Category Archives: Theology Thoughts

A “Perfect” God or a “Good” God?

The concept that “God is perfect” was borrowed by the church from Greek philosophy in the 2nd and 3rd centuries as the number of non-Jewish background believers increased. During this time the followers of the Jesus were subject to various persecutions by the officials of the Roman Empire. Church leaders sought to defend the Christian faith from those who persecuted them by using the same philosophical tools their enemies were using. Hence these church leaders adopted and built upon some of concept first promoted by Plato, Aristotle and others.

The idea that the divine has to be perfect comes from Plato who argued since the gods were the best in virtue and beauty, they could not change as changing would mean that they were not the best or perfect. A few church leaders picked upon Plato’s concepts of divine perfection and connected it to the God of the Scriptures. (As a side note, it is worth noting that Plato was responding to Heraclitus who thought that everything was in a constant state of change.)

The crazy thing is that the Hebrew Old Testament does not present the Creator as being perfect and unchanging, but rather good. God is good and it is his goodness that shines through in his interactions with humanity. The Psalms are full of statements along these lines (e.g. Psalm 100:5, Psalm 86:5). 1 Chronicles 16:34 is a famous example of the goodness of God: “O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

The only verse that states that God is perfect is Matthew 5:48 where Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The context of this verse and the root meaning of the Greek word (τέλειος) translated as “perfect” allows for one to read this verse as, “You therefore must be mature, complete in moral character, as your heavenly Father is mature.”

If anything is perfect it is the ways of God (e.g. 2 Samuel 22:31, Psalm 18:30, Deuteronomy 32:4). It must be pointed out at this point that the Hebrew (תָּמִים) word translated as “perfect” in English can also mean “complete” or “whole.” Hence one could say that God’s ways are “whole, complete, blameless, without blemish.”

The focus on God’s goodness allowed the Old Testament writers to talk about the times when God changed his mind (e.g. Jeremiah 26:3, Exodus 32:14). Accordingly, under this mindset we see a good God who is willing to work with humanity in fulfilling his mission to redeem all of creation.

In saying that God changes his mind, folks will normally point to Malachi 3:6 (“I am Jehovah; I do not change”) and James 1:17 (“[God] does not vary or change like the shifting shadows.” My response would be to say that the nature of who God is does not change. He is good, he is loving, he is kind, he is merciful, and he will fulfill his promises. We do not need to worry about him giving up on us or throwing us to the side as a piece of trash as so many humans do to others.

Within Christianity there are streams of theology that are built upon the philosophical concept that God is “perfect” and “unchanging.” These traditions tend to focus on the holiness of God and how he has to keep his distance from the sinful and less-than perfect humans. To have or to be near a blemish is to have one’s perfectionism questioned, which cannot be allowed to happen because God is unchanging, holy, perfect, etc.

Other traditions use the goodness of God as their foundation. These traditions tend to see a Creator God who passionately pursues humanity even into the depths of sin so that he might redeem them. Though God is holy and blameless, he is not afraid of walking into the valley of death as he knows that sin and evil must flee from his presence.

Both groups, by the way, agree that the only way humanity is to be restored in relationship with God is through Jesus the Messiah. This is an open-handed issue that does not affect one’s position before God. Rather this is philosophical question about how we see and understand God. There have been great thinkers and awesome Jesus followers on both sides of the question of God being perfect or good.

Personally I fall on the side of focusing on the goodness of God as that is the God that I most readily see revealed in the person of Jesus. It also seems to be overwhelming view of God at display in the Old Testament. But there are those who disagree with me on this focus, and that is okay. 🙂

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (Psalms 34:8, NIV)

Normal Christian Living

Growing up on a farm with cows, dogs, chickens and goats, my brother and I were hard on our shoes, forcing my father to take us shoe shopping every few months. And every time he always reminded us of his one rule: no white shoes as they would be quickly destroyed. One day, though, I was able to talk him into allowing me to buy a pair of white tennis shoes. I promised him that I would take good care of them and make sure they stayed white. This was a lofty promise as keeping a pair of white shoes white was like keeping the sun from rising! Yet my dad, most surely out of love as he knew that I would never be able to keep my promise, bought them for me.

Sure enough, it didn’t take very long before the shoes were covered with a layer of manure and mud. Going over to the water hose, I proceeded to spray the shoes down trying to find a patch of white in the midst of the brown dirt. After what seemed like hours, I finally had a pair of white tennis shoes! Rejoicing, I went into the house where in the bright lights I realized that the shoes were still more brown than white. Sighing deeply, I went into the bathroom and grabbed an old toothbrush. Sitting down beside the bathtub, I begin to scrub each of the seams with the toothbrush, trying to recover that original whiteness. There would be times when I thought I was through only to turn the shoe over and see a piece of mud stuck in a seam or a smear of brown gunk. It took forever – or at least it seemed like forever – to clean those shoes!

The Christian walk is like that.

The Creator God made us in his image as living declarations of his rule and reign. Living in the fallen world of evil, we quickly get covered in the mud and manure of life through our own actions, the actions of others or just because we happened to be there. No matter why, Jesus climbs down into the mud with us and picks us up, washing off the mud and restoring our relationship with him. At that point we are no longer the same people we once were.

After a while, we think that we are doing pretty well – I mean, we are no longer covered in mud. Then Jesus takes us inside the house and shows us all the mud and manure stuck to the seams of our lives. These are the heart issues, the things that no one else can see. Yet, the Creator King isn’t content with only cleaning the outside, he wants to clean every area of our lives so that we can truly live. As we allow him to do this, things start getting better. No more big pieces of mud; no more lying, stealing and drunkenness. At the same time, things are also getting harder. The cleaner we get, the more we realize how far we are from perfection. Our hearts break at things that we used to ignore. In the past, it was normal to bark out a harsh comment from time to time, or allow our minds to dwell on the physical appearance of someone of the opposite sex. Now our hearts break when we so much as think about such things.

To be faithful to our King and the Scriptures, we must fully embrace both the suffering and the victory of this life. We must not break this tension no matter how hard one side or the other will pull us. On the days that we are depressed and nothing is going right, we must remind ourselves that we are new joint heirs with Jesus and new creations under the new age of life. On the days when we are tempted to think that we have conquered all of our sins and addictions, let us remind ourselves that we are in process, that the light of Jesus can, and will, reveal to us the hidden faults tucked away in our inner hearts.

When we embrace both the here and the not yet of the kingdom of God, we enter a new place of life. We gain the freedom to confess our current sins and struggles to those around us, instead of hiding behind a façade of victory passages and promises. Neither do we have to wallow in the muck of depression trying to endure the pain of this world. We have the freedom to be real. If we mess up, then we admit it and move on. As a people living between the ages, we must learn to embrace the tension of the victory and suffering, the here and not yet. In doing so, we gain the freedom to be the people of God.

An excerpt from my book, The Here and Not YetPhysical book and e-book versions available at Amazon, iTunes, and other online bookstores.

What if Jesus had implemented a system of financial accountability?

Judas Iscariot

I was reading through the Gospel According to John when the following verse jumped out at me. (sadly this is a common event for books in the Unseen University library; hence the need for quick reflexes and a sharp knife – some of the books have claws after all!)

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:4-6, NIV)

Perhaps it was because of an earlier conversation with a new church planter about the need for financial accountability or just because of the way the clouds aligned that day, but I couldn’t stop a nagging thought from moving to the forefront of my mind:

What would happened if Jesus, the Man himself, had implemented a system of financial accountability within his traveling preaching group? Why, for example, didn’t he have Matthew, a former tax collector, double check the income and expense books? Why did he full financial authority to just one man?

Close behind these questions came another group of forbidden questions:

If Jesus had set up a system of financial checks and balances, would Judas have betrayed him? As in, did Judas – whom Jesus obviously trusted – start walking towards the dark side after he found himself in a position to skim a little money without anyone knowing? Or did his conversation to the dark side happen beforehand?

If history has taught us anything, it has taught us that even the most trustworthy person can be tempted by the dark side when put into a compromising position…. Hence my thought that Judas’ journey toward betrayal started with the simple act of taking a bit of coin on the side. 😕

Though we will never know the answer to these questions, we can learn from Jesus’ mistake and create a system of financial accountability. No matter how trustworthy a person is, it is never good to have one person in total control over the groups money. Let us, therefore, use some wisdom and make sure we keep the books clean and balanced (after all The Librarian likes his books well cared for – well that and bananas).

 

Update: Sigh… it seems that the internet doesn’t like my comment that we can “learn from Jesus’ mistake.” This post isn’t an attack on Jesus’ divinity or anything like that. Making a “mistake” doesn’t mean Jesus sinned; it just means that Jesus was like us – as the author of Hebrew says – and lived through all the things that we did. I’m sure Jesus as a child make some mistakes while working in the shop with Joseph or helping his mother. Making a mistake does not mean he is any less of who he is just like me making a mistake doesn’t change who I am.

I’m sure Jesus had a reason for giving Judas full control of the money; it may have even been something that was culturally appropriate at the time. I don’t know. All I know is that in reading the text, it seems that Jesus placed his trust in the wrong person and got betrayed for that choice. God turned a bad situation into something good – as he has a tendency to do. Jesus would have been betrayed by someone at some point as John 17:12 tells us that someone was “doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”

Regardless of all this, I do believe that we can learn from what happened – hence this post. So please do not to turn this into something it is not. Thanks.

 

 

The Forgotten Story of Palestinian Christians

There are times when things that we should know about are lost in the avalanche of information that surrounds us each day. The stories of what happened to – and what is happening to – the Palestinian Christians is something that we should know more about. Sadly most of American Protestant Christianity has bought into a theological system that rejects these followers of Jesus while embracing the secular state of Israel.

Though it may not be a popular stance, I firmly believe that followers of Jesus MUST stand up for each other no matter what our ethnicity or race. As such while I don’t have a problem with existences of the nation of Israel, I do have a problem with the way they treat the Palestinian Christians – not to mention Palestinians in general.

And, yes, I understand that there are Palestinian groups who are actively fighting against Israel. And yes, I know this causes security issue. So why I’m not smart enough to know how to solve the political situation, I do know that Jesus of Nazareth said to love and bless EVERYONE – even those who are trying to kill you. As such I feel that American followers of Jesus must learn how to shift through the noise to hear the voices of our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are following Jesus.

The book Blood Brothers: The Dramatic Story of a Palestinian Christian Working for Peace in Israel by Archbishop Emeritus Dr. Elias Chacour of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church is a good starting point in learning about the history of Palestinian Christians.

Published in 1984, the book starts off with Chacour’s family getting ready to celebrate the return of the Jews in 1947 to the land. As Melkite Christians, they often prayed for their Jewish “blood brothers” and were glad to have them return to the land. Sadly the military machine of the new nation didn’t like having a group of Palestinians living near the Lebanese border, so they forcefully removed Chacour’s family and all the people of Kafr Bir’im. Later on the military will destroy all the buildings in the village in an effort to keep the people from returning. Despite losing everything, Chacour’s father modeled the forgiveness of Jesus while teaching his children what it meant to be a peacemaker.

As the book goes on, the reader learns more about Chacour’s journey with Jesus and how he became a priest. Woven throughout the book is the theme of forgiveness and understanding. This is not a book that seeks to slander the nation of Israel or the Jews who were returning to the land after War World Two. Rather it looks at the historic facts while bring to light that not all the Jews who returned to the land wanted to drive out the Palestinians. Sadly the voices of peace and love were crushed under the war machine of anger and hate.

The people of Jesus are to be peacemakers. And to be a peacemaker you have to know the history of those with whom you are trying to make peace. Hence I would recommendation reading Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers. Read it as a history lesson from a group of people hidden from American church culture and then let the message of forgiveness and peace pour out to those around you.

No Simple Answers

Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller

There is a myth that is so pervasive and widespread that most of us believe its lies without thinking. What, you may ask, is this myth? It is the myth of common sense. Or, to use different words, it is the belief that people everywhere have the ability, wisdom, and understanding to come to the same conclusion as we would or do the same thing that we would do in a given situation. After all, some things are just plain common sense. Or so the argument goes.

The problem with this chain of thought is that everyone on the planet has a different way of seeing the world. We are all unique beings with our own experiences, abilities, thoughts, and actions. Taken together, it means that there is no such thing as “common sense” as we all have our own sense of the world around us.

True, as some might say, there are some shared cultural events, precepts and beliefs. After all, societies work specifically because of shared cultural norms (i.e. attitudes and behaviors that are considered normal with a culture, such as how one is to greet each other). However I would argue that just because we might agree on broad cultural norms, this doesn’t necessarily equate to having a common sense that is shared among humanity.  The world is too large and too multifaceted for such a phenomenon.

I highlight this myth because it shows how strongly the desire is within us for simple answers. We want a simple world with simple answers to simple questions.  We desperately desire a world that is easy to understand and easy to move around in with folks who see things the same way as we do. Reality, however, isn’t so simple or nice. As C.S. Lewis once remarked, “Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect…Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.”[1]

So what should we do? If reality really is complex and strange, as it seems to be, then how do we approach things? How do we move forward through the darkness of the unknown while surrounded by paradoxes and oddities? To quote C.S. Lewis once again, the answer is to “leave behind all these boys’ philosophies – these over-simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simpler either.”[2]

Accordingly let us stop trying to reduce the complexity of this world into simple answers. Let us be honest with ourselves and others and acknowledge the complexity of the world in which we live.  And in doing so, let us also recognize the complexity and mysterious wonder of the Creator. He is not a simple being who can be described in simple terms or made to dance to the tune of our thoughts and desires. The focus of Christianity, Bishop Kallistos Ware reminds us, is not to “provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”[3]

God is God. He is beyond our thinking and understanding (e.g. Ecclesiastes 11:5, Isaiah 55:8-9, Psalm 145:3, 1 Corinthians 2:11). Try as we might, our words and simple descriptions of him will always fall short of fully capturing the wonder of who he really is. Gregory of Nyssa, a fourth century church father, put it this way: “Anyone who tries to describe the ineffable Light in language is truly a liar – not because he hates the truth, but because of the inadequacy of this description.”[4]

 

Footnotes:

[1]C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 48.

[2]C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity, 48.

[3] Kallistos Ware. The Orthodox Way (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 14.

[4] Gregory of Nyssa. On Virginity, quoted in Kallistos Ware. The Orthodox Way, 24.

Symbols of the Confederacy or Jesus?

There is a lot of talk these days about the symbols of the Confederacy. As a southern born and raised follower of Jesus, I thought I would add my voice to the conversation. As dangerous as that might be…

When talking about symbols of any kind, we must understand two very important things about them. The first is that understanding that symbols are more than the material used to create them. They bring to the surface a full range of emotions because of what they represent. As I write in my recent book, The Here and Not Yet:

Symbols are powerful. They can bring a tear to an eye, give hope to the hopeless and inspire people to go beyond themselves. They can also summon up anger, grief and rage in a blink of an eye. Symbols in and of themselves are nothing; hardly worth the cloth or paper they are made on. Yet to us humans, the right symbol could cause us to do things that we would never do on our own. Just think about the soldiers who risked their lives to raise the United States flag on Iwo Jima during War World II. On the surface their actions were crazy and not worth the blood and sweat that it took. Yet, because they raised a symbol and not just a piece of cloth, their blood and sweat was worth it.

Or to use another example, think about the symbol of two pieces of wood laid on top of each other in the shape of the letter “t”. The cross. In some parts of the world, the simple act of drawing a cross would mean certain death. Why? Is there something magical about two lines crossing each other in a certain pattern? No! The lines themselves are not the problem; the problem is in what those two lines represent. In drawing a cross, the artist is declaring that their loyalty, heart, soul, mind, and body belong to King Jesus and no one else. That cross, however simple it is drawn, tells the story about a Creator who entered into his creation so that those made in his image could be free from all evil. That is why the cross is feared in certain parts of the world. (pages 167-168)

The second thing to remember about symbols is that they mean different things to different people. And the meaning constantly changes over time. The cross, for example, started out as a symbol of the military might of the Roman Empire before becoming a symbol of Christianity. Its meaning changed yet again when Constantine painted the symbol on the shields of his army before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. And so forth and so forth.

The point of all this is that when we talk about symbols we need to keep in mind that the meaning of a symbol change depending on the culture of the viewer, the time during which the symbol is used, and the location of the symbol. An American flag, for example, flying over a public school building in Idaho will have a different meaning than the same flag flying cover a military unit in Iraq. The emotions that come to the surface while viewing that flag will also change depending on one’s culture, background, and geographical location. A school kid in Idaho looking at that flag will have a different range of emotions than a USA soldier or an Iraqi citizen.

While it is tempting to try to assign a value to the emotions experienced by each of these people (i.e. to say that the soldier’s emotions is good while the Iraqi’s emotions are bad), the followers of Jesus must resist that urge. To follow King Jesus is to give up one’s national, personal, and religious symbols in exchange for his symbols and his meanings.

This is why Paul the Apostle fought so hard against the symbols of Judaism (e.g. circumcision, the temple, kosher meals, and a physical presence in the land of Israel) some wish to imposed on the Gentile church members. To a 1st century follower of Judaism, these were the symbols that marked who was and was not a member of the people of God. They had fought and died over for years for the right to keep those symbols.

Paul, in following the way of Jesus, recognized that these symbols had to undergo a metamorphosis if the church was to truly be the people of God. The changes championed by Paul caused a lot of problems in the early church as people did not want give up their symbols, as noted in the Acts and some of Paul’s letters. Yet ultimately the Jewish followers of Jesus realized that they had to let go of their hard-fought symbols so that God could use them to change the world.

We are in a similar position.

We can hang on tight to the symbols of our youth and culture (e.g. Confederate flag, Civil War monuments, etc.) while denying the pain of our fellow sisters and brothers who experience a different set of emotions when viewing those same symbols. Or we can follow the path of humanity as modeled by Jesus, Paul, and the early church in letting go of the symbols of our youth so that we can fully embrace our sisters and brothers as a new community born out of a love for Jesus.

Pride or humility.

It really is that simple.

Kingdom Theology and the End of the End

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Though I wrote a book about eschatology, I didn’t actually address the end of the end. I did this on purpose as I believe it is more important to focus on how we are to live life rather than speculating about the end of the end. However, with that said, I do realize that the manner in which one feels the end of the end is going to come does affect how one views life right now. Accordingly I have decided to briefly summarize the four major end of the end viewpoints along with how they fit or don’t fit with the enacted inaugurated eschatology of Kingdom Theology.

However before we get into the different views, I would like to underscore the fact that the Scriptures are largely silent about how the end of the end is going to happen. In fact, the four views we will be looking at shortly are largely the result of a debate about one (1) verse in Revelation 20:2!!! That is right, one verse in the most cryptic and obscured book in the Bible – a book that was largely, I must state, ignored in the early church and almost didn’t make it into the canon.

I call these facts out ahead of time as I want everyone to know that they will find God-fearing Jesus loving bible scholars on all sides of this issues holding a sundry of Scriptures to support their view. How one views Revelation 20:2 depends a lot on where you start your journey from. Hence tread lightly and ponder not only the end time view but how you got there and the results of said position.

The Four Major Views in Historical Order

  • Amillennialism – started in 1st century
  • Classic Premillennialism – started in 1st century
  • Postmillennialism  – earliest date is in the mid-17th century
  • Dispensational Premillennialism – created by John Darby in the 1830s

A Brief Summary of Each View

Amillennialism

Summary

Amillennialism is the belief that Jesus’ rule and reign began with is death, resurrection, and ascension with the strong man (i.e. satan) being bound at that time. As such, there isn’t a separate 1,000 year reign or “kingdom” that is to come sometime in the future.

History

This view is one of the oldest views of the end of the end along with classic premillennialism (see below). The Second Ecumenical Council in 381 AD declared amillennialism as the official view of the church with the line “whose kingdom shall have no end” being added to the Nicene Creed. Hence to believe in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is to believe in amillennialism; though a lot of Protestant will say they follow the creed without realizing the history of this line. The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Churches all hold to this view. Dr. Sam Storms’ (a Charismatic Calvinist theologian and pastor) book Kingdom Come is a good resource on the topic.

Kingdom Theology

Amillennialism fits perfectly with Kingdom Theology as both agree that good and bad will coexists in the world until Jesus comes back. This view, by the way, doesn’t require a tribulation as premillennialism does in both its forms (classic and dispensational). This allows proponents to work towards fighting injustice right now with the goal of having a better tomorrow.


Classic Premillennialism

Summary

This view believes that after Jesus comes back he will rule the earth for 1,000 years before having one last knock out fight with satan. The renewal of the heaven and earth will follow this earthly rule. Classic premillennialism also tends to include a period of tribulation before Jesus’ coming with the rapture happening at the same time as Jesus’ return.

History

This view grew up in the early church with amillennialism before being declared a heresy in 381 AD at the Second Ecumenical Council (see amillennialism above). The Protestant reformation’s deny of the church creeds and councils allowed it to come back in vogue.  A lot of the older Protestant churches still hold to this view of the end of the end. George E. Ladd, who influence on Kingdom Theology cannot be understated, was a big proponent of classic premillennialism.

Kingdom Theology

Inaugurated eschatology fits okay with classic premillennialism as long as the proponent allows for God’s rule and reign to break into this current age. If they say that Jesus’ rule and reign is limited to the 1,000 year millennialism, then there’s a breakdown of compatibility.  Classic premillennialism can (but not always) lead to a ‘it’s all going to burn’ mindset which can cause problems with folks fighting injustice and sin in the here and now.


Postmillennialism

Summary

Postmillennialism holds that Jesus tasked the church with fighting injustice. As such, it is the church’s job to set things right (sometimes with Jesus help and sometimes without). Once the majority (or all) of the world’s population have decided to follow Jesus, then he will come back and establish his rule and reign on earth. Since the church must complete their task before Jesus can return, proponents are dedicated to spreading the good news of Jesus and fighting injustice.

History

The first record of this view point can be found in the Savoy Declaration of 1658 in Protestant England (i.e. it is a modification of the Westminster Confession of Faith). The Age of Enlightenment helped spread the viewpoint as people thought that science, technology, and logic would solve all the world’s problems. While the great wars of the 20th century diminished this viewpoint, it is still out there. Dr. Jonathan Welton, for example, is a modern day Pentecostal/Charismatic teacher who promotes the concept through is books about the “ever advancing kingdom.”

Kingdom Theology

Postmillennialism does not fit well with Kingdom Theology as it relies on a realized eschatology foundation that is at odds with the inaugurated eschatology of Kingdom Theology.  Realized eschatology, for those who don’t know, is the belief that all the promises of the kingdom of God are available to believers today. All that is needed is for the believer to step out in faith, prayer, or some other action and take domination back from the evil one. Because the church has full access to things of the new age, the church can complete their mission – or so this mindset goes. Kingdom Theology, on the other hand, see the church as working with Jesus on his mission while good and bad coexists together until the end of the end with Jesus sets things right.


Dispensational Premillennialism

Summary

Dispensational premillennialism is similar to classic premillennialism with some very important changes. Namely, dispensationalism draws a hard line between the people of Israel (i.e. ethnic Jews) and the primarily non-Jewish church of the modern era. At the end of the end, the Lord will remove the church (sometimes just the non-Jewish followers, sometimes all believes at the time) via the rapture before kicking off a seven year end time period. During this seven years, the Jewish temple will be restored with animal sacrifices, priests, etc. as the fulfillment of various Old Testament promises. Jesus will return after this seven year time period and set up a 1,000 reign on earth with the last judgment happening after this millennial kingdom.

History

This is the youngest of the four major views with a start date in the 1830’s. John Darby, a Plymouth Brethren pastor in Ireland, is credited with starting dispensational premillennialism though it was made popular in the USA by Cyrus Scofield and Dwight Moody. Dispensationalism is currently the most popular end time view among USA Protestants as seen by the success of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind series and the influence of Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Plant Earth.

Kingdom Theology

Kingdom Theology and dispensational premillennialism are at odds with each other on a lot of major theological issues. Kingdom Theology, for example, states that there is only, and has always been, just one people of God who are joined to God through grace and faith and not ethnicity. The various dispensations or ages proposed by dispensational proponent also do not fit well with Kingdom Theology (i.e. historically dispensationalism lent itself to cessationism, though this view has been dropped by more recent progressive dispensationalists).

My Current Understanding

In the absence of clear Scriptural evidence I tend to look backwards to history when considering theological positions. As in, what has the church through the ages thought about the issue at hand? Does that viewpoint draw people to Jesus? Does it promote grace, love, peace, and the other fruits of the spirit? Does it help me make sense of this current world and my experiences therein?

Based upon those questions I have largely adopted amillennialism though there are days when I flirt with classic premillennialism. My adoption of amillennialism represents a huge shift in my thinking as my youth and early adult years was spent learning dispensational premillennialism. However the more I studied the issue the more I released that I could no longer support that position…hence my shift towards amillennialism.

This, like I mentioned at the beginning, does not mean that I’m “correct” and other people are “wrong.” Rather it just means that we approach things differently. At the end of the day I’m a firm believer in the fact that Jesus has followers in many different theological camps. We are to follow the example of Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector in laying down our personal views and support each other in following Jesus.

Blessings on your journey with Jesus.

Learning to Embrace Doubt

Barna Group released a study yesterday stating that the majority of Christians have either doubted their faith or are currently doubting their faith.  40% said they worked through doubt at some point in their journey while 26% of those surveyed said they still experience doubt. Only 35% said they never doubted the faith.

The authors of the study went on to explore what happens to those who doubt (i.e. who do they talk to, what do they do, etc.) before coming to the conclusion that “doubt is a catalyst to spiritual growth.” Hence their suggestion for “lead pastors and spiritual mentors to view seasons of spiritual doubt in their constituents as fertile soil—not as dangerous ground.”

I would have to agree with this conclusion as I feel that followers of Jesus should learn how to embrace doubt and unanswered questions rather than seeking to move past them. To quote a previous post:

It may sound strange in a society of answers, but not knowing can actually do more to free your soul than all the answers in the world. Learning to be conformable with unanswered questions means living a life of trust. We trust Jesus with our concerns and questions. We trust the Holy Spirit to guide and direct ourselves and those around us. We trust the Father with the future and what might or might not happen.

Trusting Jesus. What a novel concept… yet it something we in the Western world don’t do very good. Rather than trusting an invisible, perhaps-distance spirit who may or may not be real, we like trusting in our understanding of the Scriptures. The Scriptures, after all, can be touched, read, seen, and studied.

Even those who focus on experiencing God fail to truly trust him with unanswered questions as they bounce from spiritual high to spiritual high. If I can only experience him then my doubt will be gone… or so the thinking goes.

So, you may ask, how do we learn to live with unanswered questions?

In my newest book, The Mystery, the Way, and the Journey: Embracing the tension of the unknown (currently in process), I talk about rediscovering three fence posts that point us forward into the darkness of the unknown:

  • The written Scriptures as viewed through the incarnation of Jesus (i.e. Jesus is true God of true God so let us look to him when reading the Old and New Testaments.)
  • The community of believers who have followed Jesus throughout the ages (i.e. not only those around us today, but those who have gone on ahead of us)
  • The Holy Spirit who is the corner post holding everything together (i.e. when all else is lost, the Spirit remains)

Following these fences posts into the darkness while embracing doubt and unanswered questions is to be honest with ourselves in acknowledging the complexity of the world in which we live.  And in doing so, we are also recognizing the complexity and mysterious wonder of the Creator God.

He is not a simple being who can be described in simple terms or made to dance to the tune of our thoughts and desires. The focus of Christianity, Bishop Kallistos Ware reminds us, is not to “provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder” (The Orthodox Way)

Dionysius the Areopagite said it best in the 5th or 6th century:

Unto this Darkness which is beyond Light we pray that we may come, and may attain unto vision through the loss of sight and knowledge, and that in ceasing thus to see or to know we may learn to know that which is beyond all perception and understanding.

Allegiance to the King

Every morning at 8:30 am during the school year my son lines up with his school mates to recite three pledges before starting the day. They start by reciting the Pledge to the American Flag[1] before moving on to the Pledge to the Christian Flag[2] and the Pledge to the Bible.[3] Though these young students may not realize the full impact of their words, they are declaring their loyalty to the nation they live in (i.e. United States of America), their religion (i.e. Christianity), and their holy book (i.e. the Bible).

I would wager a guess that there are millions of people around the world reciting similar pledges.  They may even recite these pledges in the same order – giving allegiance first to their nation (e.g. USA, India, China, Israel, Russia, Canada, etc.), then to their religion (e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hindu, Wicca, Atheism, etc.), and finally to their holy writings (e.g. Bible, Koran, Tripitaka, Vedas, etc.). I would further guess that most of these people, Jesus followers include, don’t even think twice about the pledges they are reciting. After all, it is normal to love the nation you live in, the religion you follow, and the holy writings you read.

Yet, if I may vocalize a nagging question in the back of my head, should a follower of Jesus pledge their loyalty and allegiance to a nation, religion or holy book? And if so, should we be concerned about the order in which we pledge our allegiance? Say, instead of pledging our loyalty to our nation first, maybe we should pledge our allegiance to our religion, our holy writings and then to our nation….or should we just stop saying the pledges all together?

Jesus followers throughout history have come to different conclusions concerning those questions. They are not easy questions to answer as they have wide ranging implications on how we live our lives and how we interact with the world around us. For my part, I go back and forth between saying all three pledges, saying some of them, and not saying them at all. My country, religion, and holy writings have all impacted my life to a degree that words cannot fully express. Yet despite of my love for all three, there is a war deep inside of me for I know how my love for my nation, religion, and holy writings can, and does, compete for my love for Jesus.  And that concerns me.

Loving Jesus

I was first introduced to Jesus by my parents who met him from their parents who likewise met the King through the influence of their parents. I remember early morning livestock feedings on the farm with my father talking about Creator or times under the hood of a vehicle talking about doing all things unto the King. There were also times of talking with my mother about the strange and odd verses in the Scriptures that didn’t seem to make sense.  Though some might think that this genealogy would lead to a lackluster religion more concerned about keeping tradition than knowing the person of Jesus, that was not the case for me. Somehow my parents had managed to escape the religiosity and skepticism of the day even while feeling the pain and disappointment that often leaks out from under the rotting corpses of white washed tombs. And in doing so they taught me to love Jesus and watch for his presence in all areas of life.

These early lessons of seeing past the trappings of life to find Jesus helped me navigate the “witch’s brew of politics, cultural conflict, moralism, and religious meanness that seems so closely connected with those who count themselves the specials friends of Jesus.”[4] While sad, history has shown that there has always been people who have used Jesus to support their own political and religious agendas. This is especially true for those in power in the United States of America, to the point that to “millions of people around the world, Jesus Christ is synonymous with Western society and America.”[5]

Jesus, however, is actively challenging the counterfeit kingdoms that have been built up under his name.[6] To use a modern legal analogy, Jesus can be said to have proprietary rights over his brand name and image. [7] He, therefore, has the legal right to challenge all those who are infringing upon his brand. After all, Jesus did not and does not “endorse any other way, any other moral code except his own. Jesus was [and is] exclusively the Way.”[8]

You will not find a greater help than Jesus in all your life…Let your soul, then, trust in Christ, let it call on Him and never fear; for it fights, not alone, but with the aid of a mighty King, Jesus Christ, Creator of all that is, both bodiless and embodied, visible and invisible. –-St. Hesychios the Priest[9]

 

 

Footnotes

[1] Pledge to the American Flag – “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

[2] Pledge to the Christian Flag – “I pledge allegiance to the Christian Flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again with life and liberty to all who believe.”

[3] Pledge to the Bible – “I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word, I will make it a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path and will hide its words in my heart that I might not sin against God.”

[4] Ken Wilson. Jesus Brand Spirituality: He Wants His Religion Back (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 1.

[5] Carl Medearis. Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism (Colorado Spring, Colorado: David C. Cook, 2011), 61.

[6] Additional information on the different types of counterfeit kingdoms challenged by Jesus can be found in chapter seven and nine of my previous book, The Here and Not Yet (Vineyard International Publishing, 2017)

[7] Ken Wilson. Jesus Brand Spirituality, 5-6.

[8] Carl Medearis. Speaking of Jesus, 155.

[9] Hesychios the Priest. “On Watchfulness and Holiness,” in The Philokalia: The Complete Text Volume 1, comp. St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, trans. and ed. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1983), 169.

Questions  

“Questions” from xkcd.com

There is something odd about questions. The simple act of forming a question causes us to rethink the world. It forces us to put into words that which doesn’t seem right to us. Asking a question is giving life to that nagging feeling in the back of your head. Once it has been ask – whether verbally or silently in one’s own mind – that question takes on a life of its own. No longer is it a silent concept bouncing around in the background of one’s life. Now it is a fly buzzing around in front of you, causing you to stop what you are doing and pay attention to the issue of its choice. 

Answers, on the other hand, are things of finality. Once an answer has been given, the question is laid to rest, no longer able to move around like it once did. You might even say that answers are made of lead as they tend to crush all that they touch. It doesn’t really matter what the answer is, whether it is a “right” or a “wrong” answer. Truth really doesn’t matter to an answer. No, the only thing that matters to an answer is that the question fly has been swatted and thrown into the trash as if it never was there.

The problem is that some flies are hard to kill. Rather than going softly into the night beyond, they arise from the darkness when least expected. Those questions are the hard ones. They are the ones that force the world to dance to their tune. They are the questions of questions. The ones that have no answer and, as such, become an answer in and of themselves.

When this happens, you know that you have stumbled upon something worthy of pursuing. It may sound strange in a society of answers, but not knowing can actually do more to free your soul than all the answers in the world. Learning to be conformable with unanswered questions means living a life of trust. We trust Jesus with our concerns and questions. We trust the Holy Spirit to guide and direct ourselves and those around us. We trust the Father with the future and what might or might not happen.

I understand that this might scare some of you as you are unsure if you can trust Jesus, the Spirit or God the Father. You have been hurt one too many times. I hear you as I’ve been there myself. Sometimes it is hard to trust the Creator. And that is okay. Part of being conformable with questions is embracing the doubt that comes with unanswered questions. Though I’ve heard otherwise, I firmly believe that God isn’t afraid of our doubts or questions. I can see Joseph the son of Jacob sitting in prison wondering if he really had a vision of folks bowing down to him (Genesis 37-40). I can see the prophet Jeremiah sitting in the mud at the bottom of the well with his knees up to his chest while waves of emotions swept over him (Jeremiah 38:1-13).

Doubt and questions are common to all humans. Rather than denying that we have such emotions, I believe we should embrace them. Let’s own them and be real with ourselves and those around us. When we do that, when we speak them out…well, that is when we find freedom as we find that there are others around us with the same questions and doubts. We are not alone; there are others walking this path with us, before us, and after us. Together we can follow the words of Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, in being “merciful to those who doubt” while building ourselves up in our faith by praying in the Holy Spirit and remembering the stories of old (Jude 20-23, NIV).

Joseph, for example, eventually was released from prison with his dream coming true. Jeremiah was pulled out from the well by those who believed and trusted him.  Perhaps this is why the Scriptures tell us to continue in our fellowship with others even though it may be painful (Hebrews 10:23-25). We need each other to remind ourselves of the faithfulness of Jesus throughout the ages. We need to tell the stories of how Jesus moved through his people in spite of their doubts and unanswered questions.