Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review: The Glory and the Shame

The Glory and the Shame The Glory and the Shame by Peter Hocken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although written 22 years ago, it still seems to reflect present circumstances in the Christian community as a whole, especially in America.  Hocken briefly considers the challenges and impact - negative as well as positive - brought about by the advent of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement since the beginning of the 20th century up to the time of the books writing, on Christian theology and in the various Christian communities.  Hocken not only takes into account the Catholic charismatic movement but also, to a large extent, the Messianic Jewish movement and the importance of Israel's role as a nation in relation to the larger Pentecostal/Charismatic experience.  He engages history by suggesting that "[a]ny sovereign outpouring of the divine blessing is necessarily unexpected" (p.16), and, therefore, discusses significant acts of God's intervention as "surprises," starting with the book of Acts before jumping into the Spirit's "invasion" of Asuza in the opening years of the 20th century.

His writing is clear and Biblically based, which forms a coherent theological and historical overview of the Pentecostal/Charismatic experience.  His goal is to encourage unity among all the differing Christian parties, including with Jewish believers.  In chapter 23, Hocken offers a very positive, practical, and meaningful way - perhaps overlooked by most all of us - to incorporate the Pentecostal/Charismatic experience with the more traditional believing communities, e.g. Catholic church and the more established Protestant denominations.

It is apparent that Hocken conceives the work of the Spirit as the glory and the disunity among believers, overall and without neglecting it's varied sins, as the shame.

With the recent sharp and divisive controversy regarding the "fire" of the Holy Spirit, this is a book that every Christian pastor, Pentecostal/Charismatic and cessationist, needs to read and use as a framework for discussion within their own respective church leaders and congregations and, of course, among themselves, from every denomination and congregation, formal and informal, traditional and "hip-hop," old and new.  For the surprise invasion of the Holy Spirit is "oriented towards the preparation of God's people as one renewed and restored Church for the return of Jesus" (p.193).
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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Devotion 2: Where is Samuel's God?

"the Lord was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect”
1 Samuel 3:19 (New American Bible)

Samuel is a prime example of someone who became intimately familiar with the God of Israel by virtue of experiencing God's manifestation of Himself to him.

Samuel's words to the people were not merely words of a motivational speaker or one who was able to give wise advice, needed comfort, or timely encouragement - as excellent these things may be - but he spoke with words that were accompanied with divine power.  Words in and of themselves have no desired effect to move people or change circumstances; words of themselves cannot produce intended results.  Divine power is needed to run with the words we speak and to produce what our words have spoken.

God answered Samuel's prayers and what Samuel spoke to the people, God did it!

The people recognized that the Lord was with Samuel, not because he was a good preacher and not merely because his words encouraged or comforted others even if for a temporary time without really resolving the specific issue, but because they saw and experienced for themselves the visible and tangible effects of what he spoke.  As Paul, so Samuel could say, "My message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with the demonstration of the Spirit's power" (1 Corinthians 4:5).

"...Samuel cried out to the Lord...and the Lord answered him."  1 Samuel 7:9

We claim to be in a greater age of the manifestation of the Kingdom of heaven, yet we can't even seem to compete with an Old testament prophet.  We have may preachers proclaiming and promises being made - how many time have you heard, "You believe in the Lord and I guarantee you" this thing or that thing? - but…

We seem to fall far short in effectiveness.

I remember seeing a person pray on the streets of New York City for a man to be raised out of his wheel-chair, and then the praying man walked away leaving the paralytic in his wheelchair.  I will say, ashamedly, that praying man was braver than I was at the time to pray out loud in the streets.  Nevertheless, the man was not healed.  How many times have I prayed for the sick to be healed, the dead to be raised, for God to show himself?  Few, admittedly; and nothing much to show for it.

How will people know that God is Immanuel - "God with us" - if my words and prayers produce nothing.

How can we convince the world that Christ died to raise us to new life if we show that God cannot even heal the sick?

For all the good preachers with great sermons, for all the churches we see dotting the landscape with praying congregations, with all the sermons preached, promises given, and professions of having faith, we lack terribly the power to back up what we say.

I don't say these things to be critical but, in examination of my own life in Christ, this lack is just too easily evident.  For all my faith in the Lord, my life and what I read in the Gospels do not harmonize.

Although, I should really speak only for myself, I think my criticism of the Church at large, at least, in America is valid.  

Tozer says, "If Christianity is ever to survive, God had better work miracles.  Every advancement of God in every country since the early church has been a miracle."  ---  "Voice of a Prophet," p.100.

Where is Samuel's God?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Romans 7 Continued: In Conversation

I had a email exchange with someone a little while ago regarding his opposition to my opinion at a Bible study that the Christian can overcome sin in this life, even until their death.
This person countered in response to an email I sent him that, “You will note that [in Romans 7:24] Paul states ‘wretched man that...I am.’ That is a present tense verb, 'I am.' It means that Paul is referring to himself in the present, not the past. In order to be referring to his past one of two things must be true, Paul mistakenly used the wrong verb tense (should have used “I was”) or Paul wrote this part years prior to his letter to the Romans and before becoming a Christian and then added it to his letter. The problem with the latter assumption is that before becoming a Christian, Paul viewed his righteousness as “blameless” before he was a Christian. (Philippians 3:6).”
Since he was not open to a different view, I decided not to answer; but if I did, my response would be as follows:

(A) If Rom 7:24 reflects Paul’s present state as a Christian, let us see, for example, some verses where else the present tense is used also in relation to Paul’s spiritual condition at the time of writing this epistle:
  • 1. “I am unspiritual, sold into slavery to sin.”
  • 2. “…sin lives in me…”
  • 3. “…I want to do good, but I cannot…”
  • 4. “…I do the very evil I do not want!”
  • 5. “…captive to the law of sin…”
If Romans 7 is understood as Paul’s experience as a believer, he admits he is in a struggle with sin but also further admits he losses that struggle consistently and always and, therefore, is habitually committing sin; sin always overcomes him. That is the only way to understand it in view of the whole context. As such, the interpretation of the text being demanded is that, as a Christian, the life we can hope to live is no less sinful and worse than the unregenerate or reprobate.
To claim Romans 7 is Paul’s experience as he wrote the epistle is to neglect the fact that the apostle is not discussing obedience to God and righteousness obtained on the basis of faith but on the basis of Torah. The whole point of v.24, contextually considered, is that Paul sees no way of escaping the divine disapproval and judgment through obedience to the Torah; only Christ can deliver him from this merry-go-round of death as depicted in the chapter.
Unless there is the suggestion that the believer is obligated to obey the Torah, Rom 7 has nothing to do with the Christian life because it is not depicting a person under grace trying to obey God, but a person under Torah trying to be obey God and thus win his approval. 
As such, the objection that, “Paul mistakenly used the wrong verb tense" or "wrote this part [of v.24] years prior to his letter to the Romans,” is baseless.
(B) Regarding his mention of Philippians 3:6, first, Paul is referring to a different type of blamelessness; it is the righteous that makes one blameless that comes by the Torah and the righteousness obtained through faith by grace. Note, this righteousness is described as “having confidence in the flesh” (v.4b, NIV; cf. Rom 9:30-10:4).
And, second, although he claims being blameless, however true as far as the Torah is concerned, the apostle admits such righteousness under Torah does not gain God’s approval and, therefore, he denounces both the righteousness and blamelessness thus obtained.Yet, point in fact, there are places where Paul does admit to being blameless on the basis of grace (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 2:10; Acts 23:1, 24:16).
Also, and perhaps surprisingly, Luke’s Gospel claims the blamelessness of certain persons even before Christ was born, and it seems apparent that such a judgment of their character was true.
(C) I will add mention about 1 Timothy 1:15-16 (another verse brought up in our email exchange) where we read Paul’s admission to being not only a sinner but the “chief of sinners” since the argument here is that the apostle is admitting he is a sinner.
To use 1 Timothy 1:15-16 as evidence that Rom 7 depicts the Christian life is to totally misunderstand Paul’s intent. It can be legitimately argued by the context that the apostle is not talking about his experience as a believer at the time he wrote the epistle but, primarily, his sinful condition before his conversion.
1. The context of the verse itself is with reference to Christ as being the Savior of sinners by means of his atoning sacrifice. Its reference seems clearly to be to men as sinners before their conversion.
2. Note the context refers to a past event: “Even though I was once (“before,” Strong’s #4386; πρότερος proteros)…I was shown mercy…” (v.13, NIV); "the grace of our Lord was...abundant" (v.14, NASB); “I was shown mercy…as an example” (v.16, NIV, cp.NET). These verses, as translated, allude to a past event, which clearly points to the time he was persecuting the Church.
3. NT Greek language resources and commentaries I have all refer to Paul as pointing to his past when he claims to be the “worst of sinners,” although they admit he is not excluding his present condition as a sinner, even if forgiven:
  • Linguistic & Exegetical Key to the Greek NT: “Pres. ‘I am,’ not, ‘I was.’ The sinner remains a sinner even if forgiven; the past is always there as a stimulus to deeper penitence and service” (489).
  • Word Pictures, Robertson: “He had sad memories of those days” (4:564).- UBS Handbook: Timothy & Titus: “The focus here is not on Paul’s moral lapses or immoral conduct but on his rejection of Christ…and the greatness of Christ’s act of bestowing on him new life…” (34).
  • Expositions, Maclaren: “We carry with us ever the fact of past transgression…” (15:331).
  • Expositor’s Bible: “Paul felt that of all sinners he was ‘the worst’…because he had persecuted Christ’s followers…” (11:355).
The point I touch on here is that regardless of whatever position one takes with respect to Paul's spiritual condition at the time he wrote 1 Timothy, the context here respecting his statement as being a sinner and the “chief of sinners” rests on his past condition, not on his present experience and actions, and has no reference to any sins (if any) committed either as a believer since his conversion or when he wrote this letter. As such, his admission to being a sinner, even the “chief of sinners,” is not because he is in the present habit of committing sins - doing what he wants to omit doing or omitting what he wants done (Rom 7) - as a believer.
Any use of 1 Timothy 1:15-16 to defend the view that Romans 7 depicts Paul is referring to his experience as a believer is unwarranted.