Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Worldview

How Simple and Shrewd Viewed Sage

I wrote this a few years ago for a different forum. I thought I might as well post it here as well. Hope you enjoy!

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In a place far from here three men, each on a pilgrimage met each other as they were travelling down a forlorn path. Conversation quickly revealed that the three were all desirous of reaching the same destination. One was an old man named Sage who said he had himself carved these paths many years ago. The second man was Simple, a smithy by trade, who often seemed quite pliable. The third man, a young noble named Shrewd, was wise in his own eyes and often desired to forge new paths, even as he imagined Sage had done when he was young.

As the three travelled on for some days, Sage offered direction time and again as he led them through grounds neither of the younger men had seen before. Every time he provided direction, no matter how unlikely it seemed, his word proved to be true and they found themselves to always be headed in the right direction.

Eventually, when the two young men awoke one morning, they found Sage already dressed for travel. He informed them that he had to depart for some time, but that if they followed his directions, he would meet them at the end of their journey. After some days on the path, he said, they would come to a cave. Despite what they saw, no matter how difficult the path through the cave would become, they were to keep going and not give up. This was the only route, he warned, that would take them to the land they desired.

Sure enough, after two days of walking, Simple and Shrewd found themselves at the mouth of a cave. Shrewd took a good long look at the cave, examining it from various perspectives. He warned Simple that caves such as this had been found to be perilous traps before for clueless pilgrims. Simple, however, was convinced that this was the cave he had been told they would find. Seeing that Simple would not be swayed, Sage reluctantly said he too would enter, but that Simple must go first.

As they entered the cave, they found that it travelled only down. Further and further it went, and the air got increasingly frigid. Soon it was totally black and both Simple and Shrewd were in despair for their lives. Looking ahead as far as he could, evaluating the little of the contours of the cave his eyes could discern, Shrewd began to speak:

‘Simple, this is all wrong. Anyone with a half a brain knows that a cave which leads to open land lets in light from both ends. If it is day time outside, and there is a way out of this cave, then we would be able to see light. It makes sense. To follow this path any longer is illogical. We can see that with our eyes. If you insist on staying here anymore, you will have to go it alone, because wisdom advises me to turn around.’

Simple reasoned, ‘The man Sage has never lied to me. He has led me safe this far, and even his words about this cave proved true; the way is difficult. Would it not be more foolish now to turn back, having seen that his counsel has been good thus far?’ And so he spoke to Shrewd, ‘I cannot see the light we both know we should see. But I know the man Sage, and I trust him. I will not turn back.’

So Shrewd and Simple parted ways.

Shrewd quickly, since he was moving towards the light, found his way out. Once out into the forest again, he surveyed the land, checked his compass, and headed off to forge his own path; to take the road less travelled and make his own mark. Not a mile from the cave, as he was looking at his compass, thinking hard about which way made the most sense to him, he happened to walk in between a family of bears, separating a mother from her cubs without even knowing it. He was mawled, and there he died, compass in hand, never having reached his desired land and never having carved the paths he had wanted.

After Shrewd left, Simple continued slowly through the cave. Shortly he had to feel his way along with only his hands as his sight completely failed him in the dark. Several times he hit his head or stubbed his toe, and many times he even began to question whether or not Sage’s words had been correctly spoken–or perhaps they had been misunderstood on his own part? He was, after all, an unlearned man.

But after some time of following the dark, damp, cool walls of the cave, Simple noticed that the wall on his right side disappeared and he realized that he was at a corner. Turning the corner, he caught a glimpse–could it be?–just a glimpse of light ahead. The more he walked toward it, the brighter it got, until he was finally able to walk with ease.

Coming out the other side of the cave he found his old friend, Sage to guide him the rest of the way home to the land of rest he had always desired.

How to React to the Fall of Rome – Part 2

In the previous post we saw that the ancient church’s view of a historical phenomenon (namely, the Roman Empire) shifted dramatically within the space of a few generations, on account of their particular experiences with that empire.

I would suggest that we have seen something somewhat similar take place over the past few generations up until our day–though not with an empire, per se.

I think it is particularly interesting to see how many Christians lament over the end of modernism the way Jerome mourned the fall of Rome. So many of us weep over modernism as if it was a Christian creation, designed for the spread of the gospel–God’s chosen means for reaching the world.

In reality, there is little that is further from the truth. In and of itself modernism was never a friend to the gospel. Secular modernist philosophers and scientists have always used modernism as a means of attacking and discrediting the claims of the Christian faith.

For all the ways that modernism has provided a platform for displaying the truthfulness of Christianity (text criticism, archaeological studies of ancient cities, much of creation science, etc.), it was never a ‘Christian’ view.

The trustworthiness of Christianity in a modern mindset boils down to little more than making a ‘case for Christ’ logically. The trouble is that Christianity, by its very nature, will not fit in these categories.

All that we are as Christians is based on the claim that Jesus Christ was entirely God and entirely man, lived a perfect life fulfilling God’s law, suffered and died to take on the curse of the law for us who receive his righteousness, and that God really did physically and literally raise him from the dead.

But here’s the deal: I can’t prove that to you in a scientific way. I can point to evidences, but that’s all. There is something necessarily personal and experiential (existential?) about the Christian faith. What we believe is not relativism, because our believing does not determine whether something is true or false, but our faith is what saves us.

In other words, it’s something personal, internal, ‘unprovable’ that makes all the difference in the world. That’s what our religion is based on. This is the kind of thing that modernists can’t grasp. They want something to touch, to examine, to test, to prove.

So what then? Do we rejoice over the fall of Rome? Do we rush off to align ourselves with the newest invaders who have come to expose Rome’s weaknesses? Do we embrace all that is postmodernism with open arms?

I suggest that we do what Augustine did. We use this opportunity to look around and evaluate from the perspective of eternity. What about modernism was evil and passing? What was good? What reflected God? How was modernism used for the spread of the kingdom?

And then, we ought to begin asking some careful questions about the ’empire’ that is coming upon us. How can we use its strengths and its weaknesses to further the cause of the kingdom? How does postmodernism provide ways for the gospel to go forth that modernism never would?

In the end we must remember that neither modernism nor postmodernism is ‘God’s perspective.’ These philosophical mindsets are of man, and they will pass. We need to examine the world around us closely so that we can see how to better hope in, trust in, and point to the world that is to come.

How to React to the Fall of Rome – Part 1

Looking over my notes today from my early church history course, I noticed something interesting. It’s nothing new or profound, but it caught my attention anyway. The church’s response to the fall of Rome was weird, in many ways.

I think it’s necessary to lay some background before we move on.

From the founding of Christianity (Pentecost somewhere around 33AD) to 64AD the Christian church enjoyed religious protection, since it was seen by Rome as a Jewish sect. When Rome burnt in 64AD, however, Nero needed someone to blame and so he blamed the Christians.

Nero’s actions set the precedent for persecution of Christians that would last the next few hundred years. Rome was ruled by pagans who hated Christians. From the heart of Rome all the way up to places like Gaul (southern France) Christians were persecuted.

It is important to note that throughout this time period, Christians saw the hand of Satan at work in the Roman Empire, as both he and they sought to destroy Christ’s church.

Skipping ahead a few centuries, we find that in 312AD a Roman Emperor (Constantine) becomes a Christian. This is part of a monumental shift for the way Christianity and Rome came to relate. Though (contrary to popular belief) Constantine did not legislate Christianity, he did legally protect Christians from persecution.

As Christianity gained favour with the upper segments of society (it’s popular to like what the emperor likes), Rome grew in favour with the Christians as well.

Within a few generations, it seems, Christians had forgotten that Rome had for so long killed and persecuted their forefathers in the faith. Now Rome was a friend to them, and they could see it as nothing else.

This is seen nowhere more clearly than in Jerome’s reaction to the fall of Rome. In his writings, he laments the fall of the Roman empire, citing Scriptures originally speaking of Jerusalem, and now using them in reference to Rome! Christians like him wept and lamented that this ‘Christian’ empire could fall.

This is a far cry from the view of Christians who had lived only a few generations before him, who saw Satan at work through the Roman empire.

How could this shift have happened?

It happened because Christians like Jerome were so consumed with what they could see in their own time, that they lost sight of what the scriptures truly do say about kingdoms, empires, and earthly regimes.

Just as a side note, in closing, it must be noted that my personal hero, Augustine, did not fall prey to such a short view. In response to Jerome, Augustine would write letters to him, admonishing him to look past Rome to the City that will never fall. Likewise, against the pagans who said that the fall of Rome meant the fall (and failure!) of Christianity, Augustine wrote the City of God which functions as a theodicy and an apologetic to the philosophers of his day.

What does all this have to do with us and how we view history today, as it unfolds? That’s for another post.

Tertullian and Contemporary Biblical Ethics

Tertullian lived ca.150-ca.225 AD. He was born in Carthage, which is in North Africa (so he was probably a little darker than the picture would suggest). He was a man brilliantly gifted by God for writing. He wrote extensively on things like apologetics and ethics and often wrote polemically against the heretics of his day (eg. Marcion and Praxeas). He ably defended both Scriptures and the Trinity. In his writings–which are easily dated from the end of the second and early third centuries–Tertullian quotes from the New Testament, plainly citing it as being on par with Old Testament Scriptures, thus indicating an already accepted Canon, long before Nicaea.

All that said, Tertullian was not perfect (as no saint has ever been). Tertullian was associated with a movement in his day known as Montanism. Based on the teachings of a ‘Prophet’ named Montanus, this group believed that the age in which they lived was the dispensation of the Holy Spirit (the Old Testament was the dispensation of the Father, the Gospels were the dispensation of the Son). Since this was the age of the Holy Spirit, they relied heavily on prophecies and other miraculous revelatory gifts for their doctrine and ecclesiastical practice.

Citing John 16.12-13, Tertullian and the Montanists claimed that the ethics Jesus declared were not finally absolute, nor fully developed, but that they were all that the disciples were able to handle at that point in redemptive history. The Holy Spirit, who was to come, would then have the ministry of revealing a heightened ethic to Jesus’ followers in the days and years to come.

It is absolutely essential to notice, however, to what end Tertullian and friends used this position. They argued for the insufficiency of Scriptural ethics in several areas: namely, marriage / remarriage, and flight from persecution. Whereas Jesus had made allowances for both of these, the Holy Spirit was now teaching them to advance beyond what Scripture had revealed to a higher ethic.

Why in the world would they choose these areas? Because that’s what their culture demanded. Asceticism was the philosophical milk Tertullian had been raised on, and persecution had become the norm for Christians of their day. For Christianity to be consistent, relevant, and morally / ethically contemporary with the philosophical ideals of the day it needed to be advanced from what Scripture had revealed.

The irony, of course, is that looking back from about 1800 years later it seems absurd to us (in a completely removed culture) to suppose the Holy Spirit would counsel against marriage (or even remarriage after one’s spouse dies) or that he would specifically command that Christians not flee, but rather, seek persecution.

Since we don’t breathe that air, it smells real funny to us.

But here’s the thing: People today insist on making the same mistake as Tertullian and the Montanists. No, not with the marriage / remarriage thing or the persecution thing (in fact, we’re tempted to loosen the biblical commands here rather than tighten them), but rather, with the ordination of women to the position of elder, or to accept some forms of homosexuality as legitimate lifestyle alternatives.

People argue now, like Tertullian argued then, that the Bible’s ethics are unfinished; they merely establish a trajectory that we must follow, and by the guidance of the Spirit (and by finding the ‘spirit of the text’) we can ultimately determine a better ethic than the one laid out in Scripture.

But it’s all hoogly! I would be willing to bet–if any of us could be around–that 1800 years from now people will look back on our times and wonder why in the world we would think the Scriptures were insufficient in these areas.

Just like we look back on Tertullian and see him reading Scriptures and conforming Christianity to his culture, so we must see that we ourselves are always being tempted to do the same. The simple fact is that we live in a profoundly feminist, pro-gay culture. The pressure we face is always to accept these things. We have been raised and educated, indoctrinated from our youth to accept these things. The ‘highest’ of ethics in our culture is an accepting one that does not place boundaries on other people, especially when it comes to gender or ‘sexual preference.’

Those are our ‘hot-button issues’, just like Tertullian’s were asceticism and persecution. We must not be like him. We must stand firm and stick to the Scriptures. It is them alone which are able to make us wise for salvation, and them alone which equip us for every good work.

The real questions we must ask are not about whether women should be ordained as elders or homosexuality should be accepted; we already have the answers to those questions!

The real question that needs to be asked is this: Am I willing to stand on the authority of the word of God alone? Do I have enough faith in God to base my ethics on it, even when it makes me appear ‘morally backward’ in a culture of acceptance? Is God’s word enough?

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For a fuller treatment of ‘Trajectory ethics’, see here.
For another post on the influence of asceticism on Christianity, see here.

Shrewd as Serpents?

Please understand that I know the whole Augustinian / Pelagian (Calvinism / Arminianism) debate has been running its course for 16 centuries or so now, so I don’t intend to solve it here. That being said, I’m a little frustrated this evening at the “non-logic” employed by many Christians when it comes to working through these thoughts.
Augustine (and subsequently Calvin, Luther, Edwards, et al.) taught the freedom of the will. This surprises many, but it’s true. The will is free to choose whatever it should so desire. The biblical picture, however, is that the unregenerate heart will always choose evil; hence the “bondage of the will” (ie. it can only choose evil, therefore, it knows nothing of true freedom). God’s grace, according to Augustine, is his active changing of our hearts, so that we delight in him above all else, so that we freely choose him over everything else (thus God is, to Augustine, his sovereign joy) and every other false pleasure.
I believe firmly that this is a concept firmly rooted in the biblical portrait of man and God’s redemptive work and would be prepared to argue that at length. That’s not what I’m hoping to discuss here, however.
My problem is when I get into discussions like one I had recently with a brother (whom I love dearly) who refuses to acknowledge God’s sovereign grace for patently unbiblical reasons. He made no attempt to argue from Scripture, exept to cite a single verse from 1 Tim 2 without rooting his argument in context. He then based his whole theology of grace around the idea that he created from that one verse. His argument went something like this:

1. God elects some to salvation.
2. This necessarily implies that he has willfully, actively chosen to create some, make them sinful, and send them to hell.
3. This is unacceptable.
4. Therefore, God does not elect unto salvation.
The problem, of course, with this syllogism is that 2 does not follow from 1.
The problem in the grander scheme of things, however, is that he has worked himself into a tough corner when it comes to actually dealing with the biblical texts which clearly delineate God’s electing in salvation. What does one do with Ephesians 1 when he has already decided in his mind that God’s greatest desire is for every single person to be saved?
The simple fact of the matter is that the Bible places the blame for the damnation of sinners on sinners. Out of a fallen race of humanity, God elects a people unto salvation. God is responsible for salvation, because his grace has to change our hearts so that we can delight in him. God is not responsible for the damnation of a sinner, that sinner chose what he desired.
Some may well ask “how can God judge me when he didn’t elect me?” To that we’d have to answer with Paul, “Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?” Or with Moses, “The revealed things belong to man, but the hidden things belong to God.” Or with Isaiah, “His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so are his thoughts above our thoughts and his ways above our ways.”
It frustrates me to no end how Christians are willing to take certain things by faith, but then when the Bible doesn’t answer every question they have, they reject what the Bible does teach for their own ideas of what it should teach.
Deal with the text and let that frame your thoughts and questions. Be willing to submit to whatever it teaches… it is the word of God. Be willing to accept “foolishness” when it presents itself. This type of humility usually leads to the greatest insights of wisdom.

What Controls You?

A couple of different events are converging at once, prompting this post. One of which is some recent reflections I’ve had on narrative theology (most recently, Justin Taylor brought out the connection between narrative theology and emergent/emerging). The other series of events that leads me to these thoughts is the series of sermons we find ourselves in at Grace Fellowship. We’re currently in Romans 9 and working through what it means that God ‘has mercy on whom he wills, and hardens whom he wills.’

It’s a basic presupposition of many people that you must allow a certain set of texts (be they divided by genre, place in redemptive-history, author, whatever) to control the other sets of texts.

For example, because of their predisposition to narrative theology, open theists say that the ‘divine repentance texts’ must have priority over the seeming ‘exhaustive detail sovereignty texts’ in teaching us how God interacts with people. In fact, the narrative texts ultimately determine how we interpret those other texts.

This post will obviously not resolve all (or perhaps any) of the problems raised within these issues. That being said, I want to suggest that we sometimes overlook basic rules of logic when it comes to interpreting the Bible. In other words, sometimes we think that we have to have an entirely different type of thinking cap on when we’re reading God’s word.

Here’s an example of what I mean. One of my all-time favourite bands is braveSaintSaturn (although I think they may be defunct now…?). I love this band so much because I can identify with the poetry, allegory, images, and emotions conveyed in their art. It pulls at my heart. As they sing, I interpret everything that they say… and to be honest, I think I get it. I think I totally understand what the author of that song was trying to get across.

But I could be wrong. The other day I read an interview with Reese Roper, the lead singer of the band, and the guy that writes most of their lyrics. He started talking about what the symbols meant, and what he was trying to get across in various songs. Now, if he had’ve explained that a certain image meant something completely different than what I had expected, who would be right? Should I still insist that the image is what makes sense to me? Or should I understand that in his mind, he meant to convey something else, and let his explanation govern my interpretation?

Basically, my point is this: We sometimes forget that all revelation did not always exist (it came in sequence) and that not all Scripture is equally clear (2 Pet 3.16). Just as poetry provides brilliant images and draws on emotions and encourages audience involvement, so does the narrative of the OT (and gospels and Acts). But, if we understand the concept that there is one author of the whole Bible–as there was one author who both wrote the braveSaintSaturn songs and spoke about them in the interview–(see 2 Pet 1.16-21; 2 Tim 3.16; and Heb 1), then we must understand that what comes later, and clearly interprets all of narrative history (cf Romans and Hebrews for example), is intended to control our theology. This is especially true of theology proper.

What in the world does all that mean? Simply this: When we read things in the Bible that confuse us about God, we allow the newer revelation to control the older (cf Heb 1.1-2) because it is better. It interprets what came before. This is a simple principle that we apply all the time to other things we read, we just seem to miss it somehow when we read our Bible. Maybe we have a ‘presupposition-driven theology.’

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