Why Christians and the World Don't Fit

Christians serious about sanctification (the crisis and process of being made holy) will always feel a bit detached from this world system. They know this isn't the Kingdom they belong to; this isn't the ultimate allegiance they pledge to. Their values and priorities are out of sync with (and unappreciated by) the world. Consequently they will feel out of sorts in this world. The Bible says Christ followers are travelers who aren't home yet (1 Peter 2.11-12).
"We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true one. We are in the true one — that is, in his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life."
1 John 5:19‭-‬20 CSB

How to Translate the Bible Into English

   Americans don't read very well. Bible translator Dr. Douglas Moo explains, 

First, our translation choices must reckon with our audience’s ability to understand English. I tell you nothing you don’t already know when I say that fewer and fewer American adults can read effectively. A 2013 study concluded that 35 percent of adults in the US can’t read at all or read below a fifth grade level. Even college-educated and fully acculturated adults, who spend their time on Facebook and Candy Crush rather than reading books, have difficulty handling English at any level of complexity...[A]nd if, as surveys reveal, the average American is reading at a seventh to eighth grade level, translations cannot necessarily be faulted for trying to hit that target.
Ouch.


Boyce W. Blackwelder
The writings of the late Reverend Doctor Boyce Watson Blackwelder (February 3, 1913—August 22, 1976) introduced the Church of God (Anderson) to New Testament Greek.  He received his Th.D. while under the supervision of the 20th century Greek grammarian giant, J. R. Mantey, of the Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Blackwelder taught at Anderson University School of Theology and was one of our most well-known scholars in the Church of God.  His specialty was New Testament Greek and he published exegetical translations of the four gospels and Paul's letters.  He titled them, simply, The Four Gospels: An Exegetical Translation and Letters from Paul.  Blackwelder also wrote the immensely popular Light from the Greek New Testament.

Dr. Blackwelder believed that accurate translation didn't require a strict word-for-word method of translating but, rather, to express the thoughts/idioms of the Greek (donor language) in an accurate English expression (receptor language). 

As he explains in Gospels:
This is an exegetical translation—not a paraphrase.  The aim of biblical exegetics is to make as clear as possible the means of the scriptural text...[t]hus an interpreter tries to discover what each statement meant to the original writer and render it accurately into the language at hand. 
It is impossible in every instance, to translate the same Greek word by the same English word.  Translation is more than a mere word-for-word rendering of one language into another language.  Transferring the idiom characteristic of the Greek into the corresponding idiom characteristic of contemporary English becomes a challenging task. (pg. 8)
Consider a traditional rendering in a portion of The Lord's Prayer:

Our Father which art in heaven, 
Hallowed be thy name.   (Mat 6.9b)

Contrast it with Blackwelder's rendering:

Our Father who art in heaven,
May Thy name be held in reverence.  (Mat 6.9b)


To seek that God's name be hallowed is to seek that his name be held in reverence.  Which rendering is 
clearer for a 21st century audience?  I believe it's Blackwelder's.  All one has to do is read Blackwelder's translations of the gospels and letters of Paul to see the latitude the Church of God scholar allowed himself in expressing the New Testament language in crisp contemporary English of his day.  (For those who might think Blackwelder didn't stick to the text closely enough, the same charge could be leveled against the Septuagint [LXX], the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced by Jewish scholars shortly before the birth of Christ.  This was the common Bible of the early church and, in fact, heavily quoted by the New Testament writers, themselves. If it was good enough for them then such translational philosophy can be good enough for us.)

The New Testament Greek employed by the biblical writers was Hellenistic koinē (i.e. "common") Greek.  That is to say, it wasn't the literary Attic Greek of earlier writers.  And, in fact, vernacular [spoken] biblical Greek is simpler than a literary [written] 
koinē of the era.  As Blackwelder explains in Light:
Another category of material of the Graeco-Roman world which is an important source of light for New Testament studies is the literary Koine.  There are two types of Koine, the literary Koine which is represented by extrabiblical literature, by most of the inscriptions, and by a few papyri; and the vernacular Koine which is represented by most of the papyri and ostraca, by a few inscriptions, and by nearly all biblical Greek. 
It is not difficult to understand why there were two basic varieties within the Koine.  Though no literary speech develops independently from the vernacular, yet spoken language is never identical with the literary style.  The old Attic of Athens had a vernacular and a literary style that differed from each other, and such a distinction characterized the Koine from its beginning. 
"There was formal literary effort of considerable extent during the Koine period."  The forms of the literary Koine more nearly approached the classical nature of the Attic than do those of the New Testament.  The Koine literati sought elegance of expression while trying to avoid pedantry.  The literary Koine occupies an intermediate position between the vernacular Koine and the older classical form of the language.  (pgs. 24-25)
The Bible's Greek was written in the easy-to-understand everyday Greek that people spoke in day to day life.  Why did the koinē emerge from the formal Attic Greek vernacular dialect?  It had to do with war.  Blackwelder helps us understand in Light:
In the latter part of the fourth century B.C., the forces of Alexander the Great conquered the Medo-Persian Empire, bringing the language of the victors into the ascendancy throughout the then-known world.  "Remaining as armies of occupation, and settling amongst the conquered peoples, they popularized the language, simplifying its grammatical and syntactical structure." (pgs. 18-19)
The New Testament is beautiful but doesn't try to sound artificial.  But neither was it sloppy speech.  In Light:
Although the new Testament writers were not Atticists, neither were they "mere purveyors of slang and vulgarisms."  [A. T.] Robertson reminds us that Paul was a man of culture as well as a man of the people, and says, "The New Testament uses the language of the people, but with a dignity, restraint and pathos far beyond the trivial nonentities in much of the papyri remains."  "The New Testament is mainly in the vernacular Koine, but it is the vernacular of men of great ability" and reflects definite literary elements especially in the writings of Luke, the letters of Paul, and the Epistle to the Hebrews.  But above all, the New Testament is the language of spirit and life.  (pg. 25)
Bible translations have to change with the times. Why change?  Blackwelder put it well in Light:
There is a need, from time to time, for new translations of the Scriptures because all languages change and every generation needs a clear, accurate rendition of the Book of books.  Certain English words do not mean what they did a few hundred years ago; hence the proper ones must be substituted in order to express in contemporary thought the meaning of the original text."  (pgs. 16-17)
Some words don't need hundreds of years but merely years, perhaps a decade or two.  

Notice carefully Blackwelder's words, "every generation needs a clear, accurate rendition of the Book of books."  Every generation.  The daunting task of translating the Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek of the Bible into clear English is never-ending.  We must not ask ourselves merely, "What version do I prefer?" but, also, "What speaks accurately and clearly to this generation?"

Alcohol: Ancient & Modern

 Unless it's in cough syrup I abstain from alcohol.  I refuse to have it under my roof.  As for me and my house we will not drink alcohol.  I would never marry a drinker, no matter how light a "social drinker" she would claim to be.  It's either me or the alcohol.  Period.  I believe there are good reasons for refusing alcohol, physically, psychologically, culturally and, most importantly, biblically.


My social stand against alcohol isn't anything new.  Evangelical Christians such as myself once were all tee-totalers.  For some reason newer generations of folks want the hooch.  I just don't get it.  Maybe it's because we don't preach against it anymore.  We should.

Dean Emeritus of Anderson University's School of Theology, Dr. David L. Sebastian,  honored me by asking if I would read and write a short review of his book, Sober Conscious: Educational Essays for Alcohol Awareness

Alcohol and the Christian (Part 1):




Part 2




Part 3




Part 4


In Jesus' Name

Many Christians learn, directly or indirectly, to say, "In Jesus' name, Amen" at the end of their prayers. Why do we do it? Most probably do it without giving it much thought. It's just the way prayer is done. Actually, while we don't have to say it (we really don't) it is meaningful when we learn the significance of those words.

In the ancient world a person's name (or a god's) stood for the person. When we say, "Bless the name of the Lord," we are really saying, "Bless the Lord." In the Bible a person's name stood for his character as well. We still say today, "I know that business. It has a good name in the community." 

To say, "In Jesus' name," we mean, "In light of the person that Jesus is, in light of what he accomplished on the cross, we have confidence to say 'Amen.'" Amen is an affirmation which means so be it. Amen is the confidence to believe that our prayer will be answered.

Christianity is all about Jesus. We are "in Christ." We receive grace and mercy from God the Father because we come "in the name of" his Son. All answered prayer happens because of what Jesus deserves, not what we deserve. 

Consider this passage:

I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both "Yes, yes" and "No, no"? But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.  (2 Cor 1:16-20 NIV)

Paul said that even if the Corinthians wrongly thought his word was unreliable, Jesus' word certainly is not. God answers our prayer because of Jesus. And that's why we say, "In Jesus' name, Amen." 


Criticism in the Ministry is Inevitable

Aesop (circa 620 BC–564 BC) was a Greek story teller who provided fables to teach morals.  There is one such fable that encourages me in ministry:


The Man, the Boy and the Donkey 
A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: "You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?" 
So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: "See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides." 
So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn't gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: "Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along." 
Well, the Man didn't know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: "Aren't you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?"
The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey's feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned. 
"That will teach you," said an old man who had followed them:   
"Please all, and you will please none."

I would phrase the moral of the story in another way: Christian worker, you will be criticized no matter what you do, so never fulfil your ministry to please people.  Only minister to please God.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 ESV)

When You Can't Baptize by Immersion


As an ordained minister of the Church of God (Anderson) I believe baptism by immersion was the normal practice of the early Church.  The issues are complex; I am a credobaptist as well, not a paedobaptist.  (Look those up if you care.)  

However, what happens if baptism by immersion ("dunking" for the non-technical folks) is not feasible?  What if a person is gravely ill?  Should an immersionist like myself just shrug his shoulders and say, "Well, baptism doesn't save a person anyway so I won't do it"?  I believe baptism is important; King Jesus demanded it of his followers.  While there are times when immersion is impossible some occasions present themselves where a compromise can be reached.

There is an impressive ancient document from early Church history called the Didache, which is Greek for "teaching."  While scholars debate the age they all arrive at an extremely early dating for the manuscript, from the mid-first century to the early second-century.  In fact, even though consensus did not grow to include it as part of Bible canon (as one of the authorized books of the New Testament) some early Church Fathers did believe it was inspired Scripture.  I don't think it is Scripture but its importance would be hard to be overstressed.

The Didache has a section on baptism.  It reads as follows:
7 Now about baptism: this is how to baptize. Give public instruction on all these points, and then "baptize" in running water, "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  2If you do not have running water, baptize in some other.  3If you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."  4Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and any others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.
This certainly is interesting.  It appears to me that this manuscript hints that the early Church baptized by immersion (or at the least they stood in a considerable amount of running [Greek: "living"] water).  Notice, however, that the produced document isn't legalistic about the mode of baptism.  It says, "Do A, but if you can't then do B, but if you can't then..."

If a person becomes a Christian in a hospital, on his sickbed, etc. and is in grave illness then I advise the immersionist minister to wrap a towel around the convert's neck and pour water on the new believer's head three times, "in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

Yes, the mode of baptism is important but it is not as important as the act of doing it, and the mode is far less problematic than a minister refusing to perform baptism if he can't do it in his theologically preferred way.  It appears the early Church was flexible.  I pray immersionists like me will be flexible as well.

My Favorite Dream

I am claiming no prophetic insight.  However, I would like to share with you a recurring dream that I've had.  The dreams aren't identical but they follow a common pattern.  It's hard to describe but I'll try, however imperfectly, to be faithful to the impressions of my dreams.


I am in a church sanctuary but not during a worship service.  The church building once housed a thriving congregation that has dwindled in numbers over the decades.  I go exploring throughout the building because, over time, the congregation has remodeled it, adding rooms, sections and even floors to the original huge sanctuary, cutting it down to size because they had no need for such an enormous sanctuary as they did in their heyday.

In my dream I investigate, walking into different rooms and sections as I mentally trace the outline of the original sanctuary.  Perhaps behind a wall is the former stage of the old sanctuary, complete with stained glass windows that nobody pays attention to anymore.  Perhaps in another section is a divided off room where theater seating has been removed and one can see where the seats were once bolted to the floor.  By climbing floors and going through dividing doorways it becomes clear that it was a breathtaking artifice where throngs of people once gathered.  

It isn't a sad dream for me but one of hope.  I thrill in the possibility of the discovery of the once-used sanctuary.  I thirst for revival so that the building will once again be filled with worshipers.  It is an open-ended dream.

Is it a prophetic dream?  
For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, while they slumber on their beds, (Job 33:14-15 ESV) 
I just don't know.  W. Dale Oldham believed in the prophetic dreams of Church of God evangelist, W. F. Chapel.  Perhaps the best response is for me to quote John Wesley concerning another matter:
Now, he that will account for this by natural causes, has my free leave: But I choose to say, This is the power of God. [i.406]
In any event, it makes me hunger and thirst for revival.

Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? (Psalms 85:6)

Why Christians and the World Don't Fit

Christians serious about sanctification (the crisis and process of being made holy) will always feel a bit detached from this world system. ...