Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bread of Life (and a little Promotional Help)

A comment by Stephen to another post compelled me to publish for general consumption a tract that is an excerpt from the upcoming book.

The discussion is titled "The Gospel within the Gospel" and culminates in a description of what 'Bread of Life" really means.

You can find the article here.

[URL = ]

Additionally, I have recently modified and hacked my blog's template to show a few new buttons. Some of these now appear below every post [including the link] There are also Digg It and Technorati Favorite voting button thingymajjigs in the sidebar. If you find any individual blogs interesting, I invite you to click these links. Doing so is a "vote" of sorts that suggests to others there might be something worthwhile here. This helps other people find this blog.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pre-print chapter 1 up

One reason I have not been posting is that I've been working feverishly trying to get this book ready for a pre-print run. That has finally occurred. Yay!

I have placed the first chapter as well as the introduction and an Appendix on what Jesus didn't preach online.

Click HERE to download.

Note, if you grabbed this chapter earlier, you might want to look at the current has had a lot of revision and polish, etc.

I hope for the book to be out by February.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Christians Need to be More Honest about the Gospel

Think about "the Gospel" for a moment. Whatever that means to you.

Now, remove anything related to Christ's death and resurrection. [[Note, this is a thought experiment, I'm not actually advocating that we remove such things from the gospel. Just work with me a bit...]

Now, remove anything related to Jesus being the Messiah.

What do you have left?

I think for most Christians the answer is "not much."

I'd like to challenge those Christians and everyone else to ponder a bit the gospel message of Jesus and His apostles.

The Bible indicates a wide variety of instances where Jesus and others spread "the Gospel" prior to His death. This includes John the Baptist preaching "the Gospel" before Jesus' public ministry. It includes Jesus preaching the Gospel throughout His three years of ministry on Earth [the word "Gospel' is not used in John's account, but "Word" is more or less his equivalent.] The disciples are sent out partway through Jesus' third year of ministry to preach the gospel to the surrounding areas.

What were these people preaching...and why is it called "The Gospel"?

At this point you might be looking at me like I have a third eye or a "I love Twisted Sister" tattoo on my forehead. But I'm serious...what do you think Jesus and His disciples preached as "The Gospel" during that time?

The reason why this is an interesting question is that no one knew Jesus was going to Die. Of course Jesus knew He was going to die, but the disciples didn't. Luke 24:26-27 and John 20:9 makes very clear that none of His disciples had realized that He was going to die, so what kind of Gospel were they preaching if no one had figured this out?

Note, I'm not saying Jesus never alluded to His coming death. It's sad I have to write this disclaimer, but you would not believe how many people read the last two paragraphs and immediately attack me for saying that Jesus never said He was going to die. I'm not saying Jesus never alluded to this event, I'm saying that it could not have played a role in the Gospel He and His disciples taught because no one understood His teaching.

We are told of many people who "believed" the message Jesus gave, and the apostles took that message to everyone else...which means whatever that message was, it couldn't have anything to do with Jesus' death. It would be hard for disciples to take a message to everyone that they themselves did not know!

Furthermore, whatever this message, this "Gospel" was, it couldn't have anything to do with Jesus being the Messiah either. It was not until rather late that even His own disciples identified Him as the Messiah, and that was not due to Jesus' instruction but by divine intervention [as Matthew 16:17 makes clear.] Furthermore, after Jesus verifies this, He tells them not to tell anyone!!

And that brings up another great question. It's easy to see why the gospel the modern Christian church preaches counts as "good news." But that message more or less disappears once you remove any reference to Jesus' death...that means that not only do we have to wonder what the message Jesus and His disciples taught was, but we have to wonder why it was good news (which as most know, is what "gospel" means)!

To add to the bizarre state of things, we see that even the message Jesus tells His apostles to take to "all nations" is not at all like the gospel Christians teach today. If you read Matthew 28:18-20 carefully, you'll note that Jesus is not saying "Go tell everyone about me in order to save them from Hell."
Instead Jesus says "Go teach them to obey the commands I have already given you, because I have been made Lord over Heaven and Earth."

It is worth pointing out here that these apostles that were told to make disciples of all nations only went to the Jews. No one preached to the Gentiles until nearly ten years after Jesus' resurrection. Anyone who believes the original Gospel was about "saving souls" is instantly making villains out of Peter, John, and the other apostles. Do we really think these holy men of God desired to abandon all gentiles to Hell? That is the logical deduction one is led to if we believe the early Gospel was about "saving souls from Hell."

But that isn't what the early Gospel was about. In fact, the word "hell" doesn't even appear in all of Acts. Not one time. Acts is the most abundant repository of early teachings to new believers by the original apostles, and the word Hell never even comes up in the nearly 20 passages describing their teachings in Acts.

So, regardless of what we teach as the Gospel today, we owe it to all Christians and anyone else to point out the original apostles never thought they were "saving souls" in the way the Gospel is described today. While we're at it, it might prove worthwhile to consider what the Gospel Jesus and His apostles preached really comprised.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Silent Responsibility and Danger of the Great Commission

When you say "The Great Commission," all good Protestants know what you are talking about: Matthew 28:19-20 .

Everyone takes this as an active call to go make converts [though clearly that is not the point... Jesus tells people to make disciples and to teach people to obey everything He has commanded, which fits well into the view of salvation shown in the Later Prophets, but Christians have never been very good about letting those passages encroach on their doctrine...perhaps if Paul had written Ezekiel and Malachi the would be read more...] but I digress, I think it is important to look at the non-evangelistic side of this responsibility.

Consider Matthew 5:19 and Luke 17:2 [which may or may not be referring to believers], and then consider Luke 12:42-47

Luke 12:42-47 is an interesting parable describing a steward left in charge of a household. The master comes back and finds people not doing his will. Jesus describes 3 classes of people. The steward in charge is both killed and "assigned a lot with the unbelievers." Those who knew what they should be doing but were not doing it were punished severely while those who did not know what they were supposed to be doing [and hence were not doing it] are given few lashes.

At the time of Jesus' telling the parable, He is referring to the priests who had failed in teaching the Jews how to please God. That aspect of the parable is clear. [Most of the middle chapters of Luke deal with attacking the leaders of the Jews who had failed in their roles as shepherds.]

What is unclear are the eschatological implications [what does it mean to have a light beating? How does a severe beating differ from being assigned a lot with the unfaithful...which for the Jews would mean being cast out of the covenant...]

It's not surprising that the eschatological implications are unclear, the Jews have never had a clear understanding or prescription of the afterlife. There is almost nothing about the afterlife in the entire Old Testament, and even though Daniel 12:2 describes a resurrection the idea really didn't take hold in Jewish culture until the intertestamental time.

What is more concerning and important is the application of this passage to Christians today, assuming there is some application. Given that God has removed the barrier between Jews and Gentiles and subordinated all of Creation to Christ's rule, we must think of all men [including those who do not believe or have never known of Christ] as being "in the household.' Jesus is, after all, the propitiation for the entire world [1st John 2:2] and savior of all ("especially those who believe") [1st Timothy 4:10], so it is best to think of all people as in God's nation....just some do not know who their King is.

But if that is the case, and Christians are instructed to show others how to please God, as the great commission indicates, what ramifications does that have for us when our actions drive people away from Christ or following Christ's teachings? Christians need to take very seriously the effects we have when we are not "spreading the Gospel."

If verses like Ezekiel 3:18 [one of many verses that say the same thing] are any judge, if we fail to adequately warn people of the need to repent [one of the most common teachings in acts] and indeed cause them to "stumble" by turning them off due to our stereotypical judgmentalism and hypocrisy, there could well be a reckoning. After all, recall Jesus' warnings to His own disciples in Mark 9:50 [people would do well to note that the entire passage in Mark is told only to the disciples]

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Paul was a Murderer

I don't write the above as an attack on Paul. Paul makes no efforts at denying his past. [See 1st Timothy 1:15-16 and Acts 9:1-2]

Rather, I remind people of this because it seems to me Christians are particularly guilty of all manner of sin in how we consider and deal with those of storied past.

There are many tracts of Conservative Christians whose sense of moral superiority is nowhere more clearly shown than when they describe their opinions of those with unsavory brushes in their history.

More liberal Christians, while being in general less disposed to such contempt, are somewhat compromised for a different reason. Those with a history bespeckled by violence, especially violence toward the innocent, the weak, children, or women, are likely the ones in most need of help as they work to make a life in a world where all roads lead uphill. Unfortunately, those in the more liberal regions of Christianity, who might normally be the most willing to help those in need, can find themselves having a bit of cardiac dissonance when trying to bless those whose previous activities have run so counter to their general principles of peace and pacifism and so tragically victimized the groups they are most sympathetic toward.

There's a great deal of heated discussion and opinion regarding how the Christian church should view certain groups, in particular homosexuals and women. The former is traditionally censured, the latter restricted. The reason behind these battles is largely the basic meme of "it's not their fault?" [Which sorta sounds stupid when referring to women, but I think people understand what I mean.]

The idea is that someone should not be restricted or censured based on whatever qualities they are born with, whether that be race, orientation, or gender. And it is this meme pitted against a view that arguably rejects it that causes the tension in the church and society.

But none of that is true regarding the group "people with an unsavory past." There is no real battle being waged regarding how they should be treated. No respectable Christian church can openly denounce or cast negativity toward such individuals without being in severe contradiction of Christ's own teachings, yet you also do not see much in the way of people advocating more awareness in the church or exhorting people to actively help these people. It is a hypocritical luke-warmedness that comes from a minority suffering no institutionalized discrimination nor having a champion to attack the more subtle, unofficial variety of the same.

You don't see anyone standing up for compassion and forgiveness in this arena because there's no particular doctrine or statute to attack, only people's dispositions, which generally cannot be bothered with anything as silly as appeals to scripture or logic.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Surprised by Hope [Book by N.T. Wright]

I recently finished reading Surprised by Hope, written by a CoE Bishop, N.T. Wright, which happens to be a charactonym because he writes about the NT.

I would first like to say that I highly recommend this book to every Christian, for the importance of the message found in the first 75 pages is absolutely critical and under-appreciated. Wright is willing to take on the traditional [and quite non-Biblical] bromides Christians tend to throw about regarding life after death, and in doing so he shows emphatically how and why the resurrection of Christ was so important to the Christian church.

I've written before that the apostles were clearly far more focused on the resurrection than they were on certain other teachings that dominate today's church. Wright explains clearly why this is, and in doing so explains what "Christian Hope" and, by my reading,"Christ Crucified" really mean.

For those points, as well as the general temerity to say things at odds (just a smidge) with Orthodoxy, NT Wright is to be praised, and this book recommended.

I do have some particular nitpicks and less positive comments that I hope are taken in the spirit of the above.

Bishop Wright suggests that when Jesus referred in parables to a master returning to see how his goods were used, He was referring to Christ's own 1st Century coming. While this may be true, it's hard to see Jesus' thief-in-the-night or vestal virgins parables in this light (especially given how late in His ministry they were given). It is also hard to see the parables of the Minas/Talents in this way (which are the parables Wright specifically references) unless they were meant as a type of post mortem "here were the possible ways you could have responded, and we know which one you picked, and now it should not surprise you that your grace will be removed" decree. Furtherore, it is hard to see what the "middle" level person (the one who earned 5 talents, etc.) represents in that case.

Bishop Wrght also gives the impression that Paul might not have held very firmly to a resurrection of both the just and unjust, saying that he only indicates that view one time [in 1st Corinthians]. That is an odd statement to make since Paul most definitely indicates a resurrection of both the righteous and unrighteous in his testimony in Acts.

Bishop Wright casts Jesus language regarding Hell in a present-day, political sense. He claims that Jesus was warning the Jews that if they continued acting in the way they were acting, it would lead to Roman invasion and destruction. This is a remarkable statement given that Jesus says things like Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Wright suggests an odd version of eternal "punishment" whereby those who do not "make it" simply devolve into non-human creatures who no longer bear the likeness of God. These creatures [given the deformed nature of their spirit] would no longer even be interested or desirous of God's presence, which does not mesh very well with the frustration and gnashing of teeth we see described by Jesus. Wright openly admits that this novel belief comes from his own repulsion at the idea of eternal torture, rather than in any particular Biblical evidence.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Healing in Your Face, Literally. An answer to prayer.

...Okay, so perhaps more like "in my face."

A small, and I emphasize "small," miracle happened last night I wanted to share, in a departure from my normally more abstract posts.

I recently got a few sores. In general they are just painful, but there is always the danger that they might go into "sepsis." (which just means the infection hits your bloodstream...which is very not good)

I thought I was getting over them, but last night I had a fever, which is one sign of sepsis. I had felt some chills as well (another sign), but I think that was unrelated. In any event, I was a little concerned.

I vaguely thought about going to the quick-care clinic, but decided not to. My decision was based on some combination of not wanting to bother with it and figuring God still had a use for me. I figured I wouldn't die in my sleep.

I had been re-reading the later prophets recently [which I highly recommend all Christians do], and I have been struck by how important it was to God that Israel rely on the Almighty rather than Egypt or other nations. I offered up a prayer for healing and indicated that I wanted to rely on God's providence in this matter.

I was shocked when, no more than 3 minutes later, I just felt my fever go away. I had never experienced such an abrupt change in my life. It felt like the fever was literally being pulled from my body. I touched my forehead, which had been very warm just 3 minutes earlier, and the fever was completely gone. My forehead was the same temperature as my hand.

I was amazed. I immediately checked with my other hand, and then I felt it again a few minutes later, almost scared lest I find I had imagined it.

Anyway, I just wanted to share this for whatever it is worth.

Glory to God and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I am in you, you are in me...interesting note on John 14:2

No, John 14:2 is not one of those "I am in you, you are in me" or "I am in the Father and the Father is in me" verses, but it did make me think of it.

It's easy to see these phrases (John 10:38, John 14:10-11, 1st John 2:24, John 6:56, John 14:20, John 15:2, John 15:4-7, John 16:33, John 17;21) and sorta just take it as saying that some "relationship" is involved. Of course, many Christians try to turn some of them into a Trinitarian message, but that would imply that all believers were of the same substance as God, so we'll leave that to the side.

But it came to me that perhaps there is a finer point to be made here. After all, it is one thing to say "Jesus is in me," but what does it me to say that "I am in Christ"? What does that mean, really?

This brings me to John 14:2. What does it mean when Jesus says there are many abodes in His Father's house?

The word "abodes" is itself a theologically interesting term to look into (the translation "mansion" is rather bizarre), but what does Jesus mean when He says "Father's house."?

I think we generally think of "heaven," but if that is what Jesus meant, He could have just said "heaven." The interesting thing here is the Jewish conception of "house" is different from what we think of. The focus there is on the people inside. So when we say "The house of Jacob," we don't mean a structure, but a people.

So, the "Father's House" in that sense would referring to "God's people." This gives an "adoptionist" metaphor that I will not go into.

But the term "Father's house" also refers to the temple. For example John 2:16 and other discussions of the temple cleansing [and perhaps is what is meant in Luke 2:49, but that is certainly not clear.] In the OT we see several examples of God calling the temple "My house:" 1st Chronicles 28:6, Isaiah 56:7, and later when abominations are described.

Thus the notion of "house" can have an external, umbrella-type meaning of "Everyone under God's banner," or an internal meaning of "The temple where God resides among God's people."

In that latter sense, Jesus is referring to entering the temple [much as described in the theology of Hebrews]. Indeed, the theology of Hebrews helps us understand what "prepare a place for you" means. It appears Jesus is referring to the cleansing of the temple(s) of our souls so that we can receive His Spirit...but receiving His Spirit is what brings us into the New Covenant (and hence makes us a member of the Father's House in the other sense of the term.) Note that the word for "abode" in John 14:2 is the same as the word in John 14:23

I just found it striking how both uses (interior and exterior) of the term "House" can be combined in a single statement...without apparently anyone realizing it.

I actually see an interesting allegory here between:

Exodus -> Sinai -> Davidic Kingdom

Passover -> Shavuot -> Building of Temple

Crucifixion -> Pentecost -> 2nd coming of Christ

The first of all 3 of these refer to a freedom [Freedom from Egyptian rule, Freedom of bondage to Sin], the second regards the beginning of the covenant and its requirements [Command to keep the Mosaic Law, Command to keep the Spirit's Law]. In between the second and the third we have the "temple" being a temporary tabernacle (that "abodes" in John 14:2 and John 14:23] where God resided (as our current bodies are), and in the last we have a kingdom purged of ungodliness where God's Temple can be moored.

Note that the Crucifixion occurred on Passover and Pentecost is the same day as Shavuot.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Documented Virgin Births

So, not exactly likely to still the tongues of naysayers, but still something you might be interested in:

Scientists find shark that has no father.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Women in Church, the rest of the story

Recently a post at Between Two Worlds discussed a letter written by Dan Wallace describing the angst he feels over maintaining the hard gender roles described by Paul, in particular in 1st Timothy 2:11-15. He writes I may not be comfortable with my complementarian position, but I am unwilling to twist scripture into something that it does not say.

He then describes And my conscience tells me that after all the exegetical dust has settled, to deny some sort of normative principle to 1 Tim 2:12 is probably a misunderstanding of this text.

Unfortunately, Wallace falls into the same practice that many pastors do when delivering a sermon. The letter says what he believes and why without giving any indication as to what might be said for the other side. It is this kind of "This is what the Bible says, and if you don't like it, you're a liberal" mentality that I cannot stand in the modern church.

The above may sound like I'm demonizing Wallace. I'm not. He sounds genuinely apologetic regarding his beliefs, and I completely affirm those who defend unpopular positions based on Biblical principles. My belief here is that he, like many others on this and other views, has allowed the beliefs of those Christian thinkers who came before us to unduly marginalize the importance of a raft of Scripture arguing against the conservative viewpoint.

Most of the time when people try to defend women in positions of authority they appeal to anthrocentric or sociologic reasons. They wonder why we restrict women who are willing to do good. They wonder why we allow the church to implicitly support gender inequality elsewhere. I do not find these arguments personally compelling, as they attempt to interpret and judge biblical principles through human ones.

Others make deductions based on passages like Galatians 3:28. While these can add support to an argument, they are so broad that we wonder what other principles we could deduce.

Paul's verses are very specific [actually, not as specific as might be thought, but we will get to that later], and this is why they are exalted so highly in the debate. But are there other passages of specificity that argue against the notion that women should be so barred?

Yes. Yes there are.

First, there is the important case of Deborah, the 4th Judge of Israel.
The fact that Deborah was raised up by God[Judges 2:16], spoken to by God[Judges 4:6], led Israel [Judges 4:4], did so ably, and was venerated for doing so [Judges 5:7] is an insurmountable, thoroughly biblical objection to the absolute exclusion of women in positions of authority.

How does the complementarian respond to Deborah? Does he [or she] lament "Oh, what great sadness that God did not have Paul to warn The Almighty against calling a woman to rule. If only God had waited so that Paul could disclose this wisdom, the Lord would not have done something so embarrassing"?

No. Instead, amazingly, Wallace claims that Deborah's presence actually supports his view! He (and others, such as Piper (I am told)) say that it was shaming to Israel that it had to have a woman rule them. Nevermind that such poppycock is never stated in the Bible. Nevermind that Israel got into trouble when they didn't follow the Judge raised up [Judges 2:17]. Nevermind that it is God who chose the Judge. It wasn't an election. There were not nominees.
The discussion between Deborah and Jael indicates that Jael was unfaithful (for it should have been enough to have been told God would deliver the enemy to him), but that hardly says anything about God's decision to have a woman rule over Israel.

If you brought Deborah up to a random evangelical, my guess is that the best response he or she could give is "Oh, but that was the Old Testament." So, are we to believe that New Testament Christianity [where there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave or free, man or woman, etc.] is somehow more restrictive than the God of the Old Testament?

But there is plenty of New Testament passages regarding women...many written by Paul himself. In Acts 18:26 we read of Priscilla and her husband Aquilla both teaching a man who was already teaching others. This same Priscilla was very dear to Paul. He called her a "co-worker" in Romans 16;3, and he references their church in 1st Corinthians 16:19 and 2nd Timothy 4:19.

Priscilla is not the only woman teaching the Gospel to others. Paul refers to 2 more in Philippians 4:2, and the "book" of Philemon is actually written to 3 people who run a house church, one of whom is a woman. Nympha also had a church in her house [Colossians 4:15], to whom Paul wrote.

Finally, in a disputed passage (Romans 16:7), Paul appears to refer to a woman, Junia, as an apostle! [Many Bibles read "Junias" here, claiming that it is actually a male's name. There are many problems with that view, not the least of which being that no one anywhere has been able to find a single example of "Junias" ever being used as a name in any Greek or Latin writings.

What is interesting about this last bit is not so much that Paul called a woman an apostle [it is possible that Paul just meant that she had a good reputation among the apostles, but my guess is that the first Bible you pick up will say that "Junia(s)" actually was an apostle.]

The interesting thing is how much of a historical coverup has ensued trying to turn Junia into a man.

But getting back to the point regarding women. Not only did they teach and preach, but they also prophesied [Acts 21:9], and were deaconesses/ministers of churches [Romans 16:1.] (Note, this word can be translated as merely "servant," but strangely enough the ONLY time the word is translated as servant when discussing someone in church is when a female is mentioned. The other 23 times, it is translated "minister" or "deacon." Greek has a perfectly good word for "servant," used over 100 times in the New Testament.)

One has to wonder why Paul is commending and greeting all these teachers and deaconesses and why the prophetesses were not rebuked. One also has to wonder, while we're at it, how Paul can say women should only "pray" and "prophesy" (which can also mean "teach") with head coverings [1st Corinthians 11:3] if they are not supposed to speak at all!!! [1st Corinthians 14:35]

Keep in mind a couple other things about the early church.
  • Prophets were not mere seers. They also taught and preached about God, as well as selected officers in churches.
  • In the earliest churches, the "teaching" was, in fact, evangelism. The idea of a "message" to those who already believed did not come about until later.
So, all the descriptors of women as evangelists and prophets also made them teachers as well.

So, what are we to make of all this? What is the real story here? It would be an incredible task to convince yourself that God appointed Deborah in a moment of insanity and multitude of women Paul mentions all somehow avoided having any authority or teaching while being 'co-workers' and "sharing [his] struggle,"...and somehow the women "prophesy" and "pray" without speaking, etc.

Instead, I give some alternatives:

i) The Greek word for woman is the same as the word for wife. Given the wording in 1st Timothy 2:12 and 1st Corinthians 14:35, Paul might be more concerned with women not submitting to their husbands. The poor widow would have little recourse based on the "woman" reading as she has no husband to enlighten her. Perhaps Paul does not want a wife teaching her husband.

Note, just as the word for wife is the same as the word for woman. The word for man is the same as the word for husband, so "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man" would have the same Greek as "I do not allow a wife to teach or exercise authority over a husband. You might say "hey, but wouldn't you say "her husband," instead of "a husband." In English you would, but in Greek you never say the "a" and the "her" can be implied. In fact, that is exactly what happens in Ephesians 5:33. There is no "her" in front of the "husband" there. Same thing in Romans 7:2, 7:3, 1st Cor1nthians 7:3, 7:10, 7:11, 7:34. In fact a quick look only shows one place where Paul actually put the possessive there.]

Also note that Paul uses the singular. He says for a woman/wife not to have authority or teach a man/husband. Of course the situation where a woman is actually preaching in church is one where a woman is preaching "men."

This explanation (possibly mixed with iii below) is the best way of making Paul not look like a moron. If the point is that a wife should not have authority over her husband, then all the cases where Paul personally greeted women who taught [as prophets and evangelists and perhaps apostles] and where Priscilla taught Apollo would all dissolve. This solution also lets God off the hook for allowing a woman to lead Israel.

ii) Paul could be more concerned with married women not fulfilling their roles as women. This would make sense in the context of Paul's teaching in 1st Corinthians 7:34. This would not really get around Priscilla, though.

iii) I do not like to bring it up, but it should be pointed out that 90% of critical scholars believe 1st Timothy, 2nd Timothy, and Titus were not written by Paul [or so says the late Fr. Raymond Brown, who was a member of the Vatican's Roman Pontifical Biblical commission and was considered by many to be not only the the premier Catholic scholar of North America but the most important theologian [of the Catholic church] to ever arise in America. The 4 "pastoral" epistles are the only Pauline works missing from the earliest known suggested Canon [Marcion's. While Marcion's views are very far removed from the views of the church expressed just a century later, Marcion absolutely loved Paul, so the absence of the pastorals strongly suggest they either were not known, or were known to be pseudonymous at the time.]

This would not get around the 1st Corinthains verses [some say they were inserted later.] I know of no one of note who doubts the Pauline authorship of 1st Corinthians.

iv) Paul could be simply be wrong. He appears to have been wrong about suggesting people not marry because "the time has been shortened" [1st Corinthians 7:29]. Paul appears to have been wrong about the innocence of eating food sacrificed to idols [1st Corinthians 8:4-8, 1st Corinthians 10: 19-28], that is to say if Jesus is any judge on the matter [Revelation 2:14, Reveation 2:20]. However, this would not explain why he would refer to women praying and prophesying in church in one breath while in the other he says they should not speak at all.

What's your theory?

[Incidentally, why are there so many churches who are willing to have Paul tell them not to let women speak...but yet those same churches (in general) do not require their women to wear head coverings? The message about head coverings is even more clear than the message of 1st Timothy 2:12, and none of the scripture I mention here really contravene it?]

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Nature of Atonement [Book Recommendation]

I recently read Four Views: The Nature of Atonement, which describe four rather farflung theories of the Atonement.

I thought the responses of each author to the others' views were generally helpful in showing how unclear the Bible is regarding how atonement works. On the other hand, I would have liked to see more than just "objective" version of the atonement.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Nothing Unique about Violence

Jason at Glower Street discusses Mark Driscoll's comments regarding his concerns for the near future of Christianity. In those comments Mark sees a prevalence of focusing on a meek, "cultural" Jesus. He brings up pictures of a formidable Christ "In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up."

In an effort to defend some fragment of the idea behind Mark's comments, I pointed out the importance of not portraying a version of Christ that did not paint Him as unique. The danger being that a Church can easily fall in love with an incomplete [or simply incorrect] portrayal of Christ by focusing on those aspects they like to dwell on rather than His hard edges. If the entire fellowship buys into this, it can lead to no one feeling impelled to gain a fuller understanding of Christ.

In that exchange, I pointed out that confrontational, aggressive, critical, and powerful aspects of Jesus exhibit His singularity because they derive from His authority. Compare this to the meeker version of Jesus that is less interested in rocking the boat.

In response to one of my comments, Jason said:

Also - and I don't think I can put this strongly enough - there is nothing unique about violence or blunt force.

I thought that was profound enough to deserve spotlight and consideration. Thanks, Jason.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Who are the Demons?

Most people are taught that the demons Jesus and His apostles cast out are fallen angels. But there is no passage that actually says that [to my knowledge.]

This came to me today as I was thinking about Jude 6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day

2nd Peter 2:4 is similar.

The issue here is that Satan and his Angels are cast out of heaven immediately after Christ's resurrection [Revelation 12:9]. If Jude and Peter claim that these angels were put into Hell, then they could not have been around tormenting people during Acts, and Paul would not be too concerned about their teaching people in 1st Timothy 4:1.

The issue here is that if demons are not fallen angels, then what are they, and where do they come from? Some might find this just an odd question of no real relevance but some would find it very relevant because many teach that God cannot create anything evil. [The Bible itself says no such thing, but people think it would go against God's goodness. This is the same reason people claim Satan had to be an angel at some point. Actually, it seems the above verses would suggest that Satan is not, in fact, a fallen angel, as he is not confined in hell at the moment.]

Perhaps demons are evil souls of Nephlim who died.


Anyone else have some ideas?

Is God Violent? A Response to "Light on the Dark Side of God

Greg Boyd describes a work by M.M. Campbell, Light on the "Dark Side of God", aiming to show that God is never actively violent but rather allows unsavory things to happen to people by removing divine protection.

One problem with discussing this view is that its flexibility allows it to explain more or less anything. No matter how obviously God acts as an agent in a given Biblical narrative, one can generally come up with some way to show that it wasn't really God implementing violence, but rather evil spirits. The author suggests that God sees and describes Himself as doing what he merely permits. Clearly, it's going to be hard to show that God actually does any violence if you make such an idea a universal principal. Just think, what evidence would you find available if everything God is described as doing something it didn't actually mean what it says?

Take, for example, the author's own explanation for how the killing of the firstborn takes place during the passover:

The midnight hour arrives. Invisibly God's "death angel" appears, carrying in its hands the destroying weapon from the eternal Throne. He looks at one house, sees the blood and passes over. He sees no blood on the house next door, and he comes down. What does he carry in his hand? Is that a sword? Perhaps a laser or a lightning bolt? No. It is a document on which is stamped the name of God. He shows it to the guardian angel, throughout the years stationed at the door of the house devoid of the saving blood. "Release," says the document. Together the angels fly away, exposing the firstborn within to the destroyer, waiting eagerly without.
The author promises to explain later why the destroyer could be limited to killing the firstborn when all the protection is gone... but I don't actually see where she does so.

I hope this illustrates the difficulty in assailing the position when one can posit such scenarios. Nevermind that God explicitly says "I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night and strike..." [Exodus 12:12]

The author derives her version of the events from Exodus 12:23, where the verbiage is a little different: "...then the Lord will pass over the door and not permit the destroyer to enter your house and smite you."

As this hypothesis is clearly spawned from a desire to make God more palatable to us (a property shared by several doctrines of Orthodoxy), it should not be too hard to show it untenable. Even given the challenges inherent to debunking such a hypothesis, the following objections leap to mind.
  • The author claims that God simply "backs off," leaving people to the realm and power of evil forces when they reject the Living God. One obvious problem with this idea is that several times the destruction was not based on the sins of the victim. For example, the individual citizens in Egypt are punished in the passage described without there being any allusion to their sin.
  • Violence is often demanded by God, which is rather different from God simplying allowing violence to take place without stopping it. Examples abound.

    • God required Israel to sacrifice animals, not all of which were sacrifices for sins

    • God required Israel to stone murderers, adulterers, etc.

    • God demanded Israel to totally annihilate certain nations they came into contact with[Deuteronomy 7:2]. Astoundingly, the author attempts to deal with this language by claiming the Israelites forced God into such choices by choosing military action. The problem with this viewpoint is that the sparse evidence given (where God tells Israel it need not use its armies[Joshua 24:11-12 is the first]) occurs after God has already decreed this destruction. Furthermore, no admonition or reproach is given to Israel the first time they do take up the sword to suggest God had another plan.[Exodus 17:8-11] It's further simply unreasoable to assume God would scrap an entire policy of non-violent conquering because Israel choose to use force in a single battle. God also directs people to battle in other prophetic messages [Jeremiah 49:28]

  • Often violence is not only demanded by God, but is clearly done by one of God's agents. This includes the "Angel of the Lord" being the specific agent who killed 185,000 Assyrians [Isaiah 37:36, 2nd Kings 19:35]. Remarkably the author mentions this as a type of "Exercise for the reader." Indicating the reader should figure out how this could really be someone else. I find it rather bizarre to envision an angel walking through the camp, having personal discussions with each of 185,000 other guardian angels so that some third-party evil spirit could come in and slaugher 185,000 soldiers, and instead the "Angel of the Lord" is given credit for the slaughter. Similarly, Nebuchadnezzar is called My servant several times and God speaks of specifically calling him to attack others [Jeremiah 25:9, Jeremiah 43:10.]
  • Often violence attributed to God in the Bible is prophetic. Given the general strength [and one would assume intelligence] of Satan and his forces, one is hard pressed to understand why they would willfully act to legitimize God by showing such prophecies to be true.
  • The author attempts to show, concomitant to God's lack of violence, that Hell is not a place of eternal suffering. To do this the author shows that the word "eternal" could be being used metaphorically given the magnitude and terror of annihilation. There is some merit in this given that the Greek word translated "eternal" in most places does not really mean "eternal." However, there is no way to get around Jude 6, where the Greek word used is actually the real word for eternal and it is not destruction that is described but imprisonment [literally "chains."]
  • In Revelation 20:15 we read "If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the Lake of Fire." My question for the author is "by whom?" Satan, Death, and Hades were already in hell...there were no more evil spirits around to blame for the "throwing." As far as I can tell, the author skips from the other wrath [the pre-judgment wrath on the earth] to the question of "how long Hell lasts," skipping this rather obvious [and some would say most troubling] vignette of God's violence.
  • In an effort to defend Christ's death, the author is forced to see Christ's words My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me as actually referring to God having forsaken Christ, a viewpoint that is far less Scriptural (for when did God really forsake the Word...and HOW could that be ontologically possible?) than seeing this as a final exhortation of encouragement as Christ quotes the first and last verses of psalm 22 [Matthew 27:46, John 19:30], essentially givng His followers one final reason to believe that Christ had fulfilled the prophecies, even those in the Psalms.
  • Contrary to the author's beliefs, the Judaic viewpoint of God's righteousness was inextricably linked to the notion of retribution and vindication. In fact, the same Hebrew word is used for both. Consider for example Isaiah 10:22, where the NASB translation [using the word "righteousness" instead of "retribution"] makes little sense. For how can "righteousness" overflow in a verse smack dab in the middle of a passage where God is referring to destroying most of Israel. Surely it is not the "righteousness" of God's people [elsewhere described as shining to the nations] for very little of Judah would survive. No, the Jewish Publication Society's translation of this, speaking of the "retribution" or ["just punishment" as described by the NET] is more accurate. The situation is shown even more starkly in Isaiah 5:23, where the KJV in particular makes no sense. In any event, given how much language there is God having retribution for sins against The Almighty, it is hard to ascribe those acts of violence as merely the acts of evil forces.
I'm sure there are more problems to be found, but the above should suffice.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Prosperity Gospel and the Bailout

An interesting story on discusses churches subscribing to the "Prosperity Gospel" in the wake of the economic situation.

Am I the only who thinks that if God wanted you to have a house, God could manage to provide it without making you go into debt for 30 years?

I find it hard to believe that the Lord of the Universe is so strapped for cash as to refer recipients of divine favor to the nearest B of A. On the other hand, I realize my "radical" view that Christians should avoid acquiring possessions so valuable as to require borrowing is not held by many.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Purpose and Beliefs

I'm new to the blog community of Christians. This, coupled with my rather bull-in-a-china-shop disposition and contrarian viewpoint could easily suggest any number of unsavory speculations regarding my motives or personal beliefs.

With that in mind, I offer here a digest of some things I believe to help any who are interested to better understand why I might be taking a given stance or making a certain point.

[Note: As described above, this is not meant to be comprehensive but rather highlight where I likely differ from what most expect in a Bible-believing Christian.]

1. I believe the central doctrine of the Christian Faith, the main purpose of all 4 gospels and the central teaching of Acts, is that Jesus is the Christ.

2. I believe the Biblical notion of "salvation" and "being saved" is not quite what Christians generally assume.

3. I believe Christians generally subscribe to a human-centered view of Christianity where Jesus and God orbit humanity. The Salvation of Humanity [whatever that means] is seen as an end in itself rather than both an end and a means to a much greater end [God's desire for a Righteous People (Malachi 3:3, Luke 3:17-18, Acts 3:26, Romans 6:4, Titus 2:14, Hebrews 9:14, 1st Peter 2:24, 2nd Peter 1:4-5, 1st John 3:4-5)]

4. I believe doctrine derived from Paul is given more importance than teachings explicitly given by Christ.

5. I believe the church confuses questioning of doctrine with attacks on the faith itself. Origen, the greatest scholar and theologian of the 2nd Century [and called The Father of Christian Theology] would not even be allowed in most conservative churches today.

6. I believe one cannot understand Jesus without understanding the struggle between Israel and God. In particular, the nature and reason for the New Covenant has to be understood in light of the failure of the first on a national rather than individual basis. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

7. I believe Christianity is simple and hard rather than complicated and easy. I believe Jesus would agree (Matthew 6:24, Matthew 7:13-14, Luke 13:24, Luke 14:26-35). However, it is only in seeing our own ends as somehow better than God's that the difficulty lies.

8. I believe there is absolutely no evidence from the Old Testament that the problem God was trying to solve through Christ was How do I let imperfect humans into heaven? I believe much can be gained by investigating what problems God does appear to wrestle with in the vast Old Testament.

"Odd" Teachings of Christ: #2

Evangelicals [and Protestants in general] believe the "Judgment" is one that none of us passes, for we have all sinned. The idea is that God must judge each of us against a standard of perfection. We all fail and are therefore destined to Hell but for the forgiveness available through Christ.

Doesn't Matthew 7:2 more or less completely contradict this idea? We cannot both be judged "as we judge others" and against the impossible standard of God's perfection.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Interesting Scriptural Find of the Day

I'm going through the Tanakh, and I found this interesting verse Jeremiah 7:22-23 .
For when I freed your fathers from the land of Egypt, I did not speak with them or command them concerning burnt offerings or sacrifice. But this is what I commanded them: Do My bidding, that I may be your God and you may be My people; walk only in the way that I enjoin upon you, that it may go well with you.

I find this an interesting observation...that the sacrificial system was not even originally a part of "The Plan" so to speak.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

5 Myths Christians Perpetuate

It's unsettling how often Christians tell each other things that simply are not true. Here are five examples of varying import.

1. Satan was an angel who fell to Earth after a cosmic failed coup against God.

It's some consolation that most conservative theologians will readily admit that the verses that are misconstrued to support this (Isaiah 14:11-14, Ezekiel 28:13-19] have nothing to do with Satan. The first referring to the King of Babylon, the second to the Kingdom of Tyre. However, even with this admittance, the idea that Satan is an "Angel gone bad" is still clasped.

The Bible does not indicate that there was ever a time when Satan was good. We are told he has been "sinning from the beginning"[1st John 3:8] and a "murderer from the beginning"(John 8:44). [Where we have to assume "murder" is used in the enlightened sense of having hatred in his heart.]

Further, the Bible never calls Satan an Angel, nor does it indicate that Satan was thrown out of heaven before the creation of man. In fact, Satan was in heaven up until the time of Christ's resurrection. [Note in Job 1:6, the angels and Satan come to present themselves in front of the Lord and Revelation 12:7-11 is about as clear as one could hope for in terms of pinning Satan's fall to a timeline.]

Christians cling to the idea that Satan is a fallen angel for two reasons...both having to do with Human philosophy. First, it is convenient to think the only categories of rational beings are God, angels, and humans. Admitting the need for something outside these neat boxes is resisted. Secondly, saying that Satan was evil from the beginning sounds too close to saying that Satan is inherently evil. Most people are okay with that idea, but not Evangelical Theologians...for that would suggest that God created something that was inherently evil. That idea does not sit well with many it is far more convenient to just say Satan is a fallen angel...even though he is never called an angel nor is it suggested that he "fell" from being a servant to God.

2. Belief in Christ is the only way to receive forgiveness of sins.

Contrary to this, the Bible gives several ways for which forgiveness of sins might be accomplished (not even counting the sacraments):

A. By forgiving others [Matthew 6:14, and elsewhere. Note this was spoken without condition to masses of people before there was even a notion of what it meant to be a "Christian."]

B. By repenting [Luke 3:3, before Jesus was even preaching.]

C. By power of the church [John 20:23, since Jesus and Stephen both asked god to forgive those ho were killing them, this certainly extends outside the realm of believers.)

D. By having another pray for you [1st john 5:16]

E. By confessing our sin [1st John 1:9, once again something that could be done without any knowledge of Christ.]

3. God never suffers a change of mind.

Christians often feel it would suggest something unsavory regarding God's omniscience should it be suggested that a change in mind occurred. It seems God has the power to do anything except change plan.

In reality, though, it is easy to find examples of this in the Bible.

An important one is switching from sons and grandsons incurring the debt of their fathers. God proclaimed an end to this in Ezekiel 18. Compare this to the story up until then when one generation of Israel could be punished until the sins of the previous generations had been offset through suffering. [A recurring idea in Isaiah, but Exodus 20:5 clearly describes the process.]

In Jeremiah 18:5-10, God goes out of the way to be as clear as possible regarding the flexibility of divine decree.

There are many other examples, but the above is the hardest to 'get around:'
  • God regrets creation of humanity Genesis 6:6
  • God plans to destroy all Israel and start over with Moses Exodus 32:14
  • Eli's family promist renounces [1st Samual 2:30]
  • Judah/Israel are told that after God delivers them, they are never to be shamed again. It appears that their lack of acceptance of Christ robbed them of that promise.
  • Judah is to be saved from Babylon after 70 years but the promise is nullified due to their lack of repentance [Daniel chapter9]
  • Christ [and Paul] give every indication that the second coming is coming very, very soon. Paul had to write a letter to the Thessalonians just to calm their fears that they had missed out. 2000 years later, we are still waiting.
I want to clarify that I'm not accusing God of breaking promises here. The covenants of God [even the New Covenant!] have understood, implicit requirements. That is why Daniel knew Judah was in danger of not receiving her deliverance. The problem for the Calvinist (but not a problem for someone with a less chiseled view on predestination) is that this point doesn't really get them out of the fire. If God knew beforehand that these promises would have to be nullified due to Israel's not repenting, then it makes God look foolish for proclaiming them in the first place.

4. Profanity is Inherently Sinful

Various verses are given to legitimize this, but none of them are particularly compelling unless you are trying to read into the Scripture this cultural idea. This is rather frustrating, as I know very serious Christians who put this as one of the top things they think of when imagining a "solid" Christian. There's no clear reason why curse words in general violate the overarching commandment of love toward God and neighbor as they are simply an artifact of human philology.

Most importantly, Paul uses profanity himself. In Philippians 3:8 the word translated "filth, rubbish, refuse, dung," etc. is really just the Greek word for "shit."

5. The Pharisees were "Legalistic"

Christians heap all manner of insults upon the Pharisees. while this is not in and of itself much different from the Gospel of Luke, the problem is that we do not criticize the Pharisees for the things they were actually doing wrong.

We paint Pharisees as people who "tried to be saved by works" or put emphasis on doing ritualistic things that are not important. We use the same term to refer to ultra-conservative Christian churches who forbid drinking, dancing, watching Hollywood movies, profanity, or voting Democrat.

This is very much a false comparison.

Christ did not take the Pharisees to task because they required people to keep the law. He attacked them for not showing the Jewish people [or realizing themselves] the greater aspect of the Law that was meant to be conveyed through the written Law.

It would have been very wrong of the Pharisees to not require the Jews to keep the Sabbath or eat only clean foods, etc. These signs of Israel's holiness [which means simply "to be set apart"] were extremely important to God. The prophets put these requirements in the same category as idolatry and murder [though with less emphasis to be sure.]

The problem is not that the Pharisees were observing or requiring these things, but rather that they were not at the same time teaching others the spiritual aspects of the law such as justice, mercy, and compassion. Matthew 23:23 describes this pretty well.

For that reason, the Pharisees should not be compared to those today who simply make up requirements or ordinances that have either no basis in Scripture or rather dubious support.

On the other hand, it is certainly not wrong to specify what is required of believers. Jesus had no qualms about doing that. He tells us that no one is worthy to be His disciple unless he or she renounces worldly possessions [Luke 14:33], and faith-not-works Paul has some rather strident points to say on church discipline [1st Corinthians 5:1-7] and the danger of sin in general [Ephesians 5:5-6].

What myths do you hear other Christians say?

Odd Teachings of Christ: #1

I believe many of Christ's teachings look "odd" when compared to the beliefs generally espoused by the Christian church. They are therefore the least likely to be discussed in church, so in the interest of equal time, I'll share them occasionally.

A comment made by Thinker on an article at Between Two Worlds got me to thinking.

How do those subscribing to Orthodox Christianity understand Luke 13:23-24 or Matthew 7:13-14, both of which suggest few people are actually saved.

How does this compare with most Christian's viewpoints on Salvation? The number of evangelicals worldwide is estimated as at least 250,000,000.


Friday, September 26, 2008

What Does "Agnostic" Mean to You?

Imagine asking one scientist (Scientist A) "Which theory do you support: Neo-Darwinism or Creationism," and the scientist said he had not come to a conclusion.

Then imagine asking another scientist (Scientist B) the same question, but she answers "The question makes no sense. Neither Neo-Darwinism nor Creationism is a scientific theory. They are historical reconstructions. Science describes how the universe in general works, not what may or may not have happened on this particular rock. We call that branch of knowledge 'history.'"

Would you consider these two answers similar?

Now, imagine asking someone (we'll call her Jessica) "Jessica, do you believe in God?" And Jessica answers "Well, I read The Case for Christ and Evidence that Demands a Verdict, but in the end I think we humans just cannot know about God or if there is one...regardless of what we might have as evidence."

Now, imagine asking someone else (will call him Kevin) "Kevin, do you believe in God?" and Kevin answers. "I haven't decided what I believe." And then you ask him what he has done to investigate the question, and he says he hasn't really done anything. He has more important things to do.

Would you consider these answers similar? I wouldn't.

People use the term "Agnostic" to refer to a wide variety of belief holdings. I personally think people who are "undecided" like to call themselves "Agnostic" because it makes them feel more lets them "fill out their profile" with something other than a question mark.

The problem is that there is already a perfectly good word for not personally having made up your mind [or not personally caring one way or the other], which is the state that many are in. We already have the term "undecided."
We don't have another good word for someone who has had a more serious introspective dialogue and come to the conclusion that such things are not knowable.

Another problem is that adhering to a religion, or even claiming the theology of atheism (which is not a religion), at least is a claim. It means affirming something. Saying you are "agnostic" in the sense of "we cannot know" is also at least a philosophical affirmation, but saying "agnostic" when you really just haven't figured it out yourself, and perhaps don't care to, is not a claim about anything.

What do you think Agnostic should mean? If people use "Agnostic" to mean "undecided," then what should we use to mean "no one can know"? We could use the terms "Strong Agnostic" and "Weak agnostic," but that seems a rather unfortunate option...especially since one says nothing at all and the other says something profound about epistemology.

Prophecies through Jewish Eyes

For anyone studying Scripture, I would suggest reading the Bible through Jewish eyes, in particular the Later Prophets. Our Christian translations are prone to bias based on the theology of the translator.

Believers Less Gullible, Study Shows

Scientist are probably upset now with mathematics, which has shown statistically in a recent secular study that Christians are far less likely, in general, to believe in unlikely phenomena.

Jesus Christ on the Economic Crisis (An Interview)

[Note: I had originally written this partially as an interview with Jesus. I had misgivings about that from the beginning and should have heeded them, for the resulting blog came out akin to an 8 year old trying to prepare an omelet and ending up with a "scramble." The substance might be the same but the presentation and style were certainly not what I want to put up for posterity. I've edited this and kept the title because I believe blogger uses the title to create the links.]

There are all sorts of sites offering to explain the economic crisis (if it is a crisis), and how it occurred. While politicians have been happy to blame the meltdown on greed, some Christian writers (perhaps in deference to their tendency to support free markets?) have shied away from that view (though some have not), blaming people who could not pay their loans (while pointing out most of those are minorities), or taking a page out of Jerry Fallwell's playbook and blaming gays, abortion, and other selected aspects of American culture.

It's funny how people always choose easy targets for blame. [What's also funny is this video on the Credit Crunch, but that's neither here nor there.] But what does blaming "greed" or one's enemies teach us? We already know greed causes problems. We already know democrats/republicans eat kittens. There's no lesson there.

I think if we asked Jesus about this, He would perhaps bring our attention to something no one is really discussing: the American Imperative to own your own house, even if it takes going into debt for 30 years to do so.

Christians should avoid debt in general, as Paul tells us in Romans 13:8 and God prohibits lending money at interest to your own countrymen, at high interest, or to the poor. Jesus might remind us that even when the Jews did have to borrow, it wasn't for anything as elective or massive an entire house [and American homes are more like mansions compared to what most people live in comfortably around the world.]

In particular, I think Jesus would call into question the appeal, allure, or motivation behind buying a house. Many people buy for stability or security so they do not have to worry about rising prices or their house being sold, etc. Going into massive debt just to stave off those concerns appears to contradict So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Perhaps a more common reason people buy is that they are told it makes more financial sense, the renting is just 'throwing money away." But in the end they almost always pay more in rent [for the same space/location, etc.] than they do to rent [when cost of ownership/maintenance] is assumed. Since when is craftiness toward money our desire?

When someone buys a home either by outright purchase or through paying more per month than rental costs, it seems they are putting interest in storing up and acquiring persona property, which goes against a vast raft of Christ's teachings:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal?

Not only does acquiring of personal possessions stop us from ministering to those God calls us to help, but our interest in possessions is a block against following Christ (So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple; For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God)

There's this idea that it is "reasonable" for us to enjoy the fruits of our labor, but I would point out the rather hard response Jesus gave to the Jew who made the "reasonable" request of asking Jesus to tell his brother to share his inheritance with him. ( Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.)

Some might call it "legalistic" to exhort fellow Christians to renounce their interest in worldly possession, perhaps even using that ultimate put-down, "legalistic." But Jesus, who was well aware of how hard His commands were would be exasperated at those people...just as He was exasperated by His own followers: Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Christian Buzzwords

"Faith in Christ"
"New Covenant"

What do these words mean to you? What do you think they mean when others say them? What are your favorite Christian Buzzwords?

Many of these terms manage to be just nebulous enough to allow Christian leaders to talk about things without saying anything in particular... or arousing questions or disagreement in their audience. [Because a questioning Christian is about as welcome as tuna salad accidentally left in your car over a 4-day weekend in July]

For example, if a leader says "Salvation only comes through Faith in Christ." Then you may or may not agree, but at least you have to work a little before you can object. What does he (likely a he, it is, after all, a church leader we are talking about) mean by "salvation"? What does he mean by"Faith in Christ"?

If he defines salvation as "goes to heaven" and defines "faith in Christ" as "Believes only Jesus can save me from Hell" (not the only options, of course, but somewhat common ones), then it'd be a lot easier to think about the question and decide if you agree or not.

For example, how does that relate to Christ's description that several ancient Jews [who certainly could never have "believed in Christ" in the way the term is being used here] will most definitely go to heaven:
I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline {at the table} with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven;
[Matthew 8:11]

And how does that statement relate to Christ's advice given to the Jewish expert in Luke 10:28. It seems to me that Christ would have said something different unless He was willfully misleading the expert.

But instead of saying what we mean, we use these vague terms to keep everything fuzzy... because fuzzy things are harder to pin down or question.

So, what's your favorite Christian Buzz word?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What is a Christian?

A lot of energy is spent by Christians trying to tell one another what a real Christian is. This is not a new phenomenon. It's eerily similar to political mouthpieces trying to say who really represents the beliefs of one party or another.

Were you to ask people What does it mean to be a Christian? or What are the minimal requirements for someone to qualify as a Christian? You could get any number of responses. Some common essential properties of being a Christian you might hear are:

A. Believes the Bible (Or some variation on in what way someone "believes the Bible.")
B. Goes to Church (For Catholics, I would enlarge this to include certain practices like eating fish on Fridays, etc.)
C. Believes "Jesus died for my sins."
D. Believes Jesus was/is God
E. Believes only Christians go to Heaven
F. Believes "You cannot make it to Heaven on your own."
G. Believes in the Resurrection
H. Is a member of my denomination
I. Believes God created the world in 6 days

(What answer would people you know give?)

It seems to me that most, if not all, the above have serious problems. For example, "E is self-referential...saying that a Christian is someone who believes that only Christians go to Heaven does nothing to define who a Christian is. If I believed I was a Christian and believed I was the only one going to Heaven, then "E" would apply to me...but yet I have done nothing to explain by that belief what it means to be a Christian.

Many of the above make no sense historically. We have to assume that the early apostles and their churches should count as "Christians," yet they did not have "The Bible," (indeed, the Church disagreed among itself for centuries as to which books belonged in the Bible and which did not) so one could hardly say that a requirement for Christianity is that you believe the Bible [though one could draw the conclusion that the Old Testament, at least, was accurate, as we see no account of Jesus suggesting otherwise.]

Similarly, the doctrine of atonement in its current state didn't even exist until the 11th century, and early believers did not have the trinitarian formulas the modern church holds so dear. Indeed, Origen, the most important Christian theologian of the 2nd century, would not even be allowed in the church today by that standard.

In addition to historical problems, significant biblical problems stand out from the above list as well. Where do we see early evangelists stressing to non-believers any of these things? If you want to see what makes a Christian a Christian, I think you should look at what the early apostles preached to non-Christians in an effort to have them join the Faith.

A study of acts can be rather revealing here. I've put together the following chart to illustrate what teachings you find in Acts regarding Christianity. I'm focusing on Acts because that is the only book where the focus is on Evangelism to non-believers and new believers.

in Acts
Jesus is
is King
Jesus will
Judge All
Repent!Believers go
to Heaven
go to Hell
2: 14-41xxx

3: 12-26xxx

4: 8-12xx

5: 30-32xxx

5: 42x

7: 1-53x

9: 22x

10: 34-43xxxx

13: 16-41xxx

14: 14-17


17: 2-4, 6-7xxx

17: 18-31

18: 5x

18: 28x

20: 20-22


22: 1-21xx

26: 1-29xx

Based on the above, I'd say that other than emphasizing the Resurrection, the church has rather struck out when it comes to defining who or what a Christian is.

It seems, at least if Paul, James, Peter, and Stephen are good sources, that a Christian is someone who has chosen to follow Christ's practices, repenting of unloving acts that God hates, and believes Jesus is the Christ (as shown by his Resurrection) who has been given power over Heaven and Earth, including the office of Judge.

While none of the above are things that most Christians would disagree with, they are also unlikely to be the first thing out of their mouths when asked What does it mean to be a Christian?

I think Christians in general do not like the idea that repentance is an absolute requirement as opposed to a goal. I would further say that merely believing Jesus is the Christ who sits in power over Heaven and Earth would strike many as "too easy," allowing too many fringe groups in. And in particular, the idea that "Christians, and only Christians, go to Heaven" is such a basic tenet to many that seeing it as not a required one just seems odd. The truth is that the word for Hell does not even show up in all of Acts. One wonders what that says about modern day evangelists and missionaries who start off their message with "Do you know where you are going when you die?"

But what do you think? What does it mean to be a Christian? Are there any passages you believe suggest there is some aspect fundamental to being a Christian that is missing from the message given by the apostles in Acts?