Thinking Out Loud

June 17, 2019

I Love Analogies, But…

I am a great believer in the power of analogy. Jesus did this in his ministry. However, I’m not so sure that this one works. The kids in the post in which this appeared on social media were quite young. In other words, impressionable. But fortunately, also prone to forgetting this over the years.

In the larger scheme of things, “Father, Son, Spirit” is itself an analogy to the point that it is God trying to describe the community of God — or Godhead, a word I’m not fond of — in a way that we might understand. But of course we’re forced to create other analogies (ice/water/steam, length/height/depth, eggs, shamrocks, etc.; each of which has its own liabilities) to try to make this more understandable.

I guess my objection here is that on any level, even allowing for liabilities, this one just doesn’t work.


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May 17, 2019

Charles Colson Quotation

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:33 am

March 16, 2019

The Language of the Humble

Filed under: bible, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:48 am

Guest post by Aaron Wilkinson

Nelson Mandela is often quoted on the internet as having said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I don’t know if he actually said that but it’s a good quote. However, there may be exceptions.

At the beginning of the year I drafted a regimen by which I would read through the book of Psalms – 7 every week (one every day would inevitably fall apart and I’m a week behind as it is). But just reading through one translation is boring so I decided to make it more interesting. People often recommend reading two translations side by side to get the bigger picture of the translated text. If you can, you can expand on this by reading in two different languages. I got my hands on an Italian bible over Christmas, so off I went.

This exercise has lead to all sorts of fun discoveries, many of a sort that I anticipated, but others that were rather surprising.

When you hear the same words over and over again from birth, they can become stuck. You stop thinking about what they mean and they become just noise. In the best of cases, I find repeated texts always have something new to offer as I encounter them in different situations. Like a gem that rotates and refracts light in different ways, or a tree that always yields fruit. In the worst cases, the words get stuck and need a jump start.

When I read Psalm 10, I skimmed the words “O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted,” without really paying attention. I think I see the words “O, Lord” and think, Okay, whatever follows is going to be abstract theology language that doesn’t reflect how real people talk or think or feel. Then I compared the Italian, which says ‘the desires of the humble (umili).’

I was comparing afflicted and humble and suddenly the words became faces. Whenever I go through the downtown there are people asking for change. I don’t carry cash and have nothing to offer, so I apologize and move on if I don’t cross to the other side of the street. I often ignore the humble and afflicted, and that’s just when they ask for spare change. Who knows what their desires are for their relationships, housing situations, etc. Apparently God does.

And heck, if he can hear their desires, surely he can hear mine!

I hear this kind of language every day and it doesn’t go to my heart. It gets stuck and it needs some percussive maintenance to get it moving again. I’m sure that God both hears us and speaks to us in our own language, but sometimes it’s worth switching that language up so that we know we’re paying attention.


Aaron Wilkinson blogs when inspiration strikes at Vox Surrantis: Voice of One Whispering

February 26, 2019

The Big Trinity Theory

Filed under: Christianity, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:33 am

I was all set to watch God Friended Me on Sunday night but instead CBS was showing two hours of episodes of The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon, the spin-off prequel in which the key character from the former sitcom is portrayed in his younger years. It’s the last season for BBT so I thought I’d watch it. When Young Sheldon followed, it was an episode I had actually seen and it played on the screen for about 15 minutes while I was doing other things.

My one takeaway was how when you look at older Sheldon and younger Sheldon you’re looking at the same character. It’s not surprising since it’s the same production company and probably some of the same writers and everyone is intimately familiar with his personality quirks, which are legion. They are separated by several decades and yet the perspective, the thought processes and the mannerisms of each are identical.

That got me thinking about the Godhead and the relationship between the Father and the Son in particular. (What can I say? I’m one of the great theological minds of our generation and I see these parallels everywhere I look.)

The great mystery of what we call the Trinity is that Father and Son (and Spirit) are one and yet distinct.

The distinctiveness is summed up in The Athanasian Creed. When you click through, you see something much longer than the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Part of the length is this qualification that each holds distinction but is part of the unified whole.  (I once suggested it was written by Philadelphia lawyer!)

There is also some additional language that stems from this:

And yet there are not three eternal beings;
there is but one eternal being.

For the person of the Father is a distinct person,
the person of the Son is another,
and that of the Holy Spirit still another.
But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one,
their glory equal, their majesty co-eternal.

Despite this, we also have one of the most succinct verses in the gospels, John 10:30 making the case for the unity and oneness of the Godhead: “I and the Father are one.” It’s further complicated when Jesus is asked when the end times will come and he says that “”However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” That’s in Mark 13:32 NLT, and it’s repeated in Matthew 24:36.

But then… it gets crazy complicated when in John 17:31, Jesus prays for his disciples before his crucifixion:

…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (NIV)
…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (ESV)
…That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (KJV)

I included three translations just to be clear. We’d have to save a discussion of the oneness in John 10:30 and the oneness in John 17:21 for our Christianity 201 blog, but when we touched on it once there we noted that the Asbury Bible Commentary states:

In nature this was identical to the oneness that united Son and Father, and it was characterized by the same glory. Its purpose was that by observing it the world might come to know that God had indeed been behind the mission of Jesus and that his blessing was on the church.

…So that’s what happens when I watch sitcoms. Here’s a drawing of what I think the Athanasian Creed uniquely states:

 

February 10, 2019

From the Twitterverse

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:30 am

My social media worlds don’t necessarily overlap much, but my WordPress world and my Twitter world are closer. Even so, you may not have seen these (and a few retweets) …

September 6, 2018

Anabaptist Distinctives: Bruxy Cavey

Bruxy Cavey Bus

In light of yesterday’s item in the Wednesday link/roundup (see below*) I thought we’d rerun this item from 2013. These were originally a series of tweets.

  • Anabaptists tend to emphasize following Jesus’ teachings and example more than perfecting our systematic theology on eschatology, atonement, etc.
  • Even slight shifts in emphasis (eg, how to live like Jesus vs. systematic theology) create very different church cultures.
  • Anabaptists not only differ to other Christians in the content of their theology, but also in the emphasis or focus of their theology.
  • Yes I find Anabaptists to be as flawed as any Christian group, but I hold out more hope for healthy growth when Christians focus on Christ.
  • We have confused gentleness with quietness. It’s time to hear and be heard…
  • Because we emphasize following Jesus, we must remind ourselves of grace
  • Anabaptists live and think like a church mentored by James. We need fellowship with churches more mentored by Paul (& vice versa).
  • Rather than fear, guilt, or shame….inspire people with hope, beauty, and courage. Let’s fascinate, not force, people toward the Gospel.
  • Evangelicals = Paul (rich theology, grace emphasis).
    Anabaptists = James (faith without works is dead so go live it). 
  • If the early church needed the teaching of Paul and James, Gal 2-5 & Matt 5-7, today’s church needs the voices of Evangelicals and Anabaptists.
  • Evangelical Emphasis = Jesus is Savior/Substitute. Believe! Anabaptist Emphasis = Jesus is Lord/King. Follow!

Bruxy Cavey is the teaching pastor of The Meeting House, Canada’s fastest growing church movement with satellite locations across Ontario. Although he grew up in a Pentecostal tradition, Bruxy’s church is part of the Be in Christ (BiC) denomination a subset of the Anabaptists.

For an excellent understanding of this, visit a sermon-series Bruxy’s church did in the summer with guests from various other churches. This link takes you to option for both audio video of the final episode with Bruxy interviewing Mike Krause from Southridge Mennonite Brethren Church in Welland. (Click the audio or video buttons in the download area, the others are not always functional. The video message begins following a promotional building fund clip and some quotes.) 


*Item referred to yesterday:

Allegedly under pressure from large financial donors, Fresno Pacific’s University’s graduate program in Anabaptist Theology has removed the visiting lecturer status of Bruxy Cavey, Greg Boyd and Brian Zahnd, and has also demoted its president to professor status after he takes a sabbatical. Yikes! In one cohort, 21 out of 23 students have signed a letter of protest, while meanwhile 11 out of the 18 students who were registered for this year — many on the premise of getting to interact with these very lecturers — have withdrawn. Greg Boyd said he had, “letters of support from [Mennonite Brethren] pastors apologizing and worrying about their denomination losing Anabaptist distinctives and acclimating to American fundamentalism.”

September 1, 2018

Throwback: Teaching Tapes

The plastic binders were a classier way to store them, but some of us simply threw our teaching tapes in boxes.

I had boxes of them. Perhaps you did as well.

We would go to those huge Christian music festivals on Pennsylvania dairy farms — back when the headlining speakers had equal billing with headlining musicians — and come back with bags and bags of the things. Heck, people would set up booths vending tapes for speakers who weren’t even appearing at the event; such was the hunger to collect and listen.

In the land before live streaming of church services, sermons on demand, and podcasts, this was how you immersed yourselves in the tapes of your favorite Bible teacher and introduced his (or her) core message to your friends.

I got to thinking of this today because the Saturday Brunch column at Internet Monk mentioned a series that Michael Newnham is running on the history of Calvary Chapel. (I’ve stolen that and reproduced it at the end of this article.) I had a friend who owned the complete — don’t know how many hundred — set of Chuck Smith preaching his way through the entire Bible. The things came in large wooden cases and covered an area larger than a pool table.

He was moving and I had hoped that I would be the beneficiary of that move, but instead another mutual acquaintance was gifted them.

For years, that really bothered me.

Today, I would have nothing to play them on. There’s one cassette player left in the house and it’s not going to last much longer. Besides, I have moved on to other teachers and doctrinal perspectives.

However, it makes me wish that Chuck Smith had committed himself to books, instead of to the fad of the day, audio cassettes. While I’m sure that these messages have been transferred to mp3 files, there’s something permanent about a book. (In the same way I wish my dad had developed his film into prints, instead of slides; just like you’ll wish something similar when all your children’s pictures are only fit for devices which disappear off the consumer electronics shelves.)

It’s hard to believe right now, but it’s possible that before long the term “internet” will come to mean something quaint or ancient. A lot of teaching content has been uploaded in forms that the future may render obsolete.

Sometimes people would trade teaching tapes the way one might trade expensive, collector’s baseball cards. I like that because it placed a value on the teaching. Or we would simply share them with friends back home unable to make it to the event.

And don’t miss the aside comment in the second paragraph, above. The teachers really did receive equal billing to the musicians. We drove those miles in the camper or station wagon because we were looking forward to the sermons we would hear along with the concerts we would here. Equally.

I can honestly say I was truly changed by some of those teachings.


Calvary Chapel story referenced above, as listed at today’s Internet Monk:

June 2, 2018

Weekend Link List

Happy Saturday. And Sunday. Again, some things you may or may not have seen elsewhere.

  • If your church ever had Koinonia Groups, you would certainly know how to spell the word, right? For Karthik Nemmani, described as “a soft-spoken eighth-grader from McKinney, Texas,” the word was worth $40,000 in the Scripps Spelling Bee.
  • God Chose Donald Trump: The Movie  “Liberty University students and faculty are making The Trump Prophecy. Students at Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Liberty University are helping produce a film that argues Trump’s presidency was divinely foretold.
  • Traditionally, God’s people prayed to… well… God. So in the Christian era, when did prayer to Jesus originate? “…[I]n early Christian baptism, one called upon Jesus, invoking him over the baptized person. Indeed, in 1 Cor. 1:2 Paul refers to fellow believers simply as those who everywhere ‘call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Perhaps our earliest reference, however, is 1 Thess. 3:11-13, where God and Jesus are jointly called upon to enable Paul to re-visit the Thessalonian church.”
  • Tony Campolo’s issues with modern worship include the question of tense “I think it’s wonderful that it’s captured the music that young people can relate to and they get into it with great love and emotion. But compare ‘My God reigns’ with the old hymns which say: ‘Jesus shall reign’ – it’s future tense, not present tense… The Hallelujah Chorus never says: ‘God is in control’. It says: ‘The kingdoms of this world will (when the second coming occurs) become the kingdoms of our God and he shall reign forever and ever hallelujah’.”
  • A candidate for President of the Southern Baptist Convention offers a four-part strategy for revitalizing the denomination. One of those is planting new churches; “…[W]e must continue to plant churches of every style and variety in every context possible. In 2016 we recorded the lowest number of churches added to our convention since 1988—732 new church starts and 232 new affiliates for a total of 964. It is not a matter of church planting or revitalization but a matter of both/and.
  • Mixed Message: An article on how the brothers can encourage the sisters in ministry is nonetheless set in a complementarian mindset. I mean, I applaud the effort, but it doesn’t really change anything
  • Finally, it’s apparent that Kevin Sorbo has a lock on Christian film casting assignments. He’s due to appear in The Pastor at some point this year. “In a forgotten part of town, overrun by a ruthless gang; a community struggles with its faith, as they see their neighborhoods torn-apart and their youth targeted for gang recruitment.”

May 26, 2018

Offensive Jesus

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:00 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

I occasionally make trips into the downtown and pass by crowds of the homeless, mentally disabled, physically disabled, and otherwise down on their luck. I know I’m supposed to be compassionate but it’s difficult. Admitting that it’s difficult doesn’t change my responsibilities, but I acknowledge that I feel very uncomfortable around these people.

I also pass by smokers, drinkers, angry people, rude people, smelly people, and people who dress without any sense of modesty. They aren’t down on their luck, I think to myself. They aren’t victims of a broken world, they are irresponsible, stupid, immoral people. I start to get angry. I am deeply offended that people like that exist.

I only moved into the downtown a year ago. Before then I was a child in a good Christian home, later working the summers at a good Christian summer camp, and then going to a good private Christian university. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the ugly side of the human condition but I almost never had to think about it and certainly didn’t have to regularly face it.

Now it’s becoming more and more apparent to me just what scum human beings can be and as this becomes clearer and clearer another idea becomes more prominent in tandem – these people are made in God’s image and he loves them.

Matthew 25 tells us that, to Jesus, the way we treat others is the way we treat him. When I was re-reading this chapter, I was surprised to discover that I had forgotten a part of it. I remembered the parts where he talks about feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, and clothes to the naked. That all sounds very good. But he also talks about visiting criminals and comforting them in prison.

So I’m to understand that God is so intimately connected with inmates (and who knows what horrible things they did to end up there) that I am to see them as the image of God and treat them as I would treat him? I previously thought I understood this but it only occurs to me now how scandalous – how offensive that idea is.

And it’s not just that. The entire story of Jesus is one big scandal. The rightful king of the universe gets born to a disreputable mother in a place where animals poop, condescends to be baptized by John (despite his protests), lives his life as a homeless weirdo, spends his time with corrupt government employees and adulterers, washes his disciples smelly feet like a servant, and then gets humiliated and killed. If I were to see this guy on my block, I think I’d cross to the other side of the road.

Imagine if some guy walked into your church, grabbed the baptismal font full of consecrated water for a holy sacrament, turned that water into beer, and gave it to the drunk guy outside. That’s sacrilegious. That’s the Marriage at Cana.

I am certainly not saying that Jesus isn’t holy and uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. In fact, I’m trying to say that Jesus is uniquely worthy of our absolute respect and devotion. Not the traditions, rituals, catechisms, etc. If I, who spent the first two decades of my life in Christian circles, can be suddenly jolted and upset by Jesus, then clearly it’s not enough to passively inherit a nominal faith. A living faith will upset you from time to time. It’ll offend you. If we’re in relationship with a real person and not a figure of our imagination, every now and then they’ll be someone we didn’t want or expect them to be. Then we have a choice to either walk away, or be uncomfortable for a while.

I am learning to see Christ in the people I would otherwise despise. It’s upsetting and I’m glad it is. It tells me I’m going in the right direction.

God is pure. God is morally perfect. God is worthy of our recognition, not in part but completely. And if I’m really after God, I have to recognize that one time he became really really unpleasant in order to make the rest of us unpleasant people, including myself at times, more like him.


Aaron — who looks a lot younger in the picture than he really is — describes himself as a bibliophile, language enthusiast, religion enthusiast, aspiring performer, and above all, a writer. This article appeared earlier this week at Vox Surrantis: The Voice of One Whispering. Used by permission.

March 31, 2018

The Cross: A Story to which Everyone Must Respond

Filed under: Christianity, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:22 am

This will be the 4th time I’ve included or alluded to the powerful song below. Please take the time, close your eyes and listen through.

John 14 (The Voice):

Philip: 8 Lord, all I am asking is that You show us the Father.

Jesus (to Philip): 9 I have lived with you all this time, and you still don’t know who I am? If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. How can you keep asking to see the Father? 10 Don’t you believe Me when I say I abide in the Father and the Father dwells in Me? I’m not making this up as I go along. The Father has given Me these truths that I have been speaking to you, and He empowers all My actions. 11 Accept these truths: I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me. If you have trouble believing based on My words, believe because of the things I have done. 12 I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father. 13 Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do it so that the Father will get glory from the Son.

Everyone we meet needs to respond to the story that crossed our path last week: The Passion Week narrative. That includes you me. I love the way this song asks the question — it’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve come across.

As any worship leader will tell you, Easter offers us music which best captures the essence of our faith; best captures the essence of the gospel. All worship should be ‘Christo-centric,’ but at this time of year the intensity of our worship seems so much focused.

One of my personal favorite pieces this time of year is not a congregational song, but a performance piece called “How Could You Say ‘No?'” written by Mickey Cates and performed by Julie Miller. When my wife had a soundtrack for this, we were repeatedly asked to do it each year at the church we were attending; later on we did it with live music.

christoncross

The song asks the question: How can you see what Christ did for us on the cross and then just walk away, knowing it was your sin that put him there; knowing that he did this for you? Indeed, can a person meet Christ through the gospel narrative and not be changed? Can you simply walk away? I’ve read stories of even the most ardent atheists deciding not to follow but still claiming the story is deeply moving. If you will, It’s a Wonderful Life is deeply moving; so is The Sound of Music and Old Yeller, but they don’t demand a life-changing response. They’re just movies. The Christ-account demands we do something.

Take the next four minutes just to focus on this song and all that it means. (Click the play button below.)

Thorns on His head, spear in His side
Yet it was a heartache that made Him cry
He gave His life so you would understand
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

If Christ Himself were standing here
Face full of glory and eyes full tears
And he held out His arms and His nail-printed hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Jesus is here with His arms open wide
You can see with your heart
If you’ll stop looking with your eyes
He’s left it up to you, He’s done all He can
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Thorns on His head, your life is in His hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

Oh, is there any way you could say no to this Man?

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