Thinking Out Loud

August 16, 2021

8 Things Calvinists Stole from Evangelicals

A few of our favorite things seem to be in the process of becoming private property. This is a look at eight of them.

First of all, the title is deliberately provocative. When I say “stole” I mean something closer to “co-opted.” For example, I would argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Latter Day Saints co-opted the idea of doing door-to-door visitation in pairs. When Suburban Sam is getting ready to cut the grass on Saturday morning, and two people carrying literature walk toward his door, he doesn’t think. ‘Oh, look! It’s the Baptists’ annual visitation drive;’ even though that might possibly be true. He thinks, ‘Oh, it’s either JWs or Mormons.’

However, also true is that when I say ‘stole’ there is a sense in which I mean, ‘and we would like to have these things back.’ In most cases, anyway.

Finally, I need to say that this is reflective of the modern, internet-driven, modern Neo-Reformed or YRR (Young Restless & Reformed) movement of the past 20 years. This does not apply to members of more classical Reformed denominations such as the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) or Reformed Church of America (RCA), etc.

The Word “Gospel”

This one is a no-brainer. Think “The Gospel Coalition” or the “Together for the Gospel (T4G)” conferences. It is also increasingly used as an adjective. If you are part of the movement it is de rigueur that the term occur at least once per paragraph in your blog posts and if you get a book deal, it needs to be somewhere in the subtitle.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

It only stands to reason that people in the movement are going to latch on to the compatible writing of some classic authors who are no longer with us. But the situation with Spurgeon is somewhat unique in that, like the word “gospel,” familiarity with Spurgeon’s writing is necessary for the modern Reformed equivalent of cocktail party conversation. If you’re doing a podcast with video, the 5-volume set of Spurgeon’s Sermons should be visible on your bookshelf, or better yet, a hand-bronzed seven-inch (18 cm) bust of the man available from the website missionware.com.

The ESV

When the ESV was released in 2001, most of us knew Crossway Publishing of Wheaton, Illinois as the foremost producer of evangelistic tracts, sold in packs of 25; or as the go-to source for Max Lucado’s children’s book about wemmicks, the popular You Are Special. But they had strong Reformed roots, publishing works by Martin Lloyd Jones and the ever-prolific John MacArthur. When the ESV emerged, with endorsements from John Piper, Wayne Grudem, R. C. Sproul and Kevin DeYoung, it was clear that this tribe had their Bible, and if you were quoting a scripture passage in your blog, or getting a book deal, this was the version to use. Of course, the signature product is the ESV Study Bible and in the notes, you do see the doctrinal bias. I noticed it especially in the Olivet Discourse in John, and I’m willing to concede that the ESV was never ours to begin with, and was always intended as a denominational translation for the modern Reformed movement.

The SBC

Many articles have appeared over the past decade either celebrating or lamenting the fact that in many churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, the modern Reformed doctrine has become the default doctrine. With some churches, this is nothing new, and we have a number of Baptist groups (going back to the 17th Century) who felt the need to designate themselves as Free Will Baptists, in contrast to the idea of divine election or predestination. If a person is going to conflate SBC churches with modern Reformed doctrine and also conflate SBC churches with the current conservative political movement, then one might jump to conclusions which, even in an article like this one, might be a bit over-the-top. I’ll leave that one to Barna Research.

The Word “Grace”

In a meeting of The Inklings, C. S. Lewis is said to have arrived late, and asked what was being discussed. Told it was, “what separates Christianity from other religions,” he supposedly answered, without taking a breath, “Oh that’s easy, it’s grace.” Grace was already a popular name for some CRC churches, and it is a central Christian concept, but like the word “gospel” it’s been highly subscribed to by the modern Reformers and the phrase “doctrines of grace” is used in reference to 5-point Calvinism, as outlined in the acronym TULIP. Asking someone if a church teaches “the doctrines of grace,” is the equivalent to the Pentecostal question as to whether a church is a “full gospel church.” (If people in this movement could register both “gospel’ and ‘grace’ as trademarks, I’m sure they would.)

“In Christ Alone”

Most of us who grew up in the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement were, if we had a knowledge of what was going on in the UK, aware of Stuart Townend who, like Graham Kendrick, was a major force there in what became modern worship, and particular what we now call “the modern hymns movement.” Stuart teamed up with Keith and Kristyn Getty to write what is undoubted the signature song in the genre, “In Christ Alone.” Most churches embraced the song on its initial release, with some quickly skating past the line, “the wrath of God was satisified;” even as in 2013 the PCUSA requested a lyric change (to “the love of God was magnified”) for its hymnal. The request was denied and the song doesn’t appear. Eventually, the Getty’s position in the movement was clarified by other writing and speaking and elsewhere the song is now bypassed in creating set lists for weekend services.

John Calvin

If you separate out the five doctrines of TULIP, and type ‘Did John Calvin believe in ______’ into a search engine, you get articles which clarify that the beliefs held by the 16th Century French theologian were quite different that the Neo-Reformed movement we find in 2021. Not only are the nuances of each unique, but he faced great criticism on other matters, such as his attitude toward the Jews. Some have been bold to suggest that Calvin would not identify with the modern movement which bears his name. Still, in the aforementioned hypothetical podcast, you’d also want a copy of his Institutes of the Christian Religion visible on the shelf. Which brings us to…

The Word “Reformed”

In the introduction, I mentioned groups such as the CRC or RCA, and where I live, the CRC congregation has a female pastor, whereas one need only spend a few minutes looking at the writing of John Piper to know that people in this movement are fiercely complementarian. I am confident in saying that I expect people in classical reformed denominations cringe when they hear the word used in reference to doctrines which simply don’t apply to them. (This does not eliminate the possibility that some people within the modern Reformed movement cringe when they read Piper’s writing or social media output.) While I’m thankful for the Protestant Reformation and Luther’s courage, there is no doubt that today, the word ‘reformed’ has taken on entirely new meaning which limits its broader use. 

That’s my list. If you think of anything else I should have included, let me know, or better yet, if you have stories of trying to connect with someone who has already been influenced by the movement’s particular use of certain forms or terminology, feel free to share.

 

February 6, 2021

Apostle Paul’s Day: No “Mega” Churches, Many “Super” Saints

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:24 pm

This appeared on Christianity 201, but as I was writing it earlier, I thought it was the type of thing that might have worked here as well. You decide…

The construction of vast, cavernous auditoriums in which congregations could worship would be such a foreign concept to the people in the Apostle Paul’s day, where they met “from house to house” and everything was “small group” based. How ironic now that during the Covid-19 pandemic, so many of these same large buildings sit empty, which parishioners fellowship in their homes, or in Zoom groups.

The macro has become micro.

But while they didn’t have “megachurches” there is this interesting reference in 2nd Corinthians 11 to “super-apostles.” First, the context, and I’m using the CEB today:

4 If a person comes and preaches some other Jesus than the one we preached, or if you receive a different Spirit than the one you had received, or a different gospel than the one you embraced, you put up with it so easily!

So like so much of the content in the New Testament epistles, this is going to be about false teachers. This is a theme that runs through these letters to the point that you cannot escape noting the problem this was for the early church. Remember, you didn’t have to look back far to the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, so everything was in its infancy; there weren’t hundred of years of Christian tradition.

Then our key verse emerges:

5 I don’t consider myself as second-rate in any way compared to the “super-apostles.”

While knowing the Greek usually helps with literal translation, you could still miss the sarcasm. That the phrase is in quotation marks ought to give us a clue. Some translations use “chiefest apostles,” or “most eminent…apostles,” or “superlative apostles;” but even there many add the quotation marks to help the reader get the intended snark. Paul is not impressed, not by the number of books they have published or the size of their television audience.

Okay, they didn’t have those metrics, but there’s no great imagination needed to picture there being teachers who were the most-talked-about “flavor of the month” with the people. They gravitated to these people in the same manner in which people today gravitate to the larger churches, the ones led by small-c charismatic personalities.

I must confess personally that in the days when we traveled to the United States, if we were seeking out a church for weekend worship, we always chose the well-known large congregations. Seeking out a medium-sized assembly where God is really doing great things through the congregation probably would have required some research.

Furthermore, such medium-sized congregations will attest to the truth that the megachurches, by their great influence, are setting the agenda for all churches in North America. The pressure to conform to the programs and ministry philosophy which is so obviously working is immense.

Additionally, these are often the churches and church leaders which fail spectacularly. A few weeks ago, on our other blog, I took the time to list all of the churches, pastors, authors and Christian leaders who had suffered damage to their brand in 2020. It’s a very long list.

Some of the translations for verse 5 are more obvious with Paul’s intended remarks: “big-shot ‘apostles,”'” or “grandiose apostles,” the latter which makes me wondering if they’ve spent too much time at the all-you-can-eat buffet; which is a suggestion that could be supported by empirical evidence.

Later in the chapter, Paul makes his use of satire completely obvious; not the phrase in parenthesis at the end:

20 You put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone exploits you, if someone takes advantage of you, if someone places themselves over you, or if someone hits you in the face. 21 I’m ashamed to say that we have been weak in comparison! But in whatever they challenge me, I challenge them (I’m speaking foolishly).

What comes next? Paul defines his own “super apostleship” and it’s not a job description that would have prospective apostles lining up:

23 Are they ministers of Christ? I’m speaking like a crazy person. What I’ve done goes well beyond what they’ve done. I’ve worked much harder. I’ve been imprisoned much more often. I’ve been beaten more times than I can count. I’ve faced death many times. 24 I received the “forty lashes minus one” from the Jews five times. 25 I was beaten with rods three times. I was stoned once. I was shipwrecked three times. I spent a day and a night on the open sea. 26 I’ve been on many journeys. I faced dangers from rivers, robbers, my people, and Gentiles. I faced dangers in the city, in the desert, on the sea, and from false brothers and sisters. 27 I faced these dangers with hard work and heavy labor, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, and in the cold without enough clothes.

What led me to this passage, and the whole chapter today, is something that John Stackhouse wrote just a week ago in a piece titled Expectations for Christian Leadership:

…Here, Paul says, is what genuine apostolic ministry entails. You can expect to be beaten—beaten hard, beaten often.

From Nigeria to China today, pastors are being beaten. Even rank-and-file believers live under the shadow of imminent physical danger of the worst sorts.

I wonder how many pretty-boy pastors would sign up for that job if instead of looking forward to affording excellent sneakers they could look forward to a beating. And then another. And another after that.

Likewise, I wonder how many students would aspire to become public teachers of Christianity—theologians and such—when such a position would require being punched, not just disagreed with or even maybe (horrors!) disrespected…

We live in crazy, mixed-up times, and while the people in Paul’s day didn’t have to deal with the dominance of enormous (and currently empty) megachurch buildings, they certainly faced the related cult of personality.


Dig Deeper: I encourage you today to take an extra few minutes to read the whole chapter.

 

August 20, 2020

How Conservatives Demonize Progressive Christians

Excuse me while I come to the rescue of some people that a few regular long-time readers here wish I wouldn’t defend.

Recently someone posted a Babylon Bee ‘news’ item on Facebook proposing that progressive Christians now have a brand of Bible highlighters that are actually five different shades of Whiteout, in order to, quoting a fictional source, “give progressive Bible readers many options, from lighter shades of correction fluid for erasing problematic Scripture passages, to heavier shades for completely eliminating sections that are clearly heretical to a modern understanding of God’s heart.”

It’s been at least a year since I stopped reading the Bee, and I’m certainly not going to post the link, but I did check back last night and can only tell you that the article is actually two years old, but apparently still making the rounds.

I found it absolutely infuriating. It comes from the same mindset that thought nothing of using Rachel Held Evans’ name as a swear word on a weekly basis. (Podcast hosts, you know who you are.)

I wrote back the person who had copied the ‘story’ to Facebook and said that, “essentially this appears to equate those who embrace a more progressive perspective on some doctrines to Thomas Jefferson, who would have used Whiteout if it had existed. Besides, things are never that black and white. I would be considered very conservative on the essentials, but regard other matters as adiaphora.”

To be honest, I had been waiting all week to use adiaphora in a sentence.

He wrote back, “There are people who pick and choose what doctrines they like, then essentially whiteout the ones they don’t. When I hear the word “progressive” I tend to equate that more with rejection of doctrine with an air of superiority and elitism. I could be wrong about that though. Just my gut reaction to the word.”

And everything — his reaction, the Bee piece, and the whole habit of conservatives to rail against everything that’s not emanating from their tribe — is indeed a “gut reaction.” To him, Progressive Christians are picking their doctrine from a salad bar, putting some things on the plate and leaving others aside. So another shot gets fired across the bow.

Here’s the thing: The so-called “Progressive Christians” that I know personally, and whose books I’ve read have no desire to use Whiteout — isn’t that a brand that would require The Bee (and ourselves) to include a TM symbol — or a pair of scissors. They wrestle with the scriptures. They desire to take it all into account. They would actually make the original Bereans proud, not earn their condemnation.

Since he was unfamiliar with what Thomas Jefferson did, I replied, “The Jefferson Bible had many sections where the former president had removed content with scissors. But you are correct, we all do this in various ways and to greater or lesser degrees. A pastor who mentored me said, “every denomination is an overstatement.” We emphasize one thing at the expense of something else. Check out The Jefferson Bible at Wikipedia.”

And I guess we’ve left it there…

…Yesterday a friend also posted something to Facebook. A gallery of “Faithful Gospel Preachers.” Maybe you’ve seen it. I wrote him back.

Anyone can go to seminary and in 3-4 years emerge as a “faithful gospel preacher.” Especially in a tribe that places so much attention on saying the right words, and words in general.

But there’s more to it than that. What is the fruit of having all the correct doctrine if you’re a spiteful, hateful person? They end up sounding like a clanging cymbal.

Especially toward those with whom they disagree.

There are a couple of names there who I would never allow to speak into my life.

It’s like there’s a cost of correctness, and that cost is the jettisoning of the fruit of the Spirit.

And there was one person listed whose social media comments indicate a severely messed up view on marriage and family; some have argued even psychological issues.

Those three or four people taint the entire list for me.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if men like this — and they’re all male, by the way because goodness you can’t have…well, you know — are what drives so many into the arms of the so-called progressive tribe.

I know that’s how it works with me. When it is offered in compassion, I’ll take the messy doctrine — warts and all — any day over the certified and approved doctrine presented without love.  


This I will link to: The image above is from the Church Times UK, an article entitled, “Evangelism Isn’t Just for Evangelicals.” I especially liked the subtitle: “Progressive Christians have good news to impart, not prepackaged solutions.” And this quote, “The heart of liberal Christianity, for me, is, fundamentally, very orthodox.” Click the image or here to read.

September 16, 2019

Opinions Change, Values Should Not

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:02 am

Despite the steady growth of people posting things to WordPress as evidenced by this slightly older graphic, the impact of bloggers in Christianity is not the same as it once was.

Now that I’m not posting every single day, 24/7/365, I allow myself to question whether I need to weigh in on each and every topic which comes under this blog’s larger area of study — Christianity and Culture — or involves something currently making the rounds in Christian news or opinion.

If I were to go back ten-plus years, I would probably see blog posts that were filled with self-importance, and in fairness, this blog did regularly rank among the top such sites in North America.  Now, in the years following the post-blogging boom, I realize that my opinion is not that for which the world waits.

I also realize that my opinion on a few things have changed.

Let’s be clear what I mean by that:

  • My core doctrine is solidly unchanged on the things that matter
  • My core values are unchanged on the things that matter to me
  • My beliefs on secondary and tertiary doctrines have shifted slightly, perhaps more radically in a few cases
  • My ranking of what things I prize or value is unaltered by any shifts on secondary matters

People change, but I believe the core statement-of-faith type things have to be non negotiable. These are not on the table for discussion.

However, on a whole other list of things, my opinions or understanding has shifted somewhat.

What are your non-negotiables?

I recently discovered this list of 255 dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. These are their non-negotiables. To dissent on any one of these is, in one person’s words to “cease being a Roman Catholic.”

We don’t have such a list in Evangelicalism. Our faith statements or creeds give prominence to about 8 to 10 core doctrines. Then there follows that many again that some people would like to see in the core list. You have yours and I have mine.

Except that I don’t actually have any. I can live and fellowship with people who simply are satisfied with that 8 to 10 items.

And it sure beats 255…

…Before you ask, I’ve never deleted a blog post. I’ve never gone back and said, ‘This would be embarrassing should anyone find it today.’ Because the word blog is shorthand for web log and that’s what it is, a log or diary of my thoughts at that time. (Captain’s log, Stardate 5743. We were cruising the Romulan galaxy…)

And if you are human, your thoughts should be allowed to change; you should give yourself room to grow.

May 10, 2019

How to Accuse Someone of Heresy

Before you say:

  • He’s not a Christian
  • She doesn’t know the Lord
  • He’s probably in hell today

make sure you’ve worked your way through the normal method of drawing such conclusion.

Citation

You simply must quote the name of the work in question and page number. Include the quotation. If you can’t honestly bring yourself to purchase a copy of the author’s book, while I admire you for standing on your principles and not spending money on someone you don’t think you can support, know that you have forfeited the right to critique their writing. There is no need to read further.

Identify

Make clear what it is in the quotation that you feel is worthy of examination. Everyone else may be reading this and seeing “A” but if you feel “B” is present, note both the impact and implications of the authors words. State what you see the author saying. At this stage avoid citing third parties. This is about what you want to express concerning the author.

Verify (1)

Make sure you’re not ‘proof-texting’ the author. Don’t use pull-quotes to deliberately be provocative if the body of the larger paragraph doesn’t support your thesis. Is the author using sarcasm, humor, etc.? Jesus himself used hyperbole on several occasions in his teaching. (People who feel they have been called to defend the faith against heresy are, for reasons that escape me, generally lacking a sense of humor.) I know one particular author who is not known as a humorist, but did one title totally tongue-in-cheek. And certain people will always miss that sort of thing.

Verify (2)

Do the research for yourself. Don’t quote someone else. And make sure that person has followed these steps. (The propagation of the KJV-Only movement happened only because people built a foundation on ‘so-and-so says.’ In fact the whole thing can be traced back to two individuals, with very little primary research done by others.)

Compare

Now that you’ve followed those steps, compare what the author says verse-by-verse with scripture and make the case that there is definitely a conflict.

Avoid Generalization

Just because an author can be faulted on an individual point does not mean that their ministry has a whole deserves to be labelled heretical. (I would be greatly hurt if you called me a heretic just because I have views on eschatology that are different from yours. Which, by the way, I do.) For more on this, Google the phrase ‘logical fallacies.’ 

Civility 

Avoid name calling at all costs. Even if the person is a ___________________, it diminishes your argument. I would go so far to say it completely undermines your argument.

Repent

If the tide of public opinion on a particular author is positive and your view is negative, ask yourself why you are the lone prophet in the wilderness. Look for the fruit. If there’s fruit, and it’s good fruit, God is using them. “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” – Romans 14:4

Humility

I would want to avoid the actual charge, “Heresy!” Sufficient to say you have concerns. And don’t even begin to express opinions about the eternal destiny of someone based on what you’ve written. Even if every charge you make about doctrinal aberration is correct, you don’t know that.

February 1, 2019

The Walk-Away Factor

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:14 am

One thing I’ve never been able to understand is:

  • How someone could serve in a local church and then, when the job ends, stop attending (any) church altogether
  • How someone could work in a Christian bookstore and then, when the job ends, simply stop reading Christian books
  • How someone could attend seminary and then, upon graduation, lose all interest in doctrine and theology
  • How someone could live on the mission field and then, on return to their home country, not continue to follow the news from that nation

I know there’s a burn-out factor in some cases, but I don’t get how it’s possible to simply compartmentalize several years of your life and then simply move on to something.

There had to be some passion, some spark which drove that person to that area of service, and I have to believe that there’s still some of that passion and spark left.

Or is it like a marriage that breaks up, and they simply lose their love for that church experience, those books, those discussions and that part of the world?

December 31, 2018

Of Lives and Years; Of Beginnings and Endings

Have you made your New Life’s resolutions?

As I was thinking about how to wrap things up for 2019, it occurred to me that there might be four different possibility for how your year has gone; and those are the same four which can be applied to the longer span of our lives. For some context as to what I mean by this, here’s something I wrote in 2009. A small portion of this is actually appearing for the 4th time; much of it for only the 2nd time, and some is new.

I’m certainly not one of those “Everything happens for a reason” people, but I do believe every book in the Bible is there for many reasons, and with II Kings, the clearest message that I see is that when it comes to their relationship with God, not everybody ends well.

living-bibleIn II Kings we see a succession of leaders, many of whom are relegated to the most minimal of mentions. In the original The Living Bible, Ken Taylor in his most paraphrasial — ya like that word? — moment in the entire work actually lapses into point form in the later chapters. Those chapters could be called the “bullet point translation.” One could think that perhaps Taylor tired of the various Kings simply not getting it. Basically there are four main types of stories told and each King is representative of one of them:

  • Started badly, ended badly
  • Started well, ended badly
  • Started badly, ended well
  • Started well, ended well

There are several benefits to reading this. It should make you want to end well, to leave a legacy of faithfulness and devotion to God, His word, and His work. But if you’re not solidly signed up with the eternal security camp, it also means you must end well. It allows the possibility that I can blow this Christ-following thing, with severe consequences.

Of course it helps that God, by His Holy Spirit is constantly nudging us closer to His ways. There are times in our lives however, when we don’t respond to His prompting. In the Revelation given to John, a message to the church in Laos ascribes three possible states of response: hot, cold, or lukewarm. Although the descriptors here apply to the local church as a collective noun, I believe the same terms can also apply to us individually.

heat-sensitive-imageMany of those who are cold or even lukewarm will recommit themselves down the road, but in terms of the here and now, if you were to take a picture of the spiritual temperature of people using a “spiritual heat sensitive” camera, you’d find that not everyone is responding to what the Spirit is suggesting. Or demanding; God’s not big on suggestions! Some just love their sin too much. Others are just spiritually apathetic. Some are just too busy.

One of the biggest myths in the Church (capital ‘C’ this time) is to suggest that “It’s all good.” To me, that’s not dissimilar from the Universalist perspective. It’s all good if it all ends well. Right here, right now, in the middle of the story, we don’t see so clearly how it will end. We have absolutely, positively no idea what’s going on in the lives of people at the deepest level, so we can’t begin to assume what God may be doing, or what He may be using to work His purposes, but if II Kings tells us anything it is that even Kings, representing the highest their country has to offer, can refuse to see the need to make God part of their lifelong equation.

lifes-journeyAnother myth is to say “We’re all on a spiritual journey.” The Greeks held that there were four core ‘essences:’ Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Knowing their list didn’t account for everything in the world, they held that there was a fifth essence, ‘quintessence,’ representing ‘spirit.’ Unfortunately many people live lives that are dominated by earth or air or fire or water or whatever modern equivalents represent our modern passions. Their journey can’t be characterized as spiritual at all; or if it contains elements of spiritual life, it appears to be a journey to nowhere.

In Jesus time, we see life represented in the phrase, “heart, soul, mind and strength;” both in terms of Jesus early life in Luke 2:52, but also in how we are to love the Lord with all our being. Some people allow their lives to be dominated by mental or intellectual accomplishments (mind) or physical prowess (strength) or their physical or emotional passions (the eros and philios loves; soul) rather than by a focus on their own spirit and the spiritual side of life.

Of course, it is not for us to know what God is doing in everyone’s lives. We are responsible for the ending to our own story, not that of anyone else.

I want my life to be spirit-focused; to be quintessence-focused. I want the center of that focus to be Jesus Christ. I want to end well. I want those around me to end well, too.

So while we’re caught up in what is really the ‘micro-focus’ of how a particular year began or ended or both, we need to also consider the ‘macro-focus’ on the overall progression of our lives. 

It’s a time for New Year’s resolutions, but also a time for New Life resolutions.

August 6, 2018

Theologians Who are All Knowledge and Little Experience

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:40 am

Over eight years ago, I used a phrase which may or may not exist (probably doesn’t) from the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind to make a point about secular journalists who try to cover stories about religion in general and Christianity in particular.  At the time, I wrote,

There’s a scene near the end where the French scientist — his name is Lacombe — turns to lead character Roy Neary and says, “I envy you, Mr. Neary.”

But the next line, the line that has been stored in my memory since the picture released was not heard next. Here’s exactly how I remember the line, “I envy you, Mr. Neary; I study the phenomenon, but you have had the experience.”

After the movie, for 30 minutes, no searching the internet would reveal the phrase the way I am recalling it. Did I invent this? Or do I have two movies confused? Arrrrgh! I am so sure that line is accurate!

I then pressed into the application:

…We are studied and examined by all manner of journalists, academics and those who simply find us to be a psychological curiosity. But ultimately, their reports are lacking because they don’t have the necessary experiences to fully empathize with the Christian spiritual condition. (In a previous generation, that sentence would simply read, ‘They don’t have the Holy Spirit.’)

You can also turn this around.

The next time you’re in discussion with someone who you don’t feel is totally on the same wavelength, ask them, “Are you a student of the phenomena or have you also had the experience?”

Or how about, “Would you like to have the experience?”

This summer, I realized that this also applies to those of us who are Christians, but are trying to make sense of a denomination with which we have no familiarity. We have a sort of textbook knowledge of what they believe, but it’s missing all the fine tuning and nuances which would be gained by greater intimacy. We would never consider darkening the door of their churches even though ostensibly, we’re Christians and they’re Christians. 

You can take this another direction.

There are people whose preoccupation with Christianity is largely academic; scholarly; historical; theological. While they are busy analyzing and dissecting the doctrinal systems to death, there are others out there who are simply enjoying; living; experiencing. They’ve reduced to academic terms what other people are living out abundantly. They’re writing blog posts, articles, books; all trying to classify and clarify what is for others simply the reality of following Jesus.

I concluded,

I maintain that many of the people we come into contact with on a daily basis are simply observers, many watching from the outside. I often compare it to someone who encounters a log cabin filled with people on a cold, snowy day. Inside people are standing by the fireplace, laughing and drinking hot cocoa. The person outside watches with their face pressed against the window while the ice, snow and drizzle piles up on their winter coat and hat. 

Even if the line isn’t exactly in the movie as I remember it, it’s an appropriate metaphor to contrast those who are immersed at an academic level from those who are immersed in a life of faith.

Are you part of this family, or are you observing, as though from outside, with your face pressed against the window?

Why not come inside?

June 30, 2018

Knowledge Churches Assume You Have

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:04 am

There’s a place not far from our home where we pick strawberries every year. Our two sons even worked on this farm one summer. Occasionally it’s closed and you have to drive about 3 miles to their other location. That’s what happened on Thursday.

We pulled into the driveway but didn’t see any cars and as it wasn’t my turn to drive, I noticed out the corner of my eye a very small sign directing people to go north another mile and turn left. I remembered this location from the one time we had been there and we found it without difficulty, but this was, after all, our third attempt to get some fresh berries. Further, as we’d already done the majority of our picking for freezing, it meant the single basket we would pick was getting rather expensive vis-a-vis the price of gas.

When we got out of the car and politely told of our journey, the owner was rather indignant. “Everybody knows where we are;” she said. She did confess when we were leaving that a slightly larger sign had blown away — no mention of it being replaced — and had no response when I suggested the possibility that people new to the area might want to pick berries, too.  My wife pointed out that our second stop was in fact the address which appears online. There’s no mention of this one, which she described as “our main location” and the one which is “open every day.”

Sigh!

Do churches do the same thing? I think we do in two different categories.

First, like the fruit and vegetable farm, we assume everybody knows our location, our service times, etc. We can assume that on arrival people know where to park and where to take their kids for the children’s program.

Second, we can assume that people know basic theology. We can get absorbed in ‘shop talk’ or ‘inside baseball’ or even fall into the trap of using “Christianese” which we get but in an increasingly secularized society, few visitors would understand.

Our services can appear visitor-friendly with our neutral auditoriums, comfortable seats, contemporary music and relevant preaching; but when it comes to the actual content were communicating, we can fail to convey our message because for us, the doctrines and narratives we’ve grown up with all our lives have been ubiquitous to the point of being part of our DNA.

Furthermore, if we fail in visitor-friendliness, we are probably also failing to properly educate any children who are sitting in on the adult service.

The cure is to ‘spark it to life’ somehow with both passion and using the gifts Jesus employed such as analogy or parable. This can only happen when we acknowledge –generally, not individually — the spiritual newbies and seekers who may be among us. These teaching methods can actually be helpful to seasoned spiritual veterans, because it may give them some fresh vocabulary with which to engage with their own friends.

If you have any questions, everybody knows how to find me.

Oh, wait… that was the whole point, wasn’t it?

June 26, 2018

Who Says a Parable Can’t Contain a Commandment?

Filed under: bible, Christianity, Jesus — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:34 am

While most of the articles here are original, the ones at Christianity 201 come from “beg, borrow or steal” sources. I do however try to write one myself at least once a week. That was the case yesterday, prompted by a comment on a forum. (Apologies to those of you who subscribe to both blogs.)

Compelling People to Become Christians: Can a Parable Contain a Commandment?

NIV Luke 14:12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses…

…21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

In a very, very short comment on a Religion Forum, a writer opened not one, but two different cans of worms. First let’s read what they wrote:

Luke 14:23 reads: The master said: “go out to the highways and country lanes and force people to come in, to make sure my house is full”. This verse is not a command of Jesus, but, rather is at the end of the parable

“A man once gave a feast”. In the parable a man gave a feast and invited many guests. At the time for the feast he sent the servants out to tell those he had invited to come because everything was ready. None of those people came, they all had other things to do. The man sent the servants to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. Then the servants came to him and said there is still some room left in the banquet room. The man said go out and find people and force them to come so my house will be full.

This verse was used centuries ago by Catholics and Protestants in Europe to support forcing people to go to the one officially approved church in a nation. Today Christians generally don’t favor forcing people to go to church, so what do Christians do with this verse now? I can’t think of any way to get around it except to ignore it. How do Christians soft pedal this verse today?

Parables exist to either compare or contrast. When “foolish virgins” run out of oil for their midnight lamps, the message is a warning to be prepared. In other words, don’t do what you see happening in the story.

In this story, there’s room at the table. There are still empty seats. The host of the party desires a full house. In other words, you’re supposed to do what you see playing out in the story.

We’re expected to go out

  • i.e. “Go into all the world”
  • i.e. “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria;” etc.
  • i.e. Search for the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son; etc.

and invite people to the great banquet God is preparing.

In a devotional we posted in March 2017, we noted:

C. S. Lewis wrote, “The symbols under which heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.”

The banquet in Luke 23 could be either the dinner party or the wedding reception. It’s pointing us to something for which God is preparing us.

But the writer of our opening comment correctly notes that this verse has been used to create forced conversions. Even J. B. Phillips, in his translation, says, “make them come.” The Message says, “drag them in.” “Compel” and “Constrain” are frequently used.

Other translations however offer, “Urge them,” “Persuade them,” etc. (This is considered more consistent with the original Greek, as a later response in the same article points out.) A respondent to the comment says, “This in Luke is, to me, the same as the wedding story in Matthew 22. There it states to “bid” them to come which is no more than to ask or invite them.”

So: Which is it?

The comment writer is correct in noting that this is a parable, and some aspects of the story may be very similar while the story is slightly different. Not everything in a parable has a perfect 1:1 mapping. This is because the major point is that God’s desire is for the banquet to be filled. “God is not willing that any should perish.” (John 3:17a.) In some schools of doctrine, this may grate a little since those who are chosen shouldn’t need to be ‘dragged in’ because of the irresistible grace presenting itself. (This is part of the larger question, ‘If unconditional election is a given, why evangelize?’)

I think the other can of worms is where the comment writer misses out.

The end of the parable is indeed a commandment; one that is consistent with the Great Commission, and all of (a), (b), and (c) above.

The parable represents the heart of God.

It’s a call to “come to the table” that in its broader context is being said in the home of a Pharisee and not strictly about who gets in but who is honored and given a place of prominence.

Make it your goal to invite others to the table.

PW

Come to the table
Come join the sinners
You have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior
Sit down and be set free
Come to the table.

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.