Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hierarchy of Belief

What must one believe to be a Christian? Let me lay it out on a scale, from the most fundamental and necessary to the least. Only one who believes the entire scale can truly call him or herself a Bible-believing Christian, and I would add, truly a person of faith in the fullest sense of the word. Will people who believe less than the whole scale be saved? Yes, I do think that is possible, but they are weak in faith and limited in their growth into Christ.
  • Jesus rose from the dead
  • Jesus is the Son of God, God with us
  • Jesus is our leader, unquestioned, as is everything he taught and said
  • The Old Testament is true, every jot and tittle
  • Moses was an actual deliverer, the Exodus an actual migration
  • Noah was an actual person, the Flood an actual event
  • Adam and Eve were actual persons, the Creation Week an actual occurrence
What is generally concentrated on in discussions of Christian doctrine is the why's and how's (e.g. penal substitution, grace rather than works, etc.), but often at the cost of ignoring what is actually the foundation underlying everything. Christianity starts with an event--Jesus rising from the dead. If you buy the top of the list, the next three are logically consequent in turn, leading to the last three. One repercussion: a theistic evolutionist is not in any way, shape or form, a biblical Christian.

Friday, February 25, 2011

God Is No Will Rogers

I find that most people are likable. There are jerks out there, don't get me wrong, but I think they're the exception, not the rule. Not that everyone doesn't have his or her faults, they would be fiction rather than fact if that were the case. Regardless, I wouldn't want any harm to befall any of them, despite their faults.

It is easy to project that kind of Will Rogers outlook onto God, and think he feels similarly. I don't think he does, though: in fact, he hates the soul that sins. The earth shudders, 200,000 men, women and children vanish into eternity suddenly, ignorant of gospel--did God lift a mitigating finger? Not that I can tell. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, does he shed a tear for lost Indonesians, Haitians, Chinese, or Pashtuns?

Does God love the world? The Bible says he does, the sacrifice of Christ put forward as the ultimate evidence. Furthermore, the scriptures also say God wants the world to hear of his love in Christ, but what about the multitude of lost slipping into eternity without so much as ever hearing a word about Christ? Where is the love there?

To say that it is the church's responsibility does nothing to allay the problem; not anymore than a bartender who served the obviously impaired can say the blame for the roadside tragedy that ensued lies only with the drunk. What kind of God is it that would leave such a monumental task in the hands of the flawed, the failing, and the faith-challenged? It would be a bizarre kind of love indeed, if that were the case.

Calvinists at least have logical cover, and can slough off such questions by adjusting the meaning of words in the scriptures. God's love doesn't extend to the unelected anymore than does Christ's blood (as long as anyall, whole, and world do not really mean any, all, whole, and world, that is). That is a game that should not be played by those seeking truth.

Is it possible for man to be more magnanimous than God? No, it is impossible that any man can be more virtuous than God; it is also impossible that any man be more righteous. God knows what he's doing in balancing competing considerationsThose he foreknew, he has also predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. God may be no Will Rogers, but I don't think he can be less!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Purpose In Noah and Abraham

From Adam to Abraham, God's governance of man and time appears somewhat chaotic. Violence filled the earth, to which God responded by violently overturning the earth. God commanded the survivors to disperse and repopulate the earth. They refused and instead began planting the seeds of idolatry, to which God responded by overturning their ability to communicate and enforcing dispersal and tribalism upon them.

God apparently adopted silence thereafter until confronting a single pagan. God called upon him to drop all his relational ties (one's safety and security in that day), and travel hundreds of miles across the desert to a destination unknown. Abram believed what God said and acted upon it (eventually) and the covenant of relationship was established. Later, in perhaps the most significant event in Abraham's life, God's love was graphically illustrated and the blessing that would come to all the world presaged in the actions of a father and son.

How does one make sense of this human wasteland of violence and sin or God's reaction to it? At least the prediluvian sinners lost in the flood saw the promise of redemption eventually; the postdiluvian sinners do not appear to have fared so well. Why did God do what he did they way he did? Covenant or Dispensation can, at best, describe the scenerio; neither reasonably explicates it. Unraveling the knot, I think, is what this reveals about God's purpose:
  • The saved found grace in the eyes of the Lord, not merit, as they have always;
  • The blessed had to respond to God's promise by the obedience of faith until the end;
  • In God's eyes, love is demonstrated in the sacrifice of an only son;
  • Though specific historical events appear exclusionary, the ultimate aim of God's actions in history are inclusionary.
Though God cannot uphold sin or sinfulness, there is a loving compassion in the heart of God for humanity. Because of his grace, an intimate relationship with him that will last for eternity can be established now which begins and ends with faith. What can a human do in light of the purpose of God? Trust him, believe what he says, and to follow him into life.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Purpose in Relation to Adam

Genesis 1:26-3:15

Adam was not the ultimate picture of God's purpose. If he was, the promise of eternity would look like Eden: it does not. Adam, Eve, the first heavens and earth were but the beginning of the revelation in time of God's purpose. Everything from the beginning in time to its end moves toward that purpose.

Adam, untainted by sin, does, however, reveal something of God's purpose with man:
Adam, in failure, was the testing prototype and role model that taught us the lesson that trusting in God rather than our own wits, or the gossip of the Devil, is the way to life. That his failure was not the end was announced in God's curse upon the Serpent. Hope was birthed, now that he knew death, that if he ever had the opportunity at redemption, he'd go with God.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Purpose of God

When I contemplate the overarching theme of the Bible, and what might order its interpretation and theology into a cohesive framework, I do not find the concepts of covenant or dispensation very useful. To such an end, I find the concept of purpose (specifically, the purpose of God) a much better construct. Everything in scripture can be understood in its relation to God's purpose; everything in theology can be seen through this lens. The Bible is, according to this view, the revelation of the God of Purpose and how his purpose effects the past, present and future.

In regard to God's purpose, I do not think, generally, that mankind has had a grand enough vision. In my opinion, we tend to concentrate on God's transcendence in understanding such and bypass his associativeness (despite the well developed doctrine of the Trinity). The result has been, it seems to me, a reliance on form to define our relationship with God instead of the experience of relationship. When emphasis is placed on form, which is the very essence of covenant and the backbone of dispensation, distance from God is baked in the cake of our conception of our relationship with him. Jesus, in his high priestly prayer, revealed that he has something much more than that in mind for us.

I do not believe that Covenantalism or Dispensationalism adequately capture the overarching message of the Bible or provide a sufficient framework to order theology. Either misses that intimacy and faith color everything. Covenants establish relationship between two parties at arms length on the basis of boundaries for acceptable action by the participants. Dispensations seem scarcely different to me than a series of laboratory experiments performed on lab rats.

It is not that there are not aspects to either approach that recommend them to the student of God and his Word. Either, however, leaves the student who can't see past them dawdling, waxing cars for Mr. Miyagi, without a true apprehension of what is ultimately in the master's mind. From a practical standpoint, unregenerate sinners could never have confidence in their standing with God apart from a covenant, and prophesy is a muddle without seeing Israel in a dispensational sense. But God is aiming for more than sinners daring to come out from behind the bushes or for folks to get a history lesson from God's timeless perspective.

What, then, is the purpose of the covenant? Is it not merely an agreement with sinners that God will declare them righteous and make them new if they'll turn to him and put their trust in Christ? After one has come to that point then what? That is where covenant ceases and purpose must take over. It has never been God's purpose to leave sinners as sinners (but at least on friendly terms), and it certainly isn't his purpose to wait until the Rapture to get on with his purpose.

Covenant as the framework for understanding the overarching message of scripture falls short of the purpose of God. A covenant may give a sinner comfort, but God isn't aiming at sinners' comfort--his purpose is transformation. Dispensations are no better a framework: at best they are merely mile markers along the road of progress to God's purpose. God has made mankind to walk in eternal fellowship with him, a meeting of mind and spirit. That purpose is what gives all of the Word and theology cohesive structure.



Thursday, February 3, 2011

Islam as a Precursor to the Antichrist

An interesting quote from John of Damascus in Fount of Knowledge (c.a. 726 CE) [HT:Christianity Today]:
"There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist."
I do believe the Antichrist will be a nominal Muslim (at least when his career begins) and that Islam will be the precursor to his worldwide empire and religion. Perhaps the thought isn't all that new after all!