Welcome to tomthinking.com Sunday, February 17 2019 @ 06:20 AM UTC

The Atonement

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Instead of writing an completely original piece I present this week’s entry resourced heavily from several theological works on the subject of the atonement. The atonement can be difficult for many people to understand, but to put it the most simply: The atonement is God’s solution to the problem of sin. Reformed theologian Wayne Grudem defines it by saying: “The atonement is the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation” (Systematic Theology, Chapter 27, “The Atonement,” page 568).
Definitions and Need for Atonement
“The atonement is the act by which God restores a relationship of harmony and unity between Himself and human beings. The word can be broken into three parts that express this great truth in simple but profound terms ‘at-one-ment.’ Through God’s atoning grace and forgiveness, we are reinstated to a relationship of at-one-ment with God, in spite of our sin” (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, page 139).
“The need for atonement is brought about by three things, the universality of sin, the seriousness of sin and man’s inability to deal with sin. The first point is attested in many places: ‘there is no man who does not sin’ (I Kings 8:46); ‘there is none that does good, no, not one’ (Psalm 14:3); ‘there is not a righteous man on earth, who does good and never sins’ (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Jesus told the rich young ruler, ‘No one is good but God alone’ (Mar 10:18), and Paul writes, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23)…

Partial Obedience

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My latest weekly book reading has been Patrick Morley’s, Seven Seasons of a Man’s Life. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years and I finally got around to picking it up for the weekend.
Part of Morley’s thesis points out the difference between what he calls “Cultural Christianity,” and “Biblical Christianity.” At the same time my regular Bible reading took me through the II Kings story of Jehu, king of Israel.
Jehu is portrayed in the scriptures as a bloodthirsty man, though he was implementing the prophetic word pronounced about him by Elijah. Jehu executed God’s judgement on the house of Ahab. He wiped out Jezebel, Ahab’s seventy sons, and eradicated the worship of Baal. At each stage Jehu acknowledged that he was fulfilling the word spoken many years earlier by Elijah; that he was God’s instrument to do these things. Yet at the same time there was a problem—his obedience to God’s call was only partial. It made me wonder, as I often do when reading such biblical accounts, how it was the Jehu knew he was fulfilling the word of God yet at the same time only surrender to God a partial obedience? Jehu did not turn fully to God. Rather he continued in idol worship and led Israel astray in the worship of other gods—just not Baal.
What does Partrick Morley’s book have to do with Jehu? Nothing directly, though there is a connection between partial obedience and cultural Christianity.

Follow The Evidence

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A news story last week claimed that Chinese and Turkish researchers found the remains of Noah’s Ark on Turkey’s Mount Ararat. Some are saying the claim is a hoax, while others point out that the ark has been seen by many explorers. So what is the truth of the situation?
While no conclusive proof has arisen that the wood structure(s) at the 13,000 – 14,000 foot levels are the remains of Noah’s ark, it is interesting that there does seem to be historical evidence for the ark’s survival through the centuries.
My most recent recreational reading is in a commentary by James Montgomery Boice on the book of Genesis. Boice points to a large number of accounts through many centuries of the ark resting on Turkey’s Mount Ararat, just as the Bible records. For instance:

It's Not A Gay Thing, It's A Bible Thing

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Sad news a few days ago that former Christian music artist Jennifer Knapp came out as a lesbian in preparation for the release of her newest album. During a segment of Larry King Live, Knapp said, “I think there is plenty of evidence in my exploration of my faith through the sacred text of the Holy Bible that I have definitely recognized that we are somewhat at the handicap of our own interpretation of a sacred text.”
That somewhat convoluted sentence basically means that the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality is a matter of biblical interpretation.
Actually, it’s not.
The Bible’s prohibitions against homosexuality are no different than it’s prohibitions against lying, stealing, murdering, or adultery. Try this on for size:

Real Teams, Real Goals, Real Transformation

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When you are a missionary working in a foreign country the amount of materials and training resources you sometimes have can be a bit limited (minus the annual trip the States to pillage the local bookstore). So those in the missionary community rely upon one another to share their experiences, wisdom, and philosophy to help further their work.
Such was the case for me last week during a lunch meeting with a friend. We were discussing the importance of team building and team leadership—failures and successes—when he passed this by my ears.
“A real team is a small number of people working for a specific period of time, who are equally committed to a common goal and a common approach, for which they have specific performance objectives, to which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”
When I heard this description of a real ministry team I was immediately struck with thoughts of our senior management on the TV side of our operations. I would say with reasonable confidence that our team meets most of these requirements. But on the ministry side of things, it can be a bit more difficult.

More Than Not Sinning

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I was watching an episode of What Would You Do? tonight. For those who haven’t seen the show it features actors and a reporter that set up a morally compromising or wrongful situation in a public place. They secretly record the actions of those who witness what happens. What will they do? Will they run to the rescue or ignore the wrong they see before them? As you might guess, with every episode the overwhelming majority of people turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the injustices around them. Many of the people interviewed afterward note that they don’t get involved because they think something isn’t their business, or they feel uncomfortable. It’s the minority of people who take it upon themselves to proactively do the right thing and come to someone’s rescue.
This got me thinking about some recent reading I’ve been doing about the biblical concept of God’s law written upon our hearts. The concept comes from God’s promise to Israel in Jeremiah 31:33 that a day was coming in which God’s law would not merely be written upon tablets of stone as it was in Moses’ day, but “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
As I was contemplating this idea I thought of the same thing that you might be thinking of now—the Ten Commandments, as one example, burned into our consciences. While I was contemplating this I ran across another passage in the book of Jeremiah that gave me a new insight. This passage also talks about something being written on our hearts, but it’s not God’s law.

Preparing for Battle in the Immutable Future

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Recently I’ve been enjoying the book, Christianity on the Offense: Responding to the Spiritual Beliefs of Seekers, by Dan Story. It’s always good to learn something about the competition, so to speak, and I occasionally read such books to keep me up to date on worldview issues. The pages I read today, however, got me thinking not about the worldviews of today, but the worldviews of tomorrow—apropos to the change of calendar coming in just hours.
It’s interesting to me to trace how different worldviews like Naturalism, Modernism, Buddhism, and competing religions have all contributed to one another over the centuries. These worldviews often borrow points from one another, specifically the Western worldviews have been borrowing from the Eastern, thus becoming their worldview cousins.
Christianity is different in that when someone tries to integrate other religious philosophies into its framework it becomes something wholly different—something other than orthodox. As one example, we see a lot of this in Mongolia as many young Christians, not fully understanding the unique nature of Christianity, attempt to bring in some of the beliefs and practices of Buddhism and Animism in the name of preserving culture. This practice of syncretism ends up creating something other than a biblically-based Christian expression. It was also strongly condemned by Peter (II Peter 2:17-22) and Jesus (Revelation 2:12-29).

Why Do Mongolians View Corruption as Acceptable?

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I finally got around to reading the USAID’s report, Mongolia: Trends in Corruption Attitudes. Here are a few tidbits from the report:
  • 90 percent of the public reports that corruption is common
  • The higher the income the greater the reported inclination and incidence of bribe paying
  • Respondents claiming that some corruption is acceptable increased from 14.3 percent to 19.5 percent – almost one-fourth of the population.
  • Those who make more money have a greater inclination to pay bribes
  • Teachers, doctors, and civil administrators are the top three recipients of bribes, with bribes to teachers making up 39.3 percent of reported incidents
The USAID report helps put some concrete to what was already known – Mongolia is a society steeped in corruption. The report helps to shatter at least one myth about corruption, and also sets off a loud alarm about Mongolia’s future.

Father, Son, & Who?

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A Barna research report this week revealed that 58% of American Christians don’t believe the Holy Spirit exists. “Fifty-eight percent strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that the Holy Spirit is ‘a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.’”[1] Interestingly, the same survey revealed that about 60% of American Christians do not believe Satan exists.
I suppose you could argue that if you think Satan doesn’t exist then what do you need the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit for? We can also argue that it doesn’t matter if you believe Satan exists or not. Without the Holy Spirit you are traveling up temptation’s raging river without a paddle—or a boat for that matter.
I’ve long thought that the problem many people have with understanding who the Holy Spirit is, and His role, can be boiled down to our description of Him. The Bible always describes God’s character in human terms we can understand from our already pre-existing relationships. Two examples: when we call God, “Father,” we can understand that because we associate the term, “Father,” with that which is already familiar. We know what a father is and what his role is. The same can be true when we call Jesus the, “Son of God.” We already have in our minds what a son is and what his relationship to his father is. These anthropomorphic descriptions of God’s nature, in part, aid our understanding of who God is.
But when we come to the descriptive term, “Holy Spirit,” we encounter a problem. It’s not like the term “Holy Spirit” is similar to “mother,” or “Father,” or “Son.” We have trouble wrapping our minds around how it works. We wonder exactly how the Spirit of God is related to God when we can’t picture him in anthropomorphic terms we already understand. The Holy Spirit is God, but He’s not the Father and He’s not the Son, and He’s not described with anthropomorphic terms. So how does that work exactly?

Spiritual But Not Religious. Hmmmm...

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Every once in a while a new movement comes along that seeks to capture the attention of people away from traditional faith commitments. My attention was grabbed by one so-called spiritual movement last week. Calling itself the “Spiritual But Not Religious” movement (SBNR), it portends to offer true spirituality instead of that stuffy, old time religion. What does SBNR offer?
According to the movement’s website, SBNR folk are those who avoid, “Guilt—A set of rules to follow.” SBNR people are those who “walk beyond all religious forms that bind our humanity.” Additionally, the movement claims that, “There is no longer such a strong need for a minister, church or sacred texts to put boundaries on an experience of wonder.” Or to put it more succinctly, “Spirituality is more concerned with experience than dogma.”
The movement is founded by a supposedly Christian pastor of the innocuously named church, “Christ Community Church.” The name seems to ring with “Christianity,” but the movement’s principles clearly defy the definitions in scripture of what is spiritual and what is not.