Who Is God But The LORD?


Idols were everywhere when David wrote these words from Psalm 18:

As for God, His way is blameless;
The word of the LORD is tried;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
For who is God, but the LORD?
And who is a rock, except our God,
The God who girds me with strength
And makes my way blameless?
He makes my feet like hinds’ feet,
And sets me upon my high places.

Idols are everywhere today, too, but they come in different guises. Mostly what Americans worship today is the human spirit or human ingenuity or strength within or however it’s phrased. In short, many worship human ability. Consequently, the thinking goes, humans are right to judge God for heinous things like killing off the people in Noah’s day. He should have told the people Himself that a flood was coming. He should have had Noah build a bigger boat. He should have kept the door open so that all the people who came to the realization that this flood business was serious, could get on board. In other words, God, not the people who turned away from Him was at fault for all those deaths.

Because after all a) ignoring God is not a capital offense; and b) everyone deserves a second chance.

So ironic. Ever since Adam sinned, all humans, all life, was under a death sentence. By ignoring God, those people were ignoring the one chance they had for safety. They were turning their backs on the only refuge in the storm that could save them.

And a second chance? They had all those years that Noah was building, building, preaching, and building. They undoubtedly had more chances then a second or a third. The thing about saying no to God—you forget how to say yes. I heard Christopher Hitchens in a debate once and read an interview with him shortly before he died. He clearly stated that he had no intention of making a deathbed conversion, that he didn’t want to spend eternity with a God who would always call the shots.

His view of God was so thoroughly different from David’s.

I find that to be true today. People who believe in God see Him through the lens of His revelation; people who do not believe in Him see Him through the lens that Satan passed on to Eve. Basically the deceiver told her that God wanted to keep all the good things for Himself. He didn’t want her to enjoy the wonderful tasting and pleasant to look upon fruit. More than that, He didn’t want her to have the capacity to judge good and evil, because then she and Adam would be like God. And above all, God didn’t want to share His throne, His glory.

What Satan missed was that no one can share in God’s sovereignty, for the simple reason that no one but God is sovereign. So I can get on the throne and I can claim glory for myself, but that does not make me sovereign.

Because who is God but the LORD?

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Morality In Fiction


Reading_Jane_EyreIn response to “Fiction Isn’t Lying”, a number of people, here and at Facebook, said they had experience with people who thought of fiction as a form of lying. Once again I was shocked. The thrust of the article, however, dealt with the Christian’s responsibility to speak truthfully about God in our fiction.

I’ll say again, Christians do not have to speak about God, directly or indirectly, but should we choose to do so, we have an imperative to be truthful. But “truthful” doesn’t mean we must tell all about God. First, it’s not possible to do so, and second, so much theology would overwhelm the story so that it would cease being a story.

I’m convinced that many readers and writers alike stumble over theology in stories because they confuse it with moral teaching. Two years ago I wrote a short series about that issue, and I’m re-posting the concluding article which sums up more completely than the final paragraph in yesterday’s article, what I believe about morality versus theology in fiction. Here is that article:

– – – – –

In my recent brief series, Theology Versus Morality, (Parts 1, 2, and 3), I essentially took a stand for theology in Christian fiction while calling into question the validity of judging a novel by its morality. For example, in part 2 I said,

I tend to think too many Christians put the cart of morality before the horse of theology. In fact we advocate certain behavior without the foundational belief system that can rightly shape a person’s actions.

Later I added

When it comes to fiction, I think there’s a segment of Christian readers who want their brand of morality mirrored in the stories they read. In fact, for some, the morality might be more important than the theology.

I think that position is bad for fiction and bad for Christianity.

Does that mean that morality has no place in fiction? Should we write the story of adultery with nothing but a suggestion that a way of escape exists? That would be truthful to the way the world is and truthful to theology.

But is it sufficient for the needs of society?

I look at western society, and I see a growing cesspool of immorality. We have TV programs with titles like Scandal and Revenge and Betrayal. Others focus on the criminal mind and blood splatters and entries wound, with the intent to show the process of catching those who perpetrate psychotic and cruel behavior.

We have TV news magazines discussing yet another school shooting, one many people forget because “only” three children died.

Last night’s news carried stories of an old man struck down with intent by a hit-and-run driver in a gas station as he walked toward the office to pay for his gas and of a twelve-year-old and his mother living next door to a state senator (i.e., not your usual violent-crime neighbor) who were bound and gagged while a crew of four robbed their home on a Sunday afternoon.

Further, an NBA athlete was celebrated this week as the first openly gay player in any of the four major sports in the US.

Then on Facebook today, one topic of discussion revolves around an article about the growing advocacy for “polyamory” especially by the media. Clearly, if marriage is no longer allowed to be defined as a relationship between a man and a woman, why should it be limited to a single person with another single person, instead of multiples?

There’s more, from the LGBT community successfully advocating here in SoCal for children to pick the bathroom, locker room, gender sports team, based on how they feel, not on their biology, to the new idea for losing weight based on Yoga meditation and fasting during certain phases of the moon.

The muck and mire of the world is thick and growing thicker.

So do Christian novelists simply tag along, showing society as it is, without addressing morality in our stories? Do we write to the edge, and when the edge shifts further from us, scurry along behind in an effort to catch up? Quite honestly, I think that description fits too much Christian fiction.

Many of the strictures that writers complained about are gone. Christian fiction has characters that are divorced, have affairs, drink, see ghosts, see demons—all things that once were considered taboo. But as general market fiction played at the edges, Christian writers begged to be allowed the same latitude.

The problem, as I see it, is that this move toward a reversal of moral constriction is built on the same error as that which established the legalistic mores in the first place—theology does not undergird the view of morality.

Prager-ZachariasInterestingly, apologist Ravi Zacharias, in a discussion Saturday with radio personality Dennis Prager, identified three levels in which philosophy is passed on: (1) argumentation—reason; (2) art—the imagination; (3) “kitchen table conversation”—the daily statements of belief. To influence society, then, Zacharias says we must argue from reason, illustrate in our art, and live out our beliefs. The problem he says, is that we try to do number three without number one and number two.

Exacerbating the problem, I believe is something G. K. Chesterton identified:

Nothing sublimely artistic has ever arisen out of mere art … There must always be a rich moral soil for any artistic growth.

So if society has lost its “rich moral soil,” how is art to illustrate the theology (philosophy) that underpins our beliefs?

In other words, we are in a downward spiral—a morally vacuous society that cannot produce art which will show us how to live morally.

There but for the grace of God are we all.

But God does give a greater grace. He is “opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble,” Scripture says.

So, what if Christian novelists determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified? What if we painted theology into every corner of our art—and won awards doing so? What if we stopped fighting to get cuss words into our stories or stopped counting the number of times the characters say golly or disobey their parents, and started writing to show what God is like, to show His Son, to the best of our ability? What if we gave stories that illustrated the power of forgiveness or love for an enemy, neighbor, or stranger, or for God? What if our stories show what we say we believe?

Wouldn’t that be a step in the process of influencing our society to get out of the morass we are making?

Two Sides To Every Argument


football line of scrimmageArguments have two sides (possibly more), or they wouldn’t be arguments. The thing about two sides (unless you’re talking about two sides to a coin or something analogous) is that they can’t both be right.

We understand this in competition. Two football teams battle it out in the Super Bowl, and only one will be crowned champion at the end of the game. Two speed skaters compete in the Olympics, and they won’t both win the gold medal. (In that instance, with numerous competitors, not all who made the finals will even end up on the medal stand).

Why, then, with the love of sports so high, seemingly worldwide, is it so hard to grasp the concept that competing philosophies can’t both be right?

I look at my life, for example, and marvel at God’s goodness and grace that brought me to a place of belief in Jesus and His work at the cross that reconciled me to my Creator. An atheist undoubtedly would look at my life and say that cultural influences have convinced me of a theist myth, and I’m merely showing my ignorance to hold to it despite the void of scientific proof for God’s existence.

Two sides—God is good and gracious; or culture is determinative, and I am ignorant.

The two are mutually exclusive. Did God choose my cultural influences as part of His plan for me, or did my culture superstitiously manufacture God to explain the unknown, and I am refusing to graduate to the modern (or post-modern) era?

I see the truth and the atheist is blind, or the atheist sees the truth and I am in the dark.

I see the light and the atheist is a fool (the fool has said in his heart, there is no God); or the atheist is insightful, and I am unenlightened.

Who’s to say?

I submit there is only One who knows for sure. God, who transcends the universe, is the only one in position to reveal Himself to Mankind. So did He?

The Bible says so. He chose a people group to show the nations what He was like, sent prophets with messages about His purpose and plans, sent His Son to the earth in the form of a Man, gave His inspired written revelation, put His Holy Spirit into the hearts of those who are reconciled to Him. Does any other religion present such an unrelenting God, willing to go to such extents to reveal Himself to Mankind?

Despite all God has done, however, people today still demand a sign. If God would only make it clearer, if He’d only show Himself.

I wonder why these people think they would believe a new sign if they haven’t believed the ones they already have.

But here’s the point. Western society has adopted a postmodern outlook that elevates tolerance and praises the absence of absolutes—except, of course, for the absolute that says, you must tolerate all and exclude none.

Consequently, Kim Davis, Rowan’s County Clerk, is viewed, not as a person who wants to exercise her religious freedom but as a person who hates. She doesn’t actually have a belief that is contrary to the belief of those who applaud same-sex marriage. Rather, she is intolerant because she wants to exclude a group of people. Such a desire to exclude can’t possibly come from any other reason than hate because in the narrative spun by postmodern philosophy, there are only two positions: tolerance and hate.

Yes, the tolerance-rules faction of society still views arguments as having two sides, though of course they frame the two sides according to their value system.

Some, of course, try to get around this logical conclusion: two opposing ideas can’t both be right.

A seminary professor at a nearby school of theology, who will not be receiving tenure and is therefore leaving, is disappointed that his statements about Jesus “as an idealized human figure” are not sufficient for the school which wants him to articulate that He is also divine.

This professor also came up against another fundamental contrasting position. It seems the school felt “One had to like the idea that we define Christianity by what we believe.”

The topic which brought the differences between the school and this professor to a head was none other than same-sex marriage. He goes on to say that the point of divide was the way he and the school defined integrity:

Integrity is crucial for both of us. I define integrity as being true to the historical critical scholarship and bringing that into theological dialogue with the church. They define integrity as being true to the “Grand Tradition of the Church” and allowing that to guide what we see in and say about history.

You might wonder where the Bible is in all this. The professor makes it clear that from the beginning of his time at the school, the idea of inerrancy was nothing but a shibboleth, a long-standing belief regarded as outmoded and no longer important.

So without an authoritative guide, he concludes, “These are different ways of measuring integrity. Neither is right or wrong. . . Most of all, I am disappointed that we cannot hold these differences in creative tension.”

A truly postmodern view—we should be able to disagree, one thinking same-sex marriage is not consistent with Christianity and the other thinking it is consistent with Christianity, but by holding our views in creative tension, we should continue teaching theology together.

It’s like saying, we’ll hold black and white in creative tension. We’ll hold life and death in creative tension. We’ll hold wet and dry in creative tension.

Because, horrors, we can’t actually say one position is right and the other wrong. To do so would be to express an intolerance, to frame truth as exclusive. I have to say, the man is consistent.

But he ignores the fact that God exists or does not exist, that the Bible is true or is not true, that Jesus Christ came in the flesh or did not come, that He saves sinners or does not save sinners. Diametrically opposed positions really don’t have any creative tension that can hold them together. Two contradictory positions can’t both be right.

Using The Bible Instead Of Believing It


Front_door_(2135742023)

“Sarah, what are you doing?” Carmen stared at her friend as if she were looking at an ET look-alike.

Sarah slid into the front seat of her SUV. “I thought you said you wanted to go to the beach?”

“I do, but you forgot to lock your door. That’s not like you.”

“It is now. I found this cool Bible verse in 2 Timothy that says, ‘He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him.’ I’ve entrusted my house to Him, and this verse promises He will guard it, so I don’t have to lock up any more.”

That little fictitious scenario is an illustration of what I call “using the Bible.” In some cases, there is a grain of truth. God certainly can guard and protect our stuff, for instance. But the particular verse this character quoted has nothing whatsoever to do with God keeping thieves from stealing a TV.

A friend of mine related another fictitious tale, used most often to steer people toward Bible study rather than Bible pick-and-choosing:

A young man decided his life was aimless. He needed help knowing what he should do, so he turned to the Bible. He decided that he’d fan the Bible open and point to a verse. This then would become his life verse. Turning his head, he released a good two-thirds of the pages and stabbed a finger onto the open page. “And Judas hanged himself,” the verse read. The young man gulped. There had to be some mistake. What could God possibly be saying to him? He decided to try again. Once more he closed the Bible, released pages, and pointed to a verse. This time he read, “Go and do thou likewise.”

So what am I saying with these illustrations? Simply this: not only is it possible, but some people actually do, take verses out of context and make them say something other than their clear meaning.

The key here is taking the verses out of context, for surely Sarah correctly quoted a part of 2 Tim. 1:12. Those words alone do say that God will guard what I entrust to Him. However, the context—the rest of the verse, chapter, book, and BOOK, show that God is promising something about our souls and for eternity, not our stuff for the here and now.

Notice, the context of a scripture is the book of the Bible in which it is found but also the Bible itself. The latter is the greater context, the totality of which gives meaning to individual verses, even those that are in apparent contradiction with each other.

2 Timothy indicates that false teaching—the result of taking Scripture out of context and ignoring parts of the Bible—will only increase:

But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them; and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
– 2 Timothy 3:13-17 (NASB)

And here I am, quoting verses of Scripture to prove a point. Is this not the very “using” of the Bible I decried above?

Understand, I was not saying a person can’t extrapolate principles from the Bible and apply that propositional truth to daily life. But there are some guidelines in so doing:

    1) The principle should not contradict any clear statement of Scripture.

For example, if some man took the principle, I can do all things through Christ, and used it to justify sleeping with a married woman, he would violate a clear Scriptural injunction.

    2) The principle should be an outgrowth of what the original intended.

This is where things get sticky, I think. How can we know the original intent? Only by studying the context. First the context of the book itself. Who was the author, why was he writing, what was he saying? Although the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture, this did not happen in a vacuum, but in a specific place and in a particular period of time. The words had meaning to the person who wrote them and to the original target audience. It is that meaning that creates a backdrop of understanding by which we may make present-day application.

    3) The principle should not become an exclusive doctrine if scriptures also exist that point to a paradoxical principle.

Here’s where a lot of denominational differences have been created. One denomination finds verses about Topic X that seem to indicate Doctrine A should guide our beliefs. Another denomination finds verses about Topic X that seem to indicate Doctrine B, in opposition to Doctrine A. Which denomination is right? Are some of the verses to be ignored or explained away?
Is the Bible contradictory?

If the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is to be believed as inspired by God, then even the apparently contradictory parts are there for a reason. I reject the either/or arguments and adopt a both/and approach. God put both positions in the Bible, to the point that scholars steeped in the Word can make credible cases for opposing views. I conclude, God is saying both things, though they appear to be contradictory.

This may appear to be illogical, but I don’t think it is, not if we remember who God is. He is three, but one. Came to earth as a man though he did not cease to be God. Is merciful AND just. You get the picture. Not only does paradox exist in God, but He transcends our limitations. If I know Him to be so, then I don’t have to tie up Scripture in a neat doctrinal bow at the expense of some of what He has to say.

Now don’t misunderstand. I think there are doctrines that are clear, without any contradiction, the chief being who Jesus is and why He came and what He accomplished. Those clear statements are the ones that define being a Christian.

The others—the ones that seem paradoxical—still need to be believed. It is in dismissing the ones we don’t like or that clash with others we believe that creates problems. If nothing else, it divides Christians.

This post is a combination of two articles that first appeared here in April 2007.

Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 6:29 pm  Comments Off on Using The Bible Instead Of Believing It  
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Discernment 101 Revisited


About the time you think it’s safe to return to the water, it isn’t. So, too, with reading and going to movies and watching TV. Well, pretty much everything related to culture. Western society has largely spurned its Christian underpinnings, requiring those of us who still cling to the Solid Rock to think carefully about what our minds dwell on lest we also get washed away at sea.

Mormonism is one example of this need. Are they a cult or are they Christian? Another is the murky theology of those who are “progressives” or who identify as “emergent.”

A year and a half ago we had the over-hyped discourse Love Wins by Rob Bell with its ideas that there is no hell and all will eventually make their way into God’s presence in the after life.

Before that we had Paul Young’s controversial, rambling theological discourse disguised as fiction, The Shack, which, among other things, cast aspersions on the Bible and suggested universalism.

Now we’re at the threshold of another similar “story,” complete with media hype. Mr. Young has just released Cross Roads and has begun a book tour, complete with book signings, an appearance on The Today Show, and an interview with People magazine.

Have I read this book or know its theological content? I don’t.

I’m also not aware that Mr. Young has re-examined or changed any of his erroneous beliefs peppered throughout The Shack. Consequently, when we see a book on the horizon that may contain ideas contrary to Scripture (most books) and yet purports to be Christian, we as Bible believing followers of Jesus Christ need to keep in mind some basic principles of discernment.

  • The Bible is the ultimate authority of what is True. We need to examine the things we read and hear and see to determine if they are so or if they come from someone’s fabrication of God and His way.
  • Because someone is friendly and encouraging or is a good speaker or is entertaining or . . . ad infinitum, does not increase the likelihood that they are telling the truth.
  • That someone claims Christ is no guarantee their story will reflect Christ truthfully.
  • Christians are admonished to test the spirits to see if these things are so.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

  • False teaching abounds which should make Christians more alert, not more reclusive.
  • Legalism is not the same thing as discernment.

What are your thoughts about discernment? What else should be included in a list of basic principles to keep in mind if we are to be discerning about our culture?

You might also want to read the first “Discernment 101” post written three years ago.

Demons Have Good Theology


There were many interesting things I could have talked about in connection to The Telling by Mike Duran, this week’s CSFF Blog Tour feature. One of the elements is the portrayal of evil spirits. Interestingly, evil spirits–demons–held a prominent place in Sunday’s sermon by Pastor Mike Erre.

Well, “prominent” might be stretching things. But Pastor Mike showed us an important truth: demons have good theology.

Lots of people rubbing shoulders with Jesus were confused about who He was. John the Baptist boldly declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God only to later send messengers to Jesus to ask if He was the one they were looking for.

The Pharisees, at one point, said He was demon possessed or that He was a Samaritan (not sure which of those two accusations was supposed to be the lowest). One man approached Him as “good teacher” but withdrew the “good” once Jesus pointed out that only God is good. As reported by the disciples, others thought He was one of the prophets raised from the dead.

Only the evil spirits consistently got it right.

Whenever the unclean spirits saw Him, they would fall down before Him and shout, “You are the Son of God!” (Mark 3:11)

Also see Matthew 8:29, Mark, 1:23-24, Mark 5:7, Luke 4:34, Luke 8:28. Clearly, the demons knew who Jesus was even though the people around Him were confused.

No wonder that James, Jesus’s half-brother, who was present at least part of the time when Jesus was teaching and healing, said in his letter

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19)

Impeccable theology and yet all it produced was fear, not obedience. Theirs was not belief unto salvation. For that they’d actually have to bow the knee, or as Peter admonishes, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15a).

Interestingly, Pastor Mike asked us if we believed God is sovereign. Hands all over the place. Then he asked why we worry about money. Someone in my row who I didn’t know mumbled, “Because I have to pay the bills.”

That pretty much summed up the point, I thought. We can say we believe God is in control, but when it comes time to trusting Him, to handing the reins over to Him, to abandoning ourselves to His will and His way … well, I’m the one writing the checks when the bills come due.

I know I’ve quoted this verse before, but I think it says so powerfully what Christians must come to if we are to act on our good theology:

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. (Hab. 3:17-18)

I’m reading in Numbers right now. So often I think how “easy” the people of Israel had it–eating the bread of angels, supplied by God without fail. Except, they didn’t have the Bible to know how the story came out. They actually had to live going to bed wondering if there would be food the next day. I’ve been trying to imagine what that felt like, Saturday through Thursday, week after week.

Especially at the beginning, it took faith, not just a glib philosophical statement that God can do the impossible. For them, their existence hung on their belief. They either trusted or turned around and headed back to Egypt.

I have my Egypts. But I’d rather not be like the demons, filled with good theology that leaves me intimidated and fearful, not trusting and secure. Praise God He is merciful and True.

Published in: on September 27, 2012 at 6:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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Enduring Bad Theology


Last week author friend Mike Duran posed this question in a blog post: Can good fiction contain bad theology?

In order to answer, the critical correlative questions would seem to be, what is theology and what is good fiction?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, theology is “the study of the nature of God and religious belief.” According to a reviewer Mike quoted in his post, a good story would fit into this statement about art: “Art exists to reveal beauty and truth.” The quote continued by saying that no piece of art could bear the whole weight of the task, meaning that neither all beauty nor all truth will be revealed in one sculpture, one painting, one story.

Does that, then, mean anti-truth is permissible since all truth can’t possibly fit into one story? As I see this issue, not telling the whole truth is not synonymous with “bad theology.”

For example, the truth about God is that He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Oh, but that’s not the whole truth about God. He is much, much, much, much, ad infinitum more. So, is the line I wrote, bad theology?

No. Actually it is good theology. It is truthful.

What defines bad theology, then, is that which is not true about God, His Word, or His work (untruthful “religious belief,” according to the OED).

Must every story contain theology? Every story isn’t about God. Many are about Mankind with no mention of God. And yet, there is theology in those as well.

Since reading Mike’s post, I’ve thought about a number of stories that weren’t Christian–Brave New World, 1984, Animal Farm, Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl, Lord of the Flies, Fathers and Sons, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, even Gone with the Wind.

Where was God in these stories? In most, He simply wasn’t a factor. Rather, the books revealed something about Mankind, something truthful–aligned with Scripture.

That’s the crux of the issue, I believe. The test for truth needs to be the Bible, the authoritative Word of God.

Oddly enough, Mike asked in his post if the life of David, Jonah, Rahab, Judas, Samson, Peter fully represent sound theology. It seems to me his idea was, No they don’t. On the contrary, I think they absolutely do represent sound theology because in God is kindness and severity, justice and mercy–in other words, not only His response to obedience but also His response to disobedience.

In addition, Man contains God’s image and the sin nature inherited from Adam, a spirit that is willing and flesh that is weak. In short, good theology shows what the Bible shows. It’s truth on the deepest level.

Bad theology, unfortunately, colors our society. Western culture says with increased frequency that Mankind is good, that truth is relative, that God is non-existent, that supernatural power is within each person–all things that contradict the Bible.

Would a story contain bad theology if it showed a character with such beliefs? On the contrary, the bad theology of characters shows what the Bible says is true about people.

In addition, the book needs to be considered as a whole, not broken down into it’s gnat-like elements. For example, someone might say, Good theology is to identify gossip as sin. If a character in a book gossips and doesn’t suffer consequences for that sin, then this book contains bad theology.

Really?

The Apostle Paul got so mad about John Mark leaving in the middle of the first missionary journey that he refused to take him along on the second. He and Barnabas got into an argument over the matter and in fact went their separate ways because of their disagreement. Yet the Bible is completely silent about consequences of Paul and Barnabas’s tiff.

Was God condoning their fight because He didn’t show us the consequences? Looking at Scripture as a whole it’s clear that God wasn’t giving silent permission for Christians to bicker.

Sometimes in fiction what a book is doing is unrelated to particular sins, yet those sins are true to the character and consistent with good theology–the part about the fall of Man. Just like Scripture’s silence about the consequences of Paul and Barnabas’s disagreement, leaving a matter unaddressed in fiction isn’t the same condoning the sin. Nor is it the same as inserting error.

Must readers endure bad theology?

I think the mindset of contemporary western Man is far from a Christian worldview, so bad theology fills most of the stories we see, hear, and read.

Should Christians, then, engage in writing stories with bad theology? Why would we do that? What is to set us apart from the rest of culture if we tell stories that lie about God?

The best thing for readers, of course, is to always test the theology of what’s thrown at us. Is this consistent with what Scripture tells us about the world, about Mankind, about God? Those are the critical questions.

Bad theology is not Jonah disobeying God. Bad theology would be Jonah disobeying God and achieving peace and happiness as a result.

Do we stay away from such books? Wave DO NOT READ warning signs over them? If we do so over books written by Christians, then we must do so over every other book or movie or TV show that clashes with Truth.

The problem isn’t reading or viewing something with bad theology. It’s doing so and not recognizing it. When we read a book that espouses something contrary to Scripture and don’t recognize it as a lie, then we are susceptible to that lie.

Published in: on July 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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Systematizing A Relationship


The nugget my missions pastor passed on to us on Sunday referred to “high theology.” I know what he was talking about. The previous sermons in the book of Ephesians looked at what Paul was telling the believers about their faith, or more accurately, the result of it.

In chapter one, for instance Paul gives a number of “in Him” statements: He chose us, redeemed us, sealed us. Of course he elaborates some on each of those, so that we can understand them and the great gifts we have.

In chapter two Paul gives several “you once were … but now” statements, tied together with a couple “remember” passages. Again he is clarifying who the believer is: what he was saved from, how he was saved, and what he now enjoys as a result of salvation

This is theology.

As Pastor Mike Erre, our soon to be new senior pastor, said when he preached from Ephesians, the first half is full of indicatives–expressions of simple statements of fact.

Theology.

Paul undergirded a number of his letters in this way. First the indicatives, then the imperatives.

In other words, before he addressed what instruction he needed to give the church, what things they should do to live up to their calling, he first wanted to be sure they understood that calling, especially God’s provisions and promises attached to it.

What struck me today, though, as I was reading a book about the Church, is that today we seem to be systematizing our theology to the point that it would be easy to forget we as believers in Jesus Christ primarily have a relationship.

The particular chapter I was reading followed a discussion of what the kingdom of God meant and whether the kingdom of God is synonymous with the Church (no), whether it has come as Jesus said from time to time or if it is still to come.

The discussion reminded me of the interviews I heard with Rob Bell when his book Love Wins first released (see “If Love Wins, How Come Earthquakes Happen?”). He made much of the fact that Jesus said the kingdom was near, was within, and he ignored any statements that indicate the kingdom is something yet to come.

As I’m thinking about this, I suddenly thought, maybe these scholars are being too scholarly. Maybe they’re trying too hard to understand something, to systematize something that is really easy to understand if you get the fact that it is relational more than it is rational.

Rational things can be analyzed and categorized. Relational things are harder to do so. But to a great degree, relational things are easier to figure out.

Jesus made it quite clear: “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). He expanded on that moments later:

He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him…If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. (John 14:21-24)

Interestingly, John also records a conversation the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ had with Peter. His repeated question was, Do you love Me? (see John 21:15-17)

I don’t think it requires some kind of understanding of primary languages or a degree in theology to get what Jesus is saying.

If you’ve ever loved someone, you know that you want very much to make them happy. You want to do things they will appreciate, give them things you hope they like. Even if it means giving up what you want. The desire to please them is greater than the desire to go to the movie you want to see or whatever else might be at issue.

Our relationship with God is much the same, Jesus is saying. If I love Him, I’ll want to please Him. It’s not really an academic study, not something we need to understand as much as commit to.

If you’ve been by A Christian Worldview of Fiction before, you probably know that I really like theology. I love studying the Bible and understanding what it says. But I think sometimes we can get so caught up in our study we forget we are dealing with a Person, that we are in a relationship, and that it’s not an overly complicated one–unless we make it so.

A Choice Keeper Nugget


I’ve really appreciated my church’s missions pastor, Dan Crane, who has stepped in to shoulder the bulk of the preaching while we searched for our next senior pastor. Pastor Dan has a real knack for seeing the way Scripture passages divide in an organized way or how they relate to one another.

So too, this Sunday when he preached from the end of Ephesians 3. As he reminded us, Paul spends the bulk of the first three chapters giving us the truth about our position in Christ and what that means for us.

He then noted some particulars Paul presented for praying for others. Good stuff.

The nugget, though, came right at the end. Paul closes this section with a wonderful statement of praise:

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Pastor Dan’s point regarding these verses? High theology leads to high doxology. Now that’s a keeper.

Published in: on June 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm  Comments Off on A Choice Keeper Nugget  
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Salvation And The Christian Writer


As I was talking with a writer friend the other day, it dawned on me that what I believe about salvation shapes my attitude toward fiction.

By way of background, there has been from time to time, a group of writers who plea for Christians to free their art from any “utilitarian” purpose, such as preaching the gospel.

I’ve been on the fence to a great extent because I do want Christians to write fiction that stands the test of time, and that’s usually a work that bears some kind of mark as “art.” However, I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that a “utilitarian” theme is necessary for fiction to be great art—if the writer doesn’t say something meaningful, then why would that story be around tomorrow, let alone fifty years from now?

But here’s the intersection between that point and my realization about salvation. If a Christian has certain views about salvation—a “God’s sovereign so I have no part in salvation” view or a broad understanding of who is saved (from some form of universalism to a belief that the sincere or the “good” or the consistent are saved)—he may feel little or no urgency to carry the message of Christ to the dying world. (Of course, a third option might be a “let them burn” lack of concern for the lost, but then I’d wonder about the genuineness of that person’s profession of faith).

Am I saying that every piece of fiction a Christian writes should have the gospel message embedded? No, I don’t think I can make any determination what other writers should write. Let’s just say I understand the divide better.

Some writers, myself included, look at fiction as our opportunity to reach thousands of readers, some who may have yet to hear the message of forgiveness in Christ through his redemptive work at the cross. These writers feel an urgency to get this message out to as many people as possible. The world, as we see it, has one and only one hope—Christ Jesus—and here we sit, holding this vital information. How can we watch people stream by our doors day after day and do nothing?

A writer with a different persuasion has no such sense of urgency. Fiction, instead, may be an exploration of spirituality, a personal journey of discovery regarding spiritual matters.

The difference in purpose makes perfect sense based on the difference in theology.

Ironic that some people don’t realize the importance of understanding our own belief system. I recently read a blog post about how dreary it is to read about such topics as original sin (hmmm—wonder if the writer had a particular blog in mind. 😉 ) when what we should be doing is getting out from behind our computers and living like Christians.

I certainly agree that we should live like Christians. I simply think that includes my moments behind the computer.

What fiction writers understand is the need to know our characters at the level of their beliefs—that’s what makes their actions properly motivated. Real life is the same way. Our beliefs inform our actions. How critical that we know what we believe about something so eternal-life giving as salvation.

Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 3:22 pm  Comments (8)  
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