Saturday, May 31, 2014
Friday, May 30, 2014
How do I wait when God seems to wait? When do I act as God's hands?
How do we wait for God's grace when we are called to be agents of God's grace?
"For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay." (Hab. 2:3)
"God sees the truth, but waits." Leo Tolstoy
To me, this is a very difficult question, because rather than just asking God for a direct answer, the question itself puts us into a posture or place of waiting... potentially awkward or even painful waiting. But here's a little prayer exercise that may lead you into seeing what I'm seeing:
Step 1 - The Clenched Fist: With your right hand, make a tight fist and just look at it. This fist represents our acting independently of God. When we don't see God acting as we had expected or hoped, we are tempted to take matters into our own hands. Or we may try to force God's hand (as some think Judas did) by triggering a chaotic series of events ourselves. It's the raised fist of revolution--of force. Some words that I see in this fist are grasping, clinging, scheming, manipulating, mastering, making, taking. It's not a waiting hand. It's not a serving hand. It's the impatient fist of self-will that says, "If God won't do something, I will." It can masquerade as initiative, boldness, and courage ... as we make a suicide-charge out of the foxhole into the minefield of life. But there's an old saying, "Discretion is the better part of valour." Or in Jesus' words, "The Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing" (John 5:19). Of course, some of us learn the hard way. As one of my mentors once said in his southern drawl, "I've been bit by that dawg."
Step 2 - The Limp Wrist: Once bitten, twice shy. I.e. When acting independently of God goes very badly, the opposite temptation is paralysis. Hold out your left hand in front of you, palm down and let your wrist go as limp as possible (like Adam in Michelangelo's painting, "The Creation of Adam." This limp hand represents resignation. We may refuse to participate in the kingdom life, expecting God to act independently of us. When we don't see God acting as we had expected or hoped, we are tempted to sit on the sidelines as depressed observers or cynical critics. Words that I see on this lethargic or wounded hand are fatigue, despair, passivity, abdication, acquiescence, and relinquishment. It's the hand that says, "If God won't do something, why should I?" It can masquerade as patience and reflection ... as we numb out to the suffering of broken people and the darkness of our deteriorating cities. We've heard it said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" (E. Burke). But of course, that proverb has been used all to often to rally the masses back to the clenched fist.
Is the dilemma obvious now? How do I wait for God's grace when I am an agent of God's grace.
[For keeners, the underlying problem is How is God immanent in the world when God doesn't intervene in the world? Hint: the mystery of the Cross]
Step 3 - The Open Hands: Finally, take both hands and open them in front of you, palms up like an expectant child. These are the hands of receptivity, waiting for grace in the person of Jesus. Open the eyes of your heart to see how he would come to you. Expect HIM but don't project onto him what he must do. On any given day, in any given circumstance, he may (i) hold your hands in his wounded hands as you wait together; (ii) he may place a symbolic gift in your hands that represents a grace he is offering (e.g. peace, patience, endurance, etc.); or (iii) he may ask to anoint and use your hands for some kingdom purpose (giving, serving, loving, healing, comforting, etc.). We may even become highly active and effective, but by waiting and listening first, our actions will be rooted in the Spirit rather than the self and thus empowered by grace to be grace in the world (as seen in the Sermon on the Mount).
So, how does Jesus come to you today? What does he do with these open hands? God's grace to you.
Monday, May 26, 2014
Battle About the Bible by Greg Albrecht
What role does the Bible play in our faith? Is it accurate, for instance, to say that the Bible is infallible? Is it accurate to say that the Bible is holy? You might say, well, of course the Bible is holy—that's what it says right there on the front cover of my Bible. It says "Holy Bible."
As we consider the battle about the Bible, we're going to study John 5:39-40. Fasten your seat belts. You may feel that some of your cherished notions about the Bible might be questioned as we examine a few sacred cows in the light of John 5:39-40.
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40).
You diligently study the Scriptures, Jesus says. He's speaking to the religious leaders of his day with whom, in this chapter, he had come into conflict. For that matter, he came into conflict with them almost every day of his ministry, and in almost every chapter of the Gospels. You, he said to the religious leaders of his day, diligently study the Scriptures because you think by them you possess eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me. Yet, ironically, you refuse to come to me to have life.
Saturday, May 24, 2014
Leonard Cohen's mournful ballad, 'Hallelujah,' moved me to tears from the first time I heard it (covered by Jeff Buckley). Why so? What is this dissonance between the victorious term of praise when sung in the tones of a dirge? What is it to sing 'a cold and broken hallelujah'? (see below)
I cannot speak for Cohen -- though others have (e.g. Liel Leibovitz's A Broken Hallelujah), -- but I can describe my own resonance with my fellow Canadian's lament. The song entrances me with the reality of life and faith beyond the surface narratives of triumphalism. Our 'hosannas' and 'hallelujahs' have too often signaled a desperate stuckness in what we might call 'triumphal entry faith.' It's easy to cheer before Gethsemane, before the trial, before the Cross ... only to dissolve when the palm branches are gone, the sky gets dark and God seems to be nowhere in sight. Looking back through the resurrection, we sometimes forget the despair of Holy Saturday and act as if we never revisit it in our own failures.
Cohen's lyrics remind us that the heroes of our faith--like Samson and David--not only slew giants and lions and Philistines ... they were also morally feeble, failing and falling as voyeurs and johns and worse. In truth, their faith is not ultimately defined by their medals of honor, but because when their self-destructive choices had laid them bare, they nevertheless squeaked out their cold and broken 'hallelujah' ... and found grace. Or rather, grace sought and found them, even when enslaved, blinded and chained, redemption got the last word.
"And even though it all went wrong, I'll stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah." This is the "Just as I am" confession of one whose sin is ever before him -- but refusing to hide from God, composes and cries the Psalm 51 prayers of "Lord have mercy."
For readers who are still riding the wave of triumphalism, God bless you. But for those who weep this song and identify with the disfunctions of our spiritual lineage, the cold and broken hallelujah will do just fine. Grace is looking for you.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
The cross is shock therapy for a world addicted to solving its problems through violence. The cross shocks us into the devastating realization that our system of violence murdered God! The things hidden from the foundation of the world have now been revealed. The cross shames our ancient foundation of violence. The cross strips naked the principalities and powers. The cross tears down the façade of glory that we use to hide the bodies of slain victims.
In the light of the cross, we are to realize that if what we have built on Cain’s foundation is capable of murdering the Son of God and the whole edifice needs to come down. In the light of the cross, our war anthems lose their luster. But this throws us into a crisis. What other alternatives are there? How else are we to arrange the world? The alternative is what Jesus is offering us when he told us that the kingdom of God is at hand. God’s way of arranging the world around love and forgiveness is within reach. If we only dare to reach out for it, we can have it. But we are so afraid. We’re not sure we can risk it. It’s so hard for us to let go of the sword and take the hand of the Crucified One. It’s so hard for us to really believe in Jesus.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
For some there was the slight semblance of the syncophonic sound of church bells. But it was, instead, the clanging of chains as the prisoners performed their duties. Their day began with roll-call, responding to their assigned identification number. Then, dressed in the dreary uniformity that dissipates individuality, and manacled together in bondage, they marched out to perform their monotonous tasks. The obligatory service having been performed under the watchful eye of the taskmaster, the prisoners filed back into the vaulted dungeon to be fed a bland diet and to engage in the socialization of their chants. They were psyching themselves up for another day of the same regimen on the chain-gang.
Each day they labored, a crusader on a nearby hill repetitively proclaimed, "Let my people go! What you are doing to my people is contrary to justice; it is cruel and unusual punishment. I have come to set you free! Exercise your right to walk out in freedom with me."
Monday, May 19, 2014
The Summer PTM is now available, free online in flippable pdf format:
Table of Contents
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
... I want to spend a few weeks with Christian Smith’s excellent book The Bible Made Impossible.
As important as it is to seek out better ways of reading the Bible, I think we have to start by deconstructing a bit, and Smith does a good job of addressing what has become a troublesome hallmark of American evangelical culture—biblicism.
“By bibliclism,” writes Smith, “I mean a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability. Different communities within American evangelicalism emphasize various combinations of these points differently. But all together they form a constellation of assumptions and beliefs that define a particular theory and practice. My argument as follows does not question the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Bible. Nor am I here discounting the crucially important role that the Bible must play in the life of the church and the lives of individual Christians...What I say here is simply that the Biblicism that in much of American evangelicalism is presupposed to be the cornerstone to Christian truth and faithfulness is misguided and impossible. It does not and cannot live up to its own claims.” (viii)
Biblicism falls apart, according to Smith, because of what he calls “the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism.”
“Even among presumably well-intentioned readers—including many evangelical biblicists,” he explains, “the Bible, after their very best efforts to understand it, says and teaches very different things about most significant topics...It becomes beside the point to assert a text to be solely authoritative or inerrant, for instance, when, lo and behold, it gives rise to a host of many divergent teachings on important matters...My argument focuses on the fact that the Bible contains a variety of texts that are problematic in different ways and that Biblicists (among other) readers rarely know how to handle. Some are texts that frankly amost no reader is going to live by, however committed in theory they may be to Biblicism. Others are texts that need explaining away by appeals to cultural relativity (although no principled guidelines exist about when that explanation should and should not be applied). Some are passages that are simply strange. And some are texts that seem to be incompatible with other texts.” (xi)
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Has anyone ever asked to pray for you? Isn’t that great when that happens? I mean, the very idea that another person who is not your mother or father or grandmother praying for you!
But in many cases a serious rub follows. After you say, “sure” or “certainly” or something like that, a person who has been indoctrinated in a particular way will often ask you “great, can you tell me something specific about you to pray for?”
Immediately you are taken aback. Or, at least I am. First the person wanted to pray for you. Wonderful! Now they seem to want you to volunteer some juicy stuff so that they can pray about “something specific.” How slick is that little religious routine! I feel like saying, “I’m fine with you praying for me, but I’m not going to sit down in your little confessional booth and give you a long list of sins.”
I’m not really up on my Evangelical playbook, but I think the “praying for something specific” technique is in there somewhere. Why would I think that? Well, one of the absolute core values embraced by Evangelicals is their presumed need to help God “get you saved.” The widely accepted theorem within this brand of religion is that before someone will ever be motivated to “get saved” they must first come to see how bad/fallen/broken/evil they are. So “something specific to pray about” can be a great ice-breaker, from the Evangelical worldview.
CS Lewis once spoke about one of the biggest problems many people have with prayer. Lewis said that even people who believe in God and believe in praying to him have a hard time thinking that God can listen to hundreds of millions of prayers at the same time. So let’s boil this objection down: the image of a god who can’t listen to hundreds of millions of prayers at the same time is probably more like an intelligent, wise old grandfather-god. A grandfather-god can answer prayer all right, but he just can’t listen to hundreds of millions of prayers at the same time. The grandfather-god has his limits.
Monday, May 12, 2014
I've been noticing a growing trend of people who are becoming increasingly troubled and unsatisfied with a literalistic approach to the Bible. The objection they have is a moral one: They observe that a "straight forward" and "plain" reading of Scripture inevitably leads people to do things that are against their conscience, against the most basic understandings of morality, and to justify doing these immoral things "because God said it, that settles it." In short, we've learned to read the Bible in a way that makes people immoral and proud of it.
One example of this is corporal punishment of children. Many parents feel that it is wrong to hit their kids. Pediatricians and mental health professionals agree. Yet the Bible says that you should hit your kids. Those who take the unquestioning approach to the Bible then argue that despite what your conscience might say, you need to trust the Bible. You need to submit to God's Word here.
So people are being asked to go against their consciences and do things they feel are hurtful and wrong because the Bible says so. There are a host of similar examples you could mention here. Parents being pressured to disown their children who are gay. Women being excluded from the ministry. Taking a harsh and medieval approach to issues like crime and punishment despite what we know about psychology and mental health today. The list goes on and on. In previous years we would need to add issues like slavery and polygamy to the list (both of which are endorsed in the Bible).
This is obviously a huge problem. The Bible is of course supposed to make us more moral, not sear our conscience and make us immoral. However, as Pascal famously said, "Men never commit evil quite so gleefully and without restraint as when they do it in the name of religion." Looking at history we can see that this is true time and time again. People read the Bible in an unquestioning way and when it says to commit an act of violence and moral atrocity (like genocide, like capitol punishment, like child abuse, like slavery) they turn off their brains and consciences and do it "for the Lord!" with unbridled religious glee.
So when people seeing this problem become mistrustful about the Bible, they do so not because they are immoral but because they are moral. It's understandable in this context that the reaction of some is to simply discard the Bible all together. Or perhaps they discard the Old Testament where the vast majority of these problems come from. This was the reaction of the early church bishop Marcion. He found that the violent and angry depiction of Yahweh in the Old Testament was simply incompatible with God revealed in Jesus, and so he tossed out the Old Testament altogether.
Marcion was declared a heretic by the early church because of this. They instead took the approach of reading the Old Testament war chronicles as spiritual analogy rather than as literal history. Now there's something very important to notice here: Both Marcion and the early church recognized that the depictions of violence and atrocity committed in God's name in the OT were indeed incompatible with Christ. Both rejected this and declared that if God actually commanded these things then that God would not be good, but rather as Origen puts it, "would be worse than the most cruel of men."
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Frank Schaeffer's new book was just published! Order the book today at the discounted price of $11.66.
“Why I…” is a beautiful high quality trade paperback available today worldwide and will be in all e-book formats-- Kindle, Nook, i-Book -- by June 1.
By , the book will be in bookstores and libraries in the US and Canada.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Crazy for God
WHY I’M AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD
Caught between the beauty of his grandchildren and grief over a friend’s death, Frank Schaeffer finds himself simultaneously believing and not believing in God—an atheist who prays. Schaeffer wrestles with faith and disbelief, sharing his innermost thoughts with a lyricism that only great writers of literary nonfiction achieve. Schaeffer writes as an imperfect son, husband and grandfather whose love for his family, art and life trumps the ugly theologies of an angry God and the atheist vision of a cold, meaningless universe. Schaeffer writes that only when we abandon our hunt for certainty do we become free to create beauty, give love and find peace.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR
WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD
“Part of the impact here, admittedly, is a result of who Frank Schaeffer is and of the platform from which he writes. That cannot obscure the fact, however—indeed, must not be allowed to obscure the fact—that in places this theological meditation cum memoir is arrestingly beautiful in and of itself, that it is, in fact, absolutely redolent of all the power that beautiful suggests. Schaeffer’s openness about his own wrestling with the concepts of God and god-ness which he inherited from his parents is heartrending at times, but it is also deadly honest and always unshielded. It is also balanced in a most gentle way by Schaeffer’s quiet defense of the traditional and his appreciation for its place in well-lived life. In fact, one leaves the final pages of WHY aware yet once again that sometimes and in some circumstances, an artist is still the best theologian.” —Phyllis Tickle former religion editor Publisher’s Weekly- author of The Age of the Spirit
“Frank Schaeffer always writes well, but Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God is extraordinary. Somewhere between the sterile, absolute, and empty formulae of reductionist, totalitarian science and the earnest, hostile, excessively certain make-believe of religious fundamentalism, there is a beautiful place. There is room in this place for honesty. For tenderness. For fury. For wonder. For hope. For mistakes. For paradox. For grace. This book is written from that in-between place. It will help you get there too, if you're interested in finding it.”—Brian D. McLaren author/speaker/activist
“A delight and charmer of a read—deft insights, burnished gold probes, arrow hit bull’s-eye again and again.” —Ron Dart (Thomas Merton Society of Canada)
Friday, May 9, 2014
|Purchase Razing Hell|
That was twenty-five years ago, and hell is still a hot topic. Almost 60 percent of Americans believe in hell. So do 92 percent of those who attend church every week. After that first shocking revelation about hell, I believed the pastor and never questioned its reality, its justice, or its duration. How many of us have grown up hearing about and believing in the existence of hell, a fiery abyss that eternally burns without destroying, tortures without ceasing, punishes without respite, where the only thing that dies is the hope of release or reconciliation? If the number of students and friends who come to me with questions about it serve as an indicator, most of us have cut our teeth on this picture of hell. Lisa did. We’ve been good friends for twenty years. We raised our kids together and grew up as Christians side by side.
Lisa is one of those friends who often says what no one else dares to say or asks the questions no one else dares to ask. We talk on the phone often, usually about a controversial theological topic, and lately the topic has centered around—you guessed it—hell. An inquisitive and thoughtful student and friend, Brooke, asks troubling questions too. Hell bothers her, yet she lacks alternatives. She was raised in an intellectual and educated environment and thinks about things that normal teenage girls wouldn’t give a second thought. Eric, a senior ministry major in college and a very bright student, hates hell too; but he just cannot let go of the ideas he has always been taught. He wants to work as God’s servant, furthering the kingdom of God by winning souls to Jesus. And hell, as bothersome as it is to him, tends to make unbelievers listen. He wants to believe differently but fears the consequences.
CLICK TO READ MORE
If the truth sets us free, then it's safe to say that a lie holds us back. What we believe about the nature of God is of infinite importance. We are either growing in freedom or we are becoming disenfranchised.
There is one foundational truth about God’s nature by which every other aspect of His nature should be measured: God is love (1 John 4:8).
Jesus is the perfect expression of what love looks and sounds like, of what love does. He is perfect theology.
A true view of God will free and empower sons and daughters to live like Jesus. We have been designed and created to know God as love and to be transformed in this truth. But slipping into a false view of God as angry, vengeful, waiting for you to live up to His standards or whatever else can tamper your witness and your personal spiritual life.
There are many different false ideas we put on God, but here are a few signs that you have a wrong view of God.
1. You're Motivated by Shame Instead of Love.
Feelings of shame or condemnation are often the evidence that you believe God’s opinion of you is determined by how much you have pursued Him or, obeyed Him or loved Him.
First, God never communicates using shame or condemnation—those feelings come from elsewhere.
Second, you get no say in how God feels about you. God is love, and His heart toward you is perfectly displayed in the life, death and resurrection of His Son.
Third, “we love because He first loved” (1 John 4:19). Your devotional life is always meant to be a response to your revelation of His love, not motivated out of a fear of His anger or disappointment.Read more HERE
Jet-lag woke me up again last night, but happily, instead of assaulting me with half-asleep worries or false epiphanies, the night-owl left me with a few follow-up thoughts to my article on Free Will, the Nous and Divine Judgment. For me, at least, they felt like clarifications on ye olde grace vs free will double-bind.
Briefly, classic Calvinism creates a double-bind re: the will. If grace is a unilaterally gift given by the will of God to the elect (Calvin's irresistible grace), then human response can seem either pre-determined or unnecessary. This seems wrong to me, since clearly, the Gospel is an authentic invitation calling for a necessary response.
But, in objecting to Calvin's apparent determinism, we may run aground if we believe we are saved or damned by our own free will decision. Even though God graciously offers us a salvation he alone can provide, we might imagine a situation where salvation is still really up to us (conditional grace? self-made salvation earned through right response?). Something about this seems wrong to me too, in that grace-alone (God alone) and faith-alone (my response alone) appear contradictory.
I know there are standard textbook answers to both these objections. Either side of the double bind knows what to say ... leaning strongly either to the sovereign will of God or the free will of man, then finally opting for some form of paradox, some mysterious, inaccessible formula for the co-existence of God's will and ours in the work of salvation.
But as I propose in the aforesaid article, in Jesus, John and Paul, will is not primary. Neither God's will nor ours. God's love is primary and this love elicits a love response ... but this response comes from the heart, rather than the will. That is, when the blinders are finally off and we truly encounter God's love, our hearts will be touched by that love, healed through that love, and inspired to love.
Now here is the point that I think breaks the double-bind: responding to God IS necessary, but a response is not identical to a choice. By grace alone, a heart response to Christ's love becomes possible and most natural. And it is the heart that governs the will. My heart response will determine my choices (just as God's heart of love determines his choices).
What I'm positing is that when, by grace, we are given a revelation of Jesus (when God says, "Let there be light in your hearts" - 1 Cor. 14) -- i.e. when our hearts are enlightened or when we are given new hearts, THEN we will respond, not by 'free will' but by a 'freed heart,' a heart freed to love ... freed to respond. And in responding, THEN our hearts will engage our will to choose to follow.
In this model, the grace-given revelation precedes and enables the heart response ... but the heart response is both natural and at the same time necessary. This approach transcends the Calvinist-Arminian debates altogether, so bound up as they were in the role of the Will (God's versus ours). This plays out beautifully in the language of John 1. We are saved, not by the will of man, and yet, we must receive him. Or in my language, God's revelation and our response, which because our hearts are made to reflect God's heart, are virtually simultaneous and indivisible, though the saving journey originates in God's grace, established by grace and fulfilled by the Holy Spirit.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
|Artwork by Lucie Beardwood|
This morning I was reading Scripture. From the Old Testament I was reading Numbers and in the New Testament I was reading John. In Numbers chapter 15 we find this story…
An Israelite guy was gathering sticks on the Sabbath. This was forbidden. The guy got caught and was taken into custody. Moses inquired of Yahweh what should be done. Yahweh told Moses that the guy had to be killed. So the stick-gathering Sabbath-breaker was taken outside the camp and stoned to death by the congregation of Israel. Sticks and stones. (Number –36)
Next I read from the Gospel of John chapter 5. This is what happens…
Jesus meets a guy who has been paralyzed for 38 years. Jesus tells the guy to take up his bed and walk. The man is healed, takes up his bed, and heads for home. But this was the Sabbath. And the guy gets busted for breaking the Sabbath. When the Judean Torah enthusiasts find out that it was Jesus who was behind all this Sabbath breaking, they are prepared to kill Jesus. (Like Moses did in the Bible.) John concludes the story like this…
“This is why the Judeans were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’ This is why the Judeans were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John –18)CLICK HERE to read more
Monday, May 5, 2014
Free Will, the Nous and Divine Judgment: A Critical Analysis of Three Visions of Universalism -- by Brad Jersak
I’ll say it again at the outset. I’m not a universalist. But some of my friends are … some of my evangelical friends, some of my Orthodox friends. So I ask them questions about that. This is not flirting (as Lewis and Barth were accused of), but simply being fair. In the name of ‘discernment,’ I’ve encountered a LOT of name-calling, dismissiveness, intentional misrepresentation and caricaturing. “Earth to Matilda!” – that’s not discernment. We can and must do better than that. Surely we could at least build bridges (from both ends of the chasm!) long enough so that listening could displace lobbing.
In this article, I’m trying to address fairly and critique carefully three brands of universalism, which I’ll call popular universalism, Reformed universalism and apokatastasis. Although I personally self-identify as a ‘hopeful inclusivist’ (cf. Kallistos Ware and Hans Urs Von Balthasar), I think it’s important to fairly distinguish and assess these points on the universalist spectrum, for they represent quite a broad range and some extremely different convictions about Christ, redemption and human response.
It’s also an important exercise for me: can I fairly represent a view to which I don’t hold with both enough charity and accuracy such that the universalist (in this case), can say, “Yes, that was fair.” Or at least, “not exactly, let me explain.”