Moana, Frozen, and Repentance

14 June 2018

Elsa is Moana’s polar opposite. (See what I did there?) Elsa has no real guidance or mentors to speak of, and she finds something in herself that she has no way of living with. First she denies what is obviously true about herself; then she denies her connection to her people. (It’s more than a little revealing that “Let It Go,” the iconic song from the film, comes from this point of near-murderous isolation in the story, and not from the later resolution. As a culture, we don’t identify with the resolution.)

When Elsa finally comes to terms with both the reality of who she is and her connections to her people, she finds rest — but she gets little help along the way. She has no grandmother, no sea looking out for her, no Yoda, no Jiminy Cricket, no Philektetes. The only person who believes in her is her sister Anna, and she’s separated from Anna for the critical portion of the story arc. Elsa has to figure it out all by herself.

As evangelicals, we tell ourselves that we are in Elsa’s position. It’s all new, and we have to figure it out for ourselves. But it isn’t true.

On the surface, Moana looks similar to Elsa: overcoming parental resistance to embrace her true identity and calling. But as it turns out, Moana’s calling is the same calling her people have shared for generations. Her father turned away; it is her job to turn back, and in that task she is assisted by her grandmother, her mother, mystical visions, and the very sea itself.

Her people have been long-distance seafarers from time out of mind. They turned from the path because the seas became too dangerous as a result of Maui’s theft. Her father continues the error by trying to turn her from the path too, but as the deadly consequences of Maui’s sin reach her home island, Moana’s people can no longer hide. It falls to Moana to heal the brokenness of her world and reclaim her lost heritage, and she does.

Herein lies a tricky business. “Move not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set.” “Honor thy father and mother.” In a perfect  world, those two commands would never be in conflict. But what if you are the child of the man who moved the ancient landmark? What if he’s your grandfather? Great-grandfather?

That is the evangelical dilemma. And Moana has a lesson to teach.

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7 June 2018

Although I’ve been off the scene of the Free Grace movement for some time now, I remain Free Grace in key elements of my theology. As I’ve interacted widely with my brothers and sisters in the broader Church, I find that the best of the Free Grace tradition holds treasures in trust for the rest of the Body (and vice versa, of course).

In hopes of providing some starting points for those not familiar with the Free Grace traditions, I’ve put up a page of resources. You can find it here; feel free to offer suggestions or feedback.


Forgiving Sins

31 May 2018

I woke up a couple weeks ago with this sermon in my head, to be delivered after really good musical/liturgical worship. The Lord spurred me to send it on to someone, a person I don’t even really know; friend of a friend kind of thing, with a note that I don’t know who it’s for or what use it should be put to, but I’m giving it away for whatever God’s purposes may turn out to be. I hope it’s a benefit to that person, and for what it’s worth, I offer it to you as well.

I want to talk with you about what we’ve done here today, because I want you to see it with heaven’s eyes. When we gather like this, something special happens. And to see it as God sees it, we need to go back, all the way back to Genesis, because that’s where our story starts.

From the waters below the sky, He calls forth land and sea, and covers the land with plants. But it’s still empty.

Then on the fourth day, He takes the waters above the sky and fills the empty sky with sun, moon, and stars. The fifth day He fills the air with birds and the waters with fish. The sixth day, He fills the land with every kind of animal. And then, it’s time to sign the masterpiece.

How do you sign the painting when you just made the universe? It’s not like there’s a corner you can scribble your name in, right?
And so He made us from dust, and breathed spirit into us, His image, male and female together to bear His name in the world.

And you know the story. We blew it, and in the process we broke our relationships with each other and with God, and we broke the world, too. And the very first thing God tells us about that is, there’s a redeemer coming, a seed of the woman who will really be exactly like us—but victorious—and He will crush the serpent’s head.

Through the whole Hebrew Bible, this longing grows. Who is the redeemer? What will he be like? God reveals more and more, but it’s cryptic. Sometimes it says He will conquer and reign, and set everything right. Sometimes it says He will suffer and die. How can he do both? Late in those times, we learn about where He will be born, from the prophet Micah. We learn about when He will come, from Daniel.

And then…silence. There is no prophet among God’s people, for four hundred years.

The new beginning doesn’t look like much. Just a wild man calling people back to God. He doesn’t work with the Temple; instead he calls people out into the wilderness and baptizes them there, having them pass through water as Israel once did, because God is calling out a new people for Himself. He has no credentials, this wild man, and he says so himself. He’s just a voice crying out in the wilderness—but he is announcing the coming redeemer.

Then Jesus comes to the wild man. The wild man says “you should be baptizing me” but Jesus talks him into baptizing Him anyway, because Jesus is the foundation of the new people of God. When he comes up out of the water: The Spirit descends from heaven and rests on Him, and the Father speaks from heaven , “This is my beloved son; I am pleased with Him.”

That is what we are invited to join. We are invited to be a people the Spirit rests on, and our Father is pleased with us. What would it be worth, if we could earn something like that? But God is even more gracious than that.
Jesus goes to the cross, and there, He takes all our sin, all our shame, all the weight of every time we’ve failed to bear God’s name well. All of it is nailed to the cross and all of it dies with him, and is buried with him in the heart of the earth. When He comes out, He leaves it all behind, and so we are raised with Him, free from every weight that drags us down, and it’s all a gift. Jesus bought it for us.

And then, in the upper room just before He leaves, He breathes on His disciples and says two things to them“receive the Holy Spirit”. and “if you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain their sins, they are retained.” It’s a re-creation of humanity, implanting a new spirit in them, a spirit that can move in power for the healing of the world. He ascends to heaven, and on Pentecost the Spirit breaks out and begins to move in power among God’s people, and from that day to this one, He hasn’t stopped. That is what you experienced tonight, and I’m going to invite you to extend the experience a little further.
You are the new people that God is making. You bear His name in the world, and by the Spirit you carry the authority to remake and heal the world that He made. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.

All around us, people carry weights they don’t have to. There’s something they are, something they’ve done, that holds them back from the glorious freedom God designed us for. Some of us also struggle; the past still holds us back. It doesn’t have to, and tonight, I want you to do something about that, starting right in this room.

Turn to someone nearby you. If God gives you something to say in addition to this, then say what He gives you too. But I want you to be sure to say what God gave us all to say when He gave us His Spirit: Your sins are forgiven. Look each other in the eye and say it: I forgive your sins in Jesus’ name. You have the authority to do that.

Make sure nobody gets left out. The people who kinda slid into the corners of the room? Hunt them down. Make sure you get whoever’s hiding in the bathroom. Don’t forget the people down front. We need this too. Go now; I commission you in Jesus’ name, by the power of the Spirit: go do it!


Touched by an Angel

10 May 2018

In Daniel 10, we read a fascinating account of spiritual ministry. Daniel has mourned for His people and prayed for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks, an angelic being confronts him in a vision (the other men with him were terrified, but saw nothing).

As the angel began to speak, Daniel lost all strength and fell on his face to the ground. The angel touched him the first time, which made him tremble. The angel explained his presence there, and why he had been delayed for three weeks. All this while, Daniel is on his face, trembling, unable to speak.

Then an angel touched his lips, and he was able to speak. He told the angel that the vision he’s seen has so overwhelmed him that he’s unable to function. “Then again one having the likeness of a man touched me and strengthened me.” (Daniel 10:18)

Daniel tells the angel he’s been strengthened, and the angel begins to tell Daniel more about the future, which is found in Daniel 11.

For me, the point of interest here is how the angel (a “ministering spirit sent to minister to those who will inherit salvation,” as Hebrews puts it) ministered to Daniel. He touched him. This particular ministering spirit may or may not have even had a physical body (recall that those who were with Daniel couldn’t see the angel he saw). But this spirit being made contact with Daniel, and had a physical effect each time.

The first touch made Daniel tremble; the second touch on his mouth made him able to speak; the third strengthened him. I have seen touch have these effects, and I have directly administered two of the three.

So it was fun to see affirmation of what God has done through me in the Scriptures. Not that I had doubts — I take a “if you can’t believe the words, believe the works” approach to the surprising things God does — but it’s fun to see it in a verse. And useful, for the skeptics among us.


Where It Wishes

19 April 2018

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but no one knows where it comes from, or where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

God shifts our focus over time. Mine certainly has shifted. This remains a theology blog, but my interests have shifted and my focus has sharpened. Expect to continue to see the theological reflection this blog is known for, but we’ll be turning that lens on some new topics. I considered leaving this blog as is and just starting a different site. (I have done that for some special-purpose things.)

But no. Theological reflection is what this blog is for. If you don’t change anything, you’re not being very reflective.

This is gonna be fun. There will be more soon.

 


A Brief Word on Hermeneutics

24 January 2018

Conservatives usually learned to read the Bible from hermeneutics books, not from the examples God gave us in the biblical authors themselves. This is a serious mistake, and despite the fact that most modern conservatives make it, Our People have not always been so willfully thick.

For a brief and helpful look at medieval hermeneutics, see Peter Leithart’s brief article on the Quadriga. If you want to go deeper into Leithart’s approach, he has an excellent book, Deep Exegesis.

My most detailed take on this can be found in a course called Living the Living Word. I’d teach it differently — and probably a lot more simply — now, but the basic strategy is the same: study the biblical authors as they read the text. Follow their example.

Go practice.

 


Subjective Spirituality: The Tacos Question

9 January 2018

In the previous post, we looked at how Romans teaches us to expect direct divine intervention in our hearts. This is a scary prospect for a lot of Christians, and I get it. Doctrine is public; we can discuss it, show how a doctrine is, or isn’t, founded on Scripture, and so on. But this subjective stuff doesn’t work like that, and it’s scary.

The question people often ask is, “How can you tell it’s really God? I mean, maybe that burning sensation in your heart is just the Taco Bell you had for dinner last night.”

This question reminds me of a frightened virgin asking how you can know for sure you’ve had an orgasm. Of course we could get technical, but the first answer is “Trust me, kid, you’ll figure it out.” For most of us, most of the time, I think that’s true. The people who ask that question are mostly just scared and inexperienced. On one hand, they don’t know what it’s like, and on the other, maybe they’ve seen people do some really stupid things and say “But God told me to!”

The scared and inexperienced just need reassurance that God can make it clear, and a steady diet of stories like the ones in the last post, to help them grow. We grow in faith and wisdom through reflection on the acts of God. So I tell the stories, and I clap them on the shoulder and say, “When it happens, you’ll know it.”

But there’s more to say, for those that need more. We don’t always recognize God’s voice. Samuel didn’t, the first two times. Fortunately, he had someone to disciple him who realized what was happening. That’s recommended. Jesus was a big fan of that whole “make disciples” thing. How do you know it’s God? Maybe you won’t. Get help. Even the prophets have to submit to the judgment of the Body (1 Cor. 14).

The next part of the answer is to use actual discernment, and this is important. When someone reflexively meets all subjective spirituality with a reflexive “tacos” question, that’s not discernment; it’s a trick for avoiding discernment. It’s like the Saduccees—if you reject all claimants to Messiahship, you don’t get fooled into believing the wrong one. Of course, you also miss out on the real thing. Discernment is the ability to tell good from evil. If you can’t recognize good, you don’t have real discernment; you’re just scared and cynical.

Moses and Aaron and the Egyptian magicians all turned water into blood and staffs into snakes. But there was a crucial difference between the two groups: one was walking with God and doing what He told them to do, and the other was working against Him. If we say they were basically doing the same things, we miss the whole point.

This is a key point of biblical discernment: the fact that there’s a bad guy doing something similar means nothing. When is there not? Elijah goes to the king, and there’s 400 false prophets already there. That doesn’t invalidate prophecy; it invites a contest. There are always counterfeits; we don’t determine whether something is good or bad based on guilt-by-association tactics. We work with the criteria the Bible gives us. Jesus taught us to watch the fruit: good fruit, good tree. Bad fruit, bad tree.

The thing is, that’s hard work. We have to pay attention to what God is actually doing in the world outside our heads. And the results aren’t always obvious right away, which means that real discernment takes risk tolerance and sustained attention. It’s a lot easier to just run scared from anything unfamiliar or unexpected.

But God has not given us a spirit of fear.