Facebook Live Q & A

This evening at 8:00 PM (AEST), I’ll be taking questions live on Facebook. If you’ve got questions about theology, the Bible, Reformed church life, put ’em in the comments. You can find my public FB page here.


Does the Bible Advocate Genocide?

I’m really impressed with this new book by Michael J. Kruger. Through a series of letters to his daughter Emma, Kruger explores 15 big issues that can sometimes trip up Christian young people. Chapter 14 deals with this question: “Some Parts of the Bible Seem Morally Troubling — How Can a Book Be from God If It Advocates Oppression or Genocide?” Atheists and other skeptics love to hurl that one in the face of Christians. God tells the Israelites to slaughter all these Canaanite peoples — how can that be moral? Let me just share part of Kruger’s answer:

If we are going to rightly understand the destruction of the Canaanites, several principles must be remembered. First, every human being on the planet deserves God’s judgment, not just the Canaanites. Right now, all humans everywhere — from the kind old lady who lives next door to the hardened criminal on death row — are deeply sinful…

…So what does this mean? This means that, at any moment, God could take the life of any human as judgment for his or her sins. And he would be totally justified in doing so. God owes salvation to no one…

God uses a variety of instruments to accomplish his judgment. Sure, God could just miraculously take all the lives of the Canaanites in a single instance. But he has a history of using various means to bring judgment. Throughout Scripture, such means have included natural disasters, disease and pestilence, drought, economic collapse, and, yes, even human armies. At numerous times throughout biblical history, God “raises up” a human army to accomplish his purposes. And in the Canaanite conquest, God used the nation of Israel as his instrument of judgment.

It is here that we come to a key difference between the Canaanite conquest and modern-day genocide. Yes, both involve great loss of life. And both involve human armies. But the former is done as an instrument of God’s righteous judgment, whereas the latter is humans murdering others for their own purposes. On the surface, there may be similarities. But they are decidedly not the same act.

An example might help. Imagine a scenario in which one human injects another human with a deadly toxin, causing that person to die. Is that murder? Well, it depends. If this were done by a criminal who wanted to knock off a rival, then the answer would be yes. But if this were done by an official at a federal prison who was authorized by the state to administer lethal injection, then the answer would be no. On the surface, the two acts might look the same. But everything comes down to whether the taking of life is properly authorized. The issue is not whether a life is taken but how and why it is taken.

Surviving Religion 101, pp.211-213

I hope to write a proper review next week. But for now, I can highly recommend it!


Prioritizing the Psalms — How?

Over the last while, a couple of classes (plural of ‘classis’) in the Canadian Reformed Churches have adopted overtures seeking to make a change to the CanRC Church Order.  They want to add a new line to article 55: “The 150 Psalms shall have the principal place in the singing of the churches.”  That wording is exactly the same as what the United Reformed Churches have in article 39 of their Church Order.

In principle I agree completely with this proposed change.  In Aiming to Please, I have an entire chapter dedicated to the topic of Psalm-singing.  In the final chapter, I mention “Prioritized Psalm-Singing” as one of the distinctives of Reformed worship. 

However, there’s one question I didn’t answer in that regard.  It’s a question I’ve been pondering lately in relation to the proposed changes to the CanRC Church Order:  what does it look like to have the Psalms in “the principal place in the singing of the churches”? 

One could take a simplistic approach to this question.  If, in a given worship service, there are more hymns than psalms in the order of worship, then the Psalms are not being prioritized.  Take this example of a recent order of worship:

  • Hymn 79
  • Psalm 75:1-3 (after the law)
  • Psalm 47
  • Hymn 69
  • Hymn 81

So, there are three hymns, but only two psalms.  According to this reasoning, the Psalms are not being prioritized.  It’s simple math:  three is greater than two.  But what about this order of worship?

  • Psalm 100:1,2
  • Psalm 51:1 (after the law)
  • Psalm 85:3
  • Hymn 67
  • Psalm 146:1,2

That would seem to be better.  After all, now we have four psalms and one hymn.  Four is much greater than one.  But is it really that simple?

Two factors are being neglected with that kind of an approach.  One is that it shouldn’t just be about the number of individual psalms that appear in the order of worship.  We also have to account for how much of the psalm is being sung.  In the second order of worship above, we don’t sing any psalm in its entirety.  Instead, the pastor has just selected a few stanzas, even when with Psalm 100 it’s no burden to sing the entire piece.  This is a common practice in our churches.  So you could have a scenario where you have four psalms and one hymn in the order of worship, but you actually end up doing more hymn-singing than psalm-singing because only small portions of the psalms are being used.         

The other factor being neglected is the relation of the order of worship to the sermon.  A well-crafted order of worship is going to reflect the theme of the passage being exposited.  In some instances, it then makes more liturgical sense to have certain hymns than the psalms.  To use the first order of worship mentioned above, the text of the sermon was John 12:1-8 and the theme was: The Lamb is worthy to receive all our honour.  Where do you find a psalm which explicitly speaks in those terms?  “Lamb/lambs” is mentioned twice in the Psalms, both times in Psalm 114, and both times used poetically for hills skipping.  But there’s no explicit reference in the Psalter to the Messiah as the Lamb of God.  However, in our Book of Praise, we do have Hymn 69, which is based on Revelation 7:13-15 and 5:9-10.  That hymn explicitly says, “Worthy the Lamb, for sinners slain…”  There are some worship services where, in relation to the sermon and the passage it’s based upon, a greater number of hymns can better serve the glory of God.

As another example of that, think about “Days of Commemoration.”  When we celebrate Christ’s incarnation, it is liturgically odd to sing a preponderance of Psalms, particularly since there aren’t any explicitly related to this event.  Christ’s incarnation is one of the greatest events in history – and yet we’re just barely permitted to mention it in song?  On this occasion, it’s more suitable to sing a selection of the appropriate hymns – and perhaps one or two psalms.  To do otherwise gives the impression of slavish and simplistic adherence to a rule for the sake of a rule.

So what does it look like to have prioritized Psalm-singing?  We have to think big-picture.  We ought to think beyond the number of psalms and hymns in a given order of worship.  A better metric would be to look not only at the number of psalms sung over a longer period (like a year), but also how much of these psalms are being sung.  Another important metric might be the number of different psalms being sung – in its worship is the congregation singing the full range of God’s revelation in the Psalter?  Furthermore, when comparing psalms and hymns, we also have to remember that not all hymns are the same.  Some hymns are based on the Psalms – in the CanRC/FRCA Books of Praise, for example, Hymn 54 is based on Psalm 90 and Hymn 46 is based on Psalm 72:8-19.  More than a few hymns are directly based on other specific passages of Scripture – as just one example, Hymn 36 is based on 1 Peter 1:3-5.  Surely more weight has to be given to these hymns based on the Psalms and other passages of Scripture.

I love and treasure the Psalms.  I’m thankful to be in a Reformed church that fosters that positive attitude towards these songs.  Nevertheless, it’s important to be mindful of the tendency for churches to drift away from God’s covenant song-book.  That’s why I’m thankful for these proposals in the CanRC and why I’d support a similar move here in the Free Reformed Churches of Australia.


I Recommend

This past week, I shared the following links on social media and I think they’re worth sharing here too:

Federal Vision: What is It?

The faculty of Mid-America Reformed Seminary do a regular podcast and in this edition they tackle a controversy that has some miles on it by now: Federal Vision. If you’d like to get a better handle on the issues at stake, this is a good introduction. Some other resources on Federal Vision:

Joint Federal Vision Statement — from the horse’s mouth, signed by men such as Doug Wilson and Peter Leithart.

For Those Just Tuning In: What Is The Federal Vision? — Scott Clark’s summary of FV and its problems from a confessionally Reformed perspective.

Federal Vision: A Canadian Reformed Pastor’s Perspective — a booklet addressing the claim that FV has a legit Canadian Reformed/Liberated pedigree.

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Deep Time – the god of our Age

Deep time is simply the notion of billions of years. It’s foundational to Darwinian macro-evolution. You can’t have Darwinism without deep time. Jason Lisle explains how this concept is fundamentally religious.

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Online Skeptics have a serious copy-and-paste problem

Atheist trolls seem to love the Skeptic Annotated Bible — perhaps a little too much. The thing that always gets me is: do the trolls really think I’ve never heard their objection before and do they really think we don’t have an answer for that?

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This is a really great explanation of the greatest news the world has ever heard. Why not share it on social media?


Love Yourself?

We’re all familiar with the famous biblical command, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”  It’s well-known because Jesus said it.  In Matthew 22, a lawyer wanted to test Jesus, so he asked him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”   He said the first and greatest commandment is to love God with everything in your being.  Then Christ added that a second is like it:  “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”  He wasn’t inventing this commandment, but simply quoting it from Leviticus 19:18 and putting it in its proper place.  Following his example, we find Paul and James quoting Leviticus 19:18 elsewhere in the New Testament.  New Testament Christians have long recognized that loving your neighbour as yourself is a permanent demand of God’s moral law. 

But what does it mean to love your neighbour as yourself?  In this command, the focus is on your neighbour.  However, today many flip it around and turn the focus on you.  Some even go so far as to say this is a command for us to love ourselves.  However, that’s not the case.  Rather, the commandment here assumes you do love yourself.  It assumes that as being normal or typical.  But then we need to ask:  what does “loving yourself” mean here?  

Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean.  It doesn’t mean having warm, fuzzy feelings of affection for yourself.  It doesn’t mean you’re feeling like you need to send a Valentine to yourself each year on the 14th of February.  If all that were the case, we’d have to say Paul was wrong in Romans 7:24 when he said, “Wretched man that I am!”  Scripture encourages us to have an accurate view of ourselves.  We’re to be humble and recognize that we are poor, miserable sinners.

When the Holy Spirit says, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” he is assuming we already love ourselves in a sense that’s different from affectionate feelings for ourselves.  What he means is that we normally do what we can to avoid being hurt.  If you step on a nail, you’re going to pull that nail out of your foot.  We normally do what we can to avoid being uncomfortable.  If you’re cold at night, you’re going to pull a blanket over you.  If you’re dehydrated and your lips are parched, you’re going to look for water to drink.  The love for self assumed here as being normal is really what we call self-preservation.  Normally, people take care of themselves.  You want to avoid pain and discomfort.  That’s normal – we can grant that there are abnormal situations where people pursue pain or discomfort, self-harm, even suicide.  But self-preservation is the normal, typical human behaviour. 

So just as we take care of ourselves, we’re to take care for those around us as well.  Just as we try to keep ourselves from pain and hurt, so we ought to do the same for others.  We ought to be looking not only to our own needs, but also to the needs of those whom God has placed in our lives.  That’s the basic meaning of the commandment to love others as you love yourself.  The so-called Golden Rule captures the essence of it.  Jesus said in Luke 6:31, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”  That’s what it means to love your neighbour as yourself.  Treat others as you want to be treated and as you treat yourself.  That’s God will for our lives. It’s not something we do to earn our standing with God.  Instead, it’s a thankful response to the standing we already have with God by grace and only through what Christ has done.  It’s also not something we can do in our own power.  Loving others in God’s way can only be done with God’s Spirit.  So, if you’re like me and see that there’s a lot of ways you could improve in loving others as you love yourself, that’s something for which to pray.   I can assure you that’s a prayer that God loves to hear and one which he’ll answer.