Theological Musings

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Blogs -- Can't Live With 'Em, Can't Stop Reading 'Em

I am fairly new to the world of blogs, relatively speaking. It's probably only been about six months at the most since I first started reading blogs. After reading for a few weeks, I hesitantly put my toe in the water and began actually submitting comments to some blogs. Then I took the plunge and started my own, which you are reading at this very moment.

I'm by no means well-known among Christian bloggers -- I generally only get about 10 hits per day, or so. But I have interacted on some of the better-known, more widely-read blogs, and I have noticed some disturbing things.

Actually, this isn't limited to blogs at all. I remember the "good ol' days" of AOL's Christian chat rooms (anyone remember "Fellowship Hall"??) and the amount of junk that filled our screens back then by "Christians" judging, throwing mud, slandering, get the picture. But for some reason, the extended nature of blog posts (and the comments that accompany them) seems to lend itself to even more difficulties when it comes to Christian interaction.

In the interest of Christian "protocol" here, I'm not going to point fingers at specific blogs or people, because that's not really the point. But I am concerned about how we all come across online. In a recent post, I engaged Mike Russell (I mention him specifically, only because it's already public here on my blog and his) in response to one of his posts, and we actually were able to comment in a civil manner back and forth. I didn't necessarily get my questions answered, but at least I feel like Mike and I were able to leave the conversation as brothers and not enemies. That was a relief. I hope Mike feels the same way.

Other blogs, however, have not turned out so nicely for me. The other day, I read a post on a blog whose author claims to write "all from a Christian worldview." I found the post to be anything but Christian in its tone. In it, he referred to certain types of people as "idiots", "morons", "dolts", and in many other ways spoke in derogatory terms. Without trying to jump all over the guy, I simply posed the question "How does a 'Christian worldview' influence this post?" or something to that effect. His response? "I'm sorry. I forgot that since I'm a Christian, there are no idiots in the world." Tongue-in-cheek? Perhaps. Sarcastic? Probably. Appropriate? Hardly. Then another commenter jumped in with even more scathing "semi-sarcastic" (per his words) remarks about me. Today, I noticed that he (the additional commenter) even ridiculed me further in a completely unrelated thread on the same site, asking the author in a mocking tone how he could attend a baseball game while claiming to have a "Christian worldview".

My question to that particular brother was a sincere one, and it remains unanswered in relation to a lot of what is put forth as "Christian blogging". A greater writer than I once posed the question "How should we then live?" I would like to pose the question: "How should we then blog?" I'm not sure I have the answer completely, but I have an idea that we're not really anywhere close yet. Nor am I the first person to pose this question.

Cold, hard, black-on-white (or whatever colors a particular blog uses) text can be pretty harsh. And yet, I am reminded that this is exactly how the New Testament was written. Consider the writings of Paul. Some of his letters included in our Bible are actually responses to letters that were written to him. For example, in 1 Corinthians, he mentions things that they wrote to him in a letter that is lost to our 21st-century world. There were some very tough things written to him, apparently, and he wrote some very tough answers. Not all of 1 Corinthians is complimentary to the readers. And yet, somehow, it's very hard to miss the deep love Paul felt for these believers, and his passion for them to become more Christlike.

So, I don't think we can simply blame the medium, as many wish to do. I, myself, have often complained that it is so hard to carry on these types of conversations online because of the lack of facial expressions, tone of voice, and other body language. But I realize that is merely an excuse for the poor treatment of each other that takes place. We are responsible for how we communicate, whether we like it or not.

Does that mean that feelings won't get hurt? Nope. Not at all. I'm sure some were hurt by Paul's reprimands in 1 Corinthians. We can't stop people's feelings from getting hurt. But there is responsibility on both sides to make sure that the communication honors Christ, if we both claim to be brothers and sisters in the Lord.

For my part, I need to develop a bit more thick skin, I'm afraid. I take things personally way too often. I will admit that it hurt to see my comments ridiculed by someone, and brought up again in a different (unrelated) post with no merit but to continue the ridicule. But more than anything, the whole exchange left me sad. Sad that this kind of ridicule is actually tacitly accepted by many who claim to be Christians. There were many things that I would have liked to have said in response, but felt that it was better to just walk away and not engage any more in that particular situation. The Bible warns us against engaging in futile debates, and I felt this one fell into that category. What could have been a beneficial discussion about "Christian worldviews" (can anyone even define what that buzzword means?!) got trashed by mockery and sarcasm.

As a writer of a blog, I want to be very careful how I react to people. I don't expect everyone to agree with me. In fact, there are things I write about that I actually expect will be disagreed with by many. I write to get my own thoughts out, to see what others think, and to maybe challenge others to think outside their particular box. But when I do post with regard to someone else's blog, or respond to something here and link to the original, it is never meant to be judgmental or slanderous.

Until next time,

steve :)

Monday, October 10, 2005

They Know His Voice (part 2 of at least 3)

I'm finally back with part 2 of this topic of hearing the voice of our Shepherd. Many thanks to Michael Rew and ded who responded to the previous post with some further thoughts. It has been fairly noted that charismatic believers often cloud this issue of hearing God's voice by claiming the voice of God dictates everything, whether or not the action really is guided by God. Even more bluntly, this sometimes happens even when the supposed "word" contradicts the teaching of Scripture.

So, how does one hear the voice of God? And if it is true that we, as the sheep belonging to Jesus, know the voice of our Shepherd, what should we expect in the way of hearing Him? Let's first of all look at how God spoke to others as recorded in Scripture. To put it another way, how did people learn what God was trying to communicate to them? This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a representative one.

  • God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8). In the course of walking in the Garden, God spoke to Adam.
  • God spoke to Noah (Genesis 6:13). Like with so many other examples that I could give, this passage does not say specifically how God spoke, but with the details of the ark given, it is presumed that God spoke audibly to Noah.
  • God spoke to Abraham (actually Abram was his name at the time -- Genesis 12:1). This, again, does not specify the method, but a very specific promise is being given to Abraham, and so again, God presumably spoke audibly to Abraham.
  • God spoke to Jacob (Genesis 28:13). In this instance, God spoke to Jacob in a dream. We don't know if this was how God spoke to others mentioned above, but in this case, it is specified.
  • God revealed the interpretation of dreams to Joseph (Genesis 40:12). This example is interesting because it doesn't record God speaking at all. According to the narrative, Joseph tells the two men that interpretation of dreams belongs to God, the men tell him their dreams, and Joseph then interprets them. How did Joseph know the interpretation? The same thing happens in Genesis 41 when Joseph appears before Pharoah to interpret his dreams. In this instance, Joseph specifically says, "I cannot do this, but God can." Then he proceeds to speak the interpretation. In these cases, God wasn't so much speaking to Joseph as He was to the ones having the dreams, and He spoke through those dreams and the interpretation spoken by Joseph.
  • God spoke to Moses through the burning bush (Exodus 3). In this case, God got the attention of someone supernaturally (a bush was on fire, but did not get consumed by the fire) and then spoke audibly to them.
  • God spoke through Moses to the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 5). In this instance, God wanted to speak directly to the Israelites, but the Israelites were fearful, and asked Moses to speak to God for them and relate whatever God said.
  • Throughout the remainder of the Old Testament, we have numerous accounts of God speaking to people (individually and as a nation) through prophets. Sometimes the prophets appear to have received an audible word directly from the Lord; other times they had dreams from God that they related to the people.
  • God spoke to some through angels (e.g., Gabriel spoke to Mary in Luke 1). These angels delivered God's message verbally to some and in dreams to others.
  • God spoke through Jesus (all throughout the Gospels). This one is in a category all by itself, because it represents the One called "God with us". I will address this one more specifically later on because I think it is significant.
  • God spoke to Peter through a vision (Acts 10). In this vision, God speaks audibly to Peter.
  • In Acts 15, the apostles make mention in a letter to the Gentile believers that it "seemed good" to both the Holy Spirit and to them to communicate freedom from the Law. No mention of God speaking audibly is present here, and yet there is a confidence presented by the apostles that they were discerning the will of God. The fact that they said it seemed good to the Holy Spirit shows this confidence.
  • God spoke through the writings of the biblical authors. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11:23, Paul says, "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you...."

Many more examples abound, but I wanted to share the above list to make two simple points:

  1. God speaks
  2. God speaks in various ways

But beyond that, we are compelled to examine the evidence of Scripture to determine what that means for us in our lives. Not too many of us have had the experience of hearing the audible voice of God. In fact, it's probably safe to guess that almost everyone reading this blog is unfamiliar with that experience. I'm not sure that I could point to a time when I heard the audible voice of God. But, I have heard God in many other ways listed above. There have been times when I dreamed something that I later determined to be God speaking to me. There have been times when others have spoken things to me that I determined to be the words of God. And, like the apostles in Acts, there have been times when it just "seemed right" to move a particular direction or make a particular decision because of the testimony of the Spirit within.

What I find interesting is that, to my mind, there seems to be a progression of how God spoke or communicated, and it is a progression that begins and ends with intimacy. At the beginning of mankind, before sin broke the relationship that Adam and Eve experienced with God, the Bible tells us that God walked in the garden. (It actually references this right after they sinned, but one can safely assume that this was something that had occurred prior because Adam and Eve knew the sound of God "walking".)

From the point of Adam and Eve's sin, God spoke directly to people who found favor with Him (Noah, Abram, etc.) but there seemed to be a quest on God's part to recapture the whole human race in relationship. So, He calls an entire nation to the mountain to meet with Him. Scripture is not overtly clear on this, but I think the overall context seems to indicate that it was not God's desire to speak only through Moses to the people. However, the people refused to come to the mountain out of fear, and so God spoke through Moses.

For a very long time, God spoke through other "spokesmen" who followed in Moses' footsteps, and these spokesmen, in turn, spoke the words of God to the people. To speak to God, the people had to go through a priest, who spoke on their behalf.

As time progressed, I can almost envision God getting more and more frustrated with this situation. The very people to whom He was trying to speak were not listening to Him (or, to be more accurate, they were not listening to the ones speaking on His behalf). So, in a very climactic event in the story, God becomes a man and speaks directly to the people again through the person of Jesus. And we know how that went. But some heard His voice and followed.

When Jesus was leaving this earth, He promised to send the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit, He told us in John 16:13 would guide us into all truth and reveal the things yet to come. And we know from John 7:39 that the Spirit is given to those who believe (or place their trust) in Jesus.

So, now that I've laid all that groundwork, what does this mean for our lives today? Quite simply that we now have access to a relationship that is even more intimate than Adam and Eve had with God. God doesn't just walk with us in the garden from time to time. He dwells within us. If we have placed our trust in Jesus as the means of our relationship to the Father, we have the Holy Spirit within us to guide us and lead us and reveal truth to us.

I believe that in this period of history, we will most often hear the voice of God as the Holy Spirit within us. Now, obviously, this raises some really serious questions. As one writer posed on another blog, "How do I know it's God speaking and not just me having an idea?" I'll look at this question and more next time.

Until next time,

steve :)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Repentance and Rewards

I'll get back to the topic of hearing the voice of the Lord soon, but I want to change subjects for the moment and respond to a discussion in which I've engaged on another blog.

Recently, an article was posted by Mike Russell on the Theologica blog with the title "Happily Divorced, Remarried, and Rewarded". In that article, Mr. Russell relates an experience he had with someone who was trying to rationalize a pending divorce. This person excused their divorce by saying, in essence, that God would be obligated to forgive him for getting divorced for "unbiblical reasons". Mr. Russell's response was that it was definitely true that God would forgive the divorce, but that this man could in no way expect to receive any kind of eternal rewards for being a good husband in any future marriage. He states, in part:

In situations where there is an unbiblical divorce, the guilty party - not the innocent one - can expect to be forgiven but cannot legitimately expect for there to be eternal rewards for being a good husband or wife in the next marriage.

The decision to end a marriage for less than Scriptural reasons has consequences. The loss of future rewards - which is no small matter - is one of them. We may not think such rewards are all that important but the stress of the New Testament tends to argue otherwise.

His biblical launching pad for this conclusion was the statement of Jesus in Matthew 6 where Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the spiritual leaders who did their tithing, fasting, etc. in ways that would guarantee they would be noticed by others. In that situation, Jesus says, "They have their reward in full."

In the comments section following Mr. Russell's post, I took issue with the statements that were made and expressed my opinion that not only were Jesus' statements taken out of context and misapplied, but that an issue which is not cut-and-dried in Scripture (that of eternal rewards and their relationship to believers who repent of sin) was being made cut-and-dried by Mr. Russell in a dangerous way.

Rather than continue to post lengthy comments to another person's blog, I opted instead to post here on my own and flesh out my response a little bit more. I hope to demonstrate not only that I believe the exegesis used in the original post is faulty, but also that the position set forth has damaging ramifications to our view of others in the Body of Christ.

First of all, the exegesis. As I pointed out in my second response to Mr. Russell, we must look at the context of the comments by Jesus and interpret them in light of that context. This is a basic rule of hermeneutics. In the teaching of Matthew 5 and 6, the overarching concept is that the Father looks at the heart, and it is the motives of the heart which are judged. Matthew 6:1 even starts off this passage by stating very clearly: "'Be careful not to do your "acts of righteousness" before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven.'"

Now, the first leap that Mr. Russell makes in his exegesis of this passage is that this passage can be applied to situations where a truly repentant believer performs "acts of righteousness" from a genuine heart of service to God. (In his example, he is apparently using the concept of "being a good husband or wife" as an example of "acts of righteousness".) Yet, it seems to me that this is comparing apples with oranges. Jesus is clearly talking about heart motivation. Acts of righteousness done with impure motives vs. acts of righteoueness done with pure motives. This distinction is completely lost in Mr. Russell's exegesis because he changes the argument to be "acts of righteousness done with impure motives = acts of righteousness (irrespective of motive) done by someone in an area of their life in which they formerly sinned and repented." This is a huge leap and immediately takes us away from the context of the passage at hand.

The second leap that I see is that Mr. Russell makes the assumption that, since Jesus implies that there are circumstances in which rewards will be withheld, that this applies to the particular issue of divorce and remarriage. Now, I must be clear in saying that I am not arguing the other side, and insisting that those rewards will not be forfeited. My point is not to prove an opposing view. But, the burden of proof rests solely on Mr. Russell, and in his replies to me, I feel like he has insisted that I give proof of my viewpoint, even though I was not making a point other than the logical fallacies in his argument. Mr. Russell is the one who made the assertion that a believer who divorces "for less than Scriptural reasons" and then remarries forfeits the opportunity to earn rewards in a future marriage for honoring God in that marriage.

The third leap is that because the New Testament teaches some rather general concepts about rewards for our lives here, Mr. Russell assumes that there are rewards for being a "good husband" that can, therefore, be forfeited in eternity. I may be wrong on this, but I cannot recall any Scripture that specifically mentions rewards for something so specific. I see rewards mentioned for overcoming, for running the good race -- in other words, I don't see specific rewards mentioned for specific things. Mr. Russell, in his responses to me, has taken the approach of saying that in situations like this, God has given us wisdom to figure it out. While I certainly accept that God gives us wisdom, I think that we head down a very dangerous path in issues such as this. Let me explain:

Mr. Russell chose to introduce a distinction between "unbiblical" and "abiblical" -- in other words, teaching that is contrary to that of Scripture vs. teaching that derives from "wisdom" based on Scripture. I'm not sure if I even agree with this use of "abiblical", but I do understand where Mr. Russell is coming from on the use (or even coining, perhaps) of that term, and so I will use it for the sake of discussion.

When we attempt to justify something as "abiblical", however, we must be careful not to build that conclusion on logic that is strictly based on faulty exegesis or other "abiblical" thoughts. As I demonstrated with the leaps taken in Mr. Russell's logic, the very foundation of his argument rests on a questionable application of Jesus' words, and then leads to more conclusions based on this application. If the foundation is not solid, the building is not solid.

In areas such as this, then, we must tread very carefully and not form dogma. His comments in reply to mine notwithstanding, the original post demonstrates dogmatic statements on a topic which, at best, is conjecture. In fact, Mr. Russell even recounts how he dogmatically made a statement that he wasn't sure he believed himself. This illustrates my point very clearly.

Humility in our approach to Scripture enables us to say, "This is not clear. Therefore, I cannot dogmatically state it." All too often, theologians end up making dogmatic statements on areas that are not clearly derived from Scriptural principles. Frankly, I think that claiming that "wisdom" allows this is a misuse of the concept of biblical wisdom. Wisdom will allow us to apply Scripture to our lives and determine what the Spirit is saying to us. But wisdom does not give us the right to point a finger at someone else and say, "You will not have rewards for anything you do in a future marriage because your divorce is wrong." We must, with humility, acknowledge that, because of Scripture's silence on the issue, we cannot say for certain how God will deal with those "acts of righteousness" that might occur in a second marriage.

Additionally, the concept of rewards being withheld from a repentant believer sends us down a path of identifying which sins have eternal consequences (despite being forgiven) and too narrowly defining what forgiveness really entails. This puts us in a dangerous position of "playing God" and creating a man-made system of "levels" of sin and their consequences. Mr. Russell admits that some consequences are removed some of the time upon true repentance, yet believes that consequences for "unbiblical" divorce are not removed. This is very dangerous ground, indeed.

I hope that some of this makes sense. I'm not asking Mr. Russell to agree with me, nor am I saying that his conclusion is necessarily wrong. The burden of proof, as I stated earlier, is not on me. But I believe that his conclusion is based on faulty logic and poor exegesis, which causes the conclusion to at least be suspect. Any thoughts in response?

Until next time,

steve :)

Monday, October 03, 2005

For Those Leaving Comments

Recently, I have had quite a few problems with "comment spam" (unwanted comments that have nothing to do with the blog, but are posted by spammers). I have been able to delete these comments as they get posted, but it's annoying and frustrating. For that reason, I have taken the step of adding "word verification" to the comments section.

What does this mean? Well, it simply means that when you post a comment, you'll have to go through the annoying step of typing a word that appears in a strange-looking graphic so that you can verify you are a live person actually typing the comment and not some annoying spammer's robot somewhere.

I apologize for this inconvenience, and wish that I didn't have to go this route, but I figured it was preferable to making you have to create a Blogger account just to be able to leave comments!

Please don't let this discourage you from commenting on the posts. I love the dialogue, and enjoy reading the responses.

Until next time,

steve :)