as we do. His life manifested a normal development and progressive consciousness. What is the connection between learning obedience through death and being made perfect through suffering? Simply this, that Jesus fulfilled God's will for his life that he die on Golgotha and so he completed the task which would not have been made perfect and complete without that death.

Our author is able to talk of Jesus as a human being having faith (12.2), indeed being our pioneer or model for faith and faithfulness. One of the key things that sets apart Jesus' work as high priest and all previous such attempts is the unique character of his sacrifice. It is said to be once for all time, unlike the previous repeated sacrifices (which shows that they at most only had temporary and limited efficacy, and in fact it appears our author would dispute they even had that value). Now there is a great deal in Hebrews that could lead one to the conclusion that our author was anti-ritual,and/or that he has spiritualized the very material promises in the OT about rest, land and other things. Against this sort of conclusion it must be argued that our author in fact maintains that there is only one sacrifice that is and was truly cultic--the sacrifice of the human will of Jesus, and by extension the call for believers to make that same sort of sacrifice through the praise of their lips and lives (cf. Heb 13). It is not the abolition of ritual but its perfection in human form that our author is about, for God ultimately wants the obedience and self-giving of humans, the highest form of his creation, the only form of it that can be in personal relation with its maker, the only form of it which could have Ps 8 spoken about it.

Furthermore, our author does not simply spiritualize the OT like say Philo does in the service of his higher philosophy. Quite the contrary, our author believes that God's promises are now fulfilled in heaven, but that that reality will one day come to earth as well and transform earth. Nor is our author's perspective simply that the OT merely has to do with externals and imperfection. Our author says nothing of the OT being imperfect, he does say it is partial, piecemeal, shadow, and inadequate finally to deal with human sin. But one must also remember he sees the essential spiritual promises of God such as those found in Jerm.31 as found in the OT and furthermore there is the whole matter of the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek who is more than a mere shadow, he is a likeness of Christ.

Our author's complaint is not with the OT per se nor with ritual per se but with a

particular ritual system--- the Levitical one which was inadequate. He never says it was bad or incorrect in its intent, just inadequate to meet human needs. Our author=s terminology when he discusses Old and New is comparative, not merely positive--the old is a shadow in comparison to the new reality in Christ. Yet there is of course the matter of discontinuity as well, the once for all aspect (Heb 9.12). This means that Jesus not only fulfills all the OT priesthood, but he goes beyond it and overcomes its inadequacy.

Now what is striking about all this high priest language, is that our author in this one concept has a way to bridge both the earthly and heavenly work of Christ, for Christ offers the sacrifice on earth, then takes the blood into the heavenly sanctuary, and intercedes for us on an ongoing basis, as well as proclaiming sins forgiven. Herein we see the picture of the OT priest sacrificing the animal outside the Temple, then taking the blood and pouring it on the altar, and going into the holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, and then coming back out and pronouncing forgiveness of sins and reconciliation twixt God and his people.

It is the genius of our author=s conceptualizing of things that he is able to bridge the past and the ongoing work of Jesus for believers, as a human being. Our author does seem to operate with the well known ancient concept of the earth as the vestibule of the heavenly sanctuary. One enters the heavenly sanctuary by passing through the earthly one, and he envisions the sacrifice of Christ as offered in that earthly portico of the heavenly sanctuary, after which he enters into the sanctuary with the blood to sprinkle.

Of course the analogy with OT practice should not be pressed too far. Does our author really think Jesus took a bowl of his blood with him to heaven? Is there really an altar or curtain in heaven where he sprinkled it? Probably not, but the point is that Jesus effected on earth and in heaven, what these ritual acts symbolized--atonement for sin, placation of God's wrath, cleansing of the sinner, reconciliation with God. He conveys these profound concepts by using the OT picture language. In contrast to earthly priests Jesus is a priest forever, thus forestalling anyone else ever being, or needing to be a priest (this of course has implications for one=s view of the pastoral ministry) in this sense. Christ is a priest forever because he lives forever, and as 7.25 says he always lives to make intercession for believers. O. Cullmann sums up his masterful investigation of Christ as High Priest in Hebrews by saying the following “... the High Priest concept offers a full Christology in every respect. It includes all three fundamental aspects of Jesus' work: his once for all earthly work, his present work as the exalted Lord, and his future work as the one coming again. Yesterday, today and forever."2 One might wish to ask how the second coming fits into this schema. The answer intimated by our author is that the high priest had to come again forth from the temple to proclaim to the people the results of his work and the benefits. So also Christ will come again from the heavenly sanctuary. Thus we see the single most comprehensive Christological concept in the NT, which exalts the perfect human work Christ the believer=s high priest.

As we draw this part of the discussion to a conclusion, it is well to ask about the argumentative logic of intertwining an argument about Christ as high priest with an argument urging the avoidance of apostasy. What is the logical connection? On one level our author, by emphasizing both the humanity of Jesus, and the ethical rectitude of Jesus shows how he met the pre-requisites for being our perfect high priest. The implied argument is that he avoided giving way to temptation, even the temptation to avoid the cross, and so void his ministry and its purpose altogether, and this not only functions as an argument that shows how Christ can be our heavenly high priest, but also as an argument that shows why apostasy is not an option for Christians if they wish to obtain final salvation. In other words, while the destiny of Christians is not to be saved and thus become heavenly high priests like Christ, nevertheless, our author is saying that Christ is the trailblazer in terms of moral behavior that shows us and paves the way to our glorious future, and it cannot involve going back on, drifting away from, or repudiating what we have committed ourselves to when it comes to our relationship with God. This very naturally leads into the discussion about faith, its character and goal, and faithfully following Christ’s pattern of behavior.

[1] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 364.

[2] And it is perfectly clear that teleiot─ôta here means maturity, not perfection or sinlessness, or an experience of ‘perfection’ in the Wesleyan sense. See Gordon J. Thomas, “The Perfection of Christ and the Perfecting of Believers in Hebrews” in Holiness and Ecclesiology in the New Testament, eds K.E. Brower and Andy Johnson, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), pp. 293-310, here p. 301. Furthermore, when we hear of Christ being perfected through suffering, the term also does not seem to have the moral sense of ‘being purified’. It means he was being made complete or completely like us in all respects, save sin. Similarly in regard to the comments about Jesus’ death, what is meant is that he was made fit, or complete to be our high priest in heaven, one who could fully identify with us, through such difficult experiences. At Heb. 10.14 it seems that the idea is that Christ’s death has dealt with the necessity of atonement for sins, and in that respect believers have been ‘perfected’ while they are still in need of and are being ‘sanctified’ internally.

1 See Witherington, Philemon, Colossians, Ephesians, pp. 154-62.

2 Attridge, Hebrews, p. 215.

3 Koester, Hebrews, p. 311.

4 Koester, Hebrews, p. 313.

5 A word which normally carried the connotation of something that occurs only once, and so is unique.

6 Koester, Hebrews, p. 314.

7 Craddock, AHebrews,@ p. 75.

8 See de Silva, Perseverance in Gratitude, pp. 221-22 and his articles AHeb. 6.4-8: A Socio-Rhetorical Investigation,@ Tyn. Bul. 50 (1999), pp. 33-57; 225-35 and AExchanging Favor for Wrath: Apostasy in Hebrews and Patron-Client Relations,@ JBL 115 (1996), pp. 105-09.

9 See Witherington, Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007).

10 See Attridge, Hebrews, p. 170: AThe >heavenly gift=Yis best understood as a general image for the gracious bestowal of salvation, with all it entailsCthe Spirit, forgiveness, and sanctification.@

11 Craddock, AHebrews,@ p. 76.

12 Koester, Hebrews, p. 320.

13 Johnson, Hebrews, pp. 161-62.

14 Johnson, Hebrews p. 163.

[3] The attempt by F. Thielmann and others to suggest that our author does not talk about initial salvation but only final salvation simply does not do justice at all to text like Heb. 6. Like Paul. Our author has an already and not yet view of salvation and he makes that clear through out his discourse. But see F. Thielmann, Theology of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Press, 2005), pp. 606-07.

[4] I.H. Marshall, New Testament Theology, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 620.

1 Not surprisingly the literature on this subject is vast, most of it focusing on Heb. 7. See e.g. R.H. Culpepper, AThe High Priesthood and Sacrifice of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews,@ Theological Educator 32 (1985), pp. 46-62. F.L. Horton, The Melchizedek Tradition: A Critical Examination of the Sources to the Fifth Century A.D. and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, (Cambridge: C.U. Press, 1976); J.H. Neyrey, A=Without Beginning of Days or End of Life= (Hebrews 7.3): Topos for a True Deity,@ CBQ 53 (1991), pp. 439-55; D.W. Rooke, AJesus as Royal Priest: Reflections on the Interpretation of the Melchizedek Tradition in Heb. 7,@ Biblica 81 (2000), pp. 81-94.

2 O. Cullman The Christology of the New Testament, (Phila.: Westminster Press, 1964, rev. ed.), pp. 103-4.