Is the World of “Beowulf” More Christian than America Today?

Every person and every age has its own understanding of the relationship between good and evil. America is known as the great “melting pot,” indicating the infusion and assimilation of many people and ideas from the entire world into one country. This has led to the diversity and breadth of beliefs that can be seen in America today, most of them unbiblical. Writing in a likely unchristianized Britain in the late first century, the “Beowulf” poet, seemingly as a Christian, held a view of good and evil that was probably not typical of the time. Although his view may not have been typical of the age, the “Beowulf” poet’s view of good and evil is more Biblical than that of American culture today.

To understand where the poet and the culture aligned with and have strayed from the truth of the relationship between good and evil, a study of truth itself would be in order. The Bible repeatedly states that God and God alone is perfect – every aspect of His nature is wholly and utterly good. This means that anything contrary to His nature is not good, for it is not God. Humanity cannot hope to meet God’s standards. As Romans 3:10 states, “No one is righteous, no not one.” Humanity is fallen and incapable of doing any good, and when life is over, God will judge our lives and we will see that our supposed “good deeds” are as filthy rags in His sight and really worth nothing at all. Only by salvation through His Son may we escape eternal judgment. As C. S. Lewis once said, “No good work is done anywhere without aid from the Father of Lights.” Such is the standard that humanity can never attain – if our good deeds are as rags, what must our wicked deeds be in His eyes?

The culture has many points of view on the relationship between good and evil – as many, it seems, as there are people who make up the culture. However, there are some predominant themes that seem to rule American culture as a whole. In a relativistic society, there is no true meaning to the word good, as there is no meaning to the word evil. Good seems to mean something that helps others, promotes popular causes, or supports popular ideologies. In America today, it seems to be very hard to do anything evil at all. The end justifies the means in our world – if the end result was “good”, it doesn’t matter how one gets there. This belief is reflected widely across our culture though the various forms of entertainment, specifically mass entertainment. As long as one doesn’t hurt another in the process, it never was really bad in the first place. However, as askew as America is today, it is not completely off the mark. A corrupt politician exploiting the citizens of his district for financial gain and power plays is universally disdained. Nothing is more despised than one who hurts another for his own personal benefit. An overwhelmingly large percentage of Americans believe in some kind of eternal reward, but the popular conception of heaven is not quite the paradise as described in the Bible. “As long as I’m not terribly bad, or at least more good then bad, God wouldn’t send me to Hell,” they say. Yes, the culture does acknowledge Hell, but they reserve it almost exclusively for the Hitlers and Stalins of this world. As can be seen, the culture has strayed dramatically from the Biblical view of good and evil and is not likely to return anytime soon.

The “Beowulf” poet had a view that is more similar to the Bible’s as compared to that of the culture’s perspective. “Beowulf” does not deal so much with goodness as much as the evil that dwells within this world. Within humanity, the poet frequently calls people “good” when referring to their physical or behavioral characteristics. People that are “good” within the poet’s story are those that are strong and powerful or good to others, most notably those who are unselfish, self-sacrificing, and generous. The poet also acknowledges that God is both sovereign and powerful as well as good on many occasions. The poet also has a very well-defined view of evil as well. The list may seem rather similar to the culture’s list: murder, cruelty, and other things that seem to unjustly hurt others. Then a surprising addition pops up. According to the poet, striving against God is a terrible evil (lines 106 – 114) and condemns worship of idols, calling Satan “the killer of souls.” Regarding eternity, God is the judge of the deeds of mankind, says the poet (lines 180 – 188), but we are left to guess whether or not the God of the poet’s world is as just as the God of the Bible or if it rather like the wishy-washy god of the culture.

God alone is the standard of perfection and the judge of all things. While the culture takes an elastic stance on the issue, the Biblical standard of good and evil is inflexible and unyielding. “Beowulf” falls somewhere in between The “Beowulf” poet seems rather undecided – sometimes mirroring the Bible and other times mimicking modern culture – and eventually lands with view of good and evil that is markedly more Biblical than that of American culture today.


The Perfect Hero

Beowulf. Batman. Brad Pitt. The idea of a hero conjures up many images in the mind that may run the gamut from the demigods of ancient Greece to the celebrities of pop culture. From supermodels to superhumans, we as a culture lack any real definition for the term “hero” and use it with little care. A true hero is a magnificent tapestry woven of many fine and beautiful threads composed of different qualities and character traits. Unfortunately, the cultural heroes of today have at best only bits and pieces of the larger puzzle. Only in the person of Jesus do all the heroic qualities come together to form a true and perfect hero. If the Bible is the Word of God, and if God is perfect, then Christ, who is God and who followed the Scriptures perfectly, is the absolute standard for perfection and for being a perfect hero. Although the different qualities are widespread, they can be divided into three separate and distinct qualities: the hero’s relationship to good and evil, his relationship to others, and his relationship to God and truth.

A hero must have a proper view of good and evil if he is to be considered a true hero. To be considered a true hero, as Christ is, a hero must fight for what is good, right, and true. Although this seems perhaps overly fundamental, this is, in fact, crucial. If heroes are pictures of Christ, how can one be called a hero when he is blatantly antagonistic to Biblical values? Digging deeper, the method one uses to fight is almost, if not just as, important as the side on which one chooses to fight. Many “heroes” of today, such as the infamous Jack Bauer, are not known for always choosing good over evil when both options are presented. Heroes over the ages have resorted to less than Biblical techniques to complete their mission or satisfy their desires. If Jesus, the perfect and sinless man, is our standard for a perfect hero, however, then it is easily seen how the belief that the end justifies the means is a seriously flawed one.

A hero wouldn’t be a hero if he was the only person is the world. It is vital that the prospective hero also has the correct view of how to interact with other human beings. When the Lord was present on this earth, He demonstrated many qualities that add to the tapestry of the perfect hero. In an age where our idols are often too cruel or too lenient, the true Hero knew when to show mercy and when to exercise justice. A hero must also be wholly honest and trustworthy. Why would people put their hopes in one who they knew to spin lies? Furthermore, just as Christ was humble despite great authority and power, a hero must demonstrate a similar trait. Celebrities and superheroes alike often show a destructive tendency towards a cocky, prideful vanity that is infinitely removed from the demeanor of Christ while on this earth. Self-sacrificial love is an essential component of humility that was vividly portrayed in the life of Christ, especially in His death on the cross. Although God does not call most heroes to die in such a tragic way for others such as Sidney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities, He does call them to have the will to do such a thing if it was necessary.

Finally, the most important, and perhaps the most overlooked, set of qualities is the hero’s relationship to God and truth. If a hero has an incorrect understanding of God and truth, he is not a hero at all. There are many men and women, many of whose names are unknown to the world, who have quietly worked for the glory of God’s kingdom on earth from behind-the-scenes for their entire life without receiving recognition for their efforts, and have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to humility. God calls heroes to be above reproach in all areas of their life and obedient to Him in all things. If one misses this factor, he misses the entire point of the qualities of a hero.

But whether it’s Mario or Link rushing off to save the princess yet again and somehow saving the world in the process, or your friendly neighborhood Spiderman just settling for New York City, the heroes that we admire as a culture are the saviors of their people, just as Christ is the Savior of all those who are predestined to adoption as sons. While anybody can exhibit heroic qualities from time to time, only Jesus fully exhibits all the qualities of a hero all the time to their fullest degree. Only Jesus has the wholly correct view of good and evil. Only He relates to others perfectly. And only He serves God without any mistakes. Therefore Christ is the only perfect hero and we are called to imitate Him. The term “Christian” means “little Christ”. As we strive to model our behavior after Christ, the one and only true Hero, we have become His representatives on earth and are “little heroes” after His image.


The Manhood of Lady Macbeth

We live in an age where the definition of masculinity is highly twisted. The cultural icons thrown at us today from the screens demonstrate and seemingly encourage the blurring of the gender roles. Women like Lara Croft leave much to be desired in the feminine category and we’re left wondering whether men like Adam Lambert and Michael Jackson are completely male. What are the qualities of a real man? This is truly a relevant question, but it could hardly be regarded as new or exclusive to today, for this same question is posed in the famous Shakespearean play Macbeth, written in Elizabethan England and set at an even earlier date. Viewing our modern situation once again through this knowledge, an “antiquated” play like Macbeth suddenly seems a lot more pertinent to modern-day life. How does Scripture answer this question? True men, according to Scripture, desire to be responsible and to make responsible choices, serve and sacrifice for others — especially women, show humility while exercising godly and God-ordained strength, confront ungodly teaching and behaviour, and represent Christ to the world and all those under His care.

It is impossible to discuss qualities of a true man without making reference to the only perfect Man, the Lord Jesus Christ. All the qualities that would make a perfect man are, of course, the same that made Jesus Christ the perfect Man. Responsibility is a crucial part of Biblical masculinity. Men are responsible for the way that they lead and protect others. Even though Eve sinned before Adam, God still held Adam responsible for his poor leadership of Eve as seen by the fact that God addressed Adam before Eve in Genesis 3:9 (“Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” NKJV). Men are called to serve and sacrifice for others. Perhaps the most beautiful example of this is the Lord on the cross giving Himself up for His bride – the elect. Men are called to emulate this sacrificial love on a daily basis for those within their sphere of influence. Godly leadership is another God-ordained job that men are given. Men are to lead their family in a way that honours God and shows humility. Christ had the greatest reason to be proud and domineering, but instead He was born into this world not as a king but as a lowly peasant. Even when His critics attacked and denounced Him, He did not respond with pride. How much more so should men who make mistakes be willing to confess and right their wrongs with humility and grace! The other traits are perhaps rudimentary but still central to being a godly man. Men are to confront teaching and behaviour they see as ungodly – not in a self-righteous or violent manner, but with grace and humility, and they are to represent Christ to the world and to all those under their care. These traits, though not exhaustive, are all part of being a Biblical man trying in sanctification to emulate the Perfect Man.

Macbeth, protagonist of the classic Shakespeare play under the same name, is faced with choices that reveal his perception of masculinity. The reader or audience member first gets glimpses of Macbeth’s mind through what he is. It is seen that Macbeth is fearless is battle (1.1, lines 15 – 23) and well trusted by his friends and king. He is shown to be a patriotic man – the sort one would do well to imitate. However, a darker side of Macbeth’s character is lying dormant beneath this beautiful exterior. When he learns through the three weïrd sisters that he is to receive the kingship, a disturbing inner conflict takes place. His thoughts immediately turn to murder as a possible and acceptable solution to attain the prize of the crown (1.3, lines 130 – 142). He goes on to say, “If chance will have me King, why chance may crown me/Without my stir.” (1.3, lines 143 – 144), further revealing the evil that has been awakened within his soul by suggesting to himself that, while chance may give him the throne without his effort, he is also contemplating more violent alternatives. Right from the opening minutes of the play, Macbeth falsely depicts masculine qualities by entertaining irresponsible and ungodly notions.

Like anyone, Macbeth is not only defined by who he is and the things he says, but primarily by what he does. As the old adage goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” This is found to be especially true in Macbeth’s personal life. When Macbeth’s wife and primary consultant, Lady Macbeth, learns of the prophecy, she immediately gives her own two cents: both on the issue of what Macbeth should do and on the issue of masculinity. Among the particularly horrifying and perverse list of character traits she claims makes one a man, Lady Macbeth believes that one cannot be a man unless he is willing to act on his every desire – whatever the cost. Lady Macbeth presents her husband with some very ungodly ideas, namely murder, to get the crown which he desires. One may expect to see Macbeth, as the heroic protagonist, up in arms and ready to challenge these obviously pagan thoughts, but the reader will never find a word of complaint against the plans of his wife; only questions, and, finally, submission. Instead of leading his wife in a God-honouring manner, he submits to her plans and kills the king. When the deed is done, and Macbeth gets the crown, he is plunged into a world of suspicion and murder to hide his tracks. Despite some initial panic, Macbeth refuses or is unable to look back and little remorse can be seen in him for his deeds, leaving the audience to marvel at his remarkable hardness of heart. In every way, Macbeth exchanges the Biblical view of masculinity for his own twisted view that promotes violence, treachery, and backstabbing of the innocent.

A true man, defined by the Bible, is rare indeed. He must be responsible, willing to serve and show sacrificial love to others, humble, gracious and caring but not effeminate, able to exercise godly leadership but not domineering; able and willing to confront ungodly teaching and behaviour but not confrontational as a rule, and ably represent Christ to the world and all those under his care. Very few cultural heroes – whether real or fictional – fulfill these requirements to any notable degree. Through the life of Macbeth, one can easily see how “manhood gone wrong” can take one who seems so good and turn him awry.


Can Protestants Trust the Canon of Scripture?: A Personal Response Paper

There are many questions surrounding the authenticity of the canon of Scripture. Is it infallible? Is the canon an accurate source of truth? Is it really inspired by God? Although I do not have the time to delve into questions of this sort, I would like to explain why I believe the Protestant canon of Scripture is trustworthy.
2 Timothy 3:16 – 17 states that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In other words, the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God and is applicable to our lives. The term “divinely inspired” means that every word in the Bible is God’s Word for His people. This gives us confidence that what we have in the Bible is what God wanted us to learn.
When the early church fathers convened to assemble the canon, they used the following qualifiers to determine which books would be considered as part of the canon:
– The writings had to be written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle
– The writings had to be widely distributed and read in the churches of the time
– The writings had to be quoted by church leaders.

The fathers had chosen these qualifiers so as to preserve the purity of the canon. For example, if one book was not widely read and distributed they asked if the book was applicable to the Christian life. If any book could not pass all three points, it was not accepted into the canon. God chose these qualifications for all of His divinely inspired words that He wanted to be in our Bible.
A way that I personally find comfort in the infallibility of the canon is that, God, in His sovereignty, had already ordained which books would and would not be included in the canon. I like the way the author of the article entitled “How Can Protestants Trust the Canon of Scripture?” phrased it: “Ultimately, it was God who decided what books belonged in the biblical canon. A book of Scripture belonged in the canon from the moment God inspired its writing. It was simply a matter of God convincing his human followers which books should be included in the Bible.” Although the way this author phrased particularly the final sentence may raise a few reformed eyebrows, the concept is still, I believe, valid. God did not just wait for the church fathers to try to put the canon together on their own – with all the mistakes and blunders that, as humans, they most certainly would have made! God had already chosen which books would and would not be included in the canon and simply guided His people in their selection of the books. This fact gives us confidence that every word of the Bible is exactly what God knew we would need for our lives as Christians.
Praise the Lord for His sovereignty over all things! If we do not hold fast to this beloved doctrine we may instead walk in the fear that the Bible as we know it may not be what God intended for us to know. Yet, in His sovereignty, I personally am convinced that everything we have in the Bible is what He wanted us to know about Him.
Works Cited:

“How Can Protestants Trust the Canon of Scripture?” (Author Unknown)
Systematic Theology, pgs. 54 – 69 (Wayne Grudem)
Omnibus II: Church Fathers through the Reformation, pgs. 3 – 12 (Stuart W. Bryan)


Are There Apostles Today?: An Essay

The term “apostle” has been around ever since before the beginning of what we would call the church. Although traditionally used to refer to the twelve apostles that Christ had personally chosen, the term may be acceptable to use even for Christians today. The word apostle is from the Greek word apostolos which means, “one who is sent.” There are many instances in the Bible where the word apostle is mentioned – eighty times in the King James Version.

Until the beginning of the church, the word in its Biblical context referred only to the twelve apostles that were specifically chosen by the Lord while in His human form. With the death of Judas Iscariot, however, the remaining eleven apostles believed it necessary that another man fill the spot, which Judas Iscariot had left vacant. After casting lots, the apostles chose Matthias to become the new twelfth apostle, even though he was not chosen by the Lord while in His physical body.

Another example of an apostle who was chosen by a process other than by Christ in his physical body is that of Paul. Paul was confronted on the road to Damascus by the voice of the Lord and a bright light, which soon led to his conversion. Then, in the introduction of the book to the Romans, Paul writes, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…” (Romans 1:1), clearly believing that he was an apostle even though he had not had any face-to-face contact with the Lord.

One may argue, however, that Paul, through his confrontation on the road to Damascus, and Matthias, through the Lord’s sovereignty over the outcome of the lots, were indeed chosen directly by the Lord to be called apostles. Even in the examples of people such as James, the Lord’s brother, and Barnabas, who were both referred as apostles in Galatians 1:19 and Acts 14:14, respectively, it is safe to argue that the Lord may have bestowed a similar honor upon them. In the case of James, close fellowship with Christ was likely a daily routine, and, as seen in Acts 9:27, Barnabas already had an established relationship with the apostles and for that reason he may have been considered an apostle himself.

There is no accounting, however, using the previously stated arguments for the following verse written to the Corinthians: “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Corinthians 12:12), for Christ never was recorded to visit the city of Corinth, which was about 600 miles away from Jerusalem as the crow flies, and it is unlikely that the Corinthians received any special revelation from the risen Christ in which he ordained them to be apostles. It is also important to note that Paul did not “ordain” any of the Corinthians to be apostles since his missionary to the city of Corinth was not particularly long and scholars are not sure whether or not Paul made a second journey to that city.

So should Christians today be called apostles? This is a question wrought with peril and many implications. The term apostle is traditionally reserved only for those chosen by Christ during His life on the earth and for Paul. The term thus implies religious authority that none today possess. However, by strictly using the definition of the word as our guideline, many people could be “apostles,” though not necessarily apostles of Christ.

By narrowing the definition to include only those who “are sent” and those who meet the requirements of 2 Corinthians 12:12, we may say that missionaries and church planters, and, quite possibly, all Christians under the Great Commission, are apostles. It may be wisest, however, to avoid use of this term because it implies a degree of religious authority that no Christian possesses today.


The Jew and also the Greek: An Essay

This was an essay that I wrote for school about the interactions between the Jews, early Christians, and Gentiles and then also addressing the issue of studying the Bible for devotional purposes verses studying the Bible for historical purposes. I know that it’s a little unpolished but I hope that you enjoy it!

 

The Jews, Gentiles, and the early Christians had many differences that often caused negative interaction between them, these differences primarily being differences of belief and religious practice. Throughout the Old Testament, by making a covenant with the Jews and giving them His law, the Lord set the Jews apart from the Gentile nations. The Jews were commanded to conquer the surrounding nations and not make peace with them unless they were very far away (Deuteronomy 20:10 – 15). On the other side of the same coin, the Lord used the pagan Gentile nations such as Egypt, Babylon, and Rome to conquer His people – usually when they were falling into sin. Thus, to the Jews, the Gentiles were either the hated conquered or the feared conquerors.  When Israel came into peace with the pagan nations, the Jews began to act as the pagans did and the Lord judged the nation of Israel for their sin. Thus, for those reasons, the Jews and the Gentiles almost continually had a strained relationship.

 

The Jews has a mixed response to Christ, and, likewise they had a mixed response to Christians. There were many Jews who wished to kill all the Christians, but there were others heard the word and believed, such as on the day known now as Pentecost, where, “those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” (Acts 2:41, NKJV). In contrast, often the Jews, especially the religious leaders, were so intent on eradicating the Christians that they relied on and/or stirred up the Gentiles to help them in their quest, as in Paul’s trip to the city of Iconium, where “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren.” (Acts 14:2, NKJV)

 

The Christians had been commanded to take the Word to the Jews first, and also to the Greek. Thus, there were many Jewish converts. Surprisingly, the Gentiles came to Christ and to the early Christians for counseling and the Christians were happy to help, as evidenced by the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10, or, in the story of Philip and the eunuch in Acts 8:34 – 35 (NIV), “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” The Gentiles were often wary of the Christians and treated them with suspicion. When the results of Christian teaching affected their business negatively, however, the Gentiles took strong measures against them, as in the case of Demetrius the Silversmith (Acts 19:23 – 41).

 

Another level at which the early Christians, Jews, and Gentiles differed was their reading of the Scriptures and their reasons for reading the Scriptures. By reading the Scriptures merely as a reliable historical source, one is seeking to gain historical insight on events of the past but is not necessarily reading for the purpose of tracing God’s plan of redemption through history. Reading the Scriptures for devotional purposes, on the other hand, implies studying it with the intent of learning what God has to say to His people. The mere facts of the Bible would have been such a major part of the Jews culture and tradition that it is likely that they already knew a large part of their history through the many feasts they attended and through oral tradition that is so prevalent in the Near and Middle East that Jews would have studied the Bible primarily for “devotional” purposes – for seeking God’s will and revelation through the law and the prophets. The Gentiles, as a whole, would have been unfamiliar with the Scriptures and likely didn’t study the Scriptures at all. Because the early Christians were a mix of converted Jews and Gentiles, many of them Gentiles, they would have studied the Scriptures for both historical and devotional purposes, because they, especially the Gentiles, would be unfamiliar with both the historical and devotional content of this new religion, and, for the Jews, they re-read or were re-taught the Scriptures in light of their new revelation.

 

In short, there were many factors which affected the interaction between the first-century Jews, Christians, and Gentiles. Although a significant amount of the interaction between these groups was negative due to differences of belief and practice, this was not always the case, especially between the early Christians and Gentiles. Like the early church, it is my prayer that we will all have the boldness to proclaim Jesus, crucified and resurrected, to all the world and wherever we go – to the Jew and also to the Gentile.


Summer Camp

Hey everyone!

As you probably know, this week, I’m going to be going to summer camp and I would like all of you, if you want to/are able to/have time to comment on the blog that keeps the world informed of our doings at camp . The address is http://www.fvbcsummercamp.blogspot.com . Starting sometime tomorrow evening, the blog will be updated and then updated several times throughout the week. So, if you would like to check it regularly and make a few comments here and there it would be a lot of fun!!!!

Thanks so much and I would appreciate your prayers as we leave for a week!

– Nathan