Saturday, May 13, 2017

Definition of New Birth

This morning a friend wrote on Facebook and I replied.
This morning I read this in the notes of a study Bible by a Reformed pastor, "New birth is an act of God whereby eternal life is imparted to the believer." I think there is something wrong with the wording here. Does anyone else? If so, wherein lies the difficulty?
LikeShow more reactions
Dan Tolly I find that any time a man [any man] attempts to 'explain' or 'say in other words' what Scripture says, he is going to falter in his explanation. I can appreciate the attempt to explain how God brings about salvation, but the choice of words does not necessarily clarify the matter.
LikeShow more reactions
2 hrs
Ron Unruh Your question challenged me. Here are my initial thoughts. I don't believe the definition is wrong. It is an inadequate definition of the term 'new birth.' It doesn't say enough. Mention of 'an act of God' is appropriate in that when Jesus spoke about being 'born again,' he was attributing new birth to God. It is God's doing. Fine. In John 3:3-5 he said, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." When Nicodemus expressed his confusion with the words, "Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit." The inadequacy of the definition for me concerns that of which the act is supposed to consist. Granting eternal life to a believer is an insufficient description of 'new birth.' Eternal life is a result, a consequential benefit, to a person who has undergone the act of God that Jesus describes as a spiritual rebirth, an experience of being born again, a birth from above and which according to Peter is not derived from corruptible seed but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever" (1 Peter 1:22-23). New birth is the regenerative act of God by which a change so profound occurs that it requires other descriptors such as being translated from darkness to light, and dying to sin and living to righteousness. 

I would prefer to say, "New birth is that regenerative act of God whereby a believer in Christ is spiritually reborn as God's child to live a holy life eternally."

Friday, May 12, 2017


Cynicism is our societal currency. It's harmful to democracy but it is our default social coinage. It is injurious to relationships but it our learned security.
Hope was the preferred currency until we ruined it. Any institution that you name has lost people's trust and confidence, government, law enforcement, banks, corporations, organized religions, education, and even the press. In fact, news sources are the propagators of cynicism. Networks are predisposed to an interpretation. Objectivity is obscured by bias. Comedy, talk shows, celebrities and film augment cynical attitudes. Saddest of all, we have become less trusting of one another. 
Too often politicians have failed to keep promises and have catered to special interests. Law enforcement has broken law and failed to keep streets safe. Banks have screwed customers' futures with easy credit. Corporations have expanded the space between wealthy and middle class. Religions have displayed repeated hypocrisies. 
As the institutions fail us, our immediate worlds are filled with truth-starved, connection-starved, hope-starved people.


Here is an issue. He is Gunter the Robot. Humanity has invented AI, Artificial Intelligence, so now, how can we teach rules of morality and ethics to artificial intelligence? Are humans agreed upon those values across national, cultural and religious lines? No? What can we then teach him? Watch this 5 min. movie to get you thinking. Gunter swears, but then, who decides that, since Gunter assimilates all of human history and practice to create his own algorithm.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Nine years into retirement from formal day-job and career commitments seems hardly possible for me. I officially retired from ‘formal’ Christian service in summer of 2008. That statement is not to be understood as retirement from Christian service or ministry. The key is the word ‘formal.’ I am a follower of Christ. Easter Sunday has now come and gone. The resurrection of Jesus Christ remains the essential element of Christian faith. ‘Gospel’ is good news. There is no gospel without the resurrection. If the resurrection did not happen for Jesus Christ, then nothing that he told humanity can be believed and further there is no divine forgiveness of human sin and there is no hope for life beyond the grave. However, I am convinced that the Bible concentrated upon personal testimonies that affirmed Jesus revealed himself demonstrably alive after his violent execution and further, that all that pertained to him had been prophecied hundreds of years earlier. His arrival on earth, his death and his resurrection was a divine plan. In the act of dying, he who was sinless through three decades of living, sustained punishment for all of human sin, and he could do this because of who he is. He is the one included in the conversation in the garden of Eden as God spoke as a plurality, “Let ‘us' make man in ‘our’ image, according to ‘our’ likeness. He is the one about whom the apostle John wrote when he said, “all things were made by him and without him nothing was made that was made.” Jesus has been invested in human spiritual and moral wellbeing from the beginning of our human race. Sin so soon tarnished the reflection of God in humanity. Jesus’ death makes possible the restoration of the image and likeness of God in each person who trusts the good news summed up so memorably in the words, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” In these retirement years that rush me forward to my completion, my service is confined, no longer speaking weekly to several hundred people, but rather to the few I randomly meet in our housing community, and at the golf course where I marshall and play, and through my contacts with artists and clients. Occasionally I am given the privilege of preaching from scripture as I once did regularly. Interestingly, almost cruelly, I remember as a young inexperienced pastor preparing and preaching twice on Sundays, teaching two or three times each week, and yet now I have doctoral level knowledge, the wisdom of years, acquired communication skills, the confidence of experience, and the understanding that I can accomplish nothing of significance without God. What’s missing is the sustainable energy for a full-time ministry commitment. Everything about a three score plus ten plus five human has frayed ends. What is important is for me to be faithful to my vows, my promises to God. Ultimately, that is the commendation for which I am waiting. 

In keeping with the Easter and resurrection theme here is a painting of interest to me. 
Ron DiCianni is an American illustrator/artist specializing in Christian themes. His ‘Resurrection’ mural measures 12X40 feet and commissioned for the Museum of Biblical Arts in Dallas, it is the largest depiction of this theme in the world. This size permits the viewer to look into Christ’s eyes. It required two years to complete. Definitive scenes are identified with some great artists, like Michelangelo and his “Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel; Rembrandt, and his “The Prodigal Son.” DiCianni sees “The Resurrection”, as his definitive piece particularly because this act in history distinguishes Christianity from every other religion, philosophy and dogma. It authenticates The Nativity, The Crucifixion of Christ, and legitimizes every word Jesus said concerning Himself and His relationship to God. Blessed Easter to you. (If you care to hear him describe how and why he painted this cast of characters, here is the link, )

Monday, March 13, 2017


Jonathan Merritt interviewed Eugene Peterson in September 2013 and Peterson was about to turn 81 years of age. That means he is 84 years old as I write this. He lives in Montana, having taught Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver for 6 years. 

One bit if that interview conversation may be of interest to you as you think about church, and particularly if you are restless about church, concerned about church or considering changing churches.

Merritt’s question was "Eighty-one years is a long time. As you enter your final season of life, what would you like to say to younger Christians who are itchy for a deeper and more authentic discipleship? What’s your word to them?

Peterson answered, "Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.

So what do you think about that?

Friday, March 3, 2017


(Background to this post: In this piece, Rob Stewart is the district superintendent of the Lower Pacific District of the Evangelical Free Churches in Canada. He posts a Friday message to his district churches each week.)   

Rob Stewart's 'Five Minutes on Friday with the LPD' contained a line at the end of an inspirational piece that I would like you to read. Speaking of the Apostle Paul, Rob wrote, " Paul's ministry was not so much to serve the 'saved,' but those yet to be reached - after all they are lost, aren't they?"
Perhaps that sentence contains one feature that explains my personal disquiet about 'church.' Not a specific church, not the church of which I am a member, rather the Canadian 'evangelical church' with which I am familiar. Meriting some sincere consideration is the question of how much of our resources we devote to serving the saved. Please understand that I am not faulting pastors and leaders because I am one of you. Retired now, I have spent five decades at work in the church doing what you have been called to do, what you seek to do and what some people think you should do. I know the joys and the strains, all of them. Fortunately for me, at the present time in the EFCC, there is a collective acknowledgement that we have grown relaxed about one of Christ's missional priorities, reaching those who have yet to be reached. For that reason I am grateful for the renewed evangelistic vision contained in the 'Revitalize' push that districts and national are campaigning. At the Lower Pacific District Conference on March 10-11, 'Revitalize' will be the theme that I believe God will use to inspire so many of us once more to catch a vision for 'fishing for men,' and in this age of political correctness, 'fishing for women' too. Better yet, fishing for acquaintances, neighbours, family members and strangers. For this we do not require a program but awareness, a purpose. It remains true, as simplistic as it may sound, witnessing is simply sharing your faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results to God. Now, a congregation of all ages that lives like that, will have evangelistic sermons stepping into the baptistry every month.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


What are you doing to cultivate your relationship with God? You and I must give thought to this. We should revisit the question. We cultivate our hobbies with new equipment and training. We cultivate friendships with shared meals and sports events. Christian belief consists of relationship with the living God is how we describe our faith. What are you doing to enrich the bond? It's a candid question, not meant to criticize. I ask it because I know firsthand how easily presumption becomes normative. We presume we are okay, we trust, we attend requisite meetings in our churches. It becomes routine. Relationship we would agree involves communication. Of course a relationship with someone who is unseen is different from others. You are confident that God hears you whether you speak to him aloud or silently. That's one aspect of communication. You are assured that God speaks through the Bible of course, and through His indwelling Spirit in you, and sometimes through expressions by other people. Granted, much about hearing God speak in these ways borders on the subjective. But let's kick that aside and get back to the question. What are you doing, or what can you do to cultivate this relationship that you say you have with the Creator God who spoke the universe into existence, who approved the perfection that characterized all of his creation, who provided salvation through the sacrificial atoning death of his incarnated son Jesus? It's a question. I am not going to answer it for you. We gravitate to articles that advise us about three steps to this or five key spiritual exercises. Fine, maybe they can inspire you, but what are 'you' now going to do to cultivate your relationship with God?