Monday, August 29, 2011


I received the following question in an e-mail the other day:

“Hey, I've got a question in Matthew 28:18 (NIV) when it says "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."  Was there some authority that Jesus didn't have until after the resurrection?  Is "has been given" a recent event at that time? Did Jesus have all authority in heaven, but not on earth?  And now he has both? If he didn't have "all", who had it?  And who gave it to Jesus?  Did Satan have some authority until Jesus' death?  Etc.  Questions along Those lines.  Thanks, Tom”

The following is the answer I gave, with a few changes and expansions:
Wow -- that's a great set of questions!  These are questions that are not often asked and they have to do with a very important doctrine that for some reason or other is usually ignored by evangelicals/Bible church people.  Though it has been called by other names, it is the doctrine of the Exaltation of Christ.

If I may give my own definition/description of the doctrine it is this:  Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, the eternal Word, humbled Himself to become Man and died as a sacrifice for the sins of all humanity.  Because of this, God the Father raised Him from the dead and gave Him all authority, an authority which He did not previously have; this authority was given to Him as the God-Man.

We find the doctrine preached all through the Book of Acts.  The earliest preaching was in Peter's Pentecost sermon -- the first "Christian" sermon.  In Acts 2:32-36, Peter, speaking of Christ’s resurrection, quotes Psalm 110:1, "The LORD said to my Lord, sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”  Then he states, ”God has made Him both Lord and Christ -- this Jesus whom you crucified."  This seems very clearly to state that the resurrection itself was God's declaration of His exaltation of the crucified Christ.

In Acts 10:42, Peter says that Jesus was "appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead."  Again, this seems to be speaking of Jesus as crucified and raised.  It's interesting that in Acts 2, Peter was preaching to the Jewish people, while in Acts 10, he is speaking to the ones who would become the first Gentile converts.

Then in Acts 13, in his sermon in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, Paul picks up the same theme, only this time basing it on Psalm 2:7.  In Acts 13:33, he quotes this verse, " ... God has fulfilled this to us their children, as it is also written in the second Psalm, 'You are My Son; today I have begotten You!'"

In Acts 17:31; this time speaking to pagan philosophers, Paul says, " ... He (God) has fixed a day when He will judge the whole inhabited earth in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all by raising Him from the dead."  The word "appointed" here is the same word that Peter used in Acts 10:42.

Psalm 2, especially verse 7, looks to the LORD’s covenant promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 of a Descendant or “Seed” to sit on his throne.  The LORD says in verse 14:  “I will be a Father to him and he will be a son to me.”  This was partially fulfilled in Solomon, but awaited its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus.  The resurrection and ascension is the declaration of God that Jesus is His Son.

The author of Hebrews also quotes Psalm 2:7 twice.  In Hebrews 1:3b-5, he ties it to Christ’s ascension to God’s right hand.  In 5:5, it is connected to the declaration of Christ’s high priesthood in Psalm 110:4.  Hebrew 5:1-10, places His designation as High Priest after His perfection by suffering (verses 8-10).

In Romans 1:4, Paul says that Jesus " ... was appointed (same word again) the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead ..."

In Romans 14:9, Paul says, "For this reason Christ died and came to life, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living."

I believe that the above passages make it very clear that Jesus the Christ, the God-Man received a special new position as Son, as Lord, as High Priest and as Judge, at His resurrection and ascension.  It was God's "seal of approval."  This is the "authority" that Jesus speaks of having been given in Matthew 28:18.  And it's true, the Son as the second Person of the Trinity always did possess authority.  But it as the crucified and resurrected Man, He is given a new authority which in some way He did not possess before.

This is what Paul is speaking of in Philippians 2:5-11.  Because Christ emptied Himself, took human form and died on the cross, God has "highly exalted Him," through the resurrection, ascension, heavenly priesthood and ultimately His coming again to reign.

And yes, apparently Satan had authority over this world.  This is seen in his offer of "all the kingdoms of the world and their glory" when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:8, 9; Luke 4:5-7).  Notice that Jesus didn't correct Satan that this wasn't a valid offer.

I hope that an understanding of this doctrine gives us a greater understanding of what the great commission is all about!

Also see:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Sometimes (not often) I say something that seems profound.  A few Sundays ago I said to my adult Sunday school class (most about 50ish):  “It’s easy to mistake lower testosterone for spiritual maturity.”  I’d made this observation a few times in the past, but this time I got such a positive reaction, that I felt I should post it on facebook.  Again, a reasonably positive reaction, except for one comment that asked me to expound.  So perhaps I’d better.

Well, of course, the first thing I did was to Google “low testosterone.”  After making my way past all the ads offering me remedies for this affliction, I found (among a few unmentionable things) the following information:

“In many ways testosterone is the stuff that makes men men.  Throughout a man’s life testosterone maintains his make characteristics”

“Testosterone levels decline steadily after age 40.  The decline is relatively small, at an average rate of 1 to 2 percent per year.”  (If my math is correct, that would mean that at the age of 74 I am 1/3 to 2/3 less of a man.)

Some of the symptoms:
·        Low energy or fatigue.
·        Lower sexual desire.
·        Deterioration of ability to play sports.
·        Decreased “enjoyment of life.”
·        Deterioration in work performance.
·        Increased body fat (“pot belly”).
·        Falling asleep after dinner.

On reflection, I find that to a greater or lesser extent, as I age I demonstrate all of the above symptoms.  Of course, my wife Uni points out (rather smugly) that I have demonstrated that last symptom throughout our married life.

And this is the problem.  Some (though not all) or these symptoms can be confused with characteristics of Spiritual maturity.

Like most men, I have struggled all my life with what the Scriptures describe as “lust.”  Sometimes it is no more than a second look.  I can honestly say that refraining from that second look becomes easier as I age.  I find that while my desire for my wife has remained as intense as ever, I am less distracted by other women.  Is this just a “symptom”?

Another issue I have struggled with is anger.  I don’t blow up nearly as much as I used to.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time.  Is this just a side effect of the lack of competitiveness, which is seen as a “deterioration” in sports or work ability?

I spend a lot more time reading and meditating on the Scripture.  Is this a sign of a closer walk with the Lord, or simply because my “low energy” prevents me from desiring more physical activity?  (Of course, according to Larry the Cable Guy:  “Old people read their Bibles more because they’re cramming for the Final.”)

Perhaps it’s not an either/or, but a both/and.  Perhaps God in His grace allows a decrease in that which we regard as manliness so that we will be better able to concentrate on the things of the Spirit.

Could Paul have had this in mind when he said, “…though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16)?

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

A friend forwarded me the article:  and I was intrigued.  It begins with a video repeating some thoughts from the book, Speaking Christian by Marcus Borg.

According to the video, Borg’s thesis is that words have a wide range of meaning and that the whole vocabulary of Christians (especially evangelicals) is based on a narrow usage of certain words, such as “believe,” “salvation,” etc.

The article then takes off on a different tack, citing buzz words used by Christians, before returning to Borg’s thesis.  It then goes on to speak of how politicians “speak Christian” and rambles on to certain Christian buzzwords.  It concludes with a quote from Borg, “Speaking Christian can become a way of suggesting a kind of spiritual status that others don’t have.  It communicates a kind of spiritual elitism that holds the spiritually ‘unwashed’ at arm’s length,” followed by the statement, “By the time, they’ve reached the final stage of speaking Christian – they’ve become spiritual snobs.”

The article raises a number of issues that I have had to deal with in the past, so I feel that this is a good opportunity to express my thoughts.  I agree with much that the article expresses.

I must confess at the start though, that I have little regard for Marcus Borg.  I have heard or read him quoted many times and I believe I have seen him interviewed on TV.  It seems ironic that he should accuse others of “spiritual elitism” or “snobbery,” when he usually is the one who comes across that way.  He appears to have a great disdain for us “fundamentalists” – those who hold to biblical literalism.

I agree that words do have a wide range of meaning and we often are guilty of using them in a narrow way without respecting this range.  But words do not have an infinite range of meaning; if they did, communication would be impossible.

The video/article uses the words “believe” and “salvation” as examples of how evangelicals use words incorrectly.  It shreds the English words without recognizing that they are based on Hebrew and Greek words.  It points out that the words “save” and “salvation” do not always refer to eternal salvation.  Surprise!  As if that weren’t obvious to most Bible readers.

Leaving the arguments that imply that most Bible believers are elitist ignoramuses, I do have a few things to say about “speaking Christian.”

Christians do have a special language and vocabulary, but this is nothing unusual.  Every interest group has its own special vocabulary or “shoptalk” by which those inside communicate with one another.  Single words and short phrases can convey large amounts of information.  Engineers, architects, computer wizards, military personnel – all have their jargon.  I have found “Christian” or theological speech a necessity, especially in the area of education.

But this special language brings with it a number of problems, some of which I believe are quite serious.

The first is that of obfuscation of the message.  Christianity is a religion of communication.  We have been given a message and have been commanded to communicate it.  Clarity should be one of our objectives.  And yet our jargon or (as I have called it for years) “Christianese” can make that message incomprehensible.

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Evangelical Christians say:
         “Let Jesus into your heart.”
“Walk the aisle.”
“Pray the sinner’s prayer.”

Now I recognize that there is a need to explain the meanings of the biblical statements, but our aim should be to communicate, not to obscure.  I fear that our attempts at explaining may sometimes actually shut off understanding.

Another related problem is that of division and misunderstanding between Christians, not only those of different theological or denominational persuasions, but even those of similar belief systems.  The College of Biblical Studies, where I taught for years, was open to believers of all labels.  Teaching there often required an understanding, not only of Greek and Hebrew, but also of the various dialects of Christianese.  Many of the expressions used were taken from the Bible, while many were apparently unique to particular groups.  All used their dialects as though they assumed everyone else understood them.  The words were often loaded with meaning for the user, but were gibberish to those who were not “in” (sometimes including myself).  Here are a few:
            “anointed preaching”
            “I receive that”
            “the Jesus in me”
            “positive volition”
            “receive the call”
(The reader can probably add many more of his or her own.)

And then there’s the matter of confusing language with reality, of thinking that learning and speaking the language is a sign of maturity.  When I became a Christian in my late teens, I was a fast learner.  I quickly began to pepper my speech with theological terms and King James’ words.  I deceived myself and others into believing I was maturing as a Christian.  Part of my real maturing process has involved dropping my Christianese and talking in normal English.

A fourth problem is that discerning and knowledgeable outsiders can pick up and use Christianese and God-talk and be mistaken for the real thing.  This is especially true of politicians.  It has always been so in America, though I believe there has been a great change in the use of Christianese by politicians in the past half century or so.

The Bible has always had a place in American speech, most likely because it was for much of our history, the most read book.  Writers and public speakers of the past mined it for quotes, and many could quote vast portions from memory.  The classical cadence and language of the KJV lent itself to this usage.  While those who used biblical speech and Christianese were not always Christians, their language may have unintentionally given that impression.  I suspect that that usage is one of the primary sources of “evidence” for those who mistakenly desire to prove that America was a Christian nation, at least in the past.

I believe that today, however, we have a new crop of political speakers who use Christianese cynically to gain a following.  Even some who make no clear profession of faith in Christ have learned to speak the language and have gained a following.  And of course the Bible and the flag are always good armor to wrap around oneself when one is caught with a hand in the cookie jar.

So what should we do?  Should we abandon Christianese?  I don’t believe we should completely, but we need to curtail much of it even when conversing among ourselves.  We should tailor our speech to those with whom we are attempting to communicate; when using Christian terminology with outsiders we need to explain ourselves.

“If … all speak in tongues and untaught or unbelievers enter, will they not say you are mad?” (1 Corinthians 14:23).

And we should be discerning.  We should not be fooled by those who simply use the language.  “See to it that no one misleads you” (Matthew 24:4).