We Receive So That We Might Give

We Receive So That We Might Give

A simple concept that arises frequently in the Bible is that we receive various blessings so that we might be able to give and share our blessings with others, whether it be love, wisdom, comfort, money, food, or labor. If we care about those around us, we will not hoard the various riches that we receive or even earn through good hard work. We work so that we might give to those in need.

Continue reading “We Receive So That We Might Give”

Jesus’ Understanding of God’s Will in the Book of Luke

When Luke speaks of the will of God, he uses the word δεῖ. It is found 101 times in the New Testament. Luke uses it 41 times in Luke-Acts, with 14 of those occurrences being found in Luke. This word is typically understood as being translated “it is necessary” or that something “must” happen. Luke’s use of the word is by far the most comprehensive in the New Testament. It is through his use of the word that one can conclude that it intends to imply the will of God.

This is significant as one looks at the 14 uses of δεῖ in Luke. God’s will is seemingly His will as found in the law, or in the Old Testament in general. Throughout Jesus’s ministry on earth, He tells his disciples that He “must” suffer, be delivered and crucified as a fulfillment of the Scriptures (9:22; 17:25; 24:7, 26; 24:44). It is interesting to note that Jesus did have an understanding of the necessity of following God’s will from an early age. Luke is the only one to give us a peek at this time in Jesus’ life, so it is significant to note. When Jesus was twelve years old, he stayed back in the temple in Jerusalem without the knowledge of Mary and Joseph. When Mary and Joseph came back looking for Him, Mary asked, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (2:48-49, emphasis added). Jesus was well aware of the will that God the Father had for his life even from a young age.

This is not the only time that Jesus’ actions were dictated by His understanding of God’s will and the role it played in His understanding of what His own purpose was on earth. After spending time in Galilee and at Simon’s house, Jesus had done many miracles. He left to go to a solitary place, but people came and found Him, begging Him to stay. But Jesus replied, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent” (4:43, emphasis added).

Jesus, lamenting the history of Jerusalem, tells some Pharisee’s who warn him that Herod wants to kill him that He will continue to heal people and to cast out demons, but he “must” press on to Jerusalem. (13:32-33). Later, Jesus also tells Zacchaeus that he “must” stay at his house (19:5).

Perhaps the greatest link to Luke’s understanding of δεῖ is God’s will for Jesus’ suffering. Soon after Peter’s confession that Jesus is “God’s Messiah” (9:20), Jesus tells them, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” He tells his disciples a similar thing in 17:25, that “He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.”

After Jesus resurrected from the grave, He appeared to His disciples and reminded them of what He had told them about it being necessary for Him to “be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again” (24:7). On the road to Emmaus Jesus rebukes and explains to the saddened men something they should have known: that “the Messiah had to suffer these things and then enter his glory.” (24:26).

After Jesus had explained that there was coming a time when the temple was to be destroyed, the disciples asked about how they could know when these events were about to take place. Jesus responded that there would be claims by false Messiahs, wars, and uprisings. He told them when these things happen to “not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away” (21:9, emphasis added).

Luke portrays Jesus intentionally living in the necessity of God’s will. He was constantly mindful about God’s will – that He was to preach the Good News, obey the law of the Old Testament, die a sinless man, and be resurrected in power for mankind on the third day.

Thoughts before Easter

This week is Holy Week for the Christian faith. This is the week in which we mourn and celebrate the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a week that stands out amongst all other weeks. The week begins with Palm Sunday. It is here that the Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. People were all in the streets praising Him as the Son of David. They waived palm branches and shouted,

Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

They celebrated the entrance of what they assumed would be the King of Israel, a good man. A prophet. And he was that, but he was also much more. He was the Messiah. He was the Savior. It would be hard to predict that later that week people would be shouting “Crucify Him!”

This week means a lot to me. It hopefully means a lot to all Christians. It’s hard. I feel like so much of the world’s understanding of Jesus’ death is the physical. Oftentimes I feel the church has probably overemphasized this aspect of his death. Of course it was horrible. Of course it was brutal, and yes he die for us. But the details leading up to his death I feel are so key in explaining what happened those last few days and hours before his death. None of this caught Jesus off guard. He knew that this was to happen. He predicted his death to his disciples on three separate occasions, much to their disliking. Yes, Jesus was betrayed, but he knew what was coming. He knew he was going to be betrayed. He knew that his disciples would scatter taken into custody. He even predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed, although Peter said he’d be willing to die for Jesus. He had the power to take on a whole mob of just by saying “I am he” (John 18:5-6).

This wasn’t something that he was looking forward to by any means. He did go to the garden and pray that “if it be possible, take this cup from me.” But he quickly added, “Not my will, but yours be done.” The prayers he prayed were passionate. He was already under much distress knowing that he was soon to die a very horrible death. His death was simply a meaningless and unjustified death. It was a sacrifice. A willing sacrifice. A sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world. And as he passionately prayed, sweating drops of blood (Luke 22:44), we see the disciples sleeping. Unaware of the anguish of Jesus. Unaware of what he was doing for them. They had no idea. They had no concept of what Jesus was really doing for them. And as soon as Judas came to betray Jesus the disciples fled (although Peter did stick around long enough to cut off someone’s ear).

Then people made false accusations against Jesus, yet he kept his mouth closed. People hit him, spat upon him, mocked him, and still he remained silent. Like 1 Peter 2:23 says, ” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Pilate somewhat attempted to save Jesus from death, but bowed to the pressures of the crowds. Jesus was beaten. He was mocked. They gave the true King of the universe a crown made of thorns, and smashed it into his head. Thorns, a result of the fall of humanity into sin. They put on him a purpose robe, mocking him as king in his royal colors. The statements made by the mockers were made as insults in mockery, but were ironically more true than they could ever perceive. Jesus’ statement of “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” could not be more accurate nor loving.

The crowds demanded that Jesus be crucified. The death of criminals and rebels. This was the most shameful of all deaths. This was the most humiliating and public of all deaths. This was an extremely long and painful  way to die. But Jesus carried his cross as far as he could bear. Then he was nailed to it with a big sign in multiple languages that read, “King of the Jews.”

People still hurled their insults at him. People still mocked him. I can’t help but wonder if I would have been one of those people if I there.

“If you’re REALLY the Son of God, then why don’t you save yourself? You saved others…why don’t you get off that cross and save yourself?”

Good Friday is a reminder that we are very glad He did not get off that cross. He became sin. The one who had never sinned became sin for us. God’s righteous judgment that is due to us because of our own sin was all put on Jesus Christ right then. Like Peter said in 1 Peter 2,

‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’  For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Or like Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Jesus satisfied God’s wrath toward sin in his death.

BUT

        IT

             DOESN’T

                            STOP

                                   THERE

Jesus died. But that’s not where it ended. There’s more to the story.

Don’t make the same mistake

I have already written about this a few blog posts back, but something recently hit a nerve again. Recently there were some devastating tornados. It was horrible. Lives were lost and families were destroyed and broken apart. The common question for the person watching it on TV is “Why?”

I personally do not believe we can actually say that we know why. Because we honestly do not know why. There is no way we can really know why. Yet some people and famous Pastors, such as John Piper, feel the need to say something. This time is no different, here is is blog post about it entitled “Fierce Tornadoes and the Fingers of God.”

I know it’s lame to quote yourself, and especially from a blog in which you only write every few months, but I wrote about John Piper’s statements about God and his supposed knowledge of why God does what he does. I said,

We like to think we have God figured out. And many times we act like we do have God figured out. I believe we have to be careful of claiming to know why God does what He does. Remember, God is infinite and therefore we could not possibly know why God does all He does. I personally believe we should not try and define the working of God in short pithy statements. But people do it all the time. Famous preachers and teachers do it all the time.

John Piper, to me, is notorious for doing this. He summarizes much of why God does what He does through simple, easy to remember one-liners. They sound good. They seem biblically sound, but is it the whole truth? Can God really be summarized by the fact that He does EVERYTHING for His glory? Can missions really be summarized by saying that “missions exists because worship doesn’t?” To me, John Piper seems to be claiming to know why God does all that He does. And of course he backs his arguments with Scripture, but what else is he leaving out? We need to be careful that even in our theological statements we aren’t putting God in our own theological box. I believe we always need to be recognizing that God is bigger than we can truly describe, and He cannot be put under our thumbnail.”

A pastor of mine from my childhood church wrote on his blog about this today. He humorously called it “OTD: Obsessed with Tornados Disorder.” He confesses it is a rant. And usually I am not much of a fan of rants, but I understand. When things get frustrating enough, sometimes a rant is the best way to deal with it.

I recommend reading it. I think it appropriately challenges some of the reactions of many people, such as John Piper, to events such as tornados. Personally, I was just glad to find out I was not the only one who thought these things.

What happened to the Old Testament?

What happened to the Old Testament?

I took Pentateuch and Historical Books class this past semester. (It was my last OT class of my time here in seminary!) It was so refreshing. Although one semester clearly is not enough to study so much material, it was still vastly helpful to my understanding of who Jesus is and what His atonement really has done for us. This has also been girded by an in depth study of Romans 1-3 this semester in my small group.

But the OT law and the tabernacle…wow! There is simply so much to read and understand. All the laws, the different types of laws, etc. It was interesting to really spend time on them. But God was serious about these things. The sacrifices that had to be offered for the cleansing of the the tabernacle, the sacrifices given for various offenses, the sacrifices given on account of the priest and for the people God took all very seriously. People could not simply enter into God’s presence whenever they wanted. They could not simply ask for God to forgive them and keep on living the same way and be considered righteous according to the law.

When Jesus came and “tabernacled amongst us” the presence of God was amongst all people. If people had seen Jesus, they could say that they had seen God. When Jesus died, He was both the perfect sacrifice given on account of all people and the High Priest who offers the sacrifice on our behalf. Through this “once for all” sacrifice God was satisfied to call all who believe upon Jesus Christ as the atonement for their sin righteous. This means that we can be in a relationship with God without fear or without restrictions. We can now approach God’s throne room in prayer knowing that He will hear us because of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Of course we ask for the forgiveness of sins that we commit, but He has already forgiven them. He did so when Christ offered Himself as sin on our behalf. What a privilege! How often do we consider that as we so easily call to God in prayer? Usually because of something WE want.

The Old Testament is packed full of requirements for the people of Israel so that they might remain holy amongst all the people of the earth. They were to be different than all the other nations that surrounded them so that they would stand out as witnesses of Yahweh, the one true God of this world. Of course they fail time and time again. But God is so long-suffering. God is loves giving mercy. And He instigated time and time again opportunities for the Israelites to come back to Him even though they committed infidelity over and over with other “gods.” He pursued them. He pursued them so much that He came down Himself to die on our behalf so that we might be able to be in God’s presence — because He does have to punish sin. He is a righteous and holy God. And therefore sin had to be punished, and so He took the punishment upon Himself by sending Jesus, His only begotten Son, and made Him sin for us. Because of this we can now come into the presence of God. He does not attribute our sin to us. If He did, we would not be able to be in His presence. All we have to do is simply believe that. To God, faith is everything. That is exemplified over and over in His word. And to us faith should be everything. Because if we truly believe this, then it causes us to live our life in a certain way. It causes us to live in such a way that is line with what God expects from people living on this earth. In fact, it is not simply a way, it is THE way. This way only comes through Jesus Christ.

People have wanted to remind themselves over the centuries of the truths about Jesus Christ. To do so they have made creeds to memorize basic facts about God and the church. Two famous ones would be the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed. Here is common version of the Apostle’s creed:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell. [See Calvin]

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

Amen.”

I have read this and thought in the past, “Wow, that’s great!”

But then, after having this class and after a comment made by another OT professor here at Trinity, I realized, “What ever happened to the OT?” There is nothing mentioned about it at all! No mention of the fall, the covenants made to Abraham, David, or Jeremiah. There is nothing mentioned about the tabernacle or the temple. There is nothing mentioned about sacrifices. Perhaps the most shocking thing is that there is no mention of the Exodus! I have a hard time believing that Moses or Joshua would be okay with memorizing a creed that does not mention the Exodus. God seems to think it was pretty important.

The OT is very important. Without it, we really wouldn’t understand how important and gracious Jesus really is to salvation history. As Christians it is tempting to only spend time in the New Testament. It seems more practical. The epistles are very helpful in knowing what we should be DOING. We love to think about what we should DO. But the OT helps us understand who Jesus is and was, and how God has historically dealt with sin. Sin is a very serious thing. We go to church on Sundays and hope that sermon won’t go too long. Punch in, punch out, and we’re good for the next week. But if we had a better appreciation of the OT, and took the time to understand the history of the nation of Israel and the world, we would have a much deeper understanding of our so great salvation. We would have a better understanding of how great a privilege it is to come before God. Ultimately, the OT would give us greater faith in who God is and what He has done for us — therefore causing us to live our lives differently.

Racism and Evangelical Christianity

Racism and Evangelical Christianity

            To understand racism, racial prejudice, and discrimination in America one must embark on a long journey. This is a journey in which there perhaps is no definite end until Christ’s return. This is because we are dealing with a problem whose root is sin, and who finds its strength through political systems and social structures built under the supervision and management of the devil himself. Exclusion, prejudice, and racism are demonic. There is more that is going on in our world than first meets the eye.

Racism is alive and well in our culture and society. But it usually is not as obvious as the chains of slavery or the Jim Crow laws of the past. Most of the time racism acts incognito. The roots of racism are vast and deep in the soil of the American society. It finds its strength in some of the most fertile soil: the hearts of people and the political and social systems which manage and dictate the way we live in this country. As many face the horrors of the realities of racism today, many people run away in denial. Sometimes, people act as if it simply does not exist. But in doing this, the roots of racism only grow stronger and more seeds of division are sewn.

THE EXTENT OF RACISM’S REACH

            According to Emerson and Smith, racism, for the majority of white Americans (and especially white conservative protestants), is seen as an individual issue (Emerson and Smith, 74-75). This is assuming people acknowledge racism as an issue in today’s society. Many look to themselves to justify their understandings for racism. Many will say that they themselves have no problems. They are okay with black people as a whole. Emerson and Smith showed that generally people said they only judge others, no matter what their race, individually. They personally are not being racist, and so to them it really is not that big of an issue. They would say that some people may still be racist, like perhaps a family member who still will use the “n” word, but overall racism is not a deeply rooted issue. But as Emerson and Smith point out, these responses come from a tradition of “accountable freewill-individualism,” “relationalism,” and “antistructuralism” (Emerson and Smith, 76). For many white evangelicals, there isn’t a racism problem, there is a sin problem. In viewing racism in this way, most ignore how the political system and social structures impact racism. If structures or programs geared towards helping fight racism are mentioned by white evangelicals, they are mentioned as only bringing up the race issues and prolonging it. Many white evangelicals like to believe that racism is a thing of the past, and if we just leave the issue alone things will work themselves out. They think by simply dealing with racism one person at a time, and “loving our neighbors as ourselves” racism will eventually dissipate. This view, called the “miracle motif” by Emerson and Smith, seems to be quite a prevalent opinion held among Christians, and it allows for racism to continue (Emerson and Smith, 117).

            Through questionnaires and studies, Emerson and Smith show that many people are ignorant of the prevalence of racism that still exists in our society because of their “cultural toolkit.” They fail to see racism’s presence in the various political and social structures. This is because it is generally viewed that anything that is not interpersonal is “superficial.” The general ignorance that leads to these beliefs only helps sustain the structures that allow discrimination. This ignorance, or perhaps stubbornness, due to their cultural toolkit leads to the contribution of the racialization that exists in America, and especially in the American evangelical church. In their ignorance, they may not be actively racist, but they remain passively racist.

             William Julius Wilson agrees that the general populace sees racism and discrimination at the individual level, while rarely seeing racism at the systemic level. However, while this is true for the general populace, especially for white individuals, social scientists rarely look to the individual level or the cultural realm. They generally will look at the political and social systems which cause racial discrimination. It is almost taboo for social scientists to blame cultural aspects because it would be “blaming the victims” (Wilson, 3). Wilson argues that both social structures and culture need to be looked at together, working in concert with one another, to begin to understand the problems of racism. He shows that racism is deeply engulfed in both culture and the social structures, but in ways which are not always intended to be discriminatory. Through many examples, Wilson shows that racial inequality exists through political policies or decisions that seem nonracial, but end up impacting inner-city neighborhoods and poor black residents dramatically. He shows that racism so permeates our social structures that even policies intended for the betterment of all people ultimately negatively impact poor black residents (Wilson, 144).

            Miroslav Volf, speaking from a different perspective than Emerson and Smith or Wilson, discusses racism on the individual level. He showed racism’s influence on the heart. Volf showed that racism is not only an issue between the whites and blacks of America, but it is an evil which is seen worldwide. Speaking from a Christian point of view, he shows that racism needs to be addressed not merely at the systemic level, but at the heart of the individual. He shows that racism is a spiritual issue, and a poor theology by an individual can allow for racism to go unchecked, or perhaps even be encouraged to exist. These various authors show that racism is found in nearly every realm of life, from the individual heart to the national political and social structures. As Emerson and Smith put it, we simply live in a racialized society. A society in which racism and prejudice has extended to all areas of life.

THE INFLUENCE OF RACISM ON THE CHRISTIAN AND THE CHURCH

            Perhaps the best example of how racism has affected the church is through Emerson and Smith’s research. Through their surveys they showed that if the white population generally believed that racism was a personal issue, then a white evangelical would be more likely to strongly believe it. If the black population generally saw racism as a structural issue, then the black evangelical would be more likely to strongly believe it. This means that white and black evangelicals are more strongly divided over the race issue than even the general American population. With ninety percent of populations attending a church of nearly all the same race in America, Christians have been influenced by their own history of racism and discrimination in American and still continue to contribute to it.

            Emerson and Smith showed that with most white evangelicals asserting that racism is mostly an issue needing to be dealt with at the individual relational level, many assume that racism could be defeated if everyone would just become a Christian. This allows the Christians and churches to ignore the systemic problems of racism in America. And if they rarely even come in contact with anyone of another race, then they do not curb racism at all.

            Although Wilson rarely spoke about Christians and racism, he showed that the more conservative a person is, the more likely he is to view racism as a cultural issue. White conservative Christians would like to blame the problem of poverty in the black community on their “black culture,” and do so frequently. This fact only feeds into a feeling of a superiority of whites over blacks, of course then leading to discrimination.

            Volf shows that without an understanding of mercy and a “theology of embrace” the Christian will have issues of racism in his own heart and worldview. He explains sin as exclusion and shows that at the heart of racism is exclusion.

            Christians have been deeply impacted by racism. We may say we are willing to worship together, yet very few churches have congregations that do. America’s history of racism has had much impact on today’s Christians, whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. Racism has affected the church’s reputation and impact and only continues to do so today. In many ways it seems as if racism has made many people blind to its own permutation in the American church.

            Christians mean well. There may be populations which still deal with active, unashamed racism, but overall the church means well and wants to see racism and discrimination come to an end. But oftentimes Christians simply fail to see just how deeply rooted racism is in America, and even in the church. This leads to passive racism, in which no one is actively attempting to fight racism’s impact in the church. Many times it is not seen as a major issue which needs to be addressed because they do not view themselves having problems with racism. This only allows for ignorance to remain and racism to go unchecked in the hearts of people as well as in the social and political structures of our nation.

THE CHURCH AS A PROPHETIC WITNESS

            If the church is ever going to overcome racism in America, it is going to require intentional awareness, honesty, and communication (it will require much more than this, but this is where it must start). Perhaps Emerson and Smith said it best when they said “Evangelicals believe their faith ought to be a powerful impetus for bringing people together across race. Ironically, their faiths seem to drive them further apart” (Emerson and Smith, 125). It would do the church well if it would admit that. Unfortunately many, if not most, are not aware of racism’s influence. Therefore, for the church to ever overcome racism, the first step is to become aware of its presence. It may seem obvious, but awareness does not just happen. There has to be intentional efforts made by seminaries, parachurch organizations, respected Christian leaders, pastors, Sunday School teachers, worship teams, etc. Awareness is the first key to overcoming racism.

            But racism is not simply going to be overcome through awareness, as all three of the books clearly demonstrated. Awareness needs to change the thoughts and theology of the individual. It is not that we will overcome racism one person at a time per se, but if the general church attender has no understanding of racism or discrimination, then he has no chance of making strides toward positive change. This requires honesty. Both whites and blacks need to own up to their own sins and pride. This does require the Holy Spirit to be at work and thus also necessitates prayer. Honesty about how racism is at work both at the individual and systemic level is needed – to ignore it only allows for it to exist.

            Therefore, there needs to be more discussion, more conversation, between blacks and whites in America. Pastors need to show their churches what that looks like through their preaching, illustrations, and applications. How do we approach dealing with racism at the systemic level? How can blacks and whites come together in Christ to be inclusive rather than exclusive? It takes sacrifice. This may mean spending money, time, and energy for people that they have never met. But if racism is going to be overcome, (and I believe through the Spirit is can be) blacks and whites must come together relationally, physically, and even politically. It is a fight. It is a fight that I believe in which God expects the church to take part.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Emerson, Michael O., and Christian Smith. Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. Oxford University Press, USA, 2001.

Gundry-Volf, Judith M., and Miroslav Volf. A Spacious Heart. Gracewing, 1997.

Wilson, William Julius. More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City. 1st ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2009.

What are we so afraid of?

What are we so afraid of?

Seminary is often called cemetery. This is because people who have lively Christian lives come to seminary and then are pummeled by high academic work and strong challenges to beliefs, convictions, and lifestyles. But for me seminary has been an experience of equipping, emboldening, and empowering. I have indeed been challenged philosophically, emotionally, and spiritually (and sometimes physically through long nights). But, after coming from an environment which was devoted to only studying one point of view and not looking at other claims or viewpoints, coming to a seminary which allows for theological differences was at first a challenge, but ultimately a blessing. I have professors which are strong 5-point Calvinists. I have professors which are strong 5 point Arminians. Eschatological views are all over the map among students and faculty, and so on and so forth.  The view of my college was that if you have the truth, why spend time looking at things you know are not true? This has some legitimacy to it. The rationale went something like this: When the U.S. Government identifies counterfeit money it does not spend time looking at all the different counterfeit bills. They study the true bills so meticulously that when they come across a counterfeit, it is obvious. Now I don’t know if that is actually true, but it does sound reasonable. But it really doesn’t hold weight when we are thinking about theological issues, doctrines, traditions, and opinions. To say we know the truth about every doctrine, even ones which are not that clear in Scripture, seems a bit presumptuous, and perhaps a bit ridiculous. There are doctrines which have been hotly debated by Christians who are fully committed to biblical ennerancy for a couple thousand years. These people want to know the truth of Scripture and obey it. Yet, over the centuries people have disagreed, fought, and sadly have killed over differences in beliefs. This has nearly always occured when people think that their view is the only possible view and that any other view is heresy.

Now of course it is true that there is typically only one TRUE interpretation when looking at Scripture. Most of the time the correct interpretation is so clear that there truly leaves little serious debate or doubt. However, there do arise passages in Scripture that are ambiguous enough to have multiple legitimate interpretations. There is a correct interpretation. There could be a handful of interpretations, but ultimately there is only ONE  true interpretation. There also is the possibility that no one has the correct interpretation when everyone thinks that they, or their tradition, has THE correct interpretation. Hence, as we continue to understand the original languages, context, and historical setting of the various books of the Bible, we are understanding Scripture better and better.

Something that has really helped me deal with various traditions, viewpoints, and interpretations has been a statement made by Chrysostom. He said,

In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, Jesus Christ.”

As Christians we need to learn that God is big and that He cannot be put under our thumb. We do not know nearly as much as we think we do about God, and we are not as smart as we think we are. How we live is directly affected by how we view God. We many times love to think we know why exactly God does things. We love to think that we have God all figured out and that Christianity really is not all that complex. But this is not a reality. Sure, aspects of Christianity are simple, salvation by faith alone seems simple enough, but the Christian life is complex. We live in a world of sin, despair, tragedy, hurt, and suffering. The Christian is called to be different. As the world is entrenched in sin and despair, the Christian has be broken from that sin. The Christian is now not to be conformed to the ways of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of the mind through the power of the Gospel. We are the light of the world, and a light set on a hill cannot be hid.

To be able to combat the world’s philosophy and hedonism, we must be thoroughly studied up in the Scriptures. We must know the commands and precepts of the Bible, and find delight in doing them. We must desire Godly wisdom and not turn our ears from it. We must hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Unfortunately, what happens many times is that as we meditate on Scripture and hear sermons from people we respect and formulate our own personal systematic theologies, we can give too much dominance to our own personal interpretations. We end up becoming so attached to some of our theology that to have it challenged is a personal attack of our person. But we must remember, the renewing of our mind must come from Scripture, not theological frameworks. If we equate theological traditions with the authority of Scripture, we have taken a step in the wrong direction. We are giving too much weight to man’s organization of what Scripture says. (Side note: I am completely a fan of systematic theology, I am just saying that we need to be careful to not let one system which makes sense to us determine how we interpret the Bible. We must remember to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture and to allow a specific passage to be seen in its own context).

This brings me to my main point:

If we honestly desire to know truth, no truth claims should scare us

What is our authority, Scripture or our own theology? Many times we can grow up in a biblical tradition that makes sense. Various passages of Scripture are explained in such a way which all bend toward a certain theological position. And oftentimes when we have held to a specific theological tradition and then find it being challenged we get defensive. In some cases, people begin to doubt their entire faith because of a tension within one aspect of their theological framework/worldview.

This is easily seen in tragedy. Take, for example, a horrible car crash in which a husband loses both his daughter and his wife. Most would assume that because this is such a horrible tragedy the husband would begin to doubt the true goodness or sovereignty of God. Ironically, this is not typically the case. It is typically the friends of the family, or other various family members whose faith and theology have been shaken that they are uncomfortable with a God that would allow this to happen.

A prime biblical example is Job. God wiped out everything that Job had — his family, all his possessions, and even his health. Satan assumed that Job only worshiped God because He had blessed Job so immensely. But after all this tragedy had taken place, the first thing Job did was fall to his knees and worship God. How could this be? It seems so counter intuitive. Job obviously was upset. He sat silently for a week in sackcloth and ashes, the symbol of sorrow and misery. But he was not alone. Job had friends. They were also initially quiet with Job. But as they sat silently, they obviously were trying to contemplate how such a thing could possibly happen. Job was righteous and he feared God. In fact, they probably could not think of one thing that he had done wrong. He was blameless, and continued to be throughout these horrible days of his life.

But to his friends, this just didn’t fit their theology. How could this happen to Job? There must be some reason this happened. So Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, began to question Job. In doing so they exemplified their devotion to their personal understanding of who God is and why He does things. Surely God would have to have a reason to do such or to allow such horrible things to happen to him. Surely their own theologies were right, and therefore Job must have done something wrong to deserve this. In doing this the three friends question and interrogate Job – doubting his blamelessness and sincerity.

In the end, the friends of Job were truly not friends at all. They were critical. They were accusing. They were kicking a man while he was down, and ultimately led Job down the path of bitterness towards God. They were lovers of their own theology more than lovers of God. They assumed that because Job was suffering, he must have done something to deserve it. They assumed this because that was what they had already believed about how God worked. But, what they didn’t know was what the reader is privileged to know — that God and Satan made a “bet” over whether or not Job would bless or curse Him even when he did not have all the blessings from God. Also something to note, God never let Job in on why it all happened either. He was left, like many are today, not knowing exactly why things happen. In Job’s case he suffered BECAUSE he was righteous. It was the exact opposite of what his friends thought.

We should learn from this ourselves. Do we try and make everything fit into our theological framework or are do we allow life to help us better understand who God is? Are we okay with trusting that God is good and not knowing why God does everything that He does? And we must learn not to make the same mistake that Job’s friends did — to defend their own theology, when they should have been supportive of their friend, perhaps by simply keeping their mouths shut. God does not need to be defended. People who go through terrible tragedies will often tell you this. They don’t need their theologies reassured, they need simple support and love. Job’s friends were not defending Job or helping him, they were trying to help themselves.

I give Job’s story as an example of how we can become married to our own theologies rather than simply trusting God. They let their personal convictions come between them and a friend in need. And many times we make the same mistakes. And it happens with the most fundamental conservatives as well as the liberal leaning evangelical. For the fundamentalist in the pursuit of purity, people are rejected, scorned, and discord is sewn. For the evangelical in the pursuit of unity, people are mocked, criticized, and pushed away. That’s what happens when we hold too strongly onto our own convictions and doctrines — people are hurt.

Something that has become abundantly clear to me is that we as the body of Christ need each other. We can’t do it by ourselves. With all of the various traditions and denominations, no one has it completely figured out. We need each other for accountability and to not fall into one locked theology in which we use as a lens for interpreting the Bible. The Bible must be kept as the focal point and lens by which we examine one another and our interpretations of the Bible.

But some reject such an idea, and I believe the root cause of this rejection is not truly a desire for purity. It is fear. Whenever people are challenged in their beliefs, especially long held beliefs, they get defensive. It is natural. And I believe it is definitely forgivable. We all do it. It’s practically inevitable. But that is even more reason for why we need to be exposed to other viewpoints. We may be surprised at how much we become sharpened in our faith if we allow for our defenses to be let down a bit and to honestly hear out another take on a passage we have understood in another way.

There are things which are the non-negotiables, so to speak. These would be considered dogma – the things which make Christianity what it is, the orthodox beliefs passed down through the centuries. For example, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the crucifixion and atonement of sins, the resurrection of Christ, etc. These things are pillars which are not to be compromised upon. These are the uniting orthodox doctrines of true Christianity throughout the centuries.

There are doctrines which we hold dear, and are still foundational to our theology, but are not necessary for salvation. These things are firmly held within various traditions of the church, but can be disagreed upon if their is biblical merit for such a disagreement. This is what makes many people uncomfortable and it takes spiritual maturity to have honest conversations about differences in these areas. Examples of such doctrines would be how baptism should be done, how communion should be done, etc. Differences in these types of doctrines are extremely important for various traditions. It is also something not to be taken lightly. People have died for some of these differences because they have felt them to be dogmatic. Honest conversation is a hard thing to do, and it takes humility.

There are also various convictions that people hold about how to live the Christian life. These are things like strict music standards, strict dress standards (skirts for girls), not going to movie theaters, not drinking alcohol, using the King James Version, etc. These are things which are convictions. Many people scoff at such things. In fact, I lived in such an environment and lived by such rules through four years of college. But as I lived in this environment and thought through the issues, I realized that these were the were “weaker bretheren.” They would most likely not agree with that statement, but I wholeheartedly believe it. And once I came to that conclusion, it helped me understand how to relate and navigate in such an environment. But these convictions are important because it is in these convictions that people are able to serve God where they are at in their walk with Christ. They love and serve Christ, too.

God is amazingly merciful. He uses people which are all over the map theologically. That makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but if we are honest with ourselves we’d admit that we don’t really have everything figured out. There are doctrines that we hold to and believe because that is just the way we had it presented to us, and it makes sense that way. And we love to hold onto the things that just make sense to us, or to things that our pastor always taught. But we don’t have it all figured out, and neither does any one tradition. We need to be humbled by this fact. We many times like to think that God uses us because we do have Him figured out (so we think). God uses us because He wants to be made known among all people. And He uses those willing and submitted to Him to proclaim His word. Remember how Paul explained us in 1 Corinthians? He uses us, who are generally foolish and simple, to confound the wise.

Oftentimes when we see God using people who don’t seem to believe the same things as we do, we get all defensive and emotional — perhaps even scared. But this should not scare us. This should encourage us as we grow in our own relationship with God. This should simply drive us to the Scriptures and check scholarship and truth claims against what the Bible says. We have the truth — revelation from God through man. We should not be alarmed. And scholarship about the text helps us understand the original context in which Scripture was written. And as we find out or discover aspects of our faith which are incorrect, or built upon faulty premises, we should have the honesty to change our opinions and convictions based upon the TEXT rather than change the text based upon our CONVICTIONS. But sometimes that is hard for people to do. It is uncomfortable, but if we want to truly worship God, we have to be intellectually honest.

If we have the truth, no truth claims should scare us.

We have the truth given to us in Scripture. We have the Holy Spirit to help guide and illuminate us. We have the example of Jesus Christ in how to live and to relate to others. These are amazing gifts to us which should be the foundation of our faith and understanding.

Because of these objective truths, we should not be afraid of others who CLAIM to have truth. There have been many who have claimed things which seem to be contrary to what we know and believe traditionally. Initially, I believe it is okay to have “red flags” go off in our heads when there is something presented by someone that appears to be contrary with what we know about Scripture. But it shouldn’t SCARE us. We shouldn’t live in fear of those who seem to be making truth claims.

I believe they initially should quickly be considered, held up to Scripture, and then categorized as legitimate or illegitimate. Our initial reaction should not be fear. If someone is preaching falsehood, then we should indeed point them out, and explain why. But we should not just run away from the conversation. That is not healthy. And to just simply label something as heretical is not intellectually honest. We need to consider things in a very honest manner.

Earlier in the year there was an amazing amount of attention put upon Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins. In this book Rob Bell challenges the traditional views of hell. Initially people seemed to react with fear, anger, and hatred. Then there was the second wave of people reacting to the reactors with anger and disappointment. But this was all caused because anger and fear were the initial reactions. We simply need to interact with each other in charity and in honesty. (Of course Rob Bell does seem to try stir up controversy, so he can take part of the blame as well…)

My point is that if we have the truth (and we do) then we shouldn’t be scared of truth claims. If we draw attention to the false claims in fear and anger, then we do nothing but hurt ourselves and our faith. If they are not true, then we should explain why they are not biblical and move on.

Claiming to know it all…

We like to think we have God figured out. And many times we act like we do have God figured out. I believe we have to be careful of claiming to know why God does what He does. Remember, God is infinite and therefore we could not possibly know why God does all He does. I personally believe we should not try and define the working of God in short pithy statements. But people do it all the time. Famous preachers and teachers do it all the time.

John Piper, to me, is notorious for doing this. He summarizes much of why God does what He does through simple, easy to remember one-liners. They sound good. They seem biblically sound, but is it the whole truth? Can God really be summarized by the fact that He does EVERYTHING for His glory? Can missions really be summarized by saying that “missions exists because worship doesn’t?” To me, John Piper seems to be claiming to know why God does all that He does. And of course he backs his arguments with Scripture, but what else is he leaving out? We need to be careful that even in our theological statements we aren’t putting God in our own theological box. I believe we always need to be recognizing that God is bigger than we can truly describe, and He cannot be put under our thumbnail.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I appreciate MUCH of what Piper says and does and what he stands for. But sometimes Piper can be a bit too heavy handed in his theology and discount much of what others bring to the table. There needs to be a balace. There needs to be grace and mercy in our conversations with people. We have a lot to learn from Piper and his insights, but I believe that he also has a lot to learn from others’ points of view as well.

Ultimately my point is if we believe in God and His sovereignty, then we should not be afraid. God loves us. He makes that clear over and over in His word. He wants us to know Him intimately, and we can thanks to His Son Jesus Christ. There is no reason to live in fear. For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Let’s focus on those because fear has no place in the person of faith.

So much for ‘ars gratia artis’

At Trinity there is a lot that is easy to come by: homework, a filled library, the smell of coffee wafting from behind books, people walking briskly from one place to another as to not waste any of their precious time. But because of this there is a lot that is hidden on campus, some of it good and some of it bad.

Loneliness, a surprisingly common issue at Trinity, hides behind busy schedules. Stories of God at work are a constant flow in the lives of people at Trinity, but they are put on mute because of reading assignments and papers which keep students from telling their own stories. Spiritual gifts are veiled as we sit in classes unaware of the fact that the room in which we sit typing away notes is really a treasure chest of talented spirit-filled individuals.

Last night the curtain was lifted back a bit.

Thursday nights in seminary are our Friday nights because we do not have classes on Fridays. Usually, Thursday evenings are reserved for nights NOT spent in the library, NOT doing homework, and NOT reading books. So it was a perfect chance to go to Trinity Artist Guild’s open mic night.

I like to consider myself a part of Trinity Artists Guild, typically referred to as TAG. However, I’ve always felt like I sounded kind of pretentious calling myself an artist. This is mostly because my art is usually limited to playing drums ( in which you just hit stuff at the right time) and photography. I feel like photography a lot of times is the art of happenstance. All it requires is being at the right place at the right time with a camera in hand. (Sure there are things to know about what makes a good picture, but that is so easily learned it really doesn’t seem significant. Digital cameras have made photography an art that anyone can master).

Anyway, I gave a couple of my more recent photography projects to be put up in the room for the open mic night. It really is the first time I have ever done such a thing, so it made me feel kind of legitimate, but also somewhat like a poser because of the REAL artists who were there. There was a girl there who does phenomenal paintings, usually of portraits using wonderful colors. There was another girl who makes biblical scenes from paper and other methods. (See I don’t even know how to describe art…) There was another photographer who I consider a real photographer. He’s not afraid to walk up to someone and capture a moment in which they are expressing a very vivid emotion.

And then there’s

me.

But nevertheless, it was cool to hear people’s responses to my stuff. The usual response was, “YOU MADE THAT!? I had no idea you took pictures.”

“Yep…I take pictures…”
I really didn’t know what to tell people.

But beyond me was the real experience.
The real artists.

There were powerfully written, and chillingly wonderful poems presented. There were musicians who brought me into their lyrical world as if their music were hypnotic. Music that I couldn’t help but feel anger and hope at the same time. Songs that made me contemplate moments in my own life and helped me appreciate where I’ve come from and what God has done in my life. Songs that made nod in agreement with smile forcing itself upon my lips.

The setting was right. The smell of coffee filled the air. So many people came, there was really standing room only. A group of people all engaged as a single community not typically seen at Trinity.

But it’s only an open mic.

Art for art sake.
Right?

No.

And that was made clear. With the reading of Scripture and the intentional theme of the night being that this is WORSHIP to God. That art is more than just creative rubbish. This is art, not for its own sake.

This is art for God’s sake.

ARS GRATIA DEI

The curtain was pulled back a bit. We all learned things about each other last night. There are a lot of people with a lot of imagination and wonderfully creative talent in our midst here at Trinity. People loved this so much they practically begged to have this be a once a month thing. Creativity is so important. Art is so important. To hide these talents is to hide the blessings of God. It is to put the light of God under a bushel. I wholeheartedly believe that these talents reflect the creativity of our Creator. We are catching glimpses of His glory.

So this week as I go back to the library, and as I read my books, my earbuds are now filled with the sounds of those who have used their creative gifts in ways which bring glory to God.

What’s heaven going to be like?

I think it’s going to blow our minds.

Why the Ends Don’t Justify the Means

Why the Ends Don’t Justify the Means

In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things, the figure of him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger.”

That is one of my favorite quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. To me it captures a truth so contrary to our everyday lives that we have a hard time truly accepting it. What that quote says to us practically is that the ends do not justify the means. Most people hold to the pragmatic idea that the ends DO indeed justify the means. It makes sense, right? Yes it does, if you don’t consider God.

In our relationship with God I believe that God is not results oriented. He is not ends oriented. God is means oriented. God cares about why and how we do things. He takes care of results. Are we faithful in how we are to live? Do we justify doing wrong (evil) in order to have a good result?

What I am saying is no small idea. It is not something that goes against a basic philosophy. What I am saying goes against the promoted and enforced American (and probably worldwide) idea of a results oriented society. We define success by the end result of our actions. We do “whatever it takes” to achieve excellence.

Many times we focus on what we believe God wants. We assume he wants us to do this, or go there, or say that. We do things we think God wants, when really what He wants is us. He wants all of us. He wants to KNOW us. It is so evident and clear throughout the prophets that God wants us to know Him intimately. Over and over God stated that He simply just wanted the people of Israel to KNOW Him. God had never left or forsaken Israel. They had left Him. Hosea 13:5 speaks to this idea:

5 I cared for you in the wilderness,
in the land of burning heat.
6 When I fed them, they were satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
then they forgot me.”

God was there for Israel the whole time, even in the wilderness. He had never left them. As soon as they had gotten from God what they wanted, they became proud and forgot about God. Sadly, that is often the story of many of our lives.

The church in America has added significantly to the global Christian culture, or even civilization, throughout the world. Yes it has added significantly in both positive and negative ways. But this is much of the history of Christianity. Indeed, some of the most supposed “Christian” time periods in world history are also some of the darkest and bloodiest. But also, Christianity was the “ark” which safely protected civilization from extinction.

I believe that many of the common issues of the church today have come from our pragmatic mindsets. We have forgotten that churches grow. It is not meant to be a business. It is supposed to be a living and breathing organism, a body. We are the bride of Christ. We are not Walmart. The American church needs to examine itself and see if we are letting the word or the world dictate our actions. Os Guinness visited TEDS this past semester and had a few things to say in this line of thought. He said,

 The American church today is desperately weak because it is profoundly worldly. We have helped create the rise of the modern world, and we have become captive to the modern world that we have helped to create.”

In our churches and in our own individual lives we have let the results be the focus. We have let numbers and goals be our driving forces in our personal and congregational lives. But this mindset is too rationalistic and humanistic and it leaves no place for the power of God. Simply put, we lack faith. We lack true faith in the power of God, the power of the Gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit. God is interested in our faithfulness to Him. It was Jesus who said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (Jn 14:15).” But it is not simply about keeping commandments, either. It is going beyond the letter of the law and remaining faithful to Him — for “whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:23).”

We are not completely careless about the means which lead to the result. We do care in some realms of life. Think about sports. We prohibit people taking enhancing drugs in order to be stronger and faster. Think about medicine. We want doctors and nurses to follow specific procedures and follow safety guideline to bring people to recovery or to a cure. That being said, we are still constantly bombarded with “the ends justify the means” mentality.

Think of shows like House. House is a doctor whose motto is “everybody lies.” Throughout the last seven seasons Dr. House has shown that he will do whatever it takes to save someone’s life. Yet, if there is seemingly no hope, he has no problem giving a shot of morphine to end someone’s suffering. And as we watch his brash attitude and medical malpractice we are somewhat forced to take his side. We are being persuaded that it is okay to brake a few rules so that the result is good. It is no coincidence that the show is staunchly anti-religion, and especially anti-Christian. That is because the mindset and philosophy of the ends justifying the means is anti-Christian at the core.

If we really believe that God is sovereign, if we really believe that God is good, and if we really believe that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6), then we will choose to always do what is right, no matter the consequences. To do right is always right because we serve a God who is righteous. To do wrong in order to achieve a good result shows a lack of faith in God, and says to God, “I don’t think that you are in control. I have to take this situation into my own hands.” It is idolatry. It shows that there is a lack of the fear of God in one’s actions. It is one thing to say that you fear God, and then another thing to actually live with that fear in your actions before Him and in your daily life.

Therefore, what I am saying to many sounds naive. To lie is always wrong and to kill is always wrong because sin is always sin and God is always good. God wants us to consistently love, know, and fear Him. We must do all things in faith (Heb 11:6) and heartily unto God (Col 3:23). It is the only way God is honored and glorified. To truly live as though you fear God will require child-like faith.

Sure, it seems often foolish. Sure, it seems often inefficient. But God is faithful, and He demands for us to be faithful as well.