Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Marijuana and Christian Freedom: Not as Simple as It Once Was

Christianity Today released a timely article addressing the up-and-coming issue of the Christian conscience and the legalization of recreational marijuana.

They write,

With the recreational use of marijuana now legal in Colorado and Washington (and the Obama administration disinclined to enforce federal laws against it), it's only a matter of time before it is completely legal coast to coast to toke up. This is a great opportunity—not to use pot, but to reflect on the true nature of Christian freedom.

I think they are on point. Issues regarding the recreational use of marijuana are not as simple as they have been in the past.

Previously, if the issue had come up in a conversation, I would default to its legality, and that participation in its consumption would be a violation of Romans 13. There will soon be a time when this is not the case and Christians will begin to have to deal with this on a more basic ethical level. So, I wanted to trace some of the things that I think will play into up and coming discussions.

Legal Loopholes: Certainly, as same sex marriage laws are currently, this will become an issue of legal loopholes. On the issues of same sex marriage, our nation is in a situation where it is federally legal, but it is meeting its hurdles at the state level. Recreational marijuana is kind of a reverse situation. It’s legality is being tested at the state level, with the goal of eventual federal approval. It’s “illegality” at the federal level certainly belongs in quotations.

Demographic Divides: The stances on this view seem demographically predictable, and those in the church may stand in more than one demographic. Politically, this already seems to be gaining quicker support in democrats than republicans. Likewise, “blue” states are likely to legalize the recreational use of marijuana more quickly than “red” states. The West Coast is already leading the way, and it seems likely that the Northeast will follow suit much faster than much of the South. Likewise, we can probably expect to see the younger generation in the church to be more persuaded by the cultural shift. The older generation, who have lived through the drug-culture of the sixties, may be a little more hesitant to live through that. Although, the experiments in CO have proven to revive much of that generation.

Historical Examples: An historical point that is bound to play into this discussion is that of the prohibition. It was tested to be a failed experiment for the US. From what I understand, organized crime in the United States can be traced back, in many ways, to the prohibition. The lesson learned is that people will get what they want no matter the cost. The proposed solution is that legalizing what people want stops them from seeking it in crooked ways. We see the same arguments for abortion as well, especially recently, following Gosnell trials.

Ethical Debates: The focus of the ethics of the debate will depend on one’s viewpoint. Those who are for recreational marijuana are going to focus the ethics of the matter on the thing itself, probably drawing a tighter comparison to issues of alcohol and tobacco. Some will argue that marijuana is healthier and less dangerous than alcohol. Expect many pseudo-scientific Facebook posts in this regard. Science, as in politics and legislations, is not immune from pop-culture.

On the other hand, while proponents will focus on its responsible use, those against its use will demonstrate examples of the havoc of its abuse, as well as long-term medical examples of its dangers.

So, proponents will focus on the mere ethics. Those against will focus do the same, but put more emphasis on ends that result from the means.

Biblical Debates: Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 will be key texts that will be discussed.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bavinck on Redeeming Culture


 Herman Bavinck on the covenant of grace. I am not sure were I stand in my eschatology, but I find Bavinck's Postmillenial hope quite gripping:

"It is never made with a solitary individual but always also with his or her descendants. It is a covenant from generation to generations. Nor does it ever encompass just the person of the believer in the abstract but that person concretely as he or she exists and lives in history, hence including everything that is his or hers. It includes him or her not just as a person but him or her also as a father and mother, as a parent or child, with all that is his or hers, with his or her family, money, possessions, influence, and power, with his or her office and job, intellect and heart, science and art, with his or her life in society and the state. The covenant of grace is the organization of the new humanity under Christ as its head, as it links up with the creation order, and, reaching back to it, qualitatively and intensively incorporates the whole of creation into itself."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dostoevsky and Gospel Realism

One of the heroic characters in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s magnum opus, The Brothers Karamazov is an elder monk named Father Zosima. Zosima seems to be sort of the chief protagonist of Dostoevsky’s novel. All of the evil has has to look in the face of Zosima, the Christ-figure.

One moment in the novel struck me in a very strange way. There is a period of time in the long novel where the entire monastery is awaiting the death of Zosima. There is a strong belief among his followers that Zosima’s death will bring about miracles. What miracles, they are not sure, but they are sure that his body will not stink.

A strange thing happens when he does die. He stank horribly. Dostoevsky gives no explanation. Alyosha and the rest of the monks were disappointed with no answers.

This kind of realism is ubiquitous in The Brothers Karamazov. It is one of the reasons I have come to love reading Dostoevsky. His writing is so striking that many have speculated whether he actually had any Christian faith. I think it is hard to believe, however, that he didn’t.

It seems that he was simply a Christian realist. He made the Christian hold on to their faith and look square into the gruesome realities of this world. By far, the most disturbing chapter in the book is “The Rebellion.” Ivan, the atheist, tells his brother Alyosha, the mystic, why he does not accept God. His explanation is a long-winded description of gruesome current events, mostly focused on the suffering of children. Again, Dostoevsky gives no logical defense of this chapter. It is my understanding that he had none. He simply believed that Jesus could stand up in the face of it.

I am convinced that the church can only be helped by realism. The gospel is not mythology. It is not fantasy. It is not a story to retreat to in order to escape our present reality. It is the hope in the face of our present reality.

"Realists do not fear the results of their study." -Dostoevsky

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Way to Memorize Passages of Scripture

My Experience:
Years ago this sermon changed my life. In the beginning of the sermon, John Piper quotes multiple chapters of Scripture from memory. Before hearing this, I didn’t see memorizing Scripture at that capacity as something that most Christians can reasonably do.
I was so encouraged by it that I committed Romans 8 to memory. Since I have been able to memorize the Sermon on the Mount and the entire book of Ephesians.
My goal in saying this is not to boast, but to show you that it is actually easier than you may think. It just takes a little consistency.
Many of us have grown up memorizing memorizing certain verses in Sunday school, but there are various reasons as to why I would recommend memorizing passages of Scripture (many of these correspond with John Piper's points).
It deepens your understanding of the Bible in general. Memorize a series of verses makes you think about the passage in context. It drives you to want to understand the book in which it is contained and the whole canon of Scripture.
You can study Scripture everywhere. When you have passages of Scripture in your mind, you can literally study them while walking to and fro, driving, standing in line, or doing anything that would otherwise be boring.
It gives you a deeper understanding of a passage. Understanding something new can require renewing our mind on more than one layer of thought. So, for a few days, one aspect of a passage may stretch your heart and mind. After that sits with you for about a week, you may be challenged by something else in the very same passage.
It progressively forms you as you mature. A passage as complex as Romans 8 cannot be fully understood in one reading. As I grow in my relationship with God and in my understanding of the Bible, I continue to understand Romans 8 on new various different levels that I was not ready to comprehend at an earlier point in my life.
The method that I have used is one that I have heard from various sources. I originally heard it from N.T. Wright. Here’s how I go about it.
If I don’t have much time:
Right now I am not taking much time in my day to memorize Scripture, but I am trying to reteach myself the Sermon on the Mount. It probably takes less than 3 minutes out of my daily routine.
Day 1: I would look at Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor and spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I read it to myself 10 times. Then, I try to repeat it to myself without reading 10 times, only looking if I am unsure whether I am repeating it correctly.
Then throughout the day, I meditate on it when I have spare moments. So, if I am driving by myself, walking by myself in the hallway, or waiting in line, I am repeating to myself, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
This usually leads me to think about the passage more. What does it mean to be “poor in spirit? Is that describing how we should be, or to who the kingdom is offered?” “Who is Jesus addressing? Is he talking to the 12 disciples, or a large crowd?” “What does he mean by the kingdom of heaven? Is that referring to the future, here and now, or both?” As I continue to muse over these things and memorize more verses, I continue to see connections with other parts of Scripture.
Sometimes, I forget the verse while I am out and about and I try to check myself on it as soon as I can get ahold of a Bible that is the same translation as mine. Sometimes I keep it pulled up on my smart phone all day. Some people like to write it on a card.
Day 2: I repeat Mat. 5:1 again. Then I do the same thing with 5:2 that I did with 5:1.
To make sure I am remembering the whole passage, I will occasionally take the time to try to recite it all to myself. This usually means that I take part of my prayer time to recite it and think about it. Or maybe I have a longer drive than normal where I have time to think about it all the way through. This is usually pretty sloppy at first and I have to correct myself a lot, but I get better the more I do it.
It take refreshing: It will take some time to really know a passage by heart, but once you do, it sticks with you with minimal practice.
If I make time:
If you use these methods and carve out some time each day, you will be surprised how quickly you could memorize a book like Ephesians or Philippians.
It will take time, but, if you are consistent, you may be surprised at how much your mind takes in.