Spiritual: September 2007 Archives

Imprecatory Prayer

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Justin Taylor had some great posts not too long ago on imprecatory prayer (i.e. praying against someone). I was particularly impressed by Crying for Justice. The main difficulty is that these prayers occur throughout the psalms (and elsewhere in the Bible), and yet they seem to offend modern moral sensibilities. Justin gives three approaches people have taken that minimize the role of imprecatory prayers in the Bible and why those views are misguided:
1. Imprecatory psalms express evil emotions that should be suppressed or confessed as sin (C. S. Lewis, Walter Brueggemann).

2. They are utterances consonant with old covenant morality but inconsistent with new covenant ethics (Roy Zuck, J. Carl Laney, Meredith Kline).

3. Such words may be appropriately spoken only by Christ in relation to his work on the cross and only by his followers through him (James Adams, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Justin gives a brief but good account of why all three views are unsatisfactory and offers a better approach that takes these psalms as legitimate prayers in certain contexts, even if such contexts are more rare in contemporary North American life. I won't repeat his reasoning, but I think he's right.

I think it's worth thinking through the possibility that love and hate are simultaneously possible and in fact even good in certain contexts. We assume that love and hate are opposites, and thus love for enemies requires not hating anyone. But there are clear biblical statements of hate for people, which Justin in an earlier post explains and defends in the context of loving enemies. Augustine's way of thinking through this issue has seemed to me to be the best way to work together these two seemingly contradictory themes. Love is our obligation, always, to any human being, whether we see the person as an enemy or not. With respect to the gospel, no one is our enemy. Everyone is a person in need of repentance. At the same time, we ought to hate evil, and people can be pretty evil. Everyone is evil in some significant ways, and we ought to hate what is evil in people.

This isn't just hating actions that are bad, since actions aren't all that makes us bad. Evil is within us, worked into the very fiber of our moral thinking, our character, our hearts and minds. We ought to hate that in anyone, and that does mean hating individual people with respect to the things in them that are evil. But what is redeemable, what will still be there if the person is transformed by God's grace, is always lovable, is always worthy of love. We aren't worthy in ourselves, without God, of any love, but what remains of God's original work (and something must, or regeneration would actually produce a new person, with the original ceasing to exist) is good. What God will do in transforming someone's mind and heart is good, and that is worth seeing as deserving of love. This is so even with the worst persecutors of Christians. Consider the example of the worst of such persecutors in ancient times, Saul of Tarsus, who was so transformed.

Pass the Port

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This is funny coming from a Baptist theologian and biblical scholar:

If I’m called to preach the gospel among a lot of people who are cultural teetotallers, I’ll give up alcohol for the sake of the gospel. But if they start saying, “You cannot be a Christian and drink alcohol,” I’ll reply, “Pass the port” or “I’ll think I’ll have a glass of Beaujolais with my meal.”

For context and explanation, see the whole quote. It's just funny seeing this from a committed Baptist like Carson, but then again there's only been one time I've seen anything in Carson's writings that I disagree with, and I've read a lot of Carson. In that case he did get it about as wrong as it could be gotten, but it really is the only time I remember thinking that something Carson was writing was surely wrong. (There have been things he's defended that I've had no view on, but that doesn't count as disagreeing with him. There have also been times he's said things I disagreed with, until I finished seeing his arguments, and then I was convinced. But I don't remain in disagreement with him in such cases.)

But there aren't that many Baptists, even Reformed Baptists, with absolutely no qualms about the fundamental morality of drinking alcohol. I'm a complete teetotaler myself, but my reasons for not drinking alcohol have nothing to do with thinking it's wrong to do so. I just think it smells so unappetizing that I've never wanted even to taste it, and so it isn't very tempting to try to develop a taste for something that, given my hypoglycemia, would be extremely unhealthy to drink regularly. I do find myself regularly purchasing 12-packs of Saranac or Sam Adams, however, because someone in the family does happen to have a fondness for those particular beers. I don't think I'd pull one out and start drinking it if I encountered someone claiming that not drinking was essential to being a Christian, but maybe I could pull one out and hand it to someone who would drink it.

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