What Doesn’t Belong to Caesar?

4 July 2012

As I’ve acquired a deeper and more theological view of American history, I’ve grown deeply ambivalent about uber-patriotic church services.  There’s a pep-rally atmosphere to it, a partisan spirit that seems deeply at odds with the Great Commission’s leveling admonition to disciple all the nations.  We’re glorying in our team, simply because it’s ours.

There’s an idolatry in it.  The Christian flag is on the speaker’s left, and the American flag is in the superior position, on the speaker’s right.  Now, I have issues with the ‘Christian’ flag, too — modeled after the American flag as it obviously was — but if we’re going to have a flag with a cross on it, why are we displaying it in the inferior position?  Is Jesus King of kings and Lord of lords, or is He subservient to the American government?  “Well,” people say, “that’s what the law requires.”  So it does.  Once upon a time it required burning a pinch of incense to the emperor as a god — a different way of indicating the same thing.  Christians used to know how to handle that kind of requirement.  What happened?

The pledge — which we say in church — is to the flag, and to the republic for which it stands.  That’s right, a bunch of professing Christians stand up, put their hands over their hearts, and pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth, and they won’t even blink.  I mean, it’s not like it’s actually a graven image; it’s sewn.  That’s totally different.  The finial on the flagpole is a golden eagle, not a golden calf — again, totally different.  This is your god, who brought you out of the land of Britain.

We are Christians.  Support of the civil magistrate is required of us.  In a certain way, then, there is a form of patriotism that is also required of us.  But we must have no other gods before Yahweh.  If we actually pay any sort of attention to what we are doing, is not our participation in the cult of the flag a blasphemous idolatry?  The words “under God” in the Pledge don’t wipe all this away; they make us like the ‘good’ kings of the northern kingdom in Israel — Jehu destroyed Ba’al worship at Yahweh’s command, but he did not take away the high places and he continued in the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin.  Yahweh doesn’t much appreciate ‘true’ worship mixed with idol worship — because that’s not true worship.

**

Then there are the comparisons between what we’ll do for America versus what we’ll do for the church.

America is an ideal, a culture, and it has its forms, which we conservative evangelicals respect.  When we have a July 4th service — and boy, do we put on a show for those — we do not remix the Star-Spangled Banner to some contemporary jingle so the young people can “relate.”  We don’t do this to America the Beautiful either, nor to God Bless America.   We stand when the national anthem is played, and we put our hands over our hearts.  We say the pledge, in unison, without a second thought.

Aside from the issues about the Pledge already noted, I’m happy with all this, in its place.  I think it’s great, and I don’t want to seem ungrateful that we’re willing to show genuine reverence somewhere.

But this in a church service, from people who won’t do anything approaching this level of reverence for the Christian faith?  Something is out of balance.

We won’t say the Creed in church because it might be vain repetition, but we think nothing of saying the Pledge.  We change our songs like they were dirty socks — an apt metaphor for some of them, I admit.  We can’t resist the temptation to ruin a centuries-old, grand, well-constructed song by resetting the chorus to some advertising jingle.  We forsake the music of the past just because it’s old, but we’d never think of doing the same with our iconic American music.  We stand for the national anthem without being told, but will we stand up for the reading of Scripture? Dream on.

We tell ourselves that this is because the truth of Christianity transcends all these low, material, ritual things.  We tell ourselves that.  But the truth is a little different. The truth is that our Americanism is profound, meaningfully incarnated in the life of our community.  Our Christianity is so weak and shallow we don’t even meaningfully incarnate it in church, let alone in the public square.

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Survivor to Lifeboat: “You’re Losing Me.”

3 June 2012

This week I happened upon Fors Clavigera, the blog of James K. A. Smith, and read a suggestive little post on the millennial generation (for those of you who haven’t heard the term, it refers to people born from 1981 to 2000, or thereabouts).  In this post, Smith opines that it’s possible that millennials are just wrong about some things.  He links to a very well-written piece on the debates over homosexual marriage by millennial author Rachel Held Evans, which presumably articulates some of the attitudes he feels millennials may be wrong about.

In reading Ms. Evans’ article, one phrase leapt off the page at me.  “You’re losing us.”

It struck me for two reasons.  The first one is that it’s rather obviously true.  Millennials are, in fact, greatly put off by the culture wars, by continuing political battles over abortion, and certainly by the battles over homosexual marriage.  These battles are largely being waged by older generations, and millennials (taken as a group) want no part of it.  Millennials are famously one of the least-churched generations in American history, but Ms. Evans is speaking from the standpoint of Christian millennials who think of themselves as part of the church, but can’t stand the political battles.  Hence the message to the church: “You’re losing us.”

Which brings me to the second reason that phrase struck me so forcefully: “You’re losing us” is the language of consumerism, the complaint of a dissatisfied customer who is being kind enough to clue the business owner in on why his other customers are disappearing.  That is a really odd way to address the church, which a wise man once described as the pillar and ground of the truth. The church is the New Jerusalem, and she is the mother of us all.  Like the man said, “Forsake not the law of your mother.”

We have a duty to cling to her — including the past generations that are part of her.  The younger generation may well see the older generation’s follies for what they are, but “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.”   If the younger generation takes the older generation’s mistakes as excuses not to walk with the wise and learn what its elders have to teach, well…fools hate wisdom and instruction.  Solomon knew as well as anybody that the older generations were composed of sinners, but he wrote what he wrote for a reason.

Which is to say that I want to take a step further than Prof. Smith.  It isn’t just that millennials are wrong about some issues.  It’s that millennials have a fundamentally skewed orientation toward church.  They need to stop thinking of the church losing them, and start being concerned that they are losing the church. The church is a lifeboat, and it’s a wide, deep, shark-infested ocean out there.  Striking out on your own is a bit naive at best.  You might complain that there’s a centipede crawling around the bottom of the lifeboat, but you don’t jump overboard because of it.

Some of what millennials are reacting to — the teaching that homosexual behavior is sin, for example — is just black-letter Bible, and they need to make their peace with it.  Yes, it’s hurtful to your LGBT friends.  Mine too.  Yes, that strains the relationship and causes you distress.  Loving your (sinful) neighbor and your God is tough that way; welcome to the trials of the Christian life.  “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.”  Can’t handle that?  Can’t see how it all works out for anybody’s good?  “If anyone lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”  Pray more.  Sounds simplistic, I know.  It’s not.  Pray more.

But let’s be honest.  The responsibility for the situation is not all on the millennials.  Just because they have a duty to remain in the lifeboat doesn’t justify someone stocking the boat with centipedes. Some of what millennials are reacting to is just plain sin.  For example, the outright hatred that many in the older generations heap upon the LGBT population.  Other things are perhaps not sin, but certainly a bit foolish.  For example, a commendable desire to defend the institution of marriage that inexplicably expresses itself as a ferocious dedication to setting up legal bans against gay marriage, but not a single word about re-criminalizing adultery.  Really, guys?  Which destroys more marriages in your experience, old-fashioned adultery or a couple of gay guys getting hitched?  If the goal was really to bring the weight of the legal system to bear in order to protect the institution of marriage, which one would go further, do ya think?  (Which brings us back to the hatred issue, doesn’t it?  Try getting a law passed that re-criminalizes adultery.  Can’t be done, and we all know it.  Why?  That’s “protecting marriage” too.  But of course you know why — the gay marriage bans aren’t getting passed because people want to protect marriage; they’re getting passed because a sizable chunk of the population hates gays.)

There’s work to do on all sides here.  In the past year it has been my very great privilege to work with a group of millennials that cares very much about clinging to the church, about building bridges to the older generations.  It’s been wonderful to see.  I’m hoping to see the older generations respond by embracing the younger cohort and hearing the very real concerns their different generational vantage point allows them to see.  It’s a big Body; we need all the parts working together.


Why Complementarians MUST Ordain Women, Part 5: Cultural Exegesis and a Prescription

1 April 2012

Well, the discussion on 1 Corinthians 14 continues, but it appears that discussion is more narrowly focused on exactly how male and female differences affect the use of particular spiritual gifts in formal worship.  The question of whether to ordain women, and to what functions, is a larger issue, and even though it’s closely related to 1 Corinthians 14, I think for the present I can address it and steer around the not-yet-settled questions in that one chapter.

Back in Part Two of this series, we discussed how within North American church culture, we have created a monster through misconstruing (or just ignoring) what the Bible says a pastor is supposed to be.  Having failed to apprehend the biblical picture of a richly gifted team of leaders functioning in diverse ways in the church, we expect one pastor to fulfill all those roles.  By our lights, the lead pastor is supposed to cast the vision for the church, comfort the sick and afflicted, counsel the broken, resolve disputes, preach every Sunday, coach his staff, teach Sunday school, oversee the administration of the church, represent the church to the community, and much more.  He is, in short, supposed to have all the gifts at once, and use them all simultaneously.  This job description is not biblical, and it’s a recipe for disaster.  (This is not to say that nobody can live up to it.  In God’s providence, there are a few incredibly gifted and energetic folks who not only rise to this sort of challenge, but seem to thrive on it.  But they are few and far between — certainly not one for every church.)  Having created this Frankenstein paradigm of clerical ministry, we then use ordination as the vetting process for releasing someone into that ministry.

So if we’re going to return to a more biblical practice of church leadership (and I find encouraging signs that this is the case everywhere I look, these days), then it’s time to rethink ordination a bit.  At its core, ordination is the church recognizing the person’s calling, qualifications and character.  If we don’t think the person is called into the ministry to which we’re about to ordain him, then we won’t ordain him.  If we think he’s called, but he’s doesn’t yet have the skills he’ll need in the ministry, then we ask him to beef up his skill set before we ordain him.  If he’s got the calling and the skills, but is still struggling with immaturity or other character flaws that are going to significantly hamper his ministry, then again, we ask him to take some time and grow in the Lord before we ordain him.  To be ordained, he should have all three: calling, qualifications, and character.  He doesn’t have to be perfect, and there’s always room for improvement, so it’s always a judgment call.  But there comes a time when he’s ready to get out there and learn by doing, and the church’s job at that point is to appoint him to the ministry and send him out.

Stripped down to those basics, we actually see something similar to ordination in the New Testament.  The apostles laid hands on the seven (deacons?) appointed to the care of widows in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:6).  The Antioch church laid hands on Paul and Barnabas to commission them for their missionary ministry (Acts 13:2-3).  The eldership laid hands on Timothy, apparently not only to consecrate him for ministry but to impart a gift to him (1 Tim. 4:14).  Paul did something similar for Timothy (2 Tim. 1:6).

What we see in New Testament practice, though, is specific.  A person is not ordained to “gospel ministry” in general.  When the church lays hands on someone, it is because God is separating that person to a specific ministry: care of widows, taking the gospel to the Gentiles, and so on.  Perhaps our practice of ordination should follow the same pattern.

Within the tribe that raised and trained me, we actually have an institution like this already: it’s called a “commissioning service,” although the only time we really did it was for missionaries that we were sending out from our own local congregation.  We would lay hands on them and consecrate them for their particular calling and mission.  However, in these cases, we didn’t do much in the way of due diligence, because we were outsourcing that to Pioneers, New Tribes, or whatever mission board that person was going with.  The mission board would have primary responsibility for the missionary once he was on the field, so we trusted them to examine the candidates thoroughly (and generally, they did, but notable lapses are not unheard of).

Within that tribe, ordination was taken to be entirely a church function, and so the church would delve quite a bit more intensively into the candidate’s life.  We would give notice to the congregation, several Sundays in a row, that John Doe was a candidate for ordination, and if anyone knew of reasons why he should not be ordained, that person should speak to the elders at once.  There would be interviews.  The candidate was often asked to prepare a doctrinal statement and/or philosophy of ministry statement, and then provide an oral defense for them.  The process would culminate in a grueling several-hour ordination exam, where the elders and other interested parties would grill the candidate on his calling, his Bible knowledge and practical wisdom, and his character and experience. If the candidate passed all tests, then a day would be appointed, and the whole church would come together to see the elders and pastors lay hands on the candidate and ordain him to the ministry.

What I propose for ordination is a blending of these two categories.  Let the examination of the candidate be as intensive as ordination exams have tended to be.  But let us not ordain someone to anything so general as “the gospel ministry.”  No single part of the Body is the whole Body, and so no single part should be ordained to do the whole Body’s ministry.  If we are going to the trouble to examine a candidate’s calling and qualifications in detail, then let us commission that candidate to the specific area of ministry for which which God has called and qualified him.  Or her.

Of course, “or her.”  Because once we agree that the commission should be to something specific, and not to some Frankensteinian polyglot called “the gospel ministry” (which necessarily includes teaching and exercising authority over men, along with practically all the other gifts and functions), then we immediately see a number of biblically sanctioned roles to which a woman can be called without violating even the strictest readings of 1 Timothy 2:12 or 1 Corinthians 14:34.  Deaconess and prophetess head the list of New Testament categories here, but it goes further than that.  1 Timothy 5 implies an office of “church widow” — a widow over 60, with no relatives to support her, who devotes herself to service to the church, and in turn is supported by the church.  There may be more biblically attested categories.

In addition to the “big box” categories, there are more specific callings.  Just as Paul and Barnabas were commissioned to a specific mission work, and not simply to a general calling of “evangelist” or “apostle”, so other believers also have specific callings.  For example, I have a friend whose calling in this season of her life is to devote herself to encouraging and mentoring women.  I dare say that if she were pursuing this ministry among brown people in Jakarta or Nairobi — or even white folks in Zagreb or Madrid — few churches would have difficulty laying hands on her and commissioning her for the work.  But instead, God has called her to Denver.  What difference does it make if the women she’s mentoring speak ‘Merican?  Should we not commission her to the work all the same?


Why Complementarians MUST Ordain Women, Part 4: Understanding Gender in 1 Corinthians 14

25 March 2012

This post has taken rather a long time to write.  I apologize for the delay; I’ve been sick and had to pare down my responsibilities to the bare minimum for a while in order to make sufficient time for rest and recovery.  Thank you for your patience, Gentle Reader, and my thanks also to those of you who have been praying for me; it’s much appreciated.

We left off with two options to explore in 1 Corinthians 14.  How were the Corinthians to understand “let your women keep silent in the churches”?  We had two views to consider, each with problems and advantages.  Let’s take them each in turn.

Option A is that 14:34 is an absolute prohibition on female speaking in the church service.  When the church gathers, a number of people speak to share a prayer, a psalm, a prophecy, a tongue (if interpreted), a teaching, or what have you — all of them men.  Women are not to speak out in the church meeting, period.

Option B is that 14:34 is speaking about the judging of prophets.  When one prophet speaks, Paul says, the others are to judge.  Within this context, the women are to keep silent in the churches, and the men are to judge the word of the prophet.  In this narrower reading, Paul is not prohibiting a woman from sharing a psalm, prayer, prophecy, or what have you; he is prohibiting a woman from entering the discussion following a prophecy, in which a verdict will be rendered as to whether the prophecy was of God.

Neither of these readings sit well in our egalitarian era.  Allowing men to do anything and barring that same thing to women is a big no-no these days.  But we have to face the facts: Paul is certainly prohibiting the women from doing something.  How that prohibition might apply in our own place and time is a fascinating question, but it’s a question that will have to wait until we’ve figured out what Paul was asking of the Corinthians.  If we can’t work out what he was asking them to do, how are we supposed to apply the instruction to us?  So let’s consider the options here.

Option A: Total Ban on Women Speaking in Church

One of the first and most obvious advantages of this view is that it’s got immediate “curb appeal,” just based on its sheer simplicity(for folks from my fightin’ fundie roots, anyhow).  The verse says “let your women keep silent in the churches,” so they weren’t to let women speak in church.  Simple.

On this view, I’ve heard two different ways of handling chapter 11.  The first is that Paul’s just “handling one problem at a time.”  First he gets the prophetesses to cover their heads, thus ending the indecency, then three chapters later he tells them not to speak at all.  A more plausible approach is that ch. 11 is not talking about conduct in the church meeting, but Christian conduct generally.  Women certainly ought to pray, and prophetesses certainly ought to prophesy, and when they do, they ought to cover their heads.  However, within the church meeting, women are not to speak; the praying and prophesying takes place elsewhere.

As we come into chapter 14, obviously the speakers are all to be male, so “you may all prophesy” doesn’t really mean all, it means all the men.  (Women can prophesy too, of course, but somewhere else.)

A problem arises with the explanation that follows the prohibition, though.  “And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home….”  If what Paul has in view is preventing the Corinthian women from sharing a psalm, a prayer, or a prophecy in the church meeting —  this is not wanting to learn something, but wanting to share something so that others may learn.  I’ve not yet heard a plausible explanation for how v.35 fits in with this interpretation.  One possible answer involves a re-reading of v.31.  “For you may all prophesy one by one, so that all [of you prophets] may learn [how to exercise your gift of prophecy] and be encouraged [in the use of your gift for the benefit of the Body].”  If this is a proper understanding of v. 31, then exercising the gift in the church is a learning experience for the prophet, and we may read v.35 thus: “And if they want to learn something [through exercising their gift of prophecy], let them ask their husbands at home….”  It’s not clear to me why Paul would describe a woman exercising her prophetic gift at home as asking a question, though, so I’m not convinced on this one.

This interpretation also does not explicitly give a venue for the Corinthian women to use their gifts in prayer and prophecy for the benefit of the Body.  This seems problematic: if they were not to speak in church, then when, where and how were the prophetesses to use their gifts for the benefit of the Body?  However, this issue may arise only through the imposition of contemporary church paradigms (in which we only see our “church friends” at church once a week) on the text.  By contrast to our contemporary practice, if the Corinthian church functioned like the Jerusalem church (Acts 2:46-47), then the formal gathering of the church for worship was a tiny percentage of overall church life, and there would be many other opportunities outside the formal worship service.

Option B: Ban on Women Exercising Authority over Prophets

According to this understanding, Paul is not banning women speaking in the church meeting overall; he’s speaking to a more narrow circumstance defined in the immediate context.

On this understanding, the first half of chapter 11 could well be speaking about conduct in the church meeting, although it may also have reference beyond it.  This seems to fit the overall context better in any case.   Chapter 11 is an organic whole (note the pairing of “I praise you” in 11:1 and “I do not praise you” in 11:17).  Since the rest of the chapter (vv.17-34) is certainly speaking about the church meeting, it makes sense that the first half would be as well.

As we come into 14:26, “each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation…” means exactly that — everyone brings something to share.  But there are some protocols to follow. First, two or at most three tongues-speakers may speak, each one in turn (i.e., not all at once), and they must be interpreted.  If there is no interpreter for the utterance, the person should still speak — but only to himself and to God, not to the Body.  Second, two or three prophets may also speak, but their words should not be taken immediately as from God.  The others (in context, it seems to mean “other prophets”) are to judge what they are hearing.  As they are hearing the prophet speak, if something is revealed to another who sits by listening and judging, the first prophet must yield the floor to the second.  Subject to the judgment of the church and the limitations of two or three per meeting, “You may all prophesy” in 14:31 means exactly that — each of the people so gifted, male and female, may speak, so that all may learn and be encouraged.  Dodging the protocols can’t be excused on the grounds that “God took control of my mouth and made me speak,” because the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.  The prophets are each responsible for their own behavior, because God does not generate confusion, but peace, as He does in all the churches of the saints.  Lastly, with respect to this matter of judging the prophets, women are not part of the discussion; rather than taking on the mantle of authority they are to be submissive, as the Law also requires.  Women also may not participate in the discussion under the guise of “just asking a question” or “just trying to learn something.”  If a woman wants to understand why the judgment is rendered the way it is, she may ask her husband at home; it is shameful for a woman to speak in this fashion in church.

On this understanding, the reading of v. 34 meshes well with 1 Timothy 2:12.  The act of judging the prophets is an exercise of authority (often over a male prophet), and so Paul does not permit a woman to take that role.

The major problem with this reading is the underlined phrase above.  It is not immediately clear that vv.34-35 are specifically about judging the prophets.  It’s a relatively plausible reading, given the need to harmonize 14:34-35 with 14:31 and 11:1-16. But I’m certainly not satisfied that it’s the right reading.

How Did the Corinthians Read Chapter 14?

Paul closes the discussion of church protocols with a challenge: did the word of God come originally from Corinth?  Did it reach only Corinth?  Of course not; Corinth is one church among many, and it should conform with the practice of its sister churches.  Anyone in Corinth who thinks himself a prophet — or even just a spiritual believer — should acknowledge that Paul’s writing here is God’s commandment, but if someone insists on being ignorant, very well.  The Corinthians should abandon him to his ignorance.

Chapter 14 seems cryptic to us in part because Paul did not need to explain in detail what other churches did.  The charter members of the Corinthian church certainly knew what Paul’s worship services would look like; he would have led them in the beginning.  Also, Corinth was a port city; some of the members of the church would be well-traveled, and would have observed the worship at churches in other places. The Corinthian church would have been well aware of the mainstream worship practices of the New Testament church, and the ways in which their worship service was unique.  Paul is calling them to abandon (at least some of) that uniqueness and fall back into the mainstream practice of all the churches.  That part is clear enough.  Exactly what that practice was seems less clear.

I’d like very much to launch a discussion here.  In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that when I started writing this post 3 weeks ago, I was strongly disposed toward option B.  The more time I’ve spent with the text, the more skeptical of that I’ve become.  However, I continue to see serious problems with option A as well.  If I can’t resolve it, I’ll just have to “steer around” it for the time being, and rely on other passages to fill in the gaps.  It’s an imperfect solution, to be sure, but for the moment I’m stumped.


Repenting from Lordship Salvation…Halfway

28 August 2011

The first error of lordship salvation is thinking that God won’t save you (or hasn’t saved you) if you have a rotten life.  Entry into heaven goes with a good life (conditionally or inevitably), and if you examine your life and see that it’s not good, you’re not going to heaven.

The second, and more subtle, error of lordship salvation is thinking that Yahweh is the sort of god who would send you to hell if He could.

I’m finding that there are an awful lot of people who have halfway repented from lordship salvation.  They no longer believe that Yahweh requires sanctification in order to enter heaven.  However, in their heart of hearts, they still believe in a furious god who would send them to hell if he could.

So they invest themselves in the Free Grace gospel: Jesus saves us on the sole condition of faith alone, with no works before, during, or after the moment of faith required.  No front-loading the gospel; no back-loading either.  Just belief in the proper content.  God won’t weigh your works at heaven’s gate to determine your eternal destiny; He will ask a simple question about your soteriology.  Pass that theology test, just once, at any point in your life, and you’re golden.  That done, you can forever fend off the vengeful deity: you have already done all that is required of you, and he can’t send you to hell, no matter how he might want to.  This would, in fact, be good news…if Yahweh were even remotely like the god they’re describing.

***

Do you see that there’s a lot of self-effort going into passing the theology test?  That the good news of the freeness of God’s grace is being turned into a weapon to hold a (fictitious) angry deity at bay?

Do you see that when we do this, we don’t actually trust God at all?  That if we did, we could just trust Him to guide us into whatever content we need to know?

***

To the people I’ve just described, I have a message.  I didn’t think of it myself; I inherited it from someone who lived five centuries ago.  He was a Roman Catholic, confessor to a neurotic Augustinian friar named Martin Luther.  Luther was so obsessed with his sins that he would be in the confessional for six hours at a time, trying to get forgiveness for everything, lest he be damned.
Finally–so the story goes–his confessor shouted at him, God doesn’t hate you; you hate Him!  Don’t you know the Scriptures command you to hope?”

Exactly.

God doesn’t hate you.  And if you’re trying to hold Him at bay, be it with a stack of good deeds, a saving proposition, or with the very words of John 3:16, then the problem is that you hate Him.

But you don’t believe the very first words of the verse.  “God so loved the world…”

The solution is simple: trust Him.  He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.


Mystical Union: Knocking the Bottom out of the Swimming Crib

24 July 2011

During the summer, people generally prefer to swim outside.  Although it is common to swim in pools these days, old-school swimming facilities usually depended on natural water features: ponds, rivers, and oceans.  An ideal natural swimming location would have clean water, a gradually sloping, sandy bottom, and very little current.  Such places existed, of course, but they weren’t as common as one might hope.  In response, waterfront staff developed a variety of work-arounds to allow swimmers to safely use the water in the absence of perfect conditions.

In situations where the water was very deep, or the current too fast-moving, one of those work-arounds was called a swimming crib.  The crib was basically a very large wooden crate, ballasted and tethered to function sort of like a ‘swimming pool’, immersed in the lake or river.  (You can see an example here.)  One of the most basic uses for a crib was to provide a shallow area for beginners to swim in water that was naturally very deep.  The lake bottom could be thirty feet down, but a 3-foot crib provided an artificial ‘shallow end.’

***

One typical take on eternal life is that it’s “living forever with God” — a simplification that I have certainly been guilty of, myself.  The focus is revivalistic, focused on a heaven-or-hell afterlife.  A person who ‘has eternal life’ is ‘saved,’ which means that he’s going to go to heaven when he dies…and that’s pretty much it.

Given that definition, the Gospel of John, which is very, very focused on eternal life, takes on the appearance of being all about whether people go to heaven or hell.  The purpose of the book, “that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life in His name” is understood to be about taking people who were going to hell and making it so they’re going to heaven…and that’s pretty much it.

This is the theological equivalent of building a 3-foot swimming crib in some very deep, very fast-moving water.  Problem is, what we’re protecting people from, in this instance, is God.

***

Eternal life has to be “living forever” — otherwise, as Zane Hodges aptly observed, “eternal life” isn’t a very good name for it — but is that all we need to say about it?  Jesus didn’t think so.  “And this is eternal life,” Jesus prayed to His Father, “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”

Eternal life, according to Jesus, is knowing God.  How?  Through Jesus, who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  That’s inexhaustible.  It’s far, far deeper than “going to heaven when you die.”  And while, of course, lip service is paid to this notion, in fact it is largely ignored.  We keep everybody in the 3-food swimming crib of going to heaven, when they could be diving deep into relationship with God Himself.

The solution?  We need to knock the bottom out of the crib.  This will undoubtedly be the occasion for much whining, but we have no right to speak in a way that stands between people and a living relationship with God.


Crock-Pot Theology

10 July 2011

There are times when it is necessary to say nothing, to wait and grow.  There are also times when the growing is done, and it’s time to let your hard-won light shine.  We all go through such seasons.  I’m going through a wait-and-grow season vis-a-vis the Free Grace Food Fight presently, which is why I’ve had nothing to say about it for a while.

Then, too, different people have different gifts.  Some people are theological microwaves; pop in a question and get an answer back 30 seconds later.  Others are crock-pot theologians.  Answers may be few and far between, but rich and flavorful for having been so long in the preparation.

My friend Michele is such a person, and she’s just delivered a crock-pot feast over at Sanc’s Blog.  The specifics are aimed at a narrow segment of the Christian community; if you don’t live in that end of the pool, just let the references to modern-day Euodia and Syntyche pass you by.  The meat of the matter is accessible enough, and it’ll be a blessing to you, if you can hear it.