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God is Transforming the Larger Narrative of Our Lives

Mat 9:12-13  But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matt 9:12-13 should not be seen as just another discrete truth of scripture.  But rather this is a truth that summarizes much of the entire book or Matthew.  This verse is challenging the larger meta-narrative of how each of us interprets life and truth.  The definition of a meta-narrative is an overarching account or interpretation of events and circumstances that provides a pattern or structure for people’s beliefs and gives meaning to their experiences and understanding.

Every time we leave Church on Sunday and attempt to apply our Christian truths, we apply them into the larger narrative, or a lens of interpretation, in our lives.   In Matt 9:12-13, Jesus is challenging this narrative by saying the religious narrative of the Pharisees, sacrifice, is not the narrative Jesus wants.

Jesus challenges the Pharisees with the narrative of mercy.  Jesus words about these two narratives seems just as applicable today as it did in His day when Jesus was dealing with the Pharisees.  Tim Keller nuances out these two narratives in today’s culture by saying one narrative is “religion” and the other narrative is “Gospel”.    He goes on to say the difference between Gospel and religion is religion says if you obey, you are acceptable; but the Gospel message says you are accepted, therefore you obey.

Matt 9:12-13 summarizes much of the book of Matthew as Jesus discusses the Kingdom of Heaven and what a discipleship community of Christ followers should look like.  The issue, Jesus says, when we apply truth with the religious (sacrifice) narrative we often misuse or abuse God’s truth the same ways the Pharisees did.  This narrative breaks down and destroys relationships!  However, when we apply God’s truth with the mercy narrative, we draw people into a community of people that represent the Gospel and Jesus. The mercy narrative builds and strengthens our relationship with God as well as our relationships with each other.

 

The Gospel (the Good News) of Jesus Christ tells us…

We are more sinful and weak than we ever cared to admit AND…

We are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope.

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The Salvation Debate

A paper I wrote that is an interesting topic during my mMDIV at The Masters Instititute.

 

The debate as to why some people are saved and others is often referred to as the “crux theologorum” (the cross of the theologians) because of the difficulty of giving an answer that is satisfactory using human reason. It is an issue that has been a controversial topic by theologians for many centuries. Arminians answer these questions through the perspective of man’s “free will”; only those who are saved “choose” to be saved. Calvinists answer this question by pointing to God’s sovereign will: God himself “predestines” (ordains) from eternity some to be saved. Some Calvinists go even further and would say God also ordains the others to be damned – referred to as double predestination. Still others (i.e. LC-MS Lutherans) often stand in the middle and allow this question to remain a mystery in an attempt to allow the scriptures to stand on their own and believe this question is impossible to answer using human reason and logic .

 
Before getting into the minutia of the differences between the various sides that represent the salvation debate, it is important to understand what attributes of God each side believes is non-negotiable. Without understanding the non-negotiables, it is impossible to fully understand the various viewpoints. Understanding the central attribute that each side holds about God allows us to fully empathize with viewpoints that are different than our own. For the Calvinist, the attributes of God that surround His sovereignty are the most important. One of the things they may say is “God is working things out” in His sovereignty for the elect. Sovereignty has a romantic compassion and care in this case. For the Arminian the central attribute that most fully represents God’s beauty is God’s love and the idea of God ordaining people to Hell or taking away choices takes on an anti-love characteristic to them. The love of God represents the great beauty of God and is THE attribute that draws people to Him. For the LC-MS Lutheran, the grace of God represents the greatest love of all. This represents God sovereignly “doing the work” to save man and represents the greatest blessing of all from God – Jesus Christ.
The Calvinistic view uses a 5-point TULIP acrostic that stands for the following: Total Depravity, Unconditional election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Total Depravity means humans are so inflicted by sin (dead in sin) that we cannot respond on our own to God . Unconditional election means that out of sheer mercy and grace God elects some individuals for salvation . Limited Atonement means Christ died only for the elect (4-point Calvinists drop this point) . Irresistible grace means the elect cannot resist God’s grace and calling for salvation . Perseverance of the Saints means the elect can never lose their salvation .

 
The Arminian view represents parallel but different points: total depravity weakened by grace, conditional or corporate election, unlimited atonement, resistible grace, and conditional security (4-point Arminians drop this point). Total depravity weakened by grace means humans are in bondage to sin but God gives “prevenient grace” (just enough grace to make a choice) so humans can respond to His offer of salvation . Election has two possible views in the Arminian view. Conditional election means God savingly elects those individuals that He foreknows will freely accept Him . Corporate election means “in Christ”, God unconditionally elects a saved community (the Church (NT) or Israel (OT)) and conditionally invites all humans to join their mission . Unlimited atonement means Christ died for the salvation of all people . Resistible grace means humans can resist God’s saving grace . Conditional security means God never abandons a believer, but it is possible for a believer to reject God and lose salvation.

 
Paul Eddy showed that for most of history many of John Calvin’s theological ancestors (pre and post Augustine) believed God’s will was compatible with freewill. This is called compatibilism. They see God’s sovereignty and freewill as mysteriously working together. However, some theologians pushed Augustine’s view of God’s providence so far that they denied that humans are free to choose. John Calvin came along in the 1500’s and strongly emphasized that God controls all things, including who will or will not be saved. Jacob Arminius argued that Calvin’s definition of providence is incompatible with human freedom and undermines the biblical teaching that God wants everyone to be saved. This view of Arminianism is called incompatibilism and asserts that human freedom is not compatible with God’s control. It is easy to see how the debate on God’s providence and free will is closely connected to the debate about salvation.
Dr. Eddy dug deeper into the history and origins of Calvinistic thought and language in the lectures. Augustine (~300AD) originally defended libertine freewill (or at least had no reason to believe libertine free will was wrong) until a debate with Fortunatas. Fortunatas was a Manichean – a group considered heretical and outside the realm of Christian thought and theology. Following the debate Augustine then plunged himself into scripture and a few years later came up with a more “focused” theology around God’s providence and sovereignty. Augustine also was a compatibilist and believed that freewill is compatible with God’s sovereignty. That view was the dominant view by the church until Jonathon Edwards (~1750AD). Jonathon Edwards thought the belief that freewill and God’s sovereignty was compatible was a bit of a cop out. Some vessels are made for God’s glory and others are made to show God’s wrath would be the scriptural basis for this thought. Out of Jonathon Edwards thought came a “stricter” view of God’s sovereignty often called the “theology of glory” that is held by many Calvinists today. This view believes God is sovereign over all creation, even for evil, as a way of showing His glory. If pressed, this group would state that God is responsible (either directly or indirectly) for every disease, Hitler and the holocaust, as well as every rape because it would ultimately demonstrate His Glory. Today, this “theology of glory” view of Jonathon Edwards continues to be promoted by well-known theologians like John Piper.

 

As I stated earlier, in order to fully understand each side it is important to understand what characteristics of God each side holds most dearly. For the Arminian this discussion is not about freewill, but rather it is about God’s love. In order for love to be true it must be chosen freely. Therefore, denying freewill is denying a central characteristic of God – His love. For the Calvinist, the attributes surrounding God’s sovereignty and control are the attributes that they hold most dearly. As for me, I believe it is important to be true to scripture and the language of the first century church as much as possible. This may mean playing the mystery card early and often in today’s world. As I read the book and listened to the lectures, I envisioned the barrel of monkeys game. The first century church was the first monkey in long link of monkeys. As church history went on we kept adding a second monkey, a third monkey, etc. However, the language of the last monkey does not completely represent the language of the first monkey. For the theology of glory Calvinists there seems to be an overdeveloped “language of sovereignty” that does not represent the language of the first century church – the first monkey. Paul Eddy’s deconstruction of history clearly showed evidence to this effect as theologians kept adding new “language” (a new monkey) on top of the previous centuries theologian regarding God’s sovereignty. On the Arminian side there was a similar barrel of monkeys that was different in that it used significant doses of human logic and religious philosophy in order to hang on to their central view that God is love. The chain of monkeys continues in things like the Synod of Dordt and every heated debate where they must further refine language to “win” the theological discussion.
In a sermon by Bill Bohline at Hosanna! Church, he once gave a reason for not allowing Rob Bell’s book Love Wins into the Hosanna bookstore. He said some theologians are in love with love. To this day, I also remember Dr. Kyle Fever’s Synoptic Gospel class where he discussed John 3:16 and said that love was not a squishy, “big hug” love but rather God loved us “in this way” and that the word love was not used in the ways the church used the word love. This is all to say that, like the Calvinistic language that seems to have overdeveloped language regarding Gods sovereignty and a difference in tone and language than first century church, the Arminians also have an overdeveloped language about God’s love that seems different in tone and language than the first century Church used in scripture.
As for me, with my Lutheran hermeneutic, I guess I am either a Calminian or an Arminist. My desire is to use language that represents the language of the first century and to continue to be aware of when my language is becoming overdeveloped due to too much theological or philosophical thought. The mystery card is always ready and available in my hand where I can just rest on scripture and not feel the need to defend theological mystery.

 
Approach to Theology and Ministry
Many years ago my LC-MS Pastor did a study on denominational differences and we studied the Calvinistic TULIP model and discussed where the various denominations and Lutheranism fell on each point. The study actually led me into a multi-year thought process regarding this topic where I tried to understand the various sides. The side most foreign to me was the Arminian side so I made a decision to read several of Greg Boyd’s books. I also made a decision to read Greg Boyd as if he was true as opposed to reading Greg Boyd to prove he was wrong. This led me to great respect for this central viewpoint on the idea that “God is love.” I also started reading John Pipers books and gave him many chances to prove his points. In the end, I was unable to finish his book Desiring God because I felt that the language he used could have been said the same way but in a more gospel-centric way. The language seemed to overdevelop the concept of God’s sovereignty in comparison to the language that I saw in scripture. I sometimes refer to this as language that has been “over baked” from far too much theological thought and debate. However, I gained much respect for God’s sovereignty and Calvinistic thought as well as Arminian thought during this process. I must admit that I have some concerns over the extremes of “Edwardian” Calvinism and the theology of glory of John Pipers.

 

However, I also have concerns over the overdeveloped theology of love and Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. I believe God’s truth stands mysteriously in the middle somewhere.
For this reason, this course on the various evangelical issues has reaffirmed my desire to do my best to stay true to the language of the first century church and the language of the synoptic gospels and Jesus Christ. I have listened to many sermons where the theological language seems “stretched” or out of proportion to the language that I see in scripture. I want to avoid these “stretches” in my personal Pastoral language. However, I do feel like I can move into a discussion about freewill when the problem of evil comes up. I can also move into a discussion about God’s sovereignty and a belief that God has a purpose in our pain. I also don’t believe I have to use too much theological or philosophical logic to support my theological understanding. Rather, I can point to God being a mystery and not always giving us all the answers.
This course has also given me empathy toward other views and an understanding that these theological issues are not issues that need to create division between Christians. We can have different opinions or theological differences, but these are not central dogma issues.

 
I did realize when listening to the lectures and reading the material that John Piper and the theology of glory Calvinists use theological language that “triggers” me the most when I listen to them. The lectures and readings have given me empathy even into the more extreme Calvinistic theology as to how their language developed. I have come to realize that if I was brought up in a Church that belonged to John Piper that I might agree with the theology of glory’s overdeveloped language about God’s sovereignty. Personal experience and church history shapes the lens in which we view the world and God. This is important for me since Minnesota and the Twin Cities are “theology of glory” central and I have already come across many Christians that see John Piper as being the “highest Christian truth.” Pastorally, I must always represent the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus even to the Christians and Churches that use language that triggers me.

 
The largest take away for me is that I desire to have my theological “language” shaped first by scripture, second by the first century church, and lastly by the barrel of monkeys where theologians add new theological language on top of last centuries theologians.

Truth — What is it? Thoughts for the Political Anxious Christian

We Don’t Recognize Our Own Spin

In recent years I have taken some Masters Courses in Divinity.  Part of the program is one of classroom content on various evangelical and Christian topics.  The other part is scripture practicum (SP).  SP is a study  into exegesis.  Exegesis is the process of taking a critical look at scripture to understand Gods truth.  One of the things I remember in SP was that before we apply Gods truth in the the hear and now  we must first understand the then and there.  First, then and there… then, here and now.  In other words before applying scripture today we should understand the biblical text through the eyes of the original author before we apply or misapply Gods truth today.

The second thing I remember from SP was that total objectivity of truth is a myth!  I remember these words very well!  In other words  all of us bring our biases and filters into our interpretation of scripture and the world everyday.  If we do not understand our own biases and filters we may never see truth in it’s fullness.  If we had an emotionally  difficult day we WILL interpret Gods truth differently than if we had a good day.  If we have experience Y in our background we will interpret things differently than if we had X in in our background.  No matter how hard we try or how much time we spend reading scripture,  we will always have a slant and a bias as we interpret truth!  The question is are you aware of your own biases and filters so you can … at times … put them down and let the “real” truth  stand on its own!  Exegesis is a arduous and difficult process since our lenses have often become “rigid” when we interpret and study God’s truth.

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A Multi Part Series about Faith (and politics)

Due to many of the concerns  of mine and many human behaviors I have observed over the last 10 -15 years in the evangelical and political world I felt a multi-part, complex blog discussion was in order.   Yes you heard me right … this topic is going to be about both faith and politics.     Primarily I hope it is concerned with how faith and politics intersect and how the current  social landscape does not reflect the Jesus that I see in scripture.  My prayer and hope is that this topic speaks especially to evangelicals in the political world so that WE can be effective in His Kingdom to go out and make disciples of all nations.

And even though I do have my own biases, I want to keep those to a minimum in this discussion.  My hope is that like any good Gospel and Jesus centric sermon would do ….. that this discussion will convict both the perpetrator as much as the victim, the democrat as much as the republican, the liberal as much as the conservative, and the elder brother as much as the younger brother.  My prayer is that I can mostly put down my own biases and skews in life and talk to all sides and all people. In the end I hope you can hear the Good News about Jesus — that He died while we were still sinners so we can have TRUE FREEDOM!

This series starts with one basic premise I see that has reached an epidemic high in the current social and political landscape.    That our current culture embraces shame and criticism of others as a primary social tool to win.  Shame, I contend, since the fall in the garden is the primary tool that the serpent used to bend Adam and Eve toward sin.  And it is the primary tool that evil continues to use to keep entire cultures of people in isolation and propagating sin!  Todays social and political landscape continues to use shame as a tool to get on “top” of the other side. Also, this seems to be just as true in the Christian world as it is outside the Christian world.  It is just as true of democratic elites as is the republican elites, just as true of the political right as it is of the left.

Shame wants you to believe  it only shows up in big and grand ways.  However, it normally shows up in a persons face, subtle glances, and body language. It shows up in covert ways in our facebook posts and tweets.  Since we know as Christians it not right to be shameful people we submerge our shaming tactics into passive aggressive tendencies.  It shows up in a glance of disapproval and our  body language as much as our words when talking to a person we disagree with.  Shaming tactics are ubiquitous.  They are so engrained in our culture that we no longer see our tactics as shame.  We are not even aware of these shaming tactics.  We just see them as being right.  And in the Christian world many are in denial that our use of “truth”  often does not reflect both the position and posture of Jesus Christ toward a sinful world.  It does not reflect the Jesus that I see and read about in scripture!

This topic will have the following parts to it.  As I complete each part I will provide hypertext links to each part in this BLOG.

  1.  Truth — What is it?
  2. Genesis – Our Starting Point of Truth
  3. Gods Plan — Relationship and Community
  4. Establishing the moral vision of the New Testament and Jesus
  5. True Freedom — What does it look like?
  6. Application for Today

 

The Moral Vision of the New Testament

Its been  a while since I posted last.  However, there have been many deep thoughts I have had during the last election — and probably for many years before that.  As I pondered the Facebook and Twitter sphere and the attitudes that each side has toward each other, I believe that the moral vision of the new testament has been lost in today’s religious and evangelical world.   I consider myself an evangelical, but it seems to me the position and posture of Jesus has been lost today.

A few words I have seen used a lot in many evangelical Facebook  and twitter posts are the words integrity, morality, and truth.  However, as you read the posts you will notice that the words are used always used in a comparative (and often condemnational) stance.  They are comparing themselves to a group they consider not moral, not having integrity, and not being in the truth.  As you continue to read down the posts and the comments the language degrades further into more comparatives and more condemnation toward the other group.  I have seen many times references to the idea of “winning with truth”.

I need to say that I do hope we are moral, people of integrity, and that God’s truth comes out and prevails.  However, in terms of truth…  Jesus said “He” is the truth.  I have never seen Jesus use the idea of “winning with truth” in scripture.  Jesus always had compassion toward others sinners and other groups and loved them.

Today we often use the words truth, integrity, and morality as a language that makes us feel powerful over others.  We feel a sense of power over other people and other groups when we use this language.  We feel like we are “winning” when we use this language and hang out with others that reinforce this language along side us.  Our idea of truth can be a very powerful and abusive weapon toward other people and groups we may not agree with. IF we are not aware of our own sinful tendencies truth can be very powerful and abusive.

The moral vision of the New Testament is completely lost when our language of truth does not have a grace and mercy narrative toward others.   Speaking the truth in love is such and easy phrase to say but yet difficult to do unless we can clearly see the moral vision of the New Testament and actually start behaving like a gospel-centric community should behave.

I read recently read a re-tweet about how we must stand up for truth and not be politically correct.  The comments that followed almost made me sick as they degraded into condemnation and criticism.  As I read scripture, especially Paul, I see a lot rhetorical sophistication and political correctness when discussing many hot topics of the first century church.  For example the book of Philemon, shows Paul navigating the difficult topic of slavery in the first century church.  Paul knew exactly how to exhort and challenge Philemon to “do the right thing”.  Paul’s rhetorical sophistication navigated the culturally hot topic of slavery in just the right way.  Grace, mercy, and truth.

Today’s evangelical world, especially when it comes to politics, has lost the moral vision of the New Testament and the vision Paul showed in Philemon in my opinion.  We often do not show both the position and posture of Jesus in politics!!!

I encourage you to consider that much of the the nuance and balance that is in scripture has been lost today.  We lose the real vision of Jesus as we interpret scripture with brood strokes and over simplify God’s truth.  We have lost the moral vision of the new testament as we attempt to “win” our arguments.  Often, scripture does have rhetorical sophistication and often there is political correctness that strives to show mercy, grace, and truth.  As we strive to have both the position and posture of Jesus a new dynamic of truth will become evident.  A dynamic that does not just attempt to “win”, but rather a dynamic the restores all people and all creation back to God’s original design in the garden.

— post not complete, to be continued and adjusted later on

Without the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ …

Without the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ God’s law becomes unproductive!

Without the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ God’s law becomes behavior modification!