Up Here

I originally published this original poem under the title “The Roof,” but decided it was not about a rooftop experience; rather, it is about allowing yourself to rise above the craziness for a few moments and see what’s really going on. I welcome any feedback, especially if it sparks a dialog about the current atmosphere in our beloved country.

Up here
on the roof,
I am tall,
taller than all,
at the apex:
not of height,
nor of stature;

just here
at the edge
where anything
is possible:
creativity,
destruction,
enlightenment,
apostasy;
whatever I choose
begins up here
at the edge
of heaven and hell

where God waits,
and angels watch;
where birds soar
without awareness
of my struggle,
or my questions,
or my potential,
good or bad;

below, a community
ekes out its
existence,
parading
up and down
the streets
and avenues,
with no inkling
of what comes
next;

life in
pieces, its
very blood spilled
on the macadam
of tomorrow
by the handguns
of a thousand
angry, disenfranchised men,

rudderless,
willing to take
everyone
with them
into the
crevasse where
not even light
can escape.

©2017 Steven Barto

Dopamine D3 Receptor Antagonist Reduces Opioid Addiction-Like Behaviors in Rats

From the blogpost site of the National Institute on Drug Abuse
Original Posting Date January  13, 2020

By Stacey C. Tobin, Ph.D., ELS, NIDA Notes Contributing Writer

This study reported:

  • The dopamine D3 receptor antagonist VK4-116 reduced oxycodone self-administration in rats, as well as drug-seeking behaviors after oxycodone reinstatement following withdrawal.
  • VK4-116 did not interfere with oxycodone’s pain-relieving effects.

Medications to prevent and treat opioid use disorder (OUD) as well as to prevent relapse are urgently needed. In animal studies, dopamine D3 receptors have emerged as potential therapeutic targets for reducing addiction-related behaviors. Dr. Zhi-Bing You and colleagues from NIDA’s Intramural Research Program (IRP) and Johns Hopkins University now show that a novel agent called VK4-116, which blocks dopamine D3 receptor activity, can reduce a variety of addiction-like behaviors related to oxycodone administration in rats. “We are very excited that our highly selective D3 receptor antagonist, VK4-116, was effective in a multitude of behavioral models associated with OUD, providing preclinical data to support further development toward the clinic,” says NIDA IRP’s Dr. Amy Hauck Newman, the study’s senior investigator.

Dr. You and colleagues trained rats to self-administer oxycodone by pressing a lever. The investigators then conducted several experiments modeling different aspects of addiction-like behaviors. In these tests, VK4-116 counteracted oxycodone’s effects. For example:

  • Pretreatment with VK4-116 reduced the number of oxycodone infusions the rats pressed the lever for, and this effect lasted for several days after treatment (see Figure 1A).
  • Once the rats self-administered oxycodone, VK4-116 pretreatment decreased lever responses for oxycodone (see Figure 1B).
  • Pretreatment with VK4-116 did not affect sucrose self-administration (see Figure 1C).
  • VK4-116–treated rats that were given a single injection of oxycodone to trigger reinstatement of drug use after extinction were less likely to seek out more drug (see Figure 2).

Dopamine D3 Receptor Antagonist Graphic Fig 1

Fig. 1

Dopamine D3 Receptor Antagonist Graphic Fig 2

Fig. 2

Additional experiments found that VK4-116 may also be useful in ameliorating naloxone-precipitated withdrawal symptoms in oxycodone-dependent animals. Naloxone, the drug used to counteract opioid overdose, will induce severe withdrawal symptoms in humans who are dependent on opioids. Oxycodone-dependent rats too will experience withdrawal when given naloxone and will avoid locations where they received that medication. This conditioned place aversion is thought to represent the aversive aspects of withdrawal. Dr. You and colleagues found that VK4-116 reduced the naloxone-triggered conditioned place aversion, suggesting that the compound may dampen withdrawal symptoms.

Oxycodone is a highly effective pain reliever, so the investigators also tested if VK4-116 interfered with analgesia. They found that pretreatment with VK4-116 did not reduce oxycodone’s analgesic effect and even enhanced it at the highest VK4-116 dose tested (see Figure 3).

Dopamine D3 Receptor Antagonist Graphic Fig 3

Fig. 3

Although all of these preclinical findings are promising, further evaluation will be needed to reveal their translational potential. Nevertheless, the research team hopes that D3 receptor antagonists may one day help prevent addiction in people prescribed opioid medications or that they could be combined with behavioral therapies to mitigate withdrawal and reduce relapse risk in those being treated for OUD. “Demonstrating that VK4-116 is safe for human use and that our preclinical models actually predict treatment potential in OUD patients is critical,” says Dr. Newman. “In the meantime, our lab will continue to develop the tools needed to further elucidate the role of the D3 receptor in OUD and pain management.”

This study was supported by NIDA-IRP grant DA000424.

Sources

You, Z.-B., Bi, G.-H., Galaj, E., et al. Dopamine D3R antagonist VK4-116 attenuates oxycodone self-administration and reinstatement without compromising its antinociceptive effects. Neuropsychopharmacology. 44(8):1415-1424, 2019.

Find Help Near You

The following can help you find substance abuse or other mental health services in your area: www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment. If you are in an emergency situation, people at this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: 1-800-273-TALK. Or click on: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. A step by step guide on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member on our Treatment page.

Narcotics Anonymous National Hotline: 1(877) 276-6883.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Did We Inherit Adam’s Guilt?

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of a master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy.

We are presented with a critical theological question: Have we inherited Adam’s sin nature and his guilt?

MY PERSONAL BELIEF IS we are all held accountable for our own sins and called to work out our own salvation daily (Phil. 2:12). Paul says we are to do whatever God puts before us without complaining or questioning, adding, “for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:13-14, RSV). Ezekiel covers this issue succinctly in chapter eighteen. He writes about a “word from God” in which the LORD said Israel was to no longer refer to the proverb that “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2).God clarifies in 18:4 that it is the soul who sins that shall die. This passage of Scripture clearly indicates that a father must “model” good and righteous behavior for his son.

Through what psychology calls social learning theory (to borrow from my undergraduate studies), children tend to mimic the behavior of their primary care givers or role models. This dovetails nicely with Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” If an upright father begets a son prone to evil and violence, that son shall lose his life. In fact, “his blood shall be upon himself” (18:13). Moreover, if a father who has done evil begets a son who chooses a righteous path rather than repeating the sins of the father, “he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live” (18:17, italics mine). God said, “The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (18:20).

I would be remiss, however, if I did not address Exodus 20:5b, which says, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.” I’ve heard this passage explained from a sociological (albeit Judeo-Christian) perspective. The Zondervan Bible Commentary indicates that “the third and fourth generation reflects the greatest probable extent of the range of members of any one family actually living together in one household.” In other words, God wanted the Israelites to see the “lasting” impact their choices would likely have because of the nature of extended families at that time. This seems to indicate the “social learning theory” of children and grandchildren observing and imitating sinful or disobedient behavior. Isaiah 14:1-23 suggests it is Israel’s cause that will be pleaded in the quarrel with Babylon prophesied in Revelation 18.

There is much symbolism afoot regarding the oracles on God’s word to the nations (Isa. 13:1-23:18). I see this as a corporate issue rather than one of individual “guilt” or condemnation. Paul addresses the concept of guilt under the New Covenant. He says, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned—sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come…if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:12-14, 17).

If we look at the question of inherited guilt versus inherited sin from a position of covenant, we can better understand that there was no remedy for our sin nature under the Old Covenant. Consider the Abrahamic (or Land) Covenant. God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and of many descendants, and that He would give the entire Land of Canaan to Abraham’s heirs. Unfortunately, many Jews had begun to mumble and complain, and to doubt God. They were fearful of the “giants” occupying the land promised to them by God. Because of disobedience and fear (indeed, the lack of faith, which is sinfu), the Israelites living at the time of the Land Covenant were barred from entering. God was angered, but His response was very specific: “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land which I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephun’neh; he shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land upon which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the LORD” (Deut. 1:36, italics mine).

Wayne Grudem, in Systematic Theology, is adamant that we inherited Adam’s guilt. The biblical authority for his position is Romans 5:12: “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” He also cites Romans 5:18, “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” In context, however, the apostle Paul seems to be talking about justification and reconciliation, juxtaposing it with condemnation and trespass. Paul writes, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (5:19). There is a comparison here of law, sin, and offense to grace and righteousness. The Revised Standard Version does not use the word “guilt” in any of these passages. Neither does the KJV, NASB, or the NIV. Instead, there are numerous references to sin and trespass. The word trespass in Greek and Hebrew indicates an action or offense. It seems to point to an “event” wherein man chose to defy God and commit a forbidden act. For me, we inherit Adam’s nature to sin and disobey, but we are not held accountable for his personal act of disobedience. If this were so, would the Word of God not explicitly state that we are condemned because of Adam’s disobedience; that we must be sentenced to eternal damnation to excuse Adam’s offense?

In addition to the above exegetical reasons, I do not think God expects us to carry our own guilt, let alone the guilt of previous generations. Paul wrote these words, which I believe will clarify how we are viewed by God, and how we should see ourselves, under the New Covenant: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 7:24-8:2). Grudem says, “The most persuasive answer to the objection [that we inherited Adam’s guilt] is to point out that if we think it is unfair for us to be represented by Adam, then we should also think it is unfair for us to be represented by Christ and to have his righteousness imputed to us by God” (p. 495). I agree with Grudem in part, but I don’t see it as indicating we are “guilty” of someone else’s sin or offense. Paul says sin came into the world by one man (Rom. 5:12), and, accordingly, the judgment following man’s original offense brought condemnation (Rom. 5:16). Agreed. Man is condemned to sin because we inherited Adam’s sin nature. Paul does not say, however, that we are being held accountable (adjudicated as guilty) for Adam’s original offense.

In fact, looking into Romans 5 using the Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament, I see reference to sin entering the world through one man, which verse fourteen calls “transgression” and “offense.” Because of this original offense, “many died.” Analysis of verse seventeen indicates death reigned because of original sin, but it has been countered by grace through the “second” man, that is Christ. According to the Zondervan Bible Commentary, Romans 5 serves to contrast the hopelessness of man (through Adam) with the gift of righteousness (through faith in Christ). Adam is said to be “a pattern, foreshadowing his future Counterpart: both are heads and inclusive representatives of the human creation, Adam of the old and Christ of the new.” This makes perfect exegetical sense to me. This “foreshadowing” includes all of  mankind, as Adam’s disobedience carried with it the consequence of both physical and spiritual death. Because of Adam, man was forcibly removed from the Garden; this served to cut him off from “direct access” to the tree of life and communion with God.

A “veil” as it were was put between man and God. The Zondervan Bible Commentary includes a quote from F. J. Leenhardt: “Since the entry of sin each man who is born into the world… finds a compromised situation confronting him…each generation and each individual act in such a way that the inner strength of rising individuals and generations is enfeebled, deflected and at times destroyed.” It seems clear to me that we are not held accountable for Adam’s original sin, therefore we are not guilty of that offense. However, we are under the control of sin because of Adam’s initial transgression. All have sinned since the time that our first parents disobeyed God. Our inherent sin nature takes away our freedom to choose righteousness and goodness. But through the obedience of the “second” man, there is therefore no condemnation. We are not held accountable for our own sins after accepting Christ. How could we be held to answer for what Adam did?

My thoughts on this matter are rooted in Augustine and Arminius. It was Augustine’s opinion that because man is a totally depraved sinner, lacking the ability to choose righteousness or good, it was necessary for God to initiate the process of salvation. Augustine believed that all individuals existed in Adam’s nature, so Adam’s sin was actually our sin. He said we inherited the guilt of Adam’s sin and its ultimate penalty: death. Of course, man was banished from the Garden, and, therefore, access to the Tree of Life (archetypal Jesus?). It seems the Reformed belief is that Adam was our “corporate” representative, and that when he sinned it was counted as sin for everyone. God’s grace is required in order to preordain man to choose properly, and it must precede any response to salvation. Augustine held that this so-called prevenient grace was given only to the elect.

This is quite similar to what Calvinists call special or electing grace. Arminius believed that man is depraved in every area of his being and, therefore, devoid of any righteousness or goodness. He did not believe we suffer any penalty for Adam’s original sin. In fact, Arminius said, ” It may admit of discussion, whether God could be angry on account of original sin which was born with us, since it seemed to be inflicted on us by God as a punishment of the actual sin which had been committed by Adam and by us in Him…. I did not deny that it was sin, but it was not actual sin…. We must distinguish between actual sin, and that which was the cause of other sins, and which, on this very account might be denominated “sin” (emphasis mine).

Wesley is well-known for believing nothing is sin, strictly speaking, except one’s individual transgression of a known Law of God. Based on Romans 5:15-19, Wesley believed that the death of Christ completely absolved Adam’s posterity of the eternal guilt of his original sin. In any event, I believe two things regarding God’s preordained plan for redemption: (1) that it was intended to provide the ultimate blood sacrifice for all of man’s sins, regardless of who committed them or how intentional or “accidental” those offenses were; and (2) that the death of Christ severed the “chain” of sin at the time Adam sinned (as God and all His intentions are not subject to time restrictions), and continues to this day to have interrupted the chain of guilt. We still have to consider Scripture, some of which you quoted in your reply to my initial post. Psalm 51:5 says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (RSV). Ephesians 2:3 tells us we are “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

Matthew Henry indicates that Ephesians 2:1-10 addresses the nature of sin, man’s tendency toward sin, man’s state of “being naturally children of disobedience” and “children of wrath.” He adds, “Being born of God: he lives, being delivered from the guilt of sin, by pardoning and justifying grace.” 3 According to Dake, Ephesians 2:3 is specific to our being sinners by nature, born into sin. Romans 5:12 says, ” Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam” (emphasis mine). What does this mean to you? If we are held accountable for sins “not like” those of Adam, does Paul indicate here we are not adjudicated “guilty” for Adam’s individual sin, but are burdened with our own transgressions after the nature of disobedience exemplified by Adam? Please understand that I believe we inherited our sin nature from Adam; I am not convinced we are considered “guilty” in God’s eyes for Adam’s personal offense, i.e., his disobedience.

Universalism would say all babies go to Heaven because they believe everyone (eventually) will be saved. Universalism is not based on biblical doctrine. Because the Bible reveals that we are born tainted by original sin, we cannot claim that infants are born in a state of innocence. This question requires careful and faithful biblical exegesis and theological reflection. From a sentimental vantage, many will assure the parents of those whose child died very young that their child is in Heaven, but we must never base doctrine on what we hope may be true. We must determine what the Bible reveals to be true. It is also important to note that merely basing our answer on election actually avoids answering the question. Let’s remember that God is absolutely sovereign in salvation. He provides salvation to us despite the fact that we do not deserve it and can do nothing to earn it. It is all of grace. Accordingly, I believe Jesus graciously and freely receives those who die in infancy, but this is not based on their innocence or worthiness. It is based solely on His grace, and made possible by atonement He purchased on the cross. Any response beyond this would require an exegetical study.

References

Bruce, F.F., editor, Zondervan Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 2008.

Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 1994.

Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.), 1997.

Marshall, A., editor. The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 1958.

 

Let’s Go to Theology Class: Faith Thinking

The following is a summary of my initial class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psy.

THEOLOGY IS AN ATTEMPT by faith to understand itself, its object, and its place in today’s world. Trevor Hart (1995) calls this exercise faith thinking. Although theology is typically undertaken as part of a higher education endeavor, the activity known as “Christian Theology” should be an inevitable consequence of life as a thinking Christian. Systematic Theology is defined as “an integrating discipline that studies how the church may bear enduring, timely, and truthful witness to God as revealed in Jesus Christ.”

Theology today specifically denotes the contemporary effort to speak about God in an orderly way. In order to understand how this can be accomplished, we must first look at the major approaches to knowing. Hart presents the quest for knowing through three distinct approaches: objectivism, relativism, and critical realism. He brings these three systems of thought to bear on theology. Hart sees theology as fidelis quaerens intellectum, which he identifies as “a believer seeking understanding,” adding, theology is best understood as “the attempt by faith to understand itself, its object, and its place in today’s world” (p. 1).

Objectivism

 Hart believes theology is an inevitable activity of faith. He points out that good theology “is the disciplined and critical reflection of the community of faith upon the gospel entrusted to it” (p. 11). He says Christian theology is properly an inevitable consequence of life as a thinking Christian in the real world. He points out, however, that modern thought allows man to see only “the facts” of a particular matter, “…[striving] to clear away the accumulated detritus of interpretations, personal judgments and perspectives” (p. 45) which would do away with all untestable beliefs and assumptions. This is accomplished by testing all things before making a judgment. Hart calls this objectivism. By this, he means nothing—interpretations, assumptions, biases—should get in the way of determining truth. Skepticism states that nothing exists beyond which is perceived by the senses. Hart believes where religious faith is concerned, there is a disposition of passionate commitment to truth on an ontological basis—not a skeptical perspective.

When considering the subject of goodness or morality, an objectivist believes, according to Scott B. Rae (2009), that moral precepts existed prior to being espoused in God’s special revelation (Scripture). This is an ontological belief that there is a universal morality or truth independent of man’s interpretation. Rae states, “Objective goodness has always existed since it is rooted in God’s character [and] is revealed through natural law prior to God giving human beings the Bible” (p. 49). Hart (1995) says during the Enlightenment man attempted to provide “a clear set of standards and methods for determining what, in a given situation, might merit rational or moral justification” (p. 49). This mirrors the “reasonable man” standard we’ve seen in American jurisprudence. Such a viewpoint would amount to an a priori belief in truth or morality as an absolute. The difficulty is how this approach remains impartial and plays out against relativism.

Relativism

It has often been stated that in the absence of absolute truth or morality, it would neither be right nor wrong for Adolf Hitler to decide the supremacy of one race over another, or whether cannibalism is right or wrong given it is acceptable among tribes in the Amazon but not in the Western world. Relativism is considered skeptical as it doubts any universal claim of knowledge or certainty. Hart says because “what we ‘see’ is determined in large measure by the mental categories which we bring to bear on the sensory data” (p. 55) we are to a large extent a slave to our worldview. Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) describe worldview as “a pair of glasses through which we see the world” (p. 4). This is the very mechanism through which relativism operates. Because worldviews are not the same as a formal philosophy, we’re plagued with navigating between “the Scylla of objectivism and the Charybdis of pluralism” noted by Hart (1995, p. 48).

Critical Realism

Critical realism attempts to define a postmodern view by claiming there is no unified truth, dogma, or set of beliefs. As it is not necessarily a unified theory, it takes a skeptical view of reality. Hart presents MacIntyre’s belief that traditions are justified merely by their “appropriateness as accounts of reality” (p. 68). The difference between relativism and realism is ontological, regarding how facts and objects are interpreted. But it is also concerned with whether truth or “reality” is knowable at all, and, if so, should it be evaluated subjectively or objectively? As Hart explains, the realist gives “an account in which the universe and most of what goes on in it are completely independent of our thoughts” (p. 64-65). This requires transcendence of our subjectivity, which is a tricky proposition. Realism wishes to divorce private thought from public thought—separation of church and state. Hart notes Polanyi’s belief that we cannot remove ourselves from subjectivity through assuming a mere spectator’s role; instead, we must commit ourselves to one standpoint “as the best and most reliable route” (p. 65) to reality. It involves having a universal intent.

Concluding Remarks

For a system of thought to be compatible with “faith thinking,” it cannot be subjective, for this would place God in a “box” contingent upon individual belief. The Bible states, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time; also, he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end… I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has made it so, in order that men should fear before him” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, 14, RSV) [italics added]. Christian theology requires the believer to accept God objectively as an ontological reality. Man is to be governed by God’s special revelation (Scripture) regardless of what appears to be true in His general revelation (Creation or the “real” world). Christians can’t pick and choose which Scriptures they want to follow or believe to be true. Accordingly, true systematic Christian theology establishes the inerrancy of God’s Word as one of its universal doctrines.

Perhaps one of the most relevant examples of man choosing which Scripture to believe and which to ignore regarding lifestyle involves the matter of sexual orientation. There have been many schisms within denominations, sometimes leading to the establishment of an entirely different sect, because of the unwillingness of homosexual believers to see Leviticus 20:13—”If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them”—for the truth it represents. Systematic theology can only benefit the church when it is undertaken from an objective viewpoint with a complete belief in the ontological truth of Scripture.

Class is on a one-week break for Labor Day from September 2 through September 8. Accordingly, my next weekly Let’s Go To Theology Class! post will be Monday, September 16, 2019. Please feel free to rejoin the conversation at that time.

Bibliography
Hart, Trevor, Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf &        Stock Publishers, 1995.

Phillips, W. Gary, Brown, William E., and Stonestreet, J. Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Co., 2008.

Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Press, 2009.

 

 

New Series: Let’s Go to Theology Class!

Beginning September 2, 2019, I will start a weekly blog post, providing a summary of lessons assigned in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

THEOLOGY IS AN ATTEMPT by faith to understand itself, its object, and its place in today’s world. Trevor Hart (1995) calls this exercise faith thinking. Although theology is typically undertaken as part of a higher education endeavor, the activity known as “Christian Theology” should be an inevitable consequence of life as a thinking Christian. Systematic Theology is defined as “an integrating discipline that studies how the church may bear enduring, timely, and truthful witness to God as revealed in Jesus Christ.” Theology today specifically denotes the contemporary effort to speak about God in an orderly way.

Theology is not a formal discipline in Scripture—the topic most related is wisdom. Biblical knowledge of God is (at its very core) relational, involving whole persons within God’s covenant community, and contextual, inviting freedom for discerning obedience. This dovetails nicely with the renewing of our minds through Christ. Responding to divine inspiration, as believers we are to pursue the understanding of God and His will for us (see Romans 12:1-3). The practice of systematic thinking—avoiding obvious contradictions and aspiring to orderly reflection—seems theologically essential given the Gospel’s claim of one God, and the doctrine of salvation through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone.

Systematic Theology affirms the approach of sola scriptura (Scripture alone) as final arbiter of truth. This is the approach Martin Luther used as he prepared the 95 Theses he presented to the Catholic church at the outset of the Reformation. The Bible, not priests or the pope, have ultimate authority over every aspect of Christianity. Given the tendency of man to muddy the waters—adding his own instruction regarding the Christian life—it must be held that Scripture alone provides the information needed to walk in the faith. Indeed, Scripture is God’s special revelationi.e., particular divine self-disclosure by Word and Spirit  (see Hebrews 1:1-4).

Trevor Hart believes that regardless of our intellectual resources, we are called upon to bear faithful witness to the source of our life and hope. Naturally, not all of us are called to be evangelists or apologists in an official capacity. He says, however, “But just as surely as there is a ‘priesthood of all believers’ in God’s church, so too there is a theological prerogative belonging not only to an elite academic priesthood, guardians of the sanctuaries of learning, but to all God’s people” (p. 2). Faith must seek to understand itself. Faith—when it is truly faith rather than a mere intellectual assent to a proposition—will always seek to enter into a fuller and deeper knowledge of that which matters to it most. Such study must have an interrogative rather than doctrinaire attitude.

First Peter 3:15 says, ” Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (RSV). Matthew Henry (1997) says in his commentary on this verse that we are called to sanctify God before others through word and deed. In addition, we are to be able to defend our faith with meekness, thereby explaining the ground and reason for what we believe. This is the very basis of apologetics—discourse that shows and tells why the Gospel deserves respect and, ultimately, allegiance. Because Christianity is the way to life, not just an intellectual system, apologetics deals with goodness and beauty, affections and practices, as well as truth. Indeed, Christianity is more relationship than systematic religion. Aapologetics is anything we can say or do that helps people take Christianity more seriously than they did before.

Granted, apologetics is not theology per se; it is, however, the manner by which we apply systematic theology to the spreading of the Gospel. It is is the mechanism by which we are commanded to “defend” or explain why we believe what we believe. For me, apologetics is God’s call on my life. I intend to study systematic theology and apply what I learn to defending the Gospel, whether in written form or in point/counterpoint exercises with today’s New Atheists. It’s interesting to note that I thoroughly enjoyed performance in forensic competition as a high school senior, especially as a member of the debate team!

The Format

In presenting these synopses, I will adhere to the following basic format.

  • An applicable Bible verse. Bible verse that sets forth what Scripture states regarding the subject.
  • Statement of the Topic. Clear statement of the subject (or thesis) will be provided.
  • Statement of My Response to the Assignment. An abridged version of my answer to the assignment.
  • Application to Daily Walk. Detailed description of how the weekly lesson can be applied to our daily Christian witness.
  • Concluding Remarks. Summary of the lesson in a manner that will clearly state what was learned and the implications of the lesson on today’s church.
  • “See Also.” List of recommended reading or further study will be provided in order that you might be able to expound on the subject and, therefore, apply it to your daily witness.

I look forward to sharing with you what I learn in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology. Hopefully, this will help us all to be better equipped to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, and to do so with all confidence, meekness, and fear.

References

Hart, T. (1997). Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers.

 

It’s Christmastime!

This is the 3rd year I’ve reblogged this original piece I wrote about what Christmastime was like growing up. I hope you enjoy it.

Wow, only six days til Christmas Day. The year went so fast I almost forgot there were twelve months. Sometimes the days seem to run together. Partly because of the limited daylight. It’s typical for office workers this time of year to go to work in the dark in the morning and come home after work in the dark. Add to that all the rushing around as Christmastime draws near. Time slips without seeming to move the hands on the clock.

When I was young, time seemed to stand still on Christmas Eve. About six o’clock on WNEP 16 out of Scranton, PA, up-to-the-minute tracking of Santa Claus on radar would begin. It always felt like bedtime would never get here. And when it did, I would never be able to get to sleep. It’s Christmastime, I would think. Santa’s coming. If I go to bed. If I close my eyes and give in to slumber. Impossible, is what I used to think as I looked at the clock again and again, hoping it was time. Everything moves like a snail. Funny, but none of the adults seemed to notice this time problem. They would eat and drink and sing and dance around the living room, smiling and toasting one another. They were oblivious. But how is this possible, I would wonder? How can they be so calm?

Santa’s coming. Quick, everyone. Finish your merriment and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Clean up. Get a plate of cookies and a glass of milk ready for Santa. He’s coming! Straighten up the living room. Move those extra chairs out of the way. Santa needs to put my new bike there. Oh wow, this is taking so long. I can’t stand this. I really can’t. The excitement is causing me to nearly tremble. I have to pee, but I’m afraid to tell anyone. Maybe I can wait til I go upstairs to brush my teeth. It’s as though I think time will slow down even more than it has already. Oh, I have to go now! No waiting til bedtime. Well, what can I do? Nothing. I look at the clock. I don’t believe the hour hand has moved more than a half inch. You’ve got to be kidding me!

After what feels like half a week, it’s finally time to go to bed. I run up the staircase, nearly slipping and planting my face in the carpet at the top of the steps. I dash into the bathroom and head straight to the toilet bowl. I barely get my snaps open before the water works begin. Without having to be told, I grab my toothbrush and get brushing. I know Santa’s watching. I’ve known that for a long time. Have to listen. Have to be good. He is always checking. Sometimes twice. I’ve been nice. I’ve not been naughty. I finish up and sprint to my room to climb in my bed. I am thinking that maybe I should skip my prayers tonight and go straight to sleep. But wait, Santa will know if I don’t say my prayers. So I fold my hands and I get started. Short, but sweet. Done in ten seconds. I reach up and kiss my mom goodnight. She tucks me in and I squeeze my eyes shut real tight, hoping that will cause me to go right to sleep. It doesn’t. My heart is pounding. I can feel it in my ears and in the ends of my fingers. I can’t help but thinking, This is going to be a long night.

Believe it or not, before I know it I am opening my eyes. I look at my clock. It’s six o’clock. At first, I’m thinking the clock never even moved. That it’s still the same time it was when I looked at the living room clock. Then it comes to me. It’s morning. I can’t imagine what might be waiting for me downstairs. I scream out loud. I can’t help myself. I just can’t. Mom shows up at my door grinning from ear to ear. Dad is standing behind her. Good. It’s time. No more waiting.

I nearly tumble down the steps as dad calls out, Take it easy Sport. I am not even all the way down the steps when I see the handle bars. Yep! Handle bars atop a brand new shiny bike. The bike is surrounded by dozens of presents. I am speechless. I took at mom and dad, and then I go sit on my new bike. Mom already has her Instamatic up to her eye, taking my picture. Dad says, Well, what do you think? I just grin and lean in to the handle bars, pretending I’m flying down Race Street hill, leaving a trail of flames behind me. Then I remember, there are presents to open. Man, this is just fantastic. I dive in, ripping at the wrapping paper. Present after present, I am blown away. I stop for a brief moment and think, This was well worth the wait.

Merry Christmas to everyone. Stay safe. Be healthy. Be thankful. And above all else, be patient. Because sometimes the clock just doesn’t seem to move at all.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

© Steven Barto 2014

It’s Christmastime!

Wow, only two days til Christmas Day. The year went so fast I almost forgot there were twelve months. Sometimes the days seem to run together. Partly because of the limited daylight. It’s typical for office workers this time of year to go to work in the dark in the morning and come home after work in the dark. Add to that all the rushing around as Christmastime draws near. Time slips without seeming to move the hands on the clock.

When I was young, time seemed to stand still on Christmas Eve. About six o’clock on WNEP 16 out of Scranton, PA, up-to-the-minute tracking of Santa Claus on radar would begin. It always felt like bedtime would never get here. And when it did, I would never be able to get to sleep. It’s Christmastime, I would think. Santa’s coming. If I go to bed. If I close my eyes and give in to slumber. Impossible, is what I used to think as I looked at the clock again and again, hoping it was time. Everything moves like a snail. Funny, but none of the adults seemed to notice this time problem. They would eat and drink and sing and dance around the living room, smiling and toasting one another. They were oblivious. But how is this possible, I would wonder? How can they be so calm?

Santa’s coming. Quick, everyone. Finish your merriment and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Clean up. Get a plate of cookies and a glass of milk ready for Santa. He’s coming! Straighten up the living room. Move those extra chairs out of the way. Santa needs to put my new bike there. Oh wow, this is taking so long. I can’t stand this. I really can’t. The excitement is causing me to nearly tremble. I have to pee, but I’m afraid to tell anyone. Maybe I can wait til I go upstairs to brush my teeth. It’s as though I think time will slow down even more than it has already. Oh, I have to go now! No waiting til bedtime. Well, what can I do? Nothing. I look at the clock. I don’t believe the hour hand has moved more than a half inch. You’ve got to be kidding me!

After what feels like half a week, it’s finally time to go to bed. I run up the staircase, nearly slipping and planting my face in the carpet at the top of the steps. I dash into the bathroom and head straight to the toilet bowl. I barely get my snaps open before the water works begin. Without having to be told, I grab my toothbrush and get brushing. I know Santa’s watching. I’ve known that for a long time. Have to listen. Have to be good. He is always checking. Sometimes twice. I’ve been nice. I’ve not been naughty. I finish up and sprint to my room to climb in my bed. I am thinking that maybe I should skip my prayers tonight and go straight to sleep. But wait, Santa will know if I don’t say my prayers. So I fold my hands and I get started. Short, but sweet. Done in ten seconds. I reach up and kiss my mom goodnight. She tucks me in and I squeeze my eyes shut real tight, hoping that will cause me to go right to sleep. It doesn’t. My heart is pounding. I can feel it in my ears and in the ends of my fingers. I can’t help but thinking, This is going to be a long night.

Believe it or not, before I know it I am opening my eyes. I look at my clock. It’s six o’clock. At first, I’m thinking the clock never even moved. That it’s still the same time it was when I looked at the living room clock. Then it comes to me. It’s morning. I can’t imagine what might be waiting for me downstairs. I scream out loud. I can’t help myself. I just can’t. Mom shows up at my door grinning from ear to ear. Dad is standing behind her. Good. It’s time. No more waiting.

I nearly tumble down the steps as dad calls out, Take it easy Sport. I am not even all the way down the steps when I see the handle bars. Yep! Handle bars atop a brand new shiny bike. The bike is surrounded by dozens of presents. I am speechless. I took at mom and dad, and then I go sit on my new bike. Mom already has her Instamatic up to her eye, taking my picture. Dad says, Well, what do you think? I just grin and lean in to the handle bars, pretending I’m flying down Race Street hill, leaving a trail of flames behind me. Then I remember, there are presents to open. Man, this is just fantastic. I dive in, ripping at the wrapping paper. Present after present, I am blown away. I stop for a brief moment and think, This was well worth the wait.

Merry Christmas to everyone. Stay safe. Be healthy. Be thankful. And above all else, be patient. Because sometimes the clock just doesn’t seem to move at all.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

© Steven Barto 2014