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Posts Tagged ‘morality’


One of the newer challenges to God and the Scriptures is to question the morality of God, particularly in the Old Testament. Both atheists and liberal theologians are finding this to be a fertile field right now. It is this challenge that Greg Beale meets in his booklet The Morality of God in the Old Testament.

He does not simply dismiss the charges made by others that God is essentially immoral to command acts often considered evil. His response is a mere 40 or so pages. It is not easy reading, but rises to the challenge. He lays out a 5-fold approach that he believes answers this problem. But first he mentions 2 common, but unsatisfactory, responses.

  1. Wartime Ethics Are Legitimately Different from Peacetime Ethics. Tied into this is the fact that we tend to judge the Scriptures based on our wartime ethics. As late as Vietnam we had no problem engaging in carpet bombing. In more recent conflicts we are loathe to harm civilians (unless using drones) in policies that often put our soldiers at risk. We are concerned about perception and ignore the reality of the threat they face in conflict. But this booklet isn’t about that ethical dilemma. While it is common for us to speak of a wartime ethic, Scripture doesn’t seem to offer us one explicitly.
  2. The Divine Command to Kill All Women and Children Is Not Meant to be Taken Literally.  Some argue that documents  from the ANE use exaggerated language in describing conquest similar to this. It refers essentially to thoroughly defeating the enemy. It functions as a rhetorical device. However, the Scriptures clearly indicate that particular people, like Rahab, were spared because they aligned themselves with Israel. Others escaped. So this argument does not seem to hold.

His proposed 5-fold approach tries to look at the problem from different angles. It is not a simplistic answer to the questions raised by atheists, agnostics and liberals. It is, I think, a thorough answer.

  1. The Commands Demonstrate God’s Justice in Response to Their Immorality and Idolatry in a Unique Redemptive-Historical Circumstance. That is a mouthful! During Abraham’s years in the Promised Land, we are told the Canaanites’ sin was not yet full. God was not ready to judge them. See how patient He is with societies and cultures. It was not that Abraham’s family wasn’t big enough, but they hadn’t sinned enough yet. By the time of the conquest they had. God was not just giving Israel the land, but judging the Canaanites. This is unique because there is no other Promised Land that needs to be conquered. The commands were not binding, but tied to the circumstances of the conquest. He was using the Israelites to execute His justice against them (just as He would Assyria against the Northern Kingdom and Babylon, and later Rome, against Judah). Everyone died because everyone was guilty and part of an utterly corrupt culture.
  2. The Commands Were to Remove Moral Uncleanness as Part of a Unique Redemptive-Historical Commission to Purify the Land as a Sanctuary. He goes back to the Garden and the Creation Mandate. Adam was to expand the borders of the Garden as a sanctuary for God. Israel was to treat the Land as a sanctuary. They were a corporate form of Adam as a kingdom of priests. After the conquest, the civil law laid out severe penalties for those guilty of similar sexual and cultic sins as the Canaanites.
  3. God’s Sovereignty Justifies His Command to Annihilate the Canaanites. As the Scriptures teach, He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy and hardens whom He will harden. And judge too!. God is free to deal with us as He chooses. While we may be relatively better or worse that other people, in God’s eyes we are all sinners who fall short of His glory and have earned the wages of sin which are death. God is free to annihilate any nation He wants to annihilate. We usually see His patience and mercy, and therefore presume upon them as if they were required of Him.
  4. God’s Command is an Anticipation of the End-Time Judgment of All People, and Thus a Suspension of the Expression of His Common Grace to Unbelievers during the Epoch of Israel. This is pretty much Kline’s intrusion ethic. This is an intrusion of the final judgment in which God will annihilate all who are not His. This is not the only type of the final judgment we see in Scripture. We also see the destruction of Samaria, Judah, Babylon, Assyria and other nations. There is evidence for this in how the NT uses the OT in judgment passages.
  5. God’s Command and the Imprecatory Psalms Anticipate the End-Time Judgment When Love of the Unbelieving Neighbors Ceases. While we are to love our neighbor now, in the final judgment we will not love all our neighbors but only those who love Christ as we do. God’s mercy and patience toward unbelievers reaches an end. He reveals His holy hatred for sin and the wicked.

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In the third chapter of The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung looks at the pattern of piety found in Scripture. It is not enough to know we are called to holiness, but we also need to know what it looks like, and doesn’t look like.

Holiness means separation. That is the bottom line. God sets us apart from the rest of humanity in two ways. First, we are definitively set apart at justification. We are set apart as Gods’ people. So, every Christian is sanctified. But God continues to set us apart from the world morally. This is progressive sanctification. You don’t have one without the other. Both of these are a result of grace.. The first is an act of grace (one time event) and the second is a work of grace (a process) according to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

What Holiness is Not

It is not rule keeping. Holiness certainly includes obedience. People often get off course by thinking about non-biblical rules. We are set apart for God. We are to obey his law. Jesus was not too keen on the Pharisees for neglecting God’s law from man-made traditions. It is not about dancing, whether or not you drink a beer with dinner, or have the occasional cuss word slip out when you smash your thumb with a hammer. It is about gentleness, not getting drunk, and having lips used to edify and express gratitude.

“Holiness is more than middle class values. … checklist spirituality is highly selective.”

It is not generational imitation. Some people think it is having the standards and practices of an earlier generation. It could be the 1950’s in Amercia, Calvin’s Geneva or the Puritan’s England. This is what got the Amish in trouble. DeYoung notes that the 50’s may have had a better standards of sexual decency. But when it came to race relations, not so good. Just an example. We are trying to apply the timeless law in our time, not recreate another time.

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Someone sent me a link today for an article in Psychology Today called Why Atheism Will Replace Religion.  It claims to have evidence to support this assertion. To steal a phrase, “that’s mighty bold talk for a one-eyed fat man, I mean soft science!”

What is the evidence offered? First, atheism is on the rise in industrialized nations. It is most prominent in Europe, and nearly non-existent in sub-Sahara Africa.

Atheism is correlated with higher education and affluence. The author sees religion as a way of coping with fear. In those prosperous nations, there is less to fear. This is particularly true as they have developed extensive social welfare programs.

These nations, he notes, are also marked by a decreasing birth rate. This is because fewer people are needed to work the land. He sees a tie between an agrarian economy, birthrates and atheism.  The modern man has “tamed” much of life’s unpredictability, he thinks, and no longer needs God. Or children.

As an “evolutionary psychologist’ the author, Nigel Barber sees this as a good evolution.

So, what is the problem?

11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God,… Deuteronomy 8 (ESV)

Approximate 3,400 years ago God predicted this exact pattern in the life of Israel. It is not a new thing. Prosperity produces pride which means that people forget God. This begins with practical atheism and morphs into theoretical atheism. The rise of theoretical atheism in Europe should not surprise the biblically informed person. This has been happening for thousands of years!

But I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness,    in the land of drought; but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. Hosea 13 (ESV)

But can atheism replace religion? In the short term, yes. In the long term, no.

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There is a place for “bite-sized” reflections on ethical issues. Al Mohler provides just that in Culture Shift: The Battle for the Moral Heart of America.  I suspect this book is taken from his blog posts from 2001-2005. I read the expanded edition which contains some newer chapters from 2010-11. The chapters are short enough to read in less than 30 minutes. Mohler interacts with events and controversies, so these pieces are not abstract. As John Piper notes, he is clear-headed.

While he tackles some complex issues, I never got the sense I was in over my head. He makes the material accessible to ordinary people. He has 3 chapters on Public Law, first laying out 3 secular arguments, then 3 secular myths and finally 5 theses. Many of these chapters are still relevant, like his chapter on Offendedness. There are chapters wrestling with 9/11, the Tsumani, abortion, Darwinism and more. These are things to think about. At times you can see how perceptive he is.

“Instead, Saletan argued that the pro-abortion movement should coalesce around an agenda of lowering the total number of abortions and increasing the use of contraceptives.”

This, for instance, has been the rhetoric of our President.

But he looks not merely at personal sins, but at structures. This is not as common for conservatives. This is part of the tension between conservatives and progressives today. The one sees personal morality as the main issue, and the other public morality as the main issue so sin is found either in the individual or the structures. For a Christian, we should recognize both. And both need to be addressed.

“Sin is so interwoven in our lives and institutional structures that we often cannot even see it.”

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I’m not sure why I watched it to begin with. I suppose it was because of the commercials on the Comcast On-Demand this summer. I’m not really into zombies but I thought I’d watch the first episode. And I was hooked. I quickly watched the rest of the first season.

The Walking Dead has zombies in it, but it really isn’t about zombies. It is about people- humanity. What drew me in originally was Rick’s quest to find his family. Rick was a deputy who was shot during an arrest. He woke up from a coma to a whole new world he didn’t understand. His town was a ghost town aside from the walking dead who moved in herds. But he knew his family was alive and took some guns to go looking for them.

The show took some interesting looks at morality in extreme circumstances. This is a situation in which there is no law and order. The creatures who are trying to eat you used to be people. It is not like war where they have a different language, form of government or religion. These people used to be your neighbors. In the premiere, they showed a man conflicted about shooting the zombie who used to be his wife. He wanted to end her misery, but he still saw her. This show is not about killing zombies. It is about the living.

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Don't let this good thing become ultimate!

I am re-reading Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods.  There are so many great thoughts to ponder there.  I’ve been very busy, so I haven’t had the time to blog on as many as I would like.  Today is semi-quiet and I have time to put some words to one of the things I read this morning while waiting for CavWife’s car to be repaired.

Keller was talking about religious idols.  Not graven images that people bow down toward.  Rather, the types of idols that religious communities are prone to worship instead of the One True God.  To some people that may sound strange, but it really isn’t.

“Making an idol out of doctrinal accuracy, ministry success, or moral rectitude leads to constant internal conflict, arrogance and self-righteousness, and oppression of those whose views differ.”

Being a part of the Reformed community, I have seen my share of all three.  At times I’ve been guilty of worshiping them in some way, shape or form.

Keller is not saying it is wrong to pursue truth, seek to be effective in ministry or live an upright and godly life.  The problem is when any of these takes the place of Christ as the basis of our standing before God.

Presbyteries are funny things.  They are to hold ministers and churches to the doctrinal standards of the denomination.  But we can easily focus on the minor points and exclude brothers unjustly for not signing every jot and tittle of our doctrinal standards.  This is merely the opposite extreme of not holding people to established standards.

But it is not just Presbyteries or denominations.  Christians can go at it rather heatedly over fine points.  People can leave churches over fine points of theology.  It is not the discussing of them that is the problem, but the lack of love in which we pursue it because we worship our theology more than we love our brother made in God’s image.

Central to the debate between Van Til and Clark

In one of the books I’ve got stashed in a box until I get to Tucson, there is a quote by Dutch theologian Herman Bavink from his deathbed.  It basically reads, “My systematic theology cannot save me.”  He was counting on Christ, not his theology, to save him from God’s wrath.  We can worship truth instead of the Truth.

When we do this we condemn those who disagree with us.  We are unable to graciously disagree with others on lesser points.  This ought to be a sign to us that we have gone off track and have put our theology (or moral rectitude) above God.

We can do this, as mentioned, with moral rectitude as well.  When we put one sin above others- common ones include homosexuality, abortion, and drunkenness- we condemn those who commit those sins while ignoring other sins which we tend to commit- like gluttony, gossip, covetousness, and deceit.  We assume a position of moral superiority instead of humbly offering the gospel as one sinner to another.

When we worship success, we can quickly sacrifice doctrine and morality to achieve it.  Having a big ministry (or business) becomes the standard by which we measure people.  The book Outliers (which Keller mentions in another chapter) points out that most of what makes a person successful (or a failure) is beyond our control.  So we are exalting or ignoring people based on God’s providential working in their lives.  Their worth, or future effectiveness are not based on past performance.  We are not justified by success (nor condemned for it).

It is so difficult for “religious” people to see their idols because they seem such a part of our religious communities.  But we become toxic, harming others based on our standards instead of treating them with love, humility and grace.  We live out of step with the gospel, and keep people from the gospel.  May we let go of such worthless idols that we might grasp the grace that is ours through Christ.

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