Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sharing Faith in a Dark World

I think James' blog about Sharing Faith in a Dark World hits a lot of things on the head... and has applicability beyond the simple notion of "What being a Christian is like." I believe it makes important statements about what salvation is!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Gift, The Hope, and the Promised Promise

The evangelism of the apostles revolved about three main notions: The Gift, The Hope, and the Promise. To often Christians see these as merely vague terms [or they assume they all mean "life in heaven after I die."]

Putting a fine point on these terms allows not only to interpret individual passages better, but also grants a richer understanding of what apostolic evangelism was about.

Christian Hope

When the apostles speak of "Hope," they do not refer exactly to "eternal life in heaven for believers." The hope they refer to is the idea that what God had done to Jesus already [bodily resurrection], the Almighty would do to everyone later.
To understand why this Hope is so exclusively Christian, you have to understand the culture of 1st century AD. Some Jews believed in a bodily resurrection that would occur far in the future, and many Jews did not. Those outside Judaism generally did not believe in a bodily resurrection at all.

What no one believed was that the Messiah would come, die, and be resurrected before everyone else. Not even Jesus' disciples understood that [which is why they deserted Him... the Messiah was supposed to lead the Jews to victory over the Romans [and everyone else who had oppressed them: Luke 1:71 ] How could He do that if He were dead??

This is why they wonder in Mark 9:10 what Jesus means, since He cannot possibly mean He is going to literally die. It also comes through loud and clear in Luke 24:20-21, they had hoped (but no longer)...and what did they hope for, that the Christ would redeem Israel. Like David, they were waiting for Jesus to take His position as true King. Having Jesus die crushed these beliefs, for they did not understand He had to die [John 20:9, Luke 24:25-27]

So, the resurrection not only proves that the Christian God lives, but gave hope in their own resurrection later. Note the wording of Acts 4:2 and Acts 17:32 --- this was the central message of their evangelism (as well as Jesus as the Christ and Jesus as Judge, see post on evangelism in Acts.) Paul also avers that belief in resurrection of the dead is absolutely required of believers [1st Corinthians 15:12-14].

This Hope in the resurrection of the dead was the main reason Paul was in so much hot water in Acts. It was, after all, directly opposed to the beliefs of the ruling sect of Judaism. [Acts 23:6, Acts 24:15, Acts 24:21, Acts 26:6-8.]

The Gift
People use the term "a free gift" often in evangelism today, but for Paul and the other apostles, the term had a different meaning. The Gift is nothing other than the Holy Spirit.

Jesus uses this to refer to the Holy Spirit in John 4:10, Peter refers to the Spirit as "The Gift" three times: Acts 2:38, Acts 8:20, and Acts 11:17. Luke uses the term in this way in Acts 10:45, and Paul does so in 1st Timothy 4:14, and 2nd Timothy 1:6. The writer of Hebrews follows suit in Hebrews 6:4.

[Note it is important to separate "The Gift" (with the "the") from situations where there is no "the," also there are 3 words for "gift" common in the NT, and only 2 of them appear to be used in this way, the other is more of a term for "offering."]

The (Promised) Promise

And now we come to an interesting term. "The Promise." We know that God promised Abraham to bless the world through his seed, but how was God going to do that? Peter answers this question for us as well, in Acts 2:33. This is the promise Jesus refers to in Luke 24:49, and in Acts 3:26, we find that it is, in fact, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.

The Holy Spirit is further referred to as "The Promise" in Acts 2:39, Galatians 3:14, Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 3:6, Hebrews 9:15-(The writer views us as receiving the Holy Spirit as an inheritance from Christ. Note this is definitely referring to the Holy Spirit available now that was not available earlier before Christ died: see Hebrews 9:16, Hebrews 9:8, and, most notably Hebrews 11:39-40, where the Spirit is once again referred to as what was "promised.")

But, the Holy Spirit is not only the fulfillment of a promise, it also acts as a promise...a reminder of the full salvation available when our bodies are transformed and New Jerusalem arrives [ Revelation 21:2]. The Holy Spirit, in granting us power over the desires of a flesh set against God [Romans 6:6] grants us a slice of our transformed future. It allows us to already begin living the life of the next era today. Indeed, it calls us to do so, for we are no longer to live for ourselves, but rather live for Christ.

In this way, the Holy Spirit is then a Promise itself. Not on an individual basis wherein we "know we are going to heaven because we have the Spirit." The Spirit allowed those in Matthew 7:22-23 throw out demons and prophesy in Christ's name, but it did not see them through the Judgment, and Hebrews 6:4-6, Hebrews 10:26-27, and 2nd Peter 2:20-21 all describe that the Spirit is not a personal guarantee but a global one. God will not be mocked.

Understanding "The Promise" is crucial to getting a handle on Paul's letters to the Galatians and Romans, where the term is used very often.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Amazon "Helpful" Reviews (And now for something completely different...)

This post is nothing like most posts on this blog, so feel free to sick the "articles totally out of line with blog theme" police on me.

Have you ever been on Amazon and wondered how they determine what is a "helpful" review and what is not a helpful review? Sure, there are those voting buttons, but it's not obvious how "helpful" votes and "unhelpful" votes contribute to ranking reviews. For example this review currently has 32 out of 38 helpful votes, but is considered more helpful than this review, which has 18 out of 20 [90% helpful!]

But it is not just a matter of having more helpful votes, after all this review has over 450 helpful votes, and it is considered less useful than this review, which (at the time of writing) has fewer than 100.

And the above two example are nothing compared to the observation that this review, which so far not one person has said is helpful, is considered more helpful than this one, which is currently batting above 50% at least [13 out of 24].

Welp, before I turned to theology, I was trained in deductive reasoning... and I still work as a mathematical modeler professionally, so one day I decided to figure out what is going on here.

I'll give a few different versions of increasing complexity: [Note, some reviewers get bonus points directly, and others appear to be penalized by Amazon...however what is described below is accurate 99% of the time.]

Super-Simple Version
Each review starts off [in Amazon's mind] as having a value of around 65% [just a little higher]. each time someone votes for your review, it nudges that score up some, each time they vote against it, it nudges it down some. The more reviews you've had, the less each nudge is. Also, if your score is really high, a "yes" vote is not going to help you as much as a "no" vote hurts you (and vice versa if your review has not hitherto been appreciated.)

Medium Version
Reviews are rated based on a percentage of how many of your "votes" have been "helpful." Except every review starts out with 13* "helpful" votes and 7** "unhelpful" votes that Amazon counts in addition to the actual votes people cast.
So, if your review gets 8 "helpful" votes right out of the box, Amazon sees your review as about 75% helpful [the 8 "real" votes you've gotten plus the 13 "fake" ones gives you 21 "helpful" votes, and you have 7 "fake" "unhelpful" votes as well, so there are 28 votes total, of which 21 are "helpful."]

*Actually it is more like 7.08
** Actually more like 12.92

No-More Mister Nice Guy Version

Let X be the number of helpful votes.
Let Y be the number of unhelpful votes.
Calculate a review's score as [X + 13.08]/[X+Y+20]

Reviews are ranked based on their score.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

David's forgiveness

I was compiling all the passages cited in my book to create an online, scripture-linked index, and found something interesting in 2nd Samuel 12:13-14.

Now, one thing I find interesting about this passage is that David's forgiveness was clearly due to confessing his sins, not due to faith. David had just as much faith before confessing his sin as after. [This is important because the Reformed church claims that all forgiveness, even that in the Old Testament, was due to faith in the coming Christ... of course, the Jews did not believe in a coming singular savior until well after David's reign, so that would land all the patriarchs in hot water...but that is a conversation for another post....]

But, the real reason I brought this encounter up is that I wonder if this scenario serves as a reasonable model of what "forgiveness" means. In one breath we are told David is forgiven, and in the next we are told his son is still going to be struck down by God due to his sin.

If we constrain ourselves to the idea that God's punishment is due to unforgiven sins, this is an odd situation. If David were truly forgiven for his sin, why is God killing the child? And the reason for killing the child is clearly due to David's contempt for God.

But, if instead we allow for two separate ideas to go on here...that forgiveness can lead to reconciliation with God without necessarily meaning exemption from punishment, then the story makes sense. God's [I]anger[/I] is clear in 12:7-12, and it appears that anger has been dissipated when David is forgiven...yet David is still punished.

Or perhaps the killing of the child was punishment done out of a desire for disciplining David, to drive home the danger of sinning against God?

I don't think the disciplining concept is the best way to see this, for my guess is that this punishment is somewhat similar to Moses' and Aaron's punishment for striking the rock [Numbers 20:12], though I suppose one could argue that Moses' death could teach the Israelites something.

This notion of being "forgiven but accountable" would explain two points about the discussions of the Judgment:

i) We are told that we will be held accountable for "every worthless word we speak," and that certainly applies to those who have been forgiven. Similarly for other passages like 2nd Corinthians 5:10. Paul certainly felt he was forgiven [and in a reconciled position with regard to God, as evidenced by receiving the Spirit], yet still felt the need to maintain "a clear conscience before God and man." [Acts 24:16]

ii) In all the descriptions of the Judgment, not one of them describes forgiveness of sins germane to the proceedings (with, perhaps, one exception). That's a pretty odd situation given how often Jesus and others refer to and describe the Judgment.