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Showing posts with the label #Theology

Jesus’s resurrection: If he wasn’t raised, we’re boned.

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Of Christianity’s two biggest holidays, Christmas is the easier one for pagans to swallow. ’Cause Jesus the Nazarene was born. That, they won’t debate. There are a few cranks who think Jesus’s life is entirely mythological, start to finish; but for the most part everyone agrees he was born. May not believe he was miraculously born, but certainly they agree he was born. Easter’s way harder. ’Cause Jesus the Nazarene rose from the dead. And no, he didn’t just wake up in a tomb after a two-day coma following a brutal flogging and crucifixion. Wasn’t a spectral event either, where his ghost went visiting his loved ones to tell them everything’s all right; he’s on a higher plane now; in time they’ll join him. Nor was it a “spiritual” event, where people had visions or mass hallucinations of him, or missed him so hard they psyched themselves into believing they saw him. Christians state Jesus is alive. In a body. A human body. An extraordinary body; apparently his new body can

I am not the baseline. (Neither are you.)

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Whenever I have a God-experience —i.e. when he tells me stuff during prayer time, when he confirms stuff through one of his prophets, when he cures the sick right in front of me—my usual response is humility. ’Cause it’s God , y’know. As much as I interact with him, I can’t imagine growing indifferent or jaded to the fact God’s doing stuff . He’s still awesome, and it’s incredibly gracious of him to let me be around, or even get involved in, anything he does. Of course, I say stuff like this and various other Christians respond, “Excuse me, God does what around you?” Um… well, yeah. I’m Pentecostal, which means we aren’t just continuationist , i.e. recognize God still talks to people and does miracles. We don’t treat God-experiences like something that might potentially or theoretically happen; we treat ’em as part and parcel of the active Christian life. It’s much like the difference between saying, “Y’know we could go visit Grandma in the retirement home” and never doing

The truth.

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TRUE tru adjective . In accordance with fact or reality. Genuine, real, actual, correct. 2. Precisely correct; exact. 3. Loyal, faithful, honest. [Truer 'tru.ər adjective , truth truθ noun , truly 'tru.li adverb , truthful 'truθ.fəl adjective ] True and false are such basic, foundational concepts, most people never bother to define them; we’re just expected to know what they mean. We’ve known what true and false are ever since we were first exposed to true-or-false quizzes. True is the way things legitimately are in the universe, and false is the way things aren’t; i.e. not true . Trying to pass off a false thing as true, is lying. You might remember (and if you don’t, your memory will be jogged when your own young children start taking these true-or-false quizzes) “truth” and “falseness” are sometimes harder to figure out than people suppose. There’s a whole branch of philosophy, called epistemology because why not give it a hard-to-remember name,

Prima scriptura.

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There are a lot of ways God reveals himself to people. Obviously there’s the fact Jesus appears to people, either in the real world or in dreams, and talks to them. Obviously there’s prophecy; the Holy Spirit will speak to a person firsthand, or speak through a prophet secondhand. And obviously these two situations aren’t good enough for most people. Because either they don’t want Jesus to appear to them—they claim they do, or think they do, but if he ever actually showed up, they’d freak the f--- out, same as the Hebrews when the L ORD did it. Exodus 20.19 KJV And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. Same with prophecy: They either refuse to believe the Spirit’s actually speaking to them, or refuse to believe those prophets are real prophets. Hence there are a lot of skeptics—Christians included—who insist God doesn’t speak in such ways to people. Not anymore, anyway; maybe back in bible times.

The goodness of creation: Matter bad, spirit good?

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There’s a really popular, common idea in our culture: Spiritual things are good, and material things are bad. It comes from Greek philosophy, though the Greeks were hardly the first to believe it. It’s found pretty much everywhere. Plenty of pagans insist every spirit being must be an angel, and good. Therefore we must always, always take their advice, and never wonder whether any of them are evil. ’Cause why would there be any such thing as an evil spirit? They’re spirits . Duh. Regardless of its origins, Christians have totally bought into this idea. In part because we think we see it in the bible. Romans 8.5-8 NRSV 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not su

The whole point of creation.

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One of God’s bigger miracles is of course creation. Genesis 1.1-3 NRSV 1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light” ; and there was light.   John 1.1-5 NRSV 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Despite the claims of young-earth creationists, the scriptures aren’t meant to give a scientific description of how creation happened. The bible’s not made up of science books: It’s theology. It’s about why God created the universe. Genesis 1 may be structure

When God became human.

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INCARNATE 'ɪn.kɑrn.eɪt verb . Put an immaterial thing (i.e. an abstract concept or idea) into a concrete form. 2. Put a deity or spirit into a human form, i.e. Hindu gods. 3. ɪn'kɑr.nət adjective . Embodied in flesh, or concrete form. [Incarnation ɪn.kɑr'neɪ.ʃən noun , reincarnation 're.ɪn.kɑr.neɪ.ʃən noun .] Most of our Christian theology lingo tends to come from Greek and Latin. This one too. Why? Because they sound much more formal and sanctimonious than plain English. When you literally translate ’em from Greek and Latin, they make people flinch. Incarnate is one of those words: In-carnátio is Latin for “put into meat.” Yep, put into meat. Nope, it’s not a mistranslation. It’s an accurate description of what happened to Jesus. The word of God —meaning God—became flesh. Meat. John 1.14 KWL The word was made flesh. He encamped with us. We got a good look at his significance— the significance of a father’s only son—filled with grace and truth.

Do you know the Holy Spirit?

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Years ago a pagan relative of mine asked me, “You keep saying ‘Holy Spirit’ this, ‘Holy Spirit’ that. What do you mean by that? What’s the Holy Spirit?” “Oh,” I said—half surprised, half not-all- that -surprised, she didn’t know. And since she’s pagan, the simplest answer was best: “Holy Spirit is another name for God.” “Oh,” she said. And our conversation moved on. Yeah, I could’ve given her the full-on theological explanation of what spirit is, how Jesus revealed him, who he is in the trinity, what he does, how he lives in Christians, and how he’s a he instead of an it . But that’s the introduction we really oughta save for new Christians. Mostly because they’ll want to know all this stuff. Pagans don’t always care. But basically the Holy Spirit ( KJV “Holy Ghost”) is God. “Holy Spirit is another name for God” is a quick-’n-dirty explanation which points people in the right direction. As opposed to the wrong direction, which is all too common: Too many people thi

The faith statement. (And mine too.)

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Typically when Christians talk about what’s orthodox Christianity and what’s heresy, we usually mean what we consider orthodox and heretic. Not what Christianity as a whole considers orthodox and heretic. We don’t think about the whole; honestly, too many of us suspect most of our fellow Christians aren’t real Christians. But when you talk to individual Christians, we tend to not have all our Christian essentials, our “mere Christianity,” sorted out all that well. What’s the minimum requirements for Christianity?—well, for a lot of us it’s usually these. Gotta believe in Jesus: That he’s real, was literally born, literally died, literally rose from the dead, and is literally coming back—to do what, varies. And his teachings are important… though how well we literally follow him also varies. Gotta believe in the trinity. Though whether we actually understand trinity well enough, also varies. (Too many Christians don’t really understand what the Holy Spirit does, so

Who decides what’s orthodox and what’s not?

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I’m involved in a few different discussion groups. In one, the subject of Darbyism came up: One of the members is a Darbyist and wanted a shout-out from all his fellow Darbyists in the group. Turns out most of us aren’t Darbyist at all; in fact a number of us consider Darbyism to be unbiblical and faithless. I’m pretty sure he was surprised, if not horrified, at the non-support. Of course, among all the expressions of non-support, one newbie went even further and declared Darybism is heresy. There he went too far, and got a little backlash himself—some of it from the same folks who take issue with Darbyism. ’Cause Darbyism is wrong —often profoundly so—but not heresy . We mustn’t throw around the H-word so casually. But of course many don’t know the difference between wrong and heresy , and sometimes think there is no difference: Heresy is whenever we get something wrong, and everything wrong is heresy. Getting the trinity wrong is heresy… and so is mispronouncing “Habakku

Orthodoxy: Getting our theological ducks in a row.

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ORTHODOX 'ɔr.θə.dɑks adjective. Correct; conforms to what’s commonly or traditionally believed true; generally accepted as right. 2. Usual, conventional, normal, customary. 3. [ capitalized ] Of the ancient churches originating in the eastern Roman Empire, which formally split from the Roman Catholics in 1054. [Orthodoxy 'ɔr.θə.dɑks.i noun. ] Christianity is primarily about trusting and following Christ Jesus. We read what he taught, agree with him, and do as he said; we join his kingdom, with him as our king. An important secondary thing (and you just know people miss the point and turn it into the primary thing) is what we believe about Jesus. How we understand him, and who we understand him to be, are mighty important things. ’Cause when we misunderstand who Jesus is, we follow him wrong. Aren’t even following him at all, in many cases: We’re following an imaginary Jesus who looks a lot more like us, and our biases and prejudices… or who looks more lik

Bad theology: When it’s not based on revelation.

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The starting point of theology is revelation , the stuff God reveals to us. Problem is, not everybody agrees. They think the starting point is us : We have questions about God, the universe, whether we can have a relationship with God (or at least get stuff out of him), death and the afterlife, good and evil and karma, and salvation. And people figure theology is when we seek answers to these questions, and get wise-sounding answers from the smartest gurus. Or even become a guru ourselves, ’cause guruing doesn’t look all that hard. Yep, even Christians do it. Years ago, at another church, my pastors began to invite a lot of clever guest speakers to come preach to us. These guys would regularly tell us what they think they’ve figured out about God. Some ideas were based on actual personal experiences with God —which I’m not knocking, but I wanna remind you our God-experiences need to be confirmed long before we start developing ’em into theology. These guys were not so sc

Revelation: The starting point of theology.

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REVELATION rɛv.ə'leɪ.ʃən noun. A previously unknown fact (about God), often surprising or dramatic. 2. (God’s) act of making the unknown known. 3. [ capitalized ] the last book of the New Testament; Christ Jesus’s apocalypses of the future, given to John of Patmos. [Reveal rə'vil verb , revelator 'rɛ.vəl.eɪt.ər noun , revelatory 'rə.vɛl.ə.tɔ.ri adjective , revelational rɛv.ə'leɪ.ʃ(ə)n.(ə)l adjective .] When I first taught theology, I found whenever I talk about revelation, Christians nearly always assume I’m talking about the book. (And half the time they think it’s Revelations , with an -s. And half that time, when they write it out, they put an apostrophe on the -s for no reason. Don’t get me started about the overuse of apostrophes.) Revelation , no -s, is anything God reveals to us humans. That’s all it is. If God tells you to put a sweater on ’cause it’s gonna be chilly outside, that’s revelation. God revealed it to you. Simple, right?

Time wasted on bad theology—and its temptations.

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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