Sunday, March 29, 2015

What You Believe Does Dictate How You Behave: Old Covenant Theology vs. New Covenant Theology

I've often said the greatest - and most overlooked - evangelical theologians of the past two millenniums were early 18th century English Baptists who penned the First London Confession of Faith. It's not my purpose in this blog post to go into all the details as to why this is so, suffice to say I am follower of Jesus Christ affiliated with a Baptist Church because of my agreement with these preeminent theologians. In short, they (and I) believe the New Testament to be the apex of God's self-revelation because in them is revealed how "the righteousness of God is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe" (Romans 3:22).

My wife and I recently enjoyed some fellowship with a woman in her seventies. She was raised Dutch Reformed and is now active in the Presbyterian Church of America. She is a delightful lady, one with whom we enjoyed visiting. However, through the course of our conversation there arose a stark and pointed difference between what she believes as a Presbyterian and what we believe as Baptists. She is a "Law person," and emphasized over and over that "God blesses obedience."

Of course, nobody would disagree with this statement. God does bless obedience. The question is "Whose obedience?" Our Presbyterian friend seemed to be emphasizing her and her husband's personal obedience. My wife and I only emphasize Christ's obedience (i.e. "His fulfillment of the Law"), and God's blessings freely given to us because of our faith in Christ. 

This is the fundamental difference between Old Covenant Christians and New Covenant Christians.

Baptists historically have been New Covenant Christians. The early 18th century Baptists were uninterested in turning sinners into Mosaic Law-keepers and solely concerned with turning sinners into Christ believers. When Jesus Christ told us He came to fulfill the Law and the prophets, He meant it (Matthew 5:17). He fulfilled the Law with His life, death and resurrection, and then He abolished it and became a new Law Giver for His people. He said:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).
Some might wonder about the practical differences between an Old Covenant believer as compared to the  New Covenant believer. One of the best illustrations of the differences between the behavior of Old Covenant Christians when compared to the behavior of New Covenant Christians is given by my friend Jon Zens.

Jon points out that the Puritans (Old Covenant Christians) came over to the New World and found themselves facing the Native Americans (Indians). Old Covenant typology dominated their behavior toward the Indians. The Puritans saw their exodus from England paralleling Israel's exodus from Egypt in the Old Testament. The Puritans viewed their crossing of the Atlantic as a parallel to Israel's crossing of the Red Sea. The Puritans believed that their arrival in the New World paralleled Israel's arrival and entrance into the land of Canaan. The Puritans hoped that the New World would indeed be a land "flowing with milk and honey."

But now came the mistake the Puritans made because of their emphasis on the Old Covenant.

The Puritans believed that the Native Americans they met in the New World paralleled Israel meeting the heathen nations in the land of Canaan. How should they respond?  Old Covenant typology pointed to casting out the Native peoples by force, precisely as Israel cast out the heathen nations in Canaan.  However, New Covenant theology commands believers in Christ to love their enemies. Should the Puritans follow the Law of Christ by loving and evangelizing the Indians, or should the Puritans follow the example of Old Covenant Israel and kill the native dwellers?  According to Zens, the Puritans behaved in a manner consistent with their Old Covenant beliefs. Over time they removed or exterminated the Indians, claiming the New World for God.

Now, back to the Presbyterian lady we met. Her husband was not a believer. She had been married to him for over fifty years, but it had been "exceedingly difficult." She so desperately wanted her husband to be 'obedient' to God's Laws (worshipping on the Sabbath, tithing on their income, etc...) because "God blesses our obedience." I was worn out listening to her.

I would suggest that what her husband needed was a wife who was so full of Christ, so appreciative of the perfect righteousness that has been given to her because of her faith in Jesus, that she loves her husband exactly the way Christ loves her. It seems to me that if the New Covenant was the foundation of her theology and philosophy of living, then she would set aside any emphasis on her husband's performance--or lack thereof -- and simply love him without expectations or conditions.

Obviously, this post has simplified some very complex issues, but my goal is not so much to convince anyone of this truth as much as it is to encourage the beginning of a journey toward truth. It's an axiom that if there is maladjustment in one's behavior toward people, it's usually because of a problem in one's beliefs about God.

We need more New Covenant theology preaching in our churches so that our behavior as believers toward others will match our beliefs of God's behavior toward us in Christ - as taught in the apex of God's self-revelation, otherwise known as the New Testament.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Never Too Old To Learn: Nola Osch

After worship today Rachelle and I shared a meal with Lt. Col. Paul "Slew" Vicars, his wife Marti, and their three boys (Levi, Cash and Knox). One of the advantages of ministering at Emmanuel Enid is the privilege of getting acquainted with interesting people like the Vicars. Paul is the commander responsible for training future Air Force fighter pilots at Vance Air Force Base, a former F-16 fighter pilot himself, and an intellectual with a passion for history. It's my privilege to serve as an honorary commander at Vance this year, and it is with Lt. Col. Vicars and his fighter training squadron to whom I'm attached.

During our lunch conversation today I learned something interesting about Marti Vicars. It seems her paternal grandmother, Nola Ochs (pictured left), is in the Guinness World Record book for being the world's oldest college graduate. Nola is 103 years old, born November 22, 1911. She received her bachelor's degree from Fort Hays State in Hayes, Kansas eight years ago, when she was 95. Nola went on to obtain her master's degree at age 98, graduating in 2010. After graduating with her master's in history, Nola went to work for Princess Cruise Lines as a guest lecturer.  When Nola turned 100 years of age in 2011, she was employed as a graduate teaching assistant at Fort Hayes State.
Marti told us that her grandmother raised her four sons - including Marti's father - on the family farm. She had attended college in her younger years, but after marrying her husband (Vernon Osch), Nola focused the family on the farm. After the death of her husband, realizing she was only 30 hours short of a degree, she moved 100 miles from the family farm to Hayes, Kansas to obtain her degrees.

Nola still travels. She still lives alone. When she travels friends will drop her off at the airport and she will fly solo. She's flew to Los Angeles for the Jay Leno Show where she was a featured guest along with Simon Cowell and Maroon 5. Nola's been on several major national television shows, but she keeps a humble spirit about her. When asked about her educational achievements, Nola's typical response is, "I've led a long, interesting life. We went through the dust storms. We had some difficult times in our marriage, financially. But it's been the Lord's will that I've lived this long life, and I thank Him kindly for it."

A tip of the hat today to a new hero of mine - Nola Osch. She proves to all of us that one is never too old to learn.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Brevity, Clarity, Profundity: Speech that Sizzles

Last night I sat through a worship service where the the preacher spoke for an hour and ten minutes. About fifty minutes into the message, my mind began to wonder about the optimum time for the spoken word. 

When you type a text message you must limit your communication to 160 characters before the text is split into two separate texts. A seventy-five-year-old German communications specialist named Friedhelm Hillebrand is the reason for this 160 character limit. Before texting was introduced as a cellular phone feature in 1985, Mr. Hillebrand and his research team created the industry standard for character limits per text based on the conclusions they reached during their research of emails and old-fashioned postcards.

Mr. Hillebrand's team discovered "most emails can be understood by reading the summary line." It is the summary line that readers recall. Rarely does the body of the email add to what is remembered about the email. In addition, Hillenbrand's research team observed that the best postcards were written in under 150 alphabetic characters. Clarity and profundity of the written word seemed proportional to brevity. To Hillenbrand's team, less written characters often translated into more emotional impact.

Because Hillenbrand's team set the industry wide cellular text character limit at 160,  Twitter creators (who were in preschool when texting was invented) were forced to limit individual tweets to 140 characters or less in order to keep individual tweets within the limits of a cellular text. The remaining 20 characters had to be used for the user's unique Twitter address. Written communication is forcibly brief in our cellular age, but there was scholarly intention and design behind this brevity.

But what about the spoken word? How long is optimum?

I am a huge fan of Ted Talks. There is an 18-minute rule for these wildly popular lectures. Regardless of the person's power or prestige, he or she has eighteen minutes to get the point across. From Bill Gates to the unknown housewife, it's eighteen minutes per talk. No exceptions.

The founder of Ted Talks gives us the reason for the eighteen minute rule for the spoken word
"It [18 minutes] is long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention. It turns out that this length also works incredibly well online. It’s the length of a coffee break. So, you watch a great talk, and forward the link to two or three people. It can go viral, very easily. The 18-minute length also works much like the way Twitter forces people to be disciplined in what they write. By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline."
It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.

I agree with him. Though I'm a fan of John Gill, Jonathan Edwards, and other 18th century preachers who spoke for an hour or more, and though I understand there are cultural factors when it comes to an optimum length of time when one speaks before an audience, I know that Jesus taught with brevity, clarity and profundity, but He lived long before texts, Twitter and Ted Talks.

As the hour and ten minute message came to a close last night,  I began to ask myself a few questions:

(1). When I go longer than 20 is it sign that I am less focus and prepared?
(2). Is a lengthy message characteristic of an undisciplined messenger?
(3). How much of what I say is designed to draw attention toward me and away from the message?

I realize there is no 'hard and fast' rule on this issue. If you are a professor at a university (as is my wife), and lectures are often two to three hours, the length is understandable. The impartation of knowledge is your goal.

We who preach have the goal of seeing lives transformed.

I'm wondering if we preachers aren't better served with more focus, greater discipline, and a tight timeline for reaching an audience in need of change.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Oklahoma University and Inconsistent Intolerance

David Boren, President of Oklahoma University, has expelled two students for their involvement in a SAE fraternity racist video posted to YouTube. Both students have since apologized, but the decision to expel them stands firm.

The SAE house mother, an elderly white lady named Beuton Gilbow, a woman the fraternity brothers affectionately called "Mom B," lost her job and the place she has lived for the past 15 years when Oklahoma University shut down the SAE house as punishment. People began raising money for Mom B in a GoFundMe account until a new video was discovered of Mom B chanting the "n" word herself. After the video of Mom B's singing her song was discovered by OU's student newspaper, the account to raise funds for Mom B was closed.

79-year-old Mom B. was loved by everyone at SAE, including the African-American SAE members. Her late husband was Coach Barry Switzer's college roommate at Arkansas. There's not a racist bone in Mom B's body. Everyone who knows her will tell you this, including Coach Switzer himself.  Of course, those who know Barry Switzer recognize that this man's relationship with African-American college athletes is one of friend, father and mentor. Coach Switzer's relates in his autobiography how being a son of an Arkansas bootlegger created within him a love for poor, disenfranchised and minority athletes.

I believe Oklahoma University has every right to expel the two boys and shut down the SAE house for those foolish video rants that use the "n" word. Unlike some of my libertarian friends who argue that Oklahoma University has surrendered the inviolable principles of personal liberty and free speech, I take the position that any school has every right to establish and enforce university standards of behavior through its "code of conduct." As Dr. David Boren said when punishing those involved with singing the racist song:
"I have a message for those who have misused their freedom of speech in this way. My message to them is: You're disgraceful. You have violated every principle that this university stands for."
Now, I have a couple of questions for Dr. Boren and other Oklahoma University administrators. According to Mom B, when she was filmed chanting the "n" word, she was actually singing along to the Trinidad James' song "All Gold Everything." The song was playing in the SAE frat house (you can hear it in the video). As an option to not listening to the filthy lyrics of "All Gold Everything", you might consider just reading them (caution: extremely explicit).

(1). Does this video "violate every principle that this university stands for"?
(2). If so, will you expel any student who sings the lyrics or plays this song in their car (or bus)?
If there is a code of conduct for the University of Oklahoma, and there is, and if there is going to be an enforcement of punishment for violations of that code of conduct--and this week seems to indicate there will be--then there should be an intolerance for the singing, promotion, and playing of any song which "violates the principles for which the university stands for."
There must be either the advocacy of full liberty and freedom of speech on a university campus, or the consistent enforcement of the university's code of conduct on the basis of principle. Anything less will cause a university or government to begin its gradual descent into tyranny.