“You just don’t understand!” — Triablogue

Every so often you see someone compile a list of things not to tell those who is suffering or grieving. At or near the top of the list is “I know just how you feel”. 366 more words

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Church Write-Up: “I Believe in the Holy Spirit…”

At church last Sunday, we continued our series on the Apostle’s Creed. The theme was “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

The youth pastor talked about how the Holy Spirit empowers and strengthens people for Christian service. You know the times when you are sharing the Gospel, and you are not entirely sure how the words are coming out of your mouth? That is the Holy Spirit. The youth pastor most likely was not saying that the Spirit possesses believers, but rather that the believer is caught up in something beyond himself or herself. Something is working on the inside and bringing what is on the inside to the outside. I cannot say that this has happened to me, as far as I can recall. It is awkward for me to try to sell any belief to another person, including Christianity. In the times that I have been “bold,” I did not feel authentic. I was trying to obey some command to witness, which felt forced and artificial, or I was seeking to bring attention to myself by being controversial. When the latter was the case, being the people-pleaser that I am, I could easily find myself compromising my Christian beliefs to make other people like me. While I have not experienced what the youth pastor was talking about, I can envision it as an experience.

The pastor then preached about the Holy Spirit. His main text was Ezekiel 37, which is about the valley of dry bones. God asked Ezekiel if those bones could live. According to the pastor, Ezekiel was caught in a dilemma. He didn’t want to say “no” because that would indicate that he had no faith. But he did not want to be presumptuous and answer “yes,” for, on their own, the bones could not live. Ezekiel left the answer to God by saying that God knows.

The pastor also said that the Holy Spirit is rather nebulous to us. The Father and the Son are expressed in personal and relatable terms: Father and Son. The Son even has a name, “Jesus.” If the Spirit had a name, such as “Bob,” perhaps we would relate to him better. And yet, even though the Spirit is arguably the most nebulous, hard-to-grasp member of the Trinity, he is relationally close to us. The same Hebrew term for Spirit is also the term for “breath,” indicating that the Spirit is as close to us and as intimate with us as our own breath. And, when we are exhausted and do not know how to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us before the Father (Romans 8:26-27).

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What is Apostasy? Can you lose your salvation?

Armchair Theologian

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I am going to blog on the topic of apostasy for a minute, the reason is I have some comments I want to make on the recent news about Joshua Harris and his falling away.  I have written on this topic in the past but not at the depth that is necessary for the reader to understand the things I want to say.  If you want to look at my older posts you can find them below:

Perseverance of the Saints

Hardening of the Heart

Crux Theologorum

There are a number of verses that teach a believer can fall away from belief in Christ. For this section of the blog post I am going to defend from a few selected passages the following thesis.

A penitent believer in Christ can fall away and in so doing lose the saving faith they had been given

‘For I feel a divine…

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Book Write-Up: Doing Theology with the Reformers, by Gerald L. Bray

Gerald L. Bray. Doing Theology with the Reformers. IVP Academic, 2019. See here to purchase the book.

Gerald L. Bray is an Anglican priest, author and editor of books about theology, and professor at Beeson Divinity School in Samford University.

This book is about Reformation theology. Among the topics that Bray engages are salvation, the relationship of Christians to Old Testament law, the relationship between church and state, ecclesiastical structure, and the sacraments.

Those with a basic knowledge about the differences among denominations will recognize a lot of what Bray says, but Bray fleshes those differences out and attempts to account for them. I learned new things from this book, such as Melanchthon’s view that good works play a role in salvation, and how the belief in common grace by Abraham Kuyper and Charles Hodge rejected the belief that Adam and Eve were under a covenant of works, which made salvation contingent on works. For Kuyper and Hodge, Adam and Eve were recipients of divine grace, even though common grace is not salvific. Because I attend an LCMS church, which believes in the real presence of Christ in the communion elements, the discussion in this book about communion interested me, as some believed that people ingested Christ by faith at communion, whereas others thought that even unbelievers ingested Christ when they partook of the sacrament, leading to their damnation.

A discussion in this book that was particularly effective concerned the education of the Reformers. Reformers, and educated Christians in general, learned Latin and communicated in that in their studies. Bray paints a vivid picture of that, one that engages the reader and allows readers to envision themselves as there, or at least relieved that education is not like that anymore!

One area of disagreement that I have with Bray is on the definition of supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. Bray defines infralapsarianism as God electing people to salvation and damnation after the Fall. Based on my reading of Shao Kai Tseng’s Karl Barth’s Infralapsarian Theology, my impression is that this is a common mistake. Infralapsarianism does not teach that God elected people after the Fall, but rather that God made his election as a logical consequence of the Fall. God decreed the Fall, then God elected, but both decrees occurred before the foundation of the world, not after the Fall.

This is still an excellent book. It is a resource of information, but also a meaty, satisfying account of Reformation theology.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.

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Were OT Jews indwelt by the Spirit? — Triablogue

This is a hard question to answer. Different theological traditions give different answers. It raises trickily questions of theological method. Why is it hard to answer? 524 more words

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God, guns, and tipping-points — Triablogue

1. Every time there’s a mass shooting in the USA, the anti-gun lobby tries to make political capital out of that tragedy. In my experience, those opposing private ownership of guns suffer from self-reinforcing ignorance. 1,203 more words

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Church Write-Up: A Lutheran in Africa

At church last Sunday, we had a speaker who talked about his mission experiences as a Lutheran in Africa.

Here are some items from what the speaker said.

A. There are more Lutherans in Africa than there are in North America, but there are few missionaries there, and the pastors in Africa lack the theological training to teach their congregations. Often, the one family in the area that has a Bible is asked to conduct the service. Hardly anyone knows Luther’s Small Catechism, which Lutherans in the Western world memorize. The speaker’s organization aims to fill this deficiency and to train the pastors in Africa to teach their congregations. He showed a picture of an African memorizing Luther’s Small Catechism for a seminary class.

B. Name-it-claim-it Christianity is popular in Africa, as African Christians trust in God to bless them materially and to lift them out of poverty. The speaker contrasted this with what he believes is the truth: God is with us in the midst of our suffering. He referred to the youth pastor’s message in our church, but the youth pastor himself acknowledged that God sometimes may make problems go away, but does not always. The speaker also contrasted the preoccupation with wealth with Jesus’s humility, tying his message to the Apostle’s Creed, through which out church is going this summer.

C. Many Africans are hungry for Christianity. The speaker showed a picture of a hunter and remarked that he had memorized an entire set of Johnny Cash Gospel songs. Pentecostalism is prominent in Africa, and that is a good thing because it believes in the blood atonement of Christ, which is important to Lutherans, but Pentecostalism also has prosperity Gospel baggage. Some Africans hold on to their traditional religious beliefs, such as animal sacrifice to make the gods happy and encourage the gods to bless them.

D. It is important to give goods to Africa, but many of them end up on the black market. There are many there with greasy palms. Borders are guarded by heavily-armed guards, who charge the Americans more because Americans are from a wealthy country, and also seek a little extra for themselves.

E. Northern Africa is Muslim-dominated. If the pastor of the organization were to wear his collar in Somalia, he would probably be killed. People come from Somalia to Kenya to learn Christianity. Some are killed when they go back to Somalia, yet new people keep coming from Somalia to Kenya to learn about Christianity. The reason is that they hope to learn the Gospel and to share it with their families.

F. Swahili is prominent in Africa, but English is becoming increasingly popular. The church services that the speaker holds are in English.

G. Lions are like housecats: they sleep most of the time. When they get hungry, the female will go out and attack a wildebeast. Lions won’t bother people if people don’t bother them. Hippos, however, can be quite aggressive towards humans.

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