Monday, December 11, 2017

Are "Spirit" and "Soul" Different?

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Josh, in Detroit

Wayne Grudem, in his magisterial Systematic Theology, writes:

"How many parts are there to man? Everyone agrees that we have physical bodies. Most people (both Christians and non-Christians) sense that they also have an immaterial soul - a "soul" that will live on after their bodies die.
But here the agreement ends. Some people believe that in addition to "body" and "soul" we have a third part, a "spirit" that mostly relates to God. The view that man is made of three parts (body, soul, and spirit) is called trichotomy. Though this has been a common view in popular evangelical Bible teaching, there are few scholarly defenses of it today." (Grudem, op. cit., 472)

Grudem argues that the correct view is that a person is a dichotomy; viz., body and soul/spirit, because "soul" and "spirit" are used interchangeably to refer to the same thing.

Grudem's defense of persons as essentially dichotomies (rather than trichotomies) is lengthy. His main points are:

1. Scriptures uses "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably. To give one example, in John 12:27 Jesus says, "Now my soul is troubled." But in a similar context, Jesus was "troubled in spirit" (John 13:21).

2. At death, Scripture says either that the "soul" departs or the "spirit" departs. "Scripture nowhere says that a person's "soul and spirit" departed or went to heaven or were yielded up to God. If soul and spirit were separate and distinct things, we would expect that such language would be affirmed somewhere, if only to assure the reader that no essential part of the person is left behind." (Ib., 474) For example, when Rachel died, we read that her "soul" was departing (Gen. 35:18). David prayed, "Into your hands I commit my "spirit"" (Ps. 31:5).

3. Man is said to be either "body and soul" or "body and spirit." "Jesus tells us not to fear those who "kill the body but cannot kill the soul," but that we should rather "fear those who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). Here the word "soul" clearly must refer to the part of the person that exists after death... On the other hand, many is sometimes said to be "body and spirit."" See 1 Cor. 5:5. "Similarly, James says that "the body apart from the spirit is dead" (James 2:26), but mentions nothing about a special soul." (Ib., 475)

4. The "soul" can sin or the "spirit" can sin. Trichotomists usually think of the "spirit" as purer than the "soul." But Paul encourages the Corinthians to cleanse themselves "from every defilement of body and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1). Thus, "he clearly implies that there can be defilement (or sin) in our spirits." (Ib.)

5. Everything that the soul is said to do, the spirit is also said to do, and everything that the spirit is said to do the soul is also said to do. Grudem spends two pages defending this.

To study more on this:

N. T. Wright maintains a distinction between "soul" and "spirit." See "Mind, Spirit, Soul, and Body." But note: neither is Wright a trichotomist. (See here, e.g.)

Here Wright talks of a "limited dualism" - "The Good Bishop Weighs In." 

J. P. Moreland is a dichotomist/dualist. See The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why it Matters

God Desires Participants, not Spectators


Soren Kierkegaard writes:

"Is God's meaning, in Christianity, simply to humble man through the model (that is to say putting before us the ideal) and to console him with 'Grace,' but in such a way that through Christianity there is expressed the fact that between God and man there is no relationship, that man must express his thankfulness like a dog to man, so that adoration becomes more and more true, and more and more pleasing to God, as it becomes less and less possible for man to imagine that he could be like the model? ... Is that the meaning of Christianity? Or is it the very reverse, that God's will is to express that he desires to be in relation with man, and therefore desires the thanks and the adoration which is in spirit and in truth: imitation? The latter is certainly the meaning of Christianity. But the former is a cunning invention of us men (although it may have its better side) in order to escape from the real relation to God." (In David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor, 28)

Real Jesus-following is following-after Jesus. It's participation, not spectating. It's not pew-sitting. It's not being entertained. It's "following the footsteps of Christ in imitation" (St Francis of Assisi, in Ib., 27). 

Real Church was never meant to be an entertainment center. David Augsburger says that authentic Jesus-spirituality "accepts no substitute for actual participation." (Ib.) 

Augsburger writes: "We are not observers, not spectators, not admirers, not onlookers, not conceptualizers, but participants. Participation is the central theological framework of all careful thought-about spirituality...

...The ideal of discipleship as participation through the imitation of Christ is a recurring theme, reemerging wherever the practice of following Jesus in life is given priority." (Ib.)

Anyone who claims to belong to Jesus must follow the path taken by Jesus. How will you do this? I suggest begin by reading the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). Slow-cook in them. Become familiar with the Real Jesus. Next, submit to the filling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God will empower you to live, do, and say as Jesus lived, did, and said. Finally, remember that this is a growth process. even Jesus had to grow in wisdom and stature. (Luke 2:52)

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Why Does God Allow Suffering? A Few Resources

Woodland Cemetery, Monroe

A friend asked me: "Any suggestions for resources for a teen struggling to believe in God? Questioning why does God allow suffering?"

Here are a few suggestions.

William Lane Craig, On Guard. See Chapter 7, "What About Suffering?"

Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God.

Philip Yancey, Where Is God When it Hurts?

Greg Boyd, Is God to Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering.

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

Watch the movie "The Shack." Then, read Roger Olsen's book Finding God in the Shack.

Five Problems with Top-Down Vision-Casting in Churches

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Snow-covered trees in Monroe

At Redeemer Fellowship Church we have a team of Elders who function in non-task-oriented ways. As Elders our focus is twofold: discerning what God is saying to us, and loving and serving our church family. 
One thing we as Elders do not do, is brainstorm about programs we could implement in our church. What a relief this is to me! I've been there, done that, and don't want to do it every again.

"Some of my worst disasters in ministry have come from trying to implement a vision, only to find out that no one else was buying into it. They might have even agreed that it was a good idea. For me. But it wasn’t theirs. So they didn’t get behind it."

Top-down "vision-casting" strategy looks like this.

  • The pastor gets a vision for the church through prayer, Bible-reading or the latest church leadership conference
  • The pastor preaches about the vision
  • The leaders and congregation get behind the vision
  • The vision is supported, preached, and repeated regularly

  • Vaters says there are five problems with this.

    Problem 1 - It's more Old Testament than New Testament.

    In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit descends on the entire church. Peter than speaks for what the entire church experienced.

    "The church gets the vision from prayer-soaked time in God's Word."

    This is an example of what I call The Presence-Driven Church.

    Problem 2 - It relies on obscure and/or questionably interpreted Bible passages.

    How many times has Proverbs 29:18 been cited in defense of top-down vision-casting - Where there is no vision, the people perish. But the entire verse, in context, is really about keeping God's laws, not casting visions. It reads: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps the law is happy.

    Problem 3 - It puts all the weight on the pastor.

    In Acts 2 Peter did not shoulder the weight of the vision. He and the Eleven shared the vision, as Acts 2:14 says.

    Here is the heart of pastoral burnout: the carrying of a vision, alone, and striving to recruit people to have a heart for it.

    Problem 4 - It doesn't include the dreams and visions of church members.

    Vaters writes:

    "When I go to a church leadership conference, it’s not to find out what the leader’s vision is and how I can help them fulfill it. I go to get tools to help me fulfill the vision God has given me for my life and ministry. I think a lot of people would come to our churches if they could get that help from us."

    Problem 5 - It requires constant selling.

    Anyone who knows me knows I would be a failure as a salesperson. Thank God I don't have to do that as a pastor!

    Vaters writes:

    "The three most-taught principles of vision-casting are "repeat, repeat, repeat." I've been told constantly that if I don't remind people at a minimum of once a month about the vision, they'll forget it.
    That's a problem.
    Any vision that needs to be sold to me that constantly...   I don't know... maybe it's not God's vision for me."

    The reality is that, if a person has a vision from God burning inside of them, they couldn't stop thinking about it if they tried.

    The role of a pastor is to equip the people for works of ministry, not to purchase equipment for the people to sit in while the pastor works. Vaters writes, "Leaders don't ask people to support their vision. They ask, "How can I help you reach your vision?""

    Enter the small church. "Much of the emphasis on top-down vision-casting has been the result of our big church leadership obsession." It's hard to release a few thousand Christians into visionary missional activity that comes from God, to them. 

    Small churches could do this. Like the 120 worshipers who gathered on the Day of Pentecost. Vaters concludes:

    "A community of believers, worshiping, dreaming and working together as guided by the Holy Spirit speaking to and through everyone. Not that's a vision worth writing down and running with."

    Friday, December 08, 2017

    Meditation on Scripture & Hearing God

    Maracas Bay, Trinidad

    "As fundamental a step as we can take . . . is learning to meditate - learning first to hear God's word, and let it inform and take root in us. This may be extremely difficult, for the churches have no courses on meditation, despite the fact that it is an art that must be learned from those who have mastered it, and despite the fact that the supreme task of the church is to listen to the Word of God."[1]

    Elizabeth O'Connor

    Is the supreme task of the church to listen to the Word of God? I think a case can be made for this.

    Remember that by "church" we mean: a people movement called out by God to proclaim the good news of God's rule and reign, in Christ, and by the Spirit. Every movement has a commander. In the Jesus Movement, God is our leader. The Lord is our Shepherd.

    If the Lord is our Shepherd, then we are the "sheep of his pasture." Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."[2]

    We are Jesus-followers. The game of life we play is "Follow the Leader." This is called "obedience." If we don't hear the voice of our Leader and sense his promptings, "following" won't make sense. Thus, listening and hearing from God is supremely important. Hearing God brings us into the Great Conversation.

    If you desire to pray as conversation with God, meditate on Scripture. Good places to begin are Psalm 23, John chapters 14, 15, and 16, and Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. Marinate in these verses. Slow-cook in them. Chew on them. To meditate is to chew, slowly. The more you chew, the more the words become assimilable to your spirit. God's truths get into you. They become you. When this happens a lot of God-hearing takes place.

    To meditate is to focus on one thing; e.g., on one verse, or part of a verse. Such as "Believe in me."[3] Or "The Lord is my shepherd.”[4] Meditate on things like this, and the Spirit will move them from your mind into your heart.

    In my praying times I meditate on portions of Scripture. It is common, in the middle of these meditations, to hear God speak to me. Richard Foster writes:

    "Let me tell you how much God desires our presence. How much God longs to hear from us. How much God yearns to communicate with us. At the very heart of God is the passionate disposition to be in loving fellowship with you ... with me. From the human side of this equation it is meditative prayer that ushers us into this divine-human fellowship."[5]

    [1] Cited in Richard Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer, Kindle Locations 72-72
    [2] John 10:27
    [3] Jesus, in John 14:1
    [4] Psalm 23:1
    [5] Ib., Kindle Locations 74-76

    Core Relational Values to Live By

    Monroe - path along the River Raisin

    Here is a re-edited list of core relational values I posted years ago.
    • Be motivated by the love of God, not by the need for acceptance. 
    • Impart God’s love in everything you say and do. 
    • Be moved with compassion for the lost and wounded. 
    • Err on the side of grace, rather than judgment. 
    • Live life in such a way that your highest priority is to have intimacy and communion with God, then with your spouse, then your children, and after that others. 
    • Commit to a lifestyle of never ending change, seeking to be conformed to the image of Christ. 
    • Take personal responsibility for your life, actions, and emotions, rather than blame others for things that go wrong in your life. 
    • Surround yourself with spiritual fathers and mothers who hold you to a lifestyle of personal accountability in all areas of your life and ministry.
    • Seek to increase in wisdom and knowledge through continued study of sound biblical truths. 
    • Let your words be seasoned with grace, to lift up others, and never to bring down, devalue, or defame one of God’s creations.
    • Seek to live a transparent life that is open with God, others, and yourself.
    • Let your confidence and self-esteem not be found in your talents or accomplishments or possessions, but in your identity and faith in Christ. 
    • Practice the presence of the Lord 24/7. 
    • View your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and seek to live in purity and moderation. 
    • Receive God’s love, and give and minister out of the overflow of love in your life.
    • Bear the faults and weaknesses of others in your life, and do not seek to please yourself or to get your own way in life.
    • Be a servant-leader who leads by modeling a servant’s heart. 
    • Be a good listener who judges not by what your eyes see or ears hear, but by discerning the root issues of the heart. 
    • Rejoice more in your name being written in the book of life than in any success and praise that ministry can bring to you.
    • Walk in the Spirit of Christ, who is meek and lowly of heart. 
    • Daily experience the Father’s love, and give it away to the people you meet. 
    • Live a lifestyle of thanksgiving and gratitude for all that God and others have provided for you. 
    • Walk in loyalty in all your relationships. 

    Wednesday, December 06, 2017

    The Portion of Jacob

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    Path to the river in my back yard
    You are my portion, LORD.

    Psalm 119:57

    Media apportions out pre-interpreted, politicized information. Not wisdom.

    Where are the voices of reason? Is there a moral leader anywhere?

    The Word says...

    “Everyone is senseless and without knowledge;
        every goldsmith is shamed by his idols.
    The images he makes are a fraud;
        they have no breath in them.
     They are worthless, the objects of mockery;
        when their judgment comes, they will perish.
    He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these,
        for he is the Maker of all things,
    including the people of his inheritance
        the Lord Almighty is his name.

    Jeremiah 51:17-19
    (Note: this is the only place in Scripture that God is called "the Portion of Jacob.")

    The media - Their gods are frauds, dead sticks - deadwood gods, tasteless jokes. They’re nothing but stale smoke. (The Message, Jer. 51:19)

    The Portion of Jacob - is the real thing; he put the whole universe together. (Ib.)

    "Portion" refers to a person's share of something; e.g., food, or land. It carries the sense of "inheritance." Food, or land, is divided up, and apportioned out. Tremper Longman writes: "Someone's portion becomes their possession. Thus Yahweh is the possession of Jacob, another name for Israel; God gives himself to his people." 

    At the table of the Maker of all things, the One who put the universe together apportions himself out to me. I eat and drink of him. I feast on eternal reason, wisdom, and knowledge, apoliticized. Abureaucratized. 

    The Lord is my meal. The Lord is my land. 

    The God that was Jacob's portion is also mine.

    Tuesday, December 05, 2017

    The Moral Argument for God's Existence - John Piippo

    This is my Facebook Live presentation, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017.

    The Moral Argument for God's Existence - Going Deeper

    Truck, in Monroe County

    Tonight, on Facebook Live, I am presenting William Lane Craig's Moral Argument for God's Existence.

    If you are interested in going deeper, here are links to some resources. Copan's book is very good for beginners.

    William Lane Craig's Moral Argument for God's Existence

    Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality, by David Baggett and Jerry Walls

    In Search of Moral Knowledge, by R. Scott Smith

    Moral Apologetics (website -

    Moral Conscience and the Colorado Cake Case

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    Fort Street Presbyterian Church, Detroit
    Pray for the important case that comes before the Supreme Court today. It involves Masterpiece Cake Shop, in Lakeland, Colorado. Jack Phillips is the owner.

    "In July 2012, two men came into Jack’s cakeshop requesting a wedding cake for their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting only a few seconds, Jack declined the request, saying he could not design cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies. Jack offered to make the couple any other type of baked good or sell them a pre-made cake, but, because of his faith, he could not design a cake promoting a same-sex wedding ceremony.
    Infuriated, the two men stormed out of the store. Shortly after, Jack started to receive phone calls from people threatening and harassing him because of his decision to not use his artistic talents to design a cake celebrating the couple’s same-sex marriage." ("Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission")

    Is that "discrimination?" That's what the case is about.

    In today's New York Times Ria Mar thinks Jack discriminated against a gay couple. ("The Colorado Cake Case Is Easy as Pie") She writes:

    "Mr. Phillips is free to express his dissent from Colorado's equal-service rule, as he does... But when he opens a business that holds itself out as open to the public, he can't use those beliefs to discriminate in violation of state law."

    But Jack did not discriminate against people. He could not violate his moral conscience. (Note the importance of words, and the battle for their meanings.)

    In yesterday's New York Times Robert P. George and Sherif Gergis write:

     "On Tuesday, the court will consider whether Colorado may deny Jack Phillips the right to sell custom cakes because he cannot in conscience create them for same-sex weddings... Colorado's order that he create same-sex wedding cakes (or quit making any cakes at all) would force him to create expressive products carrying a message he rejects. That's unconstitutional." ("A Baker's First Amendment Rights") 

    The state of Colorado seems to understand this. "Three times the state has declined to force pro-gay bakers to provide a Christian patron with a cake they could not in conscience create given their own convictions on sexuality and marriage. Colorado was right to recognize their First Amendment right against compelled speech. It's wrong to deny Jack Phillips that same right." (George and Gergis)

    I agree. I am praying today that this right is not taken away, and that certain enemies of conscience will not prevail. (See, e.g., Robert P. George, Conscience and its Enemies.)