Thursday, May 29, 2008

Remembering "Common Grace"

Sometimes, I think we evangelicals stress the biblical idea that "all people are sinners" (Romans 3:10) so much that we forget that unregenerate (non-Christians) can do good (in the sense below) and please God. I think we need to be reminded of the Reformed doctrine of "common grace".

Below are two quotes from Louis Berkhor, stressing the fact that 1) Unregenerates can do good and 2) God does show favor to them.

"Reformed theologians generally maintain that the unregenerate can perform natural good, civil good, and outwardly religious good. They call attention to the fact, however, that, while such works of the unregenerate are good from a material point of view, as works which God commanded, they cannot be called good from a formal point of view, since they do not spring from the right motive and do not aim at the right purpose. The Bible repeatedly speaks of works of the unregenerate as good and right, II Kings 10:29, 30; 12:2 (comp. II Chron. 24:17-25); 14:3,14-16,20,27 (comp. II Chron. 25:2); Luke 6:33; ROM 2:14,15."

"Another objection to the doctrine of common grace is that it presupposes a certain favorable disposition in God even to reprobate sinners, while we have no right to assume such a disposition in God....Evidently the elect can not be regarded as always and exclusively the objects of God´s love. And if they who are the objects of God´s redeeming love can also in some sense of the word be regarded as the objects of His wrath, why should it be impossible that they who are the objects of His wrath should also in some sense share His divine favor? A father who is also a judge may loathe the son that is brought before him as a criminal, and feel constrained to visit his judicial wrath upon him, but may yet pity him and show him acts of kindness while he is under condemnation. Why should this be impossible in God? General Washington hated the traitor that was brought before him and condemned him to death, but at the same time showed him compassion by serving him with the dainties from his own table. Cannot God have compassion even on the condemned sinner, and bestow favors upon him? The answer need not be uncertain, since the Bible clearly teaches that He showers untold blessings upon all men and also clearly indicates that these are the expression of a favorable disposition in God, which falls short, however, of the positive volition to pardon their sin, to lift their sentence, and to grant them salvation. The following passages clearly point to such a favorable disposition: Prov. 1:24; Isa. 1:18; Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11; Matt. 5:43-45; 23:37; Mark 10:21; Luke 6:35: ROM 2:4; I Tim. 2:4. If such passages do not testify to a favorable disposition in God, it would seem that language has lost its meaning, and that God´s revelation is not dependable on this subject."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Book Recommendation: The Rise of Christianity

Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity is a fascinating book that seeks to answer the rapid growth of Christianity through social science.

In general, Stark believes that the rapid growth in Christianity was due to the early Christians establishing and building a strong, loving, and beneficial community in a chaotic and deprived context.

Stark writes:

"...let me suggest here that Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced epidemics, fires and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services (pg. 161)".

One of interesting things from this book was Stark's comparison of how the early Christians and pagans dealt with the devastating epidemics (plagues) by which the Christians were willing to loose their lives for their loves one but the pagans weren't. Stark quotes Dionysius, who describes these events (pg.82-83):

"Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transfered their death to themselves and died in their stead"

"The heathen behaved in the very opposite way. At first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape."

It's important to note that Starks also confirms these general differences from non-Christian sources (Julian and Thucydides) (pg. 83-85).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Book Recommendation: Meet the Rabbis

A while back, recommended that I read Brad Young’s book, Meet the Rabbis: Rabbinic Thought and the Teaching of Jesus, and because I didn’t know anything about the rabbis I decided to save it to my Wishlist. A month ago, I finally bought it and I just finished it on vacation to Punta Cana.

The book is structured into 3 main parts:

  1. Introduction to Rabbinic Thought
  2. Introduction to Rabbinic Literature
  3. Introduction to the Rabbis

And here’s a quick list of things that I found interesting and helpful:

  1. That it’s important to understand the rabbis in order to better understand Jesus- (Young parallels rabbinic thought to Jesus' to illuminate some of his thoughts)
  2. A good reminder that not all Pharisees are legalistic hypocrites (pg. 7-8)
  3. The role of the Sanhedrin and the importance of Torah after 70 C.E. (Ch. 4)
  4. The many parallels between Rabbinic and New Testament (Ch.5)
  5. The relationship between the Mishnah ,the Talmud (Jerusalem and Babylonian), and Midrash (Tannaitic and Amoraic)
  6. An overview of the major rabbinic leaders (Ch.11)

I recommend this book to anyone, who wants to gain a better understand of the rabbis. Also, for a better review check-out Dr. Craig Blomberg’s review.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

I Guess I Won't Be Using These.......This SUCKS

Book Recommendation: Keller's The Reason of God

Tim Keller’s book The Reason of God:Belief in an Age of Skepticism is one of the finest apologetic Christian books I have ever read. The book is structured into two parts. In the first part (The Leap of Doubt), Keller goes through several topics that challenged the reasonableness for the Christian faith:

1) There Can’t Be Just One True Religion (Chapter 1)

2) How Could a Good God Allow Suffering (Chapter 2)

3) Christianity Is a Straitjacket (Chapter 3)

4) The Church is Responsible for So Much Injustice (Chapter 4)

5) How Can A Loving God Send People to Hell (Chapter 5)

6) Science Has Disproved Christianity (Chapter 6)

7) You Can’t Take the Bible Literally (Chapter 7).

Then in the 2nd part of the book (The Reasons for Faith), Keller gives positive reasons for Christianity such as the problem of sin (Ch. 10) and the reality of the resurrection (Ch.13).

I really appreciate this book for its clarity and faithfulness in addressing tough questions and in presenting the gospel, while giving a sense of deep humility. This is definitely now my go to book for apologetics.