Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Soteriology is the fancy term theologians have called the study of salvation. Soteriology can be a heated topic, but obviously the most important. At seminaries and Bible colleges all over the nation, students are arguing over Arminianism vs Calvinism. At my Bible college, the debate was the Free-Grace Movement vs Reformed Theology (or Calvinism). I remember as a Bible student talking to my dad about the debate. My dad has been a pastor/missionary longer than I’ve been alive and minored in Greek during his undergrad and also received his Mdiv in grad school. He told me that whenever someone asks him, “are people sovereignly elected or do they choose God by their own free-will,” he replies, “yes.” When I heard this, this of course did not settle well with me. To me, it sounded like a cop-out. But as the years have gone by, I’ve come to believe that The Free-Grace Movement and Reformed Theology are not as mutually exclusive as proponents of both sides seem to believe.

I plan on keeping this blog post informal, expressing my thoughts on the subject, not my arguments, as I continue to go through this theological journey. God is so great, and studying Him is so humbling, the more I learn, the more I don’t know - and I’m OK with that. What I want to do in this post is describe my experiences and thoughts on Free-Grace and then on Reformed Theology and look at each of their strengths and weakness. Then I want to look at their common ground and what my conclusions are at this point in my life. I do not, in any way, want to deface the name of Free-Grace or Reformed theology, nor their proponents. Rather, I want to express thoughts and the theological journey I've found myself in. I love my Free-Grace brothers and sisters, and my experience in ministry with a Free-Grace church was priceless. As I've expressed the ideas in the blog with others it has started very beneficial and thought-provoking conversation, and that, ultimately, is my goal.

The Free-Grace Movement
For four years, I worked at a church that considered itself a Free-Grace church. My pastor often spoke at Free-Grace conferences and so I’ve heard and experienced proponents of Free-Grace first hand and seen its effects. The Free-Grace Movement tends to be a middleman between Arminianism and Calvinism. It emphasizes “once saved always saved” and the word “believe.” I’ve heard many people sum-up Free Grace as “live like hell, and go to heaven.” This is an unfair description but carries with it some truth. Free-Grace proponents would say that if a person believes in Jesus for salvation, they can go on living in sin and they would still go to heaven. Their life of rebellion would result in a loss of rewards in heaven. So if someone believes in Jesus and rejects him completely for the rest of their lives, a Reformed proponent would say that this person was probably not saved in the first place, where as the Free-Grace proponent would say this person is still going to heaven, they just won’t receive as many rewards. This conviction comes from the thought that our salvation is not based on our works, but the work of Christ, therefore, even if we reject Christ after believing, our salvation is not contingent upon that sin, but the perfect obedience of Christ. Free-Grace also rejects the typical 5-points of Calvinism while rejecting many of the views of Arminianism. For example, Free-Grace holds that you cannot lose your salvation (unlike Arminianism) while also holding that people are “partially-depraved” (unlike Calvinism).

I think the biggest weakness to Free-Grace theology, in my experience, is their lack of explaining what they mean by “believe.” In my experience, Free-Grace proponents don’t explain this term fully but just say that its necessary. This brings up thoughts to my mind like, what about the demons who believe? or what about Mormons? or What about people who believe in the historical Jesus but aren’t sure He is God? They tend to leave these questions unanswered by keeping the term “believe” vague. There doesn’t seem to be any real emphasis on repentance or slaying your sin. This, I believe from seeing it first-hand, can impede a believer growing in maturity, and instead remaining a “baby-Christian” with a sense of entitlement. It can also lead someone to believe they are saved, when they might not be. Its easy to say, “I believe!” without any inward change, just as Jesus says that many will call out “Lord! Lord!” and Jesus will say, “Depart from me. I never knew you.” I don’t know about you, but that verse gives me the chills. It makes me want to be absolutely sure that people understand what believe means, especially since teachers will be held to more accountability.

Now for the strengths: The best argument I have heard for Free-Grace is that it is the most practical theological understanding for ministry. I have to agree with this. Where Reformed theology tends to lead towards legalism and an “us vs you” mentality, Free-Grace reaches out with an open-hand. An emphasis on God’s grace is the most practical way to move someone towards a life like Christ’s. Legalism crushes us, fills us with shame and kills us with despair. Grace is unconditional and unending. It gives life, removes shame, and gives hope. Another strength of Free-Grace is finding a balance between the extremes of Calvinism, while avoiding the extremes of Arminianism in a way that is intellectual and based on Christ’s work.

Reformed Theology
Reformed Theology emphasizes God’s sovereignty and repentance. Now, everyone defines reformed theology or Calvinism differently, so I’m going to attempt to stay as general as possible. Reformed theology involves the 5-points of Calvinism: Total Depravity (we are completely unable to save ourselves), Unconditional Election (God predestined, based on His grace, not on our own merit, who would be saved), Limited Atonement (Christ’s atonement is only affective to those who are elect), Irresistible Grace (because a believer is elect, He is drawn in by the Holy Spirit, and cannot resist, and places his or her trust in Christ), and finally Perseverance of the Saints (a believer will never lose their salvation and will grow in sanctification until they die). Many Reformed proponents don't adopt all five points while some have seven points. Unlike Free-Grace, a Reformed proponent would say that if a person who placed their faith in Jesus and then rejected Him and died in their sin, they were never truly saved in the first place. This is based on the point that since a Christian is chosen, God would never let them wander away from that faith forever. Basically, the end of their life should look better than the beginning of their faith.

The main problem that can arise from Reformed Theology, in my experience, is legalism. I’ve seen this first hand with Reformed proponents that I’ve interacted with. Reformed theology can lead someone to judge quickly that a person is not elect, because they sinned. It can cause someone to start to compare their works to others, instilling in them a “holier-than-thou” attitude, which can destroy relationships. Finally, Reformed theology can easily create an “us vs them” mentality, that can lead to a lack of zeal for evangelism. 

Now for the strengths: Have you ever noticed that most Systematic Theology books are written from a Reformed perspective? I believe this has to do with Reformed theology's greatest strength: its reverence for Scripture. The best argument for Reformed Theology is that it matches most closely to a plain reading of the Bible. Reformed theologians use scripture to back up their arguments. In my experience, Free-Grace proponents use scripture to back up their view but have to accompany it with a chart or a really in-depth Greek word-study to let people know that the verse doesn’t actually say what it sounds like it says, whereas the Reformed theologian can just point to verse and that’s it. An example of this would be “Molinism.” Molinism is an attempt to reconcile God’s sovereignty with our free will. It explains that we freely choose based on the circumstances that God places around us in our lives. Most Reformed theologians are not fans of Molinism, and instead prefer to emphasize God’s sovereignty. Free-Grace proponents, however, are big fans of Molinism because it emphasizes free will as well. The problem with that is Molinism is basically a round-about way of still coming to the conclusion that God is completely sovereign. With Molinism, sure we choose, but its only because God has put us in a situation where we wouldn’t choose a different way. So in the end, God is still ultimately sovereign. I personally hold to Molinism, but not as a compromise to providence like Free-Grace proponents often do. 

Common Ground for the Crossroads
Nearly every time I’ve heard a Free-Grace proponent defend their belief or a Reformed proponent defend theirs, they see the other side as the enemy. But as I hear what they believe, I’m blown away by how much common ground the two views have and yet we refuse to do ministry together or  we condemn the person on the other side and grimace at the thought of them. At the Free-Grace conferences or forums I’ve been to, the whole time I’m sitting there I think to myself “you keep saying things that a Reformed proponent would agree with and yet you talk as if their the enemy!” Enough is enough. Here is what I believe is the common ground between the two:

An emphasis on grace, not works:
Both views emphasize salvation being based on the work of Christ, not on our own works. Unconditional election is an incredibly gracious belief. None of us are worthy of God’s grace or His salvation, yet He is gracious and bases our salvation on something outside of ourselves, Christ’s perfection. Therefore, there is nothing we can do to lose our salvation, while at the same time God’s grace is sufficient for persevering in this life. Because God is our Shepherd, He will not let His sheep wander off a cliff. 

Here is my conclusion:
I do not believe Free-Grace and Reformed theology to be as mutually exclusive as we tend to think. Instead, I see their strengths working hand-in-hand. Could it be possible that Reformed theology is how we understand Soteriology in an intellectual way, and Free-Grace is how we understand Soteriology in a practical way? True Reformed theology should not manifest itself in legalism, but love, and true Free-Grace thinking should not manifest itself in apostasy, but gratitude. Understanding Soteriology in Reformed terms should manifest itself in an overwhelming sense of grace towards others. It should not lead to me telling someone they aren't saved because they sinned - the reason being that I do not know what that’s person’s heart is like God does. I also don’t know what the condition of their heart will be when they die. So as a Reformed thinker, it would be wrong of me to go around deciding in my mind who I think is saved and is not. That doesn’t do anything positive for ministry. Yet, at the same time, I should not be living in a way that would cause someone to question if I were saved, even if they shouldn’t be questioning. I cannot deny that my salvation is sealed no matter what I do, because of what Christ did. At the same time, I cannot deny the clarity of scripture when it comes to repentance, predestination, and perseverance. Free-Grace practicality should be the natural response to Reformed systematizing. 

In my mind, Reformed theology is how we understand Soteriology in an intellectual way, and Free-Grace is how we understand Soteriology in a practical way. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

I've noticed a trend among some of today's prominent naturalistic cosmologists - pride greater than the universe itself. This trend is the idea: God doesn't exist because we don't need Him. Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, we've come to the conclusion that we don't need the Creator because the creation is all we need.

In a debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox, Dawkins basically said that he doesn't believe in God because we don't need to believe in him. The universe functions on its own with its own laws and mechanisms, so therefore, it doesn't need God. He also said that he thinks the only God that could potentially exist is the Deist God. A God who creates the world but has no personal dealings with that creation - though he does not believe it. This struck me of course, but it wasn't until I heard it again from a different cosmologist that I really saw what was happening.

In a debate between naturalistic cosmologist Sean Carroll and Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, Carroll said nearly the same thing as Dawkins. He said that since the universe, and even the idea of an eternal universe (as he claims) works on its own, therefore, it doesn't need God and that is why he doesn't believe in God. He even said that were he alive 200 years ago, he would probably be a theist. Sound familiar?

Dawkins and Carroll are basically saying the same thing: God doesn't exist because we don't need him to. This line of reasoning blows me away. 

Often Christians argue that since the universe has the appearance of design then there must be a designer. To be fair, this doesn't necessarily prove that God exists. However, this line of reasoning is much more acceptable that the reasoning of Dawkins and Carroll.

Dawkins and Carroll are acknowledging the mechanisms as a reason for ruling out any possibility of a mechanic. The appearance of design may not prove a designer, but the appearance of mechanisms necessarily rules out a mechanic? How is that more reasonable? It isn't. You would be considered an absolute fool if you walked into a factory and saw all the engines working on their own so you reasoned that there were no engineers who created those machines. To use the analogy of John Lennox, a watch has mechanisms and gears but it does't mean it wasn't created.

The argument that usually follows is that a watch and the universe are not analogous because they are so vastly different in complexities. Sure, I'll give you that. But the metaphysical principle has nothing to do with the complexity of the mechanisms. 

Here is what I'm getting at... The fact that the universe doesn't "need" God to operate, doesn't mean God doesn't exist. I really can't see any logical way you can follow that line of reasoning. Isn't it possible that God would create a universe with complex laws, principles, and mechanisms that would allow it to run on its own? Absolutely. So there is something deeper happening here: pride. We've replaced the Creator with the creation and we worship it instead. We are telling God, "we don't need you anymore, we will take it from here." Saying "I don't believe in God because we don't need Him" is much more profound that just saying "I don't believe in God." It is deeper, more sinister and the same kind of pride we see in Genesis 1. 

Really modern cosmologists believe in God, just not the God we believe in. The god of cosmology is believed to be eternal, self-sufficient, all-powerful, incomprehensible - the author of life. They call this god, The Universe, Matter, or Us. They place their faith in scientific models. Their prophets preach a gospel of chaos and chance. 

Cosmologists haven't stopped believing in God, they've simply changed gods.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Though science and religion contribute to the conversation and the evidence about life's biggest questions, ultimately, philosophy is unique in that it has the means to answer unobservable questions through the use of abstract thought, that is, an understanding of concepts apart from the external world. However, abstract thought is nothing without “essence.” Essence is the definable nature of a thing that makes something fundamentally what it is. Quoting form Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas refers to essence as “Whatness” or “that-which-it-was-to-be, namely, that through which a thing is some thing.” In other words, it is what it is! In Logic, this in known as “the law of identity.” A=A. It is such a basic concept, that it seems insignificant, but it is an amazing thing that one can understand an object apart from other objects, even if the object does not exist or is currently before us. For example, when I see a tree, I understand its qualities that distinguish it from other objects. I understand the tree apart from myself, apart from the bushes around it and apart from the sky above it. When I go home later and reflect on that tree, I still understand it apart from the objects I see before me that lack the same qualities. The case remains the same for objects that one does not believe to exist. For example if one does not believe in unicorns or Sasquatch, these can still be understood apart from non-unicorn or non-Sasquatch objects. This lays a strong foundation for discovering answers that transcend the directly observable. 

Some may object to this by saying that people see objects or concepts differently based on things like culture, upbringing, level of intelligence and so on. But perspectives are irrelevant to essence because an object’s essence exists necessarily despite one’s perception of it. Two men from vastly different backgrounds are examining the same tree. One see’s the tree as a large, thick plant with roots, branches, and leaves. The other see’s the tree as an ancient giant who became trapped in the mud and his body petrified over time. These opposing views do not change the “treeness” of the object. Both men still understand the tree apart from themselves, and apart from their environment. Essence is predetermined. Perspectives are preconceived. 

Thomas Aquinas wrote, “no essence can be understood without the things that are parts of the essence. But every essence or quiddity can be understood without its existence being understood: for I can understand what a man or phoenix is and yet not know whether they exist in reality. Therefore, it is clear that to exist is other than the essence.” This is an amazing, and strong foundation for discovering answer’s to life’s biggest questions because of the unobservable nature of those questions. Writing on Aquinas, G.K. Chesterton wrote:
When a child looks out of the nursery window and sees anything, say the green lawn of the garden, what does he actually know; or does he know anything? There are all sorts of nursery games of negative philosophy played round this question. A brilliant Victorian scientist delighted in declaring that the child does not see any grass at all; but only a sort of green mist reflected in a tiny mirror of the human eye. This piece of rationalism has always struck me as almost insanely irrational. If he is not sure of the existence of the grass, which he sees through the glass of a window, how on earth can he be sure of the existence of retina, which he sees through the glass of the microscope?…Aquinas, suddenly intervening in this nursery quarrel, says emphatically that the child is aware of [essence]. Long before he knows that grass is grass, he knows that something is something.
The thought that “something is something” is deeply profound and is more empowering to finding answers to life’s big questions than the thought, “I choose to suspend my judgment” as agnosticism says. Richard Dawkins said in a speech at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, “It is often said…it is best to keep an open mind and be agnostic. At first sight that seems an unassailable position…But on second thoughts it seems a cop-out, because the same could be said of Father Christmas and tooth fairies. There may be fairies at the bottom of the garden. There is no evidence for it, but you can't prove that there aren't any, so shouldn't we be agnostic with respect to fairies?”  Agnosticism is philosophical cowardice. The thought “something is something” is also more empowering than the thought “there is nothing” as nihilism says. Gorgias is noted for saying, “nothing exists; even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can't be communicated to others.” This kind of skepticism can only lead to philosophical suicide in which everything is questioned, but nothing is answered. Essence, however, gives one a firm, strong foundation to build a philosophy upon and shows the world that the answer’s are there if we are willing to look for them.

Bradley Dowden and Norman Swartz, "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy," Truth, What Sort of Things are True (or False)?, accessed January 14, 2014,
Gaven Kerr, "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy," Aquinas: Metaphysics, Essence and Existence, accessed January 14, 2014,
Thomas Aquinas and Ralph McInerny, Selected Writings (London: Penguin Books, 1998), pg. #31.
Irving M. Copi and Carl Cohen, Introduction to Logic (New York: Macmillan, 1961), 368.
Thomas Aquinas and Ralph McInerny, Selected Writings (London: Penguin Books, 1998), pg. #42.
G. K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1956), pg. #138.
 Harald Thorsrud, "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy," Ancient Greek Skepticism, Academic Skepticism, accessed January 13, 2014,
Alec Fisher, The Logic of Real Arguments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pg. #84.
Alan Pratt, "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy," Nihilism, Nihilism, accessed January 12, 2014,
C. Francis Higgins, "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy," Gorgias, Philosophy, accessed January 14, 2014,

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. - James 1:2-8

Count it all joy?
"Seriously? Who does James think he is? He doesn't know what I'm going through." Maybe not, but James, does know a thing or two about various trials. James was Jesus' half-brother. All we hear of him in the gospels is that he thought his brother, Jesus, was crazy. Then in Acts he is the leader of the church in Jerusalem, worshiping his brother as God. I don't know about you, but it would take something pretty crazy and miraculous for me to suddenly believe my brother was God - maybe like if he died and then came back alive - but that's a different point. We don't know much about James, but being the leader of the church in Jerusalem, He probably didn't have an easy life. I'm sure he faced constant opposition from the big-wig and powerful religious leaders, maybe even being violently persecuted or forced to live in hiding. What we do know is that eventually he was stoned to death. James was also writing to a group of people who also likely were facing harsh and violent persecution. Being their pastor, he knew the reality of their hardships, yet right out of the gate he says "Count it all joy when you face trials!" Easier said than done, however there are a few key things we can learn from this passage...

1. The Bible Is Honest
The Bible doesn't deny that you will face trials. Quite the contrary, its writers assume you will face trials! Don't let anyone ever make you question your salvation because you are facing trials. And don't let trials lead you to shame - this is not what the Bible teaches. Don't ever buy into the lie that if you become a Christian then your life will be easy. The reality is more likely the opposite. So then what's the point?

2. Joy vs Happiness
I believe that there is a vast difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is an effect of having what you think is good. It is temporary and fleeting. But joy is deeper. It is holy contentment, peace, and lasting. Joy is kind of like love. I love my wife and there are times when we may be frustrated with each other. In those moments I may not be expressing my love, but it doesn't mean I don't love my wife. Because love is deeper and transcends regular emotions. The same is the case with joy. We won't always be happy, and thats ok! But with Jesus we can always have joy!

3. Steadfastness
Studying this passage, I came across this idea of steadfastness. Often we think of enduring trials as just biting our lips and waiting until the pain is over. But this is not what this verse is talking about. The word for steadfastness here is hypomone, which means patient endurance or "to stay" It isn't merely waiting for the inevitable like waiting for pain to end or kill you, but it implies the heroic, brave patience in which a Christian not only bears buts fights! It implies pushing through! And there is a purpose behind this.

4. Holiness
If we as Christians never experienced trials of any kind, we would never learn or grow, but be a bunch of spoiled, immature babies. But trials produce steadfastness and steadfastness produces holiness. Read that again. There are many things that can help us be more like Christ, and one of those things is trials! But that holiness is only achieved if we remain steadfast through those trials. That isn't to say we lose our salvation or were never Christians if we fail to remain steadfast, but it does mean that we lose out on an opportunity to be a lot more like Christ then we would have otherwise. I firmly believe that God never wastes a hurt!

5. The Tree and The Waves
This verse describes the one who remains steadfast and becomes more like Christ, but it also describes another person. It describes the person who asks God for help but really is trusting themselves and therefore they are double minded and are wishy-washy. I know I've done this - asking God for help and wisdom while in the back of my mind doubting that He can actually do this. James is instructing us to ask God for wisdom with FULL confidence that God will come through. So when trials come, there are two different kinds of people we can be, the tree or the waves.

The waves - the person who says they trust God but really only trusts themselves is like water that is tossed around by the wind. They don't remain steadfast or push through but let themselves get knocked around. They are wishy-washy, vulnerable, and easily penetrable.

The tree - If you've ever gotten a baby tree from Home Depot or wherever, you know that when you plant it, you have to also put a stake next to it and rope it to the stake so that when the winds come it doesn't knock over that baby tree. Attached to that safety the tree grows, but if you leave the stake attached for too long, the tree doesn't grow. At some point you have to remove the stake so that when the wind comes and knocks the tree around, it learns where to grow its roots, and therefore it grows stronger. So the strength of the tree comes by enduring the opposition of the winds.

When trials come, are you a tree or the waves?
I realize that this is much easier said then done. Some trials are so large that they seem impossible to get through. A person should not feel guilty if they aren't feeling joy when trials come. But it does show us a part of ourselves we may or may not want to see. It can reveal to us what we really believe about God or Jesus and our relationship with Him. But James, who knew his share of difficult trials, wasn't saying this flippantly, but experienced HOPE that only came through the reality of Jesus. With Jesus in the picture, we know that our trials produce steadfastness, which produces holiness and that through our trials Jesus is making us into stronger people who God will use to do incredible things. Count it all joy.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Though worship is a lifestyle, there are many acts of worship that physically express our devotion to God. Through time these acts change slightly or they are added on to. Acts of the worship found in the Bible include: prayer/fasting, praise, sacrifice, thanksgiving, meditation, giving/charity, confession, preaching/teaching, reading of Scripture, discipline, baptism, the Lord's supper and obedience. Today, we do not practice some of the Old Testament acts of worship, but it still gives us a lot of insight on how we got our acts of worship. However, most of our worship practices come from the New Testament. In this section, we will examine acts of worship and music in worship through time, from the beginning, before creation, to the eternal heavens and earth at the end of Revelation. This is to emphasis the fact that worship is not only unceasing in our own lives, but worship is unceasing in relation to all of the universe and time. It has always existed and it always will.

Trinitarian worship
God has always existed as the Trinity, God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is our perfect example of how to be worshippers through lifestyle. Human beings long for love, unity in diversity, communication, community, humility, peace and selflessness. This is because God has created us in His image. Tragically, this world is affected by sin and twists the nature of all the things we long for into a longing for the wrong things. Our love becomes love for that which is wrong. Unity becomes division. Our selflessness becomes pride and so on. However, the Trinity is not affected by sin.

Therefore, in the diversity of God the Father, Son and Spirit is perfect unity as one God that communicates truthfully, loves unreservedly, loves connectedly, serves humbly, interacts peaceably, and serves selflessly. In a word, the Trinity is the ideal community in every way (Driscoll).

The Trinitarian God of the Bible is perfect in all areas that we struggle in our striving for a perfect worship lifestyle. With sin plaguing this world, it is impossible to be perfect in our worship, but the Trinity gives us the example of what we should strive for in relation to the world around us as our lifestyle of worship. 

Since we are made in God’s image, we are continuously outpouring worship toward something or someone (H. Best). This is because the Trinity continuously pours itself out between the three persons of God in unceasing communication, love, friendship and joy. 
Another way worship is Trinitarian is that we worship, whether by singing, serving or praying, to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.

Old Testament Worship
The most outward act of worship in the Old Testament was sacrifices. Sacrifices were not means for salvation. The book of Hebrews tells us that Old Testament salvation came by faith. Many of the prophets warned the people that sacrifice without repentance was worthless (Isaiah 1:10-17; Micah 6:4-6; Jeremiah 7:1-26; Malachi 1:7-14). However, people still sinned and a price needed to be paid for those sins. Sacrifices made a way for sin to be dealt with. They were physical elements a worshiper brought to God to show devotion, thanksgiving or the need for forgiveness and ultimately pointed to Jesus who became our ultimate sacrifice.

There were five types of sacrificial offerings
Burnt offering: Offered in the morning, in the evening and on special days. Certain health issues also called for burnt offerings. Animals that could be used were a young bull, lamb, goat, turtledove, or young pigeon. All animals brought had to be perfect, “without blemish.” The type of animal depended on your financial situation.

The one bringing the offering was to lay a hand on the animal, indicating that the animal was taking the person’s place, and then he was to kill it. The priest then collected the blood and sprinkled it around the altar and the sanctuary, and the worshiper cut up and skinned the animal. If a bird was brought, the priest killed it. After the priest arranged the various parts on the altar, the entire animal was burned as a sacrifice. The only portion that remained was the hide, and the priest received it. The one who made this sacrifice did so to restore the relationship with God and to atone for some sin (Langston).

Grain offering: This type of offering involved harvest from the land. It required no bloodshed. No reason is given as to the purpose of grain offerings, but it may symbolize the recognition of God’s blessing on the harvest, which is crucial to a society that relies heavily on agriculture.

Peace offering: Followed much of the same pattern as the burnt offering. It was to be brought as a response to unexpected blessing, an answer to prayer or for thanksgiving in general.

Sin offering: The purpose of the sin offering was to purify the sanctuary from sin that was committed unintentionally, and thereby allow God to continue dwelling with His people. 

Guilt offering: Guilt offerings often overlap with sin offerings. “The guilt offering was concerned supremely with restitution. Someone who took something illegally was expected to repay it in full plus 20 percent of the value and then bring a ram for the guilt offering (Langston).”

Why do we not give sacrifices anymore?
The reason we do not give sacrifices anymore is because of Jesus’ death on the cross. He was the once and for all sacrifice for sins. Therefore, sacrifices are no longer needed. Our sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus. Because He was the perfect, holy God that lived as a man and died as a substitute for our sins, we never have to worry about Jesus’ blood not covering our sins. It will for all time. Our choice then is whether or not we wish to accept that gift and trust in Jesus to be the Savior of our lives.

Old Testament worship also involved music
Music in the Old Testament involved both men and woman, and was used usually with religious holidays, important events and celebrations. It was also used for worship and warfare. The book of Psalms is a collection of songs sung by Old Testament believers. The Psalms come in different forms: lament, thanksgiving, hymn and wisdom. The main attitude emphasized in Old Testament music was joy. The Psalms used musical expressions and notes like “For the choirmaster,” “with stringed instruments,” or “Selah.” Instruments used were: shofar (ram’s horn, often translated as “trumpet”), trumpet, lyre, harp, flute, pipe, tambourine, cymbals, bells, and rattle-type noise makers.

New Testament/Church Age Worship
In the New Testament and the current Church age, worship involves all the same things as in the Old Testament except the sacrifices, because they are no longer needed. The emphasis is on prayer, praise, teaching, giving to the poor and lifestyle. However, in the New Testament, there are new acts of worship introduced. These traditions are carried out even today. Baptism was used in the Old Testament to represent cleansing before entering the temple area. In the New Testament, baptism represents our death to sin and our new life in Christ. The Lord’s Supper was first done by Jesus and His disciples. It involves eating bread and drinking wine. The bread represents Christ’s body being broken for us on the cross. The wine represents His blood being poured and covering our sins. We do this to remember what He did for us. In church today, we still hold these practices, with special emphasis on corporate prayer, singing, giving, and instruction.

Hymns are songs of praise. In church today, traditional worship music is classified as hymns. These involve little instrumentation (usually a piano or organ), with great emphasis on voice and choir. Hymns are important to worship music because they are great teaching tools of Christian theology that is not found in much contemporary worship. Hymns should not be excluded from worship services on the basis that they are “old-fashioned.” There are ways to keep hymns modern without losing the original feeling and expression of those hymns. Besides, hymns speak only of the truths of God who never becomes “old-fashioned,” but is always relevant.

Contemporary worship
Contemporary worship covers much of the worship music of the 1970’s through the 1990’s. This form of worship involves more instrumentation than that of hymns, typically piano or acoustic guitar driven with bass, drums, and multiple voices. Choir is used often, but not as much as hymns. Contemporary worship songs tend to have very simplistic song structure usually having one verse and one chorus that are repeated several times. The emphasis of the songs is on God’s love and His friendship. Sadly, much of the theology of the hymns is sacrificed for the “warm and fuzzy” feeling lyrics of contemporary worship.

Modern/”Relevant” worship
In Christian society, hymns are separate from modern worship because they are “traditional.” Modern worship is different than contemporary worship as it seeks to praise God using current, more popular forms of music, more theology, and larger instrumentation. The typical modern worship band involves: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboard/synthesizer, drums, and bass. Most modern worship usually does not use a choir. Voices involve a lead vocalist with several back-up vocalists. 

Sadly, because people have different preferences in worship music style, there is much disunity and strife amongst church congregations. There is nothing biblically wrong with any style of music. Church leadership should pray for God’s guidance on which style of music they wish to use. Some churches use a combination of the three. As long as God is being given glory, the theology of the songs are correct, the church is edified and the music is done well, it does not matter the style used. Members of the congregation need to understand that worship is more than just singing, participation in the music of a church should have nothing to do with the style of music but the joy in our hearts of the things God has done for us. 

Worship in Heaven
Often images of heaven look like a non-stop, eternal church service of singing. But this is far from true. When God created the earth, He gave man three things: fellowship with him, rule over the land, and a physical paradise in which man roamed and worked. Tragically, sin came into the world and man lost the three things God had given him. At the end of time, God will redeem His creation and restore the original things He gave man. The new heavens and the new earth will be back to the way things were before sin and Adam and Eve were in the garden. Therefore, worship in heaven will be a lifestyle, one that is perfected, not an eternal “singspiration.” 

As mentioned above, Trinitarian worship is our example of what perfect worship is, worship we should strive for. In eternity, the new heavens and new earth are not affected by sin or evil. This will allow for us to worship God in lifestyle perfectly, just like the Trinity. All the things humans long for like perfect peace, love and unity, will finally happen!

However, there will be some singing in heaven. There are some angels whose specific job is to sing constantly, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” Also, in the book of Revelation, we see times when singing is triggered by something that God has done. We also see shouts of praise, falling before the throne and the casting of crowns.

In heaven and in God’s eternal new heavens and new earth, everything will be perfect, unaffected by sin. We will be directly in the presence of God having fellowship with Him in a perfect paradise, with responsibilities. Our lives will be completely devoted to God, with joy and reverence with a perfected worship lifestyle.

- Driscoll, Mark - Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe
- Best, Harold - Unceasing Worship
- Langston, Scott. "Sacrifice and Offering." Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Behold our refutation of the error. It is not based on documents of faith, but on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves. If then anyone there be who, boastfully taking pride in his supposed wisdom, wishes to challenge what we have written, let him not do it in some corner nor before children who are powerless to decide on such difficult matters. Let him reply openly if he dare. He shall find me there confounding him, and not only my negligible self, but many another whose study is truth. We shall do battle with his errors or bring a cure to his ignorance.
 - St. Thomas Aquinas

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pumped Up Kicks is a really popular song but I feel like its artistry is overlooked. The song has a school shooter as the subject. It isn't in anyway siding with the school shooter or sympathizing with him and the song is not meant to be a violent inspiration for kids using guns. The song takes the perspective of the shooter to show that the root of the problem when it comes to school gun violence is often abuse and neglect for the child at home. This tradition of taking the perspective of the one we shouldn't emulate is often used in old folk songs to cause a stir in people to act. The interesting thing about this song is that the original sounds like it is in a "major" key, which is usually reserved for happier sounding songs. I see people sing and dance to this song, probably unaware of the dark words because of how happy it sounds.

When Jeff and I tried figuring out the chords to this song, we were having a tough time figuring them out cause we figured they were in a major key. Once we realized the key was in a minor key (usually reserved for sadder sounding songs), it gave us chills when we figured out the chords. You see, the original song is in a minor key but leaves out the notes that let you recognize it as a minor key (we naturally can tell when a song sounds happy or sad from those necessary notes). They leave out those notes, so it sounds happy even though its in a minor key. I'm not sure if the artist intended this but I'm sure they did. This tells a lot about our culture and a lot about the psychology of music. I think it also further drives home the point of the song. Abuse and neglect leads to this kind of gun violence, and though some may on the outside appear happy, there is something deeper and darker happening on the inside. Here is Jeff and myself performing our rendition of Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

I am very excited to announce that my album, "Rambler's Redemption EP," is now available on iTunes, Amazon MP3, Spotify and more! Thank you to everyone who has listened to and purchased the album and to those who came out Thursday night to the CD Release concert.

The show was an amazing group effort that resulted in an incredibly fun night. The very talented Anthony Kyle and Tim Swanson opened the night with some original songs and some Christmas songs. The stage was beautifully designed by Nicole Petculescu. I was joined on stage by some of my best friends. Kyle Montanez played bass for a few songs, as did my own brother, Frank Thomas, who also played mandolin and designed all the artwork for the album. Jeffery Cummins Jr. played banjo and electric guitar and Mark Little played drums. This was such an exciting thing for me because Jeffery, Mark and I used to play shows together all the time back in High School as "Jonathan Thomas and the Jiggawatts" and although we all have jammed together often since then, we hadn't played a show together since we graduated High School. The show was attended by good friends, family and church members, some who drove even a few hours to get there.

All this to say, I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has shown their support for me and my music. Whether by playing on one of the songs, coming to shows, buying the albums, praying or just saying "good job," you're support and encouragement means the world. And although I could never repay you back, I hope that this album serves and encourages you as well.
If you haven't yet, you can purchase the albums on iTunes. Also, if you have a moment, another great way to support the album is to write a quick review! You can download and/or review the album here:

Here are some pictures of Thursday night:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rambler’s Redemption
One of the things that drew me so closely to folk and bluegrass was the recurrent themes of rambling and redemption. These songs expressed the confusion I was feeling, as a teenager, of wandering and looking for purpose. Don Cusic observed, “Gospel is the conscience of country music, and woven into hell-raisin’ shenanigans many country artists sing about is the thread of belief in God and the forgiveness of sins. They seem to admit their sins and hope for a righteous life while at the same time confessing they can’t obtain it.” Folk, bluegrass and early country singers were authentic in their song writing, admitting the great struggle between grace and sin, truth and deception. Hank Williams is a prime example, who wrote the classic gospel song “I Saw The Light” while also writing “Ramblin’ Man,” a song where he admits that a life of aimless wandering is calling his name. This is why folk music struck a chord in me. I felt a real, authentic connection. My whole life could be characterized by a search for truth, yet I was fooling myself chasing after things that could never satisfy, trying to be someone I'm not, and trying to live two opposing lives. It was a vicious cycle of grace and sin; truth and deception. But I found truth and meaning in two things: Folk music and Jesus Christ and it changed my life. This album, Rambler's Redemption EP, is an expression of those struggles. It is a story of how and in Whom I found meaning.

Will The Circle Be Unbroken?
I believe that the reason folk and bluegrass never goes out of style is because of its authenticity. Folk music seems to have waves of popularity. What started in the Appalachian mountains in early America, folk music was sought out and brought to the public attention by the Carter Family in the 1930‘s. It had a prominent following but exploded in the early 60’s Greenwich Village. Folk music is gaining large popularity today with bands like Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, M. Ward, The Lumineers and more. Also contributing to this popularity are the directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, with their release of O, Brother Where Art Thou and the movie coming out this December, Inside Llewyn Davis. Once again, people are looking for something real. In a society ever growing in the pessimistic belief in nothing, people are searching for something. And they are finding it in folk music, because folk music is the music of the people. It is real, raw, and authentic; at once singing about the human condition and also singing about the search for God. People are looking for truth, and folk music delivers the perfect way to give it to them.

That’s why I’m so excited to announce a release of some of my original folk music through MV Music. For years I’ve been writing and singing folk music, but with life and college haven’t been able to give it much of a platform. At Moon Valley Bible Church, I’ve been so blessed to lead worship and record music with the folk and bluegrass style that I love. I’ve been blown away by the positive response I’ve received from so many people and want to continue to serve them through this art-form that is so personal to me. This EP, “Rambler’s Redemption,” will release digitally on December 10th, 2013. It will feature some of the folk and bluegrass songs that I’ve written throughout the years along with some hymns. My hope is that others will experience the authenticity of folk music and that it will lead them to the real Truth only found in Christ Jesus. 

Along with this release, will be a music video for my song, "Home," directed by Frank Thomas of Visual Concept media. - My grandparents were very influential and important to the life of my family. Since their deaths, almost everything - our traditions, our schedules, our emotions, will never be the same. This song was written as a reminder that one day we will be with them again just like old times - but better. This video was an emotional experience for both my brother and I as it is filmed with much of my grandparents belongings in the background. Our hope is that it will bring comfort to our family, as well as others who may have lost loved ones. The release of the video is TBA, but will be available soon so be looking for the announcement.

Thank you everyone who has given me prayer and support throughout the years!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Moses, a fugitive, is living a life of anonymity working as a shepherd for his father-in-law, hiding in the wilderness from the Egyptian authorities. His people, the Israelites had become slaves to the Egyptians. When Moses was just born, Pharaoh noticed that Israelites were becoming too many and began to systematically kill all the male children. Moses’ mom, looking to save her child, put him in a basket and sent him floating down the Nile river where he was picked up by an Egyptian princess who took him in and raised him as an Egyptian. Moses grew up as a prince in Egypt and saw the brutality forced upon the Israelite slaves. As an Egyptian slave-master beat mercilessly upon a Israelite slave, something in Moses went off and he killed the Egyptian. Fearing for his life, He fled. He found a priest out in the wilderness and began working for him and married his daughter. One day, Moses went up to Mount Horeb with his flock when his life changed forever (Exodus 2).

God appeared to Moses in the form of a flaming fire within a bush, yet the bush was not consumed. Moses couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing so he began to move closer when a voice called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!” “Here I am,” he answered. The voice told him to not come and closer but to remove his sandals for he was on holy ground. The voice continued and identified himself as the God of the Israelites. Moses hid his face and God continued, “I have observed the misery of my people...The Israelites’ cry for help has come to Me, and I have also seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. Therefore, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh that you may lead My people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” Moses, full of fear, feeling unworthy because of his past and feeling uncomfortable to be the mouth of the Lord, considering his stuttering problem, answered “Who am I that I should go?” God assures Moses that He will be with him and promises to bring him and the Israelites back to that mountain. Now Egypt had many gods, and the Israelites would be curious as to which god Moses would be speaking for, so he asks God, “If they ask me, ‘what is his name’ what should I tell them?” God replied, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you (Exodus 3:1-15).”

I AM? How is that helpful at all? Can you imagine asking someone “who are you?” and they reply “I am”? I don’t know about you but I’d be waiting for them to finish the sentence, thinking: “you are.....what?” At first reading this story, it seems like God is being really unhelpful here. However, God’s name is actually a very ironic, and perfect way of describing His character.

God’s Personal Characteristics
God has two different kinds of characteristics: shared and personal (communicable and incommunicable). His shared characteristics are ones that we as humans still share with God: love, mercy, justice, etc. His personal characteristic are those that we do not share in common with God. It is these personal characteristics that are described by God’s name, "I AM."

Omnipresence: I AM everywhere
God is everywhere, at all times. Psalm 139:7-10 says, “Where can I go to escape Your spirit? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me.” There are times in your life where you may be thinking, “I feel all alone!” But God is right beside you always. In revealing His name, God says, “I AM everywhere, and I will never leave you.”

Omniscience: I AM all knowing
God has complete and perfect knowledge of all things, including everything past, present and future. Psalm 139:1-4 says, “Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, Lord” You may be thinking, “No one knows what I’m going through, everyone has forgotten me!” But just as God saw what was happening to the Israelites and felt mercy for them, God has not forgotten you. He knows what you’re going through. In revealing His name, God says, “I AM all knowing.”

Omnipotence: I AM all powerful
God is all-powerful and able do what He wills. Jesus says in Matthew 19:26 (referring to salvation, or God seeing us as perfect), “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” You may be thinking, “Living a godly life is too hard. How can I possible be perfect, or live up to God’s standard? I can’t do this!” By trusting in God, He makes it possible for us to live godly lives, not by our strength but through His awesome power. In revealing His name, God says, “ I AM all powerful.”

Independence: I AM WHO I AM
God does not need us or anything from creation. He existed before any of it. He is self-sufficient. Acts 17:24 says, “The God who made the world and everything in it - He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.” You may be thinking, “I don’t need God or anyone else, I can do this on my own!” In revealing His name, God says, “I AM self-sufficient. I don’t need anything, but you need Me.”

God has no beginning or end, nor is He bound by time. “Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God (Psalm 90:2).” You may be thinking, “Everything in my life is crashing down around me!” Everything in this life will pass away, but God will remain and we can remain with Him. In revealing His name, God says, “I will always be here for you.”

Unity: I AM One
God is not divided into parts, but expresses different characteristics at different times. “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One (Deut. 6:4).” We tend to see God in the Old Testament as all about judgement and in the New Testament all about grace. But God’s characteristics are always perfectly unified. When we start to look at the Old Testament with that in mind, we begin to see over and over again the grace and mercy God shows all throughout the Old Testament. In our own lives, it may feel like God loves us one day, and then the next is just plain mean. But this is not be case. His name also reveals that He is saying that He is the only God and that other gods will only lead us astray and deceive us. You may be thinking, “God, sometimes you love me and sometimes you are just mean to me, why?!” But in revealing His name, God says, “I Am not two-faced.”

Unchangeableness: I AM as I always will be
God does not change in His character. “God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind. Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill (Num. 23:19)?” There are several things that God can’t do, which is actually a very good thing! For example: God can’t sin or do evil. He can’t do anything illogical or against His nature. He also can’t change. This is good news because it means that salvation will always be through trusting Jesus. We don’t have to worry about God changing His mind and deciding that faith isn’t good enough and putting us back to square one. However He will always keep His promises. You may be thinking, “I can’t trust anyone, people always break their promises, why would God be any different?” But in revealing His name, God says, “You can trust me. I will never change. I will never break my promises.”

Who is God? He is.

Monday, August 26, 2013

“Let me travel this land from the mountains to the sea
'Cause that's the life I believe He meant for me
And when I'm gone and at my grave you stand
Just say God called home your Ramblin' Man.”
- Hank Williams

In High School, I was drawn to folk and bluegrass music. It felt real, raw and authentic. It was something I had been searching for a long time. But most of all, I was drawn to the concept of rambling. This is the idea of wandering aimlessly, with no purpose. Often those who sang about rambling saw it as and inward struggle of knowing that it is a purposeless life, yet still feeling drawn to it though they couldn’t explain why. I loved songs like these and loved seeing images of hobos hopping trains, leaving the world behind. The reason I was so drawn to this was because I was wandering myself, looking for my purpose. But I feel many Christians are struggling and have struggled with the same thing. Including one of the greatest Christian philosophers of all time.

About 1,700 years ago lived a man named St. Augustine. He is one of the greatest Christian philosophers who has ever lived. But much of his life, He was a rambler. He was born in Roman occupied Africa, now modern day Algeria. His mother was a Christian who would spend hours everyday praying for her son, weeping and crying out to God to watch over him. Augustine wrote, “Her prayers entered Your presence, and yet You allowed me still to tumble and toss around in the darkness.” When he was about 11 years old, Augustine was sent away by his parents to school and there gave up the Christianity of his mother and developed pagan beliefs and practices. In fact, he still believed in God, but wanted to experience life and fit in, telling God, “grant me chastity, but not yet.” But he always had this inward struggle between a belief in Christianity and the desires of the flesh. As he grew older, he began having lots of sex, even getting a prostitute pregnant, and pressuring the guys back at the frat party to get in the game, or else run the risk of being made fun of for not being real men. 

Before he was even 30 years old, Augustine got an amazing job, teaching rhetoric at the imperial court in Milan, one of the largest cities in Italy. Augustine loved philosophy but found himself floundering from one philosophy to next, never being fully satisfied with life. He lacked purpose. Augustine wrote later, “I fell away from You, my God, and in my youth I wandered too far from You, my true support. And I became a wasteland to myself.” He lacked purpose, and in doing so lacked effectiveness.

I believe many Christians try living two lives: one where they worship God and one where they worship themselves. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “But that new will which had begun in me freely to worship You and enjoy You, my God...was not able to overcome my former willfulness, made strong by long indulgence. Thus my two wills - the old and the new, the carnal and the spiritual - were in conflict within me, and by their discord they tore my soul apart.” Trying to live two lives or trying to worship two things at once can rip your soul in half. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other (Matt. 6:24 ESV).” When we try to satisfy two gods, we find ourselves without a purpose, wandering aimlessly.

Truly, the god of ourselves is one that we can never satisfy. Its just human nature to want more and more of things that we enjoy. Naturally, when we experience something thrilling, our brain releases chemicals that makes us feel good. However, like any drug, the feeling starts to diminish and we need more and more. So we spend a lifetime looking for more money, more success, more fun, more sex, more stuff and never find ourselves satisfied. The god of ourselves is a god who we can never satisfy. Augustine wrote, “For wherever the human soul turns itself, unless toward You, it is enmeshed in sorrows, even though it is surrounded by beautiful things outside You and outside itself. For lovely things would simply not be unless they were from You.”

The beauty of Christianity is in redemption. All the other religions of the world will give you a big long list of what you need to do in order to satisfy their god. But if God is perfect, how can we, being imperfect, satisfy Him? We can’t. Redemption is the concept that God has bought us out of slavery in sin. God knows that we can’t save ourselves and instead of letting us live in wandering hopelessness, God came to earth Himself, lived a perfect life as Jesus Christ, and died on our behalf so that all we have to do is believe in Him. Unlike the god of ourselves, the God of Christianity can be satisfied. and has been satisfied by the sacrifice of perfect Jesus. He is satisfied in something as simple as belief in Jesus. And the moment we place our faith in Jesus, He sees us as perfect and there is nothing we can do to change that. 

After years of wandering without a purpose, Augustine could feel his strength failing him. Life was getting too hard and getting too heavy. He broke down and called out to God, asking Him for forgiveness. After this, Augustine went on to be one of the most influential Christian philosophers, apologist, writer and speaker. Despite all his wanderings away from God, God never abandoned him. As Augustine put it, “For Your omnipotence is not far from us even when we are far from You.”

Let us love Him, for He Himself created all [souls], and He is not far from them. For He did not create them, and then go away. He is within the inmost heart, yet the heart has wandered away from Him. Return to your heart, you transgressors, and hold fast to Him who made You. Stand with Him and you shall stand fast. Rest in Him and you shall be at rest. Where do you go along these rugged paths? Where are you going? The good that you love is from Him, and insofar as it is also for Him, it is both good and pleasant. But it will rightly be turned to bitterness if whatever comes from Him is not rightly loved and if He is deserted for the love of the creature. Why then will you wander farther and farther in these difficult and toilsome ways? There is no rest where you seek it. Seek what you seek; but remember that it is not where you seek it. You seek a blessed life in the land of death. It is not there. For how can there be a blessed life where life itself is not?
- St. Augustine, Confessions
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