Back in the Saddle again.

I’ve grown lazy lately.  I have spent far too much time reading about the iPhone, and far too little time thinking about things that—well—matter. It struck me as I read John 3 this past week (one of the first times I have slowed down my relentless gadget-idolatry long enough to spend time in the word this month) that I marvel at all the wrong things.

Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, a religious and cultural leader (think: a nice mixture of P-diddy back when he was called Puffy and John Piper any time after he started speaking at Passion Conferences), and he is telling him some pretty crazy stuff.  He says that in order to see God we have to be birthed again.  (I avoid using the phrase “born again” so that maybe you and I won’t just drive by what has become a well-known label, and instead hear the words at the same degree of slap-you-in-the-mouth absurdity that Nicodemus heard them.)  Nicodemus stated the obvious in reply.  “How? Am I supposed to climb back in the womb?  That doesn’t sound pleasant for anyone involved” (My paraphrase and extrapolation)

I have to say, I think its a valid question, and that Nicodemus had to have laughed while asking it.  I probably would have.  But it’s Jesus’ reply that absolutely has been ringing in my ears since I read it.  Jesus says “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘you must be born again’…” (Emphasis added, and actual wording not checked, but I think I’m in the neighborhood).

So let’s spell it out.  Not only does Jesus toss out strange instructions like “be born” (a process that I was exceptionally passive in the first time around, making it very difficult to turn into an imperative), but he then tags on the end “…and don’t be shocked or wonder about it.”

That’s when it hit me.  Jesus is saying, I think, that we get sidetracked like a two-year-old in a shiny stuff factory.  We start to marvel, or wonder, at things that aren’t the point.

I am a marveler at all things gadget.  I marvel at the fact that now when I put an item in my calendar on my computer, less than 10 seconds later it mystically appears in my phone’s calendar.  I marvel at the fact that they have phone numbers that you can call and speak into the phone a note to yourself, and less than 5 minutes later you recieve an email or text of the note transcribed for you.

So before Nicodemus (and I) get off track and start talking messy logisitics of being born a second time, or arguing theology, or any of that, Jesus heads us off at the pass, saying not to marvel at those things.  The one we need to marvel at is the one telling us not to marvel at other things.  He is the God-man, come to save us from our idolatry, our marveling for too long at things that don’t matter, and neglecting the things that do.

I am so thankful for God’s grace. Pardon me while I go and marvel.

Deconstructing the deconstructionist "gospel"

I am bringing some of my facebook notes over to this blog, because some of you (for reasons I don’t understand, being the social networking addict that I am) are not on facebook.  Here’s one I wrote on April 22nd

It is with a heavy heart that I left a talk tonight by John D Caputo, a philosopher/author/professor who is behind many of the deconstructionist ideas of the Emergent church movement. I was struck after reading his book “What Would Jesus Deconstruct” and subsequently hearing him lecture about the book that his “gospel” of social change and Jesus-as-misunderstood/misrepresented-apocalyptic-prophet-but-not-God-incarnate theology are completely devoid of hope.

If my only hope in reading the New Testament is to have to wade through and pick out the parts of it that seem true to me and then apply them to my life, I would contend that I am without hope.

Caputo’s anthropology is the problem. He sees humans as basically good, and Jesus as no better than any of the rest of us, save for living an exemplary life that we too could and should aspire towards. This utopian anthropology has a tough time dealing with the evening news and the murder, rape, fraud, etc that goes on all around us. I think Jeremiah was right to call the human heart “desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9)

If we are to rely on the historical-critical scholars (Crossan, Ehrman, Borg, etc) to point us to what Jesus actually said and did, we are left with basically nothing upon which to build our theology. Worse still, we are left with our own feelings to guide us. I don’t know about the rest of you, but my feelings change by the minute. I don’t even know right now how I will feel toward my wife tomorrow morning. My feelings are affected by so many undeterminable external forces. I could drink 12 beers, eat 10 chalupas from Taco Bell, get indigestion, wake up and decide that since I feel so bloated and hung-over and Jacqueline is not helping me with the problem that I need to leave her for someone else that will make me feel better. The point is, if feelings are my moral compass, my theology is different on sunny days versus rainy days.

When you start to pick and choose what Jesus said and did based on how those sayings and deeds strike you at a certain time, you end up losing any semblance of an objective standard to guide your hermeneutics. In short, in ruling out even part of the Bible’s testimony about Jesus, you lose JESUS. Take the virgin birth, for example. (Mark Driscoll is responsible for this insight) The Emergent church folks are asking whether or not the doctrine of the virgin birth is essential to Christianity (Rob Bell in his book “Velvet Elvis” asks this question). Well, here are the options: either Mary was a virgin or a lying whore. And if she is a lying whore, then why should we believe anything she says about the virgin birth, the deity of Christ (she was with the early church worshipping Christ) or anything else? And why would we follow Jesus, the bastard son of a lying whore? See, it matters. Furthermore, James and Jude, Jesus’ brothers, wrote books in the New Testament. Why should we trust the other sons of a lying whore to accurately tell the story? The point: if we lose the doctrine of the virgin birth, we lose credibility for the rest of the story, and ultimately we lose JESUS.

I want to pause and point out that I totally agree with many of the diagnoses Caputo makes in his book. I think that the hypocrisy of the religious right in this country and around the world is despicable. To stand up for the anti-abortion cause and then to knowingly turn a blind eye to the woes of poverty, AIDS in Africa (the two of which combine to kill more people than abortion), and the environment is satanic. And Jesus would (and does… I believe that the Bible really teaches a RESURRECTED, active, alive Jesus) deconstruct that hypocrisy.

I find it funny (and sad) that I am sure Caputo would accept the words of Plato or Aristotle or Homer to have been preserved accurately in the modern translations, yet we only have a handful of manuscripts that date hundreds (like 700’s) of years after the original. We have THOUSANDS of manuscripts of the New Testament that date to within a hundred years of the original (in some cases less than 50 years, depending on which scholar you believe), and ALL of them agree on major doctrines, things like Jesus’ virgin birth, his death/burial/resurrection, etc. And Caputo (among others in the historical-critical camp) can’t trust that they accurately portray Christ? I think Jesus would (and does) deconstruct that hypocrisy as well. It is academic arrogance at it’s ‘finest.’

I feel that Caputo has responded to the hypocrisy of the religious right with a different, but equally sinful, hypocrisy. And in the process of dispelling the misconceptions about Jesus that the right holds dear, he has thrown the baby out with the bath water. Jesus (as revealed in the Old and New Testaments) is the answer to both types of hypocrisy. In John 17 Jesus prays “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (17:15-17) He prays that we would not be taken out of the world (like the religious right wants… to get away from poor people and AIDS victims) but that we would be sanctified in the truth of His word (which flies in the face of a claim that His word is not the truth, as the Emergent folks would have us believe).

It is my prayer that we will not continue to fall into either one of those camps… the religious right or the irreligious, syncretistic left. By the grace of God.

Velvet Elvis

Here’s another in the list of posts I am transferring over from Facebook for the benefit of those of you who distrust (or dislike) social networking sites.  It was originally posted on May 3rd.

So I got Velvet Elvis in the mail (suprisingly quickly even for the other day and read it over the course of the day. Here are my impressions.

First of all, it is difficult not to like Rob Bell. That is evident if you have ever read his stuff or seen one of the Nooma videos that has him in it. He is a genuine guy, who really struggles, and really seeks to follow Christ, and it is refreshing to see a pastor who doesn’t come off as (excuse the language) a prick who has it all figured out. So, for that, I am encouraged. Many pastors would do well to follow his example in terms of style and honesty.

I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed his diagnosis of many of the things that are wrong with a fundamentalist, bible-beating culture like that one I have seen more times than I would care to admit. I appreciate his honesty and the genuine concern he has for people to be transformed in their spiritual journey from a sense of duty to a sense of delight in God and who he is.

But I have a few questions that loom heavily over me as I read the book. In the “movement” (a clever name for “chapter” that he uses) called “Jump” I find both refreshing glimpses into a childlike faith and a dangerous undertone. He likens all of reality and theology to a trampoline. He says that the springs on the trampoline are meant to be our doctrines, like the virgin birth, the trinity, etc. And then he goes on to assert that Christianity, or Christ’s teachings, could go on even if those two doctrines are taken out and “examined.”

I’ll deal with the doctrine of the trinity (since I briefly dealt with the doctrine of the virgin birth in another note), and explain why I think that the trampoline itself falls apart in his metaphor if you take out the trinity. First of all, I think that if you look at the whole testimony of Scripture, the doctrine of the trinity is not only there, but necessary.

The doctrine of the trinity has the following distinctives: There is one God, and the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. The three are distinct persons, but one God. These distinctives are found in the following scriptures (thanks to Mark Driscoll at for the following content)

There is One God:

* “… the LORD is God; there is no other besides him” (Deut. 4:35).
* “… there is no god beside me” (Deut. 32:39).
* “… you alone are God” (Ps 86:10).
* “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me” (Isa. 43:10).
* “I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isa. 45:5).
* “… the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim. 1:17).
* “… there is one God” (1 Tim. 2:5).

The Father is God:

* “God the Father” (John 6:27).
* “… there is one God, the Father” (1 Cor. 8:6).

The Son is God:

* “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14).
* “Truly, truly, I [Jesus] say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
* “Thomas answered him [Jesus], ‘My Lord and my God!'” (John 20:28).
* “… Christ who is God over all” (Rom. 9:5).
* “… our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
* “… Jesus Christ. He is the true God” (1 John 5:20).

The Spirit is God:

Note: It must be stressed that the Spirit is a “he” and not an “it.” The Spirit is not an impersonal force, but rather a person who can be grieved (Eph. 4:30), resisted (Acts 7:51), and outraged (Heb. 10:29).

* “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17–18).
* “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? … You have not lied to men but to God'” (Acts 5:3–4).

So, did you get all that? My point is that the Trinity exists in scripture. It is not something that came about hundreds of years after scripture, as Bell claims.

If there is no trinity, then Jesus was not fully God. If Jesus was not fully God, he was either a liar who knew he wasn’t God, or a crazy person who thought he was God. Neither of those options makes Him worthy of worship.

The only other option would be that the writers of Scripture knowingly misrepresented Jesus’ words where he claimed to be God. And if we travel long down that road, we are left with some intriguing problems like “how can we trust any of the Bible if we can’t trust what it says about Jesus?” or “why did the writers of the gospels die for what they knew was an exaggeration?”

As a sidenote, I am reading Marcus Borg’s “Reading the Bible again for the first time” right now, and his “historical-metaphorical” approach to the Bible would mean that the writers of the Old and New Testaments created an entirely new genre of writing (that would later come about only in modern times) called realistic fiction. From my perspective, either they were telling the truth of what actually happened (in historical narratives like the gospels), or they were lying and we should throw our Bibles away. They really wanted us to think that Jesus rose from the dead, was born of a virgin, and was fully God. They didn’t intend the stories to be taken as metaphors. To believe that you have to have more faith than I do, faith that presses on in spite of the facts.

Furthermore, it is the height of academic and modernist arrogance to think that we are more advanced in our thinking than ancient Israelites, and they were just primitive, naive, unthinking people who would believe anything. Yes, we have the benefit of more advanced science, but they were no more likely to believe that a man could walk on water or raise from the dead. And they actually believe that those things happened, and encourage us to do the same.

So, back on point, without the Trinity, we lose Jesus, or a Bible we can trust, or both. That “spring” is pretty necessary. In fact, I’d call it the frame, not the spring. There are only three doctrines that I fight for. One is the Trinity. Another is the deity of Christ. The last is the supremacy and inerrancy of Scripture. It is not my only authority (it has no good tips on how to change your oil, for example) but it is the highest authority.

So now I am trying to walk the fine line of holding to those three doctrines without being an arrogant, know-it-all prick. I certainly don’t know it all. And there are still passages in the Bible that make me very uncomfortable. But I would think that something written by God would either make me uncomfortable, or I am not reading it right, or He’s a pretty small God.

I like Rob Bell. I like his passion, and his drive to be something more than just a Bible-thumping pastor who cares more about the numbers of folks coming to his church than he does about being a transformational force in culture. I couldn’t possibly like that more. But I am genuinely concerned that his questions, if not carefully answered, could cause more damage than good. The thing that is transformational about Christianity is that it offers a God who can sympathize with us, because he came to us and lived the life we couldn’t live, died a death we deserved, and
rose from the dead. Without that, we are hopeless.

Please be gentle in the comments. I am not trying to fight.

Bumper Stickers

Yesterday as we were driving back from SC visiting family, we saw a car (pictured in the previous post below) that was literally covered from roof rack to bumper in what appeared to be poster boards.  On the boards were hand-written all sorts of spiritualisms, various Bible verses yanked out of context, and even some strange things that appeared to be personal revelations or prophecy that this guy had received.  (“I permit Issac (couldn’t make out the last name) to preach at any time to anyone…” was the one I caught most of…)

There is a serious temptation to unload both barrels of orthodoxy on Issac (the name we will give him based on that partial reading) and really pick apart all the ways and levels on which this is so unbiblical.  But as I started mentally doing just that, I realized that I do the same thing, and simply dress it differently.

I am relatively certain that Issac didn’t wake up the morning of the extreme car Bible-makeover and say “You know what, I think I am going to go out there and transform my car into a parallel-parking, crankable declaration of the heresy that has infected my theology.”  He was trying to help people.  What if somebody, somewhere is touched by something that they read on the bumper of his car?  It might, after all, be the only verse they ever read from the Bible.  So it just stands to reason that instead of just having a bumper sticker that says “John 3:16” he ought to write out the whole chapter of John 3 on cards and stick them all over his car.  And, since he had received what he saw as relevant personal revelation, why not go ahead and slap that on the car, too?

There are several issues going on here, and I see them all in my own heart.  I’ll look at two of them here.  The first and most glaring is the “drive-by evangelism” that is going on.  In his case, it is literal, but I also do the same thing.  This is not at all to downplay the movement of God the Holy Spirit in placing people who need to hear in “random” evangelistic scenarios.  I believe in a God who regularly amazes me with the people he has cross my path.  But when I set up a system that totally relies on the “random,” it downplays the fact that God more often works through relationship and other means.  Far more people come to faith as a result of a friend’s initiative than the result of a stranger sharing their faith with them.  So my approach to evangelism must be primarily a relational approach that is at the same time open to “random” people with whom I had no prior relationship hearing and responding, on occasion.

The other issue I saw was that Issac relied on out-of-context truth to convey his message.  Like screaming “Grephical Tranglunitude!” in a crowded shopping mall, to tell a postmodern audience that they have a sin problem and need to be reconciled to God through the blood of Christ is to speak a thoroughly foreign and undecipherable language.  Issac tried to give his truth a context, by putting a LOT of it on his car, but it still comes across as something totally foreignToo often our message on campus comes across as blubbering nonsense, because we fail to give our (valid) truth a context.  We address needs, but not felt needs.  And felt needs are the only context you can address needs in!  To say “Jesus Saves” or “You need Jesus” will do no good until you at least show some desire to tend to the needs that people feel, like the need for a ride to the grocery store or the need for something to do on Friday night.  (making the socials team a really REALLY integral part of any overall ministry, btw)

So while it was tempting to throw stones, it only took a few minutes of introspection to see that I’d just hit myself.

Enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Jacqueline has gone to the Goodwill to procure some deals on clothing, little man is asleep in the other room, and I am having a glorious saturday afternoon, wishing I had a way to watch some college football.

But in the quietness I am confronted with my inability to rest.  I just listened to the song “Jesus I am Resting, Resting” and just sort of rolled around in the truth that Jesus is my true rest, and provides a way somehow for me to rest in the midst of all the chaos of life.  What a glorious truth.  In direct contrast to all the religions in the world, Jesus calls Christians to REST.  To rest. I am not supposed to diligently pray five times a day, not supposed to pilgrimage to Mecca, not supposed to work to assure that I am in right standing with God, not to meditate or chant or wrestle, but just to rest.

My western culture doesn’t encourage rest.  Even as I type these words, I can think of dozens of things I could be doing.  I have work to do for the fall getaway coming up.  I have students I could call to schedule appointments.  I have potential supporters I could call to line up appointments to raise support.

But I need to rest, to enjoy the finished work of Christ for me.  My worth is no longer tied to my performance.  It is wrapped up in the life He lived, in the death, burial and resurrection He went through for me.  What a gift. “Oh how marvelous thy goodness, LAVISHED all on me!”

So, before the hustle and bustle of doctors, surgeons, and campus, in the quietness of a house with only the sounds of a fan and soft baby’s breath coming from the other room.  I am resting, resting.