“No, but wait…MY pastor doesn’t tell us how to vote!”

“My pastor doesn’t tell us how to vote! What he does is give out a score card that describes what the issues are and then shows what each candidate stands for. But then he tells us to make up our own minds!”

Anyway, that’s the word on the street.

How neutral is this method? The mid-term election is coming up on November 4; let’s look at two preachers in Anytown, USA.

Pastor Smith is guiding his congregation with a list of political issues that he has compiled. He puts on the agenda high taxes, the Second Amendment, American military superiority, gay marriage, the minimum wage, capital punishment, Common Core curriculum.

So, says Pastor Smith: “Who stands for God’s truth, Candidate Anderson or Candidate Benchley? I’m not telling you how to vote, I’m just giving you the facts!”

Across town, Pastor Jones designs questions about the environment, the Innocence Project, high military spending, labor rights, the Fourth Amendment, concluding: “I wouldn’t tell you how to vote, but who is closer to the Bible: Candidate Anderson or Candidate Benchley?”

I have an agenda, you have, he she or it has, we have, they have

I have an agenda, you have, he, she, or it has, we have, they have an agenda

Both can claim “I’m not using the pulpit to tell anyone how to vote!” Both might be faithful to the letter of political neutrality, but both would be violating its spirit. And two congregations will go away believing that they know who is God’s candidate for the office – except that they will be backing different candidates.

Even when your pastor doesn’t give you a political ANSWER SHEET, he or she inevitably sets up the QUESTIONNAIRE or SCORECARD so that they lead to a specific end. The same thing happens when a news outlet brings on an expert to tell you The Truth – even experts have their agenda. For example, in the last week I have seen two Gulf War veteran leaders talk about what we should do in Iraq, and they had completely different opinions, both of them well thought out. In fact, Pastors Jones and Smith might both put, oh, let’s say school lunch programs, voter registration laws, Iraq, the minimum wage on their charts, and yet come up with two different sets of “Bible answers”. Look up “Bible-based” voter guides for the 2012 presidential election, and you’ll be surprised at how contradictory the answers are! And they don’t even consistently take you to the Bible, but rely on cultural values or good ol’ common sense.

In fact, nobody ever gives you simply the facts; everyone is making prior decisions about which questions should be important for the Christian. That is how the human mind works, but it can lead to the sort of blinkered thinking one sees in books like How Would Jesus Vote?: A Christian Perspective on the Issues; the author checked off a long list of issues where he was certain Jesus would vote this way or that. He did so too easily, in my opinion.

My pastors for the past couple of decades have generally, I think, been sharp and even-handed when it comes to the Bible and politics. Nevertheless, I do not rely on them or anyone to tell me what the fundamental issues are, nor to give me the correct viewpoint on, for example, Common Core, climate change, immigration, economic policy, capital punishment, SNAP (“food stamps”), military spending, federal investment into scientific research, school lunches programs, to name a few. In part this is because I study the issues and draw my own conclusions. And in part, I’ve seen too many Christian leaders pull out a predetermined set of Bible verses to support one side or another, and that can lead to reckless exegesis. I’m not even going to get into the wild claims or shady statistics or internet rumors, which data do nothing to make me have greater confidence in Christian political gurus.

Yes, God’s Word is there to show us the path of righteousness, but it’s tough going to escape our prior ideological commitments and let the Bible redraw the map of our assumptions. One way to try to dampen down the partisanship is to make a grand effort to raise all the questions that the Word of God tells us are important, and not just the issues that appeal to us or our political party. There is no way that I myself am reliably non-partisan or specially illuminated on all political issues; that’s what makes me suspect that other Christian leaders aren’t either. I’m dubious about anyone who has a black-and-white Bible answer for every political issue.

Yes, the Bible has the answers, but we need to be “exegetically humble” in the way we put our questions to it. [1] Otherwise we are mishandling Scripture.

NOTES:

[1] People of my generation will remember the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it’s heavily-ironic “Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”. The answer is 42. The trouble is, no-one knew what the question was, so they took millions of years to figure it out. In the Bible, answers are available, but the Bible also comes as the gift of God to point out to us what the Big Questions are.

“No, but…MY pastor doesn’t tell us how to vote!” by Gary S. Shogren, Ph. D., Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Two of my essays included in a new collection!

They have just published a pair if my essays in Strangers to Fire: When Tradition Trumps Scripture. It’s now available on Amazon. You might recognize the title as a response to John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship.

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The contributors of these 35 essays are not the sort of televangelists I usually object to, but top Pentecostal scholars who are taking a stand against abuses such as faux apostles, the Prosperity Gospel, and Onenness Pentecostalism. They are exactly the guys to be alarmed by “counterfeit worship”. They are also unhappy that MacArthur lumps them together with these false teachers; in part that is why they produced scholarly papers as a refutation to Strange Fire‘s unfortunate accusations. New Testament scholar Craig Keener leads off the collection with a clear and irenic critique of MacArthur’s use of Scripture in Strange Fire.

John MacArthur has been criticized, and rightly so, for the harsh tone he took in Strange Fire. While a whole book could be written on that theme, this volume takes him to task for his handling of Scripture, his appeal to personal experience to establish doctrine – which practice he condemns when Pentecostals practice it – his false logic and, in the case of my essays, his limited knowledge of early church history. No-one is criticizing MacArthur’s high esteem of careful exegesis, but rather for failing to live up to his own standard: hence the sub-title, “When Tradition Trumps Scripture”.

When one is offering a judgment about whether a billion people are genuine believers, then sloppy investigation is no mere academic misdemeanor, like a inaccurate footnote or a handful of misspellings.

In one of life’s strange twists, these brethren asked me, a non-Pentecostal, to contribute a couple pieces on the work of the Spirit both in the early church and now. They state that “Although not a Pentecostal, he is concerned that Bible scholars show care in exegeting and interpreting the Scriptures.” These are articles I wrote, one many years ago as a response to B. B. Warfield and the other last year to Cleon Rogers, in which I try to demonstrate that manifestations of tongues and prophecy co-existed side by side with a closed set of apostolic literature in the 2nd century AD before disappearing in the early 3rd century.

John MacArthur concluded Strange Fire with “An Open Letter to My Continuationist Friends,” an essay that does not grow less grievous upon repeated readings. He implies that non-Pentecostals should not publish exegesis that might in any way be co-opted to bolster the Pentecostal position, no matter how well based in Scripture. He refers specifically to two of the most respectable exegetes of Scripture and preachers of sound doctrine today, D. A. Carson and John Piper, and concludes that “Whoever compromises with the error and subjectivism of charismatic theology allows the enemy into the camp.” (Strange Fire, p. 247). My small contributions to Strangers to Fire fall, I guess, into this supposed category of “aiding and abetting the enemy”, even though they are based on careful exegesis and historical study. I cannot agree that a black-and-white stance is the way we will gain the victory over the corrosive versions of Pentecostalism.

Both of my articles are available here:

Christian Prophecy and Canon in the Second Century: A response to B. B. Warfield

The Gift of Tongues in the Post-Apostolic Church: A rejoinder to Cleon Rogers

And a third article, which didn’t make it into the book because of copyright restrictions:

Shogren_1 Cor 13 Perfect in Patristic Exegesis

Blessings!

Fake fruits sold here, cheap as they come!

So basically, we can offer you two plans.

Plan A.

The spiritual produce wagon arrives every day, full to overflowing for those who wish to ask the Father. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and that’s not the complete list; it’s only a summary. They are miracle gifts, planted, watered, grown, harvested, replanted by the Almighty. Just nod your head Yes, the Gardener is standing by.

Or do you imagine we’re speaking about doing some housecleaning, where we clench our teeth to sort through and toss out old behaviors? No – Spirit-gifts arrive come with the power to displace antagonism, condescension, digital addictions, self-abandonment, playing half-on-half-off with Heaven, materialism, both consumerist soft- or Wall Street hardcore. You name the weed, the Spirit knows best how to pull it.

Plan B.

Of course, it’s easy enough to fake that you’re on good terms with the Spirit, if that’s what you want. Just repeat after us as we recite the formulas! Pat a back or two; work one sacrificial act into your weekly lifestyle; count all the way to eleven before you open up to irritation. Repression can be made up to look like peacefulness, hubbub can masquerade as joy. Is that generosity I see, or are you paying off a hungry man so he will let you go? Only an expert can tell the difference! Is it patience, or protocol you follow? Are you self-controlled or only too fatigued to do anything really nasty? Is it unity you promote, or have you withdrawn because you have just stopped caring enough to fight?

Now, when things start to fall apart, don’t come to this desk to complain. We’ll just tell you to relax those facial muscles and for goodness sake, when you clench your fists do it behind your back! Subtler insults, laser-guided gossip, humble brags, use minimal force to split one group into three, erase your browser history after every use. Things can be spiffed up, there are ways and there are ways.

Yum!

Yum! I guess…

But a warning: this plan B is basically a secular way of life, grafted onto a spiritual one. It’s what Paul warned about, that there are people with the mere form of piety, but who deny its power. Eventually this will backfire on you, and the conversion of fake fruit to an evil harvest is not a long or complicated process. (It turns out that the Spirit won’t long invest his time on the self-made Christian, and when he pulls out on your life, things tend to get real messy, real fast.)

Plan B, plastic fruit in a plastic bowl. Plan A, the reality. The choice is yours.

Related Posts:

The Holy Spirit is not limited by our brain chemistry

The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: Icy Relations among God´s People

“Fake fruits sold here, cheap as they come!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

1 Cor 13 – when and how will “the perfect” come?

Shogren_1 Cor 13 Perfect in Patristic Exegesis

This article is a technical study of how the Church Fathers interpreted Paul´s prediction that tongues, prophecy, and knowledge would pass away when “the perfect” comes. My conclusion is that nearly all orthodox fathers believed it referred to the age to come, whereas Marcion, Mani, the Gnostics and others believed that their particular groups now possessed a more perfect revelation.

This article was originally going to be re-published in the forthcoming anthology, Stranger to Fire, the refutation of John MacArthur´s Strange Fire. Unfortunately there were copyright issues. Two other articles of mine will be included instead.

Get my full-length commentary on 1 Corinthians HERE, along with two other free books!

 

“HOW DID THEY SUPPOSE ‘THE PERFECT’ WOULD COME? 1 CORINTHIANS 13.8-12 IN PATRISTIC EXEGESIS,” by Gary S. Shogren, Ph. D., Professor of New Testament Exegesis, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

The Holy Spirit is not limited by our brain chemistry

This morning I attended a service in Costa Rica. It’s not our church, but one I sometimes visit. The congregation is English-speaking, Afro-Caribbean. They have a strong island accent. I was one of a few white people in the congregation.

As usual, they greeted me warmly.

Our home church is Latin American and Spanish-speaking. We go to one of the lightly attended services, and we are two white faces among 100 Latinos. And they always treat us as family.

I could go on: Romanian churches, where I knew almost nothing of the language; an African American church in Philly; campesino rural churches in Costa Rica; churches in a communist land, where every billboard and TV news program proclaim that they should hate me because I’m from the USA. [1]

Different languages, cultures, colors. Yet they make me, a minority, feel at home.

This is miraculous, Spirit-inspired, Christian love.

imageBrain specialists and sociologists have now shown that people automatically gravitate toward those who look like them. Like feels comfortable with like, uncomfortable with different. So whether we realize it or not, our brains push us to clump together with people like ourselves.

But in the end, what does it matter? Because God is a mighty God; and the Spirit is not limited by our hard wiring. Therefore, like Samson on his better days,  we people of the new birth can and must stretch to breaking the dictates of our brain chemistry.

Those who authentically walk in the Holy Spirit love don’t just run to their friends – they stand on tip-toe, trying to spot people who look isolated, confused, friendless, disconnected, and make a beeline to them.

Lord, I surely hope that when I’m in a group, surrounded by friends, in the racial and cultural majority, that I make “the unlike” feel as welcomed as these brothers and sisters make me.

NOTE:

[1] By the way, I am very much aware that my positive experiences might be due to the fact that I run in circles in which white people are seen positively. Were I a black man in an all-white American church; a Chinese or Nicaraguan person in a Costa Rican church; a biker covered in tattoos; a farmer in a sophisticated upper middle-class church; then perhaps their acceptance of me would be the heartier miracle. It’s a good way to test how supernaturally loving we are, not when we are tolerant of the favored Other, but of the disfavored.

Related Posts:

The Sheep and the Goats on Sunday Morning

A Pastor’s Love for the Flock

The Forgotten Sign of the End Times: Icy Relations among God’s People

Fake Fruits Sole Here – as Cheap as they Come

“The Holy Spirit is not limited by our brain chemistry,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

The Lord’s Prayer – do we pray it or no?

There are two main approaches to the Lord’s Prayer (LP).

  • The Lord’s Prayer was meant to be prayed verbatim.
  • The Lord’s Prayer was not meant to be prayed verbatim, but rather serves as a model prayer.

Most of the church for 2000 years has opted for the first, while also affirming that it is a valid application to use it as a pattern; some evangelicals have accepted only the second. Let’s explore the options:

  1. How not to pray
  2. The intent of the Lord’s Prayer
  3. The use of the Lord’s Prayer in the Early Church

1. How not to pray, according to Matthew 6

The Lord compares his teaching with two very different alternatives. First, he tells his disciples not to pray as “hypocrites” – in this case, he describes Jewish men who wish to be seen by other people (Matt 6:5-6). The problem was not that they stood to pray in the synagogue or Temple (Luke 18:9); that was common practice. Nor that they prayed in public; that too was the norm. The problem was their motivation, to be seen praying with extravagant piety. If they wanted to give the litmus test to their own motivations, they might try praying in private and see if they are still so earnest.

"Don't pray like the pagans do!"

“Don’t pray like the pagans do!”

The second warning has to do with “pagans.” They pray with “many words” and with “babbling.” This clause is poorly interpreted by some. Jesus does not say, “Don’t pray like they do in the synagogue, because they use set prayers.” Rather he points to pagans who use magical formulas to gain the attention of their gods, as shown in the picture. In paganism, the more the better, and the practitioner would crank out prayer after prayer of nonsense sentences. (more…)

A most unusual wish: “Damn me to hell!”

Should you pray for the lost? I mean, as if it’s crushing you like a huge weight? Let’s step back 2000 years.

You and Paul are walking past the synagogue of Corinth, a building where he is unwelcome and could be beaten for trying to attend the Sabbath service. He sees dozens of men inside, chanting a psalm. His eyes grow misty: “You know,” he finally gets out, “I pray for them and for all of my fellow Israelites, constantly, that they might have redemption in the Messiah. It’s a burden on my soul, to see them saved. I can taste it, I ache for it.”

“I would give up everything I have in Jesus just to see the nation of Israel come to his feet. No exaggeration; all of it, 100%.”

“You don’t believe me?” he says. “Well, let me spell it out for you:”hell

  • God works out all things for my good; I would forego that.
  • The Holy Spirit prays for me, constantly; I would unplug that.
  • I have a purpose in God’s eternal plan; I would allow my name to be erased from it.
  • “Save them, not me!” I would cry out.
  • I was predestined to be like Christ for eternity; I would give that up.
  • I felt God’s call on me to believe on the Damascus Road; I would rewrite that history.
  • I was given the verdict that I am absolutely right with God my Judge; I would petition to have that decision reversed.
  • I would allow charges to be brought against me.
  • I am on my way to the glory of the final resurrection; I would willingly get in the other line, for those  who will be resurrected to damnation
  • I would make myself forget that Christ died for sinners. I would bare my chest to trouble and hardship without God’s kind protection.
  • I would settle for being less than a conqueror, in fact, a loser.
  • I would let death be the victor over me.
  • I would allow demons to do their worst to me.
  • I would taunt anything, in all creation, I would dare them to demolish me and separate me from God.

(more…)

The Proverbs 31 Woman: Have we made her something she was never meant to be?

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” (Prov. 31:10 KJV) J1746

Is it ever safe – or sane? – for a man to meddle in a passage beloved by Christian women? Am I grabbing hold of a live wire? For I hear a lot of sisters referring to Proverbs 31:10-31 as the pattern they want to follow. Google “Proverbs 31 woman” and there will be a landslide of hits, book ads, even “Proverbs 31 Ministries.” People seem completely intimidated by “Miss/Mrs./Ms. Perfect” in Proverbs 31, for example: “She was someone who had it all together. She actually enjoyed cooking and cleaning. She raised flawless children who never had outbursts. She never had issues with her friends. She stayed balanced with her finances. And she never had hormonal responses with her husband.” [1] Others reported that it took them a long time to get up the nerve even to open and read Proverbs 31! (more…)

Did a NASA supercomputer prove the Bible?

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NASA proved the Lost Day of Joshua, using a supercomputer! This story surfaces once in a while, and the internet only serves to give it more “credibility” by making it come at the reader from a hundred directions:

So, what happened is, NASA scientists fed all the data of history into a big computer program, and it turned out that there was a day missing. It turns out that NASA proved that the earth stood still for Joshua, and also that a sundial went backwards during the reign of Hezekiah, as recounted in Isaiah 38.

Although the story was long ago discredited, it has arisen again on Facebook. This blogger states it as a fact (click HERE). He implies that NASA covered it up, but provides no evidence. My friend Robert Newman – who has a PhD in astrophysics from Cornell – has a full, detailed study on this rumor and many other articles on the Bible and science (click HERE). He shows that the tale has been circulating since 1890. To repeat, this is not some random idea that I heard from a friend of a friend, you can contact Dr. Newman and ask him for yourself.

DO YOU WANT TO READ ABOUT OTHER CIRCULATING MYTHS? click HERE.

FOR SOME EXCELLENT, WELL-FOUNDED STUDIES
OF THE BIBLE AND SCIENCE, go to http://www.ibri.org

I love God’s Word (and believe in the book of Joshua!), and therefore react when I read long-discredited stories. In fact Stephen Jay Gould, an atheist opponent of our faith, uses the NASA story as an example of how Christians will believe anything we’re told. Let’s look sharp when we hear rumors, and look them up before passing them along! The easiest way to do so is to google something like “Joshua missing day hoax” – it’s it’s a hoax, you will soon find out.

“Did a NASA supercomputer prove the Bible?” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica

Grading exams: a work of the light, or a work of darkness?

A word to my fellow-teachers:

It’s time to correct essays and exams. It tops the “Favorite Things to Do” list for very few people. I tell my students, “Don’t slide your paper in the bottom of the pile, because I’ll probably have an attitude by the time I work my way down to it.” I’m just glad I can pull it off in 3-4 hours this term.

Nevertheless.

Nevertheless, if we are teachers, then it is certain that GRADING is part of God’s call to us today. It is sacred work. It is priestly service. It is good.

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