Friday, October 24, 2008

Third Class Conditions

I spent a few minutes this morning looking at a text that often presents challenges for me. When speaking about Christ's "unconditional" forgiveness, especially in light of what He said on Calvary to the soldiers who gambled over His robe (see Luke 23:34), many people like to site 1 John 1:9 as a classic example of conditional forgiveness. And, indeed, this text has been - and continues to be - perplexing to me.

As many of us are well aware, the text reads, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (NKJV). Literally, in Greek, the passage could be translated: "If we would confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He may forgive us our sins, and He may cleanse us from all unrighteousness." This text is often sited as an example of what is called a "Third Class Conditional Clause" in Greek. In other words, it is a classic "if/then" statement and it denotes the condition as "uncertain of fulfillment, but still likely" (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 696). As one person has suggested in relation to this passage, "But the moment he confesses, God will forgive and cleanse. If the believer fulfills the protasis ["if"], then God will fulfill the apodosis ["then"]! If I do my part, God will do His part!"

But I am not sure that this text is that cut-and-dry - and that last explanation seems to place God in the respondent's chair, and us in the iniator's chair, which is nothing more than a pagan, merit-based system of salvation. To begin with, what is the apodosis (the "then" part) of the statement? Is it God's faithfulness/righteousness, or His forgiveness and cleansing? Structurally, it would seem as though God's faithfulness and righteousness are the "then" part of the statement, with the Greek word eimi ("is") as the immediately subsequent verb to the conditional "if" statement.

But this interpretation presents clear theological challenges. Is God's faithfulness and righteousness dependent upon my confession of sin? Is God not faithful and righteous independent of anything I do? Does He not send His rain on the just and the unjust; His sun on the righteous and the unrighteous (see Matt 5:45)? Indeed, the Greek word eimi is not in the future tense; John does not write that if we confess our sins, God "will be faithful." He writes that God "is" presently and actively faithful.

Of course, many could then suppose that God's forgiveness and cleansing is the "then" part of the statement. But it seems to me that the Greek word hina - which literally means "so that" or "in order that" - indicates that God's faithfulness and righteousness makes His forgiveness and cleansing possible, not our confession. This passage shows that God's forgiveness is dependent upon His faithfulness, not anything we do.

What further muddies the waters is the first verse of the next chapter. After John writes that He wishes none of His readers would sin, he then apparently shares another Third Class Conditional Clause when he writes, "And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." You can clearly see the limitations of this passage as well! Certainly, God doesn't act as an advocate (the Greek word is parakletos, which is often translated as "comforter" when describing the Holy Spirit. It literally means "one who is called alongside") alongside God, only when we sin! His role as mediator, comforter, and advocate stands independent of our actions. Does it not?

Thus, I'm not sure that the classification of Third Class Conditional Clauses is really as easily interpreted as some would like us to believe. And I am convinced that God's faithfulness, rightesouness, forgiveness, cleansing, comfort, advocacy, is not so much dependent upon what I do, but upon who He is.

*The picture is from a painting by my good friend, Norman McGuire. He is a wonderful artist who primarily paints scenes from the life of Christ.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Roma-Table Book

I just wanted to let everyone know that if you are interested in purchasing a "Roma/Sanka-Table" book of my photography, called New England: A Taste of Heaven, you can purchase it here. I self-published this a few years back, and it is all of my favorite pictures of New England that I have captured (as of that date! I've taken many more since then).

Sorry that it is so expensive. I am not making a penny off it. It is just the expense of printing it through the Internet publishing site. A soft-cover book is $29.95 (which is actually not terrible, since it is 90 pages long), and a hard-cover is $41.95.

If you'd like to take a sneak preview of the first 15 or so pages of the book, you can do so by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I don't have a lot of time, and there is tons of random stuff that I could write on this subject, but I have been grappling a lot lately with what some have labeled "legal justification" (I prefer to call it "corporate justification"). For the most part, I have recognized this idea as a beautiful truth that is taught in the Bible. To explain it very simply: corporate/legal justification teaches that when Christ died, He forgave the entire human race at the cross.

But I'm having a hard time reconciling this idea with some other teachings in scripture, and I can't seem to make them complement one another in a way that makes sense to me. As I said above, there are so many different confusing questions that I could raise, but I won't take you on a wild goose chase (for now), and plus I don't have a lot of time this morning. So I've been able to pretty much boil down the conflicting ideas to two statements and then one question. The first statement is a presupposition of "legal justification," the second statement seems to be a fairly straightforward teaching that most, if not all, Christians would agree with. And then I ask a question after the two statements.

Please, I beg of you, share your feedback with me on this (especially those who have tended to subscribe to the concept of legal justification. I've heard a lot from those who are opposed to the idea. Now I want to hear from those who agree with legal justification, and how they've reconciled this tension).

All right, without further ado, this is what the issues boil down to, in very simple terms:

1. Jesus considers every human being to be sinless.
2. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin.
Question: Are Jesus and the Holy Spirit contradicting and working against one another?

I expect to have 10 responses by the time I get home from Massachusetts at 11 o'clock Eastern time (if you didn't notice, I am really trying to figure this out)!!


Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Day Off!

I'm not sure what it is, but since the beginning of September, I have been busier than ever before. Perhaps it's because I have been in my district for a year, and people are now calling or e-mailing me more, or maybe it's just because I have made myself busier. But today is the real first day since then that I've been able to "veg" out. Since the beginning of September, I have not really had any free Sundays, whether they be filled with camping, Bible studies, funerals, weddings. . . .

It seems as though Camille and I had tons of Sundays last year where we just sat around and did nothing. That isn't necessarily the funnest thing, either, but there needs to be a fine balance.

And life isn't going to be getting any less chaotic. This next week, I will be commuting back and forth to South Lancaster, where I will be speaking for the Atlantic Union Educators Aministrators' Council. Then, next week, I will be shuttling back and forth up to Central Vermont Academy, where I will be speaking for their Week of Prayer.

Of course, life is going to be getting a lot more busy come May, when life as I know it will totally disappear!!

But I have been able to bring my camera here and there, and take some pictures. Here are a couple of pictures that I've taken recently. The first two are from our beautiful little town, and the other one is from a town not too far from here. I hope you enjoy.

A Picture is Worth . . .

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Photo of the Day

I know that I have another site that is devoted purely to my photographic pursuits, but I wanted to share my "Photo of the Day" here on this site as well. Yesterday was actually probably one of the best photographic days for me of the fall, and I had no intention of taking many pictures. When I went to the library at Dartmouth College for a few hours, I noticed some amazing scenes around campus. So I had to take my camera out and start snapping away. Well . . . one thing led to another and I returned to find a $10 parking ticket on my car - which was placed there 2 minutes before I arrived. Oh, well. It was time well spent.

Later on in the day, I found a few other places where I captured some nice pictures as well. I guess oftentimes, you find the best photography opportunities when you aren't looking for them.

The picture below is a pretty typical Ivy League scene (please click on the picture for a larger view of the image). Your comments are encouraged.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

"The World's Music"

Can anyone give me an objective and empirical explanation of what constitutes "the world's music"? Simply saying that certain music "sounds worldly" does not make it so, and I fear that too many people judge music based on some esoteric or gnostic intuition they feel they have.

And let me just say: music and worship "wars" have been going on for a long time, and I don't really wish to focus too much on this secondary issue, but I'm curious.

A few months ago, I talked with a man who attends a church somewhere else in the United States, and he told me that he attended a particular church, as opposed to another church nearby, because his church understood the difference between "God's music" and "the world's music" (thus implying that the neighboring church did not understand the difference). I didn't realize that God had revealed to us what His music is. Sure, He has the book of Psalms, but that only gives us the lyrics to His music, and not the music itself.

So what are we to do? Many of these people decry any song that has a drumbeat, but won't think twice about playing Mozart or Beethoven on the cello for special music during church.

Am I missing something?

Despite my thoughts in the first few paragraphs, I do not want to make it sound as though I think anything and everything should go. I get very uncomfortable with many things that go on in the name of worship. As a matter of fact, I am fairly conservative in my musical tastes when it comes to worship services (of course, the term "conservative" is very relative) and I often find myself weeping at the actions of those who are supposedly worshiping, or leading in worship. What often passes for the worship of God seems to be the worship of self.

But on what basis can I declare any music to be evil or sacred? The Bible doesn't seem to give any type of black and white explanation of such distinctions. Obviously, the lyrics go a long way towards this discussion, and I think a lot of our "praise music" is very shallow and self-centered. But beyond that, where in scripture, or even scientific evidence, has it been proven that a drum or guitar or whatever your instrument of choice is, is inherently evil? Yes, I have heard and read that a syncopated beat is "bad," but I've yet to read any objective scientific evidence about this (besides from the pens of authors who have an agenda to tear down any type of music that is different from their tastes, or people who used to be in the rock culture and, understandably, would like to distance themselves from that type of music).

And I'm being serious about these questions. I am fairly "agnostic" on the music issue. I am very uncomfortable with a lot of what goes on in our church services, but I would also like to make sure that I am not simply reacting against these things because of my own biases. And, at the same time, I don't want to be arbitrary about music, saying that certain types of music are "worldly," yet not be able to utilize an objective rule of standard to make such statements.

And simply because a certain style seems to be of a "secular form" (how something is determined to be of a "secular form," I am not sure), does this make it evil? Why is music the only artistic medium in which we make such a distinction? We don't look at a painting, and say, "The way he utilized his brush strokes here is of a secular form."

So . . . can somebody please help me!

*The picture is taken from a clever website, which is selling T-Shirts based on Adventist culture. Please check out the site:


I don't usually single-out one sermon that I've preached that I think you must listen to. In fact, I would never be so presumptuous as to think that any of them or worth your time. I only offer them over insofar as I feel compelled by God to share the messages. Hence, if I go through the process of preparing and preaching a sermon, I obviously feel as though God is wanting me to share it.

With that huge caveat, I want to invite you to listen to the sermon I preached this last Sabbath. I believe that one of our greatest challenges today is religious plurality, and especially Christian plurality. Many Adventists do not feel as though we have a special mission, and that we are just another denomination - just like one of the hundreds of channels on your DirecTV system.

But Jesus has no room for plurality. And this is something we must grapple with if we are to maintain the authority of scripture in our lives. I was fascinated by some interesting parallels between Jesus' day and ours, and so I would invite you to download my sermon (and listen to it) "Mere Adventism: The Big Give," which is available here. And, as another reminder, you can subscribe to all my sermons, via podcast, by clicking here.

Your feedback would be welcomed!

Friday, October 10, 2008

By What Authority?

I got to talking, along with a few of my members, to a neighbor of ours at one of our churches. We have enjoyed getting to know some of our neighbors (seems like a reasonable thing to do, doesn't it?) recently, and this one neighbor, in particular, was eager to talk with us about spiritual things.

Only, his questions were not your typical questions. He immediately wanted to know about reincarnation and what we thought about that. He wondered if, perhaps, Jesus could have been Buddha reincarnated, and whether reincarnation was a good thing, so as to give people more chances to do good. He also wondered about impressions, and whether God talks to us through these impressions (ie., when we leave the kitchen, we just get this deep impression that we left the stove on, and so we return to the kitchen to find out that we did).

After a ten minute or so conversation, it was very apparent that this man, like so many others today, has a very eclectic understanding of God. He values eastern religions, Christianity, anything that has some type of value. When I told him that there were inherent contradictions between all religions, thereby making it necessary to choose one rule of authority, he said that this wasn't necessarily the case, and it could simply be a situation where people have different perspectives and views on the same thing.

I pointed to his house and said, "My friend, Peter, here, may say that the house is white. You may say it is black. But there is an objective reality about the color of the house, apart from any subjective opinion of it." Perhaps I shouldn't have used color as an example, since there is a lot of subjectivity in perceiving colors, but the point remains. There is objective reality apart from a person's subjective interpretation of it, and it is our goal - indeed, every person necessarily strives to understand reality - to come to grips with reality. We can thank the good Lord that there is objective reality, else we would be in a lot of trouble when we go to the emergency room.

When we wished our neighbor goodbye, he said to us, "Next time we'll talk about Ouija Boards. . . "

But I quickly realized something: unless two people can agree on their rule of authority, it is fairly fruitless to discuss reality, or someone's perception of reality. This also relates to other Christians I have been talking with, who don't necessarily believe that all of the Bible is inspired by God. When I asked them by what authority they have come to conclude this, they freely admitted that it was their own logic that led them to this belief.

But when we do this, we become our own authority, and we stand in judgment of the Bible. Some may be comfortable in doing this - and others covet this behavior - but total autonomy is a dangerous game to play. Ultimately, if I am my own authority, I am left to figure everything out for myself, and I am relying on my own human wisdom. If I want to pick and choose what I like from the various religions, I am doing so under my own logic and reasoning, which often tends to get me into trouble. The "God is dead" idea leads to insanity and madness. Friedrich Neitzche, who wanted nothing more than to live an autonomous life apart from God, lived the last ten years of his life insane, ultimately dying - in all likelihood - because of his condition.

When we do not humble ourselves to an authority outside of ourselves, we place ourselves in a lonely position, believing we alone are worthy of supreme adoration. And such thinking naturally leads to egotism, and I find it impossible to act in any way other than selfishness. And selfishness leads to insanity, because life's greatest joys come when I lose all self-interest and place others ahead of myself.

Of course, some may claim that they don't believe God is dead, but that He just doesn't have one religion, or one authoritative text. But if God does exist, and objective reality does exist, why would He not give us one objective revelation of Himself, so as to make it as easy as possible for us to understand Him? Yes, the Bible may have portions that seem contradictory, but if I have found any truth in it, I can't help but figure that there is more truth in the Bible, and those seeming contradictions actually complement one another - if I allow for the possibility that this is God's objective and authoritative revelation of Himself.

Until I come to that place, instead of standing up for myself, I will actually fall for everything.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Blog!

Though I do not watch much TV at all, I feel like CBS, where every show is some type of spin off of CSI. I have now started my fourth "blog" that involves the title "New England Pastor." I was posting my thoughts on photography on this blog, the plain old sounding "New England Pastor," but I decided to start another blog that can be purely devoted to my photography musings. I don't necessarily mean to compartmentalize my life, believing that each part of life should be tied in with every other part, but I want to spare those who come to my original blog for theological meat.

You can find it at Please bookmark it accordingly, or subsribe to that site using your feed reader.

I will say that I don't consider myself to be a great photographer, and I don't even strive to be original or all that creative. I just want to capture New England scenes (and scenes from around the rest of the world, though they don't give me as much joy) in a way that uplifts its beauty and makes people yearn for this wonderful place more. I also want to capture candid shots of my loved ones in a way that they can enjoy as well.

Here is a "sneak-peak" of what you'll see at that site, as well as a "sneak-peak" of what I enjoyed for a few hours last week of the New England colors.

Groton, Vermont

Monday, October 6, 2008

Conspiracy Theories

I've been thinking a lot lately about conspiracy theories. I don't know if the Adventist church attracts such thinking - and those who are doing the thinking on this subject - more than other denominations, but we seem to have a lot of conspiracy theories going on.

I'm sure you get the e-mails. The president is going to cancel the elections; we are going to get picked up by little red trucks, and flown off to concentration camps in black helicopters. And on and on it goes. I recently had a sincere church member of mine share an article with me that was quite sensational. The funny thing is, it was true.

But whether these things are true or not is not the point. Too many people spend too much time trying to rally the troops into heralding these conspiracy theories, and instead of preaching "Christ and Him crucified" we are scouring the Internet, newspapers, and televisions for the latest sign of the apocalypse. Don't get me wrong; we should be firmly grounded in our traditional understanding of prophecy. But I think God was smart enough to clue us in on the basic outline of end-time events, without setting us up to get so get caught up in the little details that are of far less importance.

I read with interest an article written by my Philadelphia Eagles-loving friend, Dr. Jon Paulien. He was writing for the Week of Prayer issue of the Adventist Review, and the title of the article was "When the Signs Grow Old." I thought it was very relevant and, in particular, a quote he shared from Ellen White was extremely apropos:
The shortness of time is urged as an incentive for us to seek righteousness and to make Christ our friend. This is not the great motive. It savors of selfishness. Is it necessary that the terrors of the day of God be held before us to compel us through fear to right action? This ought not to be. Jesus is attractive. . . . He proposes to be our friend, to walk with us through all the rough pathways of life. . . . Jesus, the Majesty of Heaven, proposes to elevate to companionship with himself those who come to him with their burdens, their weaknesses, and their cares (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Aug. 2, 1881).
What a telling statement! In talking with a few individuals who have a burden for trumpeting these conspiracy theories, it seems as though one of their primary reasons for doing such is to try to motivate people to "care." In other words, they want to wake people up to the idea that Jesus is coming soon and that they better start "caring" and getting their life in order.

No, Ellen White says. That is not a good motivation! In fact, it is very harmful. Only the "attractiveness" of Jesus can give a person a genuine motivation.

Friday, October 3, 2008

God Is Love.

Note: This is my latest editorial for my magazine, New England Pastor. All feedback is appreciated.

It seems like a simple statement. And yet I was challenged recently by the idea that God is, in fact, love. While having a conversation with a friend of mine who is from another faith, it suddenly dawned on me that many sincere Christians have a perverted understanding of God’s character. For my friend, and many, many others, God’s chief objective is to “win praise.” As Reformed theologian John Piper writes, “Everything He does is motivated by His desire to be glorified.” Piper goes on to admit that this idea is a hard pill to swallow in this “me-first” generation that we live in. But his explanation as to how this jibes with God’s apparent love for, and interest in, humankind leaves a lot to be desired.[1]

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time reconciling such an idea with what the Bible teaches. Perhaps we take it for granted sometimes, but the apostle John quite unequivocally declares that “God is love” two times in his tiny epistle (1 John 4:8, 16). Agape love is the very essence of His character. It is who He is, what He does, why He acts. It is His raison d’ĂȘtre. All of His movements stem from this supreme motivation and principle.

Incidentally, the idea that God is love is also one of the best arguments for the doctrine of the Trinity. If God’s very essence is love—and love necessarily has to have another in order for it to be love, since love is other-centered and not self-centered—then there had to have been more than One person from eternity past. As Skip MacCarty writes, in his magnificent work on the Everlasting Covenant:

Before creation existed, God existed, love existed, covenant existed—everlasting God, everlasting love, everlasting covenant. This everlasting covenant expresses the heart of the everlasting God manifested in the sacrificial love that existed among the Trinity before the beginning of time. The term “everlasting covenant” can never be invoked without calling to mind the love bonds that existed from eternity past within the divine, triune heavenly council, each seeking the happiness of the other.[2]

Proverbs seems to give us a small glimpse into this symbiotic relationship that the Trinity enjoys. Describing the relationship between Wisdom—which Jesus ultimately personifies[3]—and the Father, we read of the creation account, “I [Christ] was beside Him as a master craftsman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him” (Proverbs 8:30).[4] With love as their very essence, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always acted with complete other-centeredness towards one another, and They have enjoyed infinite fellowship from eternity past.

I can only imagine the heavenly counsel that took place when the plan of salvation was first discussed. Knowing that humankind would sin, I can see the Father volunteering to give up His life for the world, only to have the Holy Spirit insist that He would be the one to die in our place. And then, finally, Jesus, the Son, steps forward and says, “No, I will die instead of You two. I will give My life for the world.” Each wanted to die in place of the other, and thus, when Hebrews 2:9 tells us that Christ tasted death “for all,” Christ didn’t just die for humankind, but He died for the other two members of the Trinity as well.[5] Out of complete self-disinterest and love for the Father and Holy Spirit, Jesus was allowed the opportunity to die in Their place, and ours as well.And this is what love is. And this is who God is. Completely other-centered. Completely self-sacrificial.

Completely the God I want to serve.

[1] See John Piper, “Is God for Us or for Himself?” Desiring God, (accessed 11 Sept 2008). Piper has coined the curious phrase “Christian Hedonism,” which seems to be an extreme contradiction of terms.

[2] Skip MacCarty, In Granite or Ingrained? (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2007), 5, 6.

[3] See 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30.

[4] All scriptures, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version.

[5] The Greek phrase in Heb 2:9, huper pantos, does not have to limit Christ’s sacrifice to only human beings. It does not say that He tasted death “for all men,” but simply, “for all,” or “for everyone.” Compare this to Col 1:20, where Paul says that Christ “reconciled all things to Himself . . . whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” Evidently, Christ’s death on the cross reconciled, not only humankind to Himself, but the whole universe, including the other members of the Trinity (to some extent). Thus, Ellen White can write that God loved Jesus more and that Jesus was “endeared to [His] Father,” as a result of His sacrifice. See The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1940), 483.