Random Theological Thoughts (2)

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Jesus Wept

Why did Jesus weep?  Perhaps it was because he was confronted by the brokenness, lostness and helplessness of fallen humanity.  And, perhaps in that dark night of the soul in Gethsemane He remembered this encounter as he sought the strength to pay the price for our sin.

20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God,who is to come into the world.”

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

John 11:20-27, 32-35 (NIV)

The Kumbaya Christians (1)

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One of the many distressing revelations during this COVID-19 crisis is the exposure of what I’ll call the “Kumbaya Christians.”  My use of this term is not intended to denigrate the song Kumbaya My Lord, which is a sweet, lovely expression of Christian faith.  But it is an expression of only one dimension of the faith.  If we examine God’s Word with an open mind and seeking soul we will find many other dimensions to the expression of our faith, including righteous anger and forceful action.

My first clue of something amiss occurred when Christian leaders in states where religious services were deemed to be “nonessential” accepted this secular governmental pronouncement with utter passivity.  One can understand how, under what then looked like the threat of mass death a church would accept temporary limitations on its operations.  But when the lockdowns extended from a “couple of weeks” to open ended months one might expect some sort of pushback.  For some denominations this has indeed occurred, (e.g., the Catholics and Lutherans).  But for others the craven, passive acceptance of their status has been on full public display, (e.g., the Presbytery of Chicago).

The pathetic nature of this passivity is magnified by observation of those institutions which the state has deemed to be “essential.”  In my state of Illinois churches were deemed to be “nonessential” until May 1 when Governor Pritzker, under legal pressure, changed that designation to “essential.”  But the change was completely cosmetic.

But any religious gathering must be limited to a maximum of 10 people

So, what organizations have been operating as “essential” in Illinois?  Here are some of them.

I regularly go to grocery and other stores where there are dozens of customers milling about without enforced social distancing restrictions.  But for our churches the limit is still 10 people, which prevents even small religious gatherings.  One would also think that a Christian church would burn with anger at the thought that their operations had been deemed to be “nonessential” while those of abortion clinics and pot dispensaries are “essential.”

This pitiful position is papered over by the claim that to meet in person for virtually any Christian purpose could cause “even one person” to catch COVID-19.  Apparently there are no real countervailing goods provided by Christian worship and fellowship that balance this risk.  Apparently there are no practical precautions that could address this risk while also allowing in person Christian worship and fellowship.  There certainly apparently are countervailing goods for sustenance of our bodies, upkeep of our homes, killing of our unborn (or unwanted born) children and getting high on pot.  But sustenance of our souls through proclamation of the Gospel, sharing of the Sacraments and Christian fellowship, well no.

And so we have retreated into Facebook church services and Zoom fellowship, with no end in sight.  Some Churches will passively submit to the arbitrary and capricious orders of our Governors for any length of time that these secular rulers deem fit.  Even when other Churches rise up in opposition or when the Department of Justice begins to oppose religious discrimination in lockdown orders some will remain defiantly submissive.

Welcome to the world of Kumbaya Christianity.

Random Theological Thoughts (1)

Hypocrite-Romans 7-14-25

Christian Hypocrisy

When we Christians behave as hypocrites (and we all do) it is not because we are taught to by God’s Word. Rather, it is an expression of our fallen, prideful refusal to trust completely in God’s merciful grace.

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Romans 7:14-25a (NIV)

 

Biblical Interpretation Considered (2)

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Souls Entangled in Mortality and God’s Providential Grace

There is great value in examining ourselves as we seek to understand the nature of our souls and the ends to which God has directed them. There is also great value in sharing our experiences with trusted Christians to gain broader understanding and deeper insights. We are certainly doing well by so doing. However, if this is our primary focus then we have bypassed the testimony that is of ultimate authority in these matters.

There are a few mere mortals in the Bible whose story God has chosen to share in a depth and intimacy that illuminates these issues in blazing light, if only we will pay attention. Some of these people are Abraham and Sarah, David, and the Apostles John, Paul and Peter. Their stories show us how actual human lives have been lived that are inexorably tangled by mortal cares and yet simultaneously redeemed and sustained by God’s eternal acts of providence.

Carefully, prayerfully reading these stories will not answer every question or make clear all the complexities and confusions of our lives. But they will show us great truths about ourselves, our God and the world that light our paths and strengthen our faith.

You can find my commentary on some of these mere mortals in the following resources:

Biblical Interpretation Considered (1)

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Initial Thoughts

When Bible believing Christians come together in study of God’s Word they are often confronted by a disturbing reality.  That being, sometimes there are almost as many interpretations of a given text as there are believers present!  On one hand this is to be expected in a world dominated by the philosophy of ultimate human autonomy.  On the other hand this fact creates deep disturbance.  For if you are a Bible believing Christian then to some significant extent you have accepted the idea that God’s Word conveys Truth (i.e., capital T ultimate truth).  So when we come together in fellowship around the Bible we sometimes discover that it is not Truth that is discussed but rather the many individualistic truths that each member claims for themselves.

At this point I could launch into discussion of the various theologies that underlie this disunity.  By so doing I can’t avoid either implicitly or explicitly arguing for my own preferred theology.  Although I have and will continue to advocate on this point, in this context doing so would be counterproductive.  

So then, how to make any progress?  Perhaps one productive way forward is to agree on a few axioms (i.e., principles which are regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true) for Biblical interpretation.  The goal is not to insist on any particular outcome, but rather to have an agreed set of conventions that guide our interpretative work.  So, here are my suggestions in this regard.

  1. The ultimate author of God’s Word is God Himself, working through the Holy Spirit to inspire His chosen human authors to write that which is True and necessary for our salvation, our understanding of God’s nature and of His expectations for our belief and behavior.
  2. Although we gladly confess our complete dependence on the Holy Spirt to guide our interpretation of Scripture, we affirm that any result that contradicts teaching found in the established Protestant Cannon of Scripture is not from the Holy Spirt nor is valid as a Christian guide.
  3. God’s Word is indivisible, so no Christian has the right to partition the Bible into “authoritative” and “less/not authoritative” parts, be it by Testament (Old and New), author, book, chapter, verse or any other means.
  4. Although we affirm use of history, philosophy, commentary and other human sources to provide context to and illumination for Biblical interpretation, we reject that any source outside the established Protestant Cannon of Scripture is or ever will be considered to posses the ultimate authority of Scripture.
  5. We must interpret Scripture according to Scripture, meaning that the supreme authority in interpreting the meaning of a particular part of the Bible is the overall teaching of the Bible.
  6. When seeking to interpret Biblical passages that are obscure on a given issue, we must whenever possible do so by use of Biblical passages that are more clear on that particular issue.
  7. Although there are parts of Scripture that appear to be contradictory to other parts, God must not be found to be inconsistent or in error.  Therefore wherever possible the interpreter should attempt to resolve the apparent contradiction through application of sound interpretative means.  For those cases that elude human resolution we must trust that the answer will be found at “the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring” (Charles Spurgeon).
  8. Scripture must be interpreted to the greatest extent possible as its literal meaning (sensus literalis), within context of the type of literature, historical circumstances and other relevant Biblical passages.  Thus parables are to be interpreted as parables, symbols as symbols, poetry as poetry, historical narrative as historical narrative, metaphor as metaphor, etc.
  9. When seeking to condense Scriptural teaching into doctrines we must be guided by those passages that explicitly teach on the issue in question as opposed to those passages that implicitly address the issue.

Some of these axiomatic principles will be more easily applied than others.  However, if we start from the common belief that God’s Word is both true and trustworthy, then these axiomatic principles would seem to be sound.