Saturday, January 29, 2011

Holiness is Catching

A quote from Jack Bernard's, How To Become A Saint.

“Instead of the unholy defiling what is holy, as the ancient Hebrew priestly rules insisted, holiness has come from God with the power to make holy those who were unholy. It is not just coincidence that Jesus eats and drinks with the sinners…

“Even though Jesus isn’t concerned that he will contaminate himself with sinners, the basic concept of holiness as set apart for God is not altered. A basic shift in the understanding of holiness happens here, and yet holiness is not turned inside out. Jesus is going for the heart of the matter. He himself is set aside for the Father’s use and never defiles himself by turning from the Father’s will to other purposes. He is holy, not because he has come down from heaven, or behaved perfectly morally, but because as a human being he is not divided toward God. He trusts the Father absolutely; his only purpose is to do the Father’s will. He is not divided by holding onto any other agenda— not personal advancement, comfort, or even self-preservation. Avoidance of committing sins is a natural consequence of holiness, but it is not the core. Undivided trust in God and the resulting dedication to his will is the essence of holiness.”

Friday, January 28, 2011

Jesus' Answer to Original Sin

Continuing from the previous post, Original Sin

Thus does Jesus divide the entire world between the merciful and the judgmental. There is way, Jesus says, to get out of Adam’s system of judgmentalism, but it only happens by resting on God’s mercy. God is the author of mercy, and this mercy comes from His own nature. Thus, if we are to learn mercy, we must rest in God’s nature. How is this done? After all, we are all stuck in a system of rules and judgmentalism? It happens through the work of Jesus.

1. Jesus taught us what the problem is
Jesus came to earth first to inform us of the problem. Every system, especially the system that was supposed to represent God, ended up becoming long lists of rules that ended up condemning everyone. Jesus wasn’t antinomian—He wasn’t trying to say that we should do away with rules as a principle. Rather, He said that every rule should be based on the principle of love—the principle of acting for the benefit of others and all. Jesus said that any rule that stands against love is a rule that is begging to be broken and that one cannot hold the ones who break such a rule cannot be held guilty. Jesus taught us that religious systems created by people who invent rules and claim they are God’s rules is demon-possessed and must be delivered. Or it must be scrapped to allow a new system to be created.

2. Jesus told us to repent
Jesus said “Repent for the kingdom of God is near.” But this repentance wasn’t primarily about the petty sins we commit against our religious system or against our own sense of ethics. Rather, Jesus clarified that we needed to repent of our lack of mercy, we needed to repent of imposing ourselves on others, we needed to repent of seeing other people as extensions of ourselves, ways to meet our own needs and desires. He also told us that if we did not repent, that we could not enter into God’s kingdom, where we could actually and finally have all of our needs met.

3. Jesus died to create a new system
We were then in a quandary. Jesus taught us that our natural desires—to force others to participate in our system of false morality—and the systems in which we lived—which create a lifestyle of morality for everyone to fit into—are false and lead us not just away from God’s kingdom, but to hell. How can we change everything we have been taught, and how can we live separately from the world in which we live?

Jesus told us not just what we are to do, but he created the means by which we could do so. Jesus died to create the kingdom of God. This death, first of all, showed the utter failure of the system of the world. Both the system created around worship of the one true God (the Jewish cult) and the ultimate system of human organization (the Roman government) condemned Jesus—the representation of God’s mercy— and sent him to death. Thus did God declare these systems—and every human system—inadequate for accomplishing God’s will on earth.

And thus did Jesus open up the way for a new kingdom, the kingdom ruled by God and His mercy. Jesus chose people who would live their lives like Jesus did—surrendering everything so they could be God’s representatives of mercy to the world. And those few people were the mustard seed from which God would grow a mighty tree. The new system of God wouldn’t be like the old system. It couldn’t ever be contained by human organizations or policies. Every time the kingdom gets locked up by rules and traditions, God breaks it and establishes a new system which is based on His love and mercy.

4. Jesus gives the Spirit to create new creatures
Finally, in picking people to represent His mercy, Jesus did one more essential thing. If the new kingdom of God is to be run by people who acted only for the benefit of others, then something had to be done about their hearts. Because the human heart is born selfish and it is trained in selfishness. So Jesus gives every one who enters into His kingdom a new heart by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works within our selfish hearts and helps us to see other people. He gives us hearts of mercy, of compassion and He gives us wisdom so that we can know not only what others’ need, but also how to meet that need.

This is the secret of how we know who is really a part of God’s people or not. Not whether they have prayed a certain prayer, belong to a certain church or whether they are sufficiently religious enough. Rather, we know who, among all of those who claim Jesus, are the ones who are truly a part of God’s kingdom. These are the ones who have hearts of mercy and reject judgmentalism. Those who open their hearts to the poor. Those who see the need instead of the sin. Those who work at loving people instead of hating them. Anyone can claim Jesus. Anyone can say they are a child of God. The ones of the true faith, however, are the ones who display that the Spirit of love and mercy is working within them, making them new creations of gentleness and compassion.

The kingdom of God is still growing. And many of our religious systems must still be broken. When our rules cast people out instead of trying to meet their needs… when our attitudes are about rejection instead of expressing hope for someone’s future… when we refuse to be flexible to assist those in need… then it is time for God’s revolution to occur again. It is time for our systems of religion to be broken and for Jesus’ Spirit of love and mercy to open up a new people. Perhaps this new people will emerge from within the old system. Perhaps the system is so broken that the new people can only grow from without this system. But Jesus’ mercy and love can only exist in opposition to the natural order of things.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Original Sin and Our Sin

It is a commonplace in Christian thought that Adam sinned and all the children of Adam are, because of Adam’s sin, trapped in a cycle of sin. This is usually explained by some genetic explanation. That every child is born in sin, due to Adam’s sin. There is very little biblical evidence for this genetic explanation. Some point to David’s verse in Psalm 51: “In sin did my mother conceive me”, but that verse seems to be talking about the method of conception, not some inner sin that is passed from parent to child.

Certainly Scripture does speak about the fact that every human sins. Romans 3 has a lengthy section on this. The whole gospel is based on the idea of repentance, in which one must assume that anyone needing to repent must first have done something wrong to repent of. And Jesus’ ability to stand strong against temptation and remain without guilt is in contrast to every other person described in Scripture.

Is there an alternative explanation in Scripture to the idea of a sin nature that is passed from parent to child? Certainly there is a different way of looking at it. Instead of a single unified theory of individual human sinfulness, let’s see it as a number of factors involved:

a. Each human is born selfish
From the time we are conceived to the time we are born we are completely alone. No one exists except us and all we are is about ourselves and our bodies. After we are born, it turns out that the mumbles and pokes have to do with a whole world we had no concept of, but we do not yet have the capacity to see the others as people who are the equal to ourselves. Rather, life is about ourselves, our needs and our discomforts. Other people are just about us, and are really extensions of ourselves. We don’t have the cognitive capacity to see even our parents as people as significant to us because, as far as we are concerned, the whole world is about and for us.
That’s how we begin, every one of us. We don’t have any kind of empathy or compassion or mercy because, in reality, there isn’t anyone else yet. In order to become moral beings we must grow into it, and we must be taught it. Most sin, frankly, is simply seeing ourselves as something more than other people. And we are born in that state of selfishness. It is an innocent selfishness, in that we couldn’t possibly be expected to be anything else but self-centered. And this is less of a genetic state, and more of a developmental state encouraged by the circumstance of remaining alone for nine months.

b. We live in a society of sin
Now let’s go back to Adam. Certainly Adam does hold some blame for the sinfulness of the world. But that has less to do with him doing any sin and more to do with the specific sin he committed.

God gave Adam one possible sin, and this had nothing to do with sexuality, which God gave freely, nor did it have anything to do with worshipping God in a particular way. This is all to come much later. The one sin was to not eat of the fruit of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” This isn’t a tree of “good and evil” but a tree of “knowledge”. In other words, the tree was a class in ethics. And God didn’t want Adam to have it. Why is that? Because if Adam ate of this tree, then he would hold morality within himself, without sufficient experience or reason to develop a reasonable ethical system. Adam would be like a toddler creating a moral system in a world of grown ups. And, in the story, this is exactly what happened. Adam and his wife ate of the tree and instantly they created a first principle of their morality: nakedness is shameful. So they were hiding because their new made up ethical system declared nakedness wrong.

Note how God responds to this. At first he said, “Who told you that you were naked?” Realizing that their response was a moral outrage to the shame of nakedness, he said, “Did you eat of the tree I told you not to eat?” Why did he ask that? Because the tree creates moral outrage at items that are not necessarily morally wrong. The tree creates a system of morality of judgment. If there is a genetic “sin” that is passed from Adam to all his children, then, according to Genesis 2 and 3, it isn’t sin in general, but the sin of judging others for things that are not sin or evil in any way. It is the judgment of that which is personally disgusting. It is the rejection of the different, it is the hatred of that which we have determined ourselves is hateful.

What is the end result of this? From the time of Adam to the present day, every parent has taught his child the rules of society, about what is morally right and wrong, and this morality is made up not of sound moral principle or of God’s will but of what they had heard from their parents what is right and wrong and what they determined themselves is disgusting and what is good. Adam’s curse is that we each create our own morality and then impose it upon others.
What is the end result of this? Overbearing religious and legal systems. From Adam’s original sin comes the Pharisees rejecting Jesus because Jesus rejects their silly imposed rules for the sake of the moral principle of love. From Adam’s original sin comes churches that give people lists of sins that do not even come from Scripture. From Adam’s original sin comes a law system that includes thousands of rules and millions of policies. From Adam’s sin comes a tax code that even those who developed it cannot completely understand it.

c. We each choose Adam’s sin
Our selfish selves are born into a system of lawmakers. And, in our natural selfish state, we want to be a lawmaker ourselves, so we can be in charge, so we can tell others what to do, so we can judge others, just like our parents and grandparents and friends and teachers and heroes and saints and politicians and employers. And we train our children to be just like us—judgmental people.

And at some point, our children make their own decision. They don’t want to be self-centered anymore. They want life to be better for them than their parents. And the way they accomplish this is by choosing the same method as their parents—creating a new ethical code by which they (and by extension, everyone else) should live by. Instead of thinking about what is actually good for people around them by listening and focusing on their needs, our children decide that they need to decide for others what is best for them. Some of them grow up to be strong enough to determine what is best for everyone else, and others grow up to be malcontents, knowing how the world should be run, but no one would listen to them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Can We Be Saints?

Quotes from How to Become a Saint by Jack Bernard

“I can become a saint. Anyone who seriously wants to can. It is God’s will for all believers.”

“Sainthood is no special calling for a few, and it is no watered-down level of expectation. All of us going all the way together to the perfection of God made visible in Jesus. No compromise with other conflicting needs. No settling for a smaller piece of pie."

“The standing we have in Jesus is the incentive to become holy in actual practice…. We are to be built up in the church through other people until we all come to maturity…. It is much more than a legal transaction declaring us holy when we are not.”

"The term 'saint' simply means 'one who is holy.' 'Holy' is a word that is generally categorized as a moral term, meaning righteousness, pure, incorruptible, and having various important virtues. Put more simply, being holy has come to mean being good in a particular religious connotation.

"Actually, the word 'holy' means 'separated' or 'set apart.' In a biblical context, it means set apart from common use and dedicated to God alone... I want to suggest that... what God wants from us is our trust... This is my claim: becoming a saint has more to do with learning to trust God than with learning to be good."

How To Be A Saint by Jack Bernard

I love this book. Honestly, How To Be A Saint is my favorite book on Christian spirituality. This isn't a perfect representation of my philosophy of the spiritual life, but it is really, really close. I'll be writing about this, off and on.

Jack Bernard was the founder of Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco, and he died in 2002. Check out their blog at this link. The best recommendation for this book is by Jon Stock: "Jack Bernard we the real deal, a radical Christian who walked the talk." And this one by Mark Scandrette: "His transparent and intelligent words on how to become a saint have the added weight of Jack's life. He lived the pages of this book." This book is born out of Jack's experience, not out of ideals he might have had, but didn't practice. This doesn't make the book more representative of God, but it does make it possible, practicable, and true to life.

This doesn't stop my work on Mere Christianity. But I've been having trouble having the book with me when I need it to write. So, if I don't have Lewis in my pocket, perhaps I'll post on Bernard.

By the way, my wife thinks its funny that "Bernard" wrote a book about sainthood. St. Bernard. You know.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The 33 Theses of Anawim

Martin Luther had 95 theses and it turned the world upside down. We don't expect these theses to turn the world upside down, at least, not without God's unlimited power. We hold that these principles are the unique foundation of the Bible, especially the teaching of Jesus, which is not, except for limited parts, taught by theologians or pastors in the Christian church.

Anawim theology is the rebel theology. And it is truer than orthodox theology, for it is what is missing from orthodoxy.

Summary: Anawim is a Hebrew word that means (in context), “the oppressed and outcast who depend on God for deliverance.” Anawimic Theology is that which focuses on the lowliness and oppression of God’s people and on God’s deliverance of them. 1. Those who suffer for the sake of righteousness, 2. those whose vulnerability is taken advantage by oppressors, and they cry out for help from the Lord and 3. those who are punished even though they are innocent and look to the Lord for justice.

Source of the term, anawim: Anawim is used extensively throughout the Hebrew Bible, especially in the Psalms. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Qumran community used the term anawim as a personal title for their group, thus showing that in the first century, some groups understood the anawim to be a group of poor and oppressed whom God would deliver. In the NT, the concept of “the poor” is a translation of this Hebrew word.


God’s Impartiality
1. God provides equal justice for every person, based on what they do, not showing favoritism to the rich or the poor, to any ethnic group or human distinction.

2. God provides food and warmth, all of the basic survival needs, to all people equally, whether they are righteous or unrighteous before him.

3. God calls everyone to himself, to love him and to do what is righteous before him, for he does not desire that anyone would be punished on the final day.

The Anawim
4. God especially focuses on those who are vulnerable in the world—whether vulnerable social stations (widows, slaves, etc.), a vulnerable people (nations who are enslaved or displaced, etc), vulnerable due to some illness, or vulnerable due to humility (the lowering of oneself due to a desire to seek God), because these are less likely to receive justice on earth.

5. The Anawim are those who, in the midst of their vulnerability and suffering, will seek the Lord for deliverance and cry out to him. They may do this without specifically knowing who the Lord is, or how his deliverance will come, but they know that they need to trust in Him for that deliverance.

6. God will listen to the cries of the vulnerable against injustice, for they have no where else to turn and he will answer their cry with deliverance.

The Anawim in Jesus
7. There is a distinction between those who seem to be the “children of the kingdom” and those who really are. Many who are “children of the kingdom” will be cast out, while many of those who are outcast from the kingdom of God of this age, “the lost”, will be welcomed in. The seeming “children” are those who are socially of God and create social structures to make their standards seem like God’s standards. The true children of the kingdom are those who hear the word of Jesus and do it.

8. God especially calls those who are outcast from the social structure of those who are apparent “children of God” to come and join the kingdom through Jesus. While the “children of the kingdom” also hear this message, they usually lack the humility to accept it.

9. Anyone who follows the call of Jesus surrenders their possessions, social positions, righteousness, time, abilities, and even their very lives to be subject to his Lordship. This means a surrender of the way of life one was used to, and an accepting of a new way of life, made in the shape of the life of Jesus.

10. The surrender of one’s past life and the proclamation of the new life found in Jesus means that the follower of Jesus will be rejected, hated, oppressed and sometimes beaten or martyred. This is not just an option, but it is a characteristic of the people of God in Jesus.

Under Other Authorities
11. The people of God are not only under Jesus as their true master, but they are also in the authoritative realm of another master or masters.

12. While they are to obey Jesus first and foremost, they are also to remain submissive to the earthly authorities in whose realm they still live, in as much as doing so does not oppose the life or teaching of Jesus.

13. These lesser masters will at times attempt to oppress the vulnerable people of Jesus because of the righteousness they live by.

14. The people of Jesus are to remain vulnerable and lowly, not returning evil for evil, but doing good to their oppressors.

The Deliverance of God
15. God is the one who delivers his people from oppression, the people do not do it in their own power.

16. While God will cause some deliverance from under the hand of oppressors to occur in this age, most of the people of Jesus will have to be delivered on the last day.

17. God will punish the oppressors for their wickedness.

18. Everyone in Jesus, who has suffered his sufferings, will be risen from the dead on the last day.

19. God will raise up the vulnerable of his people to rule over his kingdom.

The Ministry of the Anawim to the Anawim
20. The Anawim do not focus on their own needs, but on the needs of other Anawim around them.
21. The service to the Anawim takes place in the following ways:
a. The calling of the outcast to join the kingdom of God through humility, repentance and commitment to Jesus.

b. The deliverance of the vulnerable from things that separate them from God’s kingdom through the power of God.

c. The deliverance of the oppressed from the spiritual powers and bondages that separate them from God’s kingdom, using the authority of Jesus.

d. A continuing encouragement and correction to lives in accordance with the teaching and life of Jesus.

e. Giving food, warmth, housing, support and healing to those who are vulnerable and in need, especially to those who follow Jesus, in accordance with the resources available.

f. The sacrifice of one’s well being and even life for the sake of meeting the needs of the Anawim.

22. All service to the Anawim needs to be done in a spirit of love, being concerned for the needs of others before one’s own needs and desires. This means that the service is done in a spirit of humility, gentleness, reconciliation, politeness, and joy.

23. Because this is ministry done by the Anawim—those who are vulnerable and who usually have few resources—it is done from dependence on God, recognizing that no ministry will be done without him.

The Wealthy in Anawim
24. There are many within the Anawim in Jesus who are wealthy and have many resources.

25. The wealthy could very well be in the Anawim, if they are outcast due to some other distinction and they are seeking God for deliverance.

26. The wealthy who use their resources for their own desires or their own concerns will be cast out of the kingdom of God and are not a part of the true Anawim, for they are trusting in their wealth for deliverance, not God.

27. The wealthy who use their resources for the good of others, using all of their wealth to meet the needs of the Anawim, will stand with the Anawim on the last day.

28. By one’s own strength, it is impossible for a rich person to surrender his or her wealth, but by God’s grace all things are possible.

The Leadership of the Anawim
29. Some among the Anawim in Jesus are called to be lower than others, and surrendering their jobs, homes, communities in order to proclaim the kingdom of God. They do this, depending completely on God for their provision, clothing and security. These are the true leaders of the Anawim (church), even if they do not administrate or make the daily decisions of how the structure of the Anawim will run.

30. Those in authority under Jesus remain vulnerable under the earthly authorities, and they rule over the vulnerable in the church by serving them and doing good to them.

31. The leaders of the church do not make commands that they expect everyone to follow, but simply speak the words of Jesus in simplicity and love.

32. Anyone who stands with these “underground” leaders, or who supports them through hospitality or meeting their needs, will on the last day be called supporters of Jesus and will be given the reward of the leaders.

33. Anyone who refuses to help these leaders will be called rejecters of Jesus and will be punished on the last day.

Some Major Anawimic Passages: Genesis 4, Exodus 1-17; Deuteronomy 14:22-15:18; 26:1-19; I Samuel 1-2, 16-31; II Samuel 15-16; I Kings 17-19; Esther; Job; Ruth; Isaiah 40-66; Lamentations; Jeremiah 29-31; Ezekiel 36-37; Daniel 1-6; Habakkuk; Matthew 5:3-12, 38-48; 6:19-34; 7:7-29; Matthew 8-11, 15:21-38; 18:1-35; 20:1-34; 21:28-22:14; 23:5-12; 24:4-13; 24:42-25:46; 26-28; Mark 1:21-4:34; 5:1-6:13; 14-16; Luke 9-10; 15; 22-24; John 12; 15-16; 18-21; Acts 2-12; 16; 20-28; Romans 1-11; I Corinthians 7;9; II Corinthians 11-12; Ephesians 2; Philippians 2; Hebrews 11-13; James 2; I Peter; Revelation 4-22.
Anawimic Psalms: 2-7, 9-14; 16-18; 20-23; 25-27; 29-31; 33-45; 49, 52-64; 68-71; 73-75; 77-83; 86, 88, 91, 94, 102, 107, 109, 116, 120, 121, 124, 126, 129, 130, 137, 138, 140-144.
Paradigms of the Anawim: Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Joseph, Tamar, Children of Israel, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Jephthah, Sampson, Ruth, Hannah, David, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Naaman, Jehosephat, Hezekiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and the three, Jesus, those healed by faith, Apostles; Caananite woman, Peter, Stephen, Paul, John, Cornelius, Onesimus.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Great Debate

This funny is to give the previous post some space so you can see that pic.

But since the subject was raised, let me talk a bit about the determinism/free will debate.

God is sovereign. But what does "sovereign" mean? It means that God is the king, the Lord of all the universe. There is nothing over which God does not rule. The question in the determinism debate, it seems to me, is: Does God micromanage?

The idea of micromanaging is if, in giving someone else authority over an area, do you follow that "giving" by determining all the specifics of how it should be run?

God clearly gave authority to others to rule over sections of His creation. "He gave the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night." Thus, those arenas of authority God handed over to those powers to rule. And the earth God handed over to humanity. Not only is humanity supposed to rule over the creatures of the earth, but humanity is to "subdue" the whole earth. The earth isn't just for us to enjoy and use, but to rule. (Genesis 1, 2, Psalm 8)

So when God gave the earth to humanity to rule, is God constantly controlling everything? It says that certain things were determined beforehand, before the foundation of the world. What is determined from the foundation of the world?

-Jesus was known (I Peter 1:20)
-Jesus was loved by the Father (John 17:24)
-A kingdom for merciful humans was founded (Matt. 25:34)
-The Father choses a people for himself (Eph. 1:4)
-The Father predestined a people who were adopted by Him (Eph. 1:5,11)
-There are names written in the Lambs Book, and these do not worship the Beast (Rev. 13:8; Rev. 17:8-- although it seems that some names can be taken out of the book Psalm 69:28 and Rev. 3:5)
-A certain people were determined to conform to Jesus' image. Then God acts on that determination to make it happen. (Romans 8:29)

What does this mean? That God's chosen people were chosen before the foundation of the earth. Does this mean that God chose each one individually? Revelation almost sounds that way because of the determination of "names" (although the erasing of some names out of the book gives one pause). But all of them could be that God determined the people, the nation, and the means of salvation (as it hints in I Cor 2:7), but not necessarily the specific individuals. It seems that God had a plan, from the foundations of the world, to deliver humanity and He has been working on that plan, especially through the coming, death and resurrection of His Son.

But has God been a micromanager? I don't think so. I don't think He's been going behind humanity, controlling every aspect of that which He gave over freely. Yes, He has made the occasional changes, as any manager would do, and He makes evaluations of how each division manager has done (not so good, so far-- Psalm 82).

It seems that God has limited his own sovereignty, according to His own word. When He delegates, that delegation is firm. Even when he destroyed "all" of humanity, he kept a remnant, so that His promise would not be made null and void.

But the real problem with the questions that Calvinists and Armenians discuss is that they are really beside the point. The thing we should really focus on is having every aspect of our lives put under the Lordship of Jesus. We may think it is determined ahead of time or it is our own choice, but it doesn't really matter. Those who submit to Jesus, those who are conformed to His image, those are the ones who are chosen. Thus, whether it is by destiny or by choice, it is our goal, our destiny.

Monday, January 17, 2011

How To Be Saved Though Christian

We are saved by grace, through faith. But what is the faith that Jesus described? Was it a single prayer? An intellectual belief? A social community?

Salvation in Jesus is not just an event, it is a life. Praise God that at a certain time in your life you presented yourself before Jesus and, in faith, accepted him. And you have assurance that he has accepted you as well, through the death of Jesus. But when Jesus, your Lord, spoke about salvation, he was not talking about a one time event. Rather, he spoke about a way, a path that somebody walks on, not just a stand that someone makes. He spoke about abiding in his word, not just believing in it. He spoke about enduring to the end, not just dedicating oneself. Even so, if you are to gain salvation on the last day, your faith must be something that is lived out every day.

Jesus describes the daily living of faith in this way: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to take up the cross? Jesus spoke of seven things:

1. Be wholly, single-mindedly devoted to God alone.
No one can do slave-service to two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. No one can serve both God and wealth. Matthew 6:24
If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:47-48
Be rid of anything that distracts you away from God. This could be a pursuit of wealth, an abundance of possessions in your home, a certain standard of living, social obligations, friends or family that are trying to convince you to not fully commit yourself to God. It could be a drug habit, a sexual relationship, your CD collection, your television or your own pride or shame. Whatever it is, put it away from you and focus on following Jesus alone.
Actions of devotion:
Sell your possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12:33)
Separate yourself from family or friends that tempt you to fall away from the way of Jesus. (Luke 14:26-27)
Make a plan on how you can devote your whole life to God’s kingdom and righteousness with no distraction, take counsel with other believers, and DO IT! (Matthew 6:33)

2. Be obedient to God by doing what Jesus says.
Why do you call me, Lord, Lord and do not do what I say? Luke 6:46 Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord" will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21
It is not enough to give lip service to Jesus, we must also obey him. We cannot call him “Lord” if we do not do what he says. We must study the teachings of Jesus and obey him in all our ways.
Actions of obedience:
Study the teachings and life of Jesus. (Luke 10:38-42)
Recognize that insulting another, looking lustfully at another, divorce, breaking your promise, not submitting to authorities (even evil ones), and only doing good to those who do good to you are sins that will condemn you. (Matthew 5:20-48)
Watch what we say, for out of our heart comes all sin. (Matthew 12:33-36)

3. Confidently take action to rely on God’s promises.
All things are possible to him who has faith. Mark 9:23
If we want to gain the blessings of God, then we must actively believe what God said he would grant those who have faith in him. It is not enough to intellectually “believe” in God’s promise—we must act on them! If Jesus is Lord—we must obey him! If the meek shall inherit the earth—we must be meek! If those who trust in God will have their needs met—we must trust in God for everything! It is not enough to talk about what we believe, we need to show that God’s promises will happen if we confidently step out to rely on them.
Actions of faith:
Pray for people to be healed and cast demons out. (Luke 10)
Be poor, mourn, be meek, cry out for justice, be a peacemaker, do mercy, be pure in heart, allow yourself to be persecuted for the sake of Jesus. (Matthew 3:3-12)
Pray for justice, for the Holy Spirit and for God’s kingdom to come. And don’t stop until they come! (Luke 18:1-8; Luke 11:1-11)
Rather than taking on vengeance yourself, wait for God to do it, for he will vindicate the innocent.

4. Boldly assert the word of Jesus in your life and proclaim it to others.
What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. Matthew 10:27
Jesus commands us to take his word and to give it to those who do not know it. This is an act of love, but it is also an act of sacrifice for we will often be rejected and even persecuted for announcing what Jesus says.
Actions of boldness:
Gently assert the words of Jesus to those who are acting in disobedience—whether non-Christian or Christian.
Radically re-shape your life into the image of the words of Jesus.

5. Sacrificially love everyone in need without exclusion.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:35-36
Jesus commands us to love everyone, without exclusion, even those people who hate us, or whom we find to be unlovely. Love means to love practically—not just with our heart. If we see someone in need, then we need to do all we can to meet that need—no matter who we are.
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Luke 12:33
Our love is not just to be inclusive, but also sacrificial. Jesus gave of his whole self for our sakes and we are to do the same for those in need around us, especially for our brothers and sisters in Jesus
Actions of love:
Listen to people and find out their needs
Gently tell others when they are sinning before God.
Forgive everyone who repents of their sin.
Make available and give all that you have to those who are in greater need than you.
Do good to those who do evil to you—ask God to bless them, help them in times of need.
Feed the hungry, give clothes to those who don’t have enough, offer assistance to the needy—in what they need.

6. Humbly lower yourself under others.
Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Mark 10:43-45
Jesus lowered himself before everyone and did the task that no one wanted to do—to face the shame and agony of dying for the world. We are to do the same kinds of actions. Jesus tells us to lower ourselves and be servants of everyone in order to gain his kingdom.
For everyone who exalts themselves will be humbled, and those who humbles themselves will be exalted. Luke 14:11
The principle is the same for everyone. If you lower yourself—be downwardly mobile—then God will raise you up in due time. But if you try to lift yourself up, then God will crush you and send you to hell.
Actions of humility:
Do acts of service that others find distasteful.
Actively associate yourself with those who are socially unacceptable.
Put yourself in a lower position than is fit for your station in life.

7. Remain with the words of Jesus although you suffer for it.
Everyone who endures to the end will be saved. Mark 13:13
Again, it is not enough to commit ourselves to the way of Jesus. We have to live it. It is not enough to begin the life of Jesus, we have to endure with it and with him even though we suffer for it. Let us trust him enough that when we lose everything and everyone for his sake, we will keep with him through it all so we may have him eternally.
Actions of endurance:
Assert God’s promises although no one believes you.
Speak the words of Jesus although you are reviled for it.
Obey Jesus although people disdain you for it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What It Means To Be A Follower of Jesus

I wrote earlier about what a Christian believes. But to be a follower of Jesus is a completely different task. It is not a matter of intellectual assent or understanding the right facts. Rather, to be a follower of Jesus is a lifestyle, a commitment, an undertaking. And it is this that saves one, not whether one believes in this or that creation theory or atonement theory.

Some Christians will disagree with me— heck, MOST of them will dislike at least a portion of my presentation here. This is why I count myself as only nominally a Christian. I’m not a great Christian, because that’s not my goal. My goal is to be a follower of Jesus. And to be a follower of Jesus is, as I understand it, the following:

I am committed to Jesus as my Lord.
This isn’t just a belief, but a living reality by which I shape my life. Jesus is my King and my God, the one whom I obey, the one on whom I rely, the only one who I believe in without question. Jesus uses the Bible, and so do I, but if Jesus says something that a part of the Bible disagrees with, I hold to what Jesus says. Because it is Jesus, not Moses, not David who is my Lord. If society around me holds to something that Jesus disagrees with, then I stand with Jesus, because it is Jesus, not the government, not my friends, not my church who is my Lord.

I trust in the God who is merciful and powerful
The God and Father of Jesus is not an angry God, but a God who is sad that his creatures took the freedom and powers He gave them and squandered them. God wants all people and the rest of creation to live in harmony and justice. This will only be accomplished by God’s unlimited mercy and power, because humanity’s power, although sufficient, is too focused on short term, selfish ends. I also believe that God’s power acts to fulfill the needs of the poor and will help my deepest needs whenever I trust Him enough to cry out to Him.

I believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead due to my sins to create God’s perfect kingdom
I believe Jesus was a utopist. He was all about creating, living in and ruling God’s utopia. And while my sin—and the sins of all of God’s people—drove him to the cross, he did this to create a new people, a new government and a new law. In this new law, my repentance and confession offers me absolution. And I have the opportunity and responsibility to offer that absolution to others who, in Jesus’ kingdom, enact repentance and confession. This new kingdom is based on God’s mercy and power, and so is about changing the whole world to be as merciful, forgiving and assisting to the poor as God is.

Jesus’ power to change the world by the Spirit is in me
I have the power of prayer, which isn’t about words, but about the radical change of reality. The Spirit isn’t ethereal, but changes the world we live in for good. And I, when submitting to Jesus by faith, have the power to enact that power on those who will receive it.
Jesus’ insane morality is my own

Jesus’ life and death is mine to follow by example. As Jesus surrendered his privileged status, loved his enemies, hung out with sinners, gave to the poor, healed the sick, welcomed the outcast, rejected hypocrisy, was a thorn in the side to the religious establishment, accepted persecution, and did whatever crazy thing God told him to do, it is my responsibility that this outline will also describe my own life. This will not necessarily make me popular, and I’m okay with that.

I Expect A Great Life, but Not Yet
I am not living for this life, but for the next one. So my life may be filled with discomfort, rejection, poor health, and poverty for now, but I fully expect God to make this up to me. Because I have sacrificed my life for His, I expect a second chance, granted me by His own power. And in that second chance, Jesus tells me I will rule with Him on earth, in a body like His new body, assisting Him to bring peace, justice and mercy to both earth and heaven.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Guest Blogger: Why I Believe In Substitutionary Atonement

This blog was put together by Leeanne. She wrote the first paragraph and compiled the rest from other sources. It is in response to my disbelief in substitutionary atonement in other posts.

This view makes me wonder what is driving this belief: i.e. many people do not believe in God for purely emotional reasons: a parent tragically dies or abandons them at an early age, and some time after, maybe subconsciously, they come to believe that God is not there. At all. Or He's not worth knowing. Or human nature takes over: we want what we want when we want it, and acknowledging God does not let us have our way all the time, so we turn away from Him, and don't know why. No doubt God can reach anyone in these circumstances. The point is that they occur. What is driving this belief, since we do have more than adequate revelation to support the substitutionary atonement?

God has apparently already instructed Adam and his children that they must approach him through sacrifice. Heb. 11:4
(Gen. 8:20,21) Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled the soothing aroma; (21) and the LORD said to Himself, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.
Noah had obviously been instructed about animal sacrifice—including which animals were "clean" (i.e., of God's choosing). Gen. 7:2,3 says God had them take "sevens" of clean animals. This sacrifice is connected (in context) with the idea of avoiding God's judgment. It is an acceptable sacrifice, because God responds with a promise never to destroy the earth by flood again. Because of human depravity (8:21), we are dependent upon God's mercy and forbearance. The sacrifice is probably thus a picture of how God extends that mercy.

Summary: Death to cover shame and guilt? Provided by God?
(Gen. 4:3-5) So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. And Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. (4) And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. (5) So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.

God orchestrated this event, in part, as a prophetic type of the way he would provide a sacrifice for our sins.

• Vs 14 is a prediction that God would one day provide his sacrifice on Mt. Moriah. Mt. Moriah is the site of Jerusalem, the Temple (2 Chron. 3:1), and Jesus' death.
• God, like Abraham, offered up "his son, his only son, whom he loved" (Jn. 3:16 probably purposefully echoes this wording).
• Jesus, like Isaac, carried the instrument of his own death to the site (Jn. 19:17).
• Isaac was old enough to carry wood for the sacrifice up the mountain. We can infer from this that he was probably in his teen years or older. It's unlikely that Abraham in his old age could have forced Isaac down on the altar. Isaac likely offered himself voluntarily in faith, just like Jesus did.
• Isaac's deliverance from death was a prophetic type of Jesus' resurrection (see Heb. 11:19).
... it is not intrinsically morally objectionable for God to require the life of human beings. He does this ultimately at judgment, and he required the life of his own Son.
Was Jesus referring to this incident in Jn. 8:56,57? "My day" may well refer to Jesus' crucifixion ("my hour;" "my time"). Jesus may be saying that Abraham saw in this event a picture of Jesus' most important act.
Ex. 12:1-14 - The good news is that God is going to judge Egypt so that Pharaoh lets God's people go. The bad news is that the Israelites will be judged also—unless they observe this ritual. If they do observe it, his judgment will "pass over" those houses. Note these key elements in the ritual meal:
• The sacrifice must be without physical defect (vs 5).
• It must be killed (vs 6).
• Its blood (proof of its death) is what causes God's judgment to "pass over" (vs 7,22,23).
• Displaying the blood, eating in haste (unleavened bread), and being dressed in readiness demonstrated their faith that God would deliver them through his appointed means. God's provision must be appropriated through faith.
• God commanded that they celebrate Passover yearly as a memorial (Ex. 12:14,26,27).
God commanded that they celebrate Passover in the land (vs 25). Deut. 16:5,6; 2 Chron. 6:6). This has prophetic significance, as we shall see (Deut. 16:5,6; 2 Chron. 6:6 - eventually God specified that Passover be celebrated in Jerusalem).
• Summary: Substitute must be without defect and be personally appropriated through faith to be effective; location of sacrifice (Jerusalem).

Lev. 4 - The tabernacle was a mobile tent that God ordered the nation of Israel to put up every time they pitched camp. It illustrated his desire to dwell among his people, the problem that prevented him from fully doing this—and the solution he would one day provide for this problem. The problem is human sinfulness, illustrated by the physical barriers (veils before the holy place and the holy of holies) and the necessity of priests. The solution is substitutionary atonement offered through God's chosen mediator-priest. Note the common elements:
• They must slay an animal of God's choosing that is without defect >> blameless substitute (vs 3,23,28,32).
• The offerer must lay his hands on the animal's head, symbolically identifying the sacrifice with his sins (vs 4,15,24,29,33).
• The priest must offer the animal for them >> mediator (vs 5,16,25,30,34). Because this was only a picture, the (sinful) priests had to offer a sacrifice for their own sins before they could act as a mediator for others.
• They had to go through these grisly ritual sacrifices virtually every day. This not only kept them focused on the problem of sin and God's remedy (substitutionary atonement); it also indicated that these sacrifices were ultimately insufficient (Heb. 10:1-4), in that the people had no direct access to God, and they had no assurance of complete forgiveness.

Isa. 52:13-53:12** - This passage clearly teaches that God never viewed the animal sacrifices as efficacious in themselves. They were always a prophetic picture of God's chosen Servant—a blameless Jewish Person whose voluntary death would pay for humanity's sins. Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the culmination of four passages that progressively reveal more information about the suffering servant (42:1- 9, 49:1-13, 50:4-11). Note the sacrificial system/substitutionary atonement language:
53:5 "pierced through for our transgressions . . . crushed for our iniquities . . . by his scourging we are healed . . . "
53:6 " . . . the Lord caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him . . . "
53:8 " . . . he was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due . . . "
53:10 " . . . if he would render himself as a guilt offering . . . "
53:11 " . . . as he will bear their iniquities . . . "
53:12 " . . . he himself bore the sin of many . . . "

Jesus clearly understood that his substitutionary death was his main mission in the first coming... Jesus did not go to the cross merely to be the perfect expression or example of sacrificial love. The cross does communicate this (1 Jn. 4:10; Phil. 2:3-8), but its primary purpose was to actually pay for true moral guilt.

**** Paul insists that unless Jesus' death was atoning, it was needless (Gal. 2:21).****

• Summary: Jesus' substitutionary death was his main mission.
Matthew 26:26-30 - Jesus teaches his disciples that his death is the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover meal, and that the blessings of the New Covenant are possible only because of his substitutionary death.
Matt 26:26-30 And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." 30 And after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Luke 22:20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.

****Note: Understanding the way the Passover was observed yields additional insight into Jesus' statements. The Synoptic authors seem to only mention the ways that Jesus diverged from the normal Passover liturgy. The head of the household normally passed the bread out in silence—but Jesus explained that it represented his body/physical death for them. They normally drank four cups—two before the meal and two afterwards. The third cup was called the "cup of redemption," and Jesus explained its significance in vs. 28. The fourth cup was called the "cup of consummation" looking forward to God's future kingdom. In vs 29, Jesus refuses to drink this cup until he comes back. The Jews customarily ended this meal by singing Ps. 116-118. Note especially Ps. 118:6-9,17,18,22,23, which speak prophetically of Jesus' death and resurrection. See William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1974), pp. 504-509.

(2 Cor. 5:21) (God) made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

(1 Pet. 1:19,20) . . . but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.
• This was God's plan of the ages.
(1 Pet. 3:18) For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God . . .

Heb. 9 - Point out how the Old Covenant sacrificial system was a temporary and incomplete picture of Jesus' sacrifice. Read Heb 9:11-14; 23-26.

(Rom. 3:21-28) (Rom. 3:23,24*) But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (25) whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; (26) for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (27) Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. (28) For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
Vs 21 says that the Old Testament clearly taught and predicted salvation through substitutionary atonement.
Vs 23,24* explains the dilemma (our sinfulness and God's righteousness) and concisely explains Jesus' atoning death as the answer.
The Old Testament believers had their sins "passed over" (vs 25) until Jesus paid for them. They were not forgiven by the animal sacrifices (Heb. 10:4).
Vs 26 summarizes the dilemma we mentioned at the beginning. This is how God can accept sinful people while remaining righteous himself.
Note the repeated emphasis on faith and belief in this passage. This is not universalism (salvation for all regardless of belief), but salvation by grace alone, through Christ alone, through faith alone.
Concluding Observations
• Substitutionary atonement is the heart of biblical theology/soteriology. Apart from it, there is no salvation! Why is it that we no longer do animal sacrifices? Not because we now see they are primitive, barbaric, etc., but because they have been fulfilled by the most terrible sacrifice of all! Through substitutionary atonement and the cross, we see both how serious the sin problem is to God, and how much he loves us.
• There is important continuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant: People have always been saved by grace through faith (Heb. 11:2), and always through Jesus' death. Old Testament believers were saved by faith through Jesus' future death; we are saved by faith in his past death. The main differences between us and Old Testament believers are that we know more clearly how God made this payment, we know it has been made, and we have the Holy Spirit.
• There is also important discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant: Now that Jesus has fulfilled the Old Covenant system, it is obsolete (Heb. 8:13)! One implication of this is that New Testament Christianity should not be ritualistic. In the Old Covenant, God prescribed hundreds of rituals in careful detail. In the New Covenant, he prescribes only two rituals and is so general about them that Christians have argued for twenty centuries about how to observe them! Old Covenant worship prescribed a ritualistic approach to God, both because people could not be indwelt by God's Spirit and in order to teach God's people the elements of redemption. But now that Christ has come and God's Spirit indwells us, God wants us to relate to him personally rather than ritualistically. See Paul's explanation of this in Gal. 4:3-11. Roman Catholic and Orthodoxy's insistence on a liturgical and ritualistic spirituality (and the increasing evangelical acceptance of this notion) runs directly counter to God's movement from ritual to personal relationship.

Lev. 16** - The Day of Atonement is a clear example of substitutionary atonement for the nation of Israel.
Isa. 53** - This passage makes it clear that the Old Testament sacrificial system must be fulfilled by a Person—the Servant of the Lord.
Rom. 3:23,24* - All humans fall justly under God's condemnation because of their sins, but all humans are acceptable to God if they receive Jesus' atoning death for their sins.

What Christians Agree About

What all Christians believe, without exception:
By this I mean, if you call yourself a "Christian" of any shape, this is the minimum belief. Some may call themselves "christian" but if they don't believe these minimum items then they are a Christian in name only, not a real one. I don't mean this to limit, it's just that a definition has to be set up some where, and this seems to me to be the minimum.

What we believe is important.

The Bible—both the Hebrew and the Greek Canonical Scriptures—is significant for the believer to understand truth and morality.

There is a world of the Spirit which is more powerful than our world.

There is one God and he is the creator of all things.

Jesus is Lord.

Jesus died for our sins.

Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

There is life after death.

Where there is room for disagreement.
A main characteristic of Christians is not just that what they believe is important, but that it is important enough to argue with others. And so we discuss, disagree and debate about many points of doctrine. And we can accuse many others, who don't share our point of view, as being heretics or heterodox, at least. Here are some of the main points Christians have never been able to come to agreement on:

What we believe. All Christians say belief is important, which separates Christians from almost all other religions. Other religions emphasize action, or morality, or ritual, or tradition, but for Christians religion is about belief. Whether that belief is intellectual or moral, about facts or life realities is up to debate. But we all agree that belief is the significant thing.

What the Canon is: Well, for the most part Christians believe in the Old and New Testaments as found in most bound Bibles. However, some groups want to add this or that book and other groups (especially in the past) wanted to expel this or that book, but generally the 66 books of the Bible are agreed upon.

Why the Bible is important: We all agree there is some truth and morality in the Bible, but we often can’t agree on what that truth or morality is. It is interesting that different Christians can use the Bible to uphold opposite ethical systems.

What the Spirit world is made up of: Yes, the spirit world is important, and it is different than the world we live in, but the nature of it is not agreed on. Some say the Spirit world is only God and his servants. Others say the spirit world is ethereal, completely unphysical. Others think that the Spirit world is super-physical.

How creation came about: We all agree that God did the creation, but how He did it is up to debate by Christians. Did God create all the universe in seven 24 hour periods of time, or over eons? Did he do it directly by His word, or indirectly through mediators? And we disagree as to how much control God has over the universe. Some think that every action in the physical world was planned by God ahead of time. Others think that God directs certain actions, but has surrendered at least part of his control to others, especially humans.

What it means that Jesus is Lord: “Jesus is Lord” is the earliest, simplest of Christian creeds, the basic belief that makes one a Christian. However, we can’t even agree as to what that means. Is Jesus the historic personage or the resurrected spirit-being at the right hand of the Father? Does “lord” mean king or God, is it personal or universal? Is Jesus of the same essence of God, the same nature as God or just of the same will? Lots of discussion there.

How does it work that Jesus died for our sins: We all agree with the statement, but we disagree with about everything about it. Why did Jesus die? What is a sin? How does it work that we have a “fresh start” because of Jesus’ death? Thousands of years of discussion there.

How Jesus rose from the dead: Was Jesus risen physically or spiritually? Was Jesus risen historically or outside of space/time? What is the significance of Jesus’ rising? That’s all debated.

Many of the same questions about Jesus’ resurrection surrounds life after death: Is it spiritual or physical? Is the future set in stone, or do we already live in the end times? Is there a judgment day and what is the judgment based on?

Needless to say, to be a Christian is pretty vague. Sure there’s a foundation, but that foundation has been picked apart for 2000 years in almost every possible way so that to be a Christian pretty much doesn’t mean anything specifically.

Friday, January 7, 2011

What We Do And Might Not Believe

Below is a discussion that I have explained with the Bible text. But, as usual, C.S. Lewis describes the truth far better than I:

“Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and so silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make.

“What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this is another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.
“I will tell you what I think it is like. All sensible people know that if you are tired and hungry a meal will do you good. But the modern theory of nourishment—all about the vitamins and proteins—is a different thing. People ate their dinners and felt better long before the theory of vitamins was ever heard of: and if the theory of vitamins is abandoned is some day abandoned they will go on eating their dinners just the same.

“Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity: they are explanations about how it works. Christians would not all agree as to how important those theories are. My own church—the Church of England—does not lay down any one of them as the right one. The Church of Rome goes a bit further. But I think they will all agree that the thing itself is infinitely more important than any explanations that theologians have produced. I think they would probably admit that no explanation will be quite adequate to the reality.”

C. S. Lewis

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lewis' Classic "Poached Egg" Argument, Part 2

However, Lewis is certainly right. You can’t look at Jesus clearly and call him a good moral teacher, but not because of some claims of divinity. Rather, it is because of the reasons for his morality. You can see that his morality has a pretty crazy streak—

“Bless those who persecute you”

“Do good to those who harm you”

“Love your enemies”

“Lend money and do not expect it back”

“Give to those who ask of you”

“He who is angry at his brother is guilty”

“He who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery”

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off”

“If you hold a feast don’t invite your friends or family”

“Sell all your possessions and give to the poor”

“He who becomes my disciple must surrender all their possessions.”

“If anyone would come after me he must… take up his cross…”

This is frankly an insane morality. This is the reason that Christians have been spiritualizing and explaining it away for millennia. They can’t make sense of it, either. Almost every Protestant reformer simply dismissed it and every orthodox Christian faith marginalizes it because it makes no sense for a community that is trying to live in the world, to make some progress. It is the morality of anti-progress. It takes the basic moral ideas of reciprocation, responsibility and personal survival and dismisses them out of hand. Frankly, if this is the teaching of a “great moral teacher”, then morality really is a personal preference.

There is only one way, one piece of the puzzle of the foundation of Jesus’ morality, that makes any of this make sense: That this world is not where justice is contained. Jesus made it clear that the rewards and benefits of living out his morality is not in this world, but in the next. Rewards come in “the kingdom” or in “heaven”. All benefit comes, not from society, but from the Father, who rewards what is not seen. The heroes of Jesus’ morality, those who achieved the highest goals, are prophets and martyrs.

This means that Jesus’ morality is based on a completely spiritual basis, with no benefits to this world. This doesn’t mean that Jesus’ doesn’t give the occasional nod to benefits in the present life. Jesus says that the community of faith will be so strong as to give each apostle the wealth of a hundred people, but it is so noticeable, first of all because it is rare, but secondly because he says that these benefits come “with persecutions” (Mark 10:29-31).

Jesus’ morality is so heavenly-minded that it has no personal earthly good. It could be of great benefit to others, potentially. The poor, for they gain great benefit, and the persecutors because they don’t have to go looking for you. But the one who follows Jesus’ morality gains their only real benefit after their life is over. This is truly living by faith, and only faith. This is the confidence that Jesus’ morality is based.

Thus, Lewis is completely correct. Either Jesus has some amazing revelation from God and knows more than any human could know about the nature of reality, or Jesus is insane. No other teacher has been so out of touch with the reality we see and touch. So we cannot call Jesus a “great moral teacher” and still hold to our materialistic ideas. It’s either one or the other.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Lewis' Classic "Poached Egg" Argument, Part 1

“I am trying to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” -C.S. Lewis

In looking at this paragraph, we must first of all realize what Lewis was not saying: He was not using this argument to convince anyone that Jesus is God. He is simply saying it is hard to have a good opinion about a man who claims to be God Almighty unless he really WAS God Almighty. Either we have to take him deadly serious, or we need to ignore all he said. Lewis isn’t saying which one we should choose, simply that we have to make the choice. So Campus Crusade’s use of this passage as a proof for Jesus’ divinity doesn’t really work.

The only weakness of Lewis’ argument is what if Jesus didn’t claim to be God. Certainly a couple of Jesus’ first century disciples claimed this for him. John (or John’s student) says right off the bat that Jesus is God (John 1:1). Paul says that Jesus created all things, is before all things and sustains all things (Col. 1:16-17).

But did Jesus himself claim to be God? He said, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30), but we can see later in John that Jesus’ idea of “oneness” also includes all of Jesus’ disciples (John 17:11), so it can’t be the sharing of the Father’s essence that is often described in Christian theology. Thomas proclaimed Jesus his God, and Jesus didn’t stop him, but that’s a little less than the “man who claims he is a poached egg.”

Jesus did claim to be the Son of God (John 11:4), but we can see that the Son of God really just meant the Messiah, or Christ, or king of Jerusalem (John 1:49; 11:27). Jesus did proclaim himself the King of Jerusalem, clearly, as he rode into Jerusalem on a fowl, which fulfilled the prophecy of Jerusalem’s king (Matthew 21:1-9). It is interesting that when Peter made his bold, but private, proclamation that Jesus is the Messiah, that while Jesus approved of this, he also told his disciples not to tell anyone (Matthew 16:16-20). During Jesus’ ministry, it wasn’t clearly stated that he was the Christ, which would explain the confusion of all who listened to him as to his identity, and in John it says he only pointed to the miracles to explain who he was (John 10:24-25). Only to the Sanhedrin, which was a court, but it was only semi-public, did he finally make a clear statement that he was the Christ (Matthew 26:63-64) and that is only clear if you know and have understood Daniel’s prophecy (Daniel 7:13). Jesus’ statements about himself were an enigma wrapped in a controversy.

But even then, his statements were about him being king, certainly not clearly about being God. That was left to His disciples. I am not denying it’s truth, I am speaking about Lewis’ argument. His argument is that Jesus clearly called himself God, which means it is either true or he was insane. (It’s frankly not likely that Jesus was a liar, since it would be a very ineffective lie in first century Judaism, as well as pretty much any other monotheistic culture). But if Jesus was only hinting at his divinity, not stating it clearly, then that makes him neither here nor there. Jesus was smart enough—sane enough—not to come down clearly on his divinity, let alone his messiahship. If he is sane enough to dance around these subjects, surely he is sane enough to be a good moral teacher.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Goodness and Righteousness, Part 3

Is there any connection between righteousness and goodness? Only this: the greatest goodness comes in connection to righteousness. There is a goodness without righteousness, but it is not the greatest goodness. But righteousness without goodness is no righteousness at all. This doesn’t mean that a righteous person cannot be a sinner—in fact, it is a requirement that the righteous person recognize their sin. Rather, it means that a righteous person, if she truly has a relationship with God, will certainly have goodness. Because when one really has a relationship with God, it changes all other relationships for the better.

Righteousness doesn’t make one perfect, but it does lead one closer to the goal of being good.