Friday, June 21, 2019

What are the 'Works of God' in John 9?

In the story of the man born blind in John 9, the disciples asked Jesus whether he had sinned or his parents to cause him to be born blind. If you ask the average evangelical Christian to read the first few verses of John 9 and then ask them the question, “Why was the man born blind?,” in many, if not most, cases they will respond, “For God’s glory.” Indeed, if you had asked, “According to this passage of Scripture, why was this man born blind?” they would have the same answer.

Now I have no doubt God’s glory is involved in the lives of those afflicted with various things, and in the life of this man born blind. However, the words “God’s glory” (or any directly relevant variant) just isn’t in the text. In fact, John 9:3 states in part, “that the works of God should be made manifest in him,” (KJV) “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (NIV, ESV, NASB).

So a relevant question for understanding what’s going on in this text is “what are the works of God in the book of John?” I will suggest the works of God, for John, can be found in the theme of John and in a passage (really, more than one) of John. The theme of the Gospel of John is “believe.” John basically tells us this near the very end of his work, when he says he has written these things so that his audience might believe on the name of Jesus (a theme he repeats in his epistles, specifically 1 John). With this in mind, check out John 6:28-29: “… ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’”

These are obviously non-meritorious works (that is, it’s not a belief that earns you salvation), but rather the belief (faith and trust) in the Son of God for eternal life. Following Christ is what John is all about. So what are the works of God in John 9 that this blind man was meant to display? Faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord, the Savior, the Son of God and God the Son (see John 9:38 for the resolution).

What difference does it make? The main difference is one’s theology of suffering. While belief in Jesus obviously redounds to God’s glory, if you think God has people endure pain and suffering merely for his glory, God simply uses people to attain ends. This devalues God’s creation and, ironically, God himself. Instead, we ought to recognize God does things for his glory, and for our good—and not just instrumentally. Jesus’ purpose in this story is to show his mission—to seek and save that which was lost.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Do We Really Want All to be Saved?

Evangelical Christians sometimes claim that we are “hopeful universalists.” This term can have a couple of different meanings. One is that we aren’t sure whether or not universalism is true, but we hope for the best. Another is that while we think universalism is not true, we wished it were. This is more or less not “hopeful” universalism as “wishful” universalists, but more people are familiar with the former term, so I’m co-opting it. I have said that I fall into this camp of people who think universalism is false, but wishes it were true. I began wondering, though, if I really didwish it to be true.

On the surface, this seems like a crazy question. Of course I want everyone to go to Heaven! But wanting everyone to go to Heaven as a collective group isn’t the same thing as wanting each individual person to go to Heaven. For one, I don’t know each individual person on Earth. But for another, there may be times where, though saddened, it’s appropriate to be satisfied with the result of eternal separation from God (indeed, I’ll argue briefly there are some cases where it would be inappropriate not to). I used the term “satisfied” in the previous sentence, and while it’s not quite right, I hope to explain where I am coming from.

Suppose someone engages in Hitler-like eugenics and genocide. Suppose they further do not repent, growing even stronger in their evil the more they are challenged. Suppose finally this person explicitly wants nothing to do with God and Jesus, and openly mocks them, claiming they hate God. While I am convinced God is—and we should be—grieved that one of his creations has made that choice, I think we intuitively perceive that this is just, and even a rightresult. It’s not the way things were meant to be, but it’s the right result: a defeat of evil, cast away from God and his redeemed creation.

If this is right, then universalists must maintain that there is a conversion for every such person; otherwise we have a situation which is fundamentally wrong. This is something, no doubt, most Christian universalists are happy to do. But it’s worth pointing out that even for those of us who wished universalism were true, there are some times where the only appropriate response is eternal separation from God. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Video on Resurrection with Mike Licona

Hey all, yesterday I posted a video of me and William James Herath (and his awesome ministry to seekers, Ready...Set...Question!) talking about the problem of divine hiddenness. Today, I'm posting a video of a few of us at a Red Robin in Denver from the same event--only this time, Mike Licona (New Testament scholar at Houston Baptist University) is sketching out (literally) a case for the Resurrection. Check it out!


Monday, January 14, 2019

Video on Hiddenness of God

Hello, long time no see! Below is a video I did with William James Herath, who has a wonderful ministry called "Ready... Set... Question!" We met at the recent annual meeting of Evangelical Theological Society in Denver, CO, and we decided to do a brief video on the problem of Divine Hiddenness. Please check out his ministry, and I hope you enjoy!


Saturday, November 3, 2018

Hypocrisy vs. Openly Bad Acting

In our culture, as well as in the biblical record, there is something especially wrong with being a hypocrite. Saying one thing and doing another, or presenting yourself as one way (usually favorable) while acting privately another way (usually less favorable) is typically considered to be especially bad. This is, I think, correct (since I am a Christian, and a Bible-believing one, no less!).

In fact, we often hear complaints about other people tempered with addendums like, “Well, at least she isn’t lying about who she is,” or “He may be a total jerk, but at least he never pretends to like anyone,” etc. In fact, virtually no matter how poorly a person may act, lacking hypocrisy seems to count as some kind of virtue, even for these bad actors.

Yet, intuitively, and definitely biblically, there is something wrong about a total lack of shame. That is, there is something wrong with one who would openly do evil and not care about the consequences. Here there almost seems to be an inconsistency on the surface; on the one hand, we should not be hypocrites, because hypocrisy is an especially bad sin. On the other, we have biblical texts condemning evildoers for openly oppressing the poor, disregarding God’s law, etc. In fact, it is their opennessin evildoing that seems to be cause for an extra portion of condemnation. So which is it? Should we not be hypocrites or hide our evil?

The quick answer is, of course, we should simply avoid evil altogether. That would ease the tension quite easily. Of course, the result here is evildoers aren’t exactly exempted when they lack hypocrisy. There is another route we could take, and I hinted at it earlier: shame. Or rather, in this case, shamelessness.

People in our culture are often shameless when it comes to traditional or biblical morality.[1]This shamelessness means they do not have a sensitive enough conscience or sense of moral guilt such that they know their deeds are evil. Or, in another sense: they know; they just don’t care. One can think of someone who thinks God exists, but simply shakes his fist at God and exclaims, “I hate you!” Such a person is not to be commended for not having hypocrisy, but instead should be reprimanded for such shameless behavior before a holy and good God. Acting “with shame” would be a moral recognition of the wrongness of the action, as opposed to pretending one is good (though obviously acting with shame can easily lead to hypocrisy). Our culture tends to extol shamelessness (to a certain extent—shame is the tactic used for addressing certain cultural taboos, both in older times as well as contemporary ones).

So we can see the tension can be resolved: being a hypocrite is bad, and so is shamelessness. It is not a virtue to avoid being a hypocrite by being shameless.


[1]By “often” I simply mean that it is not uncommon.