Help My Doubt

Faith seeking reason- Mark 9:24

The Good Book

For the first time in my life I just finished reading the Bible.  I have read the New Testament several times and many other books over and over but today I finally finished the Old Testament.

I must say that I am surprised how hard it is to understand. When I read the Old Testament prophets I found myself wondering whether the propecies were already fulfilled before Jesus, fulfilled in Jesus or yet to be fulfilled. Maybe all three! I found myself wondering if God’s promises were for Israel only or also for Christians. There were so many ways that any reader could misunderstand the Old Testament (and Jesus himself) that I wondered what value it would have for the average Joe to read it at all.

I hate to say it but the Bible is confusing. Obviously God calls pastors and teachers for the work of preaching and such work requires a good amount of study to do well. I wonder if I am making Scripture more complicated than it needs to be. We all know that pastors have made gross errors (and still do) with interpretation (e.g. pro-slavery) over the years so how is a layperson to hope for understanding? The Holy Spirit plays a roll but let’s not go over the deep-end with that thought either. God forbid that I stand up and preach what I feel the Spirit wants me to say about a Scripture withtout time for study and prayer first! “Test everything” and “don’t go beyond what is written” after all.

 Well, I’m proud to have finally done it and I plan to read a New Living Chronological Bible next but these questions still bother me. How many times can a pastor say, “this doesn’t mean what it sounds like (e.g. If you  don’t hate your father you are not worthy of me)” before the people conclude that the Bible is too confusing for the average person?

Well, that’s enough of that. I hope Jesus comes back soon (even if I can’t decide if it will be pre- or post-tribulation).

B.

December 20, 2007 Posted by | Books I'm Reading | 2 Comments

After Modernity…What?

After Modernity…What?

Agenda for Theology

By Thomas Oden

 

Summary: Don’t let the terms “modernity” or “theology” turn you off. This is a book that explains “what’s the matter with people these days?” But more importantly, “what’s wrong with Christians today?” As a recovering liberal theologian Oden admits the honest errors of his past and presents a faithful path into the future. This is a humble reflection on the limits of theology and wise counsel for the future.    

Part I

The Courtship of Modernity

Interlude: Candid Talk with Old Co-Conspirators

Part II

The Critique of Criticism

Part III

The Liberation of Orthodoxy

  

Call me lazy but I offer only a sampling of my favorite quotes in summary:

 PROBLEM 

“We have seen the language of Christianity tamed by the civil religionists, neatly pruned by theological positivists, ‘dehistoricized’ by the existentialists, ‘deabsolutized’ by the process theologians, naturalized by behaviorists, sentimentalized by the situational ethicists, secularized by the ‘death of God’ partisans, politicized by social activists, and set free from all bonds by the sexual liberationists (p.24)”.  

“The shocker is not merely that I rode so many bandwagons, but that I thought I was doing Christian teaching a marvelous favor by it and at times considered this accommodation the very substance of the Christian teaching office (p.28)”.  

“Ministry will have to learn anew a skill that once was taken for granted but now has become long forgotten- the ability to distinguish between doctrinal truth and error (p. 34)”.  

“When a theologian forgets the distinction between heterodoxy and orthodoxy, it is roughly equivalent to a physician forgetting the difference between disease and health (p.59)”.  

“Doctrinal definition is as essential to the task of theology as identifying a phony dollar bill is to the job of a bank teller (p. 172)”. 

“In fact, a good case can be made that all the current heresies are essentially reformulations of the early ones familiar to the first five centuries (p. 158)”. 

“We have brushed under our ecumenical rugs so many ancient heresies that our rugs now bulge in the middle (p. 167)”.

 SOLUTION  

“The surest move I know toward postcritical consciousness consists in this simple maxim: Quit using ‘new’ and ‘change’ as magic words (p.42)”.  

“The one thing I have learned in hermeneutics which has changed everything is what I can only call ‘obedience to the text’- listening to the text itself instead of modern interpreters of it (p. 80)”.  

“On the same grounds there must be no punishment for heterodox teaching other than simply withholding the religious body’s approval or permission to preach (p. 171)”. 

“It is the winter season for rigorous Christian teaching. But it has been through many winters before (p. 198)”.

  

I was greatly helped by Dr. Oden’s insights into the problems of modern Bible teaching but what this book stopped short of detailing he accomplished in his later publication called “Rebirth of Orthodoxy”, which I highly recommend.

 

November 21, 2007 Posted by | Books I'm Reading, Doubt | 2 Comments

Growing in Christ

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15:1-2).  

I encourage you to read a small book called, “Secrets of the Vine” by Bruce Wilkinson. However, the note he makes about being “cut off” is one I am not sure I can agree with. He says that the NIV Bible has an “unfortunate translation” by saying God “cuts off (v.2)” every branch that bears no fruit. Instead, Pastor Wilkinson says, it should be translated, “lifts up”. In fact, he met a gardener who said that when there is a branch that does not produce grapes he can lift it up from the ground and clean it off then it will begin to produce fruit.

 

Many pastors believe that once a person is saved they are always saved. I disagree. As Jesus repeats in verse 6, branches that do not remain in the vine can be cut off. Wesleyans (and Free Methodists like me) understand that people can throw away their salvation if they return to a lifestyle of sin. It is not a pleasant thing to think about but we need to understand that growing in Christ is not just a blessing it is also a responsibility. Not only CAN we grow free in Christ, we MUST grow in Christ.

 

While I disagree with Pastor Wilkinson’s preaching about being “cut off” from the vine, I loved his preaching about becoming “more fruitful (v.2)”. Again, Jesus said, Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15:2). Pastor Wilkinson describes how surprised he was to learn how aggressively grape growers prune their branches. He tells a story of moving into a new home and how nervous he was when he found his neighbor hacking down their shared grape vine. In a similar way, sometimes God cuts and chops at his children quite aggressively- even though it does not make sense at the time- in order to make us even more fruitful.

 

With all of this tough talk about painful pruning and the possibility of being cut off we must remember how God’s love is behind it all. When God reminds us of our past sins He is leading us away from them and into a better future. Sin is pleasing for a moment but God’s life leads to eternal love and abundant life. When God confronts us with our need for new growth He is still freeing us for a better future. God prunes us in those places we don’t yet trust Him. If we trust in our own physical strength then God leads us into situations that confront us with our weakness. If we trust in our understanding then God leads us into situations that don’t make sense. If we put our faith in anything or anyone other than Jesus then God leads us on paths of freedom because of His great love for us.

September 17, 2007 Posted by | Books I'm Reading, Sermons | Leave a comment

Jim & Casper Go To Church

 Christians or Hypocritical Jerks

I recently read Jim Henderson’s book and heartily agree that we need to get real in church and listen more than we speak when talking with our neighbors. We Christians do have a problem of treating some non-Christians like lepers (or worse). Good challenging stuff. I don’t know if I’ll pay an atheist to come to my church but I am going to stop blaming them for avoiding me. 

Believe or Behave

At the same time I do have my reservations about Henderson’s suggestions that we (1) major in action/minor in beliefs (p.94) and (2) deinstitutionalize the Jesus movement (p.157). He tells us not to preach and not to talk about our faith as fact because those who don’t believe won’t listen (p.166). While I can appreciate the difference between faith and fact the Bible says that we can be “sure” of what we hope for. God’s Holy Spirit makes such faith possible. I don’t think the church needs less belief or conviction we need more! My hypothesis is that the church fails to act BECAUSE we are failing to believe God’s word. Fix the belief, fix the inaction.  

Church or Religion

In regards to Henderson’s criticism of the church as an institution, I would like to quote one of my favorite Christian teachers today. Thomas Oden says this in his Interpretation: A Bible-Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (First and Second Timothy and Titus): “We are saturated with romanticisms about progress, ideologies of change, and the pretense that all change is positive change and that no change could be regressive. That illusion has deluded us into deliberately throwing away hard-won social structures and historical achievements and wise memories that could have been otherwise extremely valuable to us. An important aspect of contemporary discipling consists simply in recollection, the imaginative remembering and reappropriation of apostolic preaching”. 

Comprehensive Listening

Henderson had some good insights about the worldliness and self-love that are polluting our worship of God (again) but I think he is neglecting to listen adequately to the advice of Jesus as He speaks through Moses and Paul. If we all continue to listen to one another, Christian, atheist, Henderson, Casper, Me, You, Jesus, Moses, Paul, etc. I am confident that the Lord will again teach His children how to navigate through cultural change.

May 15, 2007 Posted by | Books I'm Reading | 2 Comments