Theological Musings

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Would the Real Tim LaHaye Please Sit Down (and be quiet)!

I'm not real big on calling Christian leaders out publicly and taking issue with them. I try to be very respectful, and especially remembering the fact that a lot of these men have paid way more of their fair share of dues in getting to the position where they are. But sometimes one just needs to speak out.

Thanks to a recent post from the JollyBlogger, an MSNBC/Newsweek interview with Tim LaHaye was brought to my attention. And frankly, I have had enough. While I certainly don't expect my little blog to bear any influence on Mr. LaHaye's agenda, I'll pretend it does and say, "Mr. LaHaye, please cease your public speaking about prophecy and the end times."

Now, a few words of disclaimer. This has nothing to do with the fact that I am no longer a dispensationalist or pre-tribber, and Mr. LaHaye is. It's the fact that what he says is not only grossly inaccurate, but takes a sharp sideswipe at large portions of the body of Christ.

For example, on page 2 of the online version of the MSNBC/Newsweek interview, the following exchange takes place between the interviewer (in bold print) and Mr. LaHaye:

[M]y understanding is that current biblical scholarship reads some of the apocalyptic scenes in the Bible as metaphorically addressing events that were taking place as the Bible was being written.
These are usually liberal theologians that don’t believe the Bible literally....Part of the opposition to our position is from the secular humanists, but part of it is from the liberal people of theology that reject the Bible. I don't see a great deal of difference between them. Their basic conclusions are often the same.
These are very interesting (and loaded) statements. Now, granted, I'm reading between the lines just a tad, but it seems to me, from reading some of LaHaye's books in the past, that when he says "liberal", he means anyone who does not believe in the pre-trib rapture. For example, several years ago, I read his book Rapture Under Attack, and was amazed at the harsh attacks he leveled against people who differ from him eschatologically. And this current interview is no different.

The whole premise behind Mr. LaHaye's teaching is that reading the Bible literally necessitates a pre-trib rapture belief, and if you reject the pre-trib rapture belief, you do not take the Bible literally. Consequently, he can summarily write off anyone who differs with him, as he did in this interview, as those who "reject the Bible". Mr. LaHaye, nothing could be further from the truth!

In fact, it should be noted that even Mr. LaHaye's interpretation of Revelation is not consistent in interpreting things literally. Just as one very small example, LaHaye believes that Revelation 4:1 is speaking of the rapture of the Church. Yet Rev. 4:1 only speaks of John being called up into heaven to view what was to happen. Reading that literally would necessitate a simple, clear interpretation that John was called up into heaven. Yet LaHaye departs from the literal meaning there and inserts his interpretation that it is a metaphor of the rapture of the Church.

Now, the point of this post is not to argue against pre-tribulationalism. Maybe we can talk about that in another post, if my readers care to. But the point I want to make here is that Mr. LaHaye has worn out his welcome as a spokesman for Christianity, and has elevated what should be considered, at best, a secondary issue (eschatology), to the position of primary doctrine. And consequently, he's out there telling reporters that the current conflict in the Middle East is proof that his viewpoint is correct.

And those who disagree with him are slandered in statements such as the following (the conclusion of the abridged interview linked above):

I would say that [a particular critic is] just betraying his poverty of faith. If he had faith in the Bible, faith in the future and Jesus Christ, he’d recognize that our passion is just like the theme song in our books: we don’t want anybody to be left behind.
Now, I do have some questions as to the authenticity of Mr. LaHaye's closing statement. He claims that his "passion" is that he doesn't want anybody to be left behind. Now, I'm sure that to a certain extent, that is true. But if that was really what was driving him, why did he file a lawsuit against the makers of the "Left Behind" movie? Why does he feel that he has to spend time and energy attacking those who disagree with his eschatology, rather than just getting the word out to people? Quite honestly, if he really believes that this is the end, why not just give his books away so that more people can be reached, and nobody will be "left behind"? But instead, the money keeps rolling in, and predictably, LaHaye says, "I think it's a God thing. God has just chosen to bless this series." Apparently, God didn't bless the lawsuit.

In my opinion, Tim LaHaye is in the same category as Pat Robertson, whose public statements do more to embarrass the body of Christ than to bear witness to the Kingdom. So when LaHaye comments on the current Middle East conflict by saying, "Biblically speaking, the very nations that are mentioned in prophecy—and have been mentioned for 2,500 years as occupying the focus of the tension of the last days—are the very nations that are involved in the conflict right now", it smacks of sensationalism.

So, Mr. LaHaye, please take your seat and refrain from commenting on current events. Your 15 minutes of fame is long over.

Until next time,

steve :)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Painting the Outside of the Tomb

I want to talk about a very touchy, emotional issue for a lot of people. I know this will be difficult to talk about tactfully, but I really feel like I can't hold back my opinion on this much longer. It has to do with the idea that it is the responsibility of Christians to make sure that morality is enforced by our government.

Now, I do realize that I have a couple of non-USA readers, so I want to apologize ahead of time to them for this decidedly US-centric post. But since I'm a citizen of the USA and I live here in the USA, and most of my readers...well, you get the idea.

Let me start with a little story. Last November or December, I was speaking to a Christian brother about someone we both knew who was unsaved. This third party also happened to be an admitted homosexual. The comment that my Christian brother made to me was with regard to trying to witness to this other person. He said, "How do you tell someone, 'Hey, I'd like you to worship my God, and oh, by the way, He totally disapproves of your lifestyle'?"

My response was rather simple: You don't. You witness to the Gospel, and you let the Holy Spirit do the convicting (John 16:8). Yet it seems that so many Christians in America are determined that we must make sure that sinners know that God hates their sin. And to make sure they know, we want to fight to pass legislation that makes it illegal for them to participate in their sin. And if they do choose to participate, we want to make sure that they get no civil or social benefits from their open rebellion against our God.

And this is where I fear we have missed the mark. In my opinion, legislating morality amounts to painting the outside of a tomb. It looks real nice on the outside, but it's still full of dead bones. And meanwhile, we have succeeded in telling people what we (and God) are against, without really sharing the Gospel with them to begin with.

Don't get me wrong. I believe the Bible when it says that homosexuality is unnatural behavior. But as some homosexuals have pointed out, why aren't we, as Christians, campaigning as actively to make divorce illegal as we are to make homosexual marriage permanently illegal? This is, in my opinion, a valid question.

Recently, I caught a snippet of Chuck Colson (I believe it was his Breakpoint program) commenting about the consitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and how we need to make sure that amendment still gets pushed through. He stated that we needed to stop this "attack on marriage".

Likewise, when I was discussing my thoughts about this with some other Christians, they said, "So you think we shouldn't stop gay people from getting married? What are you going to do when they tell you that your marriage is not legal anymore because it's a heterosexual marriage?"

Well, my response to that is quite simple, too: I don't depend on the government to tell me that my marriage to Christy is legitimate. My marriage is something that is valid in the eyes of God. In the same way that I won't stop worshipping with my fellow believers if Christian worship ever becomes illegal in the United States, I do not put my trust in the government to "protect my marriage".

So what should we be doing as believers in our culture? This is not an easy question to answer, because it's not really a simple question. Recently, one of my blogging friends, Brad (aka Broken Messenger), talked about the issue of politics, and in reading some of his other thoughts, I came across an article he wrote last November about politics in the life of the Christian. In this very thought-provoking article and resulting discussion, Brad wrote:

...[I]n the wake of each of [the apostle]’s lives the face of the Roman Empire was changed without a single piece of legislation passed, a single election won, a victorious revolt or the successful expulsion of a single ruler or senator of the establishment. The apostles sought after the hearts of men for Christ by living Christ, and their legacies changed the world.
Now, to be sure, Brad does make certain to point out that he's not saying we should not participate in the political process (i.e., vote based on our conscience, etc.), but makes a very true statement when he says, "No one has ever [found] or will ever find eternal life through the passing of a ballot measure."

Even more recently, Raborn Johnson wrote about the differences between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God. In his post, he concludes with a very challenging question:

Could it be that we have overestimated the power of fleshly ideas to change the hearts of people, while underestimating the power of God's love shown through believers corporately, and individually to accomplish the same purpose?
I think the answer is "yes". As Christians in America, I fear we have swung so far to the side of political action, even to the point of using church services to rally people around certain legislative actions. I find this incredibly concerning.

May the Lord give us wisdom to know how to live our lives within our culture in such a way that men are drawn to the flame of the Holy Spirit burning within us. If that becomes the case, we will see true, genuine change take place in our culture in a way that no legislation could ever accomplish. Let's put our faith solidly in the power of God to change lives through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then true life will reside within those whom we attempt to reach, and we will not merely have a freshly-painted tomb.

Until next time,

steve :)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Reflections on One Year of Blogging

It seems customary for people to mark the anniversary of their blog each year. I don't fully understand why, but I guess I'll be the lemming that I try not to be and follow the crowd on this.

So here it is, one year since I wrote my first post here on Blogger. At the time, I had no idea what would happen. I didn't know if anyone would read or what. As it turns out, I have had a very fun year of it.

There have been a few surprises along the way. Like who would have thought that a blog that writes from a simple church perspective would attract several institutional pastors as regular readers and commenters?! :) But Ray and Gordon, I love you guys, and thank you for the very edifying and uplifting dialogues here. You two, especially, have done a lot to keep me hopeful in a lot of areas.

Another surprise has been seeing which posts resonated, and which ones didn't. Sometimes I would write something that I thought was really interesting and provocative, and not too many people would engage. But on the other hand, the post that seems to have gotten the most attention, and was definitely the most "linked-to" post of this first year was one that I never really even wrote for anyone else but myself. That was A Blogger's Version of 1 Corinthians 13. Somehow, it got passed around and linked to, and resulted in some really encouraging comments. I still shake my head in amazement at that.

At any rate, this whole experience so far has been everything I thought it would be and nothing at all like I thought it would be! But I look forward to the next year, and the next year, and however long I have the privilege of sharing my thoughts with you in this fashion.

Adrian Warnock, a blogger I have admired for a while now because of his gracious spirit and tone, recently wrote about the topic of being an "influential blogger". He writes:

You see, we need to be loving towards our readers and leave them with a positive impression. Sure, it's easier to get a lot of comments with an aggressive "nasty" post, but is it consistent with Christian love?
In agreement with Adrian, I hope that your time here is edifying, beneficial, encouraging, and challenging in your walk with Jesus. May God receive all of the glory from this.

Until next time,

steve :)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Is Subjectivity Always a Bad Thing?

It's interesting what you learn when you start asking questions and seeking answers. I'm coming up on the first anniversary of this blog (July 20), and it's been an interesting year of learning. Not just learning things in response to my questions, but learning what others think. Sometimes, I have learned very painfully what others think of the questions I ask. And sometimes I find out that some people just don't want to hear any questions asked.

What always amuses me, though, is how people want to figure out what box to put me in so they can label me and then dismiss my thoughts. And the funny thing is that many times, I've never even heard of the boxes until I'm put in them.

Take postmodernism, for example. Several months ago, I started seeing the word "pomo" used on some blogs. It took me a while to even find out what the word stood for. I figured out really quickly that it was used in a rather derogatory way, but finding out what it was short for was just the start of my learning.

Once I found out that "pomo" was short for "postmodernism", then I had to find out what postmodernism was. I have found that the concept of "postmodernism" has very different definitions, depending on who is doing the defining. To a lot of Christians, "postmodernism" is the evil trend in our culture to deny any absolute truth and leave everything up to "personal interpretation". It seems to be characterized by those opposed to it as something that resists truth and certainty, and instead wants to leave all options open.

While I have no interest in defending postmodernism, I'm not necessarily sure it's all that its critics say it is. But whether or not it is, it seems easy for people to want to shove me (and people like me) into a box labeled "pomo" and then dismiss us as being an enemy of the Gospel. Well, ok, so maybe they don't go that far in their assessment (at least not to my face), but the responses I get sometimes on other blogs (and an occasional comment that will pop up here on this blog from people other than my regular commenters) indicate that my questions cause major doubt in their minds as to my dedication to the absolute truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

One of the responses that so frequently heads this direction is an accusation that I am advocating for subjectivity, and therefore am rejecting the objective truth of God's revelation. So I wanted to take a moment to talk about subjectivity and how it relates to our Christianity. In order to do so, one must sort through some implications of subjectivity as that term is used in theological discussions.

Subjectivity, in most discussions of this nature, appears to be rejected as a postmodern approach of lack of absolutes. In other words, as I have pointed out in the recent discussion on the role of Scripture (part 1, part 2, and part 3), and as some comments showed in reply to my thoughts, many think that I am advocating for something so subjective that there is 1) no accountability, and 2) no canon (measure) with which to evaluate the legitimacy of the experience or belief.

There is this polarization of two extremes: One purports to be a completely objective, propositional approach to theology. This is the approach that thinks that anything we know about God can only be known through reading the Bible. By coming to the right conclusions as to what the text says, we are left with clear statements of propositional truth (i.e., either true or false, but no room for in-between). The other polarized position is a rejection of all objective truth, and just going on feelings or "being led by the Spirit" in a way in which no one is permitted to question our experience because "God led me" or "God told me".

As most of my regular readers can predict, my response to that is that there is a middle ground between the two polar opposites. And that leads us to the question in the title of this post: Is subjectivity always a bad thing?

Recently, I began reading a book by Carl Raschke entitled The Next Reformation. I have not gotten very far into the book, so I'm not prepared to comment on the book overall. But one quote jumped off the page at me. (This is from page 19 of the paperback version)

The theme of subjective truth, properly understood, has been far more congenial to the expansion of the gospel through the ages than any canon of propositional certitude. When evangelical believers undergo conversion...and offer their own lives to Christ in a personal profession of faith, it is rarely the result of anyone having convinced them through careful and flawless reasoning that Jesus is their Savior. It is usually because God ministering as the Holy Spirit has grappled with them in their private depths of confusion and doubt and given them a whole new inner lease on life. Paul may have convinced a few Athenian citizens that the "Unknown God" they were worshipping was in fact the living Creator. But Paul himself was not drawn to Christianity because some philosopher offered a better argument than the Stoics, Cynics, or Epicureans of his time. Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle because the resurrected Lord encountered him on the road to Damascus, said only a few soul-wrenching words to him, and left him speechless and dumbstruck.
In other words, the very experience of conversion itself is subjective. Yes, there is objective truth involved, but it also includes a subjective experience. I know of few Christians who would be willing to deny that. And yet, somehow, once a person is saved, we want them to shun all subjectivity and subscribe to a series of propositional statements in order to show "maturity" in their faith. Especially to most cessationists (sorry, Gordon, and other regular readers who are still cessationists), the idea of personal experience becomes very mistrusted. If someone claims to be "led by God" toward a certain decision, some Christians mock that and claim that this "leading" denies the sufficiency of Scripture as the "rule" for our lives.

One of the points that I made in my posts about the role of Scripture is that, while Scripture claims to be "profitable", I do not see a claim by Scripture itself to be "sufficient". When we say that Scripture is "sufficient" for making decisions, living a life pleasing to God, etc., we rule out the subjective experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And I think that this is making a huge mistake.

As a means of definition, allow me to quote from Webster's New World Dictionary for the terms "objective" and "subjective":

objective -- of or having to do with a known or perceived object as distinguished from something existing only in the mind of the subject, or person thinking; hence, being, or regarded as being, independent of the mind

subjective -- of, affected by, or produced by the mind or a particular state of mind; of or resulting from the feelings or temperament of the subject, or person thinking, rather than the attributes of the object thought of
While these definitions may make it sound like subjectivity is something to be steadfastly avoided, we must remember that part of the experience of the believer is a renewal of the mind, and a partaking of the mind of Christ. Thus, the very subjective experience of the believer is, itself, subject to the Spirit of God.

The necessary conclusion of the cessationist argument is that any subjective experience recorded in Scripture is not a model for us today because we have the full revelation in Scripture. Yet in many situations, we see people being led in Scripture based on a relationship with God that surpasses mere words on a page.

For example, God led Abraham to leave his homeland and go to the land which God would show him. Abraham's servant gave praise to God (Genesis 24:27) for leading him in the search for Isaac's wife-to-be. Romans 8:14 talks about us being "led by the Spirit of God". The book of Acts records several situations where believers sought God's leading in a particular situation. For example, in Acts 15, we read in verse 28 that the leaders of the church determined that a particular consensus decision "seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to [them]". This is just to mention a small handful of examples.

Another point worth making at this juncture is the information from God in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:33 and shown to be applied to the New Covenant in Hebrews 10:16) that there was coming a day when he would write His law on our hearts. This is in contrast to the law that was written by God on stone (and given to Moses to give to the people).

The fullness of revelation (according to Hebrews 1:1-2), as I have mentioned before, is Jesus Christ Himself. And Paul references "Christ in you, the hope of glory" in Colossians 1:27. So, if the pattern in Scripture is an experience that includes both objective and subjective, culminating in a personal indwelling of us by Jesus Christ, why should our position be any different? Why should this point in the story of God's interaction with man be anything less than what went before us?

This in no way advocates a system where there is no accountability for what someone claims God led them to do. We continue to have ways of testing what is said and done (i.e., against the written revelation given to us, against the testimony of the Spirit within us, etc.), and we must use those tools given to us. But at the same time, we should not shun the work of the Holy Spirit in leading those of us who are children of God through whatever means He chooses to use.

Until next time,

steve :)