Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Your not alone

I have been tossing around ideas with lots of my friends and partners. Friends here in Iowa and friends back in Arizona, friends around the country and people who I have only known via blog and the internet. I have found that I am very not alone in my newest convictions. It's prevalent among many of my friends and colleague. If you are struggling in the same area I am, namely not letting your cultural identity shape your theological perspective.

If you are on this journey with us, welcome. If you are not, you probably think we are all crazy. You may be right, but it's been enjoyable so far.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Considering the Early Church Fathers.

What was clear to Athanasius was that propositions about Christ carried convictions that could send you to heaven or to hell. There were propositions like: “There was a time when the Son of God was not,” and, “He was not before he was made,” and, “the Son of God is created.” These propositions were strictly damnable. If they were spread and believed they would damn the souls which embraced them. And therefore Athanasius labored with all his might to formulate propositions that would conform to reality and lead the soul to faith and worship and heaven.

I believe Athanasius would have abominated, with tears, the contemporary call for “depropositionalizing” that you hear among many of the so-called “reformists” and “the emerging church,”younger evangelicals,”postfundamentalists,” "postfoundationalists,” postpropositionalists,” and “postevangelicals.” I think he would have said, “Our young people in Alexandria die for the truth of propositions about Christ. What do your young people die for?” And if the answer came back, “We die for Christ, not propositions about Christ,” I think he would have said, “That’s what Arius says. So which Christ will you die for?”

Athanasius would have grieved over sentences like “It is Christ who unites us; it is doctrines that divides.” And sentences like: “We should ask, Whom do you trust? rather than what do you believe?” He would have grieved because he knew this is the very tactic used by the Arian bishops to cover the councils with fog so that the word “Christ” could mean anything. Those who talk like this—“Christ unites, doctrine divides”—have simply replaced propositions with a word. They think they have done something profound and fresh, when in fact they have done something very old and stale and very deadly.

This leads to a related lesson . . .

4. The truth of biblical language must be vigorously protected with non-biblical language.

Athanasius’ experience was critically illuminating to something I have come to see over the years, especially in liberally minded baptistic and pietistic traditions, namely, that the slogan, “the Bible is our only creed” is often used as a cloak to conceal the fact that Bible language is used to affirm falsehood. This is what Athanasius encountered so insidiously at the Council of Nicaea. The Arians affirmed biblical sentences. Listen to this description of the proceedings:

The Alexandrians . . . confronted the Arians with the traditional Scriptural phrases which appeared to leave no doubt as to the eternal Godhead of the Son. But to their surprise they were met with perfect acquiescence. Only as each test was propounded, it was observed that the suspected party whispered and gesticulated to one another, evidently hinting that each could be safely accepted, since it admitted of evasion. If their assent was asked to the formula “like to the Father in all things,” it was given with the reservation that man as such is “the image and glory of God.” The “power of God” elicited the whispered explanation that the host of Israel was spoken of as dunamis kuriou, and that even the locust and caterpillar are called the “power of God.” The “eternity” of the Son was countered by the text, “We that live are alway (2 Corinthians 4:11)!” The fathers were baffled, and the test of homoosion, with which the minority had been ready from the first, was being forced (p. 172) upon the majority by the evasions of the Arians.

R. P. C. Hanson explained the process like this: “Theologians of the Christian Church were slowly driven to a realization that the deepest questions which face Christianity cannot be answered in purely biblical language, because the questions are about the meaning of biblical language itself.” The Arians railed against the unbiblical language being forced on them. They tried to seize the biblical high ground and claim to be the truly biblical people—the pietists, the simple Bible-believers—because they wanted to stay with biblical language only—and by it smuggle in their non-biblical meanings.
But Athanasius saw through this “post-modern,”post-conservative,” “post-propositional” strategy and saved for us not just Bible words, but Bible truth. May God grant us the discernment of Athanasius for our day. Very precious things are at stake.

Contending for Our All: The Life and Ministry of Athanasius
By John Piper February 1, 2005

Yes. I want to call one thing to your attention in this whole thing (and I know it's long). We have traded in the Sovereignty of God, God honoring Theology and understanding for three things.

1. Laziness. It is easier to read the Bible through the lens of our own understanding, our preconceived notions and our cultural comforts. It is easier to let scripture fit our ideas than to make our ideas match scripture, because we think in a self-focused way. We are selfish by nature, and we have read the scripture for us and by us and for us. We think that by us and for us and through us all things are created, yet it's clear that scripture teaches:
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Col 1:16-17 (ESV)
It's easier to read it from our nature.

2. Fear. We are afraid that our beliefs and our way of thinking will be wrong. We are afraid to be wrong. When someone asks you a spiritual question, are you afraid to say "I don't know?" We read the scripture that says "be ready to give an answer" and so we are afraid if we can't give an answer. So we simplify the scripture so we can have an answer. We fit scripture into our world view because we are afraid if we read it for what is really is, we won't be able to justify the syncratism and contextualization of our modern religious idealism. We are terrified to be wrong, and even more terrified that others will think we are wrong.

3. Ignorance. We don't know any better. Someone once told us "it's just about Christ, it's only about the Bible". What we didn't know is what Christ are they talking about? Mormons talk about Christ, Jehovah Witnesses talk about Christ, Emergent Church people talk about Christ. Go back in history, Gnostics, Arians, Modalism. Some spoke of Christ as a spirit possessing the man Jesus, and leaving his body as Crucifixion. Some speak of Christ as God in the mode of man. Arianism speaks of Christ being created. So, modern Christian, which Christ is it about? If we just focus on Christ, but never a theology of who Christ is, we fall into Heresy. We assume we live Orthodoxy, but never take time to examine the presupisitions that exist in the modern Church. We have become a self-worshing idolotrist mass of people, and the church is dying and we wonder why. We don't see greater things (which I believe is tied to the harvest) and we don't see a great harvest? Why? Because we have thrown theology under the bus, and we just want to focus on our culturally understood and modern evangelical representation of Christ.

So here is my point. Stop being lazy, afraid and ignorant. Challenge your ideals. Piper put some things in his message about categories of thought that will mess with your current modern American sensibilities. Like:
God rules the world of bliss and suffering and sin, right down to the roll of the dice and the fall of a bird and the driving of the nail into the hand of his Son, yet, though he will that such sin and suffering be, he does not sin, but is perfectly holy.

God governs all the steps of all people, both good and bad, at all times and in all places, yet such that all are accountable before him and will bear the just consequences of his wrath if they do not believe in Christ.

All are dead in their trespasses and sin and are not morally able to come to Christ because of their rebellion, yet, they are responsible to come and will be justly punished if they don’t.

Jesus Christ is one person with two natures, divine and human, such that he upheld the world by the word of his power while living in his mother’s womb.

sin, though committed by a finite person and in the confines of finite time is nevertheless deserving of an infinitely long punishment because it is a sin against an infinitely worthy God.

The death of the one God-Man, Jesus Christ, so displayed and glorified the righteousness of God that God is not unrighteous to declare righteous ungodly people who simply believe in Christ.


Do those mess with you? I assume that most of you are bothered by the first one, that God will sin and yet is not sinful. We speak so often in our modern sensibilities about knowing and doing God's will, like somehow God's will can be thwarted. Can God's will be thwarted, or does He create, maintain and sustain all things? I know the argument that by His choosing He has stayed His hand, and He allows free will, I understand that, but do you really assume that God had no knowledge that sin would prevail on earth? Do you believe that when God planted the tree of knowledge, He didn't know the outcome? By it's very nature, sin was brought into the world by the will of God, who created mankind with the potential for sin and the opportunity for sin. Why He did it isn't in question, the reality is that God, if the creator, willed sin it existance, yet He Himself did not sin by doing so.

If you have read to this point in the blog, I commend you for sticking with it. This is weighty and probably convoluted diction, I know. It's difficult to begin to think outside of the society norms you have known your entire life. I am currently struggling with the fact that my entire life, Christianity has been foundationally about me, and God has been external to that. I must decrease and He must increase. More over, I am finding that most Christians in our society are at the exact same place, and only by God bringing in a few select few I have even come to the realization myself. I didn't get here on my own, and my blogging is sharing part of this journey. Perhaps you think the entire thing is errornus, then just pray for me. My own prayer is that God will change me in whatever way necessary for me to grow closer and understand more about Him than I have previously. Something is happening.

Friday, March 20, 2009


There is a point that came in my life that I talked with one of my mentor's about. A fundamental shift in the way we perceive, experience and think about God. When I was younger, it was much more formulaic. Like knowing about a character in a book or a movie. Living out what I assumed were the traditional roles and going through the proper motions. Living for the idea and less for the person. My mentor said basically everyone is in this place for much of their Christian walk. It's the reality of serving an unseen God.

Something began to happen to me in 1999 when my parents died. Heaven seemed more tangible. It was less of a nebulous idea. As I began in Seminary, it became evident that I needed to have a different sort of relationship with God. After all, can I really give my life to a nebulous idea, and not to the Living God? What I discovered is that most people do. Pharisees did. They began to live out the principles the best they knew how until it corrupted them.

I think we have done something very similar. My issue is that I feel God moving me out of it, and I see in the lives of others were God moved them out. A very influential, wise woman who is quickly becoming a mom figure in my life has experienced this shift, and I see it in her life, I hear it in the way she talks about God. My mentor and seminary professor experienced this shift. I have some great friends who I see are walking with me, experiencing this transition from Americanized Christian Religion to something else.

Do you experience it? Do you feel weighed down by all the legalism, culteralism, syncratism and idealism that seems to have missed the point? Does anyone else have that itch that doesn't seem to be scratched by our modern religious sensibilites? Do you struggle with the feeling that there is more, deeper in places, less complex or sometimes more complex? Are you concerned by all the modern evangelicals who seem to be able to explain everything in scripture? Nothing comforts me more than when I hear men like John Piper read a passage and exclaim that he doesn't fully grasp it. Many times I have heard him say "I wanna get that". It goes so much deeper than being able to rationally explain it away. Isn't that what we have done so often? We have naturally explained the Glory of God away in our promotion of self? Do you feel like I do?

Maybe I'm crazy, but I think God is going to move a great number of people beyond where we are. I want to be part of it. I pray that by God's glory, I can go deeper, move closer and become more Holy. Pray for me that God will change me, move me, break me and do whatever He wants to do to put me in line.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I am reading a book called Deep Change. I have read most of it in the last year, but haven't finished the last few chapters, so I am bringing closure to it. It's a business book, it's not a Christian book, but was given to me by a very Godly man. The basic truth of the book is solid, and like my Seminary professor always said, "all truth is God's truth". The truth of the book is that for a larger organization to change, we as the members or parts of that organization must change also.

As an Associate Pastor, I find myself in a strange position. I am part of the leadership of this church, yet I don't set the tone. What God has been showing me is that it's not my place to change everything, but just to change me. I need to change the way I see things, the way I operate. I need to focus on giving Him the glory, on doing what I have been convicted is right. He will take care of the rest of it.

I have seen many problems in the Westernized American Church, but God still uses it. I believe that this obsession we have with free will stems mainly from our idolatry of self and the humanization that came forth from the enlightenment. I think we have missed and marginalized the miracle of Salvation due to our formulaic tendencies, and began to take the credit ourselves for "leading people to Christ", instead of giving the glory to God. In spite of all the things we get wrong, God still uses us. In spite of my flaws, God still uses me. I need to change my way of thinking, my way of praying, my way of worship. God will do in others what He wills, just like He is doing in me. I can trust Him in that.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


In an article about Lesslie Newbigin by Tim Safford in Christianity Today, where Newbigin is quoted saying:

"I also saw that quite a lot of evangelical Christianity can easily slip, can become centered in me and my need of salvation, and not . . . in the glory of God".

This self-focus is, in my view, the modern American idol. We look at idolotry as money or power or title, or position, but it ultimatly comes down to self. Safford write about Newbigin:

"As a young missionary, Newbigin regularly visited a Hindu monastery, its great hall "lined with pictures of the great religious figures of history, among them Jesus. Each year, on Christmas Day, worship was offered before the picture of Jesus. It was obvious to me as an English Christian," says Newbigin, "that this was an example of syncretism. Jesus had simply been co-opted into the Hindu world-view; that view was in no way challenged. It was only slowly that I began to see that my own Christianity had this syncretistic character, that I too had to some degree co-opted Jesus into the world-view of my culture." He saw this particularly when he studied the gospel accounts of evil spirits and realized that simple villagers understood them more readily than he."

We in this country have focused so much on self, that we have missed the Glory of God. This idolotry of self has focused on our need, or lacking, our sin, our choice and our free will. We have marginalized God in his glory, focusing on our need, our choice, our work in salvation. Newbigin stays:

"I suddenly saw that . . . someone could use all the language of evangelical Christianity, and yet the center was fundamentally the self, my need of salvation. And God is auxiliary to that."

Does that sound familiar? Newbigin goes on to say that in his missionary work, he stopped talking about sin and need for salvation, but focused primarily on God. I am not sure I am comfortable going to that level, but I do acknowledge that we are focused and concerned primarily about self. Our focus of salvation is for the individual being saved, and not for the Glory of God. Is it any wonder we are not seeing the power of the Spirit poured out? We so often give credit for a program, church, or individual who leads that person to faith. We congratulate the person on making a good choice, but ultimately are worshiping the pagan god of self, and not giving Glory to God.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cultural interpretations

So I was reading a book which stated that we read the scripture through our lens of our cultural identity. I find that an ironic truth. I wonder why there are parts of the scripture we interpret as is, word for word, and some parts we don't. A divorced man can't be a deacon, but we don't require women to cover their heads when they pray. Both of those in context can have cultural ideologies, so why are we so silent about one? When have you heard a message on 1 Corinthians 14:34? Not sure I ever have. I am not saying we need to live by 1 Corinthians 14:34, but maybe if we need to examine one passage and examine cultural context, maybe we should do it with it all. Make sure we don't bias our reading of the scripture. Just a thought.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My rights to be right.

So I have been thinking lately about rights. My rights and your rights. The right to be angry or annoyed or productive. The right to peace or freedom. Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. As Christians, should we seek the same set of rights as the rest of the country? I found something called "The Christian Bill or Rights" at

The Christian's Bill of Rights
1. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ we have only one right: and that is to give up all rights to ourselves (2 Cor. 5:14-16; Romans 14:7-9).
2. We have the right to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him (Mt. 16:24-26).
3. We have the right to esteem others more highly than ourselves; and love our neighbor as ourselves (Mt. 22:39;
Phil. 2:1-5).
4. We have the right to fulfill the law of Christ in bearing one another's burdens of sin (Gal. 6:1-3).
5. We have the right to be wronged and to maintain a faithful testimony (1 Cor. 6:1-8).
6. We have the right to live in unreciprocated self-sacrificial love (Eph. 5:1-2).
7. We have the right to forgive others the smaller debt, as God in Christ has forgiven us the larger debt (Eph. 4:31-32; Matthew 18:12-35).
8. We have the right to suffer for the gospel and to take the blows for the One who took the blows for us (1 Peter 2:21-24)
9. We have the right to be "subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men" (Titus 3:1-2).
10. We have the right to not be political agitators trading the truth of His Word to play politics with men's souls; thinking that true spiritual change occurs through legislation rather than the transforming power of the gospel of grace. (1 Peter 4:10-16).
11. We have the right to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39).
12. We have the right to be stripped of all earthly things (Matthew 5:40-42).
13. We have the right to not repay evil for evil and to be at peace with all men as much as it depends on you (Romans 12:17-18).
14. We have the right to love our enemies, do good to them that hate us, bless those who curse us and pray for those that despitefully use us (Matthew 5:44-45).
15. We have the right to pursue holiness-not personal happiness (1 Peter 1:13-16).
16. We have the right not to be ashamed of the gospel (2 Tim. 1:6-18).
17. We have the right not to harbor revenge, anger, bitterness, clamoring, wrath, malice and slander (Ephesians 4:31).
18. We have the right not to quench or grieve the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).
19. We have the right to repent of and not cherish our sins (Psalm 66:18).
20. We have the right to guard the trust; and to contend for the once for all delivered to the saints faith (1 Timothy 6:20; Jude 1:3).
21. We have the right to train our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-3).
22. We have the right to reflect God's covenantal relationship with us by honoring our vows in the covenant of marriage with our spouse Mt. 19:6).
23. We have the right to worship Christ Jesus as God of very God; Creator; Redeemer; Sovereign Lord and Ruler of all (Col. 1:15-19; Hebrews 1:8; Phil. 2:5-11).
24. We have the right to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy, acceptable pleasing unto God (Roms. 12:1-2).
25. We have the right to live in the expectancy and hope of the Lord's return by which we purify ourselves (Roms. 12:1-2).
26. We have the right to march daily on our knees in prayer; praying for our leaders in government; our church leaders; our fellow believers; our families; and the lost (1 Timothy 2:1-3; Ephesians 6:18-21).
27. We have the right to praise and glorify God according to how He has revealed Himself through the pages of His Word (Col. 3:16-17).
28. We have the right to the accountability of the local church; to obey our leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over our souls, as those who will give an account (Hebrews 13:17).
29. We have the right to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20).
30. We have the right to have no rights apart from Christ Himself; "for whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it" (Matt. 16:25: John 15:5).

Think of how differently the world would be if we lived out this bill or rights, and not living for our rights.