Friday, December 29, 2006

Don't Hate on the Church-

"Surely it is fair to say that science is to the "science" that inspired exterminations as Christianity is to the "Christianity" that inspired Crusades. In both cases the human genius for finding pretexts seized upon the most prestigious institution of the culture and appropriated a great part of its language and resources and legitimacy...The failure in both instances to distinguish best from worst means that both science and religion are effectively lost to us in terms of disciplining or enlarging our thinking." - Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam, 'Darwinism.'

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Unnecessary Selfishness

In Phillipians 2, Paul exhorts Christians “to do nothing out of selfish ambition, but consider others better than yourselves.”

This is relatively challenging for me to do even for my family and friends, the people I actually like. But sometimes I can pull it off, because I like them, and they deserve good treatment.

They deserve it. But what about those people whom I don’t like? What about those people who do not deserve special consideration?

Paul seems to anticipate this question by pointing out that Christ, who was God, put you, a mere mortal, ahead of himself. So whatever the distance in worthiness that separates me and the person I think undeserving of my consideration, it must be small relative to that distance between Christ and myself.

‘Yeah,’ I thought, ‘but it’s easy for Christ to be generous. He has all the resources of God to draw upon. Even his stint here on earth, as unpleasant as it turned out, must be a relatively small portion of his experience compared to what I presume was eternal heaven both before and after his time on earth. I, on the other hand, only have the meager resources of my own life.’

But then I realized that’s not true. My belief is that I too have eternity from here on out. So, if putting others ahead of myself requires a little of my time, that’s okay – I’ve got all eternity. My belief is that God has adopted me as a son, and is now overseeing my life and bringing to bear on it all his resources in heaven and on earth. So, if putting others ahead of myself costs me in money, or dignity, or whatnot, that’s okay – I’ve got all the resources of God behind me. I don’t need to be stingy; I can afford to put others ahead of myself.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What does God expect from us in this life? I mean this question practically, not theoretically. I know He expects us to love God, and our neighbor, and to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. But I don't know a single person who claims to have achieved anything close to those goals. So what can we actually expect to achieve - in this life - in terms of our spiritual aspirations?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ya' feel Me?

What do you feel when you pray? If I'm having what seems like a "good" time in prayer, I get this tingly, airy, spacious feeling in my chest. I won't pretend otherwise: I tend to think this feeling is God, like a mystical haze, ebbing into me.

Other times, "bad" times, I feel...nothing, nothing but a dull numbness.

I know there's probably neither scientific nor theological reason to think this tingly feeling is God's presence or that the lack of a feeling is God's absence. In fact, science and theology probably agree that, in fact, there's no reason to think my "feelings" are necessarily linked to the actual presence or experience of God. But I'd be interested in hearing about the subjective experience of others. Do you feel anything when you pray? Do you feel God?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Messages from the Devil:

Given your current circumstances, you should feel insecure. Seek money and success if you want to be more secure.

You need to worry about yourself, otherwise no one will. If you think about others before yourself, then who will look out for you?

Are you important enough? It's important that you be important and successful, and that others know it.

Worry about your future: what is going to happen to you and your life? You should be scared.

You need to be more physically attractive to have more value as a human being.

Seek pleasure; it will make you feel better.

These are based on a recent conversation I had with my cousin.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I have every reason to be humble. Yet, somehow, whenever I manage to string together a decent number of days or hours in which I do well, or well enough, my ego starts to inflate. I become prideful and critical, judgmental and thus hypocritical. Fortunately, I suppose, events soon conspire to remind me why I ought to be humble. Still, I’d like to be able to tie down this balloonish pride of mine that seems so prone filling up with hot air and floating away. I want my perspective to be permanently grounded in the earth of knowing that for me, and probably for everyone else, life is a great struggle. And so, in our thoughts and feelings and actions, we should be kind to one another.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I constantly struggle with the story of Uzzah. The Israelites are transporting the Ark of the Covenant, and an oxen stumbles. The Ark is jostled and nearly falls over. Uzzah reaches out to steady the Ark, touching it. "The LORD's anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God." 1 Chronicles 13: 10.

How should I feel about and act upon the knowledge that God is so holy?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Same question; different answers

The Gospel of Luke describes God responding differently to different kinds of questions and doubts. In chapter one, an angel announces to Zechariah that he and his wife Elizabeth will become the parents of John the Baptist. In light of his advanced age, Zechariah doubts the angel's message and asks 'how can I know this is true?' In response, he gets a sign: the angel strikes his tongue so he cannot speak.

In the same chapter, Mary is told by an angel that she will give birth. In light of her virginity, she is confused. She asks 'how can this be true?' This is almost exactly the same question Zechariah asked; yet, instead of being struck dumb, the angel grants her a detailed explanation.

I can only figure that the reason for the different angelic responses was due to the spirit of the questioners. Zechariah probably doubted the angelic proclamation; whereas Mary probably didn't doubt, but failed to understand.

Jesus also responds differently to different types of questions and doubts. When his critics and enemies ask him to produce a sign, wonder, or miracle, he refuses to give them one. Yet when one of his own disciples says 'I will not believe in the resurrection unless I can put my fingers in his wounds,' Jesus allows him to do just that.

Within apparently very similar questions, I see a spectrum of attitudes, and it appears that these attitudes determine the type of answer one receives from God.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Hypocrisy vs. Failure: Ted Haggard, analyzed in the abstract

After Jeff's recent post about Haggard's problem being hypocrisy, not the flesh, I ran the issue by some local compadres.

Most of them immediately agreed with Jeff.

However, I then posed this hypothetical to them: suppose you knew that your pastor had at some point in the last year done something he wished he hadn't done: he'd looked at pornography. Should he then never say from his pulpit that you shouldn't look at pornography?

There's a difference between hypocrisy and failure; and Christianity has built into it a certain degree of failure on the part of its adherents.

However, another person brought up the need for transparency or honest, saying this is what would save someone from hypocrisy. 'It's one thing to fail to live up to your own ideals, it's another thing to imply that you are living up to them, when really you are not.'

So that's what I'm about: failure with transparency.

I'm not familiar with Haggard's work, but I suspect that his preaching implied that he himself wasn't indulging in sexual immorality, so that was probably hypocrisy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Answered prayers:

In the spirit of trying to increase faith, please post examples of prayers you've personally seen answered.

I'll start with two:

1. I prayed for a mentally ill friend of mine to be healed from it, and he was. Five years ago he was deeply depressed and suicidal; today he's happy and healthy.

2. I prayed for my wife - when she was still dating someone else. It was very interesting because when I prayed for her, I had a distinct sense that God said to me, 'yes, you'll have her, but not yet.' About a month later she turned me down for a date (she was dating someone else). About 18 months later, we were married. (And I didn't even do anything sneaky to steal her from her old boyfriend, except maybe the prayer).

Monday, November 06, 2006

In light of the Ted Haggard scandal, let's pray that God have mercy. Let's pray that God have mercy on Ted Haggard, his family, and his congregation. More importantly, let's pray that God have mercy on all of us Chritians, because we're sinners, 'wretched and wrecked by the fall,' 'daily debtors to grace constrained to be,' 'wanting to do good, but instead doing evil.' Let's not look at Ted Haggard and say that we're glad we're not like him. Let's identify with Ted Haggard, saying that his struggle with the flesh is our struggle, and pray that God have mercy on us, the Church.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

"Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mark 11:24.

Whenever I read through a Gospel, I am confronted by bold promises of the possibilities of faith. I know this question is in some ways old hat, but do we believe this promise about prayer? We tend to interpret these 'faith' verse in order to mitigate the possibility that Jesus really meant anything supernatural would happen. But I'm noticing that when Jesus talks about the powerful possibilities of faith, it's usually related to something supernatural happening: moving mountains, calming seas, feeding multitudes, withering fig trees. So, again, do we believe this verse?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Is it more Christian to be a socialist or a capitalist?

A Christian argument for socialism would emphasize caring for our neighbors; a Christian argument for capitalism would emphasize the freedom and dignity of individuals.

I'd like your thoughts on whether either of these is right, wrong, or other.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Greek: why bother?

Evangelicals have a fetish for New Testament Greek, and the more I think about it, the less sense that it makes.

Usually, the rational goes something like this: certain ideas just don't come across in the English translation, and so in order to really understand what's being said in the New Testament, one needs to learn the language in which it was written. An English translation misses some of the nuanced meaning of the original Greek. (It's also related to the idea of Innerrancy, which suggests that there are secret codes to be cracked in the jots and the tittles of the original text).

I understand that languages don't translate perfectly, and I'm all for scholarly translation that fleshes out meaning. But I'm just doubtful that my local pastor, who did three semesters of Greek at seminary, can obtain a better translation than that which is already available to me in any regular English language Bible.

The reason for this is because my Evangelical pastor would have to understand NT Greek better than the team of Phd translators who gave me my version of the Bible; and this just can't be the case.

For an example from another context, I took NINE (count 'em) semesters of Spanish in college, and I lived in Spain. I can speak Spanish fairly well. But if I tried to translate the poems of Pablo Neruda for you, it's going to sound bad. It'll sound like the poetry of a 12-year-old, at best.

So this is why I don't understand why people learn Greek in order to interpret the Bible.

I mean, I'm as happy as the next guy that there are "four words for 'love' " in the Bible; but you didn't need to slave over the aorist tense to tell me that; C.S. Lewis covered it pretty good in his book, 'The Four Loves.'

As a side-note, the felt need to learn Greek also plays into a perspective of radical subjectivism and/or cultural relativism because it suggests that a cultural artifact (language) is inscrutable to the outsider. This suggests that truths are not universal, because if they were, they would be translatable to any culture (and therefore language). Personally I am a great believer in transcendent truth, natural law, essentialism, and all things that suggest that the existence of God and God's requirements are written on everyone's heart. Therefore, universal truths will be translatable from any language to any language. The idea that one needs to learn Greek to understand the NT is based on the sense that there are ideas, concepts, etc that are in the Greek that you can't understand in the English. I doubt it.

But, I know there are at least a couple of Greekophiles out there who might be able to dispute this point...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Against Ministry Gimmicks

I hate it when Christians try to lure non-Christian into the faith with food, folks, and fun. I once heard a minister say to a struggling fellowship that what was really needed to get the group energized was a logo and a rock band. More typically it involves offering free food. Other times it's Christians agonizing over what clever activity they can concoct that would make non-Christians want to attend.

All of these are wrong ways to draw people to Christ.

First, it doesn’t work. The Cross is an offense, and when Christ calls a man, He calls him to die. Nobody’s going take insult and injury for a pony ride.

Second, only the Spirit can draw people. We know this. So what’s the point of drawing people in with gimmicks? If they’re only drawn by the gimmick, then they won’t respond to the Spirit. And if they’re drawn by the Spirit, the gimmick is superfluous.

Third, these efforts distract from the real challenge of getting out and preaching Christ. Instead of taking on the work of testifying to Christ, we plan pizza parties. Our efforts mollify our consciences that tell us we should be shouting the Gospel from the roof tops.

Fourth, it’s vaguely deceptive. “Hey non-believer, why don’t you come to this low-pressure quasi-Christian social event. We’ll watch movies, eat chips, drink cola from 2-liter bottles (cuz we’re cheap)….and then WHAM we’ll sneak up our stealth evangelist ninja on you and KA-BLAMO! You’ll get SAVED!” If we ultimately want people to come to faith in Christ, it doesn’t seem totally honest to pretend otherwise on the front-end. Drawing people by anything other than God is pretending otherwise.

Fifth, when Christ fed people, He did so out of compassion for them. But He explicitly rejected using food to draw followers. Large crowds came to him for another meal after the feeding of a multitude, and instead he preached a bizarre message in which he criticized their coming to him for a meal. This drove away the masses. See John 5 & 6.

What are they teaching our seminarians? A bunch of cheesy marketing is my guess.

It might be argued that these are techniques for being 'all things to all people that we might save some,' but I think instead that these amount to using worldly sales techniques instead of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit and truly embodying godliness oursleves. Further, I bet you can hardly learn me a soul who was saved by a gimmick. But I bet you can learn me a whole bunch of events where you had a buncha Christians milling about, eating pizza and drinking pop, and wondering 'where are the non-Christians? How come they never come to our cheesy events.'

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fretting sheep; faithful Shepherd

I often worry that I’ve lost my way on my spiritual journey. Much of my time is spent doing things that don’t seem particularly meaningful. Maybe I took a wrong turn somewhere, and God intended me to be somewhere else doing something else. This is a discouraging line of thought, as discouraging as being lost in an unfamiliar city.

But this morning I was reminded that I am not responsible for guiding myself to the right path. That’s God’s job. He is the Shepherd; I am the sheep. The sheep doesn’t choose the means or the ends of his life. No one expects him to do so. The ability and responsibility to do so are the Shepherd’s. And this must be the case with God and us. The most important aspects of the course of our lives are determined by Him, not us. Our responsibility is to obey His guidance, but even in the event that a sheep fails to do this, the Good Shepherd tells us that He would leave the flock and come and find the lost individual.

This thought made me see that I don’t need to stew and worry about whether I’ve taken the right course with my life. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want. Even if I were lost, He promises to find me and bring me back to the flock. I don’t need to worry about yesterday or tomorrow. All I need to do today is to follow His voice when I hear it.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Does God care about every detail of my life? Does He have a specific will for every aspect of my life?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sometimes I felt overwhelmed by all that life entails. I seek solace, but I’m tempted to do so in the wrong places:

I may throw myself against my trials, trying to overcome them by my own strength. But soon I find I’m too weak to do so.

I may seek the repose of sleep, but I awake crabbier, more internally desiccated, and an hour older.

I may lose myself in the escapism of entertainment, but I emerge on the other side still consternated and pained.

I may stimulate myself with food or drink or pleasure, but the result is that though I’ve bloated myself, my hunger and thirst remain.

But then, having exhausted my options, I turn to God. And if I connect with Him in prayer for just 15 minutes, my feelings are made joyful, my mind is restored, my thoughts become clear, and my anxiety is unknotted. Whenever I lack anything, I’m learning that God, and nothing else, will satisfy me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hasn’t the overall influence of Christianity been negative?

A balanced response to this old question has been given by Kenneth Scott Latourette, Sterling Professor, Yale University:

Christianity has been the means of reducing more languages to writing than have all other factors combined. It has created more schools, more theories of education, and more systems than has any other one force. More than any other power in history it has impelled men to fight suffering, whether that suffering has come from disease, war or natural disasters. It has built thousands of hospitals, inspired the emergence of the nursing and medical professions, and furthered movement for public health and the relief and prevention of famine. Although explorations and conquests which were in part its outgrowth led to the enslavement of Africans for the plantations of the Americas, men and women whose consciences were awakened by Christianity and whose wills it nerved brought about the abolition of slavery (in England and America). Men and women similarly moved and sustained wrote into the laws of Spain and Portugal provisions to alleviate the ruthless exploitation of the Indians of the New World.

Wars have often been waged in the name of Christianity. They have attained their most colossal dimensions through weapons and large–scale organization initiated in (nominal) Christendom. Yet from no other source have there come as many and as strong movements to eliminate or regulate war and to ease the suffering brought by war. From its first centuries, the Christian faith has caused many of its adherents to be uneasy about war. It has led minorities to refuse to have any part in it. It has impelled others to seek to limit war by defining what, in their judgment, from the Christian standpoint is a "just war." In the turbulent Middle Ages of Europe it gave rise to the Truce of God and the Peace of God. In a later era it was the main impulse in the formulation of international law. But for it, the League of Nations and the United Nations would not have been. By its name and symbol, the most extensive organization ever created for the relief of the suffering caused by war, the Red Cross, bears witness to its Christian origin. The list might go on indefinitely. It includes many another humanitarian projects and movements, ideals in government, the reform of prisons and the emergence of criminology, great art and architecture, and outstanding literature.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I can't seem to pray for myself. I feel as if every thing I would say smacks of either subtle pride (Lord, lead me to the great works I am capable of...) or hapless incomprehension (Lord, let me get this job, or do that thing, if its your will, which I have no reason to think it is...or isn't). I feel better about praying for others, which maybe is a hint.

Also, perhaps it represents progress. I used to think that I knew how to pray, that I prayed apt, godly prayers. Perhaps realizing I don't have a clue what I'm doing and that I often shouldn't open my unclean lips is a sign of growth.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Should a Christian ever lie?

Key passages:

God hates lying. Proverbs 16:6.

Jesus suggested that it was appropriate to break the "rules" if it involved a greater good or need. Mark 2:23-28 (Jesus' disciples are eating grain on the Sabbath, and Jesus cites David eating the priests' consecrated bread when he and his men were hungry to justify the practice).

I've heard a pastor go so far as to say that if the Nazis came to your door, and you were hiding Jews, you would be obligated as a Christian not to lie about it. I've also read Bonhoeffer say that this thought is 'grotesque,' and that you should tell a 'robust lie.'

Monday, October 02, 2006

Amazing Grace:
Zechariah 3Clean Garments for the High Priest
1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" 3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you."
Some notes:
1. I was amazed to read this passage because despite 10 years of reading the Bible, I have no recollection of ever encountering it.
2. Here, it's the high priest who is clothed in iniquity. This is something like it being the Pope or Billy Graham: all have sinned and fallen short.
3. 'Joshua' here is 'Yeshua,' which of course is where we get 'Jesus.' It seems hard to discount the coincidence.
4. Hebrews 4:15 describes Jesus as a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses.
Amazing passage:
Zechariah 3Clean Garments for the High Priest
1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?" 3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you."
Some notes:
1. I was amazed to read this passage because despite 10 years of reading the Bible, I have no recollection of ever encountering it.
2. Here, it's the high priest who is clothed in iniquity. This is something like it being the Pope or Billy Graham: all have sinned and fallen short.
3. 'Joshua' here is 'Yeshua,' which of course is where we get 'Jesus.' It seems hard to discount the coincidence.
4. Hebrews 4:15 describes Jesus as a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Modern Legalism:

You have heard that it said 'you can't change someone.'

I say that it's the only way anyone has ever changed.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I recently struck up an e-mail correspondence with my aunt, Robbi. Upon finding out that I was a Christian, she said "please do not try to convert me."

Should I honor her request?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Can God both forgive and repay?

How can the following verses be reconciled:

1) As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Psalms 103:12

2) Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. Rev. 22:12.

Both these ideas are major teachings of the entire Bible, both that God forgives our sins and repays people according to their deeds.

How does this work?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Thorns and weeds

I've noticed during the past several years how much the worries of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth have had the power to choke out spiritual growth. When I was younger and had fewer concerns, fewer wordly responsibilities, fewer financial issues, I felt much more like good soil upon which the Word of God could grow into a bountiful crop. Now it's a struggle.

What I'd like to hear about is ideas on how to beat back the incursions into my life of these unwanted crops.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One of the greatest evidences of Christianity to me is that I see the Spirit of Jesus in all of the Christians I know. Despite your different talents, personalities, and foibles, I can clearly see that God is active in you. Particularly those of you whom I've known for some time, I've seen you become more and more Christ-like, yet simultaneously "more yourselves."

Monday, August 28, 2006

Downloadable sermons?

I'm looking for recommendations for sermons I can download onto my iPod.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I’m good for nothing without God. I mean this fairly literally. Today, I didn’t manage to pray in the morning, and all the rest of the day was chaos inside. I couldn’t think straight, and there’s this angry grinding feeling in my chest, like the sounds my car makes before it breaks down. A day ago, a day in which I’d prayed, I spent an hour articulating how to respond to a burglar lovingly. Today, sans prayer, I spent an hour telling my wife I wanted to become an anarchist and detonate dynamite inside various businesses that I felt had wronged me. She looked concerned and suggested I have a quiet time (sort of like a Pre-school teacher noticing the cranky children need a nap). She also asked if I would make sure there were no people inside the buildings before I blew them to smithereens.

I think scientists have found that during prayer, certain areas of the brain become active. I think this activity must cause special tranquility chemicals to be secreted and released into my blood stream. In no way do I consider this scientific explanation of prayer/God to negate God or prayer – why would I want to offend the Spirit that gave me such a wonderful device?

Monday, August 21, 2006

3 Things You Can Do With Your Wealth:

1. Spend it entirely on yourself.

2. Spend some on yourself; give some of it away.

3. Spend only what you need and give everything else away.

Every Christian I know lives in category 2. But I wonder if we shouldn't live in category 3. A few thoughts:

First, in light of treasure in heaven vs. treasure on earth, anything one spends on one's self on Earth in excess of what"needs" is pure foolishness.

Second, how can one justify spending her abundance on herself when there are others in the world who do not have their needs met?

The only answer I've heard is that "God wants you to enjoy your wealth." Is this true or false?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Modern Legalism:

You have heard it said, 'I may have to love you, but I don't have to like you!'

I say that love sets no limits.

Friday, August 18, 2006

I have seen a mentally ill man put in his right-mind by Christ.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Where does the Bible claim that it’s inerrant?

The positive argument for biblical inerrany goes like this: since Scripture is inspired by God, then it must be perfect, jot and tittle. This is most commonly based on 2 Tim. 3:16, which says that "All Scripture is God-breathed..." There are other iterations, such as 2 Peter 1:20 " prophecy ever came about by the will of man..." And further, if Jesus could make a central point of theology from a verb tense (I AM not I WAS see John 8:56-59), then every aspect, literally every nook and cranny, comma and comment, of Scripture must be perfect.

But where does it say it's innerrant? At the very least, it must be acknowledged that there is a significant interpretive leap from "God-breathed" to innerancy. (And then another leap from innerancy to Old Earth/Left Behind literalism).

One of my clever brothers has asked "but how could God inspire fallacy?"

And I'll leave the commenterati with that.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Can a Christian expect to overcome their greatest failures and weaknesses?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What does it mean that "it is for freedom that Christ has set you free?" Gal. 5:1. Tell me whatever you know about it.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A prayer for myself and all my friends:

God, have grace and mercy on us,
let us live saintly lives,
let us live lives of love.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Biblical literalistic inerrancy is based on fear.

It’s not based on fear alone. There’s a positive side of the argument too, which essentially says that ‘if the Bible is inspired by God, then how can anything in it be wrong?’ That is actually an interesting idea, which I’m not addressing now.

But I’ve heard it consistently said that one of the main reasons to uphold inerrancy is that otherwise people will go off the deep end.

Here, I’ll argue that this fear is unjustified:

First, and obviously, people’s potential reaction to the idea that Scripture isn’t inerrant has nothing to do with the truth of the matter. (An interesting question is whether you would lie about it if you knew it would ruin their faith otherwise).

Second, I’ve seen plenty of good evangelicals make bad faith interpretations of Scripture to justify their behavior. Their belief in inerrancy did not reign them in. In fact, a lot of times Christians just do whatever they want without any pretense that the Bible, innerrant or not, justifies it.

Third, good-faith biblical interpretation is possible. The Spirit of truth and an open, honest, and humble heart lead people to a correct understanding of God, His word, His will, and His requirements. A hermeneutic does not save or sanctify. Who ever came to Christ because of a hermeneutic? Who ever grew in Christ or repented of any sin because they were finally convinced that the Bible was innerant and meant to be understood literally? Spiritual things happen by the power of the Holy Spirit through the various means, including the Bible, which He chooses.

In short, to the pure all things are pure. To the vile, all things are vile.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Where was Ravi Zacharias when God pierced the leviathan's nose?

I think the intellectual person should know their own limits, especially when it comes to intellectually understanding God. A simple formula: If God is infinite and our minds are finite, there must come a point when we fail to completely understand God. And I think this is a better way to approach the Trinity or the hypostatic union than trying to contrive an argument for every instance in which the divine strains our faculties.

This isn’t an excuse for not thinking through the things that we are able to. But it is to suggest the Maker of heaven and earth will probably not be impressed with a syllogism: “You see, sir, there was this Problem of Pain, and I figured that if You were all powerful, and all good, then…”

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Faith and hope in logic

Recently I was listening to Ravi Zacharias try to explain the Trinity and the hypostatic union to some college students at Cornell. RZ had earlier refuted a “both/and” wordview prevalent in eastern religion by citing the ‘rule of non-contradiction,’ that is ‘something cannot both be ‘X’ and ‘not X’ at the same time. One student asked RZ how that applied to the idea that God is 3 in 1 and how it applied to the idea that Christ was fully God and fully man.

RZ basically said that in regards to Christ you never see him operating as both God and man at the same time, so there was no violation of the law of non-contradiction. And with the Trinity, he said that because there was a hierarchy (Father, then Son, then Holy Ghost) that again, no non-contradiction.

The student was not satisfied. RZ then said that the student had used up his one question and that there were numerous journal articles he could refer to if he’d like to know more.

How satisfying was this answer? How could the question have been answered differently?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Modern legalism:

You have heard that it was said, 'you don't have to give money to homeless beggars because they'll just spend it on drugs and alcohol.'

But I say that we often receive grace only to spend it on sin, yet God continues to give it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Why are Christians always explaining why Genesis must be taken literally,[1] but the Sermon on the Mount musn’t be.[2]?

[2] E.g.,

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The grounds of forgiveness -

Can anyone give me a good answer to this question: On what grounds does God forgive sin?

I'm particularly curious as to how people were forgiven in the Old Testament, and before Christ's death. Evangelicals will often say that God only forgives us because of Christ's sacrifice. But then on what grounds is Christ able to teach his disciples "...if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you..."? Matt. 6:14.

One idea I've heard is that of forbearance - that God basically reserved judgment until Christ died, sort of so that Christ's sacrifice could be applied retroactively. Maybe, but this kind of strains the text of the Lord's prayer, and numerous places in the OT when it says that God forgives people their sins. (E.g. Psalm 130:3-4 "If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.")

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Holiness and sin

Another reason we often have trouble with the idea that God hates sin is that we’ve anthropomorphized God. “…(Y)ou thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face.” Psalm 50:21. We think that something isn’t a big deal, so we think, therefore, that God shouldn’t think so either. But God is very different from us.

To understand sin we must understand God's holiness. The most drastic example of this I can think of is the story of Uzza:

“The Ark of the Covenant was being taken to a new shrine at Jerusalem. Some obstacle, however, perhaps a bump in the road, caused the oxen to lurch, nearly upsetting the cart and putting the Ark in danger. The Bible describes the scene: "Uzzah put out his hand to the Ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the Ark of God" (2 Samuel 6:6-7).”

I think most people reading this are troubled. This seems like an over-reaction on God’s part. And I can’t say that I personally, intuitively understand why Uzza’s action merited capital punishment. But that is the how the Bible describes God – and it’s important that we don’t re-make God in our own image to suit our convenience.

A somewhat helpful analogy is that of darkness and light. The Apostle John says that “God is light, and in him is no darkness (sin) at all.” 1 John 1:5. As light and dark cannot coexist, neither can God and any amount of sin. This is one of the things it means that God is holy. And this is why sins of both thought and deed, big and small, require a savior.

This also underscores that God is merciful in being absent from the earth. In the horrible state humanity is in, a holy God's arrival would be disatrous for all people who were in sin. "(God) is patient with (us), not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Response to Jeff regarding sin continued...

My understanding of individual sins, big and small, is that they are symptoms of a larger problem. That problem is that human beings have a sinful nature, which flows down to us from Adam and Eve, who ruptured humanity's relationship with God. And because we are all born into a family that is at emnity with God, we all initially begin in a state hostility with God. This hostile relationship leads human beings not accepting God's rightful authority over them, and consequently perpetually disobeying God.

Part of the point of the Sermon on the Mount was to say that the point isn't big sins or small sins (eating shrimp vs. murder), but rather that even those people who appear good on the surface are full of sinful thoughts and feelings, and this illustrates the way in which we are all out of line with God. This illustrates that we all have a sin nature, even if some of us hide it better than others. The point of the Sermon is that we are all far out of line with God's standard, perfection.

I do think Jeff pointed correctly to God's forgiveness as addressing our sins. However, I think it's important to note that forgiveness of our moral debt, our sin, requires that God take the loss. This is described in Psalm 130:8: "He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins." Christ is the fulfillment of this promise that God would redeem his people. So forgiveness is the answer, but Christ as savior, as sacrificial lamb on the cross, is the way that God accomplishes that forgiveness.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Open letter to Jeff and people who find Christianity unpersuasive-

There are several important explanations for why sins, big and small, are a big deal to God. Some of them are highly theoretical and abstract; some of them are more common sensical. But before I try to tackle them, I’d like to start with explaining why I actually believe that all sins are a big deal to God.

Mostly I believe it because the Christian Bible tells me so. Basically, a number of years ago my life was a wreck. And what “saved” me was God, whom I understood to be speaking to me through church, other Christians, and the Bible. And so, the Bible has had my trust since before I ever thought about theology. Further, its never lost my trust either, as I’ve found it consistently to be the best and only believable description of reality as I know it.

That said, I understand this leaves the non-Christian at something of a loss. I’ve now started citing as epistemologically authoritative something you doesn’t accept as authoritative. In short, I’m saying that I believe this because I feel that God revealed it to me; the only thing that would really bridge this gap is if my God revealed it to you too. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to offer ideas that are more accessible – based on reason and intuition and the like. But I just wanted to offer this first, for honesty’s sake.

Next time, sin as nature, not deed…

Monday, July 17, 2006

What's the big deal about sin?

Two recent comments seem to circle around the same issue. Jeff commented that he never understood why sin necessitated a savior; and Jose said the idea that God was absent from earth out of mercy, so that he wouldn't have to punish sin, sounded like a cop-out.

So I'd hear from your, reader: does God hate sins, big and small, and why?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Why is God hiding?

Many of the most difficult questions about Christian faith would be easily answered if God were only here - and now.

Q: "Is there a God, and if so, who is he, Jesus or Allah or Buddha?"

A: 'Yes, there is a God. He lives in apartment A-777. Let’s go over right now, and I’ll introduce you – trust me, it’s Jesus.'

Q: "And what about the problem of evil and pain and bad things happening to good people? "

A: 'Oh, don’t worry about that, just let God know what the problem is and He’ll take care of it. '

It’s hard to think of a problem that wouldn’t be better if God were here.'

But He isn’t.

But it’s for our own good.

Exodus 33 makes me think that one reason God isn’t here is out of mercy toward us. At this point in Exodus, God has delivered the people from Egypt, fed, clothed and protected them in the desert, and even given them His word written in stone (which Moses dropped and broke). And in return, Israel has griped against God and his servants, disobeyed Him, and even worshipped a golden idol in His stead. So God says that he is going to send Israel up into the Promised Land, but that He’s not going with them.[1] He will send an angel with them to lead them, but God Himself will not go. Why? Because, God says “You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you…”[2] He goes on to tell Moses that if anyone were to see His face, he would die.[3]

So the problem is that God is too holy to be around sinful people. His holiness might cause him to kill them. This sounds harsh, but it’s actually spoken in mercy. If God wanted to kill the Israelites, He could have done so. But He didn’t want to kill them; He loved them and wanted them to live.

And so perhaps this is the case with us nowadays as well? The kind and degree of sin in our world is certainly as bad as anything the Israelites did. So if God were here, it would pose a grave danger to human life. His presence might mean the death of many people. So instead, perhaps God refrains from breaking into our troubled world because He loves us, has mercy on us, and wants us to live in repentance instead of die in rebellion.

[1] Ex. 33:5.
[2] Id.
[3] Ex. 33:20.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Modern legalisms:

You have heard it said “Jesus doesn’t want you to be a door mat.” But I say that we should be doormats that say ‘Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven.’

The best version of this idea, that Christians shouldn’t let themselves get taken advantage of, would be to say ‘Christians shouldn’t be too na├»ve and let themselves be abused. That would be bad stewardship of God’s resources.’ The worst version would be to say ‘let’s not get too extreme! Jesus couldn’t have possibly meant that because it would be way too difficult to live that way.’ More difficult than giving up your home in heaven, living life as a suffering servant, and then getting nailed to a cross?

Friday, July 14, 2006

One verse captures the essences of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[1] The Sermon has a primary purpose and a secondary purpose. The primary purpose is to tell us that God’s Law is exceedingly broad. The secondary purpose is to set the stage for the New Covenant.

The Pharisees thought that they had satisfied the demands of the Law by their outward righteous. They did not murder, did not break their oaths, did not commit adultery, and if they divorced their wives they followed the proper procedures.[2] But their mistake was to think that the Law only applied to their outward actions. It applied to their thoughts and feelings as well. It is not good enough to simply not murder; anger itself is prohibited.[3] They were also mistaken to think that the Law only required them to do so much and no more, like a chore to get out of the way before one can relax. Instead, the Law requires everything a person has.[4] It requires not only your cloak, but also your tunic.[5] It requires not only one’s deeds, but also one’s thoughts.[6] The Law never allows a person to say that she has done quite enough and need do no more.[7] It is God’s law, not man’s, and although man judges the outside, God judges the heart.[8] Even today, we should still be careful not take this a legalistic attitude toward God’s commands, as if we were doing our taxes and looking for every technicality to allow us to pay the IRS as little as possible without getting into trouble.

Once we understand the true requirements of the law, we cannot help but fall under the heavy conviction that it is impossible for us to meet these requirements. In this way, the Law forces us to trust in Christ.[9] Once, we might have thought that God might be happy enough with us because of our good behavior because we did not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, cheat, and so on. But once we realize that God’s standard is perfection, and even perfection of thought and feeling, we must see that we cannot meet this standard – before it we are unworthy. Our feeling is like the Apostle John’s in Revelation when the sealed scroll of God was displayed and the angel asked ‘who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ but no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could was worthy; at this, John “wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll…”[10] If the Sermon on the Mount were the last divine word to us, our only response could be to weep and weep, because no one would be found worthy before the law of God. But, rejoice! We receive the same answer that the Apostle did: “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”[11] When we were unable to live up to God’s standard, Christ was able. The Law was unable to make us righteous, as we were unable to meet its requirements. But Christ was able to meet its requirements, and so God made us righteous through Christ.[12]
[1] Matt. 5:48.
[2] See Matt. 5:21, 27, 31, 33.
[3] Matt. 5:22.
[4] Matt. 22:37-40.
[5] Matt. 5:40.
[6] Matt. 5:21-30.
[7] Matt. 5:42.
[8] 1 Sam. 16:7.
[9] Gal. 3:24-25
[10] Rev. 5:1-4.
[11] Rev. 5:5.
[12] Rom. 8:3-4.

I vehemently opposed blogging until 7 a.m. this morning. It's narcissistic enough to keep a journal, or frankly to write anything personal at all. Blogs are worse, allowing people to publish (in a sense) and circumvent the winnowing of editors and economics. Blogs are to publication as glamour shots are to the catwalk. And in this nomos that Jeremy Bentham gave us, I don’t want to hear what you have to say until you’ve proven yourself worthy in a variety of market places. And it’s really self-indulgent - embarrassingly so - to expect people to read something of yours that isn’t written specifically for them, and yet hasn't been approved by the gatekeepers at TIME, AOL, Gannett, Random House, et-cet. I haven’t even read the 100 Greatest Books yet! I haven’t even opened my power bill yet! And yet, here I am being beckoned into the labyrinthine nether world of cyberspace so I can delight myself with the blogger's auto-missives that really should begin ‘Dear Diary…’ or ‘Mirror, Mirror…’

But then I realized that I too was narcisstic and wanted to circumvent the status quo publishing process! And it seems like fun. And I decided to stop being too cool for school. So here I am, blogging. And there’s no zealot like a convert.