Mike Bird, Evangelical Theology, and the Sermon on the Mount

There are a lot of things Christians “need to know.” For some it’s predestination, for others, the age of the earth, or the order of end times events. In reality, the core of theology is simpler than that.Mike Bird in his, Evangelical Theology reminds us of the test for Christian theology:

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5– 7) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6) are good test cases for any theological system.

Contra some Reformed theologians, Jesus is not teaching people the law so they can see how they don’t measure up, wail for their sinful hearts, and realize their need for the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness. Contra some dispensational theologians, Jesus is not teaching what kind of law the Jews will keep in a post-rapture millennium. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ manifesto for the kingdom. It is the ethical vision for God’s people if they are to live out the covenantal righteousness that comes from experiencing the kingdom’s saving power. This is what the new Israel of the new age is supposed to look like. Not the elitist micropiety of Pharisaic leaders who claim their tradition represents the true measure of righteousness, nor the compromised Jewishness of the Herodians who dress up Hellenistic values in a Jewish garb. The sermon is about new law for the new age.

Bird, Michael F.; Bird, Michael F.. Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Kindle Locations 8394-8401). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.


Christian theology must accommodate the teachings of Jesus rather than circumvent them. If it cannot, it is not Christian.

Exercise and Fitness: What are they?

Begin with the End in Mind

Many people go to the gym without and move around without a particular end in mind.

This is okay if you’re only trying to enjoy yourself or meet people (a common event at gyms).

Toward a Definition of Fitness and Exercise

But, if you want to become fit, then you have to know what fitness is. Lon Kilgore says that to be fit one must have:

“Possession of adequate levels of strength, endurance, and mobility to provide for successful participation in occupational effort, recreational pursuits, familial obligation, and that is consistent with a functional phenotypic expression of the human genotype.”1

What this means is that fitness is relative to the needs of the individual, but objective precisely because one’s optimal fitness is not actualized if they experience unnecessary struggle in work, fun, and family.

So much for fitness, but what is exercise? Exercise can be defined as training undertaken for the purpose of obtaining and maintaining fitness. For instance, sport training is not designed for fitness per se, as one can be fit without being good at a sport. And one can be pretty good at a sport while still being incredibly unhealthy otherwise.

Now that you have a definition of fitness, I suggest that you make a plan to achieve it. Any good exercise plan should make provision for improving or maintaining:

  1. Strength
    Include some form of resistance training with weights, bands, and/or calisthenics. Also, certain explosive activities like sprinting and jumping have utility here, but they do come with an increased safety risk.
  2. Endurance
    Endurance exists at several levels. For instance, if you can dead lift 350 pounds, then your endurance for light weight lifting is probably quite remarkable. Cardiovascular endurance is another level, but it is important to remember that while general physical fitness is real, activities still improve in specific ways.
  3. Mobility
    Mobility can be enhanced by stretching, running, walking, lifting weights through a full range of motion, jumping, etc.


1 Kilgore, Hartman, and Lascek, Fit: An Unconventional Guide to using conventional methods for creating fitness for the real world (Killustrated, 2011), 5.

Jesus and Family

Many scholars suppose that Jesus had a negative view of the nuclear family that was softened by the gospel authors (or that he was inconsistent in his teaching):

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.(Luke 8:20-21)

This means something like how Matthew puts it: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
(Matthew 10:37)

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
(Matthew 10:34-35)
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” (Luke 18:18-20)


Now, academics are more likely to have this view than normal people, and they do tend to resent those who do not have similar degrees, so it’s not surprising that they want Jesus to be as maladjusted and lonely as they are. But that aside, must Jesus’ view of the family be so inconsistent that the gospel authors made up sayings in which he endorsed the family? I think not. For instance, Musonius Rufus, a philosopher active around the time the gospels were being written, made similar points to Jesus, but in a lengthier and more obviously consistent fashion:

A certain young man who wished to study philosophy, but was forbidden by his father to do so, put this question to him “Tell me, Musonius, must one obey one’s parents in all things, or are there some circumstances under which one need not heed them?”[1] And Musonius replied, “That everyone should obey his mother and father seems a good thing, and I certainly recommend it…


…Because surely all parents have the interests of their children at heart, and because of that interest they wish them to do what is right and advantageous. Consequently one who does what is right and useful is doing what his parents wish and so is obedient to his parents in doing it, even if his parents do not order him in so many words to do these things…


…And so you, my young friend, do not fear that you will disobey your father, if when your father bids you do something which is not right, you refrain from doing it, or when he forbids you to do something which is right you do not refrain from doing it. Do not let your father be an excuse to you for wrong-doing whether he bids you do something which is not right or forbids you to do what is right. For there is no necessity for you to comply with evil injunctions, and you yourself seem not unaware of this…


…If, then, my young friend, with a view to becoming such a man, as you surely will if you truly master the lessons of philosophy, you should not be able to induce your father to permit you to do as you wish, nor succeed in persuading him, reason thus: your father forbids you to study philosophy, but the common father of all men and gods, Zeus, bids you and exhorts you to do so. His command and law is that man be just and honest, beneficent, temperate, high-minded, superior to pain, superior to pleasure, free of all envy and all malice; to put it briefly, the law of Zeus bids man be good….

Now then, it would seem that Rufus explicitly says that the young should not obey their parents, particularly when the study of philosophy is on the line. But, he also says that he recommends obeying parents. He also says that obeying God is superior to obeying men (parents) but that because God wants what is best, so also to disobey parents in the name of what God wants and what is obviously and truly good, is ultimately obedience to both God and your parents who want the best for you. The point I’m making is that people, in Jesus’ era, were able to say that values existed that were greater in comparison to family, but that family was still a good. Jesus didn’t reject family, he simply reject family as an excuse for wrong-doing. Just like Rufus thought philosophy would make you wise and ultimately a good son, and  


Link Soup: 11/30/2017

As it turns out, communism is objectively bad. Laura Nicolae writes, “After spending four years on a campus saturated with Marxist memes and jokes about communist revolutions, my classmates will graduate with the impression that communism represents a light-hearted critique of the status quo, rather than an empirically violent philosophy that destroyed millions of lives.”

Over at the overpriced economics blog, WSJ, we learn that moms buy trashy clothes for their daughters, apparently, because they feel less sexually attractive than they used to, “As for the girls themselves, if you ask them why they dress the way they do, they’ll say (roughly) the same things I said to my mother: “What’s the big deal?” “But it’s the style.” “Could you be any more out of it?” What teenage girl doesn’t want to be attractive, sought-after and popular? And what mom doesn’t want to help that cause? In my own case, when I see my daughter in drop-dead gorgeous mode, I experience something akin to a thrill—especially since I myself am somewhat past the age to turn heads.

Age isn’t just a number, but the more dissatisfied you are with aging, the more negatively you’re physically impacted by age. Self-Perceptions of Aging predict mortality.

The lectures of Musonius Rufus (30-100 ad) are online here. The site uses the Yale Translation of 1947 (you can find the pdf of that edition online with the Greek and English texts side by side, a real treat!). Recently, Cynthia King translated it and the kindle edition is fairly inexpensive. I highly recommend lectures 1-7. Here’s a great quote from lecture one:  “How true this is we may readily recognize if we chance to know two lads or young men, of whom one has been reared in luxury, his body effeminate, his spirit weakened by soft living, and having besides a dull and torpid disposition; the other reared somewhat in the Spartan manner, unaccustomed to luxury, practiced in self-restraint, and ready to listen to sound reasoning. If then we place these two young men in the position of pupils of a philosopher arguing that death, toil, poverty, and the like are not evils, or again that life, pleasure, wealth, and the like are not goods, do you imagine that both will give heed to the argument in the same fashion, and that one will be persuaded by it in the same degree as the other? Far from it.”

I love steak. Here are fifteen recipes for marinades.

What would happen if this article title were altered to say the same about Jews or Latinos? Can My Children Be Friends with White People

Facebook is a supercharged hedonic treadmill: “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.

Apparently, smart phone use decreases satisfaction with face to face interaction. “Phone use leads to distraction, which undermines benefits of social interaction.” And smart phone users may, over time, begin to devalue time spent with friends.

Your placement on the five factor inventory might predict/be predicted (of course, not everybody reads) by your reading habits: Predicting Personality with book preferences. Based on my placement, some of what I read fits nicely. But I’m apparently somewhat of an outlier. 



Abba Joseph, Beetle Kings, and Jesus

This little piece from the desert Fathers helpfully illustrates Matthew 5:14-16:

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my Little Office. I fast a little. I pray. I meditate. I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else am I to do?” “What else,” Abba Lot says, “can I do?” Then the old man stood up, stretched his hands towards heaven and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Jesus, in the passage mentioned, challenges his disciples to be the light of the world. Abba Joseph above tells Abba Lot, “If you will [desire to be a light], you can become all flame.”

But to will the destruction of our most cherished unnatural impulses can be hard.

I want comfort. I want my way. I want my space to myself, my time to myself, my feelings to myself, my whatever.

But Jesus is already the light of the world. So, why not become all flame? Aaron Weiss from mewithoutYou asks that question in his song, “The King Beetle on the Coconut Estate.

Goals, Systems, or Virtues?

Scott Adams is of the opinion that goals are for losers and systems are for winners. The reasoning is that goals make it psychologically easy to stop doing everything it took to achieve them once you achieve them (this problem is the main point of the book The Slight Edge). But not only so, goals make it harder to do the needful thing, because every day you haven’t achieved your goal, wake up defeated. So he recommends systems, daily/weekly, monthly tasks that move you in a positive direction regardless of the final outcome. 

This seems right. But, sometimes goals are very important. You might really want to buy a home, dunk a basketball, or make straight A’s. Or you might need to lose weight or get out of debt. So making a goal and achieving it might be very valuable. There are two options. One, change what you desire. Or two, create systems that will take you in the direction of your goal, but only dwell on the systems, not on the end goal (some research literature says that visualizing goal oriented tasks is more valuable than visualizing goal achievement). If you take option 2, I think there is a valuable middle step that gives you option 1 as well. 

I think that between goals and systems is the sort of person you wish to become. In other words, between winning races and training routines is “the sort of person who is good at making training routines and running faster than I used to run.” William Irvine, in A guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, explains the concept of internalizing goals. The Stoics tried to make their sense of peace and joy depend not on outcomes or even task completion, but rather the virtue acquired. And so it’s not just that you implement a system to win races or even that you win them. It’s that you overcome yourself by attaining the virtue of self-mastery with respect to running. So the pattern is something like this:

  1. Determine what you want to do.
  2. Ask yourself if you want to become the sort of person who can do that thing. In other words, is it valuable to be that sort of person even if I do not attain the goal.
  3. Then design a system to make it happen.

Any thoughts?

Thomas Sowell and Our Ridiculous Culture


Thomas Sowell observes:

The real war — which is being waged in our schools, in the media, and among the intelligentsia — is the war on achievement. When President Obama told business owners, “You didn’t build that!” this was just one passing skirmish in the war on achievement.

The very word “achievement” has been replaced by the word “privilege” in many writings of our times. Individuals or groups that have achieved more than others are called “privileged” individuals or groups, who are to be resented rather than emulated.

The length to which this kind of thinking — or lack of thinking — can be carried was shown in a report on various ethnic groups in Toronto. It said that people of Japanese ancestry in that city were the most “privileged” group there, because they had the highest average income.

What made this claim of “privilege” grotesque was a history of anti-Japanese discrimination in Canada, climaxed by people of Japanese ancestry being interned during World War II longer than Japanese Americans.

If the concept of achievement threatens the prevailing ideology, then real achievement in the face of obstacles is a deadly threat. That is why the achievements of Asians in general — and of people like the young black man with no arms — make those on the left uneasy. And why the achievements of people who created their own businesses have to be undermined by the President of the United States.


Music Monday: What is this?

This is, easily, the weirdest song I’ve listened to in the last four years. Based on the comments section, it appears that the song has a fan base among the marijuana smokers, or as I call them to save syllables, ‘dopers.’


Anyway, if want some more standard fare, I recommend this: