Knowing God


I’m going to digress from my usual format in order to address some of the comments in the last two posts.

Fouzia, a Christian Pakistani woman, regularly walks her children to worship despite a terrorist attack on a Christian hospital that killed 70 people, despite the kidnapping and rape of a fourteen-year-old Christian who dared to share her faith with her classmates and would not convert to Islam as her captors demanded.

“We all feel sad,” [she said.]

And more afraid?

“And more afraid.”

But even as she spoke, Fouzia was gathering her children to go to church.

“Maybe it will not be my enemies who will be watching,” she said. “Maybe it will be other Christians. Maybe when they see us going to worship God and to pray, in spite of what all is happening, in spite of our fears, they will be encouraged to come along and worship with us.”

And what about the danger to herself and her family?

Fouzia simply said, “We will trust God.”

(true story and excerpt from Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett)

Then there was Yuan, a Christian in China who ministered throughout the week to the women in her area. She and her husband held an underground church in their home until he was arrested and imprisoned. Days later soldiers came to Yuan’s home and trashed it. They hauled her in and confiscated everything she owned before releasing her.

A neighbor took Yuan in, and she continued to visit the women because she wanted to be bold for her Savior just as her husband was.

Again she was arrested and fined. She said she had nothing to her name—they had already taken all she owned. No, they said, she still owned the shoes she wore. They removed them and crushed her feet with their heavy boots so that she could no longer go from house to house.

She was left to crawl back to her neighbors, but her ministry did not end.

Today she sill “stands” as a faithful witness. Women and children come to her bedside to hear her tell the story of a God who loves them and who sent his own Son to suffer and die for them.

(true story and excerpt from Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett)

What’s my point? As a number of commenters described their spiritual journey, God brought to my mind the parable recorded in Luke 8. As Jesus explained it to His disciples, He said some people are like seed that falls where rocks are and the rocks keep the roots from going down deep.

The rocks are temptations—the hard stuff that makes us want to look at our circumstances just as the people of Israel did on their way out of Egypt. They didn’t have food, water, or any way to defend themselves from their pursuers. Consequently, they wanted to quit, to go back to the way things were. Their roots weren’t deep.

But here’s Yuan and Fouzia and a host of other women who live where rocks abound yet they turn to God—the God of the Bible, without all the redaction or re-imaging—to be their comfort and their support. (For a beautiful post, reasonably short, on Christ and our suffering, read Rachel Starr Thomson’s post “Painful Perfection.”)

Could it be that simple faith is what we need, as Jesus said, and not mystical “centering prayer” or Scriptural gymnastics to make the text say something beyond the plain meaning of the words?

Here’s what I think. God wants to be found. He’s “bent over backwards” to reveal Himself—through prophets, living object lessons (that’s what Isaac was and what the Old Testament sacrifices were, what Joseph was, and David), through His Son, through His written word, through His Holy Spirit living in believers, and through the Church—His hands and feet in the world today.

Satan (yes, a real adversarial being who appears as an angel of light) is determined to muddy the waters. He is a liar and the Father of lies. He started by lying to Eve, first making her question what exactly God had said and ultimately contradicting God’s clear command.

On her behalf, she wasn’t there when God told Adam not to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden. Maybe she thought she misunderstood Adam when he related God’s words. Maybe she redefined them in her mind. What was “death,” after all? Not something she knew first hand. Was there even such a thing?

Sadly, even though Eve was deceived and Adam knowingly disobeyed, she suffered the same consequences he did. They were separated from the love of their lives. From the One who made sense of the world.

Their real problem wasn’t the rocky soil they now had to till or even their he said/she said attacks they started when God confronted them. Their real problem was their loss of relationship with their Creator.

This outcome is what Satan is after. He is loath to see God glorified. In his pride, he wants God’s place. He wants the esteem and honor that belong to Jesus. What better way than to belittle God and bring Jesus down.

So he lies about God today, just as he did with Eve. God doesn’t really mean what He says. He isn’t really a righteous Judge, he’s a wrathful monster at odds with his loving son. But no worry, he’s finally come around in the twenty-first century and repents of his previous brutality. He promises he’ll never do it again, certainly not for eternity.

Satan wishes.

The Emerging Heresy


I wish I could answer each person’s comment to the last post, but I can’t keep up. Be assured that I am reading the comments. I understand more now about the positions of emerging thinkers than when this dialogue started.

As a second option I’ve decided to post my response to the threads running through these comments. I understand that not all emerging thinkers agree with one another, so not everything I say is directed at everyone who would identify with that movement.

I’m actually trying to take the issues in order of importance, as I see them. I may need a second day to cover everything. At any rate, here goes.

Emerging thinkers say they believe the Bible, but Mike Morrell, author of the article, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” states that his belief comes from a “panentheistic reading of Holy Writ.”

In other words, he does not mean the same thing as I do when he says he believes the Bible. He would not declare Scripture to be inerrant and infallible, authoritative and complete.

This allows him then to view God from a panentheistic (non-dualist) position as well without violating the Bible (or rather, his understanding of it). Consequently, God’s omnipresence, as clearly shown in a number of verses Mike quoted (see comment #60), is reconstituted to mean God is in everything and everything in God:

But to me (and my reading of the many passages above), God is even closer than with everything and present to everything (important and comforting as this is), God is within everything, and everything is within God. (Boldfaced emphasis is mine).

Never mind that God didn’t say He is within everything and everything within Him. It’s apparently enough that an emerging thinker can decide to read these verses this way and expand the meaning to fit panentheistic thought.

Of course, this view of God tears up the clear revelation of God in Scripture.

Emerging thinkers apparently have no problem, therefore, re-imaging Jesus as well. It would seem they prefer a kindler, gentler Jesus than the real Jesus who appears in the pages of Scripture. They choose to see Him as love and compassion. According to Dena in comment #95 “the two key components of Jesus’ message was Spirit and compassion.”

Even a cursive reading of the gospels will call this premise into question. Yes, Jesus loved and showed compassion, but He also told the story about the wheat and tares, the sheep and goats, the man who built upon the rock and he who built upon sand. (Quite dualistic for a non-dualist God, don’t you think?)

Jesus is the one who declared the way narrow leading to life and the way broad leading to destruction.

He called people hypocrites and vipers and blind guides and white-washed sepulchers.

He told parables about wicked servants being cast out into utter darkness, handed over to torturers, sent to a place of weeping and gnashing teeth or into the furnace of fire.

He is the same one who told His followers they’d need to hate their mother and father and brother if they were to be His disciples.

This same Jesus took a whip into the temple and used violence against the crooks cheating the people trying to perform the sacrifices.

He’s also the one that declared, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

Loving? Yeah, Jesus is loving. But it is not loving to let people continue on their merry way in self-righteousness. Jesus loved the people of His day, and of our day, too much to be silent about the doom they would face if they didn’t come to Him to be reconciled to the Father.

Compassionate? Yeah, because Jesus saw the heart condition of the people. In the period of His ministry when He was going about healing the people who flocked to Him with all kinds of diseases, Scripture records this: “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36).

One day He felt compassion for a leper and touched him. Touched him before cleansing him, thus taking on the man’s unleanliness according to Levitical law. What a picture of Jesus’s compassion! He was willing to take on our sins in the same way, cleansing us of something far worse than leprosy by taking on our guilt and bearing the full wrath of God.

Of course, you have to believe that God is wrathful, and the emerging thinkers don’t, in part because they don’t believe what Jesus said about eternity:

“The Son of Man [Jesus!] will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:42-43)

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world … Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels … These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt. 25:31-34, 41, 46).

You also have to believe that Mankind has sin that needs to be cleansed, that we in fact stand under God’s righteous judgment. But the emerging thinkers believe nothing we do deserves God’s wrath.

What king would stand by idly when his throne is being assaulted? Or his people maneuvered into a trap? But Mike says in comment #75 that he rejects a God who kills His enemies because “If any world leader were to command the things that ‘god’ commands here … they’d be condemned today as the worst kinds of war criminals.”

Presumably Mike thinks God should be treated as we treat war criminals. Would that mean he thinks God should be punished? treated with justice? Why would it be OK for Man to mete out punishment on the guilty, but it’s wrong for God to do so?

Emerging thinkers clearly have elevated Man above God so that now man can judge the Judge.

At the very beginning of this discussion, God brought to my mind Romans 1:21:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

“Speculations” seems to fit much emerging thought. In a quest to break free from dogma, to experience God, they do not honor God as God but re-imagine him as they wish him to be.

Published in: on January 25, 2010 at 9:59 am  Comments (38)  
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Attacks on God from Within


Yesterday I mentioned subtle attacks on God (and just a reminder, by “attack” I am referring to that which contradicts or distorts the truth about God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible). From what I see, the subtle version is most prevalent from within the body of professing Christians.

Sadly, it would seem that some identifying with the emerging church, are falling into this category. I almost don’t know where to begin.

Self-described wannabe mystic and prophet Mike Morrell wrote an article, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” last November that illustrates the attack from the inside.

Note: this article is a result of reviewing some sessions from the 2004 Emerging Theological Conversation. The presenting scholar was Walter Brueggemann, and Brian McLaren, Tim Keel, Troy Bronsink were among those hosting dialogues. In other words, these ideas are not exclusive to Mr. Morrell.

While Mr. Brueggemann first advanced the idea that God is getting over his addiction to violence, Mr. Morrell uses Geoff Holsclaw’s summary to explain the position:

“By this he [Brueggemann] means that God used to think violence was a good idea, but then gave up on it. However, like all addicts, He has relapses. Of which the cross is either the final deliverance, or another relapse.”

In today’s society, of course, “violence” has come to mean any use of force. Consequently, God’s judgment—whether on nations or on His Son as He bore the sins of the world—is viewed as violence.

This position negates God’s role as judge, denies the goodness and immutability of His nature, and ignores His plan for the world.

In essence, while claiming to search for the mystery of spirituality (departing from certitude, dying to “answers/desires/scripts”), this position misses the transcendence of God.

On one hand, this view of God reduces him to human proportions, at least emotionally. He grows up, matures, battles to “recover” from how he’s treated man because, apparently, he knows better now. In addition, because we are in a personal relationship with him, that means he must learn from me just as I learn from him.

On the other hand, this view of God strips him of his personhood. Here’s the argument:

But when we’re faced with the disturbing truths that Brueggemann elucidates – God’s irascibility for instance – what do we do?

There are two ways to do handle this. One is the way of definitive, forceful – almost violent – denial that there is (or has ever been) anything troubling in God’s character or actions. It’s the route of trusting God via suppression.

But there is another route – more painful, more adult, more complex – but I think it can still end in deeply-rooted, childlike trust. It’s a path that I’ve learned from many guides over the years … And this is the path: As Grubb proposes a radically panentheistic reading of Holy Writ, there is only One Person in the Universe. (Y’know, like “I Am the Lord your God, there is no Other?”) Creation unfolds inside of God. And within this unfolding, it moves from gross [overt] to subtle to causal. (emphasis mine)

Notice, there is no argument against taking God at His word, just an accusation that to do so requires denial and suppression.

But here’s the conclusion:

I think that I can be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian with a high Christology, and still hold that the Universe is one important aspect of the unfolding of God – and that we are the co-unfolding of God within God.

The panentheism believes nature is God within God or that God is beyond God.

As Jay Michaelson explained it, God is the ocean and all else is the water.

Remember, Mr. Morrell is speaking as someone within the emerging church. He considers himself a Christian—one who looks at Scripture through the eye of a panentheist.

I call this an attack on God.

Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 7:00 am  Comments (301)  
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Transcendence vs. Mystery


I’m listening to recordings of a series of philosophy lectures by R. C. Sproul. Today’s portion brought up the subject of the transcendence of God, a topic of special interest to me since I believe many in the emerging church are confusing “transcendence” with “mystery.”

Some might think the two words are interchangeable, but they aren’t, as Sproul made clear.

What does it mean to say God is transcendent? The idea this word conveys is that God is beyond, above, and different from his creatures. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts, not our thoughts.

Consequently, the only way Man can know God is if He stoops to be know. We cannot reach up to Him because He is beyond our reach, and that, I think, would be true even if sin did prohibit a relationship with Him.

In contrast, the idea of mystery, with it’s roots in Gnosticism, ultimately leads to skepticism. By implication it suggests God can’t be known, at least not with certainty. Thus, the door opens for doubt. Some emerging church advocates embrace doubt; most laud “seeking.”

Since God is mystery, so the emerging advocates say, Man must be content as a seeker. There are no concrete answers because God is Other.

The critical issue here is that the means to knowing God shifts from God’s initiative to Man and his endeavors—his meditation or contemplation or spiritual journey.

The thing “Mystery” does not account for is God’s transcendence. Ironic, isn’t it? Because God is Above and Beyond and Different, yet invested in the creatures He made in His own image, He stooped.

It’s not the way we would do things if we were in charge. We’d likely want to sit on a cushy throne and have the lesser folk clamoring for a bit of our attention.

Not God. He sent messengers, breathed His words through their minds and lives to reveal Himself, then came in person, and finally sent His Spirit to live in the life of each believer.

Belief in the “mystery of God” is an extreme idea that opens the door to skepticism and ultimately an attack on the deity of Christ. Of course, it is a reaction to those who dismiss the transcendence of God—those who consider God to be nothing more than an improved version of Man, and bigger. He’s a good ol’ boy. Or maybe a black mama waiting in a shack.

Amazing that some in the emerging movement seem to believe both extremes.

Published in: on October 15, 2009 at 5:13 pm  Comments (5)  
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