Thinking Out Loud

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.

 

 

 

December 6, 2016

Where We Left Off Yesterday

post-truth


Post Truth: Part Two

post-truth-bannerSo as you remember from yesterday, I was starting to write a piece for C201 — it was really going to be more of a scripture medley — on the concept of truth which is timely right now since the Oxford Dictionary people proclaimed post-truth as their “Word of the Year.” Previous year Oxford winners, going back from 2016 include: emoji, vape, selfie, omnishambles, GIF and at Global Language Monitor (some randomly selected words): microaggression, fail, hashtag, Olympiad, drone, meme… You can find more words in this Wikipedia article.

So I got to the point where I was ready to post some scriptures from TopVerses.com; verses like:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” – John 18:37

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. – John 16:13You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. – John 1:8

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.” – John 15:26

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. – John 4:23

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. – John 14: 16,17

It gave me great joy to have some believers come and testify to your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:3,4

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:17

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. – 2 John 1:4

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 1 John 1:6

…and that’s when I start to notice that most of the verses posted — I had a few more yesterday — are all sourcing from the writings of the Apostle John in his gospel and his three epistles.  At that point I felt I should acknowledge this detail:

This isn’t all the verses on the page which contain the word truth in the NIV. You can read the entire list at this link. However, it’s interesting to note the number of occurrences of this word in the writings of John. Many of the above texts are from his gospel and the word occurs in each of the three epistles we have in our Bibles.

Traditionally, John’s is the gospel given out for evangelism purposes. It is consider an apologetic argument for the divinity of Christ. In a post-modern — and now we can add post-truth — world, there is no objective truth. I have written elsewhere that if you want to reach post-moderns with the person of Jesus Christ, perhaps the synoptic gospels are a better way to go. Now I’m rethinking that. Perhaps we need to continue, as the Apostle John does, to wave the banner for truth.

Seriously, I was indeed leading the charge for Christian publishers to rethink the convention of making John’s gospel the only gospel sold separately as an individual scripture portion. (The exception being the American Bible Society and its worldwide associates.) If we’re going to reach the Millennials, it would seem that Mark, Matthew or Luke would be the better choices.

Now I’m not so sure.

Which of course led me to yet a second postscript in yesterday’s article at C201, namely the whole similarity between the post-modern mindset and the post-truth mindset. I don’t want to sound like that old preacher who shows up at the end of the summer while the pastor is taking a week off, but it does all sound like ‘the same old lies being recycled over and over again.’ (Maybe you actually have to be an old preacher to have witnessed a sort of life cycle of worldviews.) The lies that truth is subjective; that there is no objective truth to be found.

So I wrote:

I can never write on a topic like this without thinking of the song One Rule for You. I looked at that song 4½ years ago and typed out the full lyrics at this article at Thinking Out Loud.

But today, just for you, I’ll save you the need to click:

One of my all-time favorite songs is by 80’s UK mainstream band After The Fire (ATF) which also happens to be a Christian band.  Since we changed the rules here to allow video embeds, I realized it’s never been posted on the blog.  This song basically expresses the frustration that many of us feel when trying to give testimony to what Christ has done for us around people who grew up in a postmodern mindset.

“That’s good for you, and I’ll have to find something that works for me.”

But truth, if it is truth, has to be truth for all people. There cannot be a “truth for you” and a “truth for me.” The postmodern condition is, if anything, a quest to deny the existence of absolute truth. But if you’re flying from New York to London, you want a pilot who believes that 2+2=4, not one that believes that 2+2=5, or that there are many different answers.

That’s what this song is all about.

What kind of line is that when you say you don’t understand a single word
I tell you all these things, you turn around and make as if you never heard

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

Too many people try to tell me that I shouldn’t say the things I do
I know that you would only do the same if it meant as much too you

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

They say believe in what you like as long as you can keep it to yourself
I say if what I know is right, it’s wrong if I don’t tell somebody else

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

written by Peter Banks & Andy Piercy

 

February 22, 2014

Lord’s Prayer: Trespasses or Debts?

What if there was an organization like ISO that checked how we measure up spiritually?

What if there was an organization like ISO that checked how we measure up spiritually?

We were visiting a church where it’s their custom to recite the Lord’s Prayer — you know, those words Jesus said immediately after telling his disciples not to repeat the same words over and over again — in unison while standing.  I can usually do this with eyes closed since it is a prayer, but need to refer to the projected words when they reach the part about forgiveness to see if they say,

  • forgive us our trespasses…

or

  • forgive us our debts

instead, they chose this wording:

  • forgive us our sins

which is, after all, at the heart of the prayer that we could word,

  • Help us to forgive others even as we have experienced forgiveness.

But “sins?”  Sin is missing the mark of God’s standards, so how can people sin “against us?”  Then I realized that this wording has in it the quality of the judgement that God (rightly) could hold against us versus the judgement that we (not always rightly) might bring about someone else.

In other words,

  • Forgive us for the times we don’t measure up to Your standards just as we forgive others who don’t measure up to our standards.

So do we do that?

I think it’s easier to forgive debts and trespasses than to forgive those who don’t meet our personal criteria of… whatever it is.

Romans 15 (AMP) :7 Welcome and receive [to your hearts] one another, then, even as Christ has welcomed and received you, for the glory of God.

Related post:Nothing But The Best (March, 2008) – A look at the criteria we set for our churches.

September 27, 2013

Sin: Don’t Even Think About It!

tempting

 

On Tuesday I was speaking with someone who is heading off to a small Bible college in Eastern Canada. I asked him if he needed help with textbooks, and he said that the school tends to write their own curriculum as they have a unique take on how they approach some Bible subjects. Sometimes this can be a red-flag, so I asked him to give me an example, and it actually turned out to be something I found challenging and want to share here.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

NIV Matt. 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Not all the teaching in this section specifically references the Decalogue, but what if we applied that “Don’t even think about it” standard to all of the other Ten Commandments? He told me that’s exactly what they did in their discussion of this passage. That got me thinking. Instead of “Thou shalt nots” it might look like this:

  1. Don’t even think about putting any other interest, hobby, passion, person, pet, or other god-to-be-worshiped ahead of me (or even on an equal place).
  2. Don’t even think about giving special place to any physical representation of something (existing or in fantasy) that then occupies a central place in your life.
  3. Don’t even think about using God’s name casually or disrespectfully.
  4. Don’t even think about doing some chores or work for pay during the time you know should be set aside for God and for the rest He commands. If it is within your power, don’t compel others to work during this time, either.
  5. Don’t even think about how, given other circumstances, you’d love to kill someone if you thought you’d get away with; or harbor the anger that rises to that level.
  6. Don’t even think about going against the values your parents taught you, or doing something against their wishes. Their values and wishes and the proverbs they taught you will lead to long life.
  7. Don’t even think about having sex with someone who is not your wife; those thoughts will consume you and furthermore, it’s not likely to ever happen, you’re just driving yourself crazy!
  8. Don’t even think about taking something that isn’t yours.
  9. Don’t even think about misrepresenting someone else or putting spin on a story so it makes them look bad.
  10. Don’t even think about comparing yourself to what your neighbor, or co-worker, or extended family member has, or to his or her spouse, and wishing you could have that life or lifestyle.

Feel free to refine what I’ve written in the comments, or take the list in Exodus 20, and rewrite it in your own personal style or adding things you feel conform to the intention of the text when combined with the application of Matthew 5.

Another thing that struck me as I studied this was how The Voice Bible rendered the “You have heard it said” sections of Matthew 5.

This translations also breaks down specifically the origin of “You have heard it said…”

  • 21 As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell
  • 27 As you know, long ago God forbade His people…
  • 31 And here is something else: you have read in Deuteronomy that
  • 33 You know that…
  • 38 You know that Hebrew Scripture sets this standard…
  • 43 You have been taught…

The Voice puts its “You have heard…” sections in italics in this version to indicate that yes, the translators have taken a liberty with the original text in order to provide clarity. What is especially worth noting here is that we generally read these with the inference that Jesus is now introducing something new, but these readings imply that the wider implications of what Jesus taught have been implicit in the text all along, if only we could see it that way.

  • 22 But here is the even harder truth
  • 28 You may think you have abided by this Commandment, walked the straight and narrow…
  • 34 But I tell you this: do not ever swear an oath. What is an oath? You cannot say, “I swear by heaven”—for heaven is not yours to swear by; it is God’s throne. 35 And you cannot say, “I swear by this good earth,” for the earth is not yours to swear by; it is God’s footstool. And you cannot say, “I swear by the holy city Jerusalem,” for it is not yours to swear by; it is the city of God, the capital of the King of kings.

Jesus’ teaching is clear: Don’t even consider wandering from the path, from God’s default settings, even for a moment!

NIV II Tim. 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

 

 

image: Toon Pool

March 7, 2013

The Edge, Shock Value and Shifting Standards

There are going to be people who think me a little too conservative for not posting the cover of the book referred to in today’s earlier post. Sigh.

no-godIt seems that we live in a time when standards are shifting, and even if your values are less progressive, it never hurts to go for shock value, as in Peter Enns’ article Why I Don’t Believe in God Anymore. Perhaps it’s just that people who blog on the Patheos platform are expected to be more controversial, but the word “God” with the red circle and red slash through it seems a bit over the top.

Peter Enns actually does believe in God, at least in the way most of you think. His article is saying that for him it’s really about trust.

…“Belief” in God connotes–at least as I see it–a set of ideas about God that may, if time allows, eventually make their way to other parts of my being…

…I see a huge difference between “I believe in a God who cares for me” and “I trust God at this particular moment.” The first is a bit safer, an article of faith. The latter is unnerving, risky–because I have let go…

In a way, Enns’ view is at the heart of Christian living. As people approach crossing the line of faith, our great desire is to see them reach that point of belief; but once the line has been crossed, the center of the Lordship of Christ is trusting Him with every area, every department of our lives.

I know someone who hasn’t crossed that line yet, but I know the ‘gay’ question is going to come up at some point and when it does I’m going to say, “Look, I want to let you in our playbook. Right now our concern for you is about believing, but for those of us on the inside, the fundamental question is: Can God be trusted? Can we see that out of good, better and best, He does indeed have a best for each of us, an ideal which represents His highest intentions?”

Trusting God has having our ultimate highest good in mind is a better way of framing difficult questions. It’s possible to look at people in an adulterous relationship and say, “I know you expect me to say what’s wrong with what you’re doing, but I want to ask you, ‘What’s right about what you’re doing? What do you derive from this that makes it worth the various inconveniences?'” I believe you could equally ask, “What’s right about your incestuous relationship that makes it worth the effort of keeping the secret?” or “What’s right about your gay relationship that makes it worth the separation from your family?”

It’s not rhetorical.  You’re going to get some answers in most cases. What makes it good. And then it’s easy to say, “I believe God’s intention was beyond good, beyond better. I believe God had a best, but we’re afraid of fully trusting Him.”

However, it’s important not to let this much more compassionate, much more sympathetic approach not undermine the idea of trusting God for the best. It’s vital that in the process, we don’t take scissors to scripture and excise the passages we think don’t fit.

Which brings us to United Methodist pastor Dave Barnhart’s article How Being a Pastor Changed My Thinking on Homosexuality. This piece has received a lot of attention online and is emblematic of what happens when theological convictions are transferred to real people engaged in real living in a real world.

Most people who have wrestled with this issue have come to recognize the personal disconnect that takes place when the convictions we would write on a list shatter in the face of people who have been damaged by dogma. No one reading scripture thoroughly can help but be caught in the middle of God’s holiness and judgment versus God’s compassion toward those who ‘miss the mark’ of His greatest standards.

The article says,

Being a pastor is more about being willing to be led by God and changed by the people I meet than issuing infallible decrees from a pulpit, more about admitting I’m wrong and sharing my frailty than pretending I know God’s will on a given subject. One friend describes preaching as a “homiletical wager,” and I’ve come to believe that pastoring, presuming to be a spiritual leader, is bit like gambling with God, where the stakes are very high but I’m betting the game is rigged toward grace.

So again, the title is edgy, it certainly goes for shock value, but has the writer really changed his view on the standards that God holds up for us, or has he simply come to see those standards in the light of mercy, come to a desire to confront the way The Church attempts to mete out its version of upholding God’s best?

Conservatives and traditionalists may feel the spiritual sky is falling, but I prefer to think of the present spiritual climate more in terms of a shaking. Too many people wrote things in ink that they should have written in pencil, or even chalk. But a massive rethink of terminology or approach doesn’t mean that we’ve completely tossed all our formerly held convictions.

As pendula swing wildly, the place of balance, the place of rest, is ultimately somewhere in the middle.

August 20, 2011

Of Course I’m a Christian; I Keep The Ten Commandments

This is a joint post today between Thinking out Loud and Christianity 201.  Readers at C201 were introduced to a book by Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock last Friday and Saturday.   This weekend we return to the book for a look at keeping “the big ten” and ask if that’s a prerequisite for earning God’s favor, or is it the natural of fruit having already received his grace…
 
More from the book, Look to The Rock, by Alec Motyer (p.41)…

…Nevertheless, law is really and truly law. The terrors of [Mount] Sinai were real and palpable (Ex 20: 18-21, Heb 12: 18-21). This was no contrived display of religious fireworks designed merely to cow and awe. The cause of the whole manifestation of fire and cloud, earthquake, thunder and lightning was simply this: that “the Lord descended in fire.” (Ex 19:18). This is what he is like. His holiness is not a passive attribute but an active force such as can only be symbolized by fire, a force of destruction of all that is unholy. At Sinai this holy God came to declare His holy law.

It is at this point that the sequence of events in the great historical visual aid bears its distinctive fruit: In the Old Testament as in the whole Bible, the law of the Holy God is not a ladder of merit whereby sinners seek to come to God to win His favor and climb “into His good books;” His holy law is rather His appointed and required pattern of life for those who by redemption have been brought to Him already who already belong to Him, and are already “in His good books.” The Law of God is the lifestyle of the redeemed.

Somewhere in the middle of reading that section, I started thinking about the difference between law and grace in terms of the “How Do You Spell Religion?” presentation which I’ve outlined here. I see this as another way of looking at man’s attempts in more of a chronological method:

If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God. The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God. While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc. That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation. So it looks like:

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God.

June 3, 2010

The Difference Between Religion and Christ

At least once a week, I have the opportunity to share a simple overview of the difference between religion and Christianity with someone.   I wrote about it in September, 2008, but the essence of it is:

Q. How do you spell religion?

A. D-O — Do this, do that, do the other thing. Your standing before God is/will be based on what you do.

Q. How do you spell Christianity?

A. D-O-N-E — It’s all been done for us. There is nothing we can do to earn it, it is the gift of God.

The response I’ve had to this over the years has always been positive — it shatters many false perceptions — and I’m grateful to the former YFC staff worker who introduced it to me over a decade ago.

Justin Buzzard, who blogs from California, has taken a look at Tim Keller‘s The Gospel in Life curriculum, and has extracted more detail on the contrast between religion and the Good News, and has put it in chart form on Buzzard Blog.  (Check out the whole blog!)   Here it is for your consideration:

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