The Process Continues…

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Finally…. today is the day the I continue to actively look for a full time pastoral position. After more than a year hiatus, I have decided that Im going to try again. I got so extremely discouraged the last time by the whole ordeal that I just gave up and made myself believe that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this area of ministry. After all, the last thing I want to do is hurt people who I have been entrusted to care for by my short comings and lack of discipline. Yall pray for me! I feel like I have to work harder than my counterparts because 1) I am not currently a member of the denomination in which I’m seeking a position (although I’m am truly considering changing that), 2) no one really knows who I am (lack of network), and 3) the ministry that I am currently, faithfully involved with is small and it hard to quantify my success. But I’m trusting God in all things. Let’s see what happens!

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Why I Am Frustrated With the Pastoral Interview Process- Pt. 2

Recently, I wrote a post detailing one of my experiences with the pastoral search process, and how often many guys are mistreated. It has garnered a lot of attention since it was posted. Mission Accomplished!

For those who may have thought it was distasteful, and probably not in my best interest to post on my web page, I’m sorry. If you left frustrated, then either you have not been there (congratulations) or are a part of the problem with search committees. I wanted those who read that post to feel tension. When you are interviewing these men, respect their dignity. I talked to a good friend and colleague of mine, and he was never treated, nor asked the kind of questions I’ve been asked by a search committee. He was dumbfounded when I discussed my interview with him.

Denial is hard for everyone. So if you deny a guy (which will happen of course), it would be good to offer some explanation. It’s not mandatory to do so, but I think it shows good character from a search committee, and its helpful information for the interviewee as he continues his search.

Finally, I know employers often look for the most qualified. The one who can step right in and “take the reigns”. That’s okay, but consider the man who can be groomed. He may not have the 5 or 10 years of experience that you want, but he has the character qualities and intellectual abilities to be a long term asset to your ministry. Would you rather take a guy who can be groomed a little and last for 8 to 10 years, or the guy who is really overqualified who only lasts for 2?

Philosophy of Youth Ministry

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I compiled a statement regarding my thoughts about youth ministry. This is not all encompassing, but I think it does highlight some of the essentials that I hope to bring to and cultivate in a youth ministry.

Personal Mission Statement:

I, Jeffrey Carr, am a shepherd-teacher-worshipper called of God to understand, and to help others understand the great truths of their union with Christ. ; proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, while creating relational disciples committed to diligent study of biblical truth.

As it relates to Youth Ministry:

I am called to cultivate a youth ministry that glorifies our Triune God by being culturally relevant, age appropriate, spiritually engaging, theologically robust, and crazy fun!  

Cultural Relevancy

The church of 2015 is not the same church as 1975, and it will not be the same church in 2025. The Church must shift, adapt, and change relative to the culture of the day. While biblical truth is timeless, pastors must use cultural “markers” in order to best serve their congregates. The best biblical example of this is the Apostle Paul in Acts 17. Paul delivers this wonderful exposition (Acts 17:16-34)  using the cultural “markers” of the day- something that the Athenians would have known and understood completely. For my youth group, I use things such as social media (i.e. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Kik, SnapChat), movies, tv, and music to teach the timeless truths of the gospel. Recently, I completed a series I call “God on Film”, where we explored glimpses of biblical truth through hollywood movie blockbusters (ex. The Avengers, Dark Knight, Man of Steel, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, etc.).  

Age Appropriateness

On the heels of cultural relevancy is age appropriateness. I want to make sure that I am speaking/teaching in a way that my age demographic can understand. I don’t expect a 12 year old to understand the words “substitutionary atonement”, however I would expect them to know and understand sacrificial death. I try my best to use age appropriate language, trying not be be crude, or unnecessarily vulgar, while still maintaining truth.

Spiritual Engagement

Of greatest importance is the spiritual fitness of our youth. I want them to understand the great truths of their union with Christ. In Him, he has given them every spiritual blessing they need. We are made right with God, in Him. The youth (and adults for that matter) need to know that the risen Christ indwells their newly regenerated heart of flesh by the Holy Spirit that they might in every way participate fully as one who belongs to the people of God. We have become adopted sons and daughters of God. In this adoption, we have been granted amazing blessings. Knowing who we are helps shape how we act (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27; Rom. 8:10; 2 Cor. 13:5; Eph. 3:17, 2 Cor. 5:17; John 15:4, 5, 7; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 12:2; Gal. 3:28).

Robust Theology

My goal is to give the youth real, solid theology. Ideas such as regeneration, sanctification, justification, glorification, and perseverance, should not be foreign ideas. But they should have a well rounded perception of each. I do hold a to Calvinistic theology, and I do teach within the reformed tradition.

Fun, Fun, Fun

I have found that while youth need structure, they also need times of fun and fellowship. As a result, I try to incorporate at least one activity or ice breaker during or before each lesson and at least one field trip/outing per month. I also encourage my youth to invite other family members and  friends on these field trips as a means of evangelism and outreach. A young person might not come to Sunday school, but they might come to a skating or Skyzone field trip. Ultimately, its about showing the love of Christ to my youth, families, and friends while having as much fun as possible.

Concerned Black Mizzou Alumnus

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*** The following document has nearly 800 names of black alumni fixed to it. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And I stand in solidarity with my fellow alumni. Things must change.***

Statement of Support from Black Mizzou Alumni

We, the undersigned Black alumni of the University of Missouri (“Mizzou”) are deeply concerned about the current environment at our beloved alma mater. It is imperative for the public and the current students matriculating at the university to know that as Black alumni, we stand together in support of the Concerned Student 1950, The Legion of Black Collegians, Missouri Student Association President Payton Head, Graduate Student Activist Jonathan Butler, the University of Missouri Football team and all other student activists.

We recognize that the University of Missouri has a unique history which is tied to the fabric of the state itself. In 1938, the University of Missouri School of Law denied entry to Lloyd Gaines because of his race. Mr. Gaines, sued and the Supreme Court ultimately decided that University of Missouri had to admit Mr. Gaines. The Gaines case laid the groundwork for Brown v. Board of Education. In 1950, the University of Missouri admitted its first Black student, however it was not until 1957 that the first Black students were even allowed on the football team. While we acknowledge that we have made significant strides since this time, we recognize that our alma mater can be greater.

While students at the University of Missouri, many of us found ourselves protesting similar incidents on campus and we find it highly unacceptable that many of these issues are not only continuing, but have become more pervasive. In 2004, a Mizzou student wrote a post in a campus newspaper, blaming Black students for vandalism in Greektown and admonishing them to “stay in their little worlds…” During the 2007 school year, Neo-Nazis protested in downtown Columbia, to which Black students responded with a counter protest. In 2008, Black students banded together against the failed Missouri Civil Rights Initiative which sought to remove affirmative action policies at the University of Missouri. In 2010, two Mizzou students defaced the Black Culture Center by throwing cotton balls on the lawn. For Black students, the Black Culture Center is a refuge of safety, making the act even more egregious. In 2011, another Mizzou student spray painted “NIGGER” onto a Residential Hall statue, once again leaving Black students to feel ostracized and unwelcome in their shared living space. We highlight these past events to show our own connection to the plight of current students.

Unfortunately, despite efforts by many Black alumni, the Mizzou Alumni Association (“MAA”) has not yet given us the opportunity to formally organize. We recognize the importance of remaining connected to the undergraduate students and see an official Black Alumni chapter as a means to do so. Additionally, it is a means to galvanize our talented Black Alumni base. Without the presence of an official Black Alumni chapter, we are unable to connect properly to fellow alums and show our support of the Black student body.

As alumni, we are fully invested in improving the campus climate for current and future Tigers. We want to show our continued support to the students and the University as a whole. As such, we offer our support and assistance to the Black student body and the University to ensure that the student concerns are fully addressed.

In Solidarity,

Concerned Black Mizzou Alumni

Why I Believe the Bible

bible*** This post was written by Erik Raymond, Gospel Coalition contributor. I found it to be extremely insightful and helpful to the topic I have wanted to write about for a while. Please read and enjoy!

As Christians we are to always be ready to give a defense of the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:15). The basis of this hope is our confidence that the Bible is God’s Word. It is trustworthy and sufficient.

There are many times when our confidence in the Bible can come under attack. Consider a temptation to doubt the truth of God’s Word when you or someone close to you is diagnosed with a severe medical condition. Are you tempted to doubt the sufficiency and truthfulness of God’s promises? Or consider the moment of great temptation to sin. Like Eve you are appraising the way the desire can bring satisfaction to you and meet your need. You weigh this against God’s Word. At some point you have to remind yourself of the truthfulness of the Bible. Finally, consider a conversation with an unbelieving friend who is sanctioning their lifestyle because the Bible is not true. In each of these scenarios you need to have some quick, simple, and compelling truths on retainer.

I’ve put these 5 together as something of a quick reference notecard for why I believe the Bible. I’m sure there is an acronym or something clever but I’ve not thought of it.

(1) The Biblical Argument.

By this I simply mean that the Bible claims to be God’s Word. This claim is not just in a remote passage or book but throughout. We read in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”. The source of the text, the Word is God himself. There is no flinching on this fact from Genesis to Revelation. The fact that the Bible claims to be God’s Word and proves to be so throughout history needs to be on my mind when dealing my doubts or a skeptic’s.

(2) The Historical Argument.

Here I am simply saying that overall the people and places in the Bible show up in history. When we read of descriptions of times and events we often find these same things in extra-biblical history. Further, when archeologists dig and uncover ancient artifacts it often shows us that biblical events that were not previously discovered were in fact true. And finally, the history of events from within the Bible in terms of prophecy, they happen. Consider the Babylonian captivity, King Cyrus, and the details concerning the life of Christ. Within the canon of Scripture it unfolds with historical consistency.

(3) The Empirical Argument.

Personally speaking, I have experienced a substantial change. The day I was converted I walked out of my house cursing God and then I came home praising him. How does this happen? My experience tells me that this is not some ordinary book. I’ve been moved to tears reading other books but this book actually reads me, wrecks me, and rebuilds me. What’s more, I’ve seen and experienced this same thing with other people. This change is not limited to gender, ethnicity, geography, or even time. This book claims to change lives and it actually does.

(4) The Logical Argument.

There is a single, coherent theme throughout the book that the glory of God is paramount. If God were to write a book this is how he would write it. If man were to write a book this is not how he would write it. It has the “ring of truth” as Lewis would say. Man would tend to diminish his defects and exaggerate his virtues; the Bible seems to do the opposite. It maintains the dignity of humanity but also shows its brokenness. It is here that we see the glory of God on display. This brings me to another aspect of this argument. If you survey all world religions most will agree that there is a problem and they exist to help us with this problem. However, it is only biblical Christianity that actually maintains a God who does not compromise. Every other plan of salvation has God bending his righteousness in order to show love. Man and God partner together to achieve salvation. However, with the Bible God does not compromise. He maintains and demonstrates his righteousnesswhile showing forth his love! On the cross God is both the just and the justifier (Rom. 3:26). This means that he does not compromise. Think about this: the Bible maintains that all of God’s attributes are in tact, no dimples, defects, or deflation! However, without the cross (and outside of the Bible) you have a god who compromises something in order to bring salvation. This reminds me of God’s infinite wisdom, love, mercy and grace—as well as his authorship of the Bible.

(5) The Christological Argument.

This seals the deal. Here it is an a nutshell: since Jesus rose from the dead he is God, therefore, his view of the Bible is the right one. Jesus believed the Bible was divinely inspired (Mt. 4:2; Mt. 22:31-32), authoritative (Lk. 4; Jn. 10:34-36; 12:47-48); powerful (Mt. 5:17-18; Jn. 6:63; Jn. 17:17); and about him (Lk: 24:25-27, 44-47; Jn. 5:46-47). Furthermore, he believed the Bible was historically accurate, “”In the Gospels we see Jesus reference Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaac and Jacob, manna in the wilderness, the serpent in the wilderness, Moses as the lawgiver, David and Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Elijah and Elisha, the widow of Zerephath, Naaman, Zechariah, and even Jonah, never questioning a single event, a single miracle, or a single historical claim. Jesus clearly believed in the historicity of biblical history.” (DeYoung, Taking God at His Word). Having Jesus’ bibliology is never a bad idea.

Conclusion

In the midst of temptation you will hear the words of doubt again, “Did God really say?” You and I need to be ready to muzzle the serpent with truth. Continue to tutor yourself with the reality that God’s Word is in fact God’s Word. Do this in the good times as well as the difficult times. Keep on studying and delighting in this truth that you might be able to properly deal with doubts both from within and from without.

8 Months a Youth Pastor

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Just over 8 months ago, I decided to take a position as a part time Youth Pastor at a local church in south Saint Louis. Just a bit about the church: The church is Nazarene, which initially concerned me, given the theological differences. But its been good so far. The church demographic is 80% seniors (70+ years of age), 9% teens and children, and about 1% middle age and young adults. The majority of the adults who attend regularly are white folk, and the majority of teens and children are black. From these statistics alone, you notice that there are some major challenges that this small little church faces. Most of the teens and children are bused in from the neighboring communities, which means their parents do not attend church. Many of the teens come from blended and often broken homes. It is a challenging, but not impossible. I have learned quite a few things about teenagers and ministry since I began, and I would like to share them with you.

  1. All teenagers are bipolar and have some kind of brain damage- One moment they are up, the next they are down. Thank God they eventually grow out of it. Making that transition from completely dependent children to independent adults is challenging. For the youth pastor, this transition can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be extremely frustrating. I work with students who are primarily between the ages of 12-15. At this age, teens don’t often make the wisest decision, in fact most of their decision are completely dumb and not thought out, in my experience. Decisions are often made based on feelings/emotions. And feelings and emotions change every few seconds for teens. The job of the youth pastor is not dismiss their feelings, but to encourage healthy expression of them and to show them how to make the wisest decisions that are based on facts, truth, and biblical precepts.
  2. Peer pressure is a mega beast- I watched a little girl be pressured out of doing something she really wanted to do because her “friends” decided they did not want to participate. That kind of power in the wrong hands, with the wrong “friends” can be very dangerous to teenagers. I have learned to push back against that and encourage my teens to be individuals. Groupthink gives way to irrational decisions and teens need to know when to push back against the group and be an individual. This is hard, and as ministry leaders we must pray that good decisions are made.
  3. Parents are absolutely essential- I see a vast difference in the behavior of the students who’s parent attend church and those who’s parents do not. Ministry begins in the home. Deuteronomy 6:4-9, revered by both Jews and Christians alike, outlines the shema. The text says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates”. Notice how it speaks about home activities (talk while you sit, walk, sleep, and rise). Apostle Paul says it this way, particularly to the fathers who are the heads of the household, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph.6:4) Godly Parents are paramount to raising Godly children and teens. My job as the youth pastor is to come alongside of what is already happening in the home and reinforce these principles that are already being taught. My job becomes difficult when I’m trying to teach Christian values and they are not being upheld at home. One day a week is hardly enough to properly disciple a young person. It must happen in the home first from the parent.
  4. Expect youth to push against authority- This was my issue as a teenager- I didn’t like people to tell me what to do. I thought I was smarter than every adult and that I knew best. Of course I was absolutely wrong. I see this behavior and attitude in a number of my teens, especially the girls. At the beginning this used to bother me terribly, almost to the point of anger where I wanted to lash out against them. However, the Lord had to show me myself in them. I was the same way. Some of the attitude and disobedience comes from the lack of discipline from parents, but most of it is due to the growth process. Teens are becoming independent, making decisions on their own, and when someone with authority over them gives them direction, they push back. This is not a solely a human construct, but it is also seen in the animal kingdom among higher level species. The teenager of the lion pack, for example, often pushes against the dominant male, and is usually disciplined.
  5. Youth Pastor must teach the authority of God- Teens need to know that God is the ultimate authority and that there are consequences to behavior which violates that authority. God has established his authority and has given us the parameters by which we must live in order not to violate his authority. Violating the law of God means eternal damnation, period. We should not sugar coat this. As Jesus said to the Pharisees and the crowd of people in Luke 12, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
  6. Saturate young people with Love- Scripture says that  “perfect love drives out all fear” (1 Jn. 4:18) and I believe that to be true more than ever. The goal of the youth pastor is to produce a likeness of Christ. How best to do that than to love those you minister to unconditionally. We must reciprocate the love that Christ has shown us.

I’ll Be Home for Christmas- The Hope of Chirstmas

” And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

I have always liked the arrangement of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” sung by Al Green. There is something about his high pitch, melodic vocals sung against this amazing groove. AL Green makes what is kind of a depressing song, very lively and fun and great to listen to around the holidays. I’ll Be Home for Christmas was originally written to honor soldiers overseas, who longed to return home. The lyrics are: ” I’ll be home for Christmas // You can count on me // Please have snow and mistletoe // And presents under the tree// Christmas Eve will find me // Where the love light beams // I’ll be home for Christmas // If only in my dreams.” The last line of the song is what I find most sad and depressing- if only in my dreams. The truth is, after sometime away, every one longs to return home. Home is where the heart is, right? I have lived in cities that have not been my home town for 10 years now, and it always brings my heart great cheer to return home for a while. There is something special about being around family, friends, and people who love you.

That not only is true physically, but it is also true spiritually. Our spirit, our innermost being desires to return home to our creator- to be near the one who loves us unconditionally. There is something inside every human being that desires a place of paradise. Why? Because at one point in our human history, our home was a paradise. Read Genesis 1 and 2. God prepared a garden, a place of paradise and told Adam to have dominion. Later, he gave him Eve to complete him. And they made a covenant with God to rule as suzerain vassals over all of God’s creation. Adam became the federal head of all mankind. Something happened, though, in between Genesis 2 and Genesis 4. Genesis 3, of course. We find in Genesis 3, the covenant between God and man was broken, thus throwing all of humanity into ruin. Because Adam was both a vassal and the federal head of mankind, when he sinned, he cursed not only mankind, but all of creation. “Once Adam goes, so goes the world.”  Westminster Confession says it like this, “By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion, with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body. They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions” (WCF IV.II – IV). Adam and Eve were forced to leave their home. There was now extreme distance between them and that place of paradise.

Christmas is a time where we reflect and celebrate the advent of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Most of you already know the story, but I want to briefly highlight some areas of significance. It was because of Christ’ incarnation-God coming in flesh-  that mankind, Adam’s posterity, might return home and be at rest. This gap that was created by Adam’s sin (and our own sin) has been bridged by the second Adam. Jesus accomplished all that Adam failed. So unlike the song, we don’t have to dream about being home- we can and will experience home in a paradise prepared just for us. This is the hope of Christmas.

My Black Son- Lessons from Ferguson Pt. 1

I have tried to avoid writing a blog about this because there are so many good ones out there, but I feel more compelled than ever to make my opinions known. Yesterday, I sat through a sermon from a pastor in south city St. Louis. While his intentions were good and genuine, in my honest opinion, he missed the point regarding recent events in St. Louis. I also work at a bank where many of my fellow co-workers miss the point, and that’s frustrating to me. So, this blog is intended for those who don’t really get it- who think that the protest are pointless, who think that the officers were justified, who think that its okay to execute unarmed men. You need more information, and I’m here to serve.

I don’t have a son yet, but when/if I do, this is what I would tell him. “You are not a criminal. You are a man with dignity. And you deserve respect”. Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Michael Brown, Vonderrick Meyers- all of these men where tragically gunned down by police who suffered from what I will call the “criminal complex”.  The “Criminal Complex” is the ideology that black people, especially black men, are insidious criminals. Now I realize that this is not how every cops thinks, however I’m convinced that there is a disproportionate number who do.

I don’t blame the officers completely. They are pawns in a greater system of oppression that has plagued and ravaged the black community since the advent of slavery so many years ago. There is a problem, and Ferguson was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. If you do your research, you would learn that there is a disproportionate number of black and brown people in the prison system relative to whites and other races. But the statistics of violent and non violent crimes are generally equal among blacks and whites.

So the question remains why are there more black and brown folk incarcerated? The answer- the “criminal complex”. Policing practices in poor neighborhoods have become atrocious. Nonviolent, minor offenses are often met with severe legal punishment (usually incarceration). And once a person is convicted of an offense, he or she is trapped in a vicious cycle of invisible punishment, where a vast majority can never re-enter mainstream society again. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, details the ugliness of this whole process. I encourage everyone to read her work. To those who think that the officers actions were justified, let me ask you this- “Does it bother you that over 5000 American civilians have been killed by police, which is vastly more than the number of soldiers lost in the Iraq war?” Does the following chart from the Business Insider alarm you?: chart-comparing-police-shootings-in-2011 Every other major country in the world has a significantly lower number of civilians killed by police per year than the United States. Why has the United States police force become so militarized?  They are treating civilians like terrorists- like criminals. And at the receiving end of all this is the black and brown community. Is this truly just? To my black son- in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., allow justice to rain down like water in your heart, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Use your life a beacon of light to drive away the darkness that so plagues our country. Fear not, for the Lord is with you! Stay tuned for Pt. 2.

Misogynistic, Genocidal, Homophobic, Infanticidal, Racist, Bully- Character of God???

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, one of the most influential voices of the atheist community, writes the words above concerning the character of the God of the Old Testament. Having researched (hopefully, however poorly) and having read the Old Testament, he concludes that the God of the Bible is bad and people are better off without him. Many people agree with him. Its not hard to find a forum online where people are voicing their disgust in this “vile” being. I must admit, at first glance the certain passages of the Old Testament can be difficult to understand, but I’m convinced that they are not impossible. I don’t plan to solve the God delusion in this post, but what I hope to do is speak to a few of those “difficult” passages in hopes of showing that they are understandable and interpretable, and have great significance to the original readers and to us, 21st Century believers, as well. I’m not going to mention everything (there are great books out there for that), however I am going to discuss 3 areas/passages that I feel are most difficult for people:  Deuteronomy 20:16-18 (The destruction of seemingly innocent people/Genocide), Genesis 22 (Abraham’s “test”), Leviticus 12:1-8 (Misogyny in the bible), and lastly Leviticus 25:44-46 (Slavery/Racism).

1. Deut. 20:16-18- To make this blog as short as possible, I will not include the scripture text. However, I do recommend a thorough read of the text that I’m discussing before each section. Before I begin, I will say that doing hermeneutics requires that we 1) realize and affirm that we, 21st century westerners, read with a different set of lenses (i.e. worldview) than the ancient near eastern original audience of the scriptures, 2) we must adjust our lenses to a proper worldview of the ancient near eastern people in order to properly interpret a biblical authors intent.

This divine command to kill the Canaanites is probably one of the most difficult hurdles for critics of the Old Testament God. Scholars have went to great lengths to properly explain and justify the command of the Israelites to kill the Canaanites. For in depth details, consult those sources. There is a lot that is to be said about linguistics, archeology, literary context, and semantics- I won’t bother with these things (not as though they are unimportant). I want to discuss the problem of sin (evil). Before the command to enter the land of Canaan, the Israelites were given the commandments of the Lord (Ex. 20:22-26; Deut. 5:6-21). The first commandments given were commandments regarding idol worship. God abhors idol worship. He hates it. And the Canaanites, at that time were great at it. In fact, their worship consisted of imitating the activity of their gods and goddesses. Baal, a Canaanite fertility god, was said to be stimulated by the sex acts of his worshippers on Canaanite high places. Temple sex, bestiality, homosexual activity, and child sacrifice were permitted and encouraged by this god, and the Canaanites practiced fervently. Profound moral corruption was abundant, and God could tarry his hand against them any longer. Just as Sodom and Gomorrah was ripe for judgment in the days of Abraham, so were the Canaanites ripe for divine judgment after the exodus, which would ultimately be carried out in keeping with God’s saving purposes in history. Is God no longer just for enacting judgment against a wicked people?

2. Genesis 22- Critics say that God can’t be good if he ask a man to sacrifice his son. This would suggest that he is in favor of child sacrifice and child abuse. God’s command of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac is hard. But the text doesn’t leave the reader without hints of hope. At the very beginning of the chapter, the reader is told that God came to “test or try” (נִסָּ֖ה) Abraham. The word נִסָּ֖ה suggest that this request is unusual- it is out of the ordinary. God does not usually make request as this one, and it was unique to Abraham’s situation.

We also often read these verses as a stern command towards Abraham to sacrifice his son, as if God has no compassion. Unfortunately we miss the tenderness with which God gives this command to Abraham in the English translation. A more accurate translation of verse 2 would be “Please take your only son or take, I beg of you, your only son”. Theologian Gordon Wenham writes “here we see a hint that the Lord appreciates the costliness of what he is requesting of Abraham”. God understands the magnitude of this difficult task, and would not have asked a worthier man to do this than Abraham. Furthermore, had Abraham not seen the broader purposes of this request and could not bring himself to go through with it, one commentator writes that Abraham wouldn’t incur any guilt for declining God’s pleas.

We also see hints of God’s covenantal faithfulness. God uses similar language as in chapters 12 and 17 to remind Abraham of his promise. Verse 2 reads “Take your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac”- this is covenantal acknowledgement. God’s promise to Abraham would be fulfilled with his son Isaac. This is what makes Abraham the father of faith, despite of the difficult command he believed that God could even raise Isaac from the dead should he be put to death. We know this because Abraham said it in verse 4 “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and thenwe will come back to you”. There was no doubt in Abraham’s mind that the promise of God would be fulfilled through his son Isaac.

3. Leviticus 12:1-8- In these verses it explains that a woman who gives birth to a female child is ritually impure for 80 days, where as she is only impure for a total of 40 days after giving birth to a male child. Critics say that this is just one place where the God of the bible shows his sexism and misogynistic ways, claiming that women are in some way inferior to men. Upon further examination, we find that this cannot be.

Genesis 1 records for us that God created both man and woman in his own image (1:27). In the next chapter, we are told that woman was created from the rib of Adam (2:21-22). Both of these images show an equality between man and woman. There is no inferiority and the Hebrew people recognized that. Furthermore, it was not necessarily a bad thing to be impure. Impurity does not equal sinful. There were a number of things that could make a person ritually or ceremonially impure- many of them are natural body functions. A man and a woman became unclean after sex because of the seminal discharge. Sex was not viewed negative (its encouraged among spouses!) or sinful, but because of the exchange of body fluids, the people became impure, and had to go through the purity rites. A woman became impure during her menstrual period, which happens every 30 days or so. It a natural body function that cannot be avoided- not sinful but does make her impure. If a person had a skin lesion, or a cut, he or she became impure. There are many things that could make a person impure that does not necessarily mean sinful.

Now, why are the women impure for 80 days after having a little girl verses 40 days after having a little boy? I’m not sure. Scholars have no definitive reason. Some say that there may have been some historical context that was not recorded and has been lost. For example, western men will often take off their hats when entering a building as a sign of respect. Many of us don’t know how or why it shows respect, we just do it. The removing of the hat is rooted in our historical context, but many of us have lost its rationale. Likewise, the reasons that a woman remains impure for twice as long may have some other context that was lost. Keil records in his commentary that ancients believed that a woman’s vaginal discharge persisted longer after giving birth to a female child, which would naturally increase her period of impurity. Other commentators say that vaginal bleeding happens with both the mother and the newborn girl, due to the withdrawal of the mother’s estrogen after birth. So there becomes two sources of ritual uncleanness (blood flow) as opposed to one source with a male child.

Despite the rationale, critics miss the main point and that is the process by which the mother’s become pure again. The goal for any ritually impure person is to become pure again. In the case of child birth, it is the same for both male and female children. The mother was to bring a lamb and either a dove or pigeon to the priest. One would be a burnt offering and the other a sin offering, after which should would become ritually pure and could once again join the covenant people in worship. God is so merciful that he even makes a concession if the mother was poor and unable to afford a lamb. She could being two doves or pigeons and the priest would atone for her and she would become pure again. I don’t see a hateful, misogynistic God. I see a loving, caring, merciful God!

4. Leviticus 24:44-46- Slavery in the OT. It was said that slave masters in the US would quote from Leviticus as a means to justify their treatment of their slaves. This was an unfortunate, and gruesome point in the history of the United States, and I understand the apprehension against verses like these. The english text uses the word “slave”, which is accurate however it leaves a bad taste in our mouths. I prefer to use the word “servant”. I think it is more accurate and in line with Hebrew custom. Hebrew servitude was nothing like the chattel slavery found in Greco-Roman society and the early United States. In fact, it was more of an indentured servitude. The servants had legal rights and were protected. Israelite law said if the servants were treated poorly, they were free to leave (Ex. 21:26-27). Servants could rest on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10). Master were commanded to treat their servants with compassion (Deut. 15:12-15). All of this is unlike chattel slavery. Furthermore, if an Israelite man became a servant, he and his family would be released from service in the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee was a designated sabbatical year, where everything restarted. There was no sowing or reaping that year as to let the ground rest. The state of Israel was reset. Any debts were forgiven, and land purchases reverted back to the familial owners. God designed it so that his people could begin afresh again.

The use of property language is problematic for some in these verse as well. First off the literal meaning of “property” in this context is money. So the servant is not a commodity to be exchanged but a person who has great value. Their dignity as a human being was inextricably held in tact. Far from the dehumanizing treatment of slaves in the south. Though “property” language is used, it doesn’t mean property owned by another. For example, football players are often traded and released. All the teams have “owners”. There is use of “property” language in this case, but it doesn’t mean that these players are owned or have become the property of another. I think the same is happening here in these verses of Leviticus.

I will say a few words about permanent servitude. A foreigner could become a permanent servant. When a person became a permanent servant, it was more than likely a move up. Permanent servants had access to food, shelter, and protection. They earned a small wage and could begin a family. It was far greater than living on the streets.

God did not intend servitude to be the way of life. God knew man’s temptation to abuse this kind of system. And Israel, of course, abused it later in their history. We read in Amos how men began to mistreat their servants and abuse them. Men began to trade servants for a simple pair of sandals. God would not stand for it. He tells the prophet Amos because of their sin, judgement was coming. And thats exactly what happened.

I hope this helps somebody. Unfortunately, I could not discuss everything in great detail, but if you have more question or want to read more, send me a message and I’ll gladly give your more thorough resources.

Rapture Ready? A Word About the Left Behind Movie and Rapture

Left-Behind-poster

For those who have not heard, Hollywood is rebooting the Left Behind series/movies, written by Tim LaHayne and Jerry Jenkins. These movies were very popular between the years 1995-2007.  This recent release stars Nicholas Cage and it depicts (with some fantasy and special effects) the end of time according to dispensational theology. I never read any of the books, but I have seen a few of the old movies (especially the Tribulation Force Movies) and let me say they are intense. This recent release seems just as intense.

Let me first briefly discuss what Dispensational Theology is and how it relates to the movie. Dispensational Theology was developed from the writings of John Darby (Google him for more information). It was made popular in the United States through the dissemination of the Scofield Reference Bible that was given to many of the soldiers during WWI (mass dissemination). Dispensational Theology holds to a very distinctive eschatological end times, namely a premillennial eschatology and a pretribulation rapture.  The movie Left Behind follows the events of the “rapture”- mankind is thrown into a world of chaos and judgment as people who are left behind face the 7 year tribulation period.

Premillennial dispensationalism makes for a great movie, but I think it deserves another look in terms of what the bible says. That brings me to the focus of this blog. There are many verses that we could discuss regarding rapture. However I just want to look at 2 very popular verses.

1. 1st Thessalonians 4:16-18 –  “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

“Rapture” is derived from the Latin word rapiemur which translates “take or snatch away”. The Vulgate uses this word in place of Greek word harpazō (ἁρπάζω). (Most of you know that the original text was written in Greek, so that is our point of reference). There is a great deal of discussion surrounding the use of harpazō in other bible verses. Some of them are quite compelling. For more information on Greek syntax and word usage, google rapture. Anthony Hoekema (The Bible and the Future) has a great (however biased) discussion regarding the use of harpazō in other verses of the bible.  See his chapter on premillennial dispensationalism. My aim is hermeneutical- how should we interpret what Paul is saying?

Before I dive in completely, let me first say this briefly. When it comes to doctrine, there are the essentials, and then there are the peripherals. I have divided these two broad areas into four categories- 1) absolutes, 2) convictions, 3) opinions, and 4) questions. The vast majority of absolutes develop the essentials to my doctrine- things such as: resurrection of Christ, supremacy, sufficiency, and inerrancy of Scripture, the trinity of God, etc. What I’m about to discuss may fall some where in between opinions and questions, which places it in the peripheral area. So don’t let this bother you too much- this is what I think the bible says.

The first step in the hermeneutical process is to look at the passage in its immediate context. Paul seats this discussion in a larger discussion regarding the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-5:11). Apparently, the young Thessalonian church was unclear regarding what happened to Christians after they die. From the book of Acts, it maybe that Paul was unable to teach this because he was forced to leave (Acts 17:5-10). The Thessalonians did not have the understanding to cope with the recent deaths of some community members, and so they responded with bewildered hopelessness. However, Paul comforts the church, writing these words But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”  Paul exhorts them to not grieve as those with no hope grieve, those who have died in Christ will rise again when he returns.

These are the events of Christ’s second (and final/only) coming. This is understood by Paul reference to the Archangel and sounds of trumpets (v. 16). In the Old Testament, trumpets often signal the presence of the Lord. Furthermore, the “trumpet” was associated with battle, the day of the Lord, and the resurrection. This is pointing to the very end. Not all people will see the death of their physical bodies. Some will be alive when the Lord returns (Matt.16:28). Paul wants the Thessalonians to know that those who have passed will suffer no disadvantage from those who will be alive to see the Lord’s return.  Dead Christians rise from their graves to the realm of the living, and then the living and the dead together are caught up from the earth. It is not about being “raised” out of this earth but being raised in our physically transformed bodies to this earth. At no point has Paul ever hinted to an idea of a “rapture” or exclusively taking away his church.

Finally, Paul is speaking to a specific people who have a specific culture that we need to recognize. Apantēsis  (ἀπάντησις) “to meet” in the air is often  used of an important dignitary’s reception by the inhabitants of a city. The city inhabitants come out to greet and welcome their honored guest with fanfare and celebration, then accompany himinto the city (ESV Study Bible). When a king or a lord would return back to his country after victory in war, he would be met at the city gates by his people or ambassadors, trumpets would be sounded, and the king would be welcomed back by his own people to rule and reign as the victor over threatening powers. Paul uses this same language to symbolize Christ’s return. He returns because he has finally and fully defeated evil, suffering, and death itself and he is fully establishing his Kingdom here on earth. This is very different for the rapture idea.

2. Matthew 24:40-42- “Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” With no context, these verses seem like great proof texts for the rapture. But when read in context, one can see that it is obviously talking about something completely different. These verses are seated right in the middle of Jesus’ discussion about the end of days and the second coming of the Son of Man. The idea of one being taken, and one left is a reference to the flood, which Jesus discusses immediately before these verses. Verse 39 says, “and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” He parallels the one “taken” to those that were swept away by flood waters. Those who were swept away by the flood waters were the one who were being judged- likewise with the one taken. In other words, it is a bad thing to be taken for they will see the judgment of the Lord.

There are other verses that could be discussed (1 Cor. 15:51-52, Matt. 24:30-36). Check them out for yourself. Remember to read in context. Grab a study bible as well (I would usually recommend John MacArthur’s Study Bible, but he is dispensational so with regards to these passages he will lean heavy towards rapture theory).

These second coming passages are exactly that- second coming. Rapture theology in my opinion suggest a third or a partial or intermediate coming of Christ, and I just do not see that any where in scripture. Once He returns, it will be permanently, to establish his Kingdom right here on the earth. What do you think? Write me a comment below and subscribe to my email list.