Thinking Out Loud

January 12, 2018

Theological Comparisons: What Type of Church Do You Attend?

I’ve been amazed recently at people who attend a church which has a denominational affiliation, but they don’t know what it is. Visiting? Maybe. You’re just passing through. Attending frequently? I would have thought it was a basic question. When it comes to actual doctrines, overarching theology, spiritual values, church culture and core beliefs1 I would think people would want to know where their church fits in across various spectra2 but apparently if the worship is good, the children’s ministry is high quality, and the sermons are engaging, people are happy not knowing whose name is on the door.

A few days ago we asked the question, “What is a Charismatic.” It seems to me that a diligent blogger could start a series on this, “What is a Baptist?” and “What is an Episcopalian?”3 being next in line. Unfortunately I am not that writer. However…

We started the work week on Monday with Michael Patton, so it seemed like a good place to end the work week. First of all, for those of you who are subscribers, I need to clarify something that we updated a few hours after the piece appeared, and that is that Michael’s blog Parchment and Pen migrated to CreedoHouse.org. The specific article, What Does it Mean to Be Charismatic which we quoted, is available in full at this link.

In the interest of getting it right this time, while I couldn’t find the image below at the new site, a full explanation of it appears at this link.

My motivation in all this is often very perfunctory. As regular readers know, I spend at least two days per week serving customers in a Christian retail store. So when the above chart first appeared, I introduced it as follows:

Sometimes, I have to admit, I need to be able to put people into a box.

It’s not that they will necessarily fit into the box comfortably, but frankly it saves time; it lets me know what set of terminology to use; it indicates to me what schools of doctrinal thought are off limits; it helps me find common ground with authors or worship styles or even Bible translation preferences.

This is not good.

However, sometimes it does cut to the chase. Give me some indicators and let me make assumptions. Is that the ESV Study Bible you’re holding? Here’s a new book from John Piper you might enjoy. You attend the Revival Center? You might enjoy the new Jesus Culture album.

Stereotyping, as we once called it; today it’s called profiling.

The same day as that ran, I also ran another chart, this one from Matt Stone. His blog has also migrated, but at the risk of making the same mistake twice, I did more research this time, and the chart can now be located at this link. The new website is called Curious Christian (and he’s still very much into visuals.)


I hope this helps somehow! I realize the title of today’s piece asks a question and only gives you a minimalist framework to formulate an answer, but such as the two graphic images are, they help us get back the superficial (see cartoon above) and think about things in more important terms.


1 This phrase is all about the cadence and rhythm of the sentence. Some of the words themselves are redundant. Speaking of words, it’s interesting that the modern dichotomy of Calvinism and Arminianism is nowhere to be seen in the two graphics.
2 Spectra, as in plural of spectrum. Usually churches can be measured in terms of where they land on the spectrum for three or four major discriminators. Instead of a double-axis graph, picture something that looks more like an asterisk.
3 Or, if you prefer Anglican; but although based in Canada, I’m writing for a dominantly U.S. audience, so Episcopal it is! Some would argue that only those within a particular movement can accurately describe it or write about it. What do you think?

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January 8, 2018

What is a Charismatic? Two Sets of Characteristics

A few years ago, I ran a post at Christianity 201 where the author Michael Patton gave seven reasons why he believes that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have not ceased to operate. This is known as the continualist position or continuism. The opposite is the cessationist position or cessationism.

Patton had blogged just the day before at Parchment and Pen about six characteristics he believes identifies Charismatic Christians. (He used a lower case ‘c’ but I have chosen to capitalize this where it refers to an admittedly diverse denomination, in the same way some are now arguing that Evangelical needs to be capitalized.) Update (12:30 PM EST): That article is now available at this link.

1. Unusual attention given to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer

2. The tendency to seek and expect miraculous healings

3. The tendency to seek and expect God’s direct communication (dreams, visions, experiences, personal encounters, etc.)

4. Unusual attention given to the presence of demonic activity in the world

5. Very expressive worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

He spells out each of these, and then describes the entire spectrum of belief as to the gifts of the Spirit, ending up with this chart. (I do appreciate his calling both extremes as unorthodox; you can tell me that the tongues and interpretation aren’t for today, but don’t try to tell me they never happened!)

Belief Spectrum - Gifts of the Holy Spirit

At this point I would link, but unfortunately the website is no longer in service.

I think his analysis is good, though his terminology is a bit intense. Perhaps the charismatics I know are more conservative, or possibly he is envisioning charismatic believers in Africa or South America. I would rephrase his six points this way:

1. A distinct emphasis on the limitless power and work of the Holy Spirit in the world today

2. Expectant, faith-consumed prayer even in the face of great odds and obstacles

3. A belief that God speaks into the hearts and minds of his people through dreams, visions, circumstances and a ‘still small voice’

4. An acknowledgement that the Christian is always embroiled in spiritual warfare

5. Passionate worship

6. Belief in the continuation of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit

The problem with any doctrinal emphasis is that it always takes place at the expense of something else. So if you speak of an “unusual emphasis” on the Holy Spirit, or on demonic activity, are you doing so at the cost of not emphasizing the work of redemption on the cross, or the call to love our neighbors, or the priority of world missions? (Points 1 and 4) The Charismatics — albeit with a few exceptions — that I know haven’t thrown the baby out with the bath water.

And if you believe that God is still in the business of impressing things on his people (Point 3) that doesn’t mean it is at the expense of not prioritizing the role of scripture. Most of the Charismatics I know have a good working knowledge of scripture.

I did leave one (Point 6) intact. Update: The original article with about 90 insightful comments is available at this link.

January 6, 2018

The Steps to Decision

Two nights ago we were discussing the process by which people ‘cross the line of faith’ and identify as Christians. I looked all around for this graphic, including online, and discovered some people had improved on the one we posted in March, 2014.

Here’s what I wrote about this at the time,

A long time ago, in a galaxy rather close by, a new generation of Christians were as excited about the latest books as today’s host of internet bloggers. While we might think the universe didn’t exist until we were born, there was the same mix of academic writers as well as popular writers. One of the latter was Emory Griffin who wrote a paperback about evangelism called The Mind Changers, and in that book, he frequently quoted James F. Engel, who wrote the textbook Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice. I am privileged to own (somewhere in our house) a copy of both.

Engel dissected the conversion process as only a late 20th Century academic could, breaking it down piece-by-piece. But I’ve always kept a copy of this particular little chart handy, because it reminds me that making disciples (or what a previous generation called soul-winning) doesn’t happen overnight (though it can) but often involves the careful processing through of ideas and thoughts. Yes, some people encounter Jesus and the transformation can be instantaneous, but often it has to be reasoned through (or even emoted through; I don’t know if there’s a word for that) and it usually involves some other person whose gift is apologetics or just being there with love or perhaps some combination of the two.

Today, people still discuss whether or not salvation happens as a crisis experience (in a moment, in an instant) or whether it is a process experience (as C. S. Lewis defined so well in the train analogy in Mere Christianity) but if it’s a process, it might look something like Engel describes in the graphic.

I ended up repeating some of this material and going into greater detail, including a second graphic image, at this post at Christianity 201.

November 27, 2017

Short Takes (2): Sin-Shaped Doctrine

All this week — except for Wednesday — we’re doing a series of shorter subjects.

Throughout Christian history debates have raged on controversial doctrinal subjects. We see in part and understand in part. We see through a glass darkly.

Different people read the same scriptures and come to very difficult conclusions as to their meaning. Each is convinced theirs is the correct one.

In preparing for this week’s articles here — I was originally going a very different direction — I started wondering if theologians or church leaders over the centuries were ever influenced by something else: Personal sin.

Too far fetched? Most of us can think of at least one entire denomination that was founded on one individual’s personal desire or preference. Concerning King Henry VIII, a BBC article notes that he

…was anxious to ensure a male heir after his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had borne him only a daughter. He wanted his marriage annulled in order to remarry. In 1534 after several attempts to persuade the Pope to grant an annulment, Henry passed the Act of Succession and then the Act of Supremacy. These recognized that the King was “the only supreme head of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia“.

But how many others, even in our time, have looked at a particular doctrine and said, ‘God would never punish that, he is a God of grace and mercy.’ So with a few published articles in theological journals we’re offered a different take on a familiar doctrine, and if other writers converge on any given viewpoint, a theological trend emerges.

Their desire is to place God in a more lax position concerning things that the church previously believed he had addressed rather clearly.

If we occupy a position of leadership or influence and our personal lifestyle requires us to characterize God as less stringent on particular issues, then through our speaking or writing we can potential introduce new ideas which become part of the contemporary religious literature.

But the root of it just might be personal sin.

 

 

 

March 2, 2017

Christians Should Study Mormonism

A reader wrote asking if I’d ever reviewed any books by Denver Snuffer. I get requests to review self-published books all the time, but this time I found the name intriguing and next thing, I was reading a number of articles on his blog. He’s written a number of books, and has an additional website commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. According to my contact, “He was raised baptist and is now an excommunicated Mormon.  He’s a lawyer who is qualified to practice in the Supreme Court.” But it was this article below, which I thought readers here might find interesting.

 

Christians Should Study Mormonism

by Denver Snuffer

Between the death of Christ’s apostles and the Council of Nicaea, Christianity changed dramatically. It is impossible to account for all that happened to cause the changes. Although some of the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Christian leaders before Nicaea) have been preserved, the records are wholly inadequate to understand everything that happened, and why it happened.

A new religion rarely appears in history. When one does, it presents a unique opportunity for us to study the process.

Religions begin with an inspired leader whose confident vision opens new light and truth into the world. If there is no new vision then the religion won’t survive. But an original, inspired leader is difficult to replicate. Within a short time, the founder’s work is overtaken by others. Their insecurities and fears leave them without the confidence once present at the foundation. Believers donate, and contributions aggregate. A new generation of believers begin to notice the wealth of their movement, and aspiring leaders who would never sacrifice their name, reputation, security and lives are drawn to management, seeking personal benefit from the institution. Bold claims become hollow echoes, and leaders’ insecurity results in defensive and protective steps. Instead of moving forward with inspired new light and truth, the established religion fears and fights against threatened losses.

William James explained the process:

A genuine first-hand experience like this is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses, the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spread to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy; and when a religion has become an orthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live at second hand exclusively and stone the prophets in their turn. The new church, in spite of whatever human goodness it may foster, can be henceforth counted on as a staunch ally in every attempt to stifle the spontaneous religious spirit, and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain from which in purer days it drew its own supply of inspiration. Unless, indeed, by adopting new movements of the spirit it can make capital out of them and use them for its selfish corporate designs!” (The Varieties of Religious Experience, being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902, Lectures XIV and XV: The Value of Saintlessness.)

Mormonism was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith who claimed that ten years prior to founding a church he had been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ. In the intervening years between the first visit and the time a church was organized, Joseph claimed to have been visited by an angelic messenger who delivered to him a new volume of scripture, the Book of Mormon. He claimed to have received revelations before founding the church, and then many more after its organization.

mormon-article-3-2Whether you believe Joseph Smith’s claims or not, he and his followers give a unique opportunity to witness how founding a religion sets in motion a series of predictable events that happen every time a new religion begins. Perhaps the best way to decipher the transition of Christianity from the original Primitive Christianity to its replacement, Historic Christianity, is to study Mormonism. Similar to the way the Primitive Christian church passed away after the death of the apostles, Mormonism has passed away following the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The same process was at work in both.

Primitive Christianity and Mormonism set out to change the world, and after some initial success, both enjoyed worldly success. Their success diverted attention from saving souls to managing people and property. Paul observed, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10.) A new religion is not profitable for the first believers. They are persecuted. They sacrifice their lives and property to follow what they believe to be God’s burden laid on them. Because of their sacrifices, they have faith and know they please God. Without sacrifice, it is impossible to obtain the faith required for salvation. Founders make sacrifices, successors enjoy the fruit of those sacrifices.

In time, the founding gives way to popular approval. John Wesley observed the price that is paid for popular acceptance is the loss of the Spirit.

“It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian;… From this time they almost totally ceased;… The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens…. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left. Churches all come to depend on money for survival.”

Churches, like the men who belong to them, are just as vulnerable to the “love of money” which leads to “all evil.” People can have the gifts of the Spirit, or they can acquire riches in this world, but cannot have both.

Catholicism grew wealthy from the offerings of its members. When it owned most of the European lands and ruled over all people within Roman Catholic boundaries, it was cold, corrupt, violent and cruel. The transition from persecuted minority to dangerous majority took three centuries. With that status the original was lost.

Mormonism has followed the same path and achieved the same end in less than half the time. If a Christian wants to know how Primitive Christianity was lost to apostasy, the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is where it can be found. Mormon beliefs are so unstable that they now “unequivocally condemn” 10 of the first 11 of their church presidents, including Brigham Young, John Taylor and David O. McKay.

In order to progress forward, we must go back. Since we have no way to recover enough information to understand Christianity’s trek from Jerusalem to Rome, Mormonism allows Christians a view into the transition from Nauvoo to Salt Lake. Both paths followed the same tragic topography.


Go Deeper: In a more recent article Denver Snuffer draws a parallel between the time of Irenaeus and the doctrinal path of Mormonism. Check out Christian Apostasy.

February 23, 2017

Signs of Evangelicalism’s Demise

Yesterday we mentioned an article posted by Scot McKnight at the Patheos blog Jesus Creed titled The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us?

scot-mcknightHe begins,

Not long ago I posted on the loss of the evangelical soul, a post in part stimulated by the tone of conversations I am witnessing on FB. Everybody’s a prophet these days and thinks so because, so they think, they are speaking truth to power. They’re not. They’re yelling in a barrel full of self-appointed prophets

Today’s post moves into signs of evangelicalism’s demise. Let’s get the standard definition of evangelicalism on the table first: an evangelical is committed to these four elements: the Bible, the cross as the place of atonement, the necessity of personal conversion, and an active Christian life both in missions/evangelism as well as justice, peace and reconciliation….

…Those four elements are crumbling, folks, they are crumbling. It’s not that evangelicalism has been yet again swamped by politics and lost its way. Rather, it is swamped by politics because those four elements are crumbling. Bible and theology are of little interest other than an odd Bible citation to prop up a claim. Small groups read books by well-known authors, rarely are they studies on a single book of the Bible (publishers aren’t selling these as well today), far too many of its most prominent theologians write books unanchored in Scripture and they do not begin with sketches of the Bible.

He then breaks down his areas of concern with the following headers:

  1. The Bible Diminished
  2. Mission Work Has Become Social Work
  3. Where Are The Pastors?
  4. Atonement Confusion
  5. Embracing Our Flaws
  6. Pride in Politics Rather Than Piety

Again, you need to click through to read the article, it’s not lengthy and I encourage you to do so.

The section headed Atonement Confusion caught my interest:

Atonement theology has fallen on hard times. It has become politicized into penal substitution, which for some means propitiation, vs. some other center of gravity — and more and more it has moved toward Girardian scapegoat theory, exemplary theology, or a very soft Christus victor. Hard headed conservatives are protecting propitiation at all costs and neglecting kingdom themes in the process and so distort atonement while committed progressivists are determined to prevent the wrath of God against sin and sinners (mentioning Jonathan Edwards does the trick) so they can find some “theory” of atonement that turns the Holy Week into justice and more justice. Evangelicalism from beginning to end is a cross-shaped atonement-based gospel and there is little appeal for a new book like John R.W. Stott’s The Cross of Christ except with the propitiation crowd, who are in an echo chamber of Stott. I have attempted to sketch a comprehensive theory of atonement in A Community called Atonement.

I asked Dr. McKnight if he would break this down a little bit for the lay-reader; the average parishioner like me who might find this paragraph a little above their pay grade. He graciously replied with this brief synopsis:

1. Evangelicals are shifting toward a variety of approaches to atonement. Some think it’s about the wrath of God, some think it’s about Jesus as enduring injustice, others think it’s about Jesus showing us how to fight for justice, some think Jesus got trapped in a culture-religious war, etc.

2. People think anything having to do with punishment makes God unworthy of worship and an angry, embattled God who seeks vengeance. So, they want a God of love theory.

3. Jesus did with us, instead of us, and for our redemption. (And he was raised, too!)

For more of Scot McKnight’s Kingdom view, check out his other books, including the one we reviewed here, The King Jesus Gospel.


…After considering that, I decided to go back into McKnight’s original paragraph and look at some of the elements contained there. First, scapegoat theory. This is from René Girard’s Mimetic Theory of the Scapegoat.

René Girard’s Mimetic Theory is based on the principle that human beings are mimetic creatures.  We imitate what we see in others. In fact, our desires are not actually our own, but desires we have copied from others.  The more we imitate each other, the more alike we become.  Increasingly, we vie for the same desires and we become rivals. The more human beings imitate each other, the more individuals become alike.  Distinctions between individuals are blurred as they mirror each other.  The boundaries between individuals which keep order, begin to disintegrate. Increased rivalry creates increased violence and the blurred boundaries threaten to destabilize the social fabric.

In Girard’s theory, primitive man stumbled upon the solution to this threat: the scapegoat.  By placing the blame for all the hatred and distress on one individual or group of individuals, the community’s violence becomes polarized toward the ones being blamed.  These responsible individuals become the scapegoats for all the bad feeling in the community. By expelling or killing the scapegoat, order is restored and the community becomes peaceful again. The single act of sanctioned violence, becomes like a vaccination against the disease of chaotic, out of control violence.

It is critical that the members of the community be completely convinced that the scapegoat is guilty for this mechanism to restore order.  That is why the scapegoat must be accused and slandered before he is killed, but after the killing, everyone attributes the restored order to the scapegoat’s sacrifice.  In this way, the sacrificial victim becomes responsible for both the violence and the peace in the community.  He becomes “the sacred”…

Exemplary Theology proved a little more slippery in terms of finding a concise definition. (If you can direct me to one, we’ll insert it here.)

Wikipedia has a definition of Christus victor:

According to the Christus Victor theory of the Atonement, Christ’s death defeated the powers of evil, which had held humankind in their dominion. It is a model of the atonement that is dated to the Church Fathers, and it, or the related ransom theory, was the dominant theory of the Atonement for a thousand years, until Anselm of Canterbury supplanted it in the West with his Satisfaction theory of atonement.

Their article also contains three atonement theory models:

In his [1931] book, [Gustaf] Aulén identifies three main types of Atonement Theories:

  • The earliest was what Aulén called the “classic” view of the Atonement, more commonly known as the Ransom Theory, or since Aulén’s work, it is known sometimes as the “Christus Victor” theory: this is the theory that Adam and Eve made humanity subject to the Devil during the Fall, and that God, in order to redeem humanity, sent Christ as a “ransom” or “bait” so that the Devil, not knowing Christ couldn’t die permanently, would kill him, and thus lose all right to humanity following the Resurrection.
  • A second theory is the “Latin” or “objective” view, more commonly known as Satisfaction Theory, beginning with Anselmian Satisfaction (that Christ suffered as a substitute on behalf of humankind, satisfying the demands of God’s honor) and later developed by Protestants as penal substitution (that Christ is punished instead of humanity, thus satisfying the demands of justice so that God can justly forgive). Some have argued that the penal substitution theory of the atonement was expressed by the early church fathers, such as Justin Martyr c.100-165, Eusebius of Caesarea c.275-339, and Augustine of Hippo 354-430.
  • A third is the “subjective” theory, commonly known as the Moral Influence view, that Christ’s passion was an act of exemplary obedience which affects the intentions of those who come to know about it.

There is also a link there to this article by Greg Boyd.

 

 

 

 

August 14, 2016

Becoming a Christian by the Numbers

…or in this case, The Book of Numbers

I’m breaking our 12-month rule here, only because I used this approach with a young woman on Friday and realized that I wanted to share this again on the blog and didn’t want to wait until October.


Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Could you retell this Bible story?

That was the question we asked yesterday, noting that most adults would have difficulty presenting this off the top of their heads, to either another adult or a child, which is unfortunate because it is many ways key to telling the gospel story. Because I think it’s so important, we’re devoting this weekend to looking at this from different perspectives using a mix of fresh commentary and some things that were originally posted at Christianity 201.


…and the transaction so quickly was made, when at the cross I believed…

~lyrics, “Heaven Came Down”

Yesterday we kicked off with the old hymn “At Calvary” and today it’s “Heaven Came Down.” I’ve noticed that when people get older they mind starts to recall classic pieces that are no longer sung in the modern church.

The moment of salvation is an invisible transaction. For some people there is an inward witness that verifies that step of faith.

John 9:24-25

(NIV)

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

But for some people, there is a desire to understand the underpinning of how that invisible transaction takes place. An entire branch of theology is devoted to this:

so·te·ri·ol·o·gy
[suh-teer-ee-ol-uh-jee]

~noun Theology.
— the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ.

So while the healing of the blind man provides its own satisfactory proof if you are, in fact, the blind man or his parents; for everyone else we have the books of Romans and Hebrews to understand the depth of salvation doctrine.

But we often miss a basic fact of how salvation works:

John 3:14

(NIV) Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up

The verse recalls the story from the book of Numbers we looked at yesterday, often overlooked in times of increasing Biblical illiteracy:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV) 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

The concept of the invisible transaction was once entrenched through yet another hymn written by William Ogden in 1887 that was popular in some circles, the chorus inviting you to...

“Look and live,” my brother, live,
Look to Jesus now, and live;
’Tis recorded in His word, hallelujah!
It is only that you “look and live.”

It’s interesting how the Numbers 21 story is so prominent in the lines of that chorus, but do we have anything in modern worship to replace that? Does our vertical worship allow room to take these Bible narratives and recite them in song?

Youth ministries in the late 1960’s borrowed a phrase from a popular Clairol commercial and suggested that the invisibility of the transaction was such that “only your hairdresser knows for sure.” In other words, there isn’t necessarily a physical manifestation of salvation.

But as with so many things in God’s kingdom, there is a balance to be found on that issue, since the visible manifestation of salvation ought to be the presence of the fruit of the spirit.

I also recognize that many are uncomfortable with a transactional view of the regeneration of the Spirit at salvation. I think sometimes we can suffer from what is called the paralysis of analysis. Perhaps a more modern — albeit still about 40 years old — scripture chorus can help us:

He paid a debt he didn’t owe
I owed a debt I couldn’t pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away
And now I sing a brand new song
Amazing grace!
Christ Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.

Ultimately, the invisibility of the salvation transaction ought to be central if putting our trust in Jesus Christ to both redeem us and then from that point guide us is to be considered part of the realm of faith. You don’t get a certificate, or a wallet card — though sadly, some churches do just that — when you decide to become a Christ follower.

We cross the line of faith to become Christ followers at some point, but the line itself remains seen only in the spiritual world. That moment of salvation can happen in an instant, what is sometimes termed the crisis view of salvation, or it can take place over a time, what C.S. Lewis and others might call the process view of salvation.

I don’t know that it’s necessary for everyone to have an exact date that they can point to (or have written in the front cover of their Bibles) when they crossed that line of faith, but I think you know in your heart when you’ve arrived at that point.

To repeat what we said yesterday, the people in the Numbers 21 story didn’t have to do anything beyond simply looking to the cross for their deliverance. That’s the part of the story you need to be able to impart to people who want to determine their next step on their journey to the cross, even if you don’t spell out the whole story itself.


Today’s music:

For complete original lyrics to Heaven Came down, click here.

For an abridged version of the original redone in a modern style by David Crowder, click here.

Go Deeper:

To see an index of the main subjects that form a study on soteriology, note the ten sessions covered on this page.

To go extra deep on this topic, check out this teaching page.

Finally, here are links to dozens of other resources on the doctrine of salvation.

August 13, 2016

Ambulance Chasing and Evangelism

Yes, There’s a Connection

I’m breaking our 12-month rule here, only because I used this approach with a young woman yesterday and realized that I wanted to share this again on the blog and didn’t want to have to wait until October.


Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Do you recognize this Bible story?

This is the cover of a children’s Bible story book, available for only $2.49 US at most Christian bookstores. Yet most adults would have difficulty presenting this off the top of their heads, to either another adult or a child, which is unfortunate because it is many ways key to telling the gospel story. I’ve covered this about five times at Christianity 201, but realized it’s never been looked at here. Over the weekend, I want to spend some time on this theme.


Although I don’t use eBooks, I’m always intrigued by the concept that publishers now routinely offer books completely free of charge. There are Christian bloggers who regularly advise their readers where to find the daily and weekly bargain downloads, but sometimes I’m reading an old blog post, so even though I don’t have an eReader, I’ll click through to learn more, only to find the offer is no longer in effect and there is now a price to be paid.

Fortunately, when it comes to salvation, there is currently no closing date on God’s offer. True, a day will come when that will change. Also true, you don’t know long you have to take advantage. But it’s a free offer. An old hymn stated:

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

For some, this is simply too good to be true. “Surely there is a cost;” they say, and truthfully they are correct. While Salvation itself is a free gift, God offers so much for us for this life, and that is going to involve taking up your cross daily. It might mean sacrifice or it might mean being ostracized by your family, friends and co-workers.

But in our original coming to Jesus, we find the offer to “taste and see” is both easy and simple. The problem we have is putting this idea across to those outside the church, and I believe part of the challenge is that we are living in a culture that is not Biblically literate, and therefore are not, as music and literary people say, “familiar with the literature.”

The story that needs to be kept told for me is the story in Numbers:

Numbers 21:7-9

(NIV)

7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

(If you’re not familiar with this, click here to read all 5 verses.)

This Old Testament story foreshadows, as do so many OT stories, what Christ is going to do. As God’s people sojourn, they are given pictures which are somewhat for our benefit. Sometimes we impute this into the text from a New Testament perspective, but sometimes Jesus spells out for us in words unmistakable:

John 3:14

(NIV)

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…

ambulance symbolI believe it’s not only important to know this story in a “conversationally familiar with” sense, but also important to teach people how to teach people this story. By the way, when I teach this to people I often point out that this story is the basis for the symbol seen on many ambulances and other emergency vehicles. I would say that most of the people I talk to are astounded to learn the connection.

While a testimony of “what God has done for us,” and a rudimentary knowledge of basic salvation scriptures are both helpful, it’s often needful to be able to construct the offer of “God’s gift” in terms unrelated to the deeper, doctrinal considerations of Romans or Hebrews which the novice believer can’t fully process; and this story provides a simple way of explaining that there’s nothing the person has to do to obtain salvation beyond simply looking to the cross.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at this again in a different way. Stay tuned. Meanwhile here’s a great graphic from Adam4D:

The Great Exchange from Adam4d

Here’s some other material for your consideration:

Graphic: Adam4D (click graphic to source)

May 30, 2016

Can You Be Spontaneous and Liturgical at the Same Time?

Filed under: Christianity, Church, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:45 am

liturgy 1

Okay, let’s get the title question out of the way quickly: The answer is ‘no.’ To adopt a liturgical form is by definition to do away with spontaneity completely. Why pose the question?

If you were a fly on the wall at our house last night, the discussion was about the churches that would call themselves “spirit-led” vs. the ones which follow a more “scripted” worship order at weekend services. There are advantages to both of course. Many — dare I say most? — Evangelical churches lack the richness and depth one finds in an Episcopalian or Anglican setting. But when it comes to prayer, particularly if the prayer is for you and some need you are facing, you want someone who doesn’t need to read a prayer out of book.1

In many Evangelical environments, every word that is spoken is not written out ahead of time.2 This produces a tendency to “wing it.” On the other hand, those same Evangelicals often enter a liturgical environment and find it too sterile. Let’s face it, you can tell when someone who is reading something is just reading it.

On the other hand, we have Millennials reporting to be preferring a more traditional worship environment. Does this do away with extemporaneous praying? Eliminate the pastor being led to introduce a new direction into the sermon? Or is the desired outcome more a blend of what we have now, and what we had 100 years ago? 3

Cruising the interwebs, we found a piece by J.C. Holsinger at the Assemblies of God website. It’s too long to post in its entirety here but I hope some of you will click through. (Click the title below.) I like the way — from the perspective of his denomination — this article bridges the divide.

Pentecostal liturgy?

…When the Assemblies of God was formed, the founders deliberately avoided using the words sacrament and liturgy. In fact, the founders carefully called the ceremonies of the church ordinances to avoid any sacramental connection. Hence rather than sacramentalism which the word liturgy historically brings with it, Pentecostals more accurately have ordinances and ceremonies. However, these ceremonies are important in educating and binding the generations of Christians together. Therefore, continuity and carefulness in performing these ceremonies should be practiced.

I attended a wedding recently where the pastor opened the ceremony with a prayer: “As we hear these young people repeat their vows, may those of us who are married be reminded of the same vows we once took. Lord, help us to reaffirm our vows to You and to each other.” When he finished the prayer I almost shouted “Amen” because that is one of the most valuable purposes of ceremony–to educate and reaffirm important truths held in common, not just to provide a private or personal experience.

Modern society attempts either to personalize or individualize everything… A common question is, ‘What does that mean to you?” The implication is that your experience and other people’s experiences are equally valid…

Can such tendencies to personalize and individualize everything ultimately destroy the purposes and continuity of ceremonies in a society?

Consider God’s command that Joshua require the leaders of the 12 Tribes to take a stone from the Jordan River to create a memorial. What if each of the 12 leaders or the 12 Tribes themselves had said, “We want to personalize our part of the ceremony.” Or, “I would rather bring a log,” or “I’ll pick up a pretty shell from the river that is special and meaningful to me.” Instead, they heightened the meaning with all the leaders repeating exactly the same ceremony. This made it possible for the next generation to ask, “What mean you by these stones?” and to be educated about God and their responsibilities to His purposes.

Repetition and consistency of common procedures heighten the meaning and importance of ceremony…

For example, if a respected Christian couple brings their child for dedication and the minister says, “I know you are good Christians, so I am not going to ask you whether you will bring up your child in church,” does that not destroy the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to prick the hearts of all parents present as to whether they are carrying out their vows?

Do we as church leaders affirm the importance of godly homes if at a Pentecostal church wedding the bridesmaids and bride come down the aisle more appropriately dressed for a nightclub than a church? Or music is sung at a Pentecostal church wedding that has sexual overtones more in keeping with a cabaret?

What about our ceremonies for the ordinance of water baptism? Is the meaning of “being buried with Christ and resurrected with Him” lost if we allow silly comments about the coldness of the water or ask, “Are you scared?”

Ceremonies need not be formal or stiff, of course. Given our church’s history and theology, ceremonies can be relaxed and natural. However, is it not easy to cross the fine line between relaxed and natural and instead produce silliness that destroys the basic teaching purposes of the ceremony? …

Also interesting was information about an academic book releasing in 2017 by Mark Cartledge and A. J. Swoboda, Scripting Pentecost. You can read about that at this link.

Your comments are welcome. We’ll return to this topic soon!


1 There are always exceptions to everything and one is a book that is a favorite among Pentecostals and Charismatics, Prayers that Avail Much which uses what would be termed Spirit-filled language, but consists entirely of pre-formatted prayers which can be used in a variety of life situations.

2 For a look at a brief period where something resembling liturgy overlapped Evangelical history, check out the Responsive Readings section of old hymnbooks.

3 For one approach to creating liturgy in a more current culture, check out my brief 2011 review of Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne et al.

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 25, 2016

Appreciating the Wisdom and Knowledge of N. T. Wright

I realized this weekend that I need to honor a promise to do this review, and it needs to be done in a timely fashion, even if I haven’t come close to finishing.

However, I am also well aware that by requesting an academic book for review, I am officially in over my depth, which partially if not fully explains why I am still only about a quarter of the way through its 378 pages. My reason for wanting a closer look at this book was singular: A fascination with the author’s intellect and wisdom.

N. T. Wright - Paul and His Recent InterpretersN. T. Wright‘s Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Fortress Press, 2015) is actually a sequel to another volume, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, and one of several concerning the Early Church apostle which forms his Magisterial series.

It’s specific purpose is to flesh out the teachings of a handful of Bible scholars from other generations while at the same time paying specific attention to where these stand in relationship to some of the more recent views about Paul which have occurred in our own time.

So the book falls into a category somewhat parallel to literary criticism that we might call theological critique. (Maybe they do call it that… remember, I’m in over my head.) There are however sections which would be more accessible to the lay-reader, provided they had overcome the $39 price point for this academic paperback.

For example, he begins with the conjecture as to what we might think if Paul’s writings had just been located in a type of Dead Sea Scroll discovery. We would see that he writes much about ho theos — the god — and this requires of us to wonder (a) What this divinity has done, and (b) What it is intending to do.

He then notes that Paul’s writings have been shelved in the area of Biblical studies whereas his writings have truly impact a vast array of categories such as Ancient History, Middle Eastern Culture, Politics and Philosophy to name a few. But with his writing simply shelving Paul under “Religion” limits the scope of his full impact and runs the risk of doing what the BBC in his own country does, placing religious writings in the same realm as fiction.

These moments were among the more accessible to me, and there are similar moments as I press through the book, but as I continue further, I realize that the primary prerequisite for reading this work ought to be some familiarity with the writers under the microscope; names familiar to academics and theologians but not to the average browser in the Christian book shop, or most readers here.

Still, I am struck by the mind of N.T. Wright and his authority in this particular area of study and New Testament studies in general. (His initials are so appropriate.) We need his voice to be heard, especially at a time when modern scholarship is deconstructing so many of the New Testament’s epistles and leaving people confused as to what Paul actually said or meant.

 

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