Monday, June 30, 2014

Is this what an ancient prophet acted like? Man...is this funny!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A discussion about "inerrancy," inspiration, and creation

The following is an excerpt from a discussion I had with a friend about the concept of inerrancy, inspiration, and creation stories in Genesis. It is intended to spurn your thinking about these issues and to draw attention to the various ways Christians can read and interpret the Bible (and still be Christians).

My friend believes the Earth is several thousand years old. He had gotten into several debates with other ministers about inerrancy, inspiration, and creation. My friend sent me a whole lot of what these other ministers had said. My friend then asked me what I thought about it all. 

His email is in black, my responses are in blue. I'll begin with my first response to my Friend:

Hey Friend,
Wow. That's a lot. To answer your question, I agree with some things he said.
(1) Concerning "inerrancy," I don't use the word because (a) the Bible never uses the word, especially because it's not written in Latin, the source language of "inerrant," and (b) it has such a bad history in church politics, especially among Southern Baptists. Since the term is not biblical and used only within certain contexts, it can be used in many ways: free from theological error, scientific error, language errors, etc. Therefore, the problem is, "exactly what is the text error-free from?" That is up to the person to decide since this term is foreign to the text anyway.
My personal view is that (at least) the Bible is theologically error free. God did not reveal to ancient people modern cosmology, nuclear physics, biology, etc. Because of this, I must deduce that God had no problem with ancient people being ignorant of scientific discoveries. And, by the way, in a hundred years, they'll say the same thing about us today! The point is, every generation learns more and at no time does God reveal to us then or now more facts about our universe. He was chiefly concerned with making sure theological truths were passed on.
(2) So, while it is certainly possible that "yom" only meant a day (24-25 hours) to the person who wrote Genesis 1, it does not follow that we now have to believe that it took that long to create something. To do so is to ignore the genre of the text. All ancient people had cosmogonies - stories of how the world began. They told (1) who was in charge; (2) why humans were created; and (3) the function of creation. When read in that genre, Genesis really stands out. I agree closely with http://www.amazon.com/Lost-World-Genesis-One-Cosmology-ebook/dp/B003VM8QK0/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1399124410&sr=8-3&keywords=john+walton I encourage you to read that text. It's accessible.
You might not find his arguments compelling, but I sure do. Most scholars in the field do, too. Determining the genre of the text is the first, most vital step in understanding how to interpret it. And, I'm convinced that Genesis 1 should not be read as a science textbook.
Finally, for me, it's not a slippery slope to doomsville. It's a topic way too big for Facebook, but to say is succinctly: scholars determine the genre, place the text in socio-historical contexts, and interpret it the best we can.
Is the Bible authoritative for me personally? Absolutely! It is the primary source of all Christian doctrine and revelation concerning the gospel.

Friend
Cosmic Temple Theory?
You are right this is too big for Facebook. What is your email. I want to trade ideas. 

(Then he emailed me and then I responded) ---

Thanks Friend. I appreciate your view and agree with several things you said; on some things, we part ways. Here are a few reflections. I don’t prefer to do too much in email because it takes so long :) and because I can’t control “tone.” I’ll do my best.

I believe in the inerrant word of God even if the word inerrant is foreign to the text or to broad a term for many to accept. I understand you: “you believe.” That’s cool. I’m not suggesting you can’t believe something. It does seem that you’re trying to tell me what to believe in that you assume/argue that your view is “truth.” I guess this means mine is not. I’m not sure. In any case, you are free to believe whatever you want on this issue, because at no time in the history of the early church was this term an issue of orthodoxy. This is a PhD in Historical Theology speaking here, but you don’t have to trust me. Go read the primary sources yourself. Finally, again, a chief reason I don’t use the term is because of the very volatile way it’s been used in the previous couple decades among Southern Baptists. The word Theology would have been foreign to the text as would the word Trinity, but you find these concepts in Genesis in Day 6.  I disagree, but I think I understand your point.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26, 27 NIV) I think you’re using these first person plural pronouns to argue for the Trinity. I’m not convinced at all. This plural usage is used throughout the ancient world to refer to either “God and His armies (hosts)” or “God and His divine council” - i.e., spiritual beings. You might be right; it is possible. I just don’t think so whatsoever. Jews are not, and have never been throughout history,Trinitarian. This is uniquely Christian (with clear Jewish roots) and wasn’t revealed to humans until thousands of years after Genesis was written.

Why is it ok to use the word Trinity or Theology, but not Inerrant.  Of course it’s “OK.” I’ve never said it wasn’t “OK.” I told you why don’t use it. And, by the way, I feel much more comfortable using “theology” and “Trinity” because these terms were used for centuries in the early church and were held in broad agreement. If you can show me where inerrancy or any other such view made it into the Creeds of the early church and you will make this a big issue for me right away. Again I believe that God who inspired man in writing the Bible and preserved it for us and who cannot lie and who knows everything is inerrant in science, literature, theology, any subject or category you choose. Your pronoun antecedent is unclear here. I assume you mean “God” when you say “who” twice. That is, you think God cannot lie and knows everything, not “man.” If I’m right, then of course I concur with you! Though, I would say God does not lie because of His perfect character, not that He cannot lie (though this is a philosophical distinction that is beyond the scope of this email). My only point of contention here is what you assume in this sentence and in the next one. . . “God who inspired man. . .” I wish I knew exactly what that meant.

If I thought that fallible man wrote the bible then I would agree with you that it is not infallible and not scientifically accurate.   Because I believe in God breathed scripture and a God that cannot lie I cannot compromise by trying to add Man's fallible wisdom to what God clearly wrote.  So, this is where we might really disagree. I do not know what you mean at all when you believe simultaneously that “fallible man” did not write the Bible, but do “believe God breathed scripture.” So, I don’t know how that process/event worked to you. Clearly the Bible never explains the process. Do you believe the Bible fell from Heaven? Did angels bring it to Jesus? Did Jesus write it? I’m really asking; I really am interested. Did God take over humans (or one human?) into a trance and they lost consciousness and became God’s stenographers? It sounds like you believe like the Muslims do, viz., that Allah forced Mohammed to write down the exact words Allah wanted. So, if God didn’t “add to Man’s fallible wisdom,” it means you believe God speaks in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin? These must be God’s languages since God cannot use man in the process. If so, do you only think the original languages of the Bible are “God’s Word”? Does the English translation count at all? Do you not read from the English translation? (Again, my tone here is sincere.)

What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:12-14 NIV) I’m uncertain what this has to do at all with our discussion. What Paul is addressing in his context at Corinth around 55 AD is certainly not related to how the Bible is written nor how we should interpret it.

And my favorite

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:16-21 NIV) I have the same struggle with this text as with the passage above. The one distinction here is that 2 Peter speaks of prophets having words straight from God (and of course, as you know, the Bible is not a collection of prophecies; it includes some, and the Bible is really full of other things too). I’m guessing that you think 2 Peter 20-21 applies to everything written in the Bible. If you do, OK. I don’t. But, I’m not interesting in attempting to dissuade you. I see no reason to apply these two verses to the entire Bible.

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses about supernatural events that fulfilled specific prophecies and they claim their origin to be of supernatural rather than of human origin. I concur to a large extent, though I don’t find this compelling concerning a significant portion of narratives in the Bible (which human was the eyewitness to Genesis 1? You think all the parables are historical events? There are thousands and thousands of verses in the Bible that have nothing to do at all with fulfilling prophecies. Etc.)

Got this from Voddie Baucham's sermon entitled "Why I believe the Bible is true" based on II Peter

while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:13-17 NIV)

This speaks to God's Expired Word.  Like Exhaling.  We know from 2 Timothy where the Bible comes from, God Breathed it out.  I hear you brother. It’s just that as I said above, you’re filling in some huge gaps here in your explanation of the process. Saying “God breathed it out” most certainly does not tell me (1) how the process worked; (2) when it happened; (3) where it happened; (4) to whom it happened; (5) or how to interpret the Bible. Instead, it merely speaks of the ultimate source. And not to mention, this text in 2 Timothy says nothing at all about the New Testament! When Paul wrote this, (most of) the gospels didn’t exist, several of his letters weren’t written, none of his letters were collected into groups, and none of gospels (whichever ones existed) or any other document written at the time had made it to the level of “scripture” in early Christianity. So, again, this verse is always used to apply to all the Bible. If that’s what you believe, cool. If you’re suggesting that Paul thought that a thing called “New Testament” existed and that it was at the same level of authority as the “Old Testament” when he wrote these verses, then I’m not compelled whatsoever. That is patently false.

Let's frame our discussion on creation in Genesis as this is the foundation of the rest of the bible and what I am really into now. Glad “you’re into it!” :) I don’t think it’s the foundation of the rest of the Bible, even though I don’t know what “foundation” means here in this sentence to you. Especially creation versus millions if years of death, disease, and evolution before man hits the scene. I have much to say about this but I won’t.  

If you hold to the cosmic temple view then I know that you are attempting to consolidate what the Bible plainly says with what you have been taught and believe about "science" mainly an ancient earth and evolution.  Brother, let’s not assume anything at all about each other’s views. Feel free to ask me what I believe and I’ll do my best to explain it to you. You have no idea what I believe about evolution, “science,” or an ancient earth because you haven’t asked me. You will not be able to piece these together. Assertions are not arguments. I’m willing to be convinced that what I believe will not ever be put together. But, I need evidence/arguments, not assertions. It boils down to us not trusting God's word and trying to add our current wisdom to help it along. Brother, this is the part where talking to people who hold your view gets me so sad and frustrated. And I feel it here too. It is so offensive and unchristian to accuse me of “not trusting God’s word” just because I might not agree with your interpretation of the Bible. This infers that you think St. Augustine and Origen didn’t trust in “God’s Word” because they held to different views than you. In that case, you’ve just accused billions of other Christians that exist and who have died because they disagreed with you. Is this really necessary? I’m really asking. Really? Are you really assuming that (1) I either see it your way and trust the Bible or (b) see it any other way and don’t trust the Bible? I’m forced into these alternatives? This, in my view, is the definition of fundamentalism.  So, the most important question to me for you is: “Is it possible in your view to trust in the Bible (whatever that means) while at the same time not agree completely with how you interpret Genesis (or some other text)? Are these mutually exclusive? If so, why? As you taught me, eisegesis instead of exegesis. I taught you that?! Yeah!!! :)

I hope I am putting words in your mouth and you hold the Bible as more than a source of good Theology.   I have struck out three times thus far in finding a common belief in the Bible with two pastors and a one year seminary student. You are definitely right, the prevailing belief is in shying away from Biblical absolutes. “struck out”? Could it be that you have simply disagreed with three other fellow Christians who hold to a particular view of interpreting Scripture that you don’t find compelling? Personally, I really hope our correspondence isn’t just your attempt to see if you can get “four” strike-outs and lose more hope in us! :)

I know that arguing semantics and personal beliefs is senseless. I just want to uncover truth.  I don’t think it’s senseless at all. I think it’s great to learn. What I do think is senseless, if you’re tempted to do this, is dismiss another Christian’s view as false/bad/evil/whatever just because you don’t hold the same view. Like you, I want to “uncover truth.” :) Simultaneously, I personally certainly believe that there are a whole gambit of things about which Christians can disagree and still not accuse the others of not believing in the Bible or any other such thing. I accepted Jesus at a young age and grew up in a family where the Bible represented the absolute truth.  Aside from God there is no truth.   Truth becomes irrelevant and becomes the possession of the strongest or last man standing without God making the rules.  Cool. I concur. At no time is anything we’ve discussed about “Truth” or “God making the rules.” That, again, is my chief concern for you. It seems to me that you have equated “how to interpret the Bible” with “whether or not Truth exists, or whether or not a person trusts in the Bible.” I just don’t share that view.

Jesus is Truth. My interpretation of the Bible is not.

Thanks for letting me dive into apologetics with you even if I am in over my head.   You will have to swim for the both of us for a while.

In Him,
Friend 

I knew I’d take too long to type this!! :) Thanks brother!
David

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Free Tool to Help You Grow

Below is a tool I developed to use in my discipleship ministries. I also use it for my own growth. Feel free to use it as you'd like. I can email you a pdf if you'd like to use it or distribute it to your church or small group. (The lines are lined up when I edit the post; disjointed when I publish it to the site.)


Discipleship Assessment

David W. Pendergrass, PhD
---

Why do I want to use an assessment?
Jesus commanded his Apostles to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19-20) and they did. This commandment begs two questions: what is a “disciple” and how is a disciple made? The What: “Disciple” means “learner, student, or adherent.” The How: Jewish disciples adopted the lifestyle and values of their teacher and obeyed what the teacher commanded. Making disciples involves two stages: (1) the initial confession and repentance of sins and placement of faith in Jesus and (2) the secondary stage of growing in faith within a Christian community.

Based on the Bible and church history, Christian disciples are persons who grow in three areas: (1) biblical knowledge (Mind), (2) consistent devotional habits (Heart), and (3) healthy, accountable relationships (Body).[1] Disciples are growing in Mind, Heart, and Body. These are the three areas covered in this assessment.

The purpose of this assessment is to help you determine if you are maturing as a disciple. It is also intended to help you think clearly about your growth. Remember three crucial points: (a) This tool is certainly not exhaustive; a comprehensive assessment would be much larger. (b) This is just a mirror; it is not an instrument of condemnation. (c) Growth takes time and is at God’s discretion. All we can do is commit ourselves to God and various Christian activities within which most growth occurs.

How do I use this assessment?
Carefully and slowly read the description of each area. Then read each assessment question. Then, on a scale from 1-10 (where 10 is perfect), rate yourself. Give the most honest answer you can. Don’t think too long. Don’t condemn yourself if it’s lower than you want. Then, write down what you’re committing to do in order to grow in that area. (Tip: Don’t write down, “I’ll try harder.” We all need resources and structure, so ask for it when needed.) Finally, keep this assessment with you. Use it as a guide to help you stay focused on growth.

Here’s an example:
1.       I read (or listen to) the Bible regularly (multiple times a week).                                                          5     
2.       I think about Bible verses during the day and apply them to daily activities.                                     7    

Plan of Action
To increase my discipleship, I commit to do the following:
I commit to listening to the Bible as I exercise. Also, I will not eat each day until I’ve read from the Bible. I will reach out to Christian Mentor for help in how to read it correctly. I will ask Christian Mentor how she applies the Bible to her life each day. I will ask her if she would meet with me twice a month so that we can discuss any failures or successes. I will call Christian Mentor Monday morning. If she can’t do it I’ll call other Christian Mentor and ask her.


Discipleship Assessment

Mind Disciples learn Scripture, understand it, and apply it to each area of life every day.
Before it was written down, disciples memorized the oral teaching from Jesus and the early church (for example, see Matt 28:19-20; Acts 18:11; 20:20; Rom 12:7; 16:17; 1 Cor 14:6; Col 1:28; 3:16; 1 Tim 4:6, 13; 5:17; 2 Tim 2:15; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1; 2 John 1:9). Eventually, these teachings were written down and collected with the Old Testament to form what we call “Scripture” or “the Bible.” Reading the Bible is how people know who God is and what God wants us to do.

1.       I read (or listen to) the Bible regularly (multiple times a week).                                                                
2.       I think about Bible verses during the day and apply them to daily activities.                                           
3.       I spend time each year reading reputable theological and biblical books.                                             
4.       I have a good knowledge of what Jesus taught and did.                                                                            
5.       I can explain what Jesus taught and did to others.                                                                                      

Heart Disciples practice devotional habits based on our love for God and neighbor.
Jesus commanded loving God and other people (Mk 12:29-31). Jesus was not commanding an emotion; He was commanding a disposition that led to certain behavior. 

Loving God means giving Him unconditional devotion or allegiance, just as Jesus did. To demonstrate their devotion/love toward God, Christians did multiple things, such as denying themselves and completely trusting God (Mk 8:34-38; 10:14-15), praying (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 6:4; 10:2; Rom 8:26; 12:12; 1 Cor 7:5; et al.), listening to and obeying the teaching of the Apostles (see “Mind” above), writing and singing songs to God (1 Cor 14:15, 26; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16), fasting (Matt 6:16-18; Acts 13:2-3; 14:23), celebrating the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:20-34); and telling other people about what God has done in Jesus (Mk 1:17; 6:6-12; Acts 15:7; 2 Tim 4:2).

1.       Each day, I decide how I spend my time, where I spend my money, and what type of relationships I have based on my devotion to God.                                                                                                                         
2.       I make significant decisions in life only after diligent prayer and scripture reading.                                    
3.       I trust God right now like I trusted my parents when I was a child.                                                              
4.       I quickly admit, confess, and repent when I sin (i.e., without excusing or blaming).                                    
5.       I am greatly concerned with a virtuous lifestyle that would be considered by God, holy.”                         
6.       I regularly pray to God as a loving Father (Gal 4:6), feeling comfortable, safe, and welcomed
by God, without using “churchy” language during my prayer.                                                                          
7.       I regularly worship God freely and completely.                                                                                                
8.       I regularly practice spiritual disciplines like fasting to help me stay devoted to God.                                 
9.       When the opportunity arises, I willingly talk about the gospel.                                                                      
               

Loving our neighbor means taking care of our neighbor’s needs (even when they are our enemies, Matt 5:44). To demonstrate their devotion toward other people, Christians did multiple things, such as praying for others (Acts 6:6; 8:15; 9:40; 12:5; Rom 15:30-31; et al.) and supplying the needs of the poor (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34; Rom 15:26; Gal 2:10; 2 Cor 1:11).

1.       I actively seek out ways to help the needs of people around me.                                                             
2.       I regularly pray for others and their needs.                                                                                                  
3.       When something needs to get done, I immediately find a way to help.                                                     
4.       I do not have any sense of entitlement; I do not expect people to serve me.                                            
5.       I actively seek to act favorably toward anyone I meet, especially towards those who are
mean to me, hurt me, or who treat me unfairly.                                                                                            

Body Disciples hold healthy, morally-accountable relationships with other Christians.
Early Christians maintained their discipleship in community. Christian community involves building up each other according to our giftedness (Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12; 14:3), showing honor and care toward each other (Rom 12:10); forgiving each other (2 Cor 2:7; Col 3:13), encouraging each other (1 Thess 5:11; Heb 10:24); and holding each other morally accountable (Matt 7:1-6; 18:15-17; James 5:16; Heb 10:25).

1.       I do not attempt to control, gossip about, or demean other people. Instead, I actively
seek to build them up, using my Spirit-driven giftedness.                                                                           
2.       I actively, regularly show honor and care toward others.                                                                           
3.       I am a safe, graceful person: I can be trusted with a person’s failures and brokenness.                            
4.       I am not bitter, nor hold grudges. I actively seek to forgive and be reconciled with others.                       
5.       I do not seek to criticize. I actively, regularly encourage others.                                                                   
6.       I have at least one person to whom I confess my sins and who asks me about my
sin struggles on a regular basis.                                                                                                                     

Plan of Action
To increase my discipleship, I commit to do the following:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
[1] Acts 2:42 gives a succinct summary: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching (Mind) and fellowship (Body), to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Heart)” (ESV).

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Response to the Blog post, "The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying"

There’s a popular blog post going around much in the last couple months called, “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-dannemiller/christians-should-stop-saying_b_4868963.html). It’s written by Scott Dannemiller, a worship leader and former missionary in the Presbyterian denomination. I won’t tell you what this post is about because I want you to make up your own mind.

I read this blog post months ago and have reflected on it since then. I appreciate what I think he’s trying to say, but what he actually says is wrong on several points.

I thought I should I write a response to this blog not as an example of one Christian beating on another one. No. I just want to breakdown the things he says in the hope that thinking carefully about things he says—which prima facie sound right—are actually not based on solid biblical thinking. My hope is that this exercise helps you also think critically when reading religious blogs (including my own, of course!)

First, you need to read what he wrote. So, click on that link above and read it. It won’t take you long.

Second, I’ll post some of his major points italicized and then reflect on them in blue.

First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God's blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers. I can't help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M's to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants. Sure, God wants us to continually seek His will, and it's for our own good. But positive reinforcement?

(1) God’s giving gifts doesn’t “reduce” Him to a “sky-bound fairy.” That’s nonsense. Is that what Abraham said about God when God granted him land (and the cattle and produce that came with it) with descendants? Of course not. (E.g., Gen 28; also see Joseph’s “blessing” over his fields and house in Gen 39:5 and the same kind of thing in Lev 25:21 and Heb 6:7)

(2) Moreover, it’s fallacious again to imply that God’s giving gifts are necessarily “random.” Why suggest that? What about gift giving makes it inherently random? There is no reason to assert or assume that (and the Bible completely suggests otherwise).

(3) Finally, “positive reinforcement” is precisely why Israelites were given positive consequences to staying faithful (and in the NT, like in 1 Pet 3:9). Again, his assertion here is not grounded on any biblical or logical grounds. Finally, if positive reinforcement is good enough for Jesus, then why not for us? (e.g., Mk 13:13; also see 2 Tim 2:12)

God is not a behavioral psychologist.

What does this have to do with anything? Why does using “positive reinforcement” make God a “behavioral psychologist”? I understand it if he’s intending rhetorical flare; as an author I get it. But, if the methods used by these psychologists are similar to God’s, then why is that immoral or sinful?

Second, and more importantly, calling myself blessed because of material good fortune is just plain wrong. For starters, it can be offensive to the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world who live on less than $10 per day.
This is also fallacious. (1) Something is not “plain wrong” because it’s “offensive” to people. That’s not how morality is decided, and most certainly not in Christianity.

(2) Moreover, this is completely counter to the biblical worldview. (Certain) ancient Israelites clearly would have believed that Abraham’s “blessings” of material things would have been a sign that God was good and real. It would have not have been an implicit message that “God must really hate poor people.”

(3) Finally, this is simply illogical. It does not follow that because one person is given a gift, it must mean that God (a) has not given another person any gift at all or (b) that I need to be able to explain what God is doing or not doing in other persons’ lives. Analogy: If Paul gave me $5 and I thanked him for the gift, and no one else received it and got all mad at me because they didn’t get it and said, “You have no right at all to say that Paul gave you a gift! You know how that’s offensive to me! You need to explain to me why Paul didn’t give me the same gift as you before I believe that you received a gift from Paul.” I would say that’s all nonsense. I know a gift when I see one and I’m thankful for it!

During our year in Guatemala, Gabby and I witnessed first-hand the damage done by the theology of prosperity, where faithful people scraping by to feed their families were simply told they must not be faithful enough. If they were, God would pull them out of their nightmare. Just try harder, and God will show favor. Of course he’s right here.
The problem? Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith. 

In those exact words? No. But, apparently he’s never read Deuteronomy (or Is 30:18), where this general sentiment is spread throughout the book. I’m not saying this theology is right (=something Jesus taught), but it is most certainly one of the strands of Jewish theology in the Bible (it appears in multiple books in the Old Testament). It’s called “Deuteronomistic theology” in scholarship.

Then he spends some time speaking about the Beatitudes. This is mostly right. Of course, where’s he’s wrong is suggesting that Jesus’s use of being “blessed” is the only way to use or understand the term in the Bible. (It's not; it's used in many ways.)

The truth is, I have no idea why I was born where I was or why I have the opportunity I have. It's beyond comprehension. Just because he has no idea why he was born when and where he was, it most certainly doesn’t follow that “it’s beyond comprehension.” That’s silly. He’s ignorant of “why”; it doesn’t follow that knowing why is beyond human comprehension.

But I certainly don't believe God has chosen me above others because of the veracity of my prayers or the depth of my faith. Still, if I take advantage of the opportunities set before me, a comfortable life may come my way. It's not guaranteed. But if it does happen, I don't believe Jesus will call me blessed. OK. Here, he’s moved from “people should stop saying things” to now, “here are some things I believe.” Fine. If he wants to believe these things he certainly can.

If I were a bettin’ man, I’d suggest that Scott’s chief target is the Word of Faith or Prosperity people that characterize a great majority of charismatic or Pentecostal churches (though not all). If I’m right, then I completely concur. “Naming it and claiming it” and “making declarations” and “speaking it over someone” does not, any way, shape, or form represent the cross-bearing, Kingdom-ushering message of Jesus of Nazareth. Unfortunately, if that was his target, he said a bunch of other stuff that misrepresents certain biblical themes and beliefs.

Think on these things. . .



Monday, June 16, 2014

Scared of really getting to know God

There’s a curious expression I’ve heard all my life among Christians. It goes something like this:

“I want to be closer to Jesus (or God).”

It’s curious to me because for years, I didn’t know what it meant. I’m not sure if we can be spatially closer to God because God is omnipresent. I’m not sure if we can be relationally closer to God because, in Jesus, we are as “close” as we can be. I really resisted this expression for years because it struck me as an expression that meant, "I want to feel like God is present," which, too often is the case, is an attempt to chase a feeling about God instead of God.

Nevertheless, I accept that expression more and more. It reminds of what Paul said in 1 Cor 13:12. Corinth was known for high quality copper mirrors. Paul uses an object they would have known well to make an analogy about knowledge of God.

“For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known” (NET).

Of course, if I were to see you behind me in a mirror, it would be “indirectly” looking at you. But, if I saw you “face to face,” then I would look at you directly. Paul’s point isn’t about seeing God, but about knowing God directly. Notice how Paul suggests that I don’t know God fully, but that God already fully knows me.

If that’s what you mean when you say, “I want to be closer to God,” – that you “want to know God more,” then I’m with you.

I say the same thing about my wife and friends. I want to know them better, “be closer.”

Of course, there’s a real fear sometimes with really knowing a person. It means they really know you, too. Maybe I don’t want you to know everything about me. And what if I feel the same towards God? “If God really knew me, then He’d want me to change or do something…

C.S. Lewis said he struggled with such a thing (in an essay called, “A Slip of the Tongue”):

“I say my prayers, I read a book of devotion, I prepare for, or receive, the Sacrament. But while I do these things, there is so to speak, a voice inside me that urges caution. It tells me to be careful, to keep my head, not to go too far, not to burn my boats. I come into the presence of God with a great fear lest anything should happen to me within that presence which will prove too intolerably inconvenient when I have come out again into my “ordinary” life. I don’t want to be carried away into any resolution which I shall afterwards regret.. . .

“This is my endlessly recurrent temptation: to go down to that Sea (I think St. John of the Cross called God a sea) and there neither dive nor swim nor float, but only dabble and splash, careful not to get out of my depth and holding on to the lifeline which connects me with my things temporal.”

C.S. Lewis goes on to say that our great protection against the temptation not to “go all in with God” is not in pulling back our faith or safeguarding our wallet or habits. Instead,

“Our real protection is to be sought elsewhere: in common Christian usage, in moral theology, in steady rational thinking, in the advice of good friends and good books, and (if need be) in a skilled spiritual director.”

What about when we fail and hold back from our attempt to “get closer to God?” What if we just keep dabbling in His presence?

He will be infinitely merciful to our repeated failures; I know no promise that He will accept a deliberate compromise. For He has, in the last resort, nothing to give us but Himself; and He can give that only insofar as our self-affirming will retires and makes room for Him in our souls. Let us make up our minds to do it; there will be nothing “of our own” left over to live, no 'ordinary' life.”

And later, "Failures will be forgiven; it is acquiescence that is fatal, the permitted, regularised presence of an area in ourselves which we still claim for our own."

So, I wonder where you’re at. Are you seeking to know God more? Or, are you afraid “to go all in” in the fear that He might demand you surrender part of you or tell you to stop doing something? If so, that’s a compromise not supported in the Bible. There is no notion that we get to have some of God or that we can surrender some of ourselves. Christ said those who follow Him must deny their wills and pick up their crosses. It’s everything or nothing.

What if my wife demanded all of my loyalty and I promised to give her “as much as I could but couldn’t promise too much”?

“For He claims all, because He is love and must bless. He cannot bless us unless He has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, He claims all. There’s no bargaining with Him.”

If you’re not trying to “get closer to Jesus” right now, today, and each day, why not? What’s holding you back?

Figure that out and fix it. He’s waiting on you.

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