The Emerging Churches in the Book of Judges

[This essay dates to 2007 and has not been updated to reflect personnel or other changes at Biblical Seminary since then. To the extent that this essay may seem out of date, it should be viewed in the context of (hopefully useful) church history. To download an MS Word formatted version, see: ]

My investigation into the emerging church movement (ECM) was motivated by finding out that my alma mater (Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield, PA) has adopted the goal of being the seminary of choice for the emerging church. This essay therefore will focus on matters which are relevant to BTS. This means that this essay will also focus on Brian McLaren (not the emerging church movement in general), since McLaren’s influence on BTS has been evident in a number of ways, the most obvious being that in a 20 minute presentation on the new direction of BTS (“Seminary on the Mission”), president Dave Dunbar quotes Brian McLaren (but not anything in the Bible) as justification for this new direction: “If you have a new world, you need a new church.”1 McLaren is one of the leaders of an organization within the ECM called “Emergent Village.” What I have learned keeps reminding me of my studies in the book of Judges, especially the two so-called appendices (chapters 17–18 and 19–21). Unlike the rest of the book which deals with how the judges led Israel, these two stories each feature a Levite, or what in emerging church terminology is called a “missional leader” (if you’ve never heard of this terminology, what you’ll learn first about the emerging church is its apparent dislike for Biblical terminology). These missional leaders of emerging churches in Israel are, to put it mildly, not positive role models for us.

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Psalm 35, Psalm 110, and the Martyrdom of Stephen

One thing I’d like to emphasize in the messianic interpretation of the Old Testament is that we need to pay great attention to the implications of the deity of the Messiah, not just his humanity, when looking at OT texts “fulflilled” in Christ. It is quite true that one implication of calling the name of the Messiah “David” prophetically is that the Messiah will be a man, a king, but just human, like David in some respects and from his line, but of course also greater than David. How much greater is indicated most explicitly in another prophetic name, “Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6), and the description of his reign as forever; i.e. he himself will reign forever (Isa 9:7), which is much more than saying his dynasty will remain forever.

In typological fulfillment interpretation, we look for things like similarities between David and Jesus as a human. An interesting example of a sort of role reversal occurs in the messianic interpretation (in terms of typological fulfillment) of Psalm 35:16b-17a:

They gnashed at me with their teeth;                                                         Lord, How long will you look on?

Compare to Acts 7:54-56:

They began gnashing their teeth at him.  .  .  .   I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

I.e., Stephen sees the Lord looking on – cf. Psalm 35:17a.

Here Stephen “plays the part” of David, human sufferer at whom the wicked gnash their teeth and deprive him of justice (just as happened to Jesus during his earthly ministry). The Messiah is not the man on earth in this scene, but is the Lord to whom David appealed in Psalm 35, “How long will you look on (from Heaven)?”, now exalted to the right hand of the Father in obvious fulfillment of Psalm 110, which some say is the OT passage quoted most often in the NT.

Here’s another twist. Saul of Tarsus was in this company, “in hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 8:1). Presumably, included among those gnashing their teeth at Stephen. Guess where we find next, in the NT canonical order, a reference to Psalm 110? It is in Saul’s (now Paul’s) letter to the Romans:

Christ Jesus is he who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. (Rom 8:34)

And how did this transformation come about? It began when he saw a brilliant light and heard a voice from heaven:

Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? (Acts 9:4)

It is seldom observed that in these words, Jesus is paraphrasing a question asked by David when he was being hunted by another Saul, ultimate namesake of Saul of Tarsus:

Why then is my lord pursuing his servant? (2 Samuel 26:18)

Note that in the Biblical languages, “pursue” and “persecute” are the same word.

So in persecuting Stephen, as Saul persecuted David, Saul of Tarsus was ultimately persecuting Christ. King Saul was only hurting himself when he persecuted David, driving his best man away from the army, along with a multitude of defectors, so that Saul perished in battle against the Philistines (I’m not discounting his consulting a witch as the more immediate cause, but keep in mind the desperation that led him to this act can be traced to his weak tactical position caused by the defections). In persecuting David, hurting himself, King Saul was, in effect, “kicking against the goads,” as Jesus summarizes Saul of Tarsus’s later, futile actions (Acts 26:14).

We might also compare the two Saul’s in respect to their “standing”: the king stood head and shoulders above his countrymen (1 Samuel 10:23), while the Pharisee was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries” (Galatians 1:14). Both had a zeal that led to murder (2 Samuel 21:2; Galatians 1:14). Of course, both were Benjamites.

Their paths diverge with the latter Saul’s conversion to Paul the Apostle, after which he is the one who became a “David,” persecuted wherever he went for the sake of Christ, eventually leading to a martyr’s death, like Stephen. All of this gives poignancy to his statement, “by the grace of God I am who I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Review of David Horowitz – What is a “Kronstadt Moment”?

I’ve been thinking about how to describe liberalism/leftism – if you had to pick one word to put at the top, what would it be? I’ve been going back and forth between a couple of C’s – cruelty and cowardice. This review of David Horowitz is part 1 of 3 – very chilling stuff. Something else I’ve been wondering about. You know all those defectors from communism to the west who uniformly thought they were defecting to the LOSING side, after observing our suicidal response to communism’s challenge? Well, maybe they were right after all.

Horowitz was as left as it gets, a red diaper baby. Until he had his “Kronstadt moment” which Nordlinger describes as follows:

Let me tell it very briefly: David arranged for a woman named Betty Van Patter to work as a bookkeeper at a [Black] Panther-run school. Soon, they murdered her. You recall David’s dates for his “life as a leftist”: May Day 1948 until December 1974. That was the month of Van Patter’s murder.

Get this: “Betty’s friends in the Bay Area progressive community, who generally were alert to every injustice, even in lands so remote they could not locate them on a map, kept their silence about this one in their own backyard.” And here is a confession, or testimony: “My dedication to the progressive cause had made me self-righteous and arrogant and blind. Now a cruel and irreversible crime had humbled me and restored my sight.”

That explains my choice of cruelty. Also suggests another word: insincerity. If they were sincere in their goal for the betterment of man, then they would turn away from their policies which have wreaked havoc on the west for many decades.

You’ll have to follow the link to get an explanation of “Kronstadt Moment.”

Don’t miss parts 2 and 3!

An Open Letter to Those Who Call Phil Robertson’s Comments on Homosexuality Vile

At the dentist’s office the other day I saw some kind of news-talk TV show where several commentators were discussing the Duck Dynasty-Phil Robertson-homosexuality-comments controversy. “Of course,” one said, his comments “were vile.” Others have called them hateful, or hate-speech, with the same “of course” presumption. Some questions are in order.

Where does that “of course” come from? Where do commentators (or anyone else) get off dismissing one value judgment (homosexuality is sin) by invoking their own, in such an “of course” sort of way? I can only think of two possible answers. One would be some sort of natural law argument – things that are self evident don’t need to be justified. The problem is, Phil Robertson was also making a natural law argument, with his memorable “the parts don’t fit” explanation. He could have, as others have, bolstered the natural law argument by pointing out the extremely unhealthy nature of certain male homosexual practices which amount basically to playing in the body’s sewer system (not just anal intercourse, but licking the anus, nicknamed “rimming”). Compounding such unhealthy practices with typical male homosexual promiscuity and the natural law argument gets stronger. So who is to say one natural law argument is superior to another? I’d say the one who at least explains his reasoning (Phil) has the edge over the one who just says “of course.”

If on the other hand the opinion giver’s “of course” is not based on some sort of natural law, then I can only think of “consensus” as an alternative. It’s something “we” “all” agree on, it’s something that is settled by majority custom. The obvious problem with such reasoning is that majority consensus has often been wrong, meaning it is unsafe to rely upon it at present. And of course, it used to be consensus that homosexual conduct was itself vile – “of course!” and needed to be prohibited.


One objection would possibly be that it’s neither of these two but rather that scientific and social progress has shown beyond reasonable doubt that homosexuality as a disposition and practice has no more moral significance than writing with the left hand rather than the right. My response is, sorry but that too is just a “consensus” argument. All of the so-called scientific claims made to support this “consensus” are in dispute.

Another objection to the above is the claim that what was “of course” “vile” about Phil’s comments was not so much saying homosexual practice is sin, but “equating” it with bestiality. This objection is based on a lie, since Phil did not “equate” the two, but spoke of one “morphing” into the other, implying that “the other” (bestiality) was the worse. Phil associated the two sins, along with many others, which is not the same as equating them. Such association is not original with Phil, as the two are mentioned quite close together in Leviticus 18 and 20 as “abominations” committed in the land of Canaan, causing such moral pollution that the land was going to vomit out its inhabitants. Anyone who takes such passages seriously is going to be concerned about the societal consequences of promoting moral equivalence between heterosexual and homosexual behavior. By the way, the Bible lists other sins as “abominations” besides these, such as crooked business practices, and lying: “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (lies such as claiming Phil Robertson “equated” homosexual practice with bestiality?).

Even if Robertson had made such an equation, here is my question: where do you get off being so judgmental against bestiality? Who do you think you are to say or imply that bestiality is vile? Are you going to appeal to some kind of natural law, or consensus? For reasons stated above, either choice gives you serious problems of logical consistency.

Likewise with calling Phil’s comments “hateful.” If it is hate speech to call certain conduct “sin,” why is it not hate speech to call Phil’s comments “sin?” Neither natural law nor consensus will supply a satisfactory answer.

My own informed guess is that natural law is too dangerous a thing to acknowledge by proponents of sexual-practice-equivalence. “Consensus” is an often used tool for advocates of a wide range of harmful contemporary social causes. Often you will find that the “consensus” is manipulated (e.g. the false claim that there is a consensus that human beings are causing global warming), or circular (all the best scientists believe in evolution [those who don’t are by definition not the best!]).


John’s Christmas Story . . . Illustrated in the Events of Good Friday

John’s “Christmas Story” is quite short compared to what we read in Matthew and Luke: “The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us” (John 1:14). Eleven years ago, while researching a paper to argue that “The Word” was a title to be understood with a background in the Aramaic Scriptures recited in the Palestinian synagogues as John grew up, I realized that “the Word became flesh” can be seen as a theme of John’s Gospel. These Aramaic Scriptures were translations (“targums”) from the Hebrew made for use in the Synagogue. Besides translation, some things were added, including the concept of the divine Word, utilized especially in passages describing God’s interactions in the world, and especially with his people. In short, the divine Word was a way of referring to the God of Israel in his saving and sanctifying his people. “The Word” is a circumlocution for the divine name (YHWH).

“The Word became flesh” therefore means “the God of Israel became flesh.” When I say this can be seen as a theme of John’s Gospel, I mean that throughout the Gospel we can see Old Testament allusions in the sense that the words and deeds of Jesus can be understood by way of Old Testament background from both a divine (“the Word”) and human (“flesh”) perspective. I’d like to illustrate with an example:

If anyone serves me, let him follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:26)

First, the “flesh” aspect. In the context of John 12, Jesus will soon be betrayed by Judas. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus would follow the same path taken by David when he was betrayed by his son Absalom. Like David, he crossed the brook Kidron, then went to the Mount of Olives (2 Samuel 15:23, 30; John 18:1; Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Luke 22:39). Before taking this path, David told the foreigner Ittai to go back instead of following him. Read the words of Ittai in refusing to turn back, comparing them to the words of Jesus quoted above from John 12:26:

As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely wherever my lord the king will be, whether for death or for life, there also your servant will be. (2 Samuel 15:21)

Now the divine parallel. After the incident where Israel worshiped the golden calf, Moses set up a Tent of Meeting “outside the camp,” where Israelites went to seek the Lord after their great sin (Exodus 33:7). Rabbinic interpretation (see Exodus Rabbah) says that the fact that the tent was set up outside the camp rather than in its midst suggests that God had in effect excommunicated the nation of Israel for their idolatry—anyone who wanted reconciliation must now go outside the camp. The rabbis pointed out that Moses went outside the camp because that is where his Master went, and he must regard as excommunicated those whom his Master had excommunicated. When Jesus spoke the words of John 12:26, Israel was about to commit a sin much greater than that of worshiping the golden calf—the crucifixion of the Son of God. Jesus is going “outside the camp,” and we must follow him there (Hebrews 13:13; “Let us go to him, outside the camp, bearing his approach), meaning separating ourselves from false worship, and taking a stand with Jesus on the issues of the day. Where does “the Word” come in? In one of the Aramaic renderings of Exodus 33, it is the divine Word that speaks with Moses outside the camp. Further, in response to Moses’ request, “show me your glory” (Exodus 33:), in the Aramaic translations Moses receives a revelation of the divine Word on Mount Sinai, who describes himself as “full of grace and truth” (Exodus 34:6; John 1:14).

An example of going “outside the camp” to be with Jesus, bearing his reproach? I can’t help but think of Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” who dared to quote Biblical teaching on homosexuality, opinions which talking heads are routinely describing as “vile” (what homosexual acts used to be considered, when our moral health was better than now). To us these are not mere opinions of men, but a reflection of laws given by God for his people. here again it is helpful to consider Jesus as “the Word,” for in the Targums the law is given by “the Word” speaking to Israel on Mt. Sinai, and speaking in the tabernacle to Moses (see below). “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) is framed by “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female: it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22), and “If there is a man who lies with a male as one lies with a female . . . both of them shall be put to death” (Leviticus 20:13).

Following and serving Jesus is thus like (1) following a human King, greater than David; (2) following the God of Israel. This is the implication of John’s Christmas story.

Going back to the path of David’s flight from Absalom, we can find another mixture of the human and divine. We’ve already noted the human aspect; Jesus after his betrayal by Judas follows the path of David in fleeing from Absalom—from Jerusalem, east across the Kidron, then up the Mt. of Olives. But besides David and those accompanying him, the ark of the covenant took that same path, as the priests carried it to David on the Mt. of Olives (2 Samuel 15:24).

Numbers 7:89 states that when Moses went into the Holy of Holies, the Lord spoke to him from above the ark, between the two cherubim. Two Aramaic renderings of this passage both say that it was from this place that “the Word” spoke to Moses. We might say, then, that as Jesus crossed the Kidron to the Mt. of Olives, he was not only following David’s path, but his own path (the path of the pre-incarnate Word above the ark, between the cherubim).

David sent the priests back to Jerusalem with the ark, hoping that if the Lord was merciful to him, he would return as well to the Lord’s habitation (2 Samuel 15:25). Note that Jesus only follows the path of David so far. From the Mount of Olives, David continued fleeing east across the Jordan to safety. If Jesus had done that, we would be lost! Instead, Jesus, like the ark, returned to Jerusalem, following his own pre-incarnate path of 1000 years earlier, to accomplish his work so that we might find favor with God and live forever in his presence.

John Ronning