Poem: Cut through

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April 6, 2021

Passion
A long-awaited kiss
Lips pucker
Hands gesture
But a nose
Blocks the way

Love’s dream
Might not shine
The way to you
But as a diamond blade
You cut me right through
By love’s dream

I was driftwood
Abandoned
Useless
Feeling only loved
By the one who conceived me

The pains you gave me
Cut me straight through
Carved a design
Manifested in my heart
The good of this earth
The good in me
The glory of the One
In whose image I am made

If love ever finds me
in the union of embrace
If love ever finds me
in the cry “Daddy!”
It is because of you.

The Hand that designed you
Used you to make me too

Theology as anthropology (BRIEF)

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April 6, 2021

A short thought:

Theology should be ultimately anthropological in structure, with the reflection on God’s nature and activity vis-a-vis human life and activity. The Incarnation allows for such theology to become readily accessible when one reflects deeply and follows the words and example of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, in history, theology became more focused on ontology, both explicit and veiled, which made the content of theology to be about ideas to which we have no real sensory access to but made the meta-cognitive processes of reasoning its master. I contend that a theological anthropology is much more consistent with what the New Testament makes known about the relationship of God to His people. Hence, any attempts at theology that is rooted in the Scriptures will have more in common with psychology, anthropology, sociology, and even biology and physiology. and will seek to understand those branches of knowledge through the lens of the self-sacrificial, transformative love of Jesus Christ rather than metaphysics, logic, etc.

Christ and the husband

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April 4, 2021

“Knowledge” by Louise Bogan:

Now that I know
That passion warms little
Of flesh in the mold,
And treasure is brittle,

I’ll lie here and learn
How, over their ground,
Trees make a long shadow
And a light sound.

Usually, I start off my blog post with Scripture, but today is different. This morning as I was getting ready for Easter services, I happened upon this poem, “Knowledge” by Louise Bogan. Occasionally, a poem will strike me so much that I will be lead to reflect how it connects to the Christian life and where I can find it connecting to the Scriptures. This poem is one of those poems. As I sit here on this resurrection Sunday, having grief over an overwhelming dream for marriage coming to an end and hoping that God can bring a new, realistic version of this dream in my life, this poem spoke to my longing for a wife and family: what sort of husband will I long to be if God ever brings that gift into my life. I take this poem as a signpost sent to me by God in this reflection, though ultimately what I am saying comes from the Scriptures, not the poem as some authority.

So, what does it mean to be a husband? Various cultures have different expectations and customs for the duties and roles of a husband to a wife. It is not my intention to describe those varying gender roles, because my intention here is to describe what a husband who has Christ living in him would be like. Yet, it is important to know, while to be as Christ to a wife can look different in different cultures, ultimately there are certain things a faithful Christian husband is to be and do for their wife. We get a word about this from the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:22-33:

Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

In this passage, we see Paul defining the role of the husband to be the role of Christ. Before expanding further on what exactly that means, it is important to note that there is no reason to believe that Paul is describing some fixed, creation order that outlines the relationship between husband and wife. In fact, it is quite the opposite: he tries to get them to look at the marriage relationship through the lens of Jesus Christ. In that spirit, is much more likely that Paul is trying to address the way he saw husband and wives were interacting with each other that fell short of the goodness of the Christian life by giving them specific instructions to relate to each other as if Christ was in the marriage. The goodness of Christ, not creation, is at the heart of Paul’s instructions to the husbands and wives in that time.

At this point, however, how we understand the husband as the Christ-bearer in the marriage functions something like an inkblot test. When many hear is that “Christ is the boss of the household,” that they somehow come to the conclusion that the husband gets to say what does and doesn’t happen in the home. Whether in more overt, authoritarian forms or more subtle, covert authoritarianism, it is often taken that the husband as the Christ-bearer means that whatever the husband says, the wife is supposed to do. After all, if Jesus is Lord of us, then the husband is smaller lord over the wife, right?

Absolute, utter garbage! How little such an interpretation reflects a knowledge of the man Jesus Christ. What does it say in John 12.47:

I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

Jesus does not come into the world, demanding allegiance and obedience to those who hear him, which implicitly meant that they believed in Jesus to some capacity. At the heart of Jesus’ ministry isn’t the presentation of some set of thou shalt’s that others must accept and obey. Rather, Jesus’ words are given to save the world, they are given to help set people free (John 8.31-32) The words of Jesus as the Rabbi are not as a boss giving orders what people are to do or they will be in the wrong, but they are a source of life for those who hear and follow them. Jesus does not seek to control and enact obedience to those whom He teaches, but as a gentle Teacher whose yoke is light, Jesus is patient and not seeking to put further burdens upon people who already have their own burdens to bear.

If people were more attentive to the actual words and actions of Jesus, and not just to some theological representation or title, they would see Paul’s words differently. Perhaps like a tree, a husband casts a long shadow in which their wife can take shade, can find protection, support, and comfort, but in the end speaks lightly, and when he does speak, it is for the purpose of building up the wife, as Christ’s words are intended to build us up into purity and holiness.

But, if we as men truly want to be Christ-bearers in our relationship to our (future) wives, then take heed of these words in John 14:12:

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

Is it not Jesus who sets those who He instructs to do things that are even greater than what Jesus did? How much more so should Christ-bearing husbands seek to raise their wives to do even greater, more magnificent things than they themselves? Of course, this stands against some forms of masculine pride that seeks to be at the top, but if one wants to be as Christ to their wife, then they should seek to raise their wife even above themselves.

How one understands the Christ-bearing role of the husband that Paul talks about all comes down to an inkblot test: are you paying attention to Jesus? Might I suggest Louise Bogan’s poem as a good source for reflection in light of the Scriptures.

What is dying to self all about?

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April 3, 2021

Matthew 10.38-39:

Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Romans 12.1-2:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not be conforming to the pattern of this world, but be transforming for the renewal of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will.

Galatians 2.20:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by the Son of God’s faith, who loved me and gave himself for me.

1 Peter 4.1:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.

Our mortality is a scary thing. We are born into this world with a survival instinct, to protect ourselves from potential threats. It is programmed into our brains and bodies in such a way that our thoughts and feelings will immediately tremor at a potential threat. So powerful is this instinctive impulse that even as our minds recognize there is no immediate threat, we can not just silence this lingering fear. It stays in our bodies, bidding us to give in to fear and anxiety, even as our minds perceive that there is no real immediate threat. For those of us who have experienced threats and traumas, it can often lead to periods where our feelings almost cripple us.

So pervasive is this fear and so dreadful is the feeling that we do everything we can to try to allay these fears and prevent them from arising in the first place. We want to go beyond simply being able to protect ourselves from an immediate threat, but we do everything we can to prevent the possibility of threats. People are motivated to have a career to provide money, which is rooted in the desire to have resources to provide and protect oneself. We develop systems of morality that are intended to prevent anything that might seem remotely dangerous from entering our space. We are often encouraged to build our social networks based upon selecting people who we deem to be safe.

Certainly, there is something good about this to some degree. Resources to provide for basic needs, a sense of righteousness that promotes mutual well-being, and close and safe social relationships are good things. We feel a sense of happiness when these things come to us because we find pleasure in peace, we find joy in presence of security.

Yet, each of these things can also become a source of evil. Greed exploits. Self-righteousness condemns. Exclusivity marginalizes. In each of these cases, the emotional signals of happiness that come from the feelings of allaying insecurity and vulnerability become a source of pain and harm to others. Yet, the greedy, self-righteous, and exclusivity all feel a sense of rightness about this. This sense of one’s happiness and those things that we think are ‘necessary’ for ourselves can lead people to cause harm to others. All this may very well get manifest in the characteristic of pride, whether such pride comes from one’s sense of wealth, righteousness, or social status.

Now, it is customary to throw the blame for these evil traits on the pursuit of pleasure and personal fulfillment, especially in Christian circles. Yet, if we recognize that this sense of happiness is most often connected to our vulnerability and fears of our mortality, then perhaps we can see that the real problem isn’t with the pursuit of happiness or fulfillment itself, but the way that our happiness and fulfillment are driven by a lurking fear of mortality. Perhaps it is truly fear, not pleasure, that stands at the root of evil in this world.

The Preacher of Hebrews takes this route when coming to understand Jesus’s Incarnation in Hebrews 2.14-15:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear to death.

As the Preacher expresses a theology where the sacrifice of Jesus Christ sanctifies and perfects believers, this statement about death and enslavement to fear of death can be taken to undergird his understanding of the atonement. The devil can have power over us when we are scared of death so that through the sacrifice of Jesus we can overcome this fear that gives the devil control. In Hebrews 12, the Preacher exhorts them to look to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of faith so that they can themselves find comfort and hope as they endure their own trials. Following Jesus leads people on a pathway to look to what happened to Jesus, so as to overcome sin in their life.

Fear lurks, often hidden, seeking to enslave us, but when we look to Jesus as the demonstration of God’s love for us, our growing trust in the One who raises from the dead begins to break the shackles of enslaved fear. Yet, this overcoming of fear is not by the avoidance of the fear, but the courage to face the trials based upon trust in God.

This is at the heart of dying to oneself and facing suffering. It is the one part of the Bible that is perhaps the least well understood. Sometimes people avoid the theme of suffering altogether due to their fear of mortality. Sometimes people use this theme of suffering to justify harm and abuse. Yet, within the Biblical vision of suffering and dying to oneself is the willingness to follow the crucified-and-resurrected Christ to face those people, situations, and circumstances, including even that which exists primarily within the realm of one’s own heart, in order to face and overcome our fears of mortality as we trust in the provision, care, and support our Heavenly Father.

In overcoming our fears though, our sense of rightness and goodness become transformed. When we are enslaved to the fear of death, our sense of what is good and right is radically controlled by our mortality. We struggle to see something as good because the remotest possibility of something bad being associated with something makes us think it is bad, evil, etc. But when we become progressively free from this slavery by continuously seeking to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, our sense of what is right and good becomes dramatically altered. A hyper-reactive fear doesn’t control our sense of what is bad and evil, although we can still recognize evil that is truly worthy of being called such. In that place, we are freed to find see and find the goodness of God that fills the earth.  The cross of Jesus Christ frees us to discover the good, life-giving purposes God has for us to live in love, to experience joy, to find shalom, as we grow in patience, demonstrate kindness, experience goodness, live in faith, and find self-control.

Unfortunately, however, the devil has obscured this vision of goodness from us in Christian life. A subtle but pervasive heresy has been allowed to dominate those who espouse a reputedly Biblical Christianity, leading many others who seek are Christian to leave the Bible behind because of the way this heresy has caused them to read the Bible. It is the heresy of God’s universal, everlasting wrath on humankind, which often begets a narcissism, if not sociopathy, in some of the people who are so focused on this condemnation, whereas creating vulnerability and anxiety towards others who feel less secure in themselves. As the Scriptures testify to God being slow to anger and that His anger is usually temporary, only rarely staying persistently angry, the idea that everyone on earth is destined for an eternal life of hell until they believe in Jesus not only misrepresents the God of the Scriptures, but it reinforces the fear of mortality that gives the devil even greater power. The way the power of this fear manifests itself is often with a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) authoritarianism within Christian circles, that suggests that if you stray from what is deemed “orthodox” you are in danger of hell.

I call this heresy not simply because it misrepresents God, but also because it is ultimately an implicit derogation of Jesus as the Word made flesh. Jesus showed no such pervasive, universal wrath and anger in His earthly ministry. His anger was spoken against those towns that saw the glory of God in Jesus’ miracles and would not repent and demonstrated towards the religious leaders, such as the Pharisees and scribes, who were white-washed tombs that were ultimately murderers at heart, and the Temple officials who were robbing the people. Yet, if God was filled with universal, lingering wrath towards all humanity, then Jesus, who did not demonstrate such anger, can not legitimately be called the Word of God because He would not be showing us who the Father truly is. In the end, the idea of the persisting, universal wrath of God is a heresy because it functionally denies the *reality* of the Incarnation, even if someone might still affirm the Incarnation as a doctrinal, theological *abstraction*.

The effect of this heresy is to keep people rooted in a sense of righteousness that is rooted in fear. Far from seeing Jesus as the revelation of God’s pleasing, good, and perfect righteousness, Jesus is functionally treated as the demonstration of God’s wrath for sinners that allows us to escape God’s eternal anger if we just believe. Consequently, the kingdom of heaven has been experiencing the rhetorical violence of those who by inculcating the fear of death seek to make the kingdom of heaven their own.

Yet, the Biblical vision of the cross is not about averting an otherwise certain, assured wrath from God (Romans 5.9 has often been misread as about escaping an otherwise certain wrath, rather than having a certainty of avoiding God’s wrath that would otherwise be left up in the air apart from Jesus). It is connected to discovering the deep love of God, to bear the goodness of Christ in our lives, to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit. To die to oneself is to give the opportunity for God’s resurrection power to manifest itself in our lives this present age so that we can discover what is good, what is right, what is holy, what is the way that makes for peace.

This is what Jesus came to teach and demonstrate to us about God, if only we would come to Him under the shelter of His wings, to be taught by the gentle Teacher. Yet, so many teachers have turned the cross of Jesus into something else, with the manifest result being that of people being blinded to God’s true righteousness, replaced instead with their own righteousness, and as a consequence, their house of theology and teaching is becoming desolate, witnessed by the declining influence of “Christianity.” Such people have been confident that they have in the Bible the embodiment of knowledge and truth, that they are a light in the darkness, but by their actions, they have made many people come to blaspheme God. Rest assured, God’s wrath will come, but as Jesus and James speak to, it will be to those who judged and measured in a wrathful way; it will be merciless to those who showed no mercy.

To find the true gift of life, we have to lose the life we sought to build in our fear so that we can discover God’s true goodness. And, in this age, seeking to lose our life may very well entail us being willing to risk facing the so-called damnation of the god of this age so that we can discover the love of the God visibly displayed in Jesus Christ so that we can replace human righteousness built upon the imagination of wide-spread spiritual violence towards to the whole world with the true vision of God’s righteousness built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.

“Nothing beyond what is written” – The problem of incipient Stoicism in the Church

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March 27, 2021

1 Corinthians 4.6:

I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, “Nothing beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another.

This little phrase by Paul, “Nothing beyond what is written” is a curious phrase that has garnered multiple interpretations. Anthony Thiselton notes seven different interpretations of it: (1) it pertains to a misunderstood scribal gloss, (2) the OT in general, (3) what is written in the epistle, (4) what Paul has quoted as Scripture, (5) what was written in earlier church regulations, (6) a familiar or general maxim, and (7) a reference to the inappropriate way the audience reads letters.1 It is difficult off-hand to figure out what precisely Paul is referring to because of the lack of expansion upon the saying. To that end, whatever Paul is referring to, it is something that the Corinthians would have understood as relating to some practice they were familiar with.

Another interpretation that is related to 2, 4, and 6 can be formulated if we accept that Paul is addressing a Stoicized version of Christian teaching in 1 Corinthians.2 Among Stoics in the ancient world, it was common for them to attempt to glean some wisdom by finding some ideas that were ‘hidden’ behind the words of ancient myths such as Homer. Stoic philosophy attempted to derive some deeper sense of wisdom by finding meanings behind texts, some indirectly referred to ideas and wisdom. Undergirding this philosophy is the idea that there meanings behind the text that one is to mine and discover.

If this attempt at obtaining wisdom has pervaded the Corinthian church, then Paul’s expression of the saying has the effect of calling people away from this Stoic practice. How readily would people be tempted to try to find deeper doctrines and wisdom behind the Scriptures in an attempt to demonstrate the possession of some deeper wisdom or insight. It is probably not accidental that the other time Paul talks about people being “puffed up” in 1 Corinthians is when he talks about knowledge in 1 Corinthians 8.1. There, Paul describes an ontological account that people held about the nonexistence of idols or other gods. One could envision people reading the OT Scriptures, such as Deuteronomy 6.4, and deriving an ontological doctrine about the non-existence of other gods. Yet, Paul’s point is that to act based upon such ‘knowledge’ without regard for how one’s actions affect those who do not possess such knowledge is to go against Christ’s purposes, who died for those who did not possess knowledge (1 Cor. 8.7-13).

When Paul describes how Apollos and he speak wisdom among the mature in 1 Corinthians 2.6-16, he puts forward a different account of language and wisdom. God’s wisdom is not spoken of by the words instructed in human wisdom, but rather it is words instructed by the Spirit (2.13). To this end, it is God’s Spirit that provides insight into God’s wisdom by combining spiritual teachings with spiritual teachings, not labored reflection on the words of some Scripture to get to some meaning that is hidden behind the veil of the text. The one place where we see Paul engaging in the direct interpretation/application of Scripture in 1 Corinthians 9.8-12, Paul’s understanding of the Scripture is determined by his sense of God’s purposes, not deeper analysis of the words of the text themselves. For Paul, the application of the Torah is determined by God’s purposes, which stand at the center of God’s wisdom (1 Cor. 2.9).

To that end, we see two contrasting pictures of wisdom as it relates to the Scriptures. A Stoicized picture of wisdom sees the Scriptures as containers of deeper doctrines and ideas that are gleaned behind the text. Yet, Paul puts forward a different hermeneutic that sees God’s purposes, not doctrines and ideas, standing behind the Scripture. The Scriptures come from the Spirit of God (Cf. Rom 7.12) and one comes to understand what the Spirit is speaking by combining it with other words that the Spirit instructs a person in.

How often such a Stoic form of wisdom and interpretation pervades the Church even today! How readily do we find people trying to derive doctrines and ideas from various passages of the Bible? When teachers readily perform these feats of “wisdom” with the Bible, people look to them as intelligent, inspired, and even godly for understanding such deeper matters. Yet, perhaps Paul would say to such people “Stop being puffed up” and learn to not go beyond what is written. Without God demonstrating Himself and teaching His wisdom to those who genuinely love Him, including by loving those who Christ died for, the use of the Scriptures to pursue deeper insight and wisdom is like an inkblot test, where the purposes, desires, and values of the person determine what “wisdom” is found.

At this point, then, what doctrines we adhere to becomes largely due to the combination of personal experiences and the credibility we assign to esteemed interpreters. Personal experiences with the Scripture and the credibility of esteemed interpreters can then reinforce each other, as we give preference to the interpreters of Scripture who are more like us. So then, the Bible readily becomes culturally appropriated by cultures, while the dominant culture tends to dominate the other cultures in how the Scriptures are used, such as what we see in white evangelicals and white progressives. While they have different relationships to the “literal” reading of the Scriptures, both wings of white, Western Christianity has a predilection towards findings ideas behinds the Scriptures (whether through “literal” or “non-literal” approaches) to which their theology and ethics are built upon, that then influences, if not controls, how people within their sphere of influence are trained to read and understand the Bible. To this end, the “wisdom” of these intersections of theology and culture is largely derived from the minds of the interpreters, formed as they are by culture.

The point I am alluding to is this: whenever we think there are deeper ideas and doctrines that are being communicated behind the Scriptures, we are at risk of creating ethnocentric theologies. This then amplifies the racial tensions and divisions we see in the Church today, as people become increasingly confident in their theological interpretations, especially those people belonging to the hegemonic cultures.

On the other hand, if the leaders and teachers of the faith were not so eager to find some wisdom and theology behind the Scriptures, but to instead focus simply on what is said, it would make room in their hearts for the inspiration of God. As the Scriptures ultimately point to Christ (John 5.39), it behooves people to be instructed by the Heavenly Father by focusing on what is said, rather than gleaning something deeper meanings and doctrines behind the Scriptures. Then, they will come to Christ, not simply believing in His name but believing in Him, and let His words that are Spirit be the guide to understanding the thoughts of the Spirit when one continues in Jesus’ word. However, insofar as we place value on the ideas behind the Scriptures, to which we rely upon figures of wisdom to train us to see, the less we are trained by God and the more we become trained by human wisdom, which itself is a reflection of culture to which we grew up in.

To be clear, this is not a disregarding of scholarly study. Certainly, a study of the meanings of words and the historical culture of the time can help to narrow what various Scriptures may be speaking to. Yet, in the end, the understanding of God and His wisdom does not ultimately rest upon scholastic endeavors. God’s purposes in the Scriptures are not known by studying history and language, but they are demonstrated and made clearer to us in the person of Jesus Christ and through demonstration and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The human mind does not itself pierce behind the veil of God, but it may learn from what God unveils of Himself.

Yet, the human mind can put up a veil when God has otherwise unveiled Himself. When Paul talks about the god of this age veiling the gospel, Paul is most likely referring to the Stoic theological representation of god that prevented people from perceiving the glory of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4.3). Just as the reading of Moses leads to a veil over the minds of Jews (2 Cor. 3.15), so too does the Stoic “wisdom” about God veil people’s eyes from the glory to be seen in the face of Jesus Christ. Likewise, today, when an understanding of God is assumed to be correlated with the ability to exegete a text to propound theological doctrines expressed behind the SCriotures, the veil of human wisdom is put up in service to the implicit idol of the mind.

The theology of the Church today reflects human wisdom and understanding than many have realized. When the Church made an appeal to the categories of Greco-Roman wisdom and philosophy to put to an end heresies that had invaded the Church, it began to place greater and greater value upon the philosophical style of the Greco-Roman world to explicate the Christian faith. What better demonstration of this than the logically precise structure of Thomas Aquinas’ theology, bathed in Aristotelean philosophy (to which Aquinas at the end of life admitted was but straw).

To that end, to the degree to which Biblical exegesis and theology conform to the particulars of specific cognitive styles of analysis and observation to derive deeper and more expansive meanings, we are more like the Stoicized Christians that Paul addresses in the Corinthian correspondence than people would be comfortable to admit. Yet, praise God that even in our ignorant faithlessness, He is faithful to forgive, love, and make Himself known to us, even when our thoughts about Him have been influenced by the subtle yet powerful idolatry of the human mind and found so frequently to be in service to human wisdom!

Poem: “Theology, dreadful weapon.”

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March 26, 2021

Theology, dreadful weapon.
There is a time to wield.
There is a time to sheathe.
For what purpose is it used?

When the wisdom of the world
attacked the gates of heaven
the wisdom of God
provided the antidote.

Thus, theology was revered,
Given primacy of place,
To call truth from error
To pronounce right and wrong

Yet, the idol of the mind
Believing thought can touch the divine
Turns it against mankind
Subjection to “orthodoxies”

Men build careers by it,
Seen as authorities by it,
Become honored because of it,
Become studied because of it,

Lurking in the depths
Pride hides itself
Being labeled god
Quoting the Bible

There is but one true theologian
Or three
Depending on the count
Who is called God

Instructed by the Father
to be discipled by the Son
to hear the words of the Spirit
This is the way of truth.

An orthodoxy serving orthopraxy
As the creation sustains
As love bleeds life
As the wind raises up.

Hearts restored
Humanity transformed
Bodies raised
For this the true Theologian came

A vision of righteousness
Perceiving the good
For all who die
To see and know

But men want to be known
They seek to be praised
Their own righteousness displayed
For the so-called truth they say

Seeing the ghosts of the past
They wield this weapon
Seeking to be heroes
To be bold for their god

But as Christ told Peter
“Sheathe your sword!”
So too true followers
Learn to sheathe theology.

By it many are wounded,
Yet a thousand words
Provide little console
For deepest of pains.

Yet love speaks
Where theology cannot
Where the face of glory
Communicates what words cannot

Truth is where
Love reigns
Life springs forth
In His fullness

The Word made flesh
God drawing near
Healing by a touch
Blood giving life

Not an abstract doctrine
Not a missional outline
But an inbreaking reality
Where earth overlaps heaven

God making His will known
Calling people away from idols
Including the idol of the mind,
The wisdom of the world.

The theology of the world
Peers not behind the veil
But of ghosts past
It sees and fights.

Was it not by knowledge
That Adam and Eve
Gave birth to a humanity
Bereaved by violence?

Wars commissioned
Battles fought
Theologically trained
Have brought this forth

Sheath your theology,
Keep it near your hips,
Let the Triune God,
Show you a better way.

Poem: “Nudge”

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February 26, 2021

I know
I know my future
I know what is good
*nudge*

No sense
It makes no sense
I know what is reasonable
*nudge*

What if
What if this happens
I know what is safe
*nudge*

I can’t
I can’t do it
I know my incapacity
*nudge*

I don’t know
I don’t know how to
I know what I don’t
*nudge*

It won’t
it won’t happen
I know what won’t happen
*nudge*

Yes
Yes, but
I know the difficulties
*nudge*

Your will
May your will be done
I now know what is good

Redefining traditional marriage

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February 17, 2021

As the United Methodist church likely reaches a point of separation of ways in the coming months, I have been left continuously reflecting off-and-on on the nature and understanding of marriage. Even as I am not presently serving as a pastor, not attending a United Methodist congregation (I am attending a Nazarene church for the time being), nor seeking ordination in the United Methodist denomination, the theological and ethical conflict still rings loud in my ears. It rings loudly because I identify myself broadly as Wesleyan and am open to joining with any traditional Wesleyan-Methodist movement in the future (although, my willingness will in part be predicated upon whether a conciliatory view towards the discussions of sexuality remains, even as the churches maintain an ecclesiology that retains a traditional view on marriage). However, it rings loudly in my ears because the discussion of marriage and sexuality is such a deeply personal topic that impacts various people. On the one hand, there are numerous voices from the LGBTQ camp that are shouting about the harm that is being done by many proponents of traditional sexuality, which is coming from even side-B celibate gays and lesbians who embrace traditional sexuality. Yet, there is a powerful voice in Scripture that lifts up marriage being between a man and a woman.

There are so many social and theological dynamics that are beyond my capacity to tease out and explain. Yet, I feel like much of the problems surrounding the question of sex and marriage roots around a conflict at a level that is much deeper than one’s views of the Scriptures. I think it is a case where there is conflicting hermeneutics between traditional and progressives that fundamentally shape how they view marriage, gender, righteousness, and sin. Yet, the conflict of hermeneutics isn’t as much on the more explicit level of what methodology people tend towards in interpreting the Scriptures, such as a preference for literal or non-literal modes of interpretation. I suggest it goes deeper than that, at the very fundamental level of how one draws theological and ethical inferancess from the Scripture to life. You might call this application, but the hermeneutical phenomenon I am pointing out is a much deeper pattern of interpretation that regularly manifests itself in the application of the Scriptures as a norm for Christian life and thinking. Upon recognition of this deeper pattern of hermeneutics, I would suggest there is an alternative style that has vast theological and ethical implications that diverge from the way many traditionalists think but still seeks to retain a traditional view of marriage within the Church.

Ultimately, what can be said to define the prevailing hermeneutics for traditional marriage is the implicit assumption that is expressed as follows: 1) the Bible gives a specific, normative model for sex and marriage and 2) deviation from this model for sex and marriage is sin. While this is assumption is relatively obvious upon first expressing it, it is not immediately apparent that this hermeneutic is entirely Scriptural. Yet, one may suggest that its basis is rooted in a *plausible* theological reading of the Scriptures in terms of creation and original sin: that God’s act of creation fully instituted a specific order within the world, which is manifest in the differentiation of the sexes, that later became broken with the fall of Adam. In this view, there is a completely realized, perfect order that was deviated from, both in terms of sin and death. Thus, the picture of Adam and Eve as a normative model for sex and marriage and labeling any deviation from it as sin is a logical outworking of this theological narrative. However, as I will seek to demonstrate, the apparent obviousness of this narrative was due to a combination of its (a) plausible reading of creation that the Western Christian tradition posited that (b) become inculcated in people in sermons, Sunday schools, etc. time and time again. As a result, this line of reasoning and interpretation is deeply intuitive, engrained deeply within the psyche of many traditionalists. Hermeneutical assumptions #1 and #2 are an intuitive outworking of this theological worldview.

Yet, what if there is an equally plausible, if not better, reading of creation and sin that does not necessarily lead to hermeneutical assumptions #1 and #2? What I would put forward is that the creation and fall narrative is not a narrative that describes a perfect order, any deviation from which is considered to be sin. Instead, I would put forward that creation itself was an ongoing, diachronic process of development towards a divine purpose that deviated from that line of development with the fall. In other words, we can understand God’s acts of creation teleologically in that God’s purpose is progressing through time.

We catch what is perhaps a hint of this in the six days of creation, where God considers what is created to be good until the creation of humans, which is very good. Sometimes taken to be a reference to perfection, the evaluation of God’s creation after humanity seems more so to designate an intensification of goodness that comes when creation begins to reach its purpose. Yet, there is still work to be done in creation that humanity is commissioned for. The goodness of the creation of humanity in God’s image is tied to their vocation to fulfill God’s commission to fill and subdue the earth. There isn’t perfection in the order, but an intensification of goodness, with an (implicit) movement towards an ideal purpose and goal. This becomes a bit more explicit in the New Testament, where creation has a specific teleological/eschatological purpose it is moving towards. For instance, Colossians 1.16 ascribes to Jesus the power of creation, saying “all things have been created through him and for him.” The last prepositional phrase (εἰς αὐτὸν) designates a purpose for creation, to be something for Jesus. This purpose becomes eschatologically realized as God purposes to reconcile all things in heaven and earth (an echo of the creation narrative!) to himself (Col. 1.20). Similarly, in Ephesians 2.10, Paul portrays God’s act of creating teleologically, as believers are created for the good works that God has designed beforehand for them to do. In other words, creation is understood as moving towards a purpose or goal in the Scriptures. We don’t catch a glimpse that God’s act of creation as being portrayed as the institution of perfect order. Rather, the intensification of goodness in the creation of humanity was tied to some greater development.

The fall of Adam and Eve was less about a dramatic change in the world order that is unalterable (sans the redemption in Christ) and more about a different trajectory in opposition to God’s purposes. In Genesis 3.22, God recognizes the humans eating of the tree of knowledge has lead to dreadful possibility: that they would continue to live forever from the tree of life in their present state. The problem God expressed is not that simply that they disobeyed, that is deviated, from His instruction, but that their disobedience had brought about an unacceptable state of affairs. Not only would sin be a possibility through the knowledge of evil, but they could retain life indefinitely in the midst of that state. God’s response is to prevent the unstated, dreaded outcome by separating them from the tree of life. Yet, as the narrative develops into Genesis 4-11, there is an escalation of violence leading to the flood and a clustering together to build the tower of Babel rather than filling the earth. When Cain murdered Abel, God protected Cain, which was then taken by Lamech as a sign he would be protected from murder others, leading to escalation of violence. After God sent the flood to sweep away the wickedness, He then institutes the lex talonis principle where those who murder shall be put to death. Yet, this leads to the clustering together at the Tower of Babel. Every action of God in response to sin leads to a different trajectory of human activity that diverged from God’s intentions in creation. What the fall inculcated was not so much a shift in the inherent order of the world as much as it changes the functioning of the world so that different trajectories of evil emerged. In other words, Genesis 3-11 is describing rapidly changing trajectories for the evil that God is constantly addressing and responding to. It is not a description of a fixed, ontological reality of sin.

In other words, creation and the fall is about human potential, both for good and evil, that would be realized in time. Whereas God created the heavens and the earth to develop towards one purpose, Adam and Eve’s disobedience marked a deviation towards a different trajectory that would be marked by increasing pain, futility, and evil. So, when understand God created humanity as male and female, it wasn’t so much about the institution of a specific, fixed order in the world, but rather the means by which the goodness that God purposed and designed for humanity would be realized. The pattern of sex and marriage in Genesis 1-2 is more about the highest good than it is describing the specific instituted order everything must fit within.

In the traditional creation and fall narrative, deviation from the pattern that God is deemed to have instituted is part of the pattern of sin. Sin is the deviance from the fixed, instituted order. In the model I described for understanding creation and fall, what is put forward in the maleness and femaleness of humanity and marriage is the good means by which God’s purposes will be realized. Marriage was not an ends to itself, however, but it served a greater purpose in humanity being fruitful and multiplying. Thus, deviance to a specific order/model is not the issue, but deviation that conflicts with and counters God’s greater purposes is the concern. Bringing this to bear on the nature of sex and marriage, the Christian witness should not be focused on labeling deviance from it as sin, but rather putting forward the union of husband and wife as a means by which God’s purposes can be instrumentally realized. Put simply, the model I put forward does not put the focus on labeling sin and what we stand against, but rather in pointing forward towards the way in which God’s good intentions and purposes can become realized in the world.

The outworking of this is that homosexuality isn’t automatically some sin. Beyond the fact that I think many of the Scripture passages that are taken to talk about homosexuality are actually referring to a married man sexually substituting another man in for his wife (that is, a sin that would be understood as a form of adultery in our era), the creation narrative should not be fit into the two hermeneutical assumptions I outlined above. A better reading of those narratives does not uphold the theology that undergirds those two hermeneutical assumptions. Instead, we can read the creation narrative as a description of how God seeks for creation to become further filled and worked upon through the marital relationships that lead to multiplication. Marriage is instrumental to God’s purposes, not the ends for which we are created. Not every individual human was created to get married to the opposite sex, even as that instinct throughout humanity is an important, but not sufficient, part for humanity to realize its creation-given purpose as being made in God’s image. If, for instance, we accept the legitimacy of celibacy in the Church, then we at one level recognize that the creation narrative is not a model for all individual people to participate in.

Of course, one might think I am making an argument against the traditional understanding of sex and marriage, but I am not. Simply because I do designate homosexuality a sin does not mean I believe the Church should celebrate sexualized relationships between people of the same sex. This is where progressive hermeneutics comes up.

In progressive hermeneutics, there is an assumption of the near-universal equality of human choice (to be clear here, I do not mean to suggest sexual orientation is a choice, but the choices one makes in one’s life). If a person chooses to be one thing, it should not be treated as better or worse than any other choice, insofar as it does not cause direct harm to persons. So, when coming to the question of marriage, they might affirm the creation narrative, but they might also deemphasize the importance of maleness and femaleness in the creation story. Marriage is itself an institution that people should feel the freedom to choose to use as they see fit. Or, they may interpret the heteronormativity of the Bible through the lens of oppression, appealing to the past ways that the Bible was used in support of slavery and the oppression of women as evidence of oppressive Scriptures. Whatever the specific way they read and apply the Scriptures, their readings are largely controlled by the assumption of a near-universal equality of human choice.

This hyper-liberal hermeneutics is a sharp antithesis to the traditional creation-and-fall narrative, which leads to diametrically opposed conclusions. Yet, this choice-hermeneutic is much less plausible within the Scriptural narrative. While we should not assume the Bible forbids anything related to personal freedom and choice because it isn’t explicit, it is a hermeneutic that does not provide a coherent reading of explicit Biblical passages. It is largely a cultural assumption. Nevertheless, if we value well-being and think it is rooted in the Scriptures, there are some solid empirical reasons to consider the way our choices and the way people treat us for our choices can influence our ethical reasoning. However, it doesn’t rise up to the level of providing a lens through which we should read the Scriptures.

Beyond that, from the model I provided above, the critique of this progressive hermeneutic is that it is not robust enough. While it avoids antinomianism by recognizing that harmful behaviors should not be deemed appropriate or equivalent to non-harmful behaviors, it lacks a robust consideration of the purposes for which we make our choices. Why do we choose to get married or not get married? Why do we choose to have sex or not have sex? The progressive worldview would suggest what makes the person happy, fulfilled, etc. is good enough reason. Yet, from the model I proposed, same-sex intercourse and marriage fundamentally fall short of the creation purpose that sex and marriage is to functionally serve. There is no functional equivalence between the two because opposite-sex intercourse and marriage fulfill God’s purposes in a way that same-sex intercourse and marriage can not. It doesn’t make it “sin,” but it doesn’t make it “good” in the sense that it serves the wider creation purposes either. Same-sex intercourse and marriage is principally about the happiness of the individuals, not also the greater good that God is bringing about through us.

This doesn’t mean, however, that this is an implicit way of calling homosexuality sin. It simply means that the Church should not regard all sexual couplings and marriages as being equal. How that is manifest within the ecclesial body would be up for discussion. I myself lean a strongly traditional manner though, as the Church’s primary vocation is to reflect the goodness and glory of God in this world. We do that in part by the way the Scriptures testify to God’s activity. Opposite-sex marriage is the way God made humanity in order to fulfill His purposes given to us. The testimony of the Church to God’s purposes within creation should be tied to this. Yet, within this, there is perhaps room to consider accommodation to others who can not happily choose to marry someone of the opposite sex or to remain celibate. To come into a committed relationship with someone of the same sex does not harm anyone else; to not do so for some people may in fact cause great harm. While in my mind, it should not be treated as equivalent in Church teaching and witness, if we don’t assume deviance is a sin and if the other Scriptures do not talk about homosexuality in general, perhaps it is something that is better understood through the lens of Romans 14.1-9. Everyone will be accountable to the Lord for their choice, so the question should be asked: are they seeking to serve Jesus Christ? If that is genuinely so and if a person can neither faithfully live in a traditional marriage nor can they healthily embrace a celibate lifestyle without deep harm, let them choose as they see fit and let God hold them accountable, because if they are genuinely seeking to serve Jesus Christ then they are still seeking to do the good word God desires within the world, even as circumstances lead them to deviate from the ideal.

I would suggest this is equivalent to how one can view divorce and remarriage. There are various instances where people can not stay in marriages without risks to their health. In such cases, we can consider them to be free to divorce. That doesn’t mean we celebrate a divorce, however. Similarly, remarriage after a divorce may be considered a personal choice, especially if a person left a previously abusive marriage or they spend much time maturing after dissolving a relationship they can not reconcile. The Church should not celebrate and advocate for remarriage, but in cases where emotional and spiritual well-being is at stake, it is best to let Jesus evaluate them and their circumstances. Divorce and remarriage deviate from the way God fashioned creation and us to realize our purposes, but we should take the realities of people’s life into consideration as to whether accommodation is something permissible to allow, even as it shouldn’t be celebrated. According to this logic, this is also the way marriages that do not intend to produce children may also be looked at: as something allowable, but not something the Church should celebrate.

In other words, perhaps there is a way to redefine the traditional understanding of marriage that is a) much more faithful to the Scriptures as a whole, b) is much more focused on the goodness that God is seeking to bring about, and c) is more merciful and compassionate rather than judgmental to those who lives and circumstances don’t readily fit the ideal of marriage in the creation narrative. It does leave a bit more ambiguity in various matters of affairs, but it does so in the service of love and grace, even as it stands committed to where there isn’t much ambiguity.

Rabbi Jesus vs. Ravi Zacharias

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February 13, 2021

With the recent news of the vast extent of Ravi Zacharias’ sexual abuse of women, evangelicalism has been dealt what amounts to one of the largest, if not largest, hit against it in recent memory. As I was skimming Twitter responses, there was one prominent female minister who RZ had treated respectively and therefore had vocally supported RZ when allegations first began to came out. Upon reflecting on her memory of RZ’s funeral, she expressed her own confusion and lament. As I scanned responses, there was one response that I stuck out to me. I will not link it nor directly reproduce it word-for-word, but it said something that can be restated as follows: “RZ sins are covered by the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ as much as my own sins. It is important to keep that in mind.”

As I read this, I feel a deep sense of ire. How can someone talk about the atonement, especially atonement for RZ, in the face of news of such evil? It stuck out to me as essentially minimizing what happened and suggested that Jesus’ death is a get-out-of-jail-free-card. As I had recently written a post on the atonement that went in the opposite direction of this person’s tweet, I decided to do a little bit of research into what RZ said about the atonement. In light of the littany of allegations against RZ are, what RZ said about the atonement is quite revealing about him as a person, even as it not that different from the standard evangelical account of the atonement. Here are a few RZ quotes from a youtube video.

Starting at the 8:13 mark:

While we all look for rich moral soil, while we all look for moral reasoning around us because that provides the soil from which nobility can sprout, the ultimate problem is really not that we are immoral. The ultimate problem is that we are spiritually dead. Jesus did not come into the world to make bad people good. He came into this world to make dead people live…

[Recount a question he asked at a forum on the problem of evil and suffering] With all the evil you see around you that troubles you, have you ever paused long enough to be trouble by the evil that is inside you? That’s where the real predicament is: the evil that is inside you. And what is the greatest provision that God has made? It is the provision that morality alone can not bring to the rescue. What God has provided is the atonement, the sacrifice, the death of Christ that brings about the possibility of redemption… the forgiveness that Jesus Christ offers is the only hope for the redemption and transformation of your heart and mine.”

When we look at this, we can see one of the classic marks that has come to define Protestant thought about salvation and justification: an antithesis between the spiritual life and forgiveness that comes with faith and the morality of works. Against this backdrop, the atonement of Jesus Christ is understood to be addressing a specific, fundamental problem: that of sin. Yet, the solution to sin is forgiveness for those sins. Salvation is ultimately taken to be grounded in forgiveness for sins and only then does the transformation of the heart come about. In other words: you get forgiven of your sin by God and then you become redeemed and transformed after that point. So, in RZ’s worldview moral evil is ultimately addressed by forgiveness. Forgiveness is the key hinge point where people can then proceed into redemption and transformation. To that end, RZ expressed the standard narrative of sanctification: first you get justified and forgiven of one’s sins and then one can proceed into moral transformation and holiness from there. So, RZ seemed to have taken moral evil seriously, pointing forward towards a moral transformation.

Additionally, he said something that is simultaneously a quite chilling account along with a : “have you ever paused long enough to be troubled by the evil that is inside you?” Beyond the veiled autobiographical description of himself is the expression of the standard evangelical doctrine of sin in an expression of total depravity: that people are by nature evil.

However, despite the moral seriousness that RZ expression. there is a particularly illustrative quote, that I repeat again to highlight, which demonstrates what reveals a deeper darkness:

And what is the greatest provision that God has made? It is the provision that morality alone can not bring to the rescue.

Note what RZ says here. He doesn’t say, “Morality along can not bring to the rescue and that God makes provision for us in that space.” He explicitly says that God’s Himself actively makes a provision: morality doesn’t bring to the rescue. Perhaps RZ misspoke, but taking him literally here suggests that God actively decided to make morality in isolation from anything else to be powerless. How utterly foreign to the Scriptures! Here is what the Psalmist confidently cries out in Psalm 34.15-18:

The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the LORD is against evildoers,
to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.

Here, righteousness is the basis for God’s rescue. In the face of suffering and evil, those who are righteous receive God’s protection and salvation. Whereas RZ thinks that morality can not rescue, the Psalmist expresses a deep confidence that morality does come to the rescue.

The crux of RZ’s reasoning it this: he assumes the atonement is about forgiveness. He assumes that Jesus came into the world not to address moral evil, but to do something different that RZ labels as “making alive.” Life and righteousness are understood to be both distinct and disconnected from each other. This contrasts with the expression of the Preacher in Hebrews 10.14-18:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds,”
he also adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Sanctification and forgiveness, righteousness and life are fused together in the offering of Jesus Christ. To put it simply, there is no justification apart from sanctification, there is no life without righteousness.

Furthermore, what does John express about the reason Jesus came into the world in 1 John 3.8?

Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.

John doesn’t say Jesus came into the world to give life in such a way that distinguishes it from morality. At the very heart of John’s confession about Jesus is that the sins that the devil does and teaches his “children” to do are becoming destroyed. The sickness of sin is being cured. In the end, the cross of Jesus Christ that revealed Him as the Son of God is about the moral transformation of humanity, not simply forgiveness. It is with this transformation, with this sanctification, with this harvest of righteousness that God’s salvation and rescue come about and He abundantly provides.

What is it that Jesus Himself says about his own ministry? In John 8.31-38:

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”

Speaking to many people who ‘believed’ in Jesus (many of whom later wanted to turn around and kill Jesus), he speaks of a truth that will make people morally free. Those who continue in the Rabbi Jesus’ word will come to know the truth and become free. Not a word here about finding forgiveness that then leads to transformation and sanctification. It is the words of Jesus’ teaching that provide freedom. Once we come to the recognition that the whole of Jesus’ moral instruction points towards and expresses the attitude of Jesus’ cruciform attitude and life, we can then begin to connect the atonement to discipleship to Jesus: continuing in Jesus’ word points and guides us into participation with Jesus’ cross (and resurrection). It is through this that we come to a new transformation of life.

How far apart RZ was from Jesus and the Scriptures! But in the end, while RZ is accountable for the abuse, harm, and evil he perpetuated and will answer to God, he isn’t necessarily responsible for what he had come to believe about the atonement. He, like many others, have been raised in a theological worldview that placed rejection and punishment from God as the central problem of sin such that the cross brings us near to God. To that end, he believe in an ultimately powerless “gospel,” that simply relied upon human motivation to moral transformation after the ‘salvation’ of forgiveness.

What if, however, the central problem that the cross address is that of the practice of evil and injustice, whereas rejection and judgment from God is simply the outworking of the reality of sin in people’s lives and actions? What if God sent His Son into the world to redeem people from the power of evil, from enslavement to sin? What if the atonement wasn’t about addressing some residual guilt and memory of sin that demands some form of necessary compensation, but to change the bodies and minds of people who commit sin, to tame the powers of sin and death in the flesh so that righteousness would become abundant?

Forgiveness alone doesn’t transform. Many experiences in life demonstrate this, where forgiven people continue in their ways. If forgiveness alone would have transformed, then the cross of Jesus Christ would have been entirely unnecessary, as the Levitical system of sacrifices provided forgiveness for sin. This is not to mention the multiple instances throughout the Old Testament where God forgiveness Israel. Yet, what happened with Isreal throughout the Scriptures? Even as God forgives them for their idolatry and sins, they fell back to sin and idolatry again and again. Leviticus and the prophets do not speak of this forgiveness as hypothetical. So, even as God forgave sin, sin prevailed.

Rather, it is love that transforms. It is the demonstration of God’s powerful love in the cross of Jesus Christ that calls forth love from us. It is this new love that binds our hearts to the word of God as the source of life; it is this new love that directs our actions to live by God’s word; it is this new love that leads us to continue in Jesus’ words.

It was this love that was absent with the crowd Jesus spoke to in John 8, who ultimately sought to kill Him, even as they believed in Him. Here is Jesus’ words to them in 8.43-47:

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.”

Not that Jesus said this to people who “believed” in Him, and yet they ultimately don’t believe the way Jesus says. These people, he says are like the devil, a murderer, and a liar. Those who believed in Jesus but didn’t believe in what Jesus says sought to kill him.

So too have some evangelicals symbolically sought to kill Jesus on the cross to get their way to heaven. They overlook Jesus’ actual words on many affairs, instead choosing to lop off and ignore many things that Jesus said about righteousness, freedom, and judgment. They believe in Jesus, but they don’t really believe what He says when it comes to righteousness and judgment. Then, perhaps even more revealing when you think about it: they treat the crucifixion as the only way for them to achieve God’s righteousness, as if God is incapable of forgiveness without putting someone to death. If they were alive back in Jesus’ day, their beliefs would have dictated that they join in with the religious leaders to put Jesus to death so that they could be saved. That the only way God could even forgive them for their sins is to send an innocent man to death. Perhaps the cross was the only way to save us from our sins, but not because God needed death to forgive, but because it is only in taking up our own cross to become morally transformed that we could be free from the sin that put Jesus upon the cross.

Murderer’s at heart and liars. RZ’s own life revealed the lie of “forgiveness leading to transformation” and while he may not have murdered anyone in the strictest, most literal sense of the term, all the allegations point forward to the fact that he destroyed many bodies and souls for satisfying his unholy, insatiable lusts. This was not a man who had a moment of weaknesses in the rush of the moment, but one who had become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Corresponding to that, he disconnected life and righteousness, sanctification and forgiveness.

To be clear, though, believing as RZ believes does not make one like RZ. It doesn’t mean you are a murderer at heart. It means one is mistaken. One can have a heart that loves, a heart that seek God’s will and yet fall into this prevalent error. This is true for many people, and yet God in His love continues to lead them and guide them even as they don’t fully understanding the truth of God’s righteousness. Yet, this theology can be expressed and advocated in such a way that is absolutely consistent with way of life that the children of the devil live in. This theology prevents discernment between the spirit of God and the spirit of the antichrist as it is a subtle, misleading mixture of God’s love and power with falsehood that clouds people’s judgment. It is almost as if the devil has distorted the way people understand God’s word into believing a misleading ‘truth,’ just like he did to Eve, getting them to believe “you will not die!” And it is true in one sense, they don’t immediately die when they partake of this sin, but yet it is misleading because they will die and not be raised to eternal life because of their enslavement to sin. Because of the prevalence of this misleading ‘truth’, we see an American (and even Western) Christianity that is left in absolute ruins and is in need of rebuilding by the true shalom-makers who, imperfect as they are, seek to live according to Jesus’ word in all truth.

Poem: I’m done…

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February 13, 2021

I’m done…

The Pharisees
The Scribes
Reincarnated
Building lofty idols
Called theology
All with the name of God

The word love is a facade
While lust rules the day
Sex, money, power

What if sheep
are surrounded by sharp teeth?

I know…

While God cares for the abused
Like Hagar in the desert
God will avenge
God will cast out those who cast out
God will destroy those who destroy
God abhors those who take life

If they weren’t sanctified into love
There is no other sacrifice
They spit in God’s face
They disregarded the blood
They insulted the Spirit

Their words are worth nothing
They are like a television
That only plays static
Only at full volume
The only option is to throw them out

I’m done…
Not with the Father
Not with Jesus
Not with the Holy Spirit
Not with faith
Not with hope
Not with love
Definitely not with love
Not even with the Church

I’m done…
With them
With their lies
With their theology
With their words

Jesus will say
“I never knew you”
To many who say “Lord, Lord”
Yet work iniquity and evil

Yet Jesus said
Continue in My word
You will know truth
It will set you free

You called me by name!
I’m following you, Jesus!

 

 

[Written in light of the recent news that came out about the extent of Ravi Zacharias’ sexual abuse of multiple women for a prolonged period of time.]