Freedom and Friendship

Ravi Zacharias Mormon LDS

Ravi Zacharias will again be speaking in the Mormon Tabernacle. His visit to Utah will also include a stop at BYU. I hope some of my Utah based friends can attend. Live streams of the event are included below for those who can’t be there in person.

BYU Live Stream

Friday, January 17, 2014 – 12:00pm-1:00pm (MST)

Title: What Does It Mean To Be Human?

Dr. Ravi Zacharias will speak on what it means to be human as he believes faith, family, and society cannot be fully appreciated until this question is first answered.

Mormon Tabernacle Live Stream

Saturday, January 18, 2014 – 6:30pm-8:30pm (MST)

Title: Lessons from History: Building A Nation Under God

Dr. Ravi Zacharias will speak on the centrality of the Word of God as the guide for personal conduct, true freedom, and building a nation under God.

The Weeping God of Teryl Givens

Teryl and Fiona Givens were recently on a tour of British ward houses giving a series of talks entitled “The Crucible of Doubt”. The point of the talk seemed to be to encourage Mormons who may be struggling with doubts. One attendee recorded the talk and shared it.  Another attendee took notes on the talk and shared those notes.  I’ll set aside the content of Givens’ apologetic arguments in order to focus on something he said about Protestantism. Continue reading

“But whom do you say that I am?”

I first heard the following chestnut as a teenager. Though it is sometimes shared by miscellaneous kinds of Christians (often as a humorous but good-natured anecdote meant to show how confusing the Trinity can be), it was first introduced to me by a Mormon friend who wanted to show me that belief in the Trinity was ridiculous. It reads as follows:

“Whom do men say that I am?”

And his disciples answered and said, “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elias, or other of the old prophets.”

And Jesus answered and said, “But whom do you say that I am?”

Peter answered and said: “Thou art the Logos, existing in the Father as his rationality and then, by an act of his will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple.”

And Jesus answering said “What??

The joke was recently posted to the comments of an LDS scholar’s blog, with the scholar who runs the blog calling it, “A wonderful joke, and right on target.”

Continue reading

The Universalist Pope?!

Pope Francis appears to have a new, dramatic, position on salvation for the non-believer.  Catholic Online  gives a detailed account of the Pope’s sermon yesterday where he stated that even atheists were redeemed by Christ and would go to heaven if they “do good.”

A quote from the article:

Francis explained himself, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart, do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

I recognize that the pope is not really making himself out to be a universalist, but he definitely opens the door to salvation to anyone regardless of belief. If this is a sign of things to come, I think this pope may have ideas that could really unite Christianity.  If the pope believes an atheist can get into heaven, this seems to change the entire dynamic of Christian interaction with the world.  The fundamental missionary act would be to promote and support good conduct–Christian love–rather than merely spreading Christian theology or belief.  Is the pope implying this? Am I reading too much into it? Whether this represents a sea change or is simply warmer rhetoric, I think its a very positive step. Thoughts?

12 Years and More to Come

The journal, Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue, dedicated its most recent issue to Evangelicalism and Mormonism. It features two terrific articles I’d like to direct your attention toward.

The first written by Robert Millet, reflects on the meetings of Evangelical and Mormon scholars over the last twelve years. Speaking of the challenges the meetings have confronted he writes:

Third, as close as we have become, as warm and congenial as the dialogues have proven to be, there is still an underlying premise that guides most of the Evangelical participants: that Mormonism is the tradition that needs to do the changing if progress is to be forthcoming. To be sure, the LDS dialogists have become well aware that we are not well understood and that many of our theological positions need clarifying. Too often, however, the implication is that if the Mormons can only alter this or drop that, then we will be getting somewhere. As one participant noted, sometimes we seem to be holding “Tryouts for Christianity” with the Latter-day Saints. A number of the LDS cohort have voiced this concern and suggested that it just might be a healthy exercise for the Evangelicals to do a bit more introspection, to consider that this enterprise is in fact a dialogue, a mutual conversation, one where long-term progress will come only as both sides are convinced that there is much to be learned from one another, including doctrine.

Later, Millet writes:

In pondering on the future, there are certain developments I would love to see take place in the next decade. I would hope that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would become a bit more confident and secure in its distinctive theological perspectives and thus less prone to be thin-skinned, easily offended, and reactionary when those perspectives are questioned or challenged. In that light, I sense that we Mormons have to decide what we want to be when we grow up; that is, do we want to be known as a separate and distinct manifestation of Christianity (restored Christianity), or do we want to have traditional Christians conclude that we are just like they are? You can’t have it both ways. And if you insist that you are different, you can’t very well pout about being placed in a different category!

Craig Blomberg writes another article about the future of these meetings. He writes:

It is also time for people to stop learning only secondhand about people whose religious views at times differ from theirs. In a global village, there is no reason not to engage members of other religions or denominations directly.12 So much Evangelical literature on these topics is overly simplified, historically dated, not representative of the entire movements depicted, and/or downright inaccurate. Short introductions to complex belief systems almost inevitably distort, especially when the author has a particular dislike for a given movement. The biases may be semi-conscious, but they affect the results nevertheless. I have been recently reading for the first time a collection of fifty of the most important or famous sermons of John Wesley and realize how skewed my own theological education was in mostly Lutheran and Calvinist contexts as to what I was taught about Wesley’s theology!

Mormons likewise need to engage Evangelicals in far less confrontational settings than the classic door-to-door evangelism they are known for. They should invite Evangelical friends and leaders to fireside chats and similar forums, as I have occasionally experienced. They need to get to know the “silent majority” of us who are not nearly as “mean-spirited” (to use their preferred term for the most combative or polemical of us) as the anti-Mormons they are more used to encountering. They need to learn the breadth of Evangelicalism, so that we are not all tarnished with the same two brushes of “easy believism” and rigid Calvinism.

There are several other articles in the journal which I have not yet read, but all of them appear to be as thoughtful as the two I’ve linked to. I look forward to reading these others as well.

The Church as the Theater of Transracial Adoption

Earlier this fall my wife and I attended the 2011 Together for Adoption conference.  If there was only one sermon I would want you to hear this year, it’s this one by Bryan Loritts.  This talk was the buzz of the conference and afterwards everyone felt they had heard something pretty special.

You won’t feel you have to adopt after listening but you will have a vision for putting your faith in action.


Direct Download

Christian Zombies and the Apocalypse

Matthew 27: 51-53

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

There is a controversy currently running in the Evangelical world over this passage.  The issue centers on Norman Geisler and his attempts to censure Mike Licona for his references to this passage as a form of apocalyptic literature.

Licona recently presented a paper in his defense at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. You can read that paper here or listen to his presentation here (mp3)

Geisler’s response can be found at his website.  At issue is the doctrine of inerrancy and whether or not Licona is rejecting inerrancy or properly discerning a shift in genre in this passage. Christianity Today wrote a summary of the issues here.

[hat tip: Francis Beckwith]

Bowman, Peterson, Theosis & Exaltation

Rob Bowman provides this excellent critique of a Deseret News article by Daniel Peterson on the doctrines of exaltation and theosis. I really appreciated how he took his time in covering the issues involved and was thorough in the places he felt Peterson deserves criticism. Parchment and Pen provided the review in a 5 part series. I highly recommend this series to get an overview of exaltation and theosis and their place in Ancient Christian thought.

  1. The Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation
  2. The New Testament and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation
  3. The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation
  4. Esoteric Jewish Theology and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation
  5. Early Church Fathers and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation

If you’re interested in the topic, you should also check out Jack’s article published here.

[hat tip to JB]

The Nature of God Illustrated

The Nature of God Illustrated The chief differences between Mormonism and Christianity are often difficult to decipher. I recently attended a seminar presented by Carl Mosser in which he tried to spotlight the different faiths in terms of contrasting worldviews. It’s one thing to say that they are similar because they both feature Jesus as the Savior of humanity. It’s another to broaden the picture to the origins of the universe itself. Is Jesus the only self-existing Creator ever or is he one of many self-existing beings? Perhaps he’s part of a vast universal system that forms matter together into beings that in turn form more matter together.

In a good faith attempt to illustrate the various religious views on the nature of God (and the capital “U” Universe”) I created this diagram. A comment by Christian J inspired the reptilian illustration. Virtually no one sees God as some sort of reptile, it’s merely a humorous attempt at illustrating the ideas that each worldview presents.

I will gladly admit that the Mormon section was the most difficult to capture. Depending on the Mormon you talk to, and the day you talk to him, I’m sure there are many different ideas floating around. Blake Ostler for instance will give a picture more inline with Social Trinitarianism. So go easy on me if you think I got it wrong. If you disagree, I’m interested to know how you would have drawn it.

Click the image to see the full-size version, you may have to click the image again when it pops up to see it in full magnification (browser dependent).

*Made a few clarifying edits on 11/8/11.

Quick Links

Here are three quick links I thought readers would be interested in

Learning Proper Manners for the Religious Roundtable: Kuyper and Convicted Civility
How one Evangelical has been influenced by Abraham Kuyper in religious discourse.

Francis Chan Dominates Top 10 NYTimes Best Sellers
A discussion of Chan’s latest book “Erasing Hell” and his view on the reality of Hell.


Edward Fudge on Alternative Third View of Hell

Fudge is the preeminent Christian scholar on Annihilationism.

How “Christian” Should Mormonism Strive To Be?

This is an interesting discussion from the Sunstone Symposium. The panel included Shawn McCraney, Grant Palmer, Brian Birch, Rex Sears, Bill Russell and Dan Wotherspoon. You can download the file from here.


I thought it was interesting that there were basically 3 paths given that would mainstream the LDS church into orthodox Christianity.

  1. A greater emphasis on methaphysical experiences with Jesus (born-again experiences)
  2. More emphasis on Jesus in worship, more emphasis on the Gospels in lesson planning and adoption of modern Bible translations.
  3. Abandonment of all doctrines stemming from the King Follet Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet

I think any of these would have an effect on Mormonism that would bring it into orthodox Christianity in pretty short order. I imagine that #1 and #2 would probably bring about #3 on it’s own. While #3 in isolation would be welcomed, but would not necessarily produce a vibrant Evangelical-Mormonism.

Are Mormons Mormon™?

I discovered a couple of resources that highlighted an interesting conversation within Mormonism to me. What does a Mormon have to believe to be a Mormon?

The first was this interview on Mormon Expression Podcast with a Bishop who is currently serving despite experiencing a crisis of faith. I enjoyed hearing his thoughts and think the LDS church would be well served by his leadership. But then I heard him express some rather unconventional theological viewpoints, namely this one quoted from Millennial Mormonism:

You are the golden plates that have been hidden (deep in the mountain side) and are now coming forth. You are being translated correctly and published to the world. You are the most correct book on earth.

The counter-point to Bishop “X” is this article by J Maxwell Wilson (hat tip to Andrew S.). Wilson argues for Mormon orthodoxy to the extent that he thinks those who think orthopraxy is all that is required of Mormons are Pharisees. I think he does an excellent job of making his case and encourage you to read his thoughts for yourself.

I’m not going to weigh in on the debate, lest I be accused of being a critic seeking a definition of “Mormonism” that I can use as a lever against the LDS church. Nonetheless I think the debate is extremely important as Mormonism adapts to the 21st Century.

Many will say that there are no thought-police within Mormonism. Mormons are free to believe any theological position they desire; there is only a problem when a person starts teaching others to join them in their heresy. It’s at that point the Mormon church exercises its prerogative to define itself and discipline the heretic or excommunicate him. I can understand this viewpoint, I’m beginning to wonder though, if recording podcast episodes and writing blog entries might not be “teaching” and wonder how long the LDS church can sustain non-traditional definitions without undermining its centralized authority.

I also wonder why Mormons are upset at orthodox Christians for holding the same standard in defining who is and who is not a “Christian”. To my knowledge there are no thought police in any well known Christian denominations or churches. Members and attendees are free to believe anything they want, there is only a problem when a person starts teaching others to join them in their heresy. Joseph Smith and any who teach his unorthodox style of Christianity are welcome to do so, but they are not allowed to redefine Christianity any more than Mormon heretics are allowed to redefine Mormonism.

Romans 16

Bridget Jack Jeffries (“Ms. Jack”) is a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church. She blogs at ClobberBlog.

Romans 16 has often been overlooked and underappreciated when compared to the rest of Romans. It’s far lower in theological content and subsequently tends to warrant less space in commentaries and fewer mentions in sermons so that many end their reading of Romans without taking a careful look at this chapter. I find this unfortunate, because I consider Romans 16 to be the “cool-down” at the end of a high-energy theological cardio work-out. And as anyone who works out can testify, while it may be tempting to turn off your television and step away from your exercise video once the trainer initiates the cool-down phase, you’ll only be cheating your body if you do. Likewise, Romans 16 does have important lessons to teach us, even if they’re of a much different tone and nature than the heavy theological treatises of the preceding 15 chapters, and we cheat ourselves out of a portion of God’s “revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past” (v. 25) when we skip over this chapter and call it a day.

Continue reading

Romans 15

Alex T. Valencic is a life-long Mormon, born and raised in central Illinois. He served a full-time mission in southern California (ostly in Victorville), and spent a semester studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia. He is currently the Webelos Den Leader in his ward and works as a substitute teacher in his community. He also unabashedly uses non-American English spellings.

Summary

Romans 15 continues on from the advice started in chapter 12, giving practical advice to how the Saints can “present [their] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [their] reasonable service.” Having discussed a variety of aspects of practical Christian behaviour in the previous chapter, Paul starts off by admonishing the Romans to “bear the infirmities of the weak” and to “every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.” Paul then gives counsel that we be “likeminded one toward another” that we “may with one mind and one mouth glorify God”.

Paul acknowledges that the people to whom he was writing were “full of goodness” and “filled with all knowledge” but he had written boldly to them on several subjects because it was his duty. He then talks about his own mission among the Gentiles and admits that he was worried about building on the foundation others had started—he felt his mission was to go to those who had not yet heard of Jesus.

He ends by promising to visit the Romans the next time he goes to Spain, but, first, he had to stop at Jerusalem because the Saints in Macedonia and Achaia had a contribution for the benefit of the poor in those parts. He asks for them to pray with him and for him, so that he can avoid being arrested by their persecutors in Judaea.

Application

There are three items that Paul brought up in this chapter that I find of particular application to my life:

I. How are we to bear the infirmities of the weak, and how does this help strengthen them?

I can’t help but draw a comparison to the classic sermon in Mosiah in the Book of Mormon, in which Alma tells those desiring to join the fold of Christ to “mourn with those who mourn” and to “comfort those who stand in need of comfort”. It is one thing to feel bad that someone else is sad. We can make them a casserole, drop it off, say the trite things that don’t really help, and then we carry on with our day. But to truly mourn with others, we feel their sorrow as if it were our own. To bear another’s infirmities, we feel the struggle they go through. Their struggles become our struggles. A friend of mine is trying to help one of her friends stop smoking. For every day that her friend goes without a cigarette, Sarah is going to go a day without shaving. Another friend of mine attends AA meetings with his friend, to be a support to his buddy. The LDS church has recently implemented an Addiction Recovery Program, patterned after AA, that allows people to attend simple to help those struggling with addictions. All of these examples show how we can bear the infirmities of the weak. Having a support system helps the weak overcome and become strong. And, by being that support system, we often find ourselves growing stronger, as well.

II. How can we be likeminded one toward another?

I don’t actually have a complete answer to this. I am reminded of Paul’s angry letter to the Corinthians:

10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.

This should be one of the great issues facing the Christian world today, but I don’t think it is. I fear that this is a passage that is glossed over or ignored. Or, worse, we all blame everyone else for what’s wrong. I am interested to know how others respond to this verse.

III. Paul teaches that we are full of goodness.

In several places in the scriptures, we find passages that tell us that “there are none that are righteous”, that “none of us are good”, and that what we think is good is really “as filthy rags before the Lord”. Even the Book of Mormon teaches us that we are lower than the dust of the earth. Yet here we have Paul saying, “Look guys, you really aren’t that bad. Yeah, I know, I’ve called you to task on a lot of stuff. But really, by and large, you are good people. You mean well. You do well. You’re smart, you’re funny, and, gosh darn it, people like you!”

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how he put it, but that is what I hear him saying. I hear Paul telling us that, yes, we screw up. A lot. And we are so very, very fortunate to understand that it doesn’t matter how badly we screw up, because Christ can overcome everything. His mercy, His grace is stronger. To paraphrase a children’s song, Jesus is bigger than the boogeyman. And because of that, we don’t need to be flogging ourselves every night. We don’t need to be groveling on the floor saying, “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy.” We know we aren’t worthy, but Christ can make us worthy, and He will, if we will let Him. So, instead of beating ourselves up, we can acknowledge that we are capable of doing good and that, in so doing, we are going to have a positive influence on others.

Romans 14

This review of Romans 14 is provided by BrianJ, a Mormon.

NET: Now receive the one who is weak in the faith, and do not have disputes over differing opinions.

NIV: Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.

NKJV: Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.

NRSV: Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.

receive/accept/welcome: It seems as though Paul meant this as an instruction to “receive in full fellowship; i.e., as a member,” as opposed to merely “welcoming as a (temporary) guest.” Still, I wonder if he wouldn’t extend this advice to the latter as well. Do we receive/welcome/accept guests or visitors the same as we do new converts of our denominations? Should we?

One problem with interpreting Paul here is that he was writing with a Christianity in mind that is quite different than today. I realize that there were differences in doctrines taught in the different cities during Paul’s day, but the delineations were not nearly as demarcated as they are today. Is it reasonable to extend Paul’s admonition to include interfaith relations? Would Paul encourage a Catholic to receive a Baptist? an Evangelical to accept a Mormon? a Mormon to welcome an Anglican?

weak: I confess that I’d like to misread Paul here as well. I’d like to read this verse as an indication of his self-awareness: Paul wrote some confusing, difficult stuff in the chapters we’ve already covered, and here he is backing down (intellectually speaking) to acknowledge that a lot of people aren’t going to understand everything at first pass.

But that would require misreading what Paul means by “weak in faith.” “Weak” must refer back to Paul’s use of “weak” in previous chapters to mean someone who is holding onto old religious traditions; their weakness is made manifest by their inability to let go of the outwardness of the Law and make the leap to the new covenant. Thus, Paul makes no concession (at least here) to those who don’t understand—or trust—his previous chapters.

disputes/quarrels over opinions: This is where I saw some irony if I purposefully misread Paul. Throughout our group study, we’ve had many disputations—in fact, to some degree that was one of the purposes of our group discussion. So even though Paul, in chapter 14, wasn’t talking about discussions like ours, I wonder what he would tell us. Some sort of adaptation of this verse, encouraging flexibility and friendship, or would he favor a more hard-lined approach? Would Paul tolerate differences of opinion over matters of doctrine, or just over something he sees as trivial (such as what one eats)?

Actually, that’s the kind of question we’ve had all along in regards to Paul: How far is Paul willing to take his rhetoric? How far would Paul extend this forbearance? Some of us have taken Paul’s words with full force, whereas others have suggested that Paul might be exaggerating his doctrinal positions for effect.

Verses 5-6: What I still don’t get from Paul is whether he is merely tolerating the idea of holding on to certain religious “rules” or if he actually respects the practice. It seems the former, since he keeps referring to such people as “weak.” Is this why (some) Evangelicals criticize Mormons for our adherence to rules of Sunday dress, Sabbath activities, Word of Wisdom, etc.?

Verses 7-9: I find this analysis very odd. Not that I dispute the conclusion in verse 9, but it seems kind of thrown in there—almost like a reflex “amen!” If I just look at the logical flow of these verses, I come up with: Christ died and was resurrected so that he could be Lord of…people who eat pork and people who don’t (?).

Verse 13: Okay, I promise never to put a stumbling block in my brother’s way…but tell me: what is a stumbling block? How am I to know if I’ve placed one? Paul’s teaching seems straightforward enough, but in practice…. Paul used as an example the eating of kosher foods, telling both “sides” not to make it an issue for the other “side.” That’s a fine example, because it’s easy to see how pork chops or crab cakes could cause disputations between early Christians, but where I get a bit lost is in knowing how to apply this today. How can I know what will cause my brother to stumble? (And isn’t it, at some point, still his decision whether or not to stumble?)

Verse 15 anticipates this concern, even if it does not explicitly answer it. “Do not destroy by your food someone for whom Christ died” (NET). Ahh, well said Paul: you expertly call us petty. There’s no room to complain about another’s “weak faith,” saying anything like “What? I have to give up meat because my (ignorant) brother doesn’t understand that it’s okay to eat? What’s next? Give up milk, cheese, bread? How about my clothes or musical preferences? Maybe my brother should just grow up!” No, there’s no room for any of that because, after all, Jesus gave up his very life! Points like this make me very grateful for Jesus’ example of charity.

Verses 19-20: I’ve hinted at this already, but what if we took “food/meat” in these verses as merely a metaphor. A metaphor for…doctrine? ritual? worship style or ritual? etc.? Is that taking Paul’s words too far out of context, or would Paul endorse that exercise?

Romans 13

Todd is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Ammon, Idaho.  He grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Romans 13 is the shortest chapter in the book, but don’t let that lessen its impact and relevance for today.  Whereas the opening message of Romans brought justification to Martin Luther and later in church history to John Wesley upon hearing Luther’s preface, the message of Romans 13 changed the course of Augustine’s life.

The chapter could primarily be broken up into three sections:  commandments in relation to your government, commandments in relation to your neighbor, and commandments in relation to Christ.  I think that one’s obedience in these three areas is directly connected to how much one is willing to grow in gospel grace, for it is only the gospel that enables one to live out any of this stuff.

The Christian’s Relationship to Secular Government (vv. 1-7)

First of all, I don’t quite understand some of Joseph Smith insertions in the text.  He is thinking of the church:  and punishment instead of damnation, a rod instead of the sword, and consecrations instead of tribute.  What did he think about the U.S. President during the time of these translational notes?

Paul is talking about civil authorities in this opening paragraph.  And Richard Holzapfel and Thomas Wayment in their book, Making Sense of the New Testament, make a fair observation, “[Paul’s] comments on government . . . should be interpreted in light of the fact that the rulers he was speaking of were not democratic leaders but foreign oligarchs with their own interests and agendas” (p. 338).  Just imagine the political leaders in Paul’s day.  Wow.  I am glad to live in America.

But can we apply this passage to President Barak Obama?  Certainly.  Paul was not a political revolutionary.  And in light of this passage, Christians would be in disobedience for dodging the paying of taxes.  And we ought to seriously take note that our city, county, state, and national servants are God’s deacons (v. 4).  Christians display the glorious Christian gospel and trust in God by their submission to government.  Christians can be accused of a lot of things.  But they shouldn’t be accused of being political rebels or rabble-raisers.

The Christian’s Relationship to His Neighbor (vv. 8-10)

Paul and James join hand in hand with one another.  Paul writes, “For the commandments . . . are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” . . . and “love is the fulfilling of the law.”  James writes in James 2, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well.”

But how do we do this?  And who really is the consistently good Samaritan?  We don’t have the strength within ourselves to love our neighbors as we should, let alone an enemy.  We need something or more specifically Someone – the one who perfectly loves neighbors and enemies – to live and love through us.

It is interesting how Eric Shusten and Charles Sale seek application from this text.  In their book, The Biblical Roots of Mormonism (2010), they write, “While the Bible is clear about the sin of homosexual sex, it is equally clear about love (Matthew 22:39).  Love the sinner, not the sin (Romans 13:9-10)” (p. 238).

The Christian’s Relationship to Christ (vv. 11-14)

A Christian does not get saved by grace and then try to live the Christian life by his or her effort.  It is all grace.  There must be a daily putting on of the Lord Jesus Christ by grace through faith.  Yes, Paul exhorts us in regards to our responsibility.  We must cast off by faith, our sinful tendencies.  We must put on by faith, the gospel armor.  Simply put, we must put on Christ.

So, we cast off.  We put on.  And we walk forward in the daily spiritual battle.  And we can do it all through only one – the Lord Jesus Christ.  Going beyond earthly politics, this King is our ultimate freedom fighter.  He set Augustine free.

Let me conclude with a snippet from Augustine’s testimony.  I finished reading his Confessions last month.

“I sent up these sorrowful cries:  “How long, how long?  Tomorrow and tomorrow?  Why not now?  Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?”

“I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl—I know not which—coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick up, read; pick up, read” [Tolle, lege; tolle, lege].  Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like.  So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could only think that this was a divine command to open the book and read the first passage I should light upon.  For I had heard how Anthony, accidently coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him:  “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.”  By such an oracle he was immediately converted to you.  So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left.  I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell:  “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”  I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to.  For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”

Romans 11

In chapter 11 Paul continues his explanation of Israel’s place in God’s plan of salvation.  He explains that God didn’t reject his people, but saved out a remnant (such as Paul); just as in the time of Elijah, God saved 7,000 who remained faithful.  Paul explains that this remnant has been saved purely by God’s grace.  He states in verses 5 and 6:

So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.  And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

Verse 6 is totally a side note in Paul’s overall message in this passage, but I love the nugget we find here.  In chapter 10 Paul explains that there is a righteousness that comes from works and a righteousness that comes from grace.  The righteousness from works is basically unobtainable. So the only thing we can hope for is the righteousness that comes from grace.  Here he further sets works and grace apart from one another. Grace and earning are opposed to each other and can’t be reached for simultaneously.  Grace is something that is freely given and undeserved.  Righteousness-by-works is something a person would deserve.  Grace, by definition can’t be earned.  To give someone something through grace is to acknowledge that they don’t deserve it. The ONLY thing a person can do to qualify for the gift of grace is to be undeserving of it.  No one can ever deserve grace, if they could, it would no longer be grace.

I think grace, by definitions, stands in contrast to any idea of us paying off a debt and then God swooping in to pay off what remains because he saw that we were trying our best to pay it off.  God already knows our best efforts aren’t going to do it, so grace pays the entire debt.

Paul goes on to explain how parts of Israel have been broken off from the vine, this allows Gentiles to be grafted in even though we are like wild olive shoots.  Though parts of Israel may be cut off from the root, it’s not a permanent condition.  If something foreign and untamed like Gentiles can be grafted in, so too can the natural branches be rejoined.  This condition the Jews find themselves in is a temporary hardening of their hearts “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”.

There’s something perplexing in verses 28 -31 pertaining to our freewill.  Paul explains that Israel will always be loved by God because of his covenants with the patriarchs.  Though they are disobedient God will show mercy to them just as he showed mercy on those of us who were disobedient Gentiles.  Then in verse 31 he states

For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

I’m not sure what being “bound over to disobedience” means.  But I love how “The Message” explains this passage: In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in. There’s bad news in there for everyone, but the good news is bigger than the bad, God wants to have mercy on everyone.

The chapter ends with a closing prayer that echoes the final chapters of Job.  Who can know God’s mind?  Who can give him advice?  Who does God owe any favors to?  No one.  Everything ever given to us is from God, through God and ultimately for God.  All glory goes to God.  If you’re ever looking for a good novel on this topic I recommend “Till We Have Faces” by CS Lewis.  Lewis claimed it was his own personal favorite.

Romans 10

This review of Romans 10 is provided by Sarah, an Evangelical

Verses 1-4
Paul seems to be saying that the Israelites are zealous—passionate, devoted, and earnest—about following God, but their zeal does not result in righteousness, because the God from whom righteousness flows is not the one they are seeking after. In lieu of having God’s righteousness, it seems that the Israelites have done what Paul warns the Colossians against: created regulations that “have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but [they] lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (2:23).

Verses 5-8
Paul paraphrases Deuteronomy 30:11-14:  Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Verses 9-13
Paul exposits the passage in Deuteronomy. The path to righteousness is not impossible; we need not climb up to heaven or cross the sea to get it. All that is necessary is having faith—trusting God with our hearts—and from the overflow of the heart, testimony pours forth. But just as a marriage certificate is no good to a husband in love if the wife’s heart is absent, intellectual assent and verbal affirmation are worthless to God if our hearts are not inclined toward his. It is our hearts that God wants, and he is eager to include in his embrace all who desire inclusion.

Verses 14-15
In order to trust God with their hearts, people need to know who he is. How can they know if no one tells them?

Verses 16-21
Hearing the message does not always result in acceptance. God has offered himself to Israel and his advances have been rebuffed.

Reflection
Verses one through four can seem to be saying that earnestly seeking God does not necessarily result in finding him, but I don’t think they are (because that seems to me to contradict the rest of scripture). So do what you will with those verses, but I don’t think they can be used as a bludgeon to inform people that they’re in the wrong religion and they need to get into the right one before they can find God.

I believe evangelicals tend to disastrously misuse verse 9. I grew up being taught that if we believe that Jesus was resurrected (that it actually happened historically) and speak it out loud, we are saved. But this is no more beautiful, compelling, or life-giving than following a faith that necessitates our good works for salvation. Jesus gives the greatest commandment as, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.” In the end, we are saved not by obedience and not by a formulaic prayer. We’re saved by the love Christ has for us and the love we have for him. And love is the means as well as the end. John 17 says it is eternal life to know God (who, John says elsewhere, is love). Communion with God is salvation, and it is reached the way any communion is reached—through relationship.