Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Truce


"... a time for war and a time for peace." Ecclesiastes 3:8

I'm not a huge fan of war in real life.  I pray I never have to participate in one. The ideal world would be one where there is no war, always peace. But I recognize dreaming of our world without war may be just a dream. I also recognize that many of the freedoms we enjoy today are a result of battles fought by others before my time.

The same applies to the wars in Christ's church that have divided and reformed over the years. I also dream of a day when the Church would recognize that it is one, and that there would be peace. The prayer for Christian unity was the starting point of my journey that got me blogging 6 years ago.  However throughout the history of the church many battles have been fought.  I recognize that some of those battles have brought new understandings of the freedom and life Christ is offering us.

But I'm not a huge fan of war.

I believe aspects of my blog has been more than pushing forward different fronts in different battles.  For myself it has largely been a tool I have used to process different beliefs.  Sorting through beliefs and traditions that have been handed down to me, testing them against Scripture, and looking at alternative ways of interpreting Scripture related to that topic.  I enjoy theological dialogues. I enjoy gaining fresh perspectives of how Scripture can be interpreted.  I enjoy grappling through issues that have polarized the church, and trying to find balance within the tensions.  I enjoy the teaching one another that can sometimes occur in on-line discussions.

But I understand I am in the minority here.  I get that most people do not welcome questions that challenge beliefs they hold to.  So my pushing and questioning here naturally creates an equal and opposite reaction from others.

I still believe the Church is entering another reformation. Some of the changes I feel are taking place:
  • A fresh awareness what the priesthood of all believers under Christ is
  • An increased desire to follow the person of Jesus (less desire to follow a religion about Jesus)
  • An increased understanding that there is only one Church even though it meets in different places
  • A new emphasis on relational and participatory gatherings
I pray that at the end of the day Christ's people reflect more of the love and grace of Christ's that we all proclaim.

However at this point I am questioning if my little contributions to the cause are worth it.

My default is for the way of peace.   I do not enjoy tension. I do not like mis-trust. I do not enjoy causing pain, or receiving pain.  These all come in varying degrees whenever we engage in any sort of conflict or debate.  I've known and accepted this all along.  But I sense it may be time to wave the white flag of truce.

I've likely written enough here on this blog.  If someone wants to openly dialogue or discuss any of these topics they can contact me or find others who are also engaged in such discussions.

Related Posts:

Friday, September 19, 2014

Literal Hell

Valley of Hinnom, c. 1900
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gehenna
I was accused recently of not believing in a literal hell.  I find it interesting that I could be so misunderstood.

When Jesus spoke about hell, the word he used was Gehenna (Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:29-30, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:9, Matthew 23:15, Matthew 23:33, Mark 9:43, Mark 9:45, Mark 9:47, Luke 12:5).

Gehenna's meaning literally means  the "Valley of the son of Hinnom". Some believe that in Jesus' day it was the location of a garbage dump that had fires continually burning to consume the filth and cadavers thrown in it (others question the burning garbage dump explanation).

Some Jews of Jesus' day held some spiritual beliefs about this literal place called Gehenna as well. Gehenna was viewed as the place of punishment or destruction of the wicked. Gehenna was considered a Purgatory-like place where the wicked go to suffer until they had atoned for their sins. It was stated that the maximum amount of time a sinner could spend in Gehenna was one year, with the exception of five people who are there for all of eternity.

I believe Jesus believed in a literal place called Gehenna.  He spoke about fires of Gehenna, and spoke about bodies being thrown into it.  The way he talked about Gehenna makes it sound like it was a bad place that nobody wanted to end up in.

I don't know if Jesus' had similar spiritual views about Gehenna as some other Jews of his day held.

But I do assume that Jesus believed in the literal Gehenna, and he possibly held some of the non-literal views other Jews of that time held.

Other New Testament passages frequently contrasts eternal life for some with death, destruction, and perishing for others.  It seems to me that most Christians believe in literal 'eternal life', but don't accept that death, destruction, or perishing in those same verses should be taken as literally.

So I believe there was a literal place called Gehenna, and tend to lean towards an understanding of a literal 'eternal life' for some, and literally not eternal life for others.

So feel free to accuse me of believing in a literal reading of Scripture in this case. :)

See also:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Gospel of Christ The Anointed King and Saviour

Over the past few years I have taken interest in how the term gospel or good news is used in Scripture.  I've posted a six part series on how the term gospel is used in the 4 books we call the Gospels. I've noticed that Jesus and His disciples preached the gospel or good news of the kingdom/reign/rule/authority of God.  I've also noticed a number of passages where Paul proclaimed the kingdom of God.

This week another combination of terms caught my eye.  In many of the books attributed to Paul we see the words "gospel of Christ".

The term 'Christ' means Messiah or anointed one.  The Jews were waiting for a Messiah to be their King and Saviour.

If we substitute the term Christ with its meaning "anointed King and Saviour", it helps clarify that Paul and Jesus were proclaiming the same good news.

Romans 15:19
"in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of the anointed King and Saviour."

1 Corinthians 9:12
"If others receive this right from you, are we not more deserving? But we have not made use of this right. Instead we endure everything so that we may not be a hindrance to the  gospel of the anointed King and Saviour."

2 Corinthians 2:12
"Now when I arrived in Troas to proclaim the gospel of the anointed King and Saviour, even though the Lord had opened a door of opportunity for me,"

2 Corinthians 4:4
 "among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious  gospel of the anointed King and Saviour, who is the image of God."

2 Corinthians 9:13
"Through the evidence of this service they will glorify God because of your obedience to your confession in the  gospel of the anointed King and Saviour and the generosity of your sharing with them and with everyone."

Galatians 1:7
"not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the  gospel of the anointed King and Saviour."

Philippians 1:27
"Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the  gospel of the anointed King and Saviour so that..."

1 Thessalonians 3:2
 "We sent Timothy, our brother and fellow worker for  gospel of the anointed King and Saviour, ..."
I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Related Posts:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Free Will


I've been thinking about free will lately.  Do humans have the ability to make their own choices? Should we be held accountable for the choices we make? Or is everything in our world pre-determined. Has God pre-planned everything, and is absolutely everything going to happen the way that God has planned it.

Many Christians have been influenced by the Calvinist beliefs in total depravity, unconditional election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  They believe in predestination, that all events have been willed by God. John Calvin interpreted biblical predestination to mean that God willed eternal damnation for some people and salvation for others.

On the other hand, does a belief in free will limit God's sovereignty?

This is a complex question for my mind to grapple with.

Has God planned how I am going to sort this question out?  Is it worth even trying to sort out?

The debate of whether or not free will exists goes beyond the spiritual implications.  Determinism is the philosophical position that for every event, including human action, there exist conditions that could cause no other event.   Think science and cause and effect.  Is who we are, what we think, and what we do simply a product of our environment.  When people make poor choices, should we place all the blame on the poor inputs?

I should go outside and cut the grass.  The grass is tall. My yard would look better if I did.  The neighbours likely think I should have cut it yesterday. Will I cut it today, or will I wait for tomorrow?  Will when I cut the grass be determined by my free will, or am I simply a robot that responds automatically to specific prompts and inputs?

For now I'll choose to continue with this blog post...  because that's the way I'm wired.

There are some Bible verses that support the idea of predestination

Romans 8:29-30 (NET Bible)
because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.
Ephesians 1:5 (NET Bible)
He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will—
Ephesians 1:11 (NET Bible)
In Christ we too have been claimed as God’s own possession, since we were predestined according to the one purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will

There are other Bible verses that support the idea of free will

Proverbs 16:9 ESV
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
Joshua 24:15 ESV
And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, ...
John 7:17 ESV
If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
Revelation 3:20 ESV
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV / 43 helpful votes
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Galatians 5:16-17 ESV
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
Psalm 37:23 ESV
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way;
Romans 10:9-10 ESV
Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Mark 8:34 ESV
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
 Matthew 6:33 NIV
"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
John 3:16 ESV
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

There are also Bible verses that speak about free life, and how Jesus has made us free  (Galatians 5:1, 1 Peter 2:16, John 8:32, 2 Corinthians 3:17, Romans 8:1-4, Isaiah 61:1). Can freedom exist if there is no free will?

Do we have free will? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Or should I say: I'd love to see how your mind processes this topic based on the the way it has been programmed and the inputs it has received.

Related Post: Calvanism


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Different Gospel Definitions

Trevin Wax over at The Gospel Coalition has organized a great collection of different definitions of "the gospel" by different Christians both present and past. I appreciated reading summaries from some names I recognize like Martin Luther, Pope Benedict XVI, William Tyndale, Tim Keller, and many others.

Click here or here for a pdf version to see full list and where the following quotes came from.

I appreciate Gilbert Beebe's emphasis on "It is finished" or "finished redemption".

I appreciate W.A. Criswell's brief summary:
"The message from our Lord Himself is that Christ suffered and was raised from the dead and that remission of sins should be preached in His name to all people. That is the good news. That is the message. That is the gospel!"
I appreciate Robert A. Guelich's summary:
"The “gospel” then is the message that God acted in and through Jesus Messiah, God’s anointed one, to effect God’s promise of shalom, salvation, God’s reign.’"
I appreciate Martin Luther's summary:
"The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s son, who died and was raised, and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell."
I appreciate how M.F. Sadler sees the term gospel being used in Scripture to announce different good news events, and that he does not see Scripture using the term to support a list of preferred doctrines or teachings, for example to summarize preferred views on things like individual election, calling, justification, and sanctification.

I appreciate Craig Bartholomew's summary:
“Gospel (from the Old English godspel, ‘good tale’) means ‘good news,’ and this is the best news there can be: in Jesus, the kingdom of God has come!”
I appreciate Jim Belcher's summary:
“The ‘gospel’ is the good news that through Jesus, the Messiah, the power of God’s kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. Through the Savior God has established his reign. When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us. We witness this radical new way of living by our renewed lives, beautiful community, social justice, and cultural transformation. The good news brings new life. The gospel motivates, guides, and empowers every aspect of our living and worship.”
I appreciate Pope Benedict XVI's summary:
“The term has recently been translated as ‘good news.’ That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world…. The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a changing of the world for the better.“When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform. Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place. For here it is the real Lord of the world – the Living God – who goes into action.“The core of the Gospel is this: The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
I appreciate C.C. Broyles summary:
"Gospel, or “good news,” designates Jesus’ message of the appearance of God’s kingdom, a message entailing liberty for those held captive to any form of affliction and demonstrated most dramatically in acts of healing. In some instances the term encompasses the whole story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…"
I appreciate Robert F. Capon emphasis:
“Christianity is NOT a religion; it is the proclamation of the end of religion. Religion is a human activity dedicated to the job of reconciling God to humanity and humanity to itself. The Gospel, however – the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the astonishing announcement that God has done the whole work of reconciliation without a scrap of human assistance. It is the bizarre proclamation that religion is over – period.”
I appreciate Andy Crouch's summary:
“The gospel is the proclamation of Jesus, in [two] senses. It is the proclamation announced by Jesus – the arrival of God’s realm of possibility (his “kingdom”) in the midst of human structures of possibility. But it is also the proclamation about Jesus – the good news that in dying and rising, Jesus has made the kingdom he proclaimed available to us.”
I appreciate Tim Keller's summary:
The ‘gospel’ is the good news that through Christ the power of God’s kingdom has entered history to renew the whole world. When we believe and rely on Jesus’ work and record (rather than ours) for our relationship to God, that kingdom power comes upon us and begins to work through us.”
“Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.”
I appreicate Rick McKinley's point that some may emphasize two different gospels. Some emphasize the gospel of the kingdom that they see Jesus and His disciples preaching, and others emphasize a gospel about how Jesus saves that they see Paul teaching.  I agree that Jesus is both Lord and Saviour, and both aspects should be emphasized.

I appreciate Chris Seay's summary:
The gospel is the good news that God is calling out all people to be redeemed by the power residing in the life, death, and ultimate resurrection of Jesus the Liberating King. These “called-out ones” are rescued from a life of slavery, sin, and failure to become emissaries in a new kingdom set to join the redemption of the entire creation, groaning and longing to be redeemed.
I appreciate Tullian Tchividjian's summary:
”The Gospel is the the good news that in and through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, God makes all things new.”
I appreciate N.T. Wright's summary:
“The gospel is the royal announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again according to the Scriptures, has been enthroned as the true Lord of the world. When this gospel is preached, God calls people to salvation, out of sheer grace, leading them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Lord.”

Personally I feel any definition of the gospel should be broad enough to fit in the majority of passages that reference the term gospel. For example when we look at passages where Jesus and His disciples are seen preaching the gospel, does the way we define the gospel make sense in that context? See Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, Matthew 10:7, Matthew 24:14, Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:43, Luke 8:1, Luke 9:6 or my Gospel in the Gospels 6 part series. I believe there is value in understanding what Scripture has to say on the importance of the cross, but I don't see Scripture defining the gospel consistently in terms of solving the mystery of what the cross means to us.


Anyways, I appreciated reading through these different gospel definitions. I see many great truths in them. It is interesting that these men have all came away with different ways to emphasize things after studying the same Scriptures. A good reminder to give each other grace as we seek to be faithful to Scripture as we share with others.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. How would you define the gospel?

Related Posts:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Christian Unity Observations


About 8 years ago this passage of John 17:20-23 got me going on a journey. This is the only recorded prayer from Jesus for us, those who believe in Him through the testimony of the first disciples. Yet here we are now with over 30,000 denominations, sects, and divisions. Unity can seem hard to imagine. Over the past 8 years I have enjoyed studying some Church history, the reasons behind some of the divisions, and we have tried to visit and dialogue with Christians from a number of different denominations.

Here are some of the things I have discovered:
  • Unity is an essential of the faith. Some people create different lists of essential beliefs, and then find a level of unity with people who agree to the same items on their lists.  However we can not ignore the volume of Scripture on the topic of unity (see link for some verses).  Unity with all Christians should be near the top of those lists, even if there is disagreement around some of the other items. 
  • Before creating or maintaining a division on a specific topic we should ask this question: "is there more clear Scriptural teaching backing my position than there is clear Scriptural teaching on unity and love?"
  • We can respond to disagreements with love and humility.
  • Unity doesn't always mean we agree on everything, but it may mean we bear with one another in love. Consider how family dynamics often work. Being part of a family doesn't usually hinge on agreement on everything.
  • Pushing conformity often results in the opposite of unity. Some people may conform to your way of thinking, but divisions and walls will be created with others.
  • Insisting you are right can be wrong if it is not done in love.
  • I find recognizing church unity easiest when I recognize that church is people gathering together.  We don't have to pray that denominations all merge into one. We can recognize and live out church unity whenever we get together with other believers.
  • There is one church, and it meets in many different places and times.
Unity isn't achieved with our own effort:
"so that the love you have loved me with may be in them, and I may be in them.”

I'd love to hear your thoughts.