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

17 November 2023

Trusting God… versus trusting doctrine.

I’ve posted before about the “doctrines of grace,” as Calvinists call ’em—the things they believe about God and how he saves us. The doctrine they focus on most is God’s sovereignty, which they believe is so absolute, it overrides everything else: Everything in the universe happens because God decreed it.

Not merely allowed it to happen, even though he could totally intervene if he wants, ’cause he’s almighty and unlimited. Determined it would happen. Everything happens because God has a singular plan for the universe, meticulously decided what’d happen and what wouldn’t, and it’s playing out right now. It’s all part of the plan. Trust the plan. Trust God.

Calvinists call this “the doctrine of sovereignty”—doctrine being one of Christianity’s formal fixed beliefs. It’s something they insist Christians must believe. Not should believe; not can believe, ’cause it’s optional. To them, it’s not. You must believe it, if you call yourself Christian. If you don’t—if in fact you teach otherwise—you’ve gone wrong. You’re heretic. Or worse, you’re not even Christian.

So since I dare to say the “doctrine of sovereignty” is fatalistic rubbish which comes more from Platonism than the scriptures, certain Calvinists are convinced I’m heretic. Or, again, not even Christian.

One of ’em put it to me thisaway recently: “I trust God. You don’t.”

No, you trust your doctrine. Which isn’t God. Although you might not recognize the difference. There is one, y’know.

24 August 2022

Goodness never justified anyone. Faith does that.

Galatians 3.7-9 KWL
7 So know this: Those who act out of faith?
These people are Abraham’s “children.”
8 The scripture foresees how God deems righteous
the gentile peoples who act out of faith:
He pre-evangelized Abraham, saying,
“All the peoples will be blessed through you.” Ge 12.3, 18.18, 22.18
9 So those who act out of faith
are blessed alongside Abraham’s faith.
  • “By Law we’re good as dead—so live for Jesus!” Ga 2.17-21
  • “How’d you get from grace to legalism?” Ga 3.1-4
  • Abraham’s faith. Ga 3.5-6
  • Too many Christians believe in some form of dispensationalism—where God has multiple systems for how to be saved. I’ve lost count of how many times people have told me, “God saves us by his grace now, but in Old Testament times, you had to obey the Law.”

    No you didn’t. Because that’s not why the LORD saved the Hebrews from Egypt. It’s not why God appeared to Moses—years before he ever gave Moses the Law to follow; years before Moses even knew there was a Law. It’s not why he gave dreams to Joseph, why he gave visions to Jacob, why he straight-up appeared to Abraham and had lunch with him. Nor even why he rescued Noah and (probably) raptured Enoch.

    It was always grace. It was always God’s attitude towards the people with whom he had loving interactive relationships. It was the whole reason Paul and other apostles kept quoting the Genesis passage where the LORD justified Abraham by his faith—he wasn’t justified by being a Law-abiding Jew, because there was no Law yet. Nor Jews.

    Yet thanks to dispensationalists, I still hear people insisting grace is a New Testament thing, not an Old Testament thing. Every so often I’ll talk about where we see grace in the Old Testament, and somebody pipes up, “But grace came through Jesus Christ.” Jn 1.17 They don’t mean (as John did in that reference) Jesus makes grace possible throughout human history, including Old Testament times; they mean there was no such thing as grace before Jesus came around. That the people of the OT never experienced grace. Obviously they missed the entire point of the Exodus.

    Nor have they read and understood Paul. He never taught dispensationalism. Doesn’t matter how many proof texts dispys will use from Paul’s letters to back their ideas: They’re not using a single one in context. Paul taught salvation came by grace. Always had. Always will. Came by grace to Abraham; came by grace to the Hebrews; came by grace to the Jews; comes by grace to the gentiles.

    And to prove his case to the Pharisees in Galatia who claimed the new gentile Christians had to first follow the Law before they could be saved, Paul didn’t even have to quote Jesus; he quoted the very same Law which dispensationalists claim is about justification by works. The Old Testament scriptures “testify of me,” Jesus said, Jn 5.39 KJV so why shouldn’t we quote ’em for evidence? As Paul did repeatedly.

    If dispensationalists are right, and the Law had ever been a legitimate means to salvation, Paul would’ve gone an entirely different tack. He’d have used the very same line dispys try to use on me: “That’s old covenant. We live under the new covenant.” (Oh, and don’t forget the condescending tone.)

    But you’ve been reading my Galatians posts, right? (Hope so.) So you know Paul used no such argument; not even close. It’s “How’d you switch gospels?” Ga 1.6-7 It’s that if anyone teaches salvation comes any other way than God’s grace, ban them. Ga 1.8-9 Quit letting ’em teach!

    04 August 2022

    Abraham’s faith.

    Galatians 3.5-6 KWL
    5 The one who provides the Spirit to all of you,
    who works acts of power among you—
    does he do this out of you working the Law,
    or out of hearing and trusting?
    6 Likewise Abraham “trusted God,
    and God credited him with righteousness.” Ge 15.6
  • “By Law we’re good as dead—so live for Jesus!” Ga 2.17-21
  • “How’d you get from grace to legalism?” Ga 3.1-4
  • Figured I should also throw in the relevant passage Paul quoted. It’s specifically about the LORD promising Avram ben Terah a land and descendants. Thing is, Avram was more than 75 years old, his wife was only a year younger than he, and though he was quite wealthy by ancient standards, he had no biological nor adoptive children. His patriarchy would have to pass down to one of his slaves.

    Genesis 15.1-8 KWL
    1 After these words,
    the LORD’s Word was given to Avram in a vision,
    to say, “No fear, Avram. I’m your shield.
    Your compensation will be great.”
    2 Avram said, “Master LORD, what did you give me?
    I’ve gone childless.
    The ‘son’ who will someday possess my house
    is this Damascene, Eliezer.”
    3 Avram said, “Look at me!
    You don’t give seed, and look:
    The ‘son’ of my house is my heir.”
    4 Look, the LORD’s Word to Abram said,
    “This is not your heir.
    For one who comes out of your own guts—
    he is your heir.”
    5 The LORD brought Abram outside,
    and said, “Now look at the skies.
    Tally the stars—if you are able to tally them.
    The LORD told him, “Your seed is like this.”
    6 Avram trusted in the LORD,
    and the LORD credited him with righteousness.

    The apostles point to this proof text more than once. Because they knew—because everybody in ancient Israel knew—it’s foundational to the LORD’s covenantal relationship with Avram. As you likely know, this man was later renamed Abraham, and is the ancestor of pretty much the entire middle east. And of course the Abrahamic religions of Hebraism/Pharisaism/Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

    07 July 2022

    “By faith alone.”

    SOLA FIDE 'soʊ.lə 'fi.deɪ noun. Short for the Latin iustificatio sola fide' ' ', “justification by faith alone”: The Protestant doctrine that our right standing before God depends only on the basis of our trust in him.
    2. The popular Evangelical belief that salvation is solely achieved through orthodox Christian belief (i.e. faith).

    Yeah, I listed two definitions of sola fide above. One’s right; one’s wrong.

    One’s taught in seminaries, and debated by Protestants and Roman Catholics, ’cause Catholics insist justification is a little more detailed than that. They would argue it has to include God’s grace, and our faith-response has to produce good fruit. I don’t disagree! But they’re just going into greater detail about what justification means, whereas the Protestant Reformers simply put the complex idea into very basic words. God’s looking for people to trust him. When we do, he justifies us. We now have a connection to him, a relationship with him; we must abide in him, and he will abide in us. Jn 15.4 And fruit will grow, and we’ll inherit his kingdom.

    The other is all over popular Christian culture, and is taught in way too many churches by people who never bothered to learn sola fide is short for iustificatio sola fide. They don’t know “by faith alone” refers to justification. Or they do, but they just presume justification and salvation are the same thing—if God considers us right with him, doesn’t this automatically make us saved?

    Plus they’ve defined faith wrong. When they say faith, they don’t mean “trust in God.” They mean religion. They mean orthodox Christian beliefs; the faith of the first Christians, the faith of the ancient church, the faith of our fathers, the creeds, the church’s faith statement, the right stuff to believe. To them, sola fide means we believe that—and once we believe all the right things, we’re saved!

    (And conversely, they also believe if we don’t believe the right things, we’re not saved.)

    In short, to them sola fide means “saved by the Christian faith alone.” Saved by orthodoxy. I call it “faith righteousness.” Thing is, it’s not at all what the scriptures teach. We’re not saved by the good work of making sure we embrace all the proper Christian doctrines—because that’d mean we’re saved by good works. And the gospel doesn’t teach we’re saved by karma, but grace.

    06 July 2022

    Justification: How God considers us right with him.

    JUSTIFY 'dʒəs.tə.faɪ verb. Show or prove to be correct.
    2. Make morally right [with God].
    [Justification dʒəs.tə.fə'keɪ.ʃən noun, justificatory dʒə.stə'fɪk.ə.tɔ.ri adjective.]

    In our culture “justify” usually means we have an excuse for what we did. Not necessarily a good one.

    Fr’instance, let’s 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” sounds like a good enough explanation for most people, but legally it’s not gonna work: Outside of movies, the law doesn’t give free passes to badasses. Neither do juries. They still send plenty of these badasses to prison.

    Nope; justification means I need a profound reason for why I shouldn’t be jailed or institutionalized for my behavior. One that’s either in accordance with the law (“I reasonably feared for my life if I didn’t”) or is good enough to make judges and juries actually set aside the law, declare me not guilty, and set me free.

    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 way more sins which we fully, thoughtfully, deliberately 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 have no excuse. There’s no justification for our behavior. We’re totally guilty.

    Yet God forgives us anyway, adopts us as his kids, and lets us inherit his kingdom.

    Why? Why does God let us off the hook?

    Well, various theologians are gonna pitch all sorts of theories as to how ritual sacrifice and Jesus’s death might actually plaster over those sins in a meaningful way. But while that’s awesome and impressive and all that, that answers how, not why. Why’d Jesus bother to apply this plaster in the first place? Why does God even bother to have a relationship with humanity and Christians, despite our obvious unworthiness?

    It’s a really simple explanation: God is love, and God is gracious. He loves us too much to not find some way to restore our relationship with him. So 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 it is, ’cause we prefer karma, in which we merit that relationship instead of getting a free pass from God. But we needn’t waste our efforts—as if we ever could wipe out our own sins. Jesus already 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 God figures only one thing justifies his 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 God’s like—and as a result they basically invent their own fictitious “God,” and sometimes then don’t even follow him. Nontheists 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 made faith a condition of our relationship with him. No faith, no relationship. No relationship, no kingdom. Mt 7.22-23 Kinda important.

    24 May 2022

    Doubt is our friend.

    You might’ve heard the following verse before.

    Matthew 21.21 NIV
    Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.”

    Jesus says ἐὰν ἔχητε πίστιν καὶ μὴ διακριθῆτε/e’án éhite pístin ke mi diakrithíte, “when you have faith and don’t hesitate,” though most translations follow the KJV’s lead and go with “doubt not.” Either way, people assume he’s contrasting opposites: Hesitation, or doubt, is the opposite of faith.

    So either we have faith or we have doubt—so have faith, and never doubt. Doubt is bad. Doubt is evil. Doubt is how the devil convinces us to never do as the Spirit wants.

    But in college I studied logic. (Hey, it’s a math class, and I wasn’t a fan of math, but logic sounded like something I could get into. Boy did I.) In logic I learned a lot of supposed “opposites” aren’t really. What’s the opposite of big? It’s actually not small. Big and small are contrasts, not opposites. A big coffee is not the opposite of a small coffee. Big faith isn’t the opposite of small faith either.

    Same with hot and cold, black and white, young and old, male and female. Especially male and female. They’re not opposites; they’re complements!

    The proper opposite of anything is its absence. The opposite of big is not big. Which could be medium, small, tiny, or even 3XL; what makes it opposite is it’s not what we want. Not what we’re looking for. And that’s not just something relatively smaller; it’s everything else. When it’s not as big as we want, it’s the opposite of big. “That’s not a ‘big.’ Get me a ‘big’!”

    Likewise the opposite of black is not-black. The opposite of young is not-young. The opposite of love is not-love. And the opposite of faith is not-faith.

    Now, if the definition of a word is precisely the same as that opposite, it’s a true opposite. The opposite of true is not-true, i.e. false. The opposite of patient is not-patient, i.e. impatient. Does doubt mean precisely the same as not-faith? Actually no: It means not enough faith. There’s still a little faith in there! There oughta be more, and sometimes there’s not enough faith for no good reason, ’cause we really oughta trust God more than we do.

    But sometimes we don’t have enough faith for a totally valid, very good reason: This isn’t a God thing.

    ’Cause sometimes it’s not. There are a lot of things which Christians claim are God things, claim are holy, claim are Christ Jesus’s expectations for his followers, claim are mandatory doctrines or mandatory practices. Are they? Well… we doubt. And it turns out we’re right to.

    I’ll go so far as to say the reason we doubt is because the Holy Spirit is making is hesitant. The Christianese term for this is, “I have a check in my spirit,” which usually means “I don’t think we should”—and because we can sometimes be giant hypocrites, we phrase it so it sounds like the Holy Spirit is making us hesitant. But sometimes it’s actually not hypocrisy! Sometimes it really is the Holy Spirit telling us, “Whoa there little buckaroo. That’s a cliff you’re heading towards.”

    Sometimes we call this supernatural discernment: We know something’s not right, don’t know why, but trust God enough to put things on pause. Other times it takes no revelation from God whatsoever; any onlooker can see it’s all kinds of wrong. And we should practice the regular kind of discernment as well—though you’d be surprised and annoyed how often Christians don’t, and get suckered into all sorts of cons. We can be some of the most gullible people sometimes.

    Other times the Holy Spirit will obviously tell us, “No; don’t.” Ac 16.6-7 Won’t necessarily tell us why. Nor does he need to! (We gotta trust him, y’know.) But clearly those “doubts” we might sometimes have, aren’t always gonna the product of doubting God. Sometimes they’re just the opposite. We doubt circumstances. We doubt fellow Christians. We doubt everything but God.

    It’s a great thing to have the sort of mountain-moving faith Jesus speaks of. It’s just as great to pay attention to our doubts, lest we attempt to move the wrong mountains. ’Cause doubt isn’t always our opponent! Often doubt is our friend.

    And few Christians have been taught this. Or even understand this. They’ve been taught Christians should never, ever, EVER doubt. Shove all those doubts out of your mind. Turn ’em off like a lightswitch. Suppress them. Fight them. Psyche yourself into believing.

    In other words, embrace denial. And because denial’s a lie, it doesn’t legitimately get rid of our doubts. Instead, denial unravels our faith and turns us into hypocrites.

    Y’see, whenever we Christians have doubts, our next step is to investigate. Confirm whether those doubts are valid. Find out whether there’s anything rock solid behind them, or whether we’re getting scammed by some Christian who only wants our money or loyalty. If these things are of God, they can absolutely hold up to scrutiny. If they’re not, they don’t—and the people trying to pull us in those directions get really angry, and all sorts of other fleshly behavior starts coming out of ’em.

    Use those doubts to get solid about what you oughta believe and who you oughta follow—and get closer to God.

    23 December 2021

    Santa Claus and misplaced, misunderstood faith.

    Years ago round Christmastime, one of my 9-year-old students asked me, “Mr. Leslie, is Santa real?”

    Oh good Lord, I thought, haven’t her parents had the Santa talk with her? I punted. “Ask your mom.”

    This girl’s mom was one of those people with an all too common misconception: The way you keep your kids innocent is by keeping them ignorant. And of course this doesn’t work. As you might know from when you were a kid: When you had serious questions, you sought answers. If your parents didn’t have ’em, or wouldn’t give ’em, you’d go elsewhere.

    And these days, older kids won’t even go to their parents for answers: They’ll do as their parents do, and grab their phone first. Wanna find out about anything? Grab your phone and ask Siri or Google. Heck, some of you might be reading TXAB right now because you went to the internet instead of texting your pastor.

    I’m old: When I was a kid only academics and soldiers had internet. But when my parents weren’t forthcoming, I knew how to look stuff up in an encyclopedia. We had an old edition of the Britannica at home, and if it had little or nothing, there was always the public library.

    And if I had to consult other people, there were plenty of knowledgeable adults around. Pastors, mentors, neighbors, schoolteachers, older relatives. Or when absolutely necessary, school friends—but I already knew they didn’t know anything. Not every kid does.

    So as their schoolteacher, this is why I got questions about Santa. And God. And why people are so terrible. And how babies are made. And the definitions to certain words which children’s dictionaries correctly refused to include. And that’s just fourth grade; you should hear what junior highers and high schoolers ask—on the rare occasions they don’t assume they know it all.

    I taught at a Christian school, so parents were usually okay with me answering God questions. That is, so long that my answers didn’t undermine their favorite assumptions. But some of ’em deliberately put their kids in Christian school to shelter them. Which is another common misconception: You do realize certain parents put their kids in Christian school because they’re bad kids, and are hoping the school will straighten them out so they don’t have to? So while you imagine you’re sheltering your kids, you’re actually throwing them into the hail. Nice job.

    In any event the parents were so not okay with me answering any questions about baby-making. Heck, I didn’t wanna do it either; I kept telling them to ask their parents. I told one persistent girl, whose mom refused to have “the talk” with her, “Tell her, ‘If I don’t know how they’re made, what if I make a baby by accident?’ ”—and that worked.

    I likewise knew (from experience; a story I’ll tell another time) parents definitely didn’t want me exposing their Santa game. Problem is, the girl asked me in the middle of class, and some of ’em decided to answer her question before her mom could: “Santa’s not real.”

    “He’s not?” asked the girl.

    “He’s real…” I fumbled, thinking specifically of St. Nicholas of Myra, “but maybe not in the way you’re thinking.”

    “Which means,” insisted one of my very literal-minded students, “that he’s not real.” ’Cause kids know a wishy-washy answer when they hear it.

    22 June 2021

    Not yet ready for miracles.

    About a decade ago, a cessationist of my acquaintance, whom I’ll call Izak, wrote about a member of his church whose child had died. The member asked Izak to come pray for the grieving family, so he did.

    While he was at the house, Izak decided—kinda on a spur of the moment—to pray God would raise their child from the dead. Yeah, Izak says he firmly believes God turned off the miracles after bible times. He won’t shut up about this, either; he writes pretty frequently about this utter absence of faith in God. Methinks he doth protest too much, because like he said, he did decide to try to raise the dead this one time. Just in case.

    Of course nothing happened.

    And Izak likes to say, “Of course nothing happened,” because it proves his worldview: God doesn’t intervene till the End Times. Meanwhile we Christians have to believe, really hard, that miracles used to happen; that Jesus rose from the dead because of one… even though God doesn’t do such things now, and the natural conclusion one would usually make to a miracle-free existence is to conclude all the ancient miracle stories are utter fabrications, if not dirty lies. Man alive, has God stacked the deck against all those faithful cessationists.

    Okay, so what do I mean by saying “Of course nothing happened”? Have I gone cessationist on you?

    Nah. Nothing happened because Izak has no faith. And therefore he’s not ready to see a miracle. It wouldn’t grow his faith; it’d only grow his denial.

    12 May 2021

    False knowledge, and how it’s confused with faith.

    There are plenty of people who “just know” things.

    And man alive, are they frustrating. Y’see, they can’t tell you why they know what they do. They don’t know where they got their knowledge, nor what it’s based on. Not that it matters where they got it: They believe it. You can’t tell them any different.

    But they’re wrong. It’s false knowledge.

    I’ll tell people something they’ve not heard before, and they’ll respond—whether in Sunday school, my classrooms, or the workplace—

    THEY. “Why, what you’re saying can’t be true, for I know different.”
    ME. [patiently] “Well your knowledge is wrong. Relax; we’re all wrong sometimes.”
    THEY. “Nope; can’t be. I know this.”
    ME. “Okay, maybe I’m wrong. So prove your case. Show me why you’re right.”
    THEY. “Don’t need to. I know I’m right.”

    Every once in a while they’ll really try to prove their case. Turns out there’s a thousand holes in their reasoning. Easy to see, easy to chip away at. But they can’t see the holes. And don’t really care there are holes; it doesn’t matter if they prove their point; they know they’re right.

    It’s not that they actually believe what they do for logical reasons. Humans aren’t logical. We believe what we do because we find it convenient to believe it. Helps when it’s actually true. But even when it’s not, people will push aside all evidence to the contrary, grasp at any evidence they can find in their favor, and believe what they please anyway.

    Certain Christian apologists call this behavior “postmodernism.” It’s not. (If anything, postmoderns are frequently the ones demanding, “Prove it.”) Not that postmoderns aren’t just as guilty of this behavior: Everybody does it. Moderns, postmoderns, everyone. It’s not a worldview thing, not a cultural thing, not a political thing, not even a sin thing. It’s a human thing. We’re comfortable with our beliefs, and don’t wanna change ’em, even if there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary. Change is too inconvenient.

    I had to be trained to not think this way. First journalism school, then seminary: We were taught to question everything. Everything. My first journalism professor was fond of saying, “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out!” Which sounds ridiculous at first… but you do realize there are a lot of dysfunctional mothers out there, who have very distorted definitions of love. Turns out she might not love you; whatever she’s feeling is neither khecéd nor fílos and agápi. Shouldn’t have presumed; now you see why your relationship is so f----d up.

    There are naturally skeptical people who automatically question everything. Or so it appears; there are certain beliefs they take for granted, and you’ll find ’em once you drill down far enough. They might be nihilistic about a lot of things, but at their core they’re pretty sure they’re right about a number of things. Cogito ergo sum, at least.

    But more often people are comfortable with the knowledge they believe they have, and are willing to trust it. Their minds are made up. Doesn’t matter which way the evidence points: There’s no higher authority than their minds.

    It’s why people refuse to believe in climate change, or in an ancient earth, or insist humans are inherently good (regardless of our obvious depravity). Conversely it’s also why people believe in connect-the-dots theories and conspiracies. And it doesn’t matter how much evidence we have of a screw loose in their reasoning: They’re right. They know so. Can’t tell ’em otherwise.

    In 2005 Stephen Colbert famously identified this as truthiness—that people believe what they do because they feel it’s true, rather than know it’s true. (And to a large degree it’s also because they feel it’s true; these “facts” are possessions or creations of theirs, so there’s a lot of selfishness bundled with ’em.)

    True, false knowledge has a lot of similarities to truthiness. But unlike truthiness, it’s usually borne from apathy. People believe as they do because change and repentance take more effort than they care to spend.

    It’s like fact-checking a headstone. My grandfather’s headstone actually has his first and middle names reversed. But nobody bothered to spend the money to fix it. And nobody’s gonna. Cemetery records, and eventually genealogies, are gonna have his names flipped for ages to come, all because nobody cares enough to fix the error. False knowledge has just this kind of effect on real knowledge… and often a much bigger impact.

    So yeah: Truthiness has a lot of feelings involved in its practice and propagation. False knowledge has no such feelings. Gets propagated all the same.

    11 February 2021

    We don’t just “have faith.” We have faith 𝘪𝘯 stuff.

    You learned what a transitive verb is back in school, but you might’ve forgotten, ’cause your teachers didn’t make the definition all that memorable. Transitive means you can’t use the verb without an object. Unless you’re a toddler, you can’t just say, “I wet”: You have to indicate what or whom you wet. You wet the whistle; you wet the bed. Got that?

    Faith works the same way. Because “faith” is a synonym for “trust,” and trust is also a transitive verb. You can’t just say, “I trust”: Gotta say what or whom you trust. Saying “I have faith” means nothing till we say whom or what we have faith in.

    But as you know, lots of people are walking around saying, “I have faith.” Without defining in whom or what they’ve placed their faith. So we’re left to guess whom or what they’re trusting. “I have faith” means “I have faith in [YOUR GUESS HERE].” It’s like when your toddler tells you, “I wet,” and you know they speak English well enough to not mean “I’m wet”—so now you gotta search the house for the puddle.

    “I have faith” based on what? Dependent on whom?

    Next time one of your friends or acquaintances claims, “Well I have faith,” pin ’em down. What’s that faith in? Most of the time they’ve never even thought about it, and aren’t even sure they need to think about it: “I just have faith.” But I’ve found a lot of those people who “just have faith” actually have faith in karma. They believe the universe is good and just, and that in the end things’ll work out for the best, justice will prevail, and evildoers will be punished. If they’re deist or Christian they’ll give God the credit for a universe which works this way, but that’s what their faith is in: A benevolent universe which rewards goodness and punishes evil—and of course they figure they’re good.

    And yeah, “I have faith” can mean other things. They have faith in human decency and goodness. They have faith in our civic institutions and criminal justice system. They have faith that “all things work together for my good.” They have faith in Jesus, or more precisely faith in the things they believe about Jesus, which may or may not be so.

    But as you can see, it’s not enough to just say “I have faith.” Ten people can say “I have faith” and mean 10 different things by it. But sorting out the difference is really easy: Figure out whom or what their faith is in.

    And for us Christians, we gotta put our faith in Jesus.

    10 February 2021

    “Name it and claim it”: Misplaced faith.

    Faith, as I wrote in my previous piece on the subject, is belief, trust, assurance, and moral conviction. If you have faith, you believe. Preferably in something or someone solid. For us Christians that’d be Jesus: We trust him. Everything else, less so. Although not much less; I trust the scriptures pretty strongly. Hopefully you do too.

    I also wrote a segment in that previous piece about how way too many people believe faith is the power to believe the unbelievable. Antichrists, who think Christianity is rubbish and we’re idiots for getting mixed up in it, love this definition. They figure we have no basis whatsoever for the beliefs we hold: We believe it only because we want to believe it so very badly. So we suppress all our doubts, suppress any doubters, and wish really, really hard. ’Cause if we wish hard enough, maybe it’ll become real, like the Velveteen Rabbit.

    Thing is, this wish-it-into-reality idea has been around for a mighty long time. So long, you get people claiming it’s “the Secret,” a mysterious ancient truth about how the universe works—that all you have to do is declare to the universe your deepest wishes, “put it all out there” so to speak, and the cosmos will magnetically pull your desires towards you. Apparently this “law of attraction” has been found in literature going all the way back into history… and of course it has. Ain’t nothing new under the sun. Ec 1.9

    Pagan religions have always seriously taught if you want something to be so, your earnestness, righteousness, or worthiness would get the gods to create it for you. (Or if you don’t have any of that, find a lamp with a djinn in it.) But the storyline woven into just about every single human culture is that if we want something bad enough, and if we’re motivated and deserving, we can get it; we can have it. You want knowledge of good and evil? There’s the fruit; go eat it.

    It got mixed into Christianity by the gnostics, particularly those of them who claim reality is just an invention of the human mind, and doesn’t exist outside the mind. And if the mind creates reality, the mind can change reality… so if we actually do wish really hard, we actually can make things happen. Various gnostics have taught this for centuries under various names, and in the 1800s they were calling it “mind science.” One of its practitioners, Mary Baker Eddy, combined it with Christianity to create “Christian Science,” and her church still exists today. (They own a pretty good newspaper.) Problem is, if reality is just a mental construct, Jesus didn’t die in reality… so yeah, they’re heretic.

    Other Christians won’t go so far as to claim reality isn’t real: It is, but they still claim if we wish really hard, we can make things happen. They claim God granted us the very same power to “calleth those things which be not as though they were.” Ro 4.7 They insist it’s because the passage where I got that pull quote, says Abraham ben Terah totally did it.

    Romans 4.18-25 KJV
    [Abraham,] 18 who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. Ge 15.5 19 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: 20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.
    23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24 but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.

    If you follow their reasoning, this passage isn’t at all about being justified by faith. It’s about how Abraham’s faith made stuff happen. Really.

    God promised Abraham a son, and millions of descendants. So Abraham believed. Really hard. Regardless of his circumstances: He was really old, as was his wife. But he dismissed unbelief, kept his eyes on God, and God rewarded this faith with a son. And if we believe in God just as much, he’ll reward our faith with anything we ask of him.

    So they do. Unfortunately a lot of the churches which tell Christians to “name it and claim it” this way, tend to be a little too fixated on Mammon, and tend to equate riches and wealth with God’s favor. They covet. A lot. And y’notice a lot of them fall for get-rich-quick schemes (’cause much like Abraham losing patience and fathering Ishmael, they figure they’ve gotta be proactive if they wanna seize those blessings!) and regularly get fleeced by their church leaders. The love of Mammon is the root of all sorts of evil.

    09 February 2021

    Faith. (Which “faith” did you mean again?)

    We Christians like to talk about faith, and sometimes refer to ourselves as “faith-based” or “people of faith.” Thing is, we’re not so solid on what faith means—by which I’m talking ’bout the definition of the word “faith.” We use that word all the time, but same as a lot of Christianese words, we never bothered to learn its definition, guessed what it meant, guessed wrong, ran with the wrong definition anyway, and we’ve been stumbling in the dark ever since.

    I’ve met more than one Christian who’ve claimed faith has no definition: “Faith is a mystery,” they’ll insist. And again, they’re using that word “mystery” wrong: In the New Testament, a μυστήριον/mystírion is something we used to not know, but Jesus revealed its existence or its meaning, so now we know it. Christian mysteries are revelations, but according to these people God’s still holding out on us: These ideas are way too big for mere mortals. And faith is one of them: We can’t explain faith ’cause God worries the very idea will break our brains. Me, I figure these Christians’ brains are already broken.

    The more common guess—and I admit it’s a reasonable one—is that faith is anti-doubt. ’Cause it looks like Jesus kinda said as much.

    Matthew 21.21 KJV
    21A Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not

    If you have faith, you don’t doubt: It appears to imply faith and doubt are opposites. And since the opposite of doubt, non-doubt, is certainty, that’s how many a Christian defines faith. Even those who insist faith is undefinable, loosely define faith this way: Faith is certainty. Absolute, know-it-in-your-bones certainty. Faith is when you know that you know that you know something’s so. You have no doubts in your mind whatsoever.

    Sorry to go on a sidetrack here, but I gotta: Is faith a gift from God, or is it something we develop on our own? Christians are of two minds about this. Some of us claim it’s all God, and never us. Others claim there’s more synergy involved, where God grants us faith, but we clearly gotta work with what he’s given us, which is why Jesus has to command us to “Have faith in God.” Mk 11.22 So if faith is certainty, be certain.

    But of course how Christians choose to exercise certainty, is not by analyzing the facts or learning the truth; it’s by pure stubborn denial. So when people want faith really really bad, we reckon if we have any doubts in our minds whatsoever, it suggests we don’t actually have faith… so we gotta blot these doubts out. Shove ’em into the darkest recesses of our psyches and bury ’em under other things, and hope they never crawl their way out like a zombie. (Even when they’re wholly legitimate, reasonable doubts which the Holy Spirit himself put in us. Seems we never considered that possibility.) Have you eliminated your doubts by dealing with them or denying them? Too many Christians don’t care there’s a real difference… and that denial’s just gonna come back and bite us.

    21 April 2020

    Pray like Elijah.

    When our pastors encourage us to pray, sometimes they do it by quoting this particular verse. Maybe not in the NKJV as I’m about to, but all the good translations have the same gist.

    James 5.16-18 NKJV
    16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

    “See?” they conclude: “Elijah was a person just like us. Bible says so. And when he prayed, it stopped raining for three and a half years; 1Ki 17.1-7 and when he prayed again, it rained like crazy. 1Ki 18.41-46 Your prayers can have just as much effect as his. So pray!”

    Yeah, but… Elijah wasn’t a person just like us.

    I mean he’s human like us. James says that, anyway: He has “a nature like ours,” or as the KJV put it “subject to like passions as we are,” Jm 5.17 KJV which is their way of translating ἦν ὁμοιοπαθὴς ἡμῖν/in omiopathís ymín, “with the same pathology as us,” or in clearer English, “felt exactly like we do [when we pray].” That’s the point pastors wanna make: You got doubts; Elijah had doubts. But he prayed and God did stuff. So pray, and watch God do stuff!

    But the part of that passage we keep going back to is “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” A righteous man.

    Elijah was righteous. As for us… well, we’re not so sure we’re righteous.

    Obviously there are Christians who feel plenty righteous, and are naming-it-and-claiming-it full speed ahead. Is God giving ’em what they demand from him? Not always. In fact the more arrogant they get, the less he cares to give ’em, ’cause God doesn’t wanna encourage this kind of prideful dickishness in his kids. Certainly they’re not who we think of when we’re talking righteousness. We’re thinking of Elijah, and trying to measure ourselves up to him.

    And sometimes incorrectly, ’cause we got the wrong definition of righteous on the brain: We imagine it means good. The prayer of a good person is gonna work… and we’re not so good. Not as good as Elijah. So if we want prayer results, we gotta become as good as Elijah. Gotta rack up some good karma, and then God’ll recognize us as being worthy of granting us our requests. Till we do, of course we’re not getting what we want; God doesn’t listen to dirty sinners.

    Okay, time to remind everyone: Righteous means we’re in the right standing with God. How do we get righteous? By trusting God.

    Galatians 3.11 ESV
    Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” Hb 2.4

    You wanna be righteous like Elijah? It’s not about being good like Elijah. We have no stories in the scriptures about how he was particularly good; about his acts of charity and Law-following and other good deeds. We have loads of stories about how he trusted God, and how far that took him. You wanna be righteous like Elijah, you gotta trust God like Elijah.

    And yeah, Elijah struggled with trust issues. After he prayed for the rain to stop, after he called down fire from heaven to burn up an offering (and the entire stone altar it sat on), 1Ki 18 one little death threat from the queen got him to flee for his life, go to Mt. Sinai in Midian, and complain to God about how it seemed the whole world was out to get him. No it wasn’t, said the LORD; go back and get back to work. 1Ki 19 Elijah certainly didn’t have unshakable faith. Like James said, he was a man with a nature like ours.

    Elijah prayed for massive things and God met those requests, and I suspect that’s because Elijah already lived a lifestyle of praying for small things and God meeting those requests. He had to grow his faith to the point where praying for big things was doable. Still might’ve been a faith challenge, depending on how impossible these things looked, but if you’ve regularly seen God grant prayer requests, it gets less and less impossible-looking over time. So that’s my advice to you: If you’ve gotta grow your faith to Elijah-level proportions, start small and work your way up.

    But faith, not good works, is how we get righteousness. (Good works is simply the fruit.) You wanna be the righteous person whose prayers avail much? Work on the faith.

    02 April 2020

    You say “faith,” but you mean religion.

    FAITH feɪθ noun. 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 adjective.]

    I bring up the definition of faith because today I’m addressing the second definition: A system of beliefs. A religion.

    A lot of Evangelicals in the United States have this idea that religion is a bad thing. It’s because they mixed up religion with dead religion, and they don’t practice that. They don’t go practice rituals they don’t believe in; they’re not just going through the motions. They have a real relationship with God. Which is why they’re so quick to tell everyone, “I have a relationship, not a religion.”

    Since they really don’t wanna use the word “religion” except to rebuke and mock it… how are they gonna describe their system of beliefs and practices? Simple: They’re gonna call it the faith. Or their faith. They’re not religious people; they’re “people of faith.” They’re “the faithful”—by which they don’t actually mean they’re dependable and committed, ’cause they’re often not; just that they firmly believe in that system of beliefs and practices.

    Nope, they have no religion; just the faith.

    Which creates all sorts of confusion when we’re talking about one of the other definitions of faith, but they mean religion.

    For skeptics and many pagans, “faith” means the ability to deny reality, and believe the impossible and ridiculous. So if you “have faith,” you’ve chosen to believe something despite no evidence it’s so, just like people who believe space aliens built the pyramids, or people who claim coronavirus is no deadlier than flu. As an Evangelical is talking about their faith with reverence and awe, a skeptic will think, “What, are you taking pleasure in the fact you turn your brain off? Man are you messed up.” Yep, they’re talking right past one another.

    And because so many Christians have totally buggered the proper interpretation of this verse—

    Ephesians 2.8-9 KJV
    8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

    —they claim it teaches we’re saved by faith. Not by grace, like it literally says; by faith. Not through faith; by faith. And when they say faith they don’t mean putting our trust in Jesus; they mean what they usually mean by “faith”; they mean religion. You’re saved by religion. The very opposite of what Paul taught in Acts, wrote in Romans and Galatians and Ephesians; the very reason Jesus kept objecting to the Pharisees’ legalism and loopholes. Because that’s what faith righteousness, this belief we’re saved by having perfect orthodox beliefs, devolves into.

    Those are big problems, and I wrote a bunch more about ’em elsewhere; click the links. But the solution to these problems is really simple: We need to stop talking past one another and specify what we mean by “faith.” Which definition are we using? Trust in God? Religion? Wishful thinking? Or women named Faith?

    Which definition did the bible’s authors have in mind when they wrote πίστις/pístis?

    faith, belief, firm persuasion; 2Co 5.7, He 11.1 assurance, firm conviction; Ro 14.23 ground of belief, guarantee, assurance; Ac 17.31 good faith, honesty, integrity; Mt 23.23, Ga 5.22, Tt 2.10 faithfulness, truthfulness; Ro 3.3 in NT faith in God and Christ; Mt 8.10, Ac 3.16, etc. ἡ πίστις/i pístis, the matter of Gospel faith Ac 6.7, Ju 1.3

    William D. Mounce, Greek Dictionary

    With few exceptions pístis generally means trust in God. No, not even the verses where we think we can overlay the religion idea on top of it. It primarily means religion in our culture.

    Faith meant trusting God—to Jesus, to the apostles, and 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.

    In using the word “faith” to mean religion, Christians regularly mix up the definitions in our own minds, and imagine them to all be one and the same thing. When we say we have faith, yeah we mean we trust God, but we also mean we have religious faith: We believe the proper doctrines. We have foundational, fundamental beliefs we base our Christianity upon. Hopefully it’s orthodox—or at least we’ve convinced ourselves it is.

    The result will be all sorts of interesting heresies.

    Saved by faith?

    The most common such heresy, the one I touched upon already, is the belief we Christians are saved by faith.

    Yes of course it’s heresy; Jesus saves us, not our beliefs. God, in his generous, forgiving attitude towards his kids, does the entire work of saving us. We don’t save ourselves. We couldn’t possibly acquire enough good karma to make our salvation a possibility, much less a reality. Only God can do it, and only God does it.

    But like I said, people quote Ephesians, jumble up the prepositions, and claim we’re saved by faith instead of grace. We’re saved through faith, Ep 2.8 and no that’s not the same thing. If I’m rescued by the Coast Guard ’cause they threw me a rope, what’s doing the rescuing? The rope? Me ’cause I grabbed the rope? Or the Coasties? It’s by the Coasties, through the rope, through me grabbing it: If I don’t have a Coast Guard boat or helicopter at the end of that rope, fat lot of good grabbing it will do me.

    Same with our salvation. It’s by God’s grace, and through the faith he grants us, through this same faith we respond in. Don’t get the idea this faith alone saves anyone.

    Yeah, Christians’ll easily dig up a proof text to defend the idea:

    Luke 7.50 KJV
    And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.

    Usually ’cause they’re ignoring context. This is where Jesus cured a bleeder. He’s talking about getting cured, not saved; σέσωκέν/sésoken can be translated both “saved” and “cured,” and that’s what Jesus means. He’s hardly talking about eternal salvation, nor even temporal salvation: This hemorrhage wasn’t a fatal disease! But it made the woman miserable, and in an act of desperate faith she touched Jesus, and the Holy Spirit rewarded her faith by curing her. If we’re gonna leap to the conclusion salvation works the same way… well, you we need much better proof than the word sésoken misinterpreted in a miracle story.

    The deal is this. Faith is a vital component of God’s kingdom. Can’t be our king when we don’t trust him! And when he offers us salvation, we gotta trust he’ll follow through on his offer, and bring us into his kingdom. Which is why we really gotta live like he’s brought us into the kingdom already: If it’s valid faith, our lives must reflect it. When they don’t, it implies we don’t trust him and aren’t saved. But regardless: Our faith is not the cause, and salvation the effect. Faith is the byproduct. The fruit.

    When Christians believe we’re saved by our fruit, and not grace, we’ve gone right back to believing we’re saved by good karma.

    Saved by grace. Not orthodoxy.

    Religion, the practices which further our relationship with God, is work. Good work, but still work.

    We believe certain things about God because we recognize he revealed them to us. We sought out the truth, he helped us find it, and we embraced it. That too is a good work. But still work. We had to realize we’re wrong. Had to go through the process of changing our minds, abandoning well-loved but heavily flawed beliefs, and accepting God’s truth. For some it was light work: We didn’t really believe the old crap anyway. For others it was hardly light. These were deeply-ingrained beliefs. Sometimes they still bubble up when we least expect ’em; they do me! But whether we’re on one extreme or the other, religious orthodoxy is still work. Religious “faith” is work.

    So are we saved by work? Nope. Only God’s grace. He doesn’t save people ’cause we’re good, or worthy, or have amazing potential. (The only reason we’d ever have potential, is God anyway.) He saves people entirely out of love. He makes that clear. Dt 7.6-8

    But in the hands of a Christian who believes we’re saved by faith, it gets clear as mud. They admit yeah, we’re saved by grace… but it’s through faith, and all their emphasis is thrown upon faith. “It is of faith, that it might be by grace,” they’ll misquote. Ro 4.16 KJV The reason we’re saved by grace is because we first acted in faith. Grace requires faith. But we’re really saved by faith alone. Sola fide, remember?

    Once they establish we gotta have faith before we can earn grace (yes I know that’s an oxymoron), they’ll remind us our faith is an orthodox faith: It’s the stuff they consider fundamental truths. Stuff the apostles believed, and all the real Christians throughout history—real like them. It’s the faith of our fathers, our forefathers, and our forefathers’ fathers. Once we embrace each and every one of these beliefs, it unlocks the safe to God’s grace, and gets us saved.

    And orthodoxy can’t be work, ’cause faith and work are two different things. Paul said so. Ga 2.16 Even James, who insisted the two were carefully linked, said so. Jm 2.14 So if orthodoxy is faith, it’s not work. How much work is it to hold a belief, anyway? It’s real easy. Shut off your brain and just mynah-bird that belief. That’ll do.

    This is why these folks go absolutely bonkers when they encounter people they consider heretic. After all, if the only way to be saved is to have all the correct beliefs, any wrong belief will disqualify us from grace, and plunge us into fiery hell. Grace doesn’t make up for our deficiencies; we’re not permitted any deficiencies.

    Yeah, I know: This doesn’t sound like grace at all. ’Cause it’s not. We don’t earn it, and we don’t lose it by making mistakes about God. True, if we really are following the Holy Spirit, he’s gonna redirect us away from the false beliefs, and point us to truth. Orthodoxy is, once again, fruit. It’s one of the good works which should stem from an authentic relationship with God. So, work—and therefore it’s not truly faith.

    Real faith trusts God to save us. Fake faith insists we gotta earn it through right belief. And in all our striving to get the right beliefs, we nudge ourselves further and further away from the grace that actually does save us. Yikes.

    Push away the false definition of faith.

    Like I said, this incorrect definition of faith is everywhere. The best way to combat it is to stop using it. Repeat after me: “I don’t have ‘a faith.’ I have a religion. One based on faith in God.”

    When people try to talk about “our shared faith,” I like to challenge that statement: “Our shared faith in what?” Usually they get the answer right: It’s in Christ Jesus. It’s in God. Unless they’re pagans, in which case they usually go on about our shared ability to believe nonsense. Or unless they think we’re saved by faith, in which case they talk about shared beliefs.

    But faith isn’t about shared beliefs, nor shared abilities. It’s trust. In God. That’s the only definition I care to use.

    If you’re using it to describe religion, I’d rather you say “religion.” I don’t care if Evangelicals have a hangup about the word. We need to get over that. Religion is a fine word, and when it’s living religion, an excellent practice.

    If you’re using it to describe blind optimism, or a belief in the ridiculous and stupid, or any other form of false faith, I’m gonna object. Those definitions are only meant to malign the real thing, mock Christianity, and make people hesitant to trust God.

    And if you’re using the slogan sola fide to describe salvation: That’s sola gratia/“grace alone.” Grace, not faith. Don’t mix your solas.

    14 March 2020

    “Believing for God” and viruses.

    As I write this, the United States is dealing with an outbreak of coronavirus; specifically COVID-19. It’s as communicable as flu, and a little more fatal, so people are encouraged to wash their hands, avoid touching their faces, and stay away from one another.

    And since humans are creatures of extremes, this also means they’re stockpiling supplies, “just in case.” This is why the grocery stores are running out of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and certain types of food. (The average American diet being as lousy as it is, y’notice the stores aren’t really running out of fresh fruits and vegetables though. Just saying.) Likewise a lot of major events, like sports and concerts—any venue where they’ll pack a lot of people in the audience—are getting canceled, just in case someone with coronavirus is there, and infects everyone else. Better safe than sorry.

    I live in California. Our governor encouraged everyone to cancel any large gatherings: Any events with 250 or more people should be canceled, or postponed till the end of the month. He didn’t make it an executive order; he’s trusting people “to do the right thing.”

    Some will. Some have. My church, fr’instance, is moving our services to the internet. We don’t have 250 people, but it’s a lot of people in a small space, and again: Better safe than sorry.

    My mom’s church, on the other hand, has more than 250 people in regular attendance. Last I heard (and this might change), they’re meeting Sunday as usual. Because “we’re believing for God.”

    Believing for God to what? Did he promise them anything? Did he specifically tell them he was gonna do something? Because he didn’t tell Christians in general any such thing in the bible.

    Jesus did say we can pick up snakes Mk 16.18 in a textual variant; it’s a passage which we oughta interpret as God’s divine protection during something which could potentially happen in the course of ministry. Ac 27.3-6 Unfortunately there are such Christians as snake-handlers, who’ve turned this into a sacrament—if you really trust God, let’s play with the snakes! Like I said, humans are creatures of extremes.

    But in that variant, Jesus didn’t say, “These signs accompany believers: They will interact with people who have communicable diseases, and won’t get them.” He certainly has the power to make such a declaration—and contrary to the name-it-and-claim-it crowd, we don’t. But Jesus didn’t grant us any such thing, because he doesn’t want his followers to foolhardily assume we’re immune to everything, and step into situations which’ll kill us.

    And that’s precisely what’s going on when churches choose to ignore basic precautions, and do as we do regardless. It’s not an act of faith: God’s given us no promises to put our faith in! It’s an act of wishful thinking. We hope God’ll spare us this plague, even though he gave us no preventative measures we can do as acts of faith (i.e. look at the snake on the pole, Nu 21.6-9 or paint the doorposts with blood Ex 12.13).

    …Although God did give us public officials, Ro 13.1 who offer us these preventative guidelines because they’re trying to prevent worse. When we ignore them because “we’re believing for God,” we’d better have a darned good, biblical reason for expecting God to act. Not just wishful thinking or “I know better” libertarianism.

    Nor carnal thinking.

    I mentioned the governor’s precautions to someone a few days ago. His response? A dismissive, “Oh, the governor.” He doesn’t respect the governor. Mostly because he’s Republican and the governor’s Democrat: If they’re in the opposition party, they must be bereft of all commonsense, so you can ignore everything they tell you. Even in this instance, when they’re simply repeating the advice of medical professionals.

    And yeah, no doubt a number of Christians feel they’re entirely free to do likewise. Honor our civic leaders. Honor the president. Pray for them and follow their advice. That is, until they’re in the opposition party; then mock them, dismiss them, and ignore them. If our governor were Republican they’d be quick to limit their meeting sizes and close their buildings; it’d be their patriotic duty! But he’s Democrat, so f--- him; they trust God.

    So this whole “believing for God” deal? I’m not saying Mom’s church has adopted it because they’re led by Republicans; I’m entirely sure they’d do the same thing if our governor were Republican. But plenty of people in her church will easily adopt the “we believe God” mantra because he’s not Republican. It’s their own small, petty way of sticking it to the governor: “We’re meeting anyway. In your face, you liberal wiener.”

    Likewise there are too many Christians who don’t believe in science. So when nurses and physicians assistants and doctors tell ’em, “Here’s what you oughta do,” their response is likewise, “Oh you don’t know what you’re talking about,” and do as they’re gonna do anyway.

    Or fall for any “wellness” scam which supports their biases. I have friends who seriously think oregano oil will cure coronavirus—hey, it killed a different coronavirus in a lab test, years ago!—so they’re gonna buy that. So I actually read the lab report which they think proves their claim: It might win a grade school science fair, but it proves nothing. It poured oregano oil directly onto the virus—which is fine if you’re using it as a household cleaner, but these folks are talking about it as if you eat it and it cures you, and that’s an entirely different, and unproven, deal. It didn’t compare oregano oil to the results of what a placebo, like saline, might do—and I betcha saline would kill coronavirus faster. Since there was no placebo, of course there was no double-blind study; we’ve no idea whether oregano oil honestly works better than alternatives. Honestly, it might! But it might not: It wasn’t tested properly, so we don’t know. All we really know is people are selling oregano oil, and I betcha it costs way more than bleach.

    Both these problems are examples of carnal thinking. It’s people who follow their biases, not the facts; believe what they choose to believe, rather than what’s been tested and proven, whether they like the results or not; believe whom they choose to believe, because the people they trust tell ’em everything they want to hear.

    In some cases it’s obvious carnality; it’s pure arrogance. This one pastor I know of, who plans to open his church no matter what, hasn’t even bothered to consult God: He’s entirely sure God would want the churches to be open, because we Christians can pray for the sick to be cured… and of course because he doesn’t trust the government. He’s entirely sure he knows God’s mind, and that he’s right; so why ask? This pastor’s kind of a dick, so his behavior doesn’t surprise me any.

    Trusting your gut instead of wisdom: That’s not faith in God! That’s pride: That’s faith in your own gut. That’s faith in your flesh. Those who follow the flesh are actually opposed to the Spirit, Ga 5.17 and are following themselves to their own detriment; Paul even says it’s death. Ro 8.6 We must never confound the desires of our own minds with God’s will, or project our wishes upon him. We must only pursue what he actually wants, what he truly promises.

    And, if he’s promised nothing, use your heads. Use your commonsense. Follow the advice of experts, of scholars, of wiser people than us. And yeah, sometimes the advice of public officials in the wrong political party.

    God’s gotta actually say something.

    God never stopped talking to his kids, despite what some doubters might imagine… the better to ignore what he’s currently telling them, although that’s a whole other article. So when we’re talking with God, if we ask him, “Hey, should our church meet this Sunday?” and he says, “Sure; don’t worry about this virus thingy; I got you,” now we have something we can put our faith in. Now we have something we can trust.

    We still need to get this confirmed though. We absolutely do. For three reasons.

    SUPER HIGH HEALTH RISK. If all the other churches are staying home, you’re gonna get visitors. The bigger the church, the greater chance strangers might attend… and the greater chance one of ’em is infected. In fact if you’re a church which believes in faith healing, and people intentionally visit you to get cured, there’s a really good chance you’ll get an infected visitor.

    All sorts of people attend church, but the gospel is particularly for the weak and ill… and as a result our churches have a lot of weak and ill people in ’em. People with chronic conditions, the elderly, the young… and all of these are people whom flus and coronaviruses will particularly affect. These viruses are deadly enough as it is, but if you’re already sick, or your immune system is already compromised (i.e. you’ve got AIDS or lupus, or you received an organ transplant), it’s likely to kill you. Churches in particular need to be cautious about disease!

    And, frankly, we’re not. Because too many of us “believe for God” instead of taking basic precautions.

    Plus churches aren’t all that sanitary anyway. Churches can seldom afford to hire professionals to clean the bathrooms, much less the seats, so things can go years without disinfection. Too many Christians wear their best clothes, not their cleanest like the bible mandates, and some of their “Sunday best” hasn’t been washed in a while. Too many of us like to greet one another with hugging and kisses and warm handshakes, and of course don’t use sanitizer. Churches are meant to be family, so we let our guards down just like they’re family—and you know how fast a virus can spread within a family.

    So God had better say, “I got you.” Otherwise the virus will.

    WE DON’T WANNA CLOSE. Unless we don’t really wanna go to church anyway, we wanna follow the scriptures’ admonition to keep meeting regularly. He 10.25 Christians need our support system; newbies especially. There’d better be a really, really good reason to skip a week. Heck, we’re entirely sure God wants us to meet, no matter what! Viruses and hurricanes and other plagues? Pshaw; isn’t God mightier than all those things combined?

    Plus if you don’t personally know anyone who’s fallen ill, you might not think the situation is all that dire anyway. Shutting down all the sporting events, concerts, and conferences feels like overkill; like living in fear, and we’re certainly not afraid. Perfect love casts out fear 1Jn 4.18 and all that.

    So if we pray and that voice in our head says, “Nah dude; open as usual,” of course you’re gonna hope that voice belongs to God. But this is a classic case of confirmation bias: The voice is telling us what we want to hear. It’s tapping our desires. Even righteous-looking desires, like the desire to have church services as usual.

    But God doesn’t need to instruct us to do what we’re already gonna do.

    Yep. The Holy Spirit is far more likely to correct us than confirm us. He confirms us when we have doubts—“No no, stay the course”—but otherwise he doesn’t have to confirm us; we’re doing fine! It’s only when we start veering off course that he’s gotta drop us a new message—“Come on, child, you know better”—or when an unexpected obstacle is coming—“Later today you’re gonna have to do something out of the ordinary.” (And sometimes he tells us why… but often he doesn’t, ’cause he’s trying to grow faith in us.) In every circumstance the Spirit speaks as necessary—and no, this doesn’t mean he speaks rarely; we need a lot of guidance! But telling us to do as we’re doing, usually isn’t necessary at all.

    So if the Spirit tells us to ignore our elected officials—and especially if he tells us to ignore the laws!—we’d better darned well be sure the Spirit told us so. Test that voice; make sure it’s his voice and definitely not our own, or the devil’s. Viruses are a life-and-death thing, and we especially don’t wanna be wrong about that.

    POTENTIAL TERRIBLE TESTIMONY. When we’re “believing for God” to keep our churches virus-free despite the obvious health risk, he’d absolutely better come through for us. Because if he doesn’t, and we become the epicenter of an outbreak, we’re boned.

    And not just us. Christianity as a whole. You think pagans care about the differences between one church and another? Between one denomination and another? They don’t care about our differences. (Neither does Christ Jesus; pagans have that correct, at least.) So if one church, fr’instance, harbors pedophiles, pagans treat it like every church harbors pedophiles. If one church thinks science is hogwash, pagans think every church dismisses science.

    So one church’s reckless behavior is gonna affect the whole of Christendom. Same as usual. Not good.

    And it gives antichrists more ammunition to bash Jesus, bash people who depend on Jesus, discourage those who might be considering Jesus: In general it makes our work harder. All because one pastor didn’t bother to double-check his gut feelings, and now his church is Plague Central.

    Our faith is only properly placed in God and what he’s no-fooling, in-context said. Accept no substitutes. Doubt yourself; trust him. And be wise.

    19 January 2020

    Time wasted on bad theology—and its temptations.

    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 too, ’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 put an awful lot of time into our wrong ideas.

    Some of us spent years on these ideas. Went to school and studied ’em in depth. 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.


    Expecting credit for wasted hours.

    On occasion a student of mine wouldn’t read the directions, and wound up doing their assignment wrong. Sometimes a little wrong, sometimes entirely wrong. Either way, they weren’t getting an A. Really frustrated them too. I know the feeling; I’ve made that mistake myself once or twice.

    Every so often, despite going so wrong, one of these students would try to talk me into giving ’em a good grade regardless. Because, they argued, at least they put in the time. That should count for something, right?

    Um, no.

    I taught bible, science, algebra, grammar, and history; not P.E. (True, some P.E. teachers actually grade their kids for achievement instead of participation… but I haven’t worked with any.) Yes there are plenty of situations in life—and plenty of jobs—where they pay you regardless of how productive you are with your time. But that’s not true in every arena, and y’better learn that. Make hay while the sun shines.

    Still, there are a lot of kids—and just as many adults—who still think this way. They put in the time, so they should get something for it. Some sort of karma, recognition, respect, even praise, for all their hard work—even when it honestly wasn’t all that hard. They want us to highlight the few things they got right and inflate their importance, and ignore all the stuff they got wrong, even if most of what they did was wrong.

    I’ve seen many a Christian produce an error-filled bible study. To keep others from going astray, I’ve been obligated to point out the errors. And these mistaken teachers regularly, foolishly excuse themselves with, “You gotta give me some credit for putting all this stuff together.” Same as my wrong-headed students.

    No I don’t gotta give you credit. Didn’t give my students credit either.

    I do have to be kind. I gotta forgive you. I’m Christian; I believe in grace. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you didn’t mean to teach error. (Well, usually I will. Certain fruitless souls deserve our skepticism.) But when you study wrong, you waste your time. And when you present the results of your wrongly-done study as if it’s true, you waste everyone’s time. Nobody, not even God, gives us credit for wasting time on error and evil, Calvinist beliefs notwithstanding.

    But this mindset of “I put in the time, so it must count for something” gets applied to way too many things in Christianity. Like time spent in a ministry which accomplishes nothing, but Christians justify the wasted time by imagining God’ll turn it into something. Like time spent trying to preach to antichrists, and this practice of throwing pearls to pigs Mt 7.6 is defended by saying, “I’m planting seeds” or “God’s word won’t return void.”

    Bad theology. But time was invested, and God would never let our investment wholly go to waste, right?

    Time and idolatry.

    At its core the reason we believe we should get something for misspent time, or figure there should be some credit and value we can gain despite misspent time… is idolatry.

    Yep, idolatry. Time is valuable. “Time is money,” as Benjamin Franklin aptly put it, and many people see the two as interchangeable. We won’t always agree on the exchange rate, but we generally agree there is one. If I put time into something, I put value into it.

    And if I put that value ahead of God? That’s the very definition of idolatry.

    Yep. So just as money is something we need to be wary of, so is time. If I put a lot of time into a wrong idea, it’s still a wrong idea. Time contributed nothing. Time redeemed nothing. Time justifies nothing. Wrong is wrong.

    I’ve wasted lots of time on bad ideas before. Businesses which went nowhere. Books and articles which weren’t accepted. Relationships which went bust. It’s frustrating… but it’s life. Things don’t always work out. Hey, we don’t know any better; we’ve gotta learn better. Time is a teacher, provided we treat it like one.

    And the same is true of theology. We can spend an awful lot of time studying a theological idea, getting really familiar with it, making it a part of our understanding of God… only to have the Holy Spirit undo it with a few well-placed words. So we gotta determine right now how we’re gonna respond to his correction: Faith? Or a massive crisis of faith, followed by years of a hobbled relationship because we don’t wanna listen to him tell us we’ve misused our time?—and that we’re still misusing our time?

    I find it helps when we keep in mind the first principle of theology: “I’m wrong. Jesus is right.” I expect to find I’m wrong. Even if we’re talking the beliefs I’ve held for a good long time, and invested loads of time in: Maybe I have the wording right, but I’ve mixed up something about the concepts. Or maybe I’m prioritizing them when Jesus wants me to prioritize something else. (Or maybe he’s okay with my prioritizing them for now, but he wants me to grow out of it.) Hey, I’m following his lead; however he wants to correct me, I’m game. He’s the only one I cling to tightly.

    If that’s not stable enough for you, may I submit you’re perhaps putting your faith in more shaky things than you realize. Time spent should not be one of them.

    07 November 2019

    Christians who lack faith.

    Nope, didn’t title this piece “Christians who doubt.” Because everybody doubts.

    Which isn’t a bad thing. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be gullible simpletons 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 say, believe everything the politicians tweet, believe everything the anti-vaxxer websites claim, 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: Doubting him.

    So when we talk about “Christians who lack faith,” it’s not about Christians who question all the doctrines and teachings which we presume are settled, like good postmoderns will do. It’s about Christians who lack faith in Jesus.

    Yep him—not fellow Christians. And sometimes these Christians will try to mix these categories together: They’ll insist if you doubt them, you do doubt Jesus, ’cause they’re totally channeling Jesus. Nope. ’Tain’t the same thing. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. People will fail us, and Jesus is the only exception. Trust him without exception. Trust them as long as they remain trustworthy… and forgive ’em when they screw up, ’cause they will, ’cause we all do.

    Now these not-as-trustworthy Christians have largely been successful at muddling who we’re to trust: A lot of Christians do trust their churches and preachers and Christian institutions. And trust ’em more than Jesus. That’s why they believe so much Christianist rubbish, and when we try to correct ’em with what Jesus actually teaches, they won’t believe us. Which is predictably typical human behavior: The more we’re around certain people, the more we grow to trust them, whether they deserve it or not. Spend all your time around Christianists, spend none with Jesus, and of course you’ll trust them more than him.

    And too often Christians passively trust Jesus—by which I mean they believe things about him, and believe he’ll be there for us at the End, but following him now is a whole other deal. They’re more likely to follow the people they can see, and since they’ve not yet seen Jesus they treat him as hypothetical or imaginary.

    This passive trust certainly resembles faith, but really it’s just procrastination: People who expect they’ll trust Jesus later. Not now. They don’t now. Not enough to do as he says, go where he goes, take the risks he tells us, nor heed the Holy Spirit’s course corrections. Where we are is more comfortable than where he wants us. We trust circumstances, not Jesus. That’s unfaith.