Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Complementarians take note!

I started a new (in the sense that I hadn't read it yet) book yesterday: J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth (2014). It is written in such a way that it doesn't lend itself to excerpting very well, so there probably won't be a lot of posts on it. In fact, the first one is from almost 20 percent into the book, on page 52. So far, although there are a few nitpicky things I disagree with him on, the book is very good, a much needed correction to most people's eschatology (my own included in that I hadn't put all the pieces together in a coherent way). So, here's the first excerpt:
The Genesis creation account provides a normative basis to critique interhuman injustice or the misuse of power over others, whether in individual cases or in systemic social formations. Specifically, since both male and female are made in God’s image with a joint mandate to rule (Gen. 1:27-28), this calls into question the inequities of power between men and women that have arisen in patriarchal social systems and various forms of sexism throughout history. And since the imago Dei is prior to any ethnic, racial, or national divisions (see Gen. 10), this provides an alternative to ethnocentrism, racism, or any form of national superiority; beneath the legitimate diversity of cultures that have developed in the world, people constitute one human family.—J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 52

Monday, September 28, 2020

A different kind of mask

No, not a mask to prevent COVID-19, but the mask that too many women feel forced to wear every day. Here's one woman's discussion of it and the freedom she has felt during the lockdowns. A brief snippet, but do read the whole thing to feel to force of what she's saying:
What I’m ultimately railing against is compulsion. The compulsion to groom yourself a certain way to meet (usually very white and bourgeois) standards of “respectability.” Why do I feel “better” when I’ve blowdried my hair? What is better about allocating fifteen minutes of my precious day to standing on front of a mirror with a round brush? What I really crave is the same sort of relief I did back as a teen: I’ve met the status quo, and can breathe comfortably, at least for a bit, within it.

But hair, and makeup, has to be redone. Clothes need to be repurchased. The body has to be regimened to maintain its “appropriate” size. Hair needs cutting, blow dryers need replacing, skin care needs refreshing. The work of meeting the status quo is never finished, and depending on your race and class and body and age, the amount of work to do is not just exhausting, but impossible. (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
I remember reading a few years ago that most women wear makeup for the sake of how they appear other women. A survey done in Britain actually found that most men prefer women without makeup. I know I do. The natural vitality of a person shows so much better without being hidden by a foundation that is designed to make everything "perfect." Consider joining the women who are experiencing the freedom from vanity!

Just an
</idle musing>

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Read this post

No, not mine, but this one from Bob on Books. Here's a snippet to whet your appetite:
It’s time, and past time, for the adults in the room to step forward, and for those who should be adults to act like it. We cannot keep escalating our toxic discourse, including our toxic social media postings that are just kindling for the fire. Whether our future is authoritarian, or one of Balkanization, or civil war in our cities (which we have already tasted in some places), each signals the death of “the land that we love.” Each signals the triumph of the argument over the game.
Are you an adult? Act like it and think before you hit posst! Better yet, post something that reflects the concern for the person(s) involved that reflects the idea that they are created in the image of God, as are you. Get out of the judgment seat and into the compassion seat. Let the Holy Spirit guide you, not vengeance and hate. 'Nuff said.

Some good advice

Exploitation and domination are utterly foreign to genuine piety, and possession of things leads only to loneliness. Instead, the pious person’s “affinity with God is his persistent aspiration to go beyond himself," to be devoted to goals and tasks and ideals. For the pious person, destiny means not simply to accomplish, but to contribute. “In aiding a creature, he is helping the Creator. In succoring the poor, he is taking care of something that concerns God. In admiring the good, he is revering the Spirit of God.” xxi

<idle musing>
Some of today's "religious leaders" would do well to heed his advice! It seems that far too many of them are more concerned with amassing things and influence than they are in "aiding a creature." I suspect that is why Jesus said that the last shall be first and the first shall be last—and stressed that the leader should be the servant of all. As usual, we turn Jesus on his head and do the opposite and call it piety! Lord, have mercy!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The presence of God

Yesterday we finished up Salvation by Allegiance Alone. I hope you enjoyed it. Today we continue with Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, and edited by his daughter, Susannah Heschel.
In Man Is Not Alone he wrote: “Evaluating faith in terms of reason is like trying to understand love as a syllogism and beauty as an algebraic equation.” Instead, he argued that piety is a phenomenon that must be described on its own terms, as an attitude, a way of thinking in which the pious person feels God to be always close and present: “Awareness of God is as close to him as the throbbing of his own heart, often deep and calm, but at times overwhelming, intoxicating, setting the soul afire.” Piety gives rise to reverence, which sees the “dignity of every human being” and “the spiritual value which even inanimate things inalienably possess.”—Susannah Heschel in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, xxi

Monday, September 21, 2020

Are you a slick salesperson?

Second, hearing a good story is more compelling than analyzing a list of propositions. A salvation procedure says: “Let me walk you through a few facts, and let’s see if I can get you to agree with them, and if so, then I challenge you to take action.” When an audience is marched half-willingly through a salvation procedure, they can perhaps be excused for feeling that a slick salesman is trying to hoodwink them into buying a product. A good story immerses—and the gospel is the greatest of all stories. It allows the hearer to enter into another time, place, and space to recognize his or her own face among the hostile crowds wrongly putting Jesus to death. The hearer feels the plot tension rise to a climax in the crucifixion, and then is flooded with glad relief when it resolves in the resurrection and enthronement.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 201–2

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The ANE is more timely than ever

From chapter 6 of the forthcoming Eisenbrauns book, Law and (Dis)Order in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the 59th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale Held at Ghent, Belgium, 14–19 July 2013:

“It is a commonly accepted idea that law was introduced in human societies as a shield against revenge and retaliation, both expressions of disorder.[1] It is assumed that order depends on rigorous respect for the law issued by political authorities or local communities.[2] This is true up to a certain point, inasmuch as a legal rule usually meets the implicit requirement of justice, in other words when it does not contradict the notions of fairness, honesty, and rectitude.

“But the assumption that the rule of law is necessarily and always just is far from self-evident. Examples of unjust laws are numerous nowadays, and lead to popular revolts when the brink of acceptance is reached. Law then reveals itself unable to maintain order. What brings peace and stability is basically justice. A rule of law is just a tool, a technical instrument framing the relationship between individuals or institutions. The purpose of the rule is to follow justice, namely the ethical and moral values that are supposed to underlie it. If not, law becomes nothing but a hollow sham or even worse, a means of oppression.”

[1] This opinion is summarized in the following statement by Francis Bacon (1625): “Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.”

[2] One of the best modern examples is probably the law and order movement that developed by the middle of the 1960s in America, both as a social ideal and a political slogan. See Flamm (2005) [Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s. Columbia Studies in Contemporary American History. New York: Columbia University Press.]

<idle musing>
Who knew when she wrote those words in 2013 how timely they would be in describing our world today! We can still learn much from the ancient world!
</idle musing>

Thursday, September 17, 2020

"I" this and "I" that...

First, the full gospel keeps the focus squarely on Jesus rather than on the self, compelling the self to be swept up into the saving story of Jesus, rather than allowing the self to remain at the center. The gospel proper is not a salvation procedure focused on the individual. It is the universe—wide story of Jesus’s entire revealed life—from preexistence to anticipated return—a story that unveils God’s saving power for the whole created order. It is a salvation story into which the individual can be whisked up when he or she joins the allegiant community. Gospel culture facilitates total integration of the forgiven self into the cosmic Jesus story; salvation culture encourages the self to stanch the flowing sin—wounds by applying a forgiven-so—I~can—go-to-heaven tourniquet, but it does little to remove the self from the center. 201

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Cheap grace?

Most of the confusion about the gospel in our contemporary church culture stems from a failure to see that “Jesus is the king” is the high point of the good news. In a “salvation culture” it may be eagerly acknowledged that “Jesus is Lord,” but Jesus’s cross is what saves us, not his resurrection or lordship, so that lordship can be freely ignored without risking salvation. This is a dangerous error. A “gospel culture,” on the other hand, recognizes that “Jesus is king” is integral to the good news itself, affirming that we indeed are saved by Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection, but these are only personally effective when allegiance to Jesus as king forges a union with him.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 199

<idle musing>
Bonhoeffer had a word for that: Cheap grace. Which isn't really grace at all; it is presumption. And it cheapens the cross and makes a mockery of Christianity.
</idle musing>

Monday, September 14, 2020

It's no legal fiction! It's the truth!

Our past and present justification is not a legal fiction, for if we have given allegiance (pistis) to Jesus the king, we genuinely share in the unshakable, irreversible verdict of innocence that the resurrected Jesus enjoys. Jesus will never be judged again in the future. Jesus the king already stands justified, and so does every person who gives allegiance, because they are incorporated into his righteousness, found to be “in him.” In this indirect sense the Christian does not come under judgment but has eternal life, because the one who gives allegiance is united to the head, King Jesus. That person has died, and his or her life is now “hidden with the Christ in God,” so that when the Christ appears, that person as a member of the Christ’s body will also appear with the Christ in glory (Col. 3:3ndash;4).—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 191–92

Friday, September 11, 2020

Maybe our ordo salutis is defective…

Protestants urgently need to reassess their grammar of salvation. For such distinctions between initial righteousness(so-called justification) and subsequent righteousness (so-called sanctification) simply cannot be consistently maintained by a careful exegesis of the specific terms, thought structures, and categories actually used by even a single one of our biblical authors. Such terminology promotes an individualistic one—time transaction model of justification and in so doing does not deal seriously with justification’s past, present, future, communal, and creational dimensions. In the final analysis Scripture does not make consistent qualitative distinctions between the declared righteousness of the Messiah attained at our initial moment of justification (When we are united with him) and our righteousness in the Messiah as subsequently nurtured and maintained by the Holy Spirit, as if one or the other were more primal or important for our final salvation.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 186

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Read this!

If there is only one thing you read today (and I hope that you read more than this!), read Ed Yong's latest piece at The Atlantic on the US and the pandemic. Here's a taste, but please, do read the whole thing. He's one of the few sane voices out there.
Army ants will sometimes walk in circles until they die. The workers navigate by smelling the pheromone trails of workers in front of them, while laying down pheromones for others to follow. If these trails accidentally loop back on themselves, the ants are trapped. They become a thick, swirling vortex of bodies that resembles a hurricane as viewed from space. They march endlessly until they’re felled by exhaustion or dehydration. The ants can sense no picture bigger than what’s immediately ahead. They have no coordinating force to guide them to safety. They are imprisoned by a wall of their own instincts. This phenomenon is called the death spiral. I can think of no better metaphor for the United States of America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. enters the ninth month of the pandemic with more than 6.3 million confirmed cases and more than 189,000 confirmed deaths. The toll has been enormous because the country presented the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with a smorgasbord of vulnerabilities to exploit. But the toll continues to be enormous—every day, the case count rises by around 40,000 and the death toll by around 800—because the country has consistently thought about the pandemic in the same unproductive ways.

Many Americans trusted intuition to help guide them through this disaster. They grabbed onto whatever solution was most prominent in the moment, and bounced from one (often false) hope to the next. They saw the actions that individual people were taking, and blamed and shamed their neighbors. They lapsed into magical thinking, and believed that the world would return to normal within months. Following these impulses was simpler than navigating a web of solutions, staring down broken systems, and accepting that the pandemic would rage for at least a year.

<idle musing>
Do read the rest and ponder it. The US is a broken system (calling it a system, even a broken one, is a compliment!) that is in dire need of overhaul. And that overhaul needs to start in every heart; we need to address the fact that our radical individualism is destroying us, and I mean each one of us. We are not independent entities who can create our own meaning. There is a reality out there that is larger than each person and it can destroy us if we don't work together. Sure you might "sacrifice" a little bit, but it isn't really a sacrifice because in the end all will benefit.

I could go on, but you already know everything I would say—most of you could probably say it better than I anyway. Just crying into the wind in an
</idle musing>

Transactional faith? Not rich enough!

But here we run into an obstacle. Not only is pistis capable of a richer definition, but the transactional idea of the Christ’s righteousness being imputed to us so that it covers our unclean sins is nowhere to be found in Scripture. There are passages that urge the Christian to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14) or that affirm that “as many of you as were baptized into the Messiah have put on the Messiah” (Gal. 3:27) and so forth. Meanwhile, there are texts that speak of God counting or reckoning righteousness on the basis of pistis (e.g., Rom. 4:5, 9-11). One passage speaks of the Messiah as having become “wisdom for us from God, and also our righteousness, holiness, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30), but the context does not pertain to legal declaration. Finally, several of the passages reviewed above speak of our genuine sharing in the righteousness of God as that righteousness has been manifested or made available through and in the Christ (e.g., 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8—9). But these various images are not combined.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 182–83 (emphasis original)

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

More on election (not the political kind!)

]A]lthough Romans 8:29-30 gives rock-solid promises of eternal security for the collective people of God, these promises only lend assurance to the individual who remains “in the Messiah”—that is, within the body or group. Since Paul has the collective in view here, his words about foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification, and glorification apply to the company as a whole, but he does not speak to the security of individual membership in the company. Contrary to the conclusion of many systematic theologians,Paul says nothing here directly about the election of specific individuals to eternal life (or condemnation) or about the inevitability of final salvation for any such chosen individuals.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 173 (emphasis original)

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

About that "elect" category…I don't think it means what you think it means

Although undeniably systematizing the true order of salvation is a worthy goal, biblical scholars, myself included, generally remain wary of such systems. For even when such systems employ biblical terms as conceptual categories or organizational rubrics, they tend to foist alien concerns onto the biblical text rather than allowing the biblical narrative to supply the framework, and this leads to skewed emphases. For instance, a common category in the order is “election.” This is a biblical term (eklektos and cognates), and it is indeed sometimes used in the Greek Old Testament and the New Testament to emphasize God’s sovereignty in choosing specific individuals and groups for various purposes. But as it is mobilized by systematicians, the tendency is to treat it as a special “salvation” category pertaining to God’s eternal (or slightly later) decree to save or damn certain individuals, when in fact the word means merely “choosing” and frequently doesn’t have eternal salvation or condemnation in view at all, especially not with regard to the individual. My intention is not to suggest that systematics is unnecessary or unhelpful in clarifying Scripture through philosophical inquiry; my point is rather that the biblical story has not always been correctly aimed for systematic inquiry.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 169

Thought for the day


For the music leader. According to Jeduthun. A psalm of David.

62 Only in God do I[a] find rest;
    my salvation comes from him.
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
    my stronghold!—I won’t be shaken anymore.

How long will all of you attack others;
    how long will you tear them down[b]
    as if they were leaning walls or broken-down fences?
The only desire of this people
    is to bring others down low;
    they delight in deception.
With their mouths they bless,
    but inside they are cursing. Selah

Oh, I[c] must find rest in God only,
    because my hope comes from him!
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
    my stronghold!—I will not be shaken.
My deliverance and glory depend on God.
    God is my strong rock.
    My refuge is in God.
All you people: Trust in him at all times!
    Pour out your hearts before him!
    God is our refuge! Selah

Human beings are nothing but a breath.
    Human beings are nothing but lies.
    They don’t even register on a scale;
    taken all together they are lighter than a breath!
10 Don’t trust in violence;
    don’t set false hopes in robbery.
When wealth bears fruit,
    don’t set your heart on it.
11 God has spoken one thing—
    make it two things—
    that I myself have heard:
    that strength belongs to God,
12     and faithful love comes from you, my Lord—
    and that you will repay
    everyone according to their deeds. (CEB)


  1. Psalm 62:1 Or my soul
  2. Psalm 62:3 Correction; MT kill them
  3. Psalm 62:5 Or my soul

Friday, September 04, 2020


Get this! We have a president who is encouraging people to break the law by trying to vote twice. That's bad enough, but this same president is running as a "Law and Order" candidate! Whose law? What law? Obviously not the law of the land! Rather, the law of personality. That's truly unamerican, where the rule of law is supposed to be the distinguishing feature.

Just another step down the ladder to totalitarianism. He's got his Brown Shirts already in the form of the "proud boys." And he's tried to make the DHS people his personal thugs. The cities are burning (not as much as he would have us think they are) because of his policies and he wants us to think it is because of his opponents?

Sorry. I don't follow the logic there.

Something to look forward to

We often think of God and humanity as opposites. Humans are error—prone, God is infallible; humans are sinful, God is sinless; humans are mortal, God is immortal; humans are weak, God is all—powerful. This, however, is to reflect upon humans as we find them, not upon humans in light of God’s ultimate intentions for them. All humans are made in the image of God. Yet the ability of fallen humanity to act as the idol of God (i.e., to represent God dynamically by exercising stewardship over creation) has been hampered by the fall. In the incarnation, Jesus comes to us as the genuinely human one, the fulfillment of God’s intentions for what it means to be most completely human. The stunning mystery of what it means to be a flourishing human is this: to be fully human doesn’t mean to be the opposite of God; it means to fully image God, to reflect and represent God flawlessly in God’s entirety, glory, and splendor.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 155

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Lost touch with reality? Maybe this is why!

Idol worship, in both its ancient and modern forms, involves a movement away from the domain of the real and thus a concomitant inability to engage the real accurately. In speaking of the false worship of the Israelites, the author of 2 Kings says, “They went after empty idols [hebel] and became empty” (17:15). The prophet Jeremiah echoes this sentiment, saying that in departing from true worship of Yahweh, the people of Judah “went after emptiness, and became empty” (2:5). So idolatry’s trajectory away from the real leads the worshiper finally into a vacuum, a total disconnect from reality—the idol worshiper has become like the insensate idol. As such, she or he is in the end totally unable to use the senses to connect to the domain of the real—God’s truth, beauty, goodness, and oneness as these can be accessed through encounter with God’s creation, which God has given as a gift. Human encounter with God’s glory has been exchanged for an encounter with false images so that humans lack the glory of God.

The good news, on the other hand, is that when we participate in worship of the one true God, the result is that we become increasingly sensate and insightful——we see, hear, smell, and touch the God~crafted reality of the created order, and we correctly recognize that it points to truths about God’s very self. And in so doing we are set free to be fully human once again; that is, we are increasingly conformed to the image of the Son, the truly human one, the one who fully images God.—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 155

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Hearing what we want to hear

Second, idols lead humans into practical harm because there is a tendency for the idol—maker to “trust in his own creation” (Hab. 2:18). Idols themselves are in truth speechless, but those who provide speech for them “utter nonsense,” and those that seek divination from them “see lies,” for “they tell false dreams and give empty comfort” (Zech. 10:2). In other words, there is a strong human proclivity to cause idols to “say” what we want them to say, and to hear from them what we want to hear. Thus, idols are used to legitimate and rationalize the self—serving interests of those who prophesy and interpret through them. The result is that, rather than being led by God and by the truth, the people are led astray so that they “wander like sheep” (Zech. 10:2).—Matthew Bates in Salvation by Allegiance Alone, 153

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Imaging God

How does unauthorized idol worship harm humanity? It results in a defacing, so that humans do not appropriately bear the glorious image of God to creation. That is, when a person is truly acting as the image of God, he or she serves as a genuine contact point between God and creation, mediating God’s presence to creation (including other humans and all other creatures). But when a person worships false idols, the capacity to serve in this way is undermined. The glory of God that the image is to radiate has become distorted. So other humans, animals, plants, and the rest of the earth fail to experience God’s sovereignty through that human as God would desire it to be exercised, and the creation falls into corruption. As Paul puts it, “The creation waits eagerly for the revelation of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19). And why? Because it is awaiting the fullness of the glory of the children of God as they reign alongside the Son (Rom. 8:17; cf. Col. 3:4; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 20:6). In fact, it is in association with the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” that creation is finally “released from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21). In short, if I fail to act as the full image of God, then my neighbors, family, pets, livestock, and the places on the earth over which I have royal stewardship will be bereft of God’s life—giving, wise, ordered rule. 152