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

13 July 2018

Problematic worship music.

The stuff I listen to. And don’t.

We sang a song in my church last Sunday, “Set a Fire” by Will Reagan & United Pursuit. It’s hardly the first time; we’ve worshiped with it dozens of times before. It was a popular song on the radio for a while, ’cause it’s catchy. We like the “I want more of you God” bit, and how there’s no place we’d rather be than in God’s love and presence.

But, to paraphrase Jesus, Rv 2.4 I have this against it. Here’s the relevant portion:

(So) set a fire down in my soul
That I can’t contain and I can’t control
I want more of you God
I want more of you God

What’s wrong with it? Well, that fire we can’t contain and can’t control.

The idea runs contrary to the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control. There should be nothing in our lives which we can’t take hold of. Yes, even things of the Spirit. For

1 Corinthians 14.32-33 KWL
32 Prophets’ spirits are in submission to the prophets,
33A for God doesn’t do disorder, but peace.

The prayer, “God, would you please just take me over and make me do [thing we lack the self-control to do],” is a really popular one. But it’s not one God wants to say yes to. He’s trying to develop self-control in us; he shouldn’t have to take such matters into his hands. (And y’might notice whenever he does, people really don’t like it as much as we imagined we would.)

So Christians might like the idea of more zeal. More “fire down in my soul” which we claim is beyond our ability to contain. Problem is, zealous Christians have consistently used that zeal as an excuse for unkind, unchristian, fruitless, godless behavior. An out-of-control Christian is always a harmful Christian. When have you ever seen someone who loves others (following the proper definition of love, of course) out of control? Well you don’t, ’cause love behaves itself.

Problem is, in many a church Christians are more familiar with the worship song than the bible. True of most worship songs. We quote them. We follow them. Less so Jesus.

I guarantee you this song’s fans, as soon as they hear this critique, will immediately swoop in to defend the song. “Oh that’s not what the songwriter meant to say.” Fair enough; it may not be what he meant. But it is what he said, and is how Christians are gonna interpret it. Good intentions don’t redeem a song. Better lyrics, better aligned with the scriptures, do.

But people don’t determine our favorite songs by the lyrics. We like the music.

03 July 2018

Pagans and theology.

When pagans wanna do theology, they’re gonna do it wrong.

People who aren’t Christian regularly critique Christianity: What we believe, what our churches teach, how we practice. I regularly lump ’em into three categories:

  1. Antichrists who offer no constructive criticism, and don’t care whether their complaints are valid or not: They just wanna bash Christians.
  2. The clueless, who overheard the antichrists’ complaints and think they’re valid. They honestly don’t know any better.
  3. Those with valid complaints, who take us to task when we truly are inconsistent or hypocritical.

There’s not a lot we can do with the antichrists, much as Christian apologists might foolishly try. (Pearls before pigs, guys. Mt 7.6) The clueless can be reasoned with, but when they’re not merely clueless but downright anti-Christianity, shake the dust off and leave them be.

But the valid critics must be taken seriously. Because they’re right. We Christians do teach one thing and do another. We preach forgiveness and grace and mercy when it comes to evangelism… then we turn round and preach eye-for-eye karma when it comes to our criminal justice system. We preach we’re to love everyone, including enemies, but as soon as a person in our churches commits a sin we consider beyond the pale (like vote for the opposition party) we ostracize them like they’re leprous. We preach against nonmarital sexual activity, but our stats on cohabitation, unwed pregnancy, and abortion are the same or greater than the national average. We’re all kinds of inconsistent—and I haven’t even touched on hypocrisy yet. Probably don’t need to; we know better.

When the valid critics are right, don’t defend our bad behavior. Agree with them. We’re sinners too. But please don’t use that rubbish line, “We’re not perfect; just forgiven.” We’re supposed to work on being perfect. We’re expected to stop sinning, stop being hypocrites, stop taking God’s grace for granted, and be good. We don’t; we aren’t; we suck. Admit it and repent.

However. Sometimes we’re gonna come across the complaint, “Y’know what your real problem is: Your religion needs to be updated. You need to get with the times and get rid of those out-of-date beliefs.” They suggest we stop believing certain things are sins, or quit believing in miracles, or stop believing in mysterious hard-to-fathom stuff. They want us to change our theology—and can’t understand why it’s not as easy as all that.

It’s a particular sort of cluelessness.

22 May 2018

Saved exclusively through Jesus.

It’s the exclusivity that bugs people.

One of the things about Christianity that offends people most is how we claim we can only be saved through Christ Jesus.

We do have bible to back up the idea, y’know.

Acts 4.8-12 KWL
8 Then Simon Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, told them, “Leaders of the people and elders:
9 If we’re investigated today about a good deed to a disabled man—how was he cured?—
10 it must be made known to you all, and all Israel’s people:
In the name of Messiah Jesus the Nazarene—whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—
by this Jesus, this disabled man stands before you, cured.
11 This Jesus is ‘the stone dismissed by you builders, who became the head cornerstone.’ Ps 118.22
12 Salvation isn’t found in anyone else, nor is there given to people
another name under heaven by whom it’s necessary for us to be saved.”

Jesus is the only way by which people have access to God:

John 14.5-7 KWL
5 Thomas told Jesus, “Master, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?”
6 Jesus told Thomas, I’m the way. And truth, and life. Nobody comes to the Father unless through me.
7 If you knew me, you’ll also know my Father.
From now on you know him. You’ve seen him.”

These absolute statements make Christianity exclusive: You gotta have a relationship with Jesus if you want to get to God. There’s no getting around Jesus. He is how God chose to reveal himself, so if we reject Jesus, we’re rejecting what God’s trying to tell us. Bluntly, we’d be rejecting God.

Now if you’re of another organized religion… big deal. Your religion already has its own claims of exclusivity. Muslims figure there’s no god but God—and Muhammad’s his messenger, so if you wanna know God you gotta embrace Muhammad’s revelations. Buddhists don’t even care about Jesus; he’s a nice guy, but they prioritize the Buddha’s teachings. And so forth.

What these absolute statements tend to annoy most, are those pagans who are trying to claim all religions are the same, or just as valid as one another, or that it’s okay if people have a hodgepodge of beliefs from every religion. Namely it’s okay if they make up an eclectic religion, where they get to pick ’n choose their favorite beliefs from here, there, and everywhere. But if there’s no getting to the Father apart from Jesus, and they’re trying to get to the Father every which way, it kinda reveals they don’t know what they’re doing.

A lot of Christians claim what these bible quotes mean is we must become Christians or we’re going to hell. And that’s not actually what they say. They say—no more, no less—that salvation comes exclusively through Jesus. Not that we gotta first become Christians. Not that we gotta first embrace Christian doctrines. These aren’t statements about the steps anyone has to take. They’re only statements about how God works: Through Jesus.

So if God chooses to save someone from one of those other religions, be they Muslim, Buddhist, pagan, even atheist: He’s only gonna do it through Jesus. Regardless of how they—or we—imagine salvation works.

Yeah, here’s where I start to confuse and lose people.

30 April 2018

Is Allah the same as God?

Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Read the article.

Back when I was growing up Fundamentalist, I went to a Sunday school class on “cults”—by which they meant heretic churches. They use that word ’cause of Walter Martin’s book The Kingdom of the Cults, in which he discussed various heretic churches, their history, and how they depart from orthodox Christianity. He used the word “cult” to describe these churches—’cause a number of them did try to curtail their members’ free will and free speech, in their early days. (Frankly, a lot of Fundies are pretty darn cultlike themselves, so it stands to reason they’d be happy to have “cult” mean anyone but them. But I digress.)

Anyway, in the “cults” class, the teacher was in the practice of referring to the heretic churches’ beliefs about God as “their God,” and beliefs about Jesus as “their Jesus.” So there was a Mormon God, a Jehovah’s Witness God, a Christian Science God, a Unitarian God, and so forth. Using this kind of language gave you the idea each of these groups had their very own god. Who certainly wasn’t our God, the LORD, the God of Abraham and Moses, the Father of Christ Jesus. These’d be other gods.

Oh, the teachers totally meant to give us that idea. Because that’s how they believed. They didn’t simply believe these heretics were wrong about God: They believed these heretics were worshiping a whole other god. A devil who was pretending to be God, who borrowed God’s title, but wasn’t really God. And if these heretics believed in Jesus, it wasn’t our Jesus whom they followed but—again—a devil pretending to be Jesus. And so on.

Where’d they come up with this idea? They loosely got it from the bible.

1 Corinthians 10.19-20 KWL
19 Then what am I implying?—that idol-sacrifice is real, or that idols are real? No.
20 Instead that they sacrifice to lesser gods. They don’t sacrifice to God.
I don’t want you to enter a relationship with lesser gods.
21 You can’t drink from the Master’s cup and from lesser gods’ cup.
You can’t eat at the Master’s table and from lesser gods’ table.
22 Or do we want the Master to be jealous?—we’re not stronger than him.

Pagans don’t worship real gods, but lesser gods, creatures which are in charge of various things in God’s creation, but obviously aren’t the God, the one true God. Daimónion, as they’re called in Greek—a word we’ve translated demons, and think of devils. Which they aren’t necessarily. Because we’re lesser gods. Ps 82.6, Jn 10.34 (God put us in charge of the planet, remember?) Lesser gods were never meant to be worshiped; that’s where we humans go wrong. And a lot of the things the pagan Greeks identified as “gods” were actual beings, actual lesser gods; but the Greeks worshiped them, and shouldn’t’ve.

Anyway, what the Fundies are doing is claiming, first of all, that heretic Christians aren’t actually Christian—they’re pagan. And as pagans, the God they believe in and worship can’t possibly be the real God. It’s gotta be some other god—one of those lesser gods, like Paul and Sosthenes pointed out in 1 Corinthians. A demon. They’re worshiping a demon.


Now let’s get to where the scriptures indicate that belief is entirely wrong.

15 March 2018

Heavily investing time in bad theology.

Don’t make an idol out of time misspent!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


12 March 2018

Miracles: Actual acts of God.

As opposed to what insurance companies call “acts of God.”

Properly defined a miracle is anything God does or enables. If a human performs a miracle, it’s not legitimate—it’s trickery—if the Holy Spirit doesn’t empower it.

Improperly but popularly, a miracle is defined as a violation of the laws of nature. Blame 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume for that one. Hume didn’t believe in miracles, but he did believe in science, and decided to set the two of them at odds with one another: If you believe in one, what’re you doing believing in the other? As a result, today we have a lot of Christians who don’t believe in science—and don’t think we’re allowed to believe in it. Likewise a lot of people who do trust science, but are under the misbelief they’re fools if they also trust God—and as a result they hide their religious beliefs from their colleagues. All for no good reason; over a false rivalry between apples and oranges.

Also improperly but popularly, a miracle is defined as anything which looks awesome, or really works out in our favor. So a newborn baby is a “miracle.” Our sports team beating the odds to win is a “miracle.” Figuring out how to land on the moon was a “miracle.” A stretch where we manage to avoid red lights while driving, a pretty sunset, a really good Reuben sandwich—all these things are “miracles.” We use the word for everything. Kinda ruins its impact.

But back to the proper definition: If God does it, it’s a miracle. So, newborn babies and sunsets sorta count, since God did create all the conditions for nature to form sunsets and babies. Less so with sporting events, cooking, lunar landings, and meaningless coincidences. We might think God’s involved ’cause we’re not so sure about human effort or coincidence. But if he’s not, it’s not.

19 February 2018

Yahweh. (Or Jehovah. Either way.)

The primary name of God… and its English translation.

Because our culture is largely monotheist, even when we refer to the lowercase-G “god,” we nearly always mean the One God, the Creator, the Almighty. Other gods, like Baal or Thor, haven’t even crossed our minds; if we do mean them, we have to spell out they’re who we meant. Most of the time, if you say “god,” you aren’t even thinking about them. (Nor thinking of the One God either, but that’s another issue for another day.)

Totally wasn’t the case 3,400 years ago, when “god” was more of a generic word for any being who was mightier than mere humanity. Heck, some kings even claimed they were gods. So when you said “god,” you had to spell out which god, and that was the issue when God sent Moses to go rescue the Hebrews from Egypt. Which god was sending Moses?

Exodus 3.13-15 KWL
13 Moses told God, “Look, I go to Israel’s sons and tell them, ‘Your ancestors’ god sends me to you.’
They’ll tell me, ‘What’s his name?’ What do I tell them?”
14 God told Moses, “EHYÉH ASHÉR EHYÉH.”
He said, “You’ll tell Israel’s sons this: ‘EHYÉH sent me to you.’ ”
15 God further told Moses, “You’ll tell Israel’s sons this: ‘The LORD is your ancestors’ god.
Abraham’s god, Isaac’s god, Jacob’s god. He sent me to you.’
This is my name forever, to remember me by from generation to generation.”

Ehyéh/“I’m being” was a familiar word to the Hebrews, although it’s more a word you use with an adjective to describe yourself: “I’m being silly,” or “I’m being aggressive.” God went with “I’m being what I’m being” because the names and titles we choose for ourselves tend to define us—and God reserves the right to define himself any way he chooses. God is who he is. We don’t get to decide what he is.

The related word YHWH also means “I’m being,” but you’ll notice the bible never, ever uses it in that generic way. It’s only used to identify the One God. That’s his name. That’s the one he chose for himself, until he became human and chose to go by the Aramaic name Yeshúa/“YHWH saves” in the New Testament. Different name, but same being.

The reason I spell YHWH in all capitals is because we don’t actually know how to pronounce it. “Yahwéh” is an educated guess, based on the word ehyéh. And you might notice most Americans don’t even pronounce “Yahweh” correctly: We put the accent on the first syllable, American-style, and make it “Yáhweh.” We’re supposed to pronounce it like in the U2 song.

Of course the usual English translation of YHWH is “Jehovah,” which doesn’t even try to pronounce it correctly. Although originally it did.

09 January 2018

Wrongly defining God by his almightiness.

Humans worship power. Stands to reason they’d follow a powerful God.

Recently a friend was trying to emphasize to me how mysterious God is:

SHE. “God is almighty, right? So can he create a rock so heavy, he can’t lift it?”
ME. “Yes of course he could create such a rock.”
SHE. [figuring she got me] “But if he can’t lift it, then is he really almighty? Is he really God?”
ME. “Well first of all, God isn’t defined by his almightiness. But second of all, it’s a poor sort of almightiness that can’t create paradoxes.”

Yeah, she didn’t realize this wasn’t my first go-around with this particular question. I grew up inflicting it on my Sunday school teachers, just to see whether I liked any of their answers. (Seldom did I.) Theology professors still use it to mess with the minds of their students. I came up with my own answer back in seminary, just to mess with the minds of my theology professors.

But like my professors, she wanted to go back to my first comment, and object to it a little: The idea God isn’t defined by his almightiness.

Yep, that’s what people think, ’cause that’s what we were taught to think as children. Even pagan kids, when they’re taught what a “god” is, are taught it’s an almighty being, or at least an extremely powerful one. And Christians are taught God is, by definition, the Almighty. The Creator. The Prime Mover. The only one who can do absolutely anything. Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. It’s what makes him God, innit? If he’s not almighty, he can’t really be God, right?

Wrong. That’s human thinking. That’s how we define gods, but it’s not how God defines himself. You wanna know how God defines himself, you look at Jesus. ’Cause Jesus is God.

Yet when he was walking around on the earth during his first coming, Jesus wasn’t almighty. He gave that up. Deliberately. On purpose.

28 December 2017

The Apostles Creed.

Orthodox Christianity, in a smaller nutshell.

My translation from the Latin—and as far as I can tell, the Latin’s the original.

I believe in God,
the Father, almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
And in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our master.
He was conceived by the Holy Spirit; born from the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the afterlife.
The third day, he was resurrected from the dead.
He ascended to heaven; he sits at the almighty Father’s right hand.
From there he will come; he is judging the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church, communion of saints, forgiveness of sins,
bodily resurrection, and eternal life. Amen.

Whenever I bring up the Apostles Creed to Christians, I tend to get one of two reactions: Positive and negative.

I tend to get the positive response from Christians who grew up in formal, liturgical churches. Most of ’em can recite the creed right along with me… though the version I memorized is the Book of Common Prayer version, and most of ’em tend to know one of the Roman Missal versions. Minor wording differences.

If they didn’t grow up in such churches, or their churches never taught it to ’em, they might still know it. ’Cause they learned it as lyrics from a Rich Mullins song. Or someone else’s cover of that song. Or John Michael Talbot’s song, though that’s lesser-known.

Third Day and Brandon Heath perform Rich Mullins’ “Creed.” YouTube

05 December 2017

Humility, and the “cage-stage” Christian.

When we’re willing to toss fruit aside, and fight for our beliefs.

The first principle of theology is humility—knowing who and what you are, and not claiming you’re anything more. Or, as we so often see in false humility, less.

That means we’re fully aware we’re wrong, and Jesus is right. The purpose of theology isn’t to believe we’ve “arrived,” and defend our newly-acquired high ground. It’s to correct our beliefs, poor character, and bad attitudes. Because they’re misbegotten and wayward. We may be redeemed, but they’re not. Bearing this in mind, with the Holy Spirit’s help and power, the goal is to get those traits to match Jesus’s.

The problem? A lot of Christians have utterly skipped that first theology lesson. Or weren’t paying attention, ’cause they were too busy staring at the syllabus. Or promptly forgot all about it, ’cause all their new knowledge puffed ’em up. However it happened.

Hence they imagine theology’s first principle is, “I was wrong—but now I’m not. Jesus fixed me.” When he gave us new life, supposedly he gave us a new nature—his nature—so now we have the mind of Christ. 1Co 2.16 We think like Jesus does… or he thinks like we do; it’s all the same. We have arrived.

As Calvinist cartoonist Adam Ford depicts it. They don’t always foam at the mouth though. Adam 4d

I run into Christians with this mindset all the time. They’d be the folks who email me to explain, patiently or not, why I’m completely wrong. Or who show up on discussion boards to loudly, angrily correct everybody who varies ever so slightly with their infallible doctrines. Back when they were pagan, they’d get this way about plenty of other subjects, like politics and Star Wars. Now they do it with doctrine. Or apologetics.

There’s a term the Calvinists use when their young, overzealous theologians get like this—when they’re so enthusiastic about “the doctrines of grace,” they forget to be gracious altogether. Calvinists call it “the cage stage.”

The cage-stager is as eager to defend their theological territory as a junkyard dog. They’ll fight anyone. Even friends: You might believe precisely the same as they, but if (God forbid) you misstate the slightest idea, the cage-stager will tear your throat out. Best to lock ’em in a cage till they calm the heck down. Hence “cage stage”: Lots of knowledge, very little love.

Calvinists may have coined the term, and may be notorious for the behavior. But lemme tell ya, by no means do they have a monopoly on it. I’ve met cage-stage Fundamentalists, Catholics, people in my own denomination, people in heretic denominations. I’ve encountered cage-stage Jews and Muslims too. The phenomenon’s all over Christendom.

It’s a pitfall many Christians (myself included) fall right into during our early days of following Jesus. The devil’d love every Christian to fall into it, ’cause it nullifies much of the work we do for God’s kingdom. We’re too busy denouncing ideas, sins, and people we hate, to ever get round to loving people, and winning them to Jesus through our kindness and love. ’Cause screw kindness and love; there are doctrines to defend!

22 November 2017

The bible: An inspired anthology.

God got people to write ’em. And God gets people to understand ’em.

Inspire /ɪn.spaɪ(.ə)r/ v. Breathe in (air); inhale.
2. Fill with a positive, creative feeling; encourage.
3. Fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something; provoke.
[Inspiration /ɪn.spə'reɪ.ʃən/ n.]

Whenever we Christians talk about inspiration—inspired prophets, teachings, and writings—it’s assumed God did the inspiring. He’s the one who breathed into us. One word we regularly translate “inspired” is theó-pnefstos/“God-breathed,” which is how the NIV prefers to treat “God-inspired” in this verse:

2 Timothy 3.16 KWL
Every God-inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,
for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.

It’s more than just “I was so excited about my thoughts of God, I decided to create this for him.” It’s God involved with, and behind, this creation process. The Holy Spirit, living within the teacher, prophet, or author, pointed ’em God-ward. Got ’em to describe God with infallible accuracy.

This is what Christians tend to believe about the books and letters which make up the bible: It’s inspired. The Holy Spirit got its authors to describe God with infallible accuracy.

Some of us believe it’s not true of anything else: God inspired the bible, but he’s not inspired anything or anyone since. Which is bunk; of course he has. But Christians aren’t universally agreed about anything other than the bible. (And not all that universally on the bible.) God inspired the bible… but whether he inspired anyone since, is kinda left up to our best judgment… which ain’t all that consistent.

In any event, those who think the bible is inspired, but nothing and no one else is, tend to wander into bibliolatry, which is a whole ’nother problem. And it’s downright weird to hear continuationists, Christians who believe God still speaks to his people directly or through prophets, unthinkingly repeat the claim nothing but the bible is inspired. It stuns ’em when I point out how their beliefs contradict one another. (People aren’t always aware of how much bad theology they have floating around in ’em.)

Fact is, if human beings can’t or couldn’t be inspired, we wouldn’t even have a bible. ’Cause inspired people wrote it, inspired Christians compiled it, and inspired Christians uphold it. True, these inspired people were and are fallible humans. But as people follow the Holy Spirit, he guides us to truth, Jn 16.13 and steers us clear of sin and error. In the moment, we can (and do) write and prophesy infallible stuff. Once done, we might (heck, do) slip up, sin, and make mistakes, and fall right back into fallibility. But the stuff done by the Spirit’s power is still good. The writings in the bible are still authoritative. So we kept ’em.

09 November 2017

The ungracious “doctrines of grace.”

Calvinist soteriology, which they call “grace”—which isn’t really.

DOCTRINES OF GRACE /'dɒk.trɪnz əv greɪs/ n. The six points of Calvinist soteriology: Deterministic sovereignty, human depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, efficacious grace, and certainty in one’s eternal destiny.

A number of Calvinists aren’t all that comfortable with the title “Calvinist.”

For various reasons. Some of ’em don’t like being part of an “-ism.” They consider their theology part of a long, noble, five-century tradition. (Some of ’em try for longer, and claim the ancient Christians also believed just as they do. But good luck finding anyone other than St. Augustine who’s comfortable with determinism.) In any event they want their tradition defined by something grander and longer than the reign and teachings of a solitary Genevan bishop, no matter how clever he was.

Others concede not everything John Calvin taught is right on the money. They won’t go so far as I do, and insist Calvin’s fixation on God’s sovereignty undermines God’s character. But obviously they’ve a problem with other ideas which undermine God’s character. Like double predestination, the belief God created people whom he never intends to save, whose only purpose is to burn forever in hell. Calvin figured it’s a logical conclusion of his system. But understandably a lot of Calvinists hate this idea, and have tried their darnedest to get out of it—with varying degrees of failure.

Regardless the reason, these Calvinists prefer to call themselves “reform Christians.” I first learned the term from my theology professors, who much preferred it. It reminds everyone they’re part of the Protestant reformation. As far as some of Calvinists are concerned, it’s the only truly reformed part of the reformation: The other movements capitulate to Roman Catholicism too much for their taste.

The problem with relabeling? Yep, not every reform Christian is Calvinist. Lutherans and Molinists aren’t necessarily. Arminians (like me) and Anabaptists sure aren’t. If you’re Protestant, reform means your movement and theology goes back to the 1500s reformers, and embraces the ideas of scriptural authority (prima/sola scriptura), salvation by grace (sola gratia), justification by faith (sola fide), and atonement by our sole mediator Christ Jesus (solus Christus). You know, stuff just about every Protestant believes—plus many a Catholic and Orthodox Christian, even though their church leadership might insist otherwise.

The other label both “reform Christians,” and Calvinists who don’t mind their title, like to use is “the doctrines of grace” to describe their central beliefs about how God saves people—or as we theologians call this branch of theology, soteriology. They’re called “doctrines of grace” because God saves us by his grace, right? What else might you call ’em?

But like I said, Calvin’s fixation on sovereignty undermines God’s character. And in so doing, they undermine much of the grace in this system. Grace is God’s generous, forgiving, kind, favorable attitude towards his people. But when Calvinism describes salvation, you’ll find not only is it not gracious: It’s coerced, involuntary, hollow, and sorta evil.

31 October 2017

God reveals himself through prayer.

Why does God listen to our prayers? For the same reason he reveals himself to us.

Prayer is of course talking with God. We talk to him and he talks back. It’s not a complicated idea, though we might, and do, complicate it.

Prayer is therefore the most common, most usual way God communicates with his people. Yeah, we can…

Christians list all these things as forms of revelation, though I would object to the last two. But nearly all of us pray, and nearly all of us hear God when we pray, so that’s how nearly all of us get revelation.

Now yes, there are those Christians who insist they don’t hear anything. To their minds, prayer is unidirectional: We talk, God hears, but God says nothing, ’cause he doesn’t need to say anything, ’cause he said everything he cares to say in the scriptures. This belief is largely based on cessationism, the belief God turned off the miracles—and in so doing, functionally abandoned his people—till the End Times. If you’re surrounded by cessationists, you’re gonna get the idea most Christians think like that. You’d be entirely wrong. Most of us hear God. (Not necessarily well, but I’ll discuss that in the next several prayer articles.)

Hearing God is demonstrated all over the scriptures. ’Cause the scriptures were written by prophets, and how’d they get their information? Yes, some Christians imagine they opened their mouths and God’s words came out of them like they were meat puppets. But in more cases they went to God with questions—with prayers—and during those prayers God responded, and that became their prophecies.

This is why prayer and prophecy are so closely connected. That’s usually how God gives prophets his messages for other people: He’ll say, “Tell them this.” You wanna see more prophecy in our church? Then y’all need to pray more often. You don’t get one without the other. (And if you do, those “prophecies” are usually messed up.)

12 October 2017

Pantheism: God is everything, and everything is God.

On those who believe God is the universe.

Pantheist /'pæn.θi.ɪst/ adj. Identifies God as the universe, or recognizes the universe as a manifestation of God.
2. Identifies all gods as forms, manifestations, avatars, or persons of the One God.
[Pantheism /'pæn.θi.ɪz.əm/ n.]

Popular culture believes Hinduism to consist of the worship of thousands of gods. That’s not quite accurate. Hindus themselves tell me that they tend to worship maybe one or two gods themselves… but the “thousands of gods,” as westerners call ’em, are really just different faces of the One God.

So they’re monotheist? Still not quite accurate. It’s not that there’s one God with thousands of faces. It’s that God consists of every face. Everything is God. God is the universe.

Whenever you meet a pagan who talks about “the universe,” and speaks of the universe as if it has an intelligence—“The universe wants me to do such-and-so,” or “The universe is sending me a message”—that’s the mindset we’re talking about. “The universe” is the sum total of everything and everyone, and collectively that’s God. And all of us are part of him.

Nope, not even close to monotheism. But when people don’t know any better, that’s what they assume Hindus or Hinduism-based spiritual teachers are talking about. When they say “God,” they mean the universe. Everything, collectively. Which may or may not be conscious, know what it’s doing, have a plan for us, or offer us guidance—it kinda depends on the teacher.

It’s what we call pantheism. And under this idea, of course Jesus is God. Pantheists have no problem with that idea. The catch is, they figure everyone else is God too, and Jesus just happened to be more connected to his godhood than anyone else. And Jesus isn’t the only avatar, or incarnation, of God, either. There’ve been others, like Krishna. Some of them are alive today. (Some of these spiritual teachers wouldn’t much mind if we thought of them that way either. It’d sure help their book sales.)

So if you come across any of these eastern-style teachers who have some really interesting things to say about God, bear in mind this is how they imagine God to be. He’s not a being who fills the universe; he is the universe.

Why’s that a problematic idea? Well you do recall there’s a lot of evil in the universe. But if God is everything, that evil would also be a part of God. And God doesn’t do evil. 1Jn 1.5

21 September 2017

Modalism: The illusion of three persons in one God.

On those who believe God is sometimes Holy Spirit, and sometimes Jesus.

Modalist /'mod.əl.ɪst/ adj. Believes God has multiple personas, approaches, functions, or aspects of his nature—which other Christians confuse with trinity.
[Modalism /'mod.əl.ɪz.əm/ n.]

When Christians don’t believe God’s a trinity, either they fully embrace unitarianism and insist Jesus isn’t God, or they kinda embrace unitarianism and insist Jesus is God… but God still isn’t three. He’s one. But he looks three, from our limited human point of view.

Why’s he look three? Time travel.

No, seriously. Time travel. I know; time travel hasn’t been scientifically documented. It’s still just theory. But we’re all familiar with science fiction, so we have a general idea of how it works.

If you don’t: Imagine a man, whom we’ll call Doc Brown. (I know; real original of me.) Brown has a time machine. He hops into it and travels 30 years into the past. There, he encounters himself from 30 years ago—the younger version of Doc Brown. If you were to stand there and observe this, it looks like there are two Doc Browns, interacting with one another. In fact they’re both the same guy: Brown got his personal timeline to loop around, and one segment of it overlaps another segment of it.

Well, says the modalist, this is kinda what God does. God exists outside of spacetime, which they’ll call “eternity.” This was a theory St. Augustine of Hippo originally pitched—and it’s bogus, ’cause it violates the idea God’s omnipresent. But a lot of Christians buy the whole outside-spacetime idea, ’cause they grew up hearing it, and it sounds clever and intelligent, and repeating it makes them sound clever and intelligent. Anyway, bear with me, ’cause modalists kinda need it to be true. It’s the basis of their theory.

Okay. So in this “eternity,” time’s a zero-dimensional point. There’s no past nor present nor future. It’s all now—all an eternal present instant to whoever’s in there. God lives in there; it’s where heaven’s located. (Somehow there’s music, which is entirely based on time, in heaven regardless. Sorry; had to digress to point out the logical inconsistency. Back to it.)

God decided to step outside this zero-dimensional point, enter our one-dimensional timeline, and become human. This’d be Jesus. But when Jesus (and we) look back at “eternity”… it’s not vacant. Because God’s still in there. He’s always in there. There’s no timeline, and no stretch in this timeline where God stepped out of it. It’s a zero-dimensional point, remember?

It’s like Doc Brown and his overlapping timelines. Looks like God’s in two places at once, but that’s an illusion, based on our lack of understanding about “eternity.” That is, unless we’re clever enough to figure it out—and modalists figure they’re just that clever.

Anyway, that’s why Jesus always had a Father to pray to: The Father was still, and is always still, back in “eternity.” But there never were two persons; just one person with a bendy timeline.

Same deal with the Holy Spirit: Whenever God steps out of “eternity” in the present day to do stuff—and doesn’t do it in Jesus’s human body—that’d be the Holy Spirit. And sometimes the Spirit overlapped Jesus’s timeline. But God wasn’t really in three places at once; it only looks it.

So this time-travel explanation is the most common way I’ve heard modalists explain the trinity. I don’t know who invented it, but it’s pretty clever. It’s rubbish, but it’s clever rubbish.

14 September 2017

Arianism: One God—and Jesus isn’t quite him.

On Christians who think Jesus is a lesser god.

Arian /'ɛr.i.ən/ adj. Believes God is one being, one person, not three; and that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are created beings and lesser gods.
[Arianism /'ɛr.i.ən.ɪz.əm/ n.]

So I’ve been writing on unitarian beliefs—namely that there’s one God, but contrary to how he’s been revealed in the New Testament, these folks insist God’s not a trinity. Now, pagans and other monotheists don’t bother with the New Testament, so of course they don’t believe in trinity. But Christians do have the NT—yet some of us still don’t believe in trinity. We’d call these folks heretics, and of course they’d call us heretics, and round and round we go.

The first major anti-trinity heresy Christians came across is Arianism—a word pronounced the same, but not the same, as the white-supremacist view Aryanism. It’s named for Áreios of Alexandria (c. 250-336), a Christian elder—or in Roman Catholic thinking, a priest. In Latin he’d be Arius. It’s based on Áreios’s insistence Jesus isn’t God, but a lesser god. Therefore God’s not a trinity.

You gotta understand where Áreios was coming from. When you read the gospels, Jesus is clearly a different person than his Father. His Father is God, Jn 8.54 and if you don’t believe, or can’t or won’t believe, God consists of more than one person, you’re gonna come to the conclusion Jesus isn’t the Father, ergo Jesus isn’t God.

Yeah, there are verses which bluntly state Jesus is God. Jn 1.1 What’d Áreios do with them? Simple: He allowed that Jesus must be a god. But not the God.

You gotta also understand where Áreios came from. Third-century Egypt was predominantly pagan and polytheist. They believed in Egyptian gods, Greek gods, Roman gods, and any other gods which sounded worth their time. Christianity, in contrast, is monotheistic: One God, and all the other gods are demons. The idea of trinity, or of Jesus being God like the Father is God, rubbed Áreios the wrong way. To him it sounded way too much like weird gnostic polytheism. But two gods?—he could live with two gods.

Áreios was hardly the first to believe this. But he was the first to successfully spread the idea around. Largely through the use of catchy worship songs which taught his theology. Here’s a bit from his song “Thalia,” quoted by then-deacon (and Áreios’s chief critic) Athanásios of Alexandria. De Synodis 15. My translation:

The First One made the Son—the first thing he created.
He made the Son himself, giving birth to him.
Who doesn’t have any of God’s being nor uniqueness,
For he’s not the same. He’s not the same stuff as him.

The lyrics don’t sound all that catchy to me, but the music must’ve been way better.

Hence for a while there in the early 300s, Arianism was rapidly becoming the main form of Christianity in the Roman Empire. Even the emperor, Flavius Constantinus, had become Arian.

And if you think Arianism died out in the 300s, are you dead wrong.

07 September 2017

One God—but not interpreted through Jesus.

Not every monotheist is Christian, y’know.

Monotheist /'mɑn.ə'θi.ɪst/ adj. Believes there’s only one god.
2. Believes there are various beings known as “gods,” but only one mighty enough, or worthy enough, of the designation and worship.
[Monotheism /'mɑn.ə'θi.ən.ɪz.əm/ n., monotheistic /'mɑn.ə'θi.ən.ɪst.ɪk/ adj.]

Whenever Christian teachers talked about unitarians—people who don’t believe God’s a trinity—they assumed they were dealing with Christianity-based heresies of one kind or another. Like Arians or modalists.

In the United States, that might’ve been true in the past, back when the population was predominantly European, and somewhat biblically literate. Ain’t the case anymore. Hasn’t been for decades. Christian teachers need to get with the times.

Most of the pagans I encounter are unitarian. They do believe in God, in one form or another. They might’ve had contact with Christians (but don’t count on it), and some of our religious beliefs might’ve rubbed off on them. Nonetheless pick and choose their own beliefs based on whether they sound cool, practical, or reasonable. For them, the trinity’s too much of a paradox, so they dismiss it. They might like Jesus, but won’t believe he’s God, and they don’t know what the Holy Spirit is, much less that he’s a person. They’re not entirely sure the Father’s a person for that matter (or “the Mother,” for those pagans with gender hangups). They might believe God’s a semi-conscious universe; they’re not quite pantheists yet.

And pagans, who don’t do organized religion, aren’t the only non-Christians out there. Don’t forget the folks who do organized religion: The Jews, the Muslims, the Sikhs, the Bahai, and certain Hindu sects who aren’t pantheist. Their teachers and gurus have taught them various things about God. But trinitarianism isn’t one of ’em.

Because these religions aren’t Christian, we can’t technically call them heretic. A heretic is someone who violates the orthodox beliefs of their own religion, and theyn’t of our religions. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Islam are mighty similar to ours, so sometimes Christians’ll incorrectly call them heretic: Right God, completely wrong ideas. But they’re depicting their own religion accurately. (That is, unless they’re not; unless they’re Jewish or Muslim heretics. But that’s a whole other discussion.)

So within these other monotheistic religions, they’ll object to trinity because they feel it’s hardly proper monotheism to say God is three. That, they insist, is polytheism. Tritheism. Like the Latter-day Saints, who straight-up worship three gods. That’s why they don’t call themselves unitarian, though they are: To them of course a monotheist is unitarian. And we’re not monotheist, because even though we insist God is One, we keep also insisting he’s three. Our paradox keeps getting in their way.

31 August 2017

Unitarians: Those who insist God’s not three.

And how they try to get out of obeying the persons of the trinity.

Unitarian /ju.nə'tɛr.i.ən/ n. One who emphasizes God’s oneness, and rejects the orthodox view of God as a trinity.
2. [capitalized] A member of a church or group which asserts this belief.
3. adj. Having to do with this belief.
[Unitarianism /ju.nə'tɛr.i.ən.ɪz.əm/ n.]

The belief God’s a trinity is the hardest concept in Christianity, and a really difficult idea for a lot of people. Not just non-Christians: Plenty of Christians struggle with it too.

A lot of us spend a lot of time trying to invent clever explanations for how trinity works. More of us figure it’s a paradox; it’s beyond our finite human capabilities; let’s leave it at that. But a number of us figure it’s ridiculous: God spent the entire Old Testament trying to get it through the Hebrews’ thick skulls that he’s one. That’s the description he prefers; that’s the one they’re going with; forget about this “God is three” business.

They’d be unitarians. Sometimes they use that title, but often they don’t, ’cause they don’t wanna be confused with the theologically libertarian Unitarian Universalists. A number of ’em prefer to call themselves “Oneness” Christians—again, to emphasize God’s oneness.

I find it’s easiest to bunch unitarians into these categories:

  • Non-Christian monotheists. These’d be Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs—folks who believe in one God, and never did believe in trinitarianism. Hence they don’t bother to use the “unitarian” label for themselves; of course they’re unitarianism. For them, “Father” and “Holy Spirit” are just other names for the One God, and Jesus isn’t divine.
  • Arians are named for Áreios of Alexandria (256–336) who believed only the Father is God, and Jesus is a lesser god whom the Father created. “Holy Spirit” is God’s power, not a separate person. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a type of Arian.
  • Modalists believe the One God appears to be three persons, but isn’t really. Sometimes he’s in Father mode, where he acts cosmic and otherworldly; sometimes Jesus mode, where he’s human; sometimes Holy Spirit mode, where he’s helpful and intimate. But it’s really one divine guy in three guises.
  • Pantheists believe God isn’t a being; he’s the sum total of everything in the universe. So Jesus actually is God… but then again so are you, me, and everything else, collectively. (You’ll find many of the uppercase-U Unitarians totally buy this. The idea comes from the Hindus.)

As for pagans, you’ll find they either hold Judeo-Muslim beliefs about God, or Arian beliefs. When they become Christian, they often carry their heretic views into Christianity with them. And if no Christian ever bothers to sit ’em down and try to explain trinity (as best we can, anyway), they’ll hold onto ’em for quite a long time.

Or they’ll dabble in tritheism, the belief God is actually a committee of three gods (i.e. what the Latter-Day Saints believe), then reject it before it goes too far and wander back into Arianism, then reject that before it goes too far and ping-pong between one and the other. Or get sidetracked by modalism. Really, when Christians never bother to sort out our beliefs, we tend to just stay confused and heretic. Humans are lazy like that.

07 July 2017

Jesus, and heretic theories about his identity.

He’s God. And human. But obviously some folks don’t agree.

I’ve written about how Jesus is Yahweh, and when he became human.

Plenty of people struggle with these ideas. Usually people who are bugged by the idea of God becoming human. Often people who imagine it working the other way round: A human becoming God, or earning divinity by being so very good. And of course people who figure Jesus never was God, and was just a great human being and no more.

Now, they’re wrong. And to be fair, we’re all wrong. But these folks are so wrong as to be called heretic, where their beliefs stand a really good chance of leading people away from God, his grace, and his kingdom. They’re not little errors. They’ll interfere with people’s salvation, or trick ’em into rejecting God. Of course these heretics already refer to us orthodox Christians as “heretics”—they’re entirely sure they’re right and we’re not.

It’s a pride thing. They prefer their ideas about what God is like, over what God actually revealed about himself. They figure either God’s revelations are wrong, or misinterpreted—whereas they got it right, and how clever of them to see what others don’t. How wise of them; how inspired; what special favorites of God’s they must be. And all the other delusions pride can trick us into.

Heretic theories tend to fall into one of four categories:

  1. Another god. Most heretics figure God created Jesus to be another god under him. Like his vice-God, or prince of all the angels, or some other powerful being who’s not the very same One True God as he.
  2. Not really God. Jesus is the “son of God” same as all humans are sons and daughters of God. Just another one of God’s creations. He’s still Messiah, a great teacher and prophet; the best human God ever made. But not God.
  3. Not really human. Jesus only pretended to be human, lest he freak people out too much. But he’s fully divine, wearing what appeared to be a human form.
  4. A demigod. In pagan religions, gods and humans bred and made demigods, half-and-half hybrids who were either supermen or lesser gods. Demigod heresies describe Jesus these ways—part-God instead of entirely God, part-human instead of fully human.

Whereas, to answer these theories, orthodox Christians aver:

  1. Jesus is the same God, Pp 2.6 and God is One. Dt 6.4 There isn’t another God.
  2. Jesus is as God as God can be. Jn 1.1-2
  3. He’s human; Jn 1.14 more human than humans are, ’cause we sin, which dings us quite a lot.
  4. True, to become human, Jesus was depowered, Pp 2.7 and had to perform miracles through the Holy Spirit’s power. Ac 10.38 But godlike power doesn’t make you God; it’s like saying arms and legs make you human. Divine nature does, and Jesus absolutely has that. He 1.3

30 June 2017

Jesus is Yahweh. Yahweh is Jesus.

If you know Jesus, you know God.

That’s gonna be a startling title for a lot of people. Needs to be said, just as bluntly: Jesus is YHWH, the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.

Yeah he’s the son of God. Jn 8.54 Not saying he isn’t. But we also recognize Jesus is God incarnate, the word of God who’s with and is God, Jn 1.1 who didn’t figure his divinity meant he couldn’t also take on humanity.

Philippians 2.6-8 KWL
6 Existing in God’s form,
he figured being the same as God wasn’t something to clutch,
7 but poured himself into a slave’s form:
He took on a human likeness.
8 He was born; he was found human in every way.
Being obedient, he humbled himself to death: Death by crucifixion.

John continues:

John 1.14-18 KWL
14 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.
15 John testifies about him, saying as he called out, “This is the one I spoke of!
‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first.”
16 All of us received things out of his fullness. Grace after grace:
17 The Law which Moses gave; the grace and truth which Christ Jesus became.
18 Nobody’s ever seen God.
The only Son, God who’s in the Father’s womb, he explains God.

(Yes, the KJV has for verse 18 “the only begotten Son.” That’s not what we find in the earliest copies of John; some later copier must’ve been weirded out by the idea of an only-begotten God, and changed it ’cause it sounds like God got created. But begotten doesn’t mean created. Anyway, I digress.)

Hence Jesus, who is God, knows precisely what God’s like. He was sent from God to explain God to us, as God’s revelation of himself. What we know about God must be filtered through Jesus. Like John said, only Jesus explains God. ’Cause he’s God.