Completing Christ? Can It Be?

Is there any legitimate way that we could say we complete Jesus? I would have doubted so, but there is this is Scripture:

And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:22-23

What does this bold phrase mean? Here’s what Calvin commented on this passage:

The fullness of him that filleth all in all. This is the highest honor of the Church, that, until He is united to us, the Son of God reckons himself in some measure imperfect [in the sense “incomplete”]. What consolation is it for us to learn, that, not until we are along with him, does he possess all his parts, or wish to be regarded as complete! […]

That filleth all in all. This is added to guard against the supposition that any real defect would exist in Christ, if he were separated from us. His wish to be filled, and, in some respects, made perfect in us, arises from no want or necessity; for all that is good in ourselves, or in any of the creatures, is the gift of his hand; and his goodness appears the more remarkably in raising us out of nothing, that he, in like manner, may dwell and live in us.

Basically, Jesus is complete in and of Himself, yet He has sovereignly and freely chosen to be with us, to be our God, to be for us. Although He can be complete by Himself, He out of His own freedom chosen not to be complete without us. He has created in Himself room for us to fill! Amen! What a gracious honor!

Completing Christ? Can It Be?

Prayer Help from Old

The early church has a few awesome things to offer us. Like this prayer from St. Basil the Great:

Almighty Lord,
God of the Powers and of all flesh,
Who lives in the highest and carest for the humble,
Who searches our hearts and affections,
and clearly foreknows the secrets of men;
eternal and everliving Light,
in Whom is no change nor shadow of variation;

O Immortal King,
receive our prayers
which at the present time
we offer to You from unclean lips,
trusting in the multitude of Your mercies.
Forgive all sins committed by us
in thought, word or deed,
consciously or unconsciously,
and cleanse us from all defilement
of flesh and spirit.

Grant us to pass the night of the whole present life
with wakeful heart and sober thought,
ever expecting the coming of the radiant day
of the appearing of Your only-begotten Son,
our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,
when the Judge of all will come with glory
to render to each according to their deeds.
May we not be found fallen and idle,
but awake and alert for action,
ready to accompany Him
into the joy and divine palace of His glory,
where there is the ceaseless sound
of those keeping festival
and the unspeakable delight
of those who behold
the ineffable beauty of Your Face.

For You are the true Light
that enlightens and sanctifies all,
and all creation sings to You 
throughout the ages.
Amen.

Prayer Help from Old

All Things for Good: A Technical Look at God’s Sovereignty via the Cross

This post was not written for here. I wrote it as part of a forum debate. Yet I am fairly happy with how it turned out, so I’m going to quote it here for the benefit of anyone who might be interested.


The universe was created ex nihilo, out of nothing at all, and therefore is not intrinsically tied to anything in the inner life, processes, or determinations of God. It is its own, though radically contingent, thing, which in and of itself is simply an ordered system which has no inherent meaning. It is nonetheless an open system, one in which God is freely able to introduce His own acts and purposes.

At the same time, God is utterly free and sovereign. While the nature of the cosmos is not meaningful or spiritual in and of itself, God is able to invest otherwise normal events with a purpose and direction, a telos, which flows from His eternal purposes of grace.

The point of contact whereby God grips the meaningless world and subjects it to His will is the Cross. On the natural surface, the crucifixion of Christ was arbitrary and senseless. A rising prophet, doing wonderful things all around, falls prey to the violence of selfishness, political games, and religious corruption and is unjustly murdered in a horrific way. What could be more vain?

Yet in this very event, God’s gracious purposes are being accomplished. God Himself is present in Jesus’ dying body, sovereignly submitting to weakness, suffering, and death because He has a particular plan. In this nonsense He somehow accomplished the expiation of sins, freeing of the entire world from guilt. Even this meaning, however, is quickened by the Resurrection, which overturned the death, suffering, and humiliation He experienced, infusing them all with their meaning and purpose. God took the climactic depths of human sin and meaninglessness, and then imbued the very same event with gracious saving power and significance.

On a wider scope, though, by this event, and by the Ascension of Christ to the heavens and the outpouring of His Spirit, Jesus has filled all of space and time with this same conquering power, so that in the end every square inch in every second of the universe is brought under His authority and love. No matter what meaningless and nonsensical events this universe throws before us, their inherent vanity is undermined and replaced with an eschatological arrow pointing to the summing up of all things in Christ.

I should add, though, that there is no analogy in nature or human experience for how this works. Our created cause-and-effect systems have nothing in common with the way the uncreated God implements His gracious plans in the world.

All Things for Good: A Technical Look at God’s Sovereignty via the Cross

Bro, Your Argument Stinks: Theological Fallacies

As Christians, we sometimes debate things. Usually doctrines or practices, mainly because those are the only real categories. But alas, often in these debates people use terrible arguments and logical fallacies. So I’m just going to review a few common logical fallacies I’ve seen used in Christian debate in alphabetical order, and show some example problems involving them.

(Also, before you read all of these, don’t even bother trying to deduce things about what I think from the examples I use. People on all sides of every aisle use bad arguments, and I select whatever comes to mind.)

Anecdotal Fallacy: Well, In My Experience…

An anecdotal fallacy is when you simply use an example of something that happened, especially one from your own experiences, as evidence instead of any rational argument. “My interpretation of my experience” becomes enough to settle the debate.

Examples:

  • My leg was healed, so the Charismatics are right!
  • I’ve spoken in tongues before, so I know it’s real.
  • I’ve seen a lot of evil in my lifetime, so I know total depravity is true.

Ad Hominem: You Have Problems, So Your Argument Does, Too

An ad hominem fallacy is when you attack the person instead of the argument. Just because the person you’re debating has flaws does not make you right.

Examples:

  • You skipped church last week, so you’re wrong!
  • You don’t have a degree, so I won’t listen to your arguments.
  • You like Rob Bell, so your belief in the Trinity is mistaken. (Ad hominem-ception!)

Appeal to Consequences: If You Are Right, Then Bad Things

Appeal to consequences is the mistake of saying someone’s position is right or wrong just because of what it might lead to. Even if something unfortunate or bad would be the result of a position, the position might still be right. Likewise, even if a position leads to something good, it might be wrong.

Examples:

  • If all your past, present, and future sins are forgiven when you’re saved, then people can sin all they want! So that can’t be right.
  • Jesus couldn’t have died for all people because then some of His blood would be wasted on those who aren’t saved.
  • If Hell isn’t real, more people will want to be Christians, so it must not be real!

Appeal to Emotion: That Just Doesn’t Feel Right

An appeal to emotion is an argument which using emotions to force the point instead of any actual reasons. It can work with anything from intuitive tension to outright horror.

Examples:

  • Would you really want to worship a God who sends people to Hell forever?
  • There’s no way that sweet little babies go anywhere but Heaven!
  • Calvinism is disturbing, and so must not be true.

Begging the Question: (Assuming One Thing) This Must Be True!

Begging the question is when you make a claim or present a set of choices which actually rely on a hidden assumption. By saying what you do, you actually raise a new question which you might not acknowledge.

Examples:

  • If there is no free will, people are robots. (Begs the question: Is free will the important difference between people and robots?)
  • Love must be freely chosen to be love, so Calvinism is false. (Begs the question: What kind of freedom is necessary for love, and is this kind of freedom not present in Calvinism?)
  • Humans were involved in writing the Bible, so there must be errors. (Begs the question: What is the relationship between the divine and the human roles in the Bible?)

Circular Reasoning: This Is True Because That Is True Because This Is True

Circular reasoning is when you try to prove one point by another point which actually relies on the first point. A because B because A.

Examples:

  • God must control all decisions to be sovereign, because He would not be truly sovereign if He did not control all decisions.
  • Free will must not be determined by God, because if they were determined by God they would not be free.
  • The KJV is the only pure Bible because modern translations are corrupt. Modern translations are corrupt because they are different from the KJV.

Etymological Fallacy: This Word Meant This

An etymological fallacy is when you take the meaning of a word in modern day use and project it back onto the word’s history or roots. This is something used frequently in informal Bible studies.

Examples:

  • The Greek word translated “power” is where we get our word “dynamite.” So it means an explosive power!
  • Predestination since the Reformation refers to God choosing specific individuals for salvation, so that’s what Paul meant when he said we were predestined.

False Dichotomy: This or That, No Other Option!

A false dichotomy, also called the false dilemma, black-or-white, or excluded middle fallacy, is when you force an issue into only two choices, even though there are or might be other options.

Examples:

  • Does God love everyone, or does He condemn gays?
  • The Bible is either 100% inerrant or totally worthless.
  • You must pick: either Jesus died for only the elect or everyone will be saved.

Red Herring: Squirrel!

A red herring is a statement or question thrown into an argument to change the subject or switch the attention from one thing to another. It sends you down a rabbit trail so you don’t have to keep following whatever reasoning is threatening.

Examples:

  • Regardless of whether Jesus died for everyone or not, Calvin murdered Servetus!
  • I don’t know about that omnipotence paradox, but atheism takes as much faith as Christianity.
  • Did Jesus rise from the dead? But the Exodus never happened!

Slippery Slope: Next Thing You Know…

A slippery slope argument is when you try to say that if one thing happens or is true, the next thing you know some crazy catastrophe will be the end of it. Slippery slope arguments act as if one step in a possibly wrong direction necessitates you falling down to the bottom of the well.

Examples:

  • If you think there is one error in the Bible, then you will inevitably have to question the whole thing.
  • If Genesis 1 isn’t literal, then where does it stop? Genesis 2? 5? 11? John 13? You’ll lose the whole Bible!
  • As soon as you say drinking alcohol isn’t a sin, you’re opening the door to rampant debauchery and drug abuse.

Straw Man: No, You Really Think…

A straw man argument is when you caricature your opponent’s position so that it is easy to defeat. You turn their real position into a fake version, a straw man, with obvious weaknesses.

Examples:

  • Calvinists believe that the Bible was just mistaken when it says, “He died for all!” But the Bible is not mistaken, so Calvinism is false.
  • Arminians say that man’s free will isn’t hurt by sin. But Romans teaches we are slaves to sin. (Hint: If you don’t get what’s wrong, Arminians affirm that man’s free will is totally enslaved to sin until God sends prevenient grace.)
  • Evolutionists think that God couldn’t have created the world in 6 days. But He can!

 

There are, of course, many other fallacies out there, many used in Christian debate, but I don’t wish to go on for now. If you are interested, you can look up some other fallacies I see used a lot including the genetic fallacy, poisoning the well, retrospective determinism, kettle logic, and the fallacy of the single cause. Hopefully, paying attention to these things will bring greater clarity and charity to all Christian discourse. Peace and grace!

Bro, Your Argument Stinks: Theological Fallacies

Using Psalms: Psalm 84 and Jesus as Our Temple

Time for the second entry in my Using Psalms series. If you missed the first, you can find it here. Today I’ll be looking at Psalm 84, a psalm probably meant to be sung during pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. I wanted to look at it to highlight a certain interesting theme involving Jesus and the Temple. So here’s the text:

How I love your Temple, Lord Almighty!
    How I want to be there!
    I long to be in the Lord‘s Temple.
With my whole being I sing for joy
    to the living God.
Even the sparrows have built a nest,
    and the swallows have their own home;
they keep their young near your altars,
    Lord Almighty, my king and my God.
How happy are those who live in your Temple,
    always singing praise to you.

How happy are those whose strength comes from you,
    who are eager to make the pilgrimage to Mount Zion.
As they pass through the dry valley of Baca,
    it becomes a place of springs;
    the autumn rain fills it with pools.
They grow stronger as they go;
    they will see the God of gods on Zion.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty.
    Listen, O God of Jacob!
Bless our king, O God,
    the king you have chosen.

One day spent in your Temple
    is better than a thousand anywhere else;
I would rather stand at the gate of the house of my God
    than live in the homes of the wicked.
The Lord is our protector and glorious king,
    blessing us with kindness and honor.
He does not refuse any good thing
    to those who do what is right.
Lord Almighty, how happy are those who trust in you!

Psalm 84

These psalm, as I just mentioned, was probably a pilgrim song. Israelites would sing it on their way to Jerusalem for the major festivals such as Passover. They all knew they were going to the Temple of their God, where they could be in His presence. Rejoicing like this was only to be expected.

The psalm begins with the psalmist wishing he could be in God’s Temple (other translations will use through the psalm “house” or “dwelling place”). He is ready to praise His God, and wants to be in God’s house to do so. Then he notes with some envy that there are even birds who make nests near the Temple and get to live there. He fantasizes about how great life is for the priests and Levites who serve in the Temple daily. If only, the psalmist feels, he could also be in God’s presence so often!

Then he moves on to celebrating the pilgrimage. After all, even though he isn’t in the Temple already, the people are all going there! Every step brings them closer to their God, which is cause for more and more celebration. He even describes their joy and blessedness poetically as refreshing the lands the pilgrims pass through. He then offers a brief prayer on behalf of the king, who represents Israel as a whole by virtue of being their leader. 

Finally, the psalmist concludes with a final praise of God and His Temple, telling of how much better it is to be in Yahweh’s presence than anywhere else on earth, because of how great He is. He is the protector, king, and refuge to all who trust in Him. Amen!

So how does this all become relevant to us? We, after all, no longer have a Temple. We do not make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to worship God, and instead find His presence through the Holy Spirit everywhere on earth. How then do we offer a pilgrim song like this to God in this era?

The key is to realize where the Temple has moved. The Temple building in Jerusalem played two major functions for Israel: it was where God’s glory and personal presence could be found, and where their covenant provided for them forgiveness of sins and atonement. If you wanted to find or worship God, you had to go to the Temple. If you wanted cleansing from sin, you had to go to the Temple. So where do we find these things now? Where does God dwell and forgive sins?

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Colossian 1:19-20

Jesus Himself is the replacement and fulfillment of the Temple. In Him alone can the glory of God be found (John 1:14, Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3). In Him alone is there forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7, 4:32, Col. 1:14, 2:13). Jesus has taken over the role of the Temple for us, and therefore if we are to apply psalms about the “house of the Lord,” they must be applied to Christ.

So what do we now see for us in this psalm? I like this idea so much that I think I will simply paraphrase several verses with Jesus in mind.

How I love your Son Jesus, Lord Almighty!
    How I want to see Him!
    I long to abide in the Lord.
With my whole being I sing for joy
    to the living God…
How happy are those who are in Christ,
    always singing praise to you.

How happy are those whose strength comes from you,
    who are eager to follow the narrow road of Christ.
As they pass through the valley of the shadow of death,
    it becomes a place of springs;
    the Spirit rains down and fills it with pools.
They grow stronger as they go;
    they will see the God of gods on in His Son.

Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty.
    Listen, O God of Jacob!
Bless our Messiah, O God,
    the Lord you have chosen.

One day spent in Christ
    is better than a thousand without Him…
The Lord is our protector and glorious king,
    blessing us with kindness and honor.
He does not refuse any good thing
    to those who have been made right in Christ.
Lord Almighty, how happy are those who trust in your Son!

Using Psalms: Psalm 84 and Jesus as Our Temple

Just A Quick Update

So I haven’t been posting much as of late. I figured I’d just drop by and point out why. Ready?

*Drumroll*

It’s because I’m back in school. Yay! I’m working hard at the Baptist College of Florida, and between that, work, and church I don’t have tons of time for blogging. I certainly won’t be quitting here, but it will have to move back a couple notches in priority, which also means a couple notches in frequency. I’ll aim to at least post once a week, but we’ll see what actually happens.

In the mean time, try some blogs I like such as Reformedish or Think Theology. They’re pretty cool. Or if you don’t mind reading stuff that takes 20 tries to wrap your head around, you can try The Evangelical Calvinist.

Just A Quick Update

Jesus the Apocalypse: The Messiah Appears

To continue my Mark Bible study (which began in this post), I’ll move on to the very first verse:

This is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

What the Bible Says

Let’s not miss the significance of this. Mark has the simplest introduction of any of the Gospels. No genealogy (Matthew), preface (Luke), or poetic allusions to creation (John). He just says, “this is the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” By the next verse, he’ll be introducing John the Baptist. So let’s take a closer look at this first verse.

Good News – The words “good news” here come from the Greek word euaggelion, which is usually translated “gospel” and from which we get our word “evangelize.” It was primarily used in particular of politically-relevant military victories, especially if the emperor was involved. This kind of good news would be along the lines, “Good news! We’ve won the battle!” or “Good news! A new emperor has been crowned!” The theme of royal victory was most likely a common connotation. Keep that thought in your back pocket for now.

Jesus Christ – The name “Jesus” doesn’t really warrant much explanation, though an interesting tidbit is that “Jesus” is the English way of saying the Greek translation of the Hebrew name “Yehôshua.” That name, if translated straight to English instead of to Greek first, is “Joshua.” So you can tell all your friends that Jesus’ name was Joshua. More important is the “Christ” part. What does that mean? The word “Christ” essentially means “anointed one,” or the same as “Messiah” from Hebrew. By saying “Jesus Christ,” Mark is saying, “Jesus the Messiah.”

This makes sense in connection with the theme of royal victory behind the term “Good News.” After all, there is nothing many of the Jews of Jesus’ day, of whom He was a part, wanted more than a Messiah who would rescue them from Rome in a military victory, and be crowned the true king under God. An unsuspecting reader from Mark’s world would at this point probably have in the mind the picture of a king like David, who would defeat God’s enemies and be acknowledged as God’s chosen ruler. The difference of the Messiah would be that He is the final king, whose victory and reign would be permanent and through whom God Himself would rule.

the Son of God – This is a particularly interesting title. See, before the early church did some serious study of what Jesus said about Himself, the term “son of God” had not been used to say someone had a divine nature, or was God. The most popular use of “son of God” when Mark was written would have been as more or less a synonym for “Messiah,” but with special emphasis on the royal aspect. In the Old Testament, the king of Israel, and Israel as a whole, was often spoken of as God’s son (Exod. 4:22-23, 2 Sam. 7:14, 1 Chr. 17:14, 22:10, 28:6, Ps. 2:6-7, 89:20-26, Ezek. 21:9-10, Hos. 11:1). This is important. God called Israel to be His child, and the king was especially so as God’s anointed representative of the whole nation. By Jesus’ day, these connections developed in many concepts of the Messiah, and the two phrases were practically synonyms (Matt. 16:16, 26:63, Mk. 14:61, John 1:49, 11:27).

So Mark here is again claiming Jesus as Messiah, only this time the emphasis is even more on His role as the King who represents all Israel in Himself. What He does is relevant for the whole nation. (Note that none of this is to say that Jesus wasn’t God’s son in another, more unique and divine, way as well. That’s simply not the original focus of the title “son of God.” Part of the reason this changed is because of who Jesus revealed Himself to be.)

The Theology Part

Putting these pieces we’ve just looked at together, we can start to see the startling scene Mark is trying to show us. Out of nowhere, Jesus appears. Like an unexpected scene in a dream, the Messiah has shown up. This is the beginning of the apocalyptic vision Mark has written his Gospel as. To dramatize it: “Good news!” he yells to his readers out of the fog. “Your Messiah has come!” The fog then parts to reveal the silhouette of Jesus.

We should remember that, for Mark’s readers, God has seemingly been silent and unhelpful to the Jews for many years. Even though they came back from Babylon way back when, many still believed that the Exile was still going on in some sense. They may be back in their land, but they’re still under pagan rule (the Romans this time), their king (Herod) is a corrupt puppet, and God has yet to do anything to show that He has returned to Jerusalem to dwell in His temple like He promised.

With this gloomy backdrop, the sudden appearance of the Messiah clearly has significance. Jesus has come to fix this situation, lead Israel out of exile, and win the final victory of God. This is indeed “Good News!” Yet whatever expectations may have been created in this first verse, the rest of the Gospel will end up confusing them.

For us, on the other side of these events, we know what has been accomplished. Jesus, the Messiah, who is God’s Son not only as King but as the eternal Word of God Himself, has defeated Satan and dealt with our sin on the Cross, then rose again. Now He is reigning on high, exalted above all. For us, the Jewish Messiah has already completed His mission, fulfilled the destiny of Israel, and brought us, the Gentiles who didn’t belong, in on the blessings. We now stand as one body, saved by Jesus alone, and acknowledge Him as the Son of God whose sudden appearance in history was the day of salvation for all people!

What to Do about It

So how are we to respond to what Mark 1:1? What changes can even this little verse make in our lives? I can think of a couple possible applications.

  • Just like Jesus suddenly appeared in the middle of Israel’s suffering to save His people, we now wait for Him to suddenly return. When He does, we have hope that He will implement His victory once and for all. In the mean time, we must work and prepare, telling the whole world about what Christ has done for us. One day time will run out, and just like Jerusalem was destroyed after it missed its chance with the Savior, so next time the whole world will fall if we do not prepare them for the return of the King.
  • God is always faithful, and we can trust Him. It had been 400 years since the Old Testament was written, and the Jews were wondering where God had gone. When would He help them again? Yet He did return to His people in Jesus just as He swore, and today we can trust that He will fulfill all of His promises to us. This means we can live boldly and without fear, doing whatever God calls us to, because we know He will do what He has promised.
  • We should never lose hope. Like I said, 400 years had gone by. No word from God in this time. Even after the Jews’ victory in the Maccabean revolt (study here if you’re interested), little progress was made and all the authorities were still corrupt. Pagan rule hadn’t stopped. Even in the midst of this bleak situation, though, God suddenly made His move for His people. So we can wait patiently, but also eagerly, because God might act at any moment to help us in whatever we need, or to rescue us from any of our sufferings. He could change your life whenever, so never lose heart.
Jesus the Apocalypse: The Messiah Appears