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

22 April 2019

Who gets to define what heresy is?

Not me. Nor you. It was defined long ago.

HERESY 'hɛr.ə.si noun. Belief or opinion contrary to Christian orthodoxy.
[Heretic 'hɛr.ə.tɪk adjective, heretical hə'rɛd.ə.kəl adjective.]

I’m involved in a discussion group or two. In one of them, the subject of Darbyism came up: One of the group members is Darbyist, and wanted a shout-out from all the other Darbyists in the group. Turns out a lot of us aren’t Darbyist at all, and some of us started to condemn Darbyism as faithless and unbiblical. (’Cause it is.) Not that this moved the Darbyist any; everyone in his church believes in that crap, so he’s entirely sure he’s in the right. But I’m pretty sure he was surprised, if not horrified, at the backlash.

Especially once a newbie to the group decided to pitch in his two cents—and declare Darbyism is heresy.

Now there, he went too far. And got a little backlash himself; some of it from the very same folks who take issue with Darbyism. ’Cause that belief system is wrong, but we don’t go throwing round the H-word casually.

To nearly every Christian, heresy means not Christian. Your beliefs went so far outside the pale of Christianity, you’ve gone outside God’s kingdom altogether. You’re teaching stuff that’s actually anti-Christ… and Jesus doesn’t include antichrists in his kingdom.

But I myself don’t describe heresy that generally. ’Cause I’m going with the original definition.

Y’see, before the church split into Orthodox and Catholic (way before western Christians split into Catholics and Protestants and Anglicans), whenever theological issues became particularly divisive, the ancient Christians gathered together in church councils and hammered the differences out. They used these councils to define orthodox Christianity. They didn’t do it comprehensively, but they covered pretty much everything vital, and did it really well. And heresy is defined as the stuff which violates their conclusions.

And only their conclusions. Because after the Orthodox and Catholics split, Christians don’t do these councils anymore. Not that the Roman Catholics don’t hold the occasional council (like Vatican 2, their most recent council, in the 1960s) and claim they speak for Christendom… but obviously no other church considers these councils anything but internal Catholic matters.

So who gets to define new things as heresy? Well… nobody.

Not that Christians don’t try. Many a preacher, many a church board, many an individual Christian, thinks they get to. They read their bibles; they’re pretty sure they understand it perfectly; they’re pretty sure these issues are non-negotiables—they certainly are non-negotiable to them!—and therefore anyone who disagrees must be heretic. So they’ll use the H-word. And figure they’re entirely right to.

But they’re not. Heresy isn’t defined by individuals. Nor individual churches. It’s defined by Christendom as a whole… and since we’re not a whole anymore, we’re limited to the conclusions we came to when we were a whole. And if you don’t care for those conclusions, or wanna add new heresies to the list, I would say you fall in the very same boat as those people who wanna add books to, or take ’em out of, the bible: That’s not for you. That’s been decided long ago.

11 February 2019

Evil comes from within.

Don’t be so naïve as to think we don’t have any evil in us.

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. Ritual cleanliness represents spiritual cleanliness. It’s not the same thing. As proven by any hypocrite—who might be so physically clean you could lick chocolate pudding off his hands, but so nasty inside you never would.

So Jesus took a little break from dinner and went to bring this up with the public:

Mark 7.14-16 KWL
14 Calling the crowd again, Jesus told them, “Everyone listen to me, and put this together.
15 There’s nothing outside a person going in, which can make them ‘common.’
But what comes out of a person is what defiles the person.
[16 If anyone has hearing ears, hear me.”]
Matthew 15.10-11 KWL
10 Calling the crowd, Jesus told them, “Listen and put this together.
11 It’s not what goes into the mouth which makes a person ‘common.’
But what comes out of the mouth—this makes a person ‘common.’ ”

Mark 7.16 isn’t in the oldest copies of Mark; it first showed up in bibles in the 300s, and Jesus did say those words a number of other times. Mk 4.9, 4.23, Lk 8.8, 14.35

I remind you this idea that we’re corrupted from the outside-in: Wasn’t just a popular Pharisee belief. Humans have always taught it. Christians frequently still teach it. Every time we warn our kids about corrupting outside influences—“Be careful, little eyes, what you see”—it’s based on the idea evil comes from without. Not within.

It’s based on Pelagianism, the idea humans are basically good. Pelagians figure God created us and called us good, Ge 1.31 and it’s only pessimistic Christians like St. Augustine, corrupted by Plato’s ideas about how matter is bad, who overlaid his ideas into Christendom and invented total depravity—humans are too selfish and messed up to turn to God without his help. Humans may do evil, but that’s way different from claiming we inherently are evil, been that way since birth; they can’t accept that idea at all.

Well of course they can’t. ’Cause the human self-preservation instinct won’t allow us to believe anything negative about ourselves. No matter what evidence we’ve been shown to the contrary. No matter what Jesus, his apostles, and the scriptures teach us. We choose to believe what makes us feel good about ourselves—and reject history, commonsense, and all the sins we ourselves commit. That’s just how total our depravity is: It inherently makes us not wanna believe in it. It’s no wonder people don’t cry out to Jesus for help: Humanity is in serious denial about how badly we need a savior.

And even when Christians claim we believe in human depravity, some of us think the instant Jesus saved us, and the Holy Spirit entered us, we were cured of our depravity. We used to be self-centered and corrupt, but once we became Christian we’re good. We don’t need to unlearn bad behaviors and grow the Spirit’s fruit; we already have his fruit and are doing just fine. We don’t have to put on God’s new nature Cl 3.10, Ep 4.24 —it’s already on! And so we’re in the very same boat as Pelagians… but hey, at least we’re orthodox.

Yep, that’s also a product of our total depravity. There’s good reason theologians describe it as total: It’s everywhere.

05 February 2019

God our Mother.

Our hangups about gender get in the way of understanding the Almighty.

Years ago I observed a rather heated discussion between two people about which pronoun to use for the Holy Spirit.

See, when people don’t know the Holy Spirit, they tend to refer to him as “it”—they think he’s a force, or God’s power, or otherwise don‘t realize he’s a person. The Greek word for spirit, πνεῦμα/néfma, isn’t much help in making this determination: In English nearly all our nouns are neuter, but in nearly every other language they’re not; they’re either masculine or feminine. Well, Greek has masculine, feminine, and neuter… and néfma is neuter. The writers of the New Testament didn’t try to masculinize it either, and turn it into πνεῦμος/néfmos or give it masculine noun-markers like πνεῦμα/o néfma, “the [he]-Spirit.” Nope, they went with the usual πνεῦμα ἅγιον/Néfma Ághion, “Holy Spirit”; τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ, “God’s Spirit”—both neuter. Every reference to the Spirit in the NT is neuter.

But in the Old Testament, the Hebrew for spirit, רוּחַ/ruákh, is feminine.

I once heard a pastor claim the Old Testament noun might be feminine, and the New Testament noun might be neuter, but the writers of the NT treated néfma, whenever it meant the Holy Spirit, as if it’s a masculine noun. I thought that was interesting. Repeated the statement myself a few times. Then I took Greek in college and discovered it’s not so. (Would’ve been nice too: There are certain bits of Paul’s letters where it’s hard to tell whether he means our spirit or the Spirit, and if he always used masculine markers for the Holy Spirit, it’d make interpretation so much easier. But he didn’t.) Don’t know where this pastor got his idea, but it’s utterly bogus.

Because néfma is neuter, I gradually got in the habit of using neuter pronouns when I refer to spirits. After all, spirits are immaterial and have no gender: They’ve no chromosomes, no “plumbing,” so to speak; they’re not meant to breed nor marry. They’re neuter. So when an angel appears in the bible, I tend to call it “it.” That includes Satan. In fact an exorcist I met pointed out evil spirits certainly tend to act like unthinking animals rather than rational beings. So he naturally grew to refer to evil spirits as “it.” Sounds about right to me.

But because the Spirit’s name in Hebrew, רוּחַ־קֹ֖דֶשׁ/Ruákh-Qodéš (or as Christians who don’t know Hebrew tend to call him, רוּחַ הַקֹּ֜דֶשׁ/Ruákh haQodéš) is feminine, there are a growing number of Christians who refer to the Spirit as “she.”

Bear in mind it’s only by custom we refer to the Spirit as “he.” God is spirit, Jn 4.24 and before he became human, he had no DNA, no plumbing, which defined his gender. The LORD is “he” only because his self-chosen name, אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה/Ehyéh Ašer Ehyéh (KJV “I AM THAT I AMEx 3.14), means he defines himself—and went with the pronouns “he” and “him” and “his,” or their equivalents in the bible’s languages. He describes himself, and Jesus describes him, as Father. Stands to reason “he” would be the pronoun for every person in the trinity, right?

But customs aren’t bible, and the Spirit of God is “she” throughout the Old Testament. So these Christians feel entirely justified in calling the Spirit “she.”

And this practice totally freaks out certain other Christians. Sexists in particular.

28 January 2019

Ghosts: The human spirit.

And of course some of the mythology about ’em.

Technically “ghost“ means the very same thing as “spirit.” It’s why “Holy Spirit” and “Holy Ghost” refer to the very same person.

But over the last century English-speakers have grown to think of “ghosts” as the spirits of the dead. Humans usually. Sometimes animals. Whereas “spirit” can refer to an incorporeal being of any sort. But it wasn’t so long ago the words were fully interchangeable—as y’might notice in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The “ghosts” of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come, were not dead humans; the ghost of Jacob Marley was, though.

So. Since everybody nowadays equates “ghost” with dead humans, in this article so do I.

Humans are part spirit. In our makeup, we have a spirit; a non-material, incorporeal part of ourselves. When we die, the soul ceases to exist, but this spirit continues on. When we get resurrected, it goes back into our new body, and we once again become a living soul. This spirit is what I mean when I say “ghost.”

Yeah, there are Christians who squirm at this word: “I’m a Christian. We don’t believe in ghosts.” Yeah we do. They’re in the bible.

John 19.30 KJV
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

Seems Jesus had a ghost, and when he died it left his body. And when he appeared alive to his students the next week, he wanted it to be clear he wasn’t still a ghost.

Luke 24.36-43 KWL
36 As they said this, Jesus stood in their midst and told them, “Peace to you.”
37 They were freaked out and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost.
38 Jesus told them, “Why are you agitated, and why do disputes arise in your minds?
39 See my hands and my feet!—for I am him.
Touch me and see!—for a ghost doesn’t have a body and bones like you see I have.”
40 Saying this, Jesus showed them his hands and feet.
41 Yet in their joy and wonder they still distrusted him.
Jesus told them, “Does anyone here have food?”
42 They gave Jesus a piece of roast fish, 43 and Jesus took and ate it before them.

Ghosts, said Jesus, don‘t have a body. Don’t have bones. Don’t eat. He wasn’t just accommodating their myths; he’d just been dead, and knew what dead people are and aren’t, can and can’t do. Whereas Jesus can do what ghosts can’t, ’cause he’s alive.

Of course the ability to appear and disappear makes people wonder about Jesus. But Philip did that later in Acts, Ac 8.39 so it’s not wholly outside the realm of God-empowered ability. Getting resurrected didn’t necessarily grant Jesus superpowers. But that’s a pretty big digression, so let’s go back to ghosts.

14 January 2019

What are spirits?

And of course some of the mythology about ’em.

SPIRIT 'spɪ.rɪt noun. A non-physical being; a supernatural being.
2. A person’s non-physical parts (such as emotions or character), which are considered a person’s true self, survives physical death, and possibly manifests as a ghost.
3. [capitalized] The Holy Spirit.
4. Qualities, characteristics, or emotions of a person or thing, which are considered their defining attributes: the spirit of the plan.
5. Emotion or mood, usually positive: I hope this lifts your spirits.
6. True intentions or attitude: It’s the spirit of the rule, not the letter.
7. Liquor or another volatile liquid.
8. [verb] Taken quickly and secretly.

The bible regularly refers to non-physical beings. We call ’em spirits. Our English word comes from the Latin spirare/“breathe,” and the Hebrew and Greek words for spirit ( ‏רוּחַ/ruákh, πνεῦμα/pnéfma) likewise literally mean “breath” or “wind.” The bible’s authors didn’t call it that because they literally believed spirit is the same thing as air molecules pushed by an outside force: Their thinking was spirit is invisible, yet we can see how things are affected by it—exactly like wind.

Of course if we wanna get scientific, the simile falls apart. Wind is made of air, which is made of atoms, and therefore material. Spirit is not material. Not that we know what spirit’s made of; we just know it’s not matter. Nor energy. Because we can’t measure spirit with machinery, no matter what certain paranormalists might claim. If there’s any truth to their claims at all (and I have my doubts), all they can measure are, again, the effects of spirits. Not the spirits themselves.

If you want answers to that question from the bible, you won’t find any. The bible’s about God’s relationship with us, not biology.

Thing is, we live in a scientific age. (Or we’d like to imagine we do.) If we can’t study it with science, we often figure it doesn’t exist. So if spirits can’t be measured, quantified, examined, dissected… well, they’re out.

A lot of Christians think this way too: They don’t believe in spirits. Well, except for God. And maybe the human spirit, ’cause they’re hoping to survive death. And maybe angels and devils. But they won’t go any further than that—and often won’t even go that far. They figure spirits are superstition, or the fakery of false religions.

But the bible refers to all sorts of spirits. Some appear to be good. Some benign, or they have duties which have nothing to do with us. Some are unclean, the sort Jesus threw out of people. Some are evil, like the devil.

So if spirits exist in the bible, stands to reason they still exist. We may not be aware of them, nor be able to detect them scientifically. We may find it irritating when other religions emphasize them so much: We’re pretty sure those religions are wrong. But we need to understand what Christianity teaches about spirits, and get it right.

07 January 2019

We’re wrong about God, y’know.

The quest for knowledge always begins by knowing we don’t know—and wrong about what we think we know.

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 Worldwide

Theology 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 usual 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. It’s pretending to be, what we deep down know we aren’t. It’s false humility. We don’t have that low an opinion of ourselves. If we did, we’d figure ourselves totally unworthy of God, and never bring ourselves to study him. In fact for some Christians, they do have that low an opinion of themselves, and don’t study him.

So let’s set the B.S. aside and get honest: We suspect we can know God, or at least know him better. And that’s good! God wants us to know him better. It’s why he sent us Jesus. It’s why he made us—to answer that “who are we?” question definitively—adoptive daughters and sons of the most high God. Jn 1.12 That ain’t nothing. We’re precisely the people who should study God.

Theology is the birthright of every Christian. Any Christian who doesn’t bother to investigate their Father is destined to have a really sucky, substandard, dysfunctional relationship with him. Which surely isn’t what he wants. Hope you don’t either.

So yeah, we need to get into theology. We need to study God. All of us. You included.

12 October 2018

What Pelagius did or didn’t teach.

Not that people aren’t gonna try to debate the idea.

Last week I wrote about Pelagianism, the belief humans are inherently good. It’s a common and popular idea, but it’s heresy. The ancient Christians condemned it at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431.

For good reason. If humans are fundamentally good—not profoundly corrupted by selfishness and sin—in theory it’s possible for one of us to live an uncorrupted life. Without sin. And in so doing, merit heaven all on one’s own. Without Jesus. After all, what might Jesus add to one’s inherent goodness? Nothing but a rubber stamp.

Well. Once the article went live, it annoyed various Pelagians. Some of whom had no idea they were actually Pelagian! They always presumed humans are basically good, and hate the idea we’re not. Likewise they hate the idea they’re heretic, ’cause too many Christians wrongly think “heretic” means “going to hell.” So them’s fighting words.

I didn’t write the article to pick a fight with Pelagians. I wrote it to inform. Most TXAB readers aren’t wholly up to speed on theological ideas like Pelagianism, so I figured I’d write about what it is and why it’s a problem. If any of you were leaning that direction, my hope was you’d pause and say, “Oh so that’s why Christians teach what we do,” and correct yourselves. We’re all wrong in one way or another, and could always stand to make mid-course corrections like that.

But what do people usually do? Exclaim, “No you’re wrong,” then take potshots at the messenger. If we bother to do any homework on the issue, it’s only to marshal arguments so we can take better potshots. I confess; I’ve done this too. It’s jerk-like behavior so I try not to. After all, I might be wrong! But old habits die hard, y’know.

Anyway. The Pelagians mustered the usual arguments, the ones I brought up in the article: They don’t believe humanity is totally broken. All have sinned, Ro 3.23 and they’re willing to admit they’ve sinned too: They’re hardly worthy of heaven on their own merits. But they can’t stomach the idea of humanity gone totally wrong. After all, they know good pagans! Nobody but the most hardcore pessimists and cynics are gonna say good pagans don’t exist.

True. But have any of these pagans achieved heaven-level goodness? Well no; nobody can imagine ’em being that good. Because nobody but Jesus is that good. Because total depravity: Not one human but Jesus, in our every last action, has acted wholly selflessly and sinlessly. Sin is like the sand on a beach: It gets everywhere, and you’re still finding it in your stuff and your cracks weeks after you visited the beach. Sin’s totally corrupted everything. It’s total.

Pelagians’ other hangup is that word depravity. It’s the right word; it means “moral corruption.” But I think most of ’em have it in their heads it means something dirtier, more perverted, more nasty. It doesn’t really. If they wanna quibble about vocabulary and use different words, that’s fine; depravity has synonyms. Still, we’re talking about moral corruption: Every single human but Jesus compromises what “goodness” means in order to defend ourselves, feel better about ourselves, and justify ourselves. But we’ve all fallen short of God’s glory. Ro 3.23 We’re all morally corrupt. Or depraved.

All that aside, one odd argument I heard in defense of Pelagianism is that Pelagius of Britain never actually taught what we call “Pelagianism.” It’s all slander. Against a perfectly good and upstanding Christian.

My big ol’ introduction aside, that’s actually what I’m gonna rant about today.

10 October 2018

Are Mormons Christian?

They’re pretty sure they are. And other Christians are pretty sure they’re not. Who’s right?

I’ve written more than once that we’re saved by God’s grace—which means we’re not saved by our orthodoxy. There are a lot of Evangelical Christians who’ve got it into our heads that we’re saved only once we have all the correct beliefs; a situation I call faith righteousness.

Faith righteousness is easily disproven by the fact God saves new Christians. Does any newbie hold all the correct beliefs about God? Of course not; they don’t know anything yet! None of us did. (Some of us still don’t.) But we’re pursuing a relationship with God, and as we screw up time and again, God graciously forgives our deficiencies. Might be moral deficiencies; might be doctrinal deficiencies. Makes no difference. Grace covers all.

Of course, when I teach this, people occasionally wanna know just how far they can push God’s grace. They wanna know just how egregiously they can sin before God finally says, “Nope; you’ve gone too far; you’re going to hell.” Not necessarily because they wanna sin (although let’s be honest; sometimes they totally wanna). The idea of unlimited grace sounds too good to be true. Nobody else offers unlimited grace. Even when commercials claim a company gives you unlimited stuff, there’s always fine print. Always.

Same deal with Christians who are fond of, or fixated upon, doctrines. They wanna know how heretic is too heretic. How far can we go outside the boundaries of historic Christianity before we’re simply not Christian anymore? So they wanna know about groups which call themselves Christian, but embrace heretic beliefs. Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are Arian; like the Oneness Pentecostals, who are unitarian; like the Christian Scientists, who believe reality is a mental construct.

So let’s talk about the Mormons.

A small number of ’em aren’t okay with the term “Mormon”; they prefer “Latter-day Saint,” or LDS for short. These tend to be the older Mormons, ’cause back in the 1970s, when I first encountered them, one of their leaders apparently had a hangup about it. (It’s sorta like referring to Christians as “New Testaments.”) Nowaday’s Mormons are used to it.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the biggest of the heretic churches. For this reason I interact with plenty of Mormons; we have four of their churches in my city. I first learned what they supposedly believe when I went to Fundamentalist churches, who taught me to shun and fear them. A lot of that was hearsay from ex-Mormons with axes to grind. Since then I went to journalism school, and learned to always go to the source. So I did. Whenever the Mormons wanna evangelize me, I seize the opportunity and ask a ton of questions.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Mormons were kinda secretive about any of their beliefs which were outside the Christian mainstream. (No doubt they were made gunshy by all the hostile Fundies.) I guess somebody in their leadership realized how that came across, and got ’em to cut it out. So now they’ll tell you just about anything you wanna know. Including the weird stuff, which makes ’em a little uncomfortable, but they’re good kids and try to be honest. So if you wanna know about Mormons, don’t be afraid to ask Mormons.

04 October 2018

Pelagianism: “Humanity’s not all that bad.”

When Christians imagine we’re good enough for heaven.

PELAGIAN pə'leɪ.dʒi.ən adjective. Denies the Christian doctrines of original sin and total depravity: Believes humans are inherently good, able to make unselfish choices, and can be worthy of heaven on our own merits.
SEMI-PELAGIAN sɛm.aɪ.pə'leɪ.dʒi.ən adjective. A Pelagian whom we kinda like.

Every once in a while somebody, usually a theology nerd like me, is gonna fling around the terms Pelagian and semi-Pelagian. Hopefully they know what they’re talking about. Many don’t, and are just using those words to mean heretic. ’Cause in the year 431, the Council of Ephesus declared Pelagianism to be heresy—so whether critics understand Pelagianism, councils, or heresy, what they’re really trying to say is the person’s wrong, and any label will do.

So let’s back up a bunch. A Pelagian, like I said in the definition, believes humans are inherently good. Children are born innocent, and if nothing upends that natural innocence, stay good and wholesome and benevolent. They grow up to be good people. Good enough for heaven.

It’s what pagans believe. Optimistic pagans, anyway; there are a lot of cynics who think humanity totally deserves hellfire. But a lot of us like to think the best of people, and give ’em the benefit of the doubt. Myself included. I’m not unrealistic: I know evil people, and I know even good people screw up, or have times when they act selfishly or deceptively. When they do so, it doesn’t blindside me. But just about everyone believes in karma, the idea our actions have repercussions in the universe and on our afterlife. So many people—unless they’ve quit trying in despair—are usually trying to be good. Or good enough. Or settling for explanations why they’re kinda good enough.

But the scriptures teach otherwise. The first humans were created good, but sinned. They passed down that sinful, self-centered nature to their descendants, us:

Romans 5.12 KWL
This is why it’s like sin enters the world through one man; and through sin, death;
and therefore death comes to every human—hence everyone sins.

Therefore humanity is inherently selfish and sinful. It’s why we need Jesus! We can’t save ourselves, can’t earn salvation, can’t accept God’s love, can’t follow God’s laws, without his help. We gotta depend on grace. Which God provides in abundance, so no sweat.

But if you grew up believing people are inherently good, the idea we’re inherently not is gonna bug you. Humans don’t like to think we’re corrupt or flawed; we like to imagine we’re good! And if it helps to imagine everybody else is good deep down too… well then we will. Even though we’ve tons of evidence of human depravity. We’ll just keep insisting evil is the exception. Something humanity can evolve past.

Hence Pelagianism. Pelagius (390ish–418) was a Rome-educated British monk. He was hardly the first guy to float the idea, but it nonetheless gets named for him: A Pelagian believes humans aren’t inherently sinful. We’re good. So be good!

Bear in mind Pelagius was dealing with a lot of slacker Christians. Fellow Christians and fellow monks would blame our sins on our sinful nature. (Still do.) They’d insist we can’t be good; we’re just too corrupt. We can’t help but sin. And if this is the case… why try? Why make the effort to do better, to be better, to be like Jesus, when our very nature rebels against the idea? Best to just give up, stay the same ol’ sinner, and depend on cheap grace.

Pelagius hated this idea. I hate this idea. Any reasonable Christian should. It’s not biblical!

Romans 6.1-2 KWL
1 So what are we saying?—“Continue to sin, for there’s plenty of grace”?
2 Never gonna happen. We died to sin. How could we live in it?

But Pelagius’s correction went too far: He rejected the ideas of human depravity, and of Adam and Eve’s original sin affecting humanity. He insisted anyone can stop sinning if we just make the effort. That’s what he taught his monks, and that’s what his monks taught Christendom. Particularly Celestius of Rome, Pelagius’s disciple.

28 September 2018

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

Which, as a follower of Jesus, I’m not allowed to presume. He should be our baseline.

Whenever I have God-experiences, ranging from when he tells me stuff during prayer time, to watching him cure the sick, my usual response is humility. ’Cause it’s God, you know. Even though Christians who live a life of faith oughta see miracles on a regular basis, and oughta have the Holy Spirit empower us to do all sorts of supernatural things, 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 include and involve us in everything he’s doing.

Fells this way to me, anyway.

To others… well yeah, their bad behavior and bad fruit kinda indicate they do take God’s presence and power for granted. I’m thinking in certain pastors and Christian ministers in particular; some I know personally. They tend to be unkind, judgmental, fearful, and ungracious. Their financial practices are suspect at best, conniving at worst. I needn’t get into the awful ways they mutilate the scriptures to suit themselves. I’ll just say their response to God is far from humble: If anything, they act as if why wouldn’t God endorse them. They remind me of the spoiled kids of rich people; trust fund babies who were born on third base and act as if they hit a triple. In this case their father is God, whom they totally take for granted. Humility never occurs to them.

I very seldom dwell on these guys; I have better things to do. But I know they exist.

Maybe it’s because I seldom dwell on these guys that I found myself very nearly saying in a bible study, “When we experience God like that, our usual response is humility…” I had to back up and correct myself: My usual response is humility. Plenty of other Christians I know, likewise have a good sense of our relationship with God, and likewise respond with humility. But yeah, there are Christian jerks out there who won’t respond with humility, who figure God had better come through for them. I can’t relate, but I can’t go around talking about my experience as if it’s the norm. I have no proof of that.

And this, folks, is how we’re supposed to do theology: Don’t go round declaring our experiences, our norms, our preferences, are true for everyone. Unless we’ve done a scientific study or have a properly-interpreted passage of scripture to back us up, we’ve no leg to stand on. We’re claiming a subjective experience is universal. And this is precisely the reason so many people automatically doubt “absolute truths”: Far too often, it turns out they’re not absolute. They’re just the old prejudices of lazy lecturers.

But there are a lot of lazy lecturers out there. Because people like to imagine they’re normal. They don’t wanna be unusual; they fear being weird; they don’t wanna stand out from the crowd. What they think and like is what everybody thinks and likes. Or what everybody oughta think and like. Their worldview oughta be everyone’s worldview. They are normal; anyone who thinks differently is not normal.

04 September 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28 August 2018

Tradition: Customs which (should) help us follow Jesus.

Some of it good, some of it bad, all of it debatable—and those who don’t wanna debate a thing.

TRADITION /trə'dɪ.ʃən/ n. Beliefs and customs passed down from generation to generation.
[Traditional /trə'dɪ.ʃən.əl/ adj.]
CHRISTIAN TRADITION /'krɪs.ʃcən trə'dɪ.ʃən/ n. Someone other than the Holy Spirit, or something other than the bible, which taught you Christianity.

The first time we were introduced to Jesus, for most of us it wasn’t a personal introduction. He didn’t appear to us personally, like he did Stephen or Paul or Ananias.

Nope. We learned of him secondhand, through other Christians—parents, relatives, friends, evangelists, preachers, writers, and so on. We interacted with those other Christians, heard their stories, heard of their own God-experiences, put our faith in these people, and followed the Jesus they shared with us till we eventually had our own experiences of him. (You have had your own experiences, right? I would hope so.)

But despite those personal experiences we’ve had of Jesus, most of the things we still think, believe, and practice as Christians, aren’t based on those personal God-experiences. They’re based on what our fellow Christians did and do. We go to church, see how our fellow Christians worship Jesus, and do as they do. Or we read some book about ways to worship Jesus, and do as the book suggests. Or we hear about some Christian practice, think, “I wanna try that,” and try that.

We draw from the collective experience of the Christians we know. It’s called tradition.

Yeah, there are plenty of people who are anti-tradition. Many of them are irreligious, but a number of ’em aren’t happy with the traditions they grew up with, so they’re trying to figure out better ways to follow Jesus. Which is fine if they’re authentically following Jesus! It’s just a lot of times they’re not. And a lot of other times, they’re anti-tradition because they were taught tradition is dead religion. Which it can be, and can become.

But every Christian follows one tradition or another. Because tradition isn’t just the dead doctrines of formal churches. Tradition is Mom and Dad, who taught you to pray and read your bible. Tradition is Sunday school teachers, who tell you what the bible means. Tradition is Pastor, who encourages you to follow Jesus. Tradition is your favorite Christian authors and podcasters. Tradition is me.

Tradition is anything or anyone, other than the Holy Spirit or bible or Jesus himself, who shows you how to follow Jesus. Sometimes it takes the form of customs and rituals. More often it takes the form of “This is how we do it,” or “This is how it’s always been done.” Whether these customs were passed all the way down from the first apostles, or invented last week by a clever worship pastor, they’re still tradition. Still the teachings of fellow humans on how best to follow God.

And some of these teachings are really good stuff!

And some of ’em aren’t. That’s why we gotta use our heads and figure out which of them is valid, and which aren’t. Which of them will work for us, and which won’t. How some of them might be bent, or might be getting bent, into something which really doesn’t bring us closer to Jesus at all… and how some of them which aren’t so effective might be made effective.

Don’t just assume all traditions are all good. Or all evil. Test everything. Keep the beneficial stuff. Chuck the useless stuff. 1Th 5.21 Including all the practices you invented… which are turning into your own little traditions. Don’t be too tightly wedded to them, ’cause they might not help your relationship with Jesus as much as you imagine, and might need adjusting, adapting, refining… or rejecting.

15 August 2018

Election: God did choose you, y’know.

Because you didn’t just wander into Christianity. God wants you.

ELECT /ə'lɛkt/ v. Choose for a purpose or position, like a political contest or a job.
2. n. A person (or people) chosen by God for a purpose or position. [Often “the elect.”]
[Elector /ə'lɛk.tər/ n., election /ə'lɛk.ʃən/ n.]

I grew up with a Christian mom, a Christian upbringing, and lots of relationships with people who happened to be Christian. Whole lot of opportunities to have God-experiences. It’s kinda like I was set up: Stuff was deliberately stuck in my path to influence me to become Christian.

Other Christians didn’t grow up the same way, of course. Things were a lot less Christian, a lot more pagan—or they grew up with another religion altogether. But at one point in their lives they were obviously nudged in Christ Jesus’s direction. Maybe they had a rough patch and Christians showed up to point ’em to Jesus. Maybe a miracle happened and they realized, not just that God’s here, but that Jesus defines him best. In some cases Jesus even personally showed up and told them to follow him—’cause he does that.

The fact is, God wants to save everybody. Jesus died to make it possible, and everybody’s been given the invitation to come to Jesus, be adopted by God, and enter his kingdom. Everybody, without exception, is invited. He’s not turning anyone away. (Unless they clearly don’t want him, or don’t mean it; but those are other discussions.)

But. Even though God’s invitation is for anyone and everyone, there are lots of individuals whom he makes a particular effort to save. Like me, ’cause he set me up to become Christian. Like you, more than likely: When you look back on your life, chances are you can think of many situations where God was getting your attention, moving you into place, coming after you. Some of them were really obvious moves on his part. Some were more subtle. Hey, whatever got you into the kingdom. But God definitely, specifically, wanted you.

And when that’s the case we Christians call it election.

09 August 2018

When people can see God.

Or to use the theologians’ term for it, theophanies.

THEOPHANY /θi'ɑ.fə.ni/ n. An experience where God is visible; often hearable and touchable.

Recently a member of a discussion group I’m in was talking about apostles: One of his definitions of apostle is someone who’s seen Jesus. You know, like the Twelve—and Paul of Tarsus, whom he figures was a special case, because Jesus doesn’t do that sort of thing anymore.

There I entirely disagree. Jesus appears to people all the time. Poll the people of your church sometime. Assuming they’re not afraid to admit it (either because your church doesn’t believe in miracles, and in so doing has kinda banned them; or they’re afraid you’ll think them nuts) you might be startled to discover at least one of them has seen Jesus. And no, not a painting of him, nor a Jesus movie: Seen Jesus.

I went into more detail about this in my article on the subject. Jesus can and does appear to people, still. This is the usual form a God-sighting will take place nowadays. God doesn’t have to appear in pillars of cloud and flame, or burning bushes, or thunder on a mountain, or any such thing. The form he took when he became human will do him just fine from now on.

But before he became human, God appeared in all sorts of odd ways to his people. ’Cause sometimes he felt he had to make a personal appearance… so he did.

Remember, God is spirit. Jn 4.24 So most of the time he’s gonna interact with us humans in spiritual ways. In other words, non-physical ways: Won]t see him, won’t hear him, won’t feel him, won’t smell or taste him, won’t detect him through some poorly defined sixth sense. Various Christians claim to sense him, but 99 times out of 100 they’ve confused their emotions (or the really good subwoofers in their church) with “feeling the Spirit.” Or they’ve psyched themselves into an experience.

But in that one time in 100, God chooses to become detectable to our senses. He appears to people. We theologians call this a theophany. It’s one of the five forms of revelation (which’d be prayer, prophecy, bible, conscience, and theophany). When we’re too dense for one of those other forms to do the job, sometimes God resorts to making an appearance.

The bible begins with God-appearances. (’Cause the other forms of revelation weren’t around yet.) God made a habit of hanging around Eden with Adam and Eve. They could even hear him coming. Ge 3.8 True, he didn’t have to physically do this. He could’ve walked with the first humans the same way Jesus “walks” with most of us, answering our prayers and guiding us through life. But he didn’t wanna. Most of the reason he became human is because he still doesn’t wanna. We’re the ones who freak out over God-appearances.

Exodus 20.18-19 KWL
18 All the people saw the sound, the bright light, the trumpet’s call, the smoking mountain—
the people saw, trembled, and stood far away.
19 They told Moses, “You speak with us so we can hear.
Don’t have God speak with us, lest we die.”

As if God had any intention of destroying them. (Yet.) But that’s the problem: God’s grandeur, even in small doses, freaks us out beyond reason and understanding. Mk 9.2-6 The popular belief was, and still is, that if we actually see God as he literally is, our fragile selves can’t take it, Ex 33.20 and we’ll drop stone dead. Dt 18.16, Jn 13.22 And y’know, there’s likely something to that.

So when God appeared to people in the scriptures, he usually appeared as a man Ge 18.1-16 or angel. Jg 13.21-22 The “Angel of the LORD” may only have been a herald who represented God, but consistent with ancient practice, people addressed it as if it was God, and Christians wonder whether this angel wasn’t God in some angelic form. (Other Christians figure it was Jesus before Jesus became human… and since Jesus is God, it’s sorta the same idea.)

06 August 2018

God’s superabundant riches.

If we could only grasp how much of them there are.

Ephesians 3.13-21

God’s great mystery, now revealed to the world through Paul, was God’s kingdom now includes gentiles. Previous generations didn’t realize this, despite plenty of hints in the Old Testament; it’s why Pharisees were regularly so dismissive of gentiles. But God now wants his church to make it crystal clear: The good news is for everyone. No exceptions. Jesus is Lord of all.

This was why he was in chains, Paul explained. Ep 3.1 In Acts he proclaimed Jesus had sent him to the gentiles—in temple, of all places. Ac 22.21 The resulting riot got the Romans to arrest him, Ac 22.22-24 originally to flog him and silence him, but Paul’s citizenship meant it quickly turned into protective custody, as the Judean leadership sought to get him killed. At the time he wrote Ephesians, we figure he was awaiting trial in Rome. His legal woes were entirely provoked by the very idea of including gentiles in God’s kingdom. But Paul wasn’t so petty as to blame gentiles for his situation. Wasn’t their fault.

On the contrary: The gentiles drove him to rejoice.

Ephesians 3.13-17 KWL
13 So I request you don’t despair over my suffering for you—which is in your honor.
14 It’s why I bend my knees to the Father, 15 for whom every “fatherland” in heaven and on earth is named.
16 So he could give you power from his glorious riches, make you strong in his Spirit in the person within,
17 and settle Christ in your hearts, planted and established through faith in love.

When Paul wrote of bending his knees to the Father, Ep 3.14 Christians miss the importance of this, ’cause it’s an old Christian custom to kneel to pray. But first-century Judeans (and Christians) didn’t pray like that. They prayed standing up, facing the sky, arms outstretched. Mk 11.25, Lk 18.13 You didn’t kneel unless you were begging God to answer your petition—like when Jesus begged not to suffer, Lk 22.41 or Simon Peter begged God to raise a dead woman. Ac 9.40 Paul was begging God for his prayer requests. Begging the Ephesians would get “power from his glorious riches,” would be “strong in his Spirit,” that God’d “settle Christ in [their] hearts.” He wanted the Ephesians to become solid Christians. (’Cause they were good Christians, Ep 1.15 but could always be better!)

Every “fatherland,” Paul pointed out, is named for the Father. This is a bit of Greek wordplay, so it’s a little tricky to translate. Paul compared patír/“father” and patriá/“homeland.” He correctly pointed out the word patriá comes from patír. Originally patriá meant “family,” and the KJV translated it that way: “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Ep 3.15 KJV But a patriá wasn’t just one small little family, but a national family—the ethnic identity of an entire nation. Back then, nations figured a significant part of their national identity was in being descendants of a common ancestor. You know, like Judeans all figured they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah: They were “the children of Israel.”

Nowadays we consider that idea racist… ’cause it is. Especially in empires like the Roman Empire, which were multinational; or nations like the United States, which are based on shared ideals and rights instead of culture and ancestry. And God’s kingdom is both of those things: It’s an empire where everyone’s adopted, Ep 1.5 where our common allegiance to Jesus and his teachings mean race should make no difference. And lest anyone forget this, Paul pointed out how every ethnic identity has its origin in God the Father. He put people-groups where he wants ’em, Ac 17.26 and now he wants ’em in his kingdom, the patriá of heaven. A one-world government, under God, indivisible.

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.

Yikes.

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.

Yeesh.