Risk Aversion in the Churches of Christ
This parable, read with the Parable of the Talents, is a fearful lesson both individually and corporately.
Let’s talk about the Churches of Christ as a body. One of the characteristics of my fellowship is fear of making a mistake. I can’t begin to count the classes I’ve been in where we debated the rightness of this or that issue. The conclusion was nearly always, “Since we’re not certain that God has authorized this particular practice, the safe thing to do is nothing. We should avoid this practice to be sure we don’t give offense to God.”
I know of a church that had many thousands of dollars (many talents) in the bank. The elders couldn’t think of a single authorized thing to do with the money. And so they stopped issuing financial statements to the members, for fear that the members would stop giving. They just put the money in the bank. Really.
But in the Parable of the Talents, the person damned is the person who was too afraid of the master to put his money (a literal talent is a sum of money) at risk in an investment. Remember these words well: Continue reading
Degrees of punishment.
I don’t buy the Purgatory arguments, and I can’t overlook the fact that the second and third managers were punished — even severely. Most commentaries offer no help at all on this question (the first 10 of my favorites say nothing).
In the Conditionalist interpretation, it’s entirely possible, even expected, that there be degrees of punishment. How God varies the punishment is not revealed. Perhaps some suffer for longer than others. Perhaps the pain of separation from God differs. It’s not necessary that we know — only that the doctrine allows for what Jesus teaches: degrees of punishment.
And unlike Purgatory, there are several other passages that suggest degrees of punishment: Continue reading
(Lk. 12:44 ESV) 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.
The faithful manager will be rewarded with greater responsibility. In an honor culture, this is a great reward. This is, of course, consistent with the Parable of Talents, in which the most profitable servants received the greatest reward.
I think the meaning of “all his possessions” is the inheritance all believers are promised. Several passages promise that the saved will reign over the New Heavens and New Earth (NHNE) in the afterlife — together with Jesus. For instance, Continue reading
Longtime readers will recall that my favorite Christian-alternative artist is Josh Garrels.
Garrels has just released a Christmas album. For many artists, releasing a Christmas album means they’re out of ideas and yet still have contractual obligations to meet — so they pull out the Christmas songbook and throw together yet another version of Frosty the Snowman.
But Garrels has put out a mix of old and new, presenting the story of Jesus through refreshingly unconventional arrangements. Christmas music is quickly becoming as secular as the holiday, but Garrels keeps the focus on Jesus.
His entire album is available on YouTube. This is but a sampling.
You can buy the album at all the usual places, but I’d suggest you buy directly from the artist: Josh Garrels.
PS — Garrels has released free selections from earlier albums on NoiseTrade. You can download some of his best songs for free — with the artist’s blessing. Continue reading
Over the years, I’ve frequently mentioned Luke 12:41-48 as demonstrating that Jesus promises that there will be degrees of punishment for the damned. However, I’ve never attempted to work through the passage in its entirety or literary context. Recently, some readers have questioned my reading, and so it seems timely to sort through the text in more detail.
As long-time readers know, I take a conditionalist interpretation of the hell passages in the scriptures. That is, I believe that the saved are given immortality by God as a reward for their faith in Jesus (including their trust and faithfulness). This is grace and hence unmerited. No one actually deserves to live forever with God. It’s a gift.
On the other hand, the damned are not given immortality. Rather, they are judged, punished with perfect justice (by separation from God and whatever other suffering is just), and then extinguished. They cease to exist, which is the “second death” of Revelation or eternal death, in contrast to the eternal life received by the saved. Continue reading
So I started with just the text and Gordon Fee’s commentary on 2 Thess. And I soon worked with just the text as I found Fee too unwilling to consider the possibility that these events had already happened. He prefers a metaphorical interpretation — an interpretation that doesn’t really serve Paul’s purposes in writing 2 Thessalonians.
If we assume that Paul is right (and that 2 Thess isn’t some so-called Deutero-Pauline text but truly honest-to-God inspired scripture), then there has to be an answer. Follow the evidence.
When I finished my own, independent study, I went through over a dozen commentaries and found that nearly all offer no theory at all. Some suggest that Paul is offering a metaphor for any rebellious leader (seriously?). Some assume the Left Behind theory. Some list obviously absurd interpretations (Hitler, Stalin, the Pope) to demonstrate the impossibility of knowing what is meant. Some conflate this text with the mark of the antichrist, the beast, 666, and all that — which is unwarranted. He’s not called a beast or given a number by Paul. We can’t just assume to be true what we wish to be true. Continue reading
Let’s work through the text to see how it fits to equate the Rebel with Simon bar Giora, the leader of the Jewish rebels against Rome —
(2 Thess. 2:3-4 ESV) 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first
If I’m right, the “rebellion” is the rebellion of the Jews in AD 66-70. “Rebellion” is the natural — even literal — word for Paul to use.
As shown by N. T. Wright in Jesus and the Victory of God, Jesus prophesied during his ministry in a failed effort to warn the Jews against just such a rebellion. Therefore, this was both rebellion against God and Rome. And Paul would have seen it especially as rebellion against God since Jesus himself had begged his people not to do this. Continue reading