Wednesday, August 20, 2008

First Week in Seminary

Now I know that the week is not over. In fact it is only Wednesday. However, I have done all the class work for the week. I am taking Introduction to Missiology and Elementary Greek. The missiology class will demand a lot of reading. I will have to write a research paper on something related to missions or the mission of a local church. I think that I am going to write my research paper on outreach strategy's of a church within a highly literate metropolitan context. The last semester of college I took a class on the reformation. I thought that it was extremely interesting how the French Calvinist evangelized catholic France. In 1530 reformation minded people were only but a handful. By 1570 about 1/10 of the population identified with the reformation. So in 40 years France went from having close to zero evangelicals to having around 2 million evangelicals. I think it is pretty amazing. So I wonder if there are some missional lessons that can be learned from that.

My missiology professor, David Sills, received his MDiv from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He received a Doctor of Missiology and a PhD from Reformed Theological Seminary. He was a missionary to the Quichua Indians in the Andes mountains and he served as a professor at Ecuadorian Baptist Theological Seminary. So he has practical and academic experience in missions

My Greek course is awesome. I have wanted to take NT Greek for a while. My professor, Johnathan Pennington, went to Trinity Evangelical Seminary for his MDiv. He was an assistant of D.A. Carson. He did his PhD work at St. Andrews University Scotland. So academically he is a studd. He seems like a light hearted guy, though. When he lectures he often times makes jokes.

Anyhow that is my first impression of seminary.

written by Stephen Stanford

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Comedy Movies and Christian Ethics

I recently walked out of a movie. I hate paying to see a movie at the theater and then not being able to watch the movie all the way through. If the movie has bad acting, I usually try to look for something entertaining about the movie. However last night the movie was absolutely horrible. Kym, I and some friends went to see Tropic Thunder. The movie attempted at (and for some succeeded) making humor out homosexual sex, heterosexual sex functions, mental retardation, and death and destruction. In this post I want to explore the idea of ethical norms for comedy.

I want to say, up front, that I have not always acted with integrity when it comes to comedy. I have often found myself laughing at something that is rather base. Sometimes in my life I have justified my ability to laugh under some concept of pseudo-Christian freedom. I recently went to a church planting conference that was very missional (in the contemporary sense of the term). At the conference one of the speakers made a joke that none of the people at the conference watched The Office because we are all Christians here. He made clear that it was only a joke and that in fact he did watch the office. Many of those who fall into the contemporary reformed missional movement ( which, I think I am apart of that, but I don't really care either way) are often reacting to socially constructed ethic norms of evangelicalism that do not find their basis in scripture. This gentlemen, that spoke at the conference, was simply making a joke within that missional context. It is a danger to be too ethically constructive (I like this term better that legalistic because legalistic gives the impression that one cares about the objective forensic code) when dealing with particular issues. However, on the opposite side of the coin, is the danger of moral apathy. I would guess, rough guess, that the latter is more prevalent within my generation. Therefore, I want to think aloud about ethics and movies, with particular reference to comedy.

It is at this point that I will consider a common objection to ethics and comedy. Perhaps some one reading this has already thought this objection out while reading that I thought Tropic Thunder was not right for the Christian to watch. This objection would go something like this, "but it is only comedy!" or it might be urged, in a slightly more sophisticated way, "comedy has a particular license that allows it not to be held so tightly under moral constraint."

Now for the Christian, who takes the Bible seriously as his/her ethical norms this is quite easily refuted. Consider Ephesians 5:4 Paul writes, "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving." Now it is important that we take seriously the command. This passage obviously places certain limitations, ethical speaking, on comedy. There are certain jokes that the Christian has no right to make nor find funny.

When we read scripture we have to, before applying in to our particular circumstance, read it with the authors original intent. It seems that the adjective "crude" in verse 4 refers to sexual jokes. I takes this from the emphasis found in surrounding verses, verse 3 and 5. Paul says in verse 3 that sexual immorality should not be instantiated among the Ephesian church. He also says in verse 5 that sexual immorality will result in eternal damnation. Instead of sexual immorality being funny we should see it as that which leads to damnation. It is something not funny but rather grotesque.

Now concerning jokes about mental retardation. I too, though I am ashamed to admit, have found such jokes funny and amusing. When I was an elementary school kid I would call those who I did not like a retard. In the early days of my college I had some friends that did an impression of mentally retarded people. I laughed. Every one I knew laughed. However, I think, upon reflection, that was inappropriate and wrong to do. Now it is quite clear to me that there is no biblical passage that says, "You shall not make fun of those who are mentally retarded." However, Christian ethical theory is not so impotent as to be limited to specific commands. There are biblical principals that can be applied to present situations. To know right and wrong, a person has to be equiped with at least three things; a.) bible knowledge (thus its principals) which supplies the Christian ethicist with his/her ethical norms b.) cognitive ability or existential apprehension ( I like both terms, yet they can roughly refer to the same thing, for a fuller illustration of what that broadly means see Plantinga and especially John Frame) and c.) an understanding of the situation that the Christian finds himself or herself in. Without all three perspectives the Christian lacks the ability to make ethical statements in every day life.

Now back to the issue of jokes regarding mental retardation. It is simply wrong because it betrays the law of love. We are called to love one another and build each other up (1 Thess 5:11 and Jas 2:8). We are also called to be compassionate and kind (Col 3:12). By taking delight in a persons weakness one is not being loving, compassionate nor kind. When a person makes jokes about mentally retarded people they are taking delight in that persons weakness. Moreover, that person is not having compassion or empathy for the broken hopes that the parent of the retarded person may have had while pregnant. May God grant me forgiveness for my sins and compassion for others.

Written by Stephen Stanford

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pauls Prayer in Philippians 1:9-11

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,
10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians's 1:9-11 ESV

Paul prays that the Philippians church would have more and more love (v.9). Without a doubt Paul wants the Philippian church to "love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut 6:5)" He also is probably thinking that the love, that he prays they will have more of, will increase their love of their neighbor. Love for God and love for neighbor summarize the moral law. As God gives us more and more love we begin to relate to God and others differently. Thus, Paul prays that the Philippians would be more abounding in their love. However, the Love that is true and from above contains "knowledge and discernment." Biblical love is not love that is mere sentimentality. Biblical love is a seeker for the true and excellent. Paul wants the Philippians to have a biblical love that gives the Philippians the ability to "approve what is excellent." As Christians we need this love to spur us on toward genuine care for one another and care for what is true and excellent. Biblical Love gives us a heart that seeks to magnify God in all our actions. Biblical love will ignite our heart to love what God loves and thus the love that Paul prays for is an aspect of sanctifying grace. It is not something created in our heart but rather created by God for his people and placed in our heart. This sanctifying grace will work in us so as for us to "be blameless for the day of Christ." This passage is not saying that we will be perfect followers of the law but rather that "approving what is excellent" will be indicative of the believer. The biblical love that is given to us, and the fruits of that love, come "through Jesus Christ." Without the death, burial, resurrection and persistent continual intercession of Christ for us sinners, no aspect of our sanctification could come to pass. It is my hope that I will pray for others like Paul. May God pour out upon his people love that will abound more and more... to the glory and praise of God.

Written by Stephen Stanford

Why I (Stephen) have not been Bloging Recently

First, I want to apologize to out many loyal readers. We know that our absence has resulted in boredom for so many people. The truth is, that I (Stephen) have been trying to finish up my B.A.
Now that I am done with my undergraduate studies. I am the proud owner of a BA in Philosophy and in History. On Monday I begin seminary studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.