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Showing posts with the label #Theology

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 himalso 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 they’ve largely replaced…

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 “Habakkuk.”Yeah, obviousl…

Orthodoxy: Getting our theological ducks in a row.

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ORTHODOX'ɔr.θə.dɑksadjective. 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.inoun.]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 like the cult leaders who got us to …

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 confirmedlong before we start developing ’em into theology. These guys were not so scrupulous. They felt …

Revelation: The starting point of theology.

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REVELATIONrɛv.ə'leɪ.ʃənnoun. 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'vilverb, revelator 'rɛ.vəl.eɪt.ərnoun, revelatory 'rə.vɛl.ə.tɔ.riadjective, revelational rɛv.ə'leɪ.ʃ(ə)n.(ə)ladjective.]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?And of course we humans overcomplicate the i…

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 since bought pr…

We’re wrong about God, y’know.

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One of my favorite Peanuts strips goes a little something like this. (I liked it so much I used to include it in the Theology banner.)
Peanuts, 9 August 1976. Peanuts WorldwideTheology is the study of God. If we’re gonna follow God we gotta study him. Gotta find out what he wants, what he expects of us. Heck, gotta find out if he’s even a “he,” and we’re not using the wrong pronoun. (Fastest way to yank the chain of certain Christians: Use a different one. But let up after you’ve freaked them out a few minutes. Be nice.)Square One of theology is humility, the recognition of who we truly are. And who are we?Well the most common Christian response to that question is “Um… nobody really.” Which isn’t entirely true. That’s the answer we give ’cause our fellow Christians expect it of us… and it’s hypocrisy, because we don’t really have that low an opinion of ourselves. It’s false humility: Pretending to be what we deep down know we’re not. If we truly thought we were nobody, we’d figure our…

When God became human.

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INCARNATE'ɪn.kɑrn.eɪtverb. 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.nətadjective. Embodied in flesh, or concrete form.[Incarnation ɪn.kɑr'neɪ.ʃənnoun, reincarnation 're.ɪn.kɑr.neɪ.ʃənnoun.]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 KWLThe 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.Not temporarily; not for just the few decade…

Wrongly defining God by his almightiness.

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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, the belief he is defined by…

Evil comes from within.

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Mark 7.14-16 • Matthew 15.10-11.So Jesus is lunching with some Pharisee, who has a snit about how he and his students don’t ritually wash when they enter a home, and Jesus turns round and complains how some Pharisee rituals violate the Law.Now you do recognize it’s a common weaselly debate tactic to change the subject by attacking your opponent, but you should realize Jesus is no weasel: This wasn’t changing the subject, but getting to the very heart of why the Pharisee complained about hand-washing. He wasn’t insisting on it ’cause it offended his sensibilities, his religion, his devotion. He was doing it because it didn’t look good, which is hypocrisy of course. Too much of Pharisee custom was about appearing to follow the Law, but really following custom; the Law not so much. And as for ritual cleanliness, Jesus wanted to make it obvious the ritual didn’t make anybody or anything clean. The ritual—like all rituals, including Christian rituals—only represents what it purports to do…