Search This Blog

TXAB’s index.

Showing posts with label #Faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Faith. Show all posts

13 September 2018

Reason. And how faith interacts with it.

Faith and reason are only contradictions when you’re doing faith wrong.

Faith is complete trust and confidence in something or someone. When Christians talk about faith, we usually mean our complete trust and confidence in Jesus. (That or we’re using “my faith” to mean “my religion”; that or we’re using the word wrong. Which happens.) We put our faith in Jesus; we believe what he tells us about God; we trust his teachings, obey his instructions, and otherwise follow him.

Of course when I talk about faith with pagans, I don’t always remember to clear up their misunderstandings about what faith is. Darned near all of them think faith is the magical ability to believe nonsense. As Mark Twain put it, faith is “believing what you know ain’t so.” If I have faith, as they define faith, I have the power to believe in Santa Claus—even as an adult, who should know better! If I have faith, I have the ability to believe completely unreasonable things. Indeed they should expect I believe completely unreasonable things.

This is why loads of articles, essays, and books have been written about faith versus reason. Because pagans firmly believe the ideas contradict one another. And y’know, a fair number of Christians agree the ideas contradict one another. “I know you think I should believe as you do,” I once heard one of us tell a pagan, “but y’see, I have faith.” Thus adding fuel to the pagans’ belief that faith isn’t reasonable.

I can say the very same thing as that other Christian: There are things I would believe if I were a pagan, but I don’t, ’cause I have faith. I do not mean by this that I have differing views because I have the magic ability to believe other things. Nor because I’m wishing otherwise so hard, I think I can make my wishes come true. The reason I believe otherwise is I trust Jesus. I trust him more’n I trust you. Way more than I trust your favorite authors, teachers, experts, politicians, and authority figures. If he said it, I take it to the bank. (Or try to; I’m still growing my faith. That’s a lifelong process, y’see.)

Trusting Jesus is the reason I believe otherwise. I don’t believe otherwise for no reason at all. If faith did mean the power to believe as I wish, it’d definitely mean I believe things for no reason at all; with no solid basis whatsoever. But that’s not the definition of faith I’m going with. I’m going with the one from Hebrews:

Hebrews 11.1 KWL
Faith is the solid basis of hope, the proof of actions we’ve not seen.

You may not believe faith is a solid idea, ’cause you don’t believe Jesus is a solid guy. But you believe your favorite authorities are solid guys, and trust them. Well it’s the same deal with me. We simply trust different people. We put faith in different people. Because in the end we’re all practicing faith—and it’s the reason we all believe as we do.

Well, unless you are trying to wish things into being. Don’t do that.

05 September 2018

Faith, works, and faith righteousness.

If you believe in faith righteousness, you’ve misdefined faith as orthodoxy. Which is a work. Yet faith isn’t a work… right?

Yesterday I brought up faith righteousness, the idea we’re saved by having all the correct doctrines and beliefs. I’ve found it to be a pretty widespread belief among new believers, who haven’t yet learned better; and Fundamentalists, who should’ve learned better, but those Fundamentals are just so darned important to them. Anyway they’re wrong; God saves us by his grace.

Orthodoxy is a good work, so by all means pursue the right beliefs about God. By all means do good works. But we’re not saved by works. We’re saved first, by grace, so that God can empower us to do such works. Doing the works first, and trying to achieve salvation by merit, doesn’t work either. Not that plenty of people, including plenty of confused Christians, don’t try. Karma is a mighty ingrained idea in humanity, and it’s hard to wean us off it.

But one common and odd little side effect of believing we’re saved by “faith,” is this insistence you’ll find among the faith-righteous folks: Faith isn’t a work!

’Cause it’s not. Says so in the bible.

Ephesians 2.8-9 KWL
8 You’re all saved by his grace, through your faith.
This, God’s gift, isn’t from you, 9 isn’t from works; none can boast of it.

Salvation isn’t from us. Isn’t from works. It’s from God, from his grace. It’s typically God’s response to our faith, though of course God reserves the right to save various people regardless. And since Paul said it’s not from works, but is through faith, he indicates faith isn’t a work. My trust in God isn’t something I do; it’s something I have. And if I really do have it, I’ll wind up producing good fruit and good works, Jm 2.22 because faith which produces no good works isn’t actually there, i.e. is dead. But the faith ain’t the works. It’s a whole different thing.

Well, when faith-righteous people are talking about faith, they don’t mean trust; they mean beliefs. And they try to shoehorn their new definition into the discussion about faith and works. Their doctrines, they claim, aren’t works! They aren’t things they do, but things they have. Also a whole different thing.

Except they’re not.

Christians believe what we do because we put our faith in Jesus. We trust that he’s right; we trust he doesn’t steer us wrong; we take his word for it that his teachings apply to our lives and accurately reflect God’s character. Again, trust in Jesus isn’t something we do, but something we have. Unless we don’t; then we don’t bother with his teachings, for we don’t believe him, for we lack faith.

The teachings—the stuff we believe about God—aren’t the same thing as faith. Yeah, we can have these beliefs, kinda like we have faith. But the basis of having these beliefs would be faith in Jesus. No faith in Jesus; no beliefs. (No real beliefs, anyway. Empty beliefs, or hypocrisy, ’cause without Jesus what good are they?)

So beliefs are based on faith. They’re the product of faith. The fruit of faith. The works of faith. They’re works. Works might prove that faith is real, Jm 2.18 and depending on the belief, they may do a really good job of conclusively demonstrating one’s faith. But they still aren’t faith.

04 September 2018

“Faith-righteousness”: Saved by what you believe.

Christians who think having the right beliefs saves them—and don’t realize orthodoxy is simply a good work.

FAITH RIGHTEOUSNESS /'feɪθ raɪ.tʃəs.nəs/ n. A right standing (with God or others) achieved through orthodox beliefs.

I coined the term “faith righteousness” some years ago. It’s a common American belief, based on several false ideas.

First of all misdefined faith. Properly faith means trust; and Christian faith means trust in God. When we Christians talk about “justification by faith,” what this properly means is we trust God, and God considers us all right with him based on that trust. Y’know, like when Abraham trusted God, Ge 15.6 which was the foundation of their relationship. (And the foundation for Paul’s teachings on justification. Ro 4.3)

But in popular American culture, faith means one’s belief system. It’s a definition we find all over Christianity too, especially among Christians who don’t care for the word “religion,” and like to use the word “faith” instead: “I don’t have a religion; I have a faith.” Meaning—to their minds—they don’t have rituals they do, but things they believe. Proper beliefs; correct beliefs; orthodoxy. And these things comprise “my faith”—and this winds up the “faith” they’re thinking of when they talk about “justification by faith.” We believe certain things about God, and God considers us all right with him based on our beliefs.

You should be able to immediately see how this can go wrong. Thing is, if you’ve been practicing faith righteousness all your life, you’ve got some pretty heavy blinders on, and your response is gonna be, “I don’t see what the big deal is. Of course we’re all right with God because our beliefs. And heretics aren’t all right with God; they’re going to hell. What, are you suggesting they’re not going to hell?”

No; I’m pointing out if you’re correct—that God determines whether we’re destined for his kingdom or hell based on our beliefs—you’re going to hell.

04 July 2018

Grow your faith!

It’s not gonna grow when we won’t act on it.

As I’ve written multiple times, authentic faith is not the magic power to believe ridiculous things. It’s “the proof of actions we’ve not seen,” He 11.1 KWL stuff we believe even though we haven’t seen it for ourselves, because we trust those who told us this stuff. Because they’re trustworthy. (And they’d better be trustworthy.)

More than that: It’s when we act on this stuff. Fr’instance your friend told you a certain movie was good. You heard it wasn’t, but you have faith in your friend—specifically, his judgment about movies—so you ignore what everyone else told you, and go see the movie for yourself. And either your faith in your friend is proven, ’cause the movie was good… or it was broken, ’cause it sucked. Either way, you acted on faith.

Yes, that’s faith. I know; the way people commonly define faith, it sounds more like you go to see a movie regardless of what anyone tells you, because you want so badly for it to be good, and are hoping it’ll be good if you wished hard enough. Again, that’s not faith. That’s self-delusion, and those who try to swap self-delusion for faith have either been tricked by con artists, or are seriously trying to delude themselves. Faith is based on something or someone solid. Like Jesus.

So when you want to grow in faith, you don’t have to believe so hard something snaps in your brain. That’s how you lose your grip on reality; how you lose your mind. That’s not at all what Jesus calls us to do when he wants us to grow in faith. You know how you really grow in faith? You take leaps of faith: You trust God enough to actually do as he tells us.

See, Christians who lack faith, haven’t trusted God this far. They claim they believe, but they’ve never done anything. Never put themselves in situations where they had to; they deliberately avoided such things. They never tested their own faith. That’s why, the moment something shows up which does test their faith, they break.

You wanna break at the first sign of stress? Be like them. But if you wanna grow as a Christian, and develop faith that doesn’t shake as easily as grass in the wind, start testing your own faith. Get off your duff and act on what you claim to believe. Find out, once and for all, whether you really do believe it.

07 June 2018

Certainty isn’t faith.

Certainty may come later. Till then, we have faith.

“I know this to be true, because I have faith.” I’ve heard more than one Christian say such a thing. It’s ’cause they don’t realize that’s a self-contradictory statement.

Hebrews 11.1 KWL
Faith is the solid basis of hope,
the proof of actions we’ve not seen.

Faith isn’t the solid basis of knowledge, but the solid basis of hope. Properly we hope certain things are true because we have faith. We don’t know yet. Gonna know eventually. But not yet.

So when I read in the scriptures God’s gonna resurrect me someday, I gotta admit: I don’t know he will. Because the basis of knowledge is experience, and I haven’t had the experience of being resurrected. Yet.

Now, Jesus did have the experience of being resurrected. He taught on, and believed in, the resurrection. Mt 22.29-32 He stated he’s the resurrection, and when we trust him, we’ll experience it. Jn 20.25-26 That’s why it’s an orthodox Christian belief. That’s why I have no problem with the belief, and believe it myself. But do I know I’ll be resurrected? Not till it happens. Till then, I just have to trust Jesus that it’ll happen. And I do. So I’m good.

To some Christians, that’s not good enough. Hope isn’t sufficient. Uncertainty isn’t acceptable. They wanna know. And they claim they do know. How? Well, they trust Jesus. That’s how they know.

Well wait: I trust Jesus too. Yet I recognize trusting Jesus doesn’t grant me knowledge; only hope. How’d they get knowledge?

They actually didn’t. But they think they have knowledge. They think they have certainty. They think a lot of things which have no basis in the scriptures. Namely that if they believe really hard, that’s the same as knowledge. Faith, they imagine, is the solid basis of knowledge. They know they’re getting resurrected.

Yeah, you realize what they’re doing: They wanna demonstrate their zealousness for God, their absolute trust in him, and in order to do this they’re gonna leapfrog hope and claim they know. That way the rest of us look like unbelievers in comparison. (In fact some of ’em even claim we are unbelievers. ’Cause we only hope. Whereas they know.)

Nah, they don’t really know. But boy, they sure think they do. So much so, they’ll even be self-righteous a--holes about it.

15 March 2018

Heavily investing time in bad theology.

Don’t make an idol out of time misspent!

When I was a teenager I wanted an audio bible. At the time I couldn’t afford one. This was back when they were on cassette tapes, and cost about $150. No foolin’. So I decided the only alternative was to do it myself. I cracked open a six-pack of blank cassettes, cracked open my bible, and started recording. Started with the New Testament. Got as far as Acts. Definitely took more than six cassettes!

Then I came across an audio New Testament for $20. (Narrated by James Earl Jones, too.) For a brief moment there I thought about not buying it. After all, I’d spent a lot of time making one on my own. I didn’t wanna consider it time (and cassettes) wasted. But what made more sense?—buy the superior product, or persist in doing it myself?

Yep, I bought the audio bible. Years later I finally got the Old Testament, ’cause someone put Alexander Scourby’s narration on the internet, and even though I only had a dial-up modem, I patiently downloaded every single tinny file. I’ve since bought proper audio bibles.

What’s the point of this story? To single out the reason I almost didn’t buy that first audio bible: I put a lot of time into my do-it-yourself audio bible. Time gave value to that piece of junk. Oh let’s be honest; it was junk. But it was my junk.

In the very same way, probably the most common reason Christians cling to our incorrect beliefs, bad theology, and heresy, is a rather simple one: We too put an awful lot of time into our wrong ideas.

Some of us spent years on those ideas. Went to school and studied ’em for years. Wrote articles and books. Taught ’em in class after class, Sunday school after Sunday school. Defended doctoral theses on the subject. Kinda made it our subject, the idea we’re best known for.

We really don’t want all the time and effort to turn out a giant waste. And for some of us, there’s a great deal of professional pride wrapped up in them. So, better to defend the bad idea, than drop it and embrace the better one.

And if the Holy Spirit himself is trying to get us to doubt our misbegotten certainty? Easiest to block him out and pretend he’s not talking. Worse, to reject him and claim that’s not him talking; it’s the devil. Claim it’s Satan when it’s really God. You know, blasphemy.

Yeesh.

02 March 2018

Is faith a gift?

Mixing up the types of faith, is why a lot of Christians don’t develop their faith.

Oh, I won’t bury the lead. Is faith a gift? Well, supernatural faith is a gift. The other types of faith? Nah.

I know why various Christians claim faith, all faith, is a gift. It’s usually ’cause it says so in their church’s catechism. Fr’instance the Heidelberg Catechism:

65. It is through faith alone that we share in Christ and all his benefits: Where then does that faith come from?

A. The Holy Spirit produces it in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

Various scriptures indicate that people have faith after hearing the gospel, Ro 10.17 and the writers of the catechisms kinda stretched these verses to imply it was the gospel, and God granting us the ability to understand the gospel, 1Co 2.10-14 which generated the faith in us. It wasn’t our ability to trust what we heard; it was God sorta flipping a switch in us so that now we had the ability to understand and believe.

Um… no. I can see how you’d get that by reading your own pre-existing deterministic philosophy into the bible. But I’m pretty sure if it all comes down to God dropping faith into us, and nothing else whatsoever, Jesus wouldn’t command people to believe or have faith. Mk 1.15, 11.22, Jn 10.38, 14.1, 20.27, 1Jn 3.23 If there’s any truth to the idea God grants us faith, he shouldn’t have to order us to use it: It should just be there, and we should just believe. But we don’t. Some of us struggle. Sometimes we cry out to God for extra help. Mk 9.24, Lk 17.5 And the reason we struggle is because it’s not just there. It’s a trait we have to develop. It’s fruit.

Why do the catechisms get it wrong? Mostly it’s ’cause their authors suck at grammar.

17 January 2018

Doubt’s okay. Unbelief’s the problem.

Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith. Unbelief is.

I’ve been told more than once, “In the scriptures, Jesus came down awfully hard against doubt. How then can you claim doubt is our friend?

’Cause Jesus’s objection wasn’t actually to doubt. It was to unbelief.

Contrary to popular opinion—and way too many bible translations—doubt isn’t the opposite of belief. Unbelief is. Doubt’s not the same as unbelief. Doubt means we’re not sure we believe. Unbelief means we’re totally sure—and we don’t believe at all.

Doubt’s what happens when we sorta kinda do believe. But we’re not entirely sure. So we suspend judgment till we get more evidence. And often that’s precisely the right thing to do. Y’realize Christians constantly get scammed by false teachers, fake prophets, and con artists who tell ’em, “Stop doubting me and just believe!” In so doing they’re trying to keep us from practicing discernment, because if we did use our heads we’d realize what they were up to. They don’t want us to think. Just feel. Follow your emotions, not your head. Ignore the gray matter God gave you, and listen to your brain chemicals… and ignore the fact most of us can turn them on and off if we tried.

Unbelievers definitely try to describe themselves as doubters. I’ve met plenty of nontheists who claim that’s what they really are: Doubters. Skeptics. Agnostics who are intellectually weighing the evidence for Christianity… but we Christians haven’t yet convinced them, so they’re gonna stay in the nontheist camp for now. Makes ’em sound open-minded and wise. But it’s hypocritical bushwa. Their minds are totally made up; they stopped investigating God long ago. They don’t believe; they’ve chosen their side of the issue; they’re straddling nothing.

Real doubt might likewise mean we’ve totally picked a side. There are Christians who doubt, but they’re still gonna remain Christian. (After all, where else are they gonna go? Jn 6.68 They’ve seen too much.) And there are nontheists who doubt, so they’re still gonna investigate Christianity from time to time, and talk with Christians, and try to see whether there’s anything to what we believe. Part of ’em kinda hopes there is. Or, part of ’em really hopes there’s not—but the Holy Spirit is making them doubt their convictions, ’cause he uses doubt like this all the time.

16 November 2017

Christians who lack faith.

Who don’t get much done.

Nope, didn’t title this piece “Christians who doubt.” Because everybody doubts. Which isn’t a bad thing. Jesus doesn’t want us to be gullible followers who can’t discern the difference between truth and rubbish. Mt 10.16 If we just put our faith in people indiscriminately—believe everything our friends tell us, believe everything our political parties tell us, never fact-check our preachers to make sure what they’re telling us is valid—we’re gonna be such fools. Doubt away.

But there’s a very particular form of doubt Jesus objects to most, and that’s doubting him.

So when we talk about “Christians who lack faith,” it’s about Christians who lack faith in Jesus. Not Christians who doubt their preachers and church leaders and churches. Sometimes those folks will try to mix ’em all together, and insist if you doubt them you doubt Jesus. Nope; ’tain’t the same thing, and don’t let ’em tell you otherwise. People will fail you, and Jesus is the only exception. Trust him; trust them as long as they remain trustworthy. (And forgive them when they screw up, ’cause they will. We all do.)

Still, there are a lot of Christians with the opposite problem: They trust their churches and church institutions. Less so Jesus. They trust people they can see, but they haven’t yet seen Jesus, so a lot of times they treat him as imaginary.

Often Christians’ll passively trust Jesus. By which I mean we figure he’ll be there for us eventually. Like when we die and need to get into heaven. Or at the End, when we need to escape the End Times. Or otherwise somewhere in the future. We figure Jesus’ll sort everything out later. While this certainly resembles faith, it’s often just procrastination: We’re putting off our problems because we figure Jesus’ll sort them all out in the end. It’s a half-step up from figuring the universe will sort everything out. It’s just as naïve. But more on that idea another time. I’m talking about not trusting Jesus now.

Now? Yep. We don’t trust him enough to do as he says. Go where he goes. Take the risks he tells us to. Listen to the Holy Spirit’s instructions or corrections. Where we are is more comfortable than where he wants us. We trust circumstances, not Jesus. That’s what I mean by unfaith.

Christians find all sorts of “Christian”-sounding excuses to dodge acts of faith. There are entire theological systems based on evading Jesus. Really popular ones too.

There’s the bunch who claim all the bible’s instructions are only for other dispensations. That Jesus’s lessons on his kingdom don’t apply till the End Times, or some other far-off idealistic future. They act as if it’s coming, but according to their timeline it won’t be around for another seven years. But that seven-year endpoint keeps sliding away. They keep putting it off, putting it off. They’ll follow Jesus then. Meanwhile, procrastination. (Which explains the fruitlessness—they’re procrastinating that too.)

There’s the bunch who claim the Holy Spirit stopped doing stuff in the present day. Often the same bunch, but there are a number who claim no, the Spirit does act; just nowhere near as often as bible times, and not as invasively as the Pentecostals claim. It becomes their excuse for treating him like he’s seldom there… or not there at all. Don’t let him guide them, empower them, help them. Imagine he’s far, not near. Imagine he’s imaginary, not real.

There’s the bunch who don’t trust the Spirit to instruct, guide, and convict fellow Christians. Instead they imagine that’s our job, so they spend a lot of time correcting everyone. Well, convicting everyone. Both Christians and pagan. ’Cause since the Holy Spirit’s not around—and they aren’t listening to him any—the fruitlessness stands to reason. When we don’t leave judgment and conviction in the hands of the only righteous judge in the universe, and imagine we’re all alone out here, we get weird and paranoid and heavy-handed and cultish. We certainly won’t even trust fellow Christians.

Then there’s the bunch on the other extreme: They don’t trust anything. Not apostles, not Jesus, not the bible, anything. But they will trust TV talk show hosts and clever teachers. And never double-check ’em against anything.

07 November 2017

Jesus stops the weather.

A miracle which wholly upended his students’ worldview.

Mark 4.35-41 • Matthew 8.18, 8.23-27 • Luke 8.22-25

Right before this story, Jesus had a really long day. He’d been teaching the crowds, likely healing the sick, and he needed some sack time. So he got the idea to cross the Galilee’s lake.

Mark 4.35-36 KWL
35 Jesus told them when that day became evening, “Can we cross to the far side?”
36 Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus as-is into the boat. Other boats came with him.
Matthew 8.18 KWL
Jesus, seeing a crowd round him, ordered his students to go to the far side of the lake.
Luke 8.22 KWL
This happened one day: Jesus entered a boat with his students
and told them, “Can we cross to the far side of the lake?”
Matthew 8.23 KWL
Entering the boat, Jesus’s students followed him.

The authors of the New Testament called this particular body of water a thálassa, a word which gets translated as “sea” because Homer used it for the Mediterranean Sea. The Greeks really just meant any large body of water. Properly, our English word “sea” is saltwater, and connected to the ocean. (It’s why the way-bigger Great Lakes aren’t seas: Though connected to the ocean, they’re freshwater.) This lake is freshwater, 166 square kilometers (64 square miles), and 212 meters below sea level. Mark Twain liked to compare it to Lake Tahoe, which is in my part of the world—but Tahoe is a mile high and 490 square kilometers, so I’m figuring Twain just eyeballed it.


The Galilee’s lake/“sea.”

Today, and originally, it was called Kinneret. Nu 34.11 In Greek this became Ghennisarét (KJV “Gennesaret,” Mt 14.34, Mk 6.53, Lk 5.1) but the Galilee’s tetra-árhis/“quarter-ruler” Antipas Herod (only called “king” ’cause he was still descended from royalty) had renamed it “Tiberias” Jn 6.1 to suck up to the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus. The locals weren’t fans of the emperor, nor the new name. Obviously some of ’em still used the original. But if you were in earshot of someone who wanted to enforce “Tiberias,” you could get away with calling it “the Galilee’s lake.” ’Cause it is.

I crossed it on a speedboat, which took about an hour. By way of comparison, Jesus’s students were sailing, which takes longer, unless you’re rowing, which takes even longer.

So Jesus, who had a nice comfortable cushion to rest on, expected to catch a few hours’ shuteye. But Kinneret is notorious for its unpredictable weather.

Mark 4.37-38 KWL
37 A great windstorm began. Waves were throwing water into the boat, so the boat was already filled.
38 Jesus was in the stern on a cushion, sleeping.
The students roused him and told him, “Teacher, don’t you care we’re dying?”
Matthew 8.24-25 KWL
24 Look, a great shaking happened on the lake, causing the boat to be covered in waves.
Jesus was asleep, 25 and coming to rouse Jesus, they said, “Master! Save us! We’re dying!”
Luke 8.23-24 KWL
23 Jesus fell asleep while they sailed.
A windstorm came down on the lake, and they were swamped and in danger.
24A Coming to awaken Jesus, they said, “Chief, chief, we’re dying!”

Matthew describes it as a great seismós/“shaking,” a word we tend to use for earthquakes, and maybe an earthquake triggered the storm. Regardless this windstorm was big; anywhere between a strong wind and hurricane. It meant they had to reef the sail and row, but the winds were enough to swamp the boat. They were in danger of capsizing.

Yet none of this woke Jesus. Which Christians have historically interpreted as a likely-supernatural confidence in his Father to keep him alive to complete his mission, but y’know, Jesus might have been just that tired.

03 November 2017

Not faith, but a faith.

And we’re not saved by faith.

Faith /feɪθ/ n. Complete trust or confidence in someone/something.
2. Religion: A system of beliefs and practices about God.
3. A strongly-held belief or theory, maintained despite a lack of proof.
4. A name Christians like to give their daughters. My niece, fr’instance.
[Faithful /'feɪθ.fəl/ adj.]

I bring up the definition of faith again ’cause today I’m writing about the second definition: A system of beliefs. A religion. The word most people tend to mean when they talk about faith: “Oh, you believe in that stuff because you have faith.” By which they often mean the magical ability to believe in goofy rubbish. Or, if they’re being more generous, they mean we have a religion—and the religion requires us to believe in goofy rubbish.

So that’s what pagans mean when they speak of “people of faith”: People who have a religion. Particularly the people who like to insist, “No I don’t have a religion. I have a relationship.” (Which implies they’re not consistent in their religion, but I wrote on that elsewhere.) Okay fine: If these people wanna insist they have no religion—even though they totally do—we’ll just use the synonym “faith,” which they appear to have no beef with. But we all know it means “religion.”

For such people, “religion” only means dead religion—all ritual no relationship, all actions no beliefs, all behavior no trust. But call it “faith,” and emphasize the living part which should be at the core of living religion, Jm 2.26 and they’re fine with it.

Here’s the problem (’cause you knew there was a problem coming, didn’tcha?): In using the word “faith” to mean “religion,” Christians often mix up the two definitions and imagine them to all be one and the same thing. When we say we have faith, we don’t merely mean we trust God. We mean we have religious faith: We believe doctrines. We have foundational truths which we base our Christianity upon. Hopefully we’re orthodox—or at least we’re pretty sure we are.

Is that the definition the scriptures use to mean pístis/“faith”? Not even close. No, not even the verses where we think we can overlay the religion idea on top of it. Faith always means trust, and usually trust in God. It only means religion in our culture.

Not Jesus’s, nor the apostles’, nor the folks who came before. When Abraham believed the LORD, and was considered righteous for it, Ge 15.6 this wasn’t at all Abraham’s embrace of religious doctrine. It was a personal trust in a personal God, with whom Abraham held a personal relationship.

But like I said, Christians’ll mix the definitions together. The result will be all sorts of interesting heresies.

20 October 2017

Faith is not blind optimism.

Hoping for the best needs something substantial to hope in.

As I wrote in my first piece on faith, it’s not the magical power to believe in goofy rubbish. Like believing in Santa Claus, fairies, unicorns, and non-western medicine.

Related to that, and actually a big part of what people assume faith to be, is the power to believe everything’s gonna be all right. Everything’s gonna work out. Times may be tough right now, but we’ll persevere, we’ll be successful, we’ll be vindicated, we’ll come out on top. Life will be good. Love will conquer all. How do we know any of this stuff? Why, we have “faith.”

No, you have blind optimism. It’s not faith.

No, I’m not knocking optimism. We Christians are called to be optimistic. To reject nihilism because even though our world is in fact meaningless, it’s being overthrown by God’s kingdom. To reject cynicism because even though humans are totally self-centered, some of us are actually seeking God’s kingdom. To reject pessimism because we’re meant to embrace joy.

The problem is the blindness part. Blind optimism assumes stuff’s gonna get better, but can’t tell us how. And no, that’s not because God promised stuff would get better, but hasn’t clued us in on the details. If that were the case, it would be faith, proper faith. But faith in God, ’cause he’s the one making things better. Blind optimism doesn’t know who or what will make anything better. It just assumes things’ll be better. Can’t say why.

Might guess why, but some of those whys are wholly unrealistic. Take Star Trek. The show’s based on Gene Roddenberry’s blind optimism that humanity’s gonna evolve past our petty differences and prejudices, become better people, eliminate hunger and poverty, and turn our world into paradise. Why? Um… well, he didn’t know. He left that to other writers to figure out. So later writers posited we’d meet benevolent space aliens, and that’d galvanize us into sorting out our problems. But if you know anything about human nature, humans don’t do that, and never have. Some of us rise to face new challenges. The bulk of us retreat.

And those of us who rise to face new challenges have a plan. True, it’s not always a good one, but it at least spells out how we expect things to get better. It’s not a big blank gap between the chaos of today and the promise of tomorrow, which we fill with wishful thinking. It’s a foundation, hopefully solid, to build faith upon.

And a lot of people have based their hopes in the future upon various plans for the future. People hope to be financially stable someday, and they’re taking steps to get there. People hope to become spiritually mature, so they’re working on spiritual fruit. People hope to be successful in their career, and they’ve laid the groundwork. People hope to raise self-sufficient kids, so they’re teaching ’em self-discipline, and to think and do for themselves.

The rest… well, they’re doing none of those things. But they “have faith” everything’ll be all right. You see the problem.

20 June 2017

Can’t divorce works from faith.

How does our faith get us to act any differently than pagans?

James 2.20-26

To demonstrate how works are part of faith, James pulled two examples out of the bible: Abraham and Rahab. Both are good examples of faith. So much so they got listed in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11… for the very same two acts of faith James brought up. He 11.17-19, 31

Now, how do we know these two people had faith? Because they acted on that faith. Abraham trusted God so much, he was willing to sacrifice his son to him. Ge 22.1-14 Rahab believed so strongly God was giving Jericho to the Hebrews, she risked her life to hide two Hebrew spies from the king’s messengers, then sent the messengers on some wild-goose chase while she snuck the spies out of there. Js 2

Which I didn’t really need to recap; here’s what James wrote about it.

James 2.20-26 KWL
20 Do you want to know, you silly people, how faith without works is useless?
21 Our ancestor Abraham. Wasn’t he justified by works
when he brought his son Isaac up to the altar?
22 You see, since Abraham’s faith cooperated with his works,
the faith was achieved through the works,
23 and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham trusted God,
and God calculated it as righteous,” Ge 15.6 and he was called God’s friend.
24 You also see, since a person is justified by works, it’s not only by “faith.”
25 Likewise Rahab the whore: Wasn’t she justified by works
when she received the king’s agents and sent them out on another road?
26 For just as the body without a spirit is dead,
so too the faith without works is dead.

If faith is reduced solely to what we believe to be true, even then they’re empty beliefs if they don’t provoke us to act on ’em. Abraham could’ve claimed to entirely trust God. But had his response been, “Wait; I can’t sacrifice Isaac, ’cause you promised he’d be my heir, and produce nations, and… no, this command makes no sense; I’m ignoring it,” so much for that faith.

Likewise Rahab could’ve claimed she trusted God, but had she played it safe and handed the spies over, Joshua would’ve simply sent in more spies, and she and her family would’ve been wiped out along with the rest of Jericho.

And neither of these people would become the ancestors of Jesus. Mt 1.1-5 And for that matter, his brother James, the very author of this letter.

19 June 2017

Unproven, uncomfortable, devilish faith.

Some Christians believe in God exactly like the demons do.

James 2.18-19.

More than once in these James articles, I’ve mentioned Christians who don’t realize sola fide means justification by faith alone; who think it means salvation by faith alone. And because they know we’re not saved by works, Ep 2.9 they therefore insist faith isn’t a work. Can’t be. ’Cause we’re not saved by works.

I don’t know that James suffered from Christians who believed the same way for the same reason. More likely he was just dealing with people who don’t understand what faith is. Lotta Christians have that problem. Some of us still think it’s the magic ability to wish so hard, stuff comes true. Which is what’ll happen when you base your theology on Disney princess movies instead of your bible.

It’s why James had to demonstrate, from the bible, why this sort of thinking was all wet. But first his comment about how even demons, the lesser gods of Greek mythology and the fake gods behind idolatry, also have faith—for all the good it does ’em.

James 2.17-19 KWL
17 This “faith,” when it’s all by itself and takes no action, is dead.
18 But someone’ll say you have faith—and I have works.
Show me your workless “faith.” I’ll show you, from my works, faith.
19 You have faith that God is One. Good job!
The demons also have this faith—and it grates on them.

I should first point out my translation differs from the usual way bibles render verse 18:

James 2.18 NIV
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

Historically su pístin ékheis kagó érga ékho/“you have faith and I have works” has been translated as a quote, as stated by this hypothetical tis/“someone” James brought up.

The reason I don’t translate it as a quote, is because if you believed faith and works were two different things, would you argue, “You have faith and I have works”? Aren’t you trying to argue you’re the one with the faith? “You have faith” is a concession; you’d lose your argument immediately. You wouldn’t say, “You have faith”; you’d say “I have faith,” the exact opposite. Taking the quotes off means you did say you have faith.

The reason other translators do translate it as a quote, is because it’s better Greek. James should’ve phrased it aftós pístin ékhei—“But someone’ll say he has faith—and I have works.” Writing su pístin ékheis/“you have faith” makes it feel like the pronoun su/“you” has no connection with the pronoun tis/“someone.”

Because we translators have to know and follow the rules of Greek grammar, we forget sometimes the writers of the New Testament didn’t follow them. (Like us, Greek wasn’t necessarily their first language.) If they suddenly look like they’ve contradicted themselves, it might be a grammar problem. Translators need to remember the meaning of the text is infallible, but the grammar of the text is flexible. Grammar’s rules are a human invention, not a divine one. If the NT writers break those rules, it’s okay. Adjust for that, and make sure they get their point across.

All right, back to the demons.

29 May 2017

Is our faith living, or dead?

If we don’t really have it, we’re never gonna act on it.

James 2.14-17

So now we’re at one of the more controversial passages in Christendom: The notorious “faith without works is dead” bit.

Properly faith is a synonym for trust, and when Christianity talks about faith we mean trusting in God. We figure there’s something of substance holding up our beliefs: God himself. He’s real and reliable, and will do as he said he’d do. It’s not just “faith in faith”—that we imagine what we want, believe really hard, and stuff will happen. That’s how magic is supposed to work, and we all know magic isn’t real. But you’d be surprised how often people think faith works that way. (Or that magic is real.)

Now if faith is based on something solid, it means we should be able to stand on that faith, right? Should be able to act on it. Should be able to do stuff based on our trust in God. If I trust in a stepladder I should have no trouble standing on it; seems kinda stupid if I never use it because I really don’t care to test it. What’s the point of owning a stepladder then?

Same argument James made here: What’s the point of “having faith” if it never comes to anything? If we never use it? Is that even faith?

James 2.14-17 KWL
14 What’s the point, my fellow Christians, when someone says they “have faith,”
yet doesn’t take action? Can “faith” save them?
15 When a Christian brother or sister starts to become needy and go without daily food,
16 and one of you tells them, “Go in peace: I declare you to be warm and full!”
yet doesn’t give them anything useful for their body, what’s the point?
17 This “faith,” when it’s all by itself and takes no action, is dead.

Obviously he answered that question: Nope. Not faith. If it’s fruitless, it’s nekrá kath’ eaftín/“dead by itself.” (I moved the “by itself” to earlier in the sentence.) It’s not just faith without works that’s dead. Faith without anything is dead.

Note this situation James described in his example, where “one of you” tells a needy Christian, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled.” Jm 2.16 KJV It’s not a hypothetical situation. It still happens all the time. This is when Christians wish blessings upon one another. “Oh it’s so sad you don’t have a job, but y’know what? I’m gonna declare for you that you will get a job. That my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Pp 4.19 KJV You just trust in God now; he will take care of you.” And then, just like every sucky intercessor, that well-wisher does nothing to help God take care of them.

So, this kind of so-called “faith”? Dead.

Yep. Every compassionate-sounding Christian who says, “Aww,” at all the sob stories, yet lifts not a finger to do anything, and all they have are best wishes and warm prayers: Hypocrites with dead faith. Pretending it’s faith—pretending they believe God’ll take care of people—but y’know, we Christians are meant to be how God takes care of his needy. Remember when the first Christians had needy people in Acts? No you don’t, ’cause they didn’t:

Acts 4.32-35 KWL
32 The number of believers were one in thinking and lifestyle.
Not one of their possessions was said to be their own.
Instead, everything of theirs was commonly used.
33 The apostles gave their witness of Master Jesus’s resurrection in great power.
Great grace was upon them all, 34 for they had no needy:
Whoever among them owned land or houses were selling whatever was sellable
35 and placed them at the apostles’ feet. This was passed along to everyone—whoever had need.

When’s the last time someone in your church sold a house and gave the proceeds to the church to help out the needy? When’s the last time you ever heard of a church doing that on a regular basis? Face it: We suck.

10 May 2017

Justification: How God considers us right with him.

The part of our salvation that kinda falls on us.

Justify /'dʒəs.tə.faɪ/ v. Show or prove to be correct.
2. Make morally right [with God].
[Justification /dʒəs.tə.fə'keɪ.ʃən/ n.]

In our culture we tend to use the word “justify” to mean we have a good excuse for what we did. Say I took someone behind the church building and beat the daylights out of them. Ordinarily, and rightly, that’d get me tossed into jail for battery. When I stand before the judge I’d better have a really solid reason for my actions.

“He started it; I just finished it” might work for most people, ’cause it sounds badass. But it’s not legally gonna work. Outside of movies, the law doesn’t give free passes to badasses. There are a whole lot of those guys in prison. Nope; justification means I need a legal reason for why I shouldn’t be jailed or institutionalized for my behavior. Like I reasonably feared for my life otherwise. Only then might my act be justified, and I’d be declared not guilty, and free to go. Society might still have a problem with me though.

Now when it comes to sin, I am so guilty. I have no good excuse. Neither do you. Neither does anyone. Yeah, we all have accidental, unintentional, or omissive sins in our past. But we have even more sins which we totally meant to do. We weren’t out of our right minds; we weren’t backed into tragic moral choices; we weren’t predetermined by God to sin in order to fulfill some secret evil plan of his. We’re totally guilty. We have no excuse. We have no justification for our behavior.

But in Christianity, we’re not doing the justifying. God is. Ro 8.30 We’re not the ones defending why God oughta have a relationship with us, regardless of our awful, sinful behavior. God is justifying why he bothers with us—again, despite our unworthiness.

And it’s a really simple explanation: God is gracious. He forgives sin. Jesus died to totally, absolutely wipe out the sins of the whole world. 1Jn 2.2 Anybody can have a relationship with God! Our sinfulness is no barrier whatsoever. We might imagine so, ’cause he’s holy and we suck. But Jesus took care of that. Sin is defeated. We don’t need to do anything more. We’re forgiven.

So if everyone’s forgiven, why are some people saved, and some people aren’t, even though God wants to save everyone? 1Ti 2.4 Why does God have relationships with some individuals, and not others, even though he loves the world? Jn 3.16 Why doesn’t God just drag everyone to heaven, no matter how they kick and scream?

Well it’s not, as Calvinists insist, because God doesn’t wanna save everyone, doesn’t really love everybody, and limits his forgiveness to a select few. It’s because only one thing justifies God having a relationship with us: Whether we’re gonna respond, in any way, to such a relationship. Whether we’re gonna love him back.

The apostles distilled this idea to one word: Faith. I mean, people respond to God in all sorts of ways. Pagans pick and choose what they wanna believe he’s like, and what they don’t, and as a result don’t really follow him. Unbelievers don’t even try. But if we do try—if we trust God to love us, forgive our screw-ups, make up for our deficiencies with Christ, 1Jn 2.1-3 work with us, guide us, and glorify us Ro 8.30 —and y’know, God’ll accept faith in the tiniest of servings Lk 17.6 —we’re good. It justifies God’s interactivity in our lives; it won’t be time wasted! It’ll lead to our salvation.

So God’s made faith a condition of our relationship with him. No faith, no relationship. No relationship, no kingdom. Mt 7.22-23 Kinda important.

24 April 2017

“I’ve never heard that before.”

When ignorance disguises itself as skepticism.

In bible studies, whenever certain topics came up in the passages we’re reading, my habit is to bring up the different beliefs and interpretations which different Christians have about them. You might notice I also do this on this blog. Yeah, I do it all the time. For three reasons.

  1. My church is hardly the only one out there. Hardly the only denomination; hardly the only tradition. Hardly got a monopoly on the truth. Lots of other Christians have pitched their two cents on these issues. Some of their ideas are useful.
  2. And some of ’em aren’t. They’re problematic. So it’s a bit of warning: At some point you’re gonna run into people who actually believe such things. (Even in your own church—what with the way Americans switch churches so often, not everybody grew up with your traditions.) You’ll wonder why the two of you seem to be talking past one another. Helps to know where they’re coming from.
  3. In general, it’s not wise for Christians to develop the idea, “There’s only one way to think about this—and it’s how I think, and everyone else is wrong.” No; we’re all wrong. So these are my reminders no one Christian, myself included, has all the answers. But some of us have different parts of the whole.

Most of the folks listen. Or politely pretend to, anyway.

But in one bible study I attend, there’s a person (we’ll call her Marlies) who regularly scoffs, “I don’t know where you meet these people. I don’t know any Christians who think that way.”

She’s hardly the first person who’s told me this. I’ve met people like this ever since seminary. I used to be this person.

Marlies has been a Christian three decades. But like a lot of people, she’s chosen to exist within a handcrafted echo chamber. Back when she was a newbie, she determined generally what she will and won’t believe. She then shunned everyone who won’t believe likewise. She doesn’t really come to these bible studies to learn, but to judge: She’s trying to make sure her church isn’t quietly teaching heresy behind her back.

But because Marlies’s entire Christian life has been spent within this echo chamber, where nobody tells her anything other than what she chooses to believe, there’s a lot of Christendom she’s wholly unfamiliar with. She doesn’t know Christian history. Doesn’t know other movements. Doesn’t know other denominations. Doesn’t care: She’s never gonna read their books, listen to their podcasts, interact with their churches. They’re not Christian enough for her, so she’s gonna pretend they’re pagans and leave them be. That is, unless she’s trying to share Jesus with them… but because their beliefs don’t line up with hers enough, she’s pretty sure they only think they’re Christian.

So when I talk about different Christians, Marlies doesn’t really believe in different Christians. Can’t believe true Christians would actually hold such beliefs. Kinda wonders about me, since I seem to think these crazy people are nonetheless Christian. Hence the scoffing: “I’ve never heard such a thing before.”

After all, Marlies figures she’s the baseline for Christianity. If she’s heard of it, or agrees with it, it’s Christian. If not, it can’t be.

It’s actually how a lot of Christians practice theology. It’s just that they tend to be quieter about it. Marlies isn’t. She’ll publicly proclaim she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. And kinda take some pride in that… even though the room is occasionally full of people who grew up in churches like that, and know exactly what I’m talking about.

21 April 2017

Don’t just believe. Behave.

We’re not saved by good works. But no works is no better.

James 1.22-25

I grew up among Christians who believe they’re saved by faith. Not, as the scripture teaches, God’s grace. It’s weird, too; they read the very same letter of Ephesians as the rest of us (“by grace ye are saved” Ep 2.5 KJV), yet they somehow bungle their interpretation of 2.8 (“for by grace are ye saved through faith” Ep 2.8 KJV) and assume through takes precedence over by.

This isn’t a unique phenomenon either. To this day I run into Christians who think they’re saved by faith. All they gotta do is believe in Jesus—which is correct; it really is all we gotta do—and they’re saved. But they’re not saved by believing in Jesus. Nobody is. We’re saved by grace.

If we were saved by faith, it’d mean in order to be saved, I have to believe certain things. Believe ’em really hard. Reject every other belief, no matter how likely I might be to believe them instead. Sort out my beliefs so I’m believing all the correct things. Get my theological ducks in a row. And then I’m saved.

Um… doesn’t that sound like work to you? We’re not saved by works. Ep 2.9

“Well yes,” these folks reply: “We’re not saved by works. We’re saved by faith. Faith’s not a work! It can’t be, otherwise we wouldn’t be saved by it.” And then they proceed to demonstrate how they’re not saved by works… by not doing any.

What kind of [synonym for “messed”]-up Christians did I grow up among? Well, like I said, it’s not a unique phenomenon. Loads of Christians figure the only thing they need do, as Christians, is straighten out their theology. Good deeds are for those people who don’t really believe they’re saved by faith—who probably don’t have any faith anyway. So they practice “works righteousness,” and try to earn salvation. Unlike them, whose strenuous efforts to get every last obscure doctrine correct… somehow isn’t an attempt to earn salvation.

Anyway, these folks don’t know at all what to do with the letter of James. ’Cause not only did he equate faith with works in the next chapter (a lesson they’d love to call heresy, except it’s in the bible), he had lots to say about people who figured their beliefs matter, but their deeds don’t. Like so:

James 1.22-25 KWL
22 Become doers of the word, and not merely self-deceiving hearers,
23 because if you’re a hearer of the word, yet do nothing,
you’re like a man studying the face he was born with in a mirror:
24 He studies himself… and goes away, and quickly sets aside what sort of person he is.
25 You who look down into the perfect, freedom-giving Law, and remain there,
aren’t becoming forgetful hearers, but doers of good work.
What you’re doing is awesome.

James drilled directly down into their lifestyle. It’s not enough to listen to sermons. It’s not enough to shout “Amen!” when the preacher says clever things. It’s not enough to memorize bible verses and church doctrines. We gotta act on the word, the message, the prophecies, as given. We gotta behave like Christians. Not just believe like Christians.

21 November 2016

Questioning authority.

Which I do. Which we all should do. Regardless of how much it irritates the authority.

I’m a trained skeptic.

Seriously. I have degrees in both journalism and theology. In both fields, we’re taught to ask the question, “Is that really true?” Don’t swallow whole what anyone tells you. Anyone. Fact-check it.

In journalism, that’s done by finding a valid authority on the subject, and a second source to corroborate the first one. (I know; internet “journalists” seldom bother to find that second source, but they never went to journalism school, and it shows.) In theology, find a proof text, and make sure you quote it in context. One will do; more is better.

Problem is, people are very, very used to having their every statement accepted without question. So when I ask “Is that really true?”—just doing my duty as both a journalist and theologian—they take offense. What, don’t I trust them? Why not? What’s my problem?

Since I give most people the benefit of the doubt, no I actually don’t think they’re lying. (Usually.) But I know how human nature works. I know how gossip spreads. People spread stories because they’re interesting, not because they’re true. People believe stories when they confirm what they already believe, and reject ’em when they don’t. Good people can unintentionally be very, very wrong. Happens all the time. Happens to me.

Hey, humans aren’t all-knowing; they aren’t God. And some of us actually are evil. Like politicos who deliberately spread lies about their opponents. Like kids who bully their enemies. Some Christians have a political axe to grind, so their teachings are always skewed to suit their views. If I just met someone, I don’t automatically assume this is why they’re wrong: Give me time, and I’ll recognize the pattern of partisanship, overzealousness, anger, and other fleshly motives. But most folks are just honestly mistaken.

Still, that self-preservation instinct kicks in, and people are quick to attack my simple doubts as if they’re frontal assaults: “What, d’you think I’m lying to you?”

04 October 2016

Postmodernism: Why we can’t take “truths” for granted.

It’s a worldview whose starting point is doubt. And it’s everywhere. Heck, I have it.

Postmodern /poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn/ adj. Reflecting an attitude of skepticism and distrust of “modern” grand theories and ideologies.
2. Anti-modern.
[Pomo /'poʊ.moʊ/ abbr., postmodernism /poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn.iz.əm/ n, postmodernist /poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn.ist/ adj., postmodernity /poʊs(t).moʊd'ər.nə.di/ n.]

I grew up postmodern. I just didn’t know it had a name. I also didn’t realize it scared the heebie-jeebies out of Christian apologists.

The label’s not new. It first cropped up in the 1950s. Artists and architects started using it to describe the hip, exciting things they were doing. The current scene was “modern,” but they claimed they were beyond that; they were post-modern. Whatever modern was, they were no longer that. “Pomo” is the popular abbreviation.

Gradually people began to claim postmodernism was their worldview, their interpretation of the society we live in. Like the artists, they didn’t have a precise definition. They just figured whatever they were, they weren’t modern.

Now if you wanna talk the modern worldview, that’s actually been defined. Modernism is the way people have been looking at the world since the French Enlightenment in the 1700s: Humanity’s destiny is to achieve greatness by mastering (or conquering) our environment through the use of reason, logic, math, and science. With effort we can learn the universal truths behind everything, harness the great natural forces, and solve every problem. We can figure out the best way for everyone to live, and achieve peace and harmony and prosperity. You know, like Star Trek.

Whereas we postmoderns are entirely sure that’s just a pipe dream.

Nope, it’s neither cynicism nor nihilism. It’s doubt. That’s the one thing which defines postmodernism best: Postmoderns doubt. Doubt it’s our destiny to achieve greatness. Doubt we can master our environment; doubt it’s a good thing to conquer it. Doubt humanity’s reason and logic (or certainly your reason and logic) are sound. Doubt math and science will always be used towards good ends. Doubt we can learn universal truths, or that such truths even exist. Doubt we can solve every problem; doubt there’s a “best way” for everyone. Doubt utopian science fiction: Our technology may improve, but apart from the Holy Spirit, human nature never does.