Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Relationship of Doing and Being in the NT by Dr. Ben Witherington, III

This is an absolutely correct post from Dr. Ben Witherington, III:

The Relationship of Doing and Being in the NT

One of the major thrusts of my two volume work entitled The Indelible Image was showing the inherent, and necessary, connection between theology and ethics, between belief and behavior, between being and doing, in the Bible and in particular in the NT. I went on to stress the importance of the concept of the image of God as a connecting point between being and doing, belief and behavior, theology and ethics. By this I meant that we are all created in God’s image and we are meant to reflect that image on earth, more specifically we are meant to reflect the moral character of God on earth. God is holy, and so should we be. God is righteous and so should we be, God is compassionate, and so should we be, and so on.
This reflecting of the divine character is not an optional extra amongst God’s expectations for us, rather it is right at the core of what he expects of us. The notion that God only expects of us right notions, right beliefs, but that our ethics, our behavior, or doing is somehow less important or not essential to being a Christian is frankly false. And were I in a quoting mood, I could trot out a plethora of texts which make this clear. For example, consider Paul’s warnings to Christians (not non-Christians) not merely that if they behave like skunks that people will get wind of it (and it will be a bad witness) but that if they choose a pattern of behavior that is ungodly and unholy they will not enter the final Kingdom of God when it comes full on earth (Gal. 5.19ff.: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Paul had warned his converts in Galatia before about this sort of behavior, and he does so again here. And Paul, yes the very theologian of grace, is saying that behavior by Christians can affect their eternal destiny. That’s exactly what he is worried about, because he knows it is true.
Now on the one hand this is hardly a surprising remark for an early Jew. If you have read as much early Jewish literature as I have, there is frankly far more emphasis and stress on right behavior than there is on right belief, far more stress on orthopraxy than on orthodoxy. Think for a minute about the great commandments to love God, neighbor, enemy, fellow believers. This is hardly just about belief about God, neighbor, enemy, fellow believers. It is about behavior.
We do not have a great commandment that says ‘believe with all your might and God will be satisfied”. The attempt to sever behavior from belief, by means of a doctrine of salvation that suggests that human behavior has nothing to do with final salvation, that it is all about divine fiat, or pure grace etc. is a doctrine insufficiently attuned to what the Bible actually says about soteriology.
Yes, the Bible is clear enough that salvation is not a human self-help program. Yes, it makes clear that apart from God’s grace no one can be saved. Yes, it stresses that we are converted by grace through faith, and that God’s grace is necessary at all times and at all points in the process of salvation. What the NT does NOT say, is that human behavior has nothing to do with it. Indeed, I would stress that active believing is itself a form of behavior. Indeed it also says that we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling as God works in our midst to will and to do. Last I checked, ‘working out’ involves human behavior. Oh yes, another bulletin from the NT— faith without works is dead.
Put succinctly, while conversion is by grace through faith, sanctification involves both God’s work and our working out our salvation. Sanctification involves human behavior, behavior freely chosen and participated in by us. And if we as Christians freely choose to abuse our freedom (compare Gal. 5.1), which is certainly possible, then we stand in danger of committing: 1) moral apostasy, or 2) intellectual apostasy, or 3) both, and finding ourselves not participating in everlasting life, the final coming of the Kingdom the positive resurrection etc. As many texts, such as Heb.6 warn repeatedly, apostasy, however unlikely for a Christian, is nonetheless possible, and so must be warned against.
Now I suspect that most of the resistance to the sort of reasoning I have laid out in this post comes from a false understanding of the concept of election in the Bible, and more particularly a false joining together of the concept of election and salvation in the Bible. The Bible certainly has something to say about election, about God choosing a people. Election however is a corporate concept in the Bible, not an individual one. Election is ‘in Israel’ in the OT, and ‘in Christ’ (see Ephes. 1). One must be ‘in Israel’ or ‘in Christ’ to be among the chosen people. But election itself, while necessary, is not sufficient to being saved. Take for example the stories in the OT about the exodus and God’s chosen people.
Moses was sent to Egypt to extract God’s chosen, elect people, from Pharaoh’s iron hand. He accomplished this. He led them through the wilderness. He got them to the cusp of the promised land. As 1 Cor. 10 goes on to make clear however, all but two fell by the wayside along the way of the original group. Only two made it into the promised land. The fact that they had had all those wonderful experiences along the way, and had seen mighty miracles of God was not in itself enough for them to be finally saved and enter the promised land. They were chosen, but ended up lost. Election is one thing, salvation is another.
This is not just because election often in the Bible has to do with something other than salvation. For example, Cyrus is God’s anointed one, his chosen one, to set God’s people free from exile in Persia. Did Cyrus’ chosenness save him? Nope. He was chosen for a specific purpose in God’s plan. It had nothing to do with his individual or personal salvation at all.
Election has to do with being a witness for God or an instrument of God, it doesn’t much have to do with the Christian notion of salvation. And this is even true in the NT. Consider for example what Paul says in Rom. 9-11. Among other things we read there that : 1) not all the chosen ones are ‘of Abraham’ and end up saved; and 2) that foreknowledge is not the same thing as foreordination, because God even foreknows those who will be lost; and 3) God temporally broke off some of his chosen limbs of the olive tree so that wild olive branches could be grafted into the people of God, but that 4) God could graft those Jews currently broken off from the people of God back in when the savior returns from heavenly Zion and ‘all Israel is saved’ (a much debated phrase).
In other words, cliches like ‘once saved, always saved’ or ‘if you are elect you know the election results’ and the like do not do justice to the complexity of the relationship between belief and behavior, justification and sanctification, election and salvation etc. in the Bible. It would be more nearly Biblical and correct to warn Christians, as Paul does in Gal. 5 that ‘you are not eternally secure until you are securely in eternity’. But back to the focus of this post.
Belief and behavior, being and doing, theology and ethics, always belonged together according to the Bible. And one of the most salient reasons this is the case is because God created us in his image to reflect his moral image on earth, to be a good witness to the character of God, both his righteous and compassionate character, both his holy and loving character, both his gracious and demanding character. Think on these things.

Monday, July 15, 2013

“Is drinking bad?” A discussion with a student

Why is drinking/getting drunk bad

David W. Pendergrass
Good question. I know of no particular teaching of Jesus that explicitly prohibits it and tells us why. Yet, based on the New Testament, I'd say that getting drunk is immoral because (1) it violates the requirement of God to have self-control (said repeatedly in the Bible) and (2) it is nearly impossible to love God with all our hearts, souls, strengths, and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mk 12:28-31) if we're drunk. It's also possible that being drunk ruins your Christian witness (Paul speaks about a similar situation in Romans and 1 Corinthians). My last two reasons are not biblical, but still matter: it can lead to an addiction, which enslaves us. Finally, because a drunk looks like a moron. J

But when I have been drinking I absolutely have my clearest moments with Jesus and god and am actually a really good advocate on behalf of Christianity. I spread the word to my friends when the liquor Is flowing, and I'm being 100 percent honest.

David W. Pendergrass
lol!  and I appreciate you being honest! If you mean that you are an advocate when you've had some drinks, then I don't see anything immoral about that (of course, there are legal ramifications, That is, drinking alcohol is not inherently immoral/sinful.
If you mean that you are an advocate for Christianity when you're inebriated, then I'd say you're making a consequentialist argument (remember that one? when the end justifies the means). If that's the argument, then I don't find it compelling because you're violating the virtue of having self-control and are almost certainly coming across differently than you perceive.
In that scenario (and we can change it to weed or any other substance), I'd say, "Would Jesus talk about the Kingdom of God to me while drunk or high or wasted?" Immediately, I think that question seems absurd. Of course not. "Would Jesus get drunk or high just so that he had 'clarity' and boldness to talk about the KoG?" Of course not.
So, while I'm not doubting your clarity or advocacy, I'm suggesting that the METHOD of being an advocate--in this case, I'm assuming after heavy drinking--is immoral.
So, I'd say in this case, the ends do NOT justify the means. Why? Because (1) it violates the commandment to have self-control and because (2) I cannot fathom Jesus doing such a thing.

im not saying it justifies the means, i think the fact that its fun, makes me feel good, and brings people together justify it enough, im just saying my advocacy is just a pretty postive externality, or additional benefit. im also not saying i dont have awesome moments of clarity when im complete sober as well, im just questioning why suppress or demean the act of drinking? i know that when christians(especially my former school) take on ethic of believing drinking is a sin, and should result in punishment(or in our schools case suspension/expulsion) it doesnt drive people to God, it drives them away. when i was in an enviornment where what I did with my body was accepted, I felt comfortable, and as a result my relationship with jesus and god improved tenfold. how do you expalin that?

also, cannabis is a natural, god made thing. it has the tendency to make some people idle or lazy, but so does putting a 50 inch tv screen in your living room. im not denying it can lead people to bad stuff sometimes as a result of being exposed to a bad crowd, but is smoking marijuana really that inherently bad(other than the fact that it is illegal, and that you break the law/disrespect authority when you do it)?

David W. Pendergrass
Hey Michael,
There are several things here. Here are my reflections:
(1) "its fun, makes me feel good, and brings people together justify it enough" -- Michael, we can't use these as criteria for what's moral. I could use these descriptions for a whole host of immoral choices: Nazi genocide, rapists talking together, thieves, drug addicts, and on an on. In no way, in a Christian worldview, could these be considered descriptions for what would justify an action.
(2) "im just questioning why suppress or demean the act of drinking?" -- I'm not sure who you're speaking against here, maybe people you've encountered. I've already stated in a previous exchange that I see nothing inherently immoral with the act of drinking itself. Jesus drank wine. Rather, it is getting drunk that is immoral.
(3) "it doesnt drive people to God, it drives them away." -- That may be true. Of course, schools must do such action typically, because it violates legal rules (and they could be sued). Now, on this issue, I hate to see people driven away from God just over the issue of drinking. On the other hand, I have no problem at all with people being driven away from God if they are offended because they are told that being drunk is immoral. Why? Because God's moral commandments are good. I'm well aware that people hate religion, and Christianity in particular, because they don't like being told "that's immoral to do." Murderers, rapists, thieves, gossips, practicing homosexuals, the proud, etc.: we all have reason to feel some childish anger toward God. Who likes being told "no"? In any case, we don't make moral decisions in life because it "drives them away." Again, that's a consequentialist ethic that I don't find compelling because it would allow us to do any immoral thing we wanted, as long as it kept people liking God. If that's the case, we should reject Christianity altogether and stop preaching a message of repentance and confession of sin . . .
(4) "when i was in an enviornment where what I did with my body was accepted, I felt comfortable, and as a result my relationship with jesus and god improved tenfold. how do you expalin that?" -- Our relationship with God is not based on how well you accept what you "do with your body." If you were a pedophile hanging out with other pedophiles, you'd be accepted. Our relationship with God is also not based on whether or not other people accept our behavior. As psychological creatures, we feel good when accepted. That's not good or bad (I think), it just is. BUT, this has nothing to do whatsoever in deciding if something is moral or immoral. Gang members have utter acceptance, even when they steal, rape, and kill. Feelings of acceptance have nothing to do with the teachings and example of Jesus. Jesus's example and instruction supersedes all feelings and intuitions we might have. Why? Because He's the Messiah. If He's not, then nothing I've said matters at all. We're just evolved mammals wanting to spread our seed and conquer the weak . . .
(5) "cannabis is a natural, god made thing. . . . but is smoking marijuana really that inherently bad?" -- Cannabis does grow naturally, as does cocaine and sugar. Of course, just because something occurs in nature, it doesn't mean we should avail ourselves of that thing. Sugar is natural, but surely it's not moral to eat sugar in a way that damages our health. The same is true of cocaine and marijuana. Again, I see nothing inherently immoral with using a drug as long as it does not violate the moral commandment not to lose self-control. Otherwise, I cannot love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and MIND and my neighbor as myself. Finally, like I said before, humans must ask the question: "Would Jesus smoke, drink, inhale, shoot up this drug for fun?" I think the answer is clearly "no."
And no matter how much it offends people or turns them away, truth is truth. No matter how offended a person is to the truth that 2+2=4, it doesn't change the veracity of that statement. We all have to make up our minds: either Jesus is the authority for all things moral or He's not. 
Dr. P

All great points
I knew my logic had holes just wanted to have someone explain them to me
Regardless, I'm still going to drink and smoke and love Jesus with all my heart.
Sorry if that offends you at all, just being honest
I've just been thinking about this stuff a lot, wanted to know your input seeing as its a lot more educated than mine lol

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