Written by Dan LaValla Wednesday, 17 April 2013 00:00

As children, we quickly learn that life isn’t always fair and that part of becoming an adult is adjusting to the challenges and trials that come our way. However, many of us still seem to expect that as a Christian, Christ is going to help our life become easier and help us to succeed and prosper in our efforts. After all, didn't Jesus say that His yoke is easy and His burden light (Matt 11:30)?

It is much easier to cope with life when it is going smoothly and the challenges are within our capacity to handle them through our own resources and capabilities; or when our personal desires or circumstances are not challenging our faith or conflicting with our spiritual calling.  However, what happens when our challenges go beyond our resources or present capabilities and the injustices of this life either interfere with our standards of living or create pain that strikes at the core of our being? Or, what happens when our personal desires or circumstances are in conflict with our faith or spiritual calling? If we respond to such difficult challenges and situations with anger, frustration, or resentment, these are coming from our selfish, fleshly desires (Gal. 5:19-20). But if we respond with forbearance, peace, and self-control, then these are signs we are in unity with God’s Spirit. Out of the trials of life come the opportunities for strengthening our faith and our unity with God’s Spirit; even if we don’t get it right the first try.

As chair of our church’s missions committee, I have become more attentive to the personal stories and ministries of the missionaries we support. A couple of years ago a medical missionary we support came to our church while on furlough. After becoming a medical doctor, he and his wife accepted God’s call to practice in third world countries. What is even more incredible about their story is that they were not only called to raise their children in third world countries, but in third world countries that were in the midst of civil war. After more than twenty years of service in such circumstances, with their children grown and on their own, he and his wife wanted desperately to stay in the U.S. and have a chance to save for their retirement. They felt worn-out from the impacts of war, living in prolonged physical endangerment without the conveniences of modern life. They so desired to stay in the U.S. where it is safe and life is much easier with modern conveniences and have a chance to save up for retirement which is not that far off. Instead, they were feeling called to Sudan. The thought of going to a third country in the midst of civil war where they would be living in tents or temporary housing made out of shipping containers was dreadful.

They explained what a struggle it was for several months throughout their furlough. Initially, they were frustrated because they felt they had demonstrated their commitment through more than twenty years of faithful service and sacrifice and thought they should be able to return to the U.S. at their age. However, it wasn’t until they made the decision to go to Sudan that they felt an internal peace. Further, shortly after their deployment to Sudan, the Sudanese Civil War came to an end and the area they were called to serve in became the new country of South Sudan. They were also able to move into a permanent house and their ministry has developed into reestablishing primary health care services in South Sudan where millions of refugees from the north are returning now that the civil war is over. In hindsight, they admit that God was aware of their limitations, but also knew they would not have to live in civil war conditions for very long. They are so grateful that they did not choose physical safety and comfort over peace and unity with God’s Spirit. If they had not humbled themselves to God’s mission, they would have missed the privilege of impacting a brand new country and the millions of lives that their ministry is influencing through Christ.

Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association; he serves as vice chair of the Ministry Board and chair of the Missions Committee of First Baptist Church in Lansdale. He is very active in his community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.



Written by Dave Lamb Monday, 15 April 2013 00:00

Nobody likes paying taxes.  And April 15 is the one day of the year that reminds us most painfully that the US government has once again commandeered part of our well-earned paycheck. 

Taxes have dominated the political discussion the past few months with one sort of fiscal cliff narrowly averted, and another one looming on the horizon as our elected officials are unable to negotiate a permanent solution. 

When Christians weigh in on the subject of taxes, we often ignore the Bible.  So, before we proceed much further, let’s look at what Jesus says about taxes in Mark 12.

And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?"But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it."And they brought one. And he said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to him, "Caesar's."Jesus said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they marveled at him (Mark 12:13-17). 

Apparently the topic of taxation was a hot one in Jesus’ day, so much so that that the Herodians and Pharisees used a question about paying taxes to Caesar to set a trap for Jesus. 

Should we pay taxes to Caesar?”

If Jesus said, “Don’t pay taxes” that would anger the Romans, the rulers of the land, and perhaps get him thrown in jail as a rebel.  If he said, “Pay taxes” then that would anger the patriots and nationalists who wanted to throw off the shackles of Rome, many of whom may have been supporting Jesus.  The political leaders of Israel (the Herodians) and the spiritual leaders of Israel (the Pharisees) have joined forces because they both want him dead (Death and Taxes—always linked together). 

Not surprisingly, Jesus cleverly avoids falling into their trap.  He responds to their two questions with two questions and two commands

Jesus’ first question, “Why put me to the test?” shows that he understands what they are doing.  They don’t really want an answer from Jesus.  And now they know that Jesus knows why they asked about taxes.  So they don’t answer Jesus’ first question. 

Jesus then gives his first command, “Bring me a coin.”  Jesus frequently uses visual aids in his teaching: a coin, a fig tree, a widow (Mark 11:13-21; 12:43).  The coin contains Jesus answer. 

Jesus second question, “Whose likeness is on the coin?” requires an answer.  But it doesn’t require much thinking; a child could answer by looking at the coin.  “Caesar’s” they respond. 

Their response perfectly sets up Jesus’ second command, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  (In The History Channel’s recent production of “The Bible” as Jesus delivers the first half of this command he tosses the coin to a Roman soldier.  A nice touch.)

Jesus doesn’t care about taxes.  It’s not a priority for him.  He only addresses the subject when asked.  He was concerned about bigger things.  He was more concerned that God gets what’s coming to him. 

So, how do we render to God what is God’s?  When Jesus asked about the coin, it was the likeness on the coin that determined its ownership.  Caesar’s coins bear Caesar’s likeness. 

What bears God’s likeness?  That would be you and me, according to Genesis 1:27.  Humans bear God’s likeness as we are created in his image.  So, in the same way we give government-printed money to the government, we give ourselves to God (but not only on April 15). 

How do we give ourselves to God?  The context of this story in Mark’s gospel provides some suggestions: we serve others, we praise God, we pray to God and we love God and our neighbor (Mark 10:44; 11:9, 17; 12:30-31).  Perhaps the most powerful illustration of what Jesus is talking about is modeled by the poor widow who appears at the end of this chapter (Mark 12:41-44).  She renders to the offering only two small coins (bearing the image of Caesar), which wasn’t much materially.  But Jesus praises her to his disciples because it was all she had to live on, and she gave it all

She rendered fully to God what was God’s.  And like the widow, Jesus asks his followers to give themselves wholeheartedly to God.  

As we pay our taxes, let’s remember that it’s more important to render ourselves to the one whom we bear the image of, our God and our Creator. 

What other ways can we render to God what is God’s? 

If you are looking for a creative way to pay your taxes, follow Jesus’ advice to Peter and try fishing(see Matt. 17:24-27). 

David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.

Image: http://www.largecents.net/collection/coinpics/den_tiberius.jpg


Written by Derek Cooper Friday, 12 April 2013 00:00

In my recently published book, Christianity and World Religions: An Introduction to the World’s Major Faiths, I discuss the six major non-Christian “stories” or religions of the world. As I teach these religions in classrooms and churches and discuss them with friends and neighbors, I have consistently uncovered several myths many Christians believe about each of these religions. 

In the first blog, I wrote about the false notion that Christianity is the only religion with a Savior. We saw how Hinduism and Buddhism, among others, demonstrate this to be a myth. 

In this blog, I will discuss another myth many people believe about world religions: Hindus believe in many gods. According to many calculations I have seen, there are 330 million Hindu gods. This clearly gives the impression that Hinduism affirms many deities! Yet the truth is that Hindus are more monistic (believing that all existence comes from one God) than they are polytheistic (believing that there are many gods).

A few years ago, I distinctly remember having a conversation with a group of Hindu believers at a Hindu temple when I asked how many gods there are. Without blinking, they responded in unity: “We believe in one God!”

“Then how,” I rejoined, “are there so many different gods in Hinduism?”

Again in unity, they replied: “There is one supreme God that cannot be fully known or understood. The gods we talk about on earth and give devotion to are simply manifestations of that one supreme God.”

This gets to the core of a common misconception about Hinduism. Although there are countless “gods”—whether Shiva or Vishnu or Ganesha or Parvati or Hanuman—they are commonly understood by Hindus to be representations of (the) God, whom or which we cannot fathom. This is why one Hindu can worship Shiva, while another worships Kali or Ganesha. Although each person seems to be worshiping different gods, the person is really only worshiping the one God who is manifest through Shiva or Kali or whomever.

How do you decide which “god” to worship? It depends. Some people worship specific gods due to the town or village in which they live or due to their family background or place within society.

More pragmatically, some worship a particular god because of that gods’ association with something. I once had a conversation with a Hindu priest about this very topic. He said that perhaps the most popular deity in his temple was the goddess Lakshmi. I asked him why, and he was quick to reply: “Because most of the people in our temple would like more money, so it’s natural to worship her, who has cascades of gold coins rushing down from her hands!” In the temple he presided over, he said, it is not that some people prefer Shiva or some people prefer Vishnu—two of the most common gods in the Hindu pantheon. Instead, people worship this or that manifestation of god based on present circumstance. Are you about to go on a business trip? Then ask Ganesha for guidance, the divine incarnation of venture and journey. Are you in need of money? Then ask Lakshmi!

Although Hinduism thinks very differently than Christianity in many ways, the two religions align in their common conviction that only one God exists who has been manifested in different ways. While for Christians this means that God has revealed himself most fully through Jesus Christ, for Hindus God reveals himself (or itself) in countless ways through divine incarnations and other living things.

So, the next time you see a picture or statue of a Hindu god, it’s best to begin thinking of this or that as one representation of (the) God, commonly called Brahman, rather than a distinct entity that is separate from other Hindu gods. For, according to Hindu thought, the actual picture or statue is the equivalent of a drop of water coming from the one eternal ocean (God).

In the final blog (which will be published here on May 22, 2013), I will discuss one common myth about Islam. You will not want to miss it!

Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of World Christian History at Biblical, where he also serves as the associate director of the Doctor of Ministry program. Derek’s most recent book, which was written for classroom use, church groups, and for lay readers, is titled Christianity and World Religions: An Introduction to the World’s Major Faiths. His faculty page can be found here.


Written by Sam Logan Tuesday, 09 April 2013 00:00

I suspect we immediately feel one of two things about this question:

1.  Of course not!  Just read John 8: 7.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (NIV)

2. That’s a trick question!  Just read Matthew 21: 12 – 13.

(12) Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. (13) “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[a] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’” (NIV)

We know that both of these passages are in the Bible and we believe (at least I believe) that both passages are authoritative and inerrant.  Just read II Timothy 3: 16.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (NIV)

But how do we apply these (and similar) passages?

How especially do we apply them when the question before us is one like homosexuality, perhaps THE hottest topic in both Christian and secular communities in the United States and some other parts of the world?

Biblical Seminary seeks to be missional.  We understand that to mean, among other things, that we desire “to follow Jesus into the world,” to bring His grace to ALL of those who need it.  That “ALL” includes liars, gossips, gluttons, racists, prideful individuals, and those who engage in sexual intercourse outside of a monogamous heterosexual marriage. We desire to bring that grace to sinners because it is only that grace which can transform sinners from enemies of God to worshippers of God.

But how do we do that while remaining faithful to the lessons of II Timothy 3, Matthew 21, and John 8?

Recently, I have read two superb pieces which seem to me to point the way ahead.

The first is a brief article by Biblical Professor Dr. Phil Monroe.  That article is entitled “Does Acts 15 Give Us Direction for Solving Doctrinal Differences?” and it is found here.

Phil examines the way in which the Jerusalem Council handled the question of whether Gentiles should be required to be circumcised and, in the midst of his examination, he says this: “The council did not base their decision on Scripture. Rather, in their letter to the Antioch church, the council says:  ‘it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us’ not to set impossible standards or hurdles for either side in the dispute.“ What does that (inerrant) passage mean for being “missional” in the face of what Jesus SAID in John 8 and what He DID in Matthew 21? You will need to read Phil’s article to see.

But back to the specific question of stoning and moneychanger bashing.

The second article I recently read deals much more directly with how we ACT toward those whom we believe are sinning.  Most precisely, it deals with how we ACT toward practicing (perhaps married) homosexuals.

And this article is also superb.

As I read it, I wept, especially at the very conclusion of the article where “stoning” is specifically mentioned.  I found myself praying, “Lord, teach me to love as wisely and as well (and as missionally) as did Dr. Prior, Dr. Reeves, and Dr. Borland.”

Who are Dr. Prior, Dr. Reeves, and Dr. Borland and what exactly did they do?

Well, you will have to read THAT article to find out.  It is entitled, “Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University” and it may be found here.

Read both articles and then let me know how YOU think we should ACT toward sinners, particularly BUT NOT JUST homosexual sinners.

Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia).. He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan


Written by Phil Monroe Wednesday, 03 April 2013 00:00

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen to you, take one or two others along…”

Does this passage require that abuse victims forego reporting abuse to the authorities and to make a private confrontation of the perpetrator? Sadly, I have heard stories where not only were victims chastised for reporting abuse, but then made to go to the perpetrator and confess their sin of not following Matthew 18.

I suspect that most people will reject this thinking and assert that victims and those around should follow the law of the land and report abuse. Passages in I Peter and Romans support the notion that we submit to our governing authorities, even if they are harsh.

But what exegetical reasons might you use to reject the reading of Matthew 18 as ALWAYS requiring private confrontation before public report?

I encourage you to check out http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/abuse-boz-tchividjian where Boz Tchividjian discusses the Matthew 18 passage and provides some interpretive comments (scroll all the way down to the bottom of this very long post).

After reading it, give me your response. Does it pass muster? How else might you tackle this problem?

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.


Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 01 April 2013 00:00

In recent days, there has been a flurry of writings about abuse that either happens within the Christian community or where Christian leaders provided sub-standard care (e.g., pressuring abuse victims to be quiet, to stay in the abusive relationship, or to forgive or face discipline). Some of the most heart rending stories can be found at www.rachelheldevans.comin the posts and comments made during the week of March 18, 2013. In reading these kinds of stories of violation of trust, of using children for one’s own pleasure, of sacrificing victim’s on the altar of someone else’s reputation, faithful Christians feel a mixture of righteous indignation and sadness. Somewhere in the mix may well be a growing dissatisfaction with human leadership, their systems and even a nagging sense that God is not the powerful protector we expected.

What else is there to do but lament?

I write this post after returning from a choral reading of the book of Lamentations. This short book (and the many other laments in Scripture) reminds us that there is a faithful way to complain to God and anyone who will give us the time of day. We see that God’s people have fallen into sin and idolatry. Jeremiah bemoans the sins of his people. He even confesses these as if they were his own. He complains about the raping and pillaging by pagan armies. He dares in the pinnacle (middle) chapter of the book to accuse God for all of his suffering because he knows God is sovereign over all.

“You have mauled me like a bear…you have made me eat gravel…you have pierced me with many arrows.”

Yes, what comes next (3:21) after these accusations may be one of the most beautiful devotion songs to God:

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail…The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him.”

Wait. What? Jeremiah, didn’t you just get done talking about remembering your suffering, your “gall” and that you are in deep despair?

Lament Protects Lived Faith and Demands Silence

As you read Jeremiah’s lament you see that this is no, “happily ever after” story. It’s bad. It’s going to get worse. What else can we do but trust God? Since we have breath, we assume he may still rescue. But note that this particular lament ends on a question, “…unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure?” (5:22).

Real life has moments of “I once was lost but now am found.” But just we are not able to see/feel the end and all we can do is cry out for God to hear. The act of crying out may not bring a satisfying answer or any comfort, but it does continue the conversation. And that is what lived faith is all about. It is continuing to trust God and say, “Where else will we turn?”

Lament also demands silence. Job’s counselors understood that the ONLY response to his lament was 7 days of silence, 7 days of miming, “You’re right Job, this is awful!” Lament demands a silence because there are no human words that take grief away.

The practice of lament reminds us that the world is broken and will remain that way until its remaking.

Maybe we might avoid some of the re-victimization of abuse survivors if we incorporated more lament practices into congregational worship. Might we be less likely to force acts of forgiveness and premature reconciliation?

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.



Written by Todd Mangum Friday, 29 March 2013 00:00

“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.”

— Hebrews 2:10

This is astonishing really. And perhaps the Orthodox are correct to admonish us to remain silent in wonder and awe at the mystery rather than puzzle over the explanation. Still, there is so much misunderstanding and opprobrium commonly heard over this point that some explanation is demanded.  

Here is one place where focus on the atonement as satisfaction (“propitiation”) of Divine wrath is completely misplaced — and provokes misunderstanding. The level of Christ’s suffering was not “necessary” insofar as that much being required to get the angry God over His temper tantrum. If the beating and spitting and ridicule — not to mention the sufferings endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers behind closed doors so unspeakable that even the gospel writers leave it purely to the imagination; if all these sufferings — are thought to be the manifestations of the wrath of God, that’s where the objections to penal substitution as “Divine child abuse” arise.

But no, that is not what Hebrews is saying — and it’s Hebrews that goes into the most explanation of why Christ suffered (not just died). He suffered such pain and abuse and mockery and was subjected to such gratuitous sadism not because that was what was required on God’s part to satisfy Him.  No, Hebrews says that was what was “fitting” to enable Christ to be a better, more suitable advocate for us humans.   

In what way did the “author of salvation” need to be “perfected”?  It certainly was not in the realm of informational knowledge; or correction of some deficiency of performance; or improvement in degree of pleasure taken in Him by the Father. No, the only thing that the Second Person of the Trinity would have “lacked” was the actual experience of being human.

And so, Hebrews tells us, not out of requirement but out of concern for “propriety” (do you hear the overtones of concern for “appearance” and “how it would be perceived”?!!!), God’s plan included the Son not only becoming human and enduring death, but enduring every awful aspect of being a human living in and under the corruption of sin. So He could advocate credibly for us — see Hebrews 4:14-16 — Christ endured unspeakable suffering, culminating in the most humiliating kind of public death every conceived from the heart of depraved humanity. Even the word “excruciating” has at its root, crux, crucis: the cross.   

This Good Friday, as we contemplate the sufferings of Christ’s Passion Week and the bearing of shameful death on the cross, let us marvel and worship. But let us do so aright. The proper thought is not: “this is the suffering Christ bore that we deserve because God hates us sinners so much”; but rather, “this is the suffering Christ bore and that God regarded as ‘only fitting’ for a perfect priest-advocate for humanity He would provide because He loves us so much.” 

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.


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