Thursday, April 17, 2014

Simon, Who Is Called Peter (Why you should buy my book)

As most of you know, Wipf and Stock Publishers recently published my book Simon, Who Is Called Peter! This is extremely exciting, and if you haven't seen it yet, you should definitely check it out here.

Still not quite sure? Not ready to click the link yet? That's alright, let me tell you a little about it.

Simon, Who Is Called Peter is a heavily researched, extensively footnoted first-person account of Peter's life, from his first meeting with Jesus (recorded in John 1) to his traditional martyrdom in Rome.

Do you like narrative and a good story? Do you want a personal look into the life of the disciple most talked about in the Gospels? Do you want something that treats Peter as a man, instead of an object lesson? You're going to love this book.

Or are you reading the above paragraph and thinking, "Psh, another book that passes off imagination and speculation as a work of scholarship? No thank you!"? You're still going to love this book.  Every incident is footnoted to the appropriate scripture, and I've cited dozens of commentaries and works of Petrine scholarship in order to minimize the need for speculation, ensuring that the book remains biblically and theologically responsible.

But don't take my word for it. Listen to these people, who are actually paid to be really smart about the Bible!

"Moving between contemporaneous episodes in prison and recollections of Peter's place in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the first days of the church, Mulligan gives meaningful shape to Peter's life and offers us a novel take on both Peter and Jesus, yet ever faithful and attentive to the biblical witness. This sounds like Peter and would be an excellent companion to students of the New Testament, both lay and academic."
—Matt Jenson, Associate Professor of Theology, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University, La Mirada, CA

"Human beings are eternal and one of the greatest of those souls was the Apostle Peter. Peter did not start as he ended: a man willing to be martyred for faith. Mackenzie Mulligan has illuminated the life of this Christian hero and reminded us of his full humanity. Mulligan's classical training and bright mind are obvious as he unlocks his material in a manner that is intellectually stimulating, honest to the source documents, and devotional."
—John Mark N. Reynolds, Provost, Professor of Philosophy, Houston Baptist University, Houston, TX

"Never moving outside Scripture's own footprint and reading as a disciple of Jesus himself, Mulligan offers an imaginative retelling of the 'Peter of the Bible.' Rather than a speculative filling-in-the-blanks, he offers a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament. In what Jenson aptly categorizes as a form of lectio divina, Mulligan's narrative is a sustained reflection on the text of Scripture."
—Darian R. Lockett, Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, La Mirada, CA

"From encountering Jesus with his brother, Andrew, to suffering for Jesus on a Roman cross, the Apostle Peter recounts his life and experiences as a devoted, but sometimes stumbling, follower of the Lord. . . . Mulligan succeeds in putting together an account that is both faithful to the biblical text and engagingly expressed. What a great resource this will be for a class on Peter or for Bible study groups who want to explore Peter's life."
—Clinton E. Arnold, Dean and Professor of New Testament, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, La Mirada, CA

Right? Riiiiiiggghhhht? Professor of theology? Biblical and theological studies? Provost of Houston Baptist?  Dean of Talbot? Yeah. So come on. Click that link. Or this link, if you want to buy from Amazon. Heck, if you live in Fresno, you could just buy it direct from me. Whichever you choose, let me know in the comments! Oh, and don't forget to review it on Amazon!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Causing someone to stumble?

NOTE: This entire post is written with the assumption of alcohol consumption that is both a) legal (no underage drinking!) and b) responsible/moderated. Drunkenness is out, as is habitual/addictive drinking. Those are obviously prohibited. Alright: read on.

A few months ago, I accidentally discovered something pretty startling: That the whole "Christian Temperance" movement is still alive and kicking, crappy theology and all. If you have a strong stomach for ignorance, grammatically incorrect hostility, and the most horrible logical fallacies around, feel free to search for "Should Christians drink?" on your search engine of choice. Those with comments sections are the most amusing/enraging/saddening (depending on which mood you're in already).

There are lots of arguments against Christian consumption of alcohol, ranging from the awful ("The world does it, so we shouldn't, because SEPARATION!") to the really awful ("We're not supposed to get drunk, so that means we shouldn't drink at all!"), to the absolutely nuts ("Also, the wine in the Bible is non-alcoholic, except for when it isn't, and then it's bad!"). I'm not going to go into those arguments, because rather than requiring dismantling, most of them just fall apart in the face of a stiff breeze.

But there's one that remains, one solid stand-by that never fails: Admit defeat, but claim the protection of the "weaker brother." "And even if it's somehow not a sin, we think it is, so Paul says that you can't do it, or else you'll be causing us to stumble!"

After all other non-arguments have failed, this one stands defiant, proud to claim the title of "weaker brother." So let's talk about that. Let's talk about what it means to cause someone to stumble.

First, the source text: Romans 14:20-23

"Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."

So: How do you cause someone to stumble? What does it mean to do that?

First, it does not mean "Make someone upset on the internet." If someone you don't know is actually going out of their way to despise you and pass judgement on you, you're not causing them to stumble. (although they are putting themselves firmly in Paul's crosshairs throughout the whole of Romans 14).

Secondly, it does not mean "Do something that someone else thinks is sin." We see this illustrated throughout Paul's missionary life. As an easy example, we see him eating with Gentiles, when such was seen as sin by the Judaizers from Jerusalem. In fact, he actually calls Peter out for catering to their immature doctrine (see Galatians 2:11-14).

Finally, it does not even mean "Proclaiming something to be neutral or good, when others believe it to be evil." Otherwise, Paul couldn't even have written Romans 14 without causing people who disagreed with him to stumble!

Here's what it means: Encouraging someone to partake of something that is either a perceived or actual sin. That's it. That's what it means. If someone firmly believes that drinking alcohol is sinful, and you're in their presence, encouraging them to drink, then you are, in fact, causing someone to stumble. Or if you're with a recovering alcoholic and order a drink, then you are causing someone to stumble.Your freedom is a reminder of their captivity, and an invitation to be captive again.

Don't do that. Don't tempt recovering alcoholics, and don't pressure people to do something they see as a sin.

But if you aren't doing that--if all you're doing is pissing off Pharisees with your moderate and self-controlled drinking--then have fun, and think about Jesus doing the same at the wedding in Cana.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Children as Casualties

Quick summary for those who aren't familiar with all this: In the space of two days, World Vision USA has managed to piss off pretty much every single spectrum of American Christianity. And in that, one group of people in particular is almost certain to suffer: The children helped by World Vision.

It all started when they announced that they would be modifying their hiring policies to allow practicing homosexuals in committed "marriage" relationships to be employees of World Vision. Previously, their hiring guidelines had included celibacy for single employees, and monogamy/faithfulness for married employees, all in an effort to reflect their company-wide Christian identity.

And this decision angered and/or saddened a lot of people. The Gospel Coalition did a couple of posts about it, and Matthew Lee Anderson over at Mere Orthodoxy wrote a slightly different take on it.

And then, seemingly in response to all the flak, World Vision USA reversed course, saying "The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman." Obviously, this angered/saddened even more people, with Rachel Held Evans putting together a particularly grieving post.

And those are just the people the who make a living writing about things like this. When you get to the other people, the people who comment on stories like these, it gets ugly. The comments sectionson these posts invariably descend into name-calling and accusations of hatred/wishy-washiness/worldiness/hatred again. (And while this most certainly includes "fundamental" Christians, many of the most vitriolic comments come from the commentators over at RHE, that bastion of tolerance and free thought). As a result of this flip-flop, the divide is deeper than ever.

But in all of this, as traditional Christians pondered whether to withdraw support in the face of the original decision, and as "progressive Christians" ponder whether to withdraw support in the wake of the reversal, one group of people has incredible potential to be hurt: The kids.

I have to be honest: I don't think the question of actively withdrawing support should ever have come up, from anyone even remotely close to "mainstream" Christianity. 

Simply not renewing support when the time comes, and transitioning to another program? Sure.

Continuing to support, but with a letter to WV explaining your grief at their decision? Heck yeah.

But actively withdrawing support, especially en masse and immediately? No. Because no matter who picks up the slack, no matter whether you immediately begin funding another organization, I have to think that your lack of support would make an impact in the life of a child who had nothing to do with the decision. I don't think that ever should have been on the table, and I'm saddened that it wasn't condemned by those who write blogs that people actually read.

Was World Vision's original decision in error? Definitely. Was it a serious error? Yes. is it something that we should just "agree to disagree" on? No. That way lies apathy and death. Sin is sin, and sin is serious...and condoning it is serious as well.

And yet...considering the fact that the Church has already caused such suffering with its (past and, in too many places, current) terrible treatment of this issue...considering the fact that actively withdrawing support would likely directly impact the life of a child who had done nothing wrong...considering that it would be so easy to affect a smooth transition so as to eliminate that negative impact...we should not have said what we said. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Talitha Cumi

"While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” But overhearing[e] what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”  And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James.  They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement." Mark 5:35-42 

Talitha cumi. Little girl, arise. We went over the corresponding passage in Luke today in church, and the pastor jumped over to Mark just for these two words. Talitha cumi. Rather than the Greek which Jesus likely often taught in, he changes to Aramaic when speaking to this small Jewish child.

Pastor Scott suggested that these were likely the words which her parents would have used to wake her each morning. I have no idea how true that is, but it seems right. Scott talked about how these were the words that had woken her from sleep since she was born, but how they took on a new meaning and power when spoken by Christ.

And as he spoke, a scene came together in my mind.

Jairus, a devout Jew, a ruler of the synagogue, is off on a mission of last resort, to bring the rising-but controversial rabbi Jesus to his home. His wife stays behind, at the bedside of her dying daughter. And as her daughter slips further and further into the sickness, the mother whispers, "Talitha cumi." Little girl, arise! Wake up! Please, please wake up...

Where is Jairus? Where is the rabbi? The sickness grows worse, and again she whispers, "Talitha cumi." But her girl lies still, un-moving and un-hearing.

She waits, but there is no word of her husband. Perhaps Jairus could not find the rabbi. Perhaps the rabbi refused to come. And then she realizes that her daughter, her only daughter, is no longer breathing, and she begs, choking through the tears, "Talitha cumi!" And her daughter lies there, as though sleeping, but not, and there are no words that will wake her.

The Bible is full of pieces of stories, of which we often only hear one part, one moment in time, when Jesus breaks into the story to make it right. But in order to fully appreciate that moment, I think we often need to step back and look at the rest of the story. This was not an object lesson or a Sunday-morning sermon to Jairus or his wife: This was the moment that their little girl came back from the dead. Something worth remembering, I think.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Man "Tries Out" Atheism for a Year, Loses Job as Christian Professor at Christian University: Man, World Shocked.

"Hey man, if you think Christian pastors should be expected to be Christians and pastors, it seems like you're a little narrow-minded."

So said my friend Nathan Camp as we were discussing the mindblowing idiocy that is this article and the rest of the secular reaction to this pastor and professor who's "trying out" atheism. In case you haven't heard about any of this, James did a great article over at Evangelical Outpost outlining the subject, appropriately titled "Lord, I believe, but I'll give up my belief."

Basically, a (now former) pastor and professor at Azusa Pacific University made the public decision to live "without God" for a year. He will not pray, he will not read the Bible, he will not go to church, he will not actively trust in God's will: In short, he will not talk to God, he will not think of God, and he will not join people who gather for those purposes.

And after publicly declaring to do all of this, he is somehow shocked when he loses his two jobs teaching at Christian schools. After signing and affirming a Statement of Faith at Asuza Pacific, he is somehow surprised to find that disavowing that same statement comes with consequences: Indeed, his initial reaction is "But lots of other people probably doubt it too!"

 And he sees this reaction as affirming that there is a problem with the Church, since they crucify those on "an honest and intellectual spiritual journey."

Gah. I got a sour taste in my mouth just now. That is so gross, so inherently dishonest, that it's making me physically ill.

I've written of a similar phenomenon before: Of people being "vulnerable," and deflecting any and all criticism as an unjust attack. But this is even worse than that, because he wants to live without God for a year, and he wants this to be a big, dramatic moment, but at the same time, he wants to also live as a Christian.

He wants to live like an atheist? Fine. He can do his thing. But guess what? Azusa Pacific isn't going to let an atheist be a professor there. In fact, they have a Doctrinal Statement, that he signed, that affirms that he's not going to pull crap like that. And yet, when he publicly declares that he's going to live like an atheist, he somehow wants them to ignore it?

How seriously is he really taking this, if he doesn't expect his freaking employer to take it seriously?

Is there any other field where someone could disavow all central foundations of that field, and still expect to be trusted to teach that field accurately? If a mathematician "gave up math" and got fired, would he be surprised? If a teacher decided they were going to "give up education," would he protest the injustice of it?

But even more depressing than his reaction, is the reaction of the atheist community. After all, how dare APU enforce that document that he signed of his own free will? How dare the Christian school disallow a publicly-proclaimed "atheist for a year" from teaching? It's's too sad. It's too depressing. It's too dumb. It's pointless to say anything more, because anyone who's actually thinking like that has just decided that any stick is good enough to beat Christianity with.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Was CS Lewis a Calvinist?

Everybody wants a piece of CS Lewis. His "anti-brand" of Mere Christianity has the power to run amok over denominational lines, leaving awesome in its wake. It's not surprising, then, that Calvinism has recently tried to score a slice of Lewis pie. What is surprising, though, is the willingness to take statements out of context (or ignore them entirely) in order to make their case stick.

The case has been most popularly (and most recently) put by Doug Wilson here.

At the very beginning, he asserts his thesis: While Lewis may not be a "modern" Calvinist (whatever that means), while he may not use the "language and jargon" of modern Calvinism (whatever that means), "There are a number of indications that show that he understood the essential teachings of the Reformation and he signed off on them."

His position is, first of all, incredibly vague. What does Calvinism look like, in his view? What are the "essential teachings"? Is he willing to abandon TULIP in order to bring Lewis into the Calvinist camp (as one friend of mine was willing to do?). What is Wilson's Calvinism that Lewis holds to?

Then he moves into his arguments, and the very first Lewis quote is one where Ransom, in Perelandra, discovers that "Predestination and freedom were apparently identical." It's definitely a good quote, but also pretty confusing (as Wilson admits when he laughingly refuses/declines to clarify what, exactly, the quote means). That confusion doesn't stop Wilson, though: while someone else might admit that this could be used to argue for either Calvinism or a more free-will-oriented position. Wilson doesn't even admit the possibility of an alternate interpretation.

Such is the problem with many of his examples. Some are stronger (Jill in The Silver Chair, for instance), but the rest are so weak as to be non-existent. It's not even worth it to go through piece by piece (is it really necessary to point out that Aslan only undragons Eustace after Eustace explicitly agrees to allow him to?). But the thing is, we don't have to go through every example, because Wilson, in either the most ignorant or the most dishonest move of the entire video, completely and utterly ignores The Great Divorce.  Let's take a look, shall we?

"Time is the very lens through which ye see--small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope--something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all. That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality."

So far, so good, right? If this were all it was, no doubt Wilson would be only too happy to claim it as further evidence that Lewis embraced the truth that freedom and predestination co-oexist (a truth that apparently only Calvinists hold to, according to Wilson?). But Lewis isn't done yet: not by a long shot.

"Every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination, which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two."

In all honesty, we could drop this right here, and I believe that no self-respecting Calvinist would dare to maintain Lewis' Calvinism in the face of this. But we'll go on, because there's one more argument that I've heard before.

"But what if Lewis is talking about some "straw-man" version of Predestination? What if this isn't the actual Calvinist version?"

To which I say: Make up your darn mind.

Wilson states at the very beginning of his argument that "[Lewis]understood the essential teachings of the Reformation and he signed off on them."

So which is it? Does Lewis not understand the essential teachings, and so we can write this off as an incorrect understanding of Predestination?

Or (as seems more likely), does he indeed understand the essential teachings, attribute a certain level of truth to them, but also recognizes that Freedom is the "deeper truth"?

Wilson can't have it both ways. He can't approve one reading when it suits him, and another when it doesn't. He can't claim that Lewis knows exactly what he's talking about one moment, but talking out of ignorance the next. That's not how this works.

There's one more way out of the net, which Wilson tries to keep open and which I've had argued to me before. That you can ditch TULIP, ditch all the confining language of today's Calvinism, and spread the net so wide that Lewis fits perfectly into it. At it's absolute best, this move destroys Calvinism and makes the term meaningless.

Calvinism has to mean something. No matter how you reduce it, no matter how you explain the "jargon" and the "language" and the partisanship of it, it has to mean something, and not just anything, about the relationship between predestination and free will. It either means something, or it means nothing. And if it means something--if it means anything--then it means that predestination is "the deeper truth." Calvinists can sidestep the issue, they can claim harmony, they can do whatever the heck they want--the fact remains that at some point, they have to say that Predestination is first and has priority.

If it doesn't mean that, then it means nothing. And if it does mean that, then it means that Lewis was not Calvinist, in any sense of the word.

THE END: Of course, there's a lot more to say. It's not as though the non-Calvinist Lewis rests solely on The Great Divorce. In the last volume of Lewis' letters, he claims "It is plain from Scripture that, in whatever sense the Pauline doctrine is true, it is not true in any sense which excludes its (apparent) opposite." Note the "in whatever sense" there...quite a far cry from Wilson's claim that Lewis necessarily upheld fundamental reformed teaching!

And then there's his claim in Perelandra, that God makes plans that humans have the power of upsetting: I've written more about it here. This theme is repeated again in That Hideous Strength, where Merlin laments that "It was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child...[but] be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed." This is hardly the God who cannot help but be sovereign over each and every detail of existence!

It's ignorant, at the very best, to argue for a Calvinist Lewis. At worst, it represents an intentional misrepresentation of either Lewis or Calvinism (or both). I've written this to provide an antidote to Wilson's video, because I do not believe the Church is served by either ignorance or falsehood.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"My Drunk Kitchen," the Effects of Sin, and Conscientious Entertainment

Back when I was heavily involved in the rap debacle, one thing that always infuriated me was the deep-seated assumption that those who defended rap did so because we wanted to remain "willfully ignorant" of the legitimate sinfulness of rap music. Their argument was that we didn't want music to have moral meaning, because then we would see that rap music was sinful.

It's an ugly, arrogant, condescending argument that serves no purpose other than to make the other people feel superior. However, there is a kernel of truth in I discovered when I was watching "My Drunk Kitchen" with Anna on Youtube.

My Drunk Kitchen is a Youtube show which stars a young woman. Every week, she gets drunk and "cooks" things (in the four episodes I watched, I think the results were edible twice). It's a really funny show. I had fun watching it with Anna. Until I told Anna that I didn't think we should watch it anymore, and we had a Discussion.

I didn't want to have the Discussion. I had pondered it one night after watching an episode. Should we be watching a show built around drunkenness? I prayed about it, thought about it some more, and went to sleep.

I thought about it some more. And some more. And I wondered if I was being too legalistic, if I was being too strict, if it really mattered what we watched...after all, she didn't claim Christianity, so why should I care if she got drunk regularly? Does it really matter?

I think it does, and that's what I told Anna when we Discussed it. It matters for a few reasons.

First, it matters because the Bible is fairly clear that while drinking alcohol is not a sin, drunkenness is. Paul speaks against it repeatedly, never treating it with the nod and wink (or outright approval) that our culture views it with today. It seems fairly clear that regularly and purposely getting drunk is a sin.

Secondly, this is not a show which happens, occasionally, to include drunkenness "accidentally", as it were. This isn't a show in which other things happen, and drunkenness is occasionally one of those things. This show is actually constructed around the drunkenness. Without it, it wouldn't even be the same show: It'd just be "My Kitchen."

Thirdly, as Christians, we believe that sin actively harms the sinner. Sin actively draws a person away from God, who is not just their Creator but the one who sustains them as well. In fact, God is their entire reason for being and for continuing to be. God is their ultimate Purpose. And sin draws them away from that. Sin denies a person of their purpose, draws them away from the very source of their being. Sin harms the sinner.*

Finally, it matters because Youtubers measure their success by views. Each view directly equals a tangible measure of support towards whatever you're watching. And in this case, the thing we were actively and tangibly supporting was a show constructed around a person unwittingly harming themselves through sin. Each view was an active encouragement for her to do it again, to once again harm herself and draw herself further away from her Creator.

So we don't watch it anymore. And I think that was the right call.

One last thing: It's probably impossible to use the word "sin" so many times without seeming "judgmental." I do not condemn her. I throw no stones. I simply acknowledge that 1) the Bible states that drunkenness is a sin, and that 2) sin actively harms the person engaging in it. And because of those two things, I do not wish to actively support and encourage someone to harm themselves in that manner.

I'd love any thoughts on this. Comment away!

*Obviously, I can't let this good an opportunity for quoting Karl Barth to pass me by: Barth describes the effect of sin on humanity thusly:

"...the man who has made himself quite impossible in his created being as man, who has cut the ground from under his feet, who has lost his whole raison d’Ă©tre [reason for existence]. What place has he before God when he has shown himself to be so utterly unworthy of that for which he was created by God, so utterly inept, so utterly unsuitable? When he has eliminated himself? What place is there for his being, his being as man, when he has denied his goal, and therefore his beginning and meaning, and when he confronts God in this negation? Despising the dignity with which God invested him, he has obviously forfeited the right which God gave and ascribed to him as the creature of God."

Of course, Barth here is talking about sin in general, but I think it's quite in keeping with his line of thought to apply it to individual sins as they happen.