Friday, April 25, 2008

Defining Terms

It is quite interesting that as someone who enjoys theology, I have never pondered this question before. It seems like a fairly basic question that should have received my attention before, but just recently it has been brought to my consciousness indirectly.

I have been having a friendly dialogue lately with a few individuals whose theology I subscribe to for the most part. I have more in common with them, theologically speaking, than I do with many others. Where we differ is quite important, though. It essentially has to do with the most central aspect of the Christian faith: how a person is "saved."

The statement that I take exception to is the following: Obedience is both a condition for salvation and an ongoing requirement of salvation.

And, in response, this is my main question: what is the difference between salvation, justification, sanctification, forgiveness, pardon, righteousness, eternal life, and so on? Are they one and the same? Are they different? These are all biblical terms, but does the bible use them synonymously, or separate them into differing "aspects" or "phases" of one experience?

I think that some people would draw a distinction between justification and sanctification, to be sure. But is salvation made up of justification and sanctification? In other words, is justification the first phase of salvation, and sanctification the second? Or are justification and salvation synonymous? Furthermore, is salvation and "eternal life" synonymous?

These are things that I need to figure out. And, of course, I am going to turn to the Bible to do so.

But two quick quotes to ponder that relate to this subject. The first comes from my pal, E. J. Waggoner:
In Christ we are "being justified," in other words, being made righteous. To justify means to make righteous. God supplies just what the sinner lacks. Let no reader forget the simple meaning of justification. Some people have the idea that there is a much higher condition for the Christian to occupy than to be justified. That is to say, that there is a higher condition for one to occupy than to be clothed within and without with the righteousness of God. That cannot be (Waggoner on Romans, p. 71).
The second, from the pen of Ellen White: "The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven; the second is our fitness for heaven" (Messages to Young People, p. 35).

So how do these ideas mesh, along with the biblical witness?


It's amazing how skewed one's views are by the media. A few months ago, when I heard about the terrible tragedy that took the life of a young New York City man on the eve of his wedding, all I heard about was how this was a case of racial profiling. And today, when the verdict came in and the police officers were acquitted, I was enraged to hear the news. I could understand why some people reacted by yelling, "KKK!"

I have no doubt that this country still has a racial divide. It saddens me deeply. Though we have come a long way, the unfortunate reality is that far too often, African-Americans are still treated as second-rate citizens.

What frustrates me, though, is how the liberal media often distorts the actual facts and uses stories like this for propaganda. Imagine my surprise, for example, when I looked up the three police officers who were acquitted, and found out that two of them are black! Some how I didn't get that memo when the story first came out (though I cannot claim that I keep up with current events very closely).

I think that when the media distorts the truth in order to further their own agenda, they are actually being counter-productive, and doing more harm than good. Such misleading reporting turns someone like me - a person who is very sympathetic to the challenges of racial inequality in this country - off a great deal. I wonder how many others feel the same way. We don't like being misled, and even if we are eager to champion the cause, we don't like to feel like we are being used as pawns for someone else's political agenda.

I think it is a terrible tragedy what happened to this 23-year old man. I don't know all of the facts in the case, so I cannot speak authoritatively as to whether the police officers should have been acquitted, but I think it is probably unfortunate that they did get off. But, hopefully this will at least teach them to be a little more gun-shy.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Waiting at the Altar

I am happy to announce that, almost two years after completing it, my book, Waiting at the Altar has just been published. It is available for purchase on or I am not one of those "buy my book" kinds of guy, but I do feel burdened to encourage you to get your hands on a copy of one. I spent a lot of time on it and feel as though God invited me to write it. So, check it out (and if you happen to buy one and read it, please leave some feedback on!!).

Below is a synopsis of the book, as well as some endorsements from a few people:

World War II. A man on the moon. The collapse of communism in Russia. September 11. Hurricane Katrina. All these events triggered one thought in Seventh-day Adventists' minds: Jesus is about ready to return. Yet the wait continues.

In Waiting at the Altar, Shawn Brace explains that Christ is, indeed, close to returning, but there is one foundational mistake that we have made in interpreting the events of Christ's return. Are we waiting for Christ, or is it the other way around?

"Not often does the publishing world get a book that blows right by the thousands published at the same time. In these pages, Shawn answers the question that most every theologian avoids or waffles on. That question is the most significant question that ever could be asked: What does God want to accomplish in His Plan of Salvation? Shawn simply lets the biblical story unfold the answer." - Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D., Lincoln Hills, California

"Very informative yet the author's transparency makes it more than readable with word pictures so compelling I hated to stop to turn the page. I recommend it to every Adventist pastor and layman." - Kristin McGuire, Topsham, Maine

"Grounded in the powerful biblical metaphor of the wedding, Shawn Brace has provided a very forthright and practical portrayal of the principles of the Gospel. He has shown how embracing these principles can lead God's remnant people to be ready for the marriage of the Lamb (Rev 19:7) so that Christ may indeed come to receive His bride. I heartily recommend Brace's book to all those who wish to understand the Gospel more deeply and experience its transforming power more fully." - Richard M. Davidson, Ph.D., Professor of Old Testament Interpretation, Andrews University

"First century Christians greeted each other with the Aramaic phrase 'Maranatha' - the Lord Comes. But 2000 years later He still hasn't come. Why not? Maybe His wife hath not made herself ready. Revelation 19:7. Pastor Shawn draws from all sorts of stories as he helps us to understand more fully why the Bridegroom of the Ages is still standing at the altar, instead of earthbound to take us home." - Dr. Jerry Barcelow, Optometrist, Church Elder, South Royalton, Vermont

"Why does Shawn Brace’s Waiting at the Altar qualify as a good love story? Because it’s got enough of both—strong, passionate love, and touchingly beautiful stories. Shawn’s passion for love, true love, eternal love, will do something for you. Share it in his precious stories and very readable theology. Then bless the world the way you’ve been blessed by this earnest, humble, godly book." - L. C., Michigan

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I don't usually talk about politics or the economy on this blog, but I can't help it after catching the tail end of a story on NPR today. Some lady in Florida bought a house a few years ago with a nice down payment. Sadly, when she bought the house, she didn't have all of her finances in order and, moving from New York, she didn't find a job in Florida as quickly as she thought. Thus, she was late paying her mortgage a few times and the bank threatened to foreclose.

So she found a new lender that would help her out. The problem was, she soon found out after she agreed to the new mortgage, that her monthly payments were going to balloon - going from about $1500/month to $2800/month. She, obviously, couldn't afford this.

She soon found out that the new lender didn't do any qualifying checks to figure out her income or whether she would be able to pay. In essence, the woman feels that the lender is just lending money to people that they know cannot pay, so they can foreclose the house.

She's bitter, saying that "It's raping me of everything, stripping me of everything. Providing me with a loan that I cannot afford? That means it was your intent in the first place to take my home away from me."

Umm . . . hello? Did I miss something? Where does personal responsibility come into play? It's the lender's job to figure out if their borrowers will be able to pay or not? Of course, any responsible lender will do this, but no matter what the lender says, it is ultimately the borrowers job to figure out for themselves if they will be able to pay the loan off. Why pass the blame onto someone else when you were the one who didn't take personal responsibility for what you could afford? Do you think that a bank is looking out for your best interests, or theirs?

Though I have never bought a house and I don't have a mortgage, from what I understand a bank will lend you as much money as they think they can risk. This doesn't mean that you should borrow that much money. The bank doesn't know every little spending habit you may have, or just how much you can really afford. It is your responsibility to figure out for yourself if you can afford the maximum amount that the bank is offering. Why would you expect someone else to take responsibility of that for you?

Of course, I am sympathetic to the woman's plight. But that is also life. No one is going to cut you a break when it comes to finances. And, like John McCain said a few weeks ago, it is not the government's job to bail out a few million people in the United States who weren't smart enough to read the fine print or hastily secured a loan they couldn't afford.

I guess this is a good lesson for me. When, and if, we try to buy a home, I need to make sure I know what I'm getting myself into!

You can read and listen to the story here, by the way.

Arbitrary or Superfluous?

As I mentioned in my last post, I thought that Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong had one decent point at the debate I attended on Monday night at Dartmouth College. Arguing that we can be good without God, Sinnott-Armstrong brought up an idea that I hadn't really pondered before and, since then, has been rolling around in my mind.

The idea is simply this: either God's laws are arbitrary, or they are superfluous. In other words, God either bases his laws on something arbitrary, or he bases them on some type of reason. If it is the former, then why would we follow those laws anyway? And, if it is the latter, then God, Himself, is relying on a higher authority - namely, some type of objective reasoning that exists outside of Himself.

Take rape, for example. Why does God declare rape to be wrong? Obviously, He declares rape to be wrong because of the harm it does to His creatures. But with such an idea in place, if we removed God, rape would still be wrong because it would still be harmful to people.

This model, of course, relies on the idea that we can objectively reason our way through this process. It assumes that every person necessarily knows what is right and what is wrong. The reality is, though, if the standard by which we judge what is right and what is wrong comes down to whether it "harms" somebody, I'm afraid that we will never be able to reach some type of moral, objective standard. What I may consider to be rape, you may not agree with. And so forth.

Unfortunately, Dinesh D'Souza never addressed this point by Sinnott-Armstrong. He was too busy with his own agenda - criticizing the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens (who Sinnott-Armstrong clearly wanted to distance himself from anyway). This seemed to be the only good point of the whole evening in my mind (a point that one Dartmouth student blogger picked up on as well) and D'Souza failed to even hint at Sinnott-Armstrong's most poignant point of the evening.

But maybe there is an easy answer to this whole question in my mind. Maybe the only reason we think that these laws are objectively reasonable is because God has built that idea into our DNA.
We understand that rape is harmful, not because it is some objective reality in the universe independent of God, but because God has built into our DNA the capacity to reasonably think it to be so. In other words, if God didn't exist at all, would we still maintain that reason dictates that rape is wrong? Probably not. The only reason we think we can come to this conclusion independently of God is because He has, in reality, established reason in the first place.

Of course, believing that the laws of humankind are intrinsically good apart from God naturally leads us to believe that those things God has declared evil - which the modern philosopher and scientist views as arbitrary laws - to actually be good. Thus, today's skeptic and philosopher, for example, views restrictions against homosexuality as arbitrary. Homosexuality isn't harming anyone, after all, they say. The same will be said for bestiality in the future, I'm afraid.

So what are your thoughts? What are God's laws based on? Are they arbitrary? Redundant? I'd be curious to hear your ideas on this intriguing topic.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Odds and Ends

I have been extremely busy lately, but there are a few things that I wanted to touch on. So, here are a few highlights of what has been happening with me.
  • Last Sunday night, my cousin, Alison, and I went to the Red Sox game against the Yankees. As a pastor, I have a pass which allows me to go to any game I want for $10 and I can bring a guest with me. We had a fun time, though it was cold, the game was long, and we had to get there early in the afternoon to get tickets (tickets for those of us with this clergy pass are on a first come, first serve basis. The picture to the right is Alison playing Sudoku during our four hour wait for tickets. We were the first ones in line!). I am getting really fed up with pitchers who cannot throw strikes!
  • This past Sunday morning, with Camille out of town, I attended the First Congregational Church in Woodstock, Vermont. I have some friends who go there so I decided to check it out just out of curiosity. I have always walked by this church as well - set in one of the most beautiful towns in America - and wanted to have a peek. I didn't know what to expect, but found the service very enjoyable. A lot of Congregational churches are very liberal, usually in the United Church of Christ mold, but this one was pretty conservative and very Evangelical. The service was much like a "typical" Adventist one, complete with the hymn "Trust and Obey."
  • The minister at the church, Norm Koop, had a very biblical message with very few bells and whistles. I fear that, were he to listen to one of my sermons, he would think it was full of fluff. It was a good reminder to me to just preach the Word! By the way, he is the son of the former U. S. Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop.
  • There were a lot of young people at the church, something that caught me by surprise. The church service was anything but "contemporary," so it just goes to show that one doesn't need to sell his soul out to pop-Christianity to get young people to come.
  • On Monday morning, my dad and I watched the 112th running of the Boston Marathon at the finish line (click here to see the pictures I took). Growing up, my whole family - as well as another family - went to the Marathon every year, and it was always one of the most enjoyable days of the year. I absolutely love the Boston Marathon, and if you've never had the opportunity to enjoy it, you must sometime. There are so many reasons I love this event, but perhaps the biggest reason is because I feel like it is so uplifting. No matter who you are, where you're from, what language you speak, everyone is cheering for everyone. In a world of winners and losers, everyone is a winner at the Marathon. When runners near the finish line and they stop because they can't make it, everyone in the crowd goes crazy, cheering them on the rest of the way. Usually, this will help give them enough energy to finish the race. It is such an uplifting experience. Sometimes, when a runner is out of strength and can't make it, other runners will put their arms around them and walk with them to the finish line. To me, a Marathon shows the best qualities of humankind.
  • Lance Armstrong ran in the Marathon and I was eagerly anticipating taking some good pictures of him in mid-stride. Well, I kept waiting and waiting and waiting. Finally, I saw a cameraman on a motorcycle coming down the road. Assuming that he was filming Armstrong, I looked a little ways behind him, thinking that Armstrong was a little ways behind. Problem was, the motorcycle was right even with Lance, and by the time I realized this, he was already past us and I was only able to take a picture of him from behind, and the picture is overexposed since he went from being in the shadows (where we were standing) to being in the sunlight. There is probably a sermon illustration in there somewhere!! But, you can see a picture of his back at least, if you look at the picture to the left. He finished in 2:50, by the way, and said that the Newton Hills certainly live up to their billing as being extremely difficult. He also said that the Boston Marathon is a lot harder than the New York Marathon, and that it is a whole different experience since there are so many spectators that are very close to the action.
  • Katie Holmes was supposed to be running in the Marathon, but I certainly didn't see her, or anyone that looked like her.
  • Last night, I attended a debate at Dartmouth College entitled "Can we be good without God?" It featured Christian commentator Dinesh D'Souza - Dartmouth alum and author of What's So Great About Christianity - and Dartmouth professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong - who is an atheist. It was pretty good, though I don't think that either of the gentlemen are the strongest debaters in the world. D'Souza took a few cheap shots, I thought, and Sinnott-Armstrong had a few good points. Of course, I came down on the side of D'Souza. He will be debating someone at Harvard tonight - an event that my father, along with a few other people will attend.
  • This was the second real event I've attended at Dartmouth, and it was interesting to see how, even at an Ivy League school like Dartmouth, there are all the little quirks and mess-ups that any other school would have: the PA guy charging from the back because the mic wasn't working; the room being too hot because, according to one person I overheard in the audience, "They don't turn the AC on until the middle of July." Just stuff like that. I guess I have a certain image of how a prestigious institution like Dartmouth runs, but when it comes down to it, all human beings are pretty much the same, and every place has its own challenges.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Cross and Its Shadow

So it's been a while since I wrote anything. I have been extremely busy the last few weeks. This past week I did a week of prayer for the students at Pioneer Junior Academy near Keene, New Hampshire. I had a good time with them, but seeing as I live an hour away from the school, it took about three hours out of every day for me! I'm tired.

On another note, one thing that I have been somewhat challenged by lately is finding something to read that would re-energize my spirits. The Bible, of course, does this, but sometimes it is nice to get another perspective outside of the Bible that really uplifts the Gospel. Ellen White also does this, too, but I do read plenty from her already.

I have found that there are very few authors who have a good understanding of the Gospel. Very few books I read these days really take me to the Cross and produce an appreciation in my heart for Christ's work - both past and present.

Enter Stephen N. Haskell. For those of you who don't know, he is nowhere near a contemporary of ours. He was an early Adventist pioneer who died in 1922. He wrote a classic book called The Cross and Its Shadow, which goes through the whole sanctuary and its services and explains what it all represents. Apparently, I had started reading it sometime in the past - since I have highlighted some things before - but I do not recall any of it.

So I picked it up last week and have been reading through it. Though there are some parts that are not as interesting, I have been extremely blessed by his reflections on the sanctuary and its fulfillment in Christ.

As an added bonus, he starts each section by quoting older hymns that point to the sanctuary service. One of those is especially uplifting, and I have enjoyed it immensely. For some time now, I have been lamenting the fact that I have not written a song in a long time, and seeing as I don't know the tune to this particular hymn, I thought that it would be neat to try to put these words to a tune, thus killing two birds with one stone. Re-doing old hymns seems to be pretty popular these days, anyway.

Well, without further ado, here are the words to the hymn, entitled "The Paschal Lamb" (an appropriate subject this time of year, since Passover is next week) by John Bakewell:
Paschal Lamb, by God appointed,
All our sins on Thee were laid;
By Almighty Love anointed
Thou redemption's price hast paid.
All Thy people are forgiven
Through the virtue of Thy blood;
Opened is the gate of heaven,
Peace is made 'twixt man and God.

Jesus, hail! enthroned in glory!
There forever to abide;
All the heavenly hosts adore Thee,
Seated at Thy Father's side.
There for sinners Thou art pleading;
There thou dost our place prepare,
Ever for us interceding,
Till in glory we appear.

Worship, honor, power, and blessing,
Thou art worthy to receive;
Loudest praises, without ceasing,
Meet it is for us to give;
Help, ye bright angelic spirits,
Bring your sweetest, noblest lays;
Help to sing our Savior's merits,
Help to chant Immanuel's praise!
Perhaps I've mentioned this before, but I enjoy the words of hymns so much more than the so-called "Praise Songs" we sing. I know that C. S. Lewis calls hymns "fifth rate poems set to sixth rate music," but, to me, hymns have so much depth to them (and I'm sure that, were he alive today, Lewis would prefer hymns to our shallow praise songs). Maybe that's just because a lot of them use the old King's English, but maybe it's just because they have more depth and don't constantly repeat themselves over and over again.

Anyway, perhaps sometime I'll set these words to music. Tonight would be a good time since I am alone for the evening, as well as the rest of the week since Camille left for Tennessee today. But I'm not really in the mood!!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Reaching Cult Status?

For the last few months, I have been in communication with a gentleman in his 80s who has been thinking about joining the Seventh-day Adventist church. Initially, our conversations were over the phone, but since the weather has turned a little nicer, we have been meeting at the church the last two weeks.

His parents were Seventh-day Adventists, and he has two siblings that were/are as well (one is still alive, the other is deceased), and he attended an Adventist academy for one year in his younger days. He has been baptized two times in the past into other denominations, but is now feeling that it is time to join a church that he, more than likely, has probably felt was God's true church all along.

Last week, though, he pulled out this book that he wanted some help with - kind of one of the last questions he has about the whole idea. The book is a fairly well-known book called The Four Major Cults, by Anthony A. Hoekema, which I have not read. In the book, Hoekema discusses Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, the Christian Science church, and Seventh-day Adventists. The book was written in the 1960s, and Hoekema has allegedly removed some of those groups from the list. Of course, many others have done the same and I think that most of Christendom views Seventh-day Adventists as a Christian denomination.

However, there are still some questions in this gentleman's mind that he wanted help with. He wanted me to read what Hoekema said about Seventh-day Adventists, so I took the book and I've read most of his analysis. Particulary, this gentleman was troubled by the fact that Hoekema seems to indicate that Adventists don't really practice sola scriptura, even though we officially claim to. We supposedly place Ellen White above the Bible, and refer to her to prove many of our doctrines over and above the Bible. (I suppose most people would take this position, though, since they don't think our doctrines are biblical! Therefore, we must rely on extra-biblical influence - ie., Ellen White - to formulate these understandings, they maintain. This is somewhat circular reasoning, though.)

That many people within our ranks utilize Ellen White more than the Bible is undeniable. But abuse doesn't negate a legitimate use of her counsel. As a whole denomination, though, Hoekema claims that "Seventh-day Adventists quote more from Mrs. White than from any other author" (p. 105). When I read this, I couldn't help but respond, "Has he ever talked to a Lutheran - or a Catholic, for that matter?"

This proposition is laughable. If cult-status were determined by how many times a church refers to an extra-biblical writer, then there would be many denominations who are a lot more "culty" than Adventists.

A few years ago, when I was helping out with an evangelistic series, there was one lady who we were studying with that always referred to Luther's Catechism to determine if what we were teaching was true. If Luther agreed with what we taught, then she agreed. (Incidentally, even though we called her attention to the fact that Luther shares our views on the state of the dead, she still couldn't give up her view of the immortal soul!)

Similarly, I meet with a small group of graduate students at Dartmouth College every week. There are Christian students from various denominational backgrounds, and we have been reading through Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis. Last week, one person asked how we can maintain and foster a personal relationship with God, and the answers that were given somewhat startled me. "I like to read The Book of Common Prayer," one person said, "It is nice to go over the Nicene or Apostle's Creed every day," another person offered. Not one of them hinted at reading from the Bible.

Indeed, these extra-biblical liturgies and creeds are much of Christendom's daily bread. Instead of going to the Bible for their source of information, inspiration, or doctrinal clarity, they pick up The Book of Common Prayer or Luther's Catechism. Yet how many books have been written about Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, etc., classifying them as cults?

This is not even to mention the Catholic church - which bases its whole existence on extra-biblical sources. If you think that Seventh-day Adventists "venerate" Ellen White, take a look at the status that Catholics have placed on Augustine.

Yet who would dare call the Catholic church a "cult"?

Granted, the aforementioned denominations are not necessarily conservative "Evangelical" churches. But Evangelicals venerate their own individuals. A healthy use of Ellen White is no worse than the deference many Evangelicals pay to the biblical exegetes, commentators, and scholars whom they rely upon for biblical interpretation. This goes for those within my own denomination who have downplayed Ellen White's role, yet loyally follow their favorite commentator in unpacking a given biblical text.

Thus, once again I say it is laughable to portray the idea that Seventh-day Adventists are one of the only churches that rely heavily upon an extra-biblical source. Every denomination does this. That we view Ellen White's prophetic office as being on a higher level than Luther, Calvin, Augustine, et. al, does not necessarily mean that we view her authority as over and above the Bible, or even equal to it. On the contrary, Ellen White constantly points back to the Bible, whereas many of these aforementioned people take us away from it.

I guess what I am saying is that these "cult police" - whoever they are - maintain a higher standard for Seventh-day Adventists than they hold for themselves. And I guess, in one way or the other, I am going to try to help my friend - whose wife, incidentally, is a Mormon - understand this.