Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is Adam Stronger Than God?

Tough Questions for Christians #30—Adam v. Jesus
Watch It Here

AZ’s question is pretty complicated this time, so let me try to simplify it. Adam, though his one action, caused the downfall of all humanity—we all sin because Adam sinned. Jesus, on the other hand, saves some of humanity through his sacrifice. But Adam was a finite human and Jesus is divine. How can it be that Adam’s action is stronger than Jesus’?

This is a pretty insightful question. Just as a sidenote, I just want to say that I appreciate AZ’s work. Most critics of Christianity have such a sparse concept of Christian theology that it is easy to dispute with what the theology actually is. AZ has a clear idea of Christian theology (most of the time) and then takes the theology to its logical next step. This is helpful and smart. This is a great service to the Christian church. So I want to just give a ‘thank you’ to AZ for his hard work for our benefit. It’s too bad he seems so bitter against the church that he can’t hear the real answers.

Back to the question. The basic problem is that Adam is father of all humanity, so he had a head start. Again, God gave humanity the opportunity to rule the world as they pleased and He refuses to take that away from them. Adam took that opportunity and led himself and his children away from listening to God’s wisdom. We are not sinners born. I believe we are primarily sinners taught. Taught by society and by example to do as we please, except where we displease our human authorities. We are not taught to love, we are not taught to do justice, except the most rudimentary kind. And if we do learn justice, we quickly learn that justice doesn’t exist in the adult, “real” world. So whatever expectations we had, they are soon taken away from us. Adam’s way, his leadership style, is the norm.

Jesus is the one leading us to go against the grain. To act out in mercy, no matter what the consequences. To be just, no matter what the consequences. To listen to God and ignore all other counsel. To love God with all my heart, no matter what else is tempting me to stray. This is true rebellion, to act in this way.

And humanity, for the most part, is a traditional society. We exist in entropy. That which was is what is and what will be. Jesus’ truth is not just a story. It’s about a new life. And this new life is not traditional—not even among the church.

This week I have been butting my head against Adam’s traditionalism. Others and I are struggling as to the proper use of a church facility. I want to use it for the poor, the immigrants, for peace in the community. But another church leader is saying that that path is too legally dangerous, too full of liabilities. That is the way of fear, the way of self-service, the way of retaining that which was built even though it is doing no one any benefit. The way of Jesus is radical mercy. It is having the courage to face death, persecution and yes, even court and insurance companies, for the sake of doing benefit for those who truly need it.

If we persist in fear, we are in the way of Adam. But it is only natural to do this. That’s the way of the world. Jesus’ way, although divine and divinely powered is ultimately too scary for the majority of humanity.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Was Creation Perfect?

Tough Questions for Christians #29—The Fallen World
Watch It Here

AZ speaks on a common point of Christian theology, that God created the world without violence, including the animal world, and that all the wrongs in the world occurred after Adam’s fall. That, basically, humanity caused the downfall of animals as well as that of humans. AZ then points out that humanity can’t change the genetic structure of animals and never could. Perhaps we will in a little bit, but we haven’t. So how can anyone say that humanity caused carnivorous creatures or violence?

AZ makes a good point. Christian theology goes too far in their assumption of a peaceful creation. Creation worked, but it wasn’t perfect. There was a snake in the garden trying to kill humanity off, after all. The fossil records show that as far back as there were creatures there has been violence.

Rather, Scripture says in Genesis 1 that humanity was created violent in order to violently take over creation. God says “fill the earth and subdue it” in verse 28. The term “subdue” (in Hebrew, kabash) means “take by force” or “enslave”. It is an inherently violent word. If creation is peaceful, why should God command violence right at the beginning?

Because creation wasn’t perfect. Our future is not to take the earth back to it’s created glory. God created humanity to help the earth be BETTER than the creation. And the fact is, we have already done part of this.

Because AZ is wrong. Humans have been genetic manipulators for a long time. We have taken wild grass and turned it into wheat, corn and lawns. We have turned small lions into housecats and wolves into lap dogs. We have tamed and even eradicated diseases. This is genetic manipulation. We’ve been doing it for millennia. In this way we have been enslaving the earth, forcing the land to do what we want, turning mountains into valleys and valleys into mountains. We have been gods on the earth. And we have been doing it for our own benefit.

The real problem is not the manipulation of genetics, but how we’ve been doing it. We’ve been working for personal benefit and not for the benefit of humanity or the earth, as any just rulers would have done. The fact is, we SHOULD have eradicated violence. We could have. But we are so busy with our own violence that we can’t make the world a better place. We are so self-focused that we can’t see how we can use what knowledge we have to benefit all. As a unit, humanity is certainly god-like. If only we were as merciful and just as God, changing creation for the benefit of all.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What's The Difference Between Creation and Eternity?

Tough Questions for Christians #28—Earth and Heaven
Watch It Here

AZ says that Christian theology claims that God made earth perfect, and it all got screwed up. And heaven will be perfect. AZ then asks, if God already made earth as perfectly as possible then how do we know that heaven won’t be screwed up as well?

First of all, Scripture says that God’s creation was “good” not “perfect”. “Perfect” implies that there is no possible flaw. “Good” says that it is up to standard. But just because a Toyota comes off the line up to standard, that doesn’t mean that it won’t crash.

The Christian hope is not that “heaven” will be “perfect”, but that it will give us a better chance to live well than our lives currently do. In fact, there is still a war against Magog that is prophesied long after Jesus’ return to earth. Then there will be something closer to perfection.

Still, the Christian future is better than the Christian creation. Here are some of the improvements that God plans for the final creation:

1. All enemies are set aside. There won’t be people to try to convince people that wrong is right and hatred is love. Satan and evil governments will all be destroyed. Violent authorities will all be dissolved.

2. Enough for all. Everyone’s needs will be met, so there won’t be the enmity that comes from scarcity.

3. Perfected bodies. Our bodies won’t get sick or have mental illnesses. We will deal with stress better. We will make better decisions.

4. No death. We won’t be afraid of dying anymore, which gives us the courage to do what is right, no matter what the consequences.

5. Better government. We will have government that is concerned with equity for both poor and rich, and will actually listen to the people, acting for the people’s benefit, instead of for the leadership’s. Also, peace will be enforced with peace.

6. Fully accessible wisdom. There won’t be any second guessing as to the best course of action or what is really true. We will have a direct line to the Source of all wisdom. And he won’t go away if we say no. Actually, if we continue to say no, WE will be the ones to go away.

7. Merciful leaders. The only people who will be resurrected at first and will lead the people are those who listened to Jesus’ command to be merciful and compassionate.

There are other benefits, but this gives you an idea. This is a much better system than originally created and a much, much better system than we have now. Yet, somehow, it is built on the building blocks we currently have. The only question is whether you want to be a part of that future. If you do, then it is time to prepare for it now. Be merciful as Jesus was merciful. Be compassionate as Jesus was. Refuse to be judging or hating. And give to all who are in need.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Sims and the Programmer

Tough Questions for Christians #27—God’s Lower Standard
Watch It Here

AZ points out some of the atrocities that God has been accused of: He has killed people, he has killed children, and He has the power to feed millions, but he chooses not to. So actually, AZ says, God isn’t merciful at all. If he were a human being, we’d protest against his heartlessness. So, AZ asks, why do we hold God to a lower standard than we hold humanity?

Have you ever played The Sims? It’s a popular computer game in which you try to try to encourage or manipulate these computer people to live a descent, good life. Or you could play it like my son did, and occasionally kill off characters for no particular reason (It’s really easy to do. Just encourage them to go swimming and then take away the ladder of the pool. Eventually they’ll drown.) But more than likely, you’ll play it like my wife did, successfully. You will try to get them in a place where they will live well with each other, have children and raise them well.

This doesn’t mean that it’s easy. These Sims, although they are just a computer program, have a will of their own. There are times, especially when they are too tired or too hungry or whatever, that they refuse to do what you tell them. This is why, in the end, you can suggest something to a Sim, but you can’t force them to do anything. And even though you know it is to their benefit that they exercise or that they talk to this one person, you can’t force them to do so. All you can do is make suggestions, manipulate the context and hope for the best.

I would joke with my family, who were all really into this game, that they are playing at being God. But the fact is, it is more than a joke. Our use of the Sims is similar to how God uses us.

Let’s say that God is this ultimate computer programmer and the program that He created is called The Universe. And He spends a lot of time in one small corner of his program, creating this complex system called Earth. And then He programs these beings, a lot like Himself, to be in charge of this program, and develops them to make their own decisions and to change and mature over time. And He programs them to listen to His guidance, to help them make of Earth the best it could be. But when the programmed beings begin to interact with the Earth and each other, one of the first things they decide is that they would rather listen to themselves than the Programmer. They think they know better how to use the program better than the Programmer. Because the Programmer takes his creation seriously, and his promises to them, he allows them to do so, but with constraints so they don’t destroy his carefully made program completely.

Over time, some things work well, others not so well. The programmed beings are far too interested in meeting their own felt needs rather than being good rulers of the world. The Programmer knew that would happen, but rather than take them out of the program, he tries to do as little as possible, allowing the beings to manipulate the program at will. Every once in a while, the Programmer would take out a person or a group of people who are causing great damage to the Program as a whole. And if any of the programmed beings would ask the Programmer for assistance, He’d be glad to acquiesce, but it happens all too infrequently. Most of the time, the programmed just go their own foolish ways. The Programmer would make suggestions, even give them rules, for the good of the Earth, but the beings ignored the Programmer more often than not, and would even use those rules to abuse each other. This saddened the Programmer, but they were in charge.

One of the most frustrating things for the Programmer was that many of the beings blamed Him for the problems they created on the Earth. They said, “Why did you allow this to happen to me? Why did you allow all this suffering? Why didn’t you save us from these problems? Why didn’t you make the program differently?” It hurt the Programmer that they would blame Him for the fact that they decided not to listen to Him or to accept His suggestions. All he wanted was a smooth running program. All he wanted was for the Earth to work together for the benefit of all the programmed beings. Sure, He could have programmed them to do exactly as He commanded, but the program wouldn’t run as smooth that way. Sure, He could have created a different kind of being to run the program. But that would be tantamount to blaming the Programmer for allowing them to exist. Is never existing better than existing? If one never existed, how would one know what one was missing?

Or they might blame the Programmer for the actions He did to make the Earth run better. How the Programmer caused this people to disappear. As if He had no right to take them away. Well, sure, if they got rid of their fellow beings, then it would be wrong. But if a Programmer wiped away part of the program, how is that wrong? He’s the Programmer. He is supposed to do such things.

You see what I’m talking about. We don’t hold God to a lower standard. Instead, we hold Him to a different standard because He is Creator. Justice is still justice, but how God does justice is different than how we do justice. And if He chooses to manipulate creation, He can do that, He’s the Creator. And it may seem unjust from our perspective, but we don’t have His perspective.

This isn’t a cop out. If we think God has done some injustice, we can call Him out. That’s what Moses, Jeremiah and Job did. Nothing wrong with that. But most skeptics just want to blame God rather than having a discussion with Him. They want to point to His injustices rather than seeing how they could be changed. They would rather continue in their foolish way rather than getting God’s help making the Earth a better place to live. Damn, we are so stupid.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Did God Create Woman As An Afterthought?

Tough Questions for Christians #26—God’s After-Thought
Watch It Here.

AZ claims that in Genesis 2, Adam was created as a gardener/zookeeper and the woman was created as an afterthought as “man’s best friend”.

This is insulting and wrong. Theologically it is wrong because it says that God created humanity’s destiny before creation—and do you think he didn’t include women in this? Just silly.

Secondly, there are two main accounts of creation. Genesis 2, as you quoted and Genesis 1. In Genesis 1 it says, “Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
28 God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
29 Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;
30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so.

In this account, both sexes were created equally and with the same purpose—to rule the earth. Not simply a gardener, but a king over the whole earth.

I think of Genesis 2 as being Adam’s version of creation, while Genesis 1 is God’s. In Genesis 2, Adam’s interpretation of God’s work is to help him. That may be part of the reason, but God’s destiny for woman is more than men ever gave credit to them for. Women were made to rule the earth. Adam may have seen himself as little more than a glorified gardener (what man hasn’t been dissatisfied with their job?) but when the garden covers the earth (and Eden covered the world from Iraq to Ethiopia—a large chunk of land), then more accurately he is an Emperor.

Women aren’t an afterthought to God, only to men. So this is more a side note about the sexes rather than anything about God.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Who's More Famous Than God?

Tough Questions for Christians #24—God’s Glory Watch It Here

AZ quotes that all things are for God’s glory-- which is basic Westminster Catechism. And glory is about other people being impressed with us or with what we did. But why should God want us to be impressed with Him? Why does He need it?

Interesting question. Because, for the most part, this is all true. Glory has to do with other people’s opinion of us. God certainly desires to be glorified. And yet God created us all, so we wonder about why He would want glory from us.

The first thing God’s request for us to glorify Him is that we can realize that God is, in essence, social. Even as we are created with a desire to be respected, so does God. It is a basic trait of any intelligent social entity.

The other thing we need to realize is that God isn’t seeking glory only from humans, but all of the spirit world as well. The angels and powerful “gods” of the spirit world are not God’s peers—He has no peers—but they are closer to Him than we, and part of creation is for these angels to be impressed with God’s work.

And as far as receiving glory from creation, this isn’t unusual. I have a brain game that I play on my iPod pretty regularly. If I do well, it tells me so. But if I’m doing badly, it tells me that as well. No one pays attention to my playing of this game or even cares about it except myself. And, of course, the program in the iPod. So why do I work so hard at it? Because I want the glory that the human creation—the program—will give me. This seems strange, but don’t we all do this to a degree? Have you ever worked hard so some computer program would tell you that you did well?

Every intelligent social entity wants some praise or glory. And if we get it from our creations, that’s all for the good. Certainly God isn’t strange in that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Body and Soul

Tough Questions for Christians #23—The Soul

AZ’s question is a good one and one I’ve thought about a lot. We know that drugs effect the mind. We also know that brain trauma effects the mind, as well as mental illness. Christians claim that the mind is located in the soul. But how can physical causes effect something located in the soul?

This is another case where Greek philosophy and ideals have effected Hebrew and Christian theology. The mind-body divide is not clear in Scripture as it is in, say, Plato. It is the adaption of Plato’s basic philosophical conclusion of the divide between the body and the spirit that we have this issue between a body-mind disconnect.

But in the Scripture, the mind is located in the heart, thus, in the body. This is one of the reasons that Scripturally, heaven is not about discorporal spirits floating in the air, but the resurrection of the body. This does not mean that un-embodied life doesn’t exist, but this is existence that is dream-like, not actually life. Our hope is the resurrection and renewal of the body, because only there does the full person reside.

Thus, it should be no surprise to Scriptural Christians that what effects the body also effects the mind, because they are deeply connected. For this reason Christians have always been concerned with the health of the body, for it is in health that one can best and most fully serve God.

Friday, September 17, 2010

How Perfect Is The Afterlife?

Tough Questions for Christians #22—Eternal Life HERE

I am so glad AZ went back to the original format. Much easier to watch now. And I can live with the new music.

AZ wonders what Christians think eternal life is all about anyway. We are told by many that we will spend eternity worshipping and serving God. AZ wonders how this is possible when God knows all things—like if we love Him—and He can do anything—thus not needing service. What could we REALLY be doing, he wonders.

AZ’s question is one that I’ve been working on lately! Yea! In fact, I had a brief discussion with a friend of mine, Steve Foltz, concerning his disagreement with me about what I consider eternal life to be about. Just after this post, I’ll put my post on “Misconceptions about Heaven”, but let me summarize my view here:

When God created humanity, our main task was to rule the earth. He wanted to mentor us in doing this ruling, but we decided that we would make our own decision and rules without God’s input. You can see how that turned out.

Eternal life is bringing us back to the place where we can rule the earth in God’s way. Jesus showed us the way to rule—through mercy, truth and God’s power—and eternity (especially the millennium for you pre-mils out there) is about the followers of Jesus creating justice and ruling the world in justice under Jesus.

That’s what I think eternity is about. Ruling the world with God. Worshipping is a part of it, but it won’t occupy all our time. The majority of our time will be spend continually establishing a world community of justice and peace under God.

This answer will prove problematic for the believers that hold that when Jesus comes that justice will be instantly created. I strongly disagree. Eternity is having all the faithful followers of Jesus raised from the dead and then ruling the world. You think that the job will be over then? No, it is just beginning. Even followers of Jesus in good standing have very different ideas of what makes justice, or how to rule the world. Jesus will help lead us, but it will take a thousand years—or more!—for the church to be in agreement about areas of justice and ethics and then to establish a huge nation that actually lives that out.

Once the millennium is over, is justice created? Yes, for the most part. Then it must be sustained. And since we are raised to rule, it will take some effort to do it. This is why we need to work so hard at creating justice today—to prepare ourselves for our future.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sacrifice and Repentance

“An Orthodox Jew… stopped to discuss theology with me. He was a very nice and civil fellow. As we talked he asked me, ‘Why can’t God simply forgive sins? Why does he need a sacrifice? In fact, why does He need anything?’

“I explained, ‘God cannot forgive our sins because He is just and from the beginning has provided sacrifices to atone for our sins.’ Leviticus 17:11- ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’

“My interrogator explained that atonement can mean many things and that the Leviticus passage did not necessarily mean God could not forgive sins without blood…. He pointed out that living a holy life and praying is more important than having a sacrifice. He said that because God is Love, he didn’t understand why God’s love could not be unconditional. Second, he thought I had a very legalistic view of God and of His Love, because I believed that God was incapable of forgiving us without a sacrifice.”

-Surprised By Christ, Rev. A. James Bernstein

Interesting that a Jewish person, whose whole people have had two thousand years of learning to live with God without sacrifices had to explain to the evangelical God’s marginalized viewpoint of sacrifice. Sacrifice is a ritual to reflect the heart of the offerer, just like baptism or the Lord’s supper, or, frankly, weddings. In all of these circumstances the ritual is essential because the ritual mirrors the heart, and without the ceremony there isn’t a fair representation of the significant commitment. But it is the commitment that is the power, not the action. To put all power into the ritual is to bastardize the action—to rip it apart from the spiritual truth.

Even so, OT sacrifices and Jesus’ sacrifice is reflective of a true repentant heart, one that will do all that he can to get right with God. To live a holy life, to act in love as God does—this is the power of Jesus’ death. Without this, Jesus death in meaningless.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Does God Hate Disabled People?

Tough Questions for Christians #21—God Hates Disabled People
Tough Question #21

AZ changed the format on the questions, and I have to say, I don't care for it. I don’t like the new music, and the new format is longer. But I’ll keep answering the questions. This question begins at 12:30. Please ignore all the ignorant, bitter preamble in the video.

AZ quotes Leviticus 21:17-23 where God says that he doesn’t want people who are handicapped or injured or who have a skin disease to enter into the sanctuary because it would “profane” the sanctuary. He doesn’t mention that the sanctuary is also off limits to children under 13, all non-Israelites, anyone with a Canaanite ancestry and all women. They would also “profane” the sanctuary. So, AZ asks, how does a disable person make the sanctuary profane? What’s wrong with them?

First of all, the idea behind this has nothing to do with sin, but has to do with laws of cleanness. This is ritual cleanness that has to do with culture, not with what is good or bad in the sight of God. Just like we don’t consider a person “clean” if they haven’t washed their hands after using the bathroom (even if they didn’t touch anything dirty), the fact of them being actually dirty isn’t the problem. The problem is if it were known they didn’t wash their hands they would be known as “dirty”, just as a person who might be very clean but has lice is considered that. No one wants to be around them because they have a cultural uncleanness. The way the Law deals with this issue is to just exclude those who are culturally “unclean”, even as any public building might exclude people who have lice. No one else wants to catch it, even if it doesn’t hurt anyone.

It is interesting that Jesus denied most of the laws of cleanness. He said that God isn’t as interested in a person being clean on the outside as He is on the inside. Actually, the prophets and psalmist agreed with this as well, when they denied that sacrifice without repentance is less than meaningless. This is one of the areas the New Testament clearly saw the problems with the Law and sought to correct it. They denied all the ritual laws, because the implications of them were not according to God’s true nature, His love and mercy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

God's Level of Organization

Tough Questions for Christians #20—Bumbling Idiot God
Tough Question #20

AZ goes back to talk about one of his favorite subjects: hell. In response to his question on the purpose of hell, many Christians rightly quote Matthew 25, which states that hell was made for the devil and his angels. AZ says that either God made hell for only the devil and his angels, and so didn’t know what purpose he would use it for, or He knew full well that he would condemn most of humanity and so made it for that purpose. If he did the first, God seems to be unknowing as to his purpose—thus a “bumbling idiot”—or he knew full well and was disingenuous as to his purpose.

Well, Jesus makes it clear that the purpose of hell is to punish the devil and his angels. And if there’s anyone who would know, it’s Jesus. But AZ, and most Christians, aren’t really thinking about different kingdoms. There is the Kingdom of God and there is the Kingdom of Satan. The Kingdom of God is pretty clear—those who follow Jesus and do all they can to obey God’s mercy and to live purely. The Kingdom of Satan is multiple—it has anyone who is judging, killing and lying for their own purposes, even if that purpose is opposed to other people who are also killing, judging and lying. God made hell for those who are in the kingdom of Satan—thus, the devil and his angels, or “messengers” which is what angel means.

Adam, a long time ago, decided to join in with the kingdom of Satan, and so he was placed under the angel of Death—a messenger of Satan. And almost all of us choose, at one point or another, to join the kingdom of Satan when we condemn an innocent person, when we lie for our own gain or when we harm or kill another. That means we are all included. This is why Jesus had to create another kingdom, so we could learn the way of mercy, receive forgiveness and get out from under Satan’s authority.

As long as we are choosing to judge, lie and murder, we are Satan’s children (John 8). And so we deserve to go where Satan goes. If we choose mercy, forgiveness and repentance, we are Jesus’ followers and we deserve to go where Jesus goes. And that’s the way it goes.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

DNA and the Soul

Tough Question for Christians #20—Chimera
Tough Questions #20

AZ asks a question of people with a particular theology of the soul. Namely, that the soul is created at conception. He asks, “What about a Chimera, which is the rare occurrence when two separate strands of DNA in the womb merge to create a unique human being?” Or, he asks, similarly, about identical twins that have one DNA that split and become two separate persons? Does a Chimera have one soul or two? Do identical twins have two separate souls or a single soul?

This question doesn’t disturb or really interest me because it has no bearing on New Testament biblical theology. The Bible doesn’t speak to the issue of when a soul attaches itself to a person, and the question doesn’t really interest me. The only interest has to do with abortion legislation.

Normally, I would ignore this, but I can give an opinion. I am pro-life because I believe that every human being should be protected from conception, not on a theological basis, but on a philosophical one. I believe that the definition of murder is the “killing of an innocent human being”. Thus, eating meat isn’t murder because we aren’t killing a human being. Killing in capital punishment (which I also oppose for different reasons) isn’t murder because you aren’t killing an innocent person (unless, mistakenly, you are). Abortion, however, does fit the qualification. A human being, at the very least, is a complete individual being with it’s own DNA. Every feutus in the womb has that. They are innocent, as they have not yet committed any crime. And they are certainly being killed, not be accident, but with intent. This is murder.

So what about our two cases? The import is not whether they have a soul. A soul-giving isn’t told to us, except for Adam’s. We know when he got his soul. But other than that, we have no clue. But when do know when a child becomes human—it is when they have their own DNA and begin the process of growing. That is at conception. This isn’t theology, just science. And I don’t want to get into the details of that, or possible exceptions.

However, if you want to discuss this issue, I’d be happy to let you comment. Just don’t be mean. :-)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Different Views of the Nature of Humanity

“In many ways, a problem’s definition determines its solution. Because the problem of the Fall is understood differently in Western Christianity than in Orthodoxy, the solutions offered in both the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches differ from those of the Orthodox Church. In the West, a number of soteriological views (doctrines of salvation) have developed that seek to explain how man’s fallen position, status or relationship with God is repaired. The Orthodox Church of the East would for the most part reject these views, not only because some elements of them cannot be found in Scriptures and writings of the church fathers, but because they distort the Christian understanding of God’s love and His salvation.”

Rev. Bernstein is often contrasting Eastern Orthodoxy with the Western Christian point of views. Of course, he is not including the Anabaptist strains, because it is assumed that they are Protestant in every significant way. However, they are not. Anabaptism allows different points of view on many things other Protestants hold firmly. Anabaptism asks questions other Protestants don’t because they are not strictly Augustinian, as Protestants clearly are and Catholics tend to be (though not exclusively). Anabaptism emerges from a number of traditions, including the Benedictine and the radical eschatological points of view.

For Anabaptists, this means that we can either let ourselves be engulfed by the theological fads of our day (as many Mennonites tend to do), or we can ask new questions of Scripture, and attempt to create a new kingdom theology with each generation, as each generation seems to need a new kingdom theology.

So with the fall, some Mennonites are pretty Calvinist in outlook—total depravity and every human is born going to hell. Some—perhaps most— Mennonites are Wesleyan in view, where God and us work together for our salvation, but all initial effort is on God’s side. Some ignore the idea all together.

In a kingdom perspective, I tend to think that our “depravity” is more from being born in an evil society more than anything else. We sin because it makes more sense for us to act in ambition and self-interest than to act in love. God, I believe, will offer salvation to anyone who lives in love, but every society on earth is opposed to consistently acting in love. To act in love is an act of rebellion. Thus, to gain salvation, we must be a part of a society in which acting in love is normative. This is the salvation that Jesus offers—a new kingdom with Him at the head. This is a kingdom viewpoint. Which, we will see, is very similar to the Orthodox viewpoint, but has some differences as well.

New Book I'm Reading...

Surprised by Christ by Rev. A. James Bernstein

Written by someone born as an Orthodox Jew and became an evangelical believer on his way to eventually become an Eastern Orthodox priest. Busy guy. My quotes and comments will all be focused on the final third of the book where he speak about Jesus’ atonement.

I'll be posting quotes and comments from the book, in between "Tough Questions".

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why Didn't God Conquer Palestine Himself?

Tough Question for Christians #18—The Promised Land
Tough Question #18

AZ asks a new twist on an old question. Israel was supposed to kill off the Canaanites to get the land. But rather than asking the usual question about genocide, AZ puts a different twist on it: Why did the Israelites have to kill them themselves? Why didn’t God do it for them?

At the end of this video, AZ is grinning with glee, and I can only figure this is because he knows he’s got a killer question here.

This is a good question and I have to say the whole subject makes me uncomfortable. One of the themes of the Bible is how the Canaanites shouldn’t exist, and how their sin was so horrible that they deserved to be destroyed completely. Then God rescinded his command to have the Israelites kill the Canaanites in Judges 2, and Jesus actually welcomed at least one Canaanite into the kingdom, claiming that faith redeems everyone (Matthew 15).

I’ve got a lot of answers for this. First of all, I don’t hold to the commands of the law, but I follow Jesus, who commands us to love our enemies, so I don’t have to defend commands to do war or genocide or anything else. Also, in the NT, warfare for Christians is supposed to be spiritual, not physical, and the only enemy we battle against is Satan (Eph. 6).

I’m satisfied with this on a moral basis, but AZ is really asking about consistency within the Bible. God can take these people out, He’s taken people out before—see, Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19—so why not do it here?

The fact is, God promised that He WOULD do it. Exodus 23:20-23 says that God will send an angel ahead of them and destroy the Canaanites. And certainly there is a hint of this at Jericho. God did the hard work—getting rid of the walls—but nevertheless the Israelites had to do the actual work of killing.

I honestly don’t have a good answer for this. Not one that makes sense of Scripture. Anybody else want to give it a shot?

Monday, September 6, 2010

You Won't Let Me Do ANYTHING!

Tough Question for Christians #3—Freewill
Tough Question #3

AZ quotes a Christian friend of his: “Sin is doing anything opposed to God’s will.” Building on this, AZ wonders why God gave us freewill, if we could never use it. After all, he says, if we act according to our own will, God will kill us. If we don’t sin—acting not according to our own will—only in this way can we live. So God’s gift of freewill is one we cannot use.

This shows a strict Calvinist idea of human activity. That everything we do on our own is motivated by evil, and therefore everything we do is evil, and so God will kill us if we do anything. That didn’t stop the Calvinists from killing the Native Americans, I notice, but whatever.

The fact of the matter is, God gave us freewill so we can use it. Not every human act is intrinsically evil. Evil, in reality, is acting in ways that God specifically told us are evil. Evil is hating others, acting on that hatred. Evil is acting in unfaithfulness. But there are many more opportunities to act according to what is good than evil. And God gave us free will to act in love. Evil is so limiting and sin is unimaginative. It always seems to go down the same paths. Love is limitless, having infinite varieties.

God gave us general principles which to live by, and it is necessary to live according to those principles. But God’s path of action isn’t narrow. Rather, it fills the world with good things to do.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Jesus Paid It All?

Tough Question for Christians #2—Crimes of Mankind
Tough Question #2

AZ says he understands that Jesus paid the debt of our sins, so the punishment is paid. So why, he says, should anyone go to hell? The payment is done, whether we accept Jesus or not, so why should anyone pay it again?

I actually held off from commenting on this until after my discussion on the atonement, because it relates to that. This is the result of the analogy of seeing Jesus’ death as paying off the sentence of sin. If Jesus paid a debt, debts are either paid or not paid, not related to some other condition.

But Jesus’ death actually opened up a kingdom. This kingdom runs different than any other kingdom on earth, and the laws are different. In the rest of the world—including Moses’ law—if you acted in rebellion or killed then you would die or be imprisoned or banished. But in Jesus’ kingdom, if you repented—truly changed—then you can receive forgiveness. In the kingdom of the world there is no possibility of forgiveness “You do the crime, you do the time.” In Jesus’ kingdom, the opportunity for forgiveness exists.

Thus, Jesus’ death is less a payment, as an opportunity to immigrate to a new kingdom. Before Jesus’ death that kingdom didn’t exist. Now it does. Thus, the opportunity for forgiveness didn’t exist then. Now it does. In Jesus, we get a clean slate and an opportunity for a new life and forgiveness for sins. Strictly speaking, it isn’t a payment for sins.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why Can't God Forgive on Judgment Day?

Tough Question for Christians #1—When Can God Forgive?
Tough Question #1

AZ asks how it is that if a person has known they’ve done wrong all their lives, and tries to ask forgiveness, but just doesn’t know about Jesus or follow Christian teaching, then why can’t they be forgiven at judgment day?

We need to understand what judgment day is about. In almost all religious traditions there is an accounting of one’s life before a deity. At this point one’s whole life is evaluated, and the character of the person is determined. The actual reward or punishment is determined by which religious tradition one follows, but we are speaking about the Christian tradition, and thus the New Testament.

This is the same pattern in the NT. It is not a single act or belief that determines one’s destination at judgment day, but the tenor of one’s whole life—one’s character. If one characterizes oneself to be unfaithful, a judgmental person, a liar, a coward, etc, then that one is not a proper individual that will establish God’s kingdom of justice. That’s what Jesus, Paul and John the Revelator says.

There are two things that causes one to escape judgment on the final day. The first is repentance. If we repent of our sins, then God erases it out of the book, he forgives us. The second is having Jesus as our Lord. Jesus will give us the resources to live a life of mercy, of love, of peace and of sacrifice—the very kind of people God wants in His kingdom. “Belief” isn’t a magic wand of forgiveness, but rather it is a tool to help us become the kind of people God wants us to be.

So why can’t God forgive at the judgment day? It doesn’t matter who we are, or what we’ve been taught religiously—we know the kind of people we should be. We know that helping people is better than hurting them. And, in our heart of hearts, we know that the excuses we make to hurt people are just that, excuses. If we repent of our sin and do all we can with whatever resources we have to live a life that is merciful and loving, then God won’t condemn us.

But let’s face it, most people, even most Christians, reject God’s grace to be the people we should be. Most Christians see Jesus’ grace as a cover for their evil deeds rather than an opportunity to be a different person. Most non-Christians ignore all the resources at their disposal to be a good person. I can see why some people see Christianity as an impediment to doing good instead of a help. Because most of ways it’s used, it is an excuse to do evil or to be apathetic instead of being actively merciful. This is why the NT doesn’t say that Christianity is the way. It says that Jesus is. Jesus, as our Lord and Government, instead of a general “God” or a religion or a government made by men. Jesus will help us to be loving and merciful and helpful to humanity at large. Jesus is the one way to God because He is the only One to teach us the true Life that God has established. And His gift of the Spirit is the most powerful tool of all to act in such a way to pass judgment day.

Anyway, I’m going off a bit. Why doesn’t God give us a chance on judgment day? Why doesn’t a teacher give us a chance to pass the test with the answers in front of us? Because the training and resources ahead of time is sufficient to pass the test. If we fail, it is simply because we ignored the opportunities right in front of us. Because our life is sufficient to say what kind of people we are. The time to change ourselves is now. Once we’re dead, we are who we are. No turning back.