Obama’s take on the pope, gospel, and children of God

Well the moment that we’ve all been waiting for: we have a new Pope. Of course I should say “we” because I believe the head of the church is Jesus. However, I’m much aware of the need for accountability structure and thankful for the biblical standard of Presbyterianism which places the final human authority at a General Assembly level (a la Acts 15). That way there isn’t one dude who can stop the buck, or a panel of several dudes like some denominations nowadays have. But I mean no disrespect to other church polity, nor do I desire to debate it now. Simply an ADD moment!

And when I say “we,” I should admit that I’m glad that if there must be a Pope, that he is a Jesuit. I’m the product, for better or worse, of Jesuit High School education. Yet Jesuits in my experience in my Tampa high school seemed more concerned about education than Jesus, so maybe this is not such a good thing?

And when we say “we,” we should also realize that many American Catholics consider the pope to have the same authority as the King or Queen of England. So who knows what this even means for Catholics?

But Obama chimed in with his take on the selection of a new Pope. His concern was not so much the country of origin but the origin of his actions. Sounds good so far. In an interview, he offers his take:

My hope is based on what I know about the Catholic Church–and the terrific work that they’ve done around the world and certainly around this country helping those who are less fortunate–is that you have a pope who sustains and maintains what I consider the central message of the Gospel. We treat everybody as children of God. We love them the way Jesus Christ taught us to love them.

Forget whether or not the Catholic church in general (I’ve come across Catholics who can articulate justification through faith in Christ better than Protestants) has strayed from the central message of the gospel. Just consider what Obama posits as the central message of the gospel: “We treat everybody as children of God. We love them the way Jesus Christ taught us to love them.” 

Hmmm……I guess I can understand why Obama’s faith has led him to approve what he does. If everyone is a child of God, and Jesus taught everyone to love each other as though they are children of God, then I can see how his hermeneutic lands him where he ends up. But I see at least two problems with such a hermeneutic (principle of interpretation).

1.) Not everyone is a child of God. Entrance into the family of God depends upon faith in Jesus. 

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-John 1:11-12

You have to be adopted into God’s family. This is not something you are born into. Jews (“his own”) rejected Jesus and are therefore not God’s children. Jews and Gentiles who receive Jesus, have been granted the right to become God’s children.

….the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:2-3

Notice that we are naturally children of wrath. Such is what the Ephesians were. Such is what all Christians at one time were. Getting together and singing “we are the world, we are the children” brings out the warm fuzzies in all of us. But it just doesn’t really change our status. But the good news is there is a supernatural work of God wherein he doesn’t leave Christians as children of wrath.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved-Ephesians 4-5

You see that to treat everyone as a child of God is not Jesus wants us to, primarily because not everyone is a child of God.  

2.) How does Jesus tell us to love children of God? How does Jesus tell us to love those who aren’t?

Well to quote one poet, “let me count the ways.” Or you could probably go as simple as Jesus’ words in reciting the 2nd greatest commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t love everyone as children of God. We can’t. I tell my wife who is a Christian that everything will work out for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28). You’ve probably heard that a zillion times. But it would not be very loving to tell my neighbor who isn’t a Christian, who hasn’t yet been called (he/may certainly be at one point, and to that end I pray!), that everything is working out for his good. That’s tantamount to offering a deceptively acidic band-aid that will hurt the wound and not heal it. And if my friend who is a Christian is willfully ignoring Jesus’ commands, the loving thing to do is to rebuke him. But I will never rebuke my friends who aren’t Christians. Again, what good does that do? So we can’t love everyone as children of God, for if we try to do that, we really won’t be loving them very well.

But Jesus reminds us in this commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Now that applies to everyone, Christian and non-Christian. I owe them love. The same kind of love I naturally give to myself. So the specific way I demonstrate love for my neighbor will be determined by his/her relationship to God, and of course numbers of other factors like how well we know each other, his/her needs, his/her maturity, etc….

God showed mercy on me when I wasn’t a child of God, so am I not compelled to show mercy on those who aren’t children of God? Of course! Just because I don’t see them as children of God doesn’t mean that I withhold love. On the contrary, I’m motivated to give more!

I think the Catholic church, which Obama seems to be referencing here, does some good things when it comes to loving neighbors and assisting the poor. Yet it is important to distinguish between children of God and children of wrath. Not because you don’t love the latter, but because you do. You can’t love the same way or you will do harm. Instead, love unbelievers like you would want to be loved. Not agreeing with every issue, but respecting them as people along with their right to disagree.

In summary, the central message of the gospel is that God is reconciling a sinful alienated people and world to Himself through the Savior Jesus Christ. But if you want to get on that train, you must repent from sin and self-trust and place your hope in Jesus. Jesus is calling out, in the words of the 1990’s rap song, “Come on ride that train. And ride it.”

Seeing Israel through the Jesus lens

Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach on a very difficult passage in Matthew 5:17-20, trying to discern what Jesus meant he said, “I have come not to abolish but fulfill the Law and Prophets.” 

The most immediate meanings I concluded were as follows: 

1.) All the Old Testament points to Jesus, therefore we cannot interpret the Old Testament laws, verses, passages, stories, books without seeing them in light of Jesus. Just like the event of 9/11 changes our interpretations of what we do and don’t do now, so we interpret the OT in light of the new era of Jesus’ reign on Earth.
2.) Jesus did in the Law for us what we could not do in the Law,  therefore we don’t need to relax Jesus’ extensive and hard commands in the Sermon on the Mount, but can relax that he did them for us.
3.) Jesus brings out the full meaning/intent/heart of the Law,  therefore we should see the Law as something that trips us up and reveals our need for Jesus.

I wanted to follow up just a bit on number 1. We cannot isolate bible verses in the Old Testament without see what Jesus has to say on the matter. While I do think many people are so clearly pro-Israel because they honestly want to be faithful to the scriptures, it might be worth a second (or third) look to discern whether or not Jesus himself is actually pro-Israel. 

For instance, many folks point to Gen 12:1-3 and say, “God says I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” Unfortunately most forget to take into serious consideration that Israel was blessed SO THAT it would be a blessing to the nations. It wasn’t that much of a blessing and so Jesus as an Israelite, or in place of Israel, fulfills that promise and sends his disciples out to bless the nations with the gospel.

We don’t blindly apply passages regarding sacrifices, shellfish, or stoning kids. Instead, since Jesus has come, we need to say, “Did Jesus have anything to say or do with how should now understand or apply this TODAY?”

In the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-45), Jesus makes a fairly bold claim:

“Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing it’s fruits…When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.”

John Piper probably does a better job (I can only assume, since I haven’t listened to this respective sermon) of explaining this. Folks at the Gospel Coalition have summarized his sermon on this very relevant issue.

1. God chose Israel from all the peoples of the world to be his own possession.
2. The Land was part of the inheritance he promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.
3. The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.
4. Jesus Christ has come into the world as the Jewish Messiah, and his own people rejected him and broke covenant with their God.
5. Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.
6. By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land.
7. Finally, this inheritance of Christ’s people will happen at the Second Coming of Christ to establish his kingdom, not before; and till then, we Christians must not take up arms to claim our inheritance; but rather lay down our lives to share our inheritance with as many as we can.

I’m not anti-Israel nor pro-Palestinian. I actually had a “run-in” with some Palestinians on the Mount of Olives and by God’s grace ended up not getting stoned. Literally. Totally destroyed the special experience of being there when one of our traveling companions gets in a fight, which then invited the jeers and stones of “F*$&  you, Americans!” (and they weren’t just talking about our college, FU, Fuman University). Crazy times.

I just think folks should probably temper the zeal for Israel with a recognition that the present state of Israel is not much different than the past state of Israel in the bible. And Jesus wasn’t a fan of how things were running then.  

I realize much of Christianity would disagree with the Reformed “take” on Israel. That’s OK. This has just come up several times in conversation in the last week or two so I thought I’d chime in. Should be my last. Because I don’t think we can interpret anything in the OT without seeing how it points to Jesus (Jesus seems to think that way as well in Luke 24:37), I think it’s worth a second, or third look. 

My confession and conviction, in my zeal to see the church (which comprises many nations), as the fulfillment of O.T. singular geo-political/ethnic Israel, is that I can’t tell you the last time I prayed for the ethnic people of Israel to come to faith. That ends now as I’m putting on my nifty prayer app  

To conclude, here’s some further application from the article

Why It Matters: Wherever you land theologically or politically, the events of the past week mark yet another distressing development in the Israeli-Palestinian saga. This is a prime opportunity to pray. Pray for the Israelis, image-bearers of God, that they’d search the Scriptures and find life in the Savior (John 5:39-40, 46). May they discover that the meeting point between God and man is no longer a place—whether reconstructed temple or geographical partition—but a risen and reigning and soon returning Person (John 4:21-26).

Pray too for the Palestinians, image-bearers of God, that they’d turn in droves to Jesus the King. Pray particularly for our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the faith; there are, after all, far more Palestinian Christians in the Middle East than the news headlines imply.
May the Prince of Peace reveal what’s been hidden (Luke 19:41-42) and bring everlasting shalom to a Land flowing with blood and hatred—with little milk and honey to be found.

Kathy Keller on hermeneutics, ladies, and misinterpretation

A number of months back, blogger/speaker/writer Rachel Held Evans shared a number of reasons why she became disillusioned and left the church. I deemed this a helpful list, and even responded to that list here, here, and here,  though I obviously disagreed with her conclusions. Later she shared a list explaining why she returned to the church.

Now she has a book out called A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a liberated woman found herself sitting on a roof, covering her head, and calling her husband master.

Apparently her publicist must have done some good work as Evans ended up on The Today Show. But do not count Tim Keller’s wife Kathy among her fans. I commend her review  called “A Year of Ridiculous Biblical Interpretation.”

Whether you intend to read Evan’s book or not (I don’t unless folks in my church start reading it), do yourself and your friends a favor and read the review, if for nothing else, then its sound, simple, but helpful lesson in hermeneutics. 

Hermeneutics is simply the method of interpreting something, though its use is often employed in reference to bible interpretation. Kathy gives several parameters which will help you interpret the bible. According to Keller, one of Evan’s main contentions with so called “Biblical Womanhood” is that primarily folks are simply picking and choosing which bible verses to apply. Yet Keller wisely recognizes in her review/open letter,In doing so, you (Evans) have further muddied the waters of biblical interpretation instead of bringing any clarity to the task.” Here are a few things we can glean in regards to how to more responsibly interpret the bible.

  • Interpret the Old Testament with the new. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law and so we can eat bacon wrapped scallops now. It is not picking and choosing to not follow dietary or cleanliness  laws (Mark 7:19)
  • Narrative or Prescriptive? Is the author telling the story to condone/approve/teach evils (prescriptive) or does he include the “dirt” of God’s people to show everyone that even the “heroes” need a savior. Is Abraham’s passing off his wife as his sister to save his butt something the bible approves of/instructs us to do (prescriptive), or is it a display of a lack of faith ultimately displaying our need for Jesus? The writers no more condone or approve of evils perpetrated on women than a newspaper editors approve of a rape or murder they report. Nice one Kathy!
  • Intended meaning in context. What is the writer trying to communicate? She gives two examples. One includes a misapplication of proverbs as she literally stands on the corner of the street with a “Dan is great” sign when the text of proverbs reads, “Her husband is respected at the city gate.” It just means the husband is generally respected in the community. The 2nd is when Paul explains to Titus that even one of the Cretans own prophets declares that they are lazy. Paul isn’t being a racist, but instead reminding Titus that he his work cut out for him and their own prophets agree!

While Evans espouses a how will we pick and choose bible verses to apply, this is not how, even the bible writers, assume one should interpret it. In the end, hopefully one of Evans “gifts” to the community will be a heightened awareness that each person needs to  examine his heart when coming to any subject matter addressed in the bible. We should do all we can to make sure we aren’t picking and choosing which ones to apply. Unless of course, Jesus tells us specific ones (ceremonial law) not to apply in the ways they were first intended.

Like I said earlier, read the review, if only for the hermeneutics lesson. It’s well worth your 5 minutes or so.