Category Archives: Theology Thoughts

Partisanship Splits Americans' Views on the Environment

Hmm.. Yeah?! Did you really need a poll to tell you that?

Apparently they did as YouGov/Polimetrix just finished a nationally representative survey for the Economist. I thought some of the graphs where interesting, so I copied them for your viewing pleasure (or displeasure). Wink

What do you think is the most important environmental problem facing the world today?

Partisanship Splits Americans' Views on the Environment graphs

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The partisan split was again clear in the perceived seriousness of global warming. How serious a problem do you think global warming is?

Partisanship Splits Americans' Views on the Environment graphs

My thoughts:

I think it's a shame to see such a partisans divide when it comes to the environment. It's almost like the political parties are dictating science to the people. Frown

Some times to be Biblical consistent, you have to be political inconsistent.

Resurrection and Creation Care

Rarely do I post fully articles as they tend to be long and have that nasty copyright issue attached… However, today I have decided to post an article or, one might say, essay about Easter and Creation Care.

While I know that some of you will not agree with Brandon Rhodes views on creation care, he does provide a good view of how some of the ideas of Gnosticism and Platonic Dualism (to be defined in the essay) have sipped into modern Christianity. Hopefully each reader will be able to walk away from this post knowing a little more about how these early heresies are making a comeback.


Resurrection and Creation Care
How Plato Has Hoodwinked Hope and Eviscerated Easter
By Brandon Rhodes
 
Originally Published by Restoring Eden

Easter is about unbridled hope. But I never really got the holiday, about what Easter had to do with the future. Like many Christians, I grew up very confused about hope, and so also about Easter.

Best as I ever heard, the Christian hopes that he or she will go to heaven after they die, and they can do this because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Heaven is really where it’s at, where our home is. This world’s not our home, after all – or so I heard in Sunday School. “I’m just travelin’ through this world, in this life,” I’d hear many say. And at a funeral, death was sanitized as the departed “going home”. This life was just training ground, went the conventional wisdom, for heaven. What happened on Earth, or to the Earth, was of only marginal consequence.

But there was another aspect to this hope – that one day Jesus would come again and judge everyone. We’d all be resurrected, and he’d take us to heaven. It’s the very stuff of that much-loved hymn, “I’ll fly away, oh glory, I’ll fly away.” Death is talked about as a welcomed doorway to escape the jail of this world and flesh, and arrive home on God’s celestial shore.[@more@]

What was lost to me in all this was quite why Jesus would come again, only to take us away. And what would become of the rest of creation? Do our souls get vacuumed out of it and into heaven just as God crumbles it up and throws it into the trash bin? I couldn’t figure out, either, where to put that talk in scripture of “new heavens and new earth” – is this just fancy talk of heaven, or something more? And why would Jesus teach us to pray for heaven to come to earth, if we were only going to heaven in the end anyway? Jesus must have been terribly confused!

Moreover, I couldn’t square this “creation-as-prison” hope with the dozens of clear biblical teachings that creation is good, is to be tended, and will in the end be healed. The gap between this escapist hope and the command of creation care has felt wide indeed.

This is the conventional hope of millions of Christians. But it’s not the hope of the Bible.

This view of escaping creation, of what author Paul Metzger calls “rapture and retreat”, is often pinned on to dispensational theology. It’s the theology popularized in the Left Behind books, and supports the end-times fervor latent in many American evangelicals, whether they’ve heard of dispensationalism or not. I regularly see it blamed for the “it’s all gonna burn anyway” excuse so often used in Christianity to escape ecological responsibility. And indeed, some blame may be appropriate here.

But I won’t settle for the usual lambaste against one school of theology, of smugly poking fun at all those end-timers and letting that be that. We’ve been reading escapism into the Bible for far longer than dispensationalism has been around. The roots of our ambiguous hope go much, much deeper.

It is time for a court summons for these villainous roots, and a presentation of the true Christian hope, that we may again celebrate Easter for all it’s worth. These deep roots have strangled our task as God’s stewards, and have made Easter into a magic trick in the shadow of the cross, rather than God’s emphatic ‘Yes!’ to His good world.

Our culprits now dragged into the courtroom are Platonic Dualism, and its pseudo-Christian partner, Gnosticism. As Westerners, we instinctively read the Bible through the first, and subsequently, for all our creedal vehemence against it, functionally fall into the deceitful morass of the second. Let’s get some brief definitions on the table.

Platonic Dualism is the view that this world is fundamentally bad, and that spiritual things are good. Our bodies are cages, prisons that keep us from the bright light of a disembodied bliss with the divine. Various branches of this physical/nonphysical dualism emphasize different things. To some, it means that the philosophical or contemplative life is best. To others, what we do in the body is of minimal moral importance. And to most dualists, death is a welcome doorway to heaven, God, freedom, nirvana, or whatever. The dead will never rise, and why in the world should we hope for that anyhow, if the spiritual world we’re freed to is home?

We see creeping tendrils of this all over Christianity, as stated above. Heaven is our afterlife, to the dualistic Christian, and creation is something we’ll never have to return to, thank goodness. To borrow from a popular movie, death becomes the welcome liberator which frees our minds and souls from the Matrix of this putrid place. The gospel becomes about only going to heaven after we die, instead of receiving and sharing the life of heaven on earth before we die, much less still anticipating a God-healed world. Judgment isn’t God’s loving setting-things-aright, but a wrathful destruction. And the future is God’s final dissolution of Earth. Trees and caribou, salmon and wild places, weather patterns and springtime blossoms – none of these have a stake in the dualist’s hope. And why, then, should the dualistic Christian want to care for any of it?

Gnosticism was the explicit celebration of this dualistic theology to its uttermost extremes. It was an early heresy soon stamped out by the early church fathers. I grew up hearing that Gnosticism’s great sin was its denial of Christ’s full humanity, which then shredded the meaning of the atonement. While true, Gnosticism’s root sin goes deeper: it denies the goodness of the creation, and so denies the goodness of the Creator God. They believed that the world was made by a bad god, and so was also bad, a prison for our immortal souls; the good god revealed in their vision of Jesus taught us the gnosis, the mysterious way of inward contemplation and emancipation from creation. This led to moral laxness, a ‘prayer closet’ spirituality of inward-bent mysticism, and acquiescence to the Roman Empire’s cruelties. Easter was spiritualized, bodily resurrection denied. Escape was the new hope.

Most pastors and theologians today would veheme
ntly deny and combat any latter-day Gnostic movement. Indeed they have: apologetics against the DaVinci Code and the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Judas attest to the biblical Christian’s continuing rigor against this ancient heresy.

Yet its dualistic impulses continue to throb in various parts of the American church, as if we’ve denied Gnosticism in name only. Its dualism can continue unchecked in our lives and theologies, so long as it goes by any other name.

“God only cares about your heart” is but one of many oft-said evidences of Gnosticism’s continued creep into Christianity. Embedded within that saying is the assumption that the inside is better than the outside, that the spiritual and the physical do not go hand-in-hand, but can be neatly severed and excluded from one another. What we do with our hands, the semi-Gnostic logic of this goes, is irrelevant so long as our hearts are warm. This can lead to moral collapse regarding sexuality, war, economics, and of course creation care. While God cares deeply about the heart, it should be understood as the lotus of His solution to rescuing all of creation. God’s loving renewal of our hearts is an outworking of the power that raised Jesus from the dead, on the one hand, and so is a microcosm of what God will one day likewise do for the whole world, on the other. God cares so much about our hearts precisely because its renewal enables us to get on with being his new humanity in His new creation, His kingdom agents, firstfruits not of the Pie-In-The-Sky By-And-By, but of God’s good creation at last healed of its bondage to sin, decay, and death.

But I have gotten ahead of myself. Pardon that intrusion of the future.

We turn now to the hope of the New Testament, the Easter hope we will celebrate this Sunday: God’s bodily raising Jesus from the dead. If you want to know what the future will be like, scripture insists, look to the risen Lord. He is the shape of our hope. What God did to Jesus, He will also one day do to all people. But the hope doesn’t stop there, only for humans – all of creation will similarly experience its own resurrection! Romans 8 says that all of creation is groaning for this to happen – it’s bristling with anticipation of the day when its redemption and ours will come in full. It’s not waiting for the dualist’s hope, to itself be discarded as our spirits are uploaded to heaven. That’s no hope at all!

Consider the final picture in Revelation. It is one of heaven and earth coming together, the New Jerusalem coming down to Earth and both being mutually renewed. The angel cries “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4) This is a rapture in reverse: God peels away the grit of pollution and sin, and fills all of creation with His glory. Eden is restored, globally!

And the life of that age is what we find in the risen Jesus. Here is one who is fully physical, made of the same substance that was exhausted on Calvary, but which seems freed of decay and curse. Recognizable yet hard to recognize, radiant yet plain: the risen Jesus defied how we understand creation at all! Expert theologian on this topic N.T. Wright says that the first apostles were struggling to even create language to describe what they met in Him. Here was the presence of the future in the flesh of the risen Lord – a startling, exciting, hope-inciting snapshot of God’s intentions for the world.

Like the ancient frost of curse melting across C.S. Lewis’ Narnia as its false ruler is cast down, so also on Easter we see the long winter of sin and death crackling under Christ’s warmth – the springtime is here, assuring us that the summer of new heavens and new earth are on the way. The climate has indeed changed, and God’s own global warming is on the loose, melting our sins and idols constantly. Just as the dualist finds himself freed from creation and now in heaven, Easter shows heaven healingly burst upon an aching Earth! Better than life after death, in Wright’s word, is life after life after death: resurrection in a restored creation.

An Easter-shaped hope is not God’s throwing creation into the rubbish bin, nor the recycling bin (tempting as that metaphor may be)! No: on this Sunday we celebrate that God’s creation is indeed good, and His mission to heal it has been launched. Creation has been held captive by mutinous powers and humans for a long time, but God’s rescue operation to make it His home was decisively won on Good Friday and launched on Easter. This world is our home, and God’s too, if we are to take Revelation’s curtain-call seriously.

On Good Friday, may we meditate on Jesus taking on the pains of the world, of our sin and creation’s failed bearing of it. And Jesus bears what all creation cannot. He ached for extinct species, for clear-cut forests, for polluted rivers and smog-poisoned children. And it killed him: our exhaust, in effect, exhausting itself on him.

Easter, then, is God’s victory over it all. Where once were sad memories of extinct critters, God invites us to imagine new possibilities of animal care. The old world of oceanic dead zones are replaced with restored zones of life. The reality of the risen Lord Jesus lights up the world with God’s glorious Yes! May we this Easter give thanks to God that in Jesus we may join all of creation in this sure and steadfast hope.

Further Reading: Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright, 2008.

Animism or Traditional Religions

Last night as part of the DIA class I talked a bit about Animism – since I had the notes typed out, I figured I would share them with you all. Enjoy. Laughing
Animism
or Traditional Religions

Defined:

“The term ‘animism’ comes from the Latin world anima, which means ‘soul’ or ‘breath’. As such it refers to that which empowers or gives life to something. It follows, then, that animism is the religion that sees the physical world as interpenetrated by spiritual forces – both personal and impersonal – to the extent that objects carry spiritual significance and events have spiritual causes”. – Dean C. Halverson, The Compact Guide to World Religions

Why understand animism? It is….

  • the form of religion to which people gravitate
  • popular because it infuses the sacred into a reality that has been emptied of anything spiritual by the scientific / evolutionary perspective
  • offers a way for people to deal with everyday problems

[@more@]The Ultimate / Immediate Division

  • Ultimate – who is God, what is humanity’s problem, what happens after death
  • Immediate – everyday issues such as illness, loss of job, find a mate, restore relationships

Different parts of Animism

  • Necrolatry (the worship of the dead)
    • reverence for a departed ancestor
    • fear that the departed with harm or haunt the living
  • Spirit Worship
    • The existence of personal spirits/demons as well as impersonal spiritual forces in nature (commonly called mana)
    • Shamanism
      • a shaman, priest or witch doctor who knows all the proper sacrifices and rituals designed to calm the spirits
    • Magic
      • rituals designed to control an impersonal spirit for good or bad
    • Fetishism
      • charms, amulets, or fetishes
  • Naturism
    • The personifications and worship of the forces of nature
    • Rituals tend to focus on fertility (both in agriculture and human reproduction
    • Totemism
      • the unity of the clan or people with a sacred plant or animal

Four characteristics as suggested by William Paton:

  1. The whole of life is pervaded with fear
  2. The absence of love and consolation from his religion
  3. There are no absolutes of morality
  4. The lack of relationship with God causes a fatalistic attitude since all the events of life are predetermined and controlled by nature or demons

Suggestions for Evangelism

  1. Be sensitive to the animist perspective
  2. Be aware of the influence of Secularistic thinking in our lives
  3. Find common ground
  4. Highlight the differences
  5. Model trust in God alone
  6. Be ready for God to work in mighty ways
  7. Turn their heart towards desiring a relationship with God
  8. Address their fears
  9. Be clear about who Christ is and who we are in Him
  10. Point out the deceptive nature of the spirits

Sources:

Halverson, Dean C. The Compact Guide to World Religions. Bethany House Publishers; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. 1996. pages 35-53

Olson, C. Gordon. What In The World Is God Doing? The Essentials of Global Missions: An Introductory Guide. Global Gospel Publishers; Ceder Knolls, NJ, USA. 2003. pages 183-186

Additional Resources:

Corduan, Winfried. Neighboring Faiths: A Christian Introduction to World Religions. InterVarsity Press; Downers Grove, Illinois, USA. 1998. pages 135-188

Amos

“Christianity is essentially a religion of belief in the coming of the Kingdom of God. It begins with the message preached by John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2). It was with the same preaching that Jesus came forward in Galilee after the imprisonment of the Baptist (Mt 4:12,17).”

Thus Albert Schweitzer's The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity begins.

In order to understand the Christian view of the Kingdom of God, we must go back to the Jewish view of the Day of Yahweh. The original idea of the Day of Yahweh was that God would execute judgment on the nations whom fought against the people of Israel.

Amos challenged this picture:[@more@]

“God's judgement would be executed not only upon the enemies of his people but upon the people itself as well. Because Yahweh is an ethical God, to show himself as such he must execute judgement upon all peoples, including the people which belongs to him in a spical way, and the verdict would be based solely on the good or evil of their deeds.”

“In these tremendous utterances (Amos 3:2; 5:18, 20-24; 5:14; 7:17; 9:8-10, 11, 15) the knowledge of the completely ethical personality of God is for the first time made known, and it follows that ethical thought and action along give the right to a place in the coming Kingdom of God.”

“Elijah and Elisha were zealous for the purity of worship of Yahweh. For Amos the cultus no longer has any meaning. It does not create any relationship between man and God; only moral action does this. The culic reverence for Yahweh demanded by his two forerunners turns in Amos into an ethical reverence. The change means a spiritualization of religion which has never since been lost.”

Wow! This could not of come at a better time…. last night in our Bible study, I had a disagreement whether or not the 'true' Israel was one of blood or faith. To hear Schweitzer echo the words of my heart that God's people are tied together by a common faith in Him – not by dna – was refreshing.

Adding to this refreshing view is a verse God gave me from Amos about a month ago… at the time, I did not see Amos in this light. Now I will have to go back and re-read Amos in the light of the Kingdom.

Gloria al Dios

Dreams or "The Year of the Goose: Part II"

Do you ever wonder why God gives us dreams? I'm not talking about the "dreams" one has while asleep – I'm referring to those "dreams" concerning the future. Dreams about your life; your goals; your life focus. Sometimes I wonder if I heard Him correctly… Other times, I'm dead certain that I'm doing exactly what Him said to do. It's a strange place to live – between two opposite poles, trying hard not to lose your balance.

We are in a new year – 2008.

2008 – wow, it has been 10.5 years since that day I pledged my allegiance to the ultimate Master. Sitting here, writing this post, my heart goes back to July 19, 1997 at 4:30 pm on the steps of the National Museum in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was at that time, on that day, that the Man from Galilee showed me how real He was and is.

I will never forget the look of that young man's face as he looked at me with tears in his eyes. His words echo through my ears day in and day out: "I feel something now". This man felt the presence of the Kingdom where a minute earlier he confessed his hollow soul.

The Kingdom. It is here today and yet It is not. We are to walk each day as it's the last.

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Did you ever wonder about Jesus story of the Pearl of Great Price? Why was it that a man went out and sold all he had to buy a single pearl? It never made sense to me. If the pearl cost the same as all his belongings, why buy it? You're not making a profit? In fact, all you're doing is tying up all your resources into one item – an item that could be stolen or lost.

If the Kingdom of Heaven is the rule and reign of the One Mighty Lord, Creator of Heaven and Earth. If the Kingdom of Heaven is all that Isaiah said it was. If it really is what Jesus demonstrate – that the lame will walk, those in bondage will be set free, the dead shall live, leapers will be cleaned and the oil of gladness will be given instead of mourning.

If THAT is the Pearl of Great Price – then "YES" – I want that. I want to walk where angels tread. I want to walk in the Kingdom, across the highways and byways of this life – searching for those in shack cloth; those in the ditches; those whose faces are stained with tears of mourning; those who have no hope, no future, no life – just a chain of guilt and emotions. To those we walk towards – like the man who discovers that there are tress outside the cave and runs back inside to bring joy to those left behind.

I do not want part of the Pearl. I want ALL of it! I want to see His Kingdom crash in upon this world. Ah – to play a part in the coming Kingdom.

Yet who am I that I might play a part on the great orchestra of life? Nothing but a serf playing out his part as directed by his Lord.

2008. A new year full of old and new dreams. Some may call it the year of the rat. I am calling it the "Year of the Goose: Part II".