Posts Tagged With: context

My Story, Gods Story, & My Theology

One of my biggest mistakes I believe that I was making as an early bible student was assuming that scripture was all about how to ‘get saved and go to heaven.’

To my pleasant surprise, (as it turned out) that was not what Featured imagescripture or God himself was concerned with trying to reveal. I’m so glad that the year I had decided to do the SBS in YWAM, a Chronological SBS was starting in Los Angeles and that happened to be the place where I was planning to go. I spent the first 6 months of the bible school trapped in the Old Testament. I was just nineteen years old when I began the CSBS and I struggled with the violence in the OT but for the first time was struck by the goodness and mercy of God. Instead of being fixated on his wrath or anger It became clear that though God interacted with violence at times mankind was constantly prone to violence, murder, lies, cheating, stealing, and many other violent and destructive behaviors. God not man is the hero of the OT.

Often people struggling with God, fixate on specif instances of his judgement. But the consistent story of the OT is about the ongoing and worsening behavior of man. Yet the primary theme emerges. Scripture when given a chance and looked at as a unified whole reveal a good God, a loving and patient God, a just and right God who does not gleefully destroy anyone or anything that he lovingly created.

The emerging theme is what we sometimes call the theme of Gods Redemptive Plan. It is evident from book one that he had a plan to turn everything around. To reverse the curse that began with mans rebellion from God. Abraham was the man God chose and his family to undo the sin of Adam and bring blessings instead of curses onto the earth and to every family in it. Just as God planned in Adam and Eve to fill the earth with Adam seed and nurture Eden until it consumed the whole earth. God wanted for Abraham to continue in that great vocation though sin and its curse had already begun to have its effect on the earth and on all the families of the earth including Abraham’s family.

The overarching story of those first 6 months of bible study told us that this chosen family was failing. Though there were many bright spots, many shining examples of faithfulness, the people of Abraham failed. They again, like Adam faced exile from their home, from the place which in Gods design they would spread out from and bless the world. When we arrive at the gospels in the New Testament Jews believed that though the had been preserved they were still in an exile of sorts. Still awaiting the day when God would act on their behalf. The day when God would restore their fortunes and make the world notice that God was for Israel.

Interesting for me that after about 5 years in the CSBS I had not developed a strong appreciating for the New Testament. I did not dislike it. But I was intrigued and drawn to the Torah and to the story of Israel and their God. But after 5 years I finally fell in Love with the gospels. In particular I fell in love with the the Gospel of Matthew. This makes a lot of sense to me since Matthew is the most Jewish Gospel. Written to Jews no doubt, Jesus engages a lot with Pharisees (with the lament of the pharisees in particular), Law (with the Sermon on the mount in particular), and Temple (with the Olivet Discourse in particular). It is a master piece seeking to convince any doubters that Jesus really is the Messiah that the Jewish people have been waiting on. But its going to be tricky cause he is a little different than expected. I found it more exciting because Jesus was not simply telling people ‘this is how you get to heaven or get saved.” It was more rich than that. He was teaching what his kingdom was like, how those who were a part of his kingdom must live, think, and feel about the world that they live in and will inherit. Only after I really grasped some of these essentials about Jesus and his kingdom, about the ongoing use of the Jewish Narrative and their Law was I able to appreciate the work of Paul the Apostle.

For many Christians, I believe, their “Christian” Theology is actually a “Pauline” Theology. Whether they worked for it or inherited it from sermons and popular teaching people understand the OT through Paul’s lens, and people understand the Gospels through Paul’s lens. Not that there is anything wrong with Paul’s lens in itself. Its just not the way Christians, I believe, should go about study and compression of the Canon of Scripture. I have heard it pointed out that our “Theology” is often based on creeds rather than on Canon. That theology is inherited from the teachings, the sermons, the songs, the liturgy, and the creeds, of the church. This is a valid point that Reformers themselves fought against. We tend to think that the reformers had a great victory in riding the church of allegiance to creeds and bring the people of God back to the whole witness of the Canon of Scriptures. But they did not once and for all rid Christianity of allegiance to creeds over Canon. They simply set an example to follow. It remains a task of Christians to follow in their footsteps and not allow Tradition to overtake fresh engagement with the Word of God. Even if that means that we challenge some of the traditions developed in our post reformation christian world. Of course I am not suggesting to throw out doctrine of John Calvin, Martin Luther, and the like. We should work with their readings and commentaries and go back to the text and have fresh insights that derive out of careful exegesis.

One of these Post-Reformation ways of engaging with the Canon is to read through the lens of Paul rather. As inductive bible students who seek to establish a context for each book, its author, its audience, and its occasion we should not approach Genesis for instance simply with what Paul said, though we do not dismiss him. It helps, I believe, to approach these text fresh, with as much knowledge of the context as possible. To work through the unfolding story, in context, to arrive at Jesus and the Gospels still engaging with their context, and then arrive at Paul and his letters to see how he engaged with the Old Testament and the Gospels and add on to what we have already learned and perhaps adapt it where it needs to be adapted. The thing I’m not suggesting is a a sort of either or, that we either go with what Paul said about the OT or we just do it on our own. Instead we do a little of both. I believe if we learn to work with the OT in context then instead of forcing Paul to say what we want him to we become familiar with how he may have actually come to think about the OT and Jesus.

In other words, what Paul says about the use of the Law is not extensive and final. Most come away from Paul with clarity that the Law brings condemnation. He says that it does, but for those who are “in Christ” the law does not bring condemnation. Therefore the Law becomes simultaneously; condemnation for those who are not “in Christ”, a tool for those who are to know God better, to look more like God, and to bear a greater witness to those who are not “In Christ.” Multiple uses for the Law abound when we look at Paul’s explanation of the Law from the angle of how Jews in the first Century struggled with the Law and how to actually go about observing it. Paul now has the key, Jesus and the Spirit. All of these uses are evident if we study the law in context. Paul becomes more clear when we see for ourselves that the Law is about humbling the people of God, revealing God to the people of God, and making the people of God a greater witness to those around them.

It is the issue of the Law that brings me back to my own story. Just as I had mistaken all scripture to be about Salvation, or how to get saved and go to heaven. Jews in Paul’s day had mistaken the Law for a formula for assurance of their own future vindication. If they were circumcised, if they ate right, observed holy days, and followed the rabbinic teachings of the day then they would have some assurance of their Salvation. In others words for many Jews in Paul’s day they have mistaken the Law for a way of salvation. Saul of Tarsus certainly must have believed in some form of this, until his conversion, and maybe some time away in Arabia to sort things out a bit. The new Paul was able to clarify that Law on its own brings condemnation, that without Christ there is no hope of future vindication of the righteous, no matter how righteous, without Christ and also the spirit there is not hope for the people of God. So for Paul, if he were asked directly, “How do I get saved?” He might respond with well really its not about how you get saved but about how you have been saved, or better, how salvation has come into the world for the world by way of those in the world. It is a story that in Romans Paul actually decided to tell from Creation, Fall, Judgement, Law, Sacrifice, Atonement, Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Pharaoh, Prophets, exile, and Messiah. This is the story not of how you can get saved and go to heaven but about how God has brought salvation into the world that he loves and to that which he loved the most, mankind.

It would be silly of me to completely leave out what Paul says about “Justification by Faith”. Some might say well actually Paul answers the quest more basically. He says, to those who ask, You get saved by faith in the Messiah. But that I believe is sometimes the answer we give a bit to soon. Paul labors heavily to tell the story of how Salvation was provided for us by God  throughout history climaxing in Jesus the Messiah. Then when it is heavily evident Faith in the messiah becomes a reaction, and a work of the spirit, through the telling of the story of Gods Faithfulness. In other words, we are saved by the faithfulness of God. By Faith for Faith as Paul says in Romans chapter one.

Some Suggested Reading on topic

Conversion of the Imagination – Richard B. Hays

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the OT – John H. Walton

The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah – Alfred Edersheim

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

How God became King – N.T. Wright

Categories: Bible, CSBS, Doctrine, New Testament, paul, Romans, Theology, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paul in Context

So this Friday I will speaking with a local church here in Mexico about the book of Romans. Their are Two primary things I wish to accomplish with only one session. Those two primary things deal with context. Paul’s World that he engages with, and Paul’s own unique way of thinking and relating to that world.

In summary, Paul’s contextual world has to do with political social aspects of the Romans world, philosophical and religious aspects of the Greek-Roman World, and Paul’s specifically Jewish world. Paul is living in a world shaped by Greek thinking and religion, Roman power and culture, and Jewish lifestyle. Since the Apostle Paul is often hard to understand it is necessary for someone eager to actually have some sound answers about the things he says to make sure they understand the world in which Paul lived.

That said, part two of the contextualizing of Paul needs to do with what theological categories Paul actually used as a Jewish thinker who, -by the way, recently embraced Jesus of Nazareth as God himself. But lets not get to far ahead of ourselves. Back to “Theological Categories”. The reason I believe this is an important precursor for studying the book of Romans is that for a long time scholars have placed upon Paul categories that he himself could not have been entirely committed to. Its not that Paul did not speak about sin, justification, sanctification, sovereignty, free will, predestination and so on. In fact most those words are in the book of Romans. But what has happened is that people have pressed on Paul their own systematic theologies, forcing Paul to agree with his interpreters. These theological categories hinder ongoing sound exegesis. It limits people to the terms and categories established by previous interpreters. That said, these categories I believe were developed by the greats like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and so on. They should not be completely thrown out. But do they function as a way of understanding what categories (if any) Paul had.

If Paul had “theological” categories then they would have been more Jewish that ecclesiastical. So then, in summary of Paul theological categories as a Jew would have something like, Monotheism, Election, and Eschatology. Paul is not a thinker with clearly defined categories so we need to be careful how we might put his thinking into neat little boxes. He was Jewish, ancient Hebrew thinking is more fluid and story based. But Paul was also a Greek thinker and a master of logic and rhetoric. Hebrew thinkers like Paul were committed to the concept of a single God, a single people of God, and of a particular future in which the one God would liberate the specifically Jewish people, and the world would take notice. Was this how Paul thought? In what ways did Paul’s thought deviate from that?

This is something I have already gone in to detail about in previous posts. Yet again, I find it one of the most useful ways of interpreting Paul. If for no other reason than that a plane reading of Paul confuses many, and that even some of what has been said about Paul by great scholars has seemed to miss some of these more contextual elements.

JewnRomeRomans also comes into a better light when we understand the Roman Political world. The feelings of other Jews in Paul’s day and the anticipation of their own reestablishment. Much of what Jews thought about the world around them is shared by Paul, and yet the day has already come for Paul who believes that Jesus was Gods agent bringing a new day, an end to the exile, and a better hope for the whole world. The world was taking notice in what God did in Jerusalem through Jesus the Messiah. Paul is sad because for many Jews this day has come unrecognized. That his fellow kinsman were blind or deaf to what had occurred in Jesus the Messiah had greatly distressed Paul.

Beyond these main points of contextualization are further areas of context for the occasion of the church in Rome. This I will not divulge at the moment.

Paul’s World: 1) Greek Philosophy and Religion. 2)  Roman Politics. 3) Jewish Culture

Paul’s Theology: 1) Monotheism 2) Election 3) Eschatology

Categories: Bible, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Functional Election: 3 Hints for not misreading Scripture

old-man-reading-1882Reading the Old Testament as Christian Scriptures poses interesting surface challenges for Christians. I have been observing over the last eight years that students find the particular topic of a chosen people very hard to grasp correctly.

However, when we approach the scriptures with the inductive method, and with a rich historical context, and follow that up with going through Chronologically so that the many stories unfold neatly into one large story of Gods ongoing redemptive work then we can reach the New Testament with far more clarity about the world of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Then we already understand that there was a specific purpose for which the people of Israel where chosen for. How do we read and study the OT incorrectly.

Three things keep us (particularly western people) from reading scripture right. The three things that I will explain are actually all about how we impose our own Modern thinking on to the text. We think as Individuals, we think as Materialists, we have Greek thinking categories. We then impose our western way of thinking onto the text and miss the point that the authors were trying to make. When we miss out on what the author truly meant then we miss out on what exactly God was communicating to the Original Audience. When we miss that we miss out on what God is saying through the text to us today. How does reading the text as individuals impact our reading of scriptures.

Most are completely aware when reading the bible that it is a very old piece of literature. But most are completely unaware of the implications of that truth for how we aught to read and understand scripture. If we really grasp that the bible is very old and that its original recipients thought and lived very differently from us we would not take so much ‘out of context’. For instance most people do not know that people in the Ancient world were not individualistic. At least nothing like are today in the west. In fact in many cultures around the world people do not think so much in terms of individual success and identity. Instead the ancient thought and valued group identity, the success of the group, and importantly the purpose of the group. For Israel they very much learned to value group identity, and group success. It was not however understood correctly in terms of their group function or purpose. They felt strongly that they were God’s people, and that as God’s people they would be blessed and prosperous. The purpose was for many Jews was that through the power and might of the ethnic group of Israel nations would turn to their God and be humbled by him and by his people. Unfortunately they did not always conceptualize what God himself promised to Abraham that God’s peoples function was to achieve all this for the sake of God’s redemptive purposes in all people. That when the nations turned to the God of Israel then the nations would be joined to that family.

Thus to understand Romans more correctly, as many have sought to do one must understand what was important to Paul, to other Jews of his time in Rome, and to the rest of that ancient culture. Paul was remembering the Jewish stories of how God had intervened in the world and spoke to righteous men of Israel, how he gave his law, how he delivered them from slavery, and then back into slavery until they themselves would turn back to him. For the chosen people had failed. They were the ‘chosen’ people for a specific purpose, and then they failed God sent them into exile until again he would act on their behalf. God chose to do these through a special person, Jesus, God incarnate, a high priest, a great teacher, an example of righteousness, a judge, a high priest, the atoning sacrifice, the embodiment of resurrection hope for all people. Jesus was the Jewish messiah and the God over all. Romans when read correctly with more than just individuals in mind keeps us from reading the book just as a way for an individual to get saved and instead as a book that speaks of the ongoing work of Gods Saving intervention for humanity. Romans is about how God actual did act on behalf of his people to bring them redemption and how that redemption and salvation is available to all people irrespective of their age, sex, ethnicity, or social status.

The gospel is that Salvation has come into the world for all who believe, confess, or cry out for it. When we see scripture in a more communal way we experience the message of the books a little closer to how the Original audience would have. Reading a book otherwise leads to an over emphasis on personal salvation, so that a theology that allows me as an individual to prove my salvation and eternal destiny is all that really matters to a ‘believer’. Paul thought very differently. I believe that he felt that the story of God’s Salvation is one in which when you confess faith in the messiah then your life begins to reflect that kind of belief. We were not meant to use Paul to define our salvation so we can justify our complacency. Paul had a more fluid concept of God’s Salvation. It was not to be something we could place neatly into boxes. This part is Justification, that part is Sanctification. Somehow God’s Salvation works out when the people of God are identified by their Faith in God’s Faithfulness, and then when the actually begin to live faithfully as God’s people in a world full of Adam’s thorns, and thistles. It is the creation itself that is waiting for the ‘revealing of the sons of God’. In others words, Salvation just begins when people receive by faith their atonement in Christ. Then they must begin the task of cross bearing themselves. Paul says, that the sons of God will continue to groan with creation as we await our own resurrected bodies. Because we think with sharp categories, and because we think as individuals, almost selfishness or egotistically, and because we have adopted post-enlightenment categories of physical spiritual worlds. False categories of gods and spirits (and other obviously made up stuff for the ignorant and wishful thinkers) vs the category of reality and hard science (and other things that can be trusted with certainty).

We then, unconsciously, impose this onto scripture. For instance, the church in America gets obsessed with debates over the material reality of Genesis 1-2. It is important to Christians that the events of Genesis 1-2 are historical. That is fine, nothing wrong with that. Unless you then are going to wrongly impose modern materialistic science onto Genesis 1-2. As if Genesis 1-2 was God’s revelation of the material existence and how it was all made. In doing this, Evangelical Christians in America often miss probably the most fundamental lesson from Genesis one and two. Of course, it seems even a little pretentious to me to imply that I myself know what is the most fundamental truth in such a vital piece of scripture. However, I believe that for the original audience of Genesis, Israel needed some clarity about their purpose, vocation, or function as a nation. It should not be a surprise then that when God finally brings Israel out of Egypt, and when they arrive at Sinai, that God says you are going to be a priestly nation. In that simple phrase God is, in short, informing them of their function. Priests served both God and the people. Priests, acted as intermediaries between God and people. This was Israel’s task before all other nations, to be the “city on a hill”, a “light to the nations”, and the “salt of the earth”. In other words Israel, God’s chosen people, is not to be understood even materialistically as the one people who are God’s, period. But instead, Israel is God’s people who have a specific vocation in and for the world.

Again, Israel’s status = Special People with a special Task. This definition of Election then emphasizes Israel’s Function. This is why for me I have begun using the word Election with the word Functional in front of it. I believe this because I think himself thought of Israel’s Election in this way. In fact he said that not all who are descended from Israel are Israelite. That is because for Paul in order to really be an Israelite or a Child of Abraham you needed to have Faith in Gods Righteousness. That Faith made you a part of the Family of God and his Covenants and then as a member of the Covenant Elect you had a job to do, a part to play. Paul’s election when it is uninfected by individualist, materialist, categorized thinking is more fluid and free from simply being about those who are “Saved” from Hell, or for Heaven later on. The Elect instead those who God Called, Justified, and Glorified for the sake of the ongoing work of bringing kingdom, creating life, and co-reigning with God. Many Christians today believe that because the profess Faith in Christ they are saved. We believe that this is good theology. This is shorthand theology. What Paul would have said to that statement is that we are saved when in professing faith in Christ, we live in unity with brothers and enemies, when we care for the needs of others, when we suffer with those who suffer, and when we maintain hope even in the face of awful evil because God has overcome and will restore all things in heaven and on earth and nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. This describes the ongoing work of Gods Salvation, thus Gods elect are to be a functional elect, who show the sings of those who God is saving and using for the saving work in all of his creation. This kind of “Functional Election” does not need to be thought of as just another kind of legalistic or works based salvation theology.

Just look at how screwed up the hero’s of faith, both in the old and new testament. Abraham, Jacob, and David all had serious blunders and foolish behaviors. But that did not matter, God had so much grace and mercy for them. They realized this and it strengthened their faith. So then it is not by works that we are “right’ before a holy and righteous God. It is by his faithfulness, his grace, and mercy. But what does it mean to be a person of God, an Elect, a chosen one of God, it means that God has a strong purpose for your life. It means you have a calling, a task, and a job to do. That built on the foundation of God’s faithfulness we place our own faith, and on that foundation we live, we act, and we offer our own bodies as a living sacrifice to the service of God and people. We seek to be the Elect not simply to enjoy the benefits of the elect. Like Abraham’s children in the flesh, for about a century they sought to be the “people of God” for the benefits. Many Christians are so because they want to benefits. They want heaven and not hell. But being the people of God, professing faith is only the beginning of what it means to be the people of God. That is making a sacrifice yourself to love in the same self sacrificial way that Jesus himself did. This teaching is very hard. But it is this kind of thinking that can at last begin to transform and renew our thinking. So that we are not conformed by the world, by materialist thinking, by individualist thinking, and by placing things neatly in their categories so we can feel better about ourselves. The Good News is that there are in fact great benefits in being human because God has made salvation available to the human race. So don’t feel bad for coming to faith in this way. But now that you have allow yourself to be transformed in your thinking so that the name of God will not be cursed by those who look the Christian ‘elect’ as nothing but hypocritical or ignorant. Instead we need them to see Functional Christians. Those who’s actions reflect Christ’s self sacrificial love to the world around. We like the Jews of Paul’s day have brought disgrace to the name and character of God.

Suggested Reading (on topic):

Ancient Near Eastern Thought Relating to the Old Testament – John H Walton

Paul and the Faithfulness of God – N.T. Wright

Escape from Reason – Francis Schaeffer

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, New Testament, Old Testament, Romans, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Law, Jesus, and Paul: Part 2

I felt like a summarized clarification of the first post on the Law from the angle Matthew’s Gospel and Paul’s Letters. Since part two is actually long over due. We will recap and get back to the topic for a third part.

There are three main ways I would propose you begin looking at the differences in Jesus statements about the Law from Paul’s statements.

Matthew 5:19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

andimage019

Galatians 3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”

Point 1 of 3: Jesus was not speaking about how to gain Salvation. He was primarily speaking on how when we understand the law and teach it well, it brings the kingdom of God. Jesus felt free to discuss the ongoing purpose of the law for the ‘his people’. Whereas, Paul felt obligated with his letter to the Galatians, to warn that relying on works of the law for salvation brings a curse. For if that was the way to salvation there would be no way for any person to abide by all the things written in the law.

Point 2 of 3: Both Jesus and Paul dealt not only with some misconceptions about the law as a means of attaining salvation. They dealt with the ‘other’ law. The Oral Laws that in the first century had taken on as much or more authority as the written law. The nature of the oral teachings was that they were new laws laid down by rabbis that kept people from breaking the laws of Moses. These Oral teachers felt they were doing Israel a service by making sure no one would break the Mosaic law. But the problem with that is they did not teach how to do the Mosaic law. Moses was clear that the whole heart of following the law is about loving God and people. Jesus said this because people had not realized how far off they had got from the heart of the true law given by God. Paul and Jesus had these things in mind when they ministered to the new church.

Point 3 of 3: The law is made of the books of the entire Torah. In the Hebrew bible in the time of Jesus and Paul the Law was the torah. That means Genesis too. It is clear that there exists an ongoing purpose of the law for the church. We the church and the Hebrew people were never intended to attempt to follow the law in order to achieve our own salvation. The reason the Law remains a part of our revelation of God, Man, and all of life is for the ongoing development of individuals and communities who are learning to love God and love people. Or in Jesus’ words, the Kingdom.

Much more could be said, for part three will will look more in depth at the idea of Gods Faithfulness to Covenants. The Law being only one of the 5 possible covenants located in the OT. So really the ongoing discussion will be to extend the third point here in this post. It could be said like this, “The goal of the covenants (Law) was that people would get saved. The means of Salvation is something that gets worked out in the language of the covenants. Particularly in the Abrahamic Covenant it is understood that the moment of Salvation for Abraham came when he believed in Gods promise. In other words Faith in the God who makes covenants and is faithful to them makes men righteous. Salvation becomes available to more when both God and man show faithfulness to the covenant. Cool thing is, God proved his faithfulness to the covenants and brought completion to them by introducing a brand new covenant that embodies the old ones. In other words, we still have a covenant in which we are called to be faithful to. A covenant built firmly on the faithfulness of God, and not man. The new covenant is both a free gift and a big responsibility for those who receive it. There is still much to learn from previous covenants that helps us gain clarity about the current one.

We will go more in depth in the third part.

Categories: Bible, Context, Doctrine, New Testament, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Genesis Book Overview

So for the Teaching School (Tutus Project) I am doing a decided to do some Book Overview’s. Starting with Genesis I will be working with some friends producing 20-30 minute book overviews for each book of the bible.

Categories: Ancient Near East, Bible, Context, Doctrine, Egyptian Mythology, Genesis, Old Testament | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What kind of Christian am I?

Here is something for change. I am being introspective. jesus

As I read, study, and do life with other Christians in Mexico of all places I wonder what Christian category I actually fit into in all of my beliefs. I have been a part of YWAM for the last 8 years. Crazy! I’ve been a part of the CSBS for the past 7 years. So what that means is I have been a bit of a bible nerd for all that time. Over the past 4 years I have begun to really broaden my reading and writing habits. I mean broaden, in that I have been reading more then the bible. But that is perhaps the first observation about myself. Reading the bible so much and studying it in context did something to my brain. I think perhaps seeing the bible as one story, a story that fits into real history, a story that covered centuries of history and exposed me to new kinds of literature and authors. Essentially it was a new education, using an entire library of information presented in poetic form as well as prose. For me this study sparked an interested in adding to that sacred library more and more material. I have taken a strong liking to the kind of extra biblical material that challenges and enriches my understanding of the sacred library. Books about ecology, psychology, history, sociology, worldviews, science, and an ever broadening list of subjects. Of course the list of reading material includes a ton of theology stuff. I still don’t have a large appetite for theological debates. But as I have engaged in new theologies, and old theology I have began to wonder about this question: “What am I”?

I read about Reformed tradition, Anglican, conservative evangelical, charismatic, Catholic, emergent, orthodox, neo-orthodox and on and on. Ive read and engaged with a lot of church history and history of Christian thought and still I’m wondering where someone might fit me. I feel this way in part because I serve in YWAM, an Inter-denominational organization. We have people from all traditions and non-traditions in our tribe of Jesus followers.

I come from the Baptist Tradition. GARBC to be exact. My Father, my grandfather, and my three uncles are pastors with GARBC churches in the state of Michigan. I suppose you could say I have carried my share of disillusionment with the church. But over the past 8 years things have shifted. I have sought to find a clearer head in regards to what my thoughts are about church and about the kingdom of God. I now have a stronger love for the local church then I ever have. She has her problems and people will always line up to point them out. To me this is one of the observations I have been seeing. You know it is the church because people are watching to see inconsistencies with beliefs and actions. The most common accusation of Christians may be that we are hypocritical. I think it is important for the church to recognize its inconsistencies and respond to the critics with candor and sincerity to change.

My own disillusionment with the church lead me to explore some of the “Emergent” authors; McLaren, Bell, Campolo, Rollins, McManus. I have enjoyed to some degree a lot of what these guys do and say. I have not disagreed with them on each and every point. But in the end I’m not what we are calling “Emergent”. I don’t know… I think its just not cool to stay disillusioned forever. Some of the Emergent guys are doing quite well because its sexy to be disillusioned, confused, “broken”, and uncertain. It is not cool to know something for sure, its not cool to be healthy or to want to be healthy, and doctrine/theology/history is not cool at all. Its all just power play and dogmatism. So while a agree with some of the tough criticism that “emergent” writers bring on the established church I don’t in the end wind up an emergent. I’m not emergent in the same way that I would not consider myself a modern, pure materialist, humanist, secularist, blah blah blah. I am of course a person who lives in what many consider a post-christian, post-modern world and I am effected by much of the thinking, and the style of the rest of my generation. But I suspect that In order not to be cast off as a super old school, pre-historic conservative I need to find the right brand for myself. Maybe someone can help give me some insight as to what I am.

My title suggest that I might just fit right in with the Emergent crew. Because I seem to be unsure about what I am. But I’m not really unsure about what a believe. Check out my blog. I have lots of opinions and I am under no illusion that my beliefs are wrong. I believe most of them to be correct. In all humility I hope to correct the existing mistakes. But they are either correct, or they are mistakes. The only in between for me is that I do believe things aught to be looked at from different perspectives. This is actually post-modern more then it is a modern or pre-modern way of thinking. However, it is also an ancient Hebrew way of thinking. So I would not say that this acknowledgement of the need to asses truth from different perspectives is post-modern pollution of Christianity. Its like, why did God provide two accounts of the history of Kings in Judah with Kings and Chronicles? Why are there two accounts of creation? What we end up with is further enrichment of revealed truths. We are not talking about opposing contradictory messages. What we have are two complementary views about reality. Jeremiah paints a portrait of a failing monarchy and a decaying community headed for hard times. Ezra takes the same original model and paints a complementary portrait identifying the particular features that would help the community at a much later date to put things back together. The fact that this is happening in the bible affirms the validity and benefit from seeing things at different angles for a clearer grasp of the truth.

So aside from needing to get new perspectives I feel that I am either bringing truth or stumbling through error. Feel free to read, agree, or disagree. For now Ive have enough self evaluation. Just to wrap up. I love the church. It has issues here and there, but I love the church. Whatever your creed or tribe I love to see the gathering of folks seeking Jesus ans seeking to bring him out into the world initiating a transformation that he completes. God Bless.

Categories: Authority, Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Culture, Doctrine, Faith, History, Modern, Modernism, Orthodox, Poetry, Post-Modern | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Everyone I know Needs to do CSBS

I grew up in the church. I’m glad I did. Though many Sunday’s I made the “Lords day” more like hell for my parents. I would have rather spent my Sunday mornings sleeping in until pregame started and then pure football all day.

Given some time with good influences, some within the church and most once a made a decision to go work with some wonderful people at a summer camp for a couple summers I found that the Christian life had strong merits. I’ve always been emotional about the gospel of Jesus. I cried at church from time to time as a child when we sang my favorite hymns.

logo_uofnEvery now and then my dad, the pastor, would give a sermon that really got me. And I would ask Jesus into my heart, again. I think I got saved at least 100 times as I was growing up. After summer camp I went to YWAM. I found out later lots of people feel that YWAM is a cult. Really its actually just an inter-denomination, multicultural, worldwide missions organization and its roots are actually in the Assembly of God Movement. But again, it is inter-denominational. I don’t have to speak in tongues if I don’t want. 🙂

It wasn’t until after my DTS that as I and my good friend Justin Lechner were preparing to head out to LA for the School of Ministry Development, that his mom, gently encouraged us to check out the CSBS now starting in LA. We actually said we would go look at it and we both felt strongly that we were to go for the Bible School instead.

I did not realize that I was about to make one of the best decisions of my life. I also did not realize how much I needed the story, (That’s what I may now refer to the school as).  I needed the beginning all the way to the end. I needed it in order too. And for the first time in 30 years of this school being run in YWAM it was going to be put in Chronological order.

I did not feel academic enough to start this fairly rigorous course. They said it was at least the equivalent to the study of a 2 year collage course crammed into nine months. They said, I would be graded, and that it was a school in which you could fail. Regardless, I was so ready to do this.

We began with the Gospel of the John; “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

How better to begin the story to find out that your central character God was incarnated in the Word and then later in flesh. So that you know that what you are engaging with is not a dry old book but the incarnated God later to be revealed in flesh.

Cliff Davis our school leader. A brave man who took on way too many teachings pushed us as students all throughout the OT, to look to Jesus without the name Jesus, to anticipate a messiah without injecting everything we think we know about him until you meet him afresh as a student. Though all of us Christians with his Holy Spirit in us guiding us through the school we entered the shoes of the Original Readers, the Original Audiences of the OT message. We became a little stiff-necked in the process. When we reached the book of Matthew we, along with the 1st Century original audience we wrestled with this new character who claimed he was from heaven, who spoke beautifully, and challenged the leaders of the synagogue, who was eventually crucified, and stories of a Resurrection began to spread. As students we had truly entered the ancient world of and allowed our thoughts to conform to theirs.

I needed to see the story unfold in a powerful way, and more than seeing, I needed to study it in context as if I was a part of the story. Because at the end it became clear to me. The story I worked hard to try to inject myself into really was a story that I was a part of. The crazy thing is that this is not just a story for the few who might like to engage in it as I have. It is ‘the’ story; That takes us back to the beginning. The ‘good news’ for all humanity needs to go back to the very beginning. So that all of humanity can be sure that this message is not just for certain people.CSBS Emblem

Crazy enough, the God who created all things began with a garden called Eden. Located in modern day Iraq. God created man and women. He began to create and co-create humanity with Adam and Eve. Two people capable of co-creation. All nations came from God, all nations came from those who he created. The narrative of Genesis 1-3 shows us that Gods purpose for humanity was pretty simple. Co-Create, and Co-nurture. Gods two jobs given to Adam and Eve where to create more people, and to have dominion over the things God created. In dominion is implied not what is often misunderstood about this word. That man can do whatever he wants because he has dominion. Rather he is to nurture, to understand, to value, and help make what God created even better. It is no wonder why man has grown to love science so much, why conservation groups are growing more popular. One of the primary roles of man is to care for nature. One of the other primary roles is creating other men and women. We tend to think of things with a naturalistic framework. That makes man and woman’s role in child making purely physical. But if you take a step back there is much more of a dimension to co-creating. God made man in his image. Part of the role in co-creation is following the example of God in parenting the child in order that they too learn to function as a caretaker of nature, and creator of life. Of course one last crucial element was that God had perhaps a third role of man. That was continued allegiance to God the ultimate creator. This is demonstrated in Gods warning not to eat of the “Tree of Knowledge of good and evil” for the day you eat of it death will come into the world.

This brings us the reality we are more familiar with. Death, murder, disasters, chaos, random chance. We know that Adam decided for all of humanity that death we be a normal part of our lives. From the time of Adam man has looked in hope to the idea of a resurrection. When one dies what will bring them back. Death though is a reality was not meant to be.

The reality we are familiar with may be such a strong reality it blinds us from the hope of a Resurrection, or simply from a full life. According to the story mans hope is not in vain. Nor does the story leave out this common hope. God is not silent as to this resurrection hope. Though death is the common reality that seemingly has nothing good to do with it. It is not all bad. For when a plant dies its seeds fall to the ground and produce more life. Death is a reminder that man has fallen. It is a reminder of the garden, and there is hope for a resurrection.

All this to say, the bible in Genesis is helping us to see who we all are, what we are to be doing that brings fulfillment, why certain things don’t fully fulfill any more, and what we are looking forward to. Man has always been faced with yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Every moment is fleeting. But there is always past, and always future. Knowing where we came from and what we can rightly look forward to can help us make decisions in every moment.

The power of this story is a reminder that human choices have a special power endowed by God for creation, nurturing, building up. That our choices are however are own, that we can choose not tear down, infect, and destroy. Morality or ethics.

The Story; Origins of All, Purpose of All, Morality of All, Destiny of All

The story touches on all of these things not just for those like me who feel like giving it some time. But this is the missing link for all peoples. No one single piece can bring your life into perfect harmony. But together knowing where you came from, where your fulfillment is found, what your responsibility is, and where it is all leading is what we all need.
Christian or Not. The bible has answers for what it means to be a whole person, and what it means to be a real Christian.

Categories: Bible, Church, Context, CSBS, Ethics, Faith, Genesis, New Testament, Old Testament, Origins, YWAM | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ancient Mythology as Valid as Modern Science

Ridiculous title huh? Maybe not. This post is for people who are seeking to study the scripture with a per-cursor of historical background. I’ve recently read an amazing couple of books and listened to a few of the online lectures done by Professor John H. Walton. He is currently professor of Old Testament at Wheaten College in Chicago.

I have taught the book of Genesis 3 times for our Chronological Bible School in YWAM Mexico. I have taught on Genesis numerous times in churches, small groups, and our Discipleship Training School in YWAM as well. But until this past September I had made a crucial mistake. As I always attempt to relay a good understanding of “Background” Ive often failed to communicate just how the entire Ancient Near Eastern World “Thinks”. You can get caught up in religious practices, politics, geography but nearly miss this important step. And that is to take the risk of grasping how the ancient people thought about life around them.

One major error has been to outright dismiss the ancient Egyptian mythology. That its utterly nonsense to think of the sky as a god, the earth as a god, and so on. Geb,_Nut,_ShuYou have strange pictures taken from archaeology that depict the Egyptians cosmology (Their understanding of everything around them). I typically would mock a few aspects of it and then going on to discribe the biblical narratives of Genesis 1-2 as so far advanced truth about the world we live in. Though I still believe it to be truth I dont have the same sharp contrast in my mind from Egyptian cosmology to the Israelite cosmology we have in scripture. Instead what exists is a wonderful comparison from which contrast can be drawn out. But it first begins with similarities. On the surface you will see far more similarities then differences.

That is not something to be afraid of. Similarities from Ancient Mythology and scripture does not need to dampen our inspirational view of scripture. It may illuminate it and help us understand better how God communicates to man.

The primary similarity that has effected my thinking is in that area of how the ancients view ‘existence’. For something to exist it needed to have a function. For something to have a function their must be a power behind it causing it always to function in the way that it functions. For the ancients there was no natural cause, no natural world, and everything was infused with deity. That’s what made it all work. Just as today it has become more common to say, “there is no God, no supernatural, no miraculous, because we understand the world around us in terms of natural cause everything happens naturally, or anonymously of a higher power or powers. But for the ancients this was not so, everything worked the way it did because their was something, someone, some powers behind it all. Their myths were not nonsense just to be dismissed but a valid way of thinking about the world they lived in.

God validated this way of thinking by communicating not in terms of the natural world but in the terms they were familiar with -terms of function. Genesis 1 then is not just a story of how the natural world came into being. This is how we modern readers interpret as we read. But how did the ancients read Genesis 1?

Ancient readers were able to see simply that not only did God create the physical world but the physical world truly has a specific order given to all things. Only in the Hebrew story there is not a dysfunctional family of gods behind all elements of the universe but One God. Genesis one does not merely capture the creation but that God was planning, structuring, and developing a function for each and all things to exist and have meaning. The Ancient audience would be thrilled to hear that purpose is clearly laid out for all creatures.

And that brings us to a sharp contrast that can be drawn. The ancient audience gets drawn in because Genesis one communicates perfectly to ancient minds and the climax of chapter one is this. That of all things created and given a purpose, the greatest purpose and responsibility is laid upon mankind. This is radically different from their view as former slaves to Egypt, and slaves to the Egyptian worldview. Humanity has been given a job to care for and have dominion over all creation. Man is to steward all God made. Previously man was trapped by his surroundings, a slave to his circumstances. Circumstances that have been brought on by the gods, they are in control and nothing escapes their control not even mans choice. Man is clearly given a choice by God in Genesis one. So man has a choice not controlled by God, and man has purpose given by God. Man can reject Gods purposes and this begins the downward fall into meaningless existence. The ancient Egyptians are on track to find meaning behind everything, they are seeking meaning for their own existence. This is good. This is why God wants to communicate to the ancient audience that what man is missing, a true existence. One that holds meaning, purpose, responsibility, and brings order to the world around them. A world that has fallen into chaos.

Modern Scientist have come back to belief in ultimate chaos. Unlike the ancients there understanding of chaos lead them to seek order. Modern despair leads to scientists who no longer seek order but observe chaos. There is no fight to find an order for human purpose and existence. They seek to better observe the human experience as chaotic and without meaning. Both since the fall have always been a reality for the human situation. But science is not the only approach to finding meaning for our lives. Science on its own is anonymous of God, which makes it anonymous of meaning. To seek what power is behind the natural world may not be scientific but it is still a valid way of understanding the world we live in.

Scripture is the wonderful avenue through which man is privileged to engage with the power behind everything.

9780830837045ancient-near-eastern-thought-and-the-old-testament

Categories: Ancient Near East, Bible, Church, Context, Cosmology, Egyptian Mythology, Genesis, History, Origins, Philosophy, Science, Society/Culture, Worldview | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.