Thinking Out Loud

February 16, 2017

Camped Out on the Edge of Belief

southern-ontario

I mentioned a few weeks ago that twice a year I am asked to write a devotion for our local newspaper. It presents a number of challenges, not the least of which is trying to keep it under 550 words. If I I’m writing for C201, I don’t include things that begin with illustrations; we cut to the chase of studying text. But I have to include some type of local references, to our town about an hour east of Toronto. I thought I would share with you what I came up with awhile ago. Your comments are invited.

As I mentally scan the map, I can’t think of any place along the southern tier of Canada where it’s possible to be so close to the U.S. border but have to drive so far to get there. On a clear day, you can see a generating station’s smokestack across the lake with the naked eye, but entering New York State involves either a nearly two-hour drive in either direction to reach a border point.

In many ways, it’s a metaphor for the relationship that Canadians, especially in the days before today’s religious pluralism, had with Christianity. Even now, many sit camped out on the edge of belief. They might even hold church membership or do volunteer work, but a spiritual heart examination would show that they’ve never crossed the border of commitment; they’ve never placed themselves, by faith, under the covering of the cross.

We can all see the border. We see it in the chorus of our federal anthem, which is a prayer for God to keep our land free, just as we see it still in some municipal councils where another prayer acknowledges the sacredness of God’s name, invites His kingdom to be fulfilled and recognizes His power and glory. We see the border when local churches step up to build a house for Habitat for Humanity, join en masse a walkathon for Multiple Sclerosis (canceling a Sunday morning service in the process) or feed the hungry through the Salvation Army…

Just as we can watch U.S. television stations and listen to its radio so easily, because the border is so close, we live in a time and place which has been influenced by Christianity, but still, many hesitate to fully enter in, to fully engage, because, figuratively speaking, the drive to the border is too long. Nothing of urgency has forced us to make the trip.

In Acts 26, we read the story of an encounter between the Apostle Paul and King Agrippa. This is Paul’s moment to secure his release from custody, but from a legal standpoint, he squanders the opportunity and instead tells Agrippa the basis for his belief that Jesus is the long-anticipated Messiah, the deliverer of Israel in particular and mankind in general.

As Paul is speaking, Festus, the Governor, interrupts and says what many still say to passionate followers who seem more heavenly minded than earthly good: “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!” (vs. 25, NLT)

But Paul calmly reminds him that none of the occurrences in the Jesus story were made up, nothing was done in secret, “for this thing was not done in a corner.” (vs. 26, KJV) Agrippa and Festus need merely to check out back issues of The Jersualem Times to read the accounts for themselves of Jesus’ teaching, miracles and crucifixion.

And that’s where Agrippa says, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian;” (vs 28, KJV) or “Keep this up much longer and you’ll make a Christian out of me!” (vs. 28, MSG)

But a few short verses later the scene ends. We’re left with the picture of King Agrippa camped out on the border of belief, but, to return to our analogy again, he never gasses up the car and makes the run for the border. Full commitment is in view, he can see it with the naked eye, but nothing of urgency forces him to make the trip that day.

Perhaps that sounds familiar.

 

December 29, 2016

The Opposite of Infant Baptism: Why Evangelicals Opt Out

This article was a link list item two weeks ago, but I found myself thinking about it somewhat continuously since, and last night it came up again at the supper table. The writer blogs at Patheos under the banner Troubler of Israel but I’m otherwise unfamiliar with his work.

I’ve quoted this in full, though you are strongly encouraged to read it at source and join the over 300 comments; just click the link in the title below. The only difference here is that I’ve placed one paragraph in bold face type which I believe deserves special attention.

The Real Reason Evangelicals Don’t Baptize Babies
by G. Shane Morris

Friends (especially those expecting children) ask me with surprising frequency why I believe in infant baptism. For a couple of years, I replied by giving what I think the best biblical reasons are. But I usually don’t take that route anymore, because I’ve realized that’s not what convinced me.

For most evangelicals, what stands in the way of baptizing infants isn’t a lack of biblical evidence, but an interpretive lens they wear when reading Scripture. That lens–shaped by revivals, rugged individualism, and a sacramental theology untethered from the church’s means of grace–makes conversion the chief article of the faith. We should expect this, since American evangelical theology was forged on the frontier, in camp meetings, to the sound of fire-and-brimstone preaching.

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term 'baptism.'

For Evangelicals, this is the far more familiar image which comes to mind at the mention of the term ‘baptism.’

The core assumption here is that you must have a conversion experience to be saved. You must turn away from a past life toward a new one, usually with tears and laments attesting your sincerity. And this view of Christianity works well in an evangelistic setting, where many have lived as open unbelievers. The problem is it’s an awkward fit when it comes to multi-generational faith.

Anyone who was raised in a Christian home and still believes in Jesus knows that there wasn’t a time when he or she transitioned from “unbelief” to “belief.” We were never “converted.” It was simply inculcated from infancy, and for as long as we can remember, we have trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, whether we were baptized as a baby or not.

But because of the baptistic emphasis on conversion, many (if not most) raised in those churches found ourselves “converting” over and over, reciting the “sinner’s prayer” at countless altar calls during our childhood and teenage years, certain that each time, we were truly sincere, but always finding ourselves back at the altar. Some of us even asked to be re-baptized upon our fresh conversions. And everyone raised in evangelical churches will know what I mean when I say “testimony envy,”–that real and perverse jealousy you feel when someone who lived a nastier pre-conversion life than you shares their story.

This is where I think the chief difficulty with infant baptism lies, at least for American evangelicals. I don’t believe baptistic evangelicals really view their children as unregenerate pagans before their “credible profession of faith.” If they did, they wouldn’t teach them to say the Lord’s Prayer or to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” I think what’s really going on is a kind of alternative sacramentalism, where a dramatic conversion experience, rather than baptism, is the rite of Christian initiation.

Thus, children raised in this setting feel the need to manufacture tearful conversions over and over to prove their sincerity. And rather than their present trust in Christ, they’re taught (implicitly or explicitly) to look back to a time, a place, and a prayer, and stake their salvation on that.

Infant baptism runs counter to this entire system. It declares visibly that God induces a change of heart and a saving faith in those too young to even speak or remember their “conversions.” It illustrates that the branches God grafts in to His Son aren’t sterile. They bud and blossom, producing new branches that have never drunk another tree’s sap. And most importantly, it matches the lived experiences of believers’ children, rather than continually imposing a system on them that was designed for first-generation converts.

Almost always, I see the lights come on after explaining this point to an evangelical friend. And in most cases, their acceptance of infant baptism isn’t far behind.

 

December 17, 2016

Chickens and Eggs: Which Comes First, Belonging or Believing?

Try Before You Buy?

Later today at Christianity 201, we’re doing a video post from Seven Minute Seminary at Seedbed.com. We did this about a year ago, and while choosing something for today (it’s on the destiny of the unevangelized) I found this one. At first, I found the reference to “postmodernism” a bit dated. Surely everybody gets that mindset now and its continued pervasiveness among Millennials, right? But as Jim Hampton got into this 6½ minute explanation, I realized that is take on believing vs. belonging was something I hadn’t seen before; the notion that a new generation of seekers really wants to embed themselves in our communities to see if our faith is genuine; if our belief is authentic enough that it translates into our everyday practices. 

But embed themselves to what extent? Singing on a worship team? Partaking of The Lord’s Supper (Eucharist)?

Click the title below to read the article and watch the video at source:

Belonging vs. Believing: Postmodernism and Its Implications for Discipleship

Postmodernism has many implications for how churches understand and approach discipleship. Using youth culture as a model, Dr. Jim Hampton explores how those who have a suspicion of authority and dogma might be included in the process of discipleship by allowing them to participate in community in significant ways.

James Hampton is Professor of Youth Ministry at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is an editor for the Journal of Youth and Theology.

View the growing playlist of Seven Minute Seminary.

September 26, 2016

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Evangelicalism

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:41 am

If you have a copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, you’re probably familiar with the quote which follows:

hitchhikers-guide

I decided to put a bit of soteriological spin on this.

hitchhikers-parody

April 29, 2016

Camp Memories (4)

The camp that I worked at was large enough that the food services operations had been contracted out to a catering company. Some of the teens who got hired were friends of other people on our junior staff, but there was no screening of anyone in the sense that our staff had to have a recommendation from a pastor, a youth pastor, and enclose a copy of their personal testimony.

All this meant that our dishwashers and housekeeping staff — who were Christians — regularly interacted with non-Christians who were cooks and bakers. Furthermore, the cooking staff got to attend any of the special events that were taking place in the evenings — special speakers, concerts, etc. — which meant that over time they had a number of questions about what we believed.

Evangelizing the people from the catering firm became a priority for the dishwashers (guys who fell under my supervision) and the housekeepers (girls who lived with the female bakers and cooks).

As Labor Day approached, two of the bakers were close to crossing the line of faith, but there was no indication that this was happening anytime soon. This increased the level of concern — and prayer, I hope — on the part of the housekeeping staff to the point where they upped their game in terms of pleading with the two who had expressed some interest.

img 042916I will say this: Regardless of your views on soteriology, or any aspects of the monergism/synergism debate, there is something to be said for the line from the Billy Graham radio show, “This is your hour of decision.” And there’s, “Now is the accepted time; today is the day of salvation.” And don’t forget, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Even if you believe that salvation happens as process and not in a moment of crisis, I believe there is still always a defining moment.

Then, on Labor Day Monday, in other words on the same day, and possibly within an hour of each other, the two girls decided it was time to make that commitment.

So the housekeeping staff were ecstatic.

And they ran and got me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I had never been in the spiritual delivery room before. I just thought it was interesting that after evangelizing and sharing their faith journey all summer with the two catering staff members, they felt they needed a professional to lead the actual conversion moment. And they thought that I was that professional. (We did have people with theology degrees on staff, but…)

So, not knowing what I know now, I felt it necessary to have them “pray a prayer” because that’s what the Bible says you do when you want to enter into eternal life, right? (Well, it does and doesn’t.)

Girl One joined me in the dining room, which was an appropriate setting given their summer had consisted of preparing the food which was eaten there. I told her that I was going to give a line and she simply had to repeat it after me. She did. Smiles. Hugs and high fives.

Then Girl Two came in and after a brief discussion, I told her to simply repeat the prayer after me. I was on a roll now. Any chance there’s a third person waiting outside?

“Dear Jesus;” I said.

“Dear Jesus;” she repeated.

“I acknowledge that I’m a sinner;” was the next line.

Silence.

“I acknowledge that I have sinned;” I repeated with slight editing.*

“I can’t pray this;” she said. 

Wait, what?

At this point I could have concluded that she just wasn’t ready; or that she’d felt coerced into this moment; or that peer pressure had resulted from the other girl’s decision. Or perhaps she just couldn’t give intellectual assent to committing to follow Christ. Or maybe I’d worded it wrong and she didn’t want to think of herself as a sinner.

For all those reasons, I could have just suspended this and suggested she think about it and get back in contact with the camp or her new friends at some point in the fall.

But I didn’t go that route. Instead I opened my mouth and this came out:

“Then just tell God, in your own words, what you want to say to him right now.”

I have no idea what she said next; I only remember that it was sincere, it was beautiful and it passed whatever was my ‘sinner’s prayer’ litmus test. And there were more smiles, more hugs and more high fives…

…Today I know so much more. Entering into new life is more than a prayer; it’s a commitment to live a new life in a new way under the Lord-ship of Jesus Christ even when the cost is difficult. But for that day, that would have to suffice.

There was little time to arrange for follow-up, but I heard some encouraging news in the short-term through my housekeeping contacts, and we did have monthly camp reunions — this was a huge camp — back then which kept some staff in touch in a world before email, texting and social media.

In the years that followed, I got to pray with other people while doing itinerant youth ministry** as a guest speaker in various churches; but there was never another moment like this one.

I’m just so thankful that I was there when needed and when the opportunity arose.***


*After 11 weeks at camp, I think the doctrine of sin had been clearly defined, but today, if I was going to introduce a prayer at all, I would probably word it differently.

**I got to experience some interesting situations and meet some great people in itinerant ministry, but there is something to be said for working in a local church environment where you really get to know the same people over an extended period of time. At camp, working and living and sleeping in community created some close relationships, but eleven weeks seems like such a short time and the nature of the organization made follow-up challenging. I love the context for ministry that camp creates, but it’s important to recognize the shortcomings of any evangelism model.

***It’s easy for an organization to miss the importance of ministry to its workers. Some of the greatest life-changes are taking place at the staff-level and it’s important for senior staff to see the summer as a two-pronged program.

 

April 15, 2016

Believe in Free Will? T4G Says You Can’t Worship

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:45 am

Together for the Gospel - ConstituenciesI screamed so loud when this came up in the Together for the Gospel (T4G) feed yesterday, that I’m surprised if you didn’t hear it where you live.

The comment was that if you believe in free will (the term used was Semi-Pelagianism) then you can’t really worship because “you’re giving the credit to yourself.”

Yes. Someone actually said that.

The Wikipedia article linked above says,

The Roman Catholic Church condemns Semipelagianism but affirms that the beginning of faith involves an act of free will. It teaches that the initiative comes from God, but requires free synergy (collaboration) on the part of man: “God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace. The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration”

Of course many consider Semi-P. to be a heretical doctrine, including Christian Research & Apologetics Ministry, but while the term is pejorative, the doctrine underlying it — dealing with the tension between who is working in the salvation process, or whether we are, as Bruxy Cavey calls it, “chosen and choosing” — is common to many including Free Will Baptists, Arminians, Charismatics, Pentecostals, Holiness Denominations, Catholics, etc., just to name a few.

Calvinists call this free will view Synergism, as opposed to their belief of Monergism, the idea that is somewhat of an anti-free-will view; the idea that election is unconditional and irresistible; the implication that ‘God is going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.’ (Okay, that’s a bit of mis-characterization, but it was… irresistible.) While Monergism might be seen as a tidy fit with sola gratia, that doctrine is more of an extension of sola fide, and has more to do with the contrast between works-based and grace-based salvation than about the idea of how we come to Christ or how the Holy Spirit might draw a person toward Christ. You can read more about the five sola doctrines at this link. (I apologize for using Wikipedia, but it was late last night, and the articles are reasonably good.)

…So back to our topic. The T4G people are making the rather absurd statement that, for example, Pentecostals cannot fully be worshiping God. That when they’re singing, “How Great is our God,” they are somehow extolling themselves; that their worship is not Christ-centered because they dared to choose to follow Jesus, and messed up all of His predestinating. (I just made that word up, but I really like it.) 

Equally baffling is the concept that when we worship, we only worship God for saving us (which is really praise, not worship) and not for his majesty, power, love and holiness…

…Worse however, is that they can’t simply sit back and have their conference without taking a shot at those outside their walls.

This is simply unconscionable


Of course, this may not have been the worst thing that happened yesterday at T4G. Also echoed here.


I’m away most of the daytime today, but will eventually post any comments received. I realize some may disagree, and that it is their duty to do so.

 

 

February 20, 2016

Is Donald Trump a Christian? Is the Pope Catholic?

Much ink has been spilled and much energy has been spent trying to flesh out the subject of “who’s in and who’s out” in matters of the Christian faith. Only God knows. The religion news story of the week was Pope Francis weighing in on Donald Trump’s faith and Trump’s inevitable response. The Pope asserted that Christians work to build bridges not walls, and on the basis of a statement reflecting this particular fruit of Trump’s character, implied that Trump’s Mexico/USA border wall concept is not consistent with identity as a Christian.

But on what do you base an assessment of someone? Within my own sphere of acquaintances there are people who disagree on a wide variety of subjects; some of which are part of Biblical interpretation, some of which are ethical, and others of which are reflective of the living out of their faith in everyday life. Is any one of these a significant marker of one’s spiritual sincerity or authenticity? Is there a single litmus test of orthodoxy? And is the in-versus-out question based on what I do today or tomorrow or on faith commitments I made at an earlier stage of life? Can I be in one day and out the next?

One of the best articles I’ve seen on this topic is in the book A is for Abductive by Leonard Sweet, Brian McLaren and Jerry Haselmayer in which they speak of bounded sets, centered sets, and dynamic sets; along with helpful diagrams. It’s a book I keep handy, but the lateness of the hour on Friday prevents me from scanning in those pages, so you’ll have to settle for someone else’s work. On the previous page there is a circle with no center point; one is defined as either in or out. X, Y and Z below are all in, but B and C are certainly close. Then they introduce centered-set thinking:

Bounded Set, Centered Set, Dynamic Set

For most of you, this either simplifies things or makes it more complicated. (There’s a logical statement.) But it illustrates the degrees to which people go to try to think through the issue of who’s in and who’s out.

In searching for the graphic I came across this quote from C.S. Lewis along with another diagram:

Christians as centered set vs bounded set_thumb[5]

[The] situation in the actual world is much more complicated than that. The world does not consist of 100% Christians and 100% non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand…. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together.

Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat. But when we are comparing Christians in general with non-Christians in general, we are usually not thinking about real people whom we know at all, but only about two vague ideas which we have got from novels and newspapers. If you want to compare the bad Christian and the good Atheist, you must think about two real specimens whom you have actually met. Unless we come down to brass tacks in that way, we shall only be wasting time.

 ~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 208-209.

So while the media has fun with the friendly banter between the Pope and the Presidential wannabe, know for sure that deciding on either the present devotion or the eternal destiny of anyone in particular is way above our pay grade. We can’t do it when speaking of individual people because we’re not God; but Lewis argues that dealing with it theoretically has no value.

 

 

October 25, 2015

It’s Not What You Do, It’s Who You Know

Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Why Isn’t This Story in Every Bible Story Collection?

That’s the question we’re looking at this weekend. Perhaps the story just has credibility issues with adults. A snake on a pole? You only have to look at it; not touch it, or do something else with it?  Perhaps the story simply gets bumped in Bible storybooks by stories involving a giant, or a whale, or a den of lions. But seriously, the way the Numbers 21 story prefigures the crucifixion, while we may not include it in our gospel presentations, we should at least be conversationally familiar with it. If you’ve missed what we’ve said so far, read the articles posted Friday and Saturday.


The Evangelism Explosion Question

Evangelism Explosion was a door-to-door evangelism campaign launched at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida when James Kennedy was pastor, and then made available for churches to train volunteers and use the program in their city or town.

Wikipedia records this about the program:

Evangelism Explosion is best known for its two “diagnostic questions” that users can ask non-Christians as a means of determining a “person’s spiritual health”, and of stimulating an evangelistic conversation:

  1. Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you can say you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?
  2. Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say?

After the diagnostic questions, the evangelist is encouraged to explain the gospel in terms of grace, man, God, Christ, and faith.

What the article doesn’t say is that most people would reply to the second question in terms like,

  • I’ve been a good person
  • I lived a good life
  • I prayed to God regularly
  • I kept the Ten Commandments
  • I went to church
  • I always gave money when people needed it
  • I didn’t smoke/drink/take drugs/sleep around

…and so on.

But none of these is the right answer. It is only through the blood of Jesus Christ that any of us obtains the righteousness that is needed before a just God; something I assume the EE people would then go on to explain. (In what’s sometimes called a “law and gospel” approach, the point is additionally made that none of those actions or omissions could be considered good enough when standing before a God who is all-holy.) 

DO versus DONE

So how does one do that? How do we move from people whose religion is all D-O (do this, do that, do the other thing) to one who simply accepts what’s all been D-O-N-E (freely given, and able to be taken irrespective of one’s spiritual balance sheet)?

Growing up in what was then Canada’s only megachurch, The Peoples Church in Toronto, Dr. Paul B. Smith (who also baptized me) would give an invitation almost every Sunday night and ask people to raise their hands if the wanted him “to include them in the closing prayer.”

While being prayed for to receive salvation or praying a prayer are both models that are subject to intense scrutiny and criticism these days, I think his approach is good at least insofar as one must want to placed under the covering that the cross provides.

I often compare this to the cards we get from the postal service telling us that they are holding a parcel for pickup. We can show all our friends the parcel card and even wave it around, but until we actually go to the post office and exchange the card for the benefit it represents, then all we have is piece of thin cardboard. And think about, the analogy really fits because the parcel is yours; it has your name on it.

How else do we describe this invisible transaction? Most people want to do something in order to gain right standing with God. That’s why religion is so popular. People at least can quantify their acts of piety, devotion or righteousness.

But Christianity, in this sense at least, is not religion. You don’t do anything.

And that’s where the transaction model really breaks down for some people. See, when I do a transaction at the ATM, I get a receipt. At least I can hold that in my hand (or affix it to the inside cover of my Bible). But as much as people so desperately want the equivalent to a proof of purchase, such is not the case when it’s something that happens invisibly. You simply, in a way so similar to the story of Moses and the Bronze Snake need to look to the cross.

Truly this is faith.  


 

As stated, there is no magic prayer to pray, but in your own words, you can simply tell God that you recognize that in his higher plans and purposes, the death of Jesus fulfills the requirements of a system that was set in place long before the world was created; and that you realize that as someone who misses the mark of his standard of holiness and righteousness, what you really need is grace. Tell him you want to be included in all that Christ’s death and God’s infinite grace and love have to offer; and in return, you want to begin living a new life in a new way.

 

April 13, 2015

Book Review: Did God Kill Jesus?

Did God Kill JesusThere was something almost eerie about reading this book over the Easter season. I took a rather slow, almost plodding pace in order to absorb the material and then have a day to digest it before moving on, some of the events described paralleling narratives being brought to mind at Holy Week.

In Did God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution, author Tony Jones looks at the central element of the Christian faith — the death and resurrection of Jesus — though his focus is clearly on the crucifixion and all of its ramifications for doctrine and theology. Over the years, writers and teachers have processed a handful of dominant models of what all is taking place — what we call atonement — as Christ yields his life to the religious and political powers of Jewish authorities and Roman soldiers; and Jones considers these as well as a few of the lesser-known theories.

At the very core of his analysis is Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?” He veers strongly toward the view that at that moment Jesus sees the Father as absent and dares to suggest that right then, right there, Jesus experiences something akin to atheism; life in a world without God. This is presented alongside the notion that while positionally God’s omniscience is a given, there are things that could only be known incarnationally.

This is a book for people willing to risk actually doing some thinking. Many of us have grown up in environments where we were taught that “Jesus died on the cross for our sins;” but would be lacking clarity in explaining exactly how the violent, death of this One accomplished this. He notes that if a sacrifice were all that was required, a child sacrifice at the Bethlehem manger would have sufficed. He also forces the reader to consider why a violent death was necessary.

I had been aware of Tony Jones through his blogging activity at Theoblogy, and knew that because of his co-authorship of The Emergent Manifesto, some readers here might question his orthodoxy. My thoughts ran somewhat the other way; reading through I asked myself if the book could not have appeared under HarperCollins’ more Evangelical imprints such as Zondervan, instead of HarperOne. (There were a couple of language issues early on, which are, in balance, unfortunate.) Jones is simply a nice guy, charitable to people whose views on Calvary are different because they are Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic, Progressive or even Pentecostal. By this I mean, the book accounts for all tastes.

Perhaps it is my own perspective, but my takeaway — and I mean this as high praise — is that I found myself thinking about Jesus and what would be going through his mind throughout all aspects of his final words to his disciples, his betrayal, his beating, his trial before Pilate and the agony of the crucifixion itself. Could there be any higher benefit to the reader of a Christian book?

Click here to read sample pages of Did God Kill Jesus?.

March 7, 2015

Haters Gonna Hate, Hate, Hate

While this is not a direct continuation of yesterday’s post, anyone who has interacted to any degree with the Christian blogosphere is aware that much strong opinion out there on a variety of topics. You can’t help but sense that many people are simply consumed by their obsession with people who don’t look like them or talk like them or belong to their tribe. Some of the best Christian authors and pastors are lined up in their sights and anything they write, say or even think is completely pre-judged. (I just deleted a blog from my computer’s bookmarks, because every time I clicked it, I found my blood pressure rising perceptibly from the first paragraph I would read.)

If you track with Thinking Out Loud’s sister blog, Christianity 201, you know that I’ve been very slowly working my way through a four-book series by Michael Card, the Biblical Imagination series, and I’m currently in the one on the third gospel, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, which surfaces every few weeks. When I looked back to find the source of what follows, I couldn’t nail down a specific section to quote, but I don’t want to take full credit for this, Card’s writings have helped me put myself more into the picture of Jesus’ give and take with the crowd and the religious leaders.

Basically, today’s online haters are best described by the phrase, Modern Pharisees. As such they find themselves in opposition to people on two different levels.

Modern Pharisees Hate Sin

There’s no crime in that. Heck, God hates sin, right? But sometimes hating sin translates into hating the sinners themselves. To Jesus, a person’s performance record with reference to the standards of a Holy God was never in and of itself reason for condemnation. Rather, the term scripture uses translates as missing the mark. Our failure to meet those standards is part of larger nature that needs to be seen for what it is, and then, for those of us who are repentant of this, in our earnestness to please God and in our confession of that failure, we come to understand that we can’t ever make amends with God on our own. We need his help to lead a more God-pleasing life, but we also need is covering or atoning for our mark-missing which by implication means we need a savior. We find that in Jesus, we look to the cross, and then grant him Lordship over each and every detail of our life.

But this applies to everyone equally. Each one of us has that built-in, human tendency to stick our hand on the wall next to the “Wet Paint” sign. Or as Paul said it to the Romans, ‘All have missed the mark (or sinned) and come up short of God’s standards (or holiness.)’ So if you want to wave a placard that says ‘God Hates Fags,’ (which is not true), you need to also have one that says, ‘God Hates Adulterers,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Cheat on their Income Tax,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Steal Paperclips from Work,’ (all equally untrue) because basically, ‘There is none righteous, no not one.’

Except that God doesn’t hate anyone. He hates mark-missing because his standards are high. Very high. The highest. However, on the other hand, sending Jesus as an atonement was His idea. He lets us see our inability to achieve the standard and then, to as many as received that offer, to as many as believed on Jesus, he lets us off the hook, so to speak.

So hating sin is a God-paralleling thing to do. Hating sinners on the other hand is, well, sinful.

Modern Pharisees Hate Grace

And this is where it all gets weird. You would think that those who accept the offer are cause for celebration. Doesn’t the Bible saith that there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repenteth? Yeth, it doth! So if the angels are having a party, can we do any less?

The problem is that the thinking of many is bound by bounded set theory. This is the idea that there is a line and some people are in, and some people are out. Only your hairdresser knows for sure. While there is some truth in the idea that a time is coming when the sheep are separated from the non-sheep — I don’t wanna be a goat, nope — it’s wrong to think that it’s up to us to decide, or that it’s even up to us to worry about who’s who.

So…at the least suggestion that someone from the fringes might actually be in, there is much consternation and concern. Clearly, we can’t have that sort of thing going on, and the best way to deal with people who don’t look like us, act like us, dress like us, read the type of books we read, sing the kind of songs we like, etc., is to condemn them as heretical.

Because if they are in, well, that just cheapens grace. And that would make us all look bad, right? Given the chance to rewrite scripture, Modern Pharisees wouldn’t celebrate the return of the prodigal son, and the thief on the cross wouldn’t stand a chance.

But that’s grace. That’s what grace is. And grace was God’s idea. If you don’t like it, talk to Him.


 

Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus
Deeper than the mighty rolling sea 
Higher than the mountain 
Sparkling like a fountain 
All sufficient grace for even me 
Broader than the scope of my transgressions 
Greater far than all my sin and shame 
O magnify the precious name of Jesus
Praise His name!

 

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